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What I’ve Been Playing This Week

Dark Souls 3: First run is in the books! I haven’t gone into NG+ yet as I’m hanging around gathering whatever rings and gestures I can. I’m not sure I’m ready to say that Dark Souls 3 is better than Bloodborne, but it’s certainly near that level. Although I am willing to say that so far the Grand Archives is my favourite moment in gaming this year. If your new here and wondering why I’m so giddy over SoulsBorne I got a PS4 last Christmas. It was my first console since the PS2. So for everyone else 2017 is the year of BOTW, Nier and other things for me 2017 is the year I discovered From Software. Video gaming hasn’t been the same since.

I have to leave a gap between open world games. If I play them back to back the bloat really becomes apparent after the well crafted worlds of Yharnam and Lothric. Big enough to explore yet concise enough as not provide an annoying commute. Before these games, I never minded cut scenes too much. Now I just want story through game play and the environment. I don’t hate cut scenes, I just dislike an excess of them. I just adore the way From Software tells their stories. And the harsh but fair game play just ties everything together. These games are difficult but not stupidly so. All they ask is you pay attention to what’s going on and not to get greedy. You are going to die, but you’ll get there eventually. And when you get there, it’s pretty damn great. Again, we are talking good difficulty, not crap like Cat Mario here.

But right now I’m pondering my next run. The initial plan was a run as Knight Artorias but I recently re-watched some fights with the Abyss Watchers and I forgot how fun their sword looks to fight with. Because I haven’t played Dark Souls Artorias really is some legendary figure to me because I only know him through item descriptions and lore. And to me that’s really cool. That brings me to something I really like about From games and that’s playing the role of an archaeologist. Just finding relics from older civilisations (particularly the pyromancy tomes) is one of the things I never thought about when getting into Dark Souls. The item descriptions just add to the whole experience. There’s just so much I love about these games.

Thank you From Software. You’ve given me a lot of joy this year.

Now that I’ve come to an end (The End of the Fire – which I really enjoyed – it felt touching and heartfelt for reasons I can’t quite identify, but they are there) here’s a boss run down with number of attempts taken. Bosses that stood out will have additional comments. Here we go (Obvious spoilers);

Iudex Gundyr – 1 (The miracle that is panicky dodge rolling.)

Vordt of the Boreal Valley – 2 (I actually have some footage of Vordt, so here is. He’s cool.)

Great Cursewood Tree – 3

Crystal Sage – 2

Abyss Watchers – 2 (One of the best presented boss fights. When they start fighting each other it’s pretty damn great.)

Deacons of the Deep – 1 (Not a difficult fight, but mechanically it’s really cool. It is a very unique take on a mob enemy style of boss.)

High Lord Wolnir – 4 (When I look back on this, I have a very distinct feeling of stupidity. Maybe attack the giant glowing weak spots from get the go, eh?)

Old Demon King – 3

Pontiff Sulyvahn – 8 – 9 (Where in all of us learn that back dodging can be a very bad idea. Also stamina for blocking doesn’t last forever.)

Saint Aldrich – 6 – 7

Yhorm the Giant – 5 – 6 attempts (I’m still sorry for killing you Yhorm. Your story is a tragic one. God speed sweet prince. Your machete is pretty great.)

Dancer of the Boreal Valley – 6 – 7 attempts (Where in lessons learned from Pontiff Sulyvahn are reinforced. Also the way she moves. It’s gorgeous and sinister at the same time.)

Dragon Slayer Armour – 1 (Somehow. Don’t ask me how I did it. Also, the Dragon Slayer Armour Axe is amazing. Pretty much saw me though the Ringed City DLC.)

Oceiros, the Consumed King – 1 (I wandered through his fog gate and killed him. A fine night’s work.)

Champion Gundyr – 6 – 8 (Let me down and let me heal.)

Ancient Wyvern – 2 (I missed a plunging attack. Luckily it’s not on film or anything.)

Nameless King – 6 – 7 (Hard work but very rewarding. His delayed attacks really take some hard work and patience to work through.)

Prince Lothric – 6 – 8 (I really dislike bosses that teleport. Quite possibly this is just a personal thing, but teleporting bosses annoy me. This boded well for the DLC.)

The DLC

Champions Grave Tender – 3

Sister Friede – 17 – 18 (First time I got her down to half health on the 3rd phase. I struggled to repeat that for quite some time. Also we both died at the same time so this is technically a draw so I have to go again.)

Demon Prince – 18 (I never figured out how to dodge the Demon Prince’s fire storm meteor move. Panicky dodge rolling and running didn’t quit work.)

Half Light Spear of the Church – 1 (on both occasions) (This is a really cool concept for a boss with an invader coming in.)

Slave Knight Gael – 6 – 7 (Cool fight but the Great Shield of Glory pretty much let me stop Gael’s attacks stone dead. On another play through I’m guessing it will be a different story.)

Darkeater Midir – 25 – 30 (He straight up violated me at points. That did result in a very satisfying riposte. Then I read his souls item description and felt bad. From, please stop but don’t stop making difficult bosses that make me feel guilty at the end.)

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice: Some things have happened since I last played Hellblade. It leads to a life lesson: no matter how innocuous it seems do not read things concerning a game you are playing, even a reddit thread about a trailer for the game. There’s always a post that will ruin the whole thing, without warning or spoiler markers. I should have known, but I just wanted to see what other people felt about the game.

And to be honest without the story to keep me pressing on, I just don’t want to play this anymore. It’s not a bad game by any means but I feel that the story and game play worked in tandem. Now that one of those things has been crippled the other thing while being good is not enough to hold up the game by itself. Basically the thrill is gone, and that is really hard to get back.

Sorry Senua, but I’m not sure I’m going to able to finish your quest. (Light spoilers here – see, it isn’t that hard) You might be stuck in that place with the monsters who failed the Silent Hill 2 auditions for a long time.

Entwined: I’ve had this game for a while. I bought it on the Vita then transferred it to my PS4 to save memory card space. And a few nights ago without any particular game in mind I started playing it again. The game is pretty damn fun. So much so it has re-entered my regular game rotation.

It’s a level based game where the player takes control of a fish and a bird as they fly/swim in attempt to come together. The fish is red and the bird is blue, meaning that the each one can only pass through their respective colours. Which sounds easy enough but the twist is that the fish is controlled by the left stick and the bird by the right. As the levels advance the sequences increase in complexity and start to require a decent degree of dexterity. There are also green gates where the two have to be brought together in order to pass through successfully.

The game has both a story mode and a challenge mode. The story mode is 9 levels long (which is a little on the short side) and the challenge mode only has 5. But the challenge really ramps up the difficulty but I’ll get to that later.

Speaking of the bird and the fish coming together providing enough sequences have been passed through in combination with enough power ups collected to fill an energy bar the two can come together but for a moment. This also requires holding L1 and R1 at the same time to maintain that bar, which is a surprisingly cool test of dexterity and controller handling.

What follows is beautiful and fun sequence where our two animal friends come together but for a moment as a dragon in order to access the next zone. After the sometimes hectic game play it serves as a rather cool come down and some well earned quite time. Collect a few power ups and paint the sky in glorious neon.

The challenge mode essentially strips out the story mode and dragon sequences replacing it with tests of skill. The patterns grow more complex and longer, requiring far more stick control and dexterity. Also, while the story mode allows for infinite attempts (all failure does is knock the power bar down) the challenge mode allows only 3 lives. It ensures that exact movements must be executed and upon success there is a tangible feeling of joy. I would guess that this mode really allows good players to show off their skills. I on the other hand have the ability to unlock the next challenge, but not much more.

The graphics are simple but really do the job. Bright and colourful, and with constant movement they provide a wonderful show. Both our protagonists have a distinct origami quality to them which works really well. Worth a mention is the music. A good selection of electronic and smooth techno (I guess?) that increase in pace as the levels get faster.

On the complaints front, sometimes when there are a lot of colours to pass through sometimes it’s very hard to tell where you messed up. There have been times when I am convinced I have missed a colour yet not been dinged for it, and vice versa. I just wish some situations where a little more clear is all.

I’ve had the game a while but playing again has been a good experience. It’s not very expensive, so it’s worth the shot.

Koi: A pleasant diversion. It’s an okay little puzzle game with a nice graphics. There’s a little story about fighting pollution and it’s all very pleasant. You play as a koi carp and help other koi carp to find there flowers. There’s some looking for things puzzles, some colour matching puzzles (coloured koi and coloured fish) and memory puzzles as well with sequences to be memorised and patterns to be matched up. Completing these puzzles opens up passages to the next level. But stopping you are bigger fish and in later levels (as you enter human places) electrical currents from ill maintained technology. Some levels have flowing water which is hard to swim against and brings in elements of timing.

There are some collectible items to find which introduces elements of exploration. They do open the game up, and tell their own story along the way.

The game is, well, it’s not bad. But it’s not great. It’s a thoroughly pleasant experience but there’s no real depth here. The art style is nice and there’s a wholesome story about stopping pollution. It’s just that the game never goes beyond this. Everything’s functional but simple. There are nice little explosions of colour whenever a flower and koi are matched up. And finding the collectibles shows some pretty artwork. There is also a frog who you can talk to, and it’s fun to see him during your travels. But it is all just nice, and nothing more.

I do have some quibbles with some game mechanics.

The memory puzzles can be a bit annoying though. There’s always a message on the screen saying what to do, even when you are messing up. And given you know what to do but you are just being a bit forgetful it comes across as really condescending.

Also the AI of your koi friends isn’t always brilliant. They can swim in wide arcs and sometimes get caught out when they really shouldn’t.

I would really suggest waiting for a sale if you are considering it. Koi is a nice game, but that’s it. And if you are a serious puzzle fan the depth here is probably not going to be enough for you. If you are looking for a nice little puzzle game then yeah, go for it. At a sale price though. I would have a hard time recommending this above a sale price.

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Good Hunter of the Church, Have you seen the light?- Revisiting Ludwig

Every boss in Bloodborne I have managed to one shot in one play through or another. All bar one. No matter how I’m feeling, no matter how well kitted out I am Ludwig the Accursed always catches me with something. He has been taken down in two attempts on four occasions, back to back to back to back. That one attempt though is a most elusive thing.

After the Darkeater Midir fight I went back through all of my favourite and most challenging boss fights all over again. And there he was the first hunter of the church. With lots of time to think about it I have come to regard Ludwig as the very best boss fight I’ve ever had.

Ludwig presents a massive challenge. His range of attacks is vast and for his size he has surprising and alarming speed. Not only that, he has massive implications for the story and lore of Bloodborne. Up until now Ludwig has merely been a legend, a phantom from time passed. In the main game we find his badge, and a weapon named after him (Ludwig’s Holy Blade). We learn from this weapon that the Healing Church was planning on fighting even bigger beasts. From another source (Sword Hunter badge), we know that Church clerics made the worst beasts. From Software did a great job with all the mentions and hints of him in the main game. That really helps to set up the fight with Ludwig.

Yet, the challenge is fair. There is a quote by Hidetaka Miyazaki (the man behind SoulsBorne) concerning game difficulty – “When you think about it, the difficulty in the Dark Souls franchise so far has been something that players have eventually been able to overcome. So when I show concern to the development team members, that’s why the term I use is unreasonable – basically, we don’t want to go too far. It’s about striking a balance.” The word unreasonable is key here. A missed dodge, a misread attack, a stupid risk – no matter how many times you die, it’s on you. And when you get it right, that’s on you as well. That is one of the best feelings in video games.

Since I haven’t played Bloodborne for some time (holidaying in Lothric is going rather well) I would like to embrace a nostalgic feeling and go back to the very first time I beat Ludwig. I’ll be going through the entire fight with gifs to illustrate points of note but for a real time view here is the original video. The weapon I am using is Ludwig’s Holy Blade – it was omnipresent in my first proper play through of Bloodborne. It became a cherished companion.

I’m stood at the lantern. I’ve been standing there for some time. The controller was lying on the floor because I had moved into another room. My head may have been in my hands. Attempt 19 had almost succeeded. Ludwig only had a quarter of his health left when he unleashed the charge wave. It was the first time I’d seen it. It is a one hit kill more often than not. That move very nearly convinced me that he couldn’t be beat. He was an obstacle that I couldn’t cross. I spent quite a bit of time in the other room

The controller is back in my hands, and I head off down a set of stairs. For that is where the summon is. I stand there for a moment. It says right there “press X to summon”. It’s not difficult to summon here, and admit I can’t do this by myself. But there is something that makes me think just give the fight one more effort. And I go in the direction of that room again. Alone. Again.

By this point I have managed to avoid getting hit by Ludwig’s opening slam. However you will notice I back dodge here. As a general rule, do not back dodge against Ludwig. His closing speed makes this a very risky, and usually short lived strategy. This point will be revisited at some point. Aside from this though, the opening here goes very well. Ludwig is struggling to hit me. Something feels different this time around. In particular I’m dodging Ludwig’s frontal swipes well,

And the bull rush attack just sails right on by

https://gfycat.com/ArtisticMeekBoilweevil

~~~

That early wave of optimism and momentum, it is beginning to break. It is beginning to roll back. I keep getting caught. I am falling into the awful habitat of back dodging. That is normally a death sentence, and it almost proves to be so. Ludwig, coming off a successful bull rush attack has me in a corner. Yet he swipes and jumps back. All he had to do was combo and attempt 20 would join the rest in failure. An unexpected reprieve. I’ll admit it’s a lucky break, but I’ll take it.

There’s also some aggression from me here, but in some cases it is silly aggression. Bloodborne demands aggression, but smart and calculated aggression. Wanton swinging of weapons can have dire consequences. I must be more careful with that lucky break. Something else to note here is how much healing I am doing. Without smart aggression, in combination with the back dodging I am not taking advantage of the rally system. I am looking to heal damage instead of regaining health by attacking. And with a weapon like Ludwig’s Holy Blade, that is very hard to forgive.

The second stage triggers. There’s a really cool cut scene here but after 20 attempts I was not in the mood for cut scenes so it isn’t here. We know Ludwig was a renowned swordsman. After all he has a sword named in his honour. Now we get to see those skills in action. But it is clear he possesses no normal sword. Normal swords do not fire astral beams. Also, Ludwig is no longer the Accursed. He is now the Holy Blade – something resembling his former self.

After surviving Ludwig’s counter attack in the previous phase I apply fire paper to my sword. By the by, the animation for using the fire paper is awesome. It isn’t timed quite correctly but I get away with it, the astral beam slipping past me. However, thanks to that it does make the applying of fire paper look like a real act of defiance. That his attacks will not cow me, that I have some belief in this endeavour.

https://gfycat.com/HeavyDistantIndigowingedparrot

Okay. This one is a real screw up. But I had my reasons. Having died to the charge wave in the attempt before (and not remembering it’s build up animation) and now with the knowledge it can be interrupted (19 failures will drive someone to Google) I figured if Ludwig did any sort of energy attack I would try my best to swing for the fences. Ludwig has two charge attacks. One is the charge wave when he slams his sword down and the other one that erupts from the ground as he plunges his sword downward. If that attack turned out to be the charge wave then fair enough but if it turned out to be the one that erupts from the ground, then I’d have to tank it. I did do a decent job of tanking it (in my admittedly awful defence).

This is the first stagger and visceral combo. It’s a cathartic moment, but it does not mean the fight is won. Right now, a mantra of patience, patience, patience needs to be running through my head. The fact it comes right after the energy attack mishap is telling though. I’m no longer dwelling on mistakes.

I get caught in the initial phase of the charge wave attack. But I’m not attacking head on, and Ludwig cannot bring the attack down in my general direction. The charge wave slams harmlessly into the wall, which is infinitely preferable to having it slam into me.

Bloodborne has excellent weapon feedback and I can feel Ludwig’s Holy Blade slamming into Ludwig. And he staggers for a second time. The only real way this fight could have ended is with a visceral. It’s the only move that could provide the necessary catharsis after such a challenge. After all the frustrations and near misses having the chance to rip and tear for the finish works oh so well. It is really a cool design feature. From Software recognising the scale of challenge they have posed, and allowing the fight to end in a way that provides suitable pay off. That’s great.

After the fight has finished, and the last embers of the fire paper burn out, Ludwig is actually still alive. He is in a much diminished condition but he still clings to life, and there is an option to talk to him. And if you have on church garb there is extra dialogue. I’ve talked a lot how this is a multi faceted fight and the dialogue here really is excellent. By all rights, after everything Ludwig has put me through I should hate him, and I should tell him the truth about his church hunters. But the tone of his voice, his current state of existence inspires a mix of pity and compassion. And I tell him what he wants to hear, before he fades away into the moonlit night.

(video uploaded by Youtube user UltraTien) – I forgot to record the dialogue scene. That is something I do regret, because I find to be a great part of the game.

The very best boss fights inspire us to keep on trying. So that we can see what lies beyond them, so we can say that we did it. Even if it takes 20 or so attempts, or more than that, we keep coming back. Because we know at some point everything will click, and that cathartic victory will come. And if it’s really great, we’ll come back to it. To see if we can do it better, to see if we can do it in a different manner. To illustrate this, here is a later attempt at taking down Ludwig:

That was my 5th or 6th battle with Ludwig. I always come back to him. It’s always a great fight. I still have to one shot him.

~~~

A note on the music: Ludwig has an awe inspiring boss theme, and you are probably wondering why I have not talked about it. The fact is for about 200 hours I didn’t notice the music in Bloodborne I got so locked in on boss fights that I never noticed anything but the boss. Now I consider Bloodborne’s soundtrack to be excellent but for the longest time, it simply passed me by.

Miyazaki quote taken from this interview: https://www.vg247.com/2016/03/02/dark-souls-3-miyazaki-bloodborne-interview/

Header Image found here: http://bloodborne.wikia.com/wiki/Ludwig

What I’ve Been Playing This Week

Dark Souls III: Now that I’m back from Norway, and I’ve just finished the DLC, I want to talk about Darkeater Midir. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the DLC (just wish it was longer) but I really want to talk about Darkeater Midir.

I’ve spoken before about bosses in Dark Souls III and how I found them to be good but not as good as Bloodborne’s. How that particular fight – the Ludwig battle, the Kos war had eluded me. I had problems with the Demon Prince (although in retrospect I should have had less trouble), Sister Freide was pretty damn great (ended in a draw though – need to rectify that) but both required less than 20 attempts. Slave Knight Gael only took 6 to 7 attempts. Aside from Gael’s health the fight wasn’t bad – just required patience and practice. It was a great fight from an aesthetic point of view with the arena of the long ago city playing host to Gael’s story line coming to a close. That stuff was pretty great.

Then along came Darkeater. My first proper dragon fight in video games. I distinctly remember my first attempt. I got rid of roughly a quarter of his health. I also had no estus flasks left. The first ten or so goes maintained this theme. One attempt lasted the better part of 15 seconds. It was about roughly attempt 15 when Midir reached half health. So I set up these little milestones. Midir at half health. Then he’s at half health but I have estus flask’s remaining. Midir gets down to quarter health. Now he’s down quarter health and I have estus flask’s remaining. Those little mile stones keep me going in a boss fight like this.

(After the bridge section I may have assumed Midir couldn’t be that difficult)

Then it happened. Midir went for a biting attack. One lunge dodged. The second one dodged. There had been enough attempts to allow some kind of muscle memory to be formed. And then I started to run because I know he’s dropping back to spew forth a stream fire. Running parallel to the dragon fire then slamming the Dragonslayer Armour Axe into Midir’s head signalled the end. The dragon rocked back, staggered. What followed is one of the most satisfying R1 button presses ever resulting in a glorious riposte and the end of Darkeater Midir.

And then I read the description of Midir’s soul and feel bad for killing him. I know he was falling to the dark, but he was only doing what the God’s asked him to do. Poor fellow.

It’s one of the best boss fights I’ve had. First of all being a fight against a dragon gives the fight a sense of occasion. Midir’s size really makes gives his attacks a grand scale and a truly wondrous weight. Every hit feels forceful. And when he spews forth fire streams and dark energy beams it’s everything that a fight with an ancient dragon should be.

The rest of the DLC is really good but I just ended up loving the Darkeater Midir fight so much. I loved the snow fields of Ariendale (snow is always good) and I must give a shoutout to the Covian settlement. I really dig a ramshackle village with plenty of backstreets and alleyways to rummage through.

And the Ringed City is pretty good. The sheer drops down the dreg heap gave a real sense of depth and descent. The gorgeous views of the city made one want to advance and the surreal sight of the abyssal swamp was a glorious little hellscape. Also it was nice to catch up with Dragonslayer Armour again. I missed that dude. Plus I have to thank him for his weapon. It’s pretty good.

Just Cause 3: Finished it! Well the stories all wrapped up. Now it’s just messing around fun time. Honestly thought that I would have given the game up by now. Figured the game play loop would get boring. Very happy to have been proven wrong. Rico’s parachute and wing suit combine to form one of gaming’s most fun ways of getting about.

I am even going after the collectables. Just because it means I can do more wing suiting. Gliding through canyons and skimming over the ocean are wonderful experiences. I would honestly buy the game just for the wing suit, parachute and grappling hook alone. They really lift the game out being a generic sandbox game.

All of that said the game does have glitches. On occasion vehicles disappeared and sometimes the floor gave out. At one point I had to restart from a check point because the game wouldn’t stop targeting an enemy that was left over from a completed mission. They aren’t constant, but they are there. I’m playing on a PS4 Pro for those who are interested.

For my last point about Just Cause 3, I would like to profess my love for the trains in this game in the form of gif’s. God bless you you glorious locomotives.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice: I have enjoyed it so far, but I have some reservations.

Let’s get some story set up first. Senua is in search of her husband who has been taken by the North men (Vikings) and he now resides in Helheim (the Norse underworld). Senua sets off in order to bring him back.

Let’s start off on a positive note. The sound design is great particularly with the voices Senua hears in her head. Senua’s village (before the Vikings ravaged it) thought that Senua could speak to the Gods. In actuality Senua has a form of psychosis and this affects the game in a few different ways. The game recommends that you wear headphones and it soon becomes apparent why.

Senua’s village (before the Vikings ravaged it) thought that Senua could speak to the Gods. In actuality Senua has a form of psychosis and this affects the game in a few different ways. She hears voices, and when wearing headphones the voices come from all around. Some voices tell Senua she can’t do it, she can’t make it through this, and that she’s weak. Others tell her that she can do it, that she should get up when she falls down and reassure her.

In general I’m going to say this effect works very well. There is a genuine sense of being unnerved when all the voices are speaking at once and when combat gets tense the self doubt is definitely there and overcoming that feels good. However sometimes it can get annoying. Like when I’m lost in a level and trying to find something hearing “she’s lost” on a constant loop doesn’t feel good. But maybe that means its working, and that is how it’s meant to feel.

The psychosis also affects the visual end. By filtering the world through various gates thing appear and disappear. Walls fade away revealing paths and wooden planks come into view showing new ways across previously inaccessible areas. It’s a very cool effect and further throws Senua’s world view in uncertainty. Combining with the voices there is a very real sense of what is real and what isn’t.

Speaking of the visuals, bloody brilliant. Given Hellblade’s price point (£24.99) and market point (independent AAA) you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between this and a fully priced AAA game. Truthfully there is no difference. By turn’s colourful and dark and taking full advantage of its setting and the rich imagery that Viking mythology provides, it’s a world that is really worth exploring.

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice™_20171001142219
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice has a really good photo mode.

And progressing requires exploration, with doors remaining locked until Senua finds the runes necessary to progress.  The runes are scattered the area’s nearby the door and are found by bringing environmental clues together to form the shape of the rune. Once Senua has this in her mind she can search for the other runes. When this mechanic is good, it forms really cool puzzles with a genuine feeling of cleverness upon completion.

When it’s bad it’s just annoying particularly when you have some things that are shaped as the rune but the game decides that not the thing you should be looking at. It hasn’t happened often so far, but it can occur. Also sometimes when walking around it isn’t always clear as to which ledges are climbable and which aren’t and which can be dropped off, and which can’t. It’s a small frustration but it’s there. It’s not open world, not as big as a Souls game or Metroidvania, but there are different paths to go down.

And let’s get to the combat. This is the year I discovered From  Software games. I now have expectations of combat. Hellblade’s combat isn’t that good. But it has does some things very well.

Enemies appear at certain sections. It’s pretty clear when this is happening because the screen gets something similar to an instragram filter on the screen which prompts Viking warriors to show up and fight Senua. They are hellish visions, further enhancing that effect of Senua’s mind vs reality. As hellish as they look, they aren’t the most difficult fights. Full disclosure I’m playing with the difficulty on Auto, but barring some hiccups when I was getting used to the combat I’ve found that blocking and then hammering buttons works well. These buttons included heavy and light attacks with a kick button. There’s also a dodge button, but I don’t find it as responsive as Bloodborne or Dark Souls.

Also backing away and having the enemy form into a little queue works just as well. The other problem is these fighting areas are essentially little blocked off arenas. There’s no chance to do Dark Souls things like using high ground and plunging attacks. And since Senua’s sword is the only weapon in the game (so far) there’s no real variance there so no fun time with axes or maces or anything else like that. Also, there is no real variance with the enemies. Outside of the boss fights, I’ve only ever encountered these guys over and over again.

But there is a lot Hellblade’s combat does really well. The sword does feel good to use, and attacks do have weight to them. The sounds of the sword coming into contact with flesh are visceral. And after being the struck the enemy shows it. Wounds show up, and correspond to slashes and stabs, which is nice attention to detail. Beyond that, the enemy will often show up initially with hands outstretched, almost goading. But as they take damage they visibly slow down, clutching shoulders and sides, walking slowly, their breath gradually fading. But the same happens to Senua, requiring care has to be taken. But seeing a boasting enemy reduced to limping is a nice feeling of progress.

There has been 2 boss fights so far, both with great presentation. But coming right on the tail of the Darkeater Midir fight, they are thoroughly okay. Good, but not great. They also do that annoying thing of ending in cut scenes for the final attack. I’m going to write more about this at some point in the future. It’s utterly infuriating.

Also a slight nitpick but there is a run button, but it’s really more of a jog button. And you can’t practice combat or dodging outside of the combat arenas. I like doing that so that has taken some time to get used to.

But I do want to keep going with the game. The setting works, and I just want to see Senua reach her journeys end. Melina Juergen’s does a great job with her portrayal of the embattled character. When Senua breaks down, it’s really difficult to watch. It makes her moments of peace all the better.

I’m definitely sticking with this game.

We Are Doomed: A thoroughly okay twin stick shooter with fun graphics and a nifty soundtrack. It’s pretty fun.

The inherent joys of fucking about – Featuring Just Cause 3

For longest time I liked video games to have a point. If I had to guess, it probably came from a youth of reading books. The concept of a coherent plot with a definitive beginning, middle and end was something that I had embedded in me. And with some video games, particularly those of the open world variety beyond the opening the story can just be there, failing around essentially having little to no meaning.

Even when playing games like Gravity Rush and Horizon Zero Dawn I stayed to story missions and side quests until I had finished the games. Then I started fucking around. But not before that. But lately, something called Just Cause 3 has come into my life. It’s a beautiful thing but it took me some time to come around to it. I had some trouble with the controls initially (I found the turning and diving with the wing suit very sensitive) and then came the story missions. That comment earlier about the story flailing around is on show a lot in Just Cause 3. In fact it’s very possible to liberate all the bases before even doing the story.

 

On one occasion I went back to do a story mission on an island I had completely liberated only to find for the sake of the story enemy tanks stormed a village. This perturbed me. Where did they come from? The enemy had no presence on the island. It still annoys me on some level. Did they magic themselves there?

But with time and explosions and a generous amount of rag dolling soldiers I learned to enjoy the concept of fucking around in an open world and the sheer amount of fun that can bring. Actually half of the fun of Just Cause 3 for me is playing the floor is lava and seeing how long I can keep Rico in the air with a combination of parachuting and the wing suit. The traversal system is so much fun, and gives the game a real sense of freedom. Laying waste to an enemy base from the air, interrupting enemy patrols with Ride of the Valkyries ringing in your ears is pretty good.

But there is one specific moment when I realised why people enjoy games like this. After the combination of the parachute and the wing suit had landed Rico onto a moving train I set about planting explosive charges onto the train. After disembarking for safety purposes I noticed a second train coming down the line. With some timing, one train exploded and the other one was derailed.

As a side note if this happens, nothing stops more trains just ploughing into the remnants of the other trains and derailing themselves. It’s pretty great.

But one of those trains was carrying a jet and somehow the aircraft loaded with missiles didn’t explode. And in accordance with Just Cause logic jets can take off from a railway track.

Said jet was then used to annihilate an enemy oil rig and almost from the air alone liberate an entire province. Having freedom and fun come together like that was pretty damn cool.

There have been other moments as well. Such as escaping from enemies by grapple hooking onto a car and riding off, crashing planes into enemy bases before parachuting out to create more havoc and just chain reacting explosions to make bigger explosions. It’s all very satisfying.

And ignoring the story missions actually leads to chaos when the story missions are actually done. One mission required me to escort a convoy. I’d already liberated the bases so when helicopters came over to intercept us, they were met by a wall of now unfriendly SAM sites. That was a source of much enjoyment. Actually hacked SAM missiles are one of the greatest things about Just Cause 3. This is particularly true at air bases. Watching a jet take off, only to dive straight into the ground in order to try and avoid six SAM missiles doesn’t really get old.

In bringing this piece to a finish let’s revisit those glorious methods of traversal that Just Cause 3 gives us. I had ascended to the top of Medici’s highest mountain (via a combination of a doomed one way fighter jet and foot) well, because it looked fun. I admired the view for the necessary amount time needed to admire a view, before launching the grapple hook in order to parachute to the highest point I could. Then I deployed the wing suit and just soared over Medici, with no goal in mind, no destination preset. Just the sheer joy of flying imbued me. The story didn’t demand it, it wasn’t necessary for an achievement. It was just one of those fun things that can be done in a sand box. And that’s pretty great right there.

Games that got away

Games that got away

There are certain games. Games you always wanted to play. But that thing called real life intervened. The funds were never quite available; other priorities came along with a raft of other things that make up life. And in the midst of all that, sometimes without realisation the game got away. The game may come back around, but there are those time when it’s gone forever.

But thanks to services such as GOG (Good Old Games) games that got away are becoming available once again. And with game remasters coming out with some frequency there’s even more games coming back around.

With all that said, here are 3 games that got away from me. I guess I am lucky for the fact that these games a relatively accessible still. There will be people whose game that got away will be a really obscure SNES game and for those people I can only hope they eventually get to play their games.

Shadow of the Colossus

This is the big one. I had a PS2 when Shadow of the Colossus first came out. Upon seeing that cover art I was intrigued. How could I not be?  There’s a sense of mystery, a sense of adventure. What is that monster? Where has it come from? What else lies beyond it?

Yet teenage me was enamoured with Tekken (5 or 6, can’t quite remember which) and just kept putting SOTC off. After all, I had infinite time to do things. And then for reasons I can’t remember the PS2 went away, and along with it any chance to place SOTC.

Then when I headed off to University I got another PS2. I fell back into playing Tekken (Tag Tournament this time). In fact I had forgotten all about SOTC. I left the PS2 at University while I took other stuff home first and when I went back to collect it another flatmate had made off with it. Great stuff. It was only afterwards I realised I could’ve yet again played SOTC. I had the means; it just completely slipped my mind.

It’s my entire fault. I had two chances at this, and fluffed one of them through sloth and other with forgetfulness. So I got to read about all the praise of this obviously great and visionary game. I just never played it.

Thank God for remakes then. Although I am tempted to buy a PS2 just to see it in its original form.

Silent Hill 2

In my 14 year old mind (or there abouts) since Resident Evil and Silent Hill both occupied the same genre they were obviously rivals and as such I had to pick one (smooth move there). Resident Evil 2 is a pretty great game though so something good did come of that stupid thought process. But looking back on that decision I missed something truly genre defining with Silent Hill 2.

In retrospect maybe it is better I missed it. 14 year old me liked shooting zombies and other T Virus monstrosities. I honestly think what Silent Hill 2 was going for (and by all accounts achieved) would have been completely missed. Silent Hill 2 is quite possibly one of the first examples of gaming growing up and using all the benefits of player interaction to deal with adult concepts and themes. I probably would have wondered why I couldn’t just shotgun Pyramid Head into submission.

Combine that with the imagery and atmosphere of Silent Hill 2 and it seems to be very possible to construct an argument that in its genre (and perhaps outside of its genre) that Silent Hill 2 has never been bettered.

I really should look into buying another PS2. They are pretty cheap these days. And Silent Hill 2 needs to be played.

Spec Ops: The Line

After the final PS2 disappearance I sat out the PS3/360/Wii generation. So not only did Spec Ops: The Line fly right on by but it also meant Demon Souls, Dark Souls and Okami were nothing but ether to me. I basically had handheld consoles (read: Pokémon) and flash games to keep me company at this stage.

In retrospect Dark Souls is the biggest miss given my adventures in gaming this year (From Software as game developers are beyond incredible) but for the longest time Spec Ops was the figure head of this generation for me. I read about it and was very intrigued by the story. It just felt so different to other games around that time. The lines of text during the loading screens were enticing enough.

The way the game changed as Captain Walker goes more and more insane was something I wanted to see and experience (his dialogue for example would get more rough and angry the further into the game the player got). And again as with Silent Hill 2, we saw a video game tackle subjects that were normally left well alone (the effects of war on people, the fragility of the human mind, how far can a human being go before they are beyond salvation).

But where as once a game would be gone now with GOG and the like, this isn’t a problem anymore. So when I finally get around to getting a good PC (this laptop is really on its way out) I’ll be able to play it. The only bad point is that I know all the story beats by now. Still, it seems to be the sort of game one should experience. It was a milestone in story telling in video games, and deserves respect for that alone.

~~~

I am going to be away for two weeks after this. In fact I’ll be in Norway. There probably won’t be any blog updates during this time. So apologies for that and I will see you all later!

What I’ve Been Playing This Week

Dark Souls III: I may be enjoying the world of Lothric more than Yharnam. There’s more colour, and more variety to the environments. Going from castles to forests to dungeons with lakes and massive gothic cathedrals is pretty great. What I didn’t expect was how beautiful the game can be. The view of Ithyll after exiting the catacombs is just gorgeous. And arriving at Arch Dragon Peak is one of those unforgettable experiences in gaming.

The sense of the scale is something special as well. Just looking down on the valley after defeating Vordt, and the view from the top of Farron Keep when you finally link the bridge is amazing. It’s one of those “I’ve come that far” moments. That’s pretty great.

One of my favourite things about the world in Dark Souls is how it isn’t there to be saved. It’s already dead and I’m just a wanderer trying to understand what happened here. It’s such a great story telling device, and guards against the usual conflict of a villain trying to end the world who also waits around for you to come around to them. I have missed plenty of side quests and lore, so there will be second play through.

Tying into this somewhat, it’s cool with From Software how if you want to dig into the story there’s so much there to go through. Yet if all you want is some hack and slash fun, then you’re free to do that as well. But please don’t play this as an actual hack and slash game. The stamina bar will put paid to all of that very quickly.

In regards to a second play through, whilst I am going to do it there is some sense of trepidation. Compared to Bloodborne there’s far more to stats to keep track of. If I wanted to do say, a skill build in Bloodborne it was easy (skill goes to 50, vitality goes to 50 and somewhere in the region 15 – 25 for stamina). With Dark Souls I have to level carry weight as well and some weapons need magic as well. I like it enough to do it, but I wonder if it may get a little bit tedious as compared to Bloodborne.

The boss fights have been pretty good so far. They haven’t quite managed to scale the heights of Bloodborne though. There’s still time for that to change with the DLC and regular game bosses still waiting for me. I would like to see someone akin to Ludwig at some point (my number one boss fight of all time). Pontiff was pretty awesome though, that fight had some great catharsis at the end of it. And it was great figuring out how to kill Yhorm the Giant.

Yet after killing Yhorm and reading the item descriptions, well, I’m a horrible person. Just a real piece of crap. Yhorm never asked for any of this. Yhorm didn’t deserve his fate. I’m just the worst. I’m just really sorry. Pontiff and Aldrich on the other hand, screw those guys. Pair of assholes.

And I have to mention the dancer. It only took 5 goes or so but damn. The way it moves, the music, its appearance. That’s the good stuff.

All that said I’ve just killed Prince Lothric and well, it all felt more like a gimmick boss than anything else. Honestly it might be the least amount of fun I’ve had with a Souls/Borne boss. The teleporting was annoying, particularly when he teleported mid hit and when going through the fog gate having him teleport right to you was pretty cheap. Still he’s dead and only in a Souls game could killing a child feel good.

My ability to back stab has improved out of sight. So much so I go looking for them now. And I’m really liking the combat in general. I really like shield turtling. There’s a great sense of patience about the whole thing, and the feeling of anxiety as a guard break becomes a possibility is a genuine rush, particularly when it’s averted at the last possible second.

Something I need to do here is profusely declare my love for the Grand Archives. Firstly the Boss fight before the Archives with the Dragon Slayer Amour was pretty great with the fire raining down and the armours imposing presence. One shotting it was just a bonus. And when entering the Archives there is a Crystal Mage who fires on sight. It leads to a chase sequence through book shelves and multiple floors all the while guarding against ambushes and arcane spells. Honestly it’s a strong contender for my favourite gaming moment this year.

Dark Souls III also marks my first proper PVP experience in a From Software game. Right after fighting Pontiff I was invaded twice. One duel was won and the other came out as a draw. Whilst playing Bloodborne I often avoided PVP by simply slipping into offline mode when wandering through the Nightmare Realm and Mensis. I’m a pretty shy guy and it was my single player journey so stop bothering me.

But you know what I had a lot of fun with those two fights. They were both tense and exhilarating, particularly the second one. If someone called qwerty happens upon this I was the dude with a great shield and an axe. Thanks for the great time!

There’s two AI controlled human enemies who come right after the PVP. There difference in intensity was clear. I should PVP more.

I am aware with these From Software write ups they are a bit rambling but I just love the games so much I end up getting a little to stream of consciousness with them. I’ll try and make them more cohesive at some point.

Also at this point since I have killed Prince Lothric I’m open to main game spoilers. How do I get to the top of the Church of Yorshka? I really can’t figure that out. I tried dodge rolling off the rotating platform at Anor Londo. That didn’t go well. Also, just after the first Bonfire in Boreal there’s a locked gate with an Evangelist behind it. No idea how to open that either. There’s also the Dragon in Lothic Castle. No idea how to kill that.

Just Cause 3: Some facts I’ve learned from playing Just Cause 3 –

The average human being is capable of surviving 17 bullets to the head.

You could follow the roads to your next destination. But it’s much easier to simply drive the car off a cliff. At this point you can jump out and wing suit the rest of the way or simply stay in the car because cars are more than capable of surviving rocketing down a cliff side while smashing into trees.

Enemy helicopters are of little concern. Simply wait around for a little while and the pilot will plow head long into a wall or the ground in due course. If not simply hijack the helicopter for a quick get a way. Then use said helicopter to blow up enemy bases as you find them. Two birds with one stone.

Just Cause 3 is still a fun game. But I’m somewhat concerned how long that fun is going to last. I really think the open world is far too big for its own good. I think it’s going to lead to the fun game play loop just burning out. What doesn’t help is the open world looking similar no matter where I am on the map. Horizon Zero Dawn had deserts, forests, snowy mountains, abandoned towns and a great many other things. Just Cause has forests, lots of similar looking villages and cities…and not much else. And the NPC characters don’t really know how to act. It’s either blatant panic or just enjoying the sun as if their homes aren’t exploding around them. There’s one other thing that really bothers me. Certain villages have police stations that need to be taken. This is done by filling a havoc meter by causing havoc. For one of these, apparently hijacking a tank and spending ten minutes shooting everything in sight didn’t count as enough havoc. That was ever so slightly annoying.

In an attempt to break up the regular game play, there are challenges to complete that unlock various perks. I honestly forget they are there half the time. They range from how much stuff can you blow up in so many seconds to how quickly can you complete this course (with cars, planes, wing suits and the like) to gun ranges. They can get pretty samey. I honestly think the game would benefit far more by cutting the map by a third and just having more variety in the environments.

There are collectables to find, but they are pretty meh. Thoroughly okay at best. It’s not the sort of world where I’m going to find out everything. Nothing in the way of great reveals. Going back to Dark Souls III and Yhorm (I’m so sorry) finding out that back story was great. There’s nothing like that in Just Cause. Well nothing that good.

There is a story here, done through missions. I ignored the second one for the longest time and liberated the entire island it was on. And still upon doing the story mission enemy tanks rolled in to level a village. An island completely liberated of the enemy. There’s a bit of ludo-narrative dissonance here. Just a little.

It’s also has something of a glitch problem. Nothing major, but things that seem to suggest the PS4 (Pro) can’t handle this game fully.

Nice camera there.

They are playing musical instruments. No really, they are.

She’s picking or farming something. Just what I’m not quite sure.

That’s one way to wash a car.

Still, the candle that burns twice as long burns twice as bright. In the middle of planting C4 charges before grappling hooking out and watching the carnage from 3 exploding fuel tanks. Or the joy that is hacking all the SAM missiles on a big base and seeing all the air support get greeted with a wall of missiles. Or the sheer thrill of grabbing a tank and just bombing through a base at full speed shooting at anything and anyone who moves or looks explosive.

I have however been trying to play Just Cause 3 in a different way lately, just to try and get some variety into the game. Sneakily grappling hooking through a village (sneakily in a Just Cause sense may be different to real world sneaking) and planting explosive charges without being seen and detonating them from a distance away is pretty cool.

What is a benefit to the game are random happenings around the map. There are rebels that need rescuing; the public need help with various matters (cars dragged to gas stations, boats put back in the ocean). It helps to break up the pace. My favourite ones are “Make it look like an accident” where you have to hijack a limo and pick up a government informant. After that, kill them in a way that, well, looks like an accident. It’s pretty great purposefully hurtling a car of a cliff side as Rico parachutes to safety. I’m also rather fond of Rico now. He’s funny in that 80’s action hero way. He is a living breathing Commando, or Tango and Cash.

You know, perhaps I’m overthinking all of this. Perhaps I’m getting away from what Just Cause is. Just Cause 3 is an absurd amount of fun. Guess I’ll just enjoy the ride while it lasts. And when it stops being fun, I’ll get off the ride.

Wheels of Aurelia: This, this is an odd one. Not stylistically, just in other ways which I will try to explain here. It takes place in Italy during 1978 and is part visual novel, part driving game. The game has 16 endings. The twist (if you can call it that) is that each play through is only 15 minutes long.

Now that is cool for re-plays, but it has the unintended effect of the plot just rocketing along. A spoiler warning is in effect starting now. In my first play through (it turns out this plot point remains consistent) I found out one of the main characters (Olga) is pregnant. There’s not much warning that’s coming. That’s right near the beginning of the game by the by. And she wants an abortion so we are heading off to France. The main character (also female, called Lella) is going to France to meet a former kidnapper. I learned this half way through the first play through. And then I was challenged to a street race. I bailed on that, and then lost my car (street race man took my car as a trophy or something) only for a hippy lady to offer me her van. We (Lella and Olga) then settled down in a small Italian town and raised the child together. That abortion in France was soon forgotten.

In 15 minutes of gameplay. There are intermissions in the game (like staying overnight in a town) that mark passing of time but still, in 15 minutes that’s a lot of plot. It’s different, I’ll give it that. But I have some quibbles. The dialogue is a bit on the nose and lacking in subtly but given the setting it may be accurate and the main character (Lella) is a rather direct person so it works. Also, there’s a timer on the dialogue but when you’ve selected what you want to say that timer can’t be cancelled. After Oxenfree that’s annoying. With Oxenfree you can say things on the spot and interrupt other characters leading to dialogue that feels real. Not dialogue with 30 second pauses between every sentence. You can leave the car to drive on rails, or try and drive and talk at the same time. There is a reason I don’t drive in real life. The characters have ranged from pretty good to okay. I think this is a product of the game going by so quick. There isn’t much investment time.

Still, it has its charms. The visuals are pretty good, the soundtrack (you get the soundtrack with the game which is nice) is by turns full of energy and lulls and there are various hitchhikers to be picked up and they bring unique elements to the story. It’s an enjoyable experience set in a unique time period but I’m happy I got it on sale for (I think) £2.49. For £7.99 I would have been a little put out. Truthfully it’s unfortunate for Wheels of Aurelia that it came after Oxenfree. Everything it attempts (driving aside) Oxenfree just does better.

What I’m Looking to Play

Hellblade, Senua’s Sacrifice: I want to give this a go, but with Dark Souls III ongoing it isn’t going to get a fair shake. But the subject matter intrigues me and it looks really good so at some point it’s going to get a play.

Undertale: Again, I’m waiting until Dark Souls III has at least one completion. But this one’s been on the list for a while and now it’s arrived on PS4 I can give it go. I’m looking forward to it.

An Idea For A Video Game

I am not a game developer. I will probably never be a game developer. There be dragons. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking of games I would like to see. There is an idea that has been kicking around my head for a little while, so I figured it would be nice at some point (like this point for example) to explore this idea a little more thoroughly.

For the most part it’s not that revolutionary. Let’s imagine an RPG. Its setting is the sweet spot that is the Medieval/Dark Ages mixed with high fantasy. In fact given my current preoccupation with Nordic culture let’s go with a Viking feel. We have a starting point now.

The game would have traditional side quests where there are things are collect, and things are killed and goats are rescued. The twist to all this would be developing in the back ground, and it will gain prominence as the story develops. The overarching main quest would involve the coming of a dragon/serpent, prophesied to destroy the realm, and someone will have to stop it, namely the player. Again, I’m not breaking new ground here, but let’s keep on going regardless.

As the player rummages through side quests, there would be reports coming in of settlements and hamlets being razed to the ground. At this point the player could investigate said reports, or just keep wandering around the world come what may. If the reports were investigated, there would indeed be villages immolated with surviving villagers telling of the devastation. At that point it’s back to main quest to halt the dragon/serpent.

Continue doing side quests, as the reports pile up? Once you return to the main quest line, you won’t find a world in stasis. If left until the end there will be the dragon/serpent standing over the main city, fully powered up and the realm left as nothing more than cinder and dust. Vast wings block out the sun, everyone’s dead and it’s your entire fault. This could have been stopped. Warnings were given.

I’ve been playing open world games recently (although I guess this can be applied to a lot of video games) and it seems the villain, or the equivalent of a villain just waits around until the player decides to fight them. It has been a constant thought in my head of what would happen if the antagonist didn’t wait around as if on an extended cigarette break but just got on with their plans while the player was collecting flowers or killing ten rats. It makes sense in this case for the opposing force to be a dragon/serpent. Human enemies are prone to sloth. A primal force would just rampage onwards without regard.

It is worth mentioning that at this point the dragon/serpent would still be capable of being slain in battle. This would be an utterly pyrrhic victory however. Yes, the beast would be vanquished but the world’s still a mess of cinders and dust. There could be different endings depending on the stage the dragon/serpent would be defeated but I won’t even begin to pretend to know how that would be implemented. That would be a great deal of work. It would be pretty neat though. An issue here would be just killing it right away and finishing the game. I’d have to figure out a way around that.

I just want to see a game with a great terror looming, but the great terror actively makes an effort. I also want to see how many people would do pointless fluff quests as the world burns down around them. I am aware that I’m working with what is essentially a glorified time limit here, but I think with the right presentation it could work.

As for the game mechanics they would be Souls like combat just because I love that. I’d be working with an open world as well. The NPC’s would have to be developed too with good voice acting. There has to be a connection there so if/when they die, they are worth caring for. The same would apply to the world. It has to be living and breathing, so that the loss is acutely felt. There would probably be numerous balance issues between the main quest line and side quests. I’m not sure how the whole thing would work in actuality, as opposed to this bit of text.

Maybe I’m just doing a Majora’s Mask remake here. Or perhaps not, I don’t quite know. But this is an idea I have, and one I felt the urge to get on down on paper. I hope it was fun to read.

What I’ve Been Playing This Week

What I’ve Been Playing This Week

Bloodborne: One of the nicest things about Bloodborne is the flexibility it affords in regards to playing it. Want a jolly co-operative adventure? You can do that. Want to go it alone? You are more than welcome to. Feeling the urge to fight other people? That’s an option. Feeling a little stuck, and needing a summon? Games got you covered. Want to try a challenge run? You’ll need to pick one first, there’s quite a few. It’s easy to go over leveled or under leveled, both work. And every weapon is viable, so there’s a build for everyone.

There’s always lots of talk about the From Software game, and how they harkens back to older games, by forcing people to play one way. Yet, with a little bit of digging, there’s so many other ways to play it.

Yet, right now it’s time to say good bye. The last few play sessions have been a bit lacking, and when I finally died to the Witch of Hemwick, well, it’s like the game is playing the role of a bartender telling you that you’ve had too much to drink and you need to go home. I’ll be coming back though, there’s still hunters who need to finish the hunt. This however leads into the next thing on this list.

I did finish with killing Martyr Logarious and Dark Beast Paarl, so I went into my break on a high note.

Dark Souls III: Dust, Claire – I’m sorry but you’ll have to sit on the sidelines for some time. You ain’t going to be getting any time right now. This was going to happen sooner or later given how much I loved Bloodborne. I would have liked to play Dark Souls first but I don’t have the PC to play it and Dark Souls III has been sat on my hard drive since January.

I am really liking my time was Dark Souls III. Definitely making my way towards loving Dark Souls III.  There are lots to explore, the environmental story telling is strong (as always) and there are those looping paths that I just love. I’m slowly getting used to the combat system (dodge rolling is different to side stepping) so there is still a lot to learn. I’ve done a few back stabs, and I have no idea how I did them. I think I’m getting it though. The last few have come in a cluster, so I’m doing something right.

Parrying seems more difficult here than in Bloodborne. I now carry around a great shield and that’s going well. The boss battles have been pretty great so far with Iudex Gundyr (1st attempt!), Vordt (2nd attempt!) and the Great Cursewood Tree (3rd attempt! – there’s a pattern here) having fallen. Joining them are the Crystal Sage (2nd attempt – sequence breaker) and The Abyss Watchers (2nd attempts). The Old Demon King (3rd attempt) and the Deacons of the Deep (1st attempt) are the latest additions to this list. I’m sure there’s a boss who’s going to be like Ludwig or Orphan coming up. For me it may be Wolnir. I haven’t a clue how to hurt him. I’ll figure it out though. There has to be. Many of my deaths are coming at the hands of regular enemies.

Levelling up also seems to be more complicated than in Bloodborne. There are more stats and I’m never quite sure if I’m ignoring something that I’ll need later on. There’s a carry weight to pay attention to now so that’s something new.

Still I’m marching on. I’ve had a blast exploring the Undead Settlement – just so many alleyways and side streets to explore. Bloomin marvellous. And the Crucifixion Woods/Farron’s Keep is great to walk around. Poison aside. It’s the feeling I had when playing Bloodborne all over again. I’m going in blind and every discovery is just amazing. It helps that the game is just gorgeous. The environments are great to look at with giant castles and cathedrals, along with vast forests and abandoned forts. Combine that with overcoming the game itself and I’m on to a good thing. There’s also the joy of seeing bosses for the first time, and figuring out attack patterns, followed by the excitement of figuring them out. From Software are just wonderful. Oh and the great NPC’s are back as well. Felt the need to mention that.

Also, the Esteus Flask is far superior to Blood Vials. I don’t have to farm anymore which is great so when I eventually hit a boss wall (it’s coming, I know it) the pace of the game won’t grind to a halt. That really is such a nice feeling.  And the bonfire is a superior image to the lantern. In a vast, uncaring dead land, the small act of sitting by a fire becomes that much more special, and intimidate.

There’s no Chalice Dungeons here. Thank the Christ lord for that.

And one more thing. Lovecraft is great, but dragons have a certain majesty that is impossible match. Dragons are awesome.

(Gfycat played up this morning, so no gifs. Sorry!)

Just Cause III: Rico Rodriguez blows things up. Lots of things.  

This didn’t start off too well. Games that involve analogue sticks and aiming guns with said sticks often leave me looking rather foolish. And I had lots of trouble early on with the locomotion options that game has. Rico has a grappling hook, which later allows you to tether things together. I didn’t know (still don’t actually) how to switch between tether mode and general transportation mode and as such had a torrid time trying to move around and avoid gunfire. There’s also a wing suit for gliding, and a parachute for safe landings.

But I put more time into it and have managed to get the tether stuck on transportation mode and well, Just Cause 3 is a ridiculous amount of fun. Everything is geared towards fun. It’s as if all those 80’s action films gave birth to a video game. Parachuting into a crowd of enemies as you gun them down, and then latching onto the bottom of a helicopter to plant an explosive charge before wing suiting away to freedom is a something that everyone needs to do at some point in their lives. The fact Rico gets all this at the beginning without unlocking it is actually pretty great. It’s just mayhem from the get go. Well, it was mayhem once I got used to the controls. For Just Cause veterans it would have been mayhem from the get go. I also get a real kick out of playing the floor is lava and seeing how long I can parachute and wing suit my way across the map.

All of that being said, it’s debatable if I am going to finish Just Cause 3. The map is massive, and I’m not sure if the game play loop as fun as it is can keep it going that long. Still, seeing as I got it on PS plus it’s been pretty great so far.

 Things I’m Looking Forward to Playing

Eitr: If you live in hope, prepare to die in desperation. I had honestly forgotten about Eitr until it came up in conversation with a friend. Since Bloodborne came along (and now with the advent of Dark Souls III) I love all things Souls, and after Jotun awakening a love of Norse myth and legend Eitr would scratch so many itches.

The problem here is Eitr was supposed to appear in 2016, and then everything went almost silent. The only thing of note was a small notice of a delay till 2017. More silence, until now as GOG has listed Eitr as coming soon, and the developers are talking. It could still be a distant hope, but I’ll hold out something.

Right now I’m going for Hammers and Axes in Dark Souls III, so I have a work around for Nordic Souls.

Now For Something Completely Different

I’ve been thinking of something lately. It’s essentially a set of reactions for bosses in From Software games, although I guess it can be applied to other games as well. It’s graded in attempts taken. Let’s give it a go.

1 attempt – “Well that went well.” – Often accompanied by a sudden rush of excitement and giddiness. There is a down side to this though. Luck could have played a part and come NG+ cycles things can get a bit more difficult. But sometimes not. Everyone has that boss they just understand from the get go.

2 – 5 attempts – “I quickly assessed the attack patterns and cracked them relatively early which resulted in a well earned victory.” – This feels like a sweet spot. Just the right amount of attempts, ensuring some form of catharsis.

6 – 10 attempts – “I know the pattern now, I just have to execute now. See, I told you. It was all about the execution” – A situation when frustration is averted or at the very least excess frustration.

11 – 15 attempts – “It’ll happen – I’m sure it will happen.” – There’s always hope. Hope goes a long way. At this point you just rely on Andy Dufresne’s story from the Shawshank Redemption.

16+ attempts – Sentences don’t happen here much. A lot of communication is done in single words and gestures. Ones that society as deemed offensive most probably. The controller can now gain the hitherto unknown ability of flight. There’s no real change in the reactions beyond 16 attempts. They just get more severe as attempts increase. The bright side here is that the catharsis of victory can be off the charts. The other reaction is to descend into silence, often accompanied by a stare that bores through time itself. Best not to be bothered at this time.

In actuality at this point it’s probably better to walk away. Get some sleep – no, really, it helps a lot. Coming back the next day fresh is often a good thing.

Jotun, or how I learned to stop worrying and learned how to love maps

I’m not great at reading maps, and perhaps that is why I’m not fond of it. I’ve been more inclined to wander around, and find things by chance. It has led to fun stuff, and well, a 5 hour walk back from a Japanese mountain because I missed the last bus. Good times.

Some video games indulge the wandering aspect. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was particularly great at this, at least until encountering a monster 27 levels higher than me. And Yharnam is just a wanderers dream. But with some games, there are just so many places to go, and things to collect that I just ended up using a map and waypoints.  That was true with Horizon Zero Dawn, which I really didn’t mind given how beautiful the game is but that really doesn’t involve any map reading. It was just waypoint following.

This brings us to Jotun, one of my (surprise) favourite games of the year. Each of the realms in Jotun is accompanied by a map. There aren’t particularly big maps, but there’s enough there that requires some navigation skill. Jotun doesn’t tell you where you are on the map. This was an initial source of frustration, given my distaste of map reading and more likely contributed to Jotun being sent to the back log for a while.

Upon returning to Jotun, I played through one of the simpler maps and fell back in love with the artwork (an incredibly easy thing to do).  What I found is if you explore Jotun thoroughly, you not only get to see more beautiful artwork but there are items to find, and what pleased me more information about Norse mythology. So I began to seek out these, which meant I had to read maps.

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A grand old map.

This brought me to Hvergelmir, where the roots of Yggdrasil, the great ash tree lie. It is one of Jotun’s more maze like realms, a mess of platforms linked by roots and it’s always going downhill, Thora sliding down the roots. At certain points stalactites will drop from the roof, so we have to get our dodge roll on. To get back up to the higher platforms, there are elevators of sort, but they are only on certain outcroppings, and they aren’t many in number. So I had to seriously start looking at the map, ascertaining which platform I was on and where the next root slide would take me.

And it turns out I really like finding my way around sans waypoints. There is a certain joy in figuring out the way forward, and that feeling only gets more joyful upon arriving at ones destination. It really turns into a genuine sense of accomplishment. I would be open to feeling more often. It was nice to identify individual platforms by checking the map and seeing the size and contours of the outcroppings. All of this made the things I found and saw in Jotun that much more rewarding. This was particularly true of the God Power bestowed upon Thora in Hvergelmir. It’s out on the perimeter, so when I found the necessary patch of land with the right elevator to ride up to it, that felt pretty damn great.

I’ve spoken before about set up and pay off in regards to Jotun, and I feel that shines through in the realm of Hvergelmir. We know from Thora’s introductory dialogue that in the roots of Yggdrasil resides the great worm Níðhǫggr who is constantly gnawing at the great ash tree’s roots (I’ve learned all of this from a video game. Without it feeling forced. I love that). Given the size and scale of Yggdrasil, Níðhǫggr must be a creature of immense size. As we get further and further down the tree, the roof caves in even more and falling debris must now be navigated while sliding down the tree roots. Then the last corner comes up, the music swells (I feel Jotun has a really underrated soundtrack) and the camera pans out, and there is the Níðhǫggr, far larger than I could have ever imagined. And there, at the very end lies the rune we seek and the elevator that takes us back to the beginning of the realm.

Through a combination of brilliant artwork and Norse mythology, Jotun showed me the joy of map reading, and the happiness felt on finding my own way forward. I see less waypoints in the future right now.

What I’ve Been Playing This Week

Bloodborne: There’s one sound I love in Bloodborne, more than any other. It is the hum of the lantern. And it’s at its most effective after a boss fight. After the carnage has ended, and the hunter stands there, clothes splattered in blood there’s that familiar hum. The noise that signifies the danger has passed, that we can return to the safety of the hunters dream. And because Bloodborne eschews music outside of boss fights (mostly) the hum of the lantern comes across that much clearer.

And a random thought on the visceral attack. It’s great to do, deals massive amounts of damage and renders some troublesome encounters trivial. But there’s a secondary effect it has, and that is slowing the fight down. When locked in a tough battle, and on the back foot, the break in time that is the parry and the follow up visceral attack really allows you to consider new plans of attack, to take stock of what has gone on and heal up if necessary. It really is a multi functional game mechanic.

I know this is the second visceral attack on Laurence in as many round ups. I just don’t like Laurence.

Also, please, please, please remember to back up your save files. My PS4 power cable caught on something and came undone, which in turn corrupted Bloodborne’s save files. However, thanks to the USB backup made just moments before, the lives of 4 hunters were saved. Backups are good, backups are great.

Claire Extended Edition: A 2D horror game that pits its titular character in a hospital with her dying mother. What follows is a series of visions and hallucinations as Claire must figure out what is happening.

I’m early into the game, but I’m finding that 2 dimensional horror works better than I thought it would. In 3 dimensions things can placed around corners, or placed at distance to induce dread and unease (Pyramid Head at the end of the corridor in Silent Hill 2). But Claire still manages to pull off uneasy and unsettling, contributing to a pretty good atmosphere. This is further enhanced by the artwork. The graphics are pixelated, but still firmly in the unsettling camp. I wouldn’t go as far as to call Claire a life changing experience, but it’s coming along rather well, and I want to find out the cause of the sinister happenings at the hospital.

There are also NPC’s to talk to (I’ve only spoken to one though, so I can’t comment too much on their qualities) notes to gather which add more context the story and there are multiple endings to get as well. So there appear to be branching paths. I can’t guarantee a re-play at this point, but it’s nice to know there are reasons for doing that.

On starting the game up, the game gives you 3 difficulty settings. A story mode difficulty were the game is easy so you can enjoy the story, and then there’s a regular difficulty and a hard difficulty for the challenge. And I really like that. More games should do that. And if they already do this I should check them out.

Also, this is silly, but Claire’s jumping animation makes me laugh. She keeps her arms by her sides. It just makes me giggle everytime.

Dust, an Elysian Tail: This is a Metroidvania. So far it’s shaping up to be a good example of the genre. As with Claire, I’m not too far into it, but I’ve enjoyed my time with it. The combats pretty good but I do find myself button mashing a fair bit. The game has explained combos, but lots of square buttons mixed with the odd triangle seem to do the job. Special attacks complement the combos and there’s a parry system as well.  So it seems to be a combat system that allows for simplicity, but also lets players use more advanced techniques. That’s pretty cool.

The artwork for the world is pretty damn beautiful. Lush forests, lovingly crafted pagodas and there’s a nice rotation of weather as well. All of the characters are of the anthropomorphic style. Animals with human proportions and such. This may be a deal breaker for some people, but it doesn’t bother me. Everyone’s well drawn and animated and they fit into the world around them.

Not sure there’s going to be awards handed out for the story though. A hero with amnesia, a sacred sword and a world that needs saving. It serves a purpose. But it moves at a quick pace. So that’s pretty great. That being said, there have been some NPC’s with branching dialogue, so there may be some twists up ahead. But so far, so serviceable.

Dust has shown a smattering of Meta jokes and comments so far. Some of these are okay. Those are the best of them. All of them are a bit on the nose. As an example, there are some vines we are told to climb and then we proceed to slip down them. At which point our helper says something to the effect of “don’t worry, if we come back later we can get up there”. Backtracking, Metroidvania. Do you get it? No, really, do you? We have to backtrack, because it’s a Metroidvania. I guess if you’ve never played a game like this it would work, but for me it’s mainly eye rolling resignation.

Our helper is called Fidget, and she occupies the Navi role in this game. Sometimes she’s funny; sometimes you just want to cave her face in with a cricket bat.

But for the most part, it has been so far so good with Dust. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of it.

Last Guardian: While I’m really enjoying The Last Guardian, there are some issues. It still bothers me that the game has perfect moments of visual storytelling and then insists on explaining them with a voice over. Don’t do that.

Sometimes I’m never quite sure when game play ends and starts again. Trico will do his thing (I think he’s a he), jumping from platform to platform but sometimes it just seems pre-programmed, like it’s a scene transition. It’s still a worthy spectacle though; I’m just not sure how much I have to do with it.

Dealing with enemies can be annoying as well, at least without Trico around. The camera doesn’t handle on foot combat that well (well, on foot avoidance if I’m being honest) and if you are grabbed by them, it’s a case of button mashing for freedom. It’s just tedious all round.

 

Those two points considered there are multiple times when the game shows just why I like it as much as I do. A lot of it is Trico. It’s in way he lazily plonks himself down and scratches his ear. His curiosity towards the world around him, sniffing and batting object that catch his gaze. The way Trico cocks his head when called upon, or noticing food. Trico’s eyes turning white and his feathers rising upon seeing an enemy. The little nervous shake Trico makes before launching into a jump. It’s easy to grow fond of Trico.

There was one moment when those elements came together. Trico was atop a great spire, gazing upon the world around. I then noticed where we had to go, so I climbed up onto his back and pointed out to him the platform above us. He caught sight of it, tilting his head like a confused dog at which point I petted him, to reassure him. Confidence rising, he crouched before launching himself to the platform. All the while I gripped tightly to Trico’s feathers. No matter what the issues with the game, it gives you moments like that. No other game will do that.

Games I’ve Finished This Week:

Jotun: I thoroughly enjoyed Jotun. All of Jotun in fact. I really dug the realms, and exploring every part of them even those realms devoid of enemies. Maybe it’s that part of me that enjoys hiking through and up empty mountain sides, being accompanied by only my thoughts. Jotun gave me plenty of that, and I was more than thankful for that. This accompanied with the size and scale of everything, I honestly felt I was in the realm of the Gods. Also, I now really want to visit Scandinavia.

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The world is very big, and I am very small.

I couldn’t talk about finishing Jotun without mentioning the boss fights. There are 6 of them in total, and they are all in keeping with Jotun’s hand drawn animation and so very beautiful for it. From a gameplay point of view attack patterns are fun to learn, and rewarding to crack. This is further enhanced by the bosses having 2 phases, sometimes requiring more precise movements and some requiring new attack plans all together. The Jotun’s themselves tower over our heroine Thora, and that size and scale really contributes to the joy and catharsis that comes from felling a giant.

Also I will say there are trophies for beating bosses without taking damage, without using the God powers and for doing bosses under certain time limits (Kaunan’s is 60 seconds). If one feels like an extra challenge, they are there for the taking. For me, I feel frustration would claim me at some point.

Some spoilers for the final battle here, so pass by this section if need be. It’s a fight against Odin and it’s in keeping with the rest of the boss fights, up to a point. But then the second half kicks in, and he begins to summon the spirits of the slain Jotun to attack you. After the one on one battles, it feels a bit of a cop out. Just something that seems a little challenge for challenge sake. It’s still a fun challenge to surmount, but I would have prepared a one on one showdown with the All Father.

The ending sequence is one of gorgeous animation. On the whole, a game that gave me a massive amount of joy. Also, I’ve been meaning to mention this for a while, whoever did Thora’s voice acting, damn fine job. I can’t find a name, but damn fine job. Damn fine job to the whole team