Destiny 2 Beta: Eyes up again Guardian, it’s time to checkout this sliver of light

The first day has passed on the Destiny 2 beta, and everyone is rushing out to give their first impressions. At the time of writing this, the beta has been out for twenty-three hours, and while I imagine someone has been playing non-stop since the launch on PS4, the first platform to get Destiny 2, Xbox fans are surely excited for their guardians to step into the now nearly light-less beta and explore the small but interesting offer that Bungie and Activision have given us. Sorry PC gamers, you have to wait until August but rest well and assured in your delay as let’s be honest, your game should look better than us console peasants.

Back to the task at hand though, and that is my impressions of the Destiny Beta so far. In the shortest answer, I am having a pretty good time. There are issues for sure, but I think there are a bunch of good-to-great segments and improvements they have shown to leave me with a pretty positive impression of what the full game could look like.  Let’s grab a few new guns and dive in.

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Right out of the gate, let’s take a moment to appreciate the load screen music. Destiny has always had some pretty great orchestral music mixed with the choir as part of its background tracks and Michael Salvatori, the game’s composer,  really crush’s this opening theme. It instantly get’s you back into the Destiny frame of mind, taking notes from the original game, yet blends them into something, in my opinion, more powerful and passionate. If this opening theme is the bar in which we have to set the rest of the game’s music from, then I think we are in for an ear full of greatness.

Continuing on the audio train, let’s talk about the general sound of the game, from the hoarse bark of the pulse rifle, the thunderous clap of the hand cannons and the oddly heavy footsteps of your guardian as you rush your way to the ‘B’ flag or to the next jumping portal in the strike. First and foremost, we have to talk about the combat audio. Each weapon has a pretty damn satisfying growl, snap or bark associated with it and it help’s you not only pin down what class is shooting you from behind, because your teammate cannot seem to put up their damn blast wall while capturing the point, but also gives you a feel for where their attack from, whether it’s you being shot, or your squad mates firing from around the corner to let you know the fight is on its way to you.

The audio design, for these few pieces of content we are able to play, is a step above Destiny 1, as it’s much clearer to hear fire fight’s from farther away and the grenades clink’s & clanks as they bounce off the wall. These audio cues really play in as a secondary radar to players who are tuned in and listening, as the clarity in which you hear the sound of lightning, fire, and iron usually indicates how close you are to getting beaten about the head and neck by a roaming super.

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Sweeps, our beloved sweeper bot

Not all of the audio is on point yet though as I found that footsteps varied greatly in their quality, not only from a “wow that’s loud in my ears when I walk” standpoint but also how it doesn’t seem to follow the same rules as weapons and grenades all the time. While it does seem like different surfaces produce different levels of ‘clack’, there doesn’t seem to be the same level consistency here which can really mess with you, especially when in some of the more cramped and multi angle of attack points, such as the B flag on control or the indoor’s bomb plant point in countdown. Nothing says “stop throwing your boots voice” like being shot from the side when your radar say’s they are in front of you, but the audio makes it sound like they are behind you. The other audio issue I have is actually enemy weapon fire. I think part of the issue is that the queue’s we came to know and understand in Destiny 1 are not quite the same/completely new so that learning curve is there obviously, however, there are still times where I am being shot/damaged and no whine of a flayer rifle or chunky metal pang is there to notify me that someone is, in fact, trying to give me a third eye in the center of my forehead.

A quick note on the voice work. While we don’t get a ton of dialogue throughout each of the activities,  what we do get is good, as the main cast from the original game makes its return and continues to deliver a pretty strong performance. If I had to gripe, I would say Ikora’s voice actor, Gina Torres, get’s a weak line to “get angry” about and it feels slightly out of place compared to the rest of her, and the others dialogue. While I am no vocal coach, nor a voice actor it seemed like there could have been a bit more power or slight distortion to her voice as she powered up a nova bomb and leaped onto a Cabal aircraft. Ghaul’s voice was particularly good in its deep, omnipotent feeling bass, almost like time slows as his presence and voice become the single focal point of the scene. Out of every voice heard, I have issues with two of them. These are not issues as in “wow these are terrible” but more along the lines of “I don’t have the context for why they are there, and thus they sound really out of place”. Firstly is Failsafe another AI, I presume, who seems to be part of the general overwatch for missions. Much like characters and/or your ghost make comments as you progress through a story mission or strike this new character chimes in with a modicum of frequency, usually to harass/make fun of your ghost throughout the Strike; Inverted Spire. What throws me off about this assumedly female character is that the play between her and the ghost has no context yet, so seems very random and often very crude. The other voice is in control and is only heard if you capture all three points at the same time. It’s an audio clue that seems so out of place both in tone and message for this mode, as Lord Shaxx has always been our announcer/encourager of Guardian murder. This may be a place holder voice, or again like Failsafe, it could just be we don’t have the context for why it’s there and as such, think it’s odd.

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If you have not played Destiny 1, either in a very long time or at all, Destiny 2 may look like it’s the same game with some new guns and I don’t think anyone could blame you. Before actually getting hands on time with it, I also thought the game looked pretty much like the original, but once you sit down and start playing the game you start to notice the, mostly, positive changes and upgrades they have made all across the design and gameplay fronts of this game.

Right away I noticed the colour palette and while I, again, understand why some may not see it, I found the world to be a lot lusher and full of deep colour versus Destiny 1’s seemingly dry palette. There we get a very bright, sharp and cold game, where in the sequel we get a much warmer and vibrant set of colours to work with. Cloth and other fabric’s look like they have substance to them, while plate armour retains that bulk look and feel, but doesn’t feel as lifeless as many of the original games heavy gear did. Level design also feels the impact of colour saturation and emulates the same lush look and feel that cloth armour portrays. This gives your story mission the brooding darkness that inky shadows and dancing fire of a wrecked room that is appropriate, while it keeps the control map looking bright and well-worn as light grey stone absorbs all the light around it, with shaded alcoves and underground tunnels stay properly dark and subtle wet appearance.

Colour also plays a big part in your enemies, whether it’s the harpy laser beam, soldier’s blasting boulder size arc shotgun rounds from their weapons or the Cabal leaders blasting off with Inferno coloured jetpack’s and a shimmering fire shield to match, colour plays very well with your PvE experience. The Inverted Spire, the strike playable in the beta, uses both colours, the darkness of caverns, the shadow’s created by flickering flames, and ambient lighting from lights or energy sources to give you a real sense of size and depth as you traverse your way through the level. Even outside, pock-marked earth and craters break up the landscape in multi hued browns and greys, then sprinkled with a few tiny bits of fire like one of the developers was that salt the steak guy and wanted to add a bit more flavour to the level. The boss of the strike encapsulates this with the rotation of elements as you whittle down his health by chunks, not only changing tactic’s as part of its three-tiered battle but also its aesthetic, as you take on harpies and a giant void damage beast first, only to have the floor disintegrate beneath you to fall into a nearly obsidian colour room and be besieged by the oddest game of the floor is lava since that stupid meme first started. Finally, after one more fall, you are bathed in the light, but not the kind you want as it’s merely Vex milk and Lord Bag-o-bolts is throwing lightning at you like its name was Storm and this was a try out for the Xmen 2018 movie.

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When it comes to the design of the characters themselves, I find them to be actually quite pleasing to look at. I am not sure if it’s a trick of the eye or my mind playing tricks on me, but I feel like all of the Guardians are slightly taller, giving them a lankier look, then adding in their respective armour set’s to fill out the ‘bulk’ of the character. Titan’s, pictured above, feel like they take up more room sideways than in the previous title, while Warlocks and Hunter’s retain their slim/wiry nature, but have a bit more diversity in their silhouettes are different both in body type and movement. While obviously, a giant cloak will give the hunter a unique form, it just feels like the armour for each class has been tweaked slightly more to give it that extra oomph.

One thing I have noticed is that weapons look great in your hands. There are lot’s of little tweaks to weapons we already know, like the Shotgun, Fusion Rifle and Scout Rifle to make them look neat, and the new weapons like sub machine guns and grenade launcher have a similarly sleek design, but there is an oddity when looking at someone else holding a weapon. That oddity is that it doesn’t seem to stand out as much as I thought it would. This could be because of how most weapons are held close to the body, or because Bungie wanted to not have “rifle peak” be an issue they had to worry about, who can say. All I know is that you know what weapon is shooting you when it starts firing, unless it’s a hand cannon, as that seems to be the only weapon that stands out, in an almost cartoonish nature. Manufacturers are back, and we get to see various weapons from the no name smiths of the vanguard and crucible, as well as Omolong, Hakke, Suros and a newcomer to the gunsmith world: Veist. The Veist weapons look like cousin’s to the weapon’s from the last expansion, Rise of Iron, in Destiny vanilla, as they are not that appealing to look at and feel almost like a kitbashed version of the weapon group it is a part of. The weapons themselves are perfectly fine, minus the side arm which is a dumpster fire in the palm of your hand, they offer some unique multi purpose perks that other weapons do not, at least as far as I have found so far. As with the original, Destiny 2’s weapons have multiple perks that allow you to tweak the weapons and offer the same infuse function as before, along with a skin mod slot, for that all pink weapon set. The real question will be how the elemental mod’s for secondary weapons work if you lose them on replacement and if other mods can be put in, so you have two kinetic weapons but one has more perks because of the mod.

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While it is always fun to ‘gun’, the armour you don as part of the ‘run’ portion of that phrase is a unique bag. Currently, we only have a couple sets of armour to base opinion off of, and each class set’s focus on resilience, mobility, and recovery. Using a Titan as an example, we see that the main focus of the base set is resilience, which seems pretty reasonable. Going into the details of the armour you see that, much like weapons each armour piece has an infuse, shader mod and empty mod slot. At this time we don’t have any idea what type of mods can be used in armour, but I hope some of the mods include things like cooldown reduction for grenades, melee, and power, super or otherwise. The other aspect of armour is their perk set, again mirroring what Destiny 1 did in spirit, but altering in execution. No longer is Strength, Intellect, and Discipline there to help you manipulate your cooldowns and turn you into a Voidwalking dispenser of death or a Striker Titan with more charged strikes than Thor the god of Thunder but more on that in a moment. The perk tree for each piece of armour has, currently, two options which help you shape the basics of your character. Staying on the Titan, your basic armour starts you off with a very high resistance, but extremely low mobility and low-moderate recovery. If you go into the details of your armour you can change its perk from regeneration to mobility, much like the expanded sub-class tree from Destiny 1. I am not sure if the same values, such as max armour, in Destiny 2 function the same as the previous game, I am not a numbers guy and don’t fully grasp how to properly test and articulate those types of results, however I am sure we will see a numbers video by someone like Skillup or Datto sooner rather than later.

All this talk of weapons and armour brings up another interesting, and potentially frustrating aspect of the beta and possibly the full game upon release: the subclass tree. In the original Destiny, there were a ton of options for each subclass, and for the most part, people stuck to one or two builds. Whether that was a PvP and PvE build, or a strike builds versus a raid build, the idea of ‘wow look at all the options I have’ it gives people choice or at least the illusion of choice. In Destiny 2, there is really no choice. You still have your three jump options, which by the way if you’re an Arcstrider Hunter, prepare to get mad as you have no blink, and you still have the three grenade options to choose from. However now your skill tree is restricted, so far in the beta, it could be expanded more in the full version, to two different sets of four abilities. Even within this restriction, players cannot change their skills, though again this may change later on in the beta.  This has been a particular sticking point in some people’s craw due to the seemingly dumbed down nature it presents to the player. It’s not often that you want fewer choices, especially in a game that is trying to re-focus its efforts on making the game more gun/skill focused but also diverse for its base. I am in this camp myself, as I was hoping for a more diverse and unique play style to be added via new and fun talents instead of being restricted like we seem to be. I can, however, understand the other side of this point as not only does it A) make it easier for the devs to work/balance around for both low and high levels of play,  and B) give them a chance to make the talents they are keeping in more flavourable and allow for some new fun ways to combo powers with teammates.

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This is a brief snippet of a match I played, and I include it for two reasons. The first is I am vain, and I want to show off something I did, and the second, and more important of the two reasons is to talk about some of the game play elements which is where, in my opinion, the beta starts to have its biggest issues. Fear not, the sky is not falling, as the experience has been mostly enjoyable however Bungie still has issues in this verticle slice of a new game that its previous game had for three years. Let me elaborate;

Like mentioned in the section about sound and audio, most of the time things are spot on. The throaty hoarse nature of the Nightshade pulse rifle fit’s right in with the Phosphorus MG4 sub machine gun as you and a teammate blow some smelly hunter out of existence or the whoosh of eternal flame as the Dawnblade ignites and begins to hunt. The issue, however, comes into play much like every other FPS, Destiny 1 included; “I was around the F*!#ing corner, how did I get shot” or the ever popular “How did I get melee killed, no one was on the radar”. I am sure there are other’s that people find uniquely annoying but these are my personal two hells when playing any FPS, and especially within Bungie’s ten-year trilogy in the making. This problem has persisted in the first Destiny since launch and was one of the major issues I was hoping to have resolved, or at least be so rare in happening, that when it did, I could brush it off as just that, a random rare occurrence.

In the last thirty games I played, I was killed through walls or around corners at least once in every game. Initially, I felt that it had not improved over the first game at all, but after some quick camera work and replay reviews I saw that the majority of my close deaths were “legit”, and I quote that because clearly it’s still bullshit that I died and they didn’t, queue winky face. Another issue I came across and heard a few other, more prolific in the Destiny scene, say was that the auto aim assist seems to be slightly off. I found that SMG’s and Auto rifles had a slightly off lock on as you track a runner and especially noticeable in both hand cannons and slow firing scout rifles. Another minor gripe I have is the ‘double ko’ punch still happens fairly frequently, and there are more times than I care to count of Lining up a charged melee attack, from any class to the back of someone’s head, only to have them turn around and kill me then die from my attack. These type’s of things are not game breaking, but they are frustrating to happen in PvP, especially the new competitive mode where there are only a select amount of revives in the mix, a needless death really start’s too sour your perception. While it doesn’t bother me too much personally, I know competitive players have raised the issue “where has the 1v1 gone”. This is extremely prevalent in Countdown, but I shoot and get shot in duo/triple team’s on a regular basis in Control as well. The lower time to kill, lack of one-shot grenades and shotgun/sniper moved to power weapon slot have pushed the PvP modes into a much stronger partner or 4 man stack queue, as you want people who you can coordinate with on things like grenade spam, super usage, and the aforementioned team shooting.

Lastly, I think there needs to be a long look at the recharge rates for your melee, grenade, class ability and super. While I can understand that in PvP the focus is on gun play skill over grenade/super spam, and the low build/charge rate may seem like it makes these skills more important, it also makes them feel less useful throughout the match, especially grenades and supers. If you miss a grenade you are punished with an extremely long recharge time, even if you are a voidwalker Warlock, the only class currently that has abilities to alter their recharge timers. Super also frequently seems to be frantic in its usage as they only get charged up by the last 90-30 seconds of a match, with some never getting them at all. Back to grenades for a second, with such a long recharge rate, one would assume that grenades are powerful, yet no grenade I have found one shot’s someone from one hundred to zero, and stables like the Lightning grenade, axion bolt and all forms of sticky grenades only severely would their opponents. These two things seperately are not an issue in my mind but when you could them together it makes the ability feel very underwhelming.

That said, these problems are something that does not break the game, and not one that I see causing any real negativity about the game as a whole, they just remain as problems to fix, and hopefully, they make it to the devs plate sooner rather than later. The game looks to have a lot of promise and I am looking forward to sinking time into this game with friends, telling them how bad they are while being killed by an environmental trap and experience a, hopefully, great story with some engaging set pieces. Until the full game comes out, however, I will just go back to throwing a shield at people from across the map, looking for that long-range kill.

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Destiny 2 Trailer: Snark, Splendor and the CGI cut-scene that gives us some direction for the future fight against Gary

Bungie and Activision have finally dropped their official announcement on Destiny 2.  They started off with a very clever teaser trailer that focuses on Cayde-6, drinking in a bar with our boy Sweeps, the sweeper bot from the tower, as he recounts his heroics in battle, which presumably took place just moments before he poured his drink.  His self bravado get punctuated by a high velocity round blowing out the side of the building he is in as Sweeps, my own name as I do not think any of them actually have names, looks up in shock as a new mess is made and goes to start cleaning up while Cayde picks up his pistol and starts to make his way towards the still ongoing fight further up the road, while commander Zavala yells at him over the com. Extremely well done and sets the mood for their full trailer reveal.

The full trailer gives us a much better picture of what is going on. The Traveler has taken a beating, and is potentially dead, our ghosts are nowhere to be found, and the bloody Cabal have invaded the last city of earth, destroyed the tower and blew up all our stuff! This heinous act of is perpetrated by none other than. . . . GARY!, no wait. GHAUL! A Primus, at least, of the Red Legion is the antagonist we have to face off against, and he brings with him a seemingly host of new enemies to battle. While only a CG trailer, we do see some sort of reptilian dog creatures and some huge melee based warriors who wield two large cleaver’s charged with energy. We also see variations on more traditional enemy units like the Cabal Phalanx, as their traditionally ‘iron slab’ shields have been changed to an expanding energy shield.

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Visually this trailer looks pretty awesome, there is no denying that, however it doesn’t actually give us a ton of concrete information, and there is just a lot of speculation as to how the story will unfold. If, like me, you enjoy the lore of Destiny I highly recommend checking out a gentleman named ‘My Name is Byf’ on YouTube as he does an incredible job of deep diving the existing lore, and extrapolating on new lore that is still being released.

We do know some information however, as places like Gamestop and Amazon have revealed, we know that there is a character named Hawthorne, who has survived outside the city and without the Guardians protection for many years. We also know that we are on the hunt for new weapons, and humanities scattered heroes thanks to the flavour text in the Destiny 2 collectors edition.

Here is where the speculation aspect comes in, as everything from this point onward is me spit-balling and sharing my wants over what a new Destiny game should be. On the subject of reuniting humanities scattered heroes, I think this is a nod to all of the characters we hear about in the lore. Characters like Efrideet, Tolan, Osiris, Eris Morn, The Awoken Queen Mara Sov and maybe even the Nine. Finding characters like these could be the single player campaign not only gives you a solid foundation to build your story upon, but a great way to include the lore directly into the story, and make many of their player base happy with the lore integration. The fact that Destiny’s lore was on a website and not in the game rubbed many the wrong way, as it is fun to read about what the hell is going on.

Destiny 2 New heroes

Putting aside the trailer though, what really does Destiny 2 need to accomplish, to not only fix the mistakes made on the first game, but to set themselves up for success over this games, presumably, three-year life cycle. It’s first major hurdle is Bungie’s continued adamant stance that it is “like an MMO”. This continued perception not only makes their positives seem muted; such as great gun play, which is a strength of this franchise, gets relegated to a lesser position in the conversation because the empty world, poor story telling and generally un-fulfilling loot grind overshadow it; and its negatives, as previously mentioned, get thrust into the limelight for everyone to criticize. Destiny 2 should be looked at as a Drop-in/Drop-out co-op action adventure game that happens to have hub stations to meet up with more people than you can fit in a team.

The other integral thing Bungie needs to get right is their story. Let’s be blunt here, they fucked up. Their original story was good or bad, no one outside their team knows, and they decided to change it last-minute into some sort of disjointed Frankenstein narrative. It was like Zack Snyder was cutting this game together. Visually looked great, but you could barely connect two plot points together without spending twenty minutes looking through grimoire cards to figure out what was going on. If Destiny 2 is going to continue to earn any good will back, some earned via the Taken King and Rise of Iron, then their story has to be on point. In my mind a 40-60 hour story arc, as a single player campaign, is the time-frame to try to hit. This gives your casual players a good amount of content to go through and experience and allows your hardcore grinders a solid experience they will still rush through but, hopefully, keeps them engaged longer in strikes, dailies and the like on top of their PvP and Raid schedules.

Lastly, something I would personally like to see is the advancement of gun and armour. The infusion system introduced in the original Destiny was a really great step in the right direction, but I personally would like to see more done with this aspect. I look at games like Mass Effect Andromeda, and how as you gain levels you gain access to build/research second, third, etc tier weapons which make them slightly better. If you coupled this type of mechanic with Destiny’s weapon/armour attribute system, not only would this flush out the armoury, it would allow users to really invest in their equipment and gives us, the players, a chance to really look and feel different from the thousand other players.

That said, we have to wait until May 18th to see some actual game play for the game, and that game play will help us really get a grasp on what we should be expecting in Destiny 2.

Nintendo Switch Conference: High expectations and low returns

Like many of us I went into the Nintendo Switch presentation with high hopes, one could say too high. News leaks and tidbits of info got me to believe in the hype and raised my expectations of what was to come. Sadly though I broke the cardinal rule when it comes to conferences/game & console releases and allowed the hype to get out of hand and thus brings me, and seemingly many others, into the camp of confusion and disappointment.

The beginning of the conference started off well, as we got the price point of 299.99 American and a release date of March 3rd with the added bonus of a simultaneous launch in most major markets. Add this to the removal of region lock and fact that you can link up to eight Switch’s together to play in the same game and the console had a lot of promise to be a fun machine to bring around with you, but then we get into the oddball announcements. 

Nintendo is jumping into the ‘paid online service’ game along with Microsoft and Sony, but not until the fall as they have nothing currently ready to pay for. To compound this it was announced that subscribers to the service would receive one Nintendo or Super Nintendo game each month, however it was only for the month. While odd, this does run similarly to Microsoft’s games with gold program so maybe this won’t be as big of an issue as I think it is.   There is not much information on how this is all working, so like the free game a month, this may not be as big of an issue once more information is released. The one aspect of the Switch which has everyone scratching their head is Nintendo’s decision to make their voice coms system only usable through other media devices such as phones and, I assume, tablets. It boggles the mind on how this was the best solution in their mind especially when you consider that each game will decide if they want to include it or not.

Talking a bit more about the system brought to light some fears that were already in the community, the battery life, some basic quality of life upgrades in a capture/share button and everyone’s favourite feature; rumble. The battery life is touted as being two and a half hours to six hours which will likely be closer in reality to the lower end of the battery life. Battery life is always a tricky subject to tackle as people want to be optimistic about how long their charge will last, and much like phones the more you use your system the less the charge retains. It will likely be two and a half to three hours for most ‘big games’ and four to five hours for smaller or less intensive experiences while retaining the full six when using YouTube or other low end functions. As Nintendo showed off the controller, it was easy to see that it was not make for the average north american/European hand as they are incredibly small. A small saving grace is that the strap you attach to the Joy Con gives the entire controller a bit more girth.

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While we hummed and hawed over the console itself, Nintendo started talking about their games. Some part of the launch day line up, others within the launch window and finally some, which for the non-Japanese reading audience, were oddities with no date, or name, really set.  Eurogamer has a list of all games apparently announced for the Switch at some point and broke them down into their respective launch windows.

The launch day titles for the Nintendo’s new console seem to run the gambit of a traditional launch. You have the heavy hitter title in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, followed up with games like Just Dance 2017 for the family entertainment and Skylanders Imanginators as a title for the younger audience. Add in a dash of nostalgia with a new look in Super Bomberman R and you have a moderate line up to keep most type of players engaged. The last launch title is 1,2 Switch, a new party style game which uses the Joy Con to perform activities such as milking a cow, seeing who has the quickest draw ala the wild west gun fights as well as a host of other face to face variations of games. This eschews the traditional screen experience to, as Nintendo is know for, try and bring a unique experience to the user(s) while they play. Heavily mocked name aside, I personally think there are some interesting applications and mini games to be found here, even if one of them is milking a cow.

We then get into the post release first party games, which range from a month or two after launch all the way to the the holiday season we get to some meaty games. Right away Mario kart 8 sticks out for two opposite but equally important reasons. On the one hand, having a kart game near the launch of the Switch is very important and gives the audience one of Nintendo’s most family friend titles. On the opposite side of that coin however is the fact this Mario kart is a ‘game of the year’ edition, bundling all the existing dlc into one disc, with a new piece of dlc in a few characters maps and battlemode changes. The lack of a new game worries some as it seems like the Switch has been relegated to ports of games on the Wii-U. The summer brings us Splatoon 2 which again seems to suffer the same ‘port +’ issues as Mario Kart, and then potentially nothing. Every other first party title is late 2017 or TBC, which does not instill confidence which is infuriating as games like Fire Emblem Warriors, Super Mario Odyssey and the rumored Pokémon Stars are heavy hitters needed. 

Third party games, the life blood that Nintendo needs, makes a moderately strong showing with fifteen games announced for 2017. We however immediately go back to the concerns discussed in the first party section. Seven of these titles are ports and while that is less than half, it is by the narrowest of margins.  Couple that with the other eight games do not scream triple a title and no real release date talked about, fans can’t help but feel a bit jilted, even if they are looking forward to said titles. For my own personal taste the other games by third parties with a TBC as the release date are my most anticipated as games like Dragon Quest X and XI, Seasons of Heaven, Shin Megami Tensei, and the ridiculously named Project Octopath Traveller. The wait for these however is one, on a personal level, of the biggest frustrations about the Nintendo Switch.

Much like movies, no sane person goes into a hobby or entertainment experience and hopes it fails. With that said I find that for every step forward made at this conference was coupled by two steps back with poorly defined objectives and an underwhelming plan for the year. I want Nintendo to be a juggernaut and bring their experiences to the masses, but as of this moment we are seeing a similar message as the Wii-U and that worries me as a fan of the company and a fan of their properties 

Games of the year: Why have only one!

Christmas has passed,  and I am looking at the pile of games beside me still humming and hawing over what have been my biggest and brightest for the end of the year. So many games have come out that I have enjoyed it is hard narrowing it down to a single choice, so I thought it would be enjoyable to pick a list of five games which have blown me away with story telling and game play. Please forgive my shitty logo as I suck at such things. As with any game of the year list, these are the games that stuck out to me, probably not objectively the best.

doom

I would be remiss if I didn’t start this list off with Doom. When I heard a new Doom was in the works, this is what I imagined it to be, and by god they delivered. The previous editions of  Doom left a bad taste in my mouth, as I have always thought the *straight action* aspect of the early era Doom games was the correct path for this franchise, and spinning into a more horror-survival style game wasn’t really my speed. Cut to 2016 and id software returns us to a deluge of thundering metal and the satisfying symphonic whine of the chain gun spinning up as you punch, kick and blow your way through Hell.

What enthralled me with Doom is its old school style but new school aesthetics. It’s the combination of fast and frantic gun-play and the near need for constant changing of play style which really makes this game stand out as a single player experience. You, as the Doom Marine, answer any and all questions with a visceral punch and a femur shattering kick, and while that may seem cheesy/childish to say out loud but once you step into those heavy boots it all feels right.

ratchet-and-clank

If Ratchet & Clank isn’t on your list of games of the year, I don’t really know what to say to you. Bringing back one of, if not the, best platformer heroes on the Playstation console. Ratchet & Clank is a near master piece for this genre in my opinion as it checks off pretty much every box this series has been known for. Great third person shooter mechanics? check; Over the top ridiculous weapons? Double check; Entertaining story? check-squared; Annoying front facing run missions as clank which piss you off because you didn’t time your jump correctly? Still there *shakes fist*.

Joking aside, this game brings the nostalgia of this series back for us old timers, and gives the new generation of players to the Groovitron, the Sheepinator and the ever chipper Mr. Zurkon. If you have not picked this game up yet I implore you to spend a few dollars, as it’s probably cheaper now than it was at launch, which was still only $40 at launch. You will have a fun, family friendly game that you, your significant other and/or your kids can get behind for a damn good time.

grand-kingdom

Into RPG’s? Like multi-lane combat systems? Hankering to have a Dragon Mage leap into the air and death laser as your warrior uses his area defence to block for your entire party?! Then you are in luck because Grand Kingdom should quench your RPG tactic’s thirst. I have put in a ton of time into this game, whether it’s through the five different stories or battling against other players in their online war system, and each fight brings its own unique challenges as you play a loose game of paper-rock-scissors with your four man, or woman, party as you battle your way through enemy armies and monsters.

I think what interested me most about this game was its blend of art direction, a combat system that allows you to customize your party to your play style and a fairly lightweight but fun inventory management that again, lends itself towards a party & play style that works for you. If you are looking for a fun and engaging tactical RPG, then look at Grand Kingdom, as you can also get it on PSVita and you should be buying more games on Vita.

overwatch

Not surprising and assuredly on many people’s list this year is Overwatch. What is there really to say about this game other than it is a masterclass in the shooter genre. Blizzard blows the doors off of pretty much every other shooter out this year with not only the quality of its shooter mechanics, but also it introduced us to many loved characters, and adult themed tumblr blogs of those characters, to which we rally behind.

Whether its playing late night with a friend from Toronto as our Zarya (me)/Zenyatta (him) duo crushing noobs or sitting beside a buddy as we Mercy (again me) and Soldier our way through the upper tiers of gold, Overwatch has given me countless hours of enjoyment, frustration and *fuck yeah* moments both as a solo player and in groups. It continues to add characters, events and skins to keep players interested and will be a staple in my system for many months to come.

i-am-setsuna

As a huge fan of the old school RPG’s from early Nintendo and Playstation years, especially Chrono Trigger, I am Setsuna was an INSTANT buy for me. It has been a long time since I have gotten to sink my teeth into this style of game, and while Grand Kingdom does sait my hunger slightly for JRPG’s, I am Setsuna is really the *full meal experience* that I was looking for. Much like the Witcher 3 from last year this game, for me, stands out amongst the crowd for its story and overall theme, which again harks back to one of my favourite games Chrono Trigger.

I don’t know if I have played a game like this in the past couple years, as it blends a fantastic art style along with a somber and almost depressing tone to tell a great story. On top of that is a deep and beastly magic system to blow your way through enemy’s as you escort Setsuna to the end of her line.

stardew_valley

Only last on this list because it is the latest I have picked up is Stardew Valley. This game has been out for a while on PC, but I picked it up for PS4 and holy cow, what a fantastic game. A buddy of mine turned me onto it as I had forgotten about it, and I cannot thank him enough for it. Who doesn’t want a game to relax with a bit of farming, some potential romance and battling slimes in a mine as you gather ore.

This game is incredibly relaxed, and in a time when we are battling through world war 1, floating through space fighting robots and still playing Overwatch, it is fantastic to have a light weight RPG farming simulator which lets just do your thing. Chopping wood, making iron bars, and farming your way to a fortune is just too damn good. Get this game people.

Obviously these are my personal games of the year as they were the highlights of my year. I didn’t play everything and while other games did better in sales, or had higher review scores, these six games gave me the most enjoyment of the year. I do want to give honorable mention to Ubisoft’s The Division. While it had its issues in the beginning, I found myself drawn back into the game once the fixes started coming in. All in all a great year of games and I cannot wait for 2017’s list to kick off.

Year in Review: Gaming level ups, failed objectives and the age old promise of great gameplay.

Like many who write, either full-time for work or just to enjoy the act of putting thought to page, I too have a year in review type article to add to the internet’s list. It is currently 4am and I have a literal two liter mug of coffee so let’s get this started.

The beginning of the year, for the non-game news was a mixed bag. EA released Origin Access in January, and while I don’t partake, it looks like a decent system for Microsoft users to toy around with. Blizzard Entertainment celebrated its 25th anniversary in February as well as the Pokemon franchise turning twenty. On a sad note, GameTrailers had to shut its digital doors and the internet mourned for a moment, then went back to making memes.

As we head into spring, another unfortunate closer in the way of Evolution studios in March, though in April the majority of their employee’s were taken in by Codemasters. The Resident Evil franchise had its 20th anniversary, Sega acquired Atlas and Lionhead studio’s was closed by Microsoft. In weird news Gamestop announced its new publishing arm called Game Trust and NIS America announced it cut ties with Atlas due to the Sega acquisition. The first casualty in the ‘toys to life’ genre was had when Disney Interactive studio’s closed Avalanche Software as they decided that self publication was not in their best interests. On a more positive note, juggernaut gaming new site IGN purchased a ton of GameTrailer’s assets from Defy Media. Oh we cannot forget that Yahoo’s games was shut down by Yahoo. . . . *sarcasm*

Rolling into the summer months, things start to heat up with the Vivendi hostile take over of Gameloft. June saw the rise of the Electronic Entertainment Expo or E3 which had both Microsoft and Sony give incredible conferences. Electronic Arts also had their first ‘fan-event’, EA Play,  outside of E3 with a moderate amount of success. Quietly, yet somehow equally as raucous Sonic the Hedgehog celebrated his 25th anniversary and if you haven’t seen their live show clips on YouTube, please do yourself a favour and watch that madness. On some bitter-sweet news Adam Boyes, VP of Third Party Relations,  left his position at Sony to flex his creative muscles over at Iron Galaxy an indie dev breaking onto the scene. At the end of the summer we had Gamescom in Germany and I imagine that was packed to the gills as usual. We also had an interesting turn from Nordic Games, who changed their name to THQ Nordic. Unsure if this was to help with brand recognition, as they bought most of the ip’s THQ had, or they are tempting fate by putting THQ in their name.

The fall, and leading into the winter gave us some interesting spikes in non-game specific news. Microsoft Studios announced their ‘Xbox Play Anywhere’ program to allow cross-play between Xbox One and Windows 10. Blizzard announced that they would be phasing out their online battle.net, in name only, to a more generic ‘Blizzard tech’. This allows for less confusion on which account name you need, and I imagine makes their back-end management significantly easier. We also had two pretty big shows to close out the year in The Game Awards, hosted by Geoff Keighley and PSX, a fan focused Playstation event. The Game Awards, in my opinion, were very lack luster, as most of the awards were given off camera and the categories were not given the explanation and gravity you would want or expect. Also the product placement was pretty terrible. Skip forward a week and you have Sony’s PSX event which rocked the house. Like any good fan focused event, Playstation got the crowd fired up with the Crash Bandicoot triglogy look, Patapon/Loco Roco/Parappa the Rappa remasters and a Wipeout HD collection for the PS4.

all-about-the-games

Talking about the year we obviously cannot forget the actual games. Above and beyond the games however there were also six new pieces of hardware released, which is insane. March and April saw the release of PC gaming’s VR gladiators; the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift, then piling all into the end of the year we have the Xbox One S in August, the PS4 slim in September, the Playstation VR in October and finally just released in November is the PS4 Pro. Hardware aside, we also got a metric ton of games to sink our teeth into. Some great, some terrible, and others leaving an odd taste in our mouth.

January kicks us off with a cluster of gems that need to be played. If you own a Vita, and you should, pick up Volume as it was released near the beginning of the month. A fun tactical stealth game which hooks you almost instantly. Another pair of fantastic games that were criminally overlooked was That Dragon Cancer, a heart crushing story about a boy with cancer and The Banner Saga, an intense turn based strategy RPG harking back to the old days with beautiful artwork servicing your journey. While I have not played it yet, Oxenfree was another game that became a critical darling yet did not see the love it seemingly deserved. If you are a fan of the Soul’s style of tension and overbearing nature I should not have to say much for Darkest Dungeon a game that lends credence to the motto “stare into the abyss long enough and the abyss stares back”. Nintendo had a strong month with Minecraft Story Episode 1, Mario & Luigi Paper Jam and Final Fantasy Explorers. Sony also had a strong finish to the month with The Witness, a complex puzzle game as well as Dragon Quest Builders a game of Dragon Quest meets Minecraft.

February and March had a bevy of games for us to purchase, and hear our wallets weep due to their emptiness. In no particular order, the first half of the month gave us, Firewatch, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, Great Detective Pikachu, an expansion to Dying Light called ‘The Following’, Lovers in a Dangerous Space time and a remaster of the fantastic tactial RPG Valkyria Chronicles. The back half of February gave us Rocket League on Xbox, a fantastic RPG in I am Setsuna, Fire Emblem Fates, Stardew Valley; which is a must play and Planets vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2 which was surprisingly fun. March brings us gems such as Broforce to PS4, Gears of War: Ultimate edition on Xbox One and the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD on WiiU. We also got the punishing side scroller Salt and Sanctuary for the Bloodborne fans, an episodic action adventure stealth game in République. As the month closes out, we get the start of season three for Killer Instinct, Hyper Light Drifter and a fantastic but brutally underrated game known as Sleeping Dogs Definitive edition.

April thru June at first glance seems like a dry portion of the year, I however think there were a ton of great games to be played through these months, not to mention your backlog of games that you keep meaning to get to. We get games like the punishing game Enter the Gungeon, the time warping Quantum Break and everyone’s favourite way to hate themselves; Dark Souls III. We cannot forget the incredibly well done Ratchet and Clank game, a new entry to the franchise after so long, as well as the snarky yet charming Stories: Paths of Destiny, and before you say it I do agree it had a whackadoodle name, but it is pretty damn fun. The 3DS rocketed back into many RPG fan’s lives with Bravely Second: End Layer, and Vita Owners got another great reason to dust off their system with the release of Axion Verge. If you are into Metroidvania games this is a must pick up on either Vita or PS4, but really just get it for Vita and support the cause. A follow-up to a great game on PC, Banner Saga 2 got released near the end of April though we also saw the release of the not so hot Star Fox game for the WiiU, so much potential there.Alienation fed our ‘fast paced Diablo but in space with lasers’ fix as we fought corrupted humans, bipedal alien soldiers and Goliath’s that could crush you in a single blow.

Battleborn a game that should have come out six months earlier releases at the beginning of March, and consequently gets demolished by Overwatch which came out near the end of the month. We also saw the rise of hell and the subsiquent asskicking it received in the fantastic Doom game from id software. Uncharted 4 was also released and much like the previous titles, it was another smash hit. On the disappointing side we had Home Front: Revolution which failed to capture its previous games glory as well as TMNT Mutants in Manhatten, a game which seems like it would be hard to bungle, but ended up being a spastic mess. We can swing back to positivity though with Total War: Warhammer, a true blue representation of Games Workshop’s table top battle game as well as Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. A cluster of smaller games also came out throughout this block of the year which I found very entertaining. Grand Kingdom, a three lane tactical RPG, stole many nights and weekends from me while Hearts of Iron IV consumed a few friends for a full month and the always beautiful Odin sphere Liefthrasir had Atlas back in the spotlight.

July through September, to me, were the months of the indie title. I played more small/budget games over these three months than I have in the last couple years. Headlander, Brutal, Abzu, Bound and Song of the Deep gave me the joy of a simple yet challenging game, much like the games of our youth (if your over 30) while titles like I am Setsuna tugged at the emotional heartstrings and Hyper Light Drifter gave Playstation and Xbox owners a sample of what Zelda could be like on their system, the real winner is Pokemon Go. This game nuked everything else around it from orbit and dominated the majority of July.We also saw the release of Telltales new Batman series which got rave reviews and from what I hear, the entire first season is a great buy. Dues Ex Go also came out and brought a new spin to a franchise that it needed as well as got us up to Tomb Raider Go! We cannot talk about heavy hitters without mentioning the new World of Warcraft expansion as it did insane numbers. We were also treated to the Bioshock Collection on PS4/Xbox One as well as the Dead Rising collection. While not an incredibly notable game, I would personally be remiss to leave out Warhammer 40k Eternal crusade from my list as while my PC is blown out, and I write this on a tablet, I am a huge Warhammer 40k fan and want to start playing this. I also have to shout out Spacehulk: Deathwing, out in December, another 40k game that allows you to cleanse giant spaceships full of aliens with both blade and bullet.We cannot talk about all of these games, plus those not mentioned, without pausing to give light to No Man’s Sky. A mountain of promises and hype which crumbled under its own weight. I personally had a pretty good time playing the game, as I had not expected ‘the world’, to turn a phrase, from this game. It’s current updates seem to be moving in the right direction in terms of features promised, but we will have to see if people are still interested in trying to sail to the center of the universe.

At last we come to October to December. Many games pushed into the new year, many games announced but no release dates, and many still incredibly vague on details with a seemingly close release. Looking into these gets me excited, my wallet terrified and my electric company happy with the power usage. Mafia III is the first big title I looked at, and I have to say minor bugs aside I had a good time with this game. It falls into a similar trap many Ubisoft games do; which is the collectible grind turns into a slog, that turns into a “why am I doing this again” type of mentality. Gears of War 4 was released to a moderately positive review/reception while Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20th year anniversary got stellar praise. As the VR train for Sony was officially out we got a lot of experiences like the Batman VR which ran the gambit of responses. Some, like Batman VR, were received well, while others fell flat or didn’t fulfill their ambitious goals. I do not have a virtual reality headset, so I don’t believe my opinion on these games is very valid. We have four titans battling it out as we continue through October and head into November. Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2 and Call of Duty Infinite Warfare all shoot it out, while Civilization VI consumes you one turn at a time. Midway through November we have Dishonored 2 and Watchdogs 2, both games didn’t interest me too much personally and if you look at their sales numbers, that sentiment was echoed across the player base. We obviously cannot forget the juggernaut that Nintendo have in their back pocket with the 3DS’s Pokemon Sun & Moon, while a personal favourite of mine got remastered. . . well Warmastered. Darksiders Warmastered edition is another fantastic remaster to own and beat back daemons and angels. I have to say that December has been a slow month for me, lack of money to purchase games means I have been working on my backlog and sinking time into the PS4 version of Stardew Valley (which you should get if you don’t have it). That said, can you beleive the mostly positive attention that both Final Fantasy XV and Last Guardian are getting! Who would have thought those troubled developments would turn out the games they did.  I have heard however a lot of the games being released this month have been doing well so that is positive news heading into the holidays.

It is obvious we didn’t cover all the games released this year, as that would be insane and require a team of people. I do think however the ones I have covered, both games and game news are some of the highlights of this year. This also doesn’t cover the media aspect of gaming, such as the gentlemen from Kinda Funny or listening to the fantastic podcasts from IGN. Listening to Giantbomb Podcasts while planting  beans in Stardew Valley or watching the Knerds of the Round table podcast on YouTube while researching DPS builds for the Division Darkzone. Let us not forget reading Superman American Alien by Max Landis while listening to Collider Heroes dish on all the Comicbook related movies and TV.

This year has been a bounty of games, experiences, people and shows. I look forward to another 365 days of nerding/geeking out and look forward to consuming as much content as humanly possible.

ABZÚ: Submerging you in the serene waters of pause, reflect and great white sharks

ABZÚ, a new underwater exploration game created by Giant squid, is calm and it’s peaceful. It gives you a chance to put down your respective swords & gun’s from other games and explore the sea and all its creatures. 

Many reviews and comments about ABZÚ bring up three important points and while I don’t disagree with them, I have a slightly different take on why I enjoy/dislike them. The list comprises of; Similar to Journey/Flower, relaxing/calm, and tank controls that can be hard to control.

I have not played flower so I can only compare to Journey, but I find that both Journey and ABZÚ share one major aspect. They both instill you with a sense of in-world wanderlust and wonder. That hook, which sinks in so quickly, sets the pace for your adventure; YET, that pace is still as fast or slow as you want it. Do you blast through to get to the end or do you explore every nook and cranny of each section to find all the hidden items and images.

What I find compelling about my time with ABZÚ is how it pulled me in and away from games like DOOM, Brut@l and Grand Kingdom; all of which were frequent plays for the last month.

It’s calming pace, simple but enjoyable puzzles, and the ability to literally sit on a rock and watch the fish swim by, broke so many of my librarys normal ‘style’, which revolve around combat and killing.. Couple this with a light and breezy, albeit slightly devoid of content, story and you have the recipe to find yourself with two or three hours of inner calm.

These waters are not completely calm however. While not impossible, the tank style controls can be frustrating if you are trying to be precise while swimming.  It is quite easy to get twisted around, especially if you are moving vertically near an entrence to new areas. 

The control scheme carries over to your ‘ride’ as most of the aquatic life you see can take you for a go around. While not critical to the game, the task of leaping from the water ala echo the dolphin, can be either super easy or frustratingly difficult to pull off.

As mentioned above, there isn’t a solid story to ABZÚ, and if my opinion means anything I think it revolves around man’s industrial tendencies are destroying the world, and all it takes is one person to start the wheel of change. However I could be missing the forest for the trees and it could be about robots trying to take over the world.  Lastly on the negative side, the collectables are not overly difficult to find if you want to, but the aspect of tracking them and figuring out which ones you are missing.

Those few issues aside, there is a lot of good to be found in this game. It takes you an evening to get through, and it makes a perfect cap to a hard days work or a great way to kick off your weekend. I recommend picking this title up on PS4 when you can.

Kill Strain is true to its name as you struggle against mutants and mercs and more mercs

With the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) genre is still quite popular in today’s game market. With titles like Heroes of the Storm, Smite, Paragon, League of Legends, DotA2 to name the bigger ones, Sony San Diego Studio brings a unique entry to PS4 in the form of Kill Strain.

 I will the first to admit, I am not one hundred percent sold on this game. It is not a bad game by any means, it just seems like it conflicts with its own core mechanics and game play. You can choose from one of Merc’s on your list, which you purchase with real money or in-game currency, then select a mutant who follow the same rules. Both Merc and mutant follow the same type of combat, ability, and upgrade tree’s which make navigating your characters much easier once you get the basics down.

Killstrain 5

Once you select your characters you get put into the queue, much like any other MOBA or shooter currently on the market, with the notable exception of forming a team. Once you get into a game, you are randomly assigned to either the blue Merc, yellow Merc, or the red mutant team and once that is set, all semblance of “team” really fly’s out the window.

To clarify, you still have your teammates and the tenants of every competitive game still apply; Don’t die if you can help it, fight when its advantageous, etc. However above these commonplace rules, the game doesn’t really enforce or entice you to do so as your real goal is to be at the top of the leaderboard’s by the end of the match as rankings dictate how much of experience and credits you get for that match.

Killstrain 8

Let’s back up a second though and go over the basic layout. Each team starts with their own base, which has its own defenses. The base structure has a slow but fairly powerful auto attack which you can dodge. Forking out from each Merc base are two lanes. One towards a drill, which allows them to pick up canisters to clear the infestation; think Zagara’s creep from Heroes of the Storm, while the other fork goes towards the mutant base and a middle power plant which helps either merc team call down their mech suits faster.

As the game progresses you gain levels, becomes stronger and learn more about the attack combo’s which are optimal. You also learn attack ranges for each character you come across and figure out how your character uses movement, stun, and other lockdown abilities to get away from fights you are losing. One such way is the aforementioned mech suit. You call down these behemoth weapons to not only protect you from the infestation and allows you to do significant damage to both Merc’s and mutants. One important thing that I didn’t realize until my first game as a mutant was how powerful the mech’s were on attack, because I could no longer retreat through my creep, as there was none to be found.

Killstrain 2

The mutants, as mentioned above, roam around on infestation, which cloaks them, and rapidly heals them. each mutant has various combat abilities like the Merc’s, but they also have the ability to lay down a smaller plant/node thing (no idea what it’s actually called) which generates a small portion of creep for them to stand on. This is how they expand their territory/retake lost ground. It is also how they transform mercs into other mutants, a little twist I had forgotten about until it happened to me. Dragging a recently slain mercs onto the creep near the node will cause said Merc to be impaled and transformed into the mutant they had selected at the beginning of the match.

With all this explained, let’s go back to why I think this game struggles against itself and the core mechanics it seems to hold. Kill Strain puts so little emphasis on the group dynamic. Your teammates are both frivolous and often inconsequential; your enemies are either abundant and constantly and your doorstep or your game feels vacant and your stand mostly alone against automated turrets. If you couple this with an average duel stick controls and a sometimes finicky hit detection, one has to ask how far this game will go as it’s a ‘free to play’ title.

In the end, games are moderately quick, character diversity is fairly decent and even without using real money, you gain credits at a decent rate. The real question for players will be how often do the updates happen, how much will the updates improve the game and how will its free to play nature keep it in the mind share of PlayStation’s fairly flush store of indie titles.