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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Horizon Zero Dawn Review: The Dinobots, a Red Head and fantasy wonder set in a future world

Creeping through the brush, a young woman survey’s her surroundings. Lumbering through the canyon is a creature of gargantuan proportions, its head swaying from side to side as it scanned the area for intruders, heavy weapons twitching and re-aligning to acquire their next target. Scurrying at its feet are a pair of Watchers darting to and fro as they supplement the giant creatures cones of vision and protect its flanks.  A sharp whistle breaks the silence and a Watcher shoots up, immediately on guard and begins to pace cautiously towards the brush the sound came from. As the slender creature steps into the girls hiding spot, a flash of silver lash’s out and pierces the robotic throat, silencing any chance of alarm and putting the first part of her plan into motion. The Thunderjaw circles around a pillar, leaving the second Watcher alone, trailing its alpha predator, and once more a shrill whistle echo’s out to catch the creatures attention. Unlike its partner, this Watcher becomes an ally as its programming is overridden and the pale blue light of compliance wash’s over the machine.

As our heroine lays her trap-wires and resupply’s her quiver, the methodical pounding of the hundred ton machine becomes clearer as it rounds the corner once more, ever vigilant over its territory and both it and the, now turned ally, Watcher process their perspective new threats. The hunter stands, and raises her bow with two arrows knocked, the thrum of two Terrablast arrows send gentle vibrations up her arm. The snap of a bow-string turns into the whine of arrow heads spinning up to blow away armour chunks and the whirl of aggression from the mechanical creatures leaping towards each other. Heavy weapons are rent like so much iron and fall to the floor, forcing the gargantuan beast to move into melee range, its rage focused on the hunter who has damaged it. As she flee’s through her carefully laid gauntlet of traps the Thunderjaw is hammered by explosions and lengths of wire laid to set all who touch it ablaze, all the while being savagely attacked from the rear by our Watcher companion. Arrow after arrow are fired from every angle quickly give way to heavier weapons as supplies run low and a vicious tail swipe makes short work of the diminutive flanker. As she doges charges and blaster fire, our hunter spots the back-mounted weapon she knocked off earlier in the fight and makes a break for it. Ground shaking steps close in on her, and with a final dodge the creature crash’s through a huge stone and couple of tree’s momentarily disorienting it. This window allows for her to not only pick up the weapon, but to turn and unleash the beasts own destructive power upon it, and as it is hammered back farther and farther, metal shrieking and armour plates twisting and rending off under constant barrage, the disheveled monster finally falls, an explosive round hitting it in the side of the head in a glorious display of explosive pyrotechnics. . . . . . .  and that was the first time I fought a Thunderjaw.

If you indulged me my little story I, one appreciate it and two want to use this as the foundation for my review of Horizon Zero Dawn. Made by Guerrilla Games, the developers known for the Killzone series, and published as an exclusive on the PS4, Horizon is quickly becoming another developer who went from ‘good’ to ‘great’ when they took a chance and made something outside of their wheel house. This is a boon as they can be considered in the same pantheon as ID, Naughty Dog and CD Projekt Red for blowing the doors off of what people are expecting in a game. However lets talk about the game instead of the people behind it.

From a cynical point of view, Horizon Zero Dawn does “nothing new”. There are similar quest structures in games like the Witcher 3, crafting systems like in Farcry or Fallout. Bow combat from multiple different games and an open world story that blends Uncharted type acting with the ‘do anything you want at any time’ of today’s open world genre. If you ARE a cynic, then this might be a good place to stop for you as I am going to delve into why Horizon DOES do something new, and that new thing is how it marries all of these idea’s into a beautifully polished package, a feat that none of its comparisons have accomplished yet.

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The first thing anyone notices about Horizon Zero Dawn is its beauty. The game is gorgeous and, in my opinion, doesn’t have an equal on console, as well as rivals some of the best looking games on PC at the moment. Whether its sneaking through the brush, luring your enemies to their death or pounding the trail on the back of a mount racing through a nest of Glinthawks, the game just flows like warm maple syrup. Everything feels like it is in its right place, as I enjoy the mundane aspects like climbing, because it feels good to do, as much as battling a pack of Scrappers or Ravagers. Simple aspects like running both look and feel solid, while leaping off of a boulder or performing a drive-by on the back of a Strider flow from beat to beat with rarely a stutter. Watching the fog in the forest burn away as the sun comes up and you catch glimpses of the wild life scurrying away from you or catch the faint glow of a machine on the distance.

While it has many virtues to its looks, there are some clear downfalls to be seen throughout the entire game. The primary source of these complaints come from the facial animations in the cut scene’s and dialogue interactions. While they still look great, characters mouths don’t quite line up with what they are saying, and their eyes and head start to turn/shift in odd ways as you learn more about a quest or receive thanks from a stranger you have helped. What makes this small gripe so noticeable is the fact that the rest of the experience is handled with such polish that it stands outs so starkly. There are also instances of ‘glitchy dead’ or corpse dancing, though for myself it has only happened once and while you get smooth animations as you one hand vault over a piece of debris, you occasionally see the floating head of a Carja guard as you are approaching. Again this isn’t a major gripe, but it is noticeable so should be mentioned.

Looks aside, I think it is important to move directly into combat, as they have a stronger relationship in this game that most. Out of every aspect in Horizon Zero Dawn that we typically judge a game on, the combat is the crowning achievement you should walk away with. As a third person action game, the shooting mechanics, primarily bow, are second to none. As you upgrade Aloy’s abilities you can gain the ability to knock multiple arrows, to help apply status effects, or the time dilation while jumping to line up that perfect head shot. You can slow time down naturally while aiming without jumping to help you time your shots on charging or flying targets and use the brush to silently kill enemies you lure towards you. Couple this with the ability to set up trip wire traps, tether creatures to the ground and set up individual traps all over to foil enemy flanking attempts and you have a robust combat system to play with over the 30 plus hours you can spend in-game.

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What makes these systems so praise worthy is just HOW fun it is to use them. I spent twenty hours in the starting area, running around killing creatures in different ways. Watching the previously mentioned beauty as Watchers twist as they spin up their leap attack, or dodge and loose a pair of arrows into the side of a charger as it barrels past are simply pure fun. As you progress in creature size and complexity, you upgrade your weapons and get new ones that allow you to change the way you play like using the slingshot for area denial or large group damage. You can hide and corrupt a herd of creatures and watch them battle each other to the death, then stroll in to collect the loot, polishing off any stragglers. Lest we also forget that you can actually override creatures, so gain your self a battle companion which aids you in any nearby combat that happens.

I could extol the virtues of the combat all day, but there are negative aspects. From a general perspective, I have friends who don’t like the fact there is no lock on functionality. As a primarily ranged game I personally think that this would hinder the system, but eye of the beholder and all that as I see the rare time you should be relying on your staff you are already kinda boned. Also in the potential negative camp is how the game deals with large groups of mechanical enemies. It is easy to get overwhelmed if you’re not paying attention which can lead to some frustrating deaths, though again this is more of a personal problem and not one I truly consider a game fault.

One aspect that I do find true fault with is battling against human AI. The issue doesn’t stem from the ability to “whistle-kill” an entire camp from the front door, though that is silly, but in the fact that human on human combat seems so lack luster compared to battling even the most basic of the robotic inhabitants. The human AI in general seems to be incredibly dumb as they will run through open fields to attack me in melee only to turn around and run back to cover, all the while I am shooting them in the face, neck, and chest with arrows. When enemies do get into melee range of you, or used specialized arrows you should look out. I have been taken for seventy-five percent of my health by one specialty arrow, and trying to duke it out in melee with even one brawler can result in huge chunks of your health disappearing much quicker than you would expect.

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Like with all games, there are two other important factors to consider, the audio and the story. While story is important and I will get to that at the end, I feel that the audio in Horizon Zero Dawn really stands a cut above. Whether you are running in the open planes, your feet thudding against the hard packed dirt, or the hard jingle of Oseram Arrow Breaker Heavy chain mail and plate as you leap through the forests dodging Ravager fire the sound always plays as a companion to your story and fights. The throaty grumble of a Snapmaw you may not have seen in the water beneath you saves you from an untimely death, while the whir of a corrupter allows you to dodge attacks from behind as you fight it’s companions. Combat aside, the musical scores that come filter in from the villages and towns brings a haunting serenity to your travels, sometimes hearing nothing but your own labored breathing from a long run, other times being engulfed in the chants of a congregation as they pray to their god. And sometimes as you check your phone for Facebook or Twitter, because we all do it, your head starts to bop as you are entertained by a nightly band that has just started its set from the local inn.

The meat and potatoes though is the story. While I know what happens, I have not personally finished the story on my play through, as I am going for the platinum trophy. That said, I will not be spoiling the story as the game is still relatively new. What I will say about Aloy, and her journey is that it is both incredible and subdued. We play as a young woman, who is strong, resourceful, witty, empathetic and funny, YET it doesn’t feel like someone is blatantly saying “Hey your playing as a girl”. This point may seem odd, but its hard to ignore in todays games media, or any genre culture media, the push for diversity in both character lead and stories told for. Much like The Last of Us dlc Left Behind is one great example of how diversity and progressive story telling can be done, and the way Aloy unfolds as a character keeps you engaged with her and her story and her story is an interesting one. The trailers say as much but you are an outcast, raised by a fellow outcast Rost, who teaches you the way of your people, and your adventures stem from those teaching and the questions you have from the time you were a small child.

I also found myself really engaged with side characters you meet, some near the beginning of the game, others near the end, which again I won’t spoil.  I engage and learn to love them because of how the developers tackle the issue of race, religion, sex and status by not really addressing them. Aloy is part of a tribe that has matriarchs, yet there is no hate or vitriol to be had from that scenario. Other tribes take societal, religious and physical appearances from all over the map.  I have seen Celtic, Norse, Native American, Aztec, Japanese, Zulu, Arabic, and Mongolian influences from the real world, with Dwarven and Minotaur traits pulled from the fantasy world. We cannot forget the druidic and shamanistic natures which many cultures have shared. This world feels like it has been lived in for a thousand years, and that has given us a rich pool to wade into and experience.

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A small but important note is all of the images you see here, are taken on the regular PS4, as I spent a good five or six straight hours just finding great shots.I truly fell in love with this game, something I have not done in a long time and I think this last shot above is a perfect summation of why. In Horizon Zero Dawn you are a tiny vessel in a world of metal wonder and whether its delving into its valleys, or climbing to its peaks, the Horizion is really the limit.

As with all of my reviews (going forward) I am using a -10 to 0 score where a -10 is utter garbage and a 0 is as close to perfect as you can get.

Final Score -0.5

For Honor review: Scream, Aim, and toss your enemies off a cliff! (Final review)

Ubisoft Montreal might have had a magic mirror into my heart when they started thinking up this game. As a long time proponent of action adventure games which focus on combat For Honor is a seemingly perfect package of visceral combat, fun customization and easy to learn but hard to master combat system.

For honor is a third person action fighting game which dives deeper into the traditional heavy and light attacks normally associated with action fighting games. Make no mistake, you are still aiming to crush your opponent’s head or lop off a limb, but the combat system has its feet firmly planted in the tactical nature that most associate with higher level traditional fighting games such as Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. In For Honor, you have three stances which correlate not only to how you attack, but also how you block. So if you are situated to swing on your left side, any attack’s coming from that side, your opponents right, would be auto blocked unless you are in mid swing or other more advanced mechanics like parry’s, guard breaks and unblockable attacks.

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What is fantastic about each faction, such as the Knights shown above, is that every character has the same base mechanics; light attack, heavy attack, block, parry and combo chains to do continuous damage yet each character plays in its own unique way. Even within the loosely based class system of Assassin, Heavy, Vanguard and Hybrid those characters have a different skill set you need to master to truly blossom in battle.

Mastering the characters you think are interesting or cool is both the focus and the detriment to the game though. If you focus merely on one character you start to fully realize their potential but then struggle to identify the nuances of others. I personally Play the Conqueror and routinely find myself struggling against the faster more agile assassins of each faction. If you are looking to hone your skills, the practice mode has a couple of bot’s which help you anticipate certain characters move sets as you increase the difficulty.

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There are six games modes you can pick from, five of them being multiplayer modes like Dominion, 1v1 duels and 2v2-4v4 elimination match’s while the sixth mode type is the single player. The single player runs you through six levels for each faction and in my experience so far, just finishing the knight campaign, it is a fun way to learn each of the characters at a basic level while helping newer players come to gripes how each character attacks and defends. The slightly annoying aspect is that if you already did the practice mode, which grants you some in-game currency called steel, then jump into the single player campaign, you will get these same tutorial prompts over the course of the campaign. Minor gripe, but I didn’t see a place in options to turn that off.

The real meat of this game however is in its multiplayer mode. I personally prefer Dominion as I am still trying to ‘git gud’ in duels but each mode brings you as a fighter into a well designed and beautiful looking world in which you can unleash your rage against your enemy, or just troll them and throw them off the side of a cliff, which is great when you do it to someone but incredibly rage inducing when it happens to you. One thing I will mention if you are duo queuing in duels is be honorable, fight your fight and if you win wait for the other fight to finish before jumping into the combat, if your teammate lost, and you should see many players do the same in return. The “honor of the duel” seems to be pretty well-respected in these match’s but every once in a while you come across a pair of shitheads who bring shame to their family.

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Not all is mead and cherry blossoms however, Ubisoft decided to run it’s multiplayer match’s off of a peer-to-peer system which, as many are painfully aware of, can cause issues with lag if you are fighting against people with poor connection or on the other side of the planet. Like many PtP connection they try to match you with users close to you so your connection is good, but you don’t always find those games, and on more than one occasion I am battling against people/ in Asia, Germany and Spain and the game starts to act a bit wonky. This has also caused issues with connecting to games in general as there are many times I have sat in a search lobby for two to three minutes only to be timed out. *After playing for a couple of weeks now, the peer-to-peer connection is still an issue that players have to deal with and it hurts the flow and pacing of most fights. Getting random disconnects, or taking five minutes to load into a match can really put a damper on your spirit to play.

Another aspect which seems a bit lack luster is their currency system, or I should say their acquisition of said currency. Like I mentioned above the practice mode gives you two thousand steel, while advanced practice mode gives you an additional fifteen hundred. However after that your steel generation is tied to your performance in combat and completing daily missions. All give you exp and steel but the quantity varies and if you are still learning the game, there are some missions that will be very difficult to complete.

Finishing up the review

After putting in another twenty or thirty hours, I can say my opinion of For Honor has shifted slightly. While still an overall positive review of this game, I think Ubisoft has, once again, harmed their own property with poor choice and sloppy implementation. Lets break down the last pieces of this review with the completion of the campaign and delving into some higher tier player vs player combat.

On the side of the story, For Honor delivers a pretty enjoyable single player experience. Each chunk, one for each faction is split into six missions. These missions are there to not only teach you about the various classes, as stated above, but also to break up the potential monotony of playing the same class. I played the game co-op on the realistic setting which increased the games difficulty up a bit for most of the game, but had random huge difficulty spikes, usually when it came to a boss. The end boss battle against Apolyon for example is utterly brutal, and made even more difficult with the addition of more enemy npc’s due to the co-op mode. On any other difficulty you get a well paced, albeit simple, story that is pretty enjoyable to play.

While I have enjoyed my time playing For Honor the bulk of its game play, the multiplayer, really started to show its short sighted nature over the last week or so. In the 1v1 and 2v2 dueling modes, the game is at its absolute best as you are competing straight up with another person’s skill, an aspect of the game I think the developers really nailed home. However once you start getting into the 4v4 game modes; elimination, dominion and skirmish, break down both the games skill and tactical nature of game play. Feats allow the player to alter their character in ways that are hard to predict, so in one fight you could hit harder, regenerate off of killing minions while in the next game you could face off against someone who has two ranged attacks which do huge damage to you. While I get the added flavour and surprise factor of these feats, it does detract from the actual fighting mechanics in For Honor.

Speaking of fighting mechanics, it seems once you get into a 4v4 game type, the concept of one on one fights, challenging capture points and tactical thinking while playing goes right out the window. No one fights in any meaningful fashion as it boils down to ganging up on lone targets, and running away from any fight that isn’t two to one in your favour. This really cuts down on the finesse of For Honor’s combat system and frankly segments the community a bit when it comes to the game overall. You have those who are looking for the skill based combat of duels and 2v2, and in the opposite camp you have the murderfest of the 4v4 game types.

At the end of the day, I still enjoy the game, as I have said a few times now. I find the combat enjoyable and the experience with friends to be an extra entertaining time as we yell and curse about being thrown into pits, hit by friendly teammates bleed damage and win that sweet 2v1 battle by the skin of our teeth. As with all of my reviews (going forward) I am using a -10 to 0 score where a -10 is utter garbage and a 0 is as close to perfect as you can get.

Final Score -2.5 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Overwatch! The Quick, The Competitive, and the Rage (console edition)

Overwatch has been a run away success in terms of mind share in the ‘hero shooter’ market currently sweeping consoles and PC at the moment. It crushed Battleborn in sales and has been in the top of twitch since launch on May 24.

A brief back story on the game for those who don’t know; Overwatch was originally a new MMO, named Titan, being developed by Blizzard for many years and was eventually scrapped. Assets and concepts from Titan were then carried over and modified to the game we are currently playing. A far cry away from their wheel house, Overwatch shows yet again that Blizzard puts out quality products. With all that praise though, there is an underlying problem that can seemingly not be escaped by this new genre called ‘hero shooter’ and that is the player base. Let me break it down by game type.

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Quick Play: The base mode for Overwatch, which pits you 6v6 across a host of maps, some pushing the cart, some capture the point and some a mixture of both. Players battle here to hone their skills and get a taste of each character and to figure out their strengths and weaknesses. It also allows people to learn how to play against certain team comp’s and learn that a Hanzo on attack in Dorado is a bad fucking choice!

Competitive Play: The ranked play for all the glory, and golden weapon skins. Competitive play is where wins matter and losses are incredibly aggravating. For those who have played games like League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm and other MOBA games, the aggregation of points after ten placement match’s moves you through the ranks. The rewards for this first season are a few icons and a gold skin for your gun.

Two major game modes, with a vs A.I. and custom game to round the options seem like pretty standard fare, and for their first foray into the first person shooter genre it is. However there is one glaring flaw with Overwatch, and that flaw is its community. Before the bitching happens let me explain, as it’s an obvious problem and one that we should be able to fix.

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This is a group of us messing around in Quick Play. Six Torbjorn’s on Hanamura having a good time, and being silly in Quick Play being the key portion of this sentence. This game mode, henceforth known as pug’s/pick up groups or solo queue, are fun with a group of friends, and range from great to terrible within said pug’s. In your solo queue experience for Quick play, like stated above, you are here to learn the characters and hone your play style.  As a console player, specifically PS4,  I find that the player base in Quick Play is average, as in the majority of people I have played against are decent skill level and make the match’s good. I count myself among the average for the most part, with being pretty good at tanking. Every three or four games, you run across a group of players who either stomp you, as they are either very skilled, your team is poorly skilled, they are a group, or some combination of the lot. In that same set of games, you also run across the opposite, a team who couldn’t hit the wall with a rocket if they were standing beside it. One thing remains fairly constant throughout is the lack of character changes/counter picks. Everyone seems to rush for a damage dealer and it becomes a struggle to find a tank or healer, with an even greater rarity on players who are good in those roles.

When you transition over to Competitive play, one would expect the caliber of player to raise per person, the innate co-ordination to be a bit tighter and the general knowledge of each class and its respective counters to be well in hand. . . yet clearly frigging not. Not only does the same level of disparity swing, some times you roll people, other times you are with a group of paint huffers, it seems more likely than not that if you are not playing a strong solo class, such as Soldier 76, Zarya or Roadhog, you will be relegated to scrambling for health packs as healers are few and far between and tanks are D.Va’s who are team rocketing all over the place (blasting off again for those not familiar with Pokémon).

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Why is it there is little team cohesion, and the lack of player knowledge in multiple class’s. I play with a regular group who have fifteen to twenty plus hours on three or four characters and while it’s not necessary for people to have a hundred or more hours into the game, have the basics down on a couple of characters should be the entry-level into hitting the competitive side of Overwatch.

That may seem like shitty thing to say, as it sounds like I am suggesting a ‘bar of entry’, and that’s not what I am looking for. What I am looking for is a competent teammates who can support me, as I support them, in our battle up the rank ladder.

The player base aside, there is one other major annoyance in the competitive side of Blizzards first hero shooter and that is the points you win or lose. Like any other competitive game with a ranking system, win’s push you higher and place you against more skilled opponents, while losses drill your rank down into the abyss. Nothing new right? Well let Blizzard ,in their infinite wisdom, throw a wrench into that straight forward system. If a player on the opposing team leaves and you win, you get a paltry sliver of experience due to the other team having fewer players. If a person on YOUR team leaves and you lose, you get the full xp negative, which is anywhere from a quarter of a level, all the way to two-thirds!

Many people have said this first season of competitive is a bust, as there are fixes and tweaks to come yet we all seem to want those gold weapons, so we continue to grind games out. If I can leave you with one thing for your competitive game as you build your team and climb the ladder it is this. . . Don’t pick fucking Hanzo on Attack!!

 

E3 – Bethesda swing big with new IP and VR but drags with over saturation of Dishonored 2

Bethesda, the publisher, is the bringer’s of such fantastic titles as Fallout 4, Doom, Wolfenstien and Dishonored. Last year’s conference was incredible for them as they dropped the megaton bomb known as Fallout 4 on us and we lost our minds. This year they have kept that trend alive with a slew of new announcements designed to empty the wallet, revitalize older games and give us new fun tools we didn’t even know we wanted!

Quake Champions

First out the gate is Quake Champions, the third in “Hey we have these older awesome games we can make and you guy ate up Wolfenstien and Doom, so let’s go for one more” series. As with many of the first person shooters put out by Bethesda, Quake harkens back to its roots, then adds those flavor nuggets of modern game mechanics to give us (hopefully) the perfect blend of fast paced arena based combat. The only downside in my opinion is its PC only, but it is understandable when they are wanting the game to run at 120hz with an unlocked frame rate.

Elder scrolls Legends

The Elder scrolls Legends and Elder Scrolls Online both made an appearance which is cool, though I will admit neither game is in my wheel house. Legends is a digital trading card game, similar to Hearthstone and while it is still in beta, if you are into those types of games it looks to boast a fairly robust battle system for you to sink your teeth into. The other Scrolls was their MMO, Elder Scroll Online, and they revealed that there will no longer be a hard level cap for players trying to group with their friends. If you are high level and you want to jump down to help a friend just getting in, you get scaled down and vice versa. The problem I see with this though is that if you don’t have to do the lower their stuff as a new player because you can just join up with your high level friends, how is loot and the economy in general going to sustain itself. *shrug* either way, good news for ESO fans.

Skyrim remastered

Keeping in the Elder Scrolls universe, Skyrim is getting a remaster for both PS4 and Xbox One! This game is revamping the games look with higher-res textures and the like, as well as the top mods, sans the nudity ones, for players to re-immerse themselves into a monster world. As someone who has sunk over a thousand hours into Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim combined, I am pretty excited to delve back into this much better looking world .

Prey logo

Switching gears completely, Bethesda kicked off a series reboot/refresh (whatever you want to call it) with a kick ass trailer for Prey, giving off a killer survival horror-shooter type vibe. I have not played Prey in MANY years, so I don’t know what to expect from this new iteration of the franchise. I am hoping to have a rock solid single player campaign to sink my teeth into for this. Cannot wait!

Fallout 4

We then transition into Fallout. They announce a few new DLC packs, one of which is being able to take the iOS/android game Fallout Shelter, and basically do that in-game! This is huge as it allows you to get super meta with your game and build a settlement truly from the ground up. They also announced Nuka World, a seemingly run down theme park you can fix up and start using. I didn’t look too much into it as I was still geeking out over the Vault DLC. On the small-scale aspect of new content, they also announced a pack that will give you items like lifts, and allow you to make weird contraptions. I don’t know what the appeal of that is, but hey, you can do more stuff in your town now. Closing out their Fallout section they dropped a bomb on us, and that bomb is Fallout VR! Not a ton was revealed about this but I know many people who are looking forward to getting this going and replay Fallout in VR.

Dishonored 2

Bethesda’s last game was Dishonored 2. The game looks great, as they have expanded upon their unique look at the world and how they blend their awesome architecture with stylized characters and powers. If you are a fan of the first game, you will be super stoked for this second game. There is a problem here though, this demo/trailer/announcement KILLED the momentum of the conference, which was moving along at a decent pace until this point. The demo dragged on, and turned my excitement for the game into a “meh” over all. Another theme E3 has had this year is pacing problems, and Bethesda was no exception to this rule.

The conference itself was mostly well done minus the issues I mentioned above. Lots of cool games to look forward to, even if some of them are PC only, and that leaves us other games like Wolfenstien for next year so it’s likely we will see Bethesda again, which is news I can get behind.