Sunday, May 29, 2016

Screenshot of the Week #84: Never-ending war!

                It has been a while since I wrote something on the blog. I’ve been so preoccupied with so many things lately that I couldn’t find the time to write any article (not to my standards at least). Things have been rough and they don’t seem to get better despite my attempts, so there isn’t a certainty anymore of when I’ll write next.
                Lately, the little spare time I have I’ve spent playing the newly released Total War Warhammer (poorly chosen name), which is no surprise as I’m a declared lover of the Warhammer and Warhammer 40k materials. The game has received a good number of extremely positive reviews and in my 20 hours spent with the game I have to say they are well deserved (to a degree).
                The game combines the universe of never-ending war that is Warhammer with some of the strategy elements of the Total War franchise. It’s also taking advantage of the series real time combat system which uses file units formations which is the base for every Warhammer’s army. Total War Warhammer has five different campaigns, one for each of the factions available at launch (including Chaos which comes as a DLC…). These campaigns, while mostly follow the same victory rules and are disappointing in terms of storytelling, do have unique elements to distinguish one from another. Each faction has a wide variety of detailed units balanced in a rock-paper-scissors way and a set of unique campaign mechanics that add great replay value. It's a noticeable difference in terms of mechanics, world map strategy, management and especially combat tactics that make each race and thus each campaign worth trying.
There is a great value for money with the game’s content without even taking into consideration the upcoming free DLCs (SEGA giving free DLCs, the End Times are coming!) and the mods that will make the game last years from now. Adding the good performance and probably the most stable Total War launch in a while and Warhammer comes in front as one of the best games in the series, but doesn't do it without problems. The questionable AI combined with some annoying and almost game breaking mechanics and the lack of proper storytelling chip away from the potential greatness.
                Total War Warhammer comes as a good blend of two worlds that meet for the first time, a side step from the historical games to something new and unique. It’s a great change for a franchise that has been going through a monotonous time lately, but it’s reshaping and redefining itself by successfully taking on a new challenge. It’s quite clearl that the new Total War game won’t be liked by all the series fans, but it’s expanding to new horizons and has the chance to capture the attention new players, that haven’t been interested in the franchise before.
For the Empire!

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Screenshot of the Week #83: I need cheese for the wine!

                The latest news about Blood and Wine, The Witcher 3 last expansion, got me excited and since GOG has no cloud saves and my older saves are nowhere to be found, I decided to go through the game one more time in preparation for the upcoming release on 31 May.
                Going through The Witcher 3 one more time refreshed my memory on certain aspects. The game’s writing and quest design still top everything I’ve been playing since. The music and voice acting haven’t aged a day and the graphics hold up nicely, a year after its release. Even if the game has been visibly improved through numerous patches, including tweaks to some of its mechanics, the combat system and various other gameplay aspects are still underwhelming for a game of such scale. After over 100 hours spent in Dark Souls III I needed several hours to accommodate myself to The Witcher’s 3 weirdly annoying combat system and even now it still feels unnatural. But, despite the problems, I still think The Witcher 3 is an RPG not to be missed by fans of the genre and non-fans alike.
                Blood and Wine promises great improvements to the core game, while Geralt embarks on a last adventure following his retirement plan in the lands of Toussaint. With over 30 hours of content, graphics designed from scratch, new monsters and items, new gameplay mechanics and what can only be another intriguing story, Blood and Wine surely does sound like an expansion like in the old days.
Maybe they can help me!

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Monday, May 9, 2016

Overwatch Open Beta Impressions!

                Blizzard’s plan to expand on IPs and genres started with Hearthstone, their first free to play game, which had an incredible success and it continued with Heroes of the Storm. After decades of hardcore multiplayer games, Blizzard’s focus has shifted and is now taking ideas from different genres adapting them for a more casual play style in order to attract more players. These games are also filled with well known and popular characters from all Blizzard’s lore, scoring a big plus with their fans.
                Overwatch is a continuation of that plan but with the twist of being a new IP that has no connection to any of the games or genres Blizzard released up to this point. Overwatch is a mash of traditional fast paced FPS with the silly team based style of Team Fortress and Super MNC built on the 50 million dollars skeleton of the cancelled MMO known as Titan.
                The interesting thing about Overwatch is its comical style with a rather juvenile vibe for a story that is centered on war. Using colorful cartoonish graphics, oddball heroes with amusing personalities and requiring no knowledge of Blizzard’s past titles, it’s quite clear that the target audience isn’t the veteran gamer which the studio has already won with their pre-2010 releases. Overwatch seems to be a game dedicated to attract a younger audience into Blizzard’s already huge fanbase (and cult). The younger players didn’t have that much contact with legendary titles like Warcraft 2 & 3, Starcraft 1 & Brood Wars or the better days of World of Warcraft. These games have brought Blizzard an eternally grateful community which has been able to overlook missteps like Diablo 3. But there is a huge and ever-growing market out there and here is a game with the target to bring new fans, while keeping the old ones entertained.
Someone was really mad at Hearthstone!

                Despite being risen from the ashes of Titan, it’s hard to imagine that the secretive MMO project looked anything like this. Overwatch is a team based arena shooter with a few elements borrowed from MOBAs. The game has 6v6 matches centered on four core game modes: Escort, Assault, Hybrid and Control. Escort is Blizzard’s version of Team Fortress 2 Payload mode, with the attacking team attempting to push a payload on the clock through several checkpoints to reach the last one. Assault resembles the Rush mode from the Battlefield series with the attacking team having to capture objective points in a set order. Hybrid comes as a mix of the two above mentioned modes. Last but not least, in Control mode the two teams fight to control a single objective point for a set amount of time in a BO3 rounds system. The four game modes combined with a decent number of maps add a fair amount of gameplay variety.
                Speaking about maps, each map has a cool unique artistic style and takes the players into a futuristic journey on several locations all over the globe. Players will get to visit Japan, Mexico, Egypt and even make a short detour to the movies capital, Hollywood. As a visual entertainment value, the maps are great, but despite having multiple pathways and a lot of verticality to be suited with the heroes mechanics, the map design isn’t the best. It all starts with some horrible chock points which tend to hinder the attackers’ job while making the defender’s easier. It doesn’t help that the defenders have time to prepare and install defenses right at the spawning location of the attackers, leading to some pretty ugly base rape scenarios that clearly only one side enjoys. The last factor that plays into this are the heroes which aren’t as balanced as they should be and the map design helps some in the detriment of others.
Colorful Unreal Tournament
Them chock points!

                The biggest selling point for Overwatch should be its hero roster. The heroes are split into four groups as Blizzard loves roles (remember the holy trinity?!): Offense, Defense, Support and Tank. Each group comes with a bunch of heroes with quirky personalities and a unique set of skills. The Offense heroes have a small health pool but are extremely mobile and excel at dealing a high amount of damage. The Defense heroes are static as their specialty is to lockdown areas and protect objectives. The Support group is specialized on keeping the team alive and providing powerful buffs which can make the difference during heated battles.  The Tanks are the toughest and the largest heroes in the game, they are usually capable of crowd controlling and come with abilities designed to protect their teammates. Each role is important but the unique thing about Overwatch heroes is that they can be swapped after each death, allowing the players to readjust to the situation on the battlefield and not being stuck on playing the same hero for the whole match.
Take your pick!

                The design of the heroes is good and the current roster of 21 helps maintaining the heroes fresh and unique as abilities don’t repeat which is a common problem with MOBAs. The heroes are equipped with one weapon (some have two) with an infinite ammo supply and have a range of abilities based on that weapon, their characteristics and role. Each hero has access to a powerful ability which charges over time, process that can be sped up through efficient fighting. This ability plays the role of a MOBA ultimate and in some cases if used properly it can wipe the enemy team.
                The heroes manage to greatly increase the fun factor with their goofy looks and funny banter while providing engaging gameplay in a progressive learning curve. The skill cap of each hero varies, being rated by the developers as easy-medium-hard, and by doing so is keeping the game accessible for casual players while still having something to offer to the hardcore gamers.
The angel of Mercy!

                I have to admit that I had fun playing with some of the heroes in the game. Pharah and her awesome rocket launcher took me back the memory lane to my days of Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament. But even if the heroes have unique abilities and styles, after playing for some time it feels like Overwatch is lacking something. Its FPS roots start to dry out sooner than expected and the hybrid gameplay didn’t manage to keep me as interested as I was in the first days of the Beta. I found myself craving for an additional weapon for each hero and those who would turn to this game for its shooter elements will find the lack of weapon’s variety disappointing. Another problem that comes up as more time is spent in the game is the balance. The rock paper scissors balance system works only partially. There are some overpowered heroes which tend to wreck havoc on the battlefield being helped not only by their powerful abilities, but by the map design as well (Bastion is a good example). I even spotted some netcode issues and after my experience with Rainbow Six Siege I became rather sensitive to this problem.
                As an online game focused on PvP, I’m aware that a perfect balance won’t happen right away and I’m confident that Blizzard will take notes from the players’ complaints and the OBT statistics. So I won’t rush to judge Overwatch based on something that will be in a continuous change over the game’s lifespan (hopefully a change for the better). But I feel the game is lacking in features that could impress. There is a visible mix of good and bad things when it comes to the gameplay, things of whose weight might depend on each player’s expectations from this hybrid shooter.
A sacrifice for the greater good!
I clearly picked the wrong target.

                Blizzard’s games always shine on production value and Overwatch is no exception. There is a ton of attention to details. From the smallest objects you will find on the map, which serve both as amusement and immersion factors, to the number of destructible objects, the game oozes Blizzard’s style.
The feng shui was wrong.

                On the graphics it’s always the same story with Blizzard’s games hitting home with the artistic style, but greatly lacking in fidelity. Overwatch falls in the same pile with all the Blizzard games to date. Its cartoonish graphics are visually pleasing and fit the thematic of the game perfectly, but their technical display is outdated. The texture quality is really upsetting using a low resolution even on the hero’s weapons, which are the closest thing you get to see, and the same story goes for every other graphical effect.
                There is a fear of crossing the line towards better graphical fidelity with Blizzard and I don’t understand why. The common excuse that these games are designed to work on lower rigs doesn’t really cut it as this is PC gaming and the video settings can always be adjusted to be suited for each computer specifications. I find it disappointing that once again an attractive artistic style isn’t properly supported by up to date graphics.
Why do I feel like I'm in 2007?!

                On the other hand, the sound design is excellent with unique sounds for each of the hero’s weapons and abilities. The voice acting piles up on that outlining each hero personality and adding to the comical style of the game through funny voices and playful banters. The music is up there with the sound design with unique songs for each map and heroic scores to keep you plugged.

This is just for epeen, don't add me!

                All in all, I had a good time playing Overwatch during its Open Beta Test. I wasn’t expecting much from the game, but I went in with an open mind and it surprised me a little in a positive way. The Team Fortress 2 and Super MNC influences are suiting for the FPS and MOBA hybrid gameplay and there are many good elements that make it enjoyable. But I haven’t felt the hook and I wonder for how long the game can keep other players entertained. There is a progressive system that surely helps, awarding players with skins, voices and other cosmetics which can be used to customize the heroes. And while disabled for the OBT, the final game will come with a Ranked system to give the competitive players something to strive for. Yet, it doesn’t seem like Overwatch has that incentive to play until you go crazy like the dangerously addictive MOBAs or the competitive online shooters.
                Maybe I’m wrong, but knowing the game’s problems, Overwatch needs time to grow, and taking into consideration the steep price and its competitors, I wonder if the game will receive that time from the players.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Screenshot of the Week #82: Nuclear launch detected!

                Another Screenshot of the Week article coming late, it seems to become a habit, despite me trying to keep up with the schedule. Nevertheless, even if the articles continue to come with a one day delay, the SotW section isn’t going anywhere!
                On 27th April Dreadnought servers went live for the players with Early Access to the CBT. Naturally, as a gamer I took a look at the streams and youtube videos to see how game performs as a it is still under development. I tend to avoid the games focused on grinding to unlock better combat vehicles from a progression tree, especially after the disappointment that was for me Armored Warfare. But curiosity and boredom sometimes gets the better costing me a lot of money each year, money spent on games that I barely play. Anyhow, I bought a Founder’s Pack and jumped into the game and I was pleasantly surprised of its gameplay mechanics.
                At its core Dreadnought works like World of Tanks, Armored Warfare or War Thunder, but it separates itself through a well defined class system and the tactical options provided by a considerable number of abilities.
                Dreadnought is an online skirmish game in which players control of a series of gargantuan ships and take part in tactical 5v5 battles. More than with any other game in the genre, tactics seems to be the emphasis of Dreadnought’s gameplay. Each ship has strengths and weaknesses and a predefined role which makes them effective only if played correctly. The ships are upgradeable, as expected, but the highlight is that each ship comes with a bunch of abilities that can be changed to each player’s liking working as builds per ship class. Putting the ships and their abilities to good use make up for some serious tactical battles in which teamplay and skill come on top over raw power and better upgrades. The slower paced gameplay and the maps layout allow for various strategies including ambushes and despite the resilience of some of the available ships, mistakes can be immediately penalized.
                Dreadnought’s biggest problem at the moment comes from the server’s stability and the small amount of content available in the CBT. But I’m confident it will get better as there is nothing like it on the market and it can easily catch on with the enthusiasts of the genre. And considering the game is a SciFi,  there is no need to worry about the content being historically accurate, imagination being the limit for what the developers can do.
He's in for a world of hurt!

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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Dark Souls III Review!

                Dark Souls III may very well be the end of a long journey, but what a journey it has been. I still remember starting up the first game back when it came out on PC, only to give up one hour later due to mounting frustration. One year later, I returned to it and this time, I went through until the very end. The immense satisfaction of overcoming a fair challenge that I deemed impossible not long ago, the sense of wonder and dread as I explore a masterfully built world that's hell-bent on seeing you succumb to its perils, the struggle of putting together tiny bits of cryptic information in order to understand that world and its history… these were all novel to me at that time and made the experience of playing Dark Souls extremely memorable. Unfortunately, the second game did not continue on the same path (at least in my opinion), and although it was saved by the remarkable DLCs, its vanilla content lacked in quality due to its poor boss fights, artificially increased difficulty obtained by throwing large numbers of enemies at the player and the general subpar atmosphere and world design. Nonetheless, when Dark Souls III was announced, I found myself excited at the thought of a worthy successor of the first game and a fitting conclusion to the series. Despite the catastrophic staggered release which had non-Japanese fans left waiting while streamers and youtubers were tossing spoilers all over the internet (we weren't relaxed enough, so we couldn't cover the game sooner...), I still counted the days and hours left until the release. After more than a week since the game came out and after 71 hours spent in it, I'm ready to share my thoughts on whether Dark Souls III lives up to the hype or not.