Backlog Battle Report (25th Sept 2017)

I was a little less diverse in my gameplay time this week and instead was more focused on just a couple of titles. Some decent progress made in what I did play, but nothing to cross off the list since Samus Returns last weekend. With my new job and potentially a second one in the wings, game time might be slightly reduced, but that shouldn’t stop me from still having some opinions to share as I go. So here’s what I’ve been up to.

Elder Scrolls Online (PC) — The current MMORPG of choice

As stated last week, I ended up attempting this one again and getting far more invested than I had previously. Couple a number of friends playing alongside me, and it has remained compelling enough throughout the week to quickly become the game I gravitate towards most when I have a few spare minutes. Again, that will probably change once the next Final Fantasy 14 patch drops in about a fortnight, but the subscription-free system of ESO means I can comfortably drop in and out without issue.

Regardless, I’m fully wrapped up in this one now. The game has continued to provide me with a good mix of content and variety, with even the more basic and genre-standard stuff still proving entertaining to keep me focused. I’ve healed dungeons with friends, gone exploring solo in the public dungeons, tried out the opening zones of all three factions (the Dominion still seems my best fit), and otherwise just gone wandering and questing through the world. My internet and general game lag makes me disinclined to try PvP, but I might end up doing that eventually.

I wasn’t here for the launch of the game, but what I initially saw following ESO’s announcement and from beta footage left me completely disinterested. It’s really impressive to hear and see how much it’s turned itself around. With the removal of level and faction restrictions on so much of the content, it really does provide a huge world to go exploring in, with all sorts of compelling and interesting quest chains that I literally just stumble into.

There’s also a lot of versatility in how one builds a character. Effectively, every character has a variety of skill lines that they can choose to invest points in, ranging from armour and weapon types to guild or faction specific abilities to class skills. You gain skill points every time you level up, by completing certain quest chains, or finding collectables in the world. The actual skill lines level up through use as they do in regular Elder Scrolls games, which unlocks more of their abilities and passive bonuses.

So as well as all the universal skill lines based on quests and weapon types, each of the four classes has three unique trees that you can go into. You also gain a single stat point when you level up which you can drop into Health, Magicka or Stamina and upgrade relevant abilities that way. What’s really interesting is that there’s no set ways to build these classes; a Dragonknight might typically be a heavy armour wearing tank, but I’m building mine as a full magic damage type.

At the moment, I’m juggling three characters but primarily sticking with my Wood Elf Templar tank. Currently I’m in the late 20s for level with them (level cap is 50 but with further progression afterwards) and looking to push ahead, but there’s no real rush. Absolutely everything in the game gives experience, so I’m just exploring, crafting, doing quests or faction objectives as I see fit and having a good time.

It’s been a while since I’ve just been able to completely lose myself in a world like this. Plus, for all its pros and strengths, Final Fantasy 14 doesn’t really make much use of its actual world after you finish the main questlines. There’s less to discover and accomplish just by wandering as this game incentivises, and it’s wonderful. Definitely will be chipping away at this for some time to come.

Continue reading “Backlog Battle Report (25th Sept 2017)”

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Right Click to Zoom — Fans vs. Funds; A Comparison of Project AM2R and Metroid: Samus Returns

Welcome to this week’s iteration of Right Click to Zoom, the more in-depth article side of this blog. Today, I’ll be looking into both Project AM2R and the newly released Metroid: Samus Returns, and comparing their different game design choices.

As far as I can tell, this is quite possibly a unique situation to have occurred in video game history. The original Metroid 2 was released on the Game Boy in 1991, and now decades later it has received two full remakes within a year of each other. It’s a rare opportunity to study how different developers and game design decisions can impact the delivery of what is effectively the same game, not to mention what elements of the original source material they keep or discard. Let’s give a brief synopsis of the two first for those not familiar.

Project AM2R (short for Another Metroid 2 Remake) was first begun in 2007 and released in August 2016, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the Metroid franchise. The game was largely the work of Milton “DoctorM64” Guasti, who maintained the AM2R site with a blog of his development updates and design choices. Over the years, he was very thorough in explaining his decisions, ambition, and scope of the game, showing a remarkable amount of professionalism. The process was understandably ongoing, but the end result was an incredibly high quality fan-game incorporating features and updates from the entire Metroid series to that point.

You can still read this development blog on the AM2R website. Sadly, a DMCA claim by Nintendo means the game is no longer officially supported or available for download on the site, but is nonetheless on the internet and easy to find. In fact, just this month an update was released by a dedicated team of fans using the game’s source code, implementing both a New Game+ and Randomizer modes that I will likely try out in the near future.

Metroid: Samus Returns, on the other hand, is the first official “true” Metroid game in the series since Other M in 2010 (the exception being Federation Force, which takes place in the same universe but is a Metroid game in name only). Back in 2015, developers MercurySteam pitched a remake of 2002’s Metroid Fusion to Nintendo for the Wii U/3DS. While the pitch failed, the prototype impressed series creator Yoshio Sakamoto enough to see the team hired to develop their own official Metroid 2 remake instead, and Samus Returns for the 3DS is the result.

Having just played through Samus Returns and completing it the weekend it came out, I believe that MercurySteam did a fantastic job in delivering their vision of the series. At the same time, so did AM2R, so now it’s time to look at what they both did.

Continue reading “Right Click to Zoom — Fans vs. Funds; A Comparison of Project AM2R and Metroid: Samus Returns”

Backlog Battle Report (18th Sept 2017)

This week saw very little in the way of console activity, instead seeing long stretches of me glued to my 3DS or else tinkering with settings on my PC to get specific old games working. Monster Hunter Stories, Witcher 3 and Yakuza Kiwami are all surprisingly absent from this week’s report, but that’s almost certain to change in the coming days. I’ve also got the new Prey, the first Warhammer Total War, and a number of recent RPGs I never played through properly on my agenda. Let’s go through it, shall we?

Pokemon Shuffle (3DS) — A puzzling time filler

Match 3 games have been a guilty pleasure of mine forever, usually filling the void when I wasn’t regularly playing Tetris. It’s a simple and addictive concept, though some games take the concept and run with it in interesting ways. Puzzle Quest turned it into an RPG, 10000000 and its sequel You Must Build A Boat merged the genre with endless runners, and HuniePop had dating sim aspects.

Pokemon Shuffle does none of these things, really. The idea is that you have a limited number of turns to inflict damage on the target Pokemon, then get a chance to catch them. You can level up the Pokemon caught through these puzzle battles and make them stronger. It’s RPG-esque, but it’s pretty basic. Still, it’s an addictive way to fill in time when in game queues or some other situation.

It’s also free to play, meaning small time brackets are the only ones you’ll get anyway without tossing money at Nintendo. I have other products to give money to however, so for now it’s just something to do.

Continue reading “Backlog Battle Report (18th Sept 2017)”

Right Click to Zoom — The Value Proposition Issue of ARPGs

Welcome to this week’s iteration of Right Click to Zoom, the more in-depth article side of this blog. Today I’m going to be talking about the growing concept and issues of the value proposition of games, particularly how they relate to hack-and-slash action RPGs (referred to as ARPGs for the remainder of the article).

The idea of a value proposition is simple: it’s the idea that a product, in this case a video game, presents itself in its entirety and then asks the consumer for the purchase price. A user deciding that the game is too expensive or doesn’t offer enough gameplay, longevity, or some other criteria is saying that the proposition fails; it’s not worth the value they’re asking.

A number of these concepts can be applied to video games as a whole, but I’m going to relate them back to this one genre for the sake of the article today. This is largely because they are a kind of game that can fall into this discussion fairly quickly by the very nature of how they play. To demonstrate what I mean, let’s start with the poster child of the hack-and-slash ARPG genre: the Diablo series.

The original Diablo is one of the more iconic games of its time, releasing nearly a year before the first Fallout game and simplifying the oft convoluted RPG genre down to a more accessible format. The huge, complex and intricate worlds with fiddly systems of the Ultima series and its ilk were instead reduced to a single town. From this town, you would descend into the catacombs beneath the cathedral, diving deeper until you reached Hell itself to defeat titular demon Diablo.

While still gaining power through traditional level ups, much of your character’s strength came from the randomised loot that would drop as you explored. Some drops were guaranteed from quests that would appear within the dungeon, but they too were randomly assigned; not everyone would find the quest to kill the Butcher or the Skeleton King in their run. You could play through it multiple times and still discover something new, and the same character could become wildly skewed in power. This became the core of the hack-and-slash ARPG: the loot.

If Diablo popularised the concept and genre, Diablo 2 refined and polished it. More character classes, more intricate and variable skill trees, more in-depth storytelling and world building, a bigger world to explore and play with… but most importantly, more loot. Winning a whole slew of awards and quickly becoming the fastest selling video game in history at the time, Diablo 2 opened up the genre to more people than ever before.

The inclusion of additional difficulty levels encouraged repeat playthroughs with the one character. Combine this with a strong multiplayer aspect and options, and the game saw continual play for years afterwards. Arguably, that is where the problems inherent in the modern day perception of the genre began, and few points can highlight this better than the launch of the next game in the Diablo chain.

Continue reading “Right Click to Zoom — The Value Proposition Issue of ARPGs”

Backlog Battle Report (11th Sept 2017)

I spent some time looking at options and possibilities for extending the activities on this blog to YouTube and recording versions of this for those who would rather listen than read. Unfortunately, the internet connections and speeds available in this part of Australia effectively limit my options to “move elsewhere” or “suck it up”. Since only one of those is viable, this’ll probably remain a text only venture for a while.

Still, I like writing, so hopefully people still like the reading. With all that said, let’s get into the games.

Heroes of the Storm (PC) — Obey the Call!

Let’s start with the new patch of Heroes, which I’ve played a good chunk of games on. Of the four hero reworks in the patch, I’ve only had the chance to play two of them so far, meaning Morales and Jaina I have no comment on. Chromie and Leoric I’ve played a couple of games of apiece, and then a number of Kel’thuzad games to cap it off.

The Leoric rework is, in a word, awesome. Don’t know how he is in terms of power overall, but the adjustments to his spells and auto attack pattern feel a lot more responsive and his talent choices feel much more interesting. While I haven’t picked up a set build yet, the talents that give Wraith Walk more utility that leads into more damage makes for a decent way to start a fight. Both his ults feel like viable choices now as opposed to just the one, though I still need to play around with the 20 talents. He’s great fun.

Chromie is a little less stellar in the long run, but comes with the caveat that I might just be completely awful at her. Either way, her ability to combo and delete somebody instantly is gone unless you manage to ramp up early by getting good hits and completing your baseline quest. That said, in two games I only managed to finish it in one, and then only just before the game ended. Does that mean I’m an awful shot, or is she undertuned? Probably more the former, but either way I can’t really give a full opinion on how she is numbers wise. This needs a bit more time. Continue reading “Backlog Battle Report (11th Sept 2017)”

Right Click to Zoom — Competency and Professionalism in Games Journalism

I had intended for the first iteration of this segment to be on an entirely different topic, but after this recent controversy arose within the games journalism community, I felt it prudent to start here. It’s current news, it’s better to talk about it now, and it will hopefully segue into a good mission statement about what I’m trying to accomplish with these write-ups.

With that said, welcome to Right Click to Zoom, the more in-depth article side of this blog. Today’s topic is “competency and professionalism in video game journalism”.

Allow me to begin by asking a question: if you go out to eat at a restaurant, you want the chef to know what they’re doing, yes? They don’t necessarily have to be world-class gourmet chefs, but if your food comes out uncooked and smelling foul as if the kitchen didn’t know what a stove was, you’d have issues with it. You would complain, take it back, or perhaps leave. When you go out to eat, that is the desire you would have of your chef: competency.

This can be applied to just about anything we do in our lives. We don’t want people unskilled and untrained to be repairing our cars, doing our taxes or running our stores.

Why, then, is it so hard for people to apply this to video game journalism? Continue reading “Right Click to Zoom — Competency and Professionalism in Games Journalism”

Backlog Battle Report (4th September 2017)

As mentioned in my previous post, I’m planning on setting up a weekly routine of a more serious and in-depth article, and then a more casual article detailing my gaming experiences for the past week. This is the first of the latter! It made sense to name it the Backlog Battle Report given the name and aim of the page, and I’ll be getting these out every Monday night/Tuesday morning as time permits from here on if all goes well. As for the other article type, that will probably debut on Friday, so keep an eye out.

For now, let’s talk about the games I’ve played over the last week. I’ll also include a few things that reach a bit further back just because I’ve been inactive for so long. Let’s kick it off.

Heroes of the Storm — As always

I won’t be mentioning this much in the future reports unless something stands out, but Heroes of the Storm is still my primary go-to when I feel like playing a competitive multiplayer game or MOBA. I’m sure some of you may scoff at the thought of calling it “competitive”, but the game is as deep and competitive as you want it to be, and I like to push myself in it.

The latest ranked season will be ending in a matter of days, so there’s something of a mad scramble to get last minute rankings for the rewards, but I’ve been abstaining and keeping to the non-ranked modes for a while. This is mostly just due to queue times for ranked being considerably longer in Australia, or else it’s because I’m playing with friends who take the game much more casually. However, it’s also because I’ve already reached Diamond 5 rank after a couple of seasons coasting in high Platinum since tanking my MMR last year. I’ve got the rewards I sought, so I can hold off any further attempts until the next season kicks off.

Kel’thuzad is due to be the next hero release in just a couple of days, and his patch comes with a number of character reworks, so I’ll have a good amount of new things to learn and play shortly. Should be a good time. Continue reading “Backlog Battle Report (4th September 2017)”