Backlog Battle Report (16th Oct 2017)

Proving once more that I am fickle and need to work harder on maintaining a schedule, here is Monday’s post ahead of the late Right Click to Zoom article. It’s coming soon, really. Also proving my lack of attention span is another slew of newly started games and not a lot of continuation on previous stuff. Well, at least I’ve got some things to say.

Final Fantasy 14 (PC) — Patched up

As I said last week, the major 4.1 update for Final Fantasy 14 dropped a few days ago and I jumped right back into it. What surprises me the most about this, however, is that I actually haven’t played much of it all despite expectations.

This is nothing to do with the lack of content, or lack of options and new things to do. That’s all there, with a new bunch of side content, further expansion on the Stormblood plot, a new four man dungeon, a new high difficulty trial, and a new raid that heavily ties Final Fantasy 12 and Tactics together into an interesting worldbuilding exercise. What I’ve played of it is all very well done and genuinely pretty high quality. The precursor quests to that raid had me geeking out pretty hard, and it was a joy to go through.

Thing is, I’ve still only done the precursors. The actual raid? Haven’t jumped into yet. The new main quest? That jumps into the new dungeon fairly quickly, and that’s where I’ve stopped. At the moment, I’m in no particular hurry to jump into the group content without a group to play with, and I have no real desire to queue up with random people. And even if I did have that desire, I don’t have the item level required; I played so little after reaching the level cap on both my characters that I didn’t spend much time gearing them up, so I’d have to do that for a couple of runs before I could tackle the new stuff.

None of this would take me long at all, but again, I haven’t had that desire. I want to play with my friends, but if they’re not occupied with something else then I usually am, if not with other projects then with my increasing work schedule. So as much as I want to dive headfirst back into Eorzea and be captivated with that setting and world once more, I’m still struggling to do so.

Instead, I’m still playing Elder Scrolls Online. I truly love FF14 and will get back into it at the first opportunity, but the ability to pick it up, play solo for a couple of quests while off exploring or crafting, and then putting it down again just isn’t there. ESO has that in spades, so that’s still been my time sink for the week. Maybe next week?

Battle Chasers: Nightwar (PC) — Slow and methodical

I have a fairly standard approach to games in which I try very hard not to miss anything. I check for secrets, try not to finish a dungeon until I’ve found all the chests and explored the diverging paths, and talk to everyone available. I pick up side quests, poke around in areas that I perhaps shouldn’t, and so on. I’m not completely methodical, but this is the approach I usually have going into games.

The problem with this approach is that it’s fairly intensive, and as such gets very exhausting quickly. It’s not often that I can keep up that kind of drive until the end, and the only games that I can think of where I did so are games that I call some of my favourites ever (Persona 5 most recently). So that leaves two options: get burnt out on this approach and try to push myself to finish the game more directly, or else slack off or even put the game aside entirely until I have the motivation to tackle it like that.

Battle Chasers is starting to feel like the latest example of the latter. I’m still enjoying it, and much more so than when I first began, but I’m a way into the second major dungeon and have still spent a lot of time tracking back and forth to be methodical. I cleared the first dungeon on every possible difficulty at least once just to see how things differed, for example, and have thoroughly checked the world map.

I think the real impediment to my progress is not anything about the game and what’s happening, but the fact that I hit a wall on the first major “Hunt” side quest. See, the benefits of leveling up in Battle Chasers are significant, so being underleveled for a challenge is drastic. I was only a single level below this challenge enemy, and yet it could two shot my entire party. So it’s something I need to come back to, and the thought of having to advance, level as I go, and then backtrack all that way in my usual style? Yeah, it’s a little exhausting.

Still, I really do like this game and fully intend to persevere with it, so it should hardly be counted out yet. That said, I’m seeing myself repeat this way too many times for my liking of late… I shall endeavour not to let it become a statistic. So far, I would still recommend checking it out.

CrossCode (PC) — Massively Single-Player Offline RPG

This “way too high quality and polish for an Early Access title” game continues to impress into my second week playing it. As I mentioned last week, it feels like an action/JRPG meshed with a twin stick shooter, alternating between moving/shooting and closing in for melee combat. It’s an interesting system and I quite enjoy it.

I’ve since moved out of the introduction area and the first hub zone into what is presumably the meat of the game and its world areas. Still keeping up the somewhat meta narrative of playing an MMORPG in the game’s setting, CrossCode definitely has the core gameplay loop of an MMO within it. There’s lots of side quests that mostly consist of exploring side areas or else farming up drops from enemies or environmental hazards.

It might sound a little bit samey fairly quickly, but the premise and execution twists things enough to keep it fresh. The way the characters will react to NPCs (and vice versa) is quick to take on multiple layers of observation, and there’s plenty of humour and fun dialogue. A lot of what I’ve been doing is also completely optional, so I’m free to move on and progress the plot if it ever starts to get awkward.

CrossCode does a fairly good job of making movement and exploration feel enjoyable outside of combat encounters, too. Every area usually packs some kind of extra verticality, and moving your character Lea up small ledges to leap across a network of chasms to find hidden areas is fluid and rewarding. I’ll often spot something interesting like a treasure chest and then have to trace that extra path back to its origin, sometimes maps away, then do a quick bit of platforming to get there. The introductory dungeon also showed off many puzzle elements to this platforming which will hopefully show up in abundance as I progress.

In true completionist self, I’m doing what I can to farm up stuff needed for the optional quests, find all the hidden areas, and tinker with the way the skill circuit is set up. It’s largely just a standard “get points when leveling to put into a skill tree” system, but it offers pathways that branch but allow you to swap freely between the branches on a whim for your favoured layout.

Overall, this game is cute and fun. I really like it and do want to see how it unfolds and progresses, so I will probably make an effort to push through the plot a little and see what happens. It’s a fairly compelling and intriguing setup, to be sure.

Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions (3DS) — I HAVE FURY!

History time! Way back in the Super Nintendo era, Squaresoft in their glory days collaborated with Nintendo to make a Super Mario RPG, and it was fucking brilliant. No joke, no exaggeration, it was a damn good game that mixed the feeling and gimmicks of Mario with well executed JRPG mechanics. It also sported a surprisingly interesting plot and cast that included Mario, Peach and Bowser in the same party. It was yet another line-up that Squaresoft hit out of the park and then never quite seemed to recapture the magic of after their merger with Enix.

But the setup for a Mario RPG was made, and it continued on with the also excellent Paper Mario series… well, up until that became incredibly samey in modern times. Still, back on the Game Boy Advance, the Mario RPG concept was also explored, and we received Superstar Saga. It, like its predecessors, was also excellent! For whatever reason, however, I don’t think it received nearly as much attention or praise. Perhaps this was due to being on a handheld, or maybe it was simply overlooked. The fact that its sequels on the DS didn’t quite live up to it probably didn’t help (though they were also quite good nonetheless).

As such, the announcement that Superstar Saga was being remastered and brought to the 3DS with added content and updated graphics caught me completely off guard. Then I was caught off guard again by the fact that it released seemingly within a month of my catching wind of this, arriving on store shelves out of nowhere. Well, I had to pick it up almost on principle, and now it’s serving as far better 3DS cartridge fuel than the Puzzle Quest spinoffs I keep throwing in there.

So. Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga is a JRPG featuring the titular brothers on a quest to the neighbouring Beanbean Kingdom to retrieve Princess Peach’s voice, which has been stolen by evil witch Cackletta and her hilarious minion Fawful. The battles are turn-based but feature the ability to block or avoid attacks by jumping or counterattacking on enemy’s turns, as well as timing your attacks for added effects. They’re simple but effective and keep your attention throughout, as the difficulty can spike quite suddenly if you’re not careful and keep messing up.

In addition to the battles, the area maps are full of puzzles and platforming challenges to overcome. Mario and Luigi rapidly expand their skillset (yet all the while maintain their themes of jumping and using hammers) to conquer these challenges, find secret items, and clear puzzles to progress in some very well designed areas. It’s surprisingly intricate and very well designed when it wants to be, with some clever thinking and occasional quick reflexes being crucial in progressing.

Two big things of note in addition to all of this: difficulty, and writing. First, the difficulty ramps up far quicker than you might expect. The timed dodges and counterattacks are fairly crucial, as you’ll take quite a bit of damage fairly quickly if you get sloppy. Learning enemy patterns is a huge advantage. Healing items are plentiful should you make a handful of mistakes, but it’s still wise to learn. That said, the puzzles do ramp up as the game progresses, and my time with the late-game GBA version pushed my timing far more than you might expect.

Secondly: the writing. The plot and progression of the game is fairly barebones, and that’s fine; it’s a Mario game, so you’re not going to get Pulitzer award winning concepts here. That said, the execution is hilarious. Jokes are plentiful, both in written and visual varieties, and the entire adventure never takes itself too seriously. Constant references to people forgetting Luigi’s name, ridiculous slapstick antics even happening mid-battle, pretty much every line out of Fawful’s mouth… it’s a gloriously good time.

The graphics have been overhauled and are much higher quality than the GBA version, obviously, but not a lot else appears to have changed. Map design and battles play out exactly as they did previously, and I haven’t had much opportunity to delve heavily into the added Bowser’s Minions mode to tell how different the 3DS port is. But all that said, if you never played Superstar Saga the first time around, it is absolutely worth your time.

A Hat in Time (PC) — Murder on the Owl Express!

I love this game, holy crap.

So a few years ago when the big Kickstarter craze happened in the video game industry, one game that caught my attention alongside the Pillars of Eternity’s and the Star Citizens was an innocuous little 3D platformer called A Hat in Time. It featured cutesy art and stylised graphics reminiscent of Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, with the lead character Hat Girl attempting to foil the villainous Moustache Girl. Yes, really.

I didn’t back it at the time, but it’s been steadily in development well past its expected release date. Nonetheless, the developers were hard at work and it’s now finally released, and I couldn’t help myself but pick it up. Quite frankly, this is the return to the 3D platforming “collectathon” style of game that hearkens back to the Nintendo 64 era and titles like Banjo-Kazooie or even Mario 64.

It’s… I’m honestly not sure how to be completely objective in describing it, because playing it is so delightful that it fills me with that same kind of vibe I got from picking up a controller and playing the N64 for the first time.

A Hat in Time is split up into a number of different areas, and each area is further split into smaller missions. The end game of each mission is to collect the Hourglass, and getting all 40 Hourglasses will allow you to accomplish your objective and beat the game. However, each mission can radically alter the world in different ways. More importantly, the worlds are usually large and diverse, with lots of little corners to explore and secrets to uncover.

At first, it might feel a little bit repetitive leaping into Mafia Town (the first world) several times in succession, but once the other worlds are unlocked they drastically expand the way the game plays. The second world, Dead Bird Studios, sees you bouncing between two rival movie studios and starring in their works, with each level being dramatically different not just from each other but from everything that came in the first area. Later levels continue this trend, each going in completely new directions and breathing fresh air into the game before it even has a chance of growing stale.

The controls are fairly precise, but the act of controlling Hat Girl feels very intuitive and becomes second nature very quickly. You also gradually expand your repertoire of abilities as the game progresses by swapping between a variety of hats to unlock them, or customising how they play with purchasable badges.

There’s a lot of praise I could give this game. From the sound, to the music, to the voice acting, the level design, the execution… it’s just a delightfully fun and well made game. It makes me feel like I’m a kid playing Mario 64 all over again and evokes those powerful feelings of nostalgia alongside more objective ones of clever and interesting game design. It hits all the beats that other such revivals of the collectathon like Yooka-Laylee failed to do so. Can’t recommend this one enough.

DOOM (PC) — Rip and tear ’til it is done!

It’s funny how practically nobody was interested in or hyped about Doom 4 from the first footage and even the first playtests. Then, suddenly, the game explodes to success on release as an incredible first person shooter that was an absolute blast to play and relived the glory days of the original effortlessly. Perhaps the multiplayer scene never took off as well as the developers hoped, but the campaign ended up being a supremely fast-paced, frantic, and massively fun action game that felt much like the early days of the genre instead of the somewhat stiff military shooter.

So what’s there to say about Doom 2016? Well, it blends action and solid, chunky gunplay together into a massive arcade-feeling fiesta where you’re given plenty of opportunities to replenish health and ammo through being proactive and getting kills rather than hiding in cover. It includes well designed levels filled with secrets and collectables that reward exploration without bogging it down too much. It takes what boils down to a horde mode shooter and makes it into something that doesn’t feel nearly as stale as others of that kind can, to the point that most people don’t even realise it.

Further, the soundtrack is incredible. Combat is filled with fast-paced and heavy music that matches the intensity of the action scenes, only to blend into synth-filled and sombre tunes as you explore seamlessly. It’s enjoyable and gets me even further into the action.

One more lesser noted thing about Doom is the execution of “show don’t tell” worldbuilding and story. Yes, the main plot points will be given by characters bossing the player character around and throwing exposition at you, but the way the Doomguy reacts to this without saying a word beyond grunts goes a long way. He’s quick to shut down or throw away anything that is clearly Hell related, and clearly has his own agenda that he will follow regardless of whether or not the ones in power want him to. Then there’s the way he checks each new weapon and upgrade with care even as he’s forceful to everything that might get in his way… there’s a lot more subtlety there than you might think.

That, combined with the way the levels are designed and how you can largely tell what’s happened in any given room or environment just from what’s around than what you’ve been told, and it all comes together to make a believable setting. When you go from that to shooting up demons and possessed soldiers while racing around to get glorious finishing blows on them in a heartbeat without it feeling strange, you know you’ve done well.

Grim Dawn: Ashes of Malmouth (PC) — Diablo 2 Necromancers, eat your heart out

Earlier this year, the Necromancer class was released to Diablo 3 as paid DLC. Just now, Grim Dawn released a full-fledged and full sized expansion featuring two new story Acts (to a previous four), a slew of new areas and items to match, and two new classes — one of which is also a Necromancer — into the game. With the way the class system works in Grim Dawn, that allows for a huge amount of build varieties. This expansion also costs less than the Necromancer pack for Diablo 3, so how’s that for value proposition in ARPGs?

Somewhat unfair comparisons aside, I’ve been looking forward to having more of a chance to play Grim Dawn, and so far it hasn’t disappointed. The first of the heroic enemies in the first of the new areas I encountered actually killed my game-beating characters very quickly by catching me off guard with new mechanics, which I consider a very good sign. I was quick to adapt, but so far what I’ve seen is well designed, with a slew of new enemies and mechanics as I poke around the areas and slaughter my way through threats.

Biggest thing to say is that either I was underleveled, or perhaps the game is not completely well tuned; by the time I went from 50 to 51 in this area, enemies had scaled to the point where the first major boss was 57 and a significant threat even while dodging their abilities. Nonetheless, everything else has proven enjoyable so far, and for the most part I’m just glad to get back into the game. I’ll probably end up backtracking to old areas for bounty quests and clearing out the roguelike dungeons just to get some levels though.

In addition, I’ve been giving the Necromancer class a whirl with the intention of summoning as many minions onto the field as possible. Right now, even on Veteran difficulty I can largely just hang back and do my own thing while my skeletons farm whole areas for me in true Diablo 2 fashion. I’ll experiment a little with skills and builds as I go, but so far I’m enjoying it immensely. I’ve yet to try out the Inquisitor and will probably save that for a co-op run.

At the end of the day, Ashes of Malmouth is more Grim Dawn, and at the same good quality as the base game. That’s all I really wanted and I’m happy to receive it.

And that about does it for this week. I didn’t mention the Heroes of the Storm or Elder Scrolls Online time I’ve put in as it’s largely just more of the same. There’s also a required shoutout to my friends who I’m still chipping away slowly at Borderlands 2 with; we’ll get through that game together one of these days.

With any luck I’ll have the late Right Click to Zoom article completed and up soon. The concept is there, it’s just a case of finding the time and mindset to get my thoughts down cohesively. If I don’t catch up with my schedule immediately, I’ll keep trying until I make it stick, dammit.


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