Home stretch of the year, which means I’m quietly compelling a bunch of arbitrary awards of which I can laud upon the many storied games of 2017 for nobody in particular to comment on. It’s a hobby, everyone does it, and I’d like to look back on what has been a stellar year in game releases (albeit less so in industry developments) with some positive words. That’s coming soon, but for now, here’s the week’s gaming.
Heroes of the Storm (PC)
So last week I spoke about how Blizzard had introduced a PvE Brawl into the game, but commented that I felt it was too easy and would have liked to see multiple difficulty settings or more challenging versions. Well, this week the Brawl is the same, but on Heroic difficulty, and it is pretty much exactly what I was hoping for.
On the basic difficulty, you could pick pretty much any composition and have people run to all corners of the map and still likely pull through. On Heroic, going on your own is a death sentence if people aren’t on hand to save you. Enemy heroes will slaughter you if they CC chain you well, it’s pretty easy to get overrun, item effects are necessary for easing your way and the final boss is challenging no matter how you set up your team. Speaking of which, there’s numerous team compositions that I’d imagine would just have no hope.
In about a dozen attempts with various friends or people accompanying me, I’ve only cleared it once or twice. We had a full group of five at one point in voice comms, messing around with various group makeups and trying to figure out a way that suited us. We didn’t clear it, and sometimes we just messed up and got brutally beaten, but we were all laughing and enjoying ourselves immensely. It’s a lot of fun, and having to band together and focus like that is a welcome challenge.
I don’t know how much it would affect the game’s overall population, queue times, and so on if this style of mode became permanent. But if it was, I’d likely play it a fair bit. This is great, and kudos to Blizzard for trying it out. I hope to see more stuff like this soon.
Beyond just the Brawl, there’s been a few normal games but nothing too much to write home about. I’m working once more on getting as many heroes as I can close to leveling without actually doing so, since the Christmas event is right around the corner. I might as well aim to get as much limited time loot from chests as I can, and it worked out pretty nicely for me last time. Hoping to get one of the Christmas Valla skins. I’ve also got the gold ready for Hanzo and almost for Alexstrasza in addition. Should be a fun time.
Realm Grinder (PC)
I get the sneaking suspicion I’m going to have to uninstall this and take other drastic measures to keep me from checking it on a regular basis.
Nonetheless, Realm Grinder is still going on in the background while I work or play other games, and I can’t help but check in on my progress every hour or so. I’ve Reincarnated a second time, for those who have played and know what that means. Beyond that, again, not much to comment on about the game except that I like watching the numbers climb up. I’m a simple man, apparently.
I think this is holding my attention more than the average idle game because there’s actually variety in the runs and pathways I can take per reset. It’s not just a matter of a steady upward climb, there’s different approaches and challenges/trophies to get which ultimately makes it easier from then on. Probably why I keep on playing it. Nonetheless, it’s something that I need to pay less attention to, dammit!
Battle Chef Brigade (Switch)
I ended up refining my strategy after my post last week, tackling the battle that was getting me stuck and then clearing it without too much difficulty, steamrolling the next couple afterwards. From there, it was full force momentum forward, playing it almost every chance I got until I cleared the game.
Perhaps the best way to summarise how I feel about this game: my biggest flaw with it is that it ended and I still wanted more. A pretty good indication of a damn fine game, I would say. The realist in me thinks that anything further than where it ended would probably have seen the gameplay formula start to grow stale or repetitive without additional tweaks or new mechanics, so I can see why they did so. But still… I wanted more.
The story was wrapped up simply, but nicely. The final encounters and developments were generally entertaining. It’s just… a really good game. A great idea and interesting take on mechanics and genres that’s all together well executed and incredibly charming to play. Definitely a winner here.
Full review is in progress for this for Switch Indie Reviews, so stay tuned for that. If you don’t want to wait to read that though, I’d suggest just picking up the game on PC or Switch and having it at yourself.
Endless Space 2 (PC)
I ended up not purchasing much on the Steam sale, knowing full well that there’ll be another time this month to do so if I really want to. I did, however, pick up this game and put a few hours into it.
I enjoyed the first Endless Space, but the sequel seems to have improved and expanded on a variety of the empire management aspects. Combat is harder to gauge, as true to my nature in these games, I played a more managerial focused race for the first time around to get a feel for those systems. All I know for sure about combat is that it doesn’t seem to be split between the different ship ranges as the original was, and instead gives you one tactical choice going into rather than those three.
Regardless, I played for enough to mostly come to terms with the changes and additions, then put that playthrough down. I can’t remember the name of the race I was playing as — they were amphibious and mostly focused on making money — but I was starting to get to the point where I’d neglected military so much that I was backed into a corner. That’s usually the cue to close that game down and start a new one, which is where I’m at now.
It’s pretty, it seems polished, and it plays enough like the first game with clear improvements that I can’t really fault it. An iterative sequel to a good game in a genre I enjoy is always welcome, so I’ll playing more Endless Space 2 when I can.
Will probably play the Cravers and just eat the universe for the next go around. That sounds fun.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U)
Continuing our duo adventures through the incredibly expansive lands of Hyrule, my friend and I put another good chunk of playtime into this one over the last week. Contrary to my original guess, we actually avoided doing the next Divine Beast and instead just carried on our random adventures, this time following the western edge of the map and heading south.
The Gerudo Highlands and mountains were full of all sorts of wonders. We nearly got electrified horrifically by a massive dragon that we otherwise have no figured out how to interact with. We balanced frantically between our equipment and potions to avoid freezing and/or overheating in the deserts and mountains. We wandered a sandstorm to found a shrine, or melted one out of a giant pile of ice.
By now, we’ve uncovered almost the entire map, missing just the south/southeast regions aside from what we’ve explored for story quests. With much of the adventuring leaving us in a pretty solid place, we’re going to farm up the materials for some clothing upgrades and then tackle at least one (if not both) of the remaining Divine Beasts next session.
I’d leave it there, but an interesting discussion came up following a brief disagreement on how to tackle one part of the game that I feel is worth covering. At this point in the game, we’re exceedingly powerful. We have a variety of high quality weapons and shields, a mix of level 2 and 3 armour, and enough food, potions, and materials for more to basically turn any fight into a war of attrition, no matter how challenging.
This is where the disagreement began, then: one of those challenging fights.
Somewhere in the Gerudo Highlands, we came across a Blue-maned Lynel. The Lynels are some of the more intimidating and challenging foes in the game, but by now we mostly beat up the basic Lynel without thinking. We did encounter two White-maned Lynels prior to this point, which were much tougher and sturdier, but rewarded us with some of the best weapons and bows we’d uncovered (and which we had saved for this very fight).
I’m honestly not sure if the Blue-maned Lynel is tougher to beat than the White-maned variety, even now. What I do know is that this one was equipped with shock arrows and a two-handed mace that did very solid damage to us even with defence buffs running. It hurt like hell if it hit us, but normally I’d be able to jump around and Flurry Rush it to death without being hit all that often. With this weapon, it was not so; it would deal area damage by slamming the ground that would knock me out of my Flurry startup, and the timing and placement of the swings was generally a lot harder to avoid and instead forced me to block.
Eventually, with a couple of weapons and shields used in addition to some healing food, I managed to take it out. But during the encounter, my friend was suggesting that we just load and avoid the battle, because we were using way too many of our resources. In fairness, afterwards we were down some of our best reserve weapons, and had we stumbled upon another it might have been a slog to deal with.
But I persevered nonetheless, because I maintain that that’s exactly the scenario you maintain these weapons and equipment for. Half the time we’d only be using the weaker or more fragile items in our arsenal to beat the average foes anyway. You’d think that stockpiling the stronger weapons for the challenges is exactly why you do it… so why back down from the challenge when it finally emerges? It’s not like we were gunning towards a known, bigger target right after or anything.
So yeah, I wasn’t concerned by it despite the slight disagreement. We beat the enemy and carried on, resupplying the empty weapon slots with filler from regular enemies as we went. We’re not particularly worse for wear overall, unless Ganon decides to throw a handful of powerful Lynels utilising Guardian support at us (though between Ancient Arrows and the Master Sword, we’re not struggling against the latter anymore either).
Regardless, I’m curious what people would have done in the situation on their own, so let me know if you’re interested. More Zelda next week probably; we haven’t set ourselves a deadline or a time goal, but beating the game prior to year’s end seems like a nice way to round it out.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (Switch)
At long last: the release day of the game that initially made me go “GODDAMMIT, NOW I HAVE TO BUY A SWITCH” all the way back in March. I don’t tend to talk it up as much as some others, but Xenoblade Chronicles is one of my favourite JRPGs of the last several years. It juggled an absolutely massive, almost MMORPG-esque scale of game world with an beautiful design and sound, a very enjoyable plot that built up nicely over time and rounded out to a very satisfying conclusion. The gameplay systems were extremely intensive if you wanted to dive deep into their inner workings, and I enjoyed myself immensely.
More recently, we had Xenoblade Chronicles X on the Wii U. I enjoyed the game, but it resonated with me far less than the first did. The scale and scope of the game world was larger still, and many of the design elements were still largely there, but the heavier focus on exploration came at the cost of significantly devaluing and downgrading the plot. It did try to set up some interesting twists and turns, but the execution was a bit mixed and a lot of threads just never went anywhere or got resolved.
Couple that with an ending that was honestly so jarring that it soured the experience considerably, and it was a game that I had fun with but was happy to put down and never come back to or think about once again. Nonetheless, it was still an experience that had me anticipating a new game of its scope and style.
So now Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is here. How is it? Well… jury’s still out on that one. I’ve played it maybe ten hours, a lot of which was at incredibly late hours of the morning after I failed to make myself switch off the console (heh, switch) and go sleep. I’m enjoying it lots and want to play more, that is definitely evident.
I’ll list off some rapid fire points, then. The world and game scope is massive in the fashion that I wanted, so that’s great. The art design of the landscape is awesome, and the soundtrack is so Yasunori Mitsuda that it makes me nostalgic, even if I haven’t really found a stand out track as I did in XBC1 (or one that immediately stands out through sheer punch).
The story has thus far set up an interesting state of the world and encourages my desire to go forth and learn more. The gameplay has seen me just exploring and wandering around for hours instead of advancing objectives simply because I wanted to and enjoyed doing so, usually turning up interesting rewards (albeit alongside severe pummelling). So all in all, that part is good.
I do have complaints, though none as substantial as some of the ones I’ve seen thrown about on the internet over the game so far. First: combat. At the moment, the combat is still introducing a lot of key elements, and while I largely get the gist of it and enjoy it, it takes a looong time to build up. Even the initial ten seconds or so of every single encounter will just see me auto attacking until I can do something, so that’s a little tedious. In the times when that’s not the case, it still feels like the results of combat are largely out of my hands at the moment — I just press what I’ve got and then I either win, or die because I’m currently too weak and will come back later. Hopefully that changes as time progresses; it usually does with Xenoblade games.
Next: the voiceover. The major complaint seems to be that people are horrified by the incredibly, overtly Welsh accent of the lead character Rex, not to mention a variety of other European accents throughout the cast. This seems to be throwing a lot of people off, but for the most part once I adjusted to the surprise accents, I thought the voiceover was pretty good. These actors aren’t slouches.
That said, the delivery is awful, and it’s what made me download and switch to the Japanese voice pack after perhaps two hours of gameplay. The actors aren’t doing a bad job per se, but it feels way too much that they were given some of their script and lines without any context, so scenes that are completely action packed or intense on the screen just… aren’t, sound-wise. It was so jarring that it made me feel detached from what was happening, and when you compare far better synced and delivered dubs even in the first Xenoblade, this felt way too awkward to continue with. The Japanese voices are tied to it much better, so I’m sticking with those.
My final complaint is the character designs, and once again this isn’t because Pyra is dressed skimpily or has large boobs or whatever else people are getting annoyed at (her boobs do look very weird, mind, just not because they’re large… just weird). My biggest issue with the character designs is that they’re very anime; not because anime is bad, but because these designs look extremely undefined and simplistic so that they jar with the rest of the detailed world and other graphical elements.
Xenoblade — and the rest of the Xeno- franchise all the way back to Xenogears — has always had anime inspirations, so that’s nothing new. But contrast these main characters of the Xenoblade games to see what I mean. When the world that the characters are in has only increased in detail and scope through iterations, the fact that the characters themselves are so simply and stylistically drawn clashes. Regardless of what you feel about the designs themselves, the fact that they don’t fit the rest of the game comes through to me. It’s only worse when you see the Tetsuya Nomura guest designed characters (who has done some comically odd designs in his time with Final Fantasy) and notice how much better they mesh with the world.
Anyway, that’s enough complaining. It was worth going over those points, but I cannot stress enough how enamoured I am with the game and how much I’m looking forward to playing more and seeing how it unfolds in the near future.
Moon Hunters (Switch)
This was something of an impulse purchase in the lull between Battle Chef and Xenoblade 2 that I wanted to fill. I haven’t played it much, and I was kind of thrown off by it not playing quite like I expected; I was expecting something more akin to a Diablo-esque ARPG, but got a brawler instead.
Nonetheless, Moon Hunters is a weird one. It’s painting itself as a very artistic, stylistic indie game in terms of design and aesthetic. Whether or not that’s well executed I think will depend on the player, but it wasn’t really resonating with me that much. Throw in the sudden disconnect I felt from the gameplay not matching expectations, then add in that gameplay being kind of lackluster and dull when playing single player, and I’m not sure what to take away from this.
Still, I’ll have plenty of time to contemplate during all the loading times this game has. Seriously, it felt like it was taking way too long to get anything done. So who knows. I’m sure there’s a decent game in here somewhere, but I’ll need to tackle it later with a different mindset.
World of Warcraft (PC)
Hello darkness, my old friend…
Most of the people who know me will see this title capping out this week’s article and react in one of two ways: breaking into hysterical laughter, or recoiling in horror. Despite a promising start, Legion ended up falling short of what I was hoping for, and it ended up painting a number of pictures about WoW and its future — particularly in terms of story — that I just found myself no longer wanting to continue playing it. The love and attachment I’d felt for nigh on a decade was gone, and I was convinced that I wouldn’t be playing it again. Those feelings were very well documented on this blog way back in February.
Yet here it is. So let’s talk about that.
I played this for about an hour tops this week at the behest of some very close and dear friends. They are the ones who I played the game with mostly over the last few years, and who I either carried to or met on Final Fantasy 14. We jumped over to Elder Scrolls Online for a time with less to do on FF14, but in the end I seemed the one most attached to that game, so I was quickly alone. Now they’ve moved back to WoW.
My feelings for the game remain as tired, jaded, and disconnected as they did in that original blog post. But my feelings for my friends are not, and so simply to have a game to play with them again, I have jumped on to join them. If and when they leave the game again, I’ll be gone that instant, if not leaving sooner.
I flat out don’t want to play World of Warcraft anymore. I really don’t. After nearly a year or predominantly FF14, playing WoW is fast but incredibly simplistic. I can watch movies or play on Switch with one hand while executing my role in WoW fairly well. A lot of that is muscle memory that was quick to return, but there’s really just not a lot to the game in terms of moment to moment execution. Any challenge comes from either other players, or from a variety of mechanics that come from outside my character in higher content.
I really don’t care for the story at all anymore, and the new additions since I’ve returned haven’t fixed that; if anything, they’ve just made it worse, given how much I like the draenei race but feel like their established notions and even their higher purpose was largely tossed out the window throughout. I don’t want to rejoin a raiding guild or pursue higher difficulties. I don’t want to level new characters. Battle for Azeroth might provide an expansion’s worth of new content and things to do to occupy me, but that’s probably the better part of a year out from launch.
Simply put, I just want to play a game — any game — with my friends. We’ve chosen WoW. So it’ll do. We’ll see if they can make it fun to me where Blizzard has not.
And that’s my week. I’ll be back to writing my reviews and playing more Xenoblade once I finish typing these last few words. Thanks for reading as ever.
No, this post wasn’t late, you’re late!