Over the Horizon

Contrary to the tone of the post title, I’m actually only over Horizon: Zero Dawn because it’s finished. It was more than strong and compelling enough to drag me away from Torment and ultimately kept me there throughout, being the only game I’ve really worked on for the past two weeks.

I finally completed the game a few hours ago, with just under 70 hours of playtime logged. All major sidequests and plots are completed, all collectibles save world datapoints found, and the only two things I can think of that need doing are retrieving one last Power Cell to get the ultimate armour (I missed it first time through the plot area) and tightening up some of the Hunting Ground times for all the rewards. There’s also knocking over a few target dummies for an achievement. I might go back and do all that in an afternoon, but for now it’s done.

It’s a really good game and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s been well received by most establishments and is quite deserving of those, I feel… even if it’s being a little overshadowed by the insanely high praise that the new Zelda is receiving. From what little I’ve experienced of Zelda, I can say that it’s a great game, but I can’t say yet if it’s deserving of quite all that.

I’ll get to it soon, but having just thrown myself into a huge open world action adventure game regardless of tone and style differences, I need something to break it up so I don’t burn out. As such, I’ll probably divvy up my time between resuming Torment and playing NieR: Automata now that that’s out. There’ll still be a chunk of time dedicated to FF14, I’m sure, though I did finally reach 60 so that grind is slowing somewhat.

Anyway, Horizon. I liked the combat with the machines, having to learn all their parts and weak points to better plan my attack (or else at least strip their armour in order to hit them hard). I liked that the vast majority of options were available to me from the outset, and the skill tree didn’t unlock whole new playstyles so much as slightly improved or gave me alternative approaches in styles of play that I enjoyed. Towards the end, this might have made combat feel a touch same-y, but generally that’s hard to avoid in as long a playtime as I gave it.

The world is absolutely gorgeous, with some great designs and features as well as standout landmarks to keep me interested in exploring and being a part of it. Coupled with the machine designs, and it was a very easy game to get engaged with… and then the plot and characters kept me engaged. It was a very interesting mystery to unravel, digging into the ruins and memories of what is effectively near future for me, but a thousand years in the past for the main characters. They don’t understand the technology and terms that are being presented fully, but I do, so it’s an interesting layer of subtext there for the first half of it. In the second half, the characters have grown to learn enough to be on board with it, but it’s still no less compelling to find out the truth of what happened.

The characters were also very well acted, with the most serious but well-delivered voice work I’ve heard Ashly Burch give. She’s done a bunch of roles, with some quite hit or miss, but this is probably the most subdued and serious character performance she’s given with Aloy, and I think it suited quite well.

Aloy was a very interesting character – curious, quick-witted and intelligent in a world that absolutely doesn’t recognise those traits anymore, yet still possessed of the strength and willpower to stand up in it. There’ll be plenty of character discussions regarding Aloy as a Strong Female Lead Character by a host of publications eventually, I’m sure, so I’ll let them handle it. I’ll just say that I liked her and most of the supporting cast.

What really struck me about the plot and characters was the memories of the past, however – the titular Zero Dawn project that is crucial to the story. I won’t spoil things, but the post-apocalyptic nature of the current world is delved into quite heavily, bringing up the records and memories of the time right before and leading up to the apocalypse. And what an apocalypse – we’re talking complete biosphere destruction and mass extinction of all life on Earth, in remarkable detail and with lots of feeling behind it. It was those little details that made it that much more compelling and drove me to finish and find out what I could of it.

Any complaints I have with the game are mostly minor nitpicks regarding things like animation glitches or poor lip syncing.There’s occasionally repetitive combat towards the late game once you’ve figured out your style of dealing with everything, mostly because you have the means to eschew things like traps and careful setup in favour of rapid firing elemental arrows and exploiting weak points while tearing off all visible components. Still, you have to work to get to that point, and it’s still satisfying to pick apart machines.

Plot wise, the ending was kind of lackluster and not entirely clear on all details. The lead up to the end was still quite enjoyable, however, and prepping for the final battle actually saw you meeting up with just about every character you’d met even in side quests to have them assist you, which was nice. There was also a sequel hook, however, which I’m actively curious to see realised. If this world is to be revisited, I will quite likely be there.

Give Horizon a shot if you have the means, I highly recommend it. Yes, even if you’ve been playing Zelda. It’s good enough and different enough to be worth it.

Now it’s time for me to go hunt entirely different robots… and this time I’m playing the robot! What a twist! NieR: Automata feedback once I get around to it.

Torment vs. the March Gauntlet

It’s already been a pretty busy year for video games, but today was the kickoff of the real gauntlet of key titles that I’ll be acquiring and (hopefully) playing a satisfactory amount of.

First and foremost, today saw the release of Torment: Tides of Numenera, the spiritual successor to the classic and massively revered Planescape: Torment. There was quite a bit of buzz generated by this Kickstarter, and after throwing a hell of a lot of money at Pillars of Eternity, I wisely chose to back at a more reasonable figure. It’s finally out, and it’s actually really good! More on this momentarily.

Despite the full length of time a very text heavy western RPG is likely to take, I unfortunately don’t have all that much offered to it before it’ll be contested. Tomorrow sees the release of Horizon: Zero Dawn on PS4, and I’ll be going to bed and retrieving it first thing in the morning once this blog post is done.

In keeping with past trends, I suspect I’ll get this, put it in the console, and then leave it to download the Day 1 patch at a ridiculously slow rate while I put some more time into Torment. Once it’s ready to go, however, I am very much looking forward to roaming around an open world and fighting Zoids- excuse me, robot dinosaurs. Early signs and feedback from gaming sites suggest that it’s quite good, so I’m looking forward to seeing what’s… ahem, over the Horizon.

The biggest issue Horizon is going to have isn’t with itself, however – it’s the fact that it’ll have some seriously hard hitting competition in just two days. Big open world adventure game with RPG elements that has a lot of gathering and crafting? Yeah, that’s going to fill the exact same niche The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I do hope for Horizon’s sake that it’s able to stand out and succeed even with that kind of heavyweight competition, because by all accounts it’s worthy of it… but then, so is the new Zelda, apparently.

Zelda drops on March 3rd here, same as the Nintendo Switch – a brand new console that I am most interested in but have no intention of buying it until late this year if not 2018. With only Zelda in its immediate future to really interest me,. I can hold off on purchasing a full price console on launch, and instead plan to scoop up the Wii U version of Zelda as a last hurrah for my underutilised and sadly abandoned console.

So those three games will be fighting with everything else for the bulk of my time in the coming days, but even they’ll be joined by new additions in only a week: NieR Automata released on March 10th in Australia. Now by a number of accounts, this is perhaps the weakest of the games on offer – it had a strong demo but doesn’t quite hold up to it as a full game from what I’ve heard, but my sources aren’t the greatest on this and mileage may vary. I still intend to pick it up and give it a whirl, because it looks like a bunch of fun to be had.

Four games in two weeks, most of which are quite large affairs. Surely I won’t have anything else to lure me in though, right? Well… technically, Mass Effect: Andromeda comes out in late March, but as it stands I have little real interest in that series after the conclusion of ME3, or in dealing with BioWare’s shenanigans again. That’s very much a case of “wait and see” like Dragon Age Inquisition was. But hey, here’s hoping it ends up good, right?

Finally, to crown it all off, Persona 5 is FINALLY out on April 4th. As soon as that comes out, all bets are off and all other priorities shelves in favour of putting a good chunk of time into that. So I really have a month to focus on these other games and hit them as hard as I can.

To that end, I’ve obviously started with Torment, and I have to say that I’m quite enjoying my five hours of game time so far. Numenera as a tabletop RPG setting quite interested me, as it had the potential to be utterly bizarre and alien, and so far that has translated tremendously well to video game format. There are so many little stories and occurrences that are quite weird, strange, or otherwise convoluted and kind of crazy already, but it’s just been a fascinating experience.

It’s a really text heavy game – perhaps even more so than Planescape: Torment – but I’ve been happy to talk to everyone, learn more about the world and the setting, listen to the various stories, talk my way through some puzzles or encounters… really, I’ve just been soaking up as much of the setting as I can. The story has a compelling start, and I’m very curious to see how it pans out.

Perhaps my biggest gripe so far is that I’m not hugely invested in any of the companions I’ve discovered so far. The Last Castoff (the MC) is potentially interesting just because of how s/he ties into the narrative and how many strange events and old memories s/he can trigger, but the other characters so far I haven’t really developed much attachment for. Maybe that will change in time, we’ll see.

Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to getting back into it and pushing through tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes… and if the other games on my agenda will have any hope of pulling my attention away from it for long.

Last things to mention: I sat down and forced myself to play Gravity Rush 2 until I couldn’t do so anymore, and that sadly didn’t take as long as I was hoping. The game just has too many frustrations for me to stay attached, and I actually got so mad at it that I had to pause and walk away for a while just because of the terrible camera in one particular encounter. Really interesting and cool set pieces have been completely ruined by the unwieldy camera and jarring controls, and the new gravity styles feel way too gimmicky to really do much to change that. A proper article will be forthcoming.

And speaking of articles, I just had a new one promoted on GameSkinny, this one about why I think that Square Enix’s JRPG offerings are lackluster and other companies are getting much less credit for doing much more work for the genre. Give it a read if you’re interested.

All Across the Hydaelyn

Previously I spoke about my thoughts and feelings on WoW, and how they had ultimately lead me to a sense of detachment to the game, whereupon I unsubscribed. Many of the thoughts of disenfranchisement with Warcraft and the world of Azeroth as a whole that I wrote two posts ago are relevant to today’s discussion.

You see, as my feelings for WoW waned, it was FF14 that they started drifting towards.

Now, I didn’t maintain both MMO subscriptions side by side – not because of money, but largely because of time and disinterest. I picked up FF14 on a whim a couple of years ago during one of the periods where WoW was suffering a content drought, and I was remaining on it only to roleplay with friends. Since I wanted something else to fill that void, I went to FF14, and I was quickly swept up in the world that it offered.

I guess my thoughts started to mirror that previous time. It was almost on a whim that I started feeling the urge to load up a month of game time into FF14 and take a spin through it, playing through the patches I missed. I wanted to remake my favourite character from WoW into FF14 so that they’d have a chance to “live on”, so to speak. At first I fought the urge, but after chatting with a close friend about it, we decided to jump back in and check out the game together.

That was a little over a month ago, and she has since absolutely eclipsed my progress and raced ahead at a prodigious rate, eager to devour up every bit of story and worldbuilding the game as offered. And it was that realisation of what we’d been missing during our time in WoW – that sense of world, characters, and connection to the plot and setting that we were finding in FF14 – to finally make the plunge and unsubscribe from WoW without a second thought.

Since then, we’ve been exploring the world of Eorzea, plumbing its locales, and meeting its denizens with a fascination that was quite unexpected. I didn’t even return to the max level character I played on the first time I signed up to FF14; I instead started a new character from scratch and have been proceeding through the entirety of the plot again. Many friends who play the game thought I was mad for doing such a thing, considering the older content unenjoyable and a slog, but I’ve absolutely felt no such thing and have largely enjoyed the experience.

So let’s talk about the gameplay first, then. For this playthrough, I decided I would play an Au Ra lancer/dragoon – not the character I salvaged from WoW, mind you, who is around but not really my focus. This is an entirely new one that I fell in love with.

Generally the gameplay is pretty fun in FF14. There’s sometimes a shortage of quests, but the presence of a main story quest to guide your path and give much more impetus and attachment to your progress and the world helps immensely. If you need to pad that out, there’s a whole slew of activities, such as the Fate world events, the dungeons and trials, the repeatable leve quests, the Palace of the Dead… and even if any of that seems sparse, it continues to open up and give even more options upon hitting Level 50 and reaching all the patch content.

That said, it’s impossible to talk about the game without bringing up the fact that the global cooldown really is quite slow. The average MMORPG will have a base GCD of 1.5 seconds, and usually has classes or stats that can speed that up and make it much faster. By contrast, FF14 has 2.5 seconds. While most classes have an array of abilities that are used off the GCD and are woven into a rotation, it can definitely feel sluggish.

It’s by no means simple for this delay in actions, however. The rotation and spell management of FF14 is utterly absurd (in a good way) with how complex and intricate it can be to play at times. You could combine all the key active abilities of both my active Warrior specs from WoW and assign them to hotkeys, and they’d probably only just rival the BASIC ROTATION I have as a Dragoon… and I’m still not at the level cap yet.

Add in to that the many mechanics and targeting circles of doom that you’ll inevitably run into during dungeons and advanced content, and it can often feel like you’re doing an intricate dance from safe floor space to safe floor space all while spinning plates to maintain a relatively optimal damage rotation (or else survive/ensure survival for tanks and healers). The patterns of bosses can be a little more rigid than they are in WoW at times, but it’s definitely not a pushover of a system to bend to your will.

With all that said, it’s definitely my love of the world and the characters that have drawn me back and held me to FF14. If anything, it’s reminding me that WoW has been missing the character factor for multiple expansions now, save for a couple of exceptions. Too much has become about the player characters being more and more badass, more accomplished in the story, and beating increasingly unrealistic levels of foes in WoW. It’s gotten stale, honestly, and it only gets worse when the characters I used to love are basically window dressing on the story of the player character, lacking any real semblance of depth.

Again, there are exceptions. I felt sad when Varian died in Legion, for example, because I’d grown to respect him over the years. However, that’s also tempered by the fact that I hated him and considered him an awful character upon his first introduction, and it took many years to get to that point. He’s one of the better examples, however.

Most of the other named characters have been presented or written so poorly that I’ve come to hate them – Malfurion and Tyrande spring to mind, as does the path Illidan is treading in Legion. Characters that I do like are either extremely minor and often forgotten, or else are shoved aside because the writers decide to focus on something else. Remember Wrathion? I do, but it seems Blizzard doesn’t.

It’s handled slightly differently in FF14. See, it places the player character in the main spot of the story as the fabled Warrior of Light, certainly. But it doesn’t do so at the expense of the rest of the cast. They all have their skills, strengths, and abilities that you don’t, and will often appear to aid you when you need it. They have defined personalities that grow and expand as the story progresses.

And the story does progress. Things happen, characters are hurt or killed, and the world must adapt and carry on. Regardless of what you save the world from as the Warrior of Light, you can’t save everyone in it from everything all the time, and FF14 isn’t afraid to remind you of that. But if you’re willing to let yourself experience the narrative, it really is quite an enjoyable undertaking.

My friend and I have had a lot of fun just swapping tales and recounting our adventures to each other, adapting them to our characters both new and old. We’ve got our favourites among the NPCs and joke about them all. We’ve found ways to thread our own narrative through the existing one to expand on it and gives our characters purpose that isn’t just “fabled hero”, just for our own amusement.

But more than that, all this effort has helped us feel connected to the world of Hydaelyn and the realm of Eorzea more than I expected to from my whim of returning. Just a month ago I was bored of WoW and contemplating being done with MMORPGs for a good long stretch. Now, I’m focusing much of my gaming time into FF14 and following information about the upcoming Stormblood expansion with renewed vigor that I really didn’t expect.

It’s that attachment to a world and its characters that, as much if not more so than gameplay, has drawn me to video games. It was what kept me playing WoW long after the game stopped interesting me, this feeling of investment and attachment to my characters.

That investment need not just be repeatedly being told of how I am the hero, I am the conqueror, I am the general of the garrison, I am the strongest living warrior on Azeroth and eschewing all likeable character traits in the supporting cast because of this. I think that’s something the WoW writers have forgotten after Mists of Pandaria, but it’s been an increasing issue even throughout and before that.

Admittedly, maybe some of it is multiple years spent within Azeroth. But throughout that time, I spent so long investing myself in aspects of the lore and story while chasing up all the little details, only to end up feeling horribly disappointed and frustrated. There’s none of that disappointment in FF14 so far – simply delight, and a keen interest in seeing more.

In case you’re wondering, the reason I unsubbed from FF14 the first time was actually because I ran out of additional story to pursue. I was active after the Heavensward launch and played all of the available content in 3.0 save some higher difficulty things. In addition, my Free Company that I was RPing in started to experience drama and split apart, which further drove me away from guild politics and open RP on my return to WoW. So, ultimately, while I wanted to return eventually I simply never got around to it, with most of my interest leaning towards other games.

Perhaps it’s for the best that I didn’t come back sooner, because now I have plenty to occupy me with, and the promise of even more just in the horizon. It’s a good time to be back in Eorzea… truly, I missed it.

Mid-February Activity Dump

I usually do my best to consolidate the number of games I’m focusing on playing at any given time, hence the Current Projects list on the sidebar. That said, my attention span is the exact opposite of my backlog, and tends to falter quite a bit. The last couple of weeks have seen me jumping between a number of games in relatively quick succession, so rather than write a number of articles focusing on them individually, this article is going to be a rapid fire synopsis of my feelings and experiences on them.

There will be more focused articles, of course, but that’s for another day. Let’s begin.

Gravity Rush 2 (PS4)

I really enjoyed the first game as my post on that indicates, and hearing good things about the sequel saw me anticipating playing it quite a bit. Sadly, I don’t like it nearly as much. The primary reason for this is that, well… there are large stretches of the game where I’m not playing Gravity Rush. Instead, the new features and attempts to expand the game feel like a mix of things like Assassin’s Creed or Beyond Good and Evil, just… not nearly as good.

Stealth missions where you can’t use your gravity powers, or missions where you have to comb through crowds and ask people about X or Y… it’s an attempt to expand on the core of the game, but it’s so far removed that it ends up pulling me out of it. When Gravity Rush lets me play Gravity Rush, it’s great! But that is actually rarer than it should be. Lots of points I could make on this one that deserves its own post or GameSkinny article; I’ll just move on for now.

Digimon World: Next Order (PS4)

I haven’t played a Digimon game in a while, but there were immediately enough elements that this felt very much like revisiting a childhood memory. Sadly, that feeling didn’t last long. This game isn’t bad at all, but it’s not really what I expected. I planned on it being more like a JRPG, but it’s true to its roots as a monster raising game through and through.

Now while that’s not a bad thing, it immediately sets itself up for one BIG problem. See, training your Digimon back at the base city gives considerable stats and improvements as you’d expect. But going out and actually fighting? The rewards and stat gains are so negligible as to actively discourage fighting to keep from wasting time. So you’re effectively choosing between power or progression, and it feels like a very strange dichotomy that could’ve been woven together better.

And when you’re not really interested in fighting in a monster raising game, well… I’m sure you can see why this sapped my interest. I owe this game more time and attention, I really do, but it’s on the backburner for now.

Nioh (PS4)

I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while now, letting myself get hyped by videos and trailers despite my normal caution. That said, it’s met my expectations nicely. The game is a lot of fun to play, and I’m greatly enjoying my time with it. I’m dying LOTS, mind you, but that’s to be expected when I don’t have much experience with the SoulsBorne games to prep me for it.

At one point, I spectated my friend and brother playing the game, and they were much better at it than I was due to their familiarity with Dark Souls – they died considerably less and made progress much faster than I did. I have much to learn in my quest to git gud. Despite this, I must reiterate that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting my ass kicked by this one and look forward to playing more in the coming days.

Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star (PS4)

Purchasing this on a whim after a friend’s recommendation, I’ve been playing this over the last day or two. It’s a Musou/Warriors game ala Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors style games, set in the Type Moon universe made famous by Fate/Stay Night.

Now those who know anything about Dynasty Warriors or any relevant spinoff will know what the gameplay of this boils down to, and little really changes here. But I’ve long been a fan of that style of play, and mowing down thousands of enemies while clashing with the tougher figures is quite therapeutic even if it gets repetitive quickly. There’s a lot of context and nuance to the plot that I don’t fully understand, since it’s a sequel to a PSP game I never played… but I’m filling in the blanks as I go and it’s reasonably enjoyable.

Will see how it lasts in the long run, but again, it’s therapeutic and a good game to wind down with since (at least in regular difficulties) I can mow things down without a thought.

Final Fantasy 14 (PC)

As my interest in WoW wavered, my interest in revisiting the world of Eorzea grew. It was kind of a whim at first, since I hadn’t played the game for around a year after unsubbing before any Heavensward patch content was released. That said, after dragging a good friend in for the ride, I got back into it. And, well, this has absolutely been where all my time has gone since.

I’m back in the game with a passion and vigor that I sincerely didn’t expect, even replaying old content that I’ve done while leveling up a fresh character instead of returning to my main. In between playing with my friend and leveling solo, I’ve almost reached Heavensward content a second time and I’ve been having a blast doing so. I really do love the world they’ve made here, and it’s remarkably refreshing to be pulled back into a fictional universe that I feel like I can relate and invest myself in without fear of harsh disappointment. There’s even been fanfiction! What can I say, I love developing on my characters even in video games.

I tend to play a little of this every day and am pushing on ahead to endgame where I can visit all the patch content I missed and hopefully be ready to tackle the Stormblood expansion when it’s fresh. I really did miss this, though.

Heroes of the Storm (PC)

Anyone who knows me knows that this game is a constant, and nothing has changed. I’m still picking this game up and playing a couple of games every so often, usually in QMs with friends but occasionally attempting to climb the ranks back up into Diamond. My frequent run ins with angry and abusive assholes as well as people intentionally ruining ranked games is stifling any attempt to get seriously back into that one, though.

Lucio is due out soon, though, and he looks fun to play. That should be interesting.

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (3DS)

Strangely, while enjoying this game a reasonable amount, I quickly put it down once I reached almost the same point as I put down the PS2 version and have yet to really pick it back up. It’s not bad – it’s quite good, honestly, and I’m having more fun than I remember from the first attempt at beating this years ago. I just… can’t seem to stick to it? I don’t know. I’ll give it another shot in the coming days.

Fire Emblem Heroes (Mobile)

The first of many impending Fire Emblem games, and the one I was looking at with the most skepticism, as mobile games are rarely anything but quick cash-ins. Nintendo’s offering has more quality and gameplay than the vast majority, and it was a pleasant surprise to find myself quite enjoying it.

That didn’t last long, though. Eventually, I reached the end of the current content save for repeated arenas or grinding ceaselessly to beat the highest difficulties, and then the veneer starts to wear off and… surprise! It’s your standard mobile Gacha game designed to draw in whales! For all the negativity in this statement, though, I did enjoy myself. But I’m already at the point where I don’t even bother to log in and play it now. Feel like I’m done with it already, especially when I could be playing

Dandy Dungeon (Mobile)

The last game on today’s list is also the biggest surprise, because up until I saw it reviewed on GameSkinny, I’d never heard a damn thing about it. That said, it’s easily the best game I recall playing on mobile since You Must Build A Boat, and I’ve sunk a considerable amount of time over the past few days into it.

The general plot and style of the game is completely wacky, zany Japanese humour that is amusing and delightful to behold. The gameplay sees you plot the path of the main character through a dungeon and then use items at the right time to make sure you get through it, as well as equipping and upgrading the right gear before tackling those dungeons. There’s a lot of farming and grinding involved to get the item drops you need to make progress, but honestly? The game’s so entertaining that I don’t even mind just playing a dungeon or two when I get a spare minute and my energy’s full.

Yes, it has the standard free to play mobile game energy system. In this case, however, a small purchase will completely negate that akin to just purchasing the game outright, and I’m starting to think it might be worth it to do so. Nonetheless, even with the free to play elements, the game is well executed and entirely too endearing. Highly recommended!

 

Barring a few minor dabblings, that largely covers my gaming over the past few days. With any luck I’ll settle in on knocking over set projects and making headway in the backlog… though with the impending release of Torment: Tides of Numenera, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and NieR: Automata in a matter of weeks, I can only foresee the list growing rather than shrinking. Oh well!

Leaving Azeroth for parts unknown

World of Warcraft has been a staple in my gaming life for the better part of a decade… in fact, as of this month it officially has been a decade since I first set up my own account and properly dove into Azeroth. Prior to that, I’d sampled the game those trial CD accounts Blizzard were selling in most game stores, as well as made a character on a friend’s account briefly just to give it a whirl.

Since that time, it’s been a fairly frequent feature in my gaming hours. It hasn’t been constant – there have been a few times I’ve unsubbed, so the fact that I closed my subscription earlier this week isn’t a first. I can’t even say for sure that this is very definitely the last time I’ll do so, since my investment in the game has been so ongoing that I’ll always be inclined to just pop back in and see how things have progressed.

But, well, it’s a canceled subscription all the same. So what brought it on this time? You could reasonably guess the answer for it by citing the major reasons for my previous periods of absence from the game:

1- I no longer had any friends to play the game with and make it worthwhile to be part of a community.

2- I had run out of meaningful content that I was interested and able to partake in.

I quit for a two month period after Icecrown Citadel came out in Wrath of the Lich King, as most of my friends took a break and my guild fell apart, then came back when they did. I quit again for a time in the opening months of Cataclysm, only to come back a bit later when another group of friends expressed interest in playing the game. Once their interest fell and they started to quit, I did too, and that was my longest absence from the game since – a full 18 months. Not long in the grand scheme of things, but quite a substantial time to be away from a game and have it continue to flourish and grow without you, if you think about it.

When I returned during the later parts of the Mists of Pandaria patch cycle, it wasn’t for the usual reasons of having friends lure my back. This time, it was something I did on my own, diving headfirst into a server I wasn’t familiar with and rebuilding a new set of friendships from the ground up. The reason for that was actually personal – I was seeking escapism from personal problems and tragedies, and I was in such a depressed state that I felt like I needed to be anybody BUT myself for a while.

World of Warcraft was always good for that, simply because it had a thriving roleplaying community, and one that I’d usually been part of throughout my time. Many have mocked me or rolled their eyes at my decisions over the years, but it matters not – it was my investment in the world of Warcraft and the stories within that fueled such a constant interest, and roleplayers were usually the ones best suited to fueling that further. While I always played the game for the game, roleplaying helped connect me to it one step further.

It was roleplaying that kept me sometime active for some of the absolute worst stretches of WoW’s lifespan. The fourteen month break without content after the final patch of Mists of Pandaria? I remained subscribed the entire time. Warlords of Draenor? A couple of brief times unsubscribed, but never for more than a couple of months. Until this point, I’ve been subbed for all of Legion. Those long stretches without update and with awful, uninteresting and uninspiring content I was still playing not for the game, but the stories and characters… and not the ones Blizzard was providing either, but those that my friends and I worked on.

Sometime during Warlords of Draenor, I realised that my investment in the game was no longer anything to do with World of Warcraft. Once upon a time I cared for the stories and setting of Azeroth, but honestly? Not anymore. To be blunt, the writing of Blizzard has gotten bad. Quite frankly, that’s an understatement – atrocious would be closer to accurate.

For whatever reason, the little details that I grew to love were largely absent from Warlords onward. The primary plot and the relevant characters had been full of cliches and tropes and poor writing since Cataclysm. And honestly, even the main plot of Wrath of the Lich King starts to look shaky when you realise that the entire conclusion of Icecrown Citadel is lifted almost verbatim from the conclusion of the original Diablo, just with a few flavour differences.

While Blizzard is trying to make their world more concise with books like Chronicle, the overall details are just… not good. The characters that they want me to care about are bland, boring, insipid, or otherwise delivered in such a way as to sour them entirely. I cared about Illidan once, but the push to suddenly redeem him and make him some fated saviour of the Light is written atrociously, completely kills the character, and looks strikingly like the ending of Starcraft 2… which, I might add, is one of the worst video game endings that I’ve ever played through, perhaps rivaled only by Mass Effect 3.

Simply put, I’ve stopped caring. I find myself no longer attached to Azeroth. I don’t care what happens to it or the residents of it anymore. Given that there were huge stretches of game time where it felt like I cared more about the details and consistency of the world and writing than Blizzard did, this is quite a conclusion to come to. But alas, it’s not the World of Warcraft that I care about, it’s the characters I’ve built within it… and frankly, since they’re all the creations of mine or my friends, it’s not too hard to lift them up and take them to a more interesting setting or even stories of our own in order to preserve them.

Let me make it clear: I enjoyed playing Legion. It was all I did for a good chunk of time after it came out, constantly working through the content, diving into the quests, and generally having fun with the game. It wasn’t perfect, and I had some complaints both major and minor, but overall it was a fun experience and a relative return to form. But all throughout, this nagging feeling of disinterest and apathy continued to claw at me, and it’s only now when I’ve been actively avoiding playing World of Warcraft that it occurred to me why it was.

I still have friends playing. I still have meaningful content I would like to do and have the means to do so. I still log in when I can to attend my guild’s raids. But I just don’t care about the game anymore, overall. Turns out, there was a third condition – interest and attachment to the world of Azeroth, and it was that which called me from any lapses in playing WoW over these years back into its folds.

Alas, now it’s gone. It probably happened in Warlords of Draenor, which very nearly completely killed the game in itself, but now it’s finally set in that I just don’t have that attachment anymore. I’ve stopped RPing in the game for various reasons, but mostly because I got tired of repetitive and cliched plots among the playerbase that were barely any better than (or worse, were actively encouraged by) Blizzard’s poor writing. There’s also a lot of politics and drama when dealing with RP servers for too long, and I think I’ve just gotten so tired of all the pettiness that I was driven away from it. All in all, that was yet another nail in the coffin encircling Azeroth.

So it’s time to put WoW behind me and play some other games. I’ve played FF14 in the past to scratch the MMO itch when WoW wasn’t sufficing, and I’ve started doing that again. There’s a huge amount of games I’m slowly working on beating, and a few big titles that I’m actively awaiting in the next few months. I’ll be fine without WoW, and I suspect it’ll be fine without me.

I enjoyed my time on Azeroth, but there are other worlds calling my attention… worlds with considerably more interesting narratives and characters to discover, no less. Maybe I’ll return, maybe I won’t. All I know is that this is the first time ever where attachment to the world and characters of Warcraft is not staying my hand in departing, and isn’t threatening to call me back instantly.

If anything… I feel delightfully free.

Dawn of Another Day – A Second Opinion

While I have many games to talk about in the coming days, I’ve been neglecting to post one important thing. Following up on my write-up regarding Majora’s Mask and how I felt about it, the friend that I played the game with chose to write his own thoughts on the matter as well. This turned into a rather lengthy but interesting discourse about the key differences between Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, including what each does best.

Since it’s such an interesting read and in keeping with the general spirit of this blog, he’s requested that it be posted here and I am only too happy to do so. He’s chosen to remain anonymous, but nonetheless, the rest of the post beneath the cut is all his writing.

Continue reading “Dawn of Another Day – A Second Opinion”

Dawn of A New Day

It took three separate purchases, multiple years, and countless attempts before I finally stuck with it and completed it, but it’s done at last: I have beaten Majora’s Mask. Strike one off the backlog, and particularly off the Bucket List.

It’s hard to say much about this game that hasn’t been said in the decade and a half since the game first debuted. There are two particularly vocal stances on how the game was received: either that it was good, but Ocarina of Time was better; or that it’s the pinnacle of the Zelda series because it eschews much of the formula in order to tell a very different and darker kind of narrative. I can see where both schools of thought would rise from, but my opinion is much more moderate than them.

I’ll cover some logistics about my playthrough first, because it’s relevant to how I approached it. Rather than play this solo, the entirety of the game was played in tandem with a good friend of mine, and while he’d finished the game many years ago he didn’t remember all the details so it was still fresh enough for us to experience unhindered. We were both present for the whole game, watched the entire thing, and just swapped controllers every so often. It was helpful to get extra opinions and suggestions for some of the trickier puzzles, and it meant we had somebody attempting new things while the other was looking up answers so we didn’t get completely complacent and reliant on guides.

This was a pretty good setup for playing the game. My friend holds Ocarina of Time in extremely high regard, so he was interested in replaying Majora’s Mask to see how it held up by contrast, and I had never experienced the game, so we both had different viewpoints that we could discuss as we progressed. It also meant that if we got stuck or frustrated, or else were doing tedious filler tasks and grinding, we could pass the controller back and forth in order to keep focused. Quite frankly, had we not been doing so, I imagine it would have taken much, much longer to finish alone – hence why I haven’t finished it before despite multiple attempts.

Nonetheless, with this setup in play, we finished the game in about four extended play sessions. We didn’t 100% the game, but we did get to the point that we considered effectively “complete” – we got all the masks, including the Fierce Deity mask, we completed most of the major sidequests in the Bomber’s Notebook (especially the legendary Anju and Kafei quest), and we made sure to beat the final boss before getting that final mask so it was still actually a challenge. Clearing it afterwards with the mask was absolutely laughable – that thing is utterly disgusting in how overpowered it is but I guess that’s the point.

So, my experience with Zelda games is actually different from many, as I usually find a lot more enjoyment in the 2D games. If I had to pick three personal favourites, they’d be Link’s Awakening, Oracle of Ages, and Wind Waker, which is different from what many consider the best entries in the series. I did enjoy Ocarina of Time and I cannot deny that it earns much of the praise it gets, but it took me almost as many attempts to finish as Majora’s Mask did, so I can hardly say that it gripped me right to the end. In fact, that’s the case with most of the non-2D Zelda games – it takes me a tremendous amount of time to stick with them long enough to see them through to the end. I don’t know if that’s anything to do with the series or just my personal approach to playing.

Regardless, Majora’s Mask is an interesting experience, but not enough to actually break that habit of not being able to stick with it. I don’t really know what that means for how the game performs as a whole. It definitely stands out in contrast to the other major Zelda games though, in the sense that the overall game experience is much more focused. Rather than the biggest, most sprawling world it can manage at the time, Majora’s Mask covers a smaller (but still sizable) area and has you focus on it and its intricacies in a more… let’s say intimate fashion.

Clock Town felt more personable to me than any part in Ocarina of Time, for example, because I spent so much time interacting with it in different ways and learning its secrets. Most importantly though, I learnt about the secrets, habits, interests and lives of the occupants. With most of the models and features lifted completely from the sister game, any developments in graphics went instead to making these characters more interesting.

Each of them had a story to tell, and the Anju and Kafei sidequest showcases that best: gradually uncovering the relationship of these two characters with their own troubles and problems, helping them out with them, and then finally being there to witness their joyous reunion literally moments before the world is ending. Their insistence on being together and waiting for each other to uphold their promise was quite touching. While it’s the major sidequest of the game, there are a number of other small examples of it throughout the game, and it really made the world of Termina feel much more personal than the average Hyrule visit.

It’s this element of delivering the narrative that allows Majora’s to really keep my attention slightly more than other Zelda games, I feel. Generally, the standard Zelda game will have you know roughly how the game is going to play out, since you’re eventually going to get all the pieces of X in order to solve Y and fight Ganon, whether that’s assembling the Triforce or finding some other means to solve the plot. Even if there’s sometimes padding between this, or the actual item gathering is split in half (like Ocarina seeing the first third of the game opening the Temple of Time, and then the second half unifying the Sages), this is generally how it pans out.

This happens in Majora’s Mask as well – restore the four spirits of the land in order to stop the moon from falling. You know that’s the objective from the end of the first three days, where Skull Kid makes it perfectly clear that the confrontation with him will be the end and everything you do works towards that. But the extra stories of the various characters across the world and how they interact or interplay with one another made it feel just that little bit more personal and appreciable to me, and I think that aids Majora’s narrative as well.

It’s also quite a dark and mature game by Zelda standards. Sure, Ocarina of Time sees the world fall to darkness under seven years of Ganondorf’s tyrannical rule, but even then the people in Kakariko Village and elsewhere are living their lives and functioning to a point. By contrast, Clock Town can see their inevitable end and knows that it will arrive in just a matter of days, with each day seeing them more and more panicked and divided on whether to flee, or whether to embrace their end.

The areas themselves are also dark, dreary and somewhat uninviting compared to their counterparts. The frozen mountain of the Gorons is cold, desolate, and lacking their leader. The Zora are depressed because their singer has lost her voice. Ikana Canyon is a desolate wasteland inhabited only by the undead and living in the shadow of their fallen kingdom – coincidentally, this was probably my favourite area in the game, since it really portrayed that sense of darkness and despair best. It was also quite sad that each transformation mask came from the death of a hero or strong representative of the race, and they all acknowledge you as that fallen person despite them actually being gone – Link gets little direct credit for much of what he accomplishes, and at the end who they believe to be their hero will be dead and gone regardless of what you accomplish.

Despite all this dreariness, it still pushed me to want to learn and explore more, and helping the residents with their issues in order to access more of the world felt much more relatable than other Zelda games. It was that extra touch that made the narrative more enjoyable to me, and so I can definitely see why it’s Majora’s Mask that is praised for being the deepest and most interesting Zelda game, if not the best in terms of gameplay.

So in gameplay, did it hold up? I think so. The core elements and items that are basically on the Zelda checklist all make their appearance, what with the bow and various magical arrows, the hookshot, the mirror shield, an instrument… but I liked that the transformation masks were all both familiar yet added new layers of complexity to the game. Goron rolling quickly became our default mode of transportation, the Zora form was useful for its interesting boomerang mechanics and awesome swimming, and fast moving, area damaging and high flying Deku Scrub can’t be understated. Swapping between masks and utilising Ocarina songs in quick succession could be awkward and irritating in places, but nothing I wasn’t able to get over quickly.

In addition, the dungeons were well designed, interesting to explore, offered a number of little exploration challenges in finding the stray fairies, and so on. I also liked that most of the key items actually came from not the primary four Temples, and the treasure of each was either the bow or a new type of arrow that behaved differently. It made it feel that you could go and explore the world more without necessarily having to go clear each dungeon sequentially, even if that’s what you did. It also allowed for a lot of time in between dungeons to be spent finding the new areas or seeing what it allowed us to do in order to better aid an NPC’s requests.

I think I’ve waxed on about the game for a bit now, so I’ll take a moment to bring up a few quick cons. Again, there were times where rapidly swapping between masks and trying to play songs frequently could get somewhat tedious, notably in the Stone Tower and subsequent Temple where you had to play the Elegy of Emptiness multiple times to hit several switches at once. The Zora behaved very awkwardly in combat, even underwater.

There was one or two puzzles that were really obtuse and needed a guide, such as allowing yourself to get grappled by an enemy in order to be thrown up to a key, even though you’d instinctively defeat the enemy each time. And a few of the sidequests relating to people were on such tight schedules and performances that it required multiple resets back to the First Day in order to complete it… though that said, with the Song of Inverted Time, I rarely felt that the time limit was otherwise too imposing or worrisome and cleared the dungeons in time.

One big thing was that many of the boss fights were extremely hit or miss. The first boss in the Woodfall Temple (don’t remember his name) was complicated and interesting. The Goron rolling chase that was Goht was a lot of fun. Fighting the skeleton bosses in the throne room of Ikana Castle was awesome, and the final boss was quite enjoyable and suitably challenging until I properly learned the pattern – I got a suitable thrill and cheer out of beating him with only a heart to spare.

But otherwise, many of the bosses were extremely weak and plain. The worms in the Stone Tower were awe-inspiring to fight even after you became Giant to combat them, but they were otherwise super simple and dull, though I understand that this fight was made more complicated and fun in the 3DS version. The fish boss in the Termina Bay Temple was dull and uninteresting, and did way too much damage for what it was. Quite a few of them just felt like a letdown.

Still, many of these are ultimately little annoyances. At the end of the day, I quite enjoyed my time in Majora’s Mask. It was an interesting narrative experience, had some well designed puzzles and dungeons, had a few good fights, and overall was an enjoyable game to play.

That said… I’m fairly certain everyone has known that since 2000. Oh well!

It’s the end of January and we’re hitting the first influx of newly released high priority games this year, so I’ll be picking up and going through as many of these as I can. Look out for my thoughts on those in the coming days.