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.

What a (Gravity) Rush

I managed to complete two games just recently, both for PS4: Final Fantasy XV, and Gravity Rush Remastered.

There is a hell of a lot I could say about Final Fantasy XV… and unlike the vocal majority of the Internet, almost none of it is positive. Quite frankly, I hated the game. I think it was garbage. It’s really frustrating, because I started out enjoying myself immensely and seeing a lot of potential for it. In the end, however, that potential is completely squandered and every positive feature of the game was stripped away and discarded in the final chunk of it, leaving me just eager to get the damn thing over with.

Maybe there’s some decent fun to be had in FFXV, but it’s held back and quickly kicked into submission by the utterly atrocious narrative. The story is… well, bad. Nothing else to be said about it. I kept waiting for it to give context, and it never happened. Kept waiting for reasons to care about what was going on, and it never provided. The only positive thing was the banter and relationship of the lead characters, but even that felt ridiculously forced, repetitive, and completely underwhelming after just coming off Trails of Cold Steel 2.

Urgh. I’m angry again just talking about it. There’s a lot more I could say, but that’s probably best saved for official articles, so let’s talk positives: Gravity Rush.

Now this is a game I have few bad things to say about. I really enjoyed my time with this game. It’s not an overly long experience but it doesn’t feel too short, nor does it overstay its welcome. After hearing such positive things all the way back from when it released on the Vita, yet never owning one or having a PS4 until recently to play it, I’m glad it managed to live up to all expectations.

I think the best way to describe it is an alternative entry in the original open world superhero games that sprang up a few years ago, namely Infamous and Prototype. Whereas those games are fairly dark and take themselves seriously, however, Gravity Rush isn’t afraid to approach things in a much lighter fashion, even if the plot is still relatively serious. It was actually quite refreshing to see, in a way.

The biggest thing I took away from Gravity Rush is the ease of movement. I fully expected to lose my footing and have my sense of direction completely obfuscated, but somehow that never happened. No matter which way I was orienting myself and no matter how quickly I shifted gravity, the game handled simply, naturally, and didn’t 0verwhelm me with vertigo. I always had a rough idea of where I was, and the ability to simply fly around the city of Hekseville was quite a treat.

I think the design of the city was hampered somewhat by the technical limitations of the Vita, however, because the major thing telling each of the four city sections apart is the music (which is awesome, by the way – a great soundtrack is present). Visually, they kinda blended together and could get kinda same-y, making it hard to tell one apart by graphical cues alone, and the colours felt a touch muted and dull too. Nonetheless, the fact that it has to be fully realised and detailed both above and below the sections that people would usually see was a nice departure from games that are largely, well, vertical.

The narrative of Gravity Rush is fairly light, with plenty of big plot points that aren’t fully explored or delved into – partly so that it can be explored in sequels, sure, which I’ve already purchased and will tackle soon.

It also relies a bit on a writing technique that I absolutely hate: that being that one of the primary conflicts is only there because the characters refuse to sit down for two minutes and talk to each other to realise that they’re getting everything (and each other) all wrong. This basically sums up the early issues with Kat and her rival Raven – all Raven had to do was shut up for 30 seconds, listen to Kat, and work things out simply. Instead, it takes multiple run ins where other characters are telling Raven to stop being so hasty and Kat keeps insisting that doesn’t have to be a bitch, but Raven chooses not to listen until towards the end of the game. It’s irksome, but that’s the biggest negative I have to offer.

Overall, the plot is fine – it’s light, it’s simple, and it takes time to have fun with the characters to get you invested in them and their plight. The presentation of comic book art panels for most of the major exposition cutscenes is a well executed stylistic choice, and goes well with the general “superhero” theme that both the gameplay and story seems to end up with. Again, just like Infamous and Prototype, Gravity Rush is a superhero story and totally unabashed about it.

Between the handful of optional side missions and the variety of skill challenges on offer, as well as a huge array of gems scattered around the city to discover and use as power-up currency, there’s enough to break up the main missions and keep you from getting burnt out. The missions themselves generally have enough variety and make you utilise your gravity shifting powers in interesting ways.

One last point I’ll touch on is the interesting use of gravity related science in the story – namely, the compression of time and relativity due to gravity. It was subtly touched on and not fully explained, but it’s there, and if I was any stupider I probably would have missed that detail. Since I picked up on it, however, it made me smile to note. Just a small thing I wanted to mention.

So yes, I greatly enjoyed Gravity Rush Remastered and definitely recommend picking it up and giving it a whirl. It’s a fun romp and has original enough mechanics and presentation to make it quite worth your time. And just in time for Gravity Rush 2, which is getting excellent feedback and reviews. I look forward to tackling that.

Sadly, I cannot say the same for FFXV. Avoid that and go play Trails of Cold Steel instead, I insist. No doubt I will write a full article on it before long.