Backlog Battle Report (6th Nov 2017)

Couple of things before we go into this week’s update. Firstly, you might notice that there’s been a new Right Click to Zoom at long last in the post below this one, so if you didn’t know about that I’d strongly suggest checking it out. I spoke at length about Morrowind, one of my favourite games, not to mention one of the most influential on me when growing up.

Second, I’m giving a quick plug to a new website called Switch Indie Reviews which, well… is a website for Nintendo Switch indie reviews. Go figure, right? It’s brand new, it looks really shiny, and I just so happen to have applied for and been accepted to be a staff writer for it. So if you like my work and want to see more of it, there’ll be articles there in the coming days. I’ll be sure to link all those reviews back to this blog for conciseness, so please look forward to that.

On to the games, then!

DOOM 2016 (PC) — I’m a man of my word

Last week I was in the mood to play some DOOM and listening to the soundtrack, so this week I followed suit with that and played a bit more. I rarely invest a lot of time into it, but it’s fantastic for just picking up and playing another level or two of the campaign every so often. Shouldn’t take me much longer to finish it I’d imagine, but no big if it does; it’s just a very satisfying and visceral experience that’s great to just pick up, play, and put down without commitment.

The game does occasionally get a little bit of criticism that it just falls into the pattern of “find an obvious arena, trigger it filling with demons, kill the demons to proceed”. Personally, while this is obviously a big part of it, I haven’t found it nearly as obnoxious or as one-dimensional as some claim. There is a small chunk of downtime in between each of these encounters, where you’re given a chance to explore, find secrets, and wind the tempo down a little before building back up explosively.

Perhaps this changes as the levels get later, but regardless, I find that I’m often in a fairly good rhythm with it. All that said, I did immediately dump my upgrades into having secrets and collectables appear on my map so I can hunt them all down and get back to the shooting quickly. My completionist tendencies are likely to get the better of me if I keep wandering too long.

Damn, even thinking about this game makes me want to play some more. What a great shooter DOOM is.

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Right Click to Zoom — Morrowind, and why it Will Never be Replicated

Welcome back (finally) to Right Click to Zoom, the more in-depth article side of this blog. For today’s topic, we’ll be looking at Morrowind; primarily the original release, but also the more recent visit to it in Elder Scrolls Online, alongside a number of attempts to mod it into more recent game engines.

It’s said about the Elder Scrolls series that the first entry you play is likely to be your favourite. This seems to hold true of most people I’ve spoken to, with people rising to sing the praises of many games in the series but rarely able to overcome their original. Whether it’s Skyrim, Oblivion, or even Daggerfall and Arena, the series is well loved and it’s rare to find someone who doesn’t have that favourite.

In my case, my first Elder Scrolls game was Morrowind, and my favourite is Morrowind. I’ve spoken about it at length on this blog, mostly before these article types were defined, but in the time since my respect for the game and its design continues to grow. I’ve continued to discuss and debate this with multiple people, and it’s come up enough that I decided it was high time to use this article structure and space to look at aspects of the game with more focus.

So what makes Morrowind so great? It boils down to a key word: design. Allow me to elaborate.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

The scope of the Elder Scrolls series — and the scope of video games as a whole — has continued to expand over time, with each new entry proving bigger and more content packed than the last. While few would say that this is a bad thing, there has had to be some sacrifices to achieve this with each new iteration. Corners are cut on some aspects, and liberties are taken on others in order to achieve this vision, with mixed results.

A large focus for Bethesda on Oblivion and Skyrim was trying to achieve the sense of a living, breathing world. Rather than having limited paths and patterns for what they would do, many NPCs in the game will attempt to go about their lives regardless of the player’s intervention. They’ll discuss matters with one another, eat food that’s around, interact with objects and react to various stimuli around them. Granted, it’s not always well implemented, with Oblivion’s systems being the source of quite a bit of humour in retrospect, but a living world was always the intention.

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Backlog Battle Report (30th Oct 2017)

This week’s update brought to you by the DOOM 2016 soundtrack, which I am very much feeling the urge to play some more of after I’m done writing this. It doesn’t feature on the list this week, but don’t expect that to remain true for much longer. In addition to this post, I’ve done enough gaming to provide all the material I need for at least two or more reviews plus a Right Click to Zoom (at last), so I’m hoping to have some or all of that up soon. We’ll see!

Borderlands 2 (PC) — Co-op Siren song

Wasn’t planning on playing more of this due to scheduling, but one of the Discord chats I frequent has started having a game or two of this going fairly regularly. It doesn’t take long to put out feelers and then get a couple of people teaming up to go shoot some things, and that’s basically what happened to me this week. Unplanned, just decided to jump in with a couple of friends offering.

Since I’m still saving my Psycho save for the planned four man group, I picked up the next best thing I had, which turned out to be a level 14-ish Siren that I hadn’t played since 2013 or thereabouts. I had no idea what weapons I’d picked up or what skill points I’d invested, but it didn’t matter; just jumped in, figured it out on the fly, and shot some bad guys. We played that for a couple of hours and had a grand old time, during which I managed to be useful despite the level disparity just for the Siren’s ability to take a dangerous enemy out of the fight for a few seconds.

Of course, a stupid amount of poison and fire damage over time certainly helped matters, but the crowd control was the real selling point I’d wager.

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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.

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Backlog Battle Report (9th Oct 2017)

Last week’s Right Click to Zoom went up mere hours ago, which is a little less late than the previous but still not really acceptable to me. That said, it was a hell of a lot more difficult to get to a state that I considered good enough to post, and even once it was done I was given feedback that made me realise some missed opportunities I could have used. Alas. Hopefully this week’s article will come along more smoothly. If you’re reading this and didn’t know about that new post, do consider checking that one on the way out.

With that said, here’s this week’s status update.

The Elder Scrolls Online (PC) — Can’t see the forest for the trees

This was still the majority of my game time this week, though I suspect it’ll start to slow down now. The next content patch for Final Fantasy 14 is finally around the corner, so I’ll likely be focusing on that instead. Doubly so since most of my ESO playing friends will be busy with that, so there’ll be even less interaction and discussion on the subject with them.

Nonetheless, I’m still chipping away at the mountains of quest content at my disposal. My Templar is now in the early 40s and, surprise surprise, I’m still in Valenwood. There are so very many quests here, and while each of the zones within that region are different story and encounter wise, I’m honestly sick of forested area this, Green Pact that… my forays into the Thieves Guild quests and the desert city those take place in are welcome opportunities to break it up.

As always, I could go and do other stuff, but I like to be thorough and want to finish zones. It hasn’t reached levels of intolerable similarity, but the moment it does I’ll probably go and party Daggerfall somewhere.

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Right Click to Zoom — Addressing the Notion of Exclusion via Game Difficulty

Welcome to Friday’s late iteration of Right Click to Zoom, the more in-depth article side of this blog. Today’s topic is a follow up to the one that started this whole segment a month ago. Simply put, is video game difficulty excluding people? If so, is this a bad thing, and how should players and developers alike adjust?

Previously, I spoke about competency and professionalism in games journalism and touched on many of these concepts briefly, so it might be worth starting with that article if you’ve yet to read it. Regardless, the discussion has carried on in the month since, and it’s grown to the point that it’s time to address the newer parts.

Video games started their history by being fairly difficult, both by design and by technical limitations. Forget life bars or progress metres; it was usually you against the high score, with your progress being how much money you managed to save on coin-operated arcade machines. One hit was often all it took to end a run, and the backlog of extra lives usually wasn’t much leeway. That was how the games earned their money, after all.

It wasn’t until home consoles arose from the arcade scene that we started to see games with the kind of progression that we’re more familiar with now. Technology advanced and games were now able to feature stories beyond barebones excuse plots. Rather than being the semi-infinitely repeatable levels of Pacman and its ilk, games had clear beginnings and endings that were quite different. Concepts like tabletop RPGs were ported to video games with titles such as Dragon Quest or Ultima, giving more consistent worlds.

Most importantly, they introduced means of progression and power development that was based on more than just player skill. Suddenly, it didn’t have to be how accurately you timed your jumps or how well you dodged, but it could instead be about which items you’d collected or what level your characters were. The differentiation between those two concepts of player progression is something that deserves its own article, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

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Backlog Battle Report (25th Sept 2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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