Gaming Outside your Normal Genres

Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition — Prologue Sequence.

I like a stupidly wide array of gaming genres, so there is very little that truly sits apart from what I would consider to have at least the possibility of being fun. But I do have certain preferences. I generally like RPGs more than I like racers. I tend toward Turn Based Strategy games moreso than Real Time Strategy.

But that’s a fairly black and white look at things. There is a lot of genre blending going on these days. And even with something otherwise quite clear as TBS > RTS for me, that is not to say there’s no room for the likes of Paradox’ Grand Strategy games. Crusader Kings II and Stellaris, despite being played Real Time sit amongst my favourite games of all.

Then there is simply whim and current appetites to account for. Sometimes I’ll see them coming (e.g., I’m on the prowl for a good Tycoon game to play at the moment). Other times it’ll be a complete surprise.

Breaking it down a little further, I’ve found that I value some game attributes or features more than others. Chief amongst them for me, is semblance of progression. But that doesn’t necessarily mean direct character power progression. Story counts. Deeper understanding of game systems does too. In many ways I think I do subscribe to Raph Koster’s idea of fun arising through mastery and understanding.

But for all that, one genre I haven’t gotten on with at all for a very long time is the Platformer genre. *shudder*

I loved them as a kid, Sonic the Hedgehog and Alex the Kidd in Miracle World on the Sega Mastersystem were my jam. Possibly because we didn’t really have much else at that point in time, but still…

As an adult, I’ve tried a few times — Dustforce I really wanted to like. I checked in on Super Meatboy when it was being raved about. Possibly one or two others over time as well. But none of them really clicked with me.

Well, Almost None.

You might have already surmised — but Ori and the Blind Forest busted down the genre barrier for me in a huge way, at least for the context of itself. (I still don’t appreciate other platformers.)

The art of the game, the sheer wonder of its craft — in way of visual, musical and story was enough to not only get me to want to play it, but see me through the trials the genre offers me in general.

Certainly it is assisted by having an RPG-lite skill system, and a bit of a Metroidvania aspect to it which helped me along. But I cannot overstate the absolute joy the game is to see and hear. The story then offers a bit of a gut-punch counterpoint in sorrow, at least in parts. It is also a story that talks to the strength of kindness.

I just happened to see this again in my Steam library the other day while looking for something else and couldn’t get it out of my head. If it isn’t a game you’ve yet played, I’d highly recommend giving it a go. Despite basically all advertising for the game being Xbox centric, it is there for PC players too.

That there is a sequel coming at some point this year fills me with excitement too. The teasers released so far (which I’ll include below) seem to indicate that Ori was not a fluke. In which case we should be in for another real treat, despite the platforming roots.

I can’t think of any other titles that have had the power to break down such a fundamental issue as its genre for me. Inversely though, I can think of many titles which ‘On Paper’ sound exactly like things that I should like… But don’t. The ‘Total War’ series being my classic example of that.

Have you had any similar experiences, one way or another?

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey Added to the Game List and Other Surprises

Still in love with Photo Mode. This was taken after eliminating the last of the underling Cultists at sea.

Still not sure what the right rhythm for updating the games list is. Or even if there will be a ‘rhythm’ to it at all. I had intended to make updates on a monthly cycle but here we are with the second update this month. It has become clear that once a month isn’t going to fit with how my gaming stops and starts actually work.

If I had waited until next month to add Odyssey to the list for example, I’d probably already be done with it despite having had 3 or so posts on it so far with a few more planned.

Possibly a set of guiding principles would work better. But in order to get a full set, I think I’ll have to discover them over time. Although from the few months back at blogging? Here are the ones I’ve figured so far.

Game List and Categorisation Guiding Principles

  • Playing a game doesn’t necessarily mean I have to add it to the list — the idea is to include ones that have at least a little staying power.1
  • As a corollary to the above though, adding a game simply means I am playing it more than as a one-off. Being on the list doesn’t necessarily mean it will get a category or that I will even post on it (although it is likely).
  • MMO’s and ‘Games as a Service’ with long life expectancy (in general, not just my interest) will be categorised as individual titles.
  • More iterative series of games such as Assassin’s Creed and Tomb Raider will be grouped into a category for the series and tagged with the individual games.
  • In either case, a post about a given game or series will be categorised as ‘Other’ unless there are 3+ posts tagged for it.

Changes to the Game List

Added

  • Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

Remaining

  • The Division 2
  • Tomb Raider

Nearly Removed

  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Removed

  • Far Cry: New Dawn
  • Final Fantasy XIV

AC:O really came out of nowhere for me. I’d always wanted to go back but had more realistically (or so I thought) resigned myself to it living on in the long list of games started and never completed. There is a certain joy though in playing a single-player title over voice comms with friends, especially one with opportunity for emergent experiences and divergent story paths.

It took over making progress in Rise of the Tomb Raider, but I expect I’ll be making a return there once I’m done with the AC:O DLC.

I’ve also not had a lot to say about The Division 2 of late. With the delay in the Raid until next month, this will likely continue to hold for a bit. The gear stratification issues I highlighted before the release of World Tier 5 are still at play for me.

I reached a point where I’m happy with my build and gear. Any further optimisation that might be achievable wouldn’t be worth the effort in light of the knowledge that the raid is almost certainly going to raise the ilvl available again.

Sekiro veeeery nearly joined FFXIV and Far Cry: New Dawn in being removed. I’ve not touched it since the beginning of the month, and with the current view on what I’ll be playing next, I’m not sure it will change.

Still… I’d like to play some more Sekiro. If I recall rightly, I put it on pause right before the first major boss. So that’ll be fun to relearn when I return. ;)

Playing Past the End

I ‘finished’ Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey roughly 20 hours of play ago. I finished what I would consider to be the main story thread regarding your family in any case. Perhaps 10 hours of play ago, I finished the story strand linking present-day and the Isu — The First Civilisation. There are a few other story strands that will have endings of their own, I’m assuming. Such as eliminating once and for all the Cult of Kosmos and raising to the very top of the Mercenary rankings.

But those are certainly second-fiddle to resolving the family story. You might have gathered already, but simply getting that far in a single-player title is unusual for me. I come by my massive backlog of unfinished titles honestly. ;)

For a good while I thought Odyssey would fall to the same fate, as I’d put in a little over 20 hours at launch and then never touched it again. Certainly returning to blogging has seen me make a more concerted effort at finishing things, but Odyssey has gone beyond even that. I haven’t been able to put it down!

With this context, it’s probably also going to come as no surprise that I’m not a completionist by nature. I absolutely know there is no world in which I truly ‘100%’ this game with all side content done, achievements completed, etc. I probably won’t even make any sort of serious dent into a ‘New Game+’ mode.

I’m still playing on because:

  • First, it’s fun as all hell. Nothing else would matter if this wasn’t true.
  • I’m getting my game ‘ready’ for the DLC. All three chapters of ‘The Legacy of the First Blade’ are out now and the first chapter of the second season of DLC, ‘The Fate of Atlantis’ is also out.
    • Before I start this DLC, I wish to complete the two story strands I mentioned earlier — the Cult and the Mercenaries.

I’m just about there on both threads. There is in fact only one Mercenary between me and the top spot. I just need to discover who they are so I can track them down and… have a chat about our relative positions in life.

The Cult is going to take a bit more work still. I’ve cleansed the world of several branches already, but there are still more clues to be discovered and identities uncovered before I understand who the overall leader is. One of the last clues I received on the leader’s identity was extremely intriguing, too. I am almost ready to make an assumption on who it is before being able to more ‘formally’ uncover them, but I’m happy taking out some more of their underlings for now.

Although I must admit, I am getting rather antsy to start into the DLC already. Soon. Soon!

I’m a Photo Mode Convert

It isn’t that I disliked or had anything against the presence of a ‘Photo Mode’, it’s more that I saw it as unnecessary. Superfluous fluff. Nothing wrong with taking screenshots the ‘old’ way. Maybe give me a ‘Turn UI off’ button, and that ought to be enough for anyone! ;)

That said, I’ve always been rather spotty with taking screenshots full stop. I’d go through long patches of time where I didn’t take a single one, and then a flurry of activity wherein I would.

Since starting this blog with an aim to at least in part, create a journal of gaming history for myself in the future, I’ve been more regular about taking screenshots. Even this isn’t what convinced me though.

No, it has been a rather heavy duty return to Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Two friends picked it up during the uPlay sale on it and it seemed a prime time to come back and finish the Odyssey I’d started when it released. I started out taking screenshots the ‘normal’ way but became intrigued by the shared screenshots scattered across the map.1

It’s a sort of Peloponnesian Facebook (or maybe Instagram, given the heavy photo focus). But with way less drama. You can still like things though, and there is a ‘Photo of the Day’ as well. In short, it’s a pretty neat social connectivity feature in an otherwise exclusively single-player game.

To participate and have your screenshots show up, you must use the ‘Photo Mode’, the raw screencap button (even the uPlay one) isn’t sufficient.

So… I might’ve taken a few shots…

The implementation in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is pretty impressive, but not without flaw.

On the impressive end of things the camera positioning control is fantastic. When you hit the Photo Mode button, all action is frozen and from there you can off-set it’s position from standard over the character’s shoulder in quite a wide range, set an orbit around any point on screen, apply a tilt and more.

Once you’re happy with the composition capture, you can throw it into edit mode. Set a focal point and adjust the depth of field effect strength, along with adjusting colour saturation, tint, noise, etc. There are about 10 or so sliders to play with, and then you can also apply a border or overlay to finish the whole thing off if you want.

The issues with the implementation in Odyssey are not to do with the feature itself but rather limitations of the engine and current technology, I think.

The Level of Detail at range is not always impressive when captured still2, the detailing cut down to allow for some of the expansive vistas the game offers.

The Depth of Field effect only seems to kick in at all at about 4/5ths of the way into the bar. Before then no matter how near or far you set the focal point, nothing adjusts. Even within that last fifth of the bar, it scales the strength a little oddly.

Nitpicks though, in the grand scheme of things. I’m thoroughly sold on the concept of including a Photo Mode now. The Division 2 (another Ubisoft title) had me playing around with it a little too — but being an online game, even in single-player, it didn’t allow for pausing of the action while you took a shot which changed the dynamic significantly.

Odyssey isn’t the first game to include the Photo Mode feature and I certainly hope it isn’t the last. Want moar! :)

Iteration within the Tomb Raider Series

How…How did that get there?

ManicTime tells me I have just under 5 hours in Rise of the Tomb Raider — the 2015 sequel to the Tomb Raider reboot — what struck me immediately though was how different Crystal Dynamics had made the game while maintaining the integrity of the core experience they’d established with the 2013 release.

There is a mix of both streamlining of some and deepening of other game systems.

For example, the rope arrows used to connect certain puzzle elements or make-shift bridges used to require a separate key input to differentiate it from firing a standard arrow. Now it is context sensitive to what you’re aiming at.

Button-overloading (more than one potential action on a singular button press) with context like this is not always appreciated, because it isn’t always done well, leading to accidentally triggering unintended actions. In Rise of the Tomb Raider’s case though, it is done well. There are no situations where you’re aiming at a rope-arrow enabled ‘thing’ and want to fire a standard arrow.

There are some less successful changes too, though. The first entry in this Tomb Raider series had a rudimentary crafting system with a single resource, ‘Scrap’. Rise of the Tomb Raider expands this out to wood, hides, berries, cloth, metal and more.

The introduction of this system is powerfully done, reflecting Lara’s growth in willpower to survive no matter the odds. You are thrust into the freezing Siberian winter, and need to put together the base essentials of a camp fire, makeshift bow and arrows.

Not everyone you meet will want to be friends.

Unfortunately it’s a system that quickly outstays its welcome. It becomes a distraction from the other, far more enjoyable, aspects of the game. Unlike Tomb Raider’s ‘scrap’ which was acquired quickly and easily as you progressed through the game — you will often need to go out of your way and do things other than what you would have otherwise wanted to, in order to upgrade your weapons and equipment.

The most egregious example of this being hunting for hides. While there are some wolves you’ll need to do battle with in the course of normal play… The sheer volume of hides required means you’ll need to depopulate the region of many herds worth of deer.

Overall though, I’ve still been enjoying the experience. The extension to the play area sizes and world building in general are much better. The skill system is excellent, and the story so far a massive step forward giving Lara more agency and a more direct involvement with the previously quite mysterious ‘Trinity’.

I still have a long way yet to go with Rise, and things may yet change. Already though I am extremely curious to see where Crystal Dynamics took things with 2018’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

The Practice of Review Bombing

Borderlands 3 being confirmed as an Epic exclusive lead to the rest of the series becoming the latest high profile round of ‘Review Bombing’.

Let’s rip the bandaid right off of this one, shall we? I don’t mind the practice of review bombing. In fact in many cases I would even go so far as to say I am supportive of it.

Review bombing is not a new practice, nor is it the exclusive domain of gaming. Movies and even Amazon products have been subjected to it well before it entered the parlance of the general gamer.

It has become a common enough ‘problem’ that the usual extreme libertarian stance and slow to move nature of Steam has been overridden and they determined to take ‘corrective’ action. A period of ‘off-topic’ reviews will essentially lead to all reviews over that time being ignored for the purposes of the score calculation.

None of the reviews so marked will be deleted, so those that care may dig into what they were all about.

Insofar as such a policy goes, I think it reasonably fair and balanced. But of course the devil is in the details. Valve will be the sole arbiter of what is, and isn’t, ‘off-topic’. In the blog post they outlined that EULA changes and DRM based reviews will be examples of off-topic. The rationale being these are not, ‘things a general gamer would care about’.

With the recent Borderlands example, they have also set precedent that undesirable publisher actions will also be considered ‘off-topic’.

So, Why Support Review Bombing?

Actually let me start with my understanding of why most people don’t support the practice.

The gist of it is that review bombing is punishing titles for actions unrelated to the quality of the game or series in question. That a undesirable action on the part of the publisher doesn’t have any affect on one’s ability to enjoy the game itself.

Not an entirely unreasonable view. I just don’t think it is a complete one.

A review in my opinion is for the very purpose of establishing whether or not the game or product in question is one you would want to spend your money on. Of course the actual merits of the game are one of the main factors, but they’re not the only one. And I don’t agree that consideration of the developer or publisher actions, business practices or ethics are somehow out of bounds.

This is not a standard we apply to any other purchase or support decision in life. Sure, not everyone cares about whether their eggs are free range or cage farmed. But you won’t hear anyone telling someone who does care that they’re only allowed to hold opinion on the quality of the egg itself and that anything speaking to the practices of the corporation behind it are irrelevant.

If a publisher or developer takes money to make their game exclusive to Epic, after first making commitments to the contrary and taking money from backers in order to even have a game in the first place? I want to know.

Things like that affect my decision to purchase. Therefore they have a place in reviews. Exposure of this kind is one of the few voices left to the consumer. One of the few ways we have to affect change. We’ve seen it in games when Bethesda attempt to sell ‘premium’ user-created mods for Skyrim in 2015, with the outcry then turning this around.

We’ve seen the power of the voice of the customer in overturning other, more important issues in the world, such as the reliance on single-use plastic bags at grocery stores. At first but a rumble, with not enough people actually caring to bring change. Slowly a momentum builds and now all of our big supermarket chains have dropped plastic bags.

So I don’t think we should be so quick to silence, write-off or ridicule those with a different set of standards for publishers than what we may be held at present.

Digging for Artifacts in the Backlog

Only about 6 years late.

Actually the news here might be that I finished a game. Never mind that it’s one that released 6-years ago. Tomb Raider’s reboot and first entry in the recent trilogy of titles was released March 2013. I’ve just now finished it April 2019.

It was an interesting experience. It both holds up very well and displays its age. There is the odd very low resolution texture and low poly-count objects which belie the game’s age graphically. Sure, some of the effects work also give it a dated appearance. But otherwise it still looks really good.

Climbing through one of the game’s tombs or puzzle areas, or even watching the enemy moving into position, and I think you’d be hard pressed without prior knowledge to say how long ago it came out.

What really betrays the era is the game’s almost begrudging attitude toward letting you control the camera. This simply doesn’t really happen in modern game design, but is a frequent occurrence here.

It can be a helpful pointer at times, but at others the forced perspective when you just want to take a look around can be quite jarring. Literally. It will at times continually ‘shake’ the camera back into the position the designers wanted.

The sound effects and music are excellent, but the voice overs are… Hmm. They are something of a mixed bag. Some of the voice actors are excellent, others are OK… Others you wonder who on the dev team they were related to.

But for all that I enjoyed it. It’s a short game (if you’re not a completionist after all the relics and challenges), clocking in at a little over 10 hours for me, including the 3-4 hours I’d already given it in the past. Cloud Saves let me resume the campaign that I was around 36% of the way through from way back when.

I don’t recall why I stopped playing it originally, it was likely just something else I’d been waiting on more came out.

As a Lara Croft prequel the story worked well, but I believe someone coming to the series now could well have been skipped over it and gone straight to the second entry, Rise of the Tomb Raider. I don’t know yet whether one should do that, only that one could. (I’ll know after playing Rise, which is up next.)

What I do know though from finishing this one is that you don’t need to. If you’re interested in the whole experience, know that the original game of this trilogy is perfectly serviceable today, 6-years on.

Dragon Age 4 as Live Service

Jason Schrier is on a bit of a roll of late with the BioWare inner-sanctum access articles. The latest is a look at the history and likely future of Dragon Age 4. That future including the perhaps worrying ‘Live Service’ descriptor, on top of the further worrying decision to use the Anthem code-base.

It would be hard to fault anyone for giving up all hope with that combination alone. My initial gut reaction was… not the most positive either. But I think there are some mitigating factors here that at least leave the doors of chance open for an enjoyable title at the end of all this.

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey — Also a ‘Live Service’ Game

Dragon Age 4 would not be first Live Service single-player game. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is proof that it can be done well. AC:O released as a complete package in its own right. The Live Service element tied in through (admittedly small) weekly-ish events/content drops, and the odd larger content drop even outside of the DLC content.

Admittedly it did also contain some less-than-savoury monetisation in the form of cosmetics in a single-player game where you can’t even show them off. And then of course there was the rather infamous XP Booster. A $10 transaction in order to permanently boost your earned XP by 50%.

At least for first play through, if you were doing at least some degree of the side quest content, it was by no means a necessity. Your process kept up with the level-gating fairly well. If you, however, preferred to beeline just the main story… Weeeeell… The $10 option was always there.

In any case, I digress, the point was Live Service doesn’t have to mean a game held together with sticky tape and glue that possibly gets better over time. It also doesn’t have to mean an online-only experience with a perfunctory story experience tacked on and in the way of the ‘game’ side of things.

Jason’s article reports BioWare’s Casey Hudson as saying, “Reading lots of feedback regarding Dragon Age, and I think you’ll be relieved to see what the team is working on. Story & character focused. Too early to talk details, but when we talk about ‘live’ it just means designing a game for continued storytelling after the main story.”

If we are to take Casey at his word, then there is some hope that DA4 will be more AC and less Anthem.

…Excepting of course for the code base commonality…

What gives me some inclination toward hope here is that DA4 is (again, post-reboot) in preproduction. There are some years yet before we should expect to see the title ship. In that time, they should be able to do a lot with the groundwork laid over the past 12-18 months.

I guess we’ll have to see. But at least there is potential light at the end of this tunnel. And possibly further work done by the DA4 team can be used as improvements in Anthem’s own branch of the code too.