Wildlands

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laptop screenshot

It’s Monday morning and I am still struggling from whatever the hell I picked up at Pax South.  For a period of time last week I thought I had started to kick it… so I backed off the over the counter meds and apparently that was a massive fail.  For most of last week I was working on pure adrenaline as we careened headlong towards a super important demo that we had at work for Thursday afternoon.  After that happened… I largely started falling back apart and now even though I tried my best over the weekend to get back on the meds I am still struggling.  I am hoping that today at some point things start to chill out because we have an even more important demo this afternoon.  We are in crazy crunch mode with a big release looming on the all too near horizon, so I know that once I get back in the swing of things I won’t have time to fall apart any further.  So hopefully I can survive once again on adrenaline and caffeine to get me over that finish line when I can well and truly have time to fall apart and be sick.

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Ghost Recon Wildlands was one of those games that I had only been tangentially following.  I remember watching the video when it was announced and thinking that it looked pretty cool.  However I generally don’t really go in for “military fantasy” style games like Call of Duty, where I am an operator in a tangential reality to our own.  Ultimately this is the big reason why Destiny has continued to click for me… but Division fizzled out is because killing monsters will always feel better than killing people.  I knew there was a beta going on this weekend because another friend had been offering invites, which I largely turned down because I thought to myself “I have too many games to play”.  However next thing I know my friend Dallian emails me an invite to the beta on the PC so since I already had the key I figured that I might as well check it out.  I am largely over my frustrations with UPlay because I guess while playing The Division I learned to accept it.  I mean it is still a better interface than Origin…  so that is at least something.  Over the weekend I tried playing the game on both my i7 x99 980 gtx based gaming desktop and my i7 960m based gaming laptop.  In both cases the game performed fairly well…  with the laptop getting 30 fps on medium settings and the desktop getting a predictable 60 fps on high settings.  I will be trying to remember to caption the source of each screenshot, since I took some from both.

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As far as the game itself…  well to be truthful it plays a lot like most of these games do.  Once you take the setting into account and the fact that you are playing a third person game instead of a first person game…  I found it largely indistinguishable from Farcry.  You roam the world, taking on baddies while collecting resources for your faction of choice… so that you can then unlock upgrades.  The primary difference being that there seemed to be far less story… and way more open world sandbox than a Farcry game.  You are encouraged to go interrogate people.. but largely that just makes new blips show up on your map of where to find resources.  What I went into the game hoping I would find…  is The Division but in a single player fighting the drug cartels skin.  There are moments where it absolutely feels that way, especially considering that an awful lot of the sound effects when you secure something come straight from the sound effects we are used to hearing in Division.  Where the game excels however is in the use of the drone mechanic, that which it largely feels like a flying camera…  gives you a nice tactical advantage going into fights.  If you are fast and good at spotting targets you can mark all of the hostiles in an area ahead of a fight and take them one one by one in a semi-stealth manner.  I spent a lot of time sniping with my suppressed SMG, because ironically that allowed me to kill things without anyone noticing…  whereas my sniper rifle drew instant attention.

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desktop screenshot

The other odd thing about the game is the fact that for me personally… my squad existed for one purpose… to rez me when I got a little over zealous.  There was never a fight that I went into where I felt like they were an actual benefit and made the encounter easier.  They largely served as decoys to draw fire away from my position.  What I did find myself missing however is the cover mechanic from The Division.  There were so many places where I really needed to hug a wall and duck around a corner to get the shot… and I found that completely lacking.  Maybe I simply did not find the correct keybinds to hold to cover… but whatever the case it was something I was expecting to wound up missing.  The other complaint I had about the game is that it definitely feels like a console first/pc afterthought experience.  Now moment to moment gameplay and firefights are awesome on the PC, and I found it nice and easy to whittle my way through incoming hostiles.  Where it falls down however is that none of the vehicles felt like you could reasonably control them with a mouse and keyboard.  While driving something as simple as a jeep I found myself wildly veering from ditch to ditch as I tried desperately to wild around mountainside roads.  It is in fact another game about driving crappy vehicles on even crappier roads… and the shockingly even crappier keyboard and mouse controls make this an extremely frustrating experience.

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laptop screenshot

I am largely placing this game in the “it might be fun” bucket, but it is definitely not a preorder sort of situation for me.  The demo however really wants you to preorder, in fact it is constantly prompting you to do so.  The truth is like most open world games… you spend an awful lot of time wandering through fields full of absolutely nothing.  There are vast open spaces of nothing of any consequence that lay between the small bins of things that might be useful.  When you start running missions, rather than roaming aimlessly like I do… you spend an awful lot of time retracing areas that you have already been to as you operate out of specific hub locations.  Where the game excels however is in town-centric firefights, with the ability to duck inside of buildings and avoid guards… then pick them off at the most opportune time.  There is a larger village that you encounter pretty early that is really fun, especially if you allow the Blancos to call in reinforcements.  All of that said though, the game still doesn’t really feel like it gives me something unique that makes me extremely interested in its own brand of special ops fairy tale.  Especially when Horizon Zero Dawn is right around the corner… and will be a much more interesting world to explore.  Video games are largely about escapism for me…  and the Call of Duty style game just doesn’t feel escapist enough for me to ever really get hooked.

More SkyForge Thoughts

Controller Support

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One of the questions left unanswered from yesterday was whether or not the game had controller support.  On a whim I picked up my controller towards the end of one of yesterdays streams and I noticed that I could in fact control my character with it.  Today I popped into game with the mission of trying to test this theory out.  It seems that maybe they are working on controller support but that it does not actually work fully.  I could control my character perfectly using both of my analog sticks, and if I hit the A button on my XBox 360 controller I could perform any of the normal actions that require the spacebar.  However it did not actually seem to interact with the world, and pressing A when not hovering over an objective did not perform the jump action, which is normally the default action for spacebar.  I went so far as to go into the keybindings section and it would not let me bind anything to controller presses.

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Now of course if you wanted to go so far as to use Xpadder you could easily get this game up and running.  It takes care of the toughest part which is getting the analog movement feeling right.  My hope is that in subsequent patches it is going to add full controller support, and then this game is likely to increase significantly in enjoyment.  Left button spammy attacks feel less spammy when done with a controller button.  Since writing yesterdays post I have added another few hours worth of gameplay, and I have to say my verdict is still very mixed.  I even talked about it a bit on last nights podcast.  On some level I am feeling about this game much the same as I felt about Guild Wars 2 when it was in testing.  There is something that compels me to keep trying to figure it out, but at the same time I find it extremely easy to stop playing after completing a single mission.  The act of running a mission just wears me out, in a way that content in Elder Scrolls Online used to wear me out.  Things are so ridiculously tightly packed that on normal solo missions you spend so much of your time mindlessly grinding through huge encounters.

Isola Digs

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This morning however I ventured into what seems to be another large shared cooperative zone, much the same as the very first mission in the game.  It involved a series of around 25 smaller objectives that were scattered throughout the map.  The frustrating thing about this zone in particular is that the objectives were super linear, meaning when I tried to do my normal thing and hop off the path…  I missed an objective that I then later had to double back through the entire zone to go find again.  As a whole though I have to say I like this style of zone so much better than the little instanced mini dungeons I had completed more recently.  The game also feels better when lots of other players are wandering around, which greatly speeds up the amount of time it takes to burn through the various health bars of the bosses.  This tells me that a lot of my frustrations was simply that I was soloing content designed for groups to take down.  The fact that I could fairly easily solo content as a paladin, maybe points to that class being a little overpowered for this sort of thing?  Then again tanks in most games are adept at soloing bosses that were originally meant for a group to take down…  I am looking at you Deathknight.

SkyForge_FireWardenBoss The other cool thing about this region is that it seemed to be full of boss encounters that did not seem to be tied to a specific objective.  There may be a quest that I missed somewhere that opened these up, but from what I saw there was a fire, water and wind warden.  Above you can see me taking on the fire one.  The only thing missing elemental wise is earth, which I did not really see while wandering around.  I managed to get a few greens off these bosses, so my theory is they are just there to make your experience more interesting.  The boss fights with other players helping were significantly more enjoyable, but I could still shield up as a paladin and whittle them down until I succeeded.  There was only one single encounter where I even came close to dying.    At the last minute a wave of players rushed in and helped me finish the boss off.

Combat Still Repetitive

SkyForge_PaladinFinsiher2 All of this said… my problem with the combat still exists.  It just doesn’t feel like I can do anything interesting with the encounters.  I did add a new combo attack to my repertoire, and while I abused the hell out of it.. each individual fight still seemed to take a little bit longer than they should for the game to feel really “fun”.  The mobs still suffer from the same problem where they tend to be one trick ponies, and keep using the same attack sequence over and over.  There is almost always one thing that you should dodge out of, but other than that it is grind them down with your main attack until they are gone.  There are a lot of things I do like however when it comes to the interactions with other players.  This seems like a game where everything is open tagging, and if you are in an area and have dealt any damage to a pack… you seem to get full credit for the entire pack.  Similarly if there is an objective, it seems like everyone can click said objective, and that seems to have changed from one of the closed beta streams I happened to watch.

SkyForge_CryomancerHelp As a result I found myself wading into a lot of fights that I did not strictly need to just to help out the other players.  Unfortunately not a single one of them did I actually communicate with.  There are a lot of ifs about this game, and I am not quite certain how much I will be playing of it.  In theory I kinda dig the model of purchasing classes or having a slow tedious process of unlocking them.  To some extent I wish I had gotten in on the ability to play the Berserker, because I think that might be a class I would really enjoy.  I have heard that you can go to the training center and test drive all of the classes, much like you can test drive champions in a moba, so that might be one of the things I do next.  At this point I have played around five hours of the game, and I have enjoyed it just enough to keep me coming back to try and find the secrets that I seem to be missing as to why this game is really fun.  Ultimately there will be a point where I just give up on it, but I have not quite reached that yet.  After all it gives me a bit of a diversion from leveling my Dragoon and gearing in Final Fantasy XIV.  If you want to check out the last two videos I have posted since yesterday I will be embedding them below.

Port Naori – Instanced Dungeon-like Mission

Isola Digs – Open World-ish Shared Zone Mission

(was still encoding at the time of posting this… so might have to check back later)

Witcher 3 Impressions

Losing Time

witcher3 2015-05-20 19-43-32-94 Last night I had these plans of coming home, and hopping into Final Fantasy XIV and working on crafting once again while chatting away with my Free Company folk.  However when I got home absolutely none of that actually happened.  I had left the GOG Galaxy client up on my screen during the day, and when I sat down at my machine it was the first thing I saw.  I had fixed myself a sandwich and chips and I thought to myself…  I will just play Witcher for a bit while I eat dinner, and before my wife gets home.  It seems like moments later she had gotten home and was hollering up at me.  When I say it seems like moments, it quite literally feels like I had just sat down at the screen.  In reality about an hour passed between starting Witcher and taking a quick pause to see my wife off to church before returning to playing again.  Then next thing I know it…  my wife is back home and heading to bed and I have managed to lose another several hours.

To say the game is immersive is a bit of an understatement.  The last game that I can remember losing entire nights to was probably Skyim, and that is a fairly apt comparison at least on a few levels.    The funny thing is I have just now moved to the “second” area of the game.  I say area because while the game has open world aspects it is not exactly completely open world.  The first “zone” is called White Orchard and it is made up of this huge sprawling seamless area with lots of villages and locations to explore.  This gives it a traditional open world Elder Scrolls feel, the problem being that the entire location has a bounding border drawn around it.  While I have not pushed my luck when the game starts telling me to turn around…  I am imagining that there is some sort of “slaughterfish” like mechanic that you encounter.

Gorgeous Environment

witcher3 2015-05-20 19-07-30-38 The real triumph of the game is the environment, and just how real it feels to be roaming through.  What makes the game world so compelling is the fact that everywhere you look there is action going on.  Nothing is static, and the weather patterns effect every last blade of grass it feels.  The only problem with this is at times you feel like you are suffering from a bit of sensory overload.  Like I said yesterday once I started playing I pretty much hopped off the path immediately and this is very easy to do, and at the same time rewarding.  When they were pitching this game I remember them saying that it would take either 20 hours or 200 hours depending on your gameplay style and after finishing White Orchard I can see why this is.  The main storyline in the zone was relatively straight forward and only actually required me to complete a few quests to get through it.  However I spent the next four hours working on various treasure hunts and exploring the world.

The map system works very similar to Skyrim except that you have missions of interest that you have yet to explore marked as question marks.  Now these are not ALL the locations in the world, and there are a number of other “hidden” things that you can find wandering the countryside, however if you explore each question mark it seems like you will get most of the content you would care about.  That is ultimately what I spent my night doing was wandering around completing these question marks.  The game has a waypoint travel system that allows you to pop from road sign to road sign, and I used the hell out of this functionality allowing me to get close to the destination that I was looking for and either taking my horse the rest of the way or just wandering of foot.  Pretty much anytime I saw monsters on my minimap hud I dismounted and took them on.  After some gear and some levels things like the Drowners and packs of Wolves became trivial, but the big monsters were still insane especially anything that spawned near a “guarded treasure”.

The Story Is Good

witcher3 2015-05-20 21-52-48-37 The thing that I find most interesting is that the game manages to make the narrative just as interesting as the free form exploration.  There is some crazy shit going on in the world of the Witcher, and as this game is my first experience of that world I am trying to soak it all in.  The game does an awesome job of giving you just enough of a primer in the setting for things to make sense, but also is unapologetic at times for talking about things that you have NO clue what is going on.  There was a point in the game where I had to answer a series of questions, each of which I think represent choices that were made in earlier games.  Knowing nothing about the setting I made my choices and it was interesting to see just how they played out in that discussion.  I have a feeling that those choices will ultimately color what the final results of the game end up being.

There was talk at one point of them rebooting the earlier Witcher games using the Witcher 3 engine… and I really hope this happens.  The engine itself is extremely robust and I can see the modder community is going to have a ball with this game.  This might dethrone Skyrim in that department, pending the game itself is that extensible.  The best review that I can give the game is the fact that I had to pry myself away from it last night to go to sleep.  I alt tabbed and noticed it was 10:30 and realized that if I did not stop then… I would likely end up playing until after one in the morning.  The funny thing about this game is that it literally came out of left field for me.  I had no intent to purchase it, and am only now playing it because I got a free copy with my video card.  Now I am looking forward to playing through everything the game has to offer and will more than likely purchase the season pass so that I can play the DLC as it releases.  I keep harkening back to this, but I think if the game keeps up at this pace and level of quality that it might very well be that go to game like Skyrim for losing myself in the world.  The only fear I have is that since this is so narrative focused, I am not sure if it will have the same sort of universal replay-ability that the Elder Scrolls games have had for me.