“There is no escape” – Hades

Hades
Released: September 17, 2020

It seems to be becoming a theme where I will say that a game within a specific genre is not really my scene, so instead I will say that Hades was recommended to me by a friend who knew that I had never played a rogue-like before but that I have always found Greek mythology fascinating. There is a lot of variation between versions of the stories within the mythos and this creates a huge number of possibilities when retelling them, which is something that Supergiant Games have done masterfully. When you join insightful storytelling with a visually striking art direction and an incredible soundtrack then you know you’re in for a good time.

Players assume control of Zagreus, Prince of the Underworld, who attempts to escape his father’s realm to reach Mount Olympus. The Olympian Gods, who have been made aware of his plight, reach out to Zagreus during his escape attempts and bestow gifts to help Zagreus grow stronger and improve his chances of escaping the deepest pits of hell. Players are not given a healing ability and so they must take as little damage as possible during their runs but should they fail, Zagreus is sent back home, to the House of Hades, where his father is waiting for him.

I’m going to get this one out of the way first because I could, unashamedly, talk about the art direction of this game all day. It played a huge role in the draw I felt towards this game because I adore how the artists have used colour throughout the game. The Underworld maintains its intimidating feeling, but it is in no way muted or grungy to reflect this – in fact, the Underworld has never looked so vibrant. Each area of Hades is wholly unique to the other and because of how rich the environments are, it makes the Underworld a treat to traverse through. I love the contrast between areas like Tartarus and Elysium, and both biomes do a great job of storytelling simply in their appearances.

The dreamlike sci fi setting for Transistor (2017) and the painterly quality of Pyre (2017) are both beautiful, but there was something that immediately jumped out to me in Hades and it was the characters. The direction that the team went with reminded me of graphic novels and felt more purposefully stylised. My personal favourites are Ares (for obvious reasons, I mean come on), Primordial Chaos, Eurydice, Nyx and Megaera. One thing with Megaera that I thought was such a nice touch was to use the same red and magenta tones of her whip as highlights on her body – it compliments the blue/gold theme that she’s got going on perfectly but isn’t overused so you’re not distracted from her intimidating presence. 

Although I wasn’t one of the players who had experienced Hades during its early access period, I have since gone back to look through early game footage and the improvements made between then and the current v1.0 iteration is huge. The people over at Supergiant are brilliant at what they do, and I am desperate for a Hades graphic novel because the art is just sumptuous. To Jen Zee and the rest of the art department at Supergiant: Thank you for breathing life into this game with your incredible designs!

So we know the game looks great, I think I covered that as succinctly as possible, but what does it play like?

Death is a core mechanic that players need to come to terms with that rather quickly, and while it can feel frustrating it isn’t necessarily a punishment. Upon death Zagreus will lose any boons that he earned through his previous run and all currency used for Charon’s shops that can be found throughout the Underworld. Other items such as gems, darkness, diamonds and nectar are carried over to be used for power ups, cosmetic changes around the House of Hades, increasing bonds with NPCs and much more. For every death there is a lesson learned and a chance to rethink strategies as you boost Zagreus’ attributes and chances of escape.

I’ve said it before but here it is again: I am not a particularly skilled player. I am usually playing games in a state of panic, especially when it comes to combat, which manifested itself in Hades as frantic button mashing. My poor hands couldn’t take the stress after a while, so it forced me to actually look at what was happening instead of haphazardly dash striking around encounter rooms. I will admit that it was effective, but my runs are lasting a lot longer now that I’m trying to be more tactical about it. It’s disappointing to be sent back to square one, but I often relish in the chance to be able to interact with the many NPCs in the House and gain glimpses about their relationship with Zagreus or even to one another. Achilles broke my heart with his initial entry in the Codex about Patroclus and all I want is for them to be happy. I’m also always sure to pet the Underworld’s best boy every time I wind up back home because Cerberus works very hard and deserves acknowledgement.

There is a selection of six weapons for players to choose from for their escape attempts, known as the Infernal Arms, each of which can be upgraded the more you progress through the game and have their own unique attacks. I wanted to love the Heart-Seeking Bow, Coronacht, but I found it too slow for the play style that I eventually adopted, which turned out to be much more aggressive than I was expecting considering I usually like to keep my distance from enemies. I found myself using the Twin Fists of Malphon for its speed and to be able to pummel enemies. Exagryph is probably the most out of place weapon as it is essentially a gun but I like how it was tied into the lore as a precursor of firearms that was ultimately sealed away so it didn’t fall into the wrong hands. One of the benefits of dying a lot in Hades is that it gives you a chance to try out every weapon and see what combination of powerups work for you. While I may not like using Coronacht in general, I will definitely be trying another run with it now that I’ve learned more about the mechanics.

While it’s probably obvious, I’ve not actually escaped the Underworld as of yet and so I haven’t seen the ‘true’ ending, but I did reach the final boss in my most recent attempt. This came as a surprise for two reasons: I was shocked that I had made that much progress and I was gutted that the campaign itself is so short. Escape attempts will vary from player to player but the time from start to finish is not awfully long, which is quite disappointing but only because of how much I am enjoying the game. What keeps bringing me back isn’t necessarily the prospect of finishing the game, but instead it’s because I want to interact with the NPCs more. I have a spreadsheet of characters where I am keeping track of the lore because, I clearly have too much time on my hands, and I want to see where Supergiant has taken their version of the Greek myths.

I like that they’ve given each character a very distinct personality and while there is a history between them, there are gaps in their knowledge. Athena, for example, claims that the Olympians have tried to make peace with Hades but he refuses to accept it, and Hades himself doesn’t speak to Zagreus about his past with his family. One of the questions that I have been asking since the very beginning is why are the Olympians helping Zagreus? Achilles at one stage is unsure of the Olympians’ intentions due to the bad blood between them and Hades and, as far as I have seen, the Olympians had no idea that Zagreus existed until Nyx reached out to them. The number of story threads that connect each of these characters is brilliant and at its core, it feels like a family ordeal that’s been blown out of proportion, and who can’t relate to that?

The voice acting in Hades is perfect. They have struck a balance between engaging and humorous without coming across as cheesy, especially in Zagreus’ voice lines as he is both hilarious and bratty. It got to a point where I was recoiling in my seat while I was listening to him and Hades bicker because I felt like I really shouldn’t be there. But we also see Zagreus’ softer side when he interacts with other characters like Nyx and Thanatos. One of the things that I loved was that characters ‘remember’ things, the first example we see of this is whenever Hypnos will recall how the player died in their last run. I love when the Olympians comment on another God whose boon the player has already accepted, and more recently I spoke to Dusa which initiated a dialogue where Zagreus apologised to her for being insensitive in a previous conversation that I had with her. It’s these things that make the characters so much more interesting than rather than being beautiful images on a screen and the variation of dialogue is insane.

Also, while we’re on the topic of the audio direction, the music is amazing. Darren Korb is a genius.

I can see why some people would be concerned about the repetitiveness of the game, but the ever-changing layout of the maps keep every run feeling fresh and exciting. There is a huge variation of enemy types to keep you on your toes and the bosses are challenging, especially because you’re desperately trying to avoid taking damage. The Lernaean Hydra is definitely the boss that tends to throw me off and take up a death defy feat but I’m still getting past it consistently, so I consider that a win.

If my only real complaint about the game is that escape attempts from the Underworld are quite short, then I don’t really have any complaints. The story is engaging, the character interactions are always entertaining, and the art direction is literally God-tier. The high level standard that they’ve set is the reason why I want more content and would love to see the game expand into other areas of the Underworld, such as the Fields of Mourning from The Aeneid and maybe even to the other various rivers like Acheron and Lethe (mentioned in game). I’d also be interested in seeing more of the Gods and heroes make an appearance, possibly Hera and Hestia as they are the other two Gods who wielded the Infernal Arms. I know that a lot of players want to see Heracles but I quite liked that Supergiant decided to give the spotlight to other heroes. I think I just want to see what kind of wizardry the team pull off with new character designs if they ever decide to add more.

The Noclip documentary series about Supergiant Games’ journey with Hades provides an interesting insight into what releasing a game in early access is like for an indie team and I highly recommend that people watch it. The care, passion and energy that went into creating Hades is outstanding and I think Supergiant deserve all the praise and support that they’re getting because this game is an overwhelming success.

“Honour died on the beach” – Ghost of Tsushima

All images taken using the in game photo mode

Ghost of Tsushima
Released: July 17, 2020

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice came out last year and I was very close to buying it until I began to feel a creeping sense of dread crawling up my spine. I can appreciate FromSoftware and what their games bring to the table; I am just not good at playing them. I was waiting for an Assassin’s Creed game to be set in feudal Japan for years but the franchise has continued to let me down. It is, however, safe to say that when Ghost of Tsushima first appeared on my radar back in 2017 that my excitement levels were through the roof.

In its final year before the release of next gen consoles, the PlayStation 4 has seen some of its finest work yet. Sucker Punch Productions created a beautiful game that has kept me engrossed and entetained from start to finish. Ghost of Tsushima is the first game that I have ever earned a platinum trophy in and I’ve also tried my hand at writing some haikus, so I hope you enjoy!

Beware of spoilers
Should your quest be unfinished
Proceed with caution

Set during the late 13th century, Tsushima Island is attacked by a Mongolian fleet. Led by their jitō, Lord Shimura, the samurai of Tsushima join together to fight back against the Mongols but are dealt a crushing defeat. Lord Shimura is captured by the Mongolian leader, Khotun Khan, while the other samurai have been slaughtered. Jin Sakai, the nephew and ward of Lord Shimura, is severely injured but dragged away from the battlefield by a thief named Yuna who nurses him back to health. As the sole survivor of the battle at Komoda Beach, Jin must enlist the help of unlikely allies, save his uncle and bring down the Mongols before they reach the mainland of Japan.

Now before you think “Well actually” and start the Google search, I am more than aware of the historical inaccuracies. Samurai during this period did not wield katana in the way that is presented in Ghost of Tsushima, one man did not save the island from the Mongols and many of these characters are not real to name a few. In an interview with Game Informer, Nate Fox (director) clarified that while the game is entirely grounded in reality, they did not want to rebuild Tsushima Island. In fact, the reason why they didn’t use historical figures was out of respect and instead opted to create fictional characters. By sacrificing accuracy in places, Sucker Punch delivered an action packed, story driven game with satisfying and varied combat. So even if Jin would not have had access to weapons such as the black powder bomb until a couple centuries later, it didn’t stop me from blasting the invaders with them.

Combat is challenging but rewarding. Initially Jin’s sole weapons are his katana and tanto, the latter being what he uses for stealth assassinations, and players must learn how to parry and dodge incoming attacks before moving in for the kill. Admittedly, this meant that I had to stomp out some bad habits quite quickly as button mashing (through panic usually) will set you up for failure. Enemies will take advantage of your weak points and can also parry and block Jin if you’re not paying attention. Often the best strategy is to hang back and wait for them or chain your attacks mindfully to break their guard. As you progress, Jin will learn new stances that are each more effective against a specific type of enemy, which can then be upgraded by spending technique points earned throughout his journey.

It was a surprise to find that a crutch that I had previously relied on in other games was absent from Ghost of Tsushima. Without an enemy lock on feature, I found myself swinging at air on occasion and this made for a stressful experience at the start but made me focus on my surroundings and forced me to learn how to parry. I distinctly remember that there was a moment where I was surrounded by Mongols, but something clicked during the fray. I felt unstoppable as I switched between stances fluidly, perfectly parried an attack and cut through my foes with ease. The sense of achievement with each fight is gratifying and keeps the combat feeling fresh and exciting.

A storm approaches
The samurai is reborn
Under a new guise

In the process of saving his uncle and Tsushima, Jin learns how to utilise stealth tactics against his enemies but these actions go against the samurai code that he was taught by Lord Shimura. The more that Jin leans into and relies on these abilities, the more he becomes conflicted about his methods and how his uncle will view him. Outwardly we are fighting against the Mongol incursion but Jin is also battling with his teachings each time that the player chooses to become the ‘vengeful spirit’ – the Ghost.

I prefer to play more stealthy in games and I’ll try to take out all enemies in an area quietly, or gradually whittle their numbers down to make a frontal assault more managable. This was no different in Ghost of Tsushima but I was conscious of Jin’s diminishing sense of honour even if there wasn’t an actual gauge to keep an eye on in game. Admittedly, a lot of Jin’s Ghost techniques and equipment went unused as I progressed through the world. The sheer number of tools that he had at his disposal were overwhelming and although the option to use them was nice, the scenarios in which I found them useful were few and far between. Smoke bombs have got to be my least favourite tool in any game and the only time that I even looked at them was after I was forced to unlock it once I had levelled up Jin’s legend status and had no other choice.

Ghost of Tsushima does a great job of not holding the player’s hand too much when it comes to its gameplay. Navigation is left entirely up to the player and there are brief tutorials on how to control Jin, use his Ghost weapons and how combat works. That being said, I was in the wrong stance while facing an enemy at one point and instead of letting me work this out for myself or switch once I had realised, the game essentially paused itself to point out my mistake. I don’t mind refreshers when it comes to controls, it is a useful feature for players who have trouble with them or need a reminder after not playing for some time, but it felt like I was being penalised in that moment. It threw off the flow of battle and was more frustrating than simply understanding that I was doing less damage to the enemy because I needed to switch stances.

Riding with the wind
Golden birds lead him away
Headbands aplenty

When talking about Ghost of Tsushima it is diffcult not to mention how incredibly beautiful the scenery is. Sucker Punch have meticulously put together these colourful and diverse environments that can be explored completely at the player’s leisure. To keep you immersed in the sweeping surroundings that the island offers, there is a minimalist HUD so as not to clutter the corners of your screen. The lack of a mini map was concerning at first as I wondered how I would navigate the huge island. After picking which general direction I wanted to travel, a simple swipe up on the controller’s touchpad would invoke the Guiding Wind to show me where to go. This kept me absorbed with Tsushima, out of the pause menu and encouraged my own independent exploration.

I cannot deny that the most tedious part of the game was unfogging the map, especially as it doesn’t make sense to do so. Jin is a character who has lived in Tsushima for his entire life and so not having significant landmarks such as Omi village (his home), the Golden Temple and many more not already marked on the map feels contrived. Optional places of interest that are discoverable not being present on the map is much more understandable. Arguably, this decision was made by Sucker Punch to prevent leading the players to specific destinations and instead left it up to us to pave our own way. I have to admit that I was glad that I didn’t have to reach vantage points to clear up areas of the map because it’s a mechanic that is too often depended on. Instead players can liberate areas of Mongol control to unfog the surrounding area of the map. This may seem like a monotonous task, but it’s a much more involved method as players have a chance to increase their legend, earn points towards learning new stances, find collectibles and essential supplies. This is definitely more rewarding than climbing somewhere high up and saying “I can see my house from here!”.

There are plenty of things to find in Tsushima, each of which provide Jin with a different reward. Visiting hot springs gives the player a chance to take a step back from the action and a permenant increase to Jin’s max health. Following foxes to Inari shrines will increase the number of charm slots that can be equipped for various buffs in attributes like exploration and stealth. Golden birds will also be encountered in the world that will lead you to places like pillars of honour or other sets of vanity gear as well as guide you to side quests. On occasion, side quests can feel like flavouring as opposed to something substantial. Many of them have very bleak endings and the rewards can be minor, especially during the late game sections, but it does make Tsushima feel like an island that is lived in and has a history.

Some of my favourite quests in the game were the duels, Mythic Tales and finding my way to the Shinto Shrines. The charm that I earned from the Shrine of Amaterasu stayed with me until the very end of the game, and I am convinced that the sun goddess saved me on multiple occasions. The Mythic Tales had some of the best storytelling and rewards, as well as being amongst the most fun to complete. I would sometimes forget that I had certain abilities but Heavenly Strike and the Dance of Wrath became a signature of my deadly arsenal. I was also a big fan of the longbow and by extension Tadayori’s armour set, making me an archer to be reckoned with.

**Heavy plot spoilers inbound**

My fellow comrades
I hope to see you again
May you all know peace

Each ally that Jin meets are unique, flawed, capable and I love them all. Lady Masako’s desire for vengeance at any cost feels heartbreakingly real, Norio’s struggle to live up to his brother’s example is admirable and Kenji’s hilariously opportunistic attitude is a refreshing break from the violence. I was glad to have the chance to play through individual quests for these characters as it provided an excuse to get to know them and also made moments like Ryuzo’s betrayal and Taka’s execution that much more intense. My personal favourites were the tales of Yuna, Sensei Ishikawa and Yuriko. I enjoyed the moments of quiet with these characters because I felt more connected to them than I originally thought I would be. Writing a haiku with Yuriko before her passing will remain a cherished moment and knowing that many of them were by my side during battle was a comfort. However, I will never forgive Sucker Punch for ushering in Act 3 of the campaign with the death of my horse, Sora. The grief is only too near.

As a villain, Khotun Khan was intelligent and intimidating. Learning more about him through the artefacts that can be collected in Mongol camps set him out to be a multi-layered character that was extremely perceptive. After being thrown off the bridge at Castle Kaneda at the start of the game, I was dreading the thought of having to fight him again. By the time I got to the fight I was ready to go and the duel format was well known to me at this point, though I wasn’t expecting him to fight fairly. I had hoped to defeat Khotun Khan in a duel, but what I didn’t anticipate was that he would retreat to a ship and have his men fight in his place while he caught his breath. I’m not sure if it was because I had built it up in my head over time, but as a boss fight it felt underwhelming. I understand that the gameplay mechanic reason for sending in regular enemies would be so the player has an opportunity to regain resolve (which are used to perform legendary actions and to heal), but this could have been done within the duel format to throw Jin, and by extension the player, off.

I had an interesting time with Lord Shimura as I understood why he held the code of honour in such high regard. Bushidō is in essence the samurai version of knightly chivalry, and I recognised how important this way of life was to Lord Shimura and why he would go to such lengths to uphold it. But having played as Jin and witnessed what he represents, I found myself viewing Lord Shimura indignantly. He wasn’t necessarily wrong, but his refusal to accept change or show a willingness to learn was infuriating and relatable on a level that I felt so viscerally. I think it’s because of these reasons why I found the ending so powerful and it was the true final boss that I was looking for. Despite his failings, I didn’t want to fight Lord Shimura because he was still Jin’s uncle. I chose to spare him at the end and at first I thought I did this because I didn’t want to dignify Lord Shimura with a warrior’s death and instead have him live with the shame that even he couldn’t stop the Ghost. In reality I let him live because he was Jin’s only remaining family, even if it meant walking the dishonourable path and living in exile.

Once a samurai
A ghost rising from shadows
The mythic hero

There are plenty of things that I haven’t even mentioned in this game, like the various armour sets or upgrading weapons but it feels redundant because those are just the aspects that make it a game. Ghost of Tsushima is an epic hero’s journey and wears its influences on its sleeves. There is even a Kurosawa mode that allows players to experience the game in black and white, as if it were one of the films directed by him. The music is exciting during combat and subdued when you’re taking in the sights, sometimes you’re just left with the sounds of nature and that is equally as beautiful. My only real gripe with the entire thing was that they didn’t animate the characters to lip sync with the Japanese audio, and because there were no subtitles for background dialogue I felt as though I was missing out. The English voice actors did an excellent job but I wish I could’ve experienced it in Japanese without it looking like it was dubbed.

A moment that will stick with me, and I believe it’s unscripted as it definitely wasn’t a side quest, was when I was getting the last trophy for the platinum right at the end of the game. I was riding with Kaze (whom I love but can never replace Sora) when Jin commented on the charred body of a man. I investigated and found that the man was holding a flower and a note addressed to his late wife. A little further up the way was a small cemetery that was thankfully still standing despite the surrounding devastation. I took the flower and note, placed them at the wife’s grave and paid my respects. A small event but held a huge impact. Throughout the bloodshed and acts of violence, innocent lives were lost in the process but demonstrates the weight of Jin’s actions and his sense of duty. After earning that platinum trophy I was shown a message that I think perfectly rounds off how incredible this journey has been:

“You are one of Tsushima’s greatest heroes. You know this island better than anyone, and you spared nothing to defend its people.”

“I would do it all over again”: The Last of Us Part II

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The Last of Us Part II
Released: June 19, 2020

Edit note 27/07/2020 – This is the third time I’ve tried to post this as for some reason it keeps going back into my drafts. Hopefully it’ll stay up now!

There may be some of you who read the leaks back in April and decided then that this game wasn’t for you. There is currently a loud section of the internet that is outraged over some of the decisions regarding the narrative and the characters themselves, some of which I can understand. This game is by no means perfect but the anger that is being expressing towards the game is bordering on the irrational side.

I didn’t see any spoilers, but I heard about the vitriol. How furious people were and still are about The Last of Us Part II is astonishing, to the point where people were review bombing the game just hours after release and the cast and crew have been inundated with hateful messages on their socials. I was nervous that my emotional attachment to the first game was causing me to ignore this apparent disaster that people were talking about. After having finished the game, I can say that this is without a doubt the most harrowing and exhausting experience that I’ve had with a video game and that was a good thing.

This divisive story should at least be played before passing judgements. I won’t be discussing gameplay in too much depth this post, though I may do another write up for that at another time. In this post I will be discussing major plot points and so if you’re not finished with the game yet or would like to stay as in the dark as possible, then this spoiler warning from this point onwards is for you.

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If Naughty Dog have a story they want to tell they will do so in the way that they want to. When Druckmann tweeted very succinctly about this and the people in the comments went into an uproar, it lead me to believe that a lot of players who hate this game are holding onto a misunderstanding that stems from The Last of Us (2013).

One of the most beloved characters of this franchise is Joel and the first game takes us through his heart-wrenching story. It is because of this that some fans seem to forget certain details. Joel does not embark on a hero’s journey. He has been put on a pedestal despite the glimpses of ruthless violence that we see him display on numerous occasions. The brilliance of the first game was that even though we knew that Joel’s decision at the end of the game was wrong, we chose to look the other way because we understood why he did it, even if it meant telling a 14-year-old girl that her immunity was all for nothing. The Last of Us Part II doesn’t just expand on the consequences of Joel’s actions but it tackles even more complex emotions in both the characters and the players themselves.

Joel has been living in the safety and comfort of Jackson for 4 years and in that time he has let his guard down. To say that Joel’s death was undeserved or disrespectful to the character is insulting to those who created him. There is no one who loves Joel more or knows him better than Druckmann and Baker, and ultimately this scene is there because the story needs to be driven forwards. Not only does Ellie need cause to hunt down the WLF but so does the player. If the reasoning behind Ellie’s pursuit of this group was flimsy then the player would not have been so eager to join her and revenge is a powerful motivator.

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The first game focuses on a father losing his daughter, the second revolves around a daughter losing her father. Before this game was released, we were being asked “How far would you go to bring the people responsible [for a loved one’s violent death] to justice?”, and Joel’s brutal murder invoked such a deep sadness and rumbling hatred in me. I wasn’t just hearing Ellie’s screams, I felt them and it shook me. I was ready to go to the ends of the Earth with Ellie because she was the vessel for my heartache, and I was determined to make the WLF pay. At first I accepted Ellie’s actions, my actions, but I could feel her drifting. It became increasingly harder to watch her inflict harm and I struggled to rationalise it as justified. They killed Joel and they revelled in it, so why was I flinching every time I was forced to press square to strike at Nora in the hospital?

The second half of The Last of Us Part II is probably the most controversial amongst players, but this is where the story truly shines even though initially I was not receptive to it. Abby infiltrates the theatre that Ellie and co have been using as their base of operations, kills Jesse and holds Tommy at gunpoint. The prospect of fighting Abby was dangled in front of me… and instead I play as her in a flashback similar to the ones with Ellie prior to this moment. Angry doesn’t even begin to describe it and for a second, I lost faith in the game. I expected to play only a short segment as Abby in some sort of cheap attempt to get me to have compassion for her. I begrudgingly played through this flashback scene but the more it progressed, the clearer the realisation that I was having became. The first game focuses on a father losing his daughter, the second revolves around a daughter losing her father.

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The sheer number of parallels that I began to draw from this second act blew me away, the more apparent of which are those between Abby and Ellie. On both sides we have a love triangle of sorts, a pregnant party member, the death of a father, murdered friends and so much more. We play as Abby briefly at the beginning of the game, but her story truly begins after she kills Joel and we are able to witness how her journey plays out after she has enacted revenge for the death of her father. In Ellie’s case, her campaign is the build up to revenge and the progression of the cycle of violence. What really took me by surprise were the correlations between Abby and Joel.

As a playable character, Abby is very similar to how Joel played in the first game. Shivs reappearing was one of my biggest concerns after getting so used to the convenience of Ellie’s knife, but the ability to craft multiple at a time and to be able to upgrade how many you could carry was a welcome change. Although Ellie could handle herself in a fist fight, Abby is the one who can rely more so on brute strength, much like Joel. I felt more confident as Abby to go in guns blazing if stealth went awry and I was happy to be able to actually punch enemies again. Even Abby’s standard stealth kills resembled Joel’s and it often felt like a more refined version of his gameplay. Not only this, but Abby’s story is that of redemption after doing terrible acts. Mel describes Abby as the WLF’s “top Scar killer” and in spite of this, Abby becomes a protector to a couple of young Seraphites that saved her life. Travelling with a young companion who is trying to make sense of the world while on a personal journey to find themselves and thus creating a bond between the player and ally – it all sounds quite familiar.

I’ve heard a lot of negative comments surrounding Abby’s body, going so far as to claim that it’s not realistic even though she was modeled after the crossfit athlete, Colleen Fotsch. Setting aside the fragility of some people’s sexuality, there is a great amount of storytelling in just Abby’s appearance. In the flashbacks we see that she looked like a regular teenager but in the 4 years that she spent investigating leads on her father’s killer, she built her body into her greatest weapon out of a refusal to be hurt like that again. The changes that her body goes through right until the end of the game is a beautifully crafted narrative and her emaciated state will haunt me for a long time. In a similar vein, the layers on Ellie’s right arm tell parts of her story; the bite mark that revealed her immunity, the chemical burn to cover it up and the tattoo featuring the moth design that was on the guitar that Joel gifted her. Mindsets change to reflect experiences, and what better way to showcase this than to display it on their bodies.

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The main issue that I had with the narrative was the pacing, which is a problem that many players have picked up on. In my case, I felt as though I was being thrown backwards and forwards a little too often, which created a jarring experience and sometimes cut the building tension short. In some ways this does demonstrate how Naughty Dog tried to open up the sense of exploration for a less linear experience, and this may be a result of initially looking to create an open world game. There were also criticisms about the length of the game, which are reasonable and I did find myself agreeing with them on some level as I felt as though some sections were dragging. In retrospect, I believe this was a deliberate choice.

The Last of Us Part II does not serve the player because it has a story to tell and this story is arduous and challenging. Never before have I played a game where it expected so much of me, because it actively works to make you feel uncomfortable and you have to push back to get through it. At the point where I thought I was at the end, I was dragged kicking and screaming back into the fray. I was tired and spent but I didn’t get a say because this game demands something from players, much like how Tommy does of Ellie. “You said you would make them pay” but at what cost?

Regardless of what is being said, I personally believe that the ending is so moving that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I finished the game. I thought that fighting Ellie while playing as Abby in the theatre was hard but nothing prepared me for the final fight. I didn’t recognise Abby at The Pillars and the futility of my pleading to Ellie began to set in. I was finished with this quest for revenge hours ago but Ellie wasn’t and she needed to muffle her demons. She needed to end this, but the strength that it took for her to instead let go of these emotions and choose to break the cycle of violence was overwhelming. I was drained by this point and that was mirrored in both Ellie and Abby. Haggard and broken.

On the surface this was a game about revenge and explores where this path will take you; it swallows people up whole and there are dire consequences to walking down a path that becomes harder and harder to turn away from. Abby did not gain anything from killing Joel and Ellie stood to lose the family that she and Dina had started, and yet they both went through with it anyway. The ending may not have been the conclusion that you were expecting, but when you go over the events again through a new lens you begin to see something new. Ellie is just as angry at herself as she is at Abby over Joel’s death, and this is because she knows that she should have forgiven him sooner but the chance to mend their relationship was taken away from her. Abby is still plagued by nightmares after having killed Joel and so we see glimpses of what is in store for Ellie if she doesn’t stop herself.

This is a game about empathy. There are no true villains because the characters cannot be so easily defined as good or evil, they are all simply human and trying to do what they think is right. When Ellie kills Owen and Mel, who was pregnant, we see Jesse and Dina in them. Jesse’s death was as shocking as Manny’s, even though the person on the other end of that rifle was Tommy. Even the Seraphites, despite seeing them hanging members of the WLF for being ‘sinners’, are humanised by characters like Yara and Lev and we even see the Seraphite children being transported away from the conflict raging in Haven. How can these groups of people be considered bad when all they are doing is trying to survive? What makes the Jackson group special? Is it just human nature to vilify ‘the other’?

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that there are actions that have been taken by most of these characters, on all sides, that I struggle to forgive. I am a fan of Abby’s character development but I still wrestle with what she did because I know why she did it. Do I think that Joel deserved to die? No, but then I also don’t think that it’s a case of deserving or not. By having the final flashback between Joel and Ellie be one where they come together, after what is presumably years of not speaking, to make amends made things easier for me. The rift between him and Ellie was no longer weighing on him, and even in his final moments he was comforting Ellie. So Abby, I don’t know if I can forgive you but I’d like to try.

A Fresh Start: Animal Crossing: New Horizons

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Release date: March 20, 2020

My social media is full of around the clock updates regarding the ongoing issue (putting it mildly) that is Covid-19. Despite only being nearly 4 months in, people are already fed up of the year. It was then that a silver lining in the form of a distraction made its way to us; a true hero that has helped to keep people connected and provide some much needed respite while maintaining social distancing and quarantine. My Twitter feed in particular now includes a delightful sprinkling of players’ cute avatars and their experiences coexisting with their anthropomorphic animal neighbours on a once deserted island. Or maybe some people just wanted a break from Doom Eternal (2020)…

The latest installment in the Nintendo franchise that has spanned almost 2 decades is equal parts charming and relaxing. It’s easy to understand why long term fans were excited about New Horizons, but there’s something here for everyone.

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You can celebrate your own and your residents’ birthdays!

I had a very late epiphany about Minecraft (2011) in that I didn’t give it enough credit, but my love affair with the game was brief. In a similar vein I loved the concept of Stardew Valley (2016) but it didn’t click with me. It was because of this that I was skeptical that I would enjoy Animal Crossing, but I was fervently urged by a few friends and now I’m the one trying to convince others to join in with the incredible amount of fun that is New Horizons.

Having never played Animal Crossing in any capacity I wasn’t too sure what to expect but when the game opens in a heart achingly adorable airport with two, sweet little tanukis named Timmy and Tommy to guide me, it’s as if Nintendo didn’t even want to give me a chance to dislike it. Before I knew it I was being whisked away to an uninhabited island with wild cherries that would eventually be known as ‘Smol Isle’, its residents henceforth called beans, and it was here that I would put down my roots. Thus began my very first journey into crippling debt to the infamous business entrepreneur, Tom Nook.

The first thing that will grab anyone’s attention while playing this game are the graphics. While cartoony by nature, when you compare New Horizons to the earlier games you can see how Nintendo jumped leaps and bounds to get to this point. The gentle rustling of leaves on trees and the waves softly lapping at the shore gives the game the calmest atmosphere possible. Even when there are grey clouds and it rains on your little island it still feels nice to be there.

As a new player, I didn’t know that Animal Crossing syncs to your game console’s time and date, meaning that the game matches real time. I was pleasantly surprised when playing at night and found that it was also night time on my little island. The day/night cycle and even the time of year effects the types of fish, insects and even NPCs that you can encounter, but the passage of time is also how progression is paced. Kind of like a pay-wall but… time instead.

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The start of the game is relatively slow because the various NPCs provide tutorials via tasks such as creating your first set of tools to get you started. The durability of these tools is reminiscent of how weapons worked in Breath of the Wild (2017), which isn’t necessarily a good thing. It feels somewhat frustrating to have tools break so quickly and this means having to grind for materials to craft new ones and this can be especially taxing while still in the early stages. It would be helpful to have a durability bar of sorts to give an indication to players when their tools are close to breaking so they’re able to plan ahead of time. As someone who is not fond of gardening in real life, I have to say I was pretty devastated when my watering can broke.

Your progress is also hindered by having to wait overnight for some things to come to fruition. I am aware of players being able to change the date and time on their consoles to move time forwards as far as necessary but as this was my first time playing, I wanted to experience the game as it was intended rather than speed running my way through. I have also heard that Nintendo lightly discourage this practice and have hinted at implementing some kind of deterrent, though the details of what this entails have not been revealed.

By day 3 I had hardly any events or chores that needed tending to as I was waiting for the museum and shop construction to be completed, however I was not aware that I could invite other NPCs to become beans and move to Smol Isle, which I have since made a start on and began readying their new homes. My favourite addition to the island so far has to be the museum. It is such a wonderful place to explore and really gives the players motivation to catch every critter and uncover all the fossils so they can be displayed in their full glory. I did try to keep half of the Stegosaurus skeleton that I found in my house but it took up nearly all the space I had, so I figured the museum was a better place to keep it.

One thing that I loved from the word go was that the controls are intuitive and still very simple. I instinctively knew that holding B would make me sprint and to repeatedly press A when reeling in a fish. Most of the controls can also be figured out just by fiddling around with the keys for a few seconds, such as cycling through your tools with the left and right arrows on the D-Pad. My only issue is that on occasion the controls can be a little finicky and so it’s hard to be accurate on occasion. I have been attacked by wasps on countless occasions because my door was a little bit more to the left or right than I originally judged and I couldn’t get indoors fast enough, or my flowers have been planted incorrectly because despite digging a hole for the seeds they somehow land behind me. It’s a minor grievance, though it is reminiscent of how small inconveniences seem to feel enormous at the time even in real life.

A great aspect of Animal Crossing is how every player’s experience will vary from one another, from the native fruit that grows on your island to the residents that will become your neighbours. Each NPC has their own personality and quirks, which does mean that when residents interact with one another they can be friendly or a little hostile to each other depending on if they are compatible friends. On day 5 I welcomed my new resident with an appropriately sporty housewarming gift and for now it seems all is well. Each player can host up to 10 residents on their island, making it a bustling community where some will choose to stay as long as you do and others may eventually move onto other things. Will there be falling out amongst the beans? Only time will tell how things will turn out on my Smol Isle.

There is a sense of a lack of choice when initially creating your avatar but like how all the collectibles are a goldmine for the completionists out there, the ability to draw up custom patterns for decorating and refurbishing furniture gives the designers out there something to be excited about. I have seen some incredible designs out there, including Link’s classic green tunic and even Ellie from The Last of Us (2013). I used this feature to create some pixel art of Luigi, Sonic and Charmander to decorate the walls in my ever growing home. It’s a simple feature that makes way for endless possibilities and provides infinite options for personalisation to really make things your own. Decorating and setting up furniture in and around my home has been a highlight of my experience with the game so far and I’m not even close to being done, which makes it even more thrilling. I spent an obscene amount of time trying to get the placement of a candle right yesterday, but it was worth it!

Players are also not bound to stay on their own island forever. Although the entire island is not immediately available to be explored until you obtain traversal items, players have the option to buy a Nook Miles Ticket using their Nook Miles (another form of currency that is awarded for completing tasks), which allows them to jet off to a random island that can be raided for supplies. There is a chance to encounter potential new residents and find islands that have different fruit, and these can be harvested and planted on your own island. I have heard that there’s also an island that only hosts tarantulas, so keep those nets handy and may your aim be true.

Anyone who knows me or has seen the pattern in the video games that I tend to review knows that I am not a big fan of playing online. So when I say that going over to my friends’ islands is wholesome and fun, I mean it. I bought a year subscription for Nintendo online because of how much I enjoyed visiting and hosting my friends. Also because of Mario Kart 8 (2017) but that’s a given really. It’s great to see how your friends use the same tools that you have to create something that’s entirely unique and you can even help each other by sending resources and DIY recipes to aid the crafting and design efforts. A friend of mine and I had a little museum date on each other’s islands last night while also swapping notes on how to better organise our houses and trading some of our flora. It’s possible to send short messages while visiting one another, which is admittedly easier to do while playing in handheld mode as typing can be arduous with a controller, but it’s a cute workaround the lack of a voice chat option on the Switch. The Nintendo Switch online app does feature a rudimentary text and voice chat option, but something like Discord may just work a little better for you.

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Sometimes the news and social media can embed stress and anxiety, especially in the most recent months. Now more than ever people are in need of something lighthearted and a way to stay connected to the world, whether that means playing online with friends or visiting a random player’s island whose gates are open. Other people may just need a way to keep their minds off all the bad news and Animal Crossing: New Horizons gives players an opportunity to safely do just that. Completing small tasks is an achievement and even when you feel as though there’s not a lot to be doing you can create your own goals. There is a great sense of exploration despite being in a small space and in the later stages of the game you are able to terraform the island, creating a completely new area than where you started. I’m excited to get creative and I can’t wait to see what members of the community think of.

Personalise your own little paradise and soak up the virtual sun when you’re done for the day. Maybe send a letter with a gift to a friend to let them know you’re thinking about them. Sit back, relax and play at your own pace; and hey, at least it makes doing chores fun!

You Are Not Ready: God of War (2018)

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God of War (2018)
Released: April 20, 2018

SPOILERS INBOUND

No longer driven by fury and living as a simple man, the iconic Spartan warrior and eponymous god of war has become a father once more. Following the death of Kratos’ second wife and Atreus’ mother, Faye, the two embark on a journey to spread her ashes from the highest peak of the Nine Realms.

While all of the previous games have been deeply set within Greece and its mythology, the 2018 reimagining has placed Kratos into unfamiliar territory. Marvel may have popularised Nordic legends in more recent years, but God of War brings the gritty brutality in its retelling of the stories. Set in Midgard, players are able to traverse the realms found in Norse mythology and bury themselves in the massive amounts of lore that the game provides. The environments are beautifully rendered, spanning from the base area, Midgard, full of snow capped mountains and winding forests to the other eight worlds such as the picturesque Alfheim and the fiery Muspelheim. Additional aspects to the charismatic environments are the impressive large scale statues and structures to add to the vastness of the world. Nothing does this better than the inclusion of Jörmungandr, who towers over everything in the Lake of Nine, and the Witch’s giant tortoise that she calls home.

Coupled with the immersive setting is the new dynamic between Kratos and Atreus. The Ghost of Sparta is no longer a bloodthirsty warrior, but a father to a curious and brash son. Kratos shares profound moments of insight and wisdom with Atreus, a distinct departure from his original conception, in which his emotional range spanned from angry to furious, but instead has his own demons to fight and lessons to be learned. The growing relationship between the two of them throughout the game is a significant journey and successfully humanises Kratos, despite his previous gory dealings. In this game, Kratos is not only struggling to raise his child alone but he is also a grieving widower.

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Jörmungandr, the World Serpent

Players are able to utilise both characters in battles, providing ranged attacks with Atreus’ bow and a mixture of close quarters and ranged combat with Kratos. Having departed with the Blades of Chaos, Kratos’ new Leviathan axe can be thrown and recalled in a similar manner to Thor’s infamous hammer, Mjolnir. Both characters’ abilities can be upgraded using XP and Hacksilver (in game currency), and by making Atreus a more active deuteragonist it forces players to ration resources for a more tactical approach when playing. As Atreus becomes stronger, so does their relationship and Kratos will begin to actively encourage him after battles.

Combat is aggressive, as expected, but with the introduction of the Leviathan axe it takes a heavy departure from the previous titles, although the Blades of Chaos do become available later in the game. Kratos is able to either hack away at an enemy or beat them down with his fists, which can lead to a ferocious finishing move that differs between enemies. While God of War is known for its gratuitous violence, in this most recent installment there appears to be a conscious effort to draw it back. It is not to say that there is evidence of shying away from violence, but there is a noticeable lack of diversity when it comes to finishers in comparison to previous titles. This could be to emphasise Kratos’ decision to try and keep his anger in check, a trait that he sees in Atreus and so fuels his want to teach him restraint. However, there is still the presence of the Spartan Rage mechanic, showing that there is still fury within Kratos despite his conscious effort to suppress it, as we see when he refrains from shouting or during his short passing comments about gods.

Enemies are often recycled with different appearances, making the bestiary a lot smaller than what it actually seems. With that being said, the design of the various enemies is phenomenal even with the reskinned models. The attention to detail in both appearance and movements have been so finely tuned to make for impactful interactions. Small animations such as the Revenant’s spin with their staff when they reappear and the graphical mastery when seeing light pass through a dragons’ wings are what bring the enemies to life. The corrupted Valkyries in particular are beautifully menacing in appearance, and challenging them makes for the toughest fights in the entire game. They may be optional battles, but these combat sections truly test the player’s finesse.

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Epic boss battles done right

One of the most impressive aspects of the game is the seamless transitions between gameplay and cutscenes alongside the almost complete absence of loading screens. Director, Cory Barlog, explained that the reason for changing the perspective to an over the shoulder camera is to get more up close and personal with the action and to give more freedom to the player. By doing this, the player is always fully immersed in the world and has better control over their exploration choices. The only real downside to this is due to the game having to load in areas during gameplay, some sections where moving platforms and the like are used to get in and out of places can take longer than usual to account for the loading times. This does allow for short periods of rest, which is often what loading screens provide, but it can be frustrating when you’re just itching to get back into the action.

Elements of other franchises have definitely had their impact on God of War. In Uncharted 4, when characters are conversing with one another but are interrupted, the dialogue resumes once the player is out of combat or simply returning to the exploration section. This is very similar to Kratos and Atreus’ conversations (later including Mimir) in the boat, and only when they leave the boat does Kratos claim that “stories are for the boat” and not while they are on land. Exploring while on land also has hints FromSoftware’s games. While the game is not open world, the design of the interconnected maps feel familiar, with hidden paths that snake back around to create shortcuts to and providing a feeling of a more open space to play around in.

God of War as a franchise had always been about excessive violence and grand battles against iconic figures. This game has certainly held true to its predecessors but it is clear that gamers are more open to a compelling narrative alongside these aspects. Video games do not have to be just about killing enemies for points, but instead have stories to tell. God of War is a prime example of how video games are more than that. With the raving reviews of the game so far, it was a risk worth taking with such a well established franchise.

Alola, trainers!: Pokémon Sun and Moon

 

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Pokémon Sun and Moon Demo
Release date: October 18, 2016

After what can only be described as a tumultuous relationship with Pokémon Go and the sudden arrival of Ditto in the app, Pokémon Sun and Moon is finally here. Scroll down if you want to skip my thoughts on the demo and go straight to the main game review.

Initially I decided against downloading the demo as I wanted to do a completely blind playthrough as I have with previous titles, but I was swayed by the promises of awesome stuff that could be transferred to the full game. One of these things was the Ash-Greninja from the anime, which until now I had not seen or even heard of. I can’t say I’ve been keeping up with the anime as of late, but I personally like Greninja as I grew to really love mine in Pokémon X.

Overall, I have to say I was underwhelmed by the demo. New Pokémon always make me feel quite bitter and put off because I am a “Gen 1er”, but I’ve enjoyed the last few games despite this. I’m going to try and not judge them too harshly, but from the small selection that I’ve seen so far I’m not quite sold on them yet. I was also a little sceptical of the touch screen interface as it doesn’t look as good as the previous ones. I may just be nitpicking but it was a good set up, so I don’t see why the need was there for a drastic change in the aesthetics. What I did like about the changes were the small notes to say if certain moves would be effective or not against certain opponents in battle, which is great because it got really confusing after new types of Pokémon were added, such as Fairy and Dragon. At least it did for me, and I found this feature helpful.

Knowing that Game Freak had opted to not include Pokémon Gyms made me worried. Instead they have introduced a new system called the Island Challenge, in which the player must go through trials to progress on each of the four islands of the Alola Region. The Trial Captains act very much like Gym Leaders and are the ones who present the trials to you. The player will also battle against Totem Pokémon, which are a stronger version of Pokémon that have been encountered and can even call upon other Pokémon to aid it in battle. During the demo, you battle against a Totem Hakamo-o, which wasn’t particularly difficult but it’s a demo. I didn’t expect them to raise the difficulty level to that of Dark Souls or anything.

The changes were very different to what we’ve seen before, but I wasn’t going to let it dissuade me from purchasing the full game. The reception of the Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire demo was lukewarm, and that game turned out fantastic. Game Freak know what they’re doing, and we can trust them to produce something wonderful.

 

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Pokémon Sun and Moon
Release dates: November 18, 2016 (Japan, North America and Australia), November 23rd, 2016 (Europe)

Minor spoiler warnings

I decided to buy Pokémon Sun because, in my opinion, the sun lion (Solgaleo) looked cooler than the moon bat (Lunala). I did notice this during the demo, but the movement feels much more fluid and less clunky than in previous titles. There are even great looking cutscenes now, which are so smooth in comparison to what we’ve had before, which shows how much of a massive improvement there has been. The environments look diverse, and I love the fact that my character isn’t a tiny sprite/chibi anymore. The chibi look was cute, but I’m enjoying the more in proportion avatar as I roam around Alola.

I went with Litten as my starter, because look at that face. It’s adorable and I couldn’t say no to it. Though now, it has already become a Torracat and it looks like it’s going through its smug teenage years. The inclusion of several Gen 1 Pokémon has made me exceedingly happy, as at the start I was wondering why you would move from Kanto to Alola, because let’s be honest, Kanto is the best. So far, I’m liking the Alolan versions of some of these familiar faces. I’ve only seen Rattata, Grimer and Meowth’s Alolan counterparts as of yet, so I’m looking forward to encountering the others.

The new and improved Pokémon Amie that was introduced in X&Y is now called Pokémon Refresh, and is much more interactive than before. Instead of simply petting, feeding and playing with your Pokémon, you are now able to help them recover after battles. Whether this means you can cure status conditions such as paralysis and burns, and to clean them up if they get dirty during battle. It’s completely optional of course, but it’s a nice little way to feel like you’re bonding with your Pokémon. And, most importantly, it’s absolutely adorable.

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I am finding that I’m ignoring several of the new Pokémon in favour of ones that I am more familiar with, but I am attempting to catch every creature that I come across. As of where I am now, I have a caught each and every wild Pokémon that I’ve seen. I still get that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I watch the Poké Ball wiggle. It lingers for a second too long after the third shake and I’m sat there hoping it doesn’t escape. I love that these games still gets me this excited and nervous.

I’ve noticed that several of the NPCs are holding smartphones, and it looks like their screens have a pixelated version of Pokémon Go on them. I wonder if they had as many server issues as we did. I have also, since playing the demo, made my peace with the interface both during and out of battles. It works well with all of the added features in these games and now I’m not having to scroll through several menus to get to where I need to be. It’s easy to use, self explanatory and you get going pretty quickly.

Some of the best changes are to do with convenience. I am so thankful that Poké Marts are now within the same building as the Pokémon Centres. It’s so much easier to flit between the two of them now without the added hassle of having to run to two different buildings that were not always very close to one another. Also, the change that is making life a lot easier on me is that when your party is full and you catch another Pokémon, you have the option of whether you want to switch out a member of your party to replace it with your new Pokémon, or to send it directly to your box. In previous titles, the new Pokémon would be sent directly to your PC in the Pokémon Centre and it would be frustrating. Sometimes I would be so far away from a Pokémon Centre but I wouldn’t be able to use my newest Pokémon without either backtracking or powering onwards with the risk of missing things. At least now, I can rearrange my team on the go if I so please.

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Now onto the part that was worrying me – the new Island Challenges. Going into the first of the trials, I can say I definitely got some Legend of Zelda vibes from it. I felt like I had just walked into Kokiri Forest or the Great Deku Tree, which was actually quite nice. I’ve got a lot of love for Ocarina of Time, so this made me feel somewhat more determined and comfortable when going into the trial. As the demo had explained, the most challenging part of the trial would be to face off with the Totem Pokémon at the end.

I did really enjoy the first trial. It was slightly repetitive but then the rude interruption occurs to spice things up a bit, and as ridiculous as Team Skull are, I do have to admit that I like them. This is a welcome change from the usual Pokémon Gym format, and I like that Game Freak have decided to try something different. The entrance of the Totem Pokémon was brilliant, and I don’t know if it was intended to be funny but I laughed. I did experience a drop in frame rate during the Totem battle, which was disappointing but a minor problem in the grand scheme of things that will hopefully be fixed. It was as easy as the demo, but I’ve no doubt that they will get harder down the line and I’m looking forward to how the trials progress from this point onwards.

The only thing so far that I can consider to be a negative aspect of this game as of right now is the Festival Plaza, which is very similar to the Mii Plaza that comes with your 2DS or 3DS system. It’s a nice idea, but it is confusing and the only reason I went into it was because I misclicked it while looking for Pokémon Refresh. After a bit of searching and digging, my friend and I managed to list one another as VIP guests in each other’s Plazas, trade with one another and even battled. (A/N: If you’re reading this – you got owned, son). Trading is something that I’ve always enjoyed in Pokémon, but I was never overly keen on battling as I hate to lose. This could be the game that makes me venture out of my comfort zone. Watch out, trainers, I’m coming for you… maybe.

I have to say, I’ve been playing this game for apparently ten hours now (admittedly, I did eat and write this review in between) and I’m loving it. The story feels very different, while also remaining true to the previous Pokémon games, and the new gameplay mechanics are great. I honestly cannot wait to see what else this game has in store.

I got an award??

I feel awful for not writing this post sooner but life has decided to keep me otherwise occupied, so my deepest apologies for the lateness of this one.

I was nominated by fellow blogger Sanguis Bootymus for this award, though it is more like a type of shout out chain by bloggers to bring attention to blogs that we think deserve some love. Many thanks for the nomination, I feel truly honoured!

Apparently I have to provide a short origin story of my blog, and I love to tell stories so I could go on for hours, but I’ll give the short version today. I’ve always had a love for video games, but I think that really started to come through when I would talk about them. I literally would talk my housemates’ ears off with the amount of time I would spend talking about games, until they eventually encouraged me to begin writing about them too. The blog is a product of me combining two of my passions: writing and playing video games… and also to spare my friends from hearing me talk obsessively about games.

Now for my own nominations:

  1. Planet Janet – While she’s not on WordPress, this is the website that my very good friend, Ayla (said like Isla, but cooler), set up last year. She posts quite intermittently but her content is consistently interesting to read. Additionally, there are many examples of her photography and I must say, she’s getting pretty good at it!
  2. Shelby “Falcon 509” Steiner – If you’re after balanced and honest video game reviews, then this is your man. His writing is concise, well researched and reads incredibly smoothly. I know that he’s hit a wall recently, so go and show him some love because his content is great.
  3. Karl Weller – Wow, there are so many gaming blogs out there, but what makes this one stand out is the man behind it. Weller has a great sense of humour and it comes across so effortlessly in his writing, something that I wish to be able to do in future posts. His articles are a great read and definitely worth your time.

And lastly, I have to give two pieces of advice for new bloggers. If there’s anything that I wish I did differently at the start it was to ask for help and to space out my initial ideas. At first, all I wanted to do was write about anything and everything, but because of this I found myself quickly running out of potential content. Relax, breathe and take it one post at a time. Also, I took to Reddit to ask for advice on my blog and I had quite a few responses, all of which were helpful and I’m really quite proud of the way the blog is looking now, as before it didn’t really feel like much.

For those who I have nominated, the next steps are to:

  • Write a post about the award and your nomination
  • Give a brief backstory on your blog
  • Give two pieces of advice for new bloggers
  • Write about the person who nominated you and leave a link for their page
  • Select a few blogs that you’d like to nominate

I’d like to end this on a quick note to say thank you to the unending support that I have received. It’s been such a pleasure and I’m enjoying myself here just as much as when I started. Thank you all so much for taking the time to read my ramblings.

Why is this game still broken?: Pokémon Go

Okay, I know this may seem as though I’m just complaining for the sake of it, and I know that Niantic are releasing updates and trying to fix the app, but I’m still having problems with it. I doubt that I’m the only player suffering but here is why I felt the need to have a small rant.

The new “sightings” feature is terrible. The three-step mechanism that they had before wasn’t perfect by any means (and didn’t even work for most people), but the idea of it was to allow players to know if they were getting closer or further away from a Pokémon that they were trying to capture. Now, the sightings feature does not let players know whereabouts Pokémon are located, but that they are simply within the area. I know that a handful of players received the update in which Niantic are testing out the full breadth of this feature, but the one I have is even less useful than the original broken tracking system.

The above are three screen shots that I took while playing Pokémon Go in the last couple of weeks, and which actually prompted me to write this post. In the first image (left), I was confused because the closest Pokémon to me were a Psyduck, Horsea and Pidgey, and yet a Rattata was the one to annoy me with its presence. Not only is it irritating that common Pokémon such as Rattatas like to pop up at every chance that they can, but even when they’re not supposed to be nearby they still spawn. I would have very much liked another Psyduck instead of a purple rat. Similarly, in the centre picture, a Spearow appeared even though it was third in line after a Zubat and an Eevee. Yet again, in the third screen shot it is clear that a Drowzee was not supposed to be nearby, and yet it appeared anyhow. There was no lure at that PokéStop before or after I passed by, and so I did not understand why a Drowzee suddenly showed up. Now, I’m not sure if the sightings feature lists the Pokémon in the order in which they are closest to the player, but I can only assume so. Which begs the question, why is it so inaccurate?

Now, admittedly, I used to do a lot of my Pokémon hunting in the comforts of a vehicle. I was able to catch the majority of my first Pokémon while my brother drove us to see our cousin, and I was perfectly happy to give up any mileage to hatch eggs that would not be counted by the game because I was travelling too fast. A few updates later and now it is virtually impossible to catch Pokémon while playing in a car (as a passenger, of course. I have to confirm that about a million times before actually playing). It seems as though the game can’t refresh fast enough to load Pokémon when the player is going faster than 20mph. While I will admit that this does encourage players to walk instead of ‘cheating’, it does not mean that the ability to catch Pokémon in a car should be completely nerfed.

As you can see in the above images, I was very close to being robbed of a Gloom. My phone vibrated to indicate a Pokémon appearing nearby and I was confused when I could not see it at first, until I noticed the white rings near my character. I tried tapping them but nothing happened, and I was worried that I would miss out on catching it. I was in a car at the time, and it is not often that Pokémon spawn while I am in a vehicle now. I panicked, but thankfully my mum and I were in a fair amount of traffic at the time and so we were travelling slowly if at all for around 5 minutes. I managed to restart the game and the Gloom reappeared, allowing me to finally catch it. I have not had this issue before the updates and so I can only assume that it’s because of Niantic’s frantic attempt to ‘fix’ the game that more problems have been caused as a result.

I have to say, I’m getting very tired of the mentality of releasing an unfinished game and then fixing it later. This is why I try to avoid pre-ordering games, as I want to know if it’s even worth my money before committing any payments. It makes me wonder when this trend began to surface. I remember when once a game was released, developers had no control over potential glitches or the like. Now, a games developer can release a game any time they feel like it, charge players for the full game and then release updates and patches at a later date. It’s the same issue as what a lot of people are finding after the release of No Man’s Sky, as many features were promised but have not yet made an appearance. Yet because of these promises, people parted with their hard earned cash to pay for a full game but were given barely half of what they were anticipating. It is for this reason that I tend not to pre-order games, because developers will only continue doing this if they receive sufficient funds. Companies are more likely to induce change if you start being smart with where you put your money, not your complaints.

I can definitely see that the popularity of this game is dying down already. Kids will be going back to school as the summer is coming to an end, so there will be a decrease in players actively playing during the day. Even I have begun to play it less, and as you can see I’m only on level 15 at the moment, despite having the app since it released in the UK. I do find it enjoyable, but I still have moments where the game infuriates me. I’m happy to see the low battery mode making a reappearance and the game does seem to be eating up less of my battery, though it is still quite steep at times. I can appreciate that Niantic are working on fixes, but I feel as though they just need to do it better.

 

Gotta glitch ’em all!: Pokémon Go

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Pokémon Go
Released: July 6, 2016 (US and Australia), July 13, 2016 (Europe)

Pokémon Go was finally released in the UK a few days ago, and it has quickly captured the attention of many people. I have already seen many people out and about, congregating around PokéStops and Pokémon Gyms and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m one of these people. Pokémon Go allows fans of the original games and television series to go out and experience life as a Pokémon trainer, like the characters they played as and watched did. It’s exciting to see Pokémon that you know and love pop up in familiar places. Although I was never a fan of bug type Pokémon, I was ecstatic when I first came across a Weedle. The game does come with its problems but I’ll go over the good things first.

The app is highly addictive. You can’t just stop at catching one Pokémon, you gotta catch ’em all! Especially when there’s word of people having already gone through the enormous challenge of evolving their Magikarp into a mighty Gyarados, it drives you to want to do the same and become even better than them. It’s all a bit of healthy competition and it’s bringing together people from all walks of life. I’ve seen several posts on Reddit about people becoming friends with those that they meet at PokéStops. There are also people claiming that the app is helping to improve their mental state as it is encouraging them to go outside and get exercise in. Those Eggs won’t hatch on their own! This alone is enough to convince me that the game is worth investing some time into. Pokémon Go has already impacted many people’s lives and the majority of people are in love with this game. I do genuinely believe that the app is encouraging children to get out of the house more as well. There’s been a lot of talk about how kids these days are constantly stuck in front of screens, and although Pokémon Go involves a mobile device, it does make them want to be outside catching their favourite animated creatures.

I went on my first PokéWalk yesterday morning (I would have gone sooner if I wasn’t busy with graduation the day after the app’s release in the UK), and although I didn’t catch any wild Pokémon, the walk itself was lovely. My family moved house around a month before I had gone off to university and so I had not had much of a chance to explore the local area. Pokémon Go gave me an excuse to do so, and I really enjoyed myself. I ran into a couple of children with their mum who were also out on the hunt for Pokémon and we all looked just as excited as one another. I believe that people have a tendency of staying indoors these days, it’s not just children, and so Pokémon Go has given people a reason to go outside, even if it is only for twenty minutes or so.

Now, unfortunately there is a myriad of problems with the app and I have to address these issues because I do pride myself on being able to write about both sides of a topic, and also because these technical issues are such a prevalent problem that it is difficult to ignore them. The biggest problem that I have encountered when playing Pokémon Go is not necessarily down to the game but, because I happen to live in the middle of no where, the internet signal is terrible. Now, this could be down to the combination of having a four year old iPhone 5 and being on a rather terrible mobile network because it’s cheap. However, because of this, I have found it exceedingly difficult to do well in this game as I live in a small village with poor reception and so walking around in search of Pokémon is not usually successful. In all honesty, I have better luck catching Pokémon just by turning on an incense and just waiting around for them to turn up. Today, I have managed to catch a few Pidgeys, Rattatas and Spearows as they seem to be in abundance. But amongst these common Pokémon, I have also caught Drowzee, Zubat, Magnemite, Koffing, Geodude, Magikarp, Psyduck and Goldeen. I’m sure I would have better luck in cities, but am I really willing to go to somewhere like London just to catch Pokémon? If I don’t even want to upgrade to a better, more expensive mobile network, then I doubt I’ll fork up the money for a train ride. 

The other problem that happened without fail earlier in the day was that every time I threw a Pokéball to catch one of these beasts, the game would freeze. It would take a minimum of three attempts to restart the app and reconnect to the server and despite my attempts, it would only sometimes register the Pokémon that I had initially caught before the game decided to rob me of my joy. This does not often occur when playing through WiFi (A/N: I take this back. It’s now happened three times in a row over WiFi as I write this post), but it was a common occurrence when playing through 3G and 4G. This brings me onto the frequent server crashes and login failures that happen all too often. I have read many complaints where people have expressed disappointment in not being able to even connect to the server, let alone suffer the glitches that occur within the game. The server practically had a meltdown after the European release of the game. It was released in twenty-six countries on the same day and that was it. Millions of people trying to access the game crashed the server, but despite the app already having numerous problems it was decided that a mass release of the game was a good idea. Perhaps fixing the game before doing this would have been a better idea. As I’m writing this, the game has crashed after I just caught a Staryu (A/N: It did not register the Staryu after I had finally managed to load the app again, and I’m very annoyed about this).

These issues are very unfortunate as it is a very fun game to play, but the glitches and crashes make it difficult to enjoy it. It is also off putting when you’re not sure if the game will save your progress because of these frequent crashes and the host of other problems that it harbours. I am going out later this week with friends to try and catch Pokémon  in a neighbouring town and maybe I’ll have a better experience then. A week is a fairly long time for Niantic and Nintendo to make the appropriate changes to the app, and who knows, perhaps they’ll have these issues fixed soon. I would love to write more positive things about the app, but as of now the game is quite broken and so it would be unfair to base a final judgement on the app as it stands right now. Once the technical issues have been addressed and the app is finished, I will then write another post outlining how these things have been fixed or not (A/N: I have now also been deprived of catching a Poliwirl. These problems need to be addressed sooner rather than later).

As a side note, the fact that I have to update this post with how the game continues to somehow break is highly irritating and disappointing. Apparently the servers have been dodgy all day and so it’s advised that if you are able to sign in then do be careful when using lures, incenses and lucky eggs as the game may crash. Honestly, I expect more from Nintendo, Niantic and The Pokémon Company. They have made more than enough money in the last couple of weeks, and it’s not as though they don’t have the funds to fix these problems.

“It’s a trap!”: Star Wars Battlefront

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Battlefront‘s cover art

Star Wars Battlefront
Released: November 17, 2015

I was planning on writing this review quite a while ago but I was really struggling to do so. I had a few paragraphs written out and it was okay to say the least but I wasn’t feeling great about it. I am a little bit of a perfectionist when it comes to anything creative that I do, so because of this strange feeling I was getting I scrapped it completely. For some reason this particular game wasn’t inspiring anything imaginative within me, and I just couldn’t think of anything to say about it. But in reality, this sums up the game entirely and also may be why I was experiencing some trouble. I think I was trying to be too diplomatic in my previous draft of this game and instead it ended up turning into a dishonest account of Battlefront. While I am a fan of Star Wars, I feel like Battlefront just didn’t live up to the standard of the franchise as a whole.

Now, I won’t lie, I have had fun playing it with my university housemates. It’s been pretty enjoyable when my housemates and I spend a few hours in the evening winding down and shooting mindlessly at Stormtroopers/the Rebel Alliance. However, it’s not the type of game that I would go out of my way to buy myself. It’s not something that I would play if I was bored either, I have several other games to fulfil that need. So, when would I play it? In all honesty, I’ve only played it because my housemate, whose PS4 we’ve been playing on, only has Battlefront and Fifa 16 (2015). I’ve only ever played a few sports video games but Fifa has never been something that I’ve enjoyed. The only other option then was to play Battlefront. I could have brought a few games from home but games take up a significant amount of space on the PS4 hard drive, and so I decided against using my friend’s new console for that reason.

Personally, I feel as though Battlefront is lacking in many aspects. I’m not much of an online player because at heart, I love local multiplayer. Battlefront does have a co-op mode for players to delve into, but I do think they should have included split screen online play and even a single player campaign. I believe that would have added another layer to the game but unfortunately there is currently nothing of the sort. That isn’t to say that the game isn’t fun at times. It is entertaining to play as Stormtroopers, people of the Rebel Alliance and even main characters from the original Star Wars films. I have to say, it’s pretty daunting when you see Darth Vader coming towards you, deflecting bullets with his lightsaber. Or to see Emperor Palpatine performing a Psycho Crusher (Street Fighter fans will appreciate that one) in your direction.

There are several online modes to play, which looks great at first but in actuality there are only a handful of them that are even worth playing. The majority of them feel similar to one another, with very few differences between the modes. Personally, I enjoy playing Blast and Droid Run, but I play the two of them very similarly. Although in Droid Run you are supposed to capture and maintain control of the three droids roaming around the map to win, I end up just killing people in the opposing team and not paying all that much attention to the droids. Instead, I treat it as though I am playing a team deathmatch, which is what Blast is. By creating numerous game modes for the players to choose from, it actually dilutes the experience. This isn’t to say that other shooters do not have similar issues however, for example, Halo 3 (2007) had nine unique (within the game itself) online modes to choose from, in comparison to Battlefront‘s repetitive eleven. Taking Halo 3 as a base, one of the modes is Territories, which entails the players to capture areas on the map in their teams. Within this mode, there are three variations or sub-modes to choose from (as it is with all of the online modes), making changes such as the number of rounds played and what happens when an area is captured. Comparatively, Battlefront has Droid Run, Supremacy and Drop Zone that bare similarities to Territories. Both Cargo and Extraction have a familiar air of the popular Capture the Flag element about them, while Heroes and Villains and also Hero Hunt are basically Juggernaut. Once we begin to group them together like this, Battlefront only really has five unique game modes.

With five online game modes, no single player campaign and a measly selection of missions to play offline cooperatively, it’s really no wonder why I feel as though Battlefront is inadequate. It is definitely a game that you only play if you don’t feel like using that many brain cells. As I said before, I play this game mindlessly because there isn’t much else to do. I suppose if you want a chilled out time playing video games, then this one is perfect because it’s very simple and doesn’t require much thought or effort. Even the levelling system doesn’t feel that rewarding as all you can really do is unlock new skins/characters to run around as and better weapons. I guess this is basically every shooter out there but I’m still not convinced with this game. As a Star Wars fan, I did enjoy being in the different maps taken directly from the movie franchise. The music and sound effects make for a great time as well, but it does feel very ‘meh’ overall, for want of a better adjective.

This is more than likely the shortest review that I have written on this blog, but that’s quite indicative of the amount of content that there is to sink your teeth into. The lack of content has made this post extremely difficult to write because there simply isn’t enough for me to talk about. It’s fun for about an hour or if you just want a standard shooter to play, but I’d say save your hard earned money for a better game. There are so many shooters out there that are more worth your time and effort, because this one is pretty lackluster.