A Spoilerific Look at Breath Of The Wild

Well friends,

it’s been a ride waiting all these years for the release of The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild. Not only is it finally here, but some have finished it — myself included. My original plan was to play a bit of it, give my impressions, and then do a spoiler-filled post about it. My plan fell through completely as I was simply enjoying the game itself far too much and kept wanting to come back for more. Having recently finished the game and having seen the credits, I do feel a sense of closure. No, I didn’t get every last shrine or armor nor did I fill the Hyrule Compendium, and I didn’t even find every Korok. What I did do however was climb every tower, free each Divine Beast, and reclaim all of Link’s memories. In this post I am going to bring up moments and sequences that can be called spoilers therefore you have been warned that I may discuss events that you may not have seen.

Still here? Wonderful. Let me first address the Vah Ruto in the room: Breath of the Wild is a remarkable open-world game. Some worlds, including Oblivion or Assassin’s Creed, never felt inviting or offered a sense that I could explore and be rewarded for it. Breath of the Wild offers this in spades thereby instating my belief that this game should be regarded as a masterclass of open-world design. Even ruins had tantalizing prospects of treasures hidden in them. Everywhere you go in Breath of the Wild there are both enemies to combat or wildlife to hunt. The game simply never feels barren or desolate.
Yet despite this, it makes for one of two things: either an imperfect Zelda game or a reimagining of what a Zelda game can be/is. Consider for a moment the beginning of the game: you are stuck on a plateau where you are tasked (among other things) with clearing four Shrines that each gift you with a rune that you use for the entire game to solve puzzles. This means that once you receive the bombs, magnetism, stasis, and cryonis runes, most if not all puzzles found in the game can be solved with these abilities. During my playtime the only times I felt like I couldn’t complete a Shrine were when I came across the combat-oriented ones. Furthermore, the Divine Beasts (which are game’s equivalent of dungeons as we have known them) don’t have boss keys and can be completed in any order you desire. You can even choose not to complete them at all. Breaking from Zelda conventions is one of the things the developers wanted to do and they did so with aplomb. Does this mean we have a new kind of Zelda game? Yes, absolutely. This is the most risk Nintendo has taken with Zelda as a franchise since Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. While I do believe that Breath of the Wild isn’t perfect, I do feel that the risk paid off and this will be a title that brings in plenty of new fans.

But for the returning fans, there is plenty to love. References to multiple games can be found (nevermind which timeline this may or may not be in) but no title is referenced quite like Ocarina of Time. Dialogue throughout the game points to the various races being very aware of who were made Sages, going so far as to say that the Divine Beasts were named after Ruto, Nabooru, Darunia, and Medli. Medli being the lone sage reference to Windwaker. Additionally, Urbosa, the Gerudo Champion, speaks about the legend that Ganon once assumed a Gerudo form. Even the music while working my way to Hyrule Castle itself was very reminiscent of the organ playing that Ganondorf plays in Ocarina of Time.

Speaking of Hyrule Castle, I tweeted that I had a lot of thoughts about one room in particular. While climbing the Castle Walls, it’s very possible to run into Princess Zelda’s room. Aside from a bow and sword I hadn’t seen before, I found Zelda’s diary which was very eye-opening. In the pages of her diary, Zelda expresses resentment towards Link at first. She quickly changes her attitude on him once she witnesses his courage first hand and then appears to develop feelings for him. Among the entries, Zelda discusses a conversation between herself and Link about why he is so quiet and doesn’t usually express himself. Somebody please correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t this give characteristics to an avatar Nintendo typically left purposefully blank? I’m intrigued to learn if fleshing Link out further was ever discussed during development.

While on the subject of Zelda herself, I am absolutely thrilled with how she is characterized in Breath of the Wild. In the game, all of Hyrule is not only aware of Ganon, but actively takes steps to prevent the Calamity his arrival brings. This all weighs heavily on Zelda, who through the course of Link’s memories, is unable to summon forth the power that is expected of her until a dramatic climax. This understandably brings forth feelings of anger, jealousy, fear, and ultimately, failure. Why am I so thrilled with a downtrodden heroine? It’s another breaking of convention for Zelda as a character. In prior games, Zelda was usually featured as someone who understood her place in guiding Link to his duty against Ganon and sometimes also as a damsel in distress. In Breath of the Wild, Zelda is trapped in Hyrule Castle with Ganon, but is there willingly holding him back from taking control of the rest of Hyrule. She has some real gumption y’all!

Now, on the bosses, I think it’s a great idea to have the random bosses strewn about the environment. You don’t need to face them at all, but they do present solid challenges, and offer some great loot if defeated. But of all the bosses I encountered, none were as challenging as the version of Ganon in Vah Naboris. During this encounter, the boss moves quick as lightning and is difficult to counter due to the sheer speed at which he moves. I’m still not certain how I beat them, but it is the most memorable.

In addition to the subject of bosses, I love the design of Ganon, it looks very much like his exposure to the Guardians affected him as he attempted to assimilate the technology and use it as a means to achieve a physical form. I was intrigued by his spider-esque form as well, but it was something positively new for him. And I really enjoyed how the fight against this form was varied enough that it felt as though I could use any of my weapons and skills against him, and they weren’t “wrong”. I will say that I was disappointed by what was a by-the-numbers form in Dark Beast Ganon: a hulking beast that is very much like older forms of Ganon. Furthermore, to make things even more generic Link is required to shoot at glowing spots on his body highlighted by Zelda with a special Light Bow. We’ve seen that segment a few times over, and I was surprised after such an inspired first form that we would have that segment to fight.

Now these are just my thoughts on the latest Zelda, but they may change with the DLC that is expected to release this Summer and in the Fall. But what are some of your thoughts on Breath of the Wild Right here is a great outlet to be as spoilerific as you’d like, so go ahead and leave a comment and let the words flow.

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Mass(ively) Effect(ive)

This Tuesday sees the release of the latest entry to the Mass Effect franchise, Mass Effect: Andromeda; a game where players get to explore the Andromeda galaxy. Given that Andromeda begins following the conclusion of Mass Effect 2, I wanted to offer an overview of the series in order to add context.

In 2007, Bioware – opting for their own take on sci-fi after making Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic –  released Mass Effect, their take on a third-person shooter/RPG hybrid. What’s very notable, is that not only were they creating their own mythology and universe, but actively envisioned a trilogy of games from the very beginning. Additionally, Bioware focused on creating a system for player choice to be a vibrant component to facilitate true impact from these choices. The player assumes the role of Commander Shepard, being able to determine how the character looks, acts, his/her background and specialty, all based on user preference.

Personally, I am a huge science fiction fan and Mass Effect seemed to be an experience I couldn’t pass up once I heard about it. As I began to explore the Mass Effect games, I was quick to realize that childhood sci-fi favorites like Star Trek had nothing on the lifeforms created for this franchise.

Mass Effect‘s alien species feel very alive and most of that comes from the shipmates you encounter on your journey. Through characters like the weapons specialist Turian Garrus Vakarian, the Asari Dr. Liara T’Soni, the Quarian engineer Tali’Zorah nar Rayya, and the Krogan warrior Urdnot Wrex, each of the major races you encounter feels more fleshed out, allowing the player a more personal connection to some of the large scale conflicts happening in the game.

One of the larger aspects of the game is the in-game character-to-character dialogue one can choose to engage in. Speaking to your shipmates will reveal conflicts and point you in directions to solve them. Black Market trades, war atrocities, and issues stemming from belief and religion rear their heads during play. It was common in my own playthrough to have my morals challenged knowing full well it would affect not only the characters in the vicinity, but would undoubtedly create unforeseen circumstances later in the game(s).

With Mass Effect giving the player a way to control their own future, it gives true weight to the decisions you make as Commander Shepard by having them be reflected and recounted by NPCs. The story of the game does traverse along a path, but the player has the ability to add variances to the story and in this way make it their own. Before Mass Effect, I had not experienced a video game that accomplished such a branching story to such a successful degree. During my own playthroughs, it felt like I was getting closer to these characters and doing my own self-discovery. It ended up being that much more rewarding since I had to bide my time and ask these characters questions in order to dig a little deeper and learn more about them, their motivations, and what makes them tick.

Mass Effect is truly a fantastic introduction of a living and breathing sci-fi world that isn’t perfect. That imperfection drives a lot of the drama, and from there arises an interaction and experience that blew me away. Coming up on the 10th anniversary of the release of the game and given that no game is without flaws, I would say that it is one of the best RPGs to have come out for the last generation of gaming consoles. Since release, Mass Effect has earned 12 awards including RPG of the Year (2007, TeamXbox), Best Original Score (2007, IGN), and Best Story on PC (2008, IGN).

If you are interested in trying Mass Effect out for yourself, here are some links to get you started:

Steam on Windows for $20

EA’s Origin Service for $15

PlayStation 3 for $15

On Xbox 360 and Xbox One for $20

In addition, a box set of Mass Effect is available for $16.95 – $29.99, depending on your preferred platform on Amazon. Or, as always, check with your local used game shop!

Switch Previews

On March 3rd, Nintendo will launch their latest video game console, and for all of the hype, there’s an awful lot of question still lingering around it. I can’t answer a lot of them just yet, but what I can do is go over the launch titles expected to be available in retail or as a download once the Nintendo Switch goes on sale. Let’s get right to it with the most hyped title – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda has long been a series of certain expectations, you go through the story of the game, visiting dungeons and collecting items that you all of a sudden conveniently need. Well, like it or hate it, that and other conventions for the series are thrown out the window. Once the game begins, it’s expected that you will have very little to tell you where you should go. Instead, Breath of the Wild will encourage you to pick your own path and carve out your own adventure. This may very well be the game Zelda fans have been waiting for, and previews of the game tell of a game that packs a wallop. It’s being called the greatest Zelda title since Ocarina of Time, and possibly the game that will force Ocarina to settle for 2nd best Zelda game. All of this praise means even more once you understand that the developers wanted to bring back that feel of wonder and exploration that the original Legend of Zelda on NES gave. If there is a must-own title at launch, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild looks to be that game. Breath of the Wild is a $60 grab physically or digitally.

1-2-Switch

It would be easy to dismiss 1-2-Switch as “just” another collection of minigames, but these are designed for parties and to be the center of everyone’s attention. Not only that, but they showcase the Joy-Con controllers of the Switch with extensive use of each feature. The game packs in 28 different mini-games for you to choose from, or you can have the CPU choose games for you. Previews so far have compared 1-2-Switch to the Warioware series, suggesting a lot of the minigames are relatively quick and simple to play through. But it has already attracted criticism for not being a pack-in title for the Switch. While the title is tailor-made for party or game night scenarios, there is no sign of a single-player mode. All signs point to 1-2-Switch being a hard sell unless you regularly have friends over. 1-2-Switch will be a physical or digital purchase for $50.

Fast RMX

Little seems to be said of this indie racer, but you’re most likely be able to find videos on YouTube. But, Fast RMX is a racer that is best described as a cousin to F-Zero. It’s a futuristic hover racer that emphasizes speed above all else. Fast RMX has 4-player split screen and 8-player online multiplayer options. Further, this is the third game in a series that has been only on Nintendo consoles since the Wii. This is a digital-exclusive offering and will be a $20 purchase.

Snipperclips

Snipperclips is a unique co-operative title where up to 4 players re-shape each other to solve assorted puzzles. Expect this game to be a source of equal parts fun and frustration depending on who you get to play with. Players will need to work together to come up with inventive ways to solve puzzles, and sometimes combine shapes to create something else. This may be the most inventive puzzle game in years. Expect this to be one of the most downloaded titles of the launch lineup. Snipperclips will be a $20 purchase.

Just Dance 2017

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Just Dance 2017 is coming to the Switch, which will support up to 6 players for your latest dance party. Featuring over 40 songs included with the game, and over 200 through a subscription based service. Just Dance 2017 for the Switch will utilize one Joy-Con per player, and features the same gameplay you either love or love to hate. Just Dance 2017 will be a $60 physical or digital title.

Skylanders Imaginators

Just in case you don’t use Amiibo enough, Skylanders are here to get you to buy more figures! A starter pack will be in retail that offers two figures, the game card, and a portal for use with the figures. For the uninitiated, Skylanders is a combination action and platforming game that has a pretty loyal fanbase. Also, this version adds in a Crash Bandicoot cameo and allows players to make their own Skylanders. The Starter pack will roll you back $60.

Super Bomberman R

Super Bomberman R is the return of the Bomberman series after an absence of seven years. In this edition, up to 8 players can compete and cooperate towards laying bombs down in order to progress through levels. Some previews have painted the picture that the game is a tad clunky, but of the launch lineup, this may be the most accessible multiplayer game around. Further, expect this to be a general pallet cleanser compared to the monstrous size of Breath of the WildSuper Bomberman R will set you back by $50 in physical form or digitally.

I Am Setsuna

I Am Setsuna is an RPG made in the SNES-era fashion, and has it’s roots deep into the classic title Chrono Trigger. When Setsuna is selected as a sacrifice to appease demons, what should be the end of her life turns out to be the beginning of a true test. I Am Setsuna takes plenty from classic RPGs including passive bonuses, and a combat system almost taken from Chrono Trigger itself. I Am Setsuna and it’s classic RPG experience will run you $40 as a digital download.

Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight already was on the Wii U, but it will be coming to the Switch on launch day with every piece of DLC in tow in Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove. In Shovel Knight, you guide the titular character through an 8-bit adventure on a quest to rescue his beloved from the clutches of the Order of No Quarter. Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove also boasts up to 4-person multiplayer, and 3 additional campaigns involving different characters and abilities. Lastly, a new mode of play will allow you to alter the body and pronouns of each playable character. Meaning, if you want, your Shovel Knight can have the appearance of a woman but be referred to with he/him/his pronouns. Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove will be a $25 digital download.

There you have it, the nine titles confirmed to be launching on March 3rd alongside the Nintendo Switch. There’s plenty of other titles coming soon like World of GooMr. ShiftyMario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Stardew Valley, plus more games are coming every week for this brand new system. What will you plan on grabbing? I’ll hope to see you back here to see my thoughts on two of the titles, Super Bomberman R and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Why It Pays To Take A Step Back

Yes, the Nintendo Switch launches in just a week, and the gaming world waits to hear about how the system and its launch games fair. But for right now, most are reacting to the news that the Virtual Console won’t be available at launch. 

For those that don’t know, Virtual Console is a service that made its way to Wii, Wii U, and 3DS systems as a way to play games from older set ups. However, you had to purchase them again from Nintendo. It’s important to note that only the Wii has enjoyed Virtual Console games from the very beginning, with 3DS and Wii U getting the service within a few months into the hardware of the lifespan. 

So what does this mean for Switch’s Virtual Console hopes? Just wait a bit. Based on how long it took for 3DS and Wii U to get them, I would expect the service to launch in the summer. June, perhaps as an announcement at E3, would be ideal. 

In short my recommendation is to enjoy what games you will be getting (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Bomberman R myself) and keep your ear to the ground for when the games of yore start to arrive.

 Once the Nintendo Switch launches I have every intention of posting impressions of the hardware as well as the aforementioned games and what services will be made available. Happy gaming everyone! 

The Game Awards 2016

It’s that time of the year for the leaves to change colors, sweaters to come out of the closets, and to invest in stretchy pants for holiday dinners galore! As gamers, however, we get one extra little pleasure, in that our lone televised award show airs on December 1st. This year, I thought I would break down the categories and nominees and highlight my picks (and predictions) for the show.

 

Best Action Game

* Battlefield 1

* DOOM

* Gears of War 4

* Overwatch

* Titanfall 2

 

Let’s start with Best Action Game. Here, we find a realistic war-time shooter in Battlefield 1, a sci-fi adrenaline and gore rush in DOOM, a smart revitalization of a franchise in Gears of War 4, the colorful and unique team chemistry in Overwatch, and the Robo-Buddy system of Titanfall 2. First, every one of these games are great picks, and this could truly go in any direction. However, I’m willing to bet the intense single-player of DOOM or the superb overall package of Gears of War 4 will come out on top. 

 

Dark Horse: Titanfall 2

 

Best Action/Adventure Game

* Dishonored 2

* Hitman

* Hyper Light Drifter

* Ratchet & Clank

* Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

 

In the Action/Adventure category, you have the play-it-your-way dazzler of Dishonored 2, the episodic masterpiece in Hitman, the unique throwback indie title Hyper Light Drifter, the zany gunplay of Ratchet & Clank, and the shoot ‘n’ quip game ending Nathan Drake’s story, Uncharted 4. It’s another category filled with fantastic titles, but I believe that Dishonored 2 will end up the winner; its focus on playing in your own way is only shared with Hitman

 

Dark Horse: Hyper Light Drifter

 

Best RPG

* Dark Souls 3

* Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

* The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Blood and Wine

* World of Warcraft: Legion

* Xenoblade Chronicles X

 

The battle for best RPG is a strange one this year. The gothic brutality of Dark Souls 3 is certainly the favorite among a few of my followers on Twitter. That being said, I have a soft spot for the sci-fi near future setting and timely social commentary of Deus Ex. The Witcher surprises me in that its DLC is nominated against these other full titles, and, win or lose, that speaks volumes to me. World of Warcraft’s latest expansion doesn’t re-invent the wheel so I am not sure if the refinements are enough to pull in a win, and Xenoblade Chronicles X is a game I’ve heard more than a few say they loved and enjoyed. Will the Wii U’s limited audience prove a hindrance? My money is on Xenoblade Chronicles X or Deus Ex.

 

Dark Horse: Witcher 3’s Blood and Wine

 

Best Fighting Game

* Killer Instinct Season 3

* King of Fighters XIV

* Pokken Tournament

* Street Fighter V

 

Of all the genres to pull punches, who would’ve thought it’d be the fighting games? I truly only see a fight between two titles here: Killer Instinct and King of Fighters XIV. Street Fighter didn’t have the features or character roster people expect in a modern fighting title, and will have to try next year when Capcom inevitably re-releases it. While Pokken Tournament had some unique gameplay, it didn’t stick with me and I see it as the underdog in this category. Killer Instinct is my expectation for winning with the refinements made and the crowd-pleasing guest characters.

 

Dark Horse: Pokken Tournament

 

Best Family Game

* Dragon Quest Builders

* Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens

* Pokemon Go

* Ratchet & Clank

* Skylanders: Imaginators

 

What a motley crew we have assembled here. By and large, Dragon Quest Builders is the JRPG fan’s Minecraft and has captured a lot of attention. Lego Star Wars, is a favorite to win by near default. Pokemon Go is unexpected in this category; although having lackluster in-game multiplayer, the crowd effect it had on people over the summer makes Pokemon Go a strong contender. Ratchet & Clank is also a solid choice, but I had almost forgotten it was out this year, and I believe others have done the same. Skylanders is the one title I can’t see winning in the slightest. 

 

Dark Horse: Dragon Quest Builders

 

Best Strategy Game

* Civilization VI

* Fire Emblem Fates

* The Banner Saga 2

* Total War: Warhammer

* XCOM 2

 

Only one can win in this category full of titles where every decision changes the outcome drastically. Each of these games could easily win the title, and I feel no other category is as close as this one. It’s so close in fact, I can’t pick a favored game to win. However, with Civilization VI winning Best PC Game and Best Strategy Game at the Game Critics Awards, it is certainly the favored title among critics. 

 

Dark Horse: Fire Emblem Fates

 

Best Sports/Racing Game

* FIFA 17

* Forza Horizon 3

* MLB The Show 16

* NBA 2K17

* Pro Evolution Soccer 2017

 

You might be thinking poor Forza, but I’m thinking the other sports titles are the ones who should be feeling sorry. Forza Horizon 3 is the best reviewed title of these, and I’m betting it’s going to drive away with a win. Why is Forza the only racing game listed? Turns out only three have been released this year for consoles or PC.

 

Dark Horse: NBA 2K17

 

Best Multiplayer Game

* Battlefield 1

* Gears of War 4

* Overcooked

* Overwatch

* Rainbow Six Siege

* Titanfall 2

 

At first glance, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I say Overwatch should win. And why shouldn’t it? It’s one of the few shooters I’ve played where I feel like I can actively contribute to my team’s victory. However, any of the other shooters could be worthy of the award, but none would have the surprise of Overcooked winning. Overcooked is also the only game on here with no gunplay at all.

 

Dark Horse: Overcooked

 

Best Game Direction

* Blizzard

* DICE

* id Software

* Naughty Dog

* Respawn Entertainment

 

A games direction needs to feel cohesive and whole in order to be successful and, once more, I think Blizzard will end up pulling away with this award on the backs of World of Warcraft and Overwatch. It wouldn’t surprise me though to see id Software find it instead based on the work done with DOOM

 

Dark Horse: id Software

 

Best Music & Sound Design

* Battlefield 1

* DOOM

* Inside

* Rez Infinite

* Thumper

 

If this was just about sound design, I would say it’s a fight between DOOM and Battlefield 1. However, with the inclusion of music in this category, I feel that Rez Infinite will take the prize. It has a very catchy soundtrack, and immersive effects, but if beats aren’t quite enough, Battlefield 1 is next likely to take it. 

 

Dark Horse: Inside

 

Best Performance

* Alex Hernandez for Mafia 3

* Emily Rose for Uncharted 4

* Nolan North for Uncharted 4

* Troy Baker for Uncharted 4

* Cissy Jones for Firewatch

* Rich Sommer for Firewatch

 

For Best performance, I believe Nolan North will end up winning for his portrayal of Nathan Drake in Uncharted 4; however, I would love for one of the two Firewatch nominations to win as well. Last year’s win from Her Story shows us an indie upset is entirely possible. 

 

Dark Horse: Alex Hernandez

 

Best Independent Game

* Firewatch 

* Hyper Light Drifter

* Inside 

* Stardew Valley 

* The Witness

 

Best Independent Game is a challenge between three strong contenders this year, Stardew Valley, Inside, and Firewatch. I saw plenty of people playing Stardew Valley on YouTube over the summer, and saw firsthand the addictive gameplay it offers. Inside is a very different beast and plays similarly like its predecessor, LIMBO. Inside also has an ending to be believed. But Firewatch is the interesting title, in that it has a story that isn’t as tightly controlled as Inside, but doesn’t offer the freedom that Stardew Valley does. Still, its story of a lone Ranger against trespassers in a woodland setting is unique. Any three of these have a solid chance at winning, but I’ll be favoring Firewatch

 

Dark Horse: The Witness

 

Best VR Game

* Batman: Arkham VR

* Eve Valkyrie

* Job Simulator

* Rez Infinite

* Thumper

 

Now I’m not in a situation where I’ve been able to play these, but I do feel that the most likely to win are Batman and Job Simulator. Both offer very different experiences, but they do them very well. I can’t wait though to see if this becomes a permanent fixture of future award shows. 

 

Dark Horse: Rez Infinite

 

Games For Impact

* 1979 Revolution

* Block’Hood

* Orwell

* Sea Hero Quest

* That Dragon, Cancer

 

After reading up on each of these games, they all are unique and make me want to give them a spin. The three that stand out to me the most are Orwell, Sea Hero Quest, and That Dragon, Cancer. Orwell puts you in the shoes of a surveillance expert in a foreign city that employs advanced techniques to keep tabs on its citizens. Sea Hero Quest is a game that has led to the compilation of years of all-new data about dementia research. That Dragon, Cancer is a game born from the experiences of the couple that made the game after they learned their son had a terminal form of cancer. My personal pick will be Sea Hero Quest given its possible real-world purpose, but the story of That Dragon, Cancer may be the emotional favorite.

 

Dark Horse: That Dragon, Cancer

 

Best Story

* Firewatch

* Inside

* Mafia 3

* Oxenfree

* Uncharted 4

 

Stories have grown more complex in gaming as these titles can attest to, but I think it will be a showdown between Mafia 3 and Oxenfree. Oxenfree’s gameplay relies very heavily on its story and the choices of the player, and is my personal pick to win. Mafia 3 deserves it too though, for having such a racially charged storyline and for not being afraid to take risks with their story in a medium where such acts aren’t always appreciated. 

 

Dark Horse: Uncharted 4

 

Best Mobile Game

* Clash Royale

* Fire Emblem Fates

* Monster Hunter Generations

* Pokemon Go

* Severed

 

Pokemon Go may be the most successful game in the category, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best, and I feel it’s going to fall short of winning the award. Instead, I think Severed or Fire Emblem Fates will end up winning the day. Severed is the newest game from the makers of Guacamelee – another game I really enjoyed – while Fire Emblem Fates is the newest release of the venerable strategy series.

 

Dark Horse: Monster Hunter Generations

 

Best Art Direction

* Abzu

* Firewatch

* Inside

* Overwatch

* Uncharted 4

 

Each of these games is beautiful to look at, but for very different reasons. I think the more minimalist directions of Inside and Abzu will make them the favored titles. However, the vibrancy of the characters and environment of Overwatch comes in a tight third to me. Watch for Uncharted 4’s realism to be the unexpected winner.

 

Dark Horse: Uncharted 4

 

Game of the Year

* DOOM

* Inside

* Overwatch

* Titanfall 2

* Uncharted 4

 

Here we are, the big aware of the night. The coveted Game of the Year award will end up going to one of these 5. Four of them are shooters, but Inside is the lone, purely single-player game. Will its short campaign mean it is snuffed out, or will the quality of its story outshine the others? DOOM was a very successful reboot of a classic series that delivered on every hallmark people expected in its single-player campaign, but its multiplayer is its biggest crutch. Overwatch, for as much as I enjoy it, is a multiplayer title only, but it does it so well and no other single game has been played as much by myself or the people I follow on Twitter this year. Titanfall 2 has been reviewed consistently well and is said to have grown itself in every conceivable way over its predecessor. That being said, I think it’s Uncharted 4 that may walk away with the award with a mostly solid campaign and competent multiplayer. It doesn’t hurt that it is arguably the most gorgeous of the nominated titles, but it’s still anyone’s award. My money will be on Overwatch, primarily as no other game has felt so wonderful to play and it never stops being fun. It’s clear this race is extremely close. 

 

There you have it, my picks for The Game Awards 2016. What are your picks? You can catch The Game Awards for yourself live on all sorts of services, including Twitch, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook Live, Xbox Live, Playstation Network, Steam, IGN, Gamespot, Snapchat, and NextVR. I’ll be watching and live-tweeting the show myself when it starts Thursday at 8:30pm Eastern. 

25 Years of Blizzard

Growing up, there was always a lot of gaming going on. Day to day, it could’ve been a table top classic like Monopoly or Dungeons & Dragons, or one of the many games we had on consoles. Those naturally would be more varied, but in the mid 90’s my family brought home a PC game that hooked my Dad, brother and I. That game was Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness. And it ended up starting a life-long love affair I didn’t even realize I had with a development house with one of the best records in gaming: Blizzard Entertainment.

Original known as Silicon & Synapse, by 1995, Blizzard hadn’t had a big hit yet and had done some smaller projects for both Computer gaming and consoles like the Super Nintendo. While the original Warcraft garnered critics praise, it had not become a big hit. That is not until the sequel popularized online Real-Time Strategy gaming. And that is what managed to hook my family into it, that after the story, and the baked-in scenarios, there was still more to offer that could be different every time.

But, it was more then just online gameplay. That was a bonus. The game itself was relatively easy to understand, even for a kid who was in first grade. The game also had personality in spades. Through the house while playing Warcraft II, the sounds of many a loyal peasant and footman could be heard. “Yesh m’lord,” “For the Alliance,” and even special phrases like “Don’t you have a kingdom to run”?  The fact that the people under your command had such a personality made it fun and not quite as serious as other games in the genre were. But Warcraft was blown out of the water with a release in 1998 by the name of Starcraft.

Where Warcraft II was about Orcs vs. Humans, Starcraft had a more complex plot line involving three races, the Terrans, Protoss, and the Zerg. These three races become locked in a struggle to control the galaxy that sees members of government trying to stop the heroes at every turn, or rising up against their superiors. But even despite the serious plot, it still retained it’s charm by giving distinct personalities to primary characters and the races overall. But looking at Starcraft itself, it’s apparent now to say that Starcraft laid the groundwork for eSports. Starcraft ended up becoming a huge online behemoth that was in constant play at homes and in tournaments worldwide until about 2010. And that is perhaps it’s greatest legacy. My family never participated in any of these tournaments, but we did have LAN matches between ourselves that ended in one of two ways. Either my brother would launch what’s known as a Zerg rush, crippling his opponents early, or Dad would be methodical in his approach and have me fail an attack only for him to retaliate before I could recover. It was good times that seem far away now. We enjoyed it so much, we even eventually picked up the Nintendo 64 port. Wasn’t a bad way to experience the game but it was… harder without a mouse.

A few years after the release of Starcraft came, my Dad picked up a sequel to one of Blizzard’s games that I hadn’t been allowed to play, but had watched some of: Diablo. Diablo II was a game that I didn’t connect with as well, and I imagine that’s because it was such a different game. In the Diablo series, it’s up to you to lead a charge against the demons and lords of Hell itself. And along the way you get a lot of loot. I didn’t understand the mechanics well enough to really grasp the game or get far into it, but it would influence me enough later in life to get excited for Diablo III and to pick it up.

The games of Blizzard continued to be influential as I continued to grow up, as I played the games I already loved over and over again, but the only game that released before I graduated High School after Diablo II was Warcraft III in 2002. Warcraft III brought the series and Blizzard into the 3D realm, and they added two more races, the Undead and the Night Elves. It made for a much more layered and challenging experience, one that I would love to get back to now that I may have a better grasp of the mechanics.

After High School, I ended up getting a job with Wal-Mart’s electronics department in 2007, and ended up working with a couple of guys that were big into another game that changed my perception of what a game could be: World of Warcraft. I wasn’t into it near as much s they were, but it was so crazy to me to have this entire other world to explore and actually see other people roaming the land of Azeroth and be able to interact with them. It was especially mind-altering for me as before I had played online games where you might meet someone for a game and then never hear from them again. But World of Warcraft actively encouraged you to meet with people, and not only get to know them but trust in their abilities. It’s a feeling that has carried over to the newest games I’ve played from Blizzard, like Diablo III and Overwatch.

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While Diablo III was more of the same, but prettier for the series, it had an ease of use about that made it so anyone could play it, and the barrier I experiences all those years ago with it’s predecessor was gone. The console release made it even better by having multiplayer on the same couch. But I haven’t felt as connected to a game as I have lately with Overwatch.

On paper, Overwatch feels like another shooter. But like with so many of Blizzard’s games, the characters make the biggest difference. In it, you have men and woman of different backgrounds and ethnicities, robots, and even a gorilla to choose from. and each of these characters has it’s own abilities and weapons. The maps you play in also look lived in, with visual clues sprinkled throughout that hint towards events in the game’s lore. But it also exemplifies that teamwork aspect I first felt in the raids of World of Warcraft. You aren’t the lone soldier able to do everything on your own, but someone that must rely on the abilities of your team to achieve a common goal.
Since 1991, Blizzard has crafted wonderful games that emphasize characters and gameplay before anything else. The games have shaped what I expect out of games, and have given me a plethora of memories related to playing them. It didn’t occur to me that Blizzard had been such a big part of my gaming life until this weekend when Blizzcon (they’re own convention) showed a retrospective video that you can see here. (Opens a new window/tab to YouTube).

If you haven’t played one of the games in the Blizzard library, do yourself a favor and fix that now. Below I have links to where you can download a variety of the games mentioned here as well as some of the other popular games available. I hope you enjoy
them as much as I have. Happy gaming to all! And to Blizzard: thank you for all of the memories past, present, and still to come.

Starcraft – (PC Only) $15 with expansion

Diablo II – (PC/Mac) $10 + a $10 expansion

Warcraft III – (PC/Mac) $10 + a $10 expansion

Heroes of the Storm – (PC/Mac) Free

Heathstone – PC, Mac, iOS, and Android Free

Starcraft II: Complete Trilogy (PC/Mac) $60

Diablo III Battle Chest (PC, Mac, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3) – $30 [Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 will not receive new content!]

Overwatch: Origins Edition (PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4) $60, includes bonus goodies for most of the newer games on this list!

World of Warcraft (PC/Mac) $20 to start, free to try

I Warped Into Star Trek Online and All I Got Was a Starship

These days, it seems that Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) are a dime a dozen. You have juggernauts like Final Fantasy XIV, World of Warcraft and the Elder Scrolls Online, but this barely scratches the surface of what all is available for a gamer to choose from. Lately most have gone free-to-play, making it too easy to slip into one, but the question remains about whether it’s worth your time. I recently stumbled into playing a bit of Star Trek Online and have raised a character up to level 10 on the Federation side. Star Trek itself has been about exploring the human condition and a future where humanity works to better itself. Star Trek Online, however, doesn’t always reflect the mentality of the franchise.

 

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The U.S.S. Kershaw

Long story short,  Star Trek Online is a solid Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game at odds with itself. Short story long however, when you create a new character (out of a surprising number of established races and an option to create one yourself) you find yourself a Cadet about to graduate from Starfleet Academy in San Francisco roughly thirty years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. You pass a test and find yourself enlisted as the First Officer on a shake-down cruise on a Miranda-class vessel. Klingons strike your vessel, kill your captain and leave you as Acting Captain. Then somehow you manage to fight off a Borg invasion. It seems a tad far-fetched, but your actions grant you the rank of Lieutenant and the official command of your vessel.

 

The next missions have you fighting the Klingons as they have started war with the Federation. You have some slightly different scenarios while you strike at the Klingons, but personally I felt there was very little challenge. Even then, the challenge truly comes from ship-to-ship combat. It feels right, perfectly balanced, and feels as engrossing as even the best of Star Trek’s battles. However, on the ground things change. You have to take out groups of enemies and conduct bonus objectives when they arise, like venting plasma to eliminate a group, or heal wounded along the way, but it’s unclear to me if you are killing the enemies or simply stunning them as is historically what the Federation prefers doing.

Now I don’t know if it’s the mission, or if it is indicative of a larger issue, but so far there hasn’t been much in the way of negotiating, or conducting explorative activities as is what the Federation usually does. Most interestingly, aside from your bridge, it appears that you can’t explore the rest of your ship. It strikes me as a big surprise only because it seems like a feature that would be on the list of most Trekkies. But, aside from these issues about the activities you do in the game, it is a very well made title.

As you traverse the quadrants, it’s easy to stop and stare and the magnificent ships flying past, or at the surrounding galactic phenomena peppering the environments. Truth be told, the only graphical hiccup I’ve seen on my Xbox One is that when a communication window pops up, sometimes the character model lags behind the dialog box. Other than that, everything appears to run smoothly.

Further, it’s impressive how much of the game has been added since it’s debut in 2010. While on the Federation side you start out cooling off the Klingons, eventually you start fighting the Breen, Borg, and dealing with temporal anomalies bringing less then friendly foes to your doorstep. And all of it is free. Currently, the only thing to spend real-money on is customization items, things that enable your bridge to look like the classic Enterprise’s or to get the uniforms as seen in a movie or TV series.

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The Bridge crew of the Kershaw on a Cardassian flagship, led by Vulcan Lt. Commander T’Pia (middle).

Notably, once you hit level 10, further customization becomes possible, where you gain control over what ship you are the captain of, and what she looks like. For example, when I hit level 10, I gained a Constitution-class refit vessel. Think of it as being similar to the Enterprise-A and you’re on the right track. Along with the ship, you can customize your bridge crew to be in the shape you want it to be.

All-in-all, I believe Star Trek Online is a good MMORPG, featuring solid gameplay, but lacking in a sense of immersion that feels at place in the Star Trek universe. Still, if you enjoy the franchise, it’s difficult to say no as a fan. See, the game manages to do something that so far hasn’t been accomplished in a visual form: it continues the lore. Since Star Trek: Nemesis, there hasn’t been a movie taking place further in time. And the upcoming TV Show, Star Trek: Discovery reportedly won’t either, so for those that want to know what happens to the galaxy after the Romulan sun goes nova will find a treasure trove of scenarios and information to dive into.

So who is best served by Star Trek Online? Trekkies looking for an expansion of the lore and for a good Trek game, of course, though I hesitate to suggest that it is any better than other MMORPGs out there.