This is something we’ve all heard before. Usually at the start of a system’s life it’s the initial barrier of entry. The Vita has “no games”. The Wii U has “no games”. Now the PS4/Xbox One have “no unique games”. There’s always some weird qualifier to discredit what IS available on a system. Grand Theft Auto 5 is a perfect example, it “doesn’t count” because it’s available on other platforms. Or because it’s a remaster. Or because the wind is blowing east. It really comes down to whoever is making their case skewing the details to reinforce the image of X platform isn’t worth owning. What it (should) all boil down to is the game available on the system, and have you (personally) played it before? Because I’m not sure about you, but there are about a billion games that I should have played per critics and friends that I just never found time to get to. GTA5 is in that category. So why shouldn’t I add that to the pile of reasons for me to own my PS4?

Heart My Babies

I realize this isn’t any great epiphany that fanboys gonna fanboy. It’s still fresh on my mind though as this week saw a blowout of content on PS4. I mean, just look at all this:

  • Tell Tales’ Game of Thrones Episode 3
  • Life is Strange Episode 2
  • Bloodborne
  • Borderlands: Handsome Collection
  • Slender: The Arrival
  • Metal Slug 3

There is probably over 100 hours of quality gaming in there. A lot of people will run down that list and without ever trying the game just write it off though as “nope, not into that kind of game”, running with a bias they formed years ago off a remotely similar game. Which whatever, that’s fine if you want to ignore a new experience. What that means this is really coming down to isn’t “There aren’t any games on X!“, but really “there aren’t any games that I want to give a try on X“. If that’s the case, maybe it’s time you start to try something new?

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The Nutshell version: It feels like a Dragon Age inspired Final Fantasy experience. While it’s easy to say it’s a response to western RPGs that have forced JRPGs into the shadows, it really seems like the natural progression from Final Fantasy XII. I started off hating the characters. I had a bunch of amazing moments that made my jaw drop in awe of the game. I felt combat was wildly chaotic and fun. I started coming around to like the characters. Game still needs some polish, but it delivers in a big bad way on the promise of what XV will be.

A Small Bit Before Play… 

I started the day excited more to play the FFXV demo than running my usual Destiny raid, or even to boot up the game I paid for to get my hands on Episode Duscae, Final Fantasy Type-0. That got soured a bit after being unable to download it to my PS4 remotely, and then getting home and waiting about two and a half hours to play the demo. I just mention this to point out at this point the shiny new “yay” of a new game had worn off. Dubious, skeptical, I booted it up and was ready to see what was going on here. I had been blind to all the trailers up to this point, and have only seen a few screenshots so it was really starting with a blank slate.

The boot screen felt sharp with a somewhat familiar melody. The opening music felt eerie and epic. I’m pretty sure it’s an alternate form of Somnus, a song that was made available on Theatrhythm via DLC. It gave me the chill I get when booting up FF7 after a long period and hearing The Prelude, or Dearly Beloved with Kingdom Hearts. Might sound small, but the feeling really centers me on the game. We are playing fantasy games to be absorbed into a different world after all, right?

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Just recently I visited an exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum titled “Theater of the Mind”. The artwork varied all over, photographs, paintings, and installations. I’m not well versed in art and was unaware of what an installation was exactly years ago. For the most part it can take form in any number of ways, but it refers to a site specific creation to be experienced in that spot. The lighting, the room, the atmosphere, the arrangement of items in the room/on the walls, everything. Entering the museum there was a room off to the left when entering that was a sound based installation. A green bulb was placed beside curtains at the entryway to signal if someone was in there. It requested not to disturb the participant by going dark when the room was in use. Not being able to see inside due to the curtain and unsure of what to expect, my wife and I went on to the rest of the show.

After doing a full round and exploring the museum we came back around to the entry point to that same installation. The bulb was lit green indicating no one was in there. Reading about the work from the posted placard, she decided to go in and see what was going on. After passing through the curtain a minute or two went by before the bulb went dim, discouraging further entries. I thought it was strange, maybe there was a delay of some sort? Anyways, the statement read that it would be about five minutes and to wait patiently. Having a seat, I wondered what was in that room that was required isolation. It seemed odd to me. We had already went into another installation that was completely black with the exception of a curved beam of light projected through twenty feet of space, only visible from the fog machine to create a solid beam of light through the room. If that didn’t isolate the viewers, why did this one? Then my wife popped out through the curtains with a grin, a clear indicator that not only was she intrigued but she knew I was going to appreciate it. Alright, “go-time” I thought. Let’s see what this artist, Hans Rosenström, had created.

Stepping through the curtains took me into a large space. Possibly a 20×20 room that was mostly empty. An old photograph extending out from the wall instead of against it, a chair raised on a pedestal, a large woven piece of art with “1928” on it, a lamp, and another chair with a set of hanging headphones just in front of it. Other than that it was just open space. I took a seat in the headphones chair. It was positioned towards a corner, facing the woven art and lamp. After examining the weave for a moment I put on the headphones danging between me and the wall. It began an audio clip of a man speaking, explaining someone had just sat down in the chair. A story began to be told tying the room together. Bit by bit you learned why everything was in there and what it meant. While I was being told the story I heard someone walking in the room behind me to the right from the entrance. “What the hell… didn’t they see the do not enter message?” – Glancing over my shoulder no one was there. Then I heard the steps walking around the back of me to the left now. Quickly shifting to look left, there was no one there.

Then it clicked. The footsteps were part of the audio clip being played back. A bit of relief washed over me at that point. Knowing the rules of the game now I was all in and listening and appreciating the simulated environment. During the story when necessitated the lamps in the room would dim or turn on. This virtual environment and storytelling completely had my attention. There were points where only slight whispers were being spoken after the footstep and I could swear someone was in the room, leaning over my shoulder and talking to me. It was an eerie, surreal experience… Having someone be there and not at the same time.

Once he had finished telling his story and the lights returned to normal, I looked over the room once more and the old photograph protruding off the wall. It was a powerful storytelling event and left the room with the same spark that I saw my wife leave with. It’s the closest I’ve been to a VR experience, having never tried an Oculus Rift or it’s kin. If those devices can deliver even half of what was crafted in that room though, I’m completely sold. Being able to convince me that I wasn’t alone in that room to the point of anxiously looking about? Then the feeling as if someone was speaking directly to me and not just my character?

“Theater of the mind” indeed. Bravo.

Destiny's Seven

Credentials? I’ve got three characters that are top end, over 350 hours logged in, dozens more spent trolling reddit. I continue to enjoy playing Destiny, but I’ve been thinking on what areas specifically need tweaking before either the rumored game-changer Comet DLC or inevitable sequel drops. Here are the seven things I’ve noticed that have put a hamper on Destiny’s long-term appeal to players that should be a priority to address.

  1. The big one that everyone has already mentioned, but really it can’t be mentioned enough. There was next to no focus on story during the campaign. All it did was serve as a roller coaster to show off the worlds and entry level tutorials. There’s absolutely no closure to the main story when you finish. You eradicated one piece of the darkness with many tendrils still grasping at the Traveler. (Hail Hydra). Except the big villain you close out the campaign against doesn’t even have a personified form for you to channel your anger into. It’s a big blob of darkness. So you stop a small portion of the evil that may or may not even have a lasting effect on the well-being of the last vestige of humanity. The final scenes of the game feel so open it’s not even apt to call it a cliffhanger. It’s just a dead stop during the second act of a story it feels like. Even with the addition of the first DLC pack, there was no further story progression. It served as a standalone module within the Destiny universe… Which was cool if for no other reason it had a traditional story arc that made sense and DID provide closure. Crota is awakening – Villain established. Crota’s primary general, Omnigul, is chased through a few story missions before you finally get to dispatch her during a strike. After that you are free to pursuit the ultimate big bad of this chapter of the game, Crota himself. It escalates appropriately mechanically as well. You go from solo story missions (chasing Omnigul), to a three player strike (slaying Omnigul), to a full on six person raid across several stages (slaying Crota). If all of the game had followed the pace and narrative build of The Dark Below DLC, I think a lot more people could have appreciated the core game.
  2. I mentioned the campaign serves primarily as the training routine for the player. The only problem with that is it really does only teach the essentials of Destiny. Point gun at angry monster, pull trigger. Pick up bounties in the Tower, level up your gear. It does an absolutely horrible job of teaching players how to do anything beyond what we know from FPS’s though. For example; I’ve been playing on and off with a regular group of friends since launch. We’re all topped out with at least one character. It wasn’t until February when listening in on a side conversation about elemental gun types that a friend learned that enemy shields have weaknesses… Red shields give way to fire, white shields to electric, purple shields to void damage. Hundreds of hours spent and nowhere in the game does it explain this. It’s just something you have to learn through playing with others… And Destiny does that a lot. They lean on the community to inform each other. These are the types of things that should come up if Bungie wants to educated the players during the campaign. The things that are unique to Destiny itself.
  3. Speaking of odd systems in play with little explanation… “Light Levels” – Once you hit the traditional level cap of 20, where XP gained from killing enemies ceases to impact your character progression. Suddenly to get from level 20 to 32 you need to acquire gear with high “light” ratings. The only information they give you is that increasing your light level makes your more effective defensively and offensively. There’s no suggestions on how to begin raising it, no reasoning behind what brackets get you to the next level. Originally getting 120 light got you to level 30 – Which meant each piece of your four pieces of armor had to have a light level of 30. So once The Dark Below DLC came out and increased the cap to level 32, now each piece of gear needs to be 36 light (for a total of 144 light). Why? Who knows. Random arbitrary numbers! The part that’s really confusing is the fact that I can unequip my armor and go from being level 32 down to a level 20. Doesn’t that seem odd that mechanically I can reduce my progression by removing or accidentally deleting my armor?  It’s a poorly designed system that I really wouldn’t mind seeing disappear for Destiny 2.
  4. Another poorly designed system is the end game currencies. Once you hit level 20 you’re told that Motes of Light(MoL) will be your primary currency for advancing your character. The only thing I’ve been able to do with MoL though is purchase a cosmetic armor piece. Yay..? What they failed to tell you is that any really progression will be purchased with “Marks”, earned through the Crucible (PVP), or Vanguard (PVE Strikes). Then they don’t provide any means to directly exchange currency you have an overflow of into something you need. Here’s a list of game currencies that you acquire – Crucible Marks(1), Vanguard Marks(2), MoL(3), Strange Coins(4), Glimmer(5)… And then advancement materials such as Ascendant Mats(6), Radiant Mats(7), and Exotic Shards(8). So the end game you can look forward to begrudgingly acquiring an abundance of one of these 8 materials while wishing you could get any of the other 7… Because oh yeah, outside of Marks (which have a weekly limit to which you can earn) – All rewards are random. A simple currency exchange program would at least let you direct how to progress your character instead of hitting a wall for weeks. Once again – Look forward to learning about all this through word of mouth as none of this is properly explained once you hit level 20 and start progressing through your light levels.
  5. Warlock Raid Gear

    One is Me, one isn’t me. This is how every Warlock at 32 looks.

    Since you’ll be wanting to get to max level, the only way to do that is raid gear. I hope you like the look of it too, because you’ll be seeing it a lot. Every single Warlock, Hunter, or Titan will look identical to each other at level 32. The raid gear is (mostly) the only way to be top level so everyone is wearing the same boots, chest, and gloves that you are! Usually the helm varies between a few exotic options due to the scarcity of raid gear helmets, but even then usually each class only has one or two helmets worth using. The only touch of personality you really get to imbue is which of the color schemes (“shaders”) you want to equip to modify the look. It’s a shame too since Diablo 3 solved this problem perfectly by allowing your players to transmogrify their look. This allows you to alter the aesthetics of any gear you’re wearing to look like anything you’ve previously owned. I absolutely love a few of my Warlock’s robes coming up through the levels. Hell, even the level 12 armor sold by the starting merchant looks more appealing than the “best” chest piece available to me now. Some variety would go a long way with helping me “become legend”. Right now I feel like a cookie cutter solider in the Traveler’s army. I definitely don’t feel legend at this point.

  6. One of the last complaints is with how Bungie is more focused on “correcting” player behavior than improving the game. Yes, there are events in the game that can circumvent some if not all the challenge through some creativity. Hiding beneath platforms, using the kinetic force of exploding lamps to bypass a chunk of level, climbing to previously unknown reaches to achieve a wicked vantage point of the field. Why not let those players that want to do that play the way they want? It doesn’t negatively impact those players not participating. There’s no in-game economy to be crashed through flooding the market with easily acquired goods. The only purpose I can see in squashing exploits instead of implementing quality content on a regular basis is to try and bad out the length of play time with Destiny. It took them over five months to fix a bug in which the rarest ammo available would randomly disappear upon death… the same amount of time to analyze and realize that one of the three secondary weapon types was completely useless as it was designed. These are issues that should have been addressed long before fixing a mid-boss being stunlocked off the edge of a cliff or changing the encounter of the final boss in Vault of Glass so players can’t coordinate and play a strategy.
  7. The final complaint is just letting the game run it’s natural course. Developers are always trying to make a game the largest and only game you play. Bungie really pushed the boundaries with artificial currency caps, limiting progression marks, resetting limiting rewards to once per week… Which just resulted in players making alternate characters. There are so many arbitrary walls put in place to prevent you from playing until you’re done. Back in my EverQuest days we openly called these “timesinks”, because they exist solely as an insult to the player by expressing how little the developers value your free time. It’s okay for players to be “done” with Destiny for a time, Bungie. You’re planning an onslaught of DLC that we’ll be back for. If we quit for a few weeks, we shouldn’t feel like we’ve missed out or are behind the times. That’s just going to discourage people from jumping back in after a leave of absence. Also, it kind of turns it into a chore at that point. Getting a new piece of armor with a lower starting light level than your current piece but a higher cap makes you feel like you need to invest time to fix the problem, versus just playing and enjoying since it’s an upgrade.

Anyways, those are my thoughts as an invested player. I realize all games have flaws. I celebrate them usually. These seven sins though are just poorly done, rushed, or outright insulting as an experience to the players wanting to stick around. You can do better, Bungie. With the Dark Below DLC you improved the story, and allowed SOME currency transfer between high end materials. Please don’t stop there, as you really have a rock solid game going right now that has the potentially to be something special.

Rose Tinted Shades

Are you remembering games clearly?

Usually you hear warnings about not replaying the games you used to love. The further back it goes, the more likely it is that you realize it wasn’t as good as you thought before. Maybe you’re being told it didn’t age well?

I get that a bit. Every time I replay Final Fantasy 7, the first hour or two I spend thinking that it’ll probably be the last time I play it. Between the models being stuck in a time of low polygons and the simple combat systems it feels like I’ve made a mistake firing the game up for another whirl. Yet I’m saying “every time I replay…”. I always end up loving it a couple of hours in and fall right back into the world I’ve loved so many times before. I’ve lost track at this point how many times I’ve completed it. It’s been more than eight times at this point though. So to those warnings of leaving the games you loved in your past, I call bullshit.

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