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Assassin’s Creed: Origins… thoughts.

AC Origins

“…the silver disc of the moon peeks out from behind a cloud, painting the buildings and surrounding dunes a muted monochrome. From your perch atop the three storey mud-brick building you have an uninterrupted view of the entire desert fort. Several small structures cluster around this larger central one, all of which are surrounded by a thick wall standing almost fifteen feet high. This wall, which forms a rough, protective square around the compound, provides an excellent defence against the imagined phantoms of the night.

A wry smile touches your lips. That same wall proved no obstacle at all for the real enemy. You.

Heavy footsteps crunch the compacted dirt somewhere below. You peer over the edge of the tall construction, but the thick shadows are impenetrable, masking whoever is down there. A gruff voice calls out, asking the sentry at the gate if all is well. Curses follow when there is no reply. There will never be a reply, you muse. That particular sentry had felt the steel of your blade as it sliced his throat from ear to ear.

The owner of the voice steps out of the shadows into the pale moonlight. Even from this height the breadth of his shoulders mark him as a large, powerful man. Your breathing quickens. The leopard skin cape draped from those broad shoulders, the large, spiked steel-headed mace clutched like a child’s toy in his huge fist, both denote him as your intended target. The man you travelled five days across the unforgiving desert to assassinate.

You stand up, balancing easily on the outer rim of the flat roof. A deep breath, calming the underlying excitement. A quick check of your blades, and then you step out into thin air, plunging towards your victim, a bird of prey swooping down onto its quarry…” 

birdie

Have you ever wanted to be a master assassin, bringing death to your foes in a bygone era?

No? Just me then. Except the popularity of the Assassin’s Creed series from Ubisoft proves it’s not just me, after all.

boatingThe newest instalment in that long line of video games is Assassin’s Creed: Origins. This one takes you all the way back to the beginning of the Assassins, set in the twilight years of ancient Egypt. That’s an era that I’ve always had an interest in, and so I was looking forward to the game from its initial announcement.

Safe to say, I wasn’t disappointed, as the 100 hours gameplay I put in during the first ten viewdays after the game’s release testifies to. I finished the story. I visited all the places and collected all the things. I got the platinum trophy (I play on PS4). And I enjoyed every minute of it. I’m not done with the game, either. It’s still a lot of fun to dive back into that ancient world, plus the developers have plans to add extra content, both free and paid for, which will hopefully add a lot more hours of enjoyment.

So why, exactly, do I like Assassin’s Creed: Origins so much? Am I a die-hard Assassin’s Creed fan? Well, no, I am not. In fact, the only other game in the franchise I’ve played is Black Flag, because pirates. Who doesn’t want to be a pirate, am I right? No? Just me again then. Truth be told, I didn’t enjoy that game as much as I thought I was going to, and as such I’ve never completed it. Not even come close to completing it.

kittiesOrigins was a different animal though. Ubisoft promised a very, very large open-world environment. They said they had re-vamped the gameplay, adding a more RPG feel to it, and completely overhauled the combat system. That was enough for me to give them the benefit of the doubt, especially when coupled with the ancient Egyptian setting. In my opinion Ubisoft delivered on all of their promises.

Is the game perfect? No, of course not. Very few, if any,  video games are. Besides which, what constitutes perfection differs from person to person. It’s almost as if different people like different things. Shock horror. But, for me, Assassin’s Creed: Origins has far more positive points than negative ones, and that can only be a good thing.

bugsJust what are all of these positive and negative points? Forgive me, but I’m not going to list every last one, this is just a ‘my thoughts’ piece, not an in depth review. So let’s start with some of the positives.

The story line. I really enjoyed the story in this game. I can’t go into too much detail because that would end up with major spoilers, but it had me engrossed, and I was really able to emphasise with the major characters. I felt for them too, things weren’t easy. There were also very few trips back to ‘reality’ via the Animus, and those few trips were short and sweet, so your immersion isn’t broken too much.

Map size. The map in Assassin’s Creed: Origins is huge. I travelled in a straight line from north to south, on foot, on horseback, on boats, depending on the terrain, and it took me Afternoon strolltwenty minutes. I also did the same west to east, and though the distance looks shorter it took me the same amount of time. I’ve heard various people say that the majority of the map is empty, and while this is somewhat true, it’s not the entire story. You are, after all, in ancient Egypt, so the majority of cities and settlements will be clustered around water sources, and as such there is a lot of wilderness out there. But it’s not as empty as looking at the map might suggest. Go for a wander and find out what really is out there.

Combat. As promised, Ubisoft really did overhaul the combat system. You feel as though ohgodyou’re a lot more involved in the combat sequences, with the availability of light and hard hits, combos, special moves, and the all important ability to dodge. You have a large variety of weapons to choose from to match your playstyle, including straight swords, sickles, heavy blunts, sceptres, dual daggers, lances, various shields and a collection of differing bows. Each weapon type has it’s own moveset and special ability.

Visuals. The game looks gorgeous. I played on a basic PS4 and the visuals were still very Long way to goimpressive. Those of you who know me will know that in open world video games I’m a bit of an explorer, and can’t resist climbing the next hill to see what’s on the other side. In a lot of games this is frustrating as the draw distance is so limited you fail to get any sense of scale. Not so In Origins. In this game you can see for miles, and really get the sense that you’re in the middle of a vast and sweeping land. There is incredible detail in everything you can see, even down to the small insects. Hours can also be wasted with the built-in camera option (all the images in this post are from my play through, taken with the in-game camera).

So what about some of the negatives? Well, for me, one of the main ones is the skill tree. When you first open it up you see that it has three branches – hunter, warrior and seer. In RPG terms these basically equate to dexterity/agility, strength and magic. I initially looked divingforward to creating a character based on one of those skill branches – I usually play a dex build in games like that, so I was looking at the hunter branch. As it turns out, as you progress through the game you’re able to acquire the majority of skills in all three of the branches, you just have to decide which ones you would like first. I was a little disappointed, as I would have like to have been able to create a character based on how I like to play, instead of ending up with a generic one, basically the same as any other player’s. A minor point, but still, it would have been nice.

Also, sometimes the character movement seemed to be a bit clunky. I’d either get stuck on tomb1some seemingly innocuous part of the landscape, or I’d end up jumping from the top of a cliff instead of climbing down it like I wanted to. This is a problem in a lot of games, to be fair, but getting killed by bad game mechanics rather than something in the game itself, or your own stupidity, is always annoying.

At various places across the vast landscape you might just happen across a tomb, either in a tomb2pyramid, of which there are several, or hidden in the side of a cliff, in a canyon, or cave. I would really have liked to have seen these tombs to be a lot longer/deeper, and a lot more challenging with the amount of traps and puzzles contained within them. The result of watching too many Mummy movies over the years, I guess.

So, all in all, as I’ve already stated, I really enjoyed playing Assassin’s Creed: Origins. I had a blast playing it, and am looking forward to playing a lot more of it with the upcoming added DLCs. In my opinion it was very good value for money. It cost me £50, and so far that has worked out at 50p per hour. Bargain.

sunset

Just remember though that all of this is just my opinion, and should be treated as such. As always, if you want to buy a game, then it’s up to you to do your own research and make up your own mind.

As always, that shallot.

Laters…

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Posted by on November 12, 2017 in Gaming

 

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Ghost Recon: Wildlands – Impressions

wildlands

In early March this year, two video games are being launched which I’m interested in. Namely, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, and Horizon Zero Dawn. Tired of being let down by AAA games bought at launch, I’ve researched both of these titles, in a bid to make sure they are what I thought them to be.

Now, I’m not about to buy two big games in the space of a few days. Not because of the cost, though that should always be a factor, but because when I get a new game I like to play it until it’s completed. This would mean if I bought both, one would sit on a shelf, unplayed, until I was done with the other.

Which one to get, then? Both appeal to me because of the vast, open worlds in which they’re set – I’m an adventurer at heart, so I can happily waste a great deal of time exploring a vast, playable map. As a storyteller, I’m drawn to Horizon Zero Dawn because it appears to have an interesting and complex storyline, something I can really immerse myself in. Ghost Recon: Wildlands, on the other hand, has four player co-op, and that is what tipped the balance in its favour.

So when I was selected to take part in the closed beta for Wildlands, I saw it as a good chance to get stuck in and test it to death, to really ensure it met my expectations, and lived up to its promise.

I’m sorry to say, it failed in that regard.

Don’t get me wrong – the game has a lot of good points, and they may be enough for a lot of people to derive a great deal of enjoyment from it. So let’s start with those good points, shall we?

  • Gameplay: In Wildlands, players have the freedom to do as they wish, with the entire map being open to them from the start. You can hop into and operate any vehicle you see – a range of cars, pickups and SUVs, trucks, motorbikes, various boats, choppers, and aeroplanes. How to achieve a mission objective is entirely at the player’s discretion. Do you use total stealth, and sneak in like the ‘Ghost’ operative you’re supposed to be? Do you go loud, and blast everything you see into oblivion? Do you make use of the local rebels, and have them create a diversion for you? Maybe you’ll wait for the cover of darkness, or a passing storm, and make your move then. The choice is infinitely yours.
  • Visuals: Wildlands looks good – it’s bright and colourful, with impressive draw distances. This means you can crest a hill and be greeted by a sweeping vista of fields, forests and snaking rivers with a backdrop of rugged, snow-capped mountains. It really gives you a sense of being in a vast, wild land, reinforced by the knowledge that in the full game you can travel all the way to that distant mountain range.
  • Map Size: The map looks to be huge. The beta was restricted to one region, and that was big enough for a good few hours of intensive gameplay. This region, however, is only one of a total of twenty one, so take those hours of gameplay and multiply them by that number. Judging by the region available in the beta, it’s fair to make the assumption that the entire map will be full of a range of different terrains, and various objectives to keep you occupied.

Sounds good so far, right? And so it should – many game developers would be happy to achieve just a few of the above points. But, as previously alluded to, there are negative points. So let’s take a look.

  • Gameplay: While there is a great deal to do in Wildlands, with a broad range of ways to accomplish those things, the game seems to be unsure of just what it wants to be. Is it a ‘serious’ tactical shooter, making the player think about the best plan of action before attempting said plan? Or is it a more ‘arcadey’ game, with the emphasis firmly on fun? As it turns out, it’s neither of those – rather, it appears to be a bad mixture of the two. Using tactics, you could stay at a distance and use your sniper skills to quietly take out patrolling guards. This is badly let down, however, when the bodies of those you’ve silently killed just disappear. A ‘serious’ shooter would give patrolling NPCs the ability to spot dead bodies, and raise the alarm, making tactics and timing all important, but that is sadly lacking in this game.

    If you play with the three in-game AI co-op buddies, you can order them to do various things, from waiting where they are, to regrouping, and even coordinating synchronised take downs. Impressive stuff… but sadly let down when you quickly realise they can do all the work for you, taking all the fun out of it. For instance, when I arrived at the final boss fight of the beta, during the ensuing shootout, I got myself shot down (I was playing on the hardest difficulty). Your buddies have the ability to revive you, within a certain time frame, but the AI ones will only attempt this when it’s safe to do so. As a result, as I lay bleeding to death on the floor, my AI buddies took out all of the bad guys, including the final bosses, before reviving me. I’m less than proud to say I ‘beat’ the final bosses while slowly dying on the floor, without having fired a single shot in anger. Not fun.

    It is also fair to say that you stand more chance of being killed by a bad game mechanic than by legitimate gameplay. Having no jump ability means you can, from time to time, get caught up on a small obstacle which isn’t deemed high enough to trigger the ‘climb over’ mechanic. Having no dive, or roll, ability means if you’re caught unawares, you’re stuck there like a rabbit in headlights while all hell breaks loose around you. You can go prone, but doing so when under fire is always a bad idea.

    And why is it, when I jump into a big 4×4 and floor it in an attempted quick getaway, that flimsy looking tent in front of me, instead of folding like the piece of cloth it is, actually stays just where it is, while the front of my jeep crumples like soggy cardboard? C’mon, people, destructible environments! They are a thing you know.

  • Visuals: As mentioned above, Wildlands is bright and colourful, with impressive draw distances. But graphically, it is lacking. Now, I’m not particularly bothered by graphic quality, I much prefer to prioritise gameplay. And I’m well aware that to achieve large draw distances in a vast open world environment, certain things have to be sacrificed. But the game still looks bland, with various surfaces being dull and almost texture free. Also, in certain areas during a rain shower, the raindrops hitting the floor were represented by very large, very pixelated  ‘splashes’. Now, as this was just a beta, there is every chance that particular visual effect is incomplete, and will be fixed before the final release. But then, there is every chance it might not.
  • Map Size: Again, as mentioned above, the scale of the game’s map looks to be impressive, consisting of twenty one large regions. Which, for me, started alarm bells ringing. The gameplay in Wildlands reminded me very much of Far Cry 4 – namely, taking over the smaller outposts, before moving on to the large ones, and finally taking out the boss. Whilst that was fun, I couldn’t help but wonder if having to do that for each region, basically repeating the same actions twenty one times, would get tedious. Of course, I could be totally wrong in this, and every region might be completely different. There is no way to tell without playing the finished product.

There you go, some of what I consider to be a few of the more relevant good and bad points. On a side note, I have heard a few people comparing Ghost Recon: Wildlands to The Division. Why, I do not know, the two games are poles apart. Yes, they’re both 3rd person shooters, yes they’re both set in an open world. But that’s all. The Division, though being set in an ‘open world’, is still a cover based, linear shooter. The long, straight New York streets restrict your ability to roam freely, and they’re all chocked full of very handy abandoned vehicles, and various barricades which you can shelter behind while you engage the enemy. The ‘boss fights’ are similar – you go where you’re told, when you’re told, your own thoughts on possible tactics be damned. And bullet sponges! Bullet sponges everywhere!

So yeah, don’t use The Division to judge Wildlands, either in a good or a bad way. Just sayin’.

My final verdict on Ghost Recon: Wildlands then? My impression after having played the beta (and yes, I completed all the story line, did all side quests, collected all the things, tested it all thoroughly)? Sad to say, I won’t be getting the game at launch. I’m kinda bummed about that, as I wanted to look forward to it, but the game, in its present form, just doesn’t do it for me. Sorry, Ubisoft.

That being said, all of the above are just my thoughts after playing the one closed beta. It’s all just my opinion, and should be treated as such. If you’re looking to buy this game, or any other, it’s your money you’ll be spending, so you should do your own research, and make up your own mind.

As always, that shallot.

Laters…

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Posted by on February 5, 2017 in Gaming

 

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