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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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Red Dead Two?

What does it mean?

rockstar

So yesterday, Rockstar Games tweeted the above image, and also placed it on the landing page of their website, subsequently setting the gaming portion of the internet on fire. But, why?

Intriguing. Because of the logo, it’s more than likely a Red Dead Redemption announcement is on the cards. Ever since the release of the highly popular Red Dead Redemption video game, people have been eagerly waiting and hoping for a sequel.

Rockstar has a proven history of similar teasers. They’re not a company who spends time advertising and discussing what they’re doing as they’re doing it. Rather, they just get on with things and then make an announcement or a reveal when they’re good and ready. But, in all honesty, any new game announcement from Rockstar is worth sitting up and taking notice of.

If it is a new Red Dead, then when will the new story be set, which period of history will we see? Well, no point being in the Wild West, as, obviously, they have already done that. Similarly, there’s no need bringing it to present day as you’d just end up with GTA VI. So, from the end of the Wild West era in 1895, what do we have, in the US, that would make a good backdrop for a story? Well, there was the World’s Fair in 1904, followed by the slow birth of modern technology. As exciting as all that would have been at the start of the 20th century, for a Red Dead setting it would be a bit bland. Then there’s the creation of the FBI in 1908, but would that suit a character like John Marston, or his relation/descendant? I think not. For all his good points, he is still an outlaw at heart. The US joining World War I in 1917 would have been a possibility, if not for the release of Dice’s Battlefield 1.

If it was me, I’d move forward to the early/mid 1930s, and more specifically the ‘Dust Bowl’ – the area of the Great Plains region devastated by drought during the Great Depression. For a character with the cliché traits of Marston – bad guy with a heart, willing to go to any lengths to protect those he loves, even though he’s supposed to be the ‘romantic loner’ – there is ample scope for a very immersive story line. Whole towns emptied as the crops failed, and money and food ran out. Residents packed up all they could carry and moved on, in the hopeless search for something better. Unscrupulous companies and businessmen took ruthless advantage of the needy. A whole class of society dispossessed, left with no choice but to go to any lengths in order to survive. Marston, or more likely Marston’s son/daughter, would definitely have any number of causes to throw their weight behind.

But those are just my thoughts.

Whatever the game turns out to be, it’s Rockstar, so I’m sure it’ll be awesome and worth waiting for.

If you have a specific time period you’d like to see a new Red Dead game to be set in, let me know in the comments, it would be interesting to see other’s ideas on the subject.

As always, that shallot.

Laters…

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Posted by on October 17, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Bloodborne and all that…

bloodborne

So, it’s been a while…

Moving on.

For want of something to write about, I decided to pick on Bloodborne. For those of you who don’t know, Bloodborne is a video game (available from all good retailers, blah de-blah).

I haven’t, as yet, done a game review. And guess what? This isn’t one either. Reviews aren’t my thing. What I like in a game, book, movie, you might absolutely hate. What you like I might find totally boring. And you’d also be wrong, obviously.

So what is this then? Boredom, that’s what. Ran out of contracts to work on, couldn’t be bothered to wander into the bedroom to fetch the book I’m reading, at a loose end. Fired up the CD player, put on Floyd, turned it up to 11 just to annoy my noisy twat of a neighbour, and decided, as I’m a writer, maybe I should, you know, actually write something.

So here we are – my thoughts on Bloodborne, PS4 version.

It’s not the last game I played, in fact it’s been a while since I was on it. But I really enjoyed it, as in really enjoyed it. And even though I’ve completed the main storyline (currently at the end of new game +++), and though I’ve got the platinum trophy, it’s still a game I can go back to time and time again. PVP, two and three player co-op, randomly created chalice dungeons to explore – there’s plenty of end game stuff to keep a gamer occupied.

But what of the game itself? Well, it’s part of the Souls series – Demon Souls, Dark Souls, Dark Souls II, and soon to be released Dark Souls III. To be fair, Dark Souls II can be left off the list, as the guy behind the others wasn’t involved in that one. These games have been touted as the hardest games ever. That’s bullshit, but there’s no denying they are hard, in the sense it takes a certain degree of skill to complete them. That skill can be learned, however, from playing the game and paying attention.

The main reason people say the games are hard is because there’s an actual penalty for dying, which is something that has been lost from games over the years. Most games these days, when you die you just respawn a small distance away and carry on, no loss of anything other than a bit of time. In the Souls series, when you die you drop all the souls you’d collected (blood echoes, in the case of Bloodborne). Souls and echoes are the currency used to level up your character, buy new or improve weapons and armour, purchase needed equipment, and so on. You also respawn way back at the last bonfire/lamppost (checkpoint). All is not lost, however, as the dropped echoes can be retrieved – all you have to do is make your way back to where you were killed, and collect them. Die again on the way there, though, and they will be gone forever.

The main point of this post, however, isn’t about the gameplay. If you like hack and slash, like fantasy, like being a hard hitting warrior, a magic spammer or a sneaky rogue, and most of all like a good challenge, then you’ll like Bloodborne. This post is mostly concerning the ending to Bloodborne.

Or, more correctly, all three endings to Bloodborne. I won’t go into much detail about the actual lore of the game, mostly because I don’t know most of it. By choice, however, not through ignorance. I prefer to put myself in the position of the character I’m playing, and in Bloodborne, and the other Souls games, your character is just dumped into his or her environment, with little or no knowledge of where they are, or why. You learn as the game progresses, but not everything. So, as a result, I know some, but not all.

But that’s besides the point. I’m not a purist, never have been. If you are, and somebody writing about a Souls game without full and proper knowledge offends you – tough.

So, three endings I said. Not uncommon lately for a video game to have more than one ending, it’s supposed to encourage more than one play through. Bloodborne has two obvious endings, and one which is hidden – you need to do certain things during the game to collect certain objects, which, when used will give access to the third ending.

Because this third ending is hidden, a lot of players say it’s the proper ending. For a completionist this may be true, but in terms of the game’s actual story, I believe this isn’t the case. Far from it.

My thinking goes like this… (the following are notes I made after completing all three endings, so might be a little rough. I could edit, but I’m lazy.)

Bloodborne plays on the quest for power through knowledge, leading to the ultimate power – becoming a surrogate for the Great Old Ones, or even becoming a Great Old One oneself.

The story weaves tales of different groups – Healing Church, The Choir, the School of Mensis, all striving for knowledge and seeking a suitable surrogate for the Great Ones. Or even becoming the surrogate themselves. As is always the case with those lost to their quest, it is left to others to clean up their mess. Hence the Hunters.

The blood is not good, as the scholars claim. It has terrible consequences, and those who succumb to its power transform to beasts when the moon is close. The Hunters are needed to eradicate these lost souls. At some point in history, this hunt became a ritual.

Regardless of the history – where the Great Old Ones came from, how their dimension overlaps ours, why they’re still here presiding over all, watching men scramble about in their rush to do their bidding – find a surrogate – our character has a job to do. And do it they do. They not only kill all beasts they encounter, they also hunt down and slaughter all those associated with the surrogate pursuit.

In the end, when all is accomplished, Gehrman, the first Hunter and your mentor, asks you to submit to him. If you do, he will ‘kill’ you, thus waking you from the dream. This ties in with the beginning of the story, where you are in the sickroom, being ministered to, and as you slip into unconsciousness you are told it will be like waking from a bad dream.

If you refuse Gehrman, you kill him. No victory there, as the Moon Presence descends, strips you of your echoes, and sets you up in Gehrman’s place, as the new mentor of the dream, forced to watch as future Hunters strive to accomplish what you yourself think you already have.

If, during the course of your travels, you find and consume at least three of the possible four umbilical cords found along your journey, when you kill Gehrman and the Moon Presence puts in an appearance, it senses something in you, and tries to eradicate you. You are forced to fight, and if you are victorious you ascend to greatness. Not only did consuming the umbilical cords transform you into the fabled surrogate, you are also born anew as an infant Great One. You have achieved godhood. Or have you?

So which is the good ending? In my opinion it’s the first one. You submit to Gehrman and he wakes you from the dream, the bad dream we entered at the very beginning. We have not lost sight of the fact we had a job to do, in a dream. That’s all it was, a dream. Even so, we do our duty, then return back to reality. A new day is dawning, the night, and its associated nightmares, is over.

Killing Gehrman and taking his place is not winning. Where is the victory in being forced to remain in the Hunter’s Dream, watching and mentoring countless new Hunters as they strive to do which you could not?

Killing Gehrman and also defeating the Moon Presence is not winning either. Becoming the surrogate isn’t a victory, attaining godhood isn’t a victory, becoming an infant Old One isn’t a victory. After all it was the maniacal search for the knowledge and know how to become the surrogate which caused all the problems to begin with. Problems you had to clean up. As a Hunter. Because it was your job.

The game teaches us that it is so very easy to lose sight of our true goal. The pursuit of knowledge and power is all to easy to give in to, and the use of that knowledge is a good way to become corrupted. Where, along our journey, did we forget our true purpose? Where did we step from our intended path onto a far more dangerous one? We are a Hunter. That is all we are, with a Hunter’s job to do – clean up the chaos created by all those consumed by the lust to find or become the surrogate. Somewhere along the line, we forgot that. So consumed are we as humans, and as gamers, with the need to win, that the thought of dying at the end of a game, in order to achieve that victory, is completely alien. We must live. We must continue onwards until we can travel no more.

We lost sight of our true goal.

We failed.

And what of the Moon Presence? The moon is prevalent throughout the game, but only as a moon, not the Moon. Surely this being is the true protector of this distressed land? When it is near, its presence forces those afflicted by the blood to reveal their true selves, thus allowing the Hunters to do their job. If a Hunter has visions of glory, and refuses to be woken from the dream, the Moon Presence installs them as the dream’s new protector, nothing more.

If a Hunter has succumbed to knowledge and power, by ingesting three umbilical cords, the Moon Presence will attempt to strike them down to prevent the ultimate failure – the creation of the Great One’s surrogate and the birth of an infant god.

If the Moon Presence is defeated, the true protector will be vanquished. What then? What evil will befall Yharnam, evil far worse than already experienced? Who will be left to protect? Who will be left to hunt those afflicted?

Stay on the path, Hunter.

Remember your true objective.

And, as always, that shallot…

Laters…

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Posted by on February 12, 2016 in Gaming

 

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Lieo The Lion

Okay people, it’s promotion time again. This time around, it’s for a Twitch live-streaming channel. For those of you who don’t know, Twitch.tv is a website for streaming video games live over the internet. If you’re a video game fan, like me, it’s a great site for watching your favourite games being played, to pick up tips and tricks, and to generally just relax and have fun with like minded people. It’s also a great place to check out a game you may be thinking about buying. Games these days are not cheap, so to be able to see it played live, and to be able to ask the streamer questions about it, is a fantastic way of making sure you really want to spend your hard earned money on it.
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Posted by on July 20, 2015 in Gaming

 

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