Sunday, April 8, 2018

Dave Critiques: Demon's Souls - How magic affected my playthrough




Hey hey folks, Dave here. Welcome to my critique of Demon’s Souls. Just a friendly reminder that if you haven’t completed the game, there might be spoilers in this video. If you wish to avoid them, please press pause, and go play the game before returning. For everyone else, let’s continue.

The Flamelurker is considered to be one of the most difficult bosses in Demon’s Souls. He’s large, he’s fast, and every attack carries fire damage with it. Fire damage will wreck you if you’re not prepared. I was prepared. Not only was I wearing a ring of flame resistance, I brought the Water Veil spell with me, which negates a good chunk of the fire damage. This doesn’t mean that the fight was easy. As I said, the Flamelurker is large and fast. My memory of the fight is less of a duel, and more of a dance. I rolled. I circled. I edged back and forth to avoid the damage of its breath and jumping attacks, while trying to expose its flank and get a couple of good hits in. Each time he hit me, it took off a small piece of health rather than a disastrous chunk. After what seemed like an eternity, I felled the beast. It turns out that before the fight I had forgotten to switch to my Uchigatana that would have delivered a lot more damage from a safer distance. I had fought the Flamelurker with a Crescent Falchion. Thanks to Water Veil, one of the toughest fights in the game, a fight in which I made a mistake in preparing myself for it became one of my favourite memories of the entire playthrough.

I decided to play through Demon’s Souls as a magic user. In the past I have ignored magic in RPGs because it has always seemed like an extra hassle. Melee or ranged combat is simple. Try and hit the thing with the weapon. Magic adds spell selection, mana management, and more upgrade decisions. It seems easier just to stick to swords. From the general internet commentary, sticking to swords is the most popular way to play any game in the Souls series. Especially in Demon’s Souls, magic can break the game, making certain tough bosses very easy to defeat. It’s said that you’re not getting the authentic Souls experience as a magic user. Now these ideas sound silly on the surface. If a game allows you a way to play it, playing the game that way is valid. It might not be the most popular path, but the developers included it for a reason. As I was skeptical about being able to get through one of these games on my own, I wanted to take the path of least resistance and the guide I was reading suggested magic as the best way to do that. This video will explore some of my thoughts playing through Demon’s Souls, and how using magic might have affected my experience.

Firstly, being a mage gave me confidence. Now it helped that I had played through the first stage previously, but being able to zap an enemy one to three times to drop them made the early stages a lot of fun. I felt powerful, especially when I took out the Phalanx without a second thought. Soul arrow, it’s big brother Soul Ray, and Flame Toss were my staples for most of the early and mid game. Firestorm was a godsend too, but I’ll discuss that and some other spells a little later. I think one of the benefits of playing a Souls game is in learning to face your fears. Gaining confidence through understanding of the game systems and eventually learning to have fun within them. For example, after a few hours of play, I stopped worrying about resource management.

What I mean is that I was afraid of running out of stamina when fighting enemies, and I was afraid of dying and losing all my souls. The more I played, the more I learned that stamina is always there for you when you need it as long as you don’t panic. I also learned that progress is a lot more important than souls. Defeating a boss always nets a large amount of the resource, alongside all the souls littered throughout the level. If you died along the way, you’ll usually have even more to use towards improving your character. I learned a lot of these lessons while grinding.

There were two instances where I took time out from progress to grind for a couple of hours. Both grind spots were in the Shrine of Storms. The first was early on in the playthrough when I was trying to gain enough souls to buy spells. I would loop through the first few skeletons in 4-1 with a combination of melee, soul arrow, and flame toss to take out the psychotic red eyed variant. This taught me just how different grinding in a Souls game is to grinding in other RPGs. Every enemy in Demon’s Souls can hurt you if you’re not careful, especially those roly-poly skeletons. Just when I thought I had mastered fighting them, I would make a mistake and lose a portion of my health. This taught me humility. No matter how good I thought I was, there was a thin line between success and failure. As I levelled up that line got a little thicker, but not to a point where I felt completely at ease.

The second grind was about 15 hours later. Level 4-2 had defeated me. I was re-evaluating my decision to not use a bow. After grinding to craft the Lava Bow, I wanted to keep upgrading my weapons and soul level until I felt confident enough to continue. One of the best grind spots in the game is in level 4-2, sniping the first Reaper and using the Evacuate miracle. With the Ring of Avarice and the Silver Bracelets, you get a guaranteed 6000 souls for a minute or two of gametime. This grinding session was very different to the first. There was no longer any need to pay attention. It was a repetitive exercise of going through the same motions over and over again. Yes aiming the bow caused some panic, but even that anxiety went away after a while. I put on a podcast and spent the next couple of hours here until I felt that I could tackle 4-2 successfully. This second session taught me that it’s very important to have goals while grinding in an RPG, and the right equipment and preparation is often more important than a higher soul level.

Now that I had the Lava Bow, taking out the skeletons on the edge of the cliff in 4-2 was a lot easier. With the Thief Ring equipped, the Storm Beasts rarely took time out of their flying schedule to fire their barbs at me. With a Dark Shield, I could mitigate the laser blast of the Reaper’s ghosts, and knowing where the final Reaper was hiding, I could snipe him from above. I learned that I didn’t have to deal with the second batch of invisible back stabbers as I had already looted the nook where they hide. All that was left was running through the room with the slugs, and using Firestorm to obliterate the Blind Old Hero.

Since we’re speaking about preparation, it might be a good time to discuss some of the more memorable boss encounters and how the right gear and magic helped me out. Soul Arrow helped me take out the Tower Knight, and the Armour Spider. Flame Toss helped me cheese The Adjudicator, and the False Idol. I had saved Biorr in 1-3 and brought along the spell Warding, which greatly reduces damage taken. This meant that the fight with The Penetrator turned into an absolute massacre. I’m relieved because his speed and ferocity intimidate me. For both Storm King and Old King Allant, I had used the Second Chance miracle, so dying would bring me back with half my health. I didn’t need it for Storm King, but I almost needed it with Old King Allant. My hands were visibly shaking when I finally put him away.

They were shaking because the Firestorm strategy didn’t work on Old King Allant. Firestorm is one of the most overpowered spells in the game. You summon a literal storm of fire around you that wipes the lifebar off a lot of the game’s bosses. Most go down in two hits if your magic stat is high enough. The problem is that it takes a bit of a wind up so the best time to use it is when an enemy has just executed a large attack and needs to recover. Run up next to them, Firestorm, retreat, gulp down some spice to replenish your mana, and look for an opportunity to finish the job. With Old King Allant, he was far too fast to take the full brunt of any Firestorm. A similar thing happened with the Maneaters. Each one should be taken out with one cast of the spell, but I was not expecting their speed, and not knowing exactly what the second one was going to do as it rushed towards me lead to a very close call. I’m very lucky I didn’t fall off the edge of the stage.

With how easy magic made fighting so many of these bosses, I wondered if I was robbing myself of the Demon’s Souls experience. Soul Ray and Flame Toss kept most enemies at bay, and after crafting a Moon Uchigatana, having a large magic stat meant that my melee attacks were quite devastating. Spells like Anti-magic Field feel like the only way to deal with the jailors of the Tower of Latria, especially their black phantom forms. It made the Old Monk a joke as well, although the game having gone offline at this point might have had more to do with it. Instead of fighting another real player, I was fighting a bare knuckled brawler who posed no threat. And as I was having these doubts while killing the later bosses, the oppressive organ music of the Nexus became more noticable, adding to that feeling that the way forward might not actually be the right way forward.

But another thought emerged. As the game went on and I became more confident, I started to engage enemies with my sword and shield because I knew I could take them on. I enjoyed using all the tips and tricks at my disposal to get through any way I knew how. Having gone through the game this way, I now see possibilities open to me that were not there before. I not only thought about playing through the game as a pure melee character, but after the credits were finished and my character loaded back into the Nexus with all her gear, I felt the pull to play through the game in New Game Plus mode, with perhaps a greater melee focus. I guess my final thoughts on how playing a magic user affected my Demon’s Souls experience is that magic is incredibly overpowered, but it was the tool required for me to gain the confidence I needed to enjoy Demon’s Souls. I also feel that with a mix of magic, melee, and ranged combat, I was able to engage with more of what the game has to offer. I’d recommend playing a magic user to anyone as a first time playthrough for these reasons. What are your thoughts?

Thanks for watching. If you enjoyed this video, please like, comment, share, and subscribe, and I hope you’re having a wonderful day.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Dave Critiques: A Hat in Time - The balance between charm and frustration



Hey hey folks, Dave here. Welcome to my critique of A Hat in Time. Just a friendly reminder that if you haven’t completed the game, there might be spoilers in this video. If you wish to avoid them, please press pause, and go play the game before returning. For everyone else, let’s continue.

The Snatcher is the most memorable character of Subcon Forest. Aside from having a gleeful maniacal laugh, he traps you and has you sign a contract that makes you his servent in order to get your soul back. This is Hat Girl’s motivation for the rest of the chapter. At the end, he reveals that once his subordinates are no longer of any use to him, they are beheaded. It’s time for a boss fight. When I first attempted this fight during a late night play session, I was defeated more than once. Mostly because I couldn’t seem to work out how to read when Snatcher was going to slam the ground, and so would lose a lot of health being stunned by the slams and the ensuing shockwaves. The next day I came back to the game and defeated him on my first try. No issue whatsoever. What alluded me the night before was so simple now. In defeat he offers a contract where you’ll leave and never bother him again. Hat Girl in her mischievousness alters the contract to The Snatcher’s dismay, and this charming blend of character and humour is what I remember most fondly about the encounter, rather than the rage inducing moments.

I think A Hat in Time is a competent 3d platformer. Hat Girl’s moveset allows for some highly entertaining platforming challenges, but whether it’s due to the camera, a lack of precision, or most importantly, an inability to understand what the game wants of you, I found myself constantly angry and disappointed while playing. This disappointment and failure creates a negative feedback loop and it’s very easy for an entire game experience to be negatively coloured once the small frustrations start building up. To the game’s credit, that never happened. The Snatcher fight was probably me at my lowest point, and the next day I not only fought through it like it wasn’t a challenge, but I attempted the Mustache Girl fight as well, and defeated her on my first try. In my lowest moments, the game’s charm allowed me to persevere, and this video will be primarily discussing this push and pull between charm and gameplay.

I mentioned how it’s often unclear what the game wants from you. The hats are a good place to start as they play into the way the levels are designed, and the order you approach them in. Yarn is hidden around each stage and hats take a number of balls of yarn to stitch together. The first hat you receive, the Sprint Cap, is an exception to the usefulness of the other hats. It makes you run faster. Aside from allowing you to ride a scooter for a level in Subcon Forest, it’s just a way of getting around the world quicker. Every other hat works its way into the level deisgn in some way. The Ice Cap allows you to use the ice flippers to catapult you around. The Brewing Hat, which is what I was wearing most of the time allows you to throw explosives after a short charge. The Dweller’s Mask will allow you to interact with another reality for a short while, usually to uncover platforms where there were none before. Finally, the Time Stop Hat will stop time. I know right? But I never earned enough yarn to be able to wear it.

While certain areas of a chapter like the Alpine Skyline are locked off if you do not have the right hat, it is late enough in the game to assume that the player is at least close to being able to create one. Act 5 of Chapter 1 is missing because it requires the Time Stop Hat. This vexed me for the entire game as I wanted to complete the levels in order, and it felt wrong to move to Acts 6 and 7 without having played Act 5. A similar feeling happened with not having yet acquired the hookshot Badge in Chapter 3, or actually, most of Chapter 3 itself. You unlock the acts of that chapter by falling in The Snatcher’s traps, signing new contracts which open up the new acts. For the longest time I was searching for the last trap to open up Act 5. Maybe there’s something about Act 5s in this game. They may be cursed. I eventually made the decision to overcome my annoyance and play stages out or order, but having to break the numbering system never sat right with me.

This issue with the ordering of the levels is echoed in a problem I had with the platforming and the goals of certain stages. The uncertainty of what’s coming next. This can be seen as one of the game’s strengths. Each act is its own unique vision. The title cards always started me off in the best of moods, and just how much the game switches up what you’re doing is quite remarkable. Even in the same chapter. Two of the most memorable stages in my playthrough both came from Chapter 2, Battle of the Birds. Picture Perfect has you drumming up fan support, this goal regularly interrupted by Hat Girl getting her picture taken and an adorable polaroid appearing on the screen. Then there’s Murder on the Owl Express. I doubt I’m the only person who regards this as the best level in the game. You have to gather evidence to solve a murder while avoiding secret service spy crows and suspicious owl passengers. Whoever you select as the culprit at the end is the correct choice. You’re filming a movie after all. The journey was what was important, and by journey, I mean all the great footage you provided for The Conductor.

On the micro level things are different, and this is where I will talk about the platforming. Hat Girl’s moveset is a lot of fun to play with. The air dash makes movement a joy, because alongside the expected double jump, a dash will give you a third jump to reach your destination if you’ve already exhausted your double. Combine this with not only ledge grabs and wall jumps, but the ability to run up a wall when hitting the side of a platform, and there’s a lot of movement opportunities you have access to. The game takes full advantage of this. Yes there are the optional time rift challenges that are built to test these skills more overtly, but I’m thinking of the long form obstacle courses to acquire time pieces, like climbing the Windmill in Alpine Skyline.

The Windmill made me realise just how much the air dash can betray you. That wonderful idea of running up a wall if you miss a ledge is nullified if you air dash into it. Now this is my fault as I got too comfortable with just air dashing everywhere, including situations where I did not need to. Most of my frustration with the platforming was misusing the dash and the consequences of that action. There was also a bit of misjudging the distance of a double jump. There was the timing issue of platforming challenges involving the homing attack on the spiders, and often the camera seemed to get trapped or wouldn’t give the most opportune view of what I needed to do next. I often felt overwhelmed by my inability to adapt to what the game was throwing at me, even with all the tools at my disposal.

I wonder if the charm is to blame. I would list the charm of A Hat in Time as its greatest asset. I’ve already mentioned the title cards and in my impressions video I squeed about diving into a pile of pillows, and Hat Girl wearing a raincoat. There’s an amusing diary that you can read after each act provided you have the ice hat to access Hat Girl’s secret pillow lair. The Snatcher is charming in his goofy way. The Mafia are charming in their bumbling way. The Conductor and DJ Grooves are charming in their eccentric behaviour and speech, and the final fight with your friend turned enemy Mustache Girl is charming. Especially when all the other characters are throwing actual love at Hat Girl in order to defeat her nemesis. That tear Hat Girl has in her eye at the very end I identified with because for all my frustrations, it was this world and its characters that kept me going till the very end, and I too was sad to see them go..

I think that the charm lulls the player into a false sense of security. It makes them think that the game should be more forgiving than it is. It might also distract the player from what the game requires from them, or maybe often enough the signposting for what to do next just isn’t there. Does A Hat in Time want to be a challenge based 3d platformer or does it want to be a cute, humourous character based 3d platformer? Now there is no reason it can’t be both. The classics of the 3d platformer genre often achieve this balance, but here, the balance seems askew.

What are your thoughts? Was I alone with my frustrations in regards to the platforming, the camera, what to do next, and the ordering of the levels? Were you as enamoured by this world and its characters as I was? What were some of your favourite moments? Please let me know in the comments.

Thanks for watching. If you enjoyed this video, please like, share, and subscribe, and I hope you’re having a wonderful day.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Dave Critiques - Pillars of Eternity: The gods must be crazy


Hey hey folks, Dave here. Welcome to my critique of Pillars of Eternity. Just a friendly reminder that I will be discussing the game for those who have played it. If you haven’t and are worried about spoilers, please pause the video and go play the game before returning. For everyone else, let’s continue.

In Dyrford Village you meet a noble named Lord Harond. His daughter Aelys has gone missing and he implores you to find her. Your investigation takes you to a Skaen temple underneath the town inhabited by cultists who worship the god and are performing blood rituals. Upon discovering their leader Wymund, you learn the awful truth. Aelys is Lord Harond’s niece, and he has impregnated her in order to carry on his bloodline. Wymund is tired of the aristocracy not paying for their debauchery and corruption. The priest has set Aelys up as a timebomb of sorts. She will return to Harond and through Skaen’s magic, extinguish their whole bloodline, serving as a warning to others that such vile behavior will not be tolerated.

The quest Blood Legacy is an example of many of the sidequests in Pillars of Eternity. The initial quest giver is either lying to you or not telling the whole truth. Upon further investigation you discover this, resulting in a decision to make whether or not the lying is justified and what action you will take against the parties involved. I used to agonise over moral decisions in RPGs but recently, I find myself picking what seems like the right answer in the moment and seeing where that leads me. Just like using this practise in real life, it doesn’t always lead to a good outcome. This is because our world, like Eora (the world in which Pillars takes place) is full of nuance and uncertainty. 

The world of Pillars is one where the soul exists, magic exists, but the Gods may or may not exist. For the first time in any RPG, I found myself reading a lot of the ingame books as well as using the ingame encyclopedia to read up on certain groups, gods, peoples, and the world’s history. I wish I could say it helped piece everything together, but as the credits rolled I was left with more questions than answers. Questions about important things, like the main character’s role in what is going on as you play through the game, and especially their relationship to Thaos, the antagonist. I’ll explain my theories on this a little later.

While your main character is a chosen one like in many RPGs (although what chose you is not altogether a positive), Pillars of Eternity is focused on the group instead of the individual. You can hire your own party members to assist you through the game’s combat, creating any classes you wish, but I would recommend having the game’s many side characters join your party. They each have their own personalities, troubles, and desires that unfold during the game. Each party member’s sidequest has multiple stages, and some like Durance’s don’t resolve until close to the closing credits. What endears you to these characters more than their personalities, is their utility in combat. You come to rely on what each character can do. So much so, that when new characters join, you might be like me and leave them waiting around in your stronghold, as you don’t want to disturb the party lineup you now depend on.

In Pillars, I found myself getting into a familiar rhythm with combat. I found strategies that worked for most encounters and only when that strategy failed did I start thinking about what else I could do. Then I incorporated aspects of this new strategy until I needed to adjust again, repeating until the end of the game. As pillars is a party based RPG, these strategies involved using each one of my 6 members in very particular ways. This is what I meant by growing close to my party members because of their utility in combat. Eder’s knockdown and defender abilities made him an ideal tank, capturing the enemy’s attention. If I needed a backup tank, Sagani’s pet did the trick, her bond with the creature helping her deal damage to this second attacker. Kana’s chants that strengthened the party were as invaluable as the buffs and debuffs that Durance laid down each fight, while Aloth’s arcane assault was great for AoE damage, using fireballs and concussive missiles on stronger or more numerous targets. My main character being a Cipher meant that Mind Blades was a great way to open up any encounter along with blinding or paralysing any difficult foe.

Despite the ability to pause the battle at any time and assign commands, battles have a sense of tension in them, leading to panic when things go wrong. I think this has to do with the encounter design. Whether it’s the combination of enemies, the location of battle, or a blending of the two, this is what forces the need for new tactics. Familiarising myself with what my spellcasters could do. The Wizard and Priest gained an absurd amount of spells each level, but even the few spells the Cipher has access to were ignored until difficult fights. I found myself reading through spell descriptions, and finding something that worked exceptionally well for that encounter, adding that spell into my optimal strategy rotation or saving it as the first thing to try when facing the next tough encounter. This “throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks” mentality kept the dangerous encounters interesting, with some fights lasting upward of 30 minutes without losing that sense of tension and excitement. The final boss and its guardians are an example of this. His ability to soul hop and buff himself and his allies caused many frustrated restarts and variations in strategy before he finally fell under the crack of a rifle

While combat is exciting, one thing I love about this type of RPG is that dialogue is just as important. Pillars of Eternity is combat heavy, but many encounters are avoided and quests completed through saying the right thing at the right time. I remember in the original Fallout games how important it was to pick the speech skill. Not that you’re forced to talk your way through Pillars. I imagine you could have a lot of fun slashing your way through everyone who looked at you funny, but a large amount of enjoyment and satisfaction I derived during my play was being able to talk my way out of a bad situation.

This push and pull between combat and dialogue is a thematic undercurrent of Pillars’ RPG power fantasy. As I levelled up, my characters grew ever more powerful and the fights became more trivial. At the same time, even after the final boss, I felt I had been powerless throughout the events of the narrative. An obvious example is no matter what choices are made during the trial at the end of act 2, the Duc dies and chaos ensues. An example possibly tied to my own ineptitude is not understanding my character’s past and the nature of Eora’s Gods. It’s not like I wasn’t paying attention either. I read many of the ingame books and took my time reading dialogue. In the end, I really don’t know what role my character played as Thaos’ right hand other than the one who betrayed Iovara. Is it just that my character’s association with Thaos in a past life lead her to follow him in this one? I mean Thaos’ plans associated with the Hollowborn are heinous and he definitely needed to be stopped, but I still remain confused about the personal nature of the conflict.

I remain confused about the Gods as well. The seeds of doubt are sewn related to their existence late in act 3. Wars have been fought because of these gods and people have done horrible things in their name, but perhaps the question of their existence carries more weight in a world where the soul is a verifiable truth. I was left believing the gods to be real, in a sense. You talk to the gods of your choosing at the end of the game. I had conversations with both Hylea and Wael (two of the only gods I cared to converse with. I would have liked to talk to Eothas as well, but he wasn’t available).

While I believe the Gods of Eora are real, I think of them as Greek Gods. This is a world of magic and power. Some beings have used both to elevate themselves to a level where they are revered, and they work to shape the world as they see fit. Of course as they all have differing philosophies as to how the world should be, they come into conflict and they play games with each other. Well, games might be a light way to put it. Magran straight up murders Eothas through her followers and Woedica has been sowing her own seeds of dismay for what sounds like centuries if the life of Thaos is any indication. The question that the player and their party wrestle with is if the Gods are not really gods, does it change anything? Do people need gods to believe in? Does it make life more bearable or does it lead to greater suffering? Is there a difference between a true god and a mortal that has used power to elevate themselves to such a position? A constant theme of many of the quests in Pillars is the danger of money and power. How it corrupts those who have a lot of it, and how they see themselves above consequence. How much greater is this righteousness when the level of power is raised exponentially?

I would love to hear your theories about the Watcher’s role in the game, whether the gods are real or not, and what that means for Eora. What are your thoughts on animancy? Did you view it as a danger? A necessary evil? Is some knowledge just too dangerous for people to have? The soul machines of the builders certainly lean towards that idea. Who was your favourite companion and why? What are your thoughts of the game in general? What did you think of this video? Let me know in the comments. 

Thanks for watching. If you enjoyed what I have to say, please like, share and subscribe, and I hope you’re having a wonderful day.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Best Games I Played in 2017



Intro

Hey hey folks. Dave here. The amount of quality games released in 2017 was staggering. I’m lucky in a way that I didn’t have the time or money to play them all. I got to play a lot more games I wanted to than last year, but there is so much I missed out on. I don’t have a Switch so I wasn’t able to enjoy Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. I have no PS4 so I wasn’t able to play Horizon: Zero Dawn or Persona 5. I bought Nier: Automata in the Steam Christmas sale, so I look forward to playing that this year, and I will definitely pick up Nioh at some point. As usual, most of what I played in 2017 were indie titles, and big name games from previous years. Yup, this video is going to be like the one I made last year. This is not a list of the best games I played released in 2017. This is a list of the best games I played in 2017. Most of the games on this list are from 2017... and 2016, there are a couple from 2015, and a couple even before that. Perhaps you’ll find a game you missed out on. Perhaps you’ll be reminded to visit an old favourite. Perhaps you’re just interested in what I loved playing this year. It’s quite the list.

Now this year I’ve done things a little differently. I’ve picked 5 games I made impressions videos on and I’ve picked 5 games I made critique videos on for a grand total of 10 games. I wanted a mix of games I thought were great even though I didn’t play through them along with the best games I played till I reached the end credits. Links to all these games and my videos on them are in the description. Like last year the following list is in alphabetical order. Enjoy!


Broforce (2015)

This is partly on my list due to the fun I had making my impressions video, but playing a couple of hours with my friend Robbie online over Discord cemented its spot. Exploding terrain, giant piloted mechs, and an ever increasing amount of enemy resistence stop the game from ever becoming dull. That you keep unlocking new bros adds to the over the top excitement and bombast that is suffused into every level. I’d highly recommend this as a couch multiplayer game. It’s goofy run and gun fun.


Firewatch (2016)

Narrative focused games in a first person perspective often try and sell themselves on the story being told, as well as the beauty of the landscape the player is wandering through. Dear Esther was the last of these games to really deliver on the visuals for me, at least until Firewatch. Firewatch’s Wyoming wilderness is a joy to traverse. While the solitude of the forest is undercut by obnoxious campers, your radio partner Delilah, and the larger mystery of what is happening over the course of the game, it’s hiking through nature with your map and compass where Firewatch’s strengths really showcase themselves.


Hollow Knight (2017)

The way Hollow Knight evokes a sombre and tense mood through its exploration and combat mechanics, despite the cute character design is charming. This is one of those games where I feel the time I spent with it just scratched the surface of what the game has to offer. I’m looking forward to returning to it in 2018 to see how expansive the world is and how the level layouts and the enemies that inhabit them keep the game fresh up until its conclusion. This is the best platformer I played in 2017.


King's Quest (2016)

I think my video on King’s Quest is the best critique I’ve ever written, or at least the closest in execution to what I had in mind when I started writing it. If the game weren’t excellent in itself, I don’t think I would have been able to create such a video. King’s Quest walks a fine line in relying on the nostalgia of the original beloved adventure game series while trying to move beyond. The games are linked together in a stronger way than they once were and the new characterisation of Graham, Mannanan, and others leaves a personal stamp on the series from the developers of this new episodic adventure game. Nostalgia plays a role, but that doesn’t negate this being the best adventure game I played in 2017.

Nex Machina (2017)

I hope you like voxels. In my impressions video, I mention the word “smooth” many times. Nex Machina is the smoothest game I played in 2017. The twin stick shooter is one of those genres where most games don’t deviate too much from the established formula. Nex Machina is no different, instead looking to sand off the rough edges, polishing and refining until everything sparkles. Nex Machina dedicates itself to intense gameplay that is just varied enough in short stage bursts to keep the player vigilent while being delighted with the visual and audio design. As you’re destroying robots and saving humans, it feels like a spiritual successor to Robotron 2084, the game that started it all.


Nier (2010)

Those who have seen my Nier video might be surprised I’m listing it among the best games I played in 2017. I did say Nier is a great video game, but that was alongside saying it is also a terrible video game. It’s the spectacle, characters, and themes that make Nier favourable. Distancing myself from the frustrations of the combat has done a lot to brighten my thoughts of everything else. Most importantly, it’s a game that I still think about all this time after playing. More often than not, a game is doing something right if it sticks with you.

Pillars of Eternity (2015)

I’m in the middle of playing Pillars for a critique at the moment. The highest compliment I can give it is that at the end of each gaming session, I want to keep playing. Its world and its characters are shrouded in mystery and intrigue, only doling out snippets of backstory as you play, and because of this, the world feels whole. Like everyone would still be going about their business if you weren’t there, but as you are here and have a pivotal role to play, the world and its characters start revealing history and circumstance to you the longer you inhabit it. Hopefully by the end, I have a grasp on what it’s all about. If this were a film, I could just rewatch it to deepen my understanding. A 40 hour RPG is another case entirely.


Rakuen (2017)

I chose not to play through the rest of Rakuen due to speculation that the ending would be at the least bittersweet, and at the most, emotionally devastating. Despite that, the game is beautiful in its whimsical character portraits, endearing creature design, and delightful music. I also love how the first dungeon I found myself in is about helping the characters who live there rather than looting the place and destroying everything in my path. One day I’ll work myself up to playing the rest.


The Witcher (2007)

The Witcher is a game where the positives outweigh the negatives. I put up with consistent crashing and framerate issues to play through this 10 year old game. I love the world, I love the characters, I love the consequences of the choices you make as a player, and I love the ending revelations of the story. I love how the final cutscene sets up another chapter for Geralt. Almost as if the consequnces of your choices in the game arn’t just confined to the game itself. Hopefully I can get around to playing The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings in 2018.


The Witness (2016)

What makes The Witness different from the rest of this list, is it’s a game where I’m more excited about the prospect of future playthroughs than I am about my first. Like most puzzle games, I had to rely on a walkthrough extensively to get through it, but when it was over and I was putting together my video, I realised that getting to the end wasn’t the point of the game. I’m now excited to return sometime in the future, enjoying the puzzles for their own sake rather than as a means to complete yet another video game. An appreciation for the architecture, how the puzzles are put together, and the prospect that the island might reveal more to me a second time through accompanies this realisation. It’s fitting that this is the final game on the list as it might have been my favourite that I played in 2017.


Outro

And that was my 2017 in video games. Now it’s your turn. Please tell me the games you loved playing the most in the comments. They don’t have to be from 2017, but if you limited your pick to that year, you’d have more than enough to choose from. I look forward to trying some of the games I missed in 2017 this year along with many other great gaming experiences, and I look forward to making another one of these videos when 2019 rolls around. Have a terrific 2018 everyone. Let’s make this year the best it can be, and I hope you’re having a wonderful day.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Why Half-Life 2 is one of my favourite games


Transcript


Hey hey folks, and welcome to another installment of Dave’s Favourite Games. This time around, Half-life 2. This video will be an exploration of my history with the game, and the reasons I love it to this day. Hopefully it will inspire those who have not played the game to try it, and for those who have to find new appreciation of it. Let’s continue.

As these episodes usually begin with a story, let’s do that. Half-life 2 is the subject of one of the first pieces of critical game writing on my old blog. I’ll put a link in the description and as you can see, I’m showing the article itself onscreen. I must have changed the background to the blog at some point and the text didn’t change along with it. Black on deep blue? Yeesh. Anyways, the article was about how every chapter in game shifts the gameplay in distinct ways and you’re never quite doing the same thing twice. I thought about this piece of writing a lot during this play of Half-Life 2, and while I still kind of agree with it, the shifts in gameplay are even more nuanced than originally written. Also at the end of that article I mention, and I quote, “...the upcoming Episode 3…”. Ah, so naive.

So let’s dive into what I love so much about this game. Replaying it, I was struck by the fragility of Gordon Freeman. Just like my memories of playing through Half-life, I spent a lot of the game on low health and if I had any suit power left, it was a luxury. The combine’s weapons can quickly tear you to shreds, and while the headcrabs and the monsters they turn people into are less damaging, you don’t want one in your face wailing on you. This turned many firefights into an exhilarating experience as I tried to make use of cover, and the environment for tactical advantage.

Alongside changing the gameplay from chapter to chapter, Half-life 2 is full of set pieces. Those who have played it will likely remember the airboat (especially the sections with the helicopter chasing you), crossing the bridge, the shootout with the Striders on top of the ruined building, and of course making your way through the Citadel. The boat and the buggy are cases where Half-life 2 shows off the pros and cons of its physics engine. My guess is they were very proud of it, as so many sections of gameplay revolve around using it to get around the world, attack enemies, or solve rudimentary puzzles.

Oh, I have to talk about the sound design. The word iconic gets thrown around a lot today (thanks Ubisoft), but to me, so many of the sound effects of Half-life 2 are iconic. There’s the sound when you pick up a health pack. When you pick up a suit recharge. The flatline of killing a combine soldier. The dispensaries. The scream of a headcrab as it’s charging at you. The meaty thunk of the magnum. The foont of the crossbow. These sounds breed familiarity. You spend the game with them, and so many are tied to positive or negative emotions (such as my blood curdling when I heard the shuffling of the dreaded black headcrab).

And since I have already mentioned set pieces and the black headcrab, I think it’s time to talk about Ravenholm. Arguably the most memorable section of the entire game. Ravenholm is both playful and terrifying. It’s playful because it’s your first real testing ground for the what the gravity gun can do. The early sections of Ravenholm are littered with saw blades, oxygen containers and all sorts of debris that you can suck up and shoot at all the zombies shuffling aimlessly around the town. Father Gregory is playful too. One of the more enjoyable personalities you’ll meet in the game alongside Alyx. And then the new headcrabs get introduced.

My memories of Ravenholm were predominantly about the terror of the black headcrab and their neurotoxin, so when the spindly legged headcrabs are introduced, I thought they were the dreaded black monstrosities. They filled me with dread. It’s also the way the monkey ones move that is sufficiently creepier than a normal headcrab, and this plus the sound are what make the black ones unsettling on top of their ability to momentarily take away all your health. To reinforce how unnerving they are and how the game knows it, when you finally make it out of Ravenholm, you come across a hole leading to an underground area with walkways above it. On the floor of this cavern, dozens of all three types of headcrabs are skittering about. Just when I thought I was away from the terror of Ravenholm, the game throws this on me. It’s clever, because the few moments in the rest of my playthrough where I came across the black headcrab and the lumbering blobs that throw them, it was a reminder of how effectively the designers had taught me to fear this one particular enemy. The monkeys are just an annoyance in comparison.

And while it’s not technically a set piece, I have to mention the Antlions. In the initial section with the buggy they can be an annoyance. Then they become a real threat once you have to cross the sand. You have to play around with the physics to create bridges to cross long stretches without setting the hive off, and thumpers, the large machines sending vibrations into the ground are your friends as they keep the Antlions away. Then you fight and kill an Antlion guardian. You gain the ability to control the swarm. You assault Nova Prospekt, the combine prison with an army of Antlions in tow. It’s a marvelous change in dynamic, especially how thumpers are now the enemy, because they stop the Antlions following you. I was kind of put off by how many of them I sent to be slaughtered before I made my way back to City 17. It must have been in the hundreds at least. I wonder if a similar thought weighs on the mind of military generals.

After a lot of fighting in the streets, you make it to the Citadel. It’s a great way to end the game, not just because of how difficult it was to get there, and the sheer size of the structure, but your weapons get taken away, and the process turns your gravity gun into a superweapon. You also get extended suit power. You’re not invincible as two specific areas of the Citadel reminded me, but blasting your way through combine soldiers with the greatest of ease is a nice change of pace. There’s also two sections where you hop into a motorised restraint and spend some time just travelling through the mammoth structure, taking in the sights. It’s sort of like a callback to the train ride at the start of Half-life.

Now before I started this channel, if a game had difficulty selection, I would choose the easiest difficulty available. I wanted to experience games with the least frustration as possible. I actually appreciated games with no difficulty selection over this choice. When I started this channel, my thought was that I should play everything on the default difficulty as that’s the baseline experience the developers intended. This playthrough of Half-life 2 was my first on normal difficulty, and I think it soured my experience more than I would have liked. All the enemies were a lot more difficult to take down and ammo and health were of a greater concern. I mentioned Gordon Freeman’s fragility, and while that’s always been the case, even on easy, it was a lot more pronounced on this playthrough.

It led me to think that perhaps I should always play my favourite games the way I’ve always experienced them, but similar to how I finally played Doom properly last year, I think there’s also a benefit in revisiting a favourite in a new way. Yes the game was more frustrating, but as the majority of this video points out, there was still loads to love, and the game is still a favourite of mine for all these reasons. What are your thoughts? What sections of Half-life 2 do you remember fondly, or not so fondly? Do you regard it as a great game? Why or why not? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Thanks for watching. If you enjoyed this video, please like, share, and subscribe, and I hope you’re having a wonderful day.