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


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.


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


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.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Dave Critiques - The Witcher: A game worth its troubles


Hey hey folks, Dave here. Welcome to my critique of The Witcher. 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.

My time with The Witcher was plagued by technical difficulties. I have heard it said that The Witcher is a game barely held together, and I agree. It strains its engine so that even 10 years later, I can’t get it to run well on my modern system. And talk about glitches and crashes. The game crashed so much that I was almost ready to give it up at the end of chapter 3. I didn’t though. I looked up ways to mitigate the crashes. I overlooked the glitches. I grew to love everything the game was trying to do even when it was bursting at the seams. The question then, is “what kept me playing”? This video is going to explain that. How it ended up being a wonderful game, that I can easily see myself returning to in the future.

Let’s start off with Geralt. When I first tried playing The Witcher years ago, I played it in English, and I think Geralt’s gruff Christian Bale voice might have been one aspect that stopped me playing. This time around I played the game in Polish with English subtitles. This greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the voice acting. Part of that may be that when you don’t know another language, you don’t know if it’s a bad line delivery, but it helped immerse me in the fantasy world of The Witcher. It definitely made listening to Geralt more tolerable.

So what is a Witcher? A Witcher is a relic of the past. A group of specially trained mutants who are paid to slay monsters. Geralt is an infamous Witcher due to past exploits that he doesn’t remember, as he starts the game suffering from amnesia. I don’t know if I’d say that Geralt’s philosophising of a Witcher’s role in modern society is due to this amnesia or if it is part of his character. His friends like Zoltan Chivey certainly aren’t surprised when you engage them in meaningful dialogue of this nature, but it was one facet of Geralt’s character that endeared me to him.Regardless of the choices the player can make, you can see Geralt wrestling with what he is, what is the right thing to do, and if he has a place in what’s going on.

His friendships and the relationships you strengthen throughout your adventure are another highlight. Because of the amnesia, long time friends are still new to Geralt. The trust might not be there with some of them (Triss for example, due to her motivations as a member of the sorceresses), but I always loved spending time with Zoltan, Shani, and Dandelion, especially that one section of the game where you have a party with them, and just drink and reminisce. The Witcher is famous for its moral choices, but I’d say out of all the decisions in the game, the one that gave me the most pause was whether to hand Alvin over to Shani or Triss in chapter 3.

I spent the game making such decisions on the spur of the moment. Story decisions are made through the dialogue choices, so I’d always ask myself which reply made the most sense to me when it happened. This choice in particular was interesting because I made the decision to give Alvin to Shani before Salamandra got involved. After rescuing the boy, I needed to keep him safe, thinking that Triss would be able to protect him more than Shani. I loved how the game threw a curveball in there as if to say, “Yeah, this decision was tough, but was it really?”. I think it’s because it’s the most personal choice in the game. Siding with the Scoia'tael or the Order of the Flaming Rose is important plot wise, but Alvin, Triss, and Shani all have relationships with Geralt, and this choice can drastically affect those relationships.

Now let’s discuss the world of The Witcher. If you’ve played a fantasy RPG before, or read a fantasy novel, or watched a fantasy movie, you might know where I’m coming from when I say The Witcher is full of classic fantasy tropes, but things are just different enough to make it unique. It’s the enemies that are the best examples of this.Yes there are ghouls, spirits, rabid dogs and wyverns, classic fare, but there are also drowners, kikimores, giant centipedes, and the Vodyanoi. There’s the wild hunt too, the leader of which haunts Geralt for much of the game and ended up being the final boss in my playthrough.

This idea of “same but a little different” applies to a lot of the systems as well. You level up as you gain experience, but your upgrade menu is tiered and uses medallions, of which you only get a set amount. Alchemy may seem tedious for its collection aspect early on, but once you get a taste of the power of Witcher potions and oils, you’ll never want to enter an encounter without at least a Swallow on hand. There’s also the possibility for experimentation, and coming up with concoctions that you may not have found the recipe for yet.

Then there’s the combat. It’s like the world’s simplest rhythm game. Click when the icon changes and you’ll enter into the next stage of the combo. You might find yourself swapping stances, and throwing a few spells into the mix, but overall the repetitive nature can be tedious. What interested me is the difference between playing the game in isometric mode versus playing it over the shoulder. I played the entire game over the shoulder, but during my last attempt I played with the isometric view. Isometric gives you a more strategic overview of the battle. You’re able to position Geralt a lot better but you become more removed from the action. Over the shoulder puts you in the action, increasing use of the dodge to make sure enemies are in front of you. It’s more one at a time, changing to group style if there are others around.

Lastly it’s each individual chapter’s story that kept me going. Yes, walking around the outskirts or through Vizima for the upteenth time can be a chore, and yes, I did get distracted by much of the side content, but each chapter’s main story is highly engaging. Chapter 1 is a morality tale, about why the villagers are being haunted by a malevolent spirit and who is to blame. Chapter 2 is a whodunit that can end in different ways with different characters as allies, enemies or corpses depending on how closely you were paying attention. Chapter 3 is political intrigue with the tough Alvin decision I talked about earlier, plus payoff from earlier in the story. Chapter 4 is similar, dealing with a wedding gone wrong and the influence of an elder God and its worshippers. You also finally run into another Witcher. Then you have the finale.

Princess Adda has the Striga curse again, and the battle between the Scoia'tael and the Order of the Flaming Rose reaches its climax. You confront the one pulling Salamandra’s strings with the game suggesting that when Alvin disappeared at the end of chapter 4, he went back in time and grew up to be the man you just defeated: Jacques de Aldersberg. This places your interactions with Alvin in a new light, and colours not only the actions of Salamandra and the Order of the Flaming Rose, but Geralt as a father figure for the boy. Yet another instance of Geralt choosing actions that have unintended reverberations not only in the future, but in the past as well. You wonder if Geralt caused the events that took place, or if he was simply never able to prevent it no matter what choice the player makes.

And then the final cutscene plays starting another chapter of The Witcher. Yes it seems that it is linked to what Geralt and the player has just gone through, but it’s an inciting incident of its own story. Hopefully sometime soon I’ll get around to playing The Witcher 2. I have heard a lot of criticism towards that game, but then again I put up with consistent crashing, glitches, and a lot of tedium to play through The Witcher, and I don’t regret my time spent with it, faults and all. I’m looking forward to The Witcher 2 having similar qualities.

Thanks for watching.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Dave Critiques - Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc - Immersion in narrative games


Hey hey folks, Dave here. Welcome to my critique of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. 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.

While thinking about the type of game Danganronpa is, my mind easily went to similar visual novels like the Ace Attorney and Zero Escape series. All three are murder mysteries (although Zero Escape is about the threat of murder). I wonder if a murder mystery is the best kind of story for a visual novel. I have heard it said that murder mysteries are kind of like games themselves, the reader trying to work out who the murderer is, how they commited the murder, and why, before these answers are revealed by the story.Certainly all these games have the player wanting to know the “why” behind everything.

In game design, Danganronpa is closest to Ace Attorney with the most entertaining parts of both games being the trial segments. The students of Hope’s Peak Academy are working out who committed the murders each time one occurs and how they did it (the why is stated from the outset. It frees them from the horror of their high school prison). The trials are more action orientated than Ace Attorney. You’ll mostly be going through testimony as your fellow classmates are discussing the case, disrupting a lie or an inconsistency with a truth bullet. It’s thematically clever. You’re blowing away falsehoods. This action is tense and exciting, not only gameplay wise, but narratively too as you’re slowly unravelling the murder in question.

Rather than increase the challenge of the cases and the logic used to solve them, it seems to me that Danganronpa keeps ramping up the difficulty of the gameplay itself. Well perhaps difficulty is the wrong word. The feeling I have is that the gameplay segments keep becoming more obtuse. Some of it makes sense like the ability to choose from multiple bullets to fire off at a false statement. That’s having the player use their head a little more. Then however you have comments blocking the statements you shoot that you have to clear out of the way first. Then you can suck up keywords from statements themselves in order to shoot them at another statement. And this is just the truth bullet segment. In the dual section, obstacles keep getting thrown in your path in a similar fashion.

This brings up the question of why. It seems that in the interest of servicing gameplay, Danganronpa interrupts the excitement and flow of its digital novel roots in order to have an increasing number of things for the player to do, an increase of the number of plates that they need to keep spinning. It makes me think of the criticisms that narrative heavy games face. How can it be called a game when there’s little to no gameplay, or if the gameplay itself seems superficial? Now I hear that criticism more towards games like Dear Esther or To the Moon than games like Ace Attorney, but I think the answer applies to all story driven videogames.

A narrative game features a different type of immersion than your typical videogame. The immersion is not in the connection the player has with the character they are controlling. There is little to no connection between the controller and the action on screen. These games, the successful ones, achieve their immersion through their writing. Strong characters, pacing, and revelations create a different kind of player engagement, a different type of immersion.The desire to see what happens next. Of course the problem with this type of immersion is that if the narrative isn’t engaging a player, there’s no gameplay to fall back on. It’s a testament to Danganronpa that its desire to try and increase its immersion through this escalation of gameplay isn’t enough of an overstep to destroy the immersion it creates through its characters and the mysterious and dangerous circumstances they find themselves in.

Thanks for watching.