[Cyberpunk 2077] The Other 40 Hours
I have a very dim view of the designers behind Cyberpunk, but as Nogamara pointed out, I do have 40 hours and counting in the game thus far. So, what gives?
As it turns out, Cyberpunk 2077 is a lot of fun in the moment-to-moment gameplay.
My prebuilt beast of a PC is running Cyberpunk pretty much on max settings (1440p) with 60-80 fps, and… damn. Night City looks incredible. Aside from the absurd number of loading screens when booting up the game, I notice nary a slowdown or hiccup as I speed around the streets looking for trouble to get into. In this regard, it is pretty much like GTA 5 mixed with Skyrim: a pleasure to just get around and get into trouble.
In the beginning, I was playing the game like I always default to with first-person games: sneaky archer. Cyberpunk does support this to a point, but only just so – Dishonored this is not. To clarify, you can indeed stealth through pretty much all the missions, taking special care to perform silent takedowns, pick up Quickhacks that will blind or distract enemies, hide bodies from patrols, add silencers to your weapons, and so on. There’s just… no particular reason to. Stealth is not extrinsically rewarded, locations are huge with dozens and dozens of mooks to plow through, and pretty much every other aspect of the game leads you towards more direct confrontations. Indeed, if you end up picking fights with higher-level “skull” enemies, you are no longer able to perform takedowns on them.
Having said that, the game gets a bit weird once you stop pulling punches and start pulling grenades. As it turns out, grenades are rather good at solving a lot of problems, like gang assaults in progress, enemies hiding behind cover, and basically anything you toss them at. While these have been my preferred method problem-solving, bullets work just as well. By the midgame, there aren’t a lot of things that are especially difficult. Granted, I am playing on Normal difficulty, but I’m not certain whether increasing the number of headshots necessary to defeat foes would do much to make things more engaging.
From a story perspective, Cyberpunk has been serviceable to good. There are a lot of weird side gigs and cross-references that sort of make the setting feel more Outer Worlds goofy than Deus Ex. For example, there are direct Office references, Portal cake jokes, and so on. The main story segments are more reserved and philosophical… ish. While I’m not done with the game yet, the whole Keanu Reeves rock star terrorist angle feels bizarre. Is he supposed to seem cool? Was he a rock star turned partisan, or was he always a commando and did concerts as a front? I’m not sure the answer even matters.
Indeed, I was presented with a few “choices” between unlikeable major factions and I just chose to destroy the one that insulted/betrayed me more recently. I’m fine with games introducing decision-points that have no bearing on anything other than roleplaying, but guys, would it kill you to offer a bit more context? What’s my motivation here? Hard to hate The Man if none of your interactions up to this point have dealt with The Man in a meaningful way. For all the implied Corpo oppression, it doesn’t affect the player in any way. Yeah, there’s poverty and gangs everywhere, but that’s window dressing and content, respectively. I would have liked to have seen a variation of the Wanted meter where instead of cops, you start getting hunted by Corpo mercs depending on the side jobs you take.
In any case, those are my positive impressions. It’s fun to run around and shoot people in the face. The commitment to first-person perspective – including little things like being able to see your feet, seeing when you get cyberware installed on your hands, etc. – is refreshing and welcome. I seek out opportunities to fight and infiltrate buildings and cause mayhem. I love cyberpunk as a genre.
However. I am currently sitting on 1 unspent Attribute and 7 unspent Skill points. Nothing in the talent trees get my juices flowing, and I have nothing to look forward to, nothing to build towards. Shit, I just found out one of the capstone Technical Ability Skills I had within reach – the one that makes Tech weapons ignore all enemy armor – doesn’t actually work. As in, enemies don’t have armor to ignore. What kind of literal fucking clown show is this? Apparently I was also supposed to be getting free Quickhacks for my hacking efforts (and spent Attribute points) but some bug that’s been around since 1.0 prevents it. Neat. This game would arguably be better off with zero Attributes or Skills systems at all. Not even “everyone has everything all the time,” but literally no one having any enhancements.
After all, there are always grenades.
Having said all that… there is a greater than zero chance I segue right into a second playthrough with a male V focused on “studying the blade” at max difficulty. Quickhacks have been cute, but I’ve been eyeing time dilation katana shenanigans ever since I saw the requisite cyberware on vendors. Viable? Probably not. But it is just crazy enough to possibly be fun.
SynCaine has his 30-minute impression of Fallout 76 up and, spoilers, he’s not impressed:
If you ever wondered what a Fallout game would be like if you removed all the story, all the reasons why you might play and care, F76 is the answer. It’s the same gameplay, the same systems, basically the same world, just empty of reasons to care.
While I am sure that is intended to be a damning indictment of Fallout 76’s failure… it really isn’t, IMO. The overwhelming vast majority of any Fallout gameplay is, well, gameplay. Specifically, it is wandering around, collecting junk, killing Super Mutants and Ghouls, experiencing environmental storytelling, and otherwise exploring the post-apocalypse wasteland. You know, all of the fun bits that occur inbetween questing. So when SynCaine says something like:
In Fallout 3, you also start in a vault, but as a child surrounded by other humans, including your family. Shortly after leaving the vault, you had to a fairly large settlement of humans that gets you rolling.
…I had a puzzled expression on my face. When I emerged from the Vault 101 for the first time – still in the top 5 videogame experiences in my entire life, by the way – I must have gotten turned around because Megaton was not where I went next. Instead, I explored some burnt-out buildings, fought some raiders, collected a bunch of junk, and basically hit up a bunch non-story locations.
I was not trying to avoid whatever the main story quest was supposed to be, but I wasn’t particularly bothered in speeding towards it. And while it was interesting finally getting to Megaton and having to make those moral decisions regarding the sheriff and the nuclear bomb in the middle of town and all the rest… that wasn’t everything that Fallout is. Shit, some of the best narratives in the entire series do not involve NPCs either, e.g. Father in the Cave.
Is there anything approaching Father in the Cave level so far in Fallout 76? Nope. Of course, there really hasn’t been anything of that level even in the main story quests for any Fallout game. Were you really that enmeshed with finding your father, finding your son, or deciding who rules the Mojave? Or was the main plot just a vehicle in which you drove around the wasteland, finding all the poignant stops along the way? Fallout 76 has that same vehicle, that same main story quest, getting you to explore every corner of the map. It’s a beater instead of a Porsche, but it still gets you from A to B.
Which is astounding for a survival game.
SynCaine would surely not care that Fallout 76 was never intended to be anything but a spin-off survival game and not some Fallout 5 substitute. But that is a distinction that matters. There is no plot reason to care what occurs in ARK, or Rust, or Conan: Exiles, or most other survival games. And yet there is an overarching plot to Fallout 76, complete with hours of voice acting, tragedy, and dark humor. There are no moral decisions, true, and yet that is about to change with upcoming patches in a natural way, e.g. everyone died from Scorchbeasts, Vault opens, we followed in footsteps of the dead but succeeded in eliminating the threat, newcomers are now moving in.
The devs did not set out to construct the plot this way; they honestly felt like “players are the NPCs” would work, which is some Silicon Valley startup fantasy bullshit and any actual player of videogames would instantly say is dumb. Bethesda is trying to turn the ship around though, and they have largely succeeded thus far with monthly patches and new quests. Some of it is a bit grindy, like the recent Boy Scouts-esque stuff which comes down to Achievement hunting to unlock a backpack. But, well… it fits this game, and gives you a reason to go back around the block.
I dunno. People aren’t still playing Diablo 3 for the plot, or Destiny 2, or Anthem (at all, *rimshot*). They play because the gameplay loop is fun. Complaining about Fallout 76 not having the same narrative quality of actual Fallout games just makes me question why you played Skyrim so much, and possibly still do. Was it for the engaging faction warfare? Or for whatever the situation was with that one dragon final boss that I 2-shot from stealth? Is that why any of us played and enjoyed Skyrim so much? Or was it perhaps the walking around, the fighting, the exploring caves, and otherwise existing in that world?
Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps you played Fallout and Skyrim exactly one time, never went anywhere other than towards a quest marker, and turned it off the moment the credits rolled. If you don’t play these games that way, well, you are in for a treat. Not because there is a grand narrative you are missing – although it ain’t that terrible – but because there is a huge map full of nooks and crannies actually filled with things worth picking up, killing, or looking at. And it’s getting better all the time.
Unfair Impressions: Darkfall, Day 2
I felt like the screenshots were not enough to fully immerse you in the world of Darkfall. So here is a video of me attacking some spiders. Don’t forget to switch to 1080p quality!
In terms of the tutorial, I finally realized why I was stuck on the “skinning” portion. While you can loot leather from the glowing gravestones, if you have a skinning knife you can also skin… the gravestones. Because that makes sense. The failure rate seems ridiculously high, but eventually I loot one.
The next step is to hearth to your bindstone, which I did exactly two minutes later. Literally, guys, it’s a 120-second cast. I started it up and left to make my lunch for the next day.
This actually reminds me of another curious thing: AFK-farming seems encouraged in Darkfall. Much like in Guild Wars 2, you must buy a logging axe or herbing sickle in order to gather materials, and these items have charges (durability in this case) that deplete on use. The difference here is that you can start up the animation in Darkfall and walk away from the keyboard – your character will merrily continue chopping timber until (presumably) the axe is worn down to the nub or the tree runs out of wood. It reminds me of what I have heard about mining space rocks in EVE, insofar as gathering only requires button presses once every half-hour. Is that supposed to discourage people from farming, or a concession that farming is so boring the game will do it for you while you Tab out and play something more engaging?
In any event, the next stage of the tutorial was taking a 100kg (!) mount idol from the bank and summoning a mount. From there, you are tasked to running to the border of the protected area, sticking your toe over, and then coming back inside. Ah… so I was paranoid for no reason this entire time. Well, sorta. Apparently if you aren’t careful, people can actually steal your mount and ride away. After which I assume you are shit outta luck. Considering that unsummoning the mount takes a minimum of 2 seconds after dismounting, you’ll never want to actually be in town riding the thing.
After much squinting at the abysmal UI, I finally found and dabbled with the Prowess system. Essentially, you earn Prowess doing things, doing a certain number of things (Feats), and presumably other ways too. Prowess essentially act as skill points you use to upgrade skills, increase your ability scores (Strength, Dexterity, etc), and so on. Most skills start a 1 and can be increased up to 100 with an increasingly harsh cost ratio (1:1 up to ~25, then 2:1, etc); each upgrade level typically improves cast speed plus some miscellaneous qualities by some percentage. As an example, putting points into Archery lets me fire faster and deal more damage per arrow, whereas Mining let’s me increase my AFK-yield.
That all makes sense, but I was taken aback a bit from the “Boosts”. At first, I was thinking they were F2P-esque boosts, but that does not appear to be the case.
Instead, they are… err. Well, you can buy the first rank of “the Agile” boost for 200 Prowess, and it increases Dexterity by +10 and the Stamina by +37. Considering that manually boosting Dexterity by +1 costs 30 Prowess, I don’t actually know the point of boosts in this context other than a designer “Gotcha!” moment. I mean, I suppose that it is a way to quickly achieve your class’s optimum stats while still offering a Prowess sink for long-term players (e.g. Warrior dumping extra Prowess into Intelligence once everything warrior-y is bought).
If there is a third day of playing Darkfall in my future, my goal is to figure out the crafting side of things. I understand the basics, but I’m a little uncertain about how one actually goes about getting hard currency; considering that crafting consumes gold as well as mats, you have to have a baseline of income from somewhere. None of the mobs I have killed dropped gold thus far. Does it all come from vendoring goods? There are no “quests” of course, and there doesn’t appear to be an AH either.
So… yeah. Darkfall.
Gameplay of the Year
Posted by Azuriel
So, Polygon released the list of Game of Year 2015 contenders last month:
While I might be alone in railing against inexorable fate and media narratives, I will be very disappointed if Witcher 3 wins Game of the Year (again). But in examining the feelings that give rise to this disappointment, a question surfaces: what deserves to be a Game of the Year anyway?
When it comes to mechanics, systems, and everything that makes games games, it seems clear to me that Metal Gear Solid 5 deserves to be Game of the Year. Everything in MGS 5 simply works. The controls are tight, the stealth gameplay compelling, and the Fulton system synergizes brilliantly with every other game mechanic. You can kill people from afar, but you want to steal them for your base more, which leads to close-quarters sneaking and higher tension gameplay. The way all the pieces of MGS 5 harmonize with one another is simply a thing of beauty and elegance.
…which is a real shame, considering how much of a disaster the story ends up being. “Disaster” is a bit uncharitable, but the abbreviated ending leaves one with a sour taste in one’s mouth, making it easier to forget how ~60 hours of incandescent joy preceded it.
Then you have Witcher 3. Mechanically, the game is just bad; none of the various systems fit together, and often actively clash. You are encouraged to collect hundreds of different crafting components, including junk you can break down for parts, but the vast majority are completely pointless. Random loot will give you high-level blueprints for items you will never be able to use, while recipes for staple items are conspicuously absent. Everything about the first two games that established Witchers – and Geralt in particular – as a fantasy noir detective that needs to plan encounters ahead of time to survive, flies out of the window mechanically, as Geralt gets to pop infinite potions and bombs like they were MMO abilities with per-encounter cooldowns.
…but Witcher 3 will still likely win Game of the Year. Because of things like the Bloody Baron quest. Or when Geralt (spoiler alert) finds Ciri. Nobody will remember mindlessly pressing Alt and Left-Clicking a million times to snore through the combat even on the harder difficulties. Hell, nobody will even remember that, for however good the Bloody Baron quest was, how ridiculous it was in a narrative ostensibly about a race against time. Or how Novigrad was one giant slog through completely unrelated nonsense. Or how little sense it made, pacing-wise, for there to be an open world at all.
It seems to me that what is really being voted on here is “Game Experience of the Year.”
Which is… okay, I guess? Hell, I’m usually the guy defending story over mechanics from the people who believe plot has no place in gaming. In this specific scenario though, I hate the idea that MGS 5 is going to lose because it lacked 1-2 missions to seal the deal, whereas Witcher 3 is going to win because it had a few bright spots in an ocean of bad design.
Ironically, Fallout 4 has thus far hit the sweet spot inbetween the two extremes for me, but I don’t believe it will win because it didn’t hit the sweet spot hard enough. Plus, ugh, that useless ass UI. How could they have they spent so much time coding in Settlements and approximately zero minutes giving us an interface worthy of that descriptor to interact with it?
I will say though, I’m happy to see Ori and the Blind Forest show up under four different categories. While there were some difficulty spikes in there, Ori is one of the best-looking, best-sounding, and more entertaining indie-esque titles I have played this year.
Posted in Commentary
Tags: Game of the Year, Gameplay, Metal Gear Solid 5, Ori and the Blind Forest, Witcher 3