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Impressions: Nier: Automata

For months and months, I have been reading praise of Nier: Automata across Reddit and Steam forums with extreme skepticism. How good could this game be, really? So when the game finally hit 50% off on Steam recently, I bought it with an implicit goal of “getting the facts straight.”

Based on 5 hours thus far, I can safely conclude this: it’s pretty damn good.

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Looks pretty damn good too.

It’s still extremely early, but part of that goodness is wrapped up in how incredibly bold the game is in its own style. The starting section of the game is you piloting a ship like in an old-school, top-down shooter, including dodging slow-moving energy spheres. Then your ship “goes mobile” and things turn into a twin-stick shooter. Then you finally dismount and start attacking enemies in a 3rd-person action game ala Devil May Cry. But then there is a section where you’re running along a metal walkway, and the camera pulls out so you can face enemies in a side-scrolling style. Minutes later, there’s another section where you do the same thing with the camera directly overhead.

Any particular one of these camera tricks would be a gimmick. But, somehow, doing all of them… works. The expectation is now set that the game style will change to fit the scenario, and I’m either on board with it or I can leave. The game feels… confident, in an unapologetic JRPG kind of way.

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Oh, of course.

The unapologetic-ness is really a reoccurring theme, actually. I checked out the forums before I started playing, because I had heard that the game is non-functional without the fan-created FAR mod, which fixes framerate issues. For the record, the game runs perfectly fine for me out of the box. One of the threads mentioned the fact that if you die in the hour-long opening sequence of the game… you have to redo the entire thing all over again. There are no checkpoints, there are no quick saves. As someone who has been playing Dark Souls-esque games lately, this is familiar territory.

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OK, yeah, I got it.

That said, by default 2B is equipped with a “plug-in chip” that will automatically consume a potion when damaged below 30% HP, and enemies certainly don’t one-shot you as they can in other games, so it’s not too punishing. Plus, if you change the Difficulty to Easy, you can equip additional chips that will even automatically Dodge attacks for you. I’m actually not quite sure how that works, as I’m playing on Normal, but at least there’s an option.

One thing I did want to mention in this initial post too was the music. Wow. I just got to the second area and there is already music with actual lyrics just playing casually. Running around the ruined city nearby produced a track that heavily reminded me of Xenogears. Which, by the way, was probably the moment I felt myself just relax and settle into my chair, in a sort of metaphysical way.

Plus, you can fish. Androids fishing up mechanical fish in a post-apocalyptic Earth, to sell for cash to buy healing potions. Because Japan. It’s great.

So count me converted on Nier: Automata already. I’m in it for the long run.

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Impressions: No Man’s Sky

Before its release in August 2016, the hype train for No Man’s Sky was insane. Something like 17 trillion different planets in a vibrant galaxy full of procedurally-generated lifeforms. Do anything, go anywhere! Reality hit people hard, including me, even though I did not buy the game at release.

I did buy the game a week or so ago though, and I can say that after a year of actually substantive updates, No Man’s Sky is almost ready for its debut. Mostly.

The first hour or so of gameplay is not that great, and can be worse depending on the randomly generated planet you start on. The vast majority of planets have hostile weather that necessitates the constant recharging of suit protections, driving you to seek shelter in your ship or a cave or farming Zinc from plants. Your ship needs Plutonium to lift off the ground each time, and your Life Support systems can only be charged with Thamium9. And you have to juggle all of these competing element requirements with a micro-inventory that gets worse before it gets better.

That’s really the summary for the game: No Man’s Sky gets worse before it gets better. Mostly.

After getting a few upgrades here and there, especially getting a better ship, the game opens up tremendously. You still need all the survival elements, but you have the space and cash to stockpile a few stacks. Then there is the forward momentum that comes from the primary quests, assuming you did not choose to free-roam. Things progress quite nicely, especially after unlocking your base and assorted goodies like Exocraft, e.g. vehicles.

Here’s the thing though: the core gameplay loop is incredibly tiny. On each non-lifeless planet, there will always be the following: Life Pods, Habitable Buildings, Trade Posts, Crashed Ships, Monoliths. All of them will look the same, although there are a few different types. All of them will be randomly scattered around, but the scattering itself will be very uniform across the entire surface of the world. By all measures you can actually fully upgrade your Exosuit before leaving the original planet you spawned on (assuming you somehow got the cash).

Planets are literally the size of real planets, but everything you could really ever need on any individual one of them will exist within 10km of wherever you land. Each star system has a Space Station, and each Space Station is set up exactly the same way. You can accept “missions” from an NPC there, and these missions are essentially Radiant Quests ala Skyrim. Kill X number of Y, collect Z resource, kill some space pirates, deliver this item, etc. As you increase your reputation, more lucrative quests unlock, which feature harder to find Z resources, or tougher pirates.

Some of the gameplay elements remain half-baked. Early on, you will find many rocks that contain Deuterium, which you are unable to mine. After unlocking Exocraft, e.g. vehicles, you can finally mine them. I was pretty excited… up until the moment I realized Deuterium is only used for Exocraft upgrades. Once you install the ones you want, the element has no purpose anywhere else in the game. The same applies to another element that comes from “raiding” (read: blowing up) protected silos. Why would you ever mine Deuterium or raid the other element again? It not being used for anything other than the thing it was needed for seems comically short-sighted.

It’s not obvious at first, but No Man’s Sky is more of a game about economics than anything else. Each plant or creature you scan gives you Units. Some elements exist only to be mined and sold as vendor trash. Completing missions gives you Units, and unlock better missions that grant more Units. Some of the base-building requires specific elements, but for the most part its Iron which is everywhere. Pretty much the biggest reason to have a base at all is so your can start a Farm, which lets you “grow” special elements. That you then turn into unusable-but-very-sellable items. So you can eventually buy a Freighter for 186 million Units… to have more inventory space. For Units.

I’m at over 50 hours at this point, and I have no idea why I still find this fun, but I do.

The key, I think, is to temper your expectations. This is not Minecraft in space. This is not 3D Starbound/Terraria. I’m not even sure if it’s all that good for Explorers, given that procedurally-generated terrain/plants/creatures generally all look the same after a while. That said, I do find the Primary quests to be interesting, and I very much enjoy the ability to just fly around and do whatever. Want to stop what you’re doing and warp to a different star system? You can. Want to just make a bee-line to the center of the galaxy? Go do that. Want to make the perfect farm so you can mass-produce Circuit Boards and sell them for 1 million Units apiece? Yeah, I’m on it.

No Man’s Sky has gotten a lot of updates since release, and it seems as though more might still be on the way. I ended up buying my copy for $20, and at that price I feel like I got my money’s worth already. In a few months, it might even be cheaper with more content and better gameplay loops. We’ll have to see.

Hyper Hype

I can’t remember the last time that E3 felt relevant or interesting. But now? I can’t remember a time when I’ve felt as hyped up as I do right now. Like holy shit whoa. All of these news items could turn out to be soul-crushingly disappointing, but… I choose to believe. I’m officially abandoning all rational arguments against the following and reveling in the ecstasy of fanboyism in its purest form.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake

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Just knowing that this is a real, actual thing that will exist at some indeterminable point in the future brings me unbridled joy. I have talked about FF7 many a time over the years, and it has maintained its position in my Top 3 games of all time ever since I first played it in high school. Does the original hold up to modern RPG standards? Probably not. Am I tiny bit worried that “remake” will entail removing everything recognizable about the base game? Yeah, I am – that trailer narration was quite bizarre.

But in many ways, it doesn’t matter. A Final Fantasy 7 remake is going to exist. And by existing, it validates all those feelings I had damn near twenty years ago and have remembered ever since. The game was a cultural milestone that marked the turning point in gaming when RPGs went mainstream. And I was on the ground floor for that.

God, I still remember playing it Christmas Day and my father quipping “Oh, they’re showcasing interracial marriage now?” when he saw Tifa and Barret talking with Marlene in the bar. That… was a different time.

So yeah, you are either as excited about this as I am, or… well, I’m sorry. Hopefully you can warm your cold, dark heart vicariously through my joy. Or, you know, by envisioning my reaction when/if Square Enix buckles under the collective nostalgia of ten million people and fucks it up. There will be plenty of heat to go around in either case.

Fallout 4

Everyone knew this was coming. I don’t think many people imagined this coming out November 10th. At least not me.

This is honestly another one of those games in which the designers would have to go way out of their way to screw up before I would even notice. Fallout 3 was such a home run for me on so many levels. First, as someone who played Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout Tactics, I had a measure of extreme skepticism that the franchise could make the transition into the third dimension. I mean, maybe I should have learned from Metroid Prime that such magic was possible, but that moment when you first emerge from the Vault, blinded by the sun… yes. Yes, the world is fundamentally good and just.

New Vegas is often praised for being the better of the two, but I still disagree in a rather fundamental way. Simply put, you were on rails for a not-insignificant amount of time in New Vegas, funneled down a highway arbitrarily surrounded by level 20 Radscorpians and Super Ghouls. Compare that to Fallout 3, where you can explore every non-D.C. corner of the map starting from the Vault entrance. And that’s what I did, in every playthrough: striking out into the wasteland, investigating any landmark that caught my eye.

And hoarding all the things. So, so many things.

So seeing that video showcasing the insane level of customization for every weapon, utilizing every random piece of trash you have squirreled away? I’m already there. I’m sold. Not preorder sold – that would just be silly – but “Day 1 sold even though the game will be unplayable until the first patch two weeks later” sold. The base-building is cool, of course, and I’m looking forward for the zany Fallout plot as well. But I would pretty much play any post-apocalypse game where I could scavenge and hoard trash, and Bethesda certainly has my (credit card) number in this respect.

The Last Guardian survives

Much like a FF7 remake, The Last Guardian has become somewhat of a running joke at E3 and elsewhere. As the article notes, it was originally announced back in 2009 for the PS3. As the article also notes, however, it’s coming out 2016. For real this time™. Hopefully. Please.

While not on the full caliber as FF7, I have long considered ICO to be one of those games that best exemplifies Games as Art. Not just in aesthetics, but in the purity of its design. You were a little boy who used a stick to chase away the shadows of an impossibly large castle. Everything about that game was great. And Team Ico has been working on this game ever since Shadow of the Colossus (which I am still working my way through).

Some people on the internet have been complaining about the dated graphics, or at least pointed out that it looks like a game designed on the PS3. Which is likely the case, honestly. But you know what? I’m not going to criticize those uncouth Philistines for being incapable appreciating the finer things in life. Given their miserable condition – the rote, listless way they carry themselves in life – the only proper response to their proclamations is pity. If this game was merely ICO 2, same graphics and all, I would still play it, and have my life enriched thereby.

…and more

I’m pretty happy that Mirror’s Edge is getting a sequel, or prequel, or reboot, or whatever. It was one of those games whose fingerprints you can still see being left on game design today. Horizon looks pretty keen too. Oh, and I guess Mass Effect 4 is a thing. Although in regards to that, I feel no particular sensation of hype because Mass Effect is Shepard, and the Commander’s story is over. Whomever is wearing that N7 uniform has some mighty large boots to fill. Unless that person is actually Shepard and Liara’s (or Tali, or hell, Garrus’) child, in which case, game on.

In any event, I’m feeling kinda spent right now. The only thing that could possibly have made things better would have been… I dunno. Cold fusion and world peace? A Xenogears remake? I don’t want to get too greedy though.

I Asked For This

If you have been reading this site for a while, you probably know I have an aversion to paying full retail price for videogames. So much so that I created it as a tag: Day 1 Embargo. Why pay $60 for something when it will be half off (or more) three months from now? It’s not like we don’t have 50+ games in our Steam backlogs anyway, right? Better to avoid the hype and save money.

Oh, hey, what’s this:

In the gibberish language of Twitch, let me say: H Y P E B O Y S.

Adam “I didn’t ask for this” Jensen is back. Michael “holy shit this music is amazing” McCann is back. Out of all the game worlds I have experienced in the last few years, the one presented in Deus Ex: Human Revolution has been the most authentic and immersive. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to state that there is something about Deus Ex in general that presses all the right buttons for me. Cyberpunk morality all day, erryday.

Seriously, have you seen the “movie” trailer for Human Revolution? Still gives me chills.

So, yeah. I shall be preemptively lifting my standard embargo on new games for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, whenever it is that it finally gets released. Because I want to believe. I want to believe so bad it hurts. Hurts like Neuropozyne withdraw.