Monday, October 12, 2015

Creepy Cardboard: Betrayal at House on the Hill

Since I'm a big Halloween guy, I thought I'd try to do some themed posts this month focusing on horror. I've been meaning to start writing about board gaming, a hobby that I've gotten into deeply over the past few years, so I figured this was a perfect time to jump in by writing about some of my favorite horror-themed board games.

One of the first board games that got me back into the hobby was Betrayal at House on the Hill. I remember seeing it on Wil Wheaton's Tabletop web series when I was just starting to get interested in board gaming, and everything about it immediately grabbed my attention. Betrayal can best be described as a 'haunted house simulator.' You play as a group of characters, ranging from an old professor to a high school jock, who all stumble upon and explore a haunted house. But don't get too comfortable, because one of the players is secretly a traitor that brought the others there for nefarious purposes.

The game is divided into two sections. In the first part, all the characters wonder around the haunted house trying to find items and attempting to survive creepy happenings. You are allowed to move a certain number of spaces based on your character's speed stat. When you travel through a doorway, you draw a new tile to find out what room is on the other side. This really randomizes the house, making each time unique. The room tiles have one of three logos on them: items, events and omens. When you go into an item room, you are allowed to draw an item card that can benefit your character in several different ways. It could be anything from a gun that helps your attack or a cursed set of dice that have different effects when you roll them. Event rooms make you draw from the event deck, where you get to read a little mini story that tests your character in some way, always involving a dice check against one of your stats. For example, you could see a ghostly figure walk through the room and disappear through a wall. You will then have to roll a sanity check, and the result of your roll will determine what this does to your character. The final deck is full of omen cards. This are basically more powerful items or companions for your character, but when you get one, you have to make a 'haunt roll.' You'll roll six dice, and the total of your roll must be higher than the total number of omen cards that have been drawn. If you fail the roll, the second phase begins.

During the second section, you find out that one of the characters is a traitor. You look at a table, and based on the room you are in and the omen you received when you failed the haunt roll, you will decide who the traitor is and what scenario you are playing. The most recent edition of the game includes at total of 50 haunts, all with different stories and objectives.  The person designated as the traitor will take a separate rule book from those who remain. Each team will take a look at the story for the haunt as well as their set up and objectives for the scenario. For example, the traitor may turn into a werewolf. His or her objective would be to either kill or transform all the survivors. This can sometimes introduce other monster characters controlled by the traitor or a countdown timer that makes things more difficult for the survivors as time goes on. There are even scenarios that have a hidden traitor or are every man for himself.

As far as gameplay matching theme, Betrayal is unmatched. Everything about the way things play out in the game perfectly matches the idea of wandering around a haunted house. If there's one criticism of the game, it's that the first part of the game feels a bit aimless, especially if you play the game a few times in one night. There are enough event cards to keep this section varied, but when new people ask me what exactly you're supposed to be doing at the start, all I can really say is 'walk around and try to find items until the haunt starts,' which doesn't exactly feel like a satisfying answer when it's all random.

When the haunt begins, that's when the game truly starts to shine. Each scenario has a great little intro for each team that puts you into the mood for the adventure. Even though many of the scenarios often boil down to making your way to a certain room and succeeding a certain number of dice checks, every haunt is unique. There are 50 haunts included in the game, and you rarely end up with the same one twice. We have played approximately half of them since getting the game. Here are a couple of my favorite:

-Dance of Death: A story that starts as a co-op where an evil fiddler attempts to enchant everyone drawing them with his evil tune. If you succumb to the fiddler, you switch sides and work against the groups attempts to stop him.

-The Guillotines: Everyone wakes up with guillotine collars around their necks in a Saw-esque scenario. One of the people is secretly the one that set up all the traps, and the everyone wanders around the house searching for the keys to unlock the collars. Each round, you have to make dice rolls to see if your collar goes off.

-Airborne: A gigantic bird picks up the house with the attention of bringing you to its nest. There are parachutes in the house, but not enough for everyone, and it's every person for his or herself!

The mechanics of this game are not what you play for. I'm not saying that the gameplay is no good (it's actually really fun), but the real strength of this game is the stories that come out of playing. With Guillotines, I taunted my friend into revealing that he was a traitor right at the start of the haunt, and it made for a crazy time. Part of what makes board gaming fun is that very immediate communal experience, and creating memories the way this game does is really what all games should strive to do. If you have a group of friends that all like to fully commit themselves to the theme, you can't go wrong.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Dream DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight

One of the things that kinda got people upset at the new Batman game was that it tried to sell everyone on this $40 season pass that would include a bunch of DLC that they didn't really feel like detailing. Now I'm not against DLC, I think there are plenty of  games like Fallout that do it right, but Arkham's track record hasn't been great so far. It looks like the DLC will end up being very brief stories missions for Batgirl, Nightwing and Catwoman, along with a series of skins. Doesn't sound exactly like what I'm hoping for.

With Rocksteady doing such a great job with the story of Arkham Knight, I started thinking about what I would want them to tackle for DLC stories; things that wouldn't necessarily be connected to the main story, but could stand on their own as little mini-adventures. Here are a few that I came up with:

This was the first thing that I thought of as far as stories that I would love to see in the Arkham universe. While I think this could possibly be the backbone for a full game, having it be a DLC side quest that's scattered throughout Gotham would be awesome. You could track down clues about the Court of Owls all throughout the city until you end up in the labyrinth being hunted by Talon. I think that would be best to serve as the climax rather than the Night of Owls from the comic were a series of Talons swarm the city. Being drugged with hallucinogens and chased through a maze by an invincible warrior would make for a nice variation on gameplay that Arkham so sorely needs after four games. Having it be a bite sized story would help fix the issue I had with the comic book version that got overlong and too big.

This would be a nice mystery story that would take place outside of Gotham City at the mansion of John Mayhew. The original comic by Grant Morrison was a mystery featuring a series of different Batman knock-offs in a Clue-style murder mystery. Since the game does such a good job at story, I think it would be interesting to see if they could construct a mission that doesn't focus on combat. It would be very cool to try to investigate clues on your own and try to make a judgement call on who the secret murder is. The comic is a perfect combination of campy and creepy, and to see it in the grittier world of Arkham would be awesome.

I think a lot of people were a bit tired of the Riddler's missions, especially since they were required to get the true ending of Arkham Knight. There wasn't really a significant evolution of the concept since the beginning of the series. The classic Riddler story Dark Knight, Dark City would serve as the perfect way to spice up his MO. In DK,DC, Riddler takes a darker turn and creates a series of riddles and traps for Batman that are meant to trick him into performing a ritual to summon the bat demon Barbathos. They could have it be a smaller series of Riddler puzzles that are more thematically focused around this concept, with a horror twist. While it's good that the game has lots of collectibles, I would much prefer a fresher, more narrative based experience like this.

I'm thinking about this one completely because it would provide a much needed variation on gameplay. Superheavy is the current Batman story going on where Gordon is the new Batman using a big mech suit, with something more akin to a train for the Batmobile. The villain, Mr. Bloom, is known for giving people drugs that give them super powers, so this would be a great way to have little 'mini-bosses' throughout the story. Even though the storyline isn't completed yet, the idea of playing as a mecha Batman would be a ton of fun and would hopefully provide a change up that the series could use.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Until Dawn - Review

I remember when I finished Heavy Rain, I immediately thought that the concepts of that game should be applied to a straight-up horror game. The idea of making split second choices that could mean life or death sounds perfect for horror. While the Telltale Walking Dead games did this wonderfully, I think Until Dawn is the realization of the promise of Heavy Rain.

Even though Heavy Rain was mostly successful, there were so many flaws in the narrative of the game, and in a story-focused game, that can really hurt the overall experience. Heavy Rain really felt up its own ass with how important it wanted to be (especially with the opening featuring director David Cage), but Until Dawn strips all that pretentiousness away. In Until Dawn, we're presented with a classic horror movie set up that revels in both playing with and subverting genre cliches, while never taking itself too seriously.

The setup is perfect, eight friends get back together on the one year anniversary of a tragedy in the same isolated mansion on the mountains where the incident occurred. With all of the character being in their late teens, their motivations aren't much deeper than getting drunk and laid, but they manage to take characters that start out as cookie cutter stereotypes and build an interesting set of relationships between them. The outline of their personalities are there, but you have the chance to shape that through your choices, as you rotate through playing as each character. When your current girlfriend is arguing with your ex's new girl, do you try to defuse the situation, or join the verbal catfight? It's choices like these that really help add flavor to the narrative and make you feel like you are shaping things.

Much like Heavy Rain or Walking Dead, the moment to moment gameplay isn't too much to write home about. Most of the action scenes are handled through the use of quick-time events that just require a simple tap of the button (which is a slight step back from Heavy Rain, where the QTEs often found a way to mirror what the character is going). There is a cool mechanic that forces you to stay still by using the PS4's motion sensitivity, but other than that, there's nothing too innovative. I would actually even say there's one to many button pushes that you have to do while interacting with objects, but I'm very willing to forgive it thanks to the narrative focus.

The big thing that the game pushes is the focus on the Butterfly Effect system, which informs you when you make decisions that alter the course of the game in some way. It's an obvious reference, but they do some cool legwork to integrate it into the game, adding in lore about Native American beliefs about the symbolism of butterflies. The choices you make throughout feel important, whether or not they actually are. It will probably take me a few playthroughs to see exactly how much certain decisions matter, but there were definitely moments that immediately regretted based on the outcome, and I'm really excited to see how things play out differently if you lose characters at certain moments. That is one of the big consequences of your actions: the characters can be killed, rather suddenly. This makes you really think about every choice you make, and really puts stress on you when you have to make them quickly.

None of this would matter if the story and acting wasn't good, but fortunately Supermassive, the developers of the game, invested in some very talented people on that front. Not only do you have acting talent from shows such as Heroes, Agents of SHIELD and Mr. Robot, but the game is also written by Larry Fessenden and Graham Reznick, names familiar to fans of independent horror. The performances are top notch, captured by the gorgeous graphics, some of the best I've seen on PS4. It couldn't have been an easy task to build performances that could blossom into any of the character choices you make, but it all flows smoothly. The plot of the game is also wonderful, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you off balance just as you start to figure things out. I didn't ever feel cheated in the same way I did during Heavy Rain.

Until Dawn was a PS4 exclusive, but did not get a big marketing push from Sony. Despite that, it still managed to sell decently well, placing 7th on August's top games of the month; no small feat when placed in between Madden 16 and Metal Gear Solid V on the release schedule. I really hope Supermassive gets another shot at making something like this. If Sony is worried about putting a massive budget into it again (this game was originally a PS3 game made for the Move, but was rebuilt for PS4), they should let Supermassive make downloadable short games in the same vein. If they are shorter, they could have even more variability, allowing characters to die off earlier without having to worry about how they would go through a long run time without the full cast. I would love to see their take on other horror genres, particularly a Silent Hill-esque title (yes, I'm still crushed from the cancellation of Silent Hills). Give me more horror games like this, because actually changing the narrative is a much bigger failure consequence than just having to restart a section, and horror always needs new ways to up the tension.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Evolve - Hunting Party

Evolve had a very strange critical history. When it was first introduced by Turtle Rock Studios, the creators of the much-loved Left 4 Dead series, everyone was impressed with its new take on the multiplayer shooter. At the E3 before the game's release, it won several Best of E3 awards. When the game finally came out, the response was surprisingly tepid. Scores ranged mostly between six and eights, and there was lots of talk about its weak multiplayer community just months after launch. 

I've never been one for multiplayer games, especially shooters, but the idea of the game intrigued me. Having four hunters teaming up to hunt a monster that is trying to feed on wildlife to get stronger is such a perfect idea. Each class is wholly unique, and the characters within the class are equally unique. The concept is so perfectly balanced and does not favor either side. This is a pretty big deal in an asymmetrical multiplayer game. This was on my short list of games that I wanted to pick up when I got my PS4, and a low price for a used copy convinced me to take the plunge. 

So how do I feel about my big leap into multiplayer shooters? I'm having a blast. While I don't play it as often as other games I have, such as Bloodborne, I have a great time just picking it up and playing a couple matches. Since I'm such a shooter amateur, I find myself mostly playing the single player (which is just the same game, but with computer controlled bots) in order to unlock most of the hunters. In the past few weeks, I've been actually jumping in and trying the online modes, and it's a whole 'nother game. The monster is so much more difficult to track when it is controlled by an actual human, and the hunting goes better when it's not a bunch of bots following you. Again, I haven't played too many multiplayer shooters, but with the way this game is laid out, it seems to be a lot more strategic than other games out there, while still remaining viscerally exciting. 

Not only is the gameplay concept very clever, the visual and character designs are also wonderful. The central concept of the game is that a planet called Shear, that is very much a jungle type habitat, is overrun by increasingly dangerous wildlife that has finally evolved into these huge, horrifying monsters. Anytime one of these monsters is located, a group of hired hunters gets together to take it out. Each character is visually unique and has a design that really tells their story. My favorite characters include the Assault character Hyde, who punishes the monsters with a combination of a flamethrower and a minigun, and Bucket, a yellow robot who can detach his head and scout for the creature. The monsters all look appropriately hideous and a distinct from each other both in playstyle and look. 

I do have to address the elephant in the room that has been haunting the game since its release: the DLC pricing/structure. The game launched with 12 hunters (three in each of the classes) and three monsters. One of each is unlocked at the beginning, and the rest are unlocked through playing the game and meeting certain requirements. Even before the game was launched, they announced a Season Pass that would include one more hunter for each class, and a new monster that would be purchased separately. The Season Pass was $25 and the monster was $15. So with the game being $60, it would cost you $100 to get all the characters. They are doing another Hunting Season, where it will be $25 for four hunters and a monster. I'm really glad that they are supporting this game so much post-launch, especially since the game didn't really sell as much as they thought it would, and the hunter designs are really awesome, especially the ones released from the second season so far. Even so, this just seems like a poor pricing structure. In a world where free-to-play games have found ways to be hugely successful without requiring any money to start with, it seems crazy to price things like this. Since I got the game for cheap, I may end up getting one of the season passes, but it's still kinda crazy to ask for so much for something that doesn't shake up the core of the gameplay.

I really hope Evolve is something that continues as a franchise. The concept is so awesome, and the gameplay is super well balance. I feel like the developers have listened to the video game community's response to the DLC schedule and would adjust a new game to fix these things. I would love to see it come out as a free-to-play game with a few characters, the new ones could be unlocked either through money or a 'premium in-game currency' earned through play. Maybe they could even create a single player campaign mode that you could grab for a reasonable price. I would even like to see a one-on-one monster fight mode that would make you really feel like you were in a Godzilla movie. Whatever happens, I really hope the community picks up a bit, as there have been some pretty neat tweaks and features that are added at a regular interval. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight - Review

This game was always the one that was going to force my hand to make the jump to the current console generation. I was fortunate enough to find a good bundle and get it earlier, but when they announced Batman: Arkham Knight would be only for PS4 and XBox One, I knew that if I didn't have a PS4 by the time it came out, I would get one.

The Arkham series has consistently been one of my favorites. Arkham Asylum really opened the door and created not only a good game (a first for the Batman franchise), but also crafted a really great Batman story. Some of the boss fights felt kinda forced, but overall it was awesome.

Arkham City took everything about Asylum that worked and put it in a great open world. They created an amazing story reason to let Batman and the criminals run wild in a portion of the city, Escape from New York style. The feeling of actually being Batman, patrolling the city and hunting down supervillains was amazing.

I even liked Arkham Origins, the forgotten entry. Origins was not made by Rocksteady, the studio behind the first two, and didn't do much to evolve the game in a significant way, but it put together a solid and surprising story. Pulling eight assassins out of the Batman lore to hunt you down was a bit of a stretch, but an unexpected twist in the game really brought it to a fun place.

All of these experiences led to some pretty crazy hype for this game. Does the game live up to and exceed my expectations? Short answer: not quite. I would say that this is my second favorite behind Arkham City (which remains one of my favorite games of all time). The main story of Arkham Knight is pretty damn awesome and manages to throw in a fairly interesting curveball almost right off the bat, no pun intended. Some of the side missions are not as compelling as they could be, and the Batmobile gameplay isn't always what you hope it would be, but overall it's an awesome experience. Why I am giving this quick review summary right now? Because to really talk about this game I have to get into SPOILERS. So be warned, after this paragraph, I'll be discussing all the major plot twists in detail, as the story is what really shines about this game.

I thought the death of the Joker at the end of Arkham City was perfect. It was an awesome thing that could not be done in the comics, as they will never be able to definitively kill off the Joker. When they announced Knight, I was glad to see Scarecrow was the main villain, as he was always one of my favorite Batman villains and never really got a great story where he is the lead. Then I saw that they were introducing a new character called the Arkham Knight. Immediately I said, "I will be so pissed if the Arkham Knight turns out to be the Joker, because I want him to stay dead."

Well they found a way to bring him back and I wasn't even mad. After the first big set piece of the game, you get dosed with some pretty heavy fear gas. This, combined with the Joker blood injected into Batman in Arkham City, causes you to hallucinate the Joker. It's perfect. It's the ultimate way for us to actually see a physical manifestation of Batman's greatest fears. He always ends up seeing his dead parents, and I'm sick of that. This seems more like his real fear. That one day, the weight of all this crime fighting will end up causing him to snap, turning him into what he hates the most. They really play around with this mechanic perfectly, and the game is stronger for it. The best part of the climax of the game is some interesting dreamlike stuff with the Joker.

I almost feel bad for the Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight, because the Joker tends to overshadow everyone else in the games he's in (Strange ends up taking a backseat to him in City and Black Mask is pushed aside in Origins as well). The main plot thread is all about the Scarecrow using some crazy device to deploy a super fear gas all over Gotham, and he really puts you through the ringer. This time around, he's voiced by the amazing John Noble, and his delivery and look are suitably creepy. You rarely actually encounter him, but rather hear him on the various screens throughout Gotham. Scarecrow's plot even unexpectedly succeeds at one point, blanketing Gotham in fear gas and taking away a lot of the things you relied on throughout the game.

The Arkham Knight is a fun addition, though not entirely satisfying. He's set up as a military dude who is hired by Scarecrow because of his hatred for Batman, and the majority of the game is spent trying to figure out exactly who he is. Most experienced Batman fans could probably guess who it's going to be within three tries, but after a mid-game Joker hallucination, it become very obvious that the Knight is Jason Todd. It's a little disappointing, but I don't know what would have been satisfying. I understand that they had to show Todd at some point to let people who don't know the Batman lore get an idea of what happened to him, but that really tipped their hand too much. It's cool to see the character, but I just wish they could have done something fresh and new with the concept of the Arkham Knight rather than just do Red Hood under a different name.

One of the coolest additions to the rogues gallery was a set of characters infected by Joker's blood that Batman keeps locked away in a lab/prison. At one point Harley breaks in trying to find the last thing left of her dear sweet Mr. J, and seeing each of these characters is really fun. The highlight is a musical/stealth segment where Jokerified entertainer Johnny Charisma signs to Batman in a room full of armed explosives while the player controlled Robin has to sneak around and defuse the bombs. It's a wonderful bit a variety in a game that's usually broken down into punch, stalk or driving missions.

So now that I've talked a bit about the plot, let's dive into the gameplay. Everything that worked about the previous games works here again. The fighting continues to be a perfect mix of strategy an simplicity, making you feel like a bad ass while still providing a challenge. The stealth portions still make you feel exactly like the Batman, swooping in and out of shadows to quickly dispatch enemies in secret. There are very few advancements in this area, aside from the neat looking fear takedowns, but there doesn't really need to be. The main plot keeps things varied enough that you don't really mind doing the same crisp things you've done for the past three games.

The big new thing is the Batmobile. This is the number one thing people have been asking for each time a new Batman game is announced, and they've finally given it to us, with mixed results. The driving feels perfect. So many open world games get either the on-foot or the driving segments right, but Arkham Knight really nails both of them. There are some really thrilling chases in the game, and the Batmobile handles them perfectly.

But not everything about the Batmobile fits. With a push of a button, you can transform the Batmobile into a tank. This ends up not working entirely with me on both a gameplay and a story standpoint. As far as story goes, Batman isn't really known to like guns. They are the thing that killed his parents, and he definitely doesn't ever use lethal force, so for the Batmobile to be armed with a giant cannon seems a little out of character for me. They also seem to try to write around the idea that these are very clearly lethal things. All of the tanks are conveniently remote controlled, allowing Batman to brutally blow them up, and the machine guns shoot rubber bullets when people are around, allowing for non-lethal takedowns of thugs roaming the streets. Neither of those things really worked for me, so it took away from my enjoyment of those segments.

As far a Bat-Tank gameplay, the controls become like a first person shooter, which isn't really what I signed up for. It would be fine if this was used sparingly, but it seems that since Batmobile is the franchise's new toy, they try to incorporate it as often as possible. There isn't much variety in the tank battle aside from how many tanks you are facing, which just feels like it cheaply increases the difficulty of later fights rather than finding a way to make them satisfyingly complex. In the last act of the game, I kept praying each tank battle was my last, because I had had my fill of them.

The side missions were one of the things I loved in Arkham City, and were a great way to bring in other villains that weren't necessarily part of the main plot, but I felt that this game was quite a bit weaker in that department. Since the main story pretty much only relies on Scarecrow and Arkham Knight, all other villains are only in the side missions, but they never seem to mount to anything substantial. Most of them are just doing the same thing over and over again (Two-Face is robbing another bank, stealth in and takedown all the robbers), and they don't really have a narrative to them. There are a couple good ones that are surprising, but most feel repetitive.

As you can see, I have a lot to say about this game, and that wouldn't be true if it didn't grab me in some way. There is so much of this game that I loved that I am willing to look past its faults. As I said before, it's probably my second favorite of the Arkham games behind City, but City is such a high standard for me that even coming close to it is a huge win. Arkham Knight easily ranks among the best gaming experiences I've had this year.

I'm actually fine with the fact that they said this will be Rocksteady's last Batman game. What I would like to see, at least for the foreseeable future, would be for them to do a series of DLC that are each their own standalone stories that tells shorter, but powerful stories. Maybe that will be a topic for a later blog post.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Order: 1886 - Review

When they debuted The Order: 1886, it looked like it was going to be Sony's, in-house exclusive. I still remember thinking they were crazy when they revealed Bloodborne and had them in a similar release window. Here were two games with a Victorian setting where dudes with guns hunted down monsters in the streets. Why would Sony get the exclusive rights to Bloodborne and release it at relatively the same time as their big release when they looked so alike. They must not care about Bloodborne.

I could not have been any more wrong. The two games ended up being completely different. While The Order focused on cover-based gunfights, Bloodborne focused on tight, fast melee combat. While Bloodborne was about exploring and discovering story bits for yourself, The Order was an extremely linear story that leads you from Point A to B. The Order is about 6 hours long, while Blooborne took me at least 40. Their aesthetics don't even end up being that similar, besides being Victorian. And the biggest difference: Bloodborne is outstanding and The Order is forgettable.

I'll get this out of the way first; this is easily the most gorgeous game I've ever played. The character models and facial animations are absolutely stunning. The environments are so rich and realistic looking. There were many times throughout the game where I would just stop playing and stare at a bottle and out loud, "That bottle looks perfect." Lighting in this game is absolutely perfect, and all the reflective surfaces in the game, such as puddles, react exactly as they should.

For as outstanding as the graphics are, the gameplay isn't really anything to write home about. It's a competent cover-based shooter with many similarities to the Uncharted series. There are actually some really amazing weapons, like an electric gun and one that shoots a gas that you can ignite. While the design of most of the set pieces is not even close to that of Uncharted, there are some good moments. I had particular fun in a creepy hospital level and thought the battle aboard the airship was rather exciting. One of the biggest variations comes in the knife fights that you have with certain werewolves, which are some really thrilling Quick Time Events.

The main problem is that the game doesn't offer much more than just run through a place, shoot some dudes, watch a long cutscene. One of my friends encouraged me to rent this game and check it out saying that I could definitely beat it in a rental because there were only 10 gunfights in the whole game. While that was a bit of an exaggeration, it wasn't too far from the truth, as a few of the games 16 chapters were just cinematics.

There has been a lot of criticism brought up against The Order for being so short, but to me, that's not a huge problem. I mean, we don't think Avatar is better than Gravity because Avatar is an hour longer, do we? My biggest problem with the game is that was not what it should have been. From the start, it seems like the game is about the Knights of the Round Table hunting a werewolf scourge that is destroying London. But very quickly the game gets caught up in a plot about rebels fighting against the Order and a possible traitor in your midst. While there is some cool mythology around the Knights that is explained in interesting ways (it doesn't feed you some information directly, which I appreciate), too much of the game is a missed opportunity.

I'm going to get in to some SPOILERS here, so if you want to avoid that, skip this paragraph. There is twist in the game that completely boggles my mind. About two thirds of the way through, we find out that one of the people that influences the Order is not only Jack the Ripper, but also a vampire. Since there are werewolves in the world, this doesn't seem completely out of left field, but here's the crazy part: YOU NEVER FIGHT A VAMPIRE. You go through and burn some vampires that are being shipped to the United States, but you never actually fight them. This is compounded by the fact that you don't actually fight a ton of werewolves either. The "You Killed 10 Werewolves" trophy didn't actually pop until really late in the game, so there are not many at all. So much of the game is focused on shooting random soldier types, which is no where near as interesting as fighting beasties.

I guess the worst thing about The Order: 1886 is that is a missed opportunity. It's not a terrible game, it just feels like it could have been so much more. The game is gorgeous and the shooting is adequate, but it feels like the game was rushed out, and that the developers saved many things for a sequel, which may never happen due to the poor reception of the game. I have no idea what happened to this game that looked so promising, but at least we have Bloodborne.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Notes from Yharnam: Getting the Hang of It

I don't even know where to start.

I have progressed light years since I last wrote about Bloodborne. Last time I had completed the second boss; I've now killed seven and know where two more are. I've killed several hostile hunters, opened up new areas and had my world flipped upside down by a spider on an endless lake.

So much of the game opened up after defeating Father Gascoigne. You begin to get more details about what the game world is. You find a church where you can send people you find holed up throughout the town. You meet a man who tells you of an ancient university that hides ancient, arcane knowledge deep in the woods. You also find your way into a walled off portion of the city that has been quarantined and given up on.

It's in that walled-off portion, Old Yharnam, that things start to vary up a bit more. The look of the section is different. The idea of this area is that an infection so vile took over, and the place was burned, closed off and left for dead. The beasts here are different and more aggressive, even giving you a poison status for the first time (as far as I recall). This is also the first time I recall fighting a non-boss hunter. When you get to a certain part of Old Yharnam, a hunter named Djura starts shooting at you from the roof of a building.

His dialogue, along with the character of Father Gascoigne, offer some of the first clues that maybe being a hunter isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Djura is trying to protect the monsters from you, as they are really just 'sick' people who need to be pitied. He has a line along the lines of "You still dream, don't you?" When he dies and doesn't come back, it makes a connection between the idea of being reborn and the idea of the Hunter's Dream, the hub world where you shop and level up. This is the kind of lovely and subtle world building that Bloodborne does.

This boss in this area is quite tricky. It's vicious and really pounds you with poison damage in a way that I was not prepared for. Eventually I found some equipment that ramped up my poison resistance and gave me the edge over the Blood-Starved Beast. The reward for beating this boss was not progress in the sense of unlocking a new world, but rather giving you the option to take on the chalice dungeons, something that I have yet to dive into.

After taking out the Blood-Starved Beast, I started exploring the area more around the Cathedral. This area isn't quite as interesting as Old Yharnam, as it is visually very similar, but here we find some of the first enemies that don't seem wolfen or mutated. Men in trench coats with wide brimmed hats roam the land attacking you with canes or scythes. This was also one of the first times that I found an enemy that was truly intimidating. These Reapers are about four times your size and are armed with huge, crude axes. It was actually only recently that I was able to take one of these things down.

A bit later, after a good bit of exploring, I came upon another church (the BSB was also located in a church) and found the fourth boss, the Vicar Amelia. You find a woman praying at an altar who turns into a massive wolf/deer creature. This boss is the most beautifully designed boss I have run across so far in the game. I had a pretty tough time fighting her as well. Fortunately it was around this time that I started learning more about some of the games less obvious mechanics. I finally discovered how the Bell system works to call other players in to help you. With the Vicar Amelia, I ended up calling someone in to assist me. While it was a little less satisfying to beat it with help, it's not like it made it vastly easier.

Beating the Vicar opened up one of my favorite areas in the game, but that can be a story for another time...