Destiny Alpha: First Impressions

destiny

 

 

Those of you who caught wind of some of Sony’s E3 announcements may have heard that Playstation gamers were treated to an early taste of the new Bungie game, Destiny, for a weekend. Coming from someone whose preferred gaming style isn’t First Person Shooters, and whose experience with Halo games is as extensive as going to a few LAN parties in college and getting killed repeatedly, I will say this:

Destiny is pretty freakin’ awesome, and I am actually excited for its release.

The only reason we downloaded it is because my husband has a new love for multiplayer shooters and last year’s E3 made this game look promising. Tickled pink when he received his Alpha access code, he called me from work and asked me to download it. I didn’t have a lot of gaming time over the weekend, but I decided to give it a try.

The Alpha weekend gave us access to 3 different classes, 3 different races, 3 different zones, the main hub city, and a couple PvP arenas (which I didn’t check out as I never really PvP, but I heard the maps offered weren’t very impressive). Staying true to my MMO WoW roots, I decided to play a Warlock. Plus, the special moves are purple.

Anyway, I had a blast. The game gave off a Borderlands (minus the vast amounts of loot)/Mass Effect vibe. And Halo, I’m sure, but I never really played any of the Halo games. Even though the setting and gameplay were totally different, I couldn’t help but have flashbacks to my WoW days. No matter what anyone says, this is a MMO. Mandatory online, instances (called “Strikes” here), and a projected 10-year lifespan? Yeah, MMO.

Of course my life is a lot different nowadays than when I was playing World of Warcraft. I’m already wondering how I will be able to do group quests without sacrificing many hours of sleep or making lots of online strangers angry when I go idle for half an hour at a time. Sure, they’ve stated it is possible to get to max level mainly solo, but you lose out on a lot of potential loot drops and content that way.

The Alpha only made levels 1-8 available. These levels go by pretty quickly, too. Class skill trees unlock at 15, so there wasn’t a whole lot of class customization to check out. There was some loot to tinker with. They kept the classic loot tier from the looks of it. I saw white, green, and blue loot drops. Some equipment is also “Encrypted.” This means the stats are locked and you have to take it to the Cryptologist in the city to unlock it for you. There are also shipwrights to help you upgrade your ship to fly to other planets. And, more MMO/RPG staples: class trainers, vault (a bank to drop items to share amongst toons on the same account) and a mail system. Reading online, I discovered something neat: If equipment drops for you and you don’t pick it up, the Postmaster will give it to you when you go to the Tower. How awesome is that?

I know the Alpha access was limited, but the game played smoothly and the environments are absolutely gorgeous. I also liked the character creator system.

The small taste of this game was enough to convince me to play it when it comes out. Well that, and Peter Dinklage (Tyrion, Game of Thrones) offers his wonderful voice as your constant companion, called Ghost. I hope the Beta offers more to sink our teeth into. But even if it doesn’t, I’d love to sample the other classes before the game releases. If you like games like Halo, Borderlands, Phantasy Star Online, Mass Effect, or just shooters, action games, or MMOs in general, I strongly suggest you look into this game!

Rain

raincoverart

Rain, rain, go away…

Rain, a downloadable PSN title, is a relatively short, wet journey. I’d categorize this game as an adventure/puzzle sort-of platformer game. This game is easy to play in short sessions with generous checkpoints and auto-saves, making it my go-to game when I didn’t have the time or energy to play Mass Effect 2.

The player controls a young boy who has a sudden chivalrous notion to assist an invisible girl being chased by an invisible enemy in the middle of a rainy night. Upon leaping into the night to assist the damsel in distress, he also transforms into  a ghastly mist figure. The incessant rain is one of the few visual aids you receive to track your character’s movement. While under the cover of eaves and rooftops, kicking up dust, muddy footprints, and knocking over environments will help you track your progress. This unique mechanic opens the paths for some intriguing advancement puzzles and enemy-dodging.

Everything one-hit kills you, seeing as how you’re only a defenseless little kid in his PJs. The experience becomes a sort of stealthy cat-and-mouse with variables thrown in throughout the game to try keeping the experience fresh. And about every chapter or so there’s a chase sequence with the ultimate baddie, adequately dubbed “The Unknown.” With only an outlined figure to look at, it reminds me of the weird Silent Hill 3 super tall enemies with the huge arms in the amusement park nightmare opening:

rainunknownchase

Unknown is on the left. Player is on the right.

It remains Unknown, by the way, because there’s little to no explanation on a first playthrough about how they got to that parallel universe (or whatever you want to call it) or what the monsters really are. It’s largely all interpretive and suggestive, minus the cheesy beginning and ending.

For such a dreary atmosphere and sense of powerlessness, the ending was all butterflies and rainbows. I wasn’t expecting that at all, and truth be told, I was a little disappointed. I was also disappointed that, after beating the game, I unlocked “Memories” to collect if I decided to play again. I played through the game once and literally had no collectibles and no reason to explore. I really think this should’ve been offered the first time to give me something to look forward to besides simple puzzles and chase sequences.

Overall, I don’t feel like the game really delivers on its promise. The setting and tone start out wonderfully, but as things drag on and there’s no real impact besides losing a girl I know nothing about or a main character I know even less about, spending hours running from enemies I know nothing about… There has to be high emotional stakes in a game that doesn’t offer an in-depth or interesting battle system or exploration. And, sad to say, Rain falls flat here. For the price I paid, I don’t regret sinking in the few hours to play it, but I have no desire to experience it again.

Mario Kart 8

MK8CoverArt

Why race as Mario when you could be almost anyone else?

Ever since Mario Kart’s inception back on the SNES, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with these games. It’s a sweet misery I can’t seem to get away from. Anyone who has played a MK game will tell you how quickly sheer self-satisfaction can turn to unmitigated fury when their position goes from 1st to 9th in about 5 seconds due to no fault of their own. And yet we can’t stop playing them.

I didn’t have this blog running when I was actively playing Mario Kart Wii. All I will say about that game is that it was a big learning curve, but once I learned the new control scheme, set up and tracks, it became my favorite Mario Kart. No matter how difficult the tracks were, even Rainbow Road, I could still master them and come out in the top 3 99% of the time.

I’ll probably get some slack for saying this, but I don’t think Mario Kart 8 is better than Mario Kart Wii. There’s too many things that either feel like steps backwards or laziness on Nintendo’s part. I mean, yeah, they added some fun characters to the roster like Baby Rosalina:

mk8babyprincesses

I wish Daisy would die already.

And they also added Shy Guy:

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And last, but not least, let’s not forget the most shocking and thrilling additions:

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Koopa kids!! OMFG!!!

I’m happy with the new characters I can start hating when they pelt me with shells.

I’m also relatively pleased with the new items. I thought I would care about the removal of the trick treasure icons. And maybe I did for a few races, until I realized how good this game is at screwing me over without them. The new items are great, but they’re so rare anyway it’s like a UFO sighting. Except for the coins. Seriously, MK8 has a hard-on for giving the player shells and mushrooms and LOTS of coins. I’ve only received a pirahna plant or crazy 8 or Fire Flower a handful of times in my hours of playing. Haven’t ONCE gotten a Bullet Bill. I only know it exists because the AI gets them ALL. THE. TIME.

But I’m not here to complain about the RNG having it out for me, really. I expect that with any MK game.

Speaking of items, there is a BIG game changer here that, unsurprisingly, takes away even more power and control from the player. In previous MK games, it was possible to drag certain items like shells and banana peels behind you to give you protection while freeing up your item slot. That’s not the case here. Until you actually let go of one of these items, you aren’t able to acquire a back-up. This new feature really adds a level of suspense to the game. Using an item is now a much bigger risk and takes more consideration. I got used to this feature, but it still pains me to not know what I might get for backup.

The character and kart/bike stats are unnecessarily complicated. There really needs to be a more intuitive equipment menu that allows the player to easily compare vehicles, wheels and gliders. As it’s set now, you have to memorize what set-up you like the best, then cycle through the options and try comparing slivers on a yellow bar by memory. I also don’t like the addition of two more weight classes. Three was enough, thank you. Light, medium, heavy. Got it. Now there’s like, mid-light and mid-heavy or something stupid like that.

Then there’s the new tracks. I’m sure I’ll be flailed by Nintendo die-hards for saying this, but I’m not exactly blown away by the new tracks. (Or the tracks they decided to revamp). Anti-gravity was added. Sounds fancy, but all it really means is that your character turns sideways while sailing through the air. All it does is serve to further disorient you, as if the flashing bright colors and constant onslaught of red shells isn’t enough. I don’t particularly like or dislike it. I just don’t see how its this crazy revolutionary new thing. It doesn’t really change anything.

MK8rainbowroad

The new Rainbow Road looks like a space station, for crying out loud.

Ah, the dreaded Rainbow Road… Again, at least in the Wii version, with practice I was able to master the track with my favorite character (Rosalina). After devoting more hours than I care to admit, I still can’t figure out how to make some of the turns without completely letting go of the gas. Unless I want to go sailing over the side of the track, that is. Or switch to a small character, like chibi Rosalina, because they can, you know, turn on a dime. But that doesn’t help me when I’m trying to get a gold trophy and stars on the entire circuit. I’ve already mastered those courses. And, to be honest, I can’t be bothered to re-learn how to do those with a character and weight class I don’t really like.

Many of the other things I’m less-than-happy about seem to be just pure laziness from Nintendo. I’m unsure about the mechanics of all this, but only 32 tracks? In this day and age (and hardware) surely they could have added more tracks. Silly me, that’s what DLC that consumers can be charged MORE money is for! But seriously, it didn’t take more than 3 hours to drive through all the circuits with my friends on a drunken Friday night.

But there’s Battle Mode! …More laziness here, unfortunately. The Battle Mode in MK8 is an enormous leap backwards. It can hardly be called “Battle Mode” at all. Instead of developing new battle stages, or even doing HD remakes of previous ones (which I would’ve been satisfied with), they have you “battle” each other on race tracks! We get the joy of driving back and forth on a racetrack looking for people to hit with items while the AI characters ruin our day. Sounds a lot like the standard races, doesn’t it?

Another small thing I want to rant about: They removed Rosalina’s Luma! Lazy arseholes. It was so cute in the Wii game, spinning and making that cute noise when she does a stunt or hits someone with an item. Yes, MK8 developers, I NOTICE AND I WEEP.

Playing online has been a relatively smooth experience for me. It is a lot more fun to play against other people and have the same edge than working against an AI that has miraculous accuracy with items and impeccable luck. I actually felt like all my practice meant something. They added the ability to have 2 player local co-op in online as well, which is awesome.

Now that I’ve laid all my gripes on the table, I’ll give it to you guys straight. For the handful of people who own a Wii U and haven’t purchased this game yet, expect a lot of frustration in your first hour or so of playing. MK veterans: expect to eat a big piece of humble pie. I thought I was going to go into this game stomping the competition, but I was dead wrong.

Between learning the new mechanics, the new courses with the most inconveniently placed 90-degree turns, and unlocking the best kart set-up, you’ll probably lose more than you’ll win the first session. I refused to give up Rosalina, so that saved some guesswork for me. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It isn’t as big and bright as I’d hoped, but it is there. You’ll push through, because you’ll want to unlock all the characters and get the best acceleration combination. Nintendo’s challenge, I think, was to keep people playing for longer than that. And I’m finding it a challenge to keep playing. On a regular basis, anyway. I still have more things to unlock, but I have games like Mass Effect 3 to play. So I’m afraid to say, this will probably be sitting on the back burner for a while.

Overall, while I find this to be a great addition to my small collection of Wii U games, I can’t say that it is my new favorite Mario Kart. Mario Kart Wii blew my away. Mario Kart 8, not so much.

Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2

I have no idea who this strapping young human man is.

It is finally time for Part 2 of my first Mass Effect trilogy playthrough!  For those of you who missed Part 1,  I am a renegade FemShep. So I’m not sure who this strange guy on the cover is, but oh well. I’m thoroughly enjoying being a badass chick traversing deep space with a ragtag group of aliens, (sort of) doing the bidding of Cerberus.

I vaguely recalled mention of the Cerberus group’s going-ons in the first game but didn’t think much of it. Well, they’re in full swing this installment. Why? Well, they spent billions of credits to bring Shepard back to life, that’s why. Wait, you might say, I don’t remember dying at the end of ME1. That’s right. There was no Shepard death in ME1’s conclusion. It’s a cut-scene thrown into the game’s opening to give you a reason to be in Cerberus’ debt. And to have gnarly, glowing red scars on your face if you’re a renegade character.

When approaching a sequel, I’m sure the main question going through our minds is, “How have they changed or expanded upon the first game?”

The most noticeable change after playing for a couple of hours is the complete dismissal of the RPG elements of the first game. And hey, they did suck. Instead of trying to fix the complete equipment and inventory mess, they basically got rid of it. In ME2, there is VERY minuscule amounts of equipping you have to worry about. Shepard’s gear is really all you mess with (of which there are only a few options). And the squad members only have 2 different side arms to equip. Again, not a lot of options here either. But I’m totally cool with it. Ain’t nobody got time to spend half an hour putting enhancements on everyone’s gear.

Spending less time in menus encouraged me to swap active squad members in and out. A lot. In ME1 I almost always stuck with the same group. Wrex and Tali, usually. Sometimes I’d swap in Liara, since she’s my main squeeze and all. But in ME2 I was swapping squad members more often than my underwear. Because, look at this huge roster!

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To be fair, the characters on the far opposite ends are DLC, but still! Much more diverse than the original cast. Speaking of the original cast, if you look closely you’ll see a couple of familiar faces.

To answer my second most common sequel question, “Do the characters from the first game come back?”… As per the above image, two of them actually return as permanent squad members! Garrus (yawn) and Tali! Garrus’ personality is what I expected, but Tali’s grown some teeth and that pleasantly surprised me. Liara, the love of my Shepard’s life, has an interesting quest line with an even more interesting conclusion. I was given the option to continue our romance after she put me off for quite a  bit. I decided to be loyal, and not sleep around like my Dragon Age character. About halfway through the quest line I was anticipating what ultimately ended up happening, and I actually thought it was quite satisfying while opening up a lot of room for events later on. I was a bit disappointed, though, with the lack of conversation AFTER all is said and done. There aren’t any follow-up conversations to have with her, despite the fact that there’s plenty of reasons to repeatedly visit her before the game is over.

I’m glad I chose Liara over Kaiden Alenko, who I was originally flirting with the idea of romancing. When I met up with him during the events of this game, he was a complete dick! Why? Because I was with Cerberus. Not that he gave me any time to explain what was going on. So screw him. My old battle buddy Wrex makes an appearance as well, if you do the right optional quest. Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it.

They also ditched the Mako. Which is all well and good, I guess, because riding around on planets looking for elements and things to do was time consuming and got boring quickly. The new method of scanning planets for events and elements gets to the point much quicker. Zipping around on the Hammerhead (Or whatever the rover-du-jour is called) was a little more satisfying, but still frustrating at times. There are some moments where you’ll battle geth and such with it. But, unlike the Mako, I didn’t see any sort of repair option. So fighting guys that can take it out in a few hits requires a lot of evasive maneuvers.

Want to know what wasn’t changed from the first Mass Effect? One of my biggest complaints, of course… assigning the X button to sprint! This time around, it’s annoying beyond words because it is the same button used for crouching. This means that after every battle scene I had to scour for loot at a deathly slow pace because if I wanted to run, god forbid, I’d hide behind every corner and crate. Even after every enemy was dead! Seriously, WTF? And in order to vault over something that looks like nothing more than a step up, you have to crouch first. The game never comes out and says so, of course, so imagine how much time I spent trying to figure that out myself. I guess I spend too much time playing games like Assassin’s Creed that do the jumping and climbing for me.

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This is a much more accurate representation of MY Shepard… Not quite enough Renegade points though. 

As per the above image, the skill point allocation is different, but didn’t receive a drastic makeover. Maxing any skill gives you a specialization option. Usually it’s choosing offensive vs. defensive, or more concentrated damage vs. spread damage. Either way, I appreciated having an extra buffing option at the end.

Each character has a grayed out ability listed on the bottom. This can only be accessible after doing their loyalty quest. Then, for a mere 5,000 Element Zero, Shepard can also learn the same ability! Not the only reason to do their loyalty quests, mind you. Completing them also alters how certain events play out at the end of the game. Not since Valkyrie Profile have I been so anxious about doing everything “right.” Way more with ME2 since I actually care about the characters, story, and having my file the way I want it when I load up Me3. Here’s hoping importing my save file won’t be the convoluted mess it was the first time. Epic fail, Bioware.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with the direction this trilogy has taken me so far. My list of gripes is significantly smaller than the first installment. I’m not sure how long it will take me to play and finish the conclusion, but I’m more than ready to witness this super controversial ending!

Retro Review: Live A Live

Live A Live

 

Don’t even ask me exactly how the title is supposed to be said.

I know a lot of my posts tend to be behind the times because it takes me forever to finally get around to playing some games. At least in this case I’m actually reviewing a retro game! Not only that, it is a Squaresoft SNES game that never received a North American release. I played this fan-translation (by Aeon Genesis) on a SNES emulator, via my laptop, and we watched it on the big screen TV. Talk about a makeshift merging of technology.

Live A Live is a unique experience. Instead of being a typical story featuring a main protagonist to play as throughout the adventure, instead you’re treated to different chapters featuring different characters during different time periods. These chapters can be tackled in any order. We played them in chronological order. First we were Pogo, the caveman who lives in prehistoric times before humans could even talk. Yeah, that was an interesting chapter. Then we bounced around from the Wild West, Bakumatsu Japan, Kung Fu… all the way to the future, which was dubbed the “Sci Fi” chapter. The chapters vary not only in lengths, but in content and game style. One chapter will be a traditional JRPG, while another can have more of an action game set-up.

Live A Live Masaru

Seriously, Masaru’s chapter looks like it was taken straight out of a Megaman game!

Each chapter runs about 1-3 hours, depending on the story and how much optional content you have to choose from. If you decide not to take on an uber-difficult optional boss your first time through, don’t worry; you can always replay a chapter to get any loot or other content you missed . I really liked this set-up for a couple of reasons. If you generally dislike a certain character or time period, you’re not stuck with them for long! Some of the chapters are more Earth-shattering “Oh my God WTF just happened?!” than others. And most of them have pretty forgettable (but laughable) supporting cast.

While the basic elements of battle stay the same so you don’t have to re-learn how to play the game, each character has their own unique ability set so things stay fresh. The constant learning of moves and abilities is fun… when the enemies don’t decide to take zero damage just because.

I also liked the very subtle tie-ins. You can literally play the chapters in whichever order you desire. The overarching link is easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention. In fact, at one point Steve-O and I looked at each other and were like, “I hope we aren’t supposed to know what the hell is going on already.” It isn’t until the eight chapter (unlocked after completing the seven available at the beginning) that everything comes together in a relatively surprising twist.

As I mentioned, the overall battle system remains consistent from chapter to chapter. It certainly has its pros and cons. Live A Live has turn-based roots with some strategy elements blended in. When it is a character’s turn, you can move them around the battlefield’s square grid. Keep in mind, enemies can take their turns while you’re trying to get a character situated where you want them to be to either do damage or not take damage. I really hated that. It felt like I’d move someone one or two blocks over to get the enemy within range of their attack, only to get them hit by the enemy first! Each character’s ability in their arsenal will have a different area of effect and range. So as I said earlier, it takes a little bit of learning and practice when you’re hopping from chapter to chapter. I did really like that there is no resource pool for any moves. No MP to worry about. Some abilities have charge times, which is understandable. And if you don’t feel like toggling through the menu at each character’s turn, with the tap of a button you can have them repeat the last move they made. There won’t be many opportunities to do this, seeing as how most enemies love to dance around and ensure you can’t simply spam the same attack against them.

While playing this game, it’s important to keep in mind the generation of gaming it came from. There are many staples of the JRPG genre and old school games that make me twitch with annoyance. In no particular order, they are:

1.) Poor ability/item descriptions. Not sure if this is a translation error, but I’ve seen it in mass-produced games as well. As a little aside, the caveman’s chapter consists of silly nonsense words and sounds to serve as names for his abilities. I imagine that was a bitch to translate.

2.) Lack of direction: It isn’t hard to mindlessly wander around and not know what you are supposed to do or where you’re supposed to go. If a character has a unique ability they can use while wandering their “world map” then use it. Often.

3.) Damage Inconsistencies: Okay, maybe it is an issue of just ignorance on my part. But when a character uses an ability against an enemy and it does 5 damage in one round and the next it does 100 without one of them getting buffs or debuffs, I get confused. Then I get annoyed.

4.) No inventory arrangement options. Pure laziness, Squaresoft.

6.) Boring, traditional leveling with little-to-no feeling of advancement. You know what I mean, right? A totally passive leveling experience. Characters get experience and gain levels as well as new abilities once in a while. But the battles never feel any easier. You’ll notice their hit points changing (and some characters get WAY more HPs than others). But the battles still seem to drag on sometimes.

5.) And last, but not least… Random encounters that are harder than boss fights with no warning label attached! Especially before auto-saving became a thing. They just LOVE popping up to ruin your day, without the decency of allowing you to level up first.

Live A Live Oboro Fish

I swear, the fish was THIS big!

However, there is one missing RPG staple. Currency! There is no money in this game. In a way it makes sense, as you bounce from one character and time period to another. Yet on the other hand, I wouldn’t have minded if the more RPG-traditional chapters had currency accrual. Then I could’ve at least purchased healing items and equipment to make some of the battles less miserable. Being at the mercy of how many healing items the game feels like giving you (or how many you can find) is quite agitating in certain zones. In Ninja Assassin Oboro’s chapter, I’m pretty sure we had to fight the final boss with no healing items left and no heal spells. That was… stressful, to say the least.

While you’re wandering aimlessly or slowly plowing through some fights, you’ll be treated to amazing music! Yoko Shimomura composed this soundtrack and does not disappoint! Every song is atmospheric and contributes to the setting superbly. Each chapter you’ll be treated to new and enjoyable tracks. Definitely some of Shimomura’s best work.

I have my reservations about making too many comments regarding the final chapter. So I’ll just say this: use a walkthrough. There is a special set of armor to be unlocked and the requirements for doing so are quite random. Two examples: for one piece, you have to run away from 100 battles during the last chapter. For another piece, you have to turn away when you’re staring the final boss down, then wander in complete darkness to find an optional boss fight. Weird things that people like me forget to do. The final chapter is considerably longer than all the previous ones. If you want to level and see everything available, plan on this chapter taking you twice as long as the lengthiest chapter.

I’m quite surprised this game was never released outside of Japan. Compared to some of the other retro RPGs that made it to North America (*cough*BreathofFire2*cough) that I’ve played, this ranks pretty high. I mean, yeah, you have to have the stomach for the aforementioned list of annoyances. But Live A Live is one of those few examples of a JRPG breaking a lot of the rules of its own genre and actually accomplishing something noteworthy. In Live A Live’s case, this happened twenty years ago, and sadly not enough JRPG enthusiasts even know it exists.