Video Games

Aaru’s Awakening game review

There’s not much to say really. Aaru’s Awakening is a side scrolling platformer that I got as a free PS+ at some point. The only reason I played it is that it had the distinction of being first alphabetically in my games library.

I enjoyed the visual style and challenging gameplay, but that’s about it. There’s not much story to speak of and it’s told by a narrator who sounds like a child giving it their best effort, but who is in no way cut out to be a voice actor. The music and sound effects are unremarkable, though at least not annoying.

As the golden bird-bear beast Aaru, you make your way through four levels, then fight a boss—rinse and repeat. The levels simply require you to navigate increasingly treacherous environments. You’ll encounter a few enemies along the way, but killing things is by no means a focal point of the game. Boss battles are quite involved and require puzzle solving skills in addition to coordination.

If I had to describe Aaru’s Awakening in one word, it would be: hard. If I had two words, it would be: brutally hard. Three: brutally fucking hard. And finally six words: brutally fucking hard side scrolling platformer. It is quite possibly the most difficult game I’ve ever managed to finish. When I started it, I was like, “hunh, this is entertaining in an old-school sort of way and seems pretty short; I’ll play through it.” Yeah, well little did I know. I finished it purely because I didn’t want this to be the first time I quit a game because it was too difficult.

The difficulty of it is in timing and coordination, but not in a good Dark Souls kind of way; more of an arbitrary—you’ve got to be kidding me with this shit—kind of way. If you enjoy platformers and love a good challenge, then by all means, have a go at Aaru’s Awakening. For everyone else, you’re not missing much if you pass on this title.

Video Games

Platinum Trophy no. 16 – Horizon Zero Dawn

After 104 hours of play, I have finally finished Horizon Zero Dawn and earned the Platinum Trophy. A full review will be forthcoming, but needless to say, I think it’s a magnificent game.

As Platinum Trophies go, this was one of the easiest. Even though I have the strategy guide (and the internet), I played the game completely blind on the highest difficulty. I didn’t look up anything about the story, strategies, or trophies. After the credits rolled, the only trophy I had left to get was the one for knocking down all of the Grazer dummies. Piece. Of. Cake.

If I were to give a very general assessment of the game, I’d say the technical implementation is near flawless. HZD is smooth, beautiful, and well thought out in every way, from the menus, map, and HUD to graphics and gameplay. The main story and main characters are very good. The place where it has the most room for improvement is in its extended cast of characters, their interactions with one another, and side quests. At no point did I feel much of anything towards any of the other inhabitants of Aloy’s world.

I take that back. I fucking hated Ahsis with a passion.

Video Games

Sorry Mass Effect, but it’s not me, it’s you

Two nights ago I decided to play some Andromeda multiplayer. I hadn’t played in well over a week and was looking forward to shooting some aliens. The first game I joined ended with lost connection to Mass Effect server. No big deal, let’s have another go. The second game went fine for a bit, but ultimately I wound up staring at the blue screen of death. FFS. I reload the game, go back into multiplayer and try again. I was able to finish a game and extract, huzzah! But the sound cut out during Wave 4, leaving me with not but 60hz hum to listen to. It obviously wasn’t meant to be.

Last night I decided to try again. I found a lobby no problem and the host set it to a bronze strike team mission, cool. First couple waves went fine, then we had a host migration. It was all good though. We restarted the wave with 4 players and a new host. Before the wave ended, I was once again basking in the blue glow of an error screen.

You know what? If you want me to play your game, get your shit together. And if you ever want me to buy another BioWare title, you best get your shit together in a hurry.

Out came Mass Effect: Andromeda, in went Horizon Zero Dawn.

Video Games

Horizon Zero Dawn Strategy Guide review

HZD_FrontCover

I don’t generally buy strategy guides for video games, but I was so smitten with Horizon Zero Dawn that I preordered the guide at the same time I preordered the game. Part of the reason I felt comfortable doing so, is that it’s published by Future Press. I’m familiar with their work via the Dark Souls strategy guide, which I got on clearance, and which blew me away with its quality. (By comparison, Prima Games guides have always left me feeling meh.)

The Physical Thing

HZD_Side

The book itself is a 656 page, hardcover, tome for the ages. The front features a gorgeous image, my favorite part of which is the gull perched atop the Thunderjaw’s back. It’s predominantly white and light blue which contrasts beautifully with the black binding. The back cover is solid white with a symbol above the words ZERO DAWN; if the symbol has any special meaning, I don’t know what it is. The binding itself seems quite sturdy and includes a placeholder ribbon.

Upon opening the book, we’re greeted with a clean black flyleaf. Following that are a foreword, chapter overview and table of contents, all black themed. Again, this is done to contrast the core of the book, which is predominantly white. Aesthetically, it works very well. I was particularly impressed with the forward, which really gives you a sense of how passionate Future Press is about their books.

Playing the game for months to search out its every secret was a joy – the visuals, the story, the combat and the world all come together perfectly. It’s obviously a game its creators loved spending those years making, and we hope it’s just as obvious that this is a book we loved spending months putting together.
-Future Press

HZD_Contents

Organization

The book is broken into seven chapters: Training Manual, Hunting Guide, Hunting Targets, Quest Guide, Region Guide, Hunting Gear and The Notebook. In the chapter overview there is a much appreciated blurb regarding spoilers and how to use the book so as to avoid them. Another nice touch is that the included foldout map has a complete icon legend that’s visible while the map is folded.

HZD_IconLegend

Chapter 1 Training Manual covers all the basics of the game at a high level. It breaks down the HUD; saving and loading; leveling and advancement; and health and the medicine pouch. In regards to that last one, there’s a nice table that shows all the different medicinal herbs, where they tend to be found and how much they fill the medicine pouch.

Some other things covered in chapter 1 include Photo Mode; using the Focus; a thorough breakdown of movement; navigation; quests; items, looting and crafting; and the basics of combat and stealth. Seeing as I was already deep into the game before getting the strategy guide, there wasn’t a ton for me learn from chapter 1. That said, I did benefit from the fall damage explanation as well as an explanation of invincibility frames during dodge rolls.

Chapter 2 Hunting Guide is quite extensive, delving into the details of combat. It is itself subdivided into three sections. The first section explains the various damage types, and in particular, does a very nice job explaining status effects, severity and threshold. I had a vague understanding of how status effects work, but now I know what the numbers mean and what they need to add up to in order to apply a status effect on the various categories of machine. It’s very useful information when it comes time to mod your weapons.

Some other topics touched upon in the first part of the chapter are how machine armor plating works to absorb damage; machine components and weakpoints; component loot; machine perception; knockdown, tumble and tie-down; traps and potions; and finally outfits. Of particular note, the difference between knockdown and stun from shock damage is explained (with the exception of critical hits, stun duration is unaffected by damage to a stunned machine). Also, after killing a specific type of machine so many times, it permanently evolves into a more powerful version. Hunh, TIL.

The second section of chapter 2 provides a thorough explanation of all the skills along with advice on how to get the most out of them. The final section covers weapons. About four pages are devoted to each one, offering a detailed explanation of the weapon’s mechanics, ammunition types, recommended modifications, skill synergy and of course, proper use. The heavy weapons that Aloy can temporarily pick up during battle are also discussed.

Chapter 3 Hunting Targets describes each enemy in the game, including machines, humans, unique NPCs and wildlife. The bulk of the chapter is taken up by the machine entries, each one of which has a section on armor and components, loot, attacks and strategies. I can’t overstate how thorough a treatment each machine gets. The image below shows how each and every attack of each machine is detailed.

HZD_HuntingTargets

Chapter 4 Quest Guide is the longest chapter in the book; it details every quest, side quest, errand and activity. I’ve avoided reading this particular chapter, but I can tell you that each quest includes a detailed walkthrough, encounter maps and strategies. Towards the end of the chapter is an extensive (10 pages) recommended game and skill progression outline.

Chapter 5 Region Guide reveals the location of every datapoint and every collectible, and it’s incredibly well organized. If you’ve collected things out of order, it matters not. The first two pages of the chapter will tell you exactly what page to go to in order find the location of whatever it is you’re missing.

Chapter 6 Hunting Gear

Presented for your reference is every usable item that Aloy can collect on her long journey. Whether you want to know whether to keep an item for later, need something to craft more ammo or can’t remember which Merchant was offering the item you require, this chapter will be your one-stop source of information.
-Future Press

Chapter 7 The Notebook is another chapter I have thus far avoided. Here’s Future Press’s description of it.

Spoiler Warning: stay away from the following pages unless you’ve either seen Aloy’s quest through to the end or don’t mind learning about important plot points in order to get information about unlocking Trophies. That said, we’re proud to present the in-depth character and story material found in this chapter, alongside interviews with Guerrilla Games and a very special summary of Aloy’s story so far.
-Future Press

Final Thoughts

The book is printed in glorious full color on thick page stock. Each chapter is loaded with images, diagrams and tables that present the voluminous amount of information in as easy a way to digest as possible. The layout is clean and invokes the aesthetic style of the game itself. I also find the main text font to be extremely easy to read. Included at the end of the book are two things I greatly appreciate: an index and a two-sided, foldout poster of the HZD game world.

If you’re still with me, over a thousand words from where we started, it’ll come as no surprise that I think this is an amazing book. It has tremendous value both as a strategy guide and a collector’s item. If you’re a fan of Horizon Zero Dawn, this purchase is well worth the money.

Uncategorized

Battlestar Galactica (2004) Season 1 and 2 review

I hesitate to call this a review. How would I even begin to breakdown and analyze such a sprawling masterpiece? The scope is too large. And how much point really is there for a show that aired over a dozen years ago? Be that as it may, I feel compelled to document and honor, in my own small way, this amazing series.

My wife and I finished watching the second season just now, and I’m still reeling. So much ground was covered, unexpected twists and retwists, and so many possibilities going forward. It was an absolutely brilliant conclusion to what has been two amazing seasons.

If you have never watched the show, do it. There is something here for everyone. It is action-packed, drama filled intensity, with twists, turns, romance, and humor. It is also the most intellectually challenging TV series I have ever watched. Beyond the overall metaplot, which has its own broad philosophical questions, it gracefully brings countless other personal, moral and societal issues under the lens of scrutiny.

The quality of a TV series is the sum of a hell of a lot of things, and the first two seasons of Battlestar Galactica fire on all cylinders, propelling every episode forward in a very powerful way, but never in a straight line, and never without asking difficult questions about how and why we arrive at each point along the journey.

Video Games

[ME:A MP] Equipment PSA

I noticed a tooltip last night that said equipment never comes from card packs; it can only be purchased from the item store. So bust out your smartphone and make sure you’re launching strike team missions from the APEX app to earn extra mission funds while away from the game.

Video Games

Mass Effect: Andromeda multiplayer progress report 1

Stats

Time Played: 12h 19m
Apex Rating: 1,636
Apex Rank: 4,379
Challenge Rating: 720

Collections

Characters: 17/27

Weapons: 9/47

Mods: 7/20

Equipment: 0/6

Nameplates: 4/39

  • Apex Rating – Bronze
  • Kett Mastery – Bronze
  • Outlaw Mastery – Bronze
  • Remnant Mastery – Bronze

Max Characters

Human Female Engineer Lvl 20, Rank 7

Max Weapons

M-8 Avenger X
Charger X
M-23 Katana X

Miscellaneous Observations

  • The number of skill points you get to spend is a function of both level and rank, which I find annoying. Rather than playing whichever unlocked character you want, you’re best off playing whichever one RNG has blessed the most.
  • It looks like characters and mods now max out at rank 10, as opposed to 5. That, along with the fact that characters level up individually, makes Andromeda way more grindy than ME3, which is saying something. After almost 700 hours, I still didn’t have everything maxed out in that game.
  • Connections are generally terrible.
  • If you Pull an enemy, but don’t have Throw, you can still kind of throw them by hitting the melee button.
  • A Cobra RPG won’t kill a shielded Anointed Ascendant.
  • Combos seem a lot weaker than in ME3.
  • Even though Overload is listed as a detonator power, I’m pretty sure it will briefly prime a target for Tech Combos. Need to verify.
  • Despite all of the negatives, it’s still pretty fun.