Video Games

Mass Effect: Andromeda day 3

I played several more hours of multiplayer last night and things were a bit better. I got a good group of randoms and we rolled for seven or eight matches, full extractions most of the time. I played all Human Engineer and got up to level 14. My M8 Avenger is up rank 9, so it’s shooting something at least slightly stronger than airsoft pellets. Between my level and gun, it finally feels like I’m able to do a little work, and it’s a good feeling.

My experience with the Human Engineer has been pretty positive so far. They’re a very solid all-around character, able to deal with both shields and armor as well as prime and detonate their own cryo combos. I’m assuming that combos work similar to how they did in ME3, where the damage is proportional to the ranks of the two powers used. Given that, my priority has been getting Overload and Cryo Beam to rank 6, which they are now at.

Ah, the sweet sound of exploding ice cubes…

Video Games

Mass Effect: Andromeda first impressions

This is taken from a conversation I had with a friend. I didn’t write it as a post, but it sums things up fairly well.

I really haven’t been reading any reviews. I know there’s a lot of chatter about the animations, and yeah, the lip sync is off, but so what? It’s not a huge deal to me. I was surprised though at just how shitty the close-up facial graphics are. The console and frostbite should be capable of better. Again, not a huge deal for me. I only played a short amount of the story and it was…okay. We’ll see where they take it. I like Scott, and his voice actor is fine, if a bit generic sounding. The writing so far has been pretty cheesy (in a bad way). I have a feeling that the writing and story will mostly suck, but hopefully the exploration is fun.

I played several games of multiplayer and it was good, but a bit disappointing. It’s hard for me to be objective because I’m comparing it to ME3 as it existed after five DLC releases. It generally played fine. Load times are much improved from ME3. Partying up unfortunately is just as wonky. One friend experienced a hard freeze and another got kicked from a game. Personally, I didn’t have any issues.

With low level characters and gear, Bronze is fucking tough—surprisingly so. I didn’t particularly like the maps, but I might just need to learn them. I really like that each power is on its own timer. The thing I found most disappointing was the sameyness and lack of creativity among the enemy factions. They are not even remotely as compelling as Reapers/Collectors/Geth/Cerberus. We shall see. Nothing I encountered last night suggests I won’t put many more hours into multiplayer, but I certainly wasn’t blown away with awesome.

Video Games

Mass Effect Multiplayer Character Build Shorthand

Back when I was hammering Mass effect 3 multiplayer, I came up with a shorthand for noting character builds. From what I’ve seen of Andromeda, it looks like I’ll be able to keep using the same nomenclature. It worked really well for me, so thought I’d share.

Note that this is just for skill point distribution—weapons, consumables, equipment, etc.—are not part of the equation. Each character has five skills, each of which can have up to six ranks. So I simply use a number to represent how many ranks they have in a skill, and I list the numbers left to right corresponding to top to bottom on the in-game power list.

So if I have 6 ranks in my first power, 3 in my second, 6, 6, and finally 5 ranks in my fifth power, I would write out 6 3 6 6 5. Obvious, I know. The trick is that if a power has four or more ranks, you must also describe whether those ranks were spent on the top row of the tree, or the bottom. This I do with a letter.

Any time that all selections are across the top row, I call it A. If all selections are across the bottom row, I call it B. Pretty straightforward, right? Now, if there is a combination of top and bottom row selections, I use a letter that is visually reminiscent of the pattern. I try to show that with the black line in the images below. Hopefully the correlation between letter and pattern is fairly obvious. Tilt your head 90° to the right if you can’t see it (except for V and N).

All 4 and 5 rank patterns can be described multiple ways. For example, if you have five ranks in a skill and select the top row for both rank 4 and 5, you could describe it as 5A or 5F. In these cases, use whichever description has highest priority: A/B are the highest, followed by L/J/F/T, and V/N are the lowest. It sounds way more complicated than it actually is.

MEMP-A

MEMP-B

MEMP-L

MEMP-J

MEMP-F

MEMP-T

MEMP-V

MEMP-N

If you’ve made it this far down, I commend you! Perhaps you’re wondering, “but why?” Well let me show you. The image below is one sheet of paper on which I neatly recorded my favorite build for each and every character in Mass Effect 3 multiplayer. All lovingly crafted through trial and error. That sheet of paper lived by my side, and maybe one day, you’ll have one just like it by yours.

ME3Builds.PNG

Video Games

[HZD] So, funny story…

I’ve been playing Horizon Zero Dawn on the max difficulty setting. As you’d expect, it was super tough at first, becoming more manageable over time. Lately I’ve been finding it relatively easy. I chalked it up to being over-leveled. Then a couple nights ago, I went into the settings to fiddle with the audio balance and noticed the difficulty had been changed to ‘Easy’.

Needless to say, the game is profoundly not easy.

I just thank all the gods that there are no difficulty related trophies. Phew.

Video Games

Horizon Zero Dawn and cultural thievery

I’ve started to see some criticisms of Horizon Zero Dawn cropping up for: Native American cultural appropriation. *sigh*

One of the effects of an extreme apocalypse is the obliteration of technology. Most apocalyptic scenarios involve the extinction of a large percentage of the population along with the destruction of cities, infrastructure, and technology centers. What you end up with is scattered survivors without the critical mass of knowledge necessary to repair and rebuild.

Let’s say there was a nuclear war. All major cities and surrounding areas destroyed. To escape radiation poisoning, everyone must flee to remote locations. People will first go to smaller cities and loot what they can. Society descends into chaos. People who were once neighbors killing each other over cans of soup.

There is no more industrial scale farming nor refining of fuel. Working vast fields with heavy machinery and shipping food around the country is no longer possible. Once peoples’ looted supplies have been depleted, they will need to fend for themselves, and many won’t be up to the task. Famine, malnutrition, and disease will further devastate the population.

Perhaps there would be a nuclear winter. Global climate change that makes survival even more difficult. In the end, it all amounts to scattered people surviving off the land. Over time, small communities would form, but they would be under constant threat. For it is often easier to steal than produce.

What we have here is not Horizon Zero Dawn appropriating Native American culture, but accurately depicting a post-apocalyptic scenario. People would gather in tribes, they would have primitive technology, and life would be savage. Without the means to make cloth, they would use fur and hide. They would adorn themselves with whatever colorful objects were at hand, like blue machine tubing. They would invent lore to explain the unexplained. Buildings would be made of wood and stone; and they would be open, with many people sharing the same space, because that is the most efficient way to build. In short, they would do the things that all primitive humans have done throughout history.

There are no tepees, or hatchets, or horses, or feather headdresses, or war hoops, or long straight dark hair, or reddish skin. Many of the things that are specifically (and stereotypically) associated with Native Americans. The Nora are depicted with dreadlocks and a melting pot of racial features. They have a war-chief but are ruled by the matriarchs. They do not revere animal spirits, or incorporate animal imagery in the things they build. They hunt with bow, arrow, and spear (among other weapons), but so has most every other primitive human society. Does it resemble Native American culture in many ways? Sure it does. There are also a lot of elements of other cultures: African, Celtic, Norse, and Aztec to name a few.

So where does the comparison to Native Americans come from? Well, a lot of focus seems to be on the use of the term Braves. And yes, it is historically used to describe Native American warriors. But why is this offensive? It’s not derogatory in nature and isn’t being used in a derogatory way.

Apparently, using the term to describe primitive tribal warriors in a video game somehow suggests that Native Americans are primitive savages? Or disrespects their heritage? That’s ridiculous. The term originated in a time when Native Americans were primitive and some were savage. To pretend like that was never the case and getting upset over references to that time period is in itself cultural dishonesty. I should also note that being primitive, by modern standards, is not in and of itself a negative thing.

Ultimately, this has nothing to do with Horizon Zero Dawn and everything to do with the excessive political correctness infecting our society right now. It’s obvious that Guerrilla Games tried to be as sensitive and respectful as they could possibly be. The grand irony of course, is that trying to isolate and protect cultural elements from being borrowed serves only to prolong racial division.

I think trying to expunge all references to Native American culture is the wrong way to respect it. By incorporating elements of all ancestries into mainstream society, we keep them alive and relevant. It’s a jumping off point to have conversations with our children about the past. If a bunch of people play Horizon Zero Dawn and get interested in learning more about Native American culture because of it, how is that a bad thing?

Video Games

Horizon Zero Dawn first impressions

TL;DR Amazing

I got to play for about five hours, and so far it is everything and more that I hoped for. Much remains to be seen obviously, but the framework for magnificence is firmly in place.

My disc arrived from Amazon right on schedule and in perfect condition. Upon opening, I encountered a minor disappointment. The only piece of paper was an advertisement for a PS4 Pro bundle deal or some such. Sadly, HZD does not measure up to Witcher 3 with respect to accompanying documentation. Ah well, such is the way of the world now.

The game installed without issue. I wasn’t really paying attention to the time, but it didn’t seem abnormally long for a sprawling RPG. One thing I was paying attention to, was whether there would be a giant day 1 patch. And indeed there was a patch, v1.02, but it was miniscule and downloaded in seconds. Well done Guerrilla Games; thank you for not leaning on that crutch. As far as settings, the only thing I adjusted  was brightness, and I have to say, their method for doing that may work, but it’s painful on the eyes.

After selecting New Game you must choose one of four difficulty levels: Easy, Normal, Hard, or Very Hard. This process always makes me a little sad. I like Souls games where the only option is Get Rekt. Completing those games makes you feel like a special snowflake, but I digress. Being the way that I am, I cranked it right up to Very Hard.

I’m not going to describe the prologue; it’s better experienced first hand. But I will say that it does a very nice job introducing you to Aloy, her caretaker Rost, and the world they inhabit. After the prologue you start your first proper mission and head out on your own—face first into open world gameplay.

I never completed the first task of my first mission. I spent the night hunting, foraging, crafting, and working on one of two side quests I picked up. I made a bunch of regular arrows and fire arrows; upgraded my resource, weapon, and arrow capacity;  made some potions; and modified my bow. I killed Striders, Scrappers, and Watchers as well as rabbits, turkeys, fox, racoons, and a boar. The goose got away, fucking goose.

I ended the night just shy of level 5 (more on this later) and purchased three skills which I can’t remember. Gameplay is fast, fluid, and responsive in all respects: shooting, fighting, running, crouching, sliding, jumping, climbing, everything. Everything Aloy does is done with swift grace. In spite of all this wonderfulness, it’s the little details that really blew me away. Here’s a freeform list of observations from my first night of play.

  • The visuals are spectacular, with an awesome render distance and no loading pauses encountered thus far.
  • To accompany the game’s beauty, there is a ridiculous photo mode with a host of options. You have a camera on a crane and can frame the shot however you want. You can remove the HUD and/or Aloy. You can add color effects or borders. You can adjust the brightness, exposure, and depth of field up to and including focal length and f stop. I seriously can’t get over this shit right here.

hzd001

  • Not only does the game look amazing; it sounds amazing. The music and nature sounds blend together beautifully, and the directionality of the audio is excellent. I had to turn the SFX and music volume down to 80% in order bring out the dialogue, but in general, the audio balance is very good.
  • Speaking of dialogue, I love Ashly Burch’s voice.
  • A day/night cycle and dynamic weather are present. It rained on me once, but not for very long. At night time, I looked up and saw the band of the milky way, or whatever galaxy the world of HZD is in. I decided to take a picture of it with photo mode, but got completely distracted by how the moon cast its light across Aloy’s face.

hzd002

  • The HUD is clean but includes everything you could possibly want. I especially appreciate the presence of an experience bar, and little things like how the tools flow side to side through the quick access slot (down on the D-pad). The compass is unobtrusive and yet loaded with information. It shows campfires, settlements, herds, quest destinations, and waypoints. If a quest has multiple destinations, the compass indicates their recommended order with a small Roman numeral. There are tons of these little quality of life things.
  • The 3D style of the map is a thing of beauty. I love just scrolling around, looking at the freaking map, nevermind exploring the world itself. You can place a waypoint on the map and when you arrive there, it automatically disappears.
  • Even the menus are excellent. They are simple to understand and easy to navigate. Something that can’t be said about more than a few RPGs. When you scroll through your quests, it tells you how far it is to the next objective. It just takes a moment to see which quest has a task closest to your present location. Such a little thing, but so helpful. You can add your own quests as well. Want to remind yourself to make a health potion? Create a Job. It’ll appear on your quest menu under Errands. Again with the quality of life items.
  • After a kill, you can see from a distance what the commonality of the drop is: common, uncommon, rare, etc. I know I sound like a broken record, but this is yet another example of the developer really focusing on the player experience. On making sure that the game gets out of its own way; allowing us to spend more time playing, and less time fiddling.
  • The crafting system is easy to comprehend and for items you use a lot, like arrows, you can quick craft right from the radial menu. It may not be very realistic, crafting 10 arrows with a Scrapper charging at you, but it’s better than the alternative of running away and coming back.
  • On the artistic side, you know how small children have kind of stubby underdeveloped fingernails? Yeah, they even got that right. When young Aloy first holds the Focus to her head, she recoils in fright and throws it down. It’s a beautifully animated natural reaction. Then she tentatively reaches out to pick it back up with her curious little hand and little kid fingernails.
  • The last thing I’ll mention is consequence. There are save points all over the place, but it’s very easy to get caught up exploring. At the end of last night’s gaming session, I foraged a bunch of stuff, killed a few animals, and took out several Machines. I ticked up to level 5 and was about to go find a campfire when I came across another gaggle of enemies. A couple mistakes later and I’m dead, all the gains since my last save lost. FML. It felt very Soulsesque.

So what’s my first impression of Horizon Zero Dawn? It’s phenomenal, with a consummate attention to detail on all fronts. This is clearly a labor of love for Guerrilla Games and their passion shines through in every way.

In an attempt to balance this glowing commentary, I tried and failed to find some negatives—much however, remains to be seen.

 

Video Games

What makes For Honor’s gameplay so good?

Depth. Let’s look at the simplest example: 1v1 duel.

I’m a Berserker, and 100’ away from me is a Lawbringer. I’m excited and even a little nervous. This guy is 1st prestige with a gear level of 50. He’s experienced. The simple spin-to-win approach probably won’t work. We’re fighting in an open area with a cliff to one side. The Lawbringer is much stronger at repositioning me than I him; I need to stay away from that cliff. The match begins.

Normally I’d charge straight at my opponent and launch a Boar Rush or Zone Attack, but I know this guy has an unblockable impaling charge with much longer reach than my own attacks. I’ll roll past him on the left, away from the cliff. Sure enough, he does his charge move, but it whistles harmlessly over head as I tumble by. Jumping to my feet, I lock on and launch a Head Crusher.

My attack connects and interrupts the attack he had started. Seeking to press the advantage, I Spin Chop to the right, but he isn’t fooled. He shifts his guard in time to block my attack. He follows quickly with a Guard Break and The Long Arm move, flipping me over and knocking me down dangerously close to the cliff. While getting up, I shift my guard to block his incoming top heavy attack, which I know will stun me, and likely end with me at the bottom of the cliff. With that attack blocked, I dodge away. Keeping my distance, I circle away from the cliff. The fight is reset.

Safely away from the cliff, I approach him cautiously. I shift my stance to the right and start a heavy attack I have no intention of finishing. He shifts his stance to block—my feint worked. I cancel out of my heavy right attack by dodging left into a Spin Chop. It connects and I flow immediately into a Bear Mauler. He manages to block the last part of the Bear Mauler combo and follows up with his unblockable shove, sending me backwards onto my ass.

The last time he had me in this position he went for the top heavy attack, this time he comes with a light attack from the left, catching me by surprise. Stunlocked and disoriented, I fail to defend against his following heavy attack. Now I realize the unblockable finisher to his Judge, Jury and Executioner combo is about to come. Anticipating this, I’m able to parry it and land a heavy attack of my own. He’s almost down. I dodge straight back and expecting him to lash out in desperation, I immediately jump into a Head Crusher. He manages to hit me, and even though I’m almost down myself, I know the fight is over. My attack is uninterruptible and he can’t recover from his own attack in time to do anything about it. Since my attack is heavy, it’ll trigger an execution, allowing me to get some health back before going in search of my next opponent.

It was a good fight.