Video Games

For Honor beta review

I was able to spend some time this weekend with the For Honor beta, or rather, pre-release demo, seeing as it’s a bit late for testing. The game drops in two days. Beta testing semantics aside, I was pleasantly surprised with the game.

The things that stand out the most to me are how beautiful the game looks and the depth of its combat and customization systems. At the most basic level, For Honor is all about thrilling melee combat. Its unique system, dubbed the “Art of Battle”, delivers on that in spades. This game is the complete opposite of a button masher. The best way I can think of to describe the combat system is that it’s like a tactical dance.

You must move in time with your adversary to block their attacks, or take the lead to launch a successful attack of your own. You can block attacks, dodge them, or parry them. You can attempt to attack around your enemy’s guard, break their guard, or if you have the right ability, attack through their guard. It is one of the most innovative takes on melee combat I’ve seen, and it’s outstanding.

The beta has nine playable characters—three from each faction. Each character has a unique set of abilities, feats, and combos. Some of these are fixed, but many can be swapped out with different options that you unlock over time. The way these special abilities interact with the combat system makes each character play very differently. I can definitely see that to be successful, you’ll want to find a character that suits your style and master their nuances. Jumping around from one to another isn’t going to get you very far.

As far as customization goes, you have a number of options to make each character your own. You can change out armor pieces. You can change the patterns on each shoulder, your back and chest, your leggings, and left arm. You can change your color scheme or add custom ornamentation. You can also add symbols and images to create a theme for your warrior. To be completely honest, visual customization is not generally something I give a shit about, but in this game, where the character models are large enough to see the details in play, and you’re typically locked in in 1v1 encounters, the customization really does add something.

On the technical side, the beta played fine. I was able to join matches and group with a friend. I didn’t notice any significant lag or framerate drops. Loading times are quite long, but that’s not something that bothers me a great deal. You can set up private matches with friends, solo with bots, or a combination thereof, which is an absolutely fantastic feature given the learning curve of the game’s systems.

So I’ll be jumping all over this game, right? Eh, probably not. While I can appreciate what it has to offer, the focus is clearly on multiplayer PvP, which is not generally something I enjoy. There was no story mode to try out, so whether it has a strong single player campaign remains to be seen. If my friends go wild for it, I may pick it up; if not, I have plenty to keep me busy until Horizon Zero Dawn comes out.

 

Video Games

Journey game review

This is going to be an awkward review for me. I played the download version of Journey on the PS4 and had the game crash repeatedly. It seems this a fairly common, but inconsistent issue. Some people, like me, have occasional crashes but are able to get through the game. Some people have the game constantly crash at the same point and they can’t get beyond it. Still others are able to play through without any problem at all.

It is extremely frustrating, as it would be for any game, but with a game like Journey, the enjoyment comes from the trance-like meditative state that playing induces. The blue screen of death doesn’t much contribute to one’s tranquility. Towards the end (snow area), I tried signing out of PSN and was able to play the rest of the way without a crash. Whether or not that was a coincidence, I don’t know, but it’s something to try if you’re having similar problems.

Let’s assume from this point on, that the game functioned as intended.

Journey is a meditative game. You begin as a lone soul in the desert, trying to make your way to a distant mountain. You do this through a combination of walking, sliding, and gliding. Movement is smooth and graceful, as are the movements of the many ‘cloth’ objects in the worlds.

Progressing from one area to the next requires some simple puzzle solving. Enough to keep you mentally engaged but never frustrated. Predominantly though, the point is simply to experience the sights, sounds, music, and graceful movement. The game is very peaceful, with moods ranging from somber to jovial depending on the particular environment.

During your journey, you may happen across other players also making their way to the mountain. You can’t communicate except via an emote that displays your symbol. It’s a nice touch that makes the world seem not so lonely, but without the annoyances that often come with multiplayer.

I enjoyed Journey, but it surely isn’t for everyone. If you don’t get easily immersed, it’s probably not for you. It very much depends on the player ceasing to be self-aware. It doesn’t have a story in the regular sense, or lots of action, or high scores to go after. If you’re looking for a challenge or competition, then look somewhere else.

Journey is very niche game, but what it tries to do, it does very well. I prefer it to its siblings Flower and flOw; I think because it’s more human. Oddly enough, I also like that the game is very short. It can easily be completed in one or two sittings. But if you enjoy the feeling you get from playing, then it basically has endless replay value, and each time it will be an enjoyable, relaxing, compact experience—just like meditation.

 

Video Games

Bloodborne game review

I finally earned the the Platinum Trophy for Bloodborne. It took me 144 hours and I ended up at level 198. I think it’s the hardest Platinum I’ve earned to date. It didn’t take the longest, and it wasn’t the most complex or grindiest. But in terms of gameplay difficulty, man, the path to the last trophy is beyond merciless. Thank you FromSoftware. Thank you for doing what most companies are unwilling to do; thank you for pushing your players to their limits.

Bloodborne is very much a Souls game, but it’s presented in a much more refined and focused package. It’s more holistic is the best way I can describe it. The lore, aesthetic, and gameplay mechanics all complement each other wonderfully. It’s Victorian England meets H.P. Lovecraft, with a sprinkle of steampunk.

This consistency of style is one of the things that sets it apart from the more sprawling and diverse Souls games. Another major difference is the lack of shields and encumbrance, which promotes a much faster and more aggressive style of gameplay. There is no turtling behind a heavy shield and steel plate. You dodge your enemies’ attacks, you stagger them with your firearm, or you die. It’s beautiful, and I’ll try to take what I learned and apply it to Dark Souls 3 when I ever get around to playing it.

Every weapon and every piece of armor in Bloodborne is stylish and usable. Each weapon also has a unique and extensive moveset. There may not be a ton of weapons to choose from, but each has a distinct personality and will serve well any hunter who decides to master its intricacies. The same cannot be said for Souls games, which have more equipment to choose from, but less equipment you’d want to choose.

The gameplay is very solid. A few of the larger bosses have issues with the camera clipping into their bodies, but in general, playing the game is a very satisfying experience. The controls feel tight and responsive; framerates are steady; and I found hit registration to be very consistent. Graphically the game is amazing, and it’s complimented by an excellent, though understated soundtrack.

The story, as with Souls games, lacks a traditional narrative arc and is more about uncovering the lore. In that regard, I found Bloodborne slightly less cryptic and more enjoyable than other FromSoftware titles. There are several NPCs you meet along the way who breathe some life into the world and provide a sense of consequence for your actions. The voice acting and writing are by no means stellar, but certainly more than adequate.

If there is one thing Souls games are known for, it is the challenge, and Bloodborne does not disappoint. During the main campaign you will be tested, but rarely, if ever, stymied for a prolonged period. Should you want an extra challenge however, the Chalice Dungeons await. There is a predefined path through the Chalice Dungeons that leads to Yharnam, The Pthumerian Queen—final, final, final boss of Bloodborne. You will encounter challenges along this path that far exceed anything in the game proper. In addition to this predefined path, you can use Root chalices to create procedurally generated, unique dungeons to explore. The harder the dungeon, the better will be the loot—just as the gods of old decreed.

If you like Souls games, you will like Bloodborne; of that, I have little doubt. It doesn’t have quite the variety or grandeur, but it offers a different playstyle in a setting that is a fully realized stylistic masterpiece.

Video Games

The sad state of affairs with game release dates

All I wanted to do was post the February release schedule for PS4 games and my interest level in each of them. Simple enough, right? So I went to Google and ran a bunch of searches like:

  • video game release dates 2017;
  • ps4 complete game release schedule;
  • all confirmed ps4 game release dates;
  • ps4 new games february 2017.

I sifted through the results looking at only those sources which seemed to be reporting  a comprehensive list. Articles that started with “Most Anticipated” or “Biggest Upcoming”, I dismissed straight away. I also limited my scope to North American release dates.

What I found is that no two sites report the same release schedule—for February. As in the month we are currently in. Think about that. No one, including Sony, can tell us what games are being released over the next 4 weeks. I compiled my results in a handy dandy table you can view here:

PS4 Game Releases – February 2017

Certainly the most comprehensive list comes from playstationlifestyles.net, which as far as I can tell is unaffiliated with Sony. But there are still ten games missing from their list which are reported by other outlets. Now, that could be because those ten games aren’t actually being released in February, which brings us to the question of accuracy. A longer list, isn’t necessarily more correct.

As we move through February I’ll be keeping track of which games actually do get released and when. Hopefully by the end of the month, one of these sites will be revealed as the best place to go for release dates. But honestly, how is a complete and up-to-date schedule not a thing on playstation.com?

Oddly enough, the one site that is dedicated entirely to release dates and has the best UI, is also the most obscure and difficult to find via Google. Check it out; it’s really quite nice: www.releases.com.