Overwatch – Yea, It’s Good

lineup-standardOver six months after it’s release, I relented and purchased Overwatch during the holiday sale on PSN. Having previously played the beta and free weekend I knew the game was good but until I put some hours into it I didn’t understand just how good.

From the outside looking in, Overwatch looks pretty but kind of run of the mill. The art work has its own look and feel that stands out from other games in its class. That is about the only thing that makes the game stand out without playing it. Just like any other first-person shooter you have a primary weapon and see stuff on a HUD. From the trailers and videos you can see a cast of characters and their different abilities but it never really seems like it is something more than what other games have tried to offer. Then you play the game. After that you play the game again. Then you play more. After that you play more. You just keep playing.

What you don’t see in the videos of this game are the subtle things that make it work. When you first see the wide variety of characters you think they are just trying to give you different looking characters to play around with. Then you realize after playing for awhile that each one is unique and each thing that can make them dominant can also be countered. For example, the flagship character of Tracer is quick and deadly but her weapons don’t have great range so she has to be danger close to use them. Tracer is very allusive with her Blink and Recall abilities that allow her to travel distances quickly and reverse time but characters like Junkrat and Mei can trap her with some of their abilities. There is a list longer than I can think of much less cover that this game offers and that list has been expanding with the creativity of the players.

Even the look of a first-person shooter is deceptive as to what this game actually is. Those that play RPG’s may note the use of classes like DPS, healer, and tank but these are not common in FPS games. What one will come to find in this game is that FPS rules and roles don’t apply the same way as they do in other games. Many FPS games can be dominated by sheer force or coordination. These also work in Overwatch but you’ll find subtle if not drastic twists on this. Mercy, a healer, may seem useless until she is used correctly. Although she may never fire a shot, if she correctly heals or buffs the damage of another player she may be just as valuable as the person dealing the most damage on a team.

It’s the little things. That is something that can be said about what makes this game great. One example is to look at the player select screen before a match. This is where you choose your character but it does so in such a smart way. It breaks the characters down into their four roles so that you can pick the type of player you want to be. Not sure which you should choose for a given match? No problem because the screen will also make recommendations on your team’s composition. If there are too many or too few of a type it will display a message stating such. That way if you have too many defenders and no healers it gives that team an alert and gives someone the chance to change their character.

This game is unique and special in so many ways. Earlier I mentioned this game’s look because that is the easy thing to mention when talking about this game. Not only is it different in its style and look but it is also gorgeous. All the environmental aesthetics look like no other game and are built in a beautiful way. Once you stop gawking at the maps you are playing on, you realize how well they are constructed. If you are playing an objective game where you are trying to capture a point, there is always a way that it can be defended and vice versa.

Something that Overwatch lacks is a proper campaign. This is probably the biggest short coming of the game. For a multi-player only game, this is probably one of the most interesting cast of characters that could be assembled. Seeing their backstories via short videos feels almost like a disservice to them. Playing through said stories could have been so full-filling and brought in an entire other set of players increasing the player base even more. Alas, this is not to be and we can only watch videos and read comics to enjoy the virtual lives of these characters.

Much like the original Titanfall before it, Overwatch is multiplayer only and makes the most of it. The previously discussed missing campaign is completely forgiven and forgotten based on the fact of how good and fun the game is to play. For those of us that don’t care for online multi-player gaming, we forget that fact just so that we can enjoy this game. I’ll pick up this game when I want to jump in for a quick match or two if my time is limited; I’ve also played the game for two hours straight in lieu of other games I have.

My only regret is that I didn’t buy this game sooner. If I had I would have put it very high, if not on top, of my game of the year list for 2016. Given that this game is this far passed its release and still has such an active player base, it is possible if not probable that it is Blizzard’s newest sustainable franchise that will live on for years to come.

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

The Division – Survival

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Now that Survival is out on PS4 and readily available to all, let’s talk a little about it.

The first few times I played Survival I hated it, absolutely hated it. You start out with nothing but a pistol and shit gear. All the gear you earned playing the game in any mode up to this point is now unavailable to you and you ask yourself “well, why the fuck did I play this game then?”. Not only do you not have your gear, you now have a slew of other factors to battle: infection – which you need meds for, cold – which you need better apparel for, thirst and hunger – which you need consumables for. Add all this up and the game seems insurmountable if not just un-fun.

But then after you play the mode a few times it grows on you. Running from place to place, looking for shelter or warmth while scavenging every piece of loot you can find becomes a challenge rather than a chore. The more you play, the more you remember the map and where loot may be. All the things you have to deal with become easier to deal with as your looting skills get better. When you find a “nice” upgrade to your gear you get a small rush and your enthusiasm rises enough to keep you going even further.

It probably took me about five or six rounds before I stopped hating the game and started seeing why people wanted this mode. With the option of PVP or PVE, I usually play PVE just because I normally avoid PVP to begin with but I do see where it adds an extra thrill to the game that would be a draw for other people. Even playing PVE, this mode is something that I can jump into for a session or two a day and have fun with. It seems counter-intuitive to call a game that forces you to struggle fun but that is exactly what this game does in this mode. It works because when you do succeed you get that feeling that you accomplished something, as opposed to the other modes which have, for a lot of people, become nothing but a grind.

Unfortunately, as much as I am enjoying this game mode I am not very good at it. To this point I have yet to actually complete my mission in this mode to extract the anti-virals you are tasked to retrieve. I’ve gotten as far as getting the anti-virals and calling in my extraction but something always goes wrong. The first time I had thirty seconds before my copter landed only to have another player spawn his hunter, which he failed to kill, and it killed me. Another time I went to the extraction point, called my copter in, spawned my hunter only to find that somebody else’s hunter was still there as well, ooops.

Massive has done well with game mode not only in its design and delivery but also in the fact that it is a service to the players. This is something that gave players still engaged and playing the game something extra to do and it has drawn players back that left the game because they were tired of the senseless grind. Survival may in fact be the thing that keeps this game alive and surviving.

 

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

2016 Game of the Year!

image via blogspot

image via blogspot

With 2016 nearly over, it’s time to do what so many others are doing. No, not holiday shopping…making a game of the year list! There were some highlights and some lowlights. I’m only going to include games I actually played. That will certainly keep the list short but it will also leave out a lot of games since my time playing games released this year was somewhat limited. Let’s get started!

Honorable Mention – Destiny: Rise of Iron

DestinyRiseOfIronTechnically this can’t be on this year’s GOTY list because it is only DLC and not an actual game. It does get an honorable mention though because it did give players a reason to come back to Destiny at least for a while. The content was fun to play but it didn’t do a great deal to expand the Destiny universe and in some ways it felt like a step back from The Taken King. However, it did show that there is room for growth in the game and that fans are still interested in it.

Dishonorable Mention – No Man’s Sky

no-mans-skyWhat can be said about this game other than it may qualify as the year’s biggest disappointment as far as games go. I was excited about this game ever since it was announced but my fever diminished every time it was delayed. By the time it actually did release my expectations were at an all time low, that was until I played the game. This game was nothing that I imagined it to be and I’ll take the blame for that but I won’t take the blame for the clunky game play, cumbersome UI, lousy inventory, and overall poor performance that has plagued this game. It still own my copy just so that every time I get excited about an upcoming game I can look over at my bookshelf, see No Man’s Sky sitting there, and instantly temper my expectations.

And a 1 and a 2 – Amplitude

amplitudeThis rhythm based game looks a lot like Guitar Hero but somehow you are flying a space ship. I never understood the underlying plot of the game and didn’t really care. My time with the game was fun even for a person that is not good at rhythm games.

Needs Improvement – Alienation

alienationA twin-stick arcade shooter from the people that made Dead Nation? Hell yeah! Well, not so much. This game turned into a loot-based shooter that got too difficult too quickly. You couldn’t get better loot without playing a higher level than you were geared for but you could barely survive at the higher level because you weren’t geared for it. See a problem? Then there was the whole issue about how the enemies scaled to the number of players in the game. With a few corrections this game could have been much better.

Maybe I Missed Something – Titanfall 2

titanfall2For whatever reason, people really liked the campaign in this game but I couldn’t disagree more. Titanfall is a first-person shooter whereas the campaign was designed as a platformer with a lackluster story. I had a great time with the original but this follow up just didn’t have the same draw for me. I respect most of what they did with the game and think it is a quality product despite my lack of interest.

It’s the Boys! – Gears of War 4

gears4_large_opt-7b31920efee146258aa0b4e06f6b3632It was great to see a fresh entry in this series but it was far from perfect. The story was a little wobbly and ended abruptly. Horde mode had some changes that I didn’t care for, particularly having to collect your money between rounds. Maybe the best part of it for me was that it showed that The Coalition wasn’t going to ruin Gears of War for me like 343 Industries ruined Halo, at least not yet anyway.

Please Fix – Tom Clancy’s: The Division

The-DivisionUh, I know some of you are rolling your eyes that this game is even on my list. This is the game I probably spent the most time with this year despite all of its numerous issues. My fondness for third-person shooters kept me going in this game along with Massive’s efforts to improve it. However, I’m not going to pretend that the game still doesn’t have issues because it does.

Obvious Game of the Year – Uncharted 4

uncharted4Whether you believe or not that this is the end of the series, this is a great game. The story kept me playing for hours and the characters had me invested in them completely. This is the type of game other should aspire to make. I’m not sure if Nathan Drake is done or not, it could be that Naughty Dog doesn’t make the next Uncharted game. If this is the last game in this series it was a heck of a way to go out.

 

There it is, sort and simple. Wish I had played more games but I didn’t. I wanted to include games like Battleborn and Overwatch but my time was spent in the betaa and I feel that shouldn’t count. Perhaps next year I’ll get to play a larger set of games. It is a completely different discussion of what games I hope will be on this list next year.

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

The Division – 1.4 and Beyond

 

the_division_wallpaper1625For what felt like an eternity, those still playing The Division patiently waited for the 1.4 update to arrive with the hopes of curing the game’s woes. While the patch delivered some relief the game continues to show its flaws.

The quality of life improvements that patch 1.4 delivered have been well received. The little things like being able to mark gear so that it can’t be sold or deconstructed or being able to buy back gear that was accidentally sold may seem trivial but it is huge to those that play. Going through the grind to get that perfect piece of gear only to sell it by mistake was enough to make some quit the game. Even getting better loot drops from the World Tier system has been nice. Touring the open world and being able to get top level gear from any enemy has made it easier for those who don’t want the stress of Incursions or the Dark Zone to keep getting gear at their own pace. Perhaps the simple change of gear level to 229 was the most subtle but should not be over looked. Many of time a person was kicked for not having max gear score even though they played better with gear of a lower number.

Unfortunately, patch 1.4 was not the end all solution to all the problems of the game. With the more gracious amount of loot drops came the constraints of storage. Each character and the shared Stash can only hold so much and the need to constantly sort through gear can be a hassle at times. Then there is the changing of talents and skills. Changing things like critical hit chance and the like force players to rebuild their builds after relearning the mechanics of the game. One of the worst offenders in 1.3 still exists in 1.4, shotguns. Over-powered NPC’s and shotgun thugs in the DZ are still a problem. The hope to balance this weapon is somewhat dwindling at this point. Time to kill was something that Massive made a major point to fix with this patch and while it is better they accomplished it by making other sacrifices. The change was mostly mad by nerfing skills and rewarding DPS. These is a step backwards for the game taking it back to its 1.0 and 1.1 days when DPS was the key attribute as opposed to 1.3’s Skill build.

Looking ahead to patch 1.5 and Survival DLC there is a mix of emotions and messaging. Patch 1.5 is set to change things like skills and attributes yet again forcing players to learn again exactly how they will function. Gear score is another potentially unwanted change going from 229 to 256. As for Survival, it is unclear how this will be received as it will take away from players all the precious gear they have worked so hard for and ask them to start anew with nearly nothing. Some will be fully into this and other will avoid it all together.

Massive is over six months into the release of this game and it is still struggling. Every time a patch or DLC is released the player base is first filled with the excitement of things being fixed and getting new gear only then to be met with the lament of having to learn the game all over and grinding away at replacing their gear. The developer seems to take point with each patch to try to make the players play they way they want them to rather than the way the player wants to and that is something that is going to continue to drive people away from the game. The more Massive asks its players to do everything over again without offering much in the way of new experiences the more they will find less people enjoying much less playing the game.

Look for Survival and 1.5 to be a telling, if not breaking, point of the game and its future.

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

Titanfall 2 – Missing Pieces

titanfall2

Fans of the original Titanfall had great expectations for the sequel, for some those expectations are left unmet.

The verse and tone were set for Titanfall 2 by its predecessor and poor use of those assets were made with this game. The multi-player only original was a flash success on the PC and Xbox One platforms giving one of the best on-line versus experiences in a long time. The fast paced movement and agility of a pilot was balanced with the lumbering power of the giant titans. In Ttianfall 2 these things still exist but do not play or feel as good as before. Competitive maps do not have the same effortless flow where you could endlessly wall-run with carefully placed jumps previously players now find strategically placed objects set to hinder said movement by intent. The ability to scamper from wall to wall with precision has been removed as walls have been placed in the just out of reach area where a jump is bound to fail but trick you into trying anyway.

What was a beautiful multi-player versus system has been turned sideways for no more than the sake of doing so. Re-working an experience based system between games is nothing new and not the issue with Titanfall 2. Unlocking weapons and abilities has not been greatly changed and can still be easily handled. What is less amenable to players is the lack of ability to change one’s loadouts both on pilots and titans. It may sound like a small change but going from having three weapons to only two is drastic and conditionally harsh. In the case of a pilot-vs-pilot game it would be fine to have a load out of only two weapons both designed to decimate other pilots. When playing in modes that involve titans and pilots the two weapon system reaches a break. In the original game if you failed to slay your pilot nemesis with your primary weapon it was a quick switch to your secondary for one last chance but in this sequel that secondary may be your anti-titan weapon that could likely be ineffective at dispatching your foe. With your titan your are now hamstrung to preconfigured armaments. The developers made the choice to not allow players to mix and match titan abilities and weapons as they did before. If you find that you enjoy a titans primary weapon but not its other abilities you’ll just have to learn to live with it because you can do little else about it.

More proof that change isn’t always progress, look at just two examples. First the absence of the Frontier Defense game mode. This co-op mode was grafted into the original after its release and it absence is odd in the sequel. Granted it can be added in later as it was in the original but the fact that it was a prebuilt game mode makes it a peculiar mode to be missing. The only thought is that they wanted to limit the number of modes available to keep player counts up in playlists. The second instance is the change to rodeoing a titan. In Titanfall 2 you remove a battery and jump off. You only get to damage a titan if the battery is already gone when you rodeo it and you’ll get to drop a grenade into it. This is far less satisfying that ripping open the titan’s skull and discharging your weapon into it for the kill. Maybe removing a battery can be a strategic maneuver, especially if you can return it to a teammate, but it almost negates the fun and functionality of the rodeo.

For those that lauded the original for its lack of a proper campaign there is good news and bad news. Respawn took the time to develop an actual campaign with character and story to replace its somewhat hilarious excuse for a campaign from the first game. Playing as an actual character is positive for the story given the modern contention to make the hero nameless and voiceless. That was the good news, now the bad. The storyline is somewhat jerking and nonsensical taking you between events and places that are held together by reasons resembling fishing line. As for the gameplay itself, it was a sadly ill-conceived notion to make a campaign for a first-person shooter more of a platforming game than an actual shooter.

Where the original Titanfall stood out Titanfall 2 will lurk in a corner. By not furthering any of the most innovative points this successor doesn’t offer the same appeal as the original. Time will tell how much the thrill of replaying a game that was replayed ad nauseam with little change can keep this game alive.

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

Gears of War 4 – So Close But So Good

gears4_large_opt-7b31920efee146258aa0b4e06f6b3632

A few years back, Gears of War was one of the strongest franchises on the Xbox platform. With Gears of War 3 concluding the trilogy and seemingly sewing up the story line the franchise was at its end. Out of what may have been greed or just misdirected creativity, Judgement was as an attempt to spur on the Gear of War universe. With its failure, it was nearly inconceivable to think of another Gear of War game happening.

Gear of War 4 comes in from a very different angle.  Where Judgement tried to piggy-back on the Gear story line, Gear of War 4 tries to carry it forward. Although not a 100% success, the game does a good job to be true to old story while trying to build the foundation of a new one. The game begins with a prologue that can be an introduction for those new to the Gears series or a refresher for those more familiar with it. One miss step was how the story jumps to the main story line because if you had not been following the game’s development it may be easy to not understand the context of where his story begins. As the story continues, you slowly get a feel for the current state of the Gears’ world. There are multiple oppositions which can be both frustrating and interesting. On one hand anyone could be your ally but it is unclear who is the bad guy. As interesting as the story could have been, it wavered at points by trying to string reveals out too long. Certain reveals were obvious, some were well welcomed, others were head shakers, while others were jaw droppers. Given the spread of these, it was inconsistent to know which you were going to get at any point.

At the end of the story, you have the feeling of having taken a great ride but at the same time that the ride ended prematurely. The main story and main characters were enjoyable and interesting but there were too many instances of story lines not feeling complete. This is good in the sense that it sets many things up for the future of the franchise, however, it is also bad because it may not give some players enough reason to invest in and return to the game.

On a technical level this game is good. Almost everything feels good but there are a few exceptions. Chainsaw kills are just as gratifying as ever, but snapping to cover unexpectedly is frustrating. Accounting for wind when throwing a grenade is not fun but nailing an enemy with a drop kick across cover is satisfying. Graphically this is one of the best looking games on the Xbox One. Titanfall looked good for its time, The Division feel short of expectations, Rise of the Tomb Raider had great environments but this game just looks and feels good both in game and during cutscenes.

Horde mode is back but slightly changed. The basis of the mode is the same as you take on ever increasingly difficult waves of enemies. What has changed is how you go about building your defenses. You now have to build defenses from the fabricator, which was introduced in the story mode, and you can place them almost anywhere you desire. This is a change from the statically placed fortifications from previous horde modes. One change that is not as welcome is the economy. You no longer get money directly during play rather you have to collect it after killing enemies. This draws you out of cover and safety to get the money and exposes you to danger. This could be thrilling but it is more frustrating than anything especially since you need to pick up the money in order to keep building. The time between rounds is egregiously short since you need this time to not only collect your money but also to build your defenses.

Gears of War 4 is a welcome return of a beloved franchise. As much as it is loved it is also flawed. A few tweaks and adds could have greatly improved this game. Horde mode is enjoyable but some of the changes were not for the better. The story mode should have been more in depth than it was. In the end, the game is good and worth the time. The feeling of it being incomplete is what stops it from being great.

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.

Luke Cage – Season 1 – Review

marvel-luke-cage-posterAs strong as Luke Cage is, it may be that the Marvel universe is getting weak.

Many will know that this take of Luke Cage is a direct off-shoot from the Daredevil series that Netflix also produced. The main character was introduced in said series and it also brings a few cross-overs. The same New York exists here that also existed in the Avenger movies. What seems odd is that although those events are referenced it seems that it has little to no effect on this environment. This left the series somewhat disconnected even with the direct ties that it had. Then again, this a problem Daredevil had as well so it shouldn’t be held against the Luke Cage series alone.

What we do get is something that is well intended but in many cases misses the mark. In Luke Cage we have a tragically flawed and tortured hero that doesn’t want to be a hero. A far too familiar superhero theme that is not played to its best in this series. One of the issues with the show is how long it takes to develop the main characters. What seemed to be important characters at the start of the series were thrown away earlier than expected and the pay off for doing so never came through. Other characters and their intentions are strung out too far when compared to their overall impact at the end of the first season. The season struggled with a pacing issue across its entirety and several episodes were microcosms of this problem. There were times that the show became nearly a pain to endure only to have a triumphant payoff at the end. Cliffhangers and anticipation could have been better used in the series and episodes.

Even with all of its issues, the series shows a great deal of promise. Despite the long drawn out reveal and setup of Luke Cage, Mike Colter plays a charismatic and affable role. He may be one of the best reasons to watch the show as to enjoy his performance. Along with his performance, Netflix continues to show that it has a solid production model with the sights and sounds of this show being some of the best do date in one of its original series. A huge tip of the hat goes to the soundtrack of this series not only for its selection and variety but more so for its placement and usage with the visuals of the show. The ways music and sound were used to draw the viewer in and convey emotion and intent were nothing short of inspired.

The most worrisome part of this series may be something outside of it. There is an over abundance of Marvel properties in release and in production at this point that we are nearing or may be at a saturation point. There will be a point at which the returns diminish for both we as viewers for enjoyment and studios for profit. It is somewhat sad to think that this show for all its merit may be at the fulcrum point not for its own doing but for its timing.

Personally, as much as I wanted to like the show I can’t help but feel that it left something on the table. There was a lot of hype for the show and that certainly did not help. If taken as a standalone product, outside of the overall Marvel universe, this could have been a more enjoyable series. It has many things going for it and even with as good as it was it still has room for vast improvements. Take the time to watch and enjoy it, knowing that at times it will not be everything it is capable of.

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Paul Novak

Owner, Proprietor, Typer of Words, Gamer, Jester

A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.