Gears of War 4 – So Close But So Good

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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.

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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.

Destiny – Rise of Iron Incorporates Some Rust

 

For those bemoaning the delay of Destiny 2 this expansion probably is not what you were looking for. Rise of Iron had the chance to take another step in the path The Taken King took the game but alas it seems more akin to The House of Wolves in what it actually delivers to the game.

Previously I had written an article of things I thought would help make Rise of Iron a success. So let’s do a quick review.

Matchmaking for PVE

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No improvement. Sadly the new strike list is still the only PVE portion with in-game matchmaking. It seems that Bungie just doesn’t want to bother with putting it in the game and is ok with forcing players to find other players elsewhere. Perhaps their thoughts are that with PlayStation’s Communities and Xbox’s upcoming LFG service they just don’t need to bother.

I still agree that the new raid probably shouldn’t have matchmaking but other areas could have benefited. With the addition of Archon’s Forge, matchmaking would make a difference as it is hard to randomly meet people there and it can be a struggle to get enough people there by other means for the top level events.

Better Chances for Loot

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I’m going to score a no for this one. When you initially start playing Rise of Iron you get better gear to use for infusion but it quickly becomes moot. Rare engrams will drop at up to 340 and that can help a character up their light level quickly. Plus, vendors sell 350 gear. Sure there are quests to follow to get gear but the rewards may be minimal based on your light level when you complete them.

The bigger problem is that once you hit the 340-350 range your progress significantly slows. Mostly because rare engrams still only decrypt to 340 and legendary engrams will only decrypt to 1-2 levels above your current level. Exotics will drop higher but then you have to either equipment them or sacrifice them for infusing other gear. This is one of the most frustrating parts of the expansion.

 

Improve the Story

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To quote one of my favorite movies “mark it zero”. If anything, this felt more like a regression from what The Taken King did compared to what vanilla Destiny offered. Characters were barely flushed out, backstory was nil, and foreshadowing was absent.

How this is supposed to pass as story is beyond me at this point. As someone who plays mostly solo in campaign and PVE, not having a story to enjoy is a bummer to say the least. I know it is unfair to compare it to Bungie’s previous titles but I still expect better.

destiny-roi-00Other Issues…

I wish there were a list of positive things but I’m afraid that most things are either null or negative that I see in this expansion but let’s take a look.

  • Reuse of assets – Once you get through looking around the new social area, there isn’t much new ground to cover in Rise of Iron. The Plaguelands is merely an extension of the Cosmodrome and looks unforgivingly similar.
  • Rehash of quests – Even with new quests introduced they feel like old ones. Go here, collect this, go there kill this guy, talk to so-and-so in the social area, go do a strike, talk to so-and-so again, viola…reward. Some were easier than others but the reward didn’t necessarily meet with the effort needed.
  • Same old same old – Want to grind rank? Want to do the same patrols? Good, because now you have new bounties to get you rank(and XP) which you’ve been doing ad nauseam but your stuck with the same patrol missions to do so in the open world. They tried to change the high value target mission up with quarantine missions but it turns out to be basically the same thing.
  • Raid? – Yes there is a new raid and I have not played. Why? Well, the aforementioned issue with grinding to get my light level up has precluded me from reaching the recommended light level to partake in the event. Sure people are going into the event below the recommended level but I don’t think that I would enjoy the frustration that comes with doing so. Even if I do get to do the raid, I’m not sure it will be the saving grace that this DLC needs.
  • Other events – The Iron Banner and Trial of Osiris have already returned. I have not ever played Trials of Osiris and will continue not to do so because I can’t handle the stress level personally. I did play enough Iron Banner to rank all three characters to level 5 so don’t mistake my desire to play and enjoy this game. Sparrow Racing League has also been rumored to return, looking forward to that as well.

In conclusion, if one had purchased Destiny – The Collection, then this may seem like a fine add-on. For those of us that purchased it as an addition to all the previous content, it may feel like a let down. There is a great base game here but it is just not living up to its potential. This is still one of the best first-person shooters I have played on this generation of consoles but it lacks the content and depth that I desire to make me feel not disappointed. I will keep playing but I will still be in that mode of hoping for more and seeking out other games to fill that hope until Bungie does something more proper for what not only I want but for what others may desire as well.
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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.