Monday, October 10, 2016

The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone - Review

Hearts of Stone -- the first DLC pack for The Witcher 3 -- adds about 15-20 hours of new content to the game, extending the northeastern region of the map, near Oxenfurt, with new points of interest, side-quests, and treasure hunts, in addition to other expansion essentials like all-new enemies, new equipment sets, a new system for crafting and buying unique runes and glyphs, and a main storyline that goes toe-to-toe with and even exceeds the best quests in the base game. Hearts of Stone is, at its heart, a fairly typical DLC expansion that simply takes the familiar formula of the base game and adds more content to it, but it improves upon the experience by directly addressing some of the core issues of the base game, such as combat, economy, and pacing. The mechanical improvements are reason enough to give Hearts of Stone a solid recommendation, but the main quest-line and all of its great characters, stories, and gameplay sequences push it well above the base game and make it one of the best $10 DLC packs I've ever played.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Witcher 3: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I've had nothing but tremendous respect for Polish developer CD Projekt RED ever since I played their 2007 debut, The Witcher. That game quickly vaulted its way into my short list of all-time favorite RPGs. Their 2011 followup, The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings, was really solid as well, and I especially admired how the middle portion of the game branched in completely separate directions depending on your choices. What they and their parent company have been doing with, meanwhile -- picking up licenses for older games, updating them to work on modern platforms, and selling them completely DRM-free at reasonable prices -- combined with their continued support for TW1 and TW2 -- putting a ton of effort into the Enhanced Edition of both games and releasing the updates completely free -- has made them a shining example of a game company doing good within the industry and treating their customers right.

The 2013 and 2014 E3 previews for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt generated a ton of hype, leading some publications to declare it their most anticipated game of 2015. Understandably so -- how could you not be excited over the prospect of CD Projekt's masterful storytelling and quest design applied to a vast open world? I was skeptical when it was first announced that the game would be open-world, but I held out hope that CD Projekt could pull it off, given their track record of success and how much they seem to understand game design. The Witcher 3 was subsequently released in May of 2015 to universal acclaim, and shattered records for the most "Game of the Year" awards ever bestowed upon one game. I figured, at that point, that CD Projekt had defied my expectations and managed to craft a huge open-world RPG that captured all the best elements of open-world games while still retaining the unique soul and elements that made The Witcher series so great in the previous two installments. And then I actually played it.

It turns out that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is not the perfect masterpiece everyone claims it to be. It's really, really good, mind you, and I'd say it's easily one of the best open-world RPGs ever created. But that praise and distinction doesn't shield it from criticism, and the fact remains that there are a lot of critical areas in which TW3 comes up short, outright disappoints, or else simply isn't as good as it could've been. There's a lot of stuff to talk about with a game this size, so I won't even try to craft this review into a paragraph-by-paragraph flowing essay; instead, I'll break it down into specific topics and categorize them based on three of Clint Eastwood's timeless criteria: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Board Game Review: King of Tokyo

King of Tokyo is a dice-chucking game designed by Richard Garfield (creator of Magic: The Gathering), originally published by IELLO Games in 2011, in which players take the role of epic Godzilla-sized monsters battling for supremacy over Tokyo. Players roll a handful of dice each turn, picking which results to keep and re-rolling any unwanted dice two more times, Yahtzee-style, for a total of three rolls. The dice results determine your actions for that turn: each claw rolled deals a point of damage to other monsters, each heart heals you by one point, each lightning bolt gives you energy to spend on upgrade cards (which can grant you permanent bonuses or one-time benefits), and rolling three or more of the same number grants you that many star points.

At the heart of the game is Tokyo city, where monsters vie for control via a king of the hill type of mechanism -- only one monster can be in Tokyo at a time (two if playing with five or six players), and you get star points for going into and staying in Tokyo. While in Tokyo, your attacks hit every monster outside of Tokyo, but you can't heal unless you cede the city and flee to the outskirts, allowing someone else to swoop in and lay claim to Tokyo. Meanwhile, every monster outside of Tokyo attacks inwards, hitting whomever's in Tokyo. You win the game by being the first to reach 20 star points, or by being the last monster standing.

The relatively light rules, short playtime (30 minutes, according to the box), and whimsical nature of the game, what with its cartoon monsters punching each other and evolving over the course of the game to gain jet packs and fire breathing abilities, among countless other possibilities, all combine to make King of Tokyo a consensus "gateway" or "family" game. This is the type of game you buy when you're first getting into the hobby, or when you want a game to play with people who aren't interested in heavy strategy games with lots of rules and complexities. Its esteemed reputation among board game enthusiasts on BoardGameGeek and r/boardgames gave me enough confidence to buy King of Tokyo two years ago, when I was first starting my board game collection, and indeed, it was a lot of fun early on. But now, two years later, I just don't enjoy it very much.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Killing Floor 2 Early Access: One Year Later

Killing Floor 2, Tripwire Interactive's cooperative zombie-killing first-person horde-mode shooter, has been in Steam's Early Access for over a year. I've been playing it on and off over the span of the last 14 months, racking up 178 hours of gameplay during that time, usually coming back any time there's a new update, playing for a while, and then eventually losing interest. With the recent release of the "Bullseye Content Pack," which finally introduces the beloved Sharpshooter role from the original Killing Floor, I figured it was time to take another look at KF2 and update you all on where it stands after a year of development, and whether it's worth getting when it inevitably goes on sale this summer.

I wish I could sing praises about how far the game has come since it launched into Early Access, because KF2 is a game I really want to like. The original Killing Floor is the most-played game in my Steam library, and KF2 has a lot of great ideas that would seem to improve upon the successful formula of KF1. And yet, I find myself constantly annoyed by all the decisions Tripwire makes in regards to the game's development. It seems like every time they roll out a new update, it comes with some feature that completely breaks the game, or else makes it significantly less fun to play. With Tripwire's ridiculously slow development process, it then takes months before they get around to fixing things, if they ever address the issue at all. Meanwhile, they can't seem to make up their minds about what they actually want the game to be, which leaves the game feeling like a confused mess that often just isn't very fun to play.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Dark Souls 3 Doesn't Suck .... Or Does It?

After the colossal disappointment of Dark Souls II, it would be appropriate to say that I had pretty low expectations for Dark Souls III. Although, I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I simply had no expectations for Dark Souls III. Despite all of my criticism against Dark Souls II, I still found it a deeply engaging experience, and I enjoy the core gameplay of the Souls series enough that a single lukewarm experience wouldn't be enough to turn me off from future installments. With Dark Souls III, I wasn't going to expect some sort of grand, transcendent experience like the original Demon's Souls, or even the first Dark Souls -- instead, I was just going to play it and try to enjoy it like I would any other video game.

Reviewing Dark Souls III is a difficult task for me because I have two divergent opinions about it. On the one hand, it feels like the least rushed and most polished of the three Dark Souls games, but on the other hand, it also feels like it's lacking in content compared to either of the previous two games. Despite that, I've put twice as many hours into Dark Souls III than I put into either Dark Souls or Dark Souls II, with 135 hours spanning multiple characters and multiple playthroughs. It was so addicting that I'd sometimes play for eight hours straight without stepping away to eat lunch or dinner, or play until four in the morning when I had to be up at nine the next day. And yet, after all that time, I've found myself progressively more annoyed and disappointed. There's all this extra stuff I still want to do, in terms of builds and playstyles, but I just can't bring myself to keep playing anymore, unless the game gets some serious patches, because the flaws have become almost unbearable.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

STALKER: Call of Pripyat - Review

STALKER: Call of Pripyat is the third game in the STALKER series, a trio of open-world survival-horror FPS games set in the irradiated "Zone" around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, following a fictitious second blowout in 2006. As a result of all the radiation (and other mysterious forces), the Zone has become an inhospitable place full of violent mutants and dangerous scientific anomalies -- small, localized spaces that defy the laws of physics, like gravity wells that pull you off the ground and rip you to pieces, or spots of earth that shoot fire when you step on them. Some of the mutants have even developed powers of telekinesis, invisibility, and mind control. The only people who venture into the Zone are scientists looking to study the anomalies, and treasure hunters known as "stalkers" hoping to find valuable "artifacts" contained in and around anomalies, which bestow their carriers with special powers like accelerated blood clotting or extra strength.

Call of Pripyat follows the events of Shadow of Chernobyl, in which you, as an amnesiac stalker known as the "marked one," managed to disable a device called the "brain scorcher," which had been keeping people from reaching the center of the Zone. With the demise of the brain scorcher, the Ukrainian government launched a series of helicopters to survey the area in preparation for a large-scale military raid on the CNPP. All five of the helicopters crashed in the Zone before reaching the CNPP. You play as Major Degtyarev, member of the Ukrainian Security Services, on an undercover reconnaissance mission investigating the helicopter crashes. You begin the game on the outskirts of the Zone in the Zaton swamps, before advancing to the Yanov Railway station and Jupiter manufacturing plant, and eventually, reaching the city of Pripyat itself.