Author Topic: Finished playing...  (Read 120442 times)

Marco

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #585 on: April 18, 2018, 09:17:52 AM »
Far Cry 3 (not Blood Dragon yet), because I remembered that it was in my Steam library when Far Cry 5 came out.  I spent 36 hours on it.

Compared to Far Cry 2, this game introduces more non-immersive UI elements (fast travel, detection indicators, the ability to mark enemies with a camera and keep track of them, etc.) and some light open-world gameplay reminiscent of Just Cause 2.  Outside of the main storyline, you can climb radio towers to unlock map segments, murder all of the enemies in an outpost to unlock a fast travel point, or hunt down collectables.  The game rewards stealth, but you can also do reasonably well with sniping or a commando approach.  The in-game economy is moderately interesting, though you do eventually run out of things to spend money on.

I found the storyline to be relentlessly misogynistic, and didn't find the main character sympathetic at all.  It did have its entertaining moments.  Visuals and sound design are pretty good for a game of its day.

Random side note: this is the only FPS game I've played which allows you to slide down steep hills without taking falling damage.
« Last Edit: April 21, 2018, 05:11:29 PM by Marco »

Winston

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #586 on: April 18, 2018, 02:06:24 PM »
Life is Strange

I like Telltale-style games: Video-game stories that evolve as you make decisions throughout the game. Most of the games I’ve played in this genre are based on major commercial properties: Batman, Guardians of the Galaxy, Back to the Future.

Life is Strange, published by Square Enix, is based on an original concept. You play Max Caulfield, a teenage high-school student in a Northwestern town. Within the first ten minutes of playing the game, you (and she) discover that you have the ability to rewind time.

This a significant ability in a story-telling game. Normally, once you make a decision you’re stuck with it for the rest of the game. In Life is Strange, if you don’t like the result of a choice you can rewind and play it again. This lets you look through all the dialog options with the other characters and make informed decisions for how you’d like a scene to play out. You can also use the rewind ability to solve puzzles, since items you pick up go back in time with you, and you return to the spot where you started the rewind.

Life is Strange‘s story falls into the “magical realism” category: Apart from the rewind ability, Max’s life is grounded in the real world reality of living as a typical mis-understood teenager. Max deals with career choices, making friends, fellow students who are dealing with depression, suicide, and drug use.

This leads to my one source of dissatisfaction with the game: it spends a lot of time dealing with teenage-style angst issues. It seems like a waste of time when there’s a potential murder to solve and hints that a disaster is coming that could wipe out the town.

The game has other rough spots: There were a couple of locations where I spent a lot of time wandering around looking for items that were hard to see on the screen, often for tasks whose only purpose was to resolve an unimportant plot point that the game wouldn’t let me skip.

Overall, I liked the game. It was a change of pace from the over-the-top fantasy action games I usually play. It shows there’s a place in the videogame world for human stories.
Bill Seligman
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Marco

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #587 on: April 21, 2018, 05:19:56 PM »
Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon.  This short game simplifies the Far Cry 3 systems somewhat: there's no crafting or inventory, you don't choose your upgrades when you level up, and there's only one weapon in each class and one kind of syringe (healing).  As Vylin noted back in 2013, the visual filter does make the game less attractive; the music and sound design is good, though.  The storyline is deliberately hokey and frequently amusing.  I was completionist about this game (hunting down all of the collectables and buying all of the weapon upgrades) and it took me eleven hours.

Marco

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #588 on: May 03, 2018, 07:55:56 AM »
Binding of Isaac (5 hours).  An interesting game, but punishing rogue-lites aren't really my cup of tea.  Also, I don't have Rebirth, so there's no native controller support, and I'm not sure what I think of playing a twin-stick shooter on a keyboard.  I played until I was good enough to have half-hour games instead of five-minute games, but never got all that close to a win.

Dishonored, non-violent (29 hours).  This is a pretty good amalgam of Bioshock and Deus Ex/Metal Gear Solid/Thief.  Several other people here have reviewed this; I agree that the setting and atmosphere are good, but the story is predictable (and I would add, kind of misogynistic in a fashion typical of many games).  The controls were pretty good on PC.  I plan to do a violent playthrough; Gwyddyon had interesting commentary on doing so, and I don't expect to have much to add to that.

Snique

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #589 on: May 16, 2018, 02:15:03 PM »
XCom 2: War of the Chosen

This is the highly anticipated expansion for the XCom 2 game. It adds three NPC factions from which you can recruit, adds three unique and very powerful enemies (the Chosen of the title) and gives a bit more to do in the form of covert actions. The core gameplay is untouched, which is both a good and a bad thing. When Long War came out it completely overhauled the previous XCom and I (like others) was hoping this would be a similar upgrade. It's not bad in any way, but it's not the added level of depth and complexity I was hoping for.

If you like XCom it's worth getting this expansion and playing through again. I haven't tried the new challenge mode nor multiplayer, just did a single playthrough on medium difficulty to get a feel for it. There's a lot here, but unless you're as much of a fanatic as I am it's probably not worth the full $40 price. Picking it up on sale is a better bargain.

Normally I'd sink a ton more hours into it, but I have so many other things in my library that I haven't even started... well.

Marco

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #590 on: May 19, 2018, 07:03:53 PM »
Shadow of Mordor (42 hours including the two story-mode DLCs; Winston's notes here).  This is a brawler with a large combat kit; the opening tutorial shows you about a dozen combat moves (too many in my opinion), and that number roughly doubles as you get upgrades.  The variety becomes important when you face captains and warchiefs, who are generally immune to about half of your arsenal.

This was a pretty good game, but I have some disagreements with it: the orcs sound like soccer hooligans, which is initially kind of distracting; enemy captains introduce themselves with a ten-second cut scene which interrupts the flow of a fight; women in Mordor only exist in cut scenes or in one case as carrayble objects (I guess that's consistent with the source material); the final boss fight is kind of a muddle, both in narrative and gameplay; with full upgrades you're kind of strolling through the last bit of narrative without much challenge.

The DLCs were okay but missable.  The first one is pretty easy; the second one (centering around the elf lord whose wraith empowers you in the main game) amps up the mind control elements of the combat kit but takes away bullet time and much of your health pool.  It's relatively hard compared to the main game and first DLC.

Winston

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #591 on: June 08, 2018, 01:53:49 PM »
God of War

When you step into the middle of a franchise, whether it’s written, on screen, or in a video game, you run the risk of not understanding references to past events. Within a couple of minutes of playing God of War, I watched the main character, Kratos, fiddle with his arm wrappings. There was a strong sense of reminiscence, but without having played the earlier games I couldn’t tell what he was remembering.

By the end of the game… I still didn’t know. I had to do some web research before I finally understood: In the first God of War game, Kratos used Blades of Chaos as his weapon. The chains from these blades had seared themselves into his flesh, leaving scars on his forearms.

Fortunately, that was the only unknown element I encountered when playing the current God of War on PS4. Other events in Kratos’ past I either knew from various past descriptions I’d seen on the web, or are explained within the game: Kratos, the “Ghost of Sparta”, is a son of Zeus. In a series of adventures he slew most of the Greek Gods, including his own father.

God of War begins in the lands of Norse mythology. Kratos is chopping down a tree to make a funeral pyre for his wife, Faye. Once the ceremony is done, he and his son, Atreus, go on a journey to fulfills Faye’s last request: to scatter her ashes from the peak of the tallest mountain in the Realm. God of War takes you on two journeys: the physical road to the mountain, and the emotional path of the father-son relationship.

By the end of the game, I felt satisfied with the story. It had the usual tropes of video games: side characters whose purpose was to give you additional quests; mysterious enemies whose motives you don’t know; emotional beats that are wrapped up a little too neatly; several links to the inevitable sequels. I felt it all made sense in the end.

God of War is an open-world game in the vein of Tomb Raider: Regions become available as you go through the main story, with side quests opening up with each new region. You gain new skills and gear as you progress. Some of the side quests require so much additional gear that you’re not likely to be able to complete them until after you’ve finished the main story.

That leads to my main criticism of the game. The God of War series has a reputation for being punishing, requiring fast reflexes and a good memory for button combinations. I knew my sluggish brain and fingers couldn’t handle that, so I picked the easiest difficulty, dubbed “Tell Me A Story.” I determined that the game had an “old folks” mode before I bought it.

But even in the easy mode, I found the game to quite difficult in spots, including a discouraging boss battle near the beginning of the game. Later in the game, I found encounters that were massively hard; I once innocently stuck my hand in a black blob and was promptly one-shotted by the critter that emerged. Again, I had to resort to web research to learn that Void Tears and Valkyries are meant for characters who had geared and skilled up via completing the main story first.

If you like challenging games, God of War is definitely the game for you. I was disappointed that the game posed such a frustrating challenge for someone who picked the easiest difficulty.

God of War is a gorgeous game. It takes full advantage of the graphics capabilities of the PS4. I understand that the game looks even better in HDR, but to experience that I have to get a PS4 Pro, an HDR-compatible TV, an HDR-compatible receiver, and HDR-compatible HDMI cables. Maybe someday…

Overall verdict: A must-buy for PS4 gamers, provided you can handle game challenges without throwing the controller across the room.
Bill Seligman
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Marco

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #592 on: June 29, 2018, 03:57:49 PM »
Cat Quest.  This is a short action (I finished in nine hours) RPG where you play as a cat.  Well, a bipedal cat who wears armor and uses a weapon and fights dragons.  The graphics are crisp and attractive; the sound design is minimal but good; the writing is wall-to-wall cat puns.  The combat system is pretty simple but fun.  I would say that itemization is the game's weakest area; a lot of the gear items seem useless (because they are kiss-curse and you won't do well focusing on only melee or only magic damage) and the game's difficulty varies wildly depending on whether you find an overpowered item early on.  It's on sale for $6.50 on Steam until July 5, and I think it's definitely worth that price.

Edalia

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #593 on: July 10, 2018, 08:08:57 AM »
I so rarely finish games these days, but last night I "finished" God of War [4].

Winston did a great general writeup. I've almost run my throat ragged telling folks that no, they don't really need to play the first 3-6 games to enjoy this one, so I'm glad Winston had that experience.

I think if you played and enjoyed the likes of HZD, Tomb Raider, and Breath of the Wild-you'll love God of War.

The only things I have left to do are a few of the toughest Realm Tear encounters, hidden behind grinding, and the last Valkyrie (she is quite punishing, and a challenge I decided I wasn't having fun with). I absolutely loved this game. The story was the perfect mix of "mystery about the world" and "father-son road trip," with just the right amount of Norse mythology as to not eclipse the main characters.*

I originally played on the difficulty level above Normal, thinking "I've played all the other ones, I can do this!" and I was immediately destroyed by the first trash mob. My second playthrough will likely have a bump in difficulty, but don't get cocky.

The combat is weighty, similar to Dark Souls. The platforming of the original trilogy is completely absent (thank god), but there is a good amount of exploration without a ton of backtracking. I never felt lost, or that I forgot where something was, even when hunting for treasure maps or to get items or to places I'd unlocked the power-based keys to (a la Metroidvanias, e.g. a chest covered in sap I needed to blow up with a new power).

I really can't say enough good about this game, especially this: you can engage with the combat as much as you'd like. The grindy areas are entirely optional, as are the Valkyrie bosses. If you face an enemy who savagely out-levels you, like a level 5 monster when you're in level 2 gear, rest-assured that you can come back later at level 5 and destroy it. Or you can try to fight it right then, you brave bastard. I never found a time where I was stuck. If I needed to "level up" (get better gear) to move on in the story, there were plenty of ways to do that–actually, I never had to do that, but I'm a side-quester by nature.

Finally-the game is all played in one shot without loading screens (well, I think the game paused once my entire playthrough to load content on my regular PS4, but like 99.9% is no loading screens).

* I saw an interview with the game's director, Cory Barlog, where he said an early draft had Kratos murdering his way through the Norse pantheon, a la the first 3 GoWs, but said it felt like they were writing the sequel. They scaled that aspect back so that the father-son dynamic could shine.
o/\o

Winston

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #594 on: July 13, 2018, 08:24:30 AM »
NieR: Automata

About a year ago, I joked that from now on, all console games that I played must have a colon in their name, because the ones I played with a colon were more fun. Then I played God of War, which I enjoyed despite its lack of a colon. Now I come to NieR: Automata.

I purchased NieR: Automata because two sites I read regularly, AV Club and Ars Technica, both recommended the game. A glance around the web shows general praise for it. I’m afraid this might be one of those times when my expectations where raised so high that the actual game could not possibly match them.

I played NieR: Automata on its easiest setting, which may be the problem. In retrospect, the praise that the game received was for its gameplay. It seamlessly blends a third-person view with a side-scrolling game, a top-down action game, and a flying action game that’s both top-down and side-scrolling. I acknowledge that this is novel.

But my reflexes are just not up to challenging gameplay, which is why I usually choose to play a game on its easiest setting. On that setting, the combat in NieR: Automata almost plays itself: your companion drone auto-fires, your character 2B attacks, evades, and heals on her own. It’s the easiest of “easy modes” that I’ve experienced in any computer game.

You play as 2B, a combat soldier in an android army, fighting a machine army on the earth’s surface while the remnants of humanity live on the moon. You soon acquire a companion, 9S, a scanner android. Each of you has a robot Pod that provides ranged combat, while the two androids do close-range melee combat. The graphics style is that of Japanese anime, both in the look of the characters and in the style of combat.

Since I can’t enjoy a video game for how it plays, the most important element of a game’s design for me becomes the story. That is where NieR: Automata falls flat. I got the impression from the reviews that NieR: Automata‘s story would offer an interesting story about identity and purpose. It does, kinda sorta, but not in any way I found to be original or engaging.

I may be spoiled. Having played God of War, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and Horizon: Zero Dawn, my bar for a good console videogame story may be raised too high.

With that said: If you’re looking for a game with interesting gameplay variations and a high replay value (you get to replay other characters after you’ve played the game for the first time), NieR: Automata is a worthwhile game. If you’re like me and play a game for its story, there are better choices out there.
Bill Seligman
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Marco

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #595 on: August 12, 2018, 02:24:54 PM »
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, for now.  I did the campaign and just about all of the side quests on normal, as well as the claptrap DLC and a small amount of the holodome DLC.  The formula for these games is getting kind of stale for me, which is sad because I loved the series initially.  The writing was okay and the voice acting was good as always, but nothing really stood out as amazing--certainly nothing like the Tiny Tina DLC from B2.

Honorata

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #596 on: August 27, 2018, 02:12:39 PM »
Hiveswap: Friendsims Vol 1-10
Genre: Visual Novel/Dating Friendship Simulator
Rated: Mature
Cost: $0.99/volume
Time Played: ~8 hours, or around 30-45 minutes per volume (this is technically not all the volumes, but I have finally caught up with all released DLC)

More from the Homestuck/Hiveswap/Hauntswitch multimedia extravaganza. Following what were perceived as mediocre sales, and movement of the Homestuck/Hiveswap property from the in-house What Pumpkin Studios to VIZ Media, the company began using some of the music and art assets to release small, bite-sized visual novels introducing players to many trolls originally designed for Hiveswap (for which Vol 2+ may or may not ever actually exist).

Unlike Hiveswap, which was rated E10 and a much more all-ages experience, Hiveswap Friendsims "feels" much more like Homestuck, complete with heavy cursing, rampant murder, extreme black comedy, jokes about weird internet subcultures, and fondly joking references to bizarre sexual fetishes. You play as a human (MSPA Reader) who has crash landed a spaceship on Alternia and is thirsty for friendship. (Occasionally the paths get romantic-ish, but outside of one path that gets pretty pale, when a path gets romantic, it's a sign you're headed for a Bad Ending.)

Most of the trolls you interact with are terrible or broken people, who struggle to make genuine emotional connections with others. (Since the main thrust of both Hiveswap proper and the Friendsims seems to be largely about how terrible Alternia is, and using that to make statements about our society here on Earth.) Sometimes these characters are genuinely offputtingly awful (Zebruh's handsy nice guy schtick is particularly unpleasant, but at least three characters you interact with are serial murderers and three more are contracted assassins), some of them are just sad, and some are decent people who are just deeply isolated.

Each volume offers story paths for two trolls (or three in some cases where two trolls' stories are so intertwined they come as a pair), and writing quality varies wildly. Volume 1 (Ardata & Diemen) is written by Andrew Hussie (the author of Homestuck) and is one of the strongest entries, but other paths I really enjoyed include: Skylla (Vol 3), Tagora (Vol 4), Mysterious Goldblood (Vol 5), Kuprum & Folykl (Vol 6), Tyzias (Vol 8 ), Chahut (Vol 9), & Tegiri (Vol 10). Volume 2 is the only one where both paths are weak enough I feel it's not worth purchasing.

I'd recommend this to people who enjoyed Homestuck, even if they did not like Hiveswap Vol 1, since I feel like this "feels" a lot more like Homestuck. The sense of humor can definitely be 2 Edgy 5 Me/crosses the line twice, and sometimes it just doesn't work. Usually the Does This Remind You Of Anything moments are effective (such as in Zebede, Tyzias, and Kuprum & Folykl's routes), but occasionally it's a little too anvilicious (Zebruh and Chixie's routes). The routes themselves aren't too in-depth, usually with only 2 branches per route. This game might be impenetrable for people who did not read Homestuck (or at least, some of the implications may be lost on you, although I can only imagine how surprised a non-Homestuck might be going to clown church with Chahut), but I'd recommend it if you did read the webcomic and liked the trolls and wanted more of that.
« Last Edit: August 27, 2018, 02:15:42 PM by Honorata »
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Winston

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #597 on: September 20, 2018, 02:42:53 PM »
Marvel Spider-Man for PS4

I’ll start by addressing the big problem with this game: On its easy difficulty setting (dubbed “Friendly”), the game is much too hard for casual players — at first.

The game starts in media res, with Spider-Man fighting the thugs of Wilson Fisk, aka the Kingpin. Since this videogame is frequently compared with Batman: Arkham Asylum, I’ll make my own comparison: the start of B:AA started you out with a couple of keypresses, and gave you time to learn how to use them. Spider-Man starts with deluging you with keypress combinations (and there are more to come!), and you have to use all of them right away.

In B:AA, you had a chance to learn how to play before your first Big Boss battle. In Spider-Man, after several times when my avatar was killed and I had to start over, I was thrust immediately into a Boss battle. It wasn’t clear what to do, and my avatar was killed over and over again.

Finally, I got through it, more by luck than skill. I turned off the game, disgusted and frustrated. I had no plans to play the game again, and resigned myself to having wasted the money. My impression was that, in the “Friendly” setting, the designers had reduced the number of hits it takes to take down an enemy, but kept the precision timing needed to press the controls. A clumsy, casual player like myself had no chance.

A couple of days later, I decided to give it one last try. After that punishing beginning, the game eases up. There were three types of quests that required no combat: activating police antenna, finding old backpacks, and taking pictures of New York City landmarks. I completed all of those, dipping my toe into some less-intense combats. By the time I completed all of those non-combat quests, I was level 12 with some new skills. Now I found I could play the actual game.

The hallmark of Spider-Man is a detailed rendering of New York City for Spider-Man to swing around in. Unlike Batman: Arkham Asylum, the Lara Croft series, or the Uncharted games, you can immediately travel to any part of the play area. You can’t leave the borders of Manhattan, so you can’t swing around the Statue of Liberty. Otherwise, every major NYC landmark is there, plus some sites (like the Avengers Tower or the Oscorp Building) that exist in the Marvel Universe. I went to school at Columbia University, so I swung over to 114th and Broadway, and the major buildings of the CU campus were there, including Low Library. (NYU is replaced by its Marvel equivalent, Empire State University.)

New York City is one example of the game’s general graphic excellence. There are no pre-rendered cinematics; there are plenty of cut-scenes, but you can tell they’re rendered in real time because Spider-Man always appears in whatever costume you’ve chosen for him.

As I alluded above, Spider-Man is like the Arkham series or the Lara Croft games in that you earn experience to buy skills. Various side quests (including the non-combat ones) let you pick up tokens to purchase upgrades to your equipment and your Spider-Man costume. Your enemies also become more powerful as the game goes on; by the end of the game it seems that half the thugs have laser-mounted sniper rifles. By that time, I’d picked up enough skills that I could have taken out that initial Fisk mob easily.

In other reviews, much has been made of the way you can swing Spider-Man around New York, controlling the duration and height of the swings. If you’re not on a mission, it’s fun. However, the designers of Spider-Man put in the “Batmobile”. I don’t mean that literally; what I mean is that they included missions that required precise control of the web-swinging to complete them within a given amount of time. This same element (precision control of the Batmobile) ruined Batman: Arkham Knight for me; I describe that in detail in my B:AK review.

For the most part, you can quit any such missions with no lasting consequences, except that you may not be able get the tokens associated with that mission. I finally picked up the hint that Spider-Man moves faster with many short swings. Also, swing speed increases with Spider-Man’s level, so I was able to complete the couple of mandatory chases and a few of the optional ones. I still found the process to be messy; it was all too easy to screw up one keypress and find Spider-Man zooming off in a direction I did not intend.

The story: As a derivative of the standard Marvel comic-book Spider-Man, I found it to be engaging. Spider-Man doesn’t bother with an origin story (at least, not for Spider-Man). Peter Parker has finished college, is working for Dr. Otto Octavius (yes, he does), in a city whose mayor is Norman Osborne (no, he doesn’t; that’s left for the sequel). His relationship with Mary Jane Parker is on a time-out. Aunt May is working at F.E.A.S.T., a homeless shelter in lower Manhattan. At first, the general plot of the game is cleaning up after the Kingpin is sent to jail. Then a new faction enters the field…

I’ll give positive marks for one aspect of the game that other reviewers don’t seem to like: the mini-games. At some points during the game there are both optional and mandatory pattern-matching puzzles to solve to gain experience and advance the plot. I liked them, mainly because I needed the break from the sometimes intense button-mashing required for much of the game.

My final score: I start with five stars for graphical excellence, the rendering of NYC, the plot, and the puzzles. Then I subtract one star for each of the things that frustrated me: the punishing beginning (for casuals on easy mode) and the “Batmobiling” of the web-swinging required for too many missions. So I give the game three stars out of five.
Bill Seligman
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Winston

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #598 on: October 01, 2018, 05:01:00 PM »
Shadow of the Tomb Raider

It’s probably unfair for me to review Shadow of the Tomb Raider so soon after Spider-Man. My viewpoint is skewed because Spider-Man is clearly the better game. It’s also unfair because I’m not a professional videogame reviewer, though I feel compared to write reviews; I feel that one game is better than the other, but I struggle to explain why I feel that way.

I’ll start with Shadow of the Tomb Raider‘s positive qualities: The graphics are beautiful and lush. The jungles, rain forests, and tombs are rendered in detail. When you activate Lara Croft’s survival instincts or have her take a perception potion, you can make out the highlighted features without the effects obscuring object features.

Given my initial criticism of Spider-Man, I particularly like that the difficulty level of Shadow of the Tomb Raider can be set separately for combat, exploration, and puzzles. Of course, I set them all to ‘easy’, and I needed it. Unlike Spider-Man, the Easy difficulty in Shadow of the Tomb Raider apparently adjusts the timing windows for various actions so I could do most of Lara Croft’s famous platform antics, and when I failed I usually could get through things with only a couple of repeats.

The gameplay: If you’ve played the previous two Lara Croft games since its 2013 reboot, Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider, it’s more of the same: tombs to raid, crypts to plunder, puzzles to solve, collectibles for gear or achievements, bad guys to fight. Here’s where my powers of description fail me: overall, the gameplay doesn’t feel as rewarding as it did in the previous games. When I finished Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s main story, I wanted to go back and complete all the puzzles and collectibles I’d missed along the way. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, once the story was finished, I was done; I didn’t feel there was any joy to be had by continuing the game.

The story: Basically, it’s the usual. Lara follows clues left behind by ancient monuments that take her to South America, battling the forces of Trinity, looking for a mystical artifact that can save or destroy the world. Unlike the previous two Lara Croft, I didn’t see that there was much of a character arc for Lara; she starts out a cold-stone killer and stays that way throughout the game. There are some emotional beats, but at this point in the series they feel stale, like seeing Bruce Wayne’s parents gunned down in the alley yet again.

Voice acting: Here’s is where Shadow of the Tomb Raider definitely falls behind Spider-Man. I know that voice acting for a massive videogame like this is a tough job; there are hundreds if not thousands of lines to be recorded, including endless descriptions for every collectible. But the Spider-Man voice actors make it all sound fresh and engaging. The voice actors in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, especially Camilla Luddington as Lara Croft, sound tired and flat by comparison. Only during the cut scenes do the voices even have a semblance of life.

The exception is the main villain, but he has fewer lines since he speaks only during the cinematic intervals. The actor Carlos Leal, playing the leader of Trinity, sounds like he’s having fun being Lara’s antagonist.

If you’re a fan of the Tomb Raider series, the game does fill out the trilogy and brings Lara Croft to the point she was in the first game from the 90s. It’s certainly worth playing for that reason. But if the story of Lara Croft doesn’t compel you, and you have a PS4, I’d recommend Spider-Man instead.

Edit: I forgot to make this point in my original review: It's probably my imagination, but the latest computer model of Lara Croft looks a little more breast-and-butt heavy compared to the two earlier games. It's as if they were pandering to the male audience as they did in the 1990s version.
« Last Edit: October 01, 2018, 06:30:50 PM by Winston »
Bill Seligman
Alliance: Winston, Yungi, Pellinore, Tebyalyublyu, Theadora, Vasili, Winella, Winstonia
Horde: Grotar, Swiftslice

Winston

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Re: Finished playing...
« Reply #599 on: October 10, 2018, 02:56:05 PM »
Shroud of the Avatar

A word of explanation: For the past year or so the reviews I post here are copied-and-pasted from my blog. Everyone here knows, e.g., what an MMORPG is, but since someone might read my blog who isn't a gamer I have to define my terms. Rest assured I'm not trying to insult anyone's intelligence.

Sometimes you only have one chance to make a good first impression. Shroud of the Avatar makes a lousy first impression. After spending a few hours with the game, I feel no desire to continue playing it. I didn’t even get out of the starting area.

Shroud of the Avatar (SotA) is a MMORPG (massively multiplayer on-line role-playing game). There’s a blunt reality when you design a new MMORPG: World of Warcraft (WoW) is the 600-lb gorilla in this field. I can’t help but compare SotA to WoW. I know that many millions of dollars have been poured into WoW’s development, and perhaps it’s an unfair comparison. But SotA has some significant game-play issues that discouraged me immediately.

I got into SotA by helping to Kickstart the game in 2014. Even though I was regular WoW player at the time (and still am), I was attracted to the concept of the new game because it was designed by Richard Garriott aka Lord British, the developer of one the favorite games from my childhood, Ultima III. After kickstarting the game, I received periodic emails about SotA’s development, but I had no desire to play the beta version of the game.

Finally, after three years, I got the announcement of the game’s official release. On a Macintosh, Shroud of the Avatar is played via the Steam portal. I downloaded it, started it… and promptly got lost. The problem was, by default, SotA uses a different set of keys to navigate than WoW. It was hard for me to get around. It wasn’t until the second time I tried the game that I realized I had to reconfigure the SotA keys to match WoW to be able to play it at all.

My second impression was how dull the game looked. I’m used to Steam games, and know they generally don’t make the best use of a graphics card; I lowered my expectations accordingly. But here the color contrasts seemed flat and uninteresting. Again, I may be spoiled by WoW, which uses a bright and more cartoony color palette.

The issues with color palette became particularly obvious when night fell within the game. Both WoW and SotA have day/night cycles. In WoW, even when it’s night, it just means the sky and shading become different; you can still see to get around. In SotA, without a torch you can’t see much of anything. SotA’s approach is more realistic, but it means that half the time it’s more difficult to travel from place to place because you can’t see where you’re going.

This might not have been a problem, except that SotA in its starting zones borrowed a trick from WoW’s later expansions: crinkly terrain. In WoW’s starting zones, you can generally travel from one point to another by going in a straight line. In SotA’s starting zones, the terrain blocks straight-line paths between the initial quests and their destinations, so your avatar has to do a lot of walking. In the game’s daytime, this is annoying enough; at night you just get lost.

I’ve got one more visual complaint: In the starting zones, everyone looks the same. Every character starts off with the same gear. You can customize your avatar’s appearance and gender, but those differences aren’t obvious. All my fellow characters were wearing the same shirt, pants, and hat. Visually it looked like a bunch of clones wandering around.

The same thing would happen in WoW, except that WoW has distinct character classes: warriors, warlocks, mages, and so forth. While every starting avatar of a given class has the same gear, the differences between the starting gear of the various classes avoids SotA’s problem. Also, in WoW you start to acquire new gear within a few minutes of playing the game. In SotA, I didn’t get any new gear during the few hours I played, at least none that affected my avatar’s appearance.

As you may have gathered from the previous paragraph, in SotA there aren’t character classes common to many role-playing games. Your character starts with points in some initial skills based on a set of questions you’re asked during character generation, but in the long run you can put skill points in any of the skills available in the game.

In general, I like systems in which your ultimate abilities aren’t restricted when you create your character (anyone who’s ever created a character in my tabletop RPG Argothald can attest to this). The problem I found with SotA is that you’re deluged with skills and it’s not clear what to pick or how to use the skills. There are two different skill bars on the screen, and I couldn’t figure out how into which bar a skill or item should go; this was important because it appeared that one bar was supposed to be used in combat and the other not.

I also learned, when going through some web sites in preparation for this review, that you should set up an allocation pattern for how your experience points (XP) are shared between the skills you develop. By default, your XP are evenly shared between all the attributes and skills your character possesses. If you don’t know about the reallocation (there was nothing about this in the interminable tutorial panels thrust on your screen), then your warrior could be wasting XP into their intellect instead of putting all the points into strength.

Crafting also starts immediately, with craft materials being the first thing you find in the landscape or dropped by enemies. What do you do with them? Which are useful to anything you might do? I never knew, because I never was able to craft any items and/or get any recipes. In WoW, crafting is introduced gradually; in SotA I had no idea if I should save the items in my limited inventory space (in SotA the limit is by weight rather than WoW’s bag slots) or sell them.

Even basic world interactions could be confusing. At one point I saw a fellow player character whose health bar wasn’t full. I thought I should do a good deed and use my healing spell on him. I clicked on his avatar, clicked the icon for my healing spell… and healed my character, not his. How do you cast beneficial spells on other characters in SotA? I never learned, but it’s not the simple method that’s used in WoW.

Another example: I was in a camp of humans, and clicked on one of the non-player soldiers to see if he had any dialog. Instead, that click was interpreted as an attack and the soldier started hacking at my character. There was no change in the mouse shape or any form of reaction indicators (as there is in WoW) to let me know that the soldier was hostile. Since he was five levels higher than I was, I would have been killed except that a fellow player decided to help me. It was a near thing, but we defeated the soldier.

Afterwards, I tried to thank that other player. I couldn’t, because even as simple a thing as a “say” command wasn’t obvious.

Even combat in the game wasn’t obvious. My memory is getting hazy, but there didn’t seem to be any “auto-attack” and you had to keep pressing a key to swing your weapon. Spells had long cooldowns (at least for my low-level character). I typically won each combat, but it took a long time.

All of these interface issues and other game elements are explained in various SotA web sites and forums, and I looked at some of them. As I noted above, it was a lot of information to absorb just to start a character. I like the open-ended skill sets and the potential for crafting, but the complexity of the initial decisions and limited carrying capacity at the start of the game was off-putting.

In WoW, you can create a character with a few keypresses, watch a short lore intro, and start questing within five minutes. The initial quests teach you the basics: how to sell useless items, for example. You don’t have to make any decisions about developing your character until you’ve reached tenth level, by which time you’ve been exposed to enough that you’ll know if you’ll like playing the game.

I know that SotA is much, much bigger than just the starting area. Promotional material talks about cities, dungeons, great events, customized housing, and so forth. But I have no desire to see any of it.

Lord British, if you want me to play Shroud of the Avatar, you have to start out stronger than this.
Bill Seligman
Alliance: Winston, Yungi, Pellinore, Tebyalyublyu, Theadora, Vasili, Winella, Winstonia
Horde: Grotar, Swiftslice