Tag Archives: gaming

Reflections From the Animus: The Truth is Written in Memories

My God Assassin’s Creed 2 was a good game. Am I right? Who’s with me? This game was, by far one of the best titles in the Assassin’s Creed series and it holds a very prominent place in my heart, but not necessarily for the reasons that you might think. Sure, it had a great story, fantastic music, engaging gameplay and introduced us to Ezio, one of the coolest heroes in the series. But, on a personal note, it ended up being so much more than just a great game. It became a personal conduit through which memories can flow. It became a catalyst to enable me to reach far back into my mind and remember a very special and happy time in my life. It became so cemented and intertwined with my thoughts and feelings, that even now, upon hearing a few lines of music or seeing an image of the game, I am immediately transported back to 2009. For that split second, I am taken back to my little apartment on Bayport Street, sitting on my comfy couch, PS3 controller in hand and living in a moment that is now gone forever.

In these memories, I am still happily married. My wife (now ex wife) is in the other room watching a DVD and working on her laptop. The light from a nearby lamp bathes the room in the most exquisite, pale, golden glow. It’s early December, probably around 8 p.m. or so and the sun has gone down, allowing the evening chill to settle in.  I’ve cooked a big pot of hearty Lentil soup, so both of us are well feed and snug in our humble home. I am content, warm and cozy, just lounging after a long day at work. If I truly focus hard enough, I can even hear the *click *click *click *click of my wife’s keyboard, as she furiously types away on one of her many projects, her faint laughter sounding in the background, as she watches King of Queen’s on DVD.

In the game, I’m running across the rooftops of Venice, exploring crowded marketplaces, looking for flags and feathers, and causing general mayhem in a bustling, virtual city.  It is the perfect cacophony of sight and sound and I am transfixed by it all. The game stirs something deep down inside of me; feelings of freedom and independence, tempered with a nervous excitement at the thought of unknown exploration. It is one of those pristine moments in time that remains so vivid and powerful, even after so many years, games and friends have come and gone. I can see all of this in my mind’s eye, like it was yesterday. A flip-book of memories, a cascade of moving pictures, flashing before my eyes, all linked to this one particular game and this one particular moment in time.

As I remember these things, I can’t help but feel a sadness rise within me. Some days, I move through it, relatively untouched by the sorrow these memories hold. Other days, I still shed a tear or two, but I never cry for the game or for the characters, even though the game does tug a bit at the old heartstrings. No, I cry for entirely different reasons: I cry for all the friends and family I have lost in my life, I cry for those moments and memories that have long passed, I cry for the loss of personal innocence, I cry for the end of my marriage and the death of a dream that was never fully realized. All of this triggered by one simple game, one brief moment in time. What a strange and peculiar set of circumstances.

As the years have trudged on, these memories and emotions have formed a symbiotic relationship with Assassin’s Creed 2 and in my brain it would seem that one cannot exist without the other. I am forever caught in an emotional limbo; not able to go back and relive those lost years, but also not being able to recreate those special moments. They are uniquely and unequivocally locked away forever, doomed to remain in the past.

You would think that I would hate AC2, seeing as it brings up such powerfully charged emotions but, strangely, I harbor no ill will towards this game or the memories it conjures. It still stands as one of my favorite of PS3 titles. The hours that I spent playing this game, were some of my most fondest gaming moments and I wouldn’t trade those for the world.

Assassin’s Creed 2 reminds me that in the blink of an eye, life can change, dreams can die, families can splinter, love can be lost, but life goes on. Happy memories can still linger, even within our darkest days. Yes, AC2 may have come and gone and the days of Ezio pushed far back into the past, but as silly as it might sound, this game is still very important to me and remains prominent in my mind. It is an anchor that binds me to some very beautiful memories and it helps to reconnect me to those long lost nights. With all of the uneasiness that consumes our world, it is nice to remember a simpler time and it’s even better to feel connected to those beautiful moments. Assassin’s Creed 2 preforms that necessity extremely well. Sure, some of my memories will fade and drift into hushed obscurity and newer and more pressing matters will take their place. But, I am positive that these few moments, these warm memories will forever be linked to this unassuming, simple, little game and as long as I can listen to the soundtrack or walk the streets of Venice once again, these memories will always burn brightly. They will continue to give comfort, respite and some much needed warmth in a cold, uncaring and tumultuous world. This, I am sure of. Long live Assassin’s Creed 2 and long live all our warm and happy memories. Happy gaming!



My thoughts on VR

We are VR!

vrRecently, we gamers have been hearing a lot about Virtual Reality. From PC gaming to the world of home consoles, these fancy headsets are promising to be the next evolution in how we play games. VR is finally here to immerse players into the world of their onscreen characters and revolutionize the gaming industry. We will finally be able to see what the character sees, go where the character goes and be surrounded by the game itself. Can we say Tron, anyone?

As long as there were no REAL world issues….64406974…who wouldn’t want to jump into their favorite games! Enter the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive and the PlaystationVR. Within this last month, we have seen three heavy hitting, Virtual Reality gaming headsets each promising a more immersive gaming experience. Gamers are in for a wild ride.  But, is it worth all of this hype? Is VR really a longstanding format or is it merely a passing fancy? I’m not 100% sure either way, but this is an interesting experiment.

A Bit of History

The idea of virtual reality is nothing new. This idea of VR has been around since the 1960s. What is VR, you ask? Well, Google defines Virtual Reality as “a computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way.” Sounds pretty tech! During the 80s and 90s, companies, inventors, scientists and developers began to create consoles and arcade machines that attempted to do just that; to bridge the gap between reality and the virtual world.

Today, these early attempts at VR can be regarded as pure novelties, but back then, gamers were excited by the possibilities of what might come next. Unfortunately, limited by the technology of the day, what we ended up with was not really what we had bargained for. Instead, we received gimmicky headsets and 3rd party add-ons that did little more then make us incredibly nauseous. Units like Nintendo’s Virtual Boy promised to be the next big thing in VR, but only gave us horrible eye fatigue and a fear of the color red. It all seemed a little hopeless and the VR concept fell out of the lime-light.

Now-a-days, we are starting to see a resurgence in the concept of VR.The gaming industry has seen significant strides in development and implementation of this interesting technology and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to talk a little about Virtual Reality. How do I feel about this burgeoning industry? Let’s find out.

The Contenders

While each entry has their pros and cons, the idea of bringing VR to the home console is an impressive venture.  While we don’t yet have Tron-like capabilities, we do have some very good alternatives that will provide us with that next step in total player immersion. Of course there are some hefty price tags that go along with this concept, but if you are a diehard gamer, price might not be as much of a deterrent. w_500

As I mentioned before, there are three major entries into this VR race, the HTC Vive, the PlaystationVR, and the Oculus Rift. I am sure that there are other 3rd party companies out there, but these are the heavy hitters. Just so there is no confusion, I am not here to tell you which one is best. I am not going to go into the pros and cons of each individual unit, since there are a ton of excellent reviews and studies out there that will do that for you. All I will say is that each entry has their advantages and disadvantages, but it all depends on what system you play and what type of games you really enjoy. Read up on the specs, compare entries and make your own decision. If you have friends who own some of these, go give them a try. Don’t just jump in and believe all the hype. Take time to really make sure VR is right for you, because it won’t be right for everyone.


Anyway, what do I think of VR? Well, I like the concept. It is a neat idea that packs a lot of promise, but I can’t help but feel like it’s a bit gimmicky. I tend to see VR like I saw 3D, a cool concept, but ultimately more trouble then it’s worth. I am just not that excited about wearing accessories, every time I want to watch a movie or play a game. Heck, I even have trouble just wanting to wear my audio headset when I game! Now Sony expects me to wear an entire viewscreen on my face?! I really don’t want to do that. Plus, I know from experience that 3D makes me absolutely ill, I can’t help but wonder if VR will do the same? I won’t know until I really try it out, but I have my doubts.

Also, I wear glasses and even though some say you can wear glasses with these headsets on, that can’t be very comfortable. Let’s face it, those of us with glasses know, it is always trouble trying to wear two sets of “eyes” at any one time. Either they dig into your nose, press on your ears, pinch your face or just shift around and never stay where you want them. It is such an annoyance and that is a HUGE deterrent for me. Of course, with the screen being so close to my face, would I even need to wear my glasses? I don’t know. More testing will be needed.

Speaking about screens being so close to my face, what about eye strain or eye fatigue?  What will the repercussions be for our vision? Those screens are SO close to our eyes, somehow it doesn’t seem very healthy. Will there be some long term effects on our sight? The manufactures will probably say no, but how can they be sure? This technology is relatively new and I know testing has not been as extensive as it could have been. This might be their next phase of testing, you never know. It wouldn’t be the first time that consumers were used as real-world tests.

Plus, I don’t know about you guys, but when I used to game, I would play for at least 5 or 6 hours. Even with a large tv and at optimal distance from the screen, my eyes would be dry and tried by the end of a gaming session. I can’t imagine having a set of VR screens that sit so close to my eyes, for such a prolonged stretch time. I have my doubts and reservations about all of this VR technology.

Now, I guess if I was going to jump on this band wagon and buy into VR, I should mention that I would go with the PSVR. It is the cheapest entry in this list, which comes in at $400. I already have a PS4 so I’m halfway there. Keep in mind that the basic PSVR lacks all of the necessary equipment that you might need to get this thing up and running. You will also need a Playstation camera and some Playstation Move controllers. If I did want to buy one, it would cost roughly about $530 in total. Pretty pricey for an accessory that I haven’t tested. Plus, I have read about some technical issues that seem to have cropped up, so we will have to see how it all plays out.

Final Thoughts

The majority of us live in a society that is surrounded by technology. It is so integrated into our daily lives, that I can understand our almost blind acceptance towards fun, new innovations. With VR taking so much of center stage these days, many gamers are excited to witness this growth of our hobby. Our world of gaming is developing so rapidly and in so many interesting directions, many of us older gamers just sit back and stare in awe.

But, is VR really such a game changer? Well, yes and no. While I personally think that VR is a bit gimmicky and is really only here to entice gamers to fork over some of their hard earned cash, I do admit that VR seems to be the natural progression of gaming as a whole. Where else could gaming really go? Without anything groundbreaking, we might see small incremental improvements in hardware and visuals, but that’s probably it. Maybe, the gaming industry feels like it has to do something new, to keep players interested and to potentially bring in a new demographic of player. If so, VR might just be that technology that breathes new energy into the industry.

Even with this potential, my concerns are still there. I’ve seen gaming peripherals come and go and I’ve even fallen for a few of them, myself. I don’t think that you can ever really change the basic way we play games. In gaming, nothing is as efficient as a controller in the hand (or mouse and keyboard for you PC gamers) and nothing is as freeing as NOT having a headset strapped to your face.

In terms of my issues with the potential eye fatigue, studies say that anywhere between 50 to 90 percent of computer users show eye strain and other bothersome visual symptoms. That is a substantial amount. Will having VR headsets exacerbate some of these issues? It definitely isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.

Even though VR sounds awesome, I think this 1st generation of VR might be better skipped. Save your money, wait for some of these bugs to be worked out and THEN take the plunge. Let us see how it is supported by developers and how they intend to utilize this technology in games. Otherwise, you might be spending even money on a much newer, better, more capable VR headset relatively soon.


Getting Ready for Souls

DARKSOUL_facebook_miniSouls Anyone?

OH MAN, OH MAN, OH MAN! Finally Dark Souls 3 will hit shelves tomorrow (or tonight for all you digital edition and Game Stop pre-order people) and I am very, VERY excited to get into this game. I can’t wait to craft a new character, tryout the new weapon arts and explore this dark and foreboding world of Dark Souls 3. Having pre-ordered the digital edition, I can hardly wait for 9pm tonight when I can start to immerse myself in the chaos and brutality of DkS3. Long live the Souls series!

Now, yes, it is true…. I have been rather quiet on the topic of DkS3. Trust me, that has not been an easy thing to do. Even though I am a HUGE Souls fan, I have been purposely staying away from the majority of DkS3 news. This is mainly so I don’t spoil anything for myself. I want to go into DkS3 with a clean, fresh slate. I truly want all of my reactions and explorations to be raw and unfiltered. I want to be surprised by DkS3.

But, just because I’ve kept a low profile, that doesn’t mean that I have been living under a rock for these past few months. I HAVE heard about a few things that I am excited to see in DkS3.  For example, the news of the new weapon arts system sounds very interesting. It has the potential to make weapon combos more interesting with lots of added variety. I would love to run with a viable sword and dagger build or maybe an Estoc and rapier. There are a lot of weapons to choose from and it will be so much fun trying different ones out.

I have heard that Magic has been revamped. Gone is the standalone Hex line of  spells. This time around they have been merged into both the Magic and Miracle spell trees. This sounds a lot more like Demon’s Souls and I have heard that spells have unlimited uses. We will have to see how that pans out, if it is true.

Also, it appears to me that game play in DkS3 is faster and more focused on agility rather than the slow, more deliberate motions we saw in the previous Souls games, especially DkS2. From the little that I have allowed myself to watch, the game’s speed looks like a cross between Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne with a touch of DkS tossed in. I really like the sound of all of that.

My plan for the game is simple, play DkS3 with an open mind, explore every corner of the world and try to read as much of the lore as I can. I want to get a good idea of what this world is all about and how the prequels fit into the overall story arch. After I have the hang of the game, the controls and the new weapon arts system, I want to go for that sweet, sweet Platinum Trophy. I’ve  earned all of the other Platinums, why not this one too?

Also, I want to experience co-op. It was co-op that made me a fan of the previous games and I hope that it will hold up here as well. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good solo adventure too, but I really enjoy playing with friends. In fact, I plan on teaming up with a few friends and streaming parts of our initial playthough. If all goes according to plan, our fearless leader mjm180wr should post it on our joint YouTube channel the 3GB. It won’t be much, but it should be fun.

Overall, I’m pretty jazzed for this new entry into the Souls lineup. Of course, I have my worries such as is co-op going to work well like it did in Demon’s Souls? Is PvP going to be as annoying, frustrating and jarring as it has been in the past titles? Is this game going to stress cooperation or will it be more of a solo experience? Will there be excessive lag? How easily will I be able to call on friends for help? I don’t know, but I’m holding back any final judgments until AFTER I have some hours under my belt. Either way, it should be an interesting experience and I’ll post something more substantial at a later time.

Now, let’s play some Souls!


Black Ops 3: My Thoughts

blackWell, it’s that time again. It’s that wonderful time of year where the leaves change color, the air gets crisper, the nights get longer AND we are treated to the next installment of Activision’s Call of Duty. Like Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving or any other major holiday, it can either be a time of great celebration and excitement or just another reason to hate this time of year. Regardless of how we might feel towards the franchise or the season, it is all happening once again, so let’s talk about it.

General Impressions

Like millions of other players out there, I am very excited for Black Ops 3. I have been playing the game, everyday since it’s release and I can honestly say that I am enjoying the hell out of it. I have explored both the Zombies mode and the co-op story mode and they are each a blast. To be fair, I have not yet tried the multiplayer and I am a little skeptical about the whole idea. I know it is a highly sought-after feature of this game and a real selling point for many gamers, but anyone who knows me, knows that I am NOT a big fan of competitive player versus player modes. Unfortunately, since a large part of Call of Duty is basically built around that one idea, I just have to grin and bear it. However, despite my feelings on this topic, you can be sure that I will be playing the multiplayer mode and ranking up to at least level 55. Why? So, I can get the associated trophies and eventually platinum this game. That is really the ONLY reason, otherwise, I wouldn’t even touch the competitive multiplayer.

Going into Blops3, this last opening weekend, I was initially skeptical. I’ve been a big fan of Call of Duty since COD1, but lately, I’ve been a little apathetic regarding their most recent releases, Ghosts and Advanced Warfare. I was burned by Call of Duty: Ghosts and I didn’t even bother playing Advanced Warfare. I was concerned that Blops3 might just be another nail in the coffin for the bland, uninteresting, repetitive, first person shooter genre. I can safely say that it is not. It is a very enjoyable game with a lot of unlockable extras, tons of replay value, co-op modes and a robust online component. Not only do you have a story mode that is 100% co-op , but you also have an updated, ever-exciting Zombies mode and a new mode called Nightmares that lets you play the story mode with zombies in it, or so I have been told. I haven’t unlocked it yet, but I am itching to give it a try. Combine all of that with the popular multiplayer modes (if that’s your cup of tea) and you have the makings of one of the better Treyarch COD games to hit shelves in recent history. Truth be told, being three years in the making, I would have been surprised if this game wasn’t topnotch.

predator-1987-arnold-schwarzenegger-bill-duke-pic-2Co-op Galore

Like I had mentioned in my initial Black Ops 3 post, I am very interested in the co-op aspects of this game. Not since World at War, have we had a story mode where we could play online… with friends… and I’m very pleased at the return of that feature. After getting through about half of the story mode with my co-op buddy WTFSendit, I can safely say that it is super fun. Although we’ve elected to go through the game on the hardest “Realistic” difficulty setting, it is still worth the time and effort. More on that mode, a bit later.

If you are a solo COD player, this is still an entertaining game with an interesting, although rather convoluted storyline, but I think that you might be slightly disappointed. I strongly believe that this game is made more fun by the inclusion of co-op play. That is where this game really shines, especially if you plan on playing on the higher difficulties. In “Veteran” or “Realistic,” a real-life player is almost indispensable. You need someone or a few friends watching your back, otherwise you won’t survive very long. Plus, it is so much fun and pleasantly stressful to try and revive your buddy, while being aggressively attacked by the A.I. enemy. Try it with some of your FPS friends, you won’t be disappointed.

Now, unfortunately my co-op experiences haven’t been exactly perfect. I have noticed a number of glitches, some pretty sever that have troubled my play through. For example, l have unlocked various level checkpoints only to have a few of them revert back to earlier checkpoints in the same level, I have had selected weapon load-outs randomly change from death to death and my co-op buddy can never seem to transition from one mission to another, without being kicked from the session. Other than those, the game runs well enough and most of these issues are not game breaking. You can be sure that Treyarch will probably patch these in a future update, but until that happens, it will still be a bit annoying.

imagesA New Veteran Mode?

As a fan of the Call of Duty franchise, the term “Veteran Mode” is nothing new or strange to us old-timers. It is a notoriously hard level of difficulty that challenges a player with the most brutal and unforgiving criteria. It can make your blood boil and your brain go into rage mode very quickly.

My first taste of this difficulty setting was in Call of Duty: World at War. To this day, most of my gaming buddies still cringe at the mention of World at War‘s “Veteran Mode.” It was brutally hard. Grenades rained from the sky, enemy troops never stopped spawning and your character was so fragile, a gust of wind would kill him. I never thought that anything could be as difficult as World at War‘s “Veteran Mode,” until I was introduced to Black Ops 3‘s “Realistic Mode.” My god this game is unfairly evil.

I will warn you, “Realistic Mode” is not for the faint of heart. We had initially figured that it was best to get this mode out of the way early and then go back to do cleanup on the easier difficulties.  It took us almost 45 mins to make it out of the first area of the game. Bullets can kill you in one hit, enemies are relentlessly aggressive, the game throws a ton of things at you, all of which can kill you instantly and your A.I. partner is regrettably useless. Your enemies somehow manage to shoot you through walls, through cover or right as you spawn. Even after a co-op buddy revives you, your character can be put down, immediately upon standing. I have had that cycle repeated over and over again, which is VERY frustrating and generally unfair.

However, this mode really shines when it comes to co-op. Yes, some sections and deaths are still shockingly cheep and very frustrating, but a real-life player can make all the difference in the world. You can strategize, cover different areas and watch each others backs. It really tests your resolve, but the payoff is that beautiful platinum trophy. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I can’t wait to gather the full team and test out our skills in “Realistic Mode.”

2854911-black+ops+3_no+fly+zoneFinal Thoughts

So far Black Ops 3 is a very solid game. The levels are larger and far less linear, the graphics are very nice to look at and I love the setting for the new Zombies map called Shadows of Evil. The singleplayer mode has a ton of customizations, lots of unlockables and a plethora of upgrades that will keep you testing new combinations and load-outs, for the foreseeable future. Even the Zombies mode is hugely expanded with its own load-outs, leveling system and upgrades. The addition of the Gobblegum micro perk abilities really gives Blops3: Zombies an entirely new layer of customization, adding some cool and handy features on top of an already addicting game mode. Aside from a few glitches, the game runs smoothly and I haven’t run into any noticeable lag in either the PS4 or the frame rate. Of course, I haven’t tried PvP multiplayer yet, but all in good time.

Yes, Black Ops 3 is a really fun game, but there is the larger question here, one of innovation: Does Black Ops 3 really standout as anything new? Will this game add new life to the tired, old FPS genre? Well, that depends on who you ask. Some critics have said that this game is nothing more than last years Advanced Warfare, seen through Treyarch’s eyes and with Black Ops 2‘s customization. That may be true, BUT since I have not played Advanced Warfare this is all new to me.

So, as a gamer relatively new to the whole wall-running and cyber enhancements idea, is this game an innovator? Does this change the FPS paradigm? I would have to say no, I don’t believe it does. Really, the core of this game is nothing that we haven’t seen before. The same underlying foundation that existed in other COD games, still exists here. It is the same game, just with some cool additions and a pretty coat of paint.

Does that mean that you shouldn’t play Black Ops 3? Absolutely not. Like I have said before, this game really stands out in its co-op modes and THAT is the reason I am playing it. I could care less about the cyber enhancements or the futuristic abilities. None of that changes the fact that I can now play the entire game….. with my friends. We can fight together or go down in a blaze of glory. That is why I am playing Black Ops 3. If this game is going to innovate anything, let it be in the expansion of its co-op modes. That is the real game changer for me and that is what I am excited about.

Overall, Black Ops 3 is very enjoyable and I have liked what I have seen so far. I’ll reserved my final judgements until after the game’s been out for awhile and Treyarch has patched some of these bugs, but after that, I think this one is keeper. I have high hopes for the longevity of this game and I can see the crew and I playing this one for quite some time. Pick it up and check it out. Good luck soldiers and I’ll see you on the co-op battlefield.


Thoughts on the Star Wars Battlefront Beta

star-wars-battlefrontA few days ago, we were all blessed with the beta release for Star Wars: Battlefront, a new First Person Shooter developed by DICE and published by EA Games. Now, despite the all-too-common publisher and developer hate that comes with ANY new title released these days, I haven’t heard that much in the way of overly negative comments. I was expecting a slew of hate and guile from both the shooter fan boys and the overly critical Star Wars aficionados, but the volume has been significantly less then expected. Maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places, but the net has been somewhat quiet. I find this a tad unusual, but maybe they are all just playing SWBF instead of flaming it? Who knows.

What I do know, is that a good part of this last weekend was devoted to me playing the SWBF beta, so I thought I would share my thoughts and my over all impressions on the experience. Take these words for what they are, just one gamers opinions, nothing more. Ultimately, you will have to decide for yourselves whether or not this game is up your alley. Me, I’m still on the fence about it all, but more on that later.

star_wars_battlefront_e3_screen_2The Good

First off, I will admit, I’ve been pretty hyped for this game. Around here and with most of my friends, the wait has been killing us! This game hits the shelves on Nov. 17th making November a pretty big month for our gaming addiction. (I also have Black Ops 3 and the DLC for Bloodborne to look forward to).  As we anxiously approach release date, Gamers are jonesing for a Star Wars fix. This beta release came at a perfect time and I’m sure it was just want the doctor ordered. However, is this game really deserving of all of that hype? Here are my thoughts …at least for the PS4 version…

Let me say that SWBF, it’s a beautifully rendered game with a ton of Star Wars flair. Everything just bleeds Star Wars: the music, the weapons, the sounds, the costumes, the level designs, the ships…it is ALL really cool. Seeing an imperial walker up close and personal is a terrifying sight! It is a monstrous thing! Witnessing the excitement and hearing those blasters is just music to my Star Wars geek ears. Even though we were only given three modes of game play and one level each, it was still really fun.

After fumbling around in the menus and trying to join a friend in the co-op mode, I was soon blasting imperials left and right, blowing up AT-STs and watching jet pack Stormtroopers fly out of control and explode! I thought “Wow this game is sweet!” Even though the co-op was limited to only 5 rounds, the overall game play was very exciting and I legitimately wanted to play more. It isn’t surprising, since I love co-op, but I couldn’t help but wonder, would multiplayer PVP still hold my interest? I decided to find out.

The beta gave us two multiplayer modes Walker Assault and Drop Zone. I decided to level up in the Drop Zone mode. This is where you play as either the Imperials or the Rebels and try desperately to secure drop pods and hold them for a set amount of time. A strangely familiar concept, but pretty fun, none-the-less. Unlike the co-op mode’s two player limitation, this mode saw myself and a small team of buddies join up with 14 other players and just wage war on one another. We played for around 5 hours and by the end of a few matches I had already leveled up to the maximum allowed for the beta (level 5) and unlocked all of the weapons and cards that we were given access to.

Initially I was having a blast. Gunning down the enemy with blasters is strangely rewarding. But after a few hours of the same stuff, over and over again, monotony began setting in. As I thought about it more and more, I realized that underneath it all, behind the music, the visuals and the sweet nostalgia of Star Wars, this is just another shooter. It was a sobering realization. Yes, I know there are different game types and modes, weapons and vehicles, but none of that matters. Deep down, it’s still just a shooter and being a shooter means that it will suffer from the same basic problems that all shooters eventually run into, repetitive game play.

star_wars_battlefront_at-at_1The Bad

After my initial few hours of gaming, the newness began wearing off and I started to notice a basic pattern, at least with Drop Zone. (I do apologize for this mini rant). My sessions started to go like this:

—-Spawn. Run to the objective, get shot in the back and killed.

—-Spawn again. Run back to the objective only to get killed the moment you enter into the contested area.

—-Respawn and get killed immediately by someone spawn camping.

—-Get angry at the game and the players, then start accusing everyone of hacking.

—-Respawn and try and kill the spawn camper only to be killed once again, even though I was pumping tons of rounds into his chest.

—-Get angry again and start accusing that player of lag switching.

—-Rinse and repeat.

The more I played SWBF, the more angry I became. It was then that I realized that this game is the same basic formula as every other COD, MOH or Battlefield game. It has all the same basic game modes, weapons and objectives, it’s just wrapped up in Star Wars clothing.  Now, according to EA and DICE, we will be getting other modes in the final game, such as: “Droid Run,” “Cargo,” “Blast,” “Fighter Squadron,” “Supremacy,” “Hero Hunt” and a few others. This sounds great, but the question remains, are these going to just be your standard game types like Domination, Death Match, Capture the Flag, Assault, etc? Or are these going to be fun, new, unique experiences? If recent history serves, my assumption is that these are likely to be the same modes we have always had, just with Stormtroopers and Rebels, instead of modern military soldiers.

Last Thoughts

Let’s be honest, I love Star Wars. I grew up watching the original movies and loving every moment of them. I would play the old video games back on SNES and drool over the PC releases of X-Wing and Tie Fighter. Star Wars was and still is an amazing franchise. Now, with this new SWBF being released next month, I can’t help but feel drawn to it, like a Jawa is to old droids (Utinni!).

I would recommend if you can, play this beta. Immerse yourself in the fray and see what comes out. It is a beautiful game that needs to be experienced. Do it! If nothing else, watch videos on YouTube. Its the only way you will know if it appeals to you.

Will I be picking up this game? I want to say yes, but the fact is, I am going to have a very difficult time convincing myself that it is worth the initial $60. And now, with EA announcing that the Season pass will be a whooping $50 for the rest of the game’s dlc content, I’m a bit concerned. If the game offers only what I played in the beta, it will be very hard to justify the games $60 price tag. As it is, I am already getting Black Ops 3 for the Zombie mode and its 4 player co-op.

Considering how I feel about the FPS genre and competitive multiplayer games in general, SWBF is going to have to offer something unique, above and beyond a simple reskinned COD game. If it wants to hold my attention and keep me playing, it has to be more than just a pretty face, it has to take me away and immerse me into the world of Star Wars. I have to feel like I am doing something epic and being rewarded for my efforts. Most importantly, I have be able to team up with friends, reliably and consistently. I feed off of that excitement that team based games usually offer and if it doesn’t deliver, I could be looking at another Destiny, just a flashy game that I wasted money on and ended up hating with a passion. I wouldn’t want to do that to my love of Star Wars. Will I buy this one? That has yet to be seen, but rest assured the decision will not be simple.


Call of Duty….Just when I thought I was out…

…They pull me back in!

blackI thought that I was done with this COD nonsense. I thought that I was finally free. After the lackluster fiasco that was COD: Ghost, I thought “That’s it for me. I’m out.” Game after game, map after map, failed story after failed story, I was done with it all.  I was so disillusioned with COD, I honestly hadn’t planned on ever picking up another COD game, again…….. And then I saw the trailer for Black Ops 3: Zombies…… DAMMIT!

The Legacy of World at War

CODWW MP3 Zombie Factory Attack--article_imageNow, I absolutely loved COD: World at War. It was more then just a game for me, it was an obsession. Night after night, day after day, the World at War disk was constantly in my PS3. Being an avid historian and a huge fan of World War 2, it was an amazing time in my gaming life. Not that I condone war, but WW2 has always been forefront in my mind. Even though I was born a good 38 yeas later, WW2 shaped my life. World at War gave me a way in which I could experience the events that I had only ever read about. It’s hard to imagine, but very true.

A big part of what kept me playing this game time after time, wasn’t the competitive multiplayer or some great love for the FPS genre, it was the Co-OP mode that kept me coming back. Originally called Nazi Zombies, the Zombie mode was a 4 player, cooperative mode that pitted you and three other people, against a never-ending onslaught of zombified Nazi corpses. Wave, after wave of enemies clawed and lashed out at you, while you and your team tried in vain to shoot them and keep them out of your makeshift sanctuary. Survival and teamwork were paramount and I love BOTH of those things. It was so much fun and it single-handedly redefined my entire outlook on gaming and online interactions. After that, for me Co-Op was the only way to go for video games and World at War became my benchmark for all other FPS titles.

As the Zombie mode became more and more popular, we started seeing additional zombie maps being released for the game. This was my first introduction to the idea of downloadable content and my very first purchase of DLC. Each DLC map got more and more complicated, adding additional weapons, perk machines, main characters and even a storyline. World at War changed everything for me and Zombies took on a life of its own. It became the only reason for me to even consider purchasing a COD game.

I should mention here that COD: World at War was released by a company called Treyarch. They are now one of three different development teams currently used for the COD series. The others are Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games. Up until recently, Treyarch was the only ones to incorporate this Zombie mode into their titles, but now Sledgehammer Games have also taken a crack at Zombies. Since I have not played their version, I can’t compare it to the Zombies that I know and love, but I will say that Treyarch is my favorite of the three developers. Regarding who is the best overall, I’ll leave it up to individual players to decide amongst themselves. That is a very heated topic and one that I do not wish to get in the middle of.

Zombie Mode Continues…now with less Nazis

black-ops-annihilation-shangri-laAs the years pasted, Treyarch released two additional COD games, Black Ops and Black Ops 2. In both of these games, Zombies were back full force. This time they weren’t just shooting a bunch of Nazis, now we were fighting  zombies of various nationalities. I still kind of missed shooting Nazis and the World War 2 environments, but these maps were still extremely fun.

Both Black Ops and Black Ops 2 included a variety of all new zombie maps. We visited a haunted movie theater, an ancient Tibetan (I assume) shrine, the Pentagon, the island prison of Alcatraz, the Moon, a sky rise in China and even the trenches of World War I. There was a huge effort to bring something special and different to each map and all of them stood out as unique amongst the previous maps. Of course, for me I always missed the Classic World at War zombies. There was just something special about shooting zombies with old school guns and 1940s technology. It appealed to me more then the modern maps or even the cold war era time frame. However, the newer zombie maps were pretty cool and had a class of their own.

One of the main problems with all of these newer Zombie maps, other then a lack of guns like the ppsh and MG42, was the overcomplexity of the so called “Easter Eggs.” It seemed like each map had a bigger and more complicated puzzle that you had to solve in order to listen to a new piece of the zombie storyline. These had you doing some pretty complicated and cryptic tasks. It got to the point where I just didn’t want to mess with them. Getting artifacts, killing certain enemies, tossing grenades out of the map, moving statues, making golden objects, it was all pretty convoluted. If it weren’t for my gaming friends, I would have never earned those trophies.

Despite my “Easter Egg” complaints, Zombies grew into a huge part of the COD franchise. What started out as simple, endgame reward, turned into one of the best reasons to buy a Call of Duty game. I know a few gamers that wold agree with me on this one.

What Could Possibly Be Next?

Black_Ops_3_Zombies_Shadows_of_Evil_Jack_Vincent_WM.0Like I said, killing the undead has taken us to a huge variety of varied locations. Ghost towns, movie sets, insane asylums, weapon factories….what on earth could be next? Well, if you have watched any of the recent teaser trailers for the new Zombie mode, it looks like a metropolitan city, sometime in the 1930s. That looks very promising, as it takes place around the same time as the map “Mob of the Dead”, where you were fighting on Alcatraz. “Mob of the Dead” was one of my favorites of the newer maps, and I would love to see some more of that time period. It would also be cool to see some period authentic weapons pop up. A Thompson M1928 with drum mag gets my vote. Maybe a Trench gun? How about a Browning Automatic Rifle?  That would work for the era….. Just some ideas here, Treyarch.

With the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, we will be receiving one new Zombie map called “Shadows of Evil,” and depending on which version of the game you purchase, you might also have access to a 2nd map called “The Giant.” Now “The Giant” seems to be just a re-skinned and updated version of the older World at War map called “Der Riese,” but that is OK by me. I loved “Der Riese” and I can’t wait to try my luck on the catwalk or in the Thompson room once again. Also, if I remember correctly, in German, “Der Riese” translates to The Giant, so that is a nice touch for us old school zombie fans. I just really hope that they have the classic guns available once again. I would love to see a ppsh or a FG-42 in beautiful next gen graphics. It is doubtful, but a guy can hope, right?

Final Thoughts

Origins_loading_screenI can honestly say that I am very excited for this new addition to the Zombies lineage. I have such fond memories of playing the original zombies with my friends, that just the thought of having a new area to explore and learn, pulls me back into a simpler and happier time in my life. Trying out new strategies, getting to high rounds, being able to say that my team and I fought and died together, in glorious battle, really recalls a wonderful feeling. I hope that this new Zombies will be worth the wait, because I am really looking forward to it.

The trouble is, COD has become pretty synonymous with the modern cookie-cutter, over hyped FPS genre and it is a series that has come to represent a lot of what I hate about our AAA gaming market, the homogenization of artistic expression. These days, big companies recycle ideas, boil them down, strip away good content for DLC and market these games as a brand new experience. COD and Activision have made an art form out of robbing us of our hard earned cash and it really sucks. They truly offer nothing towards the greater progression of gaming as a legitimate art form. They give us dolled up, boring clones of previously successful games, just with a fresh coat of paint slapped on top.

Many gamers see COD as a lost cause, a series with no hope of significant innovation. Based on previous iterations, they may be right. I mean, this market is way over saturated with FPS games as it is and we have Activision to thank for that. A COD every year for the last 12 years!? Come on guys, that’s just obscene. You can look it up too. We have had a Call of Duty released every year, since 2003 and very little has changed in the overall formula.

But, regardless of COD‘s inability to innovate, people still buy each successive installment. Activision seems to pride themselves at their ability to release a COD game every year. Of course, it takes 3 different studios to accomplish this, but at lest we can count on always having a Call of Duty game to entertain us. If only they were each different and unique…

Of course, why wouldn’t they do this? Activision reported sales figures for Black Ops II as being more than 7.5 million copies sold on launch day. It grossed over $500 million during its initial 24 hours on the market, and that was just in the United Sates. With numbers like that, is it any wonder why they insist on having a COD released every year? Recycle, Recycle, Recycle and make tons of money. That’s all they know. And we gamers keep buying their products. What is wrong with us? If we really don’t like something, we shouldn’t support it with our pocketbooks. Of course, we are all guilty of this, including myself. In this case, we only have ourselves to blame for Activision’s inability to change the FPS paradigm. In their minds, they don’t need to change a thing. They are still making money and that is what counts.

Even though I am VERY excited and hopeful for the Zombie mode, I can almost guarantee that the campaign in Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 will be no different then any other COD game. Chances are, we will have a short, uninteresting storyline with shallow characters and a few “new” innovations, that aren’t really that new. We will have some form of vehicle section, the obligatory stealth mission and possibly a few sniper levels. The big emphasis will be on the competitive multiplayer, which I have always hated. Except for the co-op aspects of this game and the Zombie mode, there isn’t much else in here that makes me want to play Black Ops 3.

But hey, you never know….things might be different. Maybe I’m being too cynical. Maybe this will be the game that changes everything. The game that revolutionizes the genre and flips the FPS world on its head. You never know. Unfortunately, if the previous COD games are any indication, we will probably only get a few superficial improvements and maybe a new type of dog. Wouldn’t that be amazing….


Final Fantasy 7 REMAKE! … My Thoughts

final-fantasy-7-logoWell, well, well….. It is really happening. SQUARE is remaking Final Fantasy 7. After teasing fans for years and years and years, they have finally rewarded our patience with a remake of this classic RPG. Once again, we will return to the streets of Midgar, fight the evil Shina Corporation, witness the silliness of the Gold Saucer, fight the Ruby Weapon and cast Knights of the Round, all in glorious, redesigned HD graphics. What an amazing development to come out of  Sony’s E3 conference this year. So in the spirit of that excitement, let’s talk about it.

The Never Ending Fantasy…Just Keeps Going and Going….

My experience and connection with FF7 is drastically different then that of most of my friends. Unlike the majority of fans out there, I have only ever played this game once and not even to full completion. Now, before you have me tied to a Chocobo and run out of town, let me assure you that I have, in fact seen EVERYTHING in this game, multiple times over. I have witnessed and participated in 6-8 hour farming sessions. I have cried over the tragic death of Aerith more times than I want to admit. I have bred and raced Chocobos. I have been on the edge of my seat while fighting Ruby Weapon and completely exhausted after barely winning. I may not have always been holding the controller, but I was right there witnessing and being swept away by the sheer epic craziness of this game.

What does that all mean? Well, in the late 90s, Final Fantasy 7 was all the rage and everyone I knew was completely obsessed with that game. Rightly so, since it was a fantastic game. Of course, as soon as FF7 hit the shelves, everyone I knew became obsessed. Every friend I had, played FF7 almost exclusively for months and months on end. The desire to play this game was all consuming and it swept through my friends like wildfire.

Unfortunately, I was not in a financial position to buy my own physical copy of the game. That wouldn’t happen till much later. Instead, I was relegated to the sidelines, waiting until one of my friends would allow me to borrow their copy. As one can imagine, since all of my friends were playing this game, guess who was usually sitting on a couch, right next to them, during their gaming sessions? You guessed it…. ME. I witnessed each of my friend’s individual runs, almost in their entirety. By the time I got around to actually getting my own copy, I was simply burned out. I had seen everything, from beginning to end. There were just no surprises left in the game for me and I didn’t feel any great urgency to play it, yet again. However, that does NOT lessen my love for the game and it sure doesn’t make me any less excited for the remake. I just experienced it a little differently then most fans.

tc0ofwda5zek2mfaiivtRegarding Remakes

Since SQUARE’s announcement of the remake of Final Fantasy 7, the world is rejoicing at the news. The internet and discussion forums are all a buzz with speculations and opinions. Excitement is flowing freely. People love FF7, that is obviously clear. However, despite my excitement at this shocking and exciting turn of events, I can’t help but think, am I going to like this game when it hits shelves? The original game had such a HUGE impact on me and every single one of my friends, how can any game live up to that level of importance? I am very hopeful sure, but also fairly skeptical.

Not only is Final Fantasy 7 known as one of the best RPGs of all time, it STILL has a gigantic, very dedicated fan base. If SQUARE changes too much of the game, they run the risk of alienating the diehard fans. If they keep the game completely stock, they might be accused of just trying to cash in on the FF7 legacy. This is not an easy position for them to be in and we won’t know how it’ll play out, until it is in full swing.

So that begs the question, can a remake be as powerful or as influential as the original game once was? Or in this case, is SQUARE somehow damaging the legacy and power of FF7 by remaking a game that literally shaped a generation of gamers. Sure, most of us fans are pretty excited at the idea of seeing such iconic characters as Cloud, Tifa and Sephiroth in HD, but can this remake recapture the love of so many old school fans? Can it rekindle those same feelings of amazement and awe that we felt as we were greeted with our very first FMV? Chances are, no it can’t. No matter how much time and effort SQUARE puts into this project, it will never be exactly as it was. That would be impossible. When this game first came out, it was a different world. It was a moment in time that has long passed and as Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You can’t go home again….”

ff7headerimg599px1512512Final Thoughts…

As the months go by and we hear more and more about this upcoming remake, all eyes will be on SQUARE-ENIX. They are tinkering with a classic and that is a very daring and scary move. Truth be told, this game is going to set a precedence for all other Final Fantasy remakes. If any of us ever want to see remakes of FF6, FF1 or even Tactics, we had best hope that FF7 does extraordinarily well. Unfortunately, I guarantee that before the final game is released, at some point fans will be outraged at the decisions that SQUARE has made. We will read things like “How dare SQUARE do this to this game!” and “I hate them! They have ruined my childhood!” Like Sephiroth’s Super Nova, the drama will seem to go on and on and on. Until we play the final build, people will speculate, trash talk and condemn, but sink or swim, I believe that SQUARE will give us our remake. However, only time will tell if THIS remake is the one that we’ve always wanted. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that it is. I for one, will see you in Midgar.


My Trouble with Destiny… aka…What the Crap Bungie?

Destiny-LogoAh Destiny, what can I say about this game that hasn’t already been said a hundred times over? To be honest, not much.  Regardless, this post has been a longtime coming, but up until now, I just haven’t felt that I had enough practical experience to judge this game fairly. Well, things have changed and I have been playing a lot more of Destiny. I now feel that I am more experienced with the game and can give my honest opinions. Unfortunately, I am afraid that those opinions are not favorable.

In my experience, when someone asks “Hey, how’s Destiny?” answers seem to vary. Some say that is is the greatest game ever made, others say that it is the worst game ever made. Like most game reviews, the truth lies somewhere in between. My typical short answer is “It’s OK. The graphics are great and the game looks really pretty, but something feels like it is missing.” That is actually what I tend to tell people and it is how I truly feel. Something is missing in Destiny. Now, if you want the long answer to that question….. just keep reading.

Personally, I didn’t want to spend $60 on a game that was just “OK.” I wanted an epic game, about magical, space-traveling warriors, wearing cool outfits and carrying crazy, futuristic weapons! I wanted to see distant, imaginary worlds and pilot my own space craft across star systems. I wanted to hangout with friends and fight the evils that dwell deep in the blackness of space. That’s what I wanted and in the early trailers and developer videos, it looked like that’s what we were going to get. Destiny was supposed to be HUGE and I was ready to be swept away by all of it.

So the question is, how did a game with such visually stunning graphics and loads of potential, turn into an over-hyped, repetitive, lackluster experience with shallow characters, an unsatisfyingly short story and a frustrating loot/rewards system? How did it all go wrong? What happened? Why is it that the Destiny I saw back in 2013 looked and sounded so much cooler then what I am currently playing? I just don’t get it. It is baffling. But, since I am all fired up and in the mood to write, let’s take a look at Destiny.

Things I Like….

Destiny may not have been the epic FPS MMO that we were all wishing for, but never-the-less there are a few areas in the game that I honestly do like:

First off, the visuals are stunning and the game looks absolutely amazing. The art style, the textures and overall look of the game is really beautiful. Yes, the environments are sometimes barren and desolate, but in most cases, they match what I would envision a particular planet to look like. Also, most of your gear and weapons are very nicely detailed. As a fan of detail, I can appreciate that.

Secondly, the ship designs are pretty cool to look at. You might not have as much free roaming ability with them, but they are nicely designed and look good against the backdrops of space and high altitude clouds. I would have wished for more customization and maybe the ability to pilot them myself, instead of them just being background filler for loading sequences, but we got what we got. Also, cruising around on your Sparrow (or “glorified speeder bike” as I like to call it) is absolutely a blast. It does get a bit repetitive, especially when you have to traverse the same ground over and over again, but it is still entertaining.

Thirdly, I love co-op and the co-op in this game IS pretty fun. Strategizing with friends, taking out a huge boss together or just getting into team firefights with hordes of baddies is all pretty enjoyable. That is the ONLY reason I’m still playing Destiny. If it weren’t for my friends, I would have given up on this game during the first month of its release.

Lastly, the music is very nice, although you will get tired of the same tracks over and over again. Truth be told, I have since turned off the music and now I just run with the game sounds and the sounds of voice chatting with friends, but the music is top notch.

Unfortunately, that is it. Those are all of the elements that I LIKE in the game, so now it is time that we get on with what I don’t like about Destiny and there is quite a lot. Remember, this is just my honest opinion. Some players are very much in love with Destiny  and I’m not trying to anger them or make anyone defensive. If people like it, then they like it. It is up to the player to decide whether a game is worth their time and money. What follows is just how I personally feel about the game. No offense to anyone out there.

eceb470ea2d0556ab1619d367e091591b5aad5172a4e54c014b2948e48805647_largeThings I Don’t Like….The Story

So, for those of us who followed Destiny during the early development and release of the game, you might remember the tagline “Become Legend.” It was all over the internet, the game box, heck, there was even a live-action trailer by the same name (and that trailer was pretty awesome). In terms of taglines, how epic does that sound? I thought, “Become Legend! Heck YEAH! I want to become a legend!”

Well to live-up to a tagline like that, you have GOT to have a story that is an amazing piece of storytelling. The player has to feel engaged in the world around them. They have to feel like their actions and the actions of others, have some profound repercussions on the world as they know it. What player would not want to feel like they are shaping the very narrative of a game? I had supper high hopes that this was going to be amazing.

Instead, Destiny‘s story wasn’t an amazing piece of storytelling, it didn’t make me feel like a legend and it was disappointingly short. I don’t mean to be harsh, but I think that most gamers would agree with me on those points.

If only the story was better executed, we could have all actually “Become Legend”, and it would have been a fun and rewarding experience. This game could have told a brilliant narrative. Just look at the art design or read some of the vague plot points for the game. It is clear that Destiny had some major potential, but the game turned out as a lackluster experience that felt hollow and unfinished. The story didn’t grab me, it didn’t make me care about anything that was going on in the world and the repetitive game play just killed my interest in experiencing more of the game.  How could a title with such a beautiful world, be so utterly hollow in it’s storyline? It is all just so disappointing.

Let’s talk a bit about Grimoire cards. Yes, I know there are cards that you can unlock that teach you more about the world and lore of Destiny, but they feel like an afterthought. Plus, as far as I know, they are only accessible through the internet and not in-game.  I’m not going to take time out of my day to go online and read a bunch of cards, just to try and fill in all of the gaps and holes that this story has. If Bungie wasn’t willing to put that amount of time and effort in putting this information in the game, why should I put that much time and effort in to reading and studying cards on a totally separate device?  There are better, more immersive ways to do this. For example, I’ve always thought, why not add a physical library to the Tower (the player social hub area)? Add an awesome looking, in-game library were players can go and read up on areas and lore that interests them. That would have been far more engaging than a handful of cards on a website.

Things I Don’t Like….NPC Characters

Not only were we NOT given much in the way of a narrative, we were also not given any meaningful NPC characters. No one really stands out or even seems to matter. They are all fairly bland, unimpressive, forgettable and generic NPCs. I was constantly getting confused as to who was who and why I was talking to anyone. This is really disappointing as there are some topflight voice talent in this game. For example, this is a list that I found online for the Voice Actors of Destiny:

  • Peter Dinklage
  • Bill Nighy
  • Lauren Cohan
  • Gina Torres
  • Lance Reddick
  • Nathan Fillion
  • Lennie James
  • Shohreh Aghdashloo
  • Peter Stormare
  • James Remar
  • Erick Avari

Even if you didn’t recognize every name, trust me, there are some very iconic actors mentioned here: like Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres, both from Firefly and Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones. Why the heck did Bungie bring in so many talented actors, if they were just going to create such lifeless and bland dialogue for NPCs? That money could have been better spent in other areas of the game. How about use it to write more story!?

Things I Don’t Like…. Leveling and Looting

One of my biggest complaints about Destiny is the way in which you level up your character. I absolutely hate their system of leveling. At first, the game plays out as any normal RPG would: kill stuff… gain experience…level up….repeat. However, once you reach level 20, things change and not for the better.

Level 20 is the maximum level that you can attain by the usual methods. Once you reach level 20, if you want to continue to level up, you have to start collecting armor that has a “Light Rating.” This “Light Rating” artificially raises your level pass the cap. By simply equipping certain pieces of armor like a helmet, chest plate, gloves and boots, you will add more “Light” and eventually you will go up in levels. Of course this means that you are constantly needing to find better and better armor and this means killing tons and tons of enemies. In order to get the good drops you have to grind, grind grind…that’s all you get to do. The more you play, the more chances you have of maxing out your character with the best stuff. What a deal, right?

Wrong! This system feels artificial and forced. Why not just have the cap be at the higher level? Why make us jump through so many hoops? I have spent a bit of time playing my lvl 20 Hunter and so far I have only reached level 22. The majority of drops that enemies tend to give are all crappy weapons and equipment that I do not need. It is so frustrating and feels like a total waste of time.

So the big question is WHY? Why do this to players? I’m sure there are a few different reasons, but in my honest opinion,  this system seems like a perfect way to insure a lasting player base. It artificially extends the life of a mediocre and lackluster title. It’s the never ending loot hunt. I think, if Bungie keeps adding loot and raising the artificial level cap, players will be more likely to continue playing. They will always want the latest gear, so everyone has to keep playing….more and more and more. Unfortunately, this system makes me feel like the game is taking away my power as a player. It is forcing me to bend to the will of a random, loot generating equation. As a gamer, I hate that. Let me earn my cool chest piece by working for it, not by just killing the same enemies or doing the same repetitive missions over and over again, until it randomly drops.

Things I Don’t Like…. Pay Walls

In this day-and-age, most gamers will agree that DLC is nothing new. You buy a game and a few months down the line, you get DLC. Heck, most of the games I have played over the last 4 years have all had some form of Downloadable Content. I’ve always assumed that DLC was meant to extend the life of a certain game, by adding more content and freshening up a stale title. However, more and more companies are using DLC as a way to pilfer additional money from us gamers, by locking parts of their games away behind pay walls and releasing the unlock code as DLC. Destiny seems to be no different.

So often with games now-a-days, you buy something for $60, only to find out that it is essentially an incomplete experience. Then there is a Season Pass that runs upwards of $30 to give you access to all the DLC, which is basically the rest of the game. That means that your new game is actually going to cost you $90 (assuming the Season Pass is $30). WTF! Game developers are notorious for this and I absolutely hate this practice! I’m sure other gamers will agree.

Destiny has released two DLCs for their broken experience of a game, and it would appear that both were already included in the original copy of the game. When I purchased the season pass, it didn’t download anything substantial and all of a sudden I had access to both DLCs. that means, the content was simply placed behind a pay wall. Every time that happens, I just end up feeling cheated and betrayed.

But wait, Bungie has announced that there is more Destiny on it’s way. Coming in September, Destiny  fans can purchase the first true expansion for the game, called The Taken King.  It promises to be a whole new experience! Yeah right…get ready for more grinding. To be fair, this is an entirely new edition, with added gear and a new class, but it will not be accessible to current Season Pass holders. You will have to purchase The Taken King separately, I believe anywhere from $40-$80. Great, just great! Thanks, Bungie.

Final Thoughts

Let’s face it, in this gaming industry, it is all about money. AAA game studios spend a huge amount of cash developing and creating ideas that they think will be profitable. Once they settle on a title, they create the game for millions of dollars and then try and desperately recoup their losses. How do they do this? Well, by cutting out story and game play elements and locking them behind pay walls, releasing them in DLC, or maybe they include micro transactions into their game. They try and find any way that they can to drain our hard earned cash and continue draining us for months and months after the game’s initial release. They do this until they have squeaked out a modest profit and then, they do it all again with another title. It is a sad state of affairs and a pretty rotten business model.

Destiny is a good example of everything that I hate about this current gaming market and it is an excellent case study of how greedy and pervasive this business model can be. It has been reported that Destiny cost approximately $500 million dollars to develop and promote. That is an amazing amount of money. It is no wonder that both Activision and Bungie have made certain decisions regarding DLCs, Season Passes and Expansions. They have to recoup their losses and they are going to take it from the only source that they can… us, the fans. They are going to squeeze every last Glimmer out of us and I for one, do not appreciate that.

And $500 million dollars later, we get a game that is nothing to be that excited over. A bland, hollow experience, that I really don’t find that fun or immersive. In fact, I can honestly say that I find more enjoyment in $15 PSN games like Helldivers and Shovel Knight, than I do a $60 AAA game like Destiny. Not only did I have more fun with both of those titles, their story lines were vastly more engaging then Destiny‘s and I actually felt like playing past the initial play through. What a strange turn of events.

Artistically, Destiny is a beautiful experience, but as a game, I find it lackluster, repetitive, tedious and boring. I wanted so much to love this game, to be swept away by the sheer expansiveness of its world. But, I was let down and truthfully, I am not really that surprised. It seems like Bungie tried to make a game that would appeal to a ton of different types of players. They tried to make a game that encompassed elements that MMO players would enjoy, FPS players would find familiar and that co-op players would appreciate. Instead we got a game that has hints of really awesome stuff, but ultimately falls short of being an amazing game. Maybe they bit off more than they could chew, or maybe Activision forced a bit of their Call of Duty mentality onto Bungie’s vision. Who knows. All I know is that we have not heard the last of Destiny and it will be interesting to see how all of this unfolds.


Bloodborne – My Impressions

Bloodborne-Ah Bloodborne, I hardly know ye!

It is no secret, I love FROM Software and for those of you who have read some of my previous blog posts, you’ll know that I have been an ardent fan of FROMsoft since the mid 1990s. I’ve played through the King’s Field series, the Souls series and now I have every intention of paying through (for lack of a better term) the Blood series. That’s right, today, we are talking Bloodborne!

Released March 24th for the PS4, this game scored some major points with both Souls fans and reviewers alike. It has already amassed quite a hardcore following and with its no-nonsense brutality and challenging game play, I’m not surprised that FROMsoft fans are clambering to play this title. Bloodborne brings us our first, next-gen “Souls”-like gaming experience and it does not disappoint.

Of course, in my book, the arrival of any new FROM Software game is an event worthy of celebration and Bloodborne is no exception. So lets dive in and check this game out.

Welcome to Yharnam… the Story as I Understand it

Yharnam, your starting point in Bloodborne has been ravaged by a mysterious plague, turning ordinary citizens into dangerous, blood thirsty beasts. Demented killers and crazed citizens roam the streets and werewolves track your every move. Yharnam is not a nice place to live, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Here in Bloodborne, you take up the role of a “Hunter” hunting the evil, undead creatures and supernatural monsters that lurk around every corner of the city. Why? I don’t know, but it sure makes for a great jumping off point.

Along your travels, you meet a handful of other NPC hunters, characters and skittish townsfolk. Some are helpful, some are just rude and others are downright mean. In typical FROMSOFT fashion, these NPCs can’t always be trusted and you have to be very careful what/who you listen to.

Other than a few bits and pieces of story, we really don’t get much of a traditional narrative in this game. If you want to know what’s going on, you have to pay very close attention to everything. FROMSoft loves to tease you with bits of a story and reveal things through item descriptions and subtle conversations with NPCs. It was the same way in King’s Field, Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. It’s one of the reasons why I like FROM Software so much.

Bloodborne also has side quests, optional bosses, hidden areas and co-op dungeons called Chalices. It all combines into a pretty potent game, and a truly dark and ominous experience.

No Rest for the Wicked

Bloodborne tosses EVERYTHING at you and there is absolutely no rest for any hunter entering the damned city of Yharnam. Everything wants you dead and most enemies are relentless in their pursuit of your blood. By the end of every single, hostile area, my character was always completely covered in the blood of my enemies. Even in the strange, outlying landscapes and forests I found no respite. Everything is just so blood thirsty, it is amazing to watch the enemies pursue you. I’m pretty sure that I’ve been killed by EVERY creature that I have come across, but I guess that is how we learn in a FROMSoft game.

Souls…er…Echos anyone?

It is not at all difficult to draw numerous correlations between the Souls series and Bloodborne. We are covering some very familiar ground here. How you move, how you heal, your general approach to new sections, the difficulty of the game…there are so many parallels to be drawn here that any Souls veteran will feel right at home in Yharnam.

In Bloodborne, your currency are Blood Echos, instead of Souls (though that doesn’t stop me from calling them Souls). Like its predecessors, the more enemies you kill, the more Blood Echoes you stockpile. Of course, when you are killed, you drop all of your Blood Echoes at a bloodstain, which you can retrieve….. if you survive the journey back.

Like in Demon’s Souls, in Bloodborne you operate from a hub-world that allows you to use tombstones to warp to different areas of the game. This place is called the Hunter’s Dream and it is one of the only safe places in this game. It can give the player a much needed rest. Here you can level your weapons, increase your character’s stats, buy consumable items and equip runes and blood gems to customize your builds.

Very reminiscent of the earlier Souls games, while traipsing around the city, you will notice that most of the hostile areas in this game are all interconnected by numerous shortcuts and secret passages. Your top priority is to find that shortcut and open it. Trust me, nothing sucks more than dying and forgetting to open a major shortcut. Plus, having a shortcut available makes for a much more efficient farming situation. Why journey through an entire level, to get to your farming area, when you can just warp in and take a shortcut?

Co-op FTW!!

Lets talk summoning! Co-op has always been a major selling point for me and luckily, all of the Souls games have had some form of this feature. Being able to fight along side your buddies was/is so much fun. In Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2, you used different colored stones to get into co-op. If you wanted to be summoned, it was a simple matter of placing down your “sign”  and as long as you met certain soul level requirements, you would be summoned into another player’s world pretty easily. If you needed help in a particular level, you would look for “signs” on the ground, select one and summon them. Demon’s Souls probably did this the best, followed by Dark Souls 2, but Dark Souls 1 had some major issues in this area.

Now in Bloodborne, you use different types of “bells” to either summon or to be summoned. Instead of using the appropriate stone and placing your “sign” on the ground, you ring a particular “bell”. There are three of these “bells”: the Beckoning Bell, for summoning, the Small Resonance Bell to be summoned and the Sinister Bell to invade someone’s world. We also have an ability to set passwords so that we can summon specific people and keep out any random riff raff. This however does not work for invaders, which I am not as happy about. Sometimes I just want to co-op without the constant threat of invasions. On a side note, there is a way to stop invasions by PVP’ers and that is to find and kill the Sinister Bell Keeper that is sometimes automatically summoned into your world. She usually shows up when you use your Beckoning Bell for co-op and can be found deep in the level. Getting to her can be a difficult venture, but if you succeed, you will be invasion free…unless you die as the host…then it is back to square one.

Now, the whole summoning process seems pretty simple, right? Well, it is not as simple as you might think. For some reason, trying to summon other players into your session, even with a password, can take a considerable amount of time. It will eventually work, but it seems like it takes forever. In order to make the whole summoning process more efficient, my friends and I use the following method. As far as I know, this is unofficial, but others have found this to work for them and it seems to work fairly well for us.

  1. First, all of the players have to be in the same vicinity, gathered around a lamppost, boss door or some form of landmark.
  2. Next, you should setup a password that is unique. A password of 12345 will not yield good results, but a more complex one usually does the trick.
  3. Then the players being summoned need to use their Small Resonance Bells first and wait until a message appears, telling them that they are “Searching for the chime of a Beckoning Bell”.
  4. Once that message appears on their screen, the summoner needs to ring his/her Beckoning Bell and the servers should be able to do the rest.

Following this process seems to sync us up fairly effectively, but every once in a while, it can still take some time. This isn’t really a good thing, especially if you have been invaded and you need help ASAP! If that happens, consider yourself on your own and don’t rely on the matchmaking servers to help very much.

Issues and Rants

Even though Bloodborne is a very entertaining and fun experience, I do have a few gripes with the game. Allow me to share these with you:

Summoning: As I mentioned before, in Bloodborne, like in most Souls games, co-op is a ton of fun. That is one of the main reasons I spend so much time on these types of games. Just hanging with friends in a chat party, helping each other kill enemies and bosses and hearing each others reactions to the numerous “Oh Shit” moments is such a blast. Unfortunately, I have found that summoning in Bloodborne can be a bit of a pain. It can take such a long time to bring in a co-op buddy. Even with a co-op password in place to help you link up, I have had it take anywhere from a few seconds to 15 mins. just to be summoned or to summon one of your friends. And yes, this is after the April 1.03 patch that was supposed to help shorten these actions. That is not to say that it isn’t improved from the original launch version. It is for sure, but it is still a huge time-suck. I miss the days when you could simply place your sign down and carry on with a level until summoned, like in Demon’s Souls.

Camera Angles: I can’t stress enough the importance of proper camera angels in these types of games. If your camera isn’t placed in the right spot, it can mean the difference between life and death, or at the very least, a missed item. Even though Bloodborne has a very fluid and controllable camera, I have been killed numerous times, due to locking onto a target and having the camera absolutely freak out when I get to close to them. It really only happens with very tall enemies and large bosses, where you will find yourself underneath their legs or beneath their gigantic bodies, but it is pretty disorientating when your camera rotates and rapidly switches angles on you. Of course, I understand that it is a struggle for developers to create flawlessly operating camera angles, but it is still a source of frustration.

Overall Thoughts

This is a fantastic game. Dark, foreboding, brutally enjoyable and dripping with the macabre, From Software has really outdone themselves with Bloodborne and I am so excited to see what they come up with next.

Despite all of my horrific deaths and the few minor frustrations I have with the game, I keep coming back for more. Even though I have already earned the Platinum for this game and reached 100% completion, I don’t really see myself NOT playing this game. For me, Bloodborne will continue to be in my rotation, allowing me to continue my exploits in the city and surrounding lands of Yharnam. Also, playing with friends in the Chalice Dungeons and trying out new character builds will help to hold my attention. Plus, I hear rumor of some DLC coming our way….so that should be interesting to see unfold.

Really, in almost every aspect of this title, from graphics to music, from the storyline to its presentation, Bloodborne stands out as a truly awesome, very FROMsoft, next-gen experience. If you haven’t played it, you should go give it a try. Pursue the beasts of the night and slay them for the goodness of Yharnam and of your soul. Happy Hunting!


Dark Souls 2: To Live and Die in Drangleic


Recently, I have been playing Dark Souls 2 for the PS3 and I will admit, I have been thoroughly enjoying myself. Even though I’ve struggled a bit and have only just last night, finished the main game, I thought I would take this opportunity to give you all, my most recent thoughts and opinions on this latest entry into the Souls series. Keep in mind, even though I have been an ardent fan of From Software games, since the mid 90’s (see my King’s Field Retrospective for a bit more info on that series) it doesn’t mean that I will blindly give this game a free pass.  So, let’s take a look at Dark Souls 2 and explore my thoughts on this new world of Drangleic.

A Brief History of the Souls Series

Before we get started on Dark Souls 2, let’s take a brief look at the history of the Souls games. Don’t worry, I’ll try and make this quick as I can.


The Souls series began with Demon’s Souls, published in 2009 and released in Japan, the United States and Europe. As a PS3 exclusive game, it was labeled as the “spiritual successor” to the King’s Field series, which had been released some fifteen years earlier, for the PSX. Released in the U.S. by Atlus, the game gradually gathered a strong cult following, made up of dedicated, hardcore, challenge seeking gamers.

From the control scheme and game mechanics, to the games brutal difficulty, Demon’s Souls laid the ground work for what we now know as a Souls game. It also re-energized the From Software brand, propelling them out of obscurity. I spent hours and hours on this game, exploring the world, learning spells and fighting along side my fellow PSN friends. That was one of the key reasons why I liked Demon’s Souls so much, it had a fantastic multiplayer setup, combining a thrilling system of co-op PvE and intense PvP. It was like nothing I had ever played before. It was absolutely fantastic.

468px-Dark-souls-logo-tops-mainDark Souls

Similar in design, play style and visuals to that of Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls was said to be its spiritual successor(From Software really likes to use that term ‘spiritual successor’, don’t they?) It was released for both the PS3 and the XBOX 360 in 2011 and finally for the PC in 2012.  This time it was Namco Bandai, who took the publishing reigns, releasing the game in both the United States and Europe, while From Software handled the Japanese release.

Dark Souls built upon the success of it’s predecessor, keeping alive the Demon’s Souls style of brutal game play, while adding a few new game elements into the mix. Now, depending on your play style, not all of these changes were seen as a good thing, for example Namco Bandai decided not to use a dedicated server and instead went with a Peer to Peer type player connection. If you wanted to play with a particular friend, it was very difficult to accomplish this with 100% accuracy and many players found that annoying. On the plus side, this method allowed you to play with anyone from around the world, but many of my friends had no interest playing with random players.

dark-souls-II-logoNow on with Dark Souls II….

Dark Souls II was released on  March 11, 2014, for both the PS3 and the XBOX 360. While it has been stated that this game is NOT a direct sequel to Dark Souls, there are obvious connections spread throughout the game, linking both these storylines together. Of course, the entire story has yet to be fully flushed out by the online community, but they have made huge steps in that direction.

So far, this game plays very much like the other games in the Souls series. The graphics are slightly improved and the storyline seems to be far more cryptic, but all of the core elements that made the Souls franchise, are still intact. What are those core elements you ask? Well let’s take a look…

Gameplay Difficulty

So far, all of the Souls games have been brutally difficult and extremely challenging. They don’t pull any punches or coddle the player in any way. They force you to focus and to think about each move you make. Diving headfirst into a fight and not being aware of your surroundings WILL get the player killed. Being rash is not a good mindset to have with any Souls game. Remember, in these games, everything wants you dead and your enemies are willing to sneak up on you, overwhelm you, shoot you from a distance, set you on fire, push you off of ledges, drown you, eat you, poison you… the list can go on and on.

Yes, Dark Souls II is punishing and unforgiving, but that isn’t a detriment to the franchise.  The game wouldn’t be a Souls game if it wasn’t difficult. That might sound strange, but it is true. In fact, most of the fans that I know, crave its brutal nature and the challenge and frustration that these games bring. It has become a staple of the series and a major selling point.

Of course, since these games are very difficult, you are far more prone to killing off your character and losing progress. We fans have come to expect this facet from a Souls game, but it can be a rude awaking for the more casual gamer.

With that being said, death in Dark Souls II doesn’t feel empty or meaningless, like in some games. As long as you are paying attention, each and every death teaches you a valuable lesson. To illustrate this, what follows is a small list of ideas that I have personally discovered, while playing the Souls series and DkS2:

  • Always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Don’t assume anything.
  • Never think that you are safe from death, even in the early parts of the game.
  • If an enemy looks like it can kill you, it probably will.
  • If an enemy looks like a pushover, he’s probably going to kill you.
  • Never be rash.
  • Never drain all of your stamina, if you can help it.
  • Take your time. Never try and rush through an area or try and speed things up.
  • If you get stuck, try thinking out of the box, try new approaches.
  • And never, EVER carry large amounts of souls on your person. Especially if you are going into an uncharted area or new boss room.

I’ve learned all of those things (and much, much more), just by playing the game, by trying new things, testing my limits, exploring my surroundings and watching others play. The game didn’t hold my hand. It didn’t coddle me. It tossed me into the fray, into the cold and unforgiving world. Sink or swim, it is all up to the player. I love that; being left up to my own devices, going at my own pace and doing things my way. It is quite empowering!


I have always found it fascinating how FROM Software can tell us a story, without really telling us anything. Sure we might be given the bare minimum of basic world information, but everything else, the rest of the puzzle is discovered entirely through lore, item descriptions, dialogue and visuals. Players aren’t generally given much more than basic world information,  but that is just enough to get you to want more. Players tend to discover and stumble upon the story, rather than be slapped in the face with it.

If you doubt the extensiveness of FROM Software’s storyline in DkS2, just look at all the work the online communities have done. They have collaboratively pieced together an epic and fascinating story, connecting plot lines and story points across the entire game.  Also, they have done all of this with only the smallest bits and pieces of lore, spread throughout and around the new Kingdom of Drangleic. That is pretty impressive.

Personalizing and Identifying with Your Character

The Souls games have always had a great, fully customizable character creation system that allows the player to chose and adjust a host of features. You can tweak almost everything about your person: gender, body type, hair style, hair color, eye shape, cheek shape, check color, skin color…. If you can name it, you can probably adjust it. It is as in-depth and as powerful as you could ever want.

Now, if you are anything like me, you might spend far to much time on this part of the game. Don’t feel bad, the last time I built a character, I spent almost an hour playing with different settings. Why did I spend so much time on her? Simply put, I like to feel connected to my character. I feel more in tune with an avatar that I have painstakingly created, then I ever do with those average, generic, stock creations. It keeps me rooted in the game and get’s me invested in my choices. Since I never want anything bad to befall my character, I find that I am more careful and deliberate with my actions. That means less deaths and more fun. Maybe that’s just me, but either way I usually have fun with the whole process.

white-sign-soapstone Online / Co-op Play

Like the other entries in the Sous series, DkS2 has a very in-depth system of online play.  For me, its main appeal is co-op PvE, but there is a strong sense of competitive PvP as well. Starting with Demon’s Souls, the Souls series has had some of the most heart pounding multiplayer that I have ever experienced. If you have never played it, let me try and give you an idea of what it is like.

Imagine this, you are going about your business, killing monsters and exploring the dark corners of the world, when out of no where, you are invaded by another player. This is called a Black Phantom. He is there for one reason, and one reason only….to kill you! What do you do? Do you run? Do you fight? Do you hide and hope he won’t find you? What do you do?

Then you see him. A ghostly figure, shrouded in a red and black mist. He is looking for a fight and you have no choice but to defend yourself.

bp-satsuki-large-rearBeing jarred out of your quiet, solo experience is one thing, but to have another player, violently hunt you for sport, is a totally different story. An invasion always got my heart pounding.

DkS1 had a very similar feel to that of Demon’s Souls , but with a greater emphasis placed on online interactions. They instituted the idea of player covenants, added different types of invading phantoms and gave PvP players a variety of ways to battle other PvP’ers. They also made an attempt to legitimize invasions, by creating a covenant reward system that added a reason for these types of interactions.

Covenants were designed to enhance and add depth to the online invasion system, but I’m not sure how well it really worked. It did introduce some very interesting ideas, but the system was not as easy to utilize, as it should have been. I ended up hardly participating in multiplayer for Dark Souls 1, due mainly to the very limiting P2P server set up, that Namco Bandai had instituted. Plus with the increase in lag and connection instability, multiplayer became just plain frustrating.

In Dark Souls 2, multiplayer is back in full force and it has taken a lot of the ideas from Dark Souls 1 and placed an even greater emphasis on elements like PvP, covenants and dueling. Fortunately, with Namco’s decision to utilize dedicated, region based servers, multiplayer actually works! Summonings have been greatly increased, invasions are more frequent and there are even a number of items to increase the ease of joining your friends! There seems to have been a great attempt by the publisher and developer to appeal to as many types of players as they can, giving everyone something that they can enjoy about the game’s multiplayer system.

Overall Thoughts

Over all, I’m pleased with FROM’s latest entry into the Souls game and I plan on playing this one, for a long time. That is not to say that this game isn’t without some minor issues. For example, the auto-target system is very twitchy, sometimes jumping from enemy to enemy, at the worst possible time. Camera angles will sometimes move erratically, disorientating the player. Some bosses seem to have inconsistent AOE attacks, that end up dealing damage to the player, at unexpected times. Controller input can sometimes lag slightly, causing you to panic-press the same button and end up swinging or rolling, WAY more than you intended. But, despite these issues, the game is very well done and it is a lot of fun to play. If you haven’t played it or were still on the fence about it’s worth, I would recommend giving this one a shot. Now, if you will excuse me, I have souls to collect….

I’ll see you in Drangleic.