Well that's 2014 done with then. Whelp I guess I should do one of them list things. It has been an odd year for games. With plenty of issues, that one could argue is just the medium growing, not that that excuses the Gamergate stupidity. Also it felt like a year where gaming fell into a bit of a rut. Lots of very decent games, plenty of really good ones and no really stunners. This year has no Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption or Half-life 2.
Still there have been some real good stuff. So this is my top five games of the year that I have played this year.
Wolfenstien New World Order
Wolfenstien is an odd game, as a shooter it has some magnificent weapons, great set pieces and awesome levels, hell it even has good stealth. The thing that really stands out is that I can never tell if it is being tongue in cheek or deadly serious. Fighting a giant nazi mech which is then followed by the musing of BJ (the main character is called BJ for fucksake) on the horrors of war. What really impresses is that it actually manages to create
a very believable world of a 1960's run by nazi's, moon base and all.
I love good single player shooters and this is the best one this year (though competition is admittedly fairly scarce). It even has some clever new ideas, such as a laser tool that allows you to cut holes cover and boxes, which through upgrades also turns into a pretty bad ass weapon. In fact the whole game is pretty bad ass, duel wielding shotguns doesn't get boring. It is also informed by some old school ideas, such as only very limited regenerating health and medpack and armour pick ups. If you have fond Wolfenstien memories, this does them justice.
I was bored of multiplayer shooters. They all seemed tedious and uninteresting, even the great ones like Counterstrike. And then I picked up Titanfall. I have played more Titanfall this year, than all other multiplayer shooters put together. I think it is the movement that does it. Running and jetpack up, through and over buildings, knowing that stopping makes you dead, it’s a joy. I think the other bonus is that, for the most part, snipers don't really exist, this in itself makes me happy (I am crap at sniping and I hate snipers).
As all the maps are pretty small, you are never far from action, especially as there are npc enemies (creeps like in moba's) that need killing as well. Oh and I love the smart pistol. I know it gets a lot of hate, but as someone who is not the greatest shot, it's amazing. It locks
onto enemies and just press the mouse button to take them out. That sounds overpowered but to kill a player you still need to get pretty close and not get killed for a good 4 seconds. In a game as fluid as this, not easy.
And then that magical moment kicks in when the voice announces your titan is ready and you see it slam into the ground. The titan pulls you up into it's mechanical womb (that's a thing I said, out loud, whilst playing). The genius of the titan's is that while you are powerful, you are also now a slow big target, so it keeps the balance perfectly.
I think thats the thing I love most about Titanfall, the way a match is constantly about the flow of movement. Running across rooftops, jetpacking over ledges and leaping off into the loving arms of your titan. It manages something nearly every other shooter fails at, it makes the none shooty bits fun to play as well.
Dark Souls II
I know I wrote a blog about how it isn't as good as Dark Souls, and I stand by that. However it is fecking brilliant. I have restarted the game and have been playing it with co-blogger Hex. After struggling through Dark Souls with consistent connection issues, playing Dark Souls II with him is a joy. Being able to connect quickly and easily has made me appreciate it even more.
There is still a great deal of depth to the game that I have barely touched and exploring the game and new classes with him is like playing the game anew. Hell last night we discovered (and got splatted by), a boss I had never seen before. The game looks great, the controls are as incredibly solid as ever and the changes to the game from the first makes playing it cooperatively a joy. I am big fan of the Soul's series, and whilst 2 is not the best it still demands to be played.
Shadows of Mordor
When I first saw preview videos of this prior to release, I thought it looked like a assasin's creed knock off, hell some of the animations looked like they had been lifted wholesale. However it is nice to be wrong. Whilst Shadows of Mordor does borrow a lot from other games, like ass creed and the Arkham games, it makes it it's own.
Set between the hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy it explores Mordor before Sauron hit his full power. It is a dangerous, exciting world full of things that want to kill you. There is a series of plot missions that are pretty good, but the core game is around killing the orc captains and warchiefs. These captains being harder versions of normal orcs, the higher the rank, the more badass they are. This is where the clever (and I assume soon to be much
"borrowed") nemesis system comes in. If a random orc kills you, they get promoted, the more you die at their hands the harder they become. All this is randomised, so you are essentially creating your own enemies. All these orcs have there own appearance, names and strengths and weaknesses.
All this makes are a very engaging open world game of cat and mouse. Trying to kill and engineer enemies into the right place, so you can deal with them. Nothing balls up a plan than stumbling across an unknown captain halfway through a fight, in a good way. Oh and while the main character is a bit of a personality vacuum, the plot is still better than the hobbit films.
Divinity Original Sin
Hands up, I still haven't finished this one yet, but it is going on the list anyway. I am not a man given to nostalgia, so while i did play Baulder Gate and it's ilk when them came out, I never felt the urge to go back. And the reason that Original Sin is so good, is that while at a glance it may seem to pander to those who loved the old infinity engine games, it doesn't pander at all. They have created a vibrant, interesting world full of possibilities, mysteries and action. Where well written, and often quite funny, dialogue is around every corner.
The fact that the entire game can be played in co-op works wonders, having two main characters, that can often disagree, make every major decision a contest, brilliantly resolved with a game of rock, paper, scissors. Playing through with the wife was fascinating, constantly double guessing her. Would she pick rock twice, or would she expect me to think that?
The combat deserves a special mention, as soon as you enter combat, you get action points to be used for movement, attacks, special moves or item use, not unlike fallout 1 and 2.
Your character uses their AP and then the enemies use there, and they are capable of all the same abilities as your characters. All this is built around a world to be manipulated, poison clouds explode, you can't shoot through smoke, you can freeze water to make people slip and make it rain to put out fire. And all these rules apply to your party as well as your enemy. Make no mistake on normal difficulty this is a very hard game, we played it on easy for most of the game.
But the thing that really makes the game stand out is that those rules apply to the entire game. Want to kill someone, kill them. Want to steal something, do so. The game will, usually, accommodate whatever you want to do. The sense of freedom this gives you to deal with the world is remarkable, and unmatched by any game I have played. If that's not a recommendation, I don't know what is.
So that's my top 5, two shooters, two rpgs and an action adventure, humm I like to think I love indie games, maybe I am lying to myself.
As you are no doubt aware I am a bit of a Dark Souls obsessive. So as I have recently finished Dark Souls 2, I thought I would share my thoughts. I finished the game in about 80 hours, with only small guidance from the internet, playing it on my PC with my now very well worn 360 pad.
First thought is that it looks good. Compared to DS even with the resolution patch on, it looks great. And as with the first DS it has some clever level design, though not as clever as the first DS. In the first game I explored the game world, finding myself weaving in and out of known and unknown areas. I would often be astonished by the design, this hasn't happened in DS2 yet. This maybe down to a designed choice that has been instituted. You have a "main" bonfire where you can level up and it has a merchant and a blacksmith nearby, and you can teleport to every other bonfires you have discovered.
While this does make life easier, it does take a certain joy of discovery out of the game. This would possibly explain why I checked every nook and cranky I could find (I am certain that I probably still missed loads). The urge to explore the hidden dangers hasn't gone away, and there are still rewards for doing so, like the hairy merchant I could have very easily missed. Regardless while all the areas appear to be connected the fact that you can bounce from one bonfire to the next does make the world appear a little less real than DS1's.
From Software have counteracted that ease of travel by the fact that as you die, your maximum health progressively reduces to half. The only way to get passed this is to become human, either by using a effigy (humanity) or helping other people defeat bosses. This system may seem like a pain, but it actively encourages people to drop summon stones, so the online portion of the game seems very active. Which leads me to good news. The game still seems very populated, and the unlike the first game, the online system seems very reliable and quick.
In fact the game seems to be designed to be played co-operatively far more so than the first Dark Souls. Again this is good and bad, in that it encourages online play, but bad that if playing alone you will often find several groups of enemies that are hard to kill one on one, let alone 2 or 3 versus one. To counteract this enemies start to stop spawning after you have killed them a few times, so if you are struggling with a boss, the run to the boss gets easier and easier. And again if you want to grind out a few souls often the easiest option is to be summoned into someone else's game.
All these little, perhaps even seemingly insignificant, changes are both the joy and the problem with Dark Souls 2. The developers have looked at all the systems of Dark Souls and have analytically decided how to change them to make the game more accessible, if not easier. It is, I believe, widely accepted with Dark Souls that you have suffer through the initial challenge up to defeating the second boss before you truly get it. I don't think DS2 would prompt the same love/hate relationship, not because it is easier, but because it is easier to get on with. This is not to say fair, as I said, some areas throw several enemies at you at the same time. This feels distinctly unfair, which weirdly caused me to get annoyed at the game, even though Dark Souls never annoyed me despite being, on the whole, harder than Dark Souls 2.
So here is the rub. I get why they have made the changes from 1 to 2, and all of the amendments are clever and make sense. The cost of these changes however, it that the world is less engaging, the bosses less satisfying to defeat and your character feels less like it is in constant danger. All this is a massive shame. Because Dark Souls 2 is brilliant. It's a beautiful, engrossing and still very satisfying game. But it isn't a masterpiece, and I don't love it more than any game I have ever played.
And it is entirely likely that had Dark Souls 2 been the follow up to Demon Souls, it would have been heralded as classic of gaming. However it pales in comparison to Dark Souls, and this makes me a little sad.
A few months ago I set up my home server. This morning, I turned it off for a few hours to clean the dust out of it and do some cable management. While it was off, Even though it was just because I was 'messing' with the hardware I realised just how much I would miss it if it were off-line for any length of time.
My server does some simple enough things for me, things that I appreciate a great dea.