The biggest flaw with Tunic is that it stealth launched a mere three weeks after the release of Elden Ring. As we all know, From Software's epic is a strong contender for Game Of The Year. Some folks are proclaiming it the greatest game ever made. People are talking about Elden Ring. Blogs, podcasts, fans, critics... It's Elden Ring all the time. And because of that hype train, it's a little hard to take notice of a new indie game that looks quite a bit like the Link's Awakening remaster. But here we are.
Although the look and tone of Tunic is nothing like Elden Ring, it's hard to not find comparisons. Especially given that Elden Ring hangs so heavy in the gamer subconscious in 2022. So let's take a look at Tunic for a moment. It's cure, sure. But it's also an action RPG that drops you into a giant world with almost nothing to protect yourself. It gives you no clear direction about what to do or where to go. Combat is brutally difficult. More and more, the comparisons feel apt. I'm only saying this because for those of us who have spent countless hours in Elden Ring, it's sort of hard to just immediately jump into a game like Tunic. I can't help but feel a little fatigued.
That's probably why I felt zero guilt turning on the included easy mode in Tunic. I'd like to experience this game. But I'm not in the mood for masochism. So whatever. As soon as I started to feel overwhelmed by the clunky combat, I knew it was time. You can decide at any moment to turn off death, and to have unlimited stamina. I did both, and Tunic became a different sort of game altogether. I don't care if this means I'm not hardcore. But it's a pretty game and an interesting game, and if these cheats are the only way I'll see it, then so be it.
I'm not going to say the combat is bad, because it's not really. But it does sort of throw you off. This game looks like Zelda, so I can't help but want it to play like Zelda. Instead, the combat strives to be like Dark Souls. And in turn, that makes it feel clunky. Things did start to improve once I found a shield, but far too often I found myself trying to parry or look for openings in defense only to be swarmed by three or five enemies at a time and it just put me into pure panic mode.
I probably would have given up on Tunic after an hour if it weren't for one compelling addition. There's a conceit that you must find pages of a missing game manual throughout the world that serves as your guide forward. This is brilliant. The pages look like they're torn from some lost Famicom game. Most of the text isn't in English (or any real world language) but the pictures can serve up hints if you study them. Slowly the pages become your maps and your explanations of where you need to go, what you need to get, or how you interact with the world. This faux manual is so cool that it makes me wish that Tunic had gotten a physical release with a physical manual, though I guess that would have blown the whole point of needing to collect the pages in game. Oh well.
But if I'm being honest, about three hours into Tunic the game really started to wear out its welcome for me. I don't know that it's anything that game does wrong exactly. But more, my own expectations can't really be satisfied. There's this part of me that looks at the game, and just wishes it was more like Link's Awakening - mainly because of how it looks. That wish just nags at me as I struggle with the combat and roam the world. The thought of firing it back up to continue has a level of tedium to it that bums me out. I keep saying "I should get back to Tunic," but I keep finding excuses to not. So I think that's telling me something and it's time to just accept that this one wasn't really for me.
My first moments with Elden Ring are probably the perfect analogy for the game as a whole. I stumbled out of a chamber and in front of me was a cliff leading to a deep chasm. I hit the Y button to read a note left behind by another player. "Try jumping," it read. So I did, only to be greeted by that classic Dark Souls "You Died" message. That's right – it took me probably less than two minutes to get myself killed in Elden Ring. And yet, I just kind of shook my head and smirked.
I need to tell you that while I totally admire From Software, it's always been from a distance. I find their games fascinating and I respect everything they do. And yet, I've never really been able to get into their games. Mostly because frankly, I'm just not that good at video games I guess? Or probably more accurately, I don't always seem to have the patience to stick with such obtuse games. I did try banging my head against the wall in Dark Souls some years back – and I thought it was really a cool and interesting game. But I just couldn't make much progress in it. I also picked up Dark Souls III on launch for some reason, but found the experience even more off-putting. And yet, I'm glad these games exist because there should be a game for every kind of gamer out there to love.
But my goodness, the hype for Elden Ring has been hard to escape. As a dude who's had trouble making a dent in the Souls games, and as someone who never watched Game Of Thrones, I can't say that the teaming of From and Martin meant all that much to me. But as the reviews starting rolling out and the game was getting near universal acclaim and comparisons to Breath Of The Wild, it became hard to resist this one. The concept is certainly enough to make me perk up – what if the Souls style of gameplay was pushed into a Breath Of The Wild open world? What if instead of hitting a wall you could just turn around and walk in another direction and explore at your own pace? And so I figured why not? Maybe, just maybe this could be the From Software game that finally gets its hooks in me.
My first few hours with Elden Ring were reminiscent of Dark Souls, yet the experience was miles away. I mean, I always knew I was playing the game that might as well be called Dark Souls IV. It had the same style of play, same cryptic systems, same tone. And yet, the actual game was so different in execution. Whereas my attempts at playing Dark Souls I & III were punishing affairs that found me push forward for as long as I could stand it (and that was never very long), Elden Ring just offers some reprice. The difficulty never lets up, mind. Instead, it offers you a whole ridiculously huge world to explore. I mean really big. And any time I feel like I'm in over my head, I have a short list of other threads I can go tug at.
It helps that everyone's talking about Elden Ring right now. So there's always juicy little tidbits that send me off to do something else. Thanks to various podcasts and websites I've kept a document in One Note reminding me of little things I want to do or explore. Case in point, I was a couple hours in before I realized I had missed (the very easy to miss) tutorial section of the game. So I went back to the start and played through it twice, easily farming enough extra Ruins to bump me up a couple levels.
Sometimes I'd boot the game to with some explicit goal in mind – find the witch that gives you summons for instance. Or grind until I could afford a crafting kit and torch to open other things up to me. Other time I'd take note of little areas I wanted to check out, and then I'd just go off exploring hoping for the best. I scraped beaches and jumped into caves with a mix of excitement and trepidation. But one thing is for sure – no Souls game ever hit me like this before. I found myself thinking about Elden Ring while driving home from work. I'd think about what it was I wanted to accomplish tonight after my daughter went to bed and the chores were done. Few games hit me hard enough that I'm constantly mapping out a mental To Do List like this.
Something the game has also offered to me unexpectedly is a social component. While I certainly spend a lot of my free time reading about games, I don't often get to talk about them. My wife is pretty casual in her gaming. Since my daughter was born, I've kind of lost touch with my online gaming buds. And since I don't do the whole social media thing, there's no option for gaming discussion there. I do have one gaming buddy I keep in touch with as best I can, but he's not really into a lot of the games that I am. Maybe that's why I keep this blog in the first place. If I can't talk to anyone about games, at least I can talk to myself.
But something funny happened recently. We were visiting with my family, and my youngest sister's husband was there. He does play games, but he's about a decade younger than me and in all the years that I've known him, I don't think we've ever been into the same game at the same time. Off the cuff, I asked, "have you played Elden Ring yet?" His eyes lit up. His smile widened. "Oh yeah," he said. He went on to tell me that he's never played a From Software game before and he's like twelve or fifteen hours in already, and has barely figured out what he's doing. He told me that it had taken him hours before he even figured out how to level.
We then traded war stories and anecdotes, and it was awesome. He told me about being ripped apart by a bunch of wolves. I recommended that he look out for summon ashes. All I know is that in this day and age of Reddit and whatever – which I'm not a part of – this exchange took me back to a far more innocent time. It reminded me of the playground in elementary school and talking about secrets that we'd all discovered in the original Legend Of Zelda.
Later on that same night, I combed through an IGN article on farming Runes and fought my way to the Bestial Sanctum so I could try my hand at sneaking up on humanoids that give out 1,000+ Runes each. They proved harder than I expected, but instead of giving up I started experimenting with new weapons, and then this became its own little mini-game to me. A place to hang out, and work on my skills and possibly level up quickly. As long as I have a clear goal in mind, each sitting with Elden Ring feels totally productive, even if in actuality I'm making the tiniest bit of progress as possible.
I was able to spend time grinding near the Bestial Sanctum and then going off to explore other areas and then coming back to grind more, striking an excellent balance between just seeing things, and feeling like I'm being productive with leveling. It's a great feeling to return to my rune-farming spot and realize I'm way more powerful, and way more experienced as time goes on. And time goes on quickly in this one. Hours melt away, and I'm bummed when I have to call it a night. It's an honest to goodness breath of fresh air considering my previous experience with From Software titles.
One weird thing that happened during my time playing was a rather large update patch to the game. The bigger things of note were some bug-fixes and expanded quests. But there were also rebalances to certain weapons and skills. This is the norm for online games – think Overwatch or whatever. But because I've treated Elden Ring like an entirely single-player affair up until this point, it was jarring. I say this because the patched nerfed the Hoarfrost Stomp by around 50% of its damage, and increased how long it took to cast. And I had spent the past few hours in the game finding an axe that had that ash attached to it, and leveling up enough to use it effectively. Anyone addicted to the game had read about Hoarfrost Stomp somewhere (for me it was Game Informer) because it was a widely known overpowered skill that could help you wreck some big bosses quickly. And yet the day after I finally obtained this thing... it was gone. Bummer.
The weird thing was that once the whole idea of an "easy mode" was stripped away from me via patch, I realized that truly I was enjoying playing the game far more without it anyway. I mean, sure, I'd love to have a safety net load-out that I could just plow through the game with. But is that what the game is really about? Probably not. Although... I'd be lying if I said that wouldn't be fun for a noob like me. But still – I had been playing with this cool sword I found that allows you to strike pretty fast, and got accustomed to using a shield in my combat. So, whatever.
And after about a dozen hours – which is lot for me and my current dad routine – I've decided I'm probably ready to take a bit of a break from Elden Ring. But honestly, twelve hours is only scraping the surface. I've not even tackled the first Legacy Dungeon yet. Though I have circumvented it and explored all kinds of stuff beyond it. But here's where the Breath Of The Wild comparison comes back into effect. See, I played Breath Of The Wild at launch for exactly twelve hours. I was enamored. And then, I found myself revisiting the game again between other games in 2017. And then I found myself revisiting it further year after year. I expect that to be exactly how I treat Elden Ring from here on out.
I kind of hate comparing it to Breath Of The Wild, because it seems obvious and trite. But still. I can't help it. At this point, I genuinely think that Elden Ring is the better game. And I think it'll go into my pile of favorite open worlds along with the aforementioned Zelda title and Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto V, and so on. All of these games were ones that I stuck with for years, gradually exploring more over time and ultimately beating at some point. Or in the case of Breath Of The Wild (or Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain), I've never beaten. But that's okay. They become comfort games that I can spend time with in bits over years and feel fine with never seeing the end because – well, why would I want such an amazing game to end anyway?
Of course, my so-called hiatus from the game lasted about a week or so. Unexpectedly, I ended up finally getting myself an Xbox Series X as a sort of early birthday present. Basically, I got an email that Gamestop finally had some in stock, and I had to act quick. My wife urged me to just get it so that I'd have a birthday present that I really wanted. I mean, it's expensive. Much more expensive that anything I'd normally ask for for my birthday. But I mean... it's an Xbox Series X!
And what was the first thing I installed? Elden Ring! I had to see how good it looked with the 48GB XBX patch installed. Well, I'll tell you - it looks glorious! And so I went off exploring more. I found realized I was cursed because I hugged that spirit in the Roundtable Hold and rectified that. I found a few caves and cleared them out. Found some new spirit summons. I bought a bow so that I have some ranged attacks. Then I stumbled upon a sleeping (or dying?) dragon and ruthlessly killed him for 75,000 runes and then leveled up a bunch to LVL 40. I killed that ghostly riverman in the lake and felt like a boss. My wife asked me how the XSX was, and I showed her some of the vistas in Elden Ring to which she exclaimed, "wow, that looks so real!"
Elden Ring is a special sort of game. Progress comes slow, sure. But it is so immensely gratifying. I honestly see a pattern developing here where I play the game for a week or so, then play something else and then return to this again. Like I said, that's much the way I treated Breath Of The Wild for the years following its release. And this, well, I can't help but feel is probably the better and more perfected game.
What really blows my mind about Elden Ring is that this is a game released in 2022. Which means that I've been playing games for like 35 years now. It's insane to me to even think that a game can come out that impresses me this much. I mean, don't get me wrong - I find games I love all that time. But my point is, it's very rare that I get a game that makes me feel the same thrill and joy that I had playing Super Mario Bros for the first time, or Tetris for the first time, or Super Mario World World or Sonic The Hedgehog for the first time.
Elden Ring is one of those rare games. It is an important game. It's a defining game. I think about it all the time when I'm not gaming. I spend time researching things and making little notes about what I plan to do next or what I should be exploring. I love so many games, but very few do that to me. Very few.
I had unlocked a fair amount of the map before I finally decided I was brave enough to even take on the first real boss of the game. I was level 42 I believe. I was rocking a katana with bleed that I had also added Hoarfrost Stomp to. I brought along my jellyfish spirit, and summoned an AI helper. On my first attempt, I whittled him down to maybe a fifth of his health or so. I felt really good about that. I then banged my head against the wall while attempting to defeat him a few more times. So I went off and did something else. Again, the Dark Souls games have long been games that I gave up on after a couple of hours. But here we are. I'm now twenty-something hours into Elden Ring and just completely obsessed.
I'd also say at this point that Elden Ring is probably the most difficult game I've ever stuck with this long. I mean, sure you can say that stuff like Spelunky or Slay The Spire are difficult games, but in a different way. I've beaten both (multiple times), but they seem to take a different kind of patience and tenacity. From Software titles are usually ones where I can't wrap my head around most of the systems and just bail. But Elden Ring is a truly different beast.
I was about 27 hours in when I finally tackled Margit The Fell Omen, who is basically the first "real" boss in the game. I mean, that's kind of absurd. He's accessible within the first hour of the game. Maybe the first thirty minutes. But it took me a long time to find the courage to actually give him a go. And then it took me probably upwards of ten attempts to figure him out and take him down.
That victory was certainly sweet, though. I tried all kinds of things - mostly using my jellyfish as a decoy while I laid on Hoarfrost Stomp. Eventually I started to see the patterns in his attacks, and my victory only came when I stepped up and decided that I'd just get up close, and actually block, dodge, and hack the hell out of him. I cannot tell you how triumphant I felt to watch him go down. My heart was beating and I felt like I wanted to shout my victory from the mountaintops. And again, he's an "early" boss. But the game is just that intense.
For me, cars have always just been a tool. They get me from point A to point B. I need a car to do things like go to work or get groceries. So I've never been a "car guy." I don't care about cars. I'm not impressed by cars. I don't know the difference between one model and another or what price range a given made and model might fall into. I can't drive manual, and when I bought my last car the biggest factors were how comfortable it felt to sit in and how good my phone sounded through bluetooth.
I go into all of this detail to point out that because of the above, I've never really been all that into racing games that are super realistic. I have no fetishism for fancy cars, so why would something like Forza appeal to me? Really the majority of my racing game history has revolved around arcade style games. Daytona USA is an absolute classic. So is Outrun. But beyond those, I've probably spent far more time with Mario Kart and Sonic Racing games.
There was one odd and random exception. Back in 2014 I somehow got a free copy of the game The Crew. This was an open world racing game by Ubisoft that got pretty middling reviews. But I did have a good time with it. Mostly, I just ignored the goals of the game and spent my time driving reckless and aimlessly.
But having picked up an Xbox Series X recently, I've been in the mood to play something that really highlights the graphical power of the system. Forza Horizon 5 is a critical darling that certainly checks off all the boxes. On the Series X it's got a performance mode and I think ray tracing, which I'm not even sure what it is but I know is all the rage. It's something to do with light, right? All I know is that it's a gorgeous showpiece for the hardware, with my wife commenting that the game looks like "someone just took a video of driving around the real world."
Anyway, in The Crew I mostly ignored the game itself and just did what I felt like. I'd come up with my own fun, doing things like hopping on a highway going the wrong way and seeing how long I could last at full speed without crashing. It was a fine enough sandbox, but the actual game missions? They never sucked me in.
Forza Horizon 5 on the other hand? Oh man. Now this is a good driving game.
If there's any one word I'd use to describe Forza Horizon 5 it would be freedom. There's so many menus that let you tweak how you want to approach this one. It's not just about a Normal, Easy and Hard difficulty. Nope. There's all kinds of things you can finetune, be it obvious stuff like manual vs automatic shifting to how much brake assist you want, or what you want on the UI or what kind of icons you want on the map or how deep you want the GPS to get. It's almost head-spinning at first, especially as more and more icons start popping up giving you different challenges and diversions. In many ways, this feels like the map of a super deep RPG.
By the way, all those icons popping up all over the map are pretty much the crux of the game. At any given moment, there are about eight million things you could be doing and all of them offer up some XP. That's amazing to me, actually. Not only am I given XP for driving well or drifting or going really fast or performing near misses... I'm even given XP for knocking down street signs or damaging property. It's kind of freeing to feel like however you choose to play, you'll be rewarded on some level.
My first impression of Horizon 5 was mixed. I enjoyed the AAA presentation all the way down to the little things like the game just knowing my first name. I was wowed by the incredible visuals while playing in performance mode on my Series X. But I was also truly terrible at handling the cars. This is a sim racing game at heart so my Mario Kart skills wouldn't really carry over. Luckily, enough tweaking of the menu helped me find a balance of help and challenge and suddenly I went from twelfth place in races to sixth and sometimes even first.
I also started to find the appeal of the open world. Sometimes I want to compete in races. Sometimes I want to seek out hidden garages that hide rare car unlocks. Sometimes, I want to just pick a direction and drive. And thanks to the way XP works, all of these feel like they're productive options in the big picture.
Once I obtained a Bugatti (and dozens of other cars), I started to feel really comfortable cruising around at top speeds. And it became a nightly routine to log in, knock a few icons of the map, and then move on to something else. I think at this point I've like seven or eight hours into Horizon 5, which isn't a lot given the amount of content in the game. But, eight hours in a racing game - a genre that I barely pay any attention to - speaks volumes about the appeal of this one. While I can't see myself focusing solely on Horizon 5 long enough to see the credits roll, I can see this being viable game that I'd come back to from time to time to eek out a bit more progress, or just cruise around with the virtual wind in my hair.
Phoenix Point was one of my most anticipated games of 2021. It's also one of the most frustrating games that I've played this year.
If you're not aware of this one, Phoenix Point is a spiritual successor to XCOM. Developed by Julian Gallop - creator of the original X-COM games - this is basically Gallop's own attempt to make his own new XCOM. There's a whole lot of reasons to be excited about this. Especially if you're a guy like me who discovered Terror From The Deep at a young age, and fell in love with the turn based strategy genre because of it. And definitely if you're a guy like me who spent hundreds of hours playing Enemy Unknown, Enemy Within, XCOM 2, and War Of The Chosen.
The truth is, I wasn't expecting XCOM 3, here. I know that Gallop's studio doesn't have the resources of 2K. But still. For every good idea that's brought into the fold here, there seems to be some other frustrating that negates it.
On the upside, the bones of the game are certainly good. There's definitely a decent game hiding here. But what bugs me is that this has existed on PC for several years now. It's had time to cook. It's had time to work the bugs out. Heck, there's even a bunch of DLC included here. I didn't play it on PC, though. I for sure don't have a capable PC to play it on. But I had to think that when it finally reached Xbox, it'd be ready to make a splash. Not the case. Not by a long shot.
But wait - I'm sorry - I meant to focus on the good first. The good is that the story is cool. The whole pandora pandemic thing? Timely anyway. And the vaguely oceanic aliens? Pretty awesome. And the branching story and factions? I can dig that as a fan of Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
The problems, though... the problems are all seemingly technical. There are so many issues here that impede my enjoyment of actually playing the game.
First of all the loading times are just embarrassing. The game loads before and after each mission, and these loading times can stretch into several minutes. Like, legit get up and go get a drink and come back and still wait. It's baffling. It feels like the least optimized game I've ever played on Xbox. Granted, I don't have a Series X (yet) and maybe that would fix it. But in a world of chip shortages, I'm far from alone trying to play this game on an Xbox One. So this is just not a good look.
The controls and UI are also an issue. Not so much in-mission. But on the Geoscape I'm constantly getting mixed up on what buttons do what and how to access what menu. And sometimes button presses don't register, making feel like the game is struggling to keep up with each menu change. It makes EVERYTHING feel like a chore.
Add to all that the random crashes. Yup. Those exist in a commercial Xbox One game in 2021. I can't tell you the fury I've felt having a mission take minutes to load, then only minutes to play, then minutes more to load only to see the game crash and my progress get wiped. This should not be a thing.
And THEN there's the unintuitive UI. My goodness. As said, I've spent hundreds of hours across the XCOM games. So why is it that after spending 15 minutes I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get certain recruits to get on one of my ships? So I'm at a point where I don't even know how to send them on a mission I want to send them on? And how do I intercept this big flying creature? I can click on him. I can send a ship in his path? How do I interact with him? Nothing seems obvious here. It's a lot of work - again - when things take so long to load.
I'm just really disappointed in this one. Even if it had been a pretty competently performing XCOM clone, I'd feel like it was a successful side entry. Instead, it feels undercooked after YEARS of me hyping it up in my head.
It's no secret that I'm a sucker for these kinds of city-building strategy games. Or however you want to define them. I absolutely adored Cities Skylines. I played a ton of Planet Coaster. I just really get hooked on these kinds of games.
After reading some solid reviews of Islanders, I couldn't resist downloading it for $5. But after a week or so of playing, I couldn't shake the feeling that this felt like a mobile game I just happened to be playing on console.
Now that's not a knock, exactly. Earlier this year I played Mini Metro for many hours. And I thought it was great. That game was sort of the epitome of mobile-game-on-console. But it was really, really good.
Meanwhile, Islanders felt pretty shallow to me.
Whereas Mini Metro took the concept of a huge time-sink like Railroad Tycoon and condensed into a satisfying arcade experience, Islanders fails big time. Mini Metro tasked you with starting small and building outward until your train system just couldn't keep up. Islanders on the other hand gives you small goals to achieve, AND the ability to outgrow your island, thus starting with a clean slate.
This sort of breaks the experience for me. I'm not asked to think all that far ahead, because I know that eventually I'll be able to ditch the island I've congested and have a fresh start on a new island. So it becomes a game of just kind of doing good-enough, which doesn't really suck me in.
It's certainly possible that I'd enjoy this game more if I hadn't already played better alternatives. But there's the above-mentioned lack of complexity, along with the fact that the game really doesn't feel all that great to play with a controller. Everything feels really imprecise. It's an odd example where touch controls would truly benefit the experience - made even more glaring when I'm playing it on a tablet via Remote Play.
I will say that the audio is surprisingly good. There's some great atmosphere that comes through with the birds chirping and the low key music. Though, it does - once again - make me think of the soothing white noise that your citizens make in Cities Skylines. So once more, I'm left thinking about another, better game.
A couple weeks ago I realized that I really missed my Xbox One. My wife and I went to this huge neighborhood-wide yard sale, and I kept stumbling across cheap Xbox stuff. So I grabbed some and kind of got the bug. I've been gaming on my Switch for the past couple years since my daughter was born. It's easy, and portable. But I don't know. All of a sudden I really missed my Xbox.
I started thinking about it. The Blu-Ray player in our living room broke. An Xbox One would remedy that. Remote Play has been extended to Android devices, so I could run it on my Chromebook or phone. And games are dirt cheap. I mean, the Nintendo tax is no joke. $60 Switch games are like half the price... or less.
Of course it turns out this global chip shortage doesn't just affect current gen consoles. No. Finding an Xbox One console at Best Buy or Gamestop is impossible right now. So I lurked eBay, threw down some bids and found myself in easy possession of a new (old) Xbox One console, along with eight games. Plus the ones I found at the yard sale.
And yet, I wanted a legitimately new game. Something that would remind me of what I had been missing out on in the couple of years I was without an Xbox. And then I remembered that I'm a HUGE fan of the Alien franchise. And there's a new Aliens game. So here we are.
I've been playing Fireteam Elite all week and I have a lot of thoughts on it. It's not really a good game, honestly. But I have a lot of thoughts.
As a total Alien geek, there was zero chance that I wanted to miss out on this one. The last proper game in the series was Alien Isolation which is a bonafide masterpiece. That game completely nails the vibe of the first film. It's about ONE xenomorph. One unstoppable and perfect killing machine. It's a horrifying experience.
For some strange reason, Fireteam Elite is basically a sequel to Colonial Marines. They're just not going to tell you that because Colonial Marines is a game that lives in infamy. In fairness, I think CM is a way better game than it's given credit for. I mean, it was linear. It treated Xenos like popcorn. It was glitchy as hell. But overall, it was a fun experience.
Fireteam Elite I can't really say the same about.
Oddly, all the complaints about CM apply here. It's as if the developer took nothing from Isolation. It's super linear. Like, it's just "hey, here's a waypoint. Get there. Hold ground. Repeat." And Xenos - my goodness, they are in constant supply. It's wave after wave of shooting these bug-like enemies. This could be any other horde based shooter, be it Left 4 Dead or Killing Floor. It doesn't really matter. They just landed on this license.
There's very little story here. And actually you're just doing a mission then returning to the hub base to up your weapons and perks and cosmetics and going on to the next. It's just a weird setup for an Alien game.
One good thing I'll say as that the settings are legit. I really appreciate the atmosphere and the fan-service of throwing in things from Covenant and Prometheus. I'm one of those obsessives who actually really likes those recent movies. Like, I'll argue that Prometheus is actually one of the top tier Alien movies. So I dig this. And it's one of the only things keeping me interested.
But the biggest hang-up for me about Fireteam Elite is the base of the game itself. This is meant to be played in co-op. More importantly 3-player squads. I have to think that if I had two friends as into Alien as I am, and more importantly friends who could share the same open windows of time to play as I do - then this game would be way better. But I don't.
As a solely single player experience, Fireteam Elite is severely lacking. You're given two faceless/nameless squad-mates. (They're actually just labelled as Alpha and Beta - my gawd). And they're dumb as rocks. They shoot stuff - mostly. But overall they're just there. There's no tactics to speak of. They don't heal you or strategize in any way. They sometimes get you up, slowly, if need be.
This game just feels like kind of a mess. I think it could be good, but not for me. And bear in mind that I'm a huge Alien apologist. I'll go to bat for the Alien franchise all day. I celebrate 4/26. I HAD to own this game. I'm glad I played it. But... it's just not very good, at least for a solo player.
I received a copy of Monster Hunter Rise as an early birthday gift. The reviews for this one have been quite good, and I do find it interesting that this is a Switch console exclusive.
My history with the Monster Hunter series is limited. Back when I was heavily playing Xbox stuff, I got into Monster Hunter World and thought it was fantastic. Then sometime last year I went back and played Monster Hunter 3 on Wii U (and 3DS) and just couldn't get into it the same way. The obvious thing is that World (effectively, Monster Hunter 5) really sort of modernized and streamlined the game. Kind of. I mean, the Monster Hunter games are still really heavy and have mountains of menus to navigate and systems to understand. But World made a lot of efforts to make the series moderately approachable. The other thing about Monster Hunter 3 is that I hated the swimming sections. Thank goodness those didn't stick around.
Anyway, Monster Hunter Rise is the sixth mainline game, and it picks up where Monster Hunter World left off. Meaning, it's also streamlined - as best it can be for a Monster Hunter game. It also makes some interesting additions. For one thing, now you've got a dog that you can ride that can be really helpful not only for getting around quickly, but also for evasion during healing. The wirebug system is now used for gaining vertical mobility. This is interesting (and why the game is called 'Rise').
If you've never played a Monster Hunter game, you should know it's a super slow burn. Probably the first 30 minutes was character customization, really. Then there's tutorials to play through - helpful ones, luckily. Quests come in various flavors as well. There's the main quests of course, but then there's side quests and town quests, the latter of which tend to work as further tutorials and seem worth looking into.
In my first few hours, I attempted to play Rise solo. This was a pretty bad idea, and almost resulted in me thinking I wasn't into the game. I think I had forgotten that one of the things that made World click with me was the (random) teamwork aspect, whereas one of the things that made me bounce off of Monster Hunter 3 was that it felt so lonely and difficult to go alone.
Since switching over to playing the game with help requests turned on, it's made the experience way different, and way more fun. I've also gotten comfortable playing with a bow as my main weapon, at least for now. It just fits my desired play style. I think I've now knocked out three of the main quests, so I'm still really early in the game.
But Monster Hunter Rise is really good. But it's also not really a chill game. So I tend to have this thing now where I play a few quests and then log out because it can feel too demanding otherwise.
I've done some experimenting with weapons now, and it seems like I'm more of a light bow gun guy than a traditional bow guy. It's nice to not have to get stressed out managing stamina with your weapon. I'll say that much.
My only one complaint about this game - and it's not really about the game play - is that Rise seems to drop connections way more often than any other Switch game I've played. I very rarely got connection issues in hundreds of hours spread out among Overwatch, Splatoon 2 and Tetris 99. Yet, in Rise I've experienced several in just the past few days. There's nothing as frustrating as losing all of your teammates during a hunt.
But Monster Hunter is such a unique experience to me. On the surface, it's not that interesting of a game. Like, there's a very specific loop to it with very little variation. You basically go out, hunt one big monster, let it soak up your attacks for a long time, kill it, come back, upgrade your gear, and repeat. And yet... somehow, it's totally compelling. It sucks you in really good.
There's no denying that it's super satisfying to beat some behemoth. You're up against this gigantic beast that feels like an insurmountable obstacle. It fights back and hits hard. It tries to run away and hide. There are other, lesser creatures to worry about at times. Even the environment can work against you. But when you watch that monster fall, it does feel good.
Progress is slow in this game, but not glacial. Each upgrade to your armor and weapons is minor, but somehow feels major.
Right now, I've been sticking with a system of going back and forth between the single player and multiplayer quests. I've got 3-star quests open on the single player side, and 2-star quests in process on the multiplayer side. And I don't know what to say other than I'm having a pretty great time with Monster Hunter Rise.
Well, it took quite a few hours but I found something I don't like in Monster Hunter Rise: the rampage quests. Rampage is basically tower defense. I hated these in Monster Hunter World as well, and hoped that maybe they'd be forgotten in Rise. Nope.
These kinds of quests are tedious. They completely break the flow of the game. And even though it's a hub quest and I have help requests turned on, I've failed this one three or four times, and never had anyone join my game to give me a helping hand, which would have made it much easier to push through.
For now, I'm going to either take a break from Monster Hunter Rise, or just play more of the non-rampage quests and ignore this "urgent" request.
I was pretty excited about the announcement of Bravely Default II. The first game in the (loose) series would technically be Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes Of Light on DS, which was a spin-off thing that served as a sort of spiritual sequel to Final Fantasy V. In a time when modern FF games were going off the rails with emo haircuts and flashy 3D visuals and action elements, The 4 Heroes Of Light was a conscious throwback to the SNES days of turn based gameplay and DEEP systems meant to be broken.
Following that was Bravely Default, and then Bravely Second - both on 3DS which furthered this experience. And then there was Octopath Traveler, which doesn't seem to really be part of this series at all. But if you've played it, and you've witnessed the battle system, then you know it could have easily been released as Bravely Octopath.
In my mind, the Bravely series is kind of up there with the Xenoblade series. They're modern RPGs with a very old school mindset. They're meant for people who want to dive deeply into the mechanics; for people who are okay with playing an RPG for dozens of hours before they really even understand how things fully work.
I ended up pre-ordering Bravely II, because frankly I thought my daughter (under 2 yrs old) would like to play with the free coasters. I was right. She's already chewed one of them up pretty good.
I'm about 4-5 hours into the game now, and to be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about it.
On the one hand, it's exactly what I'd expect from the previous Bravely (proper) games. The systems are DEEP and fun to play with. Take the job system for example. I've only unlocked like five or six jobs to choose from so far, and they're a blast to play with and mix and match. The battle system where you can Brave (advance turns) or Default (defer turns) remains just as compelling as ever. The system where you can send out a boat to "adventure" for you (IE: earn you free loot) while you're not playing is a fine addition.
There are cons. Chief among them is the story, which I just can't seem to care about. I mean let's be real, the Bravely games are inherently old school, which general means cliches. Right out the gate, The 4 Heroes Of Light was in itself sort of a cliche based on the original Final Fantasy. And that's fine. But the last JRPG I got heavily sucked into was Dragon Quest XI over the winter, and going from a game that has some of the finest writing and story beats I've ever played to this is kind of jarring.
But whatever. I can skip whatever dialogue I want, so that's no biggie. The problem I'm really having is the intense unbalance of difficulty. The developers HAVE made it pretty transparent when you've grinded "enough" given that enemies will run away from you when you're overpowered. But that said, I'll find myself cruising along a dungeon only to find that the end-boss is WAY above my level and can crush me in just a few turns. It doesn't feel organic to me as you're never REALLY sure when you're ready to go for it.
The boss I'm at now is one that plays all these musical spells to buff his minions and he's just completely wrecking me and I have no idea how to counter most of it. It's to a point where it feels like the game halted to a stop and said "okay, time to stop being fun." Which is a bummer.
There's a lot to like about this game, but I feel like these curveballs are pretty damning. Take Octopath Traveler as a comparison. That game had some of the same issues, but somehow felt a little more balanced. Probably because the game did kind of scale with you, as you were free to tackle things in a different order and with different characters.
I don't know that I want to call it quits here yet, though. I mean I really did have high hopes for this one. High high hopes. That and there's two things I've heard about that I've yet to see...
1. There's apparently a card game you can unlock, and it sounds fun to me.
2. There's a Gambler job class that sounds to me like it could completely break the game in interesting ways, much like the "dances" that Octopath did.
...I'd really like to mess with both of those things, so hopefully I can pull it together long enough and see if this game can really redeem itself for me. Maybe it's just that this early patch of the game has bosses more difficult than they need to be.
I went ahead and grinded around that same dungeon for about an hour. I still wasn't sure I was ready to take on Orpheus, but I figured it was now or never, Bravely II. I WAS able to beat him, and... no real fanfare. Just, alright, now the game can continue.
The amount of time I needed to spend grinding to get through this section has definitely turned me off a bit. And I had kind of sworn to myself that if I didn't beat Orpheus last night, then that was it - I was done. So I guess the game is getting the pass, and I'll continue on.
It's a very weird feeling when I get to play this one. Let me use two completely different examples... Back when Shining Resonance came out on Switch, there were very few new RPGs to choose from, so I was pretty excited to get that one. I ended up playing it for quite a while, but it was a pretty BAD game. It wasn't especially fun or interesting. I knew this, but I played on because I really wanted to be playing a new JRPG on my new Switch. Jump ahead, and when I think of playing Dragon Quest XI, by this point there were tons of RPGs to choose from. But, my goodness, it was one of the GREATEST I'd played in a long, long time. I was thrilled to play. I looked forward to jumping back in whenever I had spare time all through my winter vacation.
Bravely II falls firmly between these two extremes. All of its systems make for a very compelling experience. However, the story is blah and the actual momentum of the game is poorly executed. After six hours I'm still in the first chapter of the game - and this is all while avoiding most side quests. Apparently there are six chapters, so I'm still very early in the game after six hours. I think that the two things that really interested me here (the card game, and the Gambler job) are both HOURS away from me still. It's tough for me to know that I may well need to play another 10-20 hours before even seeing the stuff I want to mess with.
We will see how this goes, but as of right now, Bravely II is pretty steadily losing my favor. That's always a bummer when you've been looking forward to a game for a year.
Never have I ever played a Musou game. I have just never had much interest. I mean, those Dynasty Warriors games looked slightly mindlessly fun when I saw Seth Cohen playing them on The OC. But meh. I can remember spin-offs coming out with popular licenses. There was a Fire Emblem one. And maybe Dragon Quest? I don't know. And then there was the original Hyrule Warriors, which I bought on Wii U and then never played.
But when Age Of Calamity was announced, it was this whole other thing. I was actually excited. Why? Because instead of being some random spin-off, it was actually a cannon prequel to Breath Of The Wild. And suddenly, making a game like this a Musou game made sense! Yes, the war that was referenced in Breath Of The Wild - the war that tore Hyrule apart and left it in the quiet shambles of Breath Of The Wild could be witnessed first hand.
Sidebar: I adore the two Kill Bill movies. They fit together like a glove. We've watched them back to back as a double feature. Of course, this was before we had a child. But what makes them brilliant is that they're two totally different movies, tonally. The first one is all action and blood and guts and loud music and vibrant colors. The second is slower, more dialogue, more backstory and somber.
I bring this up because that's exactly how Age Of Calamity and Breath Of The Wild work off of each other. The prequel is all war all the time... huge epic battles, with magic being cast in dizzying bursts of color and allies shouting out for help with bodies flying everywhere. And yet Breath Of The Wild itself is lonely, quiet, moody and sad.
Yes, this is a very different game from Breath Of The Wild proper. But it makes sense! It fills out a part of the timeline. And I feel like this proposed trilogy of Breath Of The Wild games will go down as maybe the best and most varied run of Zelda games on a single console ever. Maybe.
The quests are fairly long, by the way. Each has taken me 30-40 minutes, which means that I'm sort of approaching this game with a kind of "one or two quests a night" mentality. But that's fine. I like clear progress. I like manageable chunks.
The battles are epic. And I must say that this game only works for me as a part of the bigger Breath Of The Wild whole. Which is to say, I don't think I'd care about this game had it been just another stand-alone Hyrule Warriors game. It's the fact that it's part of the Breath Of The Wild story that's making it so compelling. It's revisiting locales and seeing familiar faces.
One thing I don't care for is the segments where you control the Divine Beasts. They feel clunky and tacked on. Luckily, they're brief.
The more I play, the more I understand how to use the characters. Link is still my favorite as I'm starting to get my head around using his skills in-battle. Throwing bombs or freezing enemies can be huge when you're up against bosses.
Meanwhile, Impa is insane. Now that I understand her ZR power, it's nuts. You basically lock on to enemies, and then absorb their energy creating clones of yourself. It's unreal to see a bunch of ghost Impas blasting extra damage at waves of foes like they're options in a shmup or something.
The bombast of this game is fantastic.
Around the midpoint of the campaign, I decided I was having a good time... but I think I felt the need to play something else. Not because I wasn't having fun, but because this game felt sort of like my Christmas game. And now that the new year is here, and everything, I just feel like I'm out of that mode. It's the same way I felt about Dragon Quest XI after my holiday vacation was over. Like it fit that time, but when that time was over, I was done for now. Which is to say, I'm sure I'll pick both of these games back up again at some point. But right now, I want to start something else. At least I can now say I've played and enjoyed a musou game.
There's a scene in High Fidelity I've always loved. Rob's being interviewed, and the journalist asks him what his favorite album is and he's just confused at the question. Like, favorite album for the club? For chilling out? What? It's too vague a question. When you're a casual fan of music, I guess you can easily have a favorite album. When you're obsessed, how do you even answer that?
I guess I've always felt the same way about games. Invariably, when people in my life (relatives, co-workers, etc) find out I'm a gamer they ask my favorite game. But like... how do you even answer that? My favorite game for relaxing? Or for co-op? Or like, my favorite game as a kid, or now?
But I came to a conclusion this week. If I really distill that question into its simplest form - my favorite game of all time. The game I've loved the longest, and played the longest, in the most versions. The game that I'd be cool with taking to that imaginary desert island? The game that could hold up to the most replays without getting old?
Dudes, my favorite game of all time must be Tetris.
Since receiving Tetris as a pack-in with my Game Boy in 1989, I've played so many variations that I can't even remember them all. NES, DOS, Super Nintendo, Game Boy Color, Gamecube, Dreamcast, DS, and I'm certain I'm leaving things out. Tetris never gets old to me.
In 2019 we saw the release of Tetris 99 - a game that I called the game I never knew I needed. It went on to be my most played game of the year.
So did I really need another version of Tetris when Tetris Effect was released? Maybe not. But I've been so into streaming Xbox games to my Surface Go that I can't seem to resist picking up new Xbox games anymore. I mean, this would be more Tetris, but on a 10" screen instead of the Switch's - what? 5" screen? - while listening to the TV. So yeah, when it dropped on sale for $25 instead of $40, it was a no brainer.
Tetris Effect was developed by Tetsuya Mizuguchi. If you don't know, this is the dude that made Rez. And Child Of Eden. And Lumines. That last one is really important to me. Lumines is a pretty huge puzzle game to me. One of the few that I'd put up there in the top tier. Like, nothing tops Tetris. But Lumines and Puzzle Fighter, those games come damn close.
But Tetris Effect is amazing. I say this as someone who's put like 200 hours into Tetris Effect in the past couple years. The thing about Tetris Effect is that it's basic Tetris at its core, but it's all about the experience and about the audio and visual stimulants. You've got crazy zen-like visuals going on like outer space stuff and underwater stuff, and then you've got pulsing trance music and it's all just like an insane trip. If you've played Rez or Lumines, you already know.
Beyond that you've got a hugely fully featured array of options. There's a single player campaign "Journey Mode," in three different difficulties. I knocked out all three in a couple nights - no bragging. Then you've got various single player challenges like the standard Marathon or Chill Mode or much, much crazier challenges. Then there's some intense multiplayer modes to delve into.
Maybe most importantly, there's a dearth of record-keeping. And I'm a guy who loves stats. I keep spreadsheet on everything. I love data.
So here we are. I'm telling you that I'm biased. I love Tetris. It's my favorite game. And I've played a lot of these games. Heck, in this generation alone I've picked up Puyo Puyo Tetris, Tetris 99 and now this. And y'know what? This is the most fully featured version I've ever played. It's like the ultimate Tetris... until the next one comes out? Who knows! But I'm sure I'll check out the next one and sink way too many hours into it too.