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Erwin the German
May 30, 2011


This will be a Post, or several Posts. I started making a top ten, then I just kept adding more and more as I thought about it. The top ten will still be there, but Iíll be writing a bit about other games I have a lot of love for, too. Silly images and music included.

10. Neverwinter Nights (Enhanced Edition)

I actually debated a lot on whether I even wanted to include this - itís a game Iíve poured an immense amount of time and effort into, but looking back, itís also one thatís caused me a lot of personal problems, or at least been a sort of catalyst for. It was this game I got my ex into as a way to give us something to do together - a few months later, we split and she ended up with someone from the game. Obviously a lot of that has less to do with Neverwinter Nights and more to do with the relationship, but itís unavoidably hard to mentally divorce the two and draw connections. Iíve been playing this game for a decade now, and have had a lot of good times on it - Iím a roleplayer, and this is one of the absolute best avenues for roleplaying in a video game thatís out there. But itís telling that I often take lengthy breaks from playing this for months at a time, burnt out and more emotionally drained for my troubles.

But, itís one of those things I keep coming back to, regardless - because I am a roleplayer, and it doesnít get much better than NWN for me. As a game, itís strictly fine - one of Biowareís earlier efforts, with some pretty miserable-to-average official campaigns. It uses the old, nasty and busted DND 3 rules, before 3.5 codified things for years, a system that the gameís worse sequel uses. Base game wise, youíd still have a lot of content to sift through, and persistent worlds to check out if youíre into roleplaying or even just playing an RPG with other people. Or fighting them. Whatever.

That said, the game has been modded out to the gills, and Iíve seen people do amazing thing with it - write entire new stories and modules, some of them extremely good, a lot of them average, and a few(lot) that are extremely horny. Modded out persistent worlds such as EFU (Escape from insert U word here), City of Arabel and, most recently, Risenholm are places I have invested a ton of blood, sweat and tears into. I highly recommend the aforementioned Risenholm, a server Iím in right now as I write this - the code magic that went into this server is nothing short of genius, and practically reinvents the combat loop of the game, much for the better. That the quality of roleplay on average is also high is just the icing on the cake. If youíre into the idea of roleplaying in a game, RPG mechanics, dice rolling, and a moderate amount of jank, you can do a lot worse than Neverwinter Nights.

Iím actually not huge on the music of the base game, but in yet another plug for Risenholm, a server which has its own custom-made soundtrack-

9. Final Fantasy 7

My first JRPG, or at least the first I played and thought to myself Ďhey now, this is a JRPG Iím playing.í Having not played a crazy amount of them since, and it being the only main-line FF game Iíve played, I still consider it an incredibly fun and charming game. Iím sure other people can evangelize in much more compelling words why this game is great, why it was revolutionary at the time, whether or not itís actually stood the test of time. All I can really say is that I absolutely love this gameís characters, the dialogue (which is often mistranslated, insane, or just weird - the product of, I think I remember, one manís localization), and the story - more so towards the beginning, but it remains compelling and fun in an anime schlock kind of way all the way through. At its most silly, itís extremely charmingly silly. At its most serious, itís brilliant. The systems are fun, the materia system makes for great progression, and battles take a reasonable amount of strategy. Plenty of insane, obscure secrets abound, too. Overall, just a wonderful game to run through, and it holds a special place in my heart for playing it as a younger teen with my twin and I riding on every plot development.

8. Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines

Bloodlines is a brilliant game that perfectly captures the source material from the White Wolf tabletop RPG - itself an insane, overbloated mess that was spawned from a twin obsession with 90s edge punk and vampires. Bloodlines is mostly brilliant in that, while itís also well-written, often hilarious, fun to play through multiple times with potentially drastically different play styles depending on your chosen clan, it manages to distill the best parts of the setting into a mostly comprehensible product that has introduced many people to the World of Darkness in a way that isnít bizarre or alienating. VTM features very heavily in tabletop horror story threads, and for very good reason - itís a game about personal horror, but many see it as an excuse to play out fantasies, be they of the power or sexual variety, that other players probably donít want to deal with. Bloodlines does not stray away from the personal horror elements, expertly suffusing it with an often-winking nod towards the gameís edgier roots. Everyone in this game acts exactly how Iíd expect NPCs a GM was playing to act in a VTM session, the lore is absolutely spot on - from a puristís stand point, itís a joy to see in action. It wears all of its grit, sex, laughs and violence proudly on its sleeves.

Of course, the game is also a buggy mess - Troikaís swan song of a game, but what a note to go out on, with the game now rightfully considered a cult classic. Just make sure you invest in some combat skills - the game loves to hear itself talk, but only to a certain extent.

7. The Longest Journey

Itís been too long since I played this, but it definitely made a lasting impression when I did - if youíre looking for an adventure game with a sterling, funny, and absurdly well-written plot with some of the best dialogue in any game that Iíve played, you shouldnít look further than TLJ. These days itís certainly showing its age, and can probably use a remaster at some point, but I have little doubt that if I played it again today, Iíd be just as arrested by its charming, very real characters and the twisting plot that April Ryan - a delightfully wonderful, earnest and sardonic both, protagonist - has to navigate. It has a bunch of sequels, of which Iíve only played Dreamfall, a game that didnít land nearly as much for me, but is still pretty good in its own right. Talks of The Longest Journey Home had me excited for a while, but have since failed to materialize into anything. A real shame, too - spending time with April and Crow and their banter and observations about the twin-worlds they inhabit is nothing short of a joy, and Iíd like to again some day with a fresh story to go along with it.

Itís an adventure game, so obviously expect ridiculous puzzles, particularly towards the beginning - take no shame in playing with a guide, the puzzles arenít the point.

6. Metroid Prime

My first Metroid game, way back in the day, and enough of a cool thing at the time that for a while my internet handle was just Ďmetroid*number here*í or some variation of that. I fell in love with it pretty much instantly - Samus was immensely cool to play, the music was probably my first introduction to a more electronic sound that Iíve since embraced thoroughly, and the gameplay was just a delight for my grubby, younger mind. Get all the upgrades. Find cool hidden stuff. Use that cool hidden stuff to find even more cool hidden stuff. Find story stuff and use that to find cool hidden stuff. Youíre always getting more powerful and knowledgeable in these games - and Metroid Prime really shines in rewarding the player for paying attention to their environment, for being inquisitive and using the tools at your disposal. Itís not an incredibly hard game, though certain boss fights definitely gave me trouble as a kid - the fun is in the presentation and the feeling of heightening empowerment as you play. As a console FPS, itís also exceedingly well-designed for a controller. Likely still hard to go back to, thanks to my keyboard and mouse muscle memory. But I know that wouldnít stop me. Iíd re-learn it, and Iíd love it again, just like every other time.

The sequels are okay - Echoes, particularly, is a little better than 3, but neither hold a candle to the originalís tight focus and understated, very purely Metroid design. Donít mess things up with too much plot - Prime gives you just enough background lore and setting to make you appreciate the setting without overwhelming you in needless details that have little to do with Samus having an excuse to shoot things and learn how to jump in a cooler way. Some of my favorite memories as a kid, playing any game at all, often involve pitched gun fights with the agile, screeching and awful space pirates in this game. Even when you realize you can kill them pretty drat easy with the right tactics, the rush of running around and fighting them always makes me want to take my time with it and enjoy that adrenaline.

5. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

MGS is a fairly fraught series for me - some, like Snake Eater, I absolutely adore - though itís mostly just this and Sons of Liberty, which is undoubtedly Kojimaís actual best MGS game, one with an actual lasting message about the perils of control, identity and technology. Some, like MGS 4 and 5, I see as much more cynical projects, either trying to wrap up too much as ridiculously as possible, or just kind of an excuse plot in the latterís case. Twin Snakes (havenít played the actual first game, to my shame), the less said the better - marvel at Snake doing a flip for no reason, or bouncing off a missile in active-flight.

Snake Eater is wonderfully pulpy, and wonderfully heartfelt. It relishes in all of Kojimaís questionable weirdness, though Iíd say in 3 itís just silly enough for the most part to not really be all that egregious. Itís not nearly as complex a story as 2, but has its own very heart-wrenching twists and turns, and succeeds in turning a villain from the very first two games into, arguably, the seriesí most beloved protagonist. Itís essentially a James Bond movie, just in the Metal Gear world - it works very wonderfully, in no small part due to the performances of the cast, the generally good writing (while still relishing in Kojimaís penchant for over-explaining things and treating everything with immense gravitas), and the enjoyable stealth gameplay loop. The music is probably the best in the series, too, and does an extremely good job of selling emotional moments and high-adrenaline ones in equal measure.

Snake Eater is good because it takes the setting and gameplay premises of the MGS setting and turns it all into an easy-to-follow, James Bond-esque romp, goofy and sad and heart-felt.

4. Final Fantasy 14

FF14 is, as I said in this threadís progenitor, the best Final Fantasy game. Iíll just post here what I posted there for posterityís sake.

Erwin the German posted:

So, my first MMO-like experience was Guild Wars. Didn't like it. I've tried a few over the years, such as The Old Republic and Elder Scrolls Online, all with my ex last year. Wasn't a fan of those, either. MMOs just weren't my scene, and I was fine with that. Then, after I split with my girlfriend in Feb, one of my friends bought me this to help me through it. He'd been pestering me to get into it for a while by then, and I figured, gently caress it, might as well.

Final Fantasy 14 is the best Final Fantasy game. 7 remains one of my favorites, but the world of 14 is just so well-realized and thoughtful. Every area has history to it, and as someone who loves fictional histories and stuff like archeology and the like, this game hits basically every good mark for me in terms of world building. The characters are truly delightful and heartfelt to interact with, going through long story arcs where they have their highs and lows. Some are better than others, but the core cast of characters especially are extremely likable and wonderful people in their own rights, and give the overall journey of your adventures a much-needed shot of personal investment as far as MMOs go. This game is far from perfect - A Realm Reborn is pretty much a loving slog, especially back when I played it earlier this year. That and the stretch post-expansion into Heavensward is miserably full of fetch-quests and plodding story progression.

But man, once you get into the expansions, the game practically transforms. This is, of course, like 20-30 hours later, so you're in for a bit of a slog before you get to the good stuff. The good stuff is worth it. Heavensward is amazing, Stormblood is mostly good, and Shadowbringers is one of my absolute favorite stories in years. The climactic story beats in this MMO are so unbelievably high and emotionally gripping - I truly, truly gave a poo poo about what was happening, and was gripped with the desire to keep going and find out more. The music is overall impeccable and makes those aforementioned story highs incredibly satisfying to witness. If you get hooked even slightly on the story and setting of this game, playing through it is a truly special experience. I'm unironically grateful to have had it to play this year, as being engrossed in this world got me through some very difficult emotional months. To say nothing of this year in general, too. FF14 got me through a very hard time.

Oh, and there's MMO gameplay. Press buttons in the right order to win, learn the mechanics, don't step in the bad. Nothing groundbreaking, but it's more interesting to play than any MMOs I've played previously, so that's good.Ē

Not much Iíll add, other than that, as a roleplayer, it does leave a lot to be desired unless you get lucky with your group, or have pretty low expectations for character development that doesnít involve sitting in bars and talking. But the roleplay scene isnít the reason you play this. Different strokes, though. Highly recommend for anyone who likes MMOs, or wants to get into them, or wants an MMO with one of the best settings and plots out there.

Gonna spoiler the music for this one - itís not a major plot thing, this one, but all of the best music for FF14 comes at points where it just makes the whole thing that much better, so itís best to experience it yourself for the first time in game. Yíknow, after like 40-ish hours.

3. Disco Elysium

Much stronger posters than I have waxed poetical about how stupefyingly excellent Disco Eylisum is, but I will make a modest attempt. Itís the best-written game Iíve ever played, which is easily the highest bar for excellence in a game you can get with me. Itís incredibly honest, heart-felt, funny, depressing and thought-provoking. Itís a game about a lot of things - making the best out of lovely situations. Dealing with loss. Trust and camaraderie. Politics, and the very real people who hold opposing values, and in poking fun at all of them, somehow making all of these people valid in their own, flawed ways. Mysteries - some better left to gather dust. Itís a game about a guy who just wonít stop trying to solve the case, no matter what happens, no matter how ruinous he has been to himself and all of those he cares about - and itís a game about either wallowing in this, embracing it, or trying to turn over a new leaf. And itís not as simple as just taking the Ďmorally goodí options, either. You have to work for that.

Itís in many ways my perfect game, an instant classic that already feels timeless. It would be one thing if it were simply well-written, but every system is fine-tuned and engaging, every wrinkle of background detail intriguing to figure out, every piece of music moody and excellent, every joke hilarious. Itís just absurdly good, a miracle of a game, and the more I write about it, the more I ask myself why it isnít my number one pick. It would be, if I werenít hard and fast about what that game is, and probably always will be. The longer Disco Elysium sticks with me, though, the further up the list itís bound to go, though. Canít wait for the directorís cut in March.

2. The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind

Itís here that I start my dive into unrepentant nostalgia. Unrepentant, though, being the key word, as while these next two games are dated, I unabashedly love and defend both at every single opportunity given to me. Starting with Morrowind, which is simply excellent and the best Elder Scrolls game there is in terms of commitment to actually roleplaying your character (at least until you break something and become a super god, inevitably), music, setting immersion, writing, and gamepl- haha, just kidding. I unironically enjoy Morrowindís gameplay, but Iím not so slavish as to say itís the best in the series, just the most enjoyable to me personally. Itís familiar and fun in its weird, janky frustrations, enough so that it ceases to become frustrating and instead just gives me the warm and fuzzies. Chafe all you want at your lack of hitting things, Iíll be conserving my stamina in the corner and waiting, and probably loving every second. Or at least smiling placidly.

The real star of this show is in the setting, though. I absolutely loving adore The Elder Scrollsí lore and world, and itís at its best when itís weird, alien and hosed up - most prominent in this game, thanks to the LSD-addled brain of Michael Kirkbride. I love Vivec, and I love the horrible society of the dunmer, awful beyond words, but incredibly real in its wrinkles. I love the giant mushrooms and oblique angles of daedric ruins, infested with strange, malformed monsters who, in later games, become far more sensitized and streamlined. Thereís jagged edges to this game, a clunky feeling to its design - all of which only makes it feel more real and lived-in to me. Most caves arenít well-structured dungeons with a comfortable amount of enemies and puzzles. Theyíre lovely caves that people do crimes in, mostly, or hide away from the world. While alien and off-putting, filled with racists with lung problems, Morrowind succeeds in feeling like Bethesdaís most well-realized world. I can get lost for hours in it, every time I play, just appreciating the strangeness of Vvardenfell.

As with most TES games, too, itís full of mod potential, many of which make the game much more approachable for gamers today, in both gameplay and looks. Go hog wild with Ďem, itís a fun time in itself.

1. Deus Ex

I first played Deus Ex, my favorite game ever, when I was like, 12 or 13. I bounced off of it hard, finding its controls alienating and bizarre, the way it played to be quite unlike any FPS Iíd played, of which there were few by then. It just didnít feel right at all - why did I have to wait to shoot? Whatís with this head bobbing? These characters look like junk. Etc, etc. I did not enjoy it at all. I gave it a few months and came back, though Iím still not sure why. It wasnít like Iíd read anything to convince me. I just gave it another shot, and something instantly clicked. I fell in love, and though that love has cooled over the years as I came to see more and more flaws, it has never gone away.

Deus Ex is a lot of things - but first and foremost, it is an immersive sim. You make your JC - you choose how to specialize your skills, choose your weapons, your tools, your augmentations - the powers that put you another step further from your common field agent - and then you complete your mission. The how is up to you - often itís entirely dictated by pragmatism, your means, skills, and knowledge of the game and its maps. Deus Ex is one of the first games to make sandbox levels that, for the most part, respect the intelligence of the player to let them figure it out how to progress and Ďwiní. Youíre asked to make meaningful choices about your build, which will often compliment the way you play. Invest in lockpicking, invest in small guns, invest in melee - but thereís no take-backs. No replacing the aug you slot in - Deus Ex demands you live with your choices on a character development level, and is much better off for it. I have immense respect for games that do this and find them far more compelling to play than others that will meekly let the player do whatever out of fear of them Ďmissing outí somehow. Let me choose and live with that choice. Deus Ex was the first game that let me do this.

It was also the first game that made me really think, even if in hindsight a lot of its concepts are on the ridiculous side. Itís a game about conspiracies, first and foremost, and almost all of them are real - this resonated with a younger me, who started thinking about the world, asking questions about how it worked, and wondering if people in charge are actually interested in your well-being and not just on their own hides. Do I think the Illuminati is running the world? No, not really. But Deus Ex was among the first pieces of media that left me with useful lessons about trust in things much, much bigger than me. With the lovely way things are today, more people owe it to themselves to not blindly trust in institutions they donít understand, that few can, that are so nakedly obfuscating so much. Itís a good way to get exploited to simply trust the government to have your back if itís not being completely open and compassionate with you. Governments often run on secrets - Deus Ex posits that these secrets are sinister and epic in scope. Maybe. Or maybe itís all so much more banal and mundane than that, yet just as harmful to us. Be conscious of these things - ask questions, and demand accountability. Be aware.

Anyway, Deus Ex has Illuminati, Men in Black, new world orders, etc. Itís a lot, and itís not everyoneís cup of tea. At this point, the story, the writing, and especially the (often ridiculous) performances all have a sort of hokey charm to me, rather than the naked and earnest appreciation and convincing of quality I used to have for it. I know the gameís script practically by heart, I know the levels, I know secrets and twists and consequences of actions like the backs of my hands. I know this game intimately, all the warts and blemishes and all. It was formative, it helped teach me to critically think, that the comforting presence of authority was not always looking out for my best interests, and that thereís always more going on behind the scenes than people would prefer you to know, especially if itís important enough. Does it always involve aliens, bio-weapons and code words and augmented super soldiers with phoned-in voice lines? Of course not. Just never settle for ignorance, even if the truth is a more boring brand of evil.

Deus Ex is great, and I think itís as utterly brilliant today as it was when it came out twenty years ago. Its sequels are quite good as well, but not nearly as formative influences on me - nor as good as the first game. Many have imitated it for a reason. My glasses are utterly rose-tinted when it comes to this game, and I donít care. Itís the sort of game where even its flaws have warped into charming features. I can discuss those flaws openly and condemn them, but Iíll still be smiling like a dumbass while playing it.

More games to come, this time in no order. Tomorrow.

Erwin the German fucked around with this message at 05:37 on Jan 11, 2021


Erwin the German
May 30, 2011


fridge corn posted:

I was thinking up some games I could post about but quickly realised that of the titles I came up with I really didnt have much to say about the games themselves but more so that they were important to me for other personal reasons: games that I was playing at pivotal moments, or were defining or nostalgic in some way to specific periods of my life, and nobody wants to hear someone ramble on and on with personal anecdotes only tangentially related to the topic at hand so idk


Don't sweat it, people will read it! Tell us why they're important to you.

Erwin the German
May 30, 2011


The posting will continue now.

Half-Life 2 (And other Source games)

Half-Life 2 and its associated Source games are ones Iíve played, frankly, a whole lot of, easily enough to warrant spaces in the top ten - Team Fortress 2 and Garryís Mod specifically. Iím lumping them all together here because they all occupy a sort of similar head space for me. Gmod and TF2 are the only ones I go back to semi-regularly, but I admire Half-Life 2 the most of them, along with its episodic sequels. The reason theyíre not in the top ten is mostly cause I like other games a lot more, and while I think HL2 is pretty groundbreaking, and I attribute its existence and the associated Steam platform it came with as a primary reason for my becoming a PC gamer, I think itís also a little dated at this point. Still a master-class in combining story with first person action, and Valve has a knack for interlacing good narratives into its often-experimental projects. Even TF2 has a (very silly, often hilarious) story, mostly told through videos and comics. Garryís Mod has also been a major stomping ground for me in terms of roleplaying, and unlike in NWN, itís a place I have mostly fond memories of, and a lot of lasting friendships have resulted from it, great people who Iíve even met in person a few times. That doesnít mean Gmod isnít, mostly, a cesspit full of teenagers and genuinely lovely individuals, however - it absolutely is, and thatís a price that comes with its popularity. NWNís a much better platform for the medium, but somehow Gmod has left a more positive impact on my life.

Civilization 4

Probably my favorite 4X game - strategy genre thatís mostly defined by starting from a single position and expanding your empire, civilization, society, what-have-you, exploring the generated map for resources to exploit, and finding other players or AI contenders and inevitably fighting them. You build new cities, make buildings in them, specialize them, built units to fight and explore, make money that you funnel into various projects, diplomacy, etc. The Civ series itself is extremely popular, though I bounced off of 5 and have yet to play 6, which Iím pretty curious about if itís in the same vein as 5 or more akin to the, in my opinion, much better 4. Civ 4 has quirks to it that make it much different from 5, at least - thereís less emphasis on special traits, particularly, and thereís more than one leader per civ, usually with differing play styles. Mostly I appreciate it because of the lack of one unit per tile, a system Iím really not fond of. The death stacks in 4 are only scary if you didnít build enough siege weapons!

Civ 4 has the best modding scene among the modern civ games, particularly thanks to a bunch of total overhauls, the best of which being Fall from Heaven 2. FFHís a fantasy total conversion, and has a lot of grit and dark fantasy elements to it, and some pretty inspired gimmicks for a lot of the civs it adds. It even has mods for the mod, a lot of which are still being updated today. Mostly, though? Iíve played a lot of this game with some of my best friends, and we spent countless hours cooperating and working together in our various wars and exploits against the AI and other players. Itís a lot of fun, and I miss those days.

The Dark Mod

I really like the Thief games, but I love The Dark Mod, the fan-made spiritual successor that originally started off as a mod for Doom 3 of all things. I also really like games like Dishonored, another immersive sim that features you sneaking around old places, though Dishonored is much more story-focused. The Dark Mod distills the things I really enjoy most about all of these sims - the thrill of using your wits, caution and tools to sneak past unsuspecting people - and makes an entire game fixated on them. The Dark Mod is about stealth and thievery. The plot of a fan mission - there is no plot campaign, only missions you download made by fans - is typically just an excuse for you to sneak into a place, find a specific priceless trinket, pilfer as much as possible along the way, and then extract yourself without dying. The mod shares Thiefís focus on sound, so it pays to be observant in your environment and exploit opportunities as they arise - listen at a door to see if anyoneís moving within. Time your jumps onto carpets to muffle the noise of your landing, because walking on marble tile is noisy as gently caress. Shoot moss arrows to give yourself more breathing room, or shoot a gas arrow at a guy who refused to move from his post. Or maybe just find another way in entirely. Find hidden buttons in the wall to discover secrets, ranging from a gold bar to a sacrificial shrine to a dark forest god nestled in a city. Just donít kill anyone, that poo poo is for amateurs, and your lovely apartmentís rent is riding on this job going cleanly.

It owns. A lot of the FMs are extremely well-done in terms of level design and capturing the essence of what makes a Thief mission great. Just donít expect amazing voice work. A wonderful little mod thatís stand-alone now, so no reason not to download it and give it a shot if you enjoy sneaking around and exploration. Highly recommend Bobbin Threadbareís LP on it.

Fallout: New Vegas

I started with 3, when it comes to Fallout, riding a bolt of lightning of hype that started with Morrowind, arced into Oblivion, and terminated with Fallout 3. Oblivion and F3 kinda killed my expectations when it came to Bethesdaís products, even though Iíd play the poo poo out of them, they were just lousily written and kind of a slog to play sometimes. Oblivion is a better game than I gave it credit for back then, but itís telling that I mostly derive my enjoyment from almost all Bethesda games with the help of mods. The same holds true with New Vegas, which I absolutely mod to the gills whenever I play - with one important exception. New Vegas is very good even without mods, standing on the strength of its shrewdly crafted systems, absolutely excellent writing, and general western post-post-apocalypse atmosphere. Itís an excellent explore-kill-loot game by itself thanks to the interesting enemies, fun locations, and the absolute abundance of loot you can find. All of Bethesdaís games are also good at these things, but New Vegas has a lot more going on in it to actually make that gameplay loop engaging for long after the sheen of it wears off.

Thereís very good videos and essays all about the way New Vegas treats its factions, the people living in the Mojave wasteland, the extremely cunning way it weaves its story elements in with gameplay. Theyíre pretty much all correct - New Vegas is a believable world in a similar way that Morrowind is. People have very real, complicated, always opposing motives. Character progression offers meaningful decisions in terms of perk selection, often changing the way you play, or further emphasizing your unique play-style - it does not fall prey to the errors of Bethesdaís later games, which, again, are just so terrified youíll miss something along the way. New Vegas stands extremely confident in opposition to this philosophy - play how you like, then play it again some time down the line and do it a different way. Side with another faction, if you want. Complete quests in another way. A truly great roleplaying game, with some truly great DLC - Dead Money remains one of my favorite short stories in video games.

Legend of Zelda: Majoraís Mask

I owe it to Ocarina of Time for my really getting into games - it was the first game Iíd ever picked out for myself in a Funcoland, shortly before it was bought out by Gamestop. I loved it, needless to say, and Iím sure I blazed through it quickly way back then. Then, eventually, I got Majoraís Mask, with its gold, holographic sticker on the cartridge, and I loved that one too. For a long while, I wrestled with which one I liked more - when I was younger, OOT resonated more, with its simpler story and themes, cleaner art style, and general lack of bizarre poo poo. These days, I love Majora more for those exact opposite reasons. Majoraís by no means an adult game, though it does deal with some more mature themes at times, but it is certainly a darker game than Ocarina, a dirtier, grittier title, and brimming with absolute weirdness. It is the better game for all of those reasons, unafraid to dip you right into the center of the strangeness pool and expecting you to swim back to safety. The three-day loop is well-crafted, and demands a lot more preparation and thought to go into your gameplay, making sure you time things well, get tasks done expediently. I donít think itís an accident that every time you do the preparation phase for a dungeon, doing story content and finding key items to let you into it, that it usually takes up more time than youíd be comfortable with for a dungeon-run. The game lets you become invested in characterís plights and sorry stories, the tragedies that lead to you getting new masks and items, and then all-but expects you to spurn their last wishes by going back in time for the sake of convenience and more time. Every failed loop is another instance of the moon falling and wiping everything out without you.

I respect the poo poo out a game like this. Side-quests galore, interesting masks that change your gameplay style and synthesize with the 3D Zelda gameplay that OOT pioneered. Itís both stressful and joyful to play, filled with sorry stories and the ever-present feeling of being in a doomed world that you can only brighten up in rare corners before setting it back to its dreary, vaguely unsettling default. It has the feeling of a fever dream, and the fact that the second 3D Zelda game was one this bizarre and excellent is pretty miraculous.

More to come at some point, enjoy these five for now.

Erwin the German
May 30, 2011


Depressed beyond words that we'll never hear Raziel waxing on philosophically about how a puzzle reminds him of the way he's always needing to unravel the mysteries and conspiracies surrounding his quest.

Erwin the German
May 30, 2011


S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

STALKER is one of those series that I can just keep coming back to every few years and re-discovering how much I get a kick out of it. I played it for the first time when I was either a teenager or very young adult, canít remember which. I was quickly enamored with the promise of a gritty, thoroughly-Russian shooter filled with sorrow, the supernatural, and lonesomely wandering throughout the Ukrainian countryside near the titular power plant. Itís all of those things, and I have a great appreciation and adoration for the way the games go out of their way to make you feel isolated and in a perpetually dangerous situation, with only brief reprieves of calm and safety. Even the villages you can catch your breath in have corners filled with deadly anomalies thatíll dispassionately rip you to shreds if you get too close, utterly unconcerned with who wanders into them. The supernatural is just part of nature itself in the Zone, a fact of life that its inhabitants frequently chafe at, but are always subsumed by. You help people frequently in trying to find the science and explanations of this place, but itís usually in vain. It just is what it is.

The series is a prime example of the janky genius that comes out of Europe from time to time, filled to the brim with bugs, weird AI, glitchy poo poo, yíknow how it is. STALKER just shines because of its oppressive atmosphere, not so much due to any strength of writing or story or voice acting. The shooting is crisp and responsive, fire fights are absurdly deadly affairs, the ambient noise frequently disturbing and suggestive of horrors just out of sight. Patches and mods have made truly great things out of these games. Call of Pripyat is especially good by itself, but is also well-buoyed by an extensive modding scene, particularly the great Call of Chernobyl series of mods, which grant the player sandbox style gameplay combining all three of the games maps into one whole. STALKER is great, and though itís a miserable setting, itís one I frequently can become completely lost in.

Resident Evil 4

The Resident Evil series is a dumb loving disaster and I adore it. Ever since I played the remake for Gamecube of the first game, I have loved it. I have played almost every single one of them, pretty much in order, having begged my mother to spend 60 loving dollars on RE2 for Gamecube at the mall once because I was so eager to keep playing them. I even like Code Veronica, and think itís pretty much the perfect encapsulation of the classic RE games in terms of sheer insanity and gameplay. Resident Evil 4, however, is the best of the series - one liners galore, tense action gameplay that redefined what the series would stand for without sacrificing the horror or gross enemy designs. These games are utter schlock-fests, ranging from baffling to goofy to eye-roll inducing one-liners that the protagonists love to spout while shooting at awful monsters. Leon is king among them, with his perfect combination of being completely lame and totally cool all at once. The villains in RE4 are ridiculous and dumb, with a special shout out going to Salazar, who is just a delightful fucker.

The entire series has a special, very stupid place in my heart. The survival horror of the classic games is always tense, the action of the later games frequently a good rush, with frequent mishaps - 5 and 6 especially, though 6 has some of the most ridiculous melee combos Iíve ever seen in a game, so props for that. Havenít played 7 yet - maybe some day, if I stop pining to play the classics. 4, on the other hand, is imminently approachable and guaranteed to be a good time whenever I play it.

Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy

Another game from my youth, and one of the first I actually roleplayed in - Iíve always been a massive fan of Star Wars, more recent content aside, so games like this are a bit of a no-brainer for me at any age. Thankfully, I also replayed both this and Jedi Outcast very recently, so my thoughts on both are a little more well-structured. Both games follow the same general structure of lightsaber-focused combat, which it does absurdly well - this is a game I spent countless hours dueling friends and strangers in, trying to master the gameís acrobatic and position-based sword fighting system. And for a while, when I was younger, I was pretty drat good at it, at least in the roleplay community I was in. Friends of mine, unrelated to said community, would still frequently kick my rear end, or result in my barely scraping by with a win. Itís not quite a perfect rendition of true-to-material lightsaber combat, more of its own specific brand of dueling that involves a lot of jumping and precise timing and movements with the mouse. Itís a great deal of fun to learn, but hard to master. Add to the basic saber a couple of other forms, and youíre looking at a long time of learning.

The story of Academy is pretty simple Star Wars stuff, but more of Kyle Katarn is always welcome, the hero of Outcast and the Dark Forces games - one of my favorite Star Wars characters for his interesting character arc that unfolds well before he becomes a Jedi. Outcast has a more interesting campaign, though also not particularly impressive narratively if youíve been exposed to any Star Wars media before.

As said before, I roleplayed in this game quite a bit, playing a variety of dumb Star Wars characters that my younger brain could conjure up, matching Ďwitsí and combat skills with other young people doing the same thing. I donít particularly recommend the game as a roleplaying medium, but that hardly stopped me and my best friend from spending a huge amount of time worrying about plots against us, or playing our characters, or battles that were on the horizon. The JK games are just a ton of fun to play if youíre into melee combat systems, and if you just want to be a free-flying Jedi who waves a lightsaber and force powers around, this is the best gig in town.

Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords

Still with me on Star Wars? Good. KOTOR 2 is the best Star Wars game out there. It is absolutely stunningly well-written as a deconstruction of your typical Star Wars concepts of light and dark, casting the whole Force itself into a weirdly nebulous, eldritch light where youíre actually not really sure if itís all that interested in balance and goodness or not. All of the characters - well, most of them, anyway, are extremely good, prominent among the pack being Atton Rand, a Han Solo type with a dark past, and Kreia, who is just about my favorite Star Wars character in the entire franchise. She is the soul of this game, a constant nagging tug at your sleeve demanding you to think about your actions and the effects they have on the world. She is perfectly clear on your status as protagonist, nudging you towards embracing your power and influence over your companions, for good or for ill. Sheís manipulative, snide, nurturing in her own way, and an incredibly well-voiced character thanks to Sara Kestelmanís amazing performance. This is the anti-Star Wars plot, and I love and adore it for that.

Of course, itís also unfinished and buggy as all hell. Thatís fine - thereís a fan restoration patch out that basically completes the game in a satisfying way, as well as giving you the option to add more stuff if you want. Before that patch, it was a hard sell to make to anyone. With it out and complete, KOTOR 2 is undeniably the superior game to Biowareís original, which while having some cute plot twists, is essentially a very basic Star Wars plot that takes few risks. KOTOR 2 relishes in upending established concepts and forcing the setting into a more real, darker and lived-in light. The Jedi arenít always paragons of purity, theyíre flawed and often petty, spiteful individuals just barely keeping down their suppressed emotions. The Sith relish in these things, but are often forced into their positions out of raw necessity and for very real, human reasons. If the Force inevitably fucks with any who partake of its power, either through dehumanization of what makes us humans with emotions and validity, or through the corruption of these things running rampant, is it really something to be venerated?


I went into Undertale with almost no context, other than it was the hot new thing at the time, and that it was a game that was a little more in-depth than its promotional material was letting on. That sort of marketing scheme usually works on me, so I gave it a shot. Itís a remarkable effort for what was essentially a one-man show, with the help of an art designer. I think itís due to that singular focus that a lot of really compelling things end up getting made, for better or for worse. Definitely for the better in Undertaleís case, as this is a funny, joyful and exceedingly compassionate game if you let it be those things. Or it can be utterly miserable and depressing, but you have to really commit to that. All of the characters are written with warmth and humor to them, even the dour ones, and itís this good-nature that has led to the game being as well-regarded as it is. The characters are the star of the show - if youíre a friend to them, youíll be touched by their compassion and very real personalities. Be an enemy, and youíll still probably find them to be admirable people, brave in the face of hardship. Thereís an extremely real humanity to this game that comes across wonderfully.

Itís helped by the music, too, which has probably become one of the more well-regarded soundtracks out there, again, all done by Toby Fox. The art style is simple and clear-cut, with the personalities of the characters and monsters you fight coming across cleanly. A real triumph of a game, and an entirely admiration-worthy product of a singular vision. It gave me a lot of joyful memories - I canít bring myself to replay it because of how satisfied I was with how things ended up, and I think thatís really worth something in itself as a piece of media.

Delta Rune looks fun, too - I played through the first part a year or so ago, and Iím eagerly awaiting the eventual sequel itíll turn into.

Erwin the German
May 30, 2011


Civ 4 has, as Glare insinuated, a pretty insane skill ceiling, too. There's a lot of strategies you can take in the game based off its systems, especially with shenanigans like the use of Great People. There's a bunch of high-level gameplay videos out there on youtube that can really drive home the amount of strategy that goes into playing Civ 4, though you can also get by usually just fine by taking a more casual approach to the game. I think it benefits a lot from having a lot of systems going on and aspects to the gameplay that the future games slowly shed off.

Oh, and Civ 4 has the incredible Baba Yetu, so I rest my case.

Erwin the German
May 30, 2011


Hitman: Contracts

Canít quite remember what got me into the Hitman games initially, but I started off with a three-game collection set that included Silent Assassin, Contracts and Blood Money. Of those three, Blood Money is undoubtedly the best made of the lot, and is rightfully considered a cult classic. Its levels ooze fun with the amount of options you can use to pursue and take out your targets, as cleanly or as psychotically as youíd prefer. Naturally, I prefer the silent and ghost-like approach, cause stealth games might as well be in my blood at this point. Blood Money does this stupidly well, and is a ton of fun to play. The new Hitman games are also quite excellent and are a lot of silly fun - Blood Money feels more comfortably Hitman to me, though, and thereís a schlocky world-spanning James Bond approach to the new games that doesnít quite resonate with me as much as the older games did. This is all a matter of taste, though, and I still love the new ones, theyíre inventive as hell and emulate Blood Moneyís best open world aspects, dialed up to 11.

So, Iíve established I quite like Blood Money. But I like Contracts more, which is not as good. Why? That comes down to a few key elements, and those elements can mostly be summed up by the words Ďatmosphereí and Ďtone.í Contracts is the Hitman series at its absolute darkest point, and itís in this dark and vaguely gross atmosphere that I think Hitman truly thrives. Blood Money retains some of this DNA, but not enough of it - Contracts relishes in 47 tracking down and assassinating truly horrible people. Itís still just the job for him, of course, but thereís something very cathartic about squatting in a filthy alley, watching a procession of masked sadists clamoring to get into a horrific night club, plotting how best to infiltrate and kill its murderous master, a corpulently fat and disgusting individual who totally has it coming. Contracts revels in this atmosphere for the most part, told primarily through the flashbacks of a dying 47, himself at probably his lowest point. Contracts is partially a remake of the very first game, and a few of the levels are just remakes of those levels. Thatís fine - theyíre less obnoxious this time, and retain Contractsí dark tone quite thoroughly. That said, the best of that batch is Traditions of the Trade, where you infiltrate a hotel, without going into too much detail. The rest are strictly fine.

Itís in the newer levels that Contracts really shines, particularly infiltrating a manor in the English countryside to do some rescuing and murder both. That, along with the unsettling walk through the Asylum in the very first mission, which takes place immediately after the culmination of the very first game. Most of these jobs have intermissions featuring a delirious and dying 47 bleeding out in his Paris hotel room, itself an event that takes place immediately after a job you do in Blood Money. Thereís a lot of interweaving here, which is nice, but I especially like the vulnerability of 47, who is mostly just an excuse character for killing guys in creative ways, at a rare moment of relative powerlessness.

Gameplay wise, Contracts is basically just an updated Silent Assassin, slightly less unforgiving so you can actually run around without blowing a disguise. Silent Assassin is a fairly frustrating game to play, which makes Contracts also slightly frustrating to play, but the quality of life updates, sparse as they are, are still appreciable. You need to experiment a lot, and having knowledge of the level and systems helps a lot in mitigating annoyances.

A lot of the atmosphere in this game is reliant on Jesper Kydís great soundtrack, which is unrelentingly unsettling and pitch black in tone. Itís easily my favorite Hitman soundtrack, beating even Blood Moneyís, which is also great. I really wish they still had Jesper Kyd doing the new games soundtracks, but Iím not certain the flavor of his music would gel too well with the more adventurous, spy-action tone of the new ones. Thereís a very grim pleasure in hearing a new, darker and more triumphant track kick in once youíve killed a target and are on your way out.

I canít say Contracts is the best Hitman game, but itís by far my favorite by virtue of its fever dream-like approach to storytelling and the pitch black tone of its sparse story. Hitman truly shines for me when its at its darkest, and while all the games feature you killing people who generally have it coming, Contracts isnít really afraid to rub those reasons in your face more. Not for the faint of heart - itís great.

Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne

Max Payne is great - I loving love Max Payne and Sam Lakeís broken, noir-obsessed brain. Max Payne 2 is another game like Deus Ex for me, a game I played in my truly formative years, that Iíve played so much and so thoroughly that itís basically burned into my brain and sense memory, the music, the dialogue, the levels, the way the guns sound. Couldnít tell you how I got into it, or why I decided to play it, but Iím glad I did. Other games have had more of an impact on me, hence my top ten, but Max Payne 2 is just a game I adore whole-heartedly. Itís another game me and my twin played religiously, watching one another do so, quoting the voice lines of the thugs Max mows down mercilessly and their goofy wise-guy accents.

The Max Payne series is a little rocky, though, itself - Max Payne 1 is good, but itís very much an arcade-y shooter, despite its film noir influences, and the gorgeous comic-book interludes it indulges in. 2 continues this tradition to even more beautiful effect, though it simplifies the story considerably for the better. 1 is a coked up revenge thriller, soaked in the blood of countless goons, crooked cops and corporate cleaners. 2 retains a lot of this trigger-happiness, but suffuses it with a classic film-noir love story about a girl who is Trouble with a capital T. Itís amazing for it, owing to the great characterization of its characters, many of them returning from bit roles in the first game - this is the game, however, that defines all of them, even Max himself. In the first, heís an avenger, in this, heís just a sad detective who fucks up in the right direction. Heís a far more compelling role this time, gorgeously voiced by James McCaffrey.

Oh, right, thereís a Max Payne 3, too. Itís fine. Itís fun to play, has some good segments, but it absolutely lost something in the translation from Remedy to Rockstar. Without trying to sound like a dipshit - too late at this point, probably - it lost its noir soul. 3 feels cynical and dirty, almost, like itís relishing in just how ultimately pointless it is. A very Rockstar-style, but itís one better suited for Grand Theft Auto than Max Payne.

2 is wonderfully genuine, relishing in its noir-style and the signature, goofy over-indulgences of its gunplay, with the game slowing down at opportune moments as bullets rip through bad guys - often amusingly sent flying back and ragdolling in stupid fashions. As a kid, I loved the ragdolling and physics, which 1 lacked, but nowadays itís just very hilarious to me. The game is just beautifully vivid in my mindís eye, lovingly made by developers who really wanted to make it as noir as possible, and absolutely succeeded. Folks, they just donít make Ďem like this anymore.


Anyway, hereís another game I got hooked on as a kid and know it all by heart, etc, you know the drill by now. Mafia 1 is another game thatís in love with its inspirations and influences, and youíll get no points for guessing which those might be. Mafiaís all about the Life - how it rules for a while, pulling hapless cab drivers into its clutches with the promise of respect, fat cash, and the (very illegal) power to arbitrate someone elseís life or ending it. And then it, of course, inevitably, shows you how that comes crashing down. Mafiaís a whole-hearted devotee of the classic mob story, following a dope named Tommy Angelo who just wanted to make something of himself, along with walking stereotypes Paulie and Sam. Everyone you expect to be in Mafia is probably in Mafia. It has forced stealth missions, car chases, pitched shoot outs, alley-way brawls, and a truly, truly loving awful and broken racing mission that the devs themselves encourage you to find a way to skip.

As an open world crime game, it was contending with the likes of Grand Theft Auto 3, and we all know who won that particular duel. Doesnít matter, cause Mafia won for me, with its genuine adoration of being a wise guy and showing you why, eventually, it would actually suck quite a lot to be a wise guy. That all said, Mafia has some good stuff going for it - the gun fights are incredibly tense and deadly affairs, and a few bullets can easily end your life. They feel like genuine scrambles to stay alive and shoot your way out of a bad situation. The commitment to realism for the time period is also well-appreciated, up to and including getting pulled over for going over the speed limit in your lovely 1930s car that you desperately wish would go faster, but it doesnít cause itís a period-accurate car that sucks. Car chases are ponderous affairs that benefit a lot from driving cautiously, yet often require you to go fast and take risks to keep up. The less said about melee combat, the better. The voice acting is both good and bad all at once - thereís some genuinely good line reads in there, but also a lot of bad ones, and some pretty hilariously bad dialogue in a lot of spots. Did I mention this was made by a Czech developer? For a translated piece of work made by non-Americans, though, Mafia is pretty spot-on for the tone, just not always with the dialogue.

It takes place over several years, so thereís some cool angles to that - a long-spanning crime drama between two rival families is the basic send-up, but cooler still is watching how Lost Heaven develops over the years. Youíll see new cars hit the streets, get easier access to certain guns, hear about new world events for the time period. Thereís a lot of good details that go into this game, hence my calling it very genuinely made. The music is also both period appropriate and Mafia-appropriate, sounding as if it was just lifted out of a dramatic mobster flick.

Itís far from perfect, and its sequel, Mafia 2, improves on it in a lot of ways - a lot of people prefer Mafia 2ís story, too, and I can sort of see why, but Iíll refrain from getting into that. 2 also feels more game-y to me, which is odd to say, but it lacks that shot of desperate realism that made me want to survive so much in 1, something that only further immersed me in its setting. I havenít played 3, so I canít comment on it. Thereís a remaster that just came out for Mafia 1 which modernizes and restructures a lot of plot beats and levels, which is probably worth playing, but I havenít gotten around to it. Judging from cutscenes Iíve seen, it looks moreÖ professional, I guess is the best word for it. Mafia 1 did the best it could, and the remaster takes the game and gives it a very modern spin, it seems.

Pretty sure Iíd still end up preferring the original, though - thereís just something about it.

Nier: Automata

What was that, three games about crimes and shooting people? Cool. Hereís a game about, uhhhhh.

I guess a lot of things. Automata is about big-booty androids fighting robots with giant swords. Itís about side-scrolling shoot-íem-up segments, which sometimes go up instead of to the side. Sometimes you hack the robots and play a weird mini-game where itís like an arcade game or some poo poo, and you gotta blow up black balls to hack them and blow Ďem up. Itís about doing side quests for people where you kill a certain amount of boars and I think I remember praying for good drops. Itís about nice robots who you donít have to kill sometimes. Itís about robots trying to figure out how to gently caress, and mostly failing. Itís about androids dying repeatedly. Itís about eating a fish that kills you. Itís about a weirdo on a traveling truck that sells you poo poo with the best advertising theme blaring out of a loudspeaker. Itís about optimizing your operating systemís programs. Itís about robots and androids trying to figure out what it means to be alive.

Itís about robots and androids trying to figure out what it means to be alive, when all theyíve known is an inscrutable, possibly centuries-long conflict between them. Nier Automata is an outstanding game where sometimes your dress blows up and you can see 2Bís rear end really well. Cool, I guess? I think youíre missing the point if you play this for the promise of hot girls fighting robots, but I guess itís nice that thereís something for everyone. Automataís got Themes, itís got drama, itís got achingly well-performed voice lines, itís got fun dialogue and eye-watering dialogue. Itís got fun combat thatís honestly not as complicated as it looks, which is a slight shame once you realize it, but youíll probably not care anyway cause it looks really loving cool still. It has probably the best soundtrack Iíve ever heard in a game, which is beautifully composed and pitch-perfect for whatever is happening on screen at any given moment. It has characters that are incredibly human and well-realized, once you penetrate the storyís intentionally obscure curtains. Thereís more curtains after those initial ones, donít expect to have a full grasp on everything for a while. Thatís fine.

Itís hard to talk about this game and summarize what it is I like about it. I like pretty much everything about it. If I had a gun pointed at me and was told to sum up why I like it, which aspects, Iíd land squarely on the music, the characters, and the story. The story is a hell of a thing - itís not as complex as it looks, and youíll get it if you stick it through and really commit to finishing it. Half the fun is just getting to the next big story beat and watching what happens. It has a bunch of endings, but, eh - itís weird, donít worry about those. Just focus on playing it and trying to get to the end of the game. Thereís a definite end, despite all the endings. Yoko Taro, ladies and germs. Itís one of those, except itís somehow achingly emotional and beautiful. And, more to the point for Taroís works, itís ultimately comprehensible for basically anyone playing through. Itís fun to play. Itís emotional to listen to. It was my game of the year in 2017, narrowly beating another game Iíll talk about soon. Play Automata if you want to appreciate a lot of things coming together and somehow all being elevated all at once into a wonderfully touching game.

Erwin the German fucked around with this message at 00:42 on Jul 25, 2021

Erwin the German
May 30, 2011


Mr. Pickles posted:

Thanks for including this. It really is the greatest Bioware dnd game ever made, and it still reigns supreme after 19 years. I play daily on the Arelith server, its RP with intense hack and slash and huge playerbase which I find appealing since I am in EU GMT+2. I'll check out the Risenholm realm. This is the perfect game to enjoy online with your SO, btw.


But anyway, yes, do check out Risenholm, it's cool. Tends to have people on most hours of the day.

Erwin the German
May 30, 2011


Prey (2017)

Did somebody say rambling, long effort post about a video game? I sure did!

Remember when I said Iíd talk about another game Ďsoon?í (liar, but thank you anyway) Yeah, oops. But here it is! Itís Prey from 2017, which is a simply impeccable game. In the way Nier Automata makes me feel good in emotional and Ďreally good storyí vibing ways (which automatically places it higher in my calculus), Prey tickles my brain in terms of sheer atmosphere and gameplay. It has an interesting narrative too, but it just doesnít resonate on an emotional and deep level like Automata did. But thatís fine - Prey isnít about that, really, not at its core. Itís about putting you in the game world, which is a fully realized and lived-in space (if thoroughly hosed up), giving you objectives to accomplish, and letting you have at it. Itís easily one of the better immersive sims Iíve ever played, and arguably Arkane Studioís best take on the genre. Dishonored 1 and 2 are both excellent as well, but not quite as easy for me to pick up and play - Prey feels exceptionally approachable to me, the options it gives you in how to get through it are varied and typically very fun to play out. Itís a game where the whole is much more than the sum of its parts, but especially stands out in just how rewarding it is to play.

I'm gonna be leaving stuff out of this - possibly important stuff. Story stuff, certain weapons and powers you get, that sort of thing. It's way more rewarding and cool to find these things in game and experiment rather than me revealing them all. Rather, this is gonna mostly go over how it 'feels' to play, and certain progression systems.

So I talked about immersive sims a bit when I wrote about Deus Ex, my favorite game - Prey is similar to Deus Ex in a lot of respects, but also to other games which are arguably the more Ďtraditionalí titles that Prey is a spiritual successor to. These primarily include the ĎShock games, from Bioshock to System Shock 2 - System Shock 2 is the most dead ringer here, both games involving being alone in a space setting where everything has gone to hell owing to monsters and deadly robots. Both games also suffuse technology with psychic powers being the stand-in for fantasy magic. Deus Ex, however, is my primary reference point for this genre, and the game Iíve played the most of alongside Prey, so thatís where most of the comparisons are gonna be drawn from.

Both games put you in a level and ask that you traverse it to reach your objective. They both present a variety of situations; an enemy you lack the ammo to comfortably defeat conventionally. A locked room to get into - the window affords a view of a shiny new toy or cache of supplies. A computer you donít know the password to that might contain useful information, lore, or security access. Both games encourage stealth, for a wide variety of purposes - avoiding an unnecessary, resource wasteful fight, getting the drop on a difficult enemy and neutralizing them before they become a credible threat, or overhearing things you wouldnít have heard if you ran in guns blazing (Deus Ex has much more of that, but Prey has a few instance too). Immersive sims donít want you to play Ďfair,í they want you to play dirty and use every trick up your sleeve. They reward smart play, and maximizing the advantages your tools and build afford you. This is a good idea in any game, but especially so in Ďsims where your resources are almost always limited in some way. Both games present you with challenges and ask 'how do you solve this with the tools and skills at your disposal?'

You can probably tell that I like Prey for a lot of the same reasons I love playing Deus Ex, gameplay wise, but Prey is far from a carbon copy. Deus Ex has skills and augs, Prey has Ďneuromods.í Both have a large variety of weapons (which Deus Ex allows you to mod with silencers and scopes and such - Preyís are weapon upgrade kits that raise weapon stats) and tools as well, but I wanna focus on neuromods first. Theyíre very similar to Deus Exís augmentations and skills both, being the primary avenue through which you upgrade your Morgan Yu, naturally by stabbing a syringe into your eye in a wonderful bit of understated body horror. Neuromods can either accentuate your natural Ďhumaní abilities, such as being able to carry more, hack things better, do more damage with weapons, lifting and repairing broken things, the list goes on. The other side of this progression system are the Typhon abilities, those being the aliens that have infested Talos I (the eighth wonder of the world, in space!). These powers are the System Shock 2 psychic abilities, more or less - turn into a coffee mug to avoid detection. Perform literal brain blasts, lots of those. Assume mental control over robots and other foes. Do the Mass Effect lift thing and shoot hapless enemies as they float around.

Itíd be one thing if you could just unlock all those cool powers, but the game makes you jump through an appropriate amount of hoops before getting them all. Critically, while you can usually just mainline your human powers, you can only upgrade alien abilities after scanning relevant targets (those aliens that will tend to have those abilities natively) with a helmet you get early on. This is a neat little melding of stealth gameplay considerations being linked to other progression avenues. Most of these powers, the active ones, also consume psi energy, which you can also upgrade. More on this soon.

Itís notable that for this game, you can complete the entire thing while never taking an ability in alien powers. This is how I played the first time through, even. You can, in fact, also play through the whole thing while never touching your human side, going 100% sicko mode. This is how I played through the second time - thereís an achievement for playing through twice while being exclusive to either side, as an added bonus.

How you choose to spend your neuromods, either going exclusive or spreading them out all around, will inescapably dictate how you play. Remember psi energy? Thereís a side quest about mid-way through that lets you spike the stationís water supply with brain juice - just take a sip from a water fountain and youíll restore psi energy, which until that point was only restored through psi hypos and other items. Assuming youíre relying a lot on alien powers, as I was in my second run, this will effectively turn you into a psychic wizard powered almost entirely by bathroom sinks, darting out to launch brain energy at aliens before ducking back in for another sip.

Importantly, how you spend your mods will also dictate what people say about you, or how robots perceive you throughout the game. Those floating turrets donít like things with too much alien matter inside of them, and that includes you.

Naturally thereís also a lot of weapons and other stuff, as I mentioned before, and ammo is usually gonna be a problem - or it would be, if there werenít another element to the game in the form of collecting raw materials to use inside of matter replicating machines. Found an extra gun? Slap it in the material recycler. Same goes for alien organs, other organic matter, and basically anything you can think of. Take the raw materials and put them into the fabricator. Make a new gun, make neuromods, make ammo, make health kits and psi hypos. If you lack a recycler in easy reach, donít worry, the game has your back. Its primary grenades are portable recycler charges that, when thrown, suck in anything in the blast radius and reduce them to their raw parts. Anything you can potentially move is usually subject to this - turn a barricade of heavy objects into instant mineral parts. Stack up alien bodies (or human) nearby so you get some organic mats too. Efficiency is always nice.

As much as this sounds as if the game has potentially limitless resources, this isnít the case, though this depends a lot on your chosen difficulty settings. Itís very possible to have access to all of these systems and tools, manufacturing your specified stuff, but those mats arenít limitless. Your inventory is limited. Your recyclers are limited. Bodies and Ďstuffí is limited. You may not even have the blueprints to make what you want yet, so do you spend those materials now, or wait? Choose what you make wisely. This becomes even more pronounced in the gameís survival mode, which adds fun bodily conditions to deal with among other things that make the game more of a resource management ordeal.

So how do you maximize your resources, besides grubbing up stuff and stuffing them into a big machine? By playing smart. Choose your fights, maximize your advantages. Run away when you need to. Know when you spend resources to end a fight quicker. Play to your strengths, the ones you build up through found neuromods. All of the gameís systems smoothly and wonderfully play into one another, and thatís what peak immersive sim performance looks like. These gameplay elements are why I think itís a truly great example of the genre.

Gameís not all about how it plays, though, itís got a lot of other stuff going on. A mystery to solve, an amnesiac protagonist piecing together the disaster and being fed information in drips. Lots and lots of audio logs from mostly dead crew, who are well acted and portrayed alive or in audio form until you stumble across their corpses. The character art style has that great Arkane aesthetic, where people look faintly stylized, like theyíre coming out of a gritty comic book. It has a wonderful soundtrack, though criminally short, made by Mick Gordon, the same guy who did Doom 2016ís soundtrack. This one is generally less pulse pounding and has a lot more contemplative and atmospheric tracks.

Speaking of aesthetics, though, the gameís setting is a well-realized take on the retrofuture, suffusing a variety of older architectural styles from 60s art-deco to Soviet brutalism. The game takes place in an alternate history, and it shows even in this timelineís future.

Thereís not an abundance of creatures in the game, but thereís enough to feel satisfying enough, especially taking into account more souped up versions of the same aliens. Mimics are the gameís stand out design, being headcrab-esque looking fuckers that can turn into normal objects they get into contact with. Phantoms are the more compelling monsters to me, though, being created from dead humans by another alien entirely - when they stalk around in search of you, theyíll continue speaking in disjointed mutterings, sometimes showing a reflection of who they used to be before an alien monster turned into something else. Theyíre also dangerous as hell. All of the alien enemies share a great, gross-looking oil slick design, constantly shimmering and looking out of place, dissolving into piles of black goo when killed. Very cool, at least to me, though Iíve heard people complain at the sameyness. It works for me.

As far as Your Choices Mattering, thereís a variety of endings you can get, sure, but donít go into this expecting a revolutionary game in terms of how it reacts to certain things. People will live or die depending on what you do, and that does matter, of course. Play psychotic games, win psychotic prizes. The game respects your intelligence enough to react accordingly to how you play it, and that includes how you treat other survivors.

And thatís all the main campaign. They released a great rogue-like DLC called Mooncrash, which is its own bag of gameplay worms. This one takes place on the moon, but still overrun with typhon and murderous robots, obviously. Mooncrash plays a lot like the main game, but is different in key and drastic ways. Itís a series of simulations ran, during which you take up the role of one of several survivors, all with different abilities, starting gear and play styles. Get them off the moon. Die, and restart the whole process from the word go. Each Ďsimulationí, a series of 5 runs or whenever you restart the simulation, is self-contained and always semi-randomly generated. Get out with one character and that escape is blocked for the next one. Grab too much gear from a stash and the next character will lack those tools. This creates a great, fun dynamic where youíre constantly having to plan ahead and consider your options for the next characterís escape. No save scumming, either. Oh, and the simulation is constantly degrading, adding more enemies, environmental hazards, and other fun stuff to deal with as your 5-character run progresses.

With everything else Iíve mentioned about the main game, fusing those elements into a fully realized rogue-like side-DLC is a home run choice. Thereís even a neat side plot to uncover in Mooncrash, particularly involving the characters you play and what really happened. More mysteries.

So, thatís a lot of words. To sum it up, though, I love Prey because it respects your time, respects playing it smart. Play in a measured and canny way, and youíre in for a great time. Thatís the essence of being a good immersive sim, and the atmosphere and tone of the game, the setting, the music, all of that is just icing on the cake. Maybe a little strange I put Automata above this, now that I think about it, but what can I say, I really like existential androids too.

Arkane Studios has basically made it their Ďthingí to make these sorts of games, from Dishonored, to Arx Fatalis, to Dark Messiah, so if any of this sounded interesting to you, definitely check out their line-up. System Shock 2, Deus Ex, some of the Bioshock games (the earlier ones, but I donít care much for the franchise in general) are also all great immersive sim candidates. Thanks for reading, or skimming, and play Prey.

Which should have been called Psychoshock or something, honestly. Very dumb.

Erwin the German fucked around with this message at 15:11 on Jul 2, 2021

Erwin the German
May 30, 2011


Yeah no, I didn't really wanna touch the story and conceit too much, it's way better discovered as you play. Prey has a really good story and inherent mystery to it, which you should discover for yourselves, while enjoying great gameplay.

Erwin the German
May 30, 2011


It's a really hot day and it turns out I effort post best when it's disgusting out.

Hunt: Showdown (2018)

My team of three, myself included, enter Stillwater Bayou from the west. Weíre armed with an eclectic bunch of guns, but Iím actually hobbling myself a little this time by taking along the basic Springfield 1886, a one shot rifle that Iím not all that comfortable with. A hand crossbow as well, which Iím only marginally at home with - itís a great tool for killing all sorts of monsters in these Louisiana swamps, and crucially it is very quiet while doing so. Normally Iíd take a silenced Nagant revolver, far more my comfort zone, but I was simply too enchanted by my current hunter to alter his load-out, a tier one character by the name of Victor ĎHeadshotí Preston. With a name that try hard, I couldnít bring myself to give up anything he decided to join my roster with, even if it was arguably the worst single-shot rifle in the game.

My two friends have a stock Winfield repeater, a spiffy gun thatís much more capable than its Ďdefault weaponí status would imply, and something called the bomb lance. Itís a lance that shoots harpoon-like bombs, which makes it both fearsome and potentially debilitating depending on the fight youíre in. Not to mention obscenely loud, as all explosives are, a noise that can be heard from across the map. Gunshots are little different in this regard, but an explosion is unmistakable in its report, direction and relative proximity.

Deciding what to take with you on the hunt is half of the game itself. With the right tools, you can turn a desperate fight around. With the right gun, you can end one before itís had a chance to really begin. All rely on knowledge of their capabilities and a healthy dose of player skill.

The other half is a combination of things, but I can more or less sum it up as Ďluck, skill, and knowing where the gently caress youíre walking.í

We head to Blanchett Graves first, as it has two clues and is the closest to our starting location. Hunt is a game where the feeling of tension is there from start to finish, but thereís always that deceptive calm in the beginning where teams begin to orient themselves. The clues will let us track down the monster our hunters have taken it upon themselves to kill, banish, and claim their lucrative tokens for a fat stack of money. We head into Blanchett without much incident, killing a few grunts (your normal zombies) along the way. The bayou is alive with the sound of birds and swamp wildlife, wind rushing through the trees, groans of the undead and distant gunfire.

Frankly Iím usually relieved when someone is loudly shooting their gun almost immediately - it can be a sign of a team thatís not concerned with letting others know where they are, and confidence is a very useful thing to have in this game. More usually itís a mark of a bad team, though, one that doesnít realize that more canny hunters might decide to track them down first and eliminate the competition. Thereís a third, more uncommon option - sometimes a team will very promptly discover their target. Every round has either one or two, but the cursed abominations can spawn anywhere, even at the border areas, or the corners.

So in other words, we had no real idea what to make of it, and rarely do. Only a direction, which was southeast, in the half of the map containing the other bounty. We kept going, grabbing the clues and avoiding the more dangerous monsters, such as hives, immolaters, and hell hounds. We keep moving out of Blanchett and move further east, since that part of the map is still white (and places grayed out are where the monster isnít). More gunfire - about five minutes have passed, give or take, and this one keeps going for a while. As we continue, moving through the swamp water that slows us down and leaves us as easy targets to anyone with a sniperís scope, weíre careful to avoid environmental hazards thatíll betray our position. Crows, dry branches, cages with undead dogs or chickens within them. A dying horse that, when approached, will neigh incessantly until you put it down.

The lesser monsters, of course, but most of those can be handled quietly. A flock of crows disturbed by a cracked branch or noisy walk through water cannot be made quieter, but thereís ways around that too. Hunt has a lot of choices, depending on what you bring to the table.

The gunfire just keeps going, and we have a working theory - itís probably a fight. And they probably found their bounty. Like I said, noisy teams will attract attention from others. Thereís almost no way to conceal two teams meeting, inevitably devolving into an ultra violent confrontation of gun fire and explosions. Some get lucky with silenced weapons and melee tools, but thatís a rarity in my experience.

We find our target, blessedly quick - itís in Lockbay Docks, overlooking a wide stretch of open water. Still no sign of anyone else on our side of the map, and we get to killing it - the spider. The spider is quick and aggressive, pouncing on hunters and skittering across the ceiling and walls, making it a proper pain in the rear end to get a bead on. Itís also a spider, and even an over-sized one doesnít take kindly to being smashed with a giant hammer, or lit aflame. We employ as many of these tactics as we can to kill it as quickly and quietly as possible. As weíre doing this, the gunfire dies down, and weíre informed that one of the bounty monsters is being banished.

A banishing is a slow process, taking about five minutes or less - Iíve never timed it. Might not sound long, but in Hunt it might as well be an eternity. When you banish, every hunter on the map with you learns where thatís taking place. If itís the only bounty, youíre guaranteed to have hostile company soon. On a two-monster bounty, thereís a bit more wiggle room - maybe youíll get lucky, but never count on it. A banishment is a giant neon sign that says Ďcome get me.í When you use your dark sight (usually used to find clues and identify if anyone hostile is close to a bounty or clue), youíll see the banishment from across the map in the form of constant lightning strikes.

This is, needless to say, a harrowing process. Some banish and then flee, if theyíre not confident in fending off enemy hunters. Youíll make less money and experience for your hunter, but your odds of living to hunt again are better. If your hunter dies past a certain tutorial period, theyíre gone. All their upgrades, gear, and any cool look or dumb name you had for them, such as Headshot Preston. Knowing when to fold is useful.

Not that we ran, once the spider was dead. By the time we commenced our banishing, the other team had collected their bounty tokens, and my team watched the map carefully. Once a bounty token is down, itís visible on the map, and youíll see it move with the hunter who has it. Thereís no more being stealthy once youíve grabbed these tokens. Not all bad, though - your dark sight gives you five seconds of seeing close-by enemy hunters, a shock of orange, incredibly useful for fending off besieging hunters and not falling into ambushes as you flee with your prize.

We were watching to see where theyíd go - would they leave with their tokens, or try to come take ours as well? Turns out this team was feeling bloodthirsty, and we watched as their token markers started to approach us on the map, our position given away with the banishing of the spider. We immediately set to work, laying traps and setting up firing positions, identifying likely places of approach. Being under siege is never fun, and itís a trial of patience, resources and sheer gumption - if youíre assaulting, itís often better to mount a quick attack in force rather than let the defenders upgrade their dark sight and know exactly where you are. Thereís a lot that goes into the psychology of this game. Sweat the defenders long enough and they might get sloppy, skittish. The same applies to the attackers, too, and thereís a big difference between an impatient attack and a confident one.

But usually it just comes down to sheer luck and how smart your enemies are.

It took them two or three minutes to reach us, and the banishment was still ongoing - no sight for us, and plenty for them. Iím down in the bottom floor of Lockbay, a room with multiple entrances and a mesh wire view facing the water. I trap what I can and set up shop while my two buddies protect the floor above me, where the spider died. Sometimes a team will keep quiet on the attack, especially if the banishment hasnít concluded - more opportunity for stealth and advantageous positioning. These guys were not quiet, since they proceeded to lob just about every stick of dynamite, molotov cocktail and flash bomb in our direction. We pulled through, waiting for them to show themselves.

Where Iím sitting in the basement, itís just a lot of noise. Pounding footsteps above my head - I could shoot through if I wanted to, maybe even hit someone, but thatís a risky proposition with a one-shot weapon. I keep quiet and keep moving, waiting to see if anyone will come down or move through the water for a flank. Gunshots above me, plenty of them, explosions from the bomb lance. More gunfire to the west as a third team arrives on the scene, which our initial attackers clean up without much effort. Usually thatís a great opportunity for exploiting the chaos of up to nine hunters stomping around shooting each other, but we stay put, still needing to grab our tokens.

My friend with the Winfield goes down, shot in the head through a window. He can still get revived, if we live through this, but our odds just got worse. The tables turn when we hear another groan of death, killed by my remaining friendís sidearm. Two on two.

I hear a splash outside, past the mesh. Someone is crouching and moving slowly through the water, armed with a rifle. I aim and, true to my hunterís stupid loving name, hit them in the head. One left. I keep my position, because Iím pretty sure the last guy has a shotgun, and Iím not armed for that. More running around, my friend yelling at me to come up and support him, which is a classic conversation in any Hunt game, but I donít get the time to answer. My friend gets shot and goes down.

But heís not mad, far from it - I can hear glee in his voice, in fact. ďI traded,Ē he says, and a moment later I hear an explosion as the last enemy dies, shot in the last moment by my friendís bomb lance. He had enough time to run around and contemplate his impending demise, at least.

I go up and get them both back up. All is quiet. Traps are spent, all the monsters are dead, and thereís human bodies lying around now. We grab every bounty token and count ourselves lucky - itís great when the bounties come delivery. We do a quick scan through dark sight and confirm weíre alone. I grab a high tier rifle off the woman in the water I killed, leaving the Springfield behind.

And then we leave, all four tokens in hand - only two drop per boss. No one stops us - weíve cleared the map of enemy hunters, which is always a fantastic feeling. At least, weíre 90% sure itís clear. No oneís contesting, anyway, so we fire off to our heartís content, no longer worried about noise or stealth. We make a lazy line towards an extraction point, wait the thirty seconds (during which pursuing hunters can and will try to murder you), and then extract. We get a fat payday of hunter experience used to give characters new traits and abilities, and a whole lot of money. Headshot Preston gets a whole bunch of upgrades, and I spec him out for rifle shooting.

The very next hunt, we all die, our characters flushed down the drain like tissue paper, leaving us only with halved money and bloodline experience (the measure of your overall progression, which affects unlockable weapons, traits and items). Rest in loving peace, Victor ĎHeadshotí Preston. So it goes in the bayou. The hunt after that, we kill three more hunters in under ten seconds, and then cleanly extract with no contest in about ten minutes. The one after thatÖ

And so on, and so forth. Play Hunt: Showdown if you want to feel stressed out almost constantly, twitch at every errant sound, kill your way tactically through repulsive monsters as quietly as you can, and have high stakes shootouts with other, equally greedy players. No round will be the same. The story above is just one example - there's so many things to consider. Thereís no other game quite like it on the market.

Erwin the German fucked around with this message at 00:57 on Jun 30, 2021

Erwin the German
May 30, 2011


Final Fantasy 14 Online

Incoming rambling rant again, fair warning.

FF14ís been in gaming news a fair bit recently, so I figured Iíd write a more in-depth analysis of why I enjoy it as much as I do, despite having being an obstinate MMORPG naysayer for years and years of my gaming life. Why is it the one that captured me the most, when Iíd tried others and found the traditional behemoths of the genre unappealing? Iíve never been so much as tempted to try World of Warcraft, being mostly ignorant of the Warcraft setting and uninterested in a PVP-heavy experience without much of a story. Guild Wars 1 was something I tried briefly with some friends, who all enjoyed it more than I did - something about the way it looked and played just never did it for me. I fundamentally donít much care for game worlds where your experience of being Ďthe chosen oneí is juxtaposed with the sight of so many others waiting in line behind the same NPC with a quest marker over their head (just ignore that FF14 does this same exact thing for now). GW1 just wasnít doing enough to suspend my constant awareness that I was playing an MMO with random strangers, my story not truly my own, and not much of one to boot.

More lately, Iíd tried two others; Elder Scrolls Online and The Old Republic. ESO isÖ fine, itís like Skyrim but worse in terms of gameplay, which is honestly kinda impressive. Mostly lost me on gameplay here. TOR is actually a game Iím sorta okay with, in hindsight - I might even go back to it, owing to its class-based storylines which emphasize plot and character development in classic Bioware fashion (though Iím always a little sketchy about Bioware story-writing even since Baldurís Gate). Didnít help that I played both games with an ex of mine, which is a lot to get into that I wonít, but letís just say itíd be hard for me to enjoy them until enough time has passed.

So why is Final Fantasy 14 different for me, and why might it be different for you, curious reader wondering why the gently caress everyone is suddenly talking about it? Short answer to that is because WoW is imploding in a fit of player resentment over Blizzardís handling of the game itself, and lots of people are looking for an alternative to invest their time and money into in the void left by WoWís absence. FF14 is the game most people seem to be gravitating towards, helped in no small part by Twitch evangelists and their communities, and a lot by good word of mouth. But they had to pick the game for a reason.

Because itís good, would be my guess. Really good. But also, more cynically stated, itís very similar to WoW in terms of fundamental gameplay, with some differences, and an overall different, more player-positive design philosophy. Itís telling that, in most patch notes, the most grind-intensive things are almost always made easier and less-time consuming to acquire over time. This is a game that listens to player feedback, and a game that ultimately respects your time as a player, who might not always want to spend the entire day in its gameworld. You can if you want, certainly - thereís plenty to do. Lots and lots and lots to do.

But I got into this game about a year ago, before this whole WoW Ďdyingí thing happened. Why did I get into it? It helped that I was depressed and recently heartbroken and in desperate need of distraction, which MMOs provide in spades. It helped that my friend bought it for me, relieving me of the excuse of having to pay for something myself. I could just try it and give it a fair shake, confident that itíd probably be like every other MMO Iíve bounced off of. Anime catgirls? Small children player race? Oh, Japan. Iíd try it and play with my friend, certainly, justify the money he spent, but probably no- oh, wait, poo poo Iím having fun.

Not a lot of fun, mind, since you start with A Realm Reborn, which isÖ rough, to put it lightly. A humongous difference in quality from what preceded it, for sure, but still a bit of a slog. Itís a more traditional storyline, involving finding crystals, black-robed bad guys, big angry gods and you killing them, slightly annoying characters who tag along with you everywhere and tell you, the hero, what to do.

Immediately evident, though, is that it bothers with these characters at all. An actual cast - not a great one immediately, one that relishes in anime tropes, but theyíre there. This did a lot for me, unlike other MMOs which donít feature strong supporting characters at all. This felt more like a single player RPG at times, with characters joining you on your quest (conveniently absent for the most part during a fight, mind) and giving you feedback on the story unfolding. Also evident was the generally strong quality of writing in terms of setting - something I consider separate from the main plot. How characters talk and act, how different city-states comport themselves in terms of their histories and cultures, what they say about the world itself and the many monsters inhabiting it. It feels holistic, and not like a theme park ride, not like an explicit video game world.

This does a lot for me - Iím a stickler for getting immersed in these settings, and a sucker for good writing and setting-craft. Though not gripping me with the story and main narrative, I was pretty charmed by FF14ís world and its plucky cast of characters.

What about gameplay? I started off as an arcanist, didnít enjoy it, and swapped to thaumaturge in short order, recommended to me by my friend when I expressed interest in Ďhuge numbers.í Thaumaturge and its eventual evolution into Black Mage provides huge numbers aplenty, though its early game performance in ARR especially can be charitably described as boring. Like most things about the game, though, it would only get better and far more enjoyable with time. The same can be said about mechanical complexity in the dungeons and boss fights (trials) - early game dungeons being obnoxiously annoying to get through (looking at you, Copperbell Mine) with simplistic and time-wasting mechanics giving way to excellent dungeons that feel rapid and fun to run through time and again. Simple boss fights with basic mechanics, again, slowly turning into more complicated dances that require a decent amount of experience and practice.

Plenty of other gameplay systems too that arenít Ďfind poo poo, kill poo poo, loot poo poo.í Buy a house (please be kind to your clicking finger), buy an apartment, set up a wardrobe full of clothes, go gambling in the Gold Saucer, go fishing, make things, fly around and look at stuff, take photos of your character doing cute or cool poses, whatever. Thereís a seasonal quest right now where you do an investigation and uncover a mystery. Thereís another seasonal quest where you dance to calm a huge bomb from exploding on a beach. Roleplay in the horny part of town if youíre so inclined, whatever. Roleplay with your guild. Join a guild and coordinate hunts for lucrative targets. Do PVP (donít expect a WoW experience!), which is basically just mock-up fights between peers. Meet new people and spout memes in shout chat. Go on horrific grind-cycles to make your weapon glow in a pretty way. Play an instrument. Collect minions and pets through various means. Absurd amounts of character customization with clothes, weapons, looks and emotes.

Itís a lot. Itís an MMO. It does MMO things pretty dang well. Those are all nice and all, and provide me with occasional distraction, but theyíre not why I got hooked. ARRís middling-to-decent performance didnít get me hooked. ARR and the early game all the way to the first expansion is whatís often called the filter. If youíre gonna bounce off this game, itíll be in this early stretch - I powered through riding off of my need for distraction and the generally decent enjoyment I was getting out of playing through with my friends and exploring the world.

Heavensward, the first expansion, is where I got hooked. If you get to HW, congrats - youíre in for a good time. Without going into spoilers for any of the expansions, all I can say is that HW provides a great, nuanced take on an otherwise fairly simple fantasy story concept and plays it off really, really well. Stormblood is a bit of a let-down in many ways, which I usually ascribe to split focus and some weird narrative choices, but has definite great moments despite. Shadowbringers is an intricate, nuanced, well-written and wonderfully well-realized culmination of an absurd amount of previously spinning plates that the story had been dutifully keeping afloat up until then. Shadowbringers is one of the best stories Iíve seen in video games, elevating the entire MMO on its emotional heft and excellent execution. If you cared about any of the characters, the world, anything at all about the story of this game, ShB is a profoundly rewarding experience.

What can I say about the music? It ranges from orchestral epic to anime OP to weird fusions of both of those, to sick guitar anthems with expert lyrics as the cream on top. I can't rightly say there's anything I've heard in this game, musically, that has annoyed or bothered me. ARR's music is the highlight of that whole experience, and it only gets better, as with all things related to this game. What started as a banger that you loved in the first expansion will swiftly see unseating as you reach some other glorious musical high note. The music is absolutely a highlight of this game, emphasizing the emotional moments, underlining the silly ones, and jacking up the tension and adrenaline rush in boss fights. It all pretty much rules, I love all of it.

I havenít touched even twenty-five percent, I feel, of what this game has to offer. Iíve leveled two jobs over a year, taking it slow, to be fair. Iíve barely touched beast tribe quests, savage or ultimate content (Iíve done a few ultimate trials, I just need to get my friends together to do a static). I donít own a house or an apartment. Thereís so much to do even with the amount of enjoyment Iíve already gotten from the gameís story and plentiful dungeons and trials. You can do as much or as little as you want, and the game will seldom call foul. Like I said, respects your time.

Also notable, I feel I have to point out, is the overall Ďnarrativeí of this gameís development itself. Going from the universally reviled 1.0 classic FF14 into ARR is nothing short of miraculous, a testament to the shrewd developers that took over the project after its initial failure. This is the game that genuinely blew up not only its servers at the end of 1.0, but blew up the world to boot, prepping the game for its eventual rebirth. A gamble, but one that massively paid off with its massive quality improvement even in ARR, and overwhelming improvement come Heavensward. And you can tell that the devs give a poo poo, too - for every annoying grind, thereís something in the game that youíll appreciate for its simplicity and ease. They want you to have fun, ultimately - and in turn, you find yourself rooting for them as well, especially now that the game is seeing so much interest. From rags to riches, to arguably taking the crown on the top of the MMO pile from the long-standing monarch. A crown that was not so much seized as it was picked up off the floor, granted, but itís still a testament to FF14ís overall quality and consistency. I and many others are awaiting Endwalker in November with no shortage of excitement - the first expansion drop for me, so doubly exciting.

The game isnít perfect by any means. Some storylines are utter duds, very basically written and boring. Some gameplay loops are annoying. Some mechanics are unfair or poorly designed. The community isnít a perfect utopia of ultra positivity like many would tell you, every MMO will have its lovely players who will occasionally lessen the experience just by existing near you. Donít get me started on the grind-cycle of relic weapons. But these annoying bits are splashes in a much wider, consistently good-to-excellent sea of a game, by my reckoning, that by the time you reach the last expansion youíll be utterly hooked despite the quibbles.

But it takes time to reach that part - time investment, investment of your patience in getting through lesser parts. Even these lesser moments, however, see elevation in the culmination and progression of this gameís storyline. FF14 is a game, to me, about pay-off. Emotional pay-off, mechanical pay-off, writing pay-off. It asked me to give it a chance, and I did - and I was rewarded for it with what Iíve described previously as the best Final Fantasy game. I meant that, and still mean it. If youíre seeking a deep game to sink your time into, if youíre fleeing from WoWís burning wreckage, or for any reason at all that any of the above sounds appealing to you, give this game a shot. Power through. Chances are decent youíll be glad you did, sooner than you might expect. A heart-felt, often challenging, hilarious, silly, melancholic, contemplative and ultimately very fun game waits. Itís one of my favorite games at this point, and I never thought Iíd say that about any MMO.

If all that fails, gently caress, I dunno. Make a cute character or something. Or play with goons, check out the MMO subforum for that. Iím told thereís a very compelling free trial or some poo poo, maybe look into that if youíre still hesitating.

Erwin the German fucked around with this message at 20:58 on Jul 24, 2021

Erwin the German
May 30, 2011


Cyberpunk 2077

Thereís gonna be some early game and other light spoilers in this, fair warning. I've tagged accordingly, but chances are good you already know them all if you've looked into the game any. Still, better safe than sorry.

In this threadís progenitor, I had this game listed as one of my top games Iíd played that year. Iím gonna write about it again, longer form as is now usual - but Iím not really intending this to be a sales pitch like the last couple, more of me trying to figure out why I like this game as much as I do. Objectively speaking, thereís a hell of a lot wrong with it. Itís probably one of the most shoddily made games that I do enjoy, as a matter of fact - from trivial gameplay from the mid-point on, baffling balance in terms of weapons and RPG progression, ridiculous Borderlands-esque looting in a game that would be better off without it, to unfortunate depictions in the gameís world of marginalized people. There are parts of this game I look back on and just feel annoyed, disappointed - I followed this gameís progress since it was announced, always excited whenever news came out. That the eventual shipped product was the result of developer crunch, arguably misleading marketing, and aching amounts of corners cutÖ itís just sorta heartbreaking, but a useful lesson none the less in tempering oneís expectations.

Which is all a lot of damning things to say about a game I genuinely like quite a bit. Are my standards just that low? Probably, when it comes to cyberpunk material. Itís a genre I have always been in love with since Deus Ex, having read books, played online text RP games, written stories, you name it. 2077 is a game thatís very much akin to how Bloodlines was to the VTM setting for me - a well-realized video game depiction of the source material, that being the tabletop RPG Cyberpunk (later Cyberpunk 2020 and Cyberpunk RED). Now, the tabletop is pretty dumb and edgy, just gonna get that out there immediately. Itís amazingly cringe in a lot of ways, very try hard, with very stupid illustrations galore. It does, however, set the expected tenets for what Iíve come to accept the cyberpunk genre as being encapsulated by. Style over substance. Live on the edge. Attitude is everything. Yíknow, cringy poo poo that was probably a lot cooler to kids in the 1980s than our blissfully irony-laden brains.

lol, lmao

There is, however, a fourth rule, which is to break the rules. This can be taken to mean breaking the rules of the dystopian society, which cyberpunk characters do quite a bit of. I choose to attribute another meaning to it, though, in that cyberpunk - especially good cyberpunk - doesnít always have to be all style and no substance, all attitude with no nuance or calm, and it can fruitfully tell stories about people who arenít glass-chewing edgerunners. This last rule is permission to do with the genre as you see fit, and Iíve always ascribed to the belief about cyberpunk that so long as you feel like itís cyberpunk, it counts. Shadowrun uses fantasy tropes and very rarely tells stories about bringing down the hated system, as Cyberpunk would want you to do. Is that cyberpunk? Yes, I feel. Is Deus Ex cyberpunk for telling a story mostly about conspiracies? Yes. Itís one of those genres where the feeling of it is more important than any rules about what it can and can not be, and that feeling can be subjective.

2077 is a game that has the word Ďcyberpunkí directly on the tin. This is a cyberpunk game in the same edgy vein that was thought up in the 80s, about style over meaning and attitude over reason, where you play as a lovely merc with the asinine agenda of Ďbecoming the best in Night City.í Becoming the best, naturally, means slaughtering your way through hundreds of gang members and corporate stooges, trying to strike it rich. You have other, equally edgy compatriots in your journey, particularly the lovable Jackie, who gleefully shares in your aspirations while dual-wielding pistols and saying one-liners before shooting people.

That is, of course, until he dies at the end of the first act after a heist goes tremendously wrong, the inciting incident for the real story of the game. The genre, steeped in black-hearted murderers and half-machine, empathy-less killers, is no stranger to letting people die. Jackie, though, I feel represents particular shade being hung on the Ďrulesí of the genre as depicted in its source material. Jackie shot for the moon, wanted to be Ďthe best,í to be remembered as a legend in a city full of horrible people and miserable people who get ground to dust every day. He wanted all the style, all the attitude, all of the edge, and he dies in the back of a cab while your character mourns the loss of a best friend. This dovetails into the gameís actual plot, like I said, which becomes less about being the best mercenary with the highest kill count (though both of these will still happen, of course), and more about saving your rear end from a delightfully cyberpunk brain virus thatís trying to replace your personality and ego with that of a dead rock star.

2077 has a lot of great characters, a smaller world than the previous Witcher 3, and a shorter one. This, I feel, grants it more intimacy with the characters who the game wants you to focus on - Keanuís only one of them, though arguably the most important considering he shares a brain with you. The game becomes less focused on getting money to be known as the coolest and bestest mercenary, and more about making connections with people who can help you solve the problem of your imminent death - and in making those connections, getting drawn into those charactersí own issues and very cyberpunk problems. Fight off badlands road warriors in a giant future tank. Sneak into abandoned warehouses full of psychopaths who are more machine than human. Track down a serial killer using digital memory viewing glasses. The humanity and motivations of these characters are never quite lost despite the gameís absolute relishing in the genre. Hereís another cyberpunk maxim - high tech, low life. 2077 nails this.

Night City itself is also a wonderfully dreary, awful loving place. Itís not quite the rain-drenched, constant neon-bathed synthwave hellscape people wanted, but I think itís better than that - itís depicted as being a real city in a way, intended to cram millions of people into it in varying states of awfulness. Itís filthy, itís fetish-y, itís full of violence (most of which youíre only told about rather than see, youíll be the one initiating a lot of it) and misery. Itís the natural conclusion of a world filled with corporations that have more power than nation-states, endlessly trying to out-compete the other, always trying to make things more efficient for their bottom lines. Itís a place where I accept that entire city blocks have been given over to gangs, all with intensely radicalized world views and ultra-violent methods, all the better to survive. The city is a character in its own right, and almost never depicted as a sympathetic one - to escape its awful gravity is a victory in itself.

Iíve already alluded to the gameís main story, but I feel itís pretty well-told, if a little too brisk at times, a victim of the gameís half-botched production. Whatís there, though, is a perfectly good cyberpunk storyline, with a fair share of twists, betrayals, tragic moments, stealth and ultra-violence. It shares space between Vís (your character) quest to get Keanu out of their body and Silverhandís own past exploits juxtaposed against the Ďcurrentí day, which emphasizes the underlying narrative of your personalities slowly twisting together. This is a pretty delightful cyberpunk and sci-fi concept to me in general, and the game nails it pretty well, particularly and poignantly in the gameís finishing stretch.

In touching upon all that stuff above, with the Ďrulesí of the setting and all, do I feel as if 2077ís story adheres to them, breaks them? It does both. It both relishes in the edge as well as casting a light on it and showing off the ugliness of such a lifestyle. Style will only get you so far without substance - better to have both. No amount of attitude will save you from a bullet or bad tumble, but the game wants you to have it anyway, to live life to the fullest no matter how much the gangs or corporations try to squeeze it out of you, out of everyone and everything. Itís a story about trying to live, the ugly, tragic process of trying to unfuck a hosed situation, and basking in as many genre staples as it can along the way. I love the story.

The irony is, of course, the game is a victim to these very same tenets. Style over substance, you say? Sure sounds a lot like the gameís gameplay, to the sight of distant cars actually being mobile .gifs on the horizon that vanish as soon as you get close. Better not be too edgy, or cops will teleport behind you instantly. I can sure feel the attitude of being a badass legendary mercenary as I clear the twentieth loving gang base for basically no reason other than to say I did it, cause thatís the majority of the gameís side content. I played this game as a street samurai quite literally, using a katana and cyberware designed to get in peopleís faces and slice them up. This absolutely trivializes the game. You can also play as a stealthy hacker type, looking through walls, turning peopleís wetware off, making turrets attack bad guys for you, etc. This absolutely trivializes the game as well.

Thereís more difficult builds, but not particularly interesting ones worth noting - why play a cyberpunk game without hacking and being a cyber samurai? What am I gonna do, use a gun and stick to a chest-high wall? No thanks, and thatís boring to boot. The AI is mostly bad, too, so combat eventually became a measure of Ďhow quickly can I sprint through this gang of 10 dudes and kill them all in one swing of my legendary Japanese steel?í Turns out itís usually in less than thirty seconds, which is novel the first two or three times, and then boring. RPG mechanics themselves? I hope you like incremental, small upgrades in the form of perks. None of them feel especially exciting, and some entire trees are just utter duds. Didnít help that a good few of them were bugged entirely at launch.

Itís a game with a great story and atmosphere and feeling to it - the world feels like the dark future, a bleak one. The game itself, however, the act of playing it? Occasionally brilliant with some of its systems, particularly when it comes to hacking and mobility, in the way becoming more machine gives you options and fun. But itís mostly just tedious, a baffling Ubisoft-esque race to clear the map of markers and Ďcontentí that doesnít mean anything. The gameís main plot and major side missions are far and away the best content in the game, putting the side mission tripe to shame.

It was very buggy when I played back at the start of the year, but Iíve heard itís better now. Shrug! Maybe, I dunno. Hopefully next time I play it it runs better, though I was blessed with far fewer issues and crashes than most, comparatively.

The music is overall excellent, if weíre talking about the gameís actual atmospheric and combat soundtrack - all of it emphasizes the gameís atmosphere, with industrial and pounding synth. Lots of great leitmotifs from the gameís main theme all over, as well as most of that same music being wonderful listening in general. The gameís radio? Ehhhhh. I barely listened to a lot of it, despite it all being made for the game in a curious bit of fidelity to the world setting. Kudos for that, some of it is good, most of it is bad or forgettable.

On the subject of sound, I really like all the voice acting, too. Keanu does a great job with Johnny Silverhand in my opinion, and my own characterís Cherami Leigh is always a delight to hear ever since I heard her as A2 in Automata. Lots of good performances all around, such as Judy, Jackie, Panam and Takemura.

All in all, itís a game youíre very much permitted to dislike, in spite of all the praise Iíve given it. CDPR screwed it up - they promised the moon and delivered, comparatively, a rock. Huge articles have been written about the gameís utterly hosed development, from the awful crunch the devs had to face, to the marketing blitz not even close to depicting the delivered game, to the way it was ultimately rushed out the door despite being delayed multiple times. It came out as a buggy mess and received well-deserved critique from people, many of whom were eagerly expecting this to be the title that redefined the RPG genre. It didnít, not by a long shot - it was, in my opinion, a strictly mediocre RPG with many busted systems and mechanics, that coasted into my good graces entirely off the strength of its narrative and gleeful adherence to the cyberpunk genre in ways that were fun, melancholy, funny and more. The narrative and atmosphere depicts the dark future in a strikingly compelling way, and as a big fan of that genre, I was always destined to like the game for that alone.

Itís just a shame that the genre about, in part, corporatism run rampant and cruelty towards workers has to hit so close to home in this case. I myself donít intend to give them more money until they shape up their act, but Iím at least grateful that the game had something redeeming for me.


Erwin the German
May 30, 2011


Regy Rusty posted:

This thread is tainted with sin now

please find it in your heart to forgive me

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