Archives for posts with tag: wRPGs


Back before Destiny launched – about three years ago now – I wrote an excitable, detailed piece about the PS4 alpha test. Clearly I was onboard. But if you were to search my blog for more on Bungie’s shared world shooter, you’d turn up a single extra article since launch – an unboxing of the game’s limited edition.

So what happened? Did I hate the game? Did I abandon it altogether? No. I played Destiny for a while, and for a while I loved it. Then I reached the end of the story, and I fell out of love.

My issues with vanilla Destiny are manifold, and I’ll get into them later (indeed, some of them still persist, to varying degrees). But as the release of Destiny 2 looms ever nearer, I find myself getting drawn back to the game I so desperately wanted to love. And so, over the last few weeks, I’ve been revisiting it, now as different an experience as it is similar, to see if I really want to buy in to the sequel.

I’m probably going to get Destiny 2.

To be clear, this isn’t the first time I’ve returned. After walking away from the original game shortly after reaching level 20, and having killed a weird, pulsating cosmic heart that no one cared to even begin to explain, the excitement around the following year’s The Taken King piqued my interest. “It’s got a story now!” people would tell me, adding “there’s a lot more for solo players to do,” and “levelling is much better explained this time!”

They weren’t wrong, to be fair. I swallowed a mouthful of bile at having to re-buy Destiny and its first two expansions to play The Taken King and again, I had a lot of fun with it. And what do you know, it did have a story! A fairly decent one too, even if it still could have done with a touch more explanation (pipe down, Stranger).

Eventually though, I stopped playing again, and it’s at this point I should probably detail what my issues with Destiny were (are?). To begin with, it’s probably worth pointing out why I was so excited for the game; as a huge Halo campaign fan, I’m used to being a bit of a lore nerd, scrounging around for clues about the mysteries of the universe, be they from snippets of obscure dialogue, hidden terminals or even extended universe novels, and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into Bungie’s next big mythic sci-fi setting. What I got was… well, a mess, quite frankly, with a campaign that almost gloried in paper thin characters sending you on inexplicable missions packed with vague objectives against inscrutable enemies. True, the Grimoire card system hinted at a deep, interesting pool of lore beyond the surface, and it’s worth pointing out that some stories are told in those cards that probably wouldn’t work in-game, but the campaign itself exposed virtually none of that storytelling to players, instead choosing to offer up a disjointed, unsatisfying attempt at a narrative that had quite clearly been chopped up and sewn back together wrong sometime prior to release – something that Kotaku’s Jason Schreier later confirmed. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but it genuinely saddened me that Destiny‘s story was such a shambles, and I don’t think it’d be unfair to call it a disaster.

Oryx: not a looker.

As mentioned, 2015’s big expansion The Taken King did much to fix that state of affairs, offering a simpler yet more engaging tale told by actual characters, rather than cardboard cut-outs. It also introduced the Books of Sorrow, which remains the best storytelling in the entire saga (even if, again, we see very little of its intriguing detail in the game itself).

Another big reason for my interest in Destiny was my love of roleplaying games as a genre. A Halo RPG, you say? Sounds like my dream game, sign me up! Unfortunately, another of Destiny‘s missteps was the arcane levelling system after you hit the soft level cap of 20, whereupon any further XP earned would be converted into Motes of Light which you then… You know what, I can’t even remember. I barely engaged with it. I briefly tried to wrap my head around it, and then walked away, rather than grind my face against the backside of RNGesus. Thankfully, The Taken King changed things so that every piece of armour you wear and weapon you wield adds to your overall Light level. Equip a better piece of gear and your Light will go up. Simple! Quite why it had to be so mind-bending in the base game, I don’t know. Still, even with these changes in place, I once more walked away from the game partway through The Taken King, just as I had with vanilla, because my main issue with the game still persisted. And honestly, it’s a complaint that isn’t even fair to level at the game.

Each time, what made me walk away from Destiny is the fact that you can only get so far as a solo player. After a while, you need to group up with others if you want to actually progress further and see everything the game has to offer.

Well d’uh, you’re probably saying, and yes, I know – like I said, it’s not really a fair criticism of the game, given that’s its fundamental nature. It’s just that it doesn’t really work for me, as a typically solitary player that happens to jump into a game whenever I have the time; it’s difficult to schedule a raid when you don’t know if you’re going to be free (or if you can even be arsed when the time slot rolls around). I also don’t really want my gaming time to feel like a commitment, like I have to do something, rather than want to, because that way resentment lies.

Yet even with all that said, Destiny has always been in the back of my mind, and I’ve long thought that I’d like to go back to it and see what the end-game is all about. It’d take a bit of effort on my part (and I had once made the effort to get in on a run through the Vault of Glass, the raid that shipped with the base game), but with Destiny 2 on the horizon, and the thought that I’d quite like to get in on the ground level with the new instalment, I managed to ingratiate myself with a group of friendly players and go raiding. And it’s been great! Having recently run through both Crota’s End and King’s Fall, I can finally see what all the fuss is about. Destiny‘s raids really are the game at its very best, and that’s even more evident when you have a good, patient, friendly group to talk you through the often opaque, dense mechanics. I’ve never had a group to play the game with before, which has always made it very easy to walk away from, and it’s really thanks to the guys over at Town Called Malice that I was even able to experience them. It’s also pretty much down to them that I’m almost certain to buy Destiny 2 now, whereas before I was just sort of interested. ONE OF US. Or, them, I guess.

Destiny has always offered some incredible vistas. Sorry this one’s a bit rubbish.

I’m not sure how well I’ll adapt to scheduling playtimes and such, as it’s probably going to take some kind of rewiring of my brain to get properly into Destiny full-time, but I definitely want to get deeper into it this time out. And as much as I’m fully on-board the hype train now (or, well, I at least have a ticket), there are some things that have given me pause lately. Last month, it emerged that Destiny 2 was doing away with the Grimoire system, with Bungie’s Steve Cotton telling Forbes, “we want to put the lore in the game. We want people to be able to find the lore.” On the face of it, this is a really good change; the Grimoire has long been a complaint for a couple of reasons, mainly that it keeps the lore outside of the game, and having more story exposed to players while they’re in-universe is very obviously a good thing. But as I noted above, the Grimoire also plays host to some excellent story content that simply couldn’t be done in the game – unless it was loaded with lengthy cutscenes and flashbacks, which people would also complain about. As a counterpoint to this, how fucking cool would it have been to discover bits of the Books of Sorrow in a mission on the Dreadnaught, where you slowly pieced together the history of the Hive and discovered the means to defeat Oryx? If this kind of storytelling is what Bungie is going for, then consider me all in. But if all the stuff that doesn’t play an active role in the current story, yet manages to provide flavour and context to the universe is gone? Well, that’s probably not great.

More worrying are the recent pieces of news taken from a couple of interviews with Design Director Luke Smith, where he suggests that seemingly important pieces of the Destiny puzzle may not make a return. First, responding to a question from PC Gamer about whether we’d see the mystery of the Exo Stranger cleared up in Destiny 2, Smith explained that “we have a bunch of characters who are interesting, but the Exo Stranger is one that always makes me chuckle a little bit. Because I feel that’s one character where we actually wrapped up the arc. She gave you a sweet gun and then dissolved, presumably off to do something else. So I feel like, of all of our characters we’ve introduced and exited, we actually exited her effectively.”

For those not familiar with the character, the Stranger was a female Exo that effectively led you by the nose through the original game’s campaign, directing you as much as, if not more than, any other character in the story. She never explained herself, her goal, or her reasons for aiding you, and was often heard talking to some unknown ally before abruptly disappearing. At the end of the game, she offered you her rifle, which is seemingly made of parts that shouldn’t yet exist, before telling the player, “all ends are beginnings. Our fight is far from over.” So to consider her story over is odd at best, and to think her arc was ended “effectively” is absolutely ridiculous. Imagine if Cortana just didn’t turn up in Halo 2! I suspect (hope?) that, given the character’s popularity and potential for future storytelling, that she will eventually wind her way back into a future game or expansion, but given Smith’s statement that her arc is done, I won’t hold my breath until I see it for myself.

I don’t even have time to explain why her story wasn’t “effectively” wrapped up.

A couple of days after the PC Gamer interview, Smith appeared on Kotaku’s podcast, where it was confirmed that The Darkness, the formless, ancient evil of the Destiny universe, would not be appearing in Destiny 2. This makes sense, as the Cabal are the main focal antagonist of the new game, and they aren’t really allied with the Darkness, certainly not in the way other races such as the Hive or Vex are. What was a bit worrying about this was Smith’s reaction to Jason Schreier’s question of whether the omission was because nobody actually knew what the Darkness was: “So, I think that at a point, just totally candidly? We had no idea what it was. Straight up. We had no clue.”

Hmm. Let’s go back to the earlier Kotaku story, which revealed that Destiny underwent massive rewrites a year out from release. We know that Joe Staten and his team of writers spent years building the narrative foundation of Destiny, and we know that the studio leadership didn’t like how it all hung together. Even if the Darkness wasn’t formally laid out, I find it difficult to believe that there weren’t at least deep hooks written into everything else that strongly suggested where the overarching tale was headed; 343 industries’ Frank O’Connor, himself a Bungie alum, has previously stated that much of the current direction of the Halo series arose from discussions at Bungie around what a potential continuation would be, as an example.

With Staten now back at Microsoft, I wonder how much of the comments surrounding the Stranger and the Darkness are about the current writing team wanting to throw out the last vestiges of the original outline, in an effort to more thoroughly put their stamp on Destiny. Smith’s elaboration perhaps supports this: “We didn’t know what it was, and we, for a period, we chose [that] we’re going to lump all the races [in together], and you see this in the tooltips in the game — ‘minions of the darkness.’ And we had taken all the races and said, ‘Ah, they’ll just be The Darkness.’ But that’s not what the IP deserves.”

That’s not what the IP deserves. That, to me, says the Darkness will return, but only when they’ve decided what the current team want their Darkness to be. I won’t say that’s necessarily a bad thing – it may even free them up to tell better stories – but I have to admit to some level of disappointment that we’ll likely never know how the universe of Destiny was originally meant to unfold. After the good work done on The Taken King, however, in both storytelling and gameplay terms, I’m certainly willing to give Smith and his team the benefit of the doubt, even if he does have a bit of a habit of inserting his foot firmly into his mouth and somehow managing to leave a bad taste for everyone.

witchban_editedIt says something about the The Witcher 2 that it’s one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played, despite the fact I’ve only experienced about half of it.

These days, many games offer choice to their players, yet how far-reaching these decisions are depends on the game; your choices in the Mass Effect series may dictate who lives and who dies for instance, but many decisions tend to be rather binary choices that descend into “if this, then that” scenarios that don’t tend to have a wider impact on the game world than who you take on a mission with you.

But The Witcher 2 goes a step further, one major choice effectively changing the entire course of the game. After a scene-setting prologue in which Geralt of Rivia (the titular Witcher) witnesses, and is subsequently framed for, the death of a king, he sets off with Vernon Roche, head of the deceased monarch’s special forces, to prove his innocence and hunt down the man responsible. His first lead takes him to the dreary riverside town of Flotsam, where he’s tracked down Iorveth, leader of a band of renegade elves that he suspects have helped the true kingslayer to flee.

Of course, this being a world made of numerous shades of grey, things aren’t quite that simple. Iorveth leads a group of Scoia’tael, bands of elven and dwarven guerrillas in a world where non-humans are persecuted, and to many he’s nothing more than a terrorist. As the saying goes: “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”, and so the man you initially set out to hunt down becomes a potential ally. By the end of the first chapter we’re forced to make a quick decision: do we stick with Roche and tend to matters in Flotsam, or do we set off with Iorveth on the trail of the assassin?

iorveth

This single choice leads to two wildly different outcomes. With Iorveth, we end up in the Dwarven town of Vergen, supporting a young warrior facing off an expansionist king’s army while she strives to establish a multi-racial state. If we decide to travel with Roche, we’re on the opposite side of that same conflict, in a completely separate area with different quests, objectives and new characters that you’d otherwise never come across.

Portioning off masses of content like this is great for replayability (I still need to run the Roche path in a second playthrough), but is also somewhat risky; there are plenty of people out there who will only play the game once through and not even know what they’re missing, after all. It shows great confidence in their fiction that CD Projekt RED would offer such differing paths through the storyline of The Witcher 2, and even better is the somewhat-delayed nature of the branching paths in the game. Often, you’ll make a decision and think it’s had very little effect on your adventure at all. It’s only hours later that you’ll see the full repercussions of your actions, and this forces you to own your choices; you can’t reload and try out the other path (unless you want to lose hours of progress), so you just have to accept the fallout and move on, knowing that next time you’ll stop to consider your actions, conscious of the path you want to take through the game’s narrative.

And what a story it is, tackling mature themes such as racism, terrorism and political maneuvering, all through a dark fantasy lens. Following on from the first game’s excellent final cinematic, Geralt finds himself in the employ of King Foltest of Temeria as he attempts to put down a revolt, and later carves a path through the Northern Kingdoms in an attempt to uncover the machinations of a lodge of magicians, the disappearance of his one-time lover and the memories he has lost since he apparently returned from death. It’s an epic tale that plays out in a somewhat-muted manner, lending the tale a very grounded, human feel despite the dragons, the sorceresses and the mythical creatures Geralt earns his coin by slaying. It’s the perfect tone for the game to take, eschewing the usual AAA Hollywood-style theatrics in favour of something that better serves the multi-layered, mature story.

Combat has been overhauled from the first game. Just as in The Witcher, Geralt carries two swords – a silver blade for use against monsters and a steel one for more earthly foes – but here you have either a fast or a heavy attack rather than the previous game’s three stances. Replacing Geralt’s spins and pirouettes is a handy dodge-roll for getting out of trouble, and the first game’s magical Signs make a reappearance here as well. Combat certainly feels more tactile and involving than the previous game’s mouse-clicks-and-die-rolls system, and you really need to know how and when to use each element of the system to your advantage; risk a slow, heavy strike at the wrong time and you could be in trouble. Similarly, you don’t want to allow yourself to get surrounded, as this will lead to Geralt being bounced around like a pinball as all of your enemies take their shot at you, knocking you out of your attack animation.

If this sounds punishing, well… it is. Or rather, it can be. The best thing to do in The Witcher 2 is to play defensively, sussing out the enemy’s weaknesses, finding an opening and then exploiting it mercilessly. It’s exhilarating when you work your way through a group of enemies by sheer skill and quick thinking, because if you just try to hack and slash, you won’t last long at all.

There are a couple of minor irritations in combat, however. I mentioned enemies knocking you out of attack animations, and that’s a symptom of probably the most potentially frustrating niggle in the game – when you make a move, take a swipe or prepare a sign, you have to commit to it. You can’t bail out part-way through the animation to dodge-roll or block, so you really need to know how and when to move. Secondly, you can only use potions (concoctions that confer buffs on Geralt) before you enter combat, meaning you generally have to know (or at least suspect) a battle is coming up ahead of time. This is a change from the first game, where you could down a potion if you could manage to create a bit of space in a fight.

These minor issues wouldn’t really matter if the combat wasn’t occasionally uneven – there are some brutal difficulty spikes in the game, though generally you can get through them by thinking about the situation and trying a different strategy. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both these issues either tweaked or changed entirely in the upcoming sequel.

flotsam3

Visually, The Witcher 2 is a beautiful game, even on 360 (the version I played, which seems to be roughly on-par with PC on medium). This is partly thanks to CD Projekt’s impressive tech and partly down to their excellent art direction. I mentioned Flotsam earlier, but it’s the surrounding forest that really steals the show in this early section of the game; dark, foreboding and densely multi-layered, it’s straight out of a Brothers Grimm folktale, with the canopies of huge trees blotting out the light, branches twisted into gnarled curlicues. It’s a fabulously atmospheric setting in a game that’s absolutely rammed with them – just wait until you first spy the quarry near Vergen.

And I haven’t even mentioned the characters, all of whom are well-defined and uniformly deliver excellent dialogue. It’s certainly a clear step up from the first game in that regard, even returning characters like Zoltan and Dandelion seemingly infused with more character. The absolute stand-out for me is the mysterious Letho, a man whose appearance belies his intelligence. In fact, I enjoyed his character so much that I made a decision near the game’s end that I wouldn’t have thought likely at the tale’s start. I really hope we see him again in The Witcher 3.

And speaking of The Witcher 3, it’s probably my most anticipated next-gen title on the horizon right now. All I need to do is play through Geralt’s first two adventures again beforehand, experiencing those paths less trodden along the way. CD Projekt have made it clear that the upcoming third game will bring Geralt’s tale to a close and, looking as impressive as it currently does, I think they’re going to leave us with one of the best trilogies in all of gaming.

Previous entries in Games of the Generation:
Dead Space 2
Tales of Vesperia
Halo 3
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
To the Moon

CD Projekt RED have torn the veil from a new trailer for upcoming dark fantasy epic The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. In it, we see Geralt of Rivia on horseback (along with a companion) collecting payment for a monster contract. His employers, Nilfgaardian soldiers, are a bit busy sentencing a young woman to death, and Geralt initially decides to take his coin and go on his way. But deciding that “evil is evil”, no matter to what degree, he intervenes.

Our white-haired hero also makes note of his famous neutrality (“If I’m to choose between one evil and another, I’d rather not choose at all”), suggesting we’ll again have some tough decisions to make in the third and final chapter of The Witcher saga.

It’s interesting to note that the Nilfgaardian soldier remarks to Geralt, “knew you witchers wouldn’t scorn Imperial gold”, suggesting that the other rider is also a witcher. Listening to him telling Geralt not to meddle, I think it might be Vesemir, and it’d be good to see he and some of the more minor characters from across the first two games return in Wild Hunt.

I recently finished The Witcher 2 (yep, I’m finally making some headway on my backlog), and I have to say it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. Having reminded myself of some plot points from the first game and reading up on a little lore on the Witcher wiki, I feel confident I know what the main thrust of the third game’s plot will be. I can’t wait to get my hands on it, but seeing as it’s not due out until sometime next year I’ll have to content myself with reading Andrzej Sapkowski’s books – a couple of which I’ve just ordered from Amazon.

Who else is excited for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt? What do you make of the trailer?