Broken Controllers

2017 In Review

 

It's that time of year again where we look back at the year and the games we played. Once again I'm going to be talking about the games that I played on my own time. This is not a retrospective on the podcast nor is it a review of games that launched this year. Although, this time all the games on here did launch this year with one exception. This article is about games that I personally played. This year I'm adding a category, but we're going to get to that in a minute.  Onward!

Zach's "Mostly" full thoughts on Breath of the Wild

    So this week on the Podcast we talked Breath of the Wild and I went on what could only be charitably called a Semi-coherent rant on the game. Rather obviously the whole of my personal feelings on the game didn't come through so I'd like to take this time to go more into depth as to why I think it is the single most overrated game I've ever played.



    First off the game is designed around the open-world letting the player decide what they want to go experience and when they want to go take on the final boss. There's nothing inherently wrong with this idea. Honestly the way Zelda is built its a great idea the very first Zelda was probably one of the first open-worldish games that were released. However the game doesn't do anything to actively engage and encourage the player to explore. Enemies killing the player in one shot and one of the first likely events to happen is to get one shot by an enemy you didn't even know was there is not good for exploration. But more critically there is nothing in the world to find. All the micro-dungeons I delved into looked and felt the same. While other games like Oblivion and Skyrim can have that issue they make up for it by providing loot. You can find cool things in the dungeons which can buff up your character with new armor and weaponry. By contrast Breath of the Wild's dungeons are all small and neon with basically nothing in them. With this being the case they begin to feel like a slog and just ticking a checkbox to increase Link's stats. Which leads to the next issue.

    The means to travel the world are great, being able to swim, climb and glide makes the world open up in  a way that even Fallout and Skyrim can't match. That said Link's starting stamina is less than an Obese asthmatic smoker with his sprint being so short it is pointless to even bother and being unable to swim across a tiny pond ruins the experience. However even this could have been OK and upgrading things are always a normal thing in these kinds of games but the real killer in the game is its god-awful combat.

    The real killer for the game is its combat. The combat is probably the worst one I've ever had the unpleasant experience of interacting with. I was told on the podcast that there is a dodge mechanic but since the game doesn't bother with a tutorial, like every game does, I never found it. If you didn't die in a single hit from basically every enemy you could get used to the combat before it started beating you down. A great example of this done right would be the newer Xcom games. There is a tutorial to get you used to the controls but after that you, the player, must figure out how to win. I said on the podcast that I felt better losing multiple hours of gameplay in Xcom than I did dying once in Breath of the Wild. The main rub is that whenever I died in Zelda it never felt like my fault while in Xcom when I lost characters I knew it was my mistake even if it was a low chance to work I, the player, made the decisions that led to the problem. In Zelda dying is less lost progress but it always felt unfair. That is more important if it doesn't feel fair, which without providing the player with the information to use the tools they are given, you can't really accomplish.

    The tools given as I already stated break if you look at them funny but even that could be OK. After all the Elder Scrolls and Fallout games incorporate weapon degradation and the player will usually be carrying multiple different ones in that eventuality. The difference lays in the fact that in these games weapons degrade in effectiveness. They don't just break out of left field. The other thing these games do that this Zelda doesn't is provide armor. the player is given the tools to succeed in combat. Even after leaving the starting area the player has a couple of weapons, knowledge of the combat system, and armor. Breath of the Wild seems to not believe in armor and because of this it makes combat something that was avoided as much as possible which again breaks the exploration vibe. I don't advocate the enemies being pushovers but one of the best gaming experiences I've ever had was the first time I encountered a dragon while exploring in Skyrim. It was a dangerous and tense fight but since I had all the tools to fight back it was fun. However a better example to use would likely be Fallout 4. This is due to the large preponderance of Fat Man launchers in the wasteland. These instant-kill weapons float around but the player has methods of hitting back and killing the person carrying the weapon gives the player the weapon. This adds a risk-reward to the encounter. Killing an instant death enemy in Zelda doesn't even give me a sword. All it does is cost resources without providing any of same.
 
    The surface layer of Zelda Breath of the Wild isn't a terrible concept but digging deeper into the core mechanics and gameplay absolutely kill the game. I can ignore a terrible story, I played Fallout 4, for the sake of fun exploration and combat. Unfortunately Breath of the Wild has neither. At the end of the day it sold and will sell thousands of copies because Nintendo but if you want a better exploration game so long as the Bethesda games are available that's where you should look. Better combat, better world, better game.

Zach out.

Broken Controllers: Ramblin'

    We're talking about the best part of the work week. Exactly: we're talking about Payday 2. Get your mask on and follow the jump.

    Payday 2 is a first person shooter with a blend between stealthily setting up the perfect bank heist and shooting your way clear when that same heist goes south. This is a very regular event as even bumping into a guard sets off their criminal senses. This can easily be explained: bumping into them causes the assault rifle you have jammed down your suit pant to tip them off.

    The game takes place in two separate modes. The first is casing mode where you can't really do anything but walk around and see where things are. A skill will let a player pinpoint guards and cameras but without it you are left to hope to remember and not run into anybody. Once you feel as though you are ready to make your move, you put your mask on and this brings up the standard shooter fare and controls. You can sprint, jump, crouch and, most importantly, shoot.

    Gunplay in the game is fairly standard. You point at what you want dead and click the mouse, often holding it down until it stays down. It's hard to talk about a shooter given that the gameplay is generally standardized and most people know how it plays. Generally, you carry two weapons and have whatever recovering armor you brought with you. Weapons can be modified to change their characteristics: from their damage to the concealment, or how quickly you are spotted when in casing mode or just sneaking around. Heavier weaponry and armor gets you noticed faster, which, personally, causes me all sorts of grief. Your health and armor actually operate in a similar method to the first Halo game. Your armor will recharge but your health doesn't without the use of a health pack. Run out of health and you go down and have about a half minute for a teammate to reach you and help you up. Failing this, you are out of action until you can respawn after a timer runs out or can be brought back by having a teammate exchange a hostage for you. The latter option doesn't exist for single player. Get knocked down four times, excluding cloaker downs, and you are out just like if you hadn't been helped up in time.

    The "stealth" mode of the game varies between sneaking into warehouses and grabbing all the loot and running fully armed into a crowded store and intimidating the customers into not calling the cops.  While a successful copless run is always a good feeling (since it's fairly hard to do), when you're doing the stealth portion well, there's not a whole lot to do.  Usually, you'll have a couple of drills running, or one person will be running loot out to a drop point while someone babysits the hostages.  One mission involves breaking into up to 120 deposit boxes in a bank, which takes 40 minutes of holding the 'F' key if no one has upgraded lock picking.  Still fun, but very time consuming.

    Next up, I want to talk about your levels and skills. As you complete missions you gain two resources: money and, more importantly, experience. Experience unlocks additional skills in whatever tree you are looking to run down. There are four trees: Mastermind, Enforcer, Technician, and Ghost. For those wondering, I'm an Enforcer and Technician. This mixing raises an interesting point: you aren't locked into any given tree and can bounce around each one and get whatever skills you want. However to get the most out of your skills, it is better to focus on one tree and get the higher level skills. For example, as a high level enforcer I can use the best armor in the game while my two accomplices, Tyler and everyone's favorite guestish host Ed, can't. Each tree has a different focus.


  • Ghost is all about movement and avoiding detection. 
  • Mastermind is about controlling NPCs and assisting players. 
  • Technicican is all about opening things that the other people don't want you to open. 
  • Enforcer is about being the team's tank. 

    Given its inspiration from Left 4 dead and its sequel, there are special cops that show up and make your life difficult. This is actually a completely needed balancing system as normal cops hardly slow you down unless you are caught in the open with no armor. I can currently pull normal, no skull jobs, on the difficulty rating of 0-4 skulls, without having to even worry about going down because of how tough my armor is. So, here they are in order from least to most dangerous. Now, this is my list and other people may disagree with how I've ranked them, but let's run them down and let you choose.
  1. The Sniper: Big shock: he snipes and does lots of damage. He's not that dangerous because you are usually in a covered and, therefore, safe area.
  2. The Taser: A close range threat, his purpose is to immobilize you. He can be dangerous, but since you are usually looking at him and still shooting spasmodically, he can be killed while tasing you.
  3. The Shield: There are ways to make this guy really simple (penetrating rifles or explosive shotgun rounds), but he can be dangerous if he holds up in a choke point.
  4. The Bulldozer: Now here's where things are personal. These guys are really slow and have more health than anything else in the game. Therefore, they usually have to be killed with headshots. They are extremely dangerous, but not able to deal a one hit kill outside of 4 skulls.
  5. The Cloaker, or to use its official name, the @%&ing Cloaker: This guy is a one hit down if he connects, and he usually does. If spotted at range he can be taken out easily, but if he closes you are in trouble. Given that his usual M.O. is to wait around a corner or under a car while you're lugging a bag, that happens fairly often. While both me and Tyler have gone on Podcast and stated how much we hate this guy, I think we both actually kinda like having this guy running around. He is a serious danger even to fully equipped crews and he makes the team aspect of going loud much more apparent. 
    While I have to say the game is great just to sit down and play because its combat system is well honed, it just lacks something without at least one other human player.  For reference, see every single episode of the podcast where we've played a multiplayer game. I haven't played with random scrubs online, but I'm antisocial and this is a game that takes a lot of inherent teamwork. I've had fun with Tyler in this game, being my fully loaded self sitting on a bunch of cameras while he ninjas a place. This is because we each know what we are good at. I lack the patience and the skills to pull the sneaky stuff and the more people you have trying to sneak around the more likely someone is going to get caught. So I instead run my armor and heavy equipment in case Tyler gets caught. That said, the game is structured that even should you be caught you have a chance to fight your way to completion. Often, you'll have low armor (for the low detection risk) but you still have your main gun which lets you actually fight back against the hordes of cops. That is why I think the game did its thing perfectly: pulling a mission without the cops getting called is a great feeling, but should they be brought in you still have a chance.

    The missions, unfortunately, don't have a whole lot of variation. There are experience modifiers that build up by not playing a given mission for a while and encourage replaying them while similar negative modifiers make sure you don't spam the same level over and over again. That said, the missions do suffer from the AI. Without a teammate you are the only one who can even interact with the objectives as the AI can't even be ordered to carry bags. This is a small quibble but can occasionally be frustrating as can the AI's occasional moments of their brain falling out and watching them dither on the top floor of a building because they don't know how to navigate the map properly while a Cloaker takes you out of the game and negates all your hard work till that point. The last thing that drives me kind of nuts about the game is the only way to gain unlocks for your equipment you have to get lucky and pull the correct card at the draw and the end of the level and hope you got the right weapon mod.

    The problems with the game do not outweigh the good parts. And while I am probably not the perfect person to say this, since I got my copy from Ed for free, I would say the game is more than worth the money and it just gets better when you play with friends to share in the pain and the success of each heist.

    All right ramblers lets get rambling!

                                    Zach out.

Broken Controllers: The League of Legends.

    So we've spent enough time talking about the game on the podcast that this particular review may seem as though it isn't needed; and really it probably isn't but you know? I'm bored with time on my hands so without further ado: League of Legends.
    Now I've been playing this game for the last couple months and while a lot of the things I'd heard about it made me leery of even touching the game. The reason this changed was because of a particular day in which I was bored and decided that rather than continue to criticize a game I'd never played or indeed even watched I would play it. Nothing to really worry about given it is a free game, and you know what? I found I enjoyed the game despite being horrible at it.

    So lets get started with the actual review shall we? League of Legends is a MOBA, don't worry if you don't know what that means I sure didn't, which stands for Multi-player online battle arena. Each game is ten people divided into two five man teams. The real game is done primarily in a draft format where each side can ban three champions not allowed in the game. They then follow the order they were placed in to decide on a role, of which there are commonly five. Top laner, mid-laner, attack damage, support and jungler. Each one has advantages to play and champions that are strong in those roles.

    The champions are all divided into where Riot, the game's developers, thought they would be best. That said people have changed things around in certain cases. The pool of champions is massive and is so varied in both the aesthetics and what they can do that finding on that you like should be relatively easy this; combined with the free champions each week lets people try before they buy. Before playing the game I criticized it for being a pay to win type of game but this isn't the case. All champions can be purchased with in-game currency and rune pages, which modify certain things in game, can ONLY be purchased with the in-game currency. The only things that can't be bought with this currency are things that are just different looks for in game items such as champion skins. With my first criticism fallen we move to gameplay.

    League has an interesting model in that it is a game with heavy team emphasis but during a large portion of the early game you cannot help your teammates. The only exception to this is the person in the Jungler role as their main job, in my opinion, is to get those lanes ahead. Now that I've confused you let me explain, the map is divided into three lanes that stretch the map between the two bases. Along these lanes little things known as minions waddle their way to the enemy, which are going to be a decent player's main source of income as they kill these critters. Separating these lanes is what is known as the Jungle where other monsters wait and are often killed by the Jungler for their gold and experience. The goal of the game is to destroy the opponent's main building which can only be accessed after destroying all the towers along one lane; often more than one lane's towers need to fall to accomplish this. Destroying towers grants gold for your whole team, which is needed to purchase items that make your champion more powerful. Here one of my criticisms was that it is very hard to comeback once a team starts to cascade; by which I refer to having enough of a gold/item advantage that it is nearly impossible to go against them in a fair fight. This is still true however with the recent changes it is more possible to come back from being down.

    One thing that should be mentioned is that so far in my experience is that the community of League has a very bad reputation and while I have run into a few people who were profoundly unpleasant most of the people I have played with have been fun to play with. Unfortunately you will run into unpleasant people anywhere on the internet but with the inclusion of a mute button as well as a report function for those you felt were over the top it is easy to play a game and just have fun.

    Geremy would probably have more to say on the game but if you are interested and you want to give the game we won't stop talking about you can always hit me up on the game for someone to just play a round against the game's bots or whatever. Just shoot a friend request to my account at Hambone2013 and let me know via email that you are listener of the podcast and I'd be happy to play a couple rounds with you.

    All I've really got left is to say: even if you don't like the game its free so what are you losing other than a little time?

Zach,

LOL summoner name: Hambone2013
Starcraft2 name: Justicar06
MWO name: Justicar06.

Broken Controllers: Diablo 3

    So a while back a game released on the PC and it was, not universally panned, but constantly compared to the game that came before a game that was one of the best games released in the nineties for the PC. My inner Blizzard fanboy might be peeking out on that but whatever. I'm talking of course about the Diablo games recently the third installment of this series made its way to the console and I had the opportunity to try it out. Follow the jump to defeat the great evil.
    Well Diablo 3 follows its forebear of being a hack and slash dungeon crawler. The whole point of the game of course is to find all the demons and complete the story but to do so you have to navigate all kinds of randomly laid out dungeons where the boss isn't where you might have left him on your first playthrough. During this you unlock sills and find new and interesting gear to equip your chosen hero with. 3 has five classes, Barbarian, which takes the fighter slot as a big hulking damage taker and dealer, Monk, the other frontline class which does damage . . .and that was about as much as I could see. The Demon hunter which is a ranged bow user and I think its supposed to be a heavy damage dealer but I didn't see any of that on my use of it. Finally two mage classes, the voodoo priest and the sorcerer round out the classes. The choice of class determines the narrative that your character brings to the story but does nothing to alter the story because Blizzard wanted to deliver a very specific one to the player.
   
    The story begins as a meteor has fallen on a town and now the dead are rising all around the site. Your character has shown up because of whatever reason they have to investigate. From the very start upon your arrival in the town your character is pulled into a battle against the forces of hell and the attempt to save the entire human race from extinction. Not really a shock to anyone who has played a Diablo game before.

    Now that my overview is complete lets talk a bit about the game and the things that I felt might need work. From the start since it is a hack and slash game there is some repeating gameplay and I felt while the graphics were good it sometimes felt as though they just didn't have enough variety early on in the monsters and that never really felt like it changed. Compared to Diablo 2 which also had a lot of reskinned and not different monsters it made that work by interspersing different monster types within the same groups as others. So while in Diablo 3 you are always fighting the same three or four zombies in 2 you would be fighting zombies with fallen with quillbeasts and spiders in the same room. Does that make the game bad? No not really but it felt like a wasted opportunity especially within the dungeons. I understand that the first boss is the Skeleton King but come on guys! The combat is all about hitting a routine by finding the combination of available skills work best but since you don't start off with all of your skill types unlocked and they remain locked off until a predetermined point it might be more accurate to say its about getting through until you have these options opened up. Now Diablo 2 had an approach like that but since you were limited in options to the two mouse buttons and with a skill tree it felt like you had more control over your character than there is in 3. Consider this; in Diablo three there are about 15 active skills per character along with several passive skills. In 2 there were about that many skills PER tree and each character had three trees that they could use. It gave the player the control to play a summoner druid or a shapeshifting druid while three feels really limited. Character choice aside the story is something that I have in my crosshairs so lets make the jump.

    Diablo 3 starts off so promising with the fully animated cinematics to start things off and the narration from your chosen character class but later in the game it feels like it loses steam. While this might be just a feeling that I had it felt that I spent the vast majority of the game in the first act while the other three just began a downhill run that ended with them becoming shorter and shorter. It felt rushed like the whole game was supposed to have these kinds of long arcs because again I'm going back to 2 here each of the acts in that game had a more structured six quests that once complete, the final one was always kill the demon lord, you were finished with the act and moved on. My point is each level felt like an entire experience in hunting each one of these evils down and killing them off while Three feels like it is leading up to just one climax which in my opinion was a let down.

    Spoilers!
    Now here I'm going to talk about some of the moments that drove me nuts. First there is really only one moment that felt like the kind of great evil boss I'm supposed to be taking on. That giant thing in the Diablo Three commercial? Second act boss. The other bosses in the game while they are very Diablo 2 felt off. The Skeleton king didn't but that was because I hadn't fought the other one yet. My point is that if you are going to make a multi-phase boss make it the last one. Comparatively the killing of Diablo is kind of pathetic. I remember when I first killed him in Diablo 2 it was an epic marathon of just watching the health bar slowly creeping down and weathering the deaths of my character to go at him again. This one I beat him handily on my first try and was left unsatisfied. "Really?" I asked, "that's it?" This is the problem that stems from a lot. Here is Diablo a character that is supposed to be the baddest ass of them all and he is dropped easily by a human despite handily crushing an Archangel. I understand that I'm the hero of the story but why not make me freaking earn that win?

    Is Diablo three a bad game? No I wouldn't go that far but it is fairly mediocre when compared to many other available games out right now. It gave me the same kind of feeling I had when sitting with a few friends and chilling with Baldur's Gate or Gautlet Legends. Fun for a while and with people to kill some time working together but it won't light the world on fire. Compared to Blizzard's other recent release it falls flat. It's a pretty game when it isn't darker than hell with the lights off but other than my listed issues it's functional and if you need a time-killer there are worse options. I don't know if it is multiplayer on console, by which I mean a bunch of buddies on a couch because I never got a chance to test that out so take that for what its worth.

    I'm going to start putting what I think the game would be worth to purchase based on what I personally had fun with. Take it for what its worth, which means not much in my case.
    Final rating 20$ out of 60$

Broken Controllers: State of Decay



    What would you do if you returned from a fishing trip in the back end of nowhere to find that the nearby town had been infested with the undead and cut off from the rest of the world? Well the answer to this critical question is often answered with a chattering assault rifle and badass one-liners. Not the case in State of Decay.

    State of Decay takes place in the remnants of a small town where a small number of survivors are trying to keep themselves alive in a zombified world. The game is functionally different from numerous its companions in the genre by giving you control over all the survivors; once you have enough trust with them.

    So to start with the game is third person with both close combat and gun combat. Both work exceedingly well with guns not being superpowered or so pathetic that their limited and hard to find ammo isn't worth the space in your bag. Even with both options available the main way the player is going to take on the undead is with the variety of close combat weapons you come across in the world. These weapons also degrade with use so while you might pick a favorite weapon it will break and finding an exact replacement will be hard to come across. They divided them into three types Bludgeoning; which is a good balance between attack speed and damage, Edged which is fast but doesn't hit as hard so while you are hacking limbs off zombies you aren't knocking them down as much as with others, Finally there are Heavy weapons; these weapons hit with the most force and nearly knock a zombie down with every swing but are really slow. The firearms follow a similar approach but in a very specific fashion that doesn't have as much direct effect coming in variety's of pistol, shotgun, rifle, and submachine gun. Near the end of the game I found a grenade launcher but had no ammo for it and never got a chance to test it out. Guns are limited by their ammo as I stated above, the game doesn't have a generic ammo and each gun needs a certain kind of ammo like 9mm or 7.62.

    Playing the game each character has their vitality and their stamina. Vitality is how much health you have and Stamina is how far you can sprint and swinging melee weapons. Running out in a clustered melee with two or three zombies is highly likely which makes each swing count. Single Zombies are not a threat to the player, the exception to that are the special zombies which I blame Left 4 Dead for introducing.

    All that said that stuff is all fairly standard in zombie games now, what makes State of Decay so interesting and fun is the way it is presented. You have a home base filled with the survivors you have picked up and one of your main tasks is to gather resources in order to build things like an infirmary or workshop or to just keep everyone alive. In fact as you are wandering around you will come across materials and you can do one of three things. Break it down to use for yourself, put it in a rucksack and carry it around or call your home base and they'll send a runner out to gather it up. With the third option every now and then you'll be alerted that your runner is in trouble and needs help. You can always ignore these calls but it may result in your person dying. The other feature that I loved was the open world aspect despite it being the cause of a few of the issues. The game also has a few skills that increase based on use, so the more times you shoot zombies the more your shooting skill goes up. This grants certain bonuses like quicker reloads. The key to all these skills though and it encourages using a few core characters is that each one has a set of background, let's call them feats, that do certain things and bestow certain benefits. Like a character might have the feat that grants the Powerhouse skill or have one that makes it quicker to upgrade the fighting skill.

    While exploring they did a very good job of reinforcing the old Zombie genre adage of staying quiet is staying alive. While all my characters carried firearms I always thought hard about firing them because they would inevitably draw more zombies. Driving does this as well so while you get where you are going faster if it is in the same town as you started you may end up with twenty zombies chasing you when you get out. Of course cars make great tools for killing off Zombie hordes as you can simply drive over them all. Health recovery is done through painkillers found in the world and you can recover stamina by snacking.

    Well we all knew we would get to the bad eventually. While the game does look like a full release title and the world is big. I actually give it points for having no fast travel even cross map. The issue is that it occasionally has item pop in. This is worse near the city portion of the map. I'm glad cars don't have realistic damages or else I'd have been walking for a long time during this game with all the walls and items popping in in front of my bumper. The other thing that I wanted was the ability to take additional survivors out with you on your scavenging runs. As it stands you are alone for most of the game while actually exploring. Honestly though I think those are small problems especially with an arcade title that only costs twenty bucks.

    I don't feel that I am doing this game justice as I talk about it but I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in playing a zombie game that isn't all about the action. Picking places to set up your outposts and getting back to base while badly wounded is a great feeling. Well worth the twenty bucks and more.

    Zach Out.

Broken Controllers: Fire Emblem Awakening

    Well I'm still working through my playthrough of Fire Emblem Awakening but I feel that now is probably a good time to run it down for you at home. Me and the FE series have a tentative relationship simply because they are a Nintendo product and me and Nintendo spend most of our time together eyeing one another suspiciously; I think their design studio died and they seem to think I'm five. This is countered when they release a Fire Emblem game. It should be noted here at the top that I own the special 3DS that they released when Awakening came out and if it hadn't been released I probably wouldn't own one.

    Well let's get into the game shall we?

    The game is a top down tactical game in which you are given a limited number of units on a given map and often your only goal is to eliminate everything that isn't you. The system as Geremy mentioned functions on a RNG, or random number generator, that is influenced by your unit's stats against the opposing unit as well as what kind of weapons the two of you are using. The classes are varied but almost all of them are capped at level 20 forcing you to either use a master seal and upgrade them to a master level class; these are typically more broad classes that enable additional weapons to be used. For example the thief can upgrade into the assassin or the trickster. Both keep his use of the sword but they focus on different stats and add another weapon to the character's arsenal. For assassin that is the bow while the trickster adds a healing staff. Each class change resets the character's weapon skills provided the new class can't use the same weapons forcing them to start out again with the worst weapons in the game. Those classes also grant different skills that can modify the character's abilities. For example the most powerful skill in the game is granted to the dark-flier class; known as Galeforce it enables a character who had already acted on your turn take a second move if they killed an enemy unit.

    The game also prominently features weapon degradation with the most powerful weapons having the shortest lifespan of 15-20 uses. The exception to this rule are a few special weapons that have a lifespan of 5 or fewer often tied to weapons that give an unskilled character much more power than the standard equivalent level weapon. Of course with this system comes an interesting Rock/Paper/Scissors approach to how they behave in game. Axes get bonuses to attacking lance wielding foes while lances beat swords and swords best axes. In previous Fire Emblem games magic also had its own tree but in Awakening that is done away with in favor of a simpler system. The different spells are available but it doesn't tier out at all.

    The biggest change to older games is the way that supports are handled. In other games characters that were supporting each other would need to be within a certain range. If characters were within this support zone they would bestow stat bonuses to each other. Awakening takes a different route and it heavily encourages the player to keep supporting units right next to each other. The reason for this is that in addition to granting certain stat bonuses those characters can also help out in combat from adding another attack to shielding the other character and with permadeath enabled it is a long sigh of relief to see that happen. The odds of it happening go up with the more support level that the characters have with each other, limited to three with one being an exception to reaching four, and instead of one unit "rescuing" the other and carrying them around they pair up as a team and while only the active character engages in combat the other one can help them out. This is a good tool for moving slow units quickly into a hot spot with a faster one.

    In the game's story you play as an amnesiac who is a skilled tactician that uses both magic and swords to start things off. It quickly moves into a situation where you and your band of characters must stop a great disaster from occurring and sending the whole world into darkness; you know a pretty standard JRPG storyline. Each level is up to the player to select from a world map, another new deal from the last one I played, and from there you engage the mission. Contrary to other games in the series you can farm experience in Awakening and end up with units that are functionally around level 60 if you have the patience for it and want to see everything crushed beneath your feet. There are a ton of characters in the game and I lament that the format means that I can't use them all but in an interesting twist even though most of the character is only seen in support conversations every one has a distinct personality to them and are a joy to interact with, if for no other reason than to see how things go with them.

    Quite honestly if you can track a copy down, they were sold out when I first got mine, you should give the game a try. I'll freely admit the storyline is fairly standard but the colorful characters, a thief bribed to aid you with candy, to a jolly russianish mercenary, really make up for the slight shortcomings in the storyline. I'd recommend this to anyone who enjoys tactical combat games or just wants to finally get something that isn't Pokemon and good on their 3DS.

Zach out.

Broken Controllers: Crafting the Stars

    So I've mentioned that I'm playing a lot of Starcraft 2 and I felt that it would be a good entry into our Last Rant segment; stealing some of Tyler's thunder. Starcraft as a, I hesitate to call two and a half games a series, game and I have an interesting relationship. Which basically means I suck at it. The game is in my personal opinion the best real time strategy game that is currently available followed closely by only Starcraft Brood War.

    Now that is a pretty big statement I know but keep in mind that Starcraft, the original, is STILL sold in stores on the shelf fifteen years after its original release. Its staying power can be easily attributed to the sheer balance of the game. When the first game released other strategy games like Age of Empires were built around a basic setup of every "race" had the same units with maybe one or two unique and special units. Starcraft changed the formula and each race has its own playstyle and strengths. For the record all three hosts played Terran. Each race also contained a variety of units that could be used to differentiate themselves and play well, Tyler preferred nukes while me and Geremy leaned toward more conventional options.

    You said it was about Starcraft 2 not 1!

    Yes I did, and in this case I wanted to give some basics.

    Starcraft 2 Maintains this same paradigm with some of the star units making a reappearance in the second game. Terran still get Marines and Siege tanks but can no longer build foot medics, they're now the dropships, or Goliaths. While Protoss lost the Dragoon and the Reaver but kept the Zealot and the High Templar. On the front of the evil Zerg they did not lose their icons of Zergling and Hydralisk but they received, as did the other two, more units with new jobs.

    One thing that really causes Starcraft 2 to stand out as a unique game is the difference between its campaign mode and its multiplayer mode. Currently only the second campaign has been released, the Protoss is the final one that we are all waiting on. The two are different in many ways. The Terran Campaign included units that were completely unavailable in multiplayer while the Zerg included upgrades to their units that weren't carried over. Personally this intrigues me since Starcraft is a game about practice and reaction but campaign, other than teaching the very basics, doesn't teach good multiplayer habits which in many other games I've played generally does. While that isn't a terrible thing it is a little strange. Of course as my fellow host pointed out when we were discussing the game it does allow the guys at Blizzard to throw in some things that may have been thrown out of development into the game. Well lets roll into some more interesting things shall we?

    As I said above this game is all about the practice and rewatching games that you have played to see where you could have done better. I'm terrible at this game and it is difficult for me to see where I made a mistake especially in games that I have won. Clearly if I won I made the right choice. Well in Starcraft that isn't quite the case. I've found even when looking at games I've won I can find some things wrong with my actions. A classic tale that I had was I scouted a opponent and saw he was probably looking to go air harassment and armed with that knowledge I did absolutely nothing about it. I won the game but it was a moment that even as I type I'm trying to facepalm. You see each build and unit has something that can hard counter it. My prefered Marine, Marauder, Medivac can be hard countered by protoss colossi or enough Ultralisks. The game is just so well balanced that while people can claim that things are overpowered but in reality most are just a new challenge that you have to deal with.

    You've heard me mention that I was a Bronze League hero and you may have wondered what that meant. Well Starcraft 2 employs a matchmaking system that often will put a player up against another one of equal skill. Now this can feel broken especially after you go three games straight without a win but stepping back shows that it recalculates and often you'll be facing down people on your level or at least near it. Eventually of course you will jump to another league and keep moving. At time of writing I have jumped into Silver league which means I'm no longer in the true scrubs division but still nothing to really brag about. And while I haven't played really any the game continues to have games that are geared towards one specific thing that doesn't affect your ladder rankings. This is the arcade, as I stated I have no experience with it but I assume it consists of all kinds of game modes that people dreamed up.

    All things considered my only real criticisms of the game stem from the need to login to battle.net, Blizzard's multiplayer system, to play the game and earn any kind of achievements. The other is that I don't care for the game's menu layout. I had to look up on their website how to create a game to practice against computers, which isn't really a truly big problem but it was annoying and I shouldn't have had to.

    In short if your computer can run the game go buy it. It is hands down the best game that has made its way onto this blog or podcast thus far. Even if you don't play the multiplayer the varied units and characters will make the campaign fun to run through multiple times.

    With that I leave you with. . .

    Nuclear Launch Detected.

    Damn it Tyler!

Zach's Griping Again: A Social Issue

    Social networks are a fact of our lives now, from Facebook to Google+, so we are almost always connected to everyone in our lives. Video games have started to get connected to these and seeing as how many of them are social experiences it makes a certain amount of sense. So this connection between the social nature of humans and video games is a natural element right? Well I believe it depends. Insert a quarter to continue.

    So I'm going to assume my quarter is in the mail. Video games are a social experience in large part. Rather obviously in one way that can happen is through a few friends chatting about a mutual experience with a video game. Another way we get video games as a social experience is when we play them together. Finally and the most irritating social specter that hovers over video games are the so-called "social" games in one of the more redundant names in the world.

    First off, the talking point. A lot of companies have branched into this by creating methods to share things, a good example of this is the Dirt 3 link to your youtube account. I don't know if the sequel kept it but I would imagine that it kept the feature. It allowed you to post things that you were proud of in order to run bragging rights on the internets. This allows single player games to contribute. I mean hells look at our Podcast, for the most part we're just doing what we do anyways; talking about video games. Some games really encourage this type of discussion to determine what exactly was going on. I played, and beat, Bayonetta and I wish that I'd had someone to talk to about what in hells was going on in that story. Talking about it can help alleviate frustration with games so that you can get that other people are having the same kind of struggles with a given point. I mean the other person doesn't even need to have played a game to allow you to talk about it. Tyler once saw me trying to beat a boss in Record of Agarest War and get wiped out. Long strings of expletives followed and I talked at Tyler for the most part but it helps to talk this kind of thing out. And I think we mentioned this on the podcast, some games come down to talking about the glitches, this is mainly the Elder Scrolls games where the procedural gameplay creates all sorts of minor bugs that creep in and create those kind of funny moments. So now moving along we get to actual social gameplay.

    Playing them together. Well with some games this is technically not an option but as Geremy mentioned on the podcast, before I joined, when I played the first Portal I did so with both Geremy and my brother helping work through each one of the puzzles. Rather obviously thought when someone thinks about playing a game with someone else usually they are referring to playing it at the same time either against or cooperatively with that person. Now both of those have different connotations, take me for example. I have no problem with going head to head with people, in fact I enjoy doing so. However I will only play co-op when I'm playing with a person I know. The reasoning here is simple: when working toward a common end I want to know that I can count on the person I'm playing with to help me, also with a co-op game I play more for fun. It certainly doesn't hurt that many of these co-op games are shooters, which as we have stated I'm fair at. When you get into the competitive aspect things become more about winning. I'll admit it when I'm playing a game I like to win, enough said. Because of this desire to win I get much more into a game that I'm playing against the other two hosts and take things much more seriously. Thankfully the other hosts, and a few other people, have taken my obsessive drive to win as red and I don't catch that much crap for it anymore. However back to my point here, a competitive game also has a competitive drive, as Tyler said he likes competition and to prove that he is better, he isn't, but that is the point of competition. Rather obviously this all ratchets back to my first point about talking about games and using a collective experience to hang out with people who you occasionally want to make sure you keep around to help you move later in life.

    The last social gaming deal is more of a nuisance in my opinion. This particular one is where the game makers, either the devs or the publishers, force social interactions as part of the mechanics of the game. This is mainly in the so called "social" games that we see on Facebook and the like. The issue here is that it is creating an element that is forcing people to at least make an appearance of socializing. This wouldn't be a problem if the games held back certain elements of progress from you unless you have a certain number of friends that play the game. For some people, like me, who are not as likely to go hunting for someone to play a game this leads to a brick wall against which I am no longer allowed to advance. The funny thing about this is while it claims to be a social aspect it really isn't. The social aspects of games that people truly remember are the strange moments that happen through gameplay, learn to look behind you Tyler, or the common experience of playing a god-awful game. This progress block unless you have a certain number of people playing with you is awkward and annoying if you are the only one of your friends who enjoys playing these games. I blame the aspect of Facebook that lets people add hundreds of people whom they will never actually meet to their feed. This goes back to my previous post, about the microtransactions or sponsorships. They want more people to play the game, not because they think the game is something that someone would enjoy but because it can make them more money which I think defeats the main purpose of playing a game. Only being a game player I don't quite get it but I would expect, as a creative mind, that the main reward for a developer is just that someone is playing the game. Granted though the people paying the dev may not agree.

    Well that's it for this one so I'll let all of you go until I think up something else to go on about.

The Encroaching Problem


    I've noticed that my fellow hosts target triple A game developers for criticism rather often in their posts. Now I believe they're completely valid but there is a bigger problem that is beginning to encroach on gaming. While I would love to say that the most troubling thing being played by gamers is the Wii U or Wii. Comment on how I'm wrong, I know someone will, but it really isn't. Devs might be having a hard time programming for those I don't know. But that's another rant for another time. No the most troubling thing that I see in gaming is the use of microtransactions. The use of these insidious little turds is an irritating one. Yet game companies, especially on casual games, will use them to milk their customers for egregious amounts of money, this is made worse by kids that don't understand that they're actually paying real money to game companies for some of these things. Which I can't help but think is the goal after all a company wants to make money and if they're getting someone to pay for something without realizing it that's great. So I'm going to run down the major ways that devs are creating certain "Free" games.

    Rather obviously a free game still has people who developed it and would like to be paid but since their product is available for nothing they have limited options, one of these is to make the game full of advertisements, ala Angry Birds. Which doesn't bother me, hell some triple A games are guilty of this I'm looking at you Madden 13. Another way that a company can get money is through the use of a Freemium model. Ala Tibia, which was a MMORPG that me and the other hosts used to play, 200 LTOVG points to the first one who guesses why I stopped playing that game! This model, in brief, is a free game that also has a subscription pay plan that a person can pay for additional content. But the worst one is the one that works through massive amounts of microtransactions. Which I explained up top. So let's move into them in depth shall we?

    Well the use of advertising. This isn't really a big deal I mean in our society we see this all over the place. From movies where everyone drives a Toyota, or at least the main character does and they make sure you know it, to books where the main character drinks only coke. Sometimes they can get annoying as with my Madden example up above where the announcers are constantly mentioning the product placement things, which follows the theme. Watch any sports broadcast and that's what they do. The only realm of issue with this one is that many of the product placement is more prevalent with the Angry Birds example where they actually run an advertisement while you are playing the game. Most other examples in this area are Triple A games that, very likely, had to pay the owner to show something. Most games that sit in this area are driving games where they have to have a large number of real vehicles for their audience to pick from. And those companies make money from the game and the people who decide they want one from driving it in the game. Probably very few but I wouldn't discount it as a possibility.

    Next up is the Freemium model. Admittedly I haven't seen this used that often. The games that characterize this are mostly MMOs that went free to play. However even many of those fall under the third category. The best example is the game Tibia that I mentioned above. It was a top down MMO that even if you didn't pay for it you could play and access most of the content. However if you had a paid subscription you could get upgraded things like access to the premium spells and the island that sold them. While they were powerful abilities nothing said that you had to have them to enjoy the game. I have to admit I think this is the least obtrusive model. Because it doesn't detract from the enjoyment of anyone who just wants to play for free and it enhances the experience of the people who really want to get everything out of the game and are willing to pay for it. It has been a while since I played, again those 200 points are out there, but if I recall correctly the paid players didn't get obvious bonuses like xp boosts, perhaps one or two additional character models and again the island they could go to. I think they could also buy houses but I quit before I had enough gold to buy one anyway so I don't remember. One of the other two hosts might have the answer. Again I like this model because it doesn't browbeat me with ads for things I don't care about or come across as a blatant money grab.

    The last major one that I can think of is the microtransaction model and I cannot express my disgust with this model. As Tyler has mentioned on the podcast he doesn't mind if stuff is hidden if it isn't attached to the main game. Well that's my opinion for paid-content. Skins and the like are nice for the people who really like the game and are willing to pay for them but they don't affect game play. In some ways this is really the only thing that a lot of Triple A devs have gotten right. While Live was spammed with downloadable skins for guns and the like in COD Blops 2 none of them did anything to change the game other than show the people who really loved the game. The area where this is a real problem is in the casual games like those found on Facebook. Now I've played a couple of those games and I have found that I enjoy the building type of game. Unfortunately many of those also have content that you either need to put large numbers of hours into the game or else pay for advancement. I don't care if it exists in small doses so that a person can pay for it if they want to advance quicker but creating this sheer wall of a time sink to advance unless you pay up is obnoxious. It comes off as a blatant money grab and it is off-putting. The worst part here is that as I said up top, there are several articles of children not realizing that some of the resources that they can use in the game is real money and make outlandish purchases that their parents later find themselves on the hook for. This type of bait and switch must end. I've said on the podcast that I hate it when devs hide content, either perceived or true, this is taking that to the next level. Now not only do devs hide content they want you to fork over real money in order to get it.

Zach "Hambone"

I only wanted Rainbow Dash damn it!