Destiny: Rise of Iron (Bungie, 2016).

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Destiny: Rise of Iron, developed by Bungie and distributed by Activision (2016).

Score: sisyphean.

Rise of Iron is the last of the Destiny mandatory expansions, which came out back in September for the not at all insignificant price of 30 euro/dollars. Just like it happened with The Taken King, you absolutely need to buy the new expansion if you want to be able to keep playing any of the game’s interesting modes. Rise of Iron included a new patrol area, a new social area, eight new story missions, one new strike, one new raid, three new Crucible maps (and a fourth one only on PS4) and a new Crucible mode.

The storyline is about the Lords of Iron, the last of which is Iron Banner host Lord Saladin, who all sacrificed themselves about a hundred years before the events of Destiny in order to contain a technological plague called SIVA. Guardians are now summoned to stop the Fallen House of Devils from infecting themselves with SIVA and becoming Splicers (which you might guess it’s already too late for).

As usual, the eight new story missions are just an irritating formality in order to be acquainted with the new enemies and mechanics. The new kind of enemies, Fallen Splicers, are regular Fallen, only tainted with a flesh-eating, stiff-limb-growing disease, and controlled by a superior instance… now that sounds familiar. The Taken were still better at being new enemies because at least they did stuff that was different from their non-possessed counterparts, such as splitting in two or pushing you out of platforms with their super annoying shields. Splicers are just Fallen with arthritis.

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Papers, please (3909, 2013)

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Papers, please, developed by 3909 (2013).

Score: the damn thing is not fun.

Papers, please is an old-school looking, kind of point-and-click, indie game. You are a borders official in totalitarian republic Arstotzka. The game consists of sitting in your booth and checking if people who want to enter the country have the correct paperwork. You need to check if the passport is not expired, if they look like the photo and so on and so forth. As the game progresses, you have to check a ridiculous amount of data in a too small desk and in a ridiculously short amount of time, because a family of five is depending on your wage and if you don’t process enough people you can’t afford food and heat and you will go to jail if you owe as little as five dollars and it’s game over.

This game could be straight out of one of Franz Kafka’s feverish nightmares on two levels: you are part of a horrendous, totalitarian government and you are both witnessing human trafficking, misery and attacks on human rights and expected to be a ruthless pawn in that misery. You’re there like, I don’t care whether you’re transsexual or have a forged passport, I’m giving you a red stamp because my son is sick, my wife is cold and my freeloading uncle is hungry and I need to process fifteen of you before a fucking terrorist cuts the day short for the third time this week. You send people to their deaths, confiscate passports and allow criminals in because if you don’t, you end up in jail for owing five dollars and it’s game over.

On a second level, this game is a Kafkian nightmare because it is selling the experience of… sitting at a desk and stamping paperwork like that’s fun, and that terrorizes me. The gameplay is not fun, no matter how I look at it. It feels like clerical work because it is actually clerical work. Gamification is supposed to enhance everyday life, but doing the opposite and selling everyday life in the package of a game doesn’t make the experience fun, no matter how many positive reviews you get. I tried to finish it before writing this review but I just couldn’t, it was boring and frustrating. The last levels are preposterous in terms of just how much data you need to process in just a few seconds. Difficulty is not an issue; I play games in maximum difficulty regularly.  The issue was that this requires a kind of skill that I don’t enjoy honing. It doesn’t require strategy, it doesn’t require deducing, it doesn’t require logic. It just requires: are these two names the same? Is this date later than today? What kind of paperwork does this person require today and did they give it to me? Papers, please has been praised for being unique, but before doing something nobody has done before, it’s worth considering whether the reason is that it’s a bad idea.

That being said, its storytelling abilities are amazing. Given that the interface is very limited, storytelling is done mainly through dialogue. It comes in the form of news and the orders you’re given (there’s an epidemic, there’s a killer on the run, some country has blocked our exports…) and in the form of dialogue with other characters. Some people try to bribe you, tell you tragic stories, invite you into conspiracies against the government, lie to you and then there’s Jorji Costava who plays in his own league. I didn’t play much into these because I was too busy trying to save my family from starvation to remember which dipshit I’m supposed to let in without a passport.

Technical aspects are very limited in that it looks like an 8 or 16-bit game but it’s worth pointing out that they managed to make so many different sprites that are clearly different from one another and at the same time look like their more pixelated versions in the passport photos. Also, the fingerprint graphic system works well in that they’re not exactly the same as the filed version but through the small variations you can tell which are the same and which are different.

All in all, personally wouldn’t recommend. But maybe that’s just me.

Destiny: The Taken King (2015)

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Destiny: The Taken King, developed by Bungie and distributed by Activision (PS4, 2015).

Also: a rant about “The Dark Below” and “The House of Wolves”.

Score: just skidding over mediocrity.

It’s funny that I compared Destiny with Mass Effect in terms of heartbreaking. Little did I know back in 2014 that I was in for a bumpy ride of overpriced expansions, tedious mechanics mixed with some other clever ones and an overall love-hate for a game that despite everything manages to be fun as hell.

So, the original game came with story mode, six strikes, one raid and PvP maps and modes. Enough to last you until the first expansion.

The Dark Below” was quite a meager DLC for the 20 euro it cost when it came out. It brought four story missions, two strikes, one of which was PS4 exclusive for some time, three Crucible maps, one raid and new equipment up to level 32. Since nobody likes story missions, it brought three Crucible maps, one or two strikes, one raid and level 32. For 20 euro. “The Undying Mind” is basically “The Black Garden” backwards but it manages to be a fun strike. The highlight of this expansion is “Crota’s end”, really. The good thing about “Crota” is that it’s short and very killy, as oposed to “The Vault of Glass”. No puzzles, no jumps, you just kill stuff, and that’s good to have as an alternative. It was an expansion that didn’t stand much on its own but was easily combined with the original game for more variety.

Then came “The House of Wolves” (cue ominous music). “The House of Wolves” included six story missions, one strike, four new Crucible maps and zero raids, and it also cost another 20 euro. As an excuse, it introduced an arena, The Prison of Elders, and a different PvP mode, The Trials of Osiris. I wasn’t a fan of PvP back then so I never got to play Osiris back in the day, before The Taken King, but the persistent rumors that people kept cheating by raising their connection lag wasn’t welcoming at all.

So, what do you do when there is no raid and only one new strike? You try to play Prison of Elders. Back then it involved the following: you had to go out on Patrol and wait for a Pack of Wolves to spawn. This happened every 10-15 minutes or so. In the meantime there was pretty much nothing to do. I parked my character on a corner and read a book. Someone in my playgroup managed to farm over 600 Spirit Bloom. You killed the Pack and then you had 90 seconds to find a chest that could be in several locations in the area, sometimes hidden, almost never in plain sight, that might or might not award you a Treasure Key. Why did you want a Treasure Key? Because if you didn’t have one you couldn’t open the chest at the end of The Prison of Elders, which meant you had been playing a quite difficult arena for maybe an hour or more to go home with two Strange Coins.

If you could find the Patrol chest quickly, you could exploit a glitch and get the loot several times (sometimes, but very rarely, several Keys) by quickly leaving the area and coming back while the chest was still there. But more often than not you had the opposite problem: you had been waiting there for the Wolves to spawn and now you couldn’t find the chest in the allocated 90 seconds, so you had to start over. Only so you could play Prison of Elders and get appropriate loot. Okay, the loot was crazy. The loot was nuts, but it required so much boring farming that it was really annoying.

But was Prison of Elders at least fun to play? Well, this is mostly a matter of taste but I’ll let you know that I didn’t think it was. The mechanics called for either clearing up the room of enemies, dismantling bombs and protecting an area. These two were basically the same as they involved standing in one spot as a circle on your screen filled. Level 32 was fine but the loot was mediocre, and levels 34 and 35 were too difficult to be fun. Not difficult as in, it required skill, planning and strategy. Difficult as in, you had to keep running around the room in circles while trying to shoot at the boss because there were so many enemies that if you stayed on a spot for two seconds you got obliterated. Did I tell you it had no checkpoints? If you died you started at the beginning of the current screen but if you went to orbit you had to start over.

Oh, and they nerfed the Gjallarhorn. In hindsight I guess it was broken. But it always sucks when mommy and daddy take away your favourite toy. Come The taken king, they also indirectly nerfed the Black Hammer, Icebreaker and Thorn, among others. Only they’re selling Rise of Iron with a brand new Black Gjallarhorn. Either it’s the nerfed version again and they’re just hyping people, or it’s the real thing and they’ve played us all.

The Taken King was announced at the not at all insignificant price of 40 euro and just like that almost all of my whole playgroup decided against buying it. And then something maddening happened. When The Taken King came out and you didn’t have it, you couldn’t play with some of the stuff you had already paid for. You could play the story missions for the original and the expansions, as well as the two raids. But you couldn’t play any strikes over level 20 and the only Crucible modes you could play were the ones labeled Legacy, which is code for “these modes suck”. You couldn’t play Prison of Elders either because they changed it so the old thing didn’t even exist anymore. Some of the strikes now have Taken in them and have changed but that is no excuse to take content from players they have paid for, and not for cheap exactly.

We went without Destiny for almost a year. But almost each time we met we kept remembering old adventures, how much fun we had playing it and how we missed it. When all is said and done, if you put aside the ripoffs, the nerfing, the boring mechanics and the poor metagame balancing decisions, it’s a very fun game. So in the end we relented and bought The Taken King.

The Taken King comes with eight story missions, four new strikes (one of them PS4 exclusive), one new raid, nine new Crucible maps, three new Crucible modes, one new subclass for each character class and something new called questlines. It’s also worth noting that the Legendary Edition, which includes the original Destiny and the other two expansions, can be very easily found for 40 euro. Which is great because it’s easy to convince friends to buy it and play with you, but at the same time I’ve spent over 150 euro in the franchise since it came out and I didn’t get any special treatment (in fact I got cheated of my stuff when I didn’t buy the new expansion).

Many things have improved mechanically with The Taken King. Most of my Year 1 gear had been nerfed and I hated to see it go but I was given great gear very soon so the loss didn’t feel as big. This expansion has a lot of loot for very different activities and the maximum level of gear can be achieved in different ways, so you don’t have to play the raid if you don’t like it or don’t have a big playgroup. The Light system is changed: you reach the current maximum level of 40 via experience points and there is a separate statistic that calculates the average attack and defense of your gear and is called your Light stat. Activities have a Light estimate requirement so you can get an idea how difficult they are. The minimum requirement is quite under the recommended Light so you can get your character rushed if necessary.

You don’t need to have three top level characters anymore, since weekly activities can be done a total of three times with any of your characters. You can play the weekly strike once with every character or three times with your main, for example. Some people have complained about this but I find it an improvement. Before, playing weekly events more than once required grinding and leveling up another two characters and not everyone was up to that, some of us just wanted to have some more top-difficulty missions to play every week, not farming for hours again. If you feel special because you have three top level characters and I don’t, congratulations. Nobody is preventing you to beat the weekly missions with all three characters, while the previous situation did prevent me from having fun.

Rewards have been unified in Legendary Marks, which are common for Vanguard and Crucible activities. This is good news for people who only like one of the two, since you can buy gear from either faction with these Marks, provided you have enough reputation to buy whatever it is you want. They are also shared between your characters so if your main has all the gear they need you can buy something for your other ones. Factions such as Dead Orbit and New Monarchy are also offering gear.

You can also use these marks to infuse your gear. This is one of the most fun new mechanics of the expansion and it allows for never-seen-before variation in the game. It works the following way: legendary and exotic gear drops have random or semi-random perks and lowish stats. This means you could get the same weapon, such as the 1000-Yard Stare or The Smolder, multiple times and you might want to keep them all or just some of them depending on the random perks they get. For exotics there’s usually one fixed perk and the others are random. This means there aren’t a few chase gear items anymore but with luck and grinding you can get versatile gear for your style of play and the activities you like the most. So how do you bring the stats up? You infuse your weapon with another weapon. Remember those blue pieces or gear that nobody wanted because once you go purple you never go back? Well, now rare pieces of gear tend to have shitty perks but high stats, so when you get a very juicy blue drop you use it to improve the legendary or exotic gear you already had. This makes sorting through your loot more rewarding, because almost always you get something that can improve what you already have, and if you don’t, at least you get Weapon or Armor Parts. Class-specific armor parts are gone, by the way, which makes leveling up your alters even easier.

There’s a new faction as well: the Gunsmith. He was already there but now he does more stuff. Mostly you need to gain reputation with him by trying out prototypes he brings under certain conditions, such as killing Vex with them, or getting headshots on Knights or things of the sort. The prototypes are terrible quality weapons but that’s part of the fun, I guess. Once you have at least level 1 reputation you can buy gear from him once a week for 2500 glimmer and he delivers it every Wednesday. The gear he brings is sick, so be careful you don’t spend all your glimmer!

Questlines basically involve a new menu screen where you get follow-up on the missions you have pending. It tracks story missions and later it also tracks new quest chains that require farming for objects, killing certain kinds of enemies, achieving certain feats on Crucible and so on. This adds more variety to the activities you can do and also invites you to try new game modes, since all game modes get a questline at one point or another (except Osiris, as far as I know). There is a new kind of heavy weapon which is called a sword and that’s basically what it is. You can get them via questlines with a lot of varied required activities, which makes them fun to get.

There is a new location: in this case it’s a Hive dreadnaught stationed in Saturn’s rings. Almost all new missions, the raid and some of the new strikes take place there, and there’s also a new Patrol map. Phobos, Mars’ satellite is also a new location but for now it only appears in one story mission and one Crucible map. The Dreadnaught is populated by Hive and they tend to be fighting off Cabal a lot of the time, so aesthetically there is not a lot of innovation. But there was a lot of innovation in Patrol gameplay: you still have Patrol missions but a lot of new objects were included in Saturn Patrol. There are a bunch of treasure chests around that require keys to open and those keys require different mini-quests to complete. There’s also a new material to farm called Hadium Flakes, used to obtain the Legendary swords and the Touch of Malice.

Some enemies and events also drop consumable items called Runes. These Runes can be used in an area called the Court of Oryx to summon different events with different difficulty levels. These events are timed and the bosses in them require special feats to be beaten, such as having a Cursed Thrall explode nearby to lower the boss’ shield or killing three Wizards within a short time window. Tier 3 even has a boss that works very similarly to Crota and even looks like him! My playgroup affectionately calls him Mini-Crota. One good thing about the Court of Oryx is that it doesn’t require a fireteam, anyone who walks into the area is cooperating. Given that almost always there’s someone around the area, it’s easy to get help from other players even for the Tier 3 bosses.

The Prison of Elders has been reformed. You can still play the previous versions and they are the same as before but now we also have Level 40 Prison of Elders and Challenge of the Elders. Level 40 Prison of Elders follows the same mechanics but for some reason it’s easier than Level 35. The Challenge of the Elders is a different thing completely. Matchmaking is disabled and there are only three rounds. Each round has a boss and a bunch of minions and the round is over when you kill the boss. You can play it just like that but you won’t get the good loot if you do. Here’s what you have to do: every week you can buy an Elder’s Sigil from Variks which is basically a scorecard. The scorecard calls for a score of 30,000 in a single play and 90,000 accumulated score throughout the week. If you play enough times you will eventually get to 90,000 and get the loot, but 30,000 in a single play is more tricky. You get points for killing minions, killing the boss and more points for special kills, such as melee, grenade or super kills, as well as for creating Orbs of Light. So what stops you from killing minions until you reach 30,000? The three stages are timed. After a certain time Variks gets impatient and starts taking points from you. The fun in this mode is in that it gives you an incentive to play in a certain way, so you need to adjust your equipment and abilities to max out your scores. Definitely an improvement, compared to the previous levels.

The Taken King includes new enemies, the Taken. They’re possessed and revamped versions of the enemies we already knew. They remind me a bit of the hybrid-corrupted enemies from Mass Effect 3. Apart from being a very cute glittering grey colour, they’re not much different from the others. Well, the Taken Phalanxes have a pushy shield they like to use to push you out of the stage and make you fall to your death. Real fun, as you can see.

Eris is still around but doesn’t do much apart from handing out quests for the Calcified Fragments. There’s 50 of them and getting 45 will net you a cool Touch of Malice. These fragments are lying around in the Dreadnaught (including in the strikes and raid), some of them are in the Patrol chests and some of them are awarded in the Court of Oryx. Since you only have to get 45 of them, you’ve got some room to choose which ones you do not want to get.

The Queen’s Guard is still around as well but they mostly give out quests that do almost nothing but give you House of Wolves reputation. The packs of Wolves still spawn similarly, though this time they’re Taken and they work a bit differently. They take more or less the same time to spawn and you’re better off cooperating with someone, because three special enemies called Lieutenants spawn and you need to kill them within a time window or they get bored and leave. Then a boss comes and you still need to kill it before it gets bored and leaves. But you don’t have to look for the damned chests anymore! Also you can mostly avoid these missions if you hate farming with a passion.

There are some weapons that are more sought-after than others, like the Black Spindle and Sleeper Simulant, but instead of getting ridiculous drop rates like before there is now a special mission that always awards you the weapon when you complete it. The missions require some strategy and planning and it feels more fair when the weapon is a prize for skill and/or practice, not just the result of blind luck.

The new strikes are quite fun, except for “Shield Brothers”, which is quite straightforward. “The sunless cell” has a very quirky boss battle that I don’t want to spoil for you and “Fallen S.A.B.E.R.” has a quite long and unprecedented puzzles section in the middle. “Echo chamber” has quite fun boss mechanics, it’s a shame it doesn’t come up more in the random lists.

The new Crucible modes are Mayhem, Rift and Zone Control. Mayhem is awesome and super Timmy. It’s a variant of Clash where melee, grenade and super abilities charge much faster than normal. Score rewards are all multiplied by ten for an extra overpowered feel. Rift is a capture the flag variant where one of the players has to pick up a “spark” and carry it to the enemy’s rift while the others try to stop them. It’s fast-paced and dynamic. Not the same can be said of Zone Control, which only awards points for controlling zones. I didn’t play Crucible a lot before the expansion so I can’t comment on the nerfing of Thorn and some other things that have changed. As of today I haven’t played the Trials of Osiris either so I beg you to excuse its omission.

I have only been able to play “King’s fall” once because it was difficult to get six people to play at the same time, including most of the friends in the playgroup. It is a fun raid with a lot of variation, though it’s maybe a bit too long and puzzly. It has three bosses in it, along with two sections of jumping puzzles and a section with a quite complicated combat puzzle, the glyphs. If Crota was still playable that wouldn’t be much of a problem because you could play whichever raid you felt like that day, something short and simple or something long and complicated.

It bugs me that Rise of Iron is coming out in a few days and if things go like they have always gone people are not going to want to play “King’s fall” again, the same way no one wants to beat Crota or Atheon anymore. As you level up with the new expansions, the old raid stops being challenging and the loot drop stops being relevant, so why bother? People who started playing with The Taken King have it very difficult playing the old stuff unless they play with people who are new as well. I don’t understand why Bungie would make the effort of designing a raid and have people play it only for a few months. I get that they want people to keep playing and coughing up the money. They force people to buy the new expansions to keep playing so they have that side covered. So why not give people more content to play so they will play more and longer? They could make the old raids playable in two ways: you can raise the level of the enemies or lower the level of the players. Raising the enemy level wouldn’t need to be very elaborate: from my deep ignorance I guess that having a raid that is exactly “The Vault of Glass” but enemies’ levels are scaled to 42 instead of 26 looks like it could work fine. If you don’t want to mess with the loot, just give out regular Year 2 loot. Lowering the player’s level would mean when you enter the raid you’re level 26 again and your gear is nerfed accordingly. This one has the advantage that you can give out the same loot you were giving out before and people will still want it because it’s good to play that raid: you would still want a Year 1 Vex Mythoclast because it’s good to play “Vault of Glass”.

So all in all it looks like the new expansion was really good, wasn’t it? Well, it was a nice expansion, but there are many things they could be doing better yet. One problem is that it might look like there is a ton of content but in the end you don’t always play all of it. There is a problem with the difficulty curve. For example, once you are comfortable enough to play Nightfall strikes, Weekly strikes have become boring. You’ve grown out of them. So you either play Weekly or Nightfall, but once you have Nightfall Weekly is not a fun option anymore, and that didn’t happen before. The same goes with the other game modes, except for Crucible. I guess people who only play Crucible are fine.

The weapons don’t have such sick perks anymore. I kind of miss going into an insanely hard mission with an Icebreaker, barricade and snipe every single enemy for three times as long as the mission would take to do normally. The weapons are more balanced now, and I guess that’s good for the health of the game but it’s not as fun.

One last small objection: there is not a lot of farming but what little there is can get very annoying. 25 Zeptocyte Cores are just too much. Given that they drop about one in ten times, it means farming 250 to 300 spinmetal leaves. Farming Warsat public events for Sleeper Simulant was tedious. Nobody is saying it should be easy, but I don’t think many people enjoy spending their free time standing around waiting for an event to start which obviously wasn’t a Warsat one either.

As I said, despite all its flaws I enjoy this game with all my heart. Let’s see what Rise of Iron brings us in a couple of weeks.

No man’s sky (Hello Games, 2016)

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No man’s sky, developed by Hello Games and distributed by Sony Interactive (2016, PS4).

Score: we’ve all been scammed.

I had already sort of decided to not buy any more games in pre-sale a few weeks before No man’s sky was released but it turns out I had reserved it months ago, so not wanting to lose the deposit money and being a bit overly optimistic, I decided to buy it anyway. The collector’s edition. It came with a T-shirt.

The game dumps you on a random planet with a broken spaceship and tells you to gather materials to mend it. The tutorial is fairly non-invasive, which I liked a lot. It’s not one of those tutorials with an annoying mascot that goes: “Walk up to this rock and press A! Very good!! Now do the same with other twenty rocks!” It just lets you figure out stuff and if you die, well, too bad. (Spoiler alert: I’ve played five or six hours and I haven’t died once.) Once you’ve fixed your spaceship, you can take off and go to a different planet within the same system. There is an excuse for a questline involving getting a better engine so you can travel to other systems, which basically involves speaking to an alien janitor and getting a blueprint from them.

The only guide for stuff to do are milestones. Milestones cue you to walk around for as many clicks as possible, interact with aliens, learn alien words, hoard money, destroy other ships, destroy sentinels, survive in extreme conditions, visit different star systems, and discover every single species on a planet. So off I went. I really like playing the hoarder and the scrap merchant. Every game that I play that allows it, I pick up every piece of rubbish I find lying about, craft other items with it, sell it, trade it, enchant it, make potions with it, you name it. So I started scanning everything and picking up all the materials I could. It was fun, on the first planet. The PC walks really slow. But I didn’t mind because that means it’s realistic! Why would a space merchant be able to trot around for half an hour straight? I found a cave and got lost in it. It was really huge and contained a lot of minerals and animals I could scan, but after half an hour I realized there was no way I could find the way out. The game doesn’t have custom waypoints that I’m aware of and it doesn’t lead you out of caves or anywhere else. Waypoints are stationary and if there is a rock wall between you and your goal that’s too bad.

So I reloaded a previous checkpoint and promised I would be more careful with caves next time. I was kind of tired of this planet and my pockets were full, so I took off. The instructions for piloting the spaceship are meager, so I found myself failing and running out of fuel until I figured it out. It tells you to point to the sky and go. I assumed the process was at least semi-automatic, so I guessed the ship stopped tilting when it reached ninety degrees, but it turns out it doesn’t so I did a beautiful three-sixty and almost crashed my sorry ass on the ground. I managed to get out on orbit and my long-distance engine turned off when I ran out of fuel. So I was stuck with my short-distance engine, which is extremely difficult to tame, I assumed because of inertia and momentum. I wanted to go to a space station but was unable to because I kept falling to the bigger bodies that were around. I liked this realistic physics quirk until I figured out that if you turn off every engine you become stationary and then can aim for the body where you want to go, which means you also save a lot of fuel. Yes, you read it right. You can be stationary. In space.

For a game that bothers so much with being realistic in some points, it gets very silly in others. Your exosuit and spaceship have limited slots for carrying objects. The problem is that one tiny pearl takes up one slot, the same slot that can be filled with 250 kg of gold. No, you can’t stack pearls, I tried. I chose another planet and went down. Many of the specimens were exactly the same. I thought to myself that must be because this system is colonized by aliens, so it’s only natural that they brought species from their home planet and that’s why they’re here. You can also discover landmarks, which involves walking up to a beacon and powering it on. But if there’s a beacon here, someone must have put it there, right? How can I discover a place where someone else already laid a beacon? I found knowledge stones, which teach you alien words. One by one. Thank goodness it looks like the PC is very good at playing charades. Later I found alien beacons, which are like the most disappointing things ever. You get this flavour text where it explains that this beacon was placed by aliens to contact other species and you get immersed in their culture and history and when it’s done it says: “You learnt these aliens’ word for ‘parallelepiped’”. Thanks, that will be really helpful when I go up to the space station and try to barter with the alien there.

You can’t call your spaceship to where you are. You either walk back to it or use it to go half a kilometre from where you already were, which involves using up a quarter of your maximum fuel reserve just to take off. If you decide to walk, there is a very handy chronometer that tells you how many minutes of your life you’re wasting. Scanning specimens is also very annoying, because it doesn’t tell you how many there are. It just says something like “Flora: bountiful”, or “Fauna: nonexistent” when you land on the planet. These planets don’t look like they have different ecosystems at all so I’m assuming if you linger in a particular area long enough you’ll be able to scan everything. I wouldn’t know because the only scanning milestone I have I got by speaking to the alien janitor on a planet where there was absolutely nothing. Who sets up a post in a planet with no food or water? Seriously. Also, since it’s already clear that multiplayer experience is nonexistent, why do I have to manually upload my discoveries? The only thing that does is giving you money, so why would I not want to do that?

Once I had a jump drive I packed my shit and flew to a different system. Landed on a planet and that’s when I was convinced I had been cheated of my money. It looked exactly the same. The same marshmallow-looking plants. The same skittering creatures. The same minerals over and over. They just had spots on them or were a tad greener. The floating stones, for goodness’ sake. I don’t know if they added them because they looked cool or because the game went like “oh, I procedurally generated an ore of bronze in midair, how awkward”. I didn’t have to endure any bugs or crashes, thankfully, but there are plenty of videos of people who have.

There is no combat. Some animals might attack you, but the weapon you have is no fun at all. It takes ages to reload and it’s hard as damn to aim. There are no incentives to hunting, other than alerting the drones so you can destroy those too and get a trophy. No space pirates, bandits or scavengers. Damn, there’s more competition when you go pick up mushrooms in the countryside. And the mining laser overheats all the time–ohgodwhydoesitdothat?? So I have to spend longer mining this bloody boulder?

I haven’t played anymore. The game is there on my shelf giving me the puppy eyes. I don’t want to play it. Even if it weren’t the greatest thing since came bread came sliced I would play it a few more hours. But I don’t feel like it at all, I feel cheated of my time but more importantly of my money. It was a good idea, but sacrificing fun and playability to a quirky concept is not. Exploration as the main theme, great, but give it a 20-hour story mode or something, even if it’s not the main attraction. Give me more storage capacity if I’m supposed to be mining for resources and then trading them. Give me a reason to hunt, something to run away from, give me weapons, give me something to do other than shoot at rocks and scan the same small dinosaur over and over. Maybe it’s best to have a scripted universe where interesting things happen, or have a procedurally generated one that’s smaller and has more variety. I don’t know, there are many things that could have been done better.

It’s a game literally made by fifteen people (no, I’m not making that up) that’s been bloated to the size of a AAA and hyped shamelessly. Sean Murray, the Managing Director, had the nerve to stroll around the media telling lies about what the game would do. We were told you could do whatever you wanted with it, that you could potentially play with other people, that all the planets would be different and you could never explore them all. Where’s the becoming a galactic hunter? Where’s the becoming a bandit? Where’s the becoming a polyglot? Where’s the becoming a treasure hunter or miner? Where’s the fun?

It’s really sad that this is not an isolated incident. Developers and distributors are getting into a very nasty habit of lying about the games they are making and buying off professional media so people will buy whatever crap they’ve made. The game doesn’t have to be good. They just have to hype you enough so you will cough up the money before it’s too late. And if we keep buying into their crap, there are not going to be any consequences. Hello Games and Sony have my money and there is no way in the world they’re going to give it up. From now on, I’m not going to make reservations for any more games, I’m going to check out user and independent reviews and I’m going to let early buyers take one for the team. I’m not going to be the early buyer anymore, I’m tired of being made fun of. Scammed, more like.

Being positive, I now have a T-shirt I can wear to Silly T-shirt Day in my office.

Resources:

New disappointment discovered: No Man’s Sky by CrowbCat on Youtube.

El timo de No Man’s Sky by JinoGamerHC on Youtube. (Spanish)

Where’s the NMS we were sold on?, original Reddit post recovered in onemanslie.info.

Day of the tentacle Remastered (LucasArts and Double Fine Productions, 1993-2016)

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Day of the tentacle Remastered a.k.a. Maniac Mansion 2, developed by LucasArts and Double Fine Productions (1993-2016, PS4).

Score: Adorkable.

Day of the tentacle brings us back to the Edison mansion for more adventures five years after the events of Maniac Mansion. Purple Tentacle drinks some toxic waste coming out from Dr. Edison’s lab that gives him evil intelligence and a desire to take over the world. In order to stop him, Dr. Fred uses his newly invented and not tested in humans Chron-O-John to send Bernard the nerd, Hoagie the roadie and Laverne the nurse back in time. Though Hoagie gets sent two hundred years into the past, when the Founding Fathers are having a convention, and Laverne is sent two hundred years into the future, when tentacles have already taken over the world.

The gameplay allows you to switch between the three characters and also send objects back and forth in time using the Chron-O-John (though it took me a while to realize this…) Some actions taken in the past have consequences in the future environments, and a lot of the crucial puzzles depend on this. While it’s always a bit inconvenient to play a point-and-click with a PS4 controller, the controls and shortcuts are fluid and easy to use.

The dialogue has the same sense of humour that is Schafer’s trademark, though it’s less socially aware than Grim Fandango and Broken Age, and more focused in being a fun adventure with some very absurd situations. The graphism and slapstick is heavily based on Looney Tunes cartoons.

The remaster does improve the graphics and sound a little and includes a fully functional version of Maniac Mansion, but maybe it’s not worth it if you already played the original. Worth your time if you enjoyed The secret of Monkey Island or other graphic adventures.

Fallout 4 (Bethesda Game Studios, 2015)

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Fallout 4, developed by Bethesda Game Studios (PS4, 2015).

Score: Like Fallout 3, but with more stuff.

Which is not a bad thing, mind you. I think Fallout 3 was the first game ever that I played for more than a hundred hours in total. So after seven years of waiting I wanted what I guess everyone wanted: the same general feeling that made me enjoy Fallout 3 so much and a little something extra so I’m not playing the same thing over. Mission accomplished.

Fallout 4 takes place ten years after the events of Fallout 3 in Boston and its surroundings. The playable character, the Lone Survivor, lived in Sanctuary Hills with their spouse and their son Shaun, when the bombs fell in 2077 and they took refuge in Vault 111. The Lone Survivor is cryogenized upon entering the Vault and awakes briefly to see two people killing their spouse and taking their baby away. The Lone Survivor is later released to the post-apocalyptic Commonwealth of Massachusetts 210 years later, where they resolve to retrieve their kidnapped son and take revenge on his captors.

For those of you who don’t know, the setting is a post-apocalyptic dieselpunk, which sounds weird as fuck but it’s very fun to play. This means you get to encounter robot butlers that go berserk and start showering you with flamethrowers, visit the ruins of unscrupulous megacorps that experimented on people and marketed failed medicines as chemical weapons, and defend yourself from absurdly mutated animals such as mole rats, radroaches or the always exasperating Deathclaws.

So, the great improvement from Fallout 3 (and, to a lesser degree,Fallout New Vegas) is the plot. Let’s admit it, the plot in Fallout 3 was quite uninteresting and the fun came from other places. The plot inFallout 4 is quite impressive when compared with the previous two games. Your search for your abducted baby takes some pleasantly surprising turns and there is one major addition to the universe that makes the world much more interesting: synths and the Insititute. In this aspect, Fallout 4 plays the classical trope of artificial intelligence straight but in a very interesting way. You have four different factions that each have their own interests and agendas and in the end you have to choose; these are better developed than the factions in New Vegasbut the idea is more or less the same. There is a grand total of thirteen possible companions with different personalities. Hint: my favourite is Nick Valentine.

As for the gameplay, some things have stayed the same, some things have been passed on from New Vegas and some others are new. V.A.T.S. still exists but now it doesn’t stop time completely. The perk tree is very similar and some perks have stayed the same, but now it’s visually less confusing. Weapons don’t break down anymore and you can mod them just like in New Vegas. You can also craft items such as food, drugs, and armor and weapon mods. The power armor system is new. Power armor does break down and you need to repair it, but you can also mod it. It needs Fusion Cores to work, otherwise you can’t run in it and can’t use V.A.T.S. It’s not really an option for stealth players but I fucking love it because I’m such a Timmy. The other new thing is the settlements minigame. We were kind of introduced to how the system would work with Fallout Shelter, but still the in-game tutorial could have been so much better because it took a lot of trial and error and looking things up on forums to finally figure out how it works. It’s sort of fun once you get the hang of it.

There’s no Hardcore Mode this time, like there was in New Vegas, and I’ve tried both Normal and Survival modes. Normal is fine if you want to do a quick run of the main story and not much else, but it will get boring if you start doing every sidequest unless you like your games very easy. There is a new set of quests called Radiance Quests which are given by every faction and are basically infinite. They usually take the form of “Clear X location” or “Retrieve X object”. These get very boring very soon in Normal or easier modes, but the good news is you don’t have to take them. On the other hand, they are key in Survival mode as they help you level up and stack up on caps and gear. Hardcore Mode consists of your health replenishing more slowly and there being more special enemies. It might sound stupid but it increases the difficulty in a very effective way, and you get rewarded for your efforts with more gear with special perks. The difficulty curve is quite well achieved in the sense that difficulty stays steady. You don’t want to gouge your eyes out when you’re still at low levels and you will still get your ass handed to you if you’re not careful at high levels. This is achieved by having the enemies level up with you, and it’s barely noticeable.

All in all, if you liked the previous Fallout games you’re not going to be let down. If you’re new to the Fallout universe, I hope you have as much fun as I did.

Broken Age (Double Fine, 2014-2015)

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Broken Age, developed by Double Fine Productions and directed by Tim Schafer (PS4, 2014-2015).

Score: Outstanding.

In Broken Age you control Vella, a girl who is being to be offered as a sacrifice to a giant monster (but is having none of it) and Shay, a boy who is travelling through outer space in a spaceship with a rather infantile decor.

I started playing this because it was free for PSN+ subscribers, and even though I’m a fan of Schafer’s work, I had failed to notice this game had been released. For the first hour or so I didn’t know what I was going to play but I was very surprised at its quality. When I looked up who had developed this game, I was more excited that I have been in a long time!

The dialogue is fun and witty, in the best tradition of The secret of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango. The plot and setting are quite original and surprising, and watch out for social criticism where you’re least expecting it. All in all, exactly what you’re expecting from Tim Schafer in an excellent shape.

The gameplay is quite fluid. The 2D stages are a wise choice, since the pointer changes in shape so you can know if you can interact with an object or transition to another screen, so the only difficulty is with actually solving the puzzles. Which can sometimes be annoying, but in general make quite a lot of sense when compared to other classics of the genre (I’ll never forgive the “monkey wrench” pun in Monkey Island 2. I was playing the game in Spanish. How could I have known.)

The backgrounds and sprites are painted in oils and they are just adorable. The voice cast includes Elijah Wood, Masasa Moyo, Jack Black and Wil Wheaton.

If you love old-school point-and-clicks, you will be happy to know there is a new one to play. What are you waiting for?

Until dawn (Supermassive Games, 2015)

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Until dawn, developed by Supermassive Games (2015).

Score: A pleasant surprise.

I got my hands on this hoping to kill some time until Fallout 4 comes out, but I was genuinely surprised by its quality. Until dawn is a QTE-driven interactive drama survival horror where most of its value is replayability, since the player’s choices greatly affect the outcome of the story. There are potentially hundreds of linear combinations of events at the end of the game, depending on dialogue choices and QTEs.

Until dawn tells the story of eight teenagers who reunite in a mountain lodge to commemorate the unfortunate death of two of their friends who went missing the previous year after a prank went horribly wrong. The first half of it is more heavily-laden with B-series horror flick clichés, with a dark and noisy cabin up in the mountains and a maniac stalking the horny teenagers. The second half veers into the territory of supernatural horror and drops the spooks and cheesiness altogether. Apparently I’m the only one that likes the change, since most reviews disliked the twist, but for me it was what changed a mediocre, disjointed effort into something more original and enjoyable.

The graphics and development are nice, though with some flaws, like when the characters’ eyes get strong light on them and it looks like they have cataracts and the teeth are too prominent and the joints look too dark, so it seems like they’ve been munching on black liquorice or something. The character design could have been much better. Their physiognomy is just too similar, and in the first playthrough it’s difficult to distinguish the generic skinny blonde white girl with braids from the generic skinny blonde white girl with her hair up and the generic skinny redhead white girl with a beanie. With the boys it’s the white jock, the black jock, the nerd and the host. Their conversations are so idiotic that I couldn’t care less if they all died, but fortunately the story makes up for them.

As for the gameplay, the controls and camera angles are a bit clunky but I’ve seen worse. The only extras to the story are the collectibles, which thankfully are not brain-racking (looking at you, fucking coffee thermos from Alan Wake). The addition of Dr. Hill, which integrates gameplay customisation into the gameplay itself is a quite interesting mechanic. It’s quite short, about 9 hours per playthrough, but you will want to replay it to save them all or kill them all. Or both.

All in all, not the game of your life but you’ll have a nice time playing. A decent new title in the line of interactive dramas, not so much of survival horror games.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt (CD Projekt RED, 2015)

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The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, developed by CD Projekt RED (2015).

Score: Best RPG ever.

At first I was regretting having called Dragon Age: Inquisition an impressive tour de force, because, what should I call this then? DA:I pales before this like The name of the wind before A song of ice and fire. The Witcher III is a truly adult and mature videogame, with a production of such quality that it makes me cringe at people who wonder how a videogame can be more expensive than a movie. But then I decided there’s something I can call The Witcher III: Best. RPG. Ever.

In this instalment of the saga, Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter, is hired by Emhyr, the Emperor of Nilfgaard, to find his daughter Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon a.k.a. Ciri and bring her to safety. Ciri, who is like an adoptive daughter to Geralt, is being tracked down by The Wild Hunt, a horde of ominous spectres, who want her for her congenital magic powers.

I haven’t played the previous games nor read all the novels yet, and in that case the story can get a bit confusing, though optional dialogue lines help a lot. The main storyline is quite cool, but this has secondary, bounty hunting and fetch quests that some videogames wished were their main storylines. As much fun as I had with Skyrim, The Witcher III has Skyrim for breakfast every day in this area. The dialogue is great and the characters are quite fleshed out. Sapkwoski’s mastery of the Polish language has been transferred to English with very good results: not only registers are varied and suitable to situations and social classes, but character’s accents are also used to that end, with characters speaking in English standard, Cockney, Welsh, Irish, American or German accents depending on their origin. The Spanish edition keeps the original voices and adds an excellent text translation, faithful in tone to the original English dialogue.

When I say it’s a mature game, I don’t mean ultraviolence and porn. I mean the characters talk to each other as normal adults would if no one was listening, mentioning sex and other non-family friendly topics. While it was nice that DA:I featured female breasts for the first time in the saga, in this game you can see a woman’s breasts while she’s having a bath and nobody is fainting about it. It puts you in situations that are very uncomfortable morally. Tone is an aspect where DA:I is clearly inferior: you don’t see moral misery in it. You don’t see children marooned in the forest because their parents are starving. And even if Geralt is the hero, people don’t orbit your huge charisma and you’re not able to put together people that in normal circumstances would be at each other’s throats.

Graphics and design are ambitious and up to the challenge. Being open-world and vast is no longer an excuse for poor rendering and texturing, though the reusing of face designs for unimportant characters can be a bit annoying. Water effects are stunning, and some other effects like lightning, which are rare to see, look great too. I have to talk about the fucking animals. In the past years we have seen a refining of animal modelling, especially horses and dogs, which are the ones that we see more often. This has deer, bears, wild birds, rabbits, pigs, cats, geese, several breeds of dogs, and they all look amazing. I would regularly stop at villages to look at the animals.

The gameplay is another highlight and though it’s not perfect, the constant free patches and general attitude of CD Projekt RED towards bugs and mistakes makes them forgivable. I was surprised when I was reading The last wish that the signs were not originally designed for the videogame but were invented by Sapkowski. That’s how well adapted they are. If you want a piece of advice, play in Death March, because the difficulty and experience and optimised for that mode and the easy modes can get boring easily. It’s miserable until you reach level 10 or so but it also means that you will enjoy combat design as it was meant to. Being so difficult is where the gameplay flaws can get exasperating but hey, nobody’s perfect.

In case it’s not clear yet, you will enjoy playing this even if RPGs or medieval fantasy are not your cup of tea. Its quality goes beyond genre and flavour and it seems difficult that it will be topped in the close future.

Bonus: Things I learned playing The Witcher III:

1- The contract is never for what they’re telling you it is. If it’s a wolf eating sheep it’s really a Chupacabra, if it’s an evil spirit it’s going to be a nitwit making weird noises. If it’s for killing a werewolf you can be sure it’s going to end up being a cheating husband and so on.
2- You don’t learn anything from killing monsters. You do learn heaps by telling a guy the cockatrice is dead or beating a small kid at Gwent. And I’m very sure you can actually level up by having sex with a prostitute.
3- You can be a Nietzsche wannabe in a world where there is plenty of evidence of the supernatural.
4- The genetic pool in this continent is really poor. Alternatively, they’re chugging peasants out of bottles in powers of two like in Brave new world. The merchants look like a particularly vast and prosper family.
5- Even in times of need, people are devoted to a sanctioned trading card game. Nobody forges cards or makes their own, they pay good gold for them.
6- Being a sorceress or witch means you’re immune to foot blisters and can climb rocky mountains with high heels.
7-With the right tools, you can see in the dark, stay underwater longer than humanly possible and slow time. But low fences, logs, pebbles and small fallen branches are unsurmountable obstacles, especially on horseback.
8- Geralt is a master of combat, expert in monsters and has inhuman senses. Nevertheless, sometimes he will decide that the best course of action is to try to punch a bear to death.
9- If you try to build a feminist Geralt, you’re going to get in a fuckload of fistfights.
10- Witcher potions are homepathic: they never replenish the ingredients, they just keep adding alcohol to them.

Grim Fandango Remastered (LucasArts and Double Fine, 1998-2015)

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Grim Fandango Remastered, developed by LucasArts and Double Fine Productions (1998-2015, PS4).

Score: A classic and a masterpiece.

Boy, I love me some remasters of games I never got to play in its day. Grim Fandango is as fresh and endearing as it must have been the day it came out.

You are Manny Calavera and you’re dead. Your job is to reap the souls of the recently deceased and sell them the best travel package they’re eligible for. If they were good, they get to travel to the afterlife in a luxury train in just four minutes, while if they were bad, they get to walk for four years across a savage land populated by rabid beavers and other adorable creatures. For some reason, Manny is only getting clients that are eligible for next to nothing and they’re threatening to fire him, while his colleague Domino is getting all the premium clients. And the reason is that ***MILD SPOILERS*** their company is actually running a scam, cheating good people of their tickets to sell them to rich dead who led objectionable lives.***END SPOILERS*** As you can see, part of what makes it so fresh after over fifteen years is that the plot is timeless.

The game is so much fun. It’s a graphic adventure where you speak with other characters, pick up stuff and use it to interact with the environment. As usual, you have to grind your brains to figure out what to do most of the time and some of the interactions are quite clever and funny, others are logical and some of them are absolutely nonsensical, but hey, that’s old-game difficulty for you. Something else I have difficulties with is figuring what parts of the background can be interacted with and how, and it could get really frustrating when I knew what to do but couldn’t just find the right angle for the interaction to trigger and when I got stuck in parts of the stage and couldn’t come out or missed whole portions of it due to the weird camera angles. Still, it’s worth it.

The sense of humour is delicious and the characters are so charismatic, especially the Manny-Glottis duo. The design and flavor are just awesome, mixing Latin American folklore with 1940′s noir. This will make me get a Mexican skull tattoo one day, I’m sure, and watch our for the references to classic Noir movies, such as Casablanca and Double Indemnity. Tony Plana does a superb job voicing Manny, with many easter eggs for us Spanish speakers, and in general the voice acting and dialogue is great. They kept the original Spanish dub in the remaster, which is clearly inferior to the original one in terms of spontaneity (and all the Mexican accents are gone, except for Chepito, who has an inexplicably thick and fake one).

As for the remaster, it comes with newly rendered character models and the original backgrounds (though the models are not rerendered in the cutscenes) and includes both the original tank controls and more modern, camera-based ones. If you want the platinum trophy, you’re going to have to endure the tank controls.

But don’t take it from me. You can enjoy this gem on PS4, PSVita, OSX, Linux and Windows. I’ll be waiting here when you’re done!