Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Weekend: June 4th & 5th

I ended up playing more this weekend than I expected, as The Tomorrow Children beta sort of came out of nowhere (for me anyway). In my periphery it always looked like an interesting game but I’m surprised at how much the mood grabbed me when I saw it would be in open beta last weekend. I always tend to hit a wall when it comes to Minecraft-lites or even something as laid back as Animal Crossing. I enjoy them certainly, but there’s a distinct ceiling I hit where everything becomes drab and tedious. The Tomorrow Children seems like the first one of these that I’d actually stick with long term, but also something I could very leisurely jump in and out of on a whim. I spent probably ten hours playing this weekend (which is nine more than I expected to), and the big determining factors for whether or not I’ll actually commit to it lies on one thing...

That is whether or not it will ditch its Dark Souls-like player interaction obstacle.

The game’s backdrop is more or less predicated on the notion of the player(s) adopting this kind of darkly humorous take on communism as they run about. It’s much like Minecraft in that the first few hours offer you nothing but confusion as you venture about chopping down  trees and mining minerals from very abstract structures while Godzilla-like monsters freely roam around in the expanse as the game’s primary threat. Much of what it does isn’t exactly unique (ignoring the game’s setting and look of course), but the way the pieces come together offer it some individuality. This Dark Souls like feature is one of those pieces, opting to separate players running around in a certain vicinity, limiting their exposure to one another. For the most part you’ll rarely see other players for more than a couple of seconds, but you’ll constantly see and feel their effect on the world around you.




Boxes and tools you drop vanish right out from under you and minerals you toss down get passed around on the way back to the city. On paper this sounds much cooler than it actually is and for the first couple of hours it’s fascinating to watch. Clinging to this however will immediately turn me off as it constantly gets in the way of effectively interacting with people in your city. This is not a deftly woven mechanic either, it’s just annoying. It begins to bleed into everything that makes the game fun to play for extended periods of time. It actively makes co-operating with fellow clones (everybody looks like the same little Russian girl) a chore.

The game is at its best is when you have 20-30 people all working as a single machine, as even the smallest role someone commits to will help the town overall in the long run. I went from venturing out into the void to mine and explore to sitting around in the city and helping organize what other players brought back from that same trek. With the former being a much more involved process than the latter, there’s actually quite a few fluid roles people can dedicate themselves towards and they can swap around in these almost seamlessly. The Souls-Echo (let’s call it that for now) however counteracts that, giving the player a very tenuous grasp on the community and making the game feel more like a flash-in-the-pan social experiment than anything else (admittedly, it becomes far more interesting to me in that regard but far less valuable to me as a game).

I’m definitely interested to see when and how this game makes its final debut, but that one feature is currently stopping me from investing too much mind-space in it for the time being.




The other thing I’ve been playing is the Witcher 3’s latest (and final) expansion, Blood and Wine. From buying it on PS4 to PC with all its DLC on both platforms, I’ve been kind of a silent champion of it for the past year.[1] I am sitting on a much longer post dedicated to it (might be my next post?), but for right now I do feel the need to mention that when taken as a whole, the Witcher series is probably the most impressive thing I’ve seen in some time. I continually bounced off the first two games until last year when I finally gritted my teeth and ran roughshod through them in preparation for The Wild Hunt. The result was a perspective on a world and series I begrudgingly came to love, but also one I’m highly critical of as well (and I'd have it no other way). From how accurately CDPR adapted the world and characters from the books (which I also managed to find time to throw myself into last year) to the miraculous leap the series made between the first entry and its third, it’s small miracle to behold and look back on now.

It’s also a damn impressive game on its own.

My replay of 3 and both its DLCs were mostly focused getting through the main storylines and saving all the sidequests and extraneous stuff for a later time, so I can really sit back and lose myself in it. Pre-Hearts of Stone already saw me nearly platinum the game on Playstation 4 at around 200 hours (I ignored Gwent to save myself time but did pretty much everything else). It’s been long enough now to where I can do all that stuff again, in addition to the mountain things the two DLCs added and just have the game go almost indefinitely in small marathon sessions. I adopted the playstyle of turning off the minimap, cranking things up to Death March and just wandering around until I found stuff. At first I thought this would be a terrible ordeal as I’ve always had issues with this series’s combat, but it actually turned out to be one the most engrossing things I’ve done in a game in a very long time. When you take into account how well the sidequests and smaller-scale encounters are written in The Wild Hunt (something the Witcher as an entire property excels at), it’s an easy thing to just forget about because you may not have the time to dedicate to all of it.

The final two things I dipped myself in was Hitman’s latest DLC and considering the new Pokemon generation, Sun and Moon. The former is probably the first real title to take a run at that the episodic form I’ve been craving for years[2]. Even stuff that seemingly may not fit the format could work excellently if thoughtfully considered and I’m glad Hitman has been nailing it in each episode.

Pokemon however, really highlighted that I should rarely break free of the restraints I’ve set up for myself. I consistently get franchise fatigue with every third generation released, but I broke form with generation six (X & Y) and wound up kind of hating it (seriously, I can’t tell you one fucking thing that happened in X and I completed it), which means I have to skip Sun and Moon entirely. Just considering playing either of them right now is like staring a full plate of food after already stuffing myself.

Final Fantasy XIV's 3.3 patch and Mirror's Edge are currently on my docket for the coming week, along with continued in-and-out of Blood and Wine. After that my summer will be relatively clean until Mankind Divided in August. 

1. It was actually the title that impressed me the most last year, even moreso than Bloodborne. Its first paid DLC, Hearts of Stone is what really threw things in its favor for me (which I very much adored). This was in stark contrast to Bloodborne’s DLC which left me on the whole very much unimpressed and sort of annoyed---but that's for another time.

2. While more games that can fall into the “adventure” category do count here (e.g. stuff like Telltale and Life is Strange), things more removed from that genre have really tackled it in quite this manner. It’s the first thing that scratched the itch I felt back in ’09: http://www.snakelinksonic.com/2009/02/cowboys-and-demons.html