Review — Starcraft: Legacy of the Void (430)

Starcraft has always had a special place in my heart. I know it’s not accurate, but I do consider it the beginning of Esports and gaming on a competitive level. I never was very good, though. I was probably only about twelve years old when the second true installment of the game, Wings of Liberty, came out. This game has had an enormous impact on the gaming community as a whole, and while I’ve talked about it before, let me give my thoughts on the latest version. Even though it’s already two years old at this point, I hadn’t played through the last chapter until this past month, so cut me some slack.

Protoss is my favorite race. Between the goopy, brooding, and infesting insectoid swarm of the Zerg, the mechanical, sturdy, and militaristic might of the Terran, and the advanced, noble hierarchy of the vengeful Protoss, I’ll take the latter. I don’t like the bug or the hardbitten war aesthetic much, but an ascended race of people who think they’re better than everyone else? Yes please.

So, I think it goes without saying that since Legacy of the Void was the Protoss chapter of Starcraft II, it was definitely my favorite. I have the strongest handle on what my capabilities are with that faction, so I can try a little bit harder and pay more attention to the story than I could before.

And man, Legacy of the Void has some awesome characters and stories. I won’t spoil anything here (though the statute of limitations is definitely over), but it definitely has a lot more character than anything I really felt in the other two campaigns. The previous two objectives were: “save my x-girlfriend”, followed by “figure out who I am then get vengeance”. This time it’s “unite your fractured people, then take down a god”. This campaign felt a lot more impactful than the previous two, even if it is because it’s the “final chapter” of Starcraft II. Obviously I can’t really give credit to the writers here. It’s pretty much comparing the climax to the beginning and middle of a book, which isn’t fair at all.

All that being said, my favorite part about the single player is that it’s totally okay to give the player incredibly powerful abilities because it doesn’t have to be balanced. You’re supposed to win. The way that Legacy of the Void achieves this, through giving your character choices of unique units as well as adjustable in-game abilities (like ‘giant_lazer.exe’). Being able to upgrade and customize the way your character(s) go into a fight is one of my favorite game mechanics, and the fact that the things I’m choosing are all incredibly powerful makes my decisions feel extremely rewarding.

And, of course I can’t talk about Legacy of the Void without mentioning Alarak. (Minor spoilers ahead, but nothing too pivotal to the actual plot.) As far as I know, this character didn’t even exist in the Starcraft universe before this campaign, but he quickly ascended (see what I did there) to one of my favorite characters. You don’t get a lot of ‘Lawful Evil’ characters in any franchise, and even the ones that are aren’t on the good side. Alarak is a good guy, but he would never be mistaken for a good guy, if you know what I mean. Plus, he’s amazing because he’s so condescending, and the way he does it is so funny it’s amazing.

So, is Legacy of the Void worth getting? If you’re a Starcraft player, absolutely, but if that’s the case then you’ve probably already bought it. If you’re new to the RTS genre and want to know where to start, it’s great for that, too. All the complicated strategy stuff is easily tossed aside for new players. It’s mostly there to give veterans a way to amplify their abilities even more.

But, as old as Starcraft II has gotten, I’d imagine the next major installment for the franchise is due somewhat soon. I’d be willing to bet that the next big game release will happen before 2020 ends. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if it was announced by the end of the year, but I don’t expect it to be. Whatever might be the case, this game is great and is very compelling for an eight/nine hour experience!

Learning! — Background Music

It goes without saying that lots of music that is attached to TV shows, movies, or video games is often meant to supplement the visual aspect to whatever media we are presented with in our daily lives. If we’re watching a movie, the things that we’re hearing occupy roughly half of our attention (if we are to base that entirely off of the common five senses), and we obviously won’t want to be hearing dialogue or clothes shuffling the whole time, so music plays a critical role in a lot of what we see and do.

Of course, it isn’t as simple as throwing in your favorite rap album to a sitcom, because music plays with our emotions and subconscious a lot–meaning any thing we’re watching would have to also have music that helps us get into the mood we’re meant to be feeling at that given moment. A sad song to help us feel sad when a character experiences the same emotion. An intense battle hymn to accompany the climax to our favorite action movie. Whatever will help bring out the emotion that scene is meant to give us.

With video games, soundtracks often do their best to supply a bold theme, as well. Many good soundtracks are capable of evoking the feeling of the game just by listening to that music. An action game will typically have much higher tempo music than a story driven game simply by virtue of how it is meant to be played. Journey, a short and extremely simple yet abstract game, focuses entirely on exploration and the beautiful landscapes and art style. It has lots of slow, drawn out melodies played by violins and soft woodwinds. As far as I can recall, there is very little percussion throughout the entire soundtrack (timpani, usually, which itself adds a soft beat of its own). This makes the audience relax as they view for the game for what it really is. Journey is not a game to be won, but a story to experience.

Contrast this with my favorite game ever, Dragon Quest VIII, and you’ve got the blaring brass in the overture that screams “buckle your pants, we’re going on an adventure!” You’ve got cymbals slamming and drums pounding. Basically, the common elements of this soundtrack involve all the instruments one would associate with a classic Arthurian knight’s tale. Everything is loud and big, but not fast. This game has plenty of action, but really it’s about the world and seeing loads of different monsters and places. Lots of the music in this game is very “open”, with ascending notes that give the impression that a door is opening into a different world. It has plenty of strings, but here the strings play a harmony, for often it’s the brass that gets the forefront in these pieces.

With music that isn’t meant to be actively listened to, there are two super important things that are necessary to help subliminally tell the audience what mood they should be in. Those things are tempo and instruments. The tempo translates directly to how fast you want your audience’s heart to be racing. With Journey, there isn’t a whole lot that will scare you. You might as well be reading a book on a quiet rainy evening. With Dragon Quest VIII, the tempo is often quick, but it gives the impression of a brisk walk down the country side or playing tag with some friends. With something more horror or action based, you want their heart to be pounding, as in “Oh no this demon is going to get me if I don’t run faster” sort of pace. If you set the tempo at that pace, your job is already halfway done.

The next time you’re binging Netflix or simply out at the movies, try to listen to the film score. Pick out the instruments being used. Think about how different that song would be if it was an electric guitar, or xylophone, or tuba playing that melody. It would feel out of place, sure, but chances are that sort of switch would work just fine in a different movie with a different theme.

Review — Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime

Part co-op, part power-up, part Asteroids, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a game with an intriguing concept and a brilliant execution. When a friend of mine told me about it, he explained it as “four people operating a single space ship as they navigate a space filled with lasers, missiles, and as you’d probably expect, myriads of different kinds of creatures. Every ship has several different parts, including guns, engines, shields, etc. and each player can only operate one at a time, so you have to really work together to pull through.

When I heard about this game, I immediately thought it would be a hectic game in which every person will constantly be swapping between manning the guns, the engines, the shields, and whatever else may be demanded of them. But really, this isn’t that game. One person steering, one person with a shield, and two people managing all the different guns works just fine. The only thing that’s hectic is actually killing all the guys that are coming.

But the intrigue in this game is the power-ups. Because while there are only about four different kinds of stations a person can operate, there are three different power-ups you can find (Power, Beam, and Metal), and they all fundamentally change every station you put them on. Placing a Power gem on a gun will make it fire more bullets. Placing a Metal gem on a gun will change the weapon into a giant flail. Placing a Beam gem on a shield will make it deflect (rather than absorb) any bullets that hit it. There’s so many possibilities, and a lot of the fun in this game is looking for power-ups in order to utilize them in ways you haven’t seen yet.

This grows exponentially more exciting when you unlock upgrades that let you store two power-ups at each station. A Metal-Power gun will turn the gun into a giant missile launcher. A Metal-Metal gun will make the weapon have two flails! Since there’s so many different combinations of operating stations you can create with this game, it’s fun simply discovering those new things. There are, inevitably, ones that are better than others. I’m looking at you, Beam-Power engine and Beam-Metal shield. But that doesn’t make the discovery any less fun. As you progress into the game, you fight bosses, and eventually you can unlock new ships with different layouts.

Now, this game is up to four players, and we had five at the time, so for the majority of the time we were playing I sat out. But that didn’t actually diminish my experience. Since a lot of the fun is in the discovery, I got to experience all that alongside everybody else.

My biggest critique is that the discovery is sort of short-lived. I could have kept playing this game for several more hours, but I imagine this game will get stale after you’ve played it twice. You can only create so many types of enemies and terrain before it starts to get boring. I wanted to see even more discovery. Just one extra power-up. A Fire or Lightning gem, maybe. Now, I realize this is a tall order, given the number of combinations this would introduce would be insane, but since that’s where most of my entertainment came from, I think that should be a larger highlight of the game. This isn’t a puzzle game where co-op and perseverance is the only way to succeed. It’s not easy, but we never lost a single mission, and we were always playing on the hardest difficulty. So I want more ways to toy with the game interactions.

But beyond my insatiable need to have every game better than it is, this game is great. It’s loads of fun, and best of all it’s kid friendly. You’re rescuing space bunnies (often referred to as friends) as you go on an adventure literally mending a giant metal space heart.

Review — Dragon Age: Inquisition

This is the only Dragon Age game I have ever played, first off. I’ve also never played any of the Mass Effect, and have relatively little experience with games that are heavily impacted based on the choices you make. I have no idea what even compelled me to try this game, and admittedly it was quite some time ago when I did play it, but man this game is amazing.

First off, whenever I play a large role-playing game like this, the character I create is always one based on one in my own universe, Nacre Then. I like going through the character creator and making my imagination fit the screen, and when I do play I like deciding options based on what that character would do. So in that sense, there’s no real choice involved, but to me it makes it even more compelling.

The functionality of this game is pretty much flawless. I love the UI, the combat, and especially the aesthetics of the landscapes and world. It isn’t every day you find a game where all of the armor looks awesome, and there are almost too many options once you get into the game. Crafting your own gear and deciding what the color and texture of everything is is a little daunting, since the possibilities are almost endless.

Whenever I play these sorts of games, I always try to set myself up for a challenge and play on the harder difficulties. I can’t remember what the difficulty scale of this game is, or if there was a “Legendary” mode, but I played on Hard and man, it starts getting really unforgiving. I would actually put this as a point in its favor, though, because I love saving before a battle and trying to plan out what is going to happen as if I’m solving a puzzle.

The best/worst thing about this game, though, is that it made me want to do everything. There are three classes: warrior, rogue, and mage, and each class has the more subclasses. When I played, my character was a mage (of course), and when I unlocked the choice of which subclass I wanted to pick, I wanted all of them. Now, if I play again, I’ll be compelled not to play a mage again, because I’ll be experiencing the same content, but I still want to play those two subclasses I never got to see! (It’s worth noting that you can play every character in the party beyond your character, “The Inquisitor”, and that those characters unlock subclasses as well, but its just not the same when it’s not you.)

These are my two major criticisms for the game, even if they’re small. The first is that the crafting system gets tedious. You find common materials you don’t need everywhere, but if you don’t pick them up you’ll run out. On top of that, the rare stuff can only be found in specific places. They’re not “rare”, really, because it’s not randomly generated. If you can’t find them, you’re simply in the wrong place.

My second critique is that while unique, “Epic” armor is in the game, it doesn’t compare to crafting your own gear later on. When you make your own armor, you can choose all the stats you want, so it’s always far better than even good uniques that you literally had to kill a specific dragon for. It’s a little disheartening when you complete a daunting challenge only to find the reward is useless.

As a side note, this is one of very few games that gave me chills during a cutscene. Even without knowing these characters from past games, there was one specific moment that really immersed me into the world, and it was awesome. (I won’t say what it was, though, because it’s sort of a spoiler, but it does happen relatively early on in the game.)

Review — Heroes of the Storm

As far as the MOBA genre goes, there are quite a few high-end competitors out there. While I’ve never played Dota 2, League of Legends was like the only thing I played from 2011 to 2015. Every popular game (especially on this side of the gaming world) is going to have pros and cons.

Heroes of the Storm isn’t my favorite game. My largest problem with this genre is that the time investments in each individual match is huge compared to other things, and because mistakes are so punishing to the player and their team, it’s very easy to get frustrated (or have teammates hate you every single game).

The single largest reason I didn’t play League of Legends competitively much is because the community in the MOBA genre is so resentful. They will find your mistakes and attack you more viciously than your enemies because you’re bringing them down. It’s absurd to me that many of these people will give up and be hateful rather than being cooperative and working together. This criticism goes for the entire genre, and it’s the main reason why I don’t play these types of games as often as I used to. It tends to make losing very difficult to enjoy, and I prefer games that are always fun rather than the polar opposites of hating it during a defeat and loving it when I’m winning.

This game in particular is a bit better in that respect. Games in HotS tend to be around twenty-ish minutes long (rather than the average League game of thirty to fifty minutes), so each game isn’t as much of a commitment. You also cannot communicate with your enemies, and I think this makes it much easier for the toxicity of teammates not to spread. In my experience, if a teammate is bad people will vent their anger towards the enemy team, telling them how bad their ally is. Since there is no “All chat” in Heroes of the Storm, people can only talk to their teammates and this reduces both the rage from the other team and the potential for your ally to rage at the other team about you.

The biggest problem I have about this game over League of Legends is that when a team starts winning in Heroes, it’s very difficult to turn the tables on them. You will usually be able to tell which team is going to win five minutes into the game, but in League, comebacks are more prevalent and the advantage isn’t established so quickly. This is probably due to the difference in the match length for both games.

My favorite thing about Heroes of the Storm however is something relatively unique for the MOBA genre, and that is the talent system. Rather than accruing gold by killing minions and players to buy items that change your stats, you gather experience to gain levels and earn a choice of talents. Now, the “level system” isn’t exclusive to HotS, but gaining levels and upgrading your abilities to account for the playstyle you want for that match certainly is. Rather than buying different items to counter the enemy team’s characters and abilities, you’re changing your own abilities to have a better control over what you want to do in that game.

Aside from that, the fact that this game has several different maps to play on really adds to the dynamic of playstyle. In a  game of League everything is completely, one hundred percent skill based because the only thing that ever changes is the characters on both teams. Since the map and objectives fluctuate so much in Heroes, players and their characters will tend to be better in some situations and worse at others, and it adds a lot of replay-ability to the game. Also, since the character roster is so much smaller than that of League of Legends (~66 vs. 134) it’s much easier for people to get into and understand.

Between the two games (not having enough experience to judge Dota 2,) I would say Heroes of the Storm is superior in terms of how enjoyable it is on a match to match basis. Is it difficult for me to enjoy when I’m losing? Absolutely, but in Heroes the game will be over in fifteen more minutes, whereas in League it could end up being neck and neck for half an hour only to have victory stolen from you by one simple misplay.

Review — Stories: The Path of Destinies (350)

Stories: The Path of Destinies is a choose your own adventure, rogue-like rpg game where Reynardo, a rebel fox, tries to defeat the evil emperor. Now, I’ve seen pretty mixed reviews about this game, and it certainly does have very clear flaws, but I had a lot of fun with it, and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who likes rogue-like adventure games, especially if they have a free evening and don’t know how to spend it.

I’m going to go off track a little here and talk about it’s flaws first. None of them are big, but they do add up and leave a bad taste. The first is the name of this game. Indie games thrive on being memorable, and this is the least noticeable name in the universe. It’s like they got the three most used names in the entire gaming community and found a way to use all three in the title. Now, obviously I’m exaggerating here, and the name does suit the game once you understand what’s going on, but this game would be much more prevalent if it’s name was noticeable.

Second, while the combat is one of my favorite things about this game: it’s hard. Specifically, there is no ‘invincibility’ timer that makes you immune for a second after you get hit. This means that if multiple enemies attack you at once and you don’t dodge the attacks, you can instantly die even if you have full health. Also, since this game has very specific camera angles, there will be instances where you literally cannot see some enemies, and thus can’t know when to time a counterattack if they strike.

Lastly, this game is a bit glitchy and doesn’t have the amount of polish I’d like. There are instances where I got my character stuck and had to start the mission over again, or found a way to walk off the map. The narrator in the story can also be redundant, repeating something he just said in the previous sentence. This doesn’t happen a whole lot, though. And that’s it. That’s everything bad about this game.

Everything else is awesome. You choose your own adventure, selecting different objectives to pursue and, as the story progresses, trying to piece together a way to win. Once you play for about an hour and complete an ‘ending’, which will be bad, you start over. The narrator gives you the same choices, but the voice acting changes because now you know how one side of the story ends. You can choose to go down that same path and make it end differently, or you can take an entirely different approach.

Going back to the beginning of the game never feels like starting over. You keep all your weapons, power ups, and levels, and because the narration changes depending on what your character knows, the story is always different, even if you do the same thing twice. You can make new swords, and this gives you access to different areas of the map. This game is so dynamic that even if you make the same exact actions over and over again, you can always experience new things.

The combat is simple, and one of the most controversial things about the game. I personally loved it. It runs the same way as Batman, Assassin’s Creed, or Shadow of Mordor, where you have a circle of people that you have to counter while attacking. In this game, though, you can grab people and throw them off ledges or into other enemies, stunning both. You can pull people towards you with a hook, and dash to get away or get up close. It isn’t easy. I like to consider myself good at this sort of thing, and I died a lot. Luckily, you can spend points in the skill tree to compensate for what you’re bad at (making your attacks do more damage, giving yourself more time to react, or giving your character more health to name a few).

I will give a minor spoiler here, but I feel like everybody should know this going into the game: The true, correct ending to this game is unattainable at first. There are twenty five different endings, and while twenty-four are bad, you need to ‘beat the game’ four times and unlock four truths before the ‘true ending’ is revealed. It’s a good ending, and it makes use of all the previous times you played it, so I wasn’t disappointed. This game has a ton of replay-ability, and even though I’ve unlocked everything and found the ‘true ending’, I wouldn’t mind jumping back in and playing through some paths I haven’t tried, which is most of them. If this game sounds interesting at all, I recommend you check it out. Maybe watch some gameplay of it on YouTube.

 

Review — Minecraft

You’ve probably heard of Minecraft. It’s one of the most famous games of this generation for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it’s so user friendly. Virtually anyone can sit down and enjoy it with no prior knowledge. Even if you don’t know how to make a pickaxe or build a house, you can still run around and have fun exploring. Heck, a five year old can enjoy this game.

Another huge reason why this game is so popular is because there’s so many ways to play it that it simultaneously fills the need of several different gaming communities. If you want to play a game for the creative, building purposes, great! Build whatever your heart desires. If you want to join a server of warring factions, that’s cool, just be careful that the people you’re playing with aren’t jerks. If you want to role-play, Minecraft is great for that! There’s several servers with full cities and stories that people have constructed from scratch. If you’re an aspiring game designer that wants to explore the fundamentals of texturing or adding mods to videogames, what better foundation than a game that is literally a giant three dimensional grid of blocks?

This game is huge because it is what I would call the “gateway drug” to the gaming community. There’s so many diverse cultures and variants in this game that its impact on the entire gaming world is incalculable. Are there better games that allow you to beat other people up in real time? Of course, this game wasn’t designed with a “player vs. player” concept in mind. Are there better games that let you role-play with people around you? Sure. I wouldn’t play Minecraft for the role-play because I personally can’t immerse myself in such a physically blocky world.

This game isn’t “the best” at really anything. Any specific part of the game is done better in some other game. But the majesty in this game is the fact that it weaves together so many things at once that it can please anyone. Of course it will have flaws, and they will all depend on the way that you’re playing it. For example, there’s no “instruction manual” for all the things you can and can’t do, you pretty much have to use a wiki if you want to know how to make X block or how to acquire Y item. If you want to build massive cities, it’s going to take an incredible amount of time. Even large scale stuff is often built one block at a time because using modded commands that allow you to conjure basic shapes or shift specific blocks around can only help so much. As with pretty much any online game you play, the community of people you play it with can be terrible and mean, but that too can vary, depending on how you choose to play the game.

Since this game performs really well for every audience, and the game itself is so easy to access even if you only have a laptop (or, heck, a smartphone), that its no wonder its so popular. what’s more, the game is constantly being updated and there’s so much to explore, that playing it once every several months will guarantee it being a very different experience from the last time you played.