Category Archives: Role Playing/ Adventure

Horizon Zero Dawn: What’s on the Horizon?

Horizon Dawns

Every gamer eventually reaches a point where they start to put Trophys and Achievements over actually enjoying a game. A time where a platinum trophy that most of your friends won’t even notice or care about is all you can think about, a momentous moment where you use fast travel to reach one last collectible rather than pay attention to the comprehensive lore and depth of a game. It sounds insignificant, but you haven’t really appreciated a game until one of them knocks you out of your Trophy-hoarding stride. This is the story of the moment that happened to me and the moment I got over it.

Aloy currently stands on a plateau within the great city of Meridian, a large and prosperous settlement located in the centre of the vast world of Horizon Zero Dawn. To the east of this sprawling city lies the place she grew up, a small hut outside the village of the Nora, to the west lies vast unexplored areas the likes of which I can only speculate at this point. But it was here, in Meridian that my stupid mistake, became a gift.

I had started the game with anticipation and excitement, having followed the project since one of the E3 demos a few years ago, I was bubbling with nervous joy as I booted the game up, impressed as I watched the opening cutscene and astounded as I took my first steps on the game’s ravaged, aging Earth. But just before that, while I was tinkering with the settings on the main menu, I started a new game and it was with this that I was asked the fatal question: select difficulty.

Assuming there was a trophy for finishing on the hardest difficulty I selected Very Hard and immediately plunged into the world of a young Aloy. It wasn’t until seven or eight deaths later (more than I’d care to admit from falling), while I was still in the relative safety of the east of the map that I googled the Trophy list. None of them are locked behind difficulty barriers.

Of course, I could have simply lowered the difficulty upon discovering this – and trust me, I considered it – but I thought that doing so would be like admitting defeat, letting my inner Trophy-whore win. Plus, if you were a human wearing tribal leathers and a giant metal tail, swung at you by what we can only assume are incredibly sophisticated hydraulics, collides with your chest it’s going to take a huge chunk out of your health pool. So I pressed on, believing in my own ability and my desire to have a semi-realistic experience – giant robot dinosaurs excluded. At first, my search for collectibles and new machines to kill took me north, up to a series of beautiful ruined highways and apartment buildings, past dilapidated huts and snowy tundra terrain. During this time I killed many machines, most using primitive traps and tripwires, fewer using my trusty spear and its silent strikes and fewer still using my increasingly ineffective bow. But I hadn’t really been challenged, nought had really crushed my resolve as a mechanical killing machine should. Then came the colossal Bellowback.

If you imagine a giant ant-eater at the front combined with the bulbous behind of a Black Widow spider you can picture the creature. At least three times as tall as Aloy and about 20ft long it spews globs of ice or fire at our huntress while remaining thoroughly resistant to damage from regular arrows. I soon discovered that I could fire two shock blast shots from my sling to put the creature into a downed state and then smash the canisters under its well-guarded body to deal incredible damage, but repeating this action brought me no excitement. It felt almost like cheating. Instead I found myself dodging the whirling flicker of flames in a close range attack and throwing my red-haired maiden out of the way before her mane was literally ablaze, as this provided much more entertainment. Trying to fight this creature with stealth had proven barely effective, one silent strike did little damage to such a colossal creature. Even a double-shot arrow which found its monstrous and exposed bulbous tank barely scratched the surface, so as I ran away, a level 25 warrior, crafting more arrows as I made my mad dash to safety, I turned my camera to face the beast and found the one small grace my trophy hoarding brain had afforded me. I was having fun.

I knew I had traps, I knew I could hit the weak spots of this creature, and I knew I could escape if necessary. However, I also knew that I needed a Bellowback Heart, one of the game’s rare components that can be traded for superior weapons and goods. So I turned, and ran head first into a fight with a rampaging foe that I wasn’t sure I could even survive, never mind win. What’s more, I did this not because the game told me to do so, not because I needed this part to unlock something, but just because I felt like it.

Dusk settles

By the end of a five minute long contest I had devoured seven potions and an entire satchel of medicinal herbs. I had 120 health remaining and by my feet lay the sparking carcass of the Bellowback. There was no heart to be found, just some regular components and a lens of some kind. “Next time” I told myself, before scooping the salvaged material into my ever expanding inventory and continuing upon one of the many side quests in the game.

All of this took place in the eastern section of the map, a small snowy backwater compared to the towering Meridian, but it was the training area you need to prepare yourself for what comes next. Or, it should have been. Travelling down into what appears to be the vast dry riverbed of what was once a very large ocean your view changes from a Christmas card-esque snowy white hue to a harsh swirl of dust, sand and endless mountains of red clay. The mechanical beast I ride is tiny compared to the Chargers, Snapjaws and Thunderjaws that litter my way to Meridan, but I press on, certain to find the answers I seek regarding the massacre at the Proving and a place to offload my rare materials. But rising to the top of the towering metropolis I had only more questions. What new and powerful kind of machines lie below, how would I fair in an environment which by all means seems much more densely populated with bloodthirsty robotic savages, and perhaps most importantly of all, why, when I stare out over the hazy land of this dystopian post-post apocalyptic world, were my eyes transfixed upon one, glorious thing? The glimmer of a Glinthawk and the promise of limitless adventure upon the Horizon.

 

 

 

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Final Fantasy XV – Royal Arms Guide

Royal Arms Header

Intro

All across the world of FFXV you discover weapons that belonged to Noctis’ forebears.

We’ll just skip over the part that somehow the bodies of former Kings and Queens were put into locations that just happened to get ‘forgotten’ over time and not in some big fancy crypt in Insomnia.

Each one has their own mini back story in their in-game description but the pros and cons of each aren’t really laid out for all to see. Here’s my experience of them, hopefully it should help a few of you who aren’t seeing the benefits. For how to obtain the Royal Arms, visit the FF wiki page: http://finalfantasyxv.wiki.fextralife.com/Royal+Arms

 

  • All Royal Arms:
    Each and every Royal Arm costs Noctis a percentage of the damage it deals in HP. This is per strike, so it can add up in a big way if you’re in the middle of an all out assault. All enemies take normal damage from Royal Arms. There isn’t a monster in the game that is weak or strong against Royal Arm damage, so these are perfect if your big bad looks unbeatable.
  • Sword of the Wise:
    This is the first Royal Arm you’ll get and does medium strength, medium speed damage much like a regular sword would do. It also gives minor buffs to HP, STR, MAG and SPI but enhances very little on the defensive side of things. It’s description, as stated “devastates foes with preemptive warp-strikes” which has led to some misunderstanding particularly regarding the ‘breaking’ of appendages. It comes in useful early on as a higher damage Engine Blade but will fall out of the four slots of usage for most of the game as other weapons can replicate its effects without the HP cost.
  • Axe of the Conqueror:
    On paper this is Royal Arm is one of the best in raw damage out there, not to mention it looks kind of cool but it’s also really slow. It gives a major buff to STR and takes away some of Noctis’ VIT to compensate. What is perhaps the biggest feature of this weapon is that when used to warp-strike, launches the Prince into the air for an AoE ground attack, meaning you don’t always have to hit your mark perfectly. However, it’s not a screen-clearing AoE like a Summon is. Hitting four enemies at once for 2000 damage each will ravage Noct’s health very quickly and could put you straight in Danger mode.
  • Bow of the Clever:
    A ranged damage Arm that lets you move more freely than the others do and certainly comes in handy when dealing with Roc-type enemies or Griffins later on. It gives a significant bonus to MAG and BAL (Resist) making it very useful against swarms of Imperial troops that also use ranged weapons and if you’re a fan of standing back and casting spells. If you want to be at the heart of the action you needn’t bother using this for too long. One final plus side is that it’s quick-firing low-damage attacks don’t drain health fast.
  • Swords of the Wanderer:
    What looks like one awkward-to-wield javelin is actually a dual-wieldable set of short swords that rain down the pain on Noct’s enemies. Low-damage but lightning fast these boost VIT and SPI but leave offensive stats untouched. My personal favourite Royal Arm because unlike most other daggers no enemies are resistant to them. This makes it possible to dish out consistent damage without getting a DPS spike that ravages Noct’s health. However, they have very little reach and you’d need to use all your accessory slots to give them enough power to compete with any of the other Arms. Recommended for boss fights because of defensive buffs and low damage to Noct’s health.
  • Blade of the Mystic:
    Allegedly this blade was used by a King who fought side-by-side with the Oracle and it’s slight buffs to DARK (Resist), VIT and HP tells you everything. What the description doesn’t tell you is that using this blade to warp-strike fires three magical bolts at enemies before warping, making this a good melee weapon against flying foes. It has medium-high damage and is in a weird place between slow and regular speed. Used with the right accessories this is one powerful Hybrid weapon, but fails to excel at a singular task.
  • Star of the Rogue:
    One of the few ‘ranged’ Arms and also one that was wielded by a Queen not a King. It’s unusual shape and combat style take some getting used to, but the minor buffs to FIRE (Resist), ICE (Resist) and LIGHT (Resist) do help when fighting some enemies. On paper this looks like a low-damage, quick-striking weapon but it’s a little more complicated than that as the individual damage of each strike is higher than you’d expect. This is best used against enemies that are slow moving as it pierces through all enemies in a line damaging them all. This comes in quite handy for narrow corridors in which you can funnel enemies.
  • Sword of the Tall:
    On paper this is the Royal Arm with the highest attack, boasting a 518 rating in that category. However, for such stats you pay a price. This takes 40% off FIRE (Resist), ICE (Resist), LIGHT (Resist) and DARK (Resist) along with a little bit off SPI. In return you get high damage and 200 HP, but by the time you reach the part of the game where you get this, 200 HP might be very little indeed. The other downside is that this is SLOW, really slow and as such any quicker enemies can move out of the arc of your swing fairly easily. Even as an opener the warp-strike damage is moderate, despite the high damage rating, to get even a little bit of something out of this sword the enemy needs to be still, for a long time.
  • Shield of the Just:
    Probably as you’d expect, this does a real number on your offensive stats. A huge chunk comes out of your MAG and even bigger cut out of your STR, but in return you get massive buffs to VIT, HP and resistances. Medium damage attack and slow as hell to strike with, this Shield isn’t a weapon you use to deal damage, but that doesn’t make it bad. It’s one to keep on Noct’s wheel while fighting something tough, as it is the only Arm which can heal you. Wield this, and hold block/dodge and you regenerate health as you would while at a warp-point, for a small continuous drain of MP. It sounds stupid, but it’s worth it as this works great against enemies that are too airborne, or too big, to avoid using warp-points as Noct will block while healing. Essentially, invincibility while your MP lasts.
  • Mace of the Fierce:
    Big, bulky and genuinely looks like it can lay the hurt on something, this mace is quite simple both in stats and swings. Giving a straight 300 HP boost and halving BAL (Resist) this is not the weapon you bring to a fight with a squad of Imperials. It is slow, real slow but hurts like getting smashed by a train. On paper it’s weaker than the Conqueror and Tall Arms, but in practice this is a high-damage opener and works great against beasts like Dualhorns which are large and slow. It takes a lot to wind up for a hit though and you’re likely to get frustrated with how much damage you take while waiting for it to hit.
  • Scepter of the Pious:
    Medium-sized, medium damage and quick weapon buffing DARK (Resist) and MAG something insane. This is a good weapon for fighting daemons, just on those stats alone. But throw in a ground-pound warp-strike and this becomes a serious damage dealer against small to large groups of bad guys. Not great in one-on-one situations as it lacks big damage and has no buffs to physical stats. That being said, a 150 buff to MAG will make you forget all about that if you like using Elemency.
  • Trident of the Oracle:
    The weapon of the Oracle grants a bonus to MP but nothing else in terms of stats. What it does bring to the party is a large swing radius similar to the Mace and Axe above, but with slightly better speed and slightly lower damage. As a tool for destruction, the Trident utilises aerial strikes and air-to-ground assault to deal damage, and also leaves behind holograms of Noct which act as decoys. Great against groups of enemies where you want to focus down one opponent, but one-on-one this lacks use unless you want your battles to look cool.
  • Katana of the Warrior:
    Large, fast and high-damage weapon that boosts SPI, FIRE (Resist), ICE (Resist) and LIGHT (Resist) with one fatal drawback. In turn for this you pay a heavy price in DARK (Resist) one that hurts like hell when fighting daemons that can dish it out heavily. For monsters during the day this should be close to the top of your favourites. Against daemons, be confident in your ability to block and dodge as you could find yourself struck by a mighty powerful dark attack.
  • Sword of the Father:
    Named thusly because it was the sword of King Reginald, Noctis’ father, and is one of the last, if not the last, Arm(s) you will receive. Quick, powerful and with boosts to MAG and VIT this is for the hybrid player who likes to strike quick with flashes of steel and then step off and rain down Elemency on his targets. It lacks the wow factor, both visually and in terms of damage but is one of the most practical Royal Arms for all situations. This is a good one to keep on your wheel until you get the Ultima Blade.

 

Notes

Regarding the Sword of the Wise.
Many articles online suggest that this weapon increases your chances of breaking appendages from beasts you fight. This is true, but it is NOT the weapon itself that does it. Break mechanics works based upon three factors, the Strength of the Strike, the Type of the strike and the Weapon modifier.

The STRENGTH of a strike is the third factor in calculating a break and is determined by the damage it deals. Each appendage has it’s own damage threshold in which if a certain amount of damage is dealt at once a break can occur. This is fairly low on almost all monsters, so even a weak strike is capable of a break, provided it meets the criteria below.

The TYPE of strike plays the second largest contributing factor in a break chance. Only certain strikes may cause a break. Most commonly a break will happen on a warp-strike, but it can also occur while using a charged attack with a greatsword, as well as any auto strike by the largest weapons. All Royal Arms can cause breaks, but they seem to be quite damage dependent, even the largest ones. All aerial polearm strikes can cause breaks as well, while regular swords, daggers and most guns can’t cause breaks with autoattacks. Parry attacks seem to be the exception to the rule, as I’ve seen breaks with certain weapons that can’t normally cause breaks.

The WEAPON modifier plays the largest part in whether or not a break can take place. Certain arms have a bonus to breaking appendages. The best of all is the gun-class weapon, Cerberus. Designed solely for the purpose of breaking, it deals low damage and aims awfully, but is the best way to rip valuable appendages off big beasts. Next in line comes any weapon with a breaking modifier, particularly those with high single-hit damage. Aim these in the right place and use warp-strike to give yourself the best chance.

Now that you know this, you can see that the Sword of the Wise has a high break chance because it automatically warp-strikes, not because it has some built in break modifier.

 


Final Fantasy XV – Review

Noct, Glad, Ignis, Prompto

Introduction

My experiences, and therefore my love, of Final Fantasy started in the late ’90s. It was a turn-based RPG with cut scenes in ALL the right places and I was a naive gamer looking for my next fix. In 20 years which have passed a lot has changed in society, politics and gaming. But not much has changed in the world of Square Enix.

Let’s start with the basics. Final Fantasy XV is amazing. I can’t state this fact enough and I can’t think of a word which is all-encompassing enough to truly describe the game and do it justice. The open world of Lucis gives way to linear storytelling at the right times, and the regions of the world slowly unravel to reveal areas and monsters that feel very familiar to FF veterans, but are unveiled using the newest technology and consoles to provide a unique experience that breathes fresh life into a franchise that had been haemorrhaging fans since Final Fantasy XIII. Here they changed up the combat and gambled, trying to make this one for ‘First Timers’. I’m no first timer, but there’s just something about this game that I love.

Noctis absorbing a Royal Arm

Noctis absorbing a Royal Arm

The characters

Before I get into the nitty-gritty let’s remember that this is still a JRPG, and one done by Square Enix at that, so the characters and plot were likely to have some elements of familiarity or repetition. Take the boys for example: There’s the spoilt heir to the throne (Noctis), reluctant to embrace his destiny even in the wake of his father’s death; his loyal protector (Gladiolus), an honourable soul  who believes in the cause of the Prince; and the tactician and brains of the operation (Ignis) who is physically weaker than the previous two but who is logical and sometimes robotic in his approach. There’s nothing mould-breaking in the cast other than Prompto’s character, who is a strange mash up of two personalities that usually make their way into Japanese storytelling. First, the Jester – a comedian and light-hearted relief from the dark themes of the story – and second, the technophile – a somewhat modern twist on the usual ‘mechanic’ character that has been seen before.

Individually, the boys are all unremarkable and not very interesting. It’s made clear from the beginning that they are all long-time friends / acquaintances of Noct and their purpose is to protect and advise him. But as their own unique little snowflakes, they are fairly shallow and boring. I’ve got the game’s Platinum Trophy and I know very little about Ignis, Prompto and Gladio  outside of their relationships with Noctis. Ye, ye, he’s the protagonist, but the guys are such a great unit – despite looking like every run-of-the-mill emo band that formed in the late ’00s – that it’s a shame the story doesn’t expand on the lore and back-story of each character as much as it should.

Similarly, there’s Lunafreya. Supposedly a big character in the game, at least, that’s what FF: Kingsglaive (2016) led us to believe. Without spoilers, all I can say is that her character development is lacking somewhat. Most of her relationship with Noct is shown in flashbacks and her role and legacy as Oracle isn’t fully explained in the main story.

The plot

Lady Lunafreya’s lack of development is one of the biggest flaws in a so-so story. The journey Noct and his friends embark upon is fairly simple. Reclaim the ring, reclaim the throne and beat the bad guy. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but all the stands in his way are a few gods, an immortal being and a surprise twist or two. The plot isn’t the best place to look here though. The best parts of the game take place outside of the main Chapter Quests. Whether it’s the breathtaking landmarks throughout the world that Prompto requests you stop at, the ridiculously detailed meals that are served by cooks or Ignis at camp, or the little moments in combat where the guys talk to each other, FFXV catches you off guard. Without wanting to, or without trying to you start to like the game.

Lucis

A breathtaking world

Even the most stalwart of FF fans, those outraged that the turn-based combat has been replaced or those who are angry that there is no female-player character will find that they eventually start to warm to a game that bottled the best and worst parts of male friendship and drizzled it all over what is essentially a very cut and dry story. I guess what I’m alluding to is something that sounds like such a cliche that it must have its very own meme by now: play the game for the journey, not the ending. Rushing through the main chapters is VERY doable. You’re supposed to be able to finish the game at level 30 (I was 60 something) but if you do, you’ve wasted a lot of the best moments. After all is said and done you can go back and redo anything you’ve missed but will you want too? Without all the extra bits in between, the story itself is lifeless.

The mainstream niggles

As one of the year’s biggest releases let’s run over some very REAL criticism from some places that have WAY more clout online than I do.

  1. The Camera – I’m not going to pretend I didn’t notice how bad the camera was in combat, I mean, there were the occasional moments that made me forget and then those moments where I’m trying really hard to warp-strike something and failing, repeatedly, because the camera was jerking around. That being said, I found this tolerable right up until the Adamantoise boss. On smaller enemies the camera is a niggle, it doesn’t affect performance in combat. Against the big turtle, I must have spent a good 15mins of 90min boss fight hitting air because the camera is messed up. NOT cool.

    Regalia

    Your faithful steed

  2. The Ending – There’s not going to be a spoiler here, but can we just lay off the ending. It wasn’t bad. Don’t get me wrong, it brought back a lot of the same feelings I had at the end of FF XIII, but it was by no means awful. This sort of plot is WHY we buy Final Fantasy games, if you were expecting something different then you bought the wrong game.
  3. Combat – Turn-based gaming is dying, and rightly so. Can all the so called FF purists just get off their high horses for a second and think this through? We have turn-based games on our mobile phones because they have the same, if not more power as old consoles such as the SNES or Playstation. Final Fantasy started on older generations of consoles and turn-based gaming worked for it, because they couldn’t render 3D models very well, or deliver HD content. This is 2017, there’s no way a turn-based game for the PS4 would have survived a lashing in this market, even with the Final Fantasy name attached to it. The system in FFXV is actually a brilliant bridge between the old and what I assume will be coming up in later FF games. Wait Mode provides a whole bunch of time to make decisions, there’s a menu that pauses the game when you want to select items, and attacks are split into ‘Attack’ and ‘Skills’ just like previous FF games. The step forward has been made well. If you want to play a turn-based Final Fantasy, go and buy World of Final Fantasy or download FF: Brave Exvius. It’s worth noting that both are turn-based games and as for my earlier point, WOFF is PS4 / PS Vita and FF:BE is Android /iOS because they don’t need the same sort of hardware as XV does.

Conclusion

The hero rises

The hero rises

I’ve already said that this is an amazing game, I don’t really have much else to add that you don’t already know. This is a Square Enix JRPG, so you know what you’re getting story-wise: Solid, but not spectacular. However, the world is breathtaking. Virtually everything you see can be visited, every enemy you see from the car can be fought and every Chocobo you see dash past ridden. There are tiny little problems with this game, and I say tiny relative to all the bits that went right. Even if you hate the four protagonists, find Ignis annoying, Prompto childish and Gladio obtuse and stubborn, you can’t deny that what the game is, which is a classic tale of four friends on an adventure in a world which is a magical combination of a Feudal system ruled by a monarch, brilliantly cast forth into the 21st century. It’s duty, order and a black and white, good vs evil tale helping drag old fans forward and new fans into the fold. At the end of the day, there’s no way this will be the final fantasy, and if all XV turns out to be is a step on a grand journey, then it’s one I’m glad I took.

 


Ratchet and Clank: Review

Intro

Back in 2002 we were treated to the adventures of Ratchet & Clank, a Lombax and a robot who stole not only the hours of our childhood but also our hearts. To the bigger picture they were the first proof that Pixar had missed a beat, but to the individual, they were an excellent platformer to follow in the footsteps of Insomniac’s previous works, including the much acclaimed Spyro the Dragon.

Enter 2016. Fourteen years since the original, we now have a reboot. A game which for all intents and purposes is the same, both in story and gameplay. Sure, there are a few tweaks here and there to bring it up to par with the new consoles, but the basics are the same. To be honest, that’s what makes this year’s edition so charming.

Progress isn’t always in leaps and bounds

Insomniac took the time to go back to their roots, dig out an old favourite and give it a makeover. In doing so, they gifted the older gamers such as myself a taste of our childhood, and gave a whole new generation a chance to fall in love with the fearless Lombax/robot duo. The 2016 version is polished, perfected and sticks to a tried-and-true format. For talented gamers it offers fast-paced gameplay with a story that’s minimalistic and short enough to power through. For those a bit younger, or less capable, it offers a challenging experience set in a beautiful world with varied environments that appear so vividly that it’s an assault on your eyes. Having just come out from the Fallout, Witcher, Division coma of almost dystopian RPGs, Ratchet was a brilliant break from the bleak and semi-realistic worlds in which the aforementioned games exist. Ratchet Gold Bolt

The main feature of the reboot is the bright colours of the environments which are complimented by typical cartoon-villains and pseudo-heroes who spew catchphrases and cliches on a regular basis to give the game the same cheesy feel of the original. That’s not to say that Ratchet is stuck in the past. The dialogue has been modernised to include some satirical comments about not only gaming itself, but also some common behaviour on social media, bringing the game in line with current trends and satire.

Clankers?

I could shower the game in praise, because every time I boot it up I feel like I’m 12 years old using a PS2 for the first time. But objectively, I can see the game’s flaws. First, its length. The UK release date for this game was Friday 22nd April, I didn’t get to touch the game until Saturday. Eight hours later I’d finished the story. Ratchet GoodbyeBy the end of Sunday I had all 28 Gold Bolts and had cleared challenge mode. I was already in achievement mode less than 24 hours into the game. On the flip side, the disc did not cost full retail, so I’m not as frustrated as I was when I finished The Order 1886, but as I played through the game a second time, I kept noticing areas they could have padded out or beefed up. In staying true to the original game’s story, Insomniac missed a trick. They could have thrown a few more planets into the game, given us a little more to explore, or greater incentive to go back to planets that we’ve already visited. I found myself only going back for Gold Bolts, not so much Holocards.

Conclusion

Fourteen years has gone by so fast, and technology has come so far. When the original Ratchet & Clank came out most internet connections were dial up, Intel Pentium 4 processors were very expensive and YouTube was yet to be created. Never mind Facebook, Myspace was just gaining traction and iPads and tablets were the stuff of science fiction.

So we look at the current, and ignore the past. Ratchet & Clank is a child-friendly game meant to entertain. It’s not your traditional ‘gamer’s game’ and gameplay footage won’t go viral. But what it will do, is take you back in time. Never in my life have I had a toy, or a device meant for entertainment that makes me feel as young, and creative and vibrant as playing Ratchet & Clank does. It’s the essence of childhood written onto a disk that people can play on their games consoles. Suck on that Pixar.

Ratchet Clank Robot

 


Dragon Quest Heroes – Hack ‘n’ Slash Nostalgia

Dragon Quest Heroes Terry

Intro

I’m a fan of the source material – let’s just get that out of the way. I’d play a warriors game for Final Fantasy as well given the option, but Square Enix’s other well-known franchise stole pole position and in turn an Omega Force makeover. Thus we have the unnecessarily over-subtitled Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below.

Released almost a year ago in Japan, it finally made its way to Europe and the rest of the West last Friday so we could pick it up and indulge in nostalgia. Unfortunately, that’s all it is.  Already a niche game in the West as part of a huge JRPG franchise, adding the Warriors gameplay only narrowed the target audience down even further. What promised much in the way of repetitive gameplay actually delivered a fast-paced narrative that was sickeningly upbeat and optimistic.

The Format

Yangus and Jessica

Old faces you know and love

That much we had come to expect with the Dragon Quest label. Their games rarely shape up in the same way that other ‘more adult’ JRPGs do, so we could predict a similarly eventless story which drops the protagonist firmly on the ‘heroes’ side of the light/dark divide. Insert some comically portrayed regional accents and the occasional screen-clearing super attack and you’ve got a game that moves off shelves.

Dragon Quest Heroes features a mix of characters from across previous Dragon Quest games and introduces a few more for safe measure. Each has their own wide variety of abilities if you believe the marketing but if you play the game, they’re the same moves with a different skin. Of course, we expect this in a game which lacks the button-mashing depth of a Devil May Cry, but still… There are a few things missing from what could be a great game.

For example: I like to play games that possess a less-than-exciting narrative while watching shows on Netflix. Repetitive gameplay and a story which feels a little flat won’t intrude on my episode of Daredevil, which puts DQH as a must play over The Witcher 3, which requires more dedication and attention. Heroes is brilliant at being a game you came multi-task with. There are no complicated or complex objectives as everything is basically a ‘defend this’ or ‘kill that.’

But then again, everything is basically a ‘defend this’ or ‘kill that.’ The Tower Defence gameplay promised from the inclusion of Monster Medals doesn’t feel like Tower Defence gameplay. Most of the Monsters you can place are just damage sponges designed to buy you more time to run around and stop the source – mystical maws.

Backed into… nothing?

Perhaps one of the better games with this design was Halo: Reach’s online firefight. The Score Attack mode just let you entrench while the enemy would come to you. You had nothing to defend in most cases and you just had to survive five waves. By contrast in Dragon Quest Heroes, all the enemies tend to stay pretty much where they are, especially after you’ve passed the story section for an area.

Featuring cliched bad guys

Featuring cliched bad guys

What’s more, slow navigation between screens, excessive dialogue between menu options such as buying and selling and only the bare necessity when it comes to item customisation leaves Dragon Quest Heroes sit teetering on the edge of RPGdom. One less character option and this becomes an arcade hack and slash, yet one more character option and the game becomes a little too much like a standard Dragon Quest game. You can see the line they tried to draw, and you can respect the balance.

Despite its flaws DQH is thoroughly enjoyable, put on a soundtrack or a 30min sitcom and start slashing away and you’ll love the time spent trying to save Arba. Try to play the game with your headset embracing the full gaming experience and you’ll start to see it for the drag it can be. This is a game between games. Much like my experiences with the Borderlands franchise Dragon Quest Heroes is a game I will be coming back to between AAA releases, but not a game I’ll be strategising for in my sleep. It’s a great piece of nostalgia and what should be an easy Platinum Trophy, not to mention the game oozes with puntastic dialogue. However, you’ll need more than a passing interest in the Heroes of Dragon Quest if this game is going to make you feel like you’ve got your money’s worth. Then again, I did say this was for a niche audience.

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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – Mother Base

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Intro

To you and me Mother Base is a giant metallic rig in the middle of an ocean, but to Snake and Miller it’s home.

Ever since MGSV’s release date people have been looking for tips and tricks on how to get the most out of Mother Base and how to maximize productivity. This is probably a good call on their part, as anything to do with the game’s economy seems to fall into the Mother Base category.

GMP and Resources

Fairly early on you learn the value of GMP, it allows you to get into the field and it funds development. There’s nothing fancy here it’s simply the rupee, gil, coin, gold or dollar system with MGS and you’re going to want to get a lot of this.

I don’t have a definative figure yet, but by the time you get to the game’s mid point you should be shelling out around 300,000 per upgrade, not to mention it’s going to cost you a fair bit to deploy with all that cool gear.

I’ve already seen plenty of guides and tips on how to save GMP and farm resources but some lists ignore the obvious, and some of them want you to replay individual missions over and over again.

I’m not arguing that these things won’t get you cash, but infact the best way to keep hold of your GMP is to not spend it at all.

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GMP Management 101

  • Deploy with the essentials – This might seem like the most obvious thing of all, but in plenty of videos online players are sending Snake into missions over equipped. If you’ve never done a mission before it’s a good idea to spend the extra GMP and make sure you go out with a good mix of items, but main mission rewards are large and you will be unable to deploy at a greater cost than the mission reward. On the other hand, if you’re heading out to do some free roaming or side ops do you really need a sneaking suit, a grenade launcher and all that C4? Or is your mission simply a prisoner extraction? In which case all you’ll need is your fulton device and the tranq pistol.
  • Why bother with the Chopper – Buying upgrades for the Helicopter feels natural. After all Snake must spend a great deal of time sat in it. However, as it’s main function in the field is to get you in and out of Afghanistan and Africa it makes no sense to pay 6k+ to call it to pick you up, when the basic one costs just 1k. Yes, 5k is barely anything, but these costs add up. Until you’ve unlocked combat deployments this is a quick and easy way to scale back some of the money you’re spending.
  • Two for the price of one – There’s a reason the enemy vehicles are often loaded with three or four soldiers, and the simple answer is because they can. However, this means you can too. If you’re clearing an outpost and have three enemies and a four wheel drive to fulton why pay individually for each of them. Simply load the stunned soldiers into the vehicle and then extract that. Sure you’re only saving 900 GMP on most occasions, but again, this adds up.
  • Don’t fulton everything – There’s a lot of guides out there telling you to fulton everything you can. This is great advice until you reach mission 10. By this point, even if you’ve just played the story missions, you are likely to be dumping staff members in the waiting room rather than putting them to work on your base. From this point, right up until Mission 22 you can be selective about what you fulton, preferably taking valuable mortars and vehicles over another soldier drone that will sit in the brig or waiting room. After Mission 22 resume fultoning everything until you’ve maxed out your platforms.
  • Sell, sell, sell – If you aren’t at the point where your combat team are going on missions that require vehicles, then they are of little use to Snake. Yes, you can deploy with a vehicle, but if you want to keep it at the end of the mission you need to fulton it out before the end. A better way of utilizing vehicles you obtain early on is to sell them. Some of the tanks fetch 100,000 GMP on their own, so if you have a truck or two hanging around doing nothing then by all means, let someone else buy it off you.
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Resource Management

After GMP there’s only one other economic factor and that’s resources. Fuel, Common Metals, Minor Metals, Biological Material and Precious Metals are held in lunchboxes and crates in the field and automatically generated at Mother Base.

  • Scamming an Automated System – Because your Base Development team automatically mines unprocessed resources (useless in their current state) and turns them into processed resources (the ones you actually spend) you can essentially upgrade your base by leaving your console on with Snake in the ACC. As this process is done by real time, as long as you’re online and stay online, or offline and stay that way you can happily leave your console to gather resources for you. However, the amount of unprocessed generated will remain the same, and the ammount turned into processed every tick is equal to around 10% of your total, eventually you’ll be gaining essentially nothing. But if you’ve amassed a huge stockpile of unprocessed Biological Materials and want to turn those into usable resources, it’s time for the longest AFK in your life.
  • Crates before Mates – Once you unlock the ability to extract crates you’re going to have to prioritize what you extract. What comes in handy here is if you’ve already grabbed a lot of staff in the early missions so you don’t have to waste a device plucking soldiers from the battlefield. Look for the huge crates of materials which cost 10k a pop to extract. This may sound expensive, but each Fuel, Bio or Common crate has a minimum of 750 unprocessed resources in them. If you were to turn these into processed resources you’d be able to make 75k from just those materials. With a whopping 750% mark up, it’s worth your while. Especially as some of the dark red crates contain closer to 7,500 of some resources.
  • The only way is up – Processed materials that you find lying around bases are simple enough to grab and crates in the great outdoors can be fultoned fairly early on. However, there are a few things that can’t really go up. One such example you may see early in the game are the machine gun turrets in villages. With a small roof over their head you can’t extract them so don’t try. You’ll lose the 5k you pay to give it a go and won’t get anywhere. Another example of this happens when you reach the airport in Africa. There are three Red crates of Precious Metals which you are unable to extract thanks to a hangar roof. There is a solution, but that’s a long way down the line.

Staffing

The final ‘resource’ is the men themselves, all of whom either sign up to join, or are extracted and pressed into service. Your guys are assets because they form your workforce, combat force and your first line of defence in FOB mode. But a lot of them are terrible and should just be cannon fodder until you find something better.

  • Automatic Dismissal – Once your base is at capacity on each platform and the waiting room has more than 200 occupants old recruits are fired to make way for new ones. This is handy, especially because the longer it has been since you extracted someone, the worse they are likely to be. None of your important staff members, such as your interpreters or rare RE&D team members will be fired, but if you want to make sure it’s best to lock them down to direct contracts – the game’s way of letting you say ‘I want this guy around even if the worst happens’.
  • The Brig – A few of the high-level recruits that are yanked from the field  spend a period in the cells while they come around to the idea of serving in your Private Army. They all fall in line eventually, but some take longer than others. This does mean that a A++ Combat soldier can’t always go straight into your team so don’t expect immediate results every time you spot an incredibly talented soldier.
  • Troublemakers – If you’ve upgraded your idroid enough and you see this skill out in the field, switch to a lethal weapon. Staff with the troublemaker skill should be fired on the spot, or not extracted at all. If you’ve got a few in your ranks and don’t want to dismiss them just yet you can assign another troublemaker to the same unit. In pairs they only injure each other. However, that does mean there’s always a chance that team is down a man. Unless they’re an S class on the combat team and you can keep them out on operations, there is no need to keep around a Troublemaker, fire, kill or ignore.

Forward Operating Bases

FOBs are the online equivalent of Mother Base, and have the unique ability to be attacked by other players online. So, why should you make one? As what is effectively a second Mother Base, you can double your staff capacity, which means increasing your Research and Base Development teams beyond what they normally would be for your level. If you don’t have any S class soliders, you can fill up an FOB with Bs and As and get essentially the same effect.

The downside is that other players can attempt to steal resources and staff that are on your FOB, while those on Mother Base are safe and sound. To make sure someone can’t be fultoned out by an enemy, tie them down on a direct contract. This is VERY useful when you get your first set of A++ and S class soldiers and want to make sure you don’t lose them fast.

Even if you don’t want to take part in the PvP section of the game, having a FOB helps increase the speed of everything you do in the game. So missions run smoother and your arsenal looks more formidable by the day. The only downside is that you can’t upgrade and use your FOB without being online and open to attack.

 


Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – Review

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Intro

The expression ‘Ghost in the Machine’ just got a million times more apparent thanks to the release of the latest instalment in the Metal Gear franchise. On the surface MGS V:TPP is a Game of the Year certainty, effortlessly mixing free roam elements with mission-driven story progression and RPG development – not to mention, it’s also nice to look at. However, under all the obvious there was bubbling controversy over Ground Zero, the previous instalment in the series.

Flawless in the flaws

Hideo Kojima is a perfectionist, but within the gaming world he can also be considered somewhat of a maverick, with many of the concepts in the original Metal Gear just being downright laughable – chicken hats anyone? Once you’ve stepped over all the surreal aspects of the series you start to see method in the madness and realise the quality MGS games have had in the past. MGSV_SnakeSandstorm

Coming up with one for the current generation of consoles would have been a colossal undertaking, with gamers expecting Kojima’s creation to utilise the full potential of the PS4. The realist in me was expecting something on a par with The Witcher 3, but secretly  I was hoping for something more.

The days which followed MGS V: TPP‘s release were plagued with online connection issues and reports of bugs here, there and everywhere. Call me the luckiest guy on the planet but I only experienced the former.

Of course connectivity was going to be an issue. As the first wave of September games hit the shelves there was to be no doubt that the sheer numbers of people accessing PSN or the Konami servers would be too much for them to handle, not to mention the online features were probably not tested on such a large scale before launch. The service was intermittent not none-existent but eventually I stopped trying to stay connected.

Ridin’ Solo

Up until now, Metal Gear has been a strictly solo experience. The game’s focal point is protagonist Snake and his various missions and undertakings. It’s nice to see that nothing has changed much. The player resumes where they left off at the end of Ground Zero, and data from those games can be downloaded to give yourself a boost in TPP. This is certainly a nice touch, especially after the criticism of Ground Zero’s length and value for money which followed its release. MGSV_SnakeRunMountains

This is the big leagues though, a fully-fledged game with all the RPG elements you need and enough free roamyness to make those who’re still playing Skyrim stand up and notice. Sure, Metal Gear is inherently a different animal. Guns, stealth and gadgets are more prevalent and despite the occasional fire-starting boss there are no dragons to speak of (so far). What Metal Gear does do is deliver an enthralling single-player experience in which the player feels all-powerful one minute and very ‘human’ the next.

Begin Again

The game’s theme is a strange one to define. The story seems to be a mix of reclamation and revenge, mixed with a slight dash of self-righteousness. Meanwhile, every element outside the main missions appears to focus on capitalism and with that in mind, we should give all the more credit to the designers for capturing the very essence of American culture in a video game.

Socially commentary aside, the game begins in a fairly formulaic way: answering a few questions but posing oh so many more. Unusually for a sequel, it does begin incredibly slowly and the tutorial mission a real drag for anyone who has even seen a copy of the game before, never mind played it. Thankfully, this can be smashed through fairly quickly if the player wishes too, landing the Snake in Afghanistan where the real action begins. MGSV_KazandSnake

Your turn Snake

As far as gameplay goes, MGS V: TPP borrows staples from it’s predecessors, and as I already alluded to, some of the Kojima favourites, including Snake’s iconic cardboard box, make their return. For the most part playing feels natural, with the controls set up in a traditional MGS way and only frequent FPSers who are new to the franchise will feel out of sorts using X to crouch. Still, traversing the world feels very awkward when Snake is stood up, yet any movement while crouched or prone feels fluid and natural. The first few hours of gameplay will feel erratic if you’re not used to the series.

Good News for Mother Base

The mainstream approval of The Phantom Pain has been overwhelming and most of it is justified within a few hours of gameplay. Regardless, seasoned gamers will have doubts as to whether a lot of those 10/10s are more a commentary on the lack of other great games on this gen of consoles, rather than as a result of Metal Gear itself.

I was originally going to agree with every 10/10 review. The combat mechanics are excellently designed, the world is large, gorgeous and most importantly, at no point in the game do I feel like I’m being forced to do things a certain way. It might not be the smartest idea to complete a ‘kill’ mission by standing at the edge of the village and firing a rocket into the command building, but if I want to do so, it’s my choice. The scoring system encourages you to play a certain way, but even if you kill everything in sight using machine guns you can still get a pretty decent rank come the mission’s end – perfect runs will be rare until you’re replaying missions for your Trophy.

Another thing I like is the Mother Base system, essentially ‘home’ for Snake and Miller on their missions. This is a huge part of the game, and allows you to utilise all the items you grab on missions to expand and improve Snake’s arsenal and Diamond Dogs’ reputation as a merc group. After enough progression through the game you unlock other things Mother Base can do until eventually it becomes its own self-sustaining entity that feeds Snake cool weapons and tools.

We’re losing the plot, at least some of it

Despite all it does well Metal Gear has a few niggles, and the most apparent one is its lack of an impressive narrative. Of course, should this improve I’ll eat my words (in alphabet spaghetti form), but for the moment it’s nothing to shout about. Much like the plot in The Witcher 3, it’s there as a tool to facilitate character progression and open up areas of the world rather than to take you from a definitive A to B. MGSV_SnakeGrassProne

However, the plot that is there is classic Kojima, with eerie and mysterious enemies looking to outwit Snake and his organisation – yet making the Bond-villain mistake of never finishing him off when they get the chance. I’ve also heard that there are a few bugs with the game – a perfectly reasonable expectation given that you are free to tackle missions any way you like.

Fulton, Box, Chicken

Regardless of flaws and merits as visual media, Metal Gear is still a serious and borderline realistic game. Kojima always adds a little dash of surreal of everything he creates, starting with the infamous Chicken Hat, which makes a return in TPP. Still for noobs, the hat limits mission rank and lets the world know that this person isn’t quite as good at gaming as other people are. There’s also Snake’s cardboard box, which essentially allows him to hide from anything and everything by putting it over his head.

Finally there’s the Fulton extraction, a super powerful balloon which allows Snake to abduct almost anything from the field and send it back to Mother Base. If seen, this leads to some interesting dialogue from the enemy forces.

Conclusion

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Metal Gear Solid is a very strong 9/10, there is so much it does right, and it’s so much fun and it’s so deep, like absolutely ridiculously deep. But the game was released on PS3 as well. This means that some elements of game play haven’t quite made the step up to the next generation. Unfortunately, that’s been the story of gaming in 2015. Every developer is still straddling the fence between current and last gen consoles (for the obvious financial reasons). I’m not contesting that the game won’t look better on Xbox One or PS4, but Metal Gear as a series has always utilised all it can from the console it was on.

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Yes, I know, there are a few of you strongly disagreeing with me right now. But this is my opinion, and I genuinely don’t think we’ve had the first REAL current generation game yet – I thought we might have done with Watchdogs, and again with Destiny, but each of them still come up short. Look at what Grand Theft Auto III did on the PS2 or what Halo 2 did for the Xbox. These are games which define the console because they use the latest and the greatest technology available to them. Metal Gear uses the PS4 system to do a lot, but I can still see that little bit of empty space waiting to be filled.

So to Kojima and Konami I say congratulations. They’ve made an exemplary game that rivals anything we’ve seen so far. But much like CD Projekt Red, they missed their chance to take their game to the next level.