Destiny Queen’s Wrath Return Event – She’s Baaackk

DestinyOn Friday of last week Bungie rolled out the 1.2.0 patch for Destiny that included a number of the new features that will be part of House of Wolves. Now, not everything that’s part of House of Wolves is live right away, instead these two patches, after today’s 1.2.1 patch act a lot more like a soft launch for House of Wolves.

The big thing though was adding in a new faction vendor at the Tower – Petra Venj, the emissary for the Queen has returned. She last appeared on the Tower back in the fall when Bungie ran the ill-fated Queen’s Wrath event opposite the Iron Banner. This was very early in Destiny‘s life, so new players might not be familiar with the whole story. In the first run, Queen’s Wrath was nothing more than just a new set of bounties. It wasn’t nearly as in depth as it is this time – the bounty targets amounted to story characters that already existed, and didn’t really alter them in any way. In fact, her original set of bounties were closer to Fallen themed Vanguard bounties – similar to the Eris Morn bounties have been. They weren’t anything particularly engaging about them, and as a result they only appeared briefly.

Destiny Queen of the Reef

Bungie put the Queen’s Wrath back on the stove for a bit, and we’re getting to see the result of that extra time now before House of Wolves launches. Instead of just grinding Fallen kills, Petra now has a Wanted target – one new one each day within the weekly reset timer. Each target spawns in public zones, a lot like the Blades of Crota from Dark Below, just without the random bug that’s affecting them right now. It’s similar to a public event – the more people in the zone, the quicker the spawn. And you’ll want more people – the Pack of Wolves that spawns is level 30, and as the reinforcements show up, there are more majors and ultras. The final group will include the bounty target, also a level 30 enemy, but with boss level defense and resistances. They really need teamwork – whether with friends or the random guardians in the zone. It’s hard to really talk about the value in doing these bounties – you do get a special Ether Key locked Fallen chest that has pretty solid public zone gear after killing the target. But in terms of the bounties – it’s hard to know if the Queen’s Wrath rewards will be up there with Iron Banner ones, but it’s probably a good bet. It’s also tough to say if these will continue from the Tower, or if they’ll migrate to the Reef.

This new version of the Queen’s Wrath event is far and away a better experience than the original run. How much will continue on past Tuesday is still unsure, but I think it’s probably a safe bet that it will. Assuming that House of Wolves will add in something along the lines as Eris Morn’s inventory, this is probably the safe bet to fill that role. Tomorrow should be a pretty big flurry of info online – both here and on Twitter, from me and all the other Destiny players – so if you’re still enjoying the game, keep your eyes peeled tomorrow.


Weekly News Recap – Week of May 11, 2015

Busy week in news this week, on all points on the spectrum; from good to weird to exciting. Let’s dive in.

Konami Logo - Classic

I went with a whole article on this earlier on in the week, mainly because I still can’t wrap my head around the logic here. Konami, one of the longest gaming developing houses, is all but stopping console development. The future is super uncertain as to the details with how this will impact classic franchises, but it really looks more like they’ll be more inclined to appear on mobile platforms. It’s a cost-saving move, but at the same time it feels like it could be a risky venture, potentially alienating fans. We’ll see how this ends.

This week Microsoft announced their schedule for E3 week. On June 15, at 9:30 am PDT they’ll hold their press conference. If it’s anything like last year’s conference, I expect we’ll see a ton of games, including a couple heavy hitters, like the Gears of War leak from this week. They also announced a fan event on the 14th of June, for 500 fans in the LA area. E3 is starting to shape up, which is always an exciting part of the gaming year. This year could be a pretty intense show – I really think we’re going to see a lot of news and big reveals this year. It’s going to be fun.

Rock Band 4

Today at 3pm EDT Harmonix will show off the first gameplay footage of Rock Band 4 over on IGN. In advance of that show, they’ve announced the first six songs of the setlist. The first six hit some pretty varied genres – modern metal with Avenged Sevenfold’s “Hail to the King” (which should be a lot of fun to play), classic rock with Fleetwood Mac’s “You Make Loving Fun” and The Who’s “The Seeker,” and good ol’ 90’s rock with Spin Doctors “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.” It’s a good mix, especially adding in the other two songs – The Killers’ “Somebody Told Me” and Jack White’s “Lazaretto” – which has me thinking that the whole setlist is going to be a winner. Guitar Hero Live also shared a couple songs from their list, and with the exception of Skrillex, I think they also have a good start. It’s a good year for music games again.

Konami – What the Hell is Going On?

Konami Logo - ClassicIn a recent interview that wound up on NEOGAF and was google translated from Japanese, Konami outlined their new course of action. Now, I mention the path that the interview took to get here because I want to be clear that it’s got a pretty serious tint of internet to it. But the interview does look pretty legit, and if it is, boy, things took a turn quickly.

Konami is a developer that has a ton of longevity to their name. Going all the way back to the early days, Konami was responsible for Castlevania, Contra, Metal Gear and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; as well as giving us the most famous cheat code in gaming history. In more recent years they added Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill to their repertoire. Looking at those franchises, you would really be hard pressed to find a bad choice in the bunch. And yet they’ve all petered out in recent years, with Metal Gear Solid being the one to persist. Based around this interview, we have a more clear idea as to why.

Castlevania NES Title

Konami is also a developer with their hands in other jars. And we’re now seeing that their management sees those other outlets as more economically viable. Console and PC game development is more expensive than ever. With that as their rationale, Konami seems to be poised to jump headfirst into mobile gaming – perhaps to the extent of completely leaving consoles. There’s no denying mobile gaming has really evolved in the last few years. Look at the money that Angry Birds and Candy Crush have made. But to me, pulling out of consoles – an established market with devoted fans – to try out mobile is a really risky move. I think the core audience for Konami was always “hardcore” gamers – mobile is decidedly a casual market. I really worry about just how games like Castlevania, Contra and Metal Gear Solid translate to mobile – assuming that’s the plan. That’s also not looking at a purely mature game like Silent Hill – I really can’t see that series transitioning well to mobile.

Maybe I’m wrong and Konami has a solid plan to make these all work perfectly. And if that’s the case, that’s actually a great thing – it helps contribute to the maturity of mobile gaming. With other companies starting to push into that sphere more and more – like Nintendo and Square-Enix – that’s going to be the case. But at the same time, those other companies aren’t leaving their core audience – console gamers – and moving totally over. Konami is taking a big jump with this move – and leaving massive franchises potentially to die. There’s still a lot to wait and see happen, but I really do worry about the future of some classic gaming names.

Let’s Talk About Easter Eggs

Shovel KnightYesterday I played a few hours of the new Xbox One version of Shovel Knight – a game that, while I found it late, I really love. I hit the new Battletoads Easter egg that was added in for this version, not only because that’s part of completing everything in the game, but also because I love Battletoads. It’s one of the most well done Easter eggs I’ve seen in recent gaming memory for a couple reasons and that, along with a great Kotaku article today on Destiny players tearing apart the Vault of Glass got me thinking about Easter eggs again.

To me, Easter eggs really fall into a couple categories. First there’s the ones that you find and are more artistic in nature. Usually they’re homages to developers other series they’ve worked on, or are tributes to the development team. The basement room in Saints Row 2 is a quick example, but I think the best example here is the tribute room in Halo: Reach. These Easter eggs are always nice – they’re love letters to the fans that have supported the games. The real nice thing with this style Easter egg is that they are versatile. They can be sprinkled in across the game, with varying degrees of hiding them. Sometimes they’re just in a room off the main path (Saints Row 2), while others take a bit more effort (Halo: Reach).

Shovel Knight Battletoads

The other style Easter egg that I really think of are the ones that are interactive in some way. These can range from small encounters – the Lambent Chicken in Gears of War or the Minecraft creepers in Borderlands 2 – to larger scale ones – the Cow level in Diablo, or the Battletoads boss battle(s) in Shovel Knight. These Easter eggs are my favorites. They also show a lot of appreciation for the fans – especially the ones that are crossovers, acknowledging that fans play multiple games – while keeping the fans engaged and playing. Sometimes these kind of Easter eggs blend together – the Halo: Reach trophy room has some elements of engagement with it. Serious Sam was infamous for the sheer number of secrets – some were purely gameplay mechanics, hearkening back to the DOOM days – but others did have traditional Easter egg elements.

In the end, Easter eggs don’t necessarily have to have any direct impact on the game. The ones that do are that much better – the Cow level in Diablo III gives you more experience per kill. The Minecraft creepers drop rare gear in Borderlands 2. Sometimes developers tie the Easter eggs into the achievements – there are a couple in Borderlands 2 like that. The value in Easter eggs lies with the player. Some gamers will skip them and focus on just playing the game. I love digging into the little extras that developers put their time into. A good Easter egg can help keep me invested in a game, mainly when I’m digging for it. And really at the end of the day, they tend to be fun, and that’s what playing games is all about.

Why I Still Play Destiny

DestinyOver the last couple weeks, I’ve been talking a lot about Destiny again. Bungie has been revealing the new content for next week’s House of Wolves expansion slowly – which, while that’s excruciating as a fan/writer, it’s a seriously smart business move. The game is coming up on its tenth month online and I think it’s fair to say saw the player base hit a wall a bit a couple months ago. I know I did after I had hit level 32 on my main character. Repeatedly running the raids was more trouble than not, with trying to get the whole group together; and back then the Crucible was still a struggle, since it was before the 1.1.2 patch.

That said though, as soon as the House of Wolves tease came out, I got the same feelings I did last E3 when I saw Destiny. Bungie has always done trailers well – going all the way back to their Halo days – and Destiny is no different. Just seeing the release date was enough to get me interested in playing again, if for no reason other than to shake off the rust. That was before Bungie showed anything. Once I saw the direction that they are taking House of Wolves, it changed my approach. It got me thinking more critically about Destiny again. Why do I still enjoy going on a game, grinding through the same bounties and missions on three characters, this long after launch with a game that has pretty noticeable flaws?

Destiny Flawless Stiker

The short answer is pretty simple – it’s just a fun damn game. Even this long after launch I still enjoy doing the same things that excited me on September 9. There’s something pretty visceral about the action – across all three classes/six subclasses – that makes the gameplay seem fresh still. Anyone that’s launched into a Fist of Havoc on a huge group of enemies to clear out a threat knows that it’s a pretty damn awesome feeling. It gets even more so when you’re playing with your friends and that Super keeps the game going.

The long answer to that question though is a little bit tougher. Is Destiny perfect? Not even close. Much has been made – here and across the web – about the poor storytelling decisions, and the disconnect between world-building lore and gameplay. Does Destiny have pretty glaring issues? You bet. On-disc DLC is a pretty hot-topic these days – while I don’t really know exactly how guilty Destiny is of that, it’s hard to argue against the presence of it. There are still plenty of areas – on all the planets – that clearly are gateways into future zones. Easy examples to pick out right away would be The Junction on Venus and King’s Watch on Earth. King’s Watch is particularly notable, because it actually has content already in it. Enemies will spawn and there are ghost shells there. Now, King’s Watch could actually appear in House of Wolves – just based around Fallen as an enemy type. The same could be said for The Junction, although I think that’s more likely going to be saved for even further content – possibly The Fallen King, whatever that may actually end up being.

The problems with the game are there – they’ve been brought up in just about every article about Destiny. But – again, going back to that question of why I still play it – there’s something else about the game. If we look at the game in super simple terms, we can break it down into four pillars: story, gameplay/action, music, and visuals. Three of those four pillars are, quite possibly, the best I’ve seen in recent memory. Killing the game because the story fall flat right out of the gate does a disservice to the other three aspects. The game is one of the best looking games in action – the environments, weapons and armor designs, and FX all are incredible. The music, despite the somewhat rocky departure of Marty O’Donnell, is so perfect in its role. It’s subdued generally, but when you notice it, it’s because it’s awesome. And the actual gameplay/action across the board is as close to perfect as I think is possible. The guns sound powerful, feel powerful and look powerful. The grenades all feel like they have some impact behind them – and behave differently enough to pick them apart. The movement all is pretty damn precise, for each class. It’s the best action in a shooter that I’ve played in a couple years.

Destiny Titan

Destiny is a strange game that I think still hasn’t quite found its legacy. Generally there’s a good sense of what a game’s legacy will be after this long. I can tell you right now what Advanced Warfare’s legacy will be (better than Ghosts, great debut for Sledgehammer Games, and ultimately one of the stronger entries in the franchise, albeit with some flaws). But with Destiny, it’s still murky. It’s an incredibly fun game, that has serious gaps – but still has a devoted playerbase. The world-building that takes place outside of the actual game is amazing – the Grimoire is fantastic. There’s such an incredible base to build off of, and I think Bungie is aware of their shortcomings and have been trying to fix them as best they can. When we look back at Destiny in a couple years, it’s possible we could say that Destiny was a landmark game. Or that it was the framework for a classic franchise. Or that it was a testament to what could have been. It’s hard to say because each option really could be the result. And ultimately, that’s why I love playing it still. It’s an enigma that I’m going to figure out.

Destiny: House of Wolves Leadup – Prison of Elders

DestinyAfter a few days off for travel – I was off seeing my sister graduate from college – I’m back to keep the hype flowing for Destiny. I was able to catch up on the Prison of Elders reveal from last week, which is the end-game co-operative experience coming with House of Wolves. The big complaint going in to the new DLC has been the lack of a Raid, but I have to say, after seeing both the competitive and co-operative end-game content, I don’t think it’s really that huge of a deal.

The Prison of Elders itself seems like it’s going to have plenty of life to keep it relevant for a while. Adding in a matchmade variant helps ensure that end-game content will be played, regardless of whether or not you have a group. It’s always been a complaint against the Raids, so seeing it appear in the Prison is a nice touch. I’ve never felt it was necessary, but would be nice. That said, I am a fan of the higher level difficulties being non-matchmade. The higher level challenge mode entries in the Prison definitely look like they require a higher level of teamwork than I have experienced generally in random parties. It’s very similar to raids – just a bit more straightforward experience. The modifiers and the critical objectives in the higher levels look pretty crazy, and definitely seem like it’s going to be intense for fireteams.

Destiny Queen of the Reef

The gear that the Prison rewards you with – being Fallen themed – looks pretty cool. As opposed to the angular designs in the Osiris gear, or the orbs in the Vault of Glass, or the Hive influenced weapons; the Fallen gear looks a lot more fluid, almost scavenged together. The armor looks cool without relying on the kind of stereotype armor tropes. I’m curious to see if there’s going to be anything along the lines of the Eidolan Ally/Necrochasm progression for Fallen weapons. I’m also looking forward to seeing what completing the Prison on Level 35 will net you – in the past doing these end-game activities on max level results in extra special gear. With the level cap being 34 I’m curious to see exactly what doing something over that cap will net you.

Ultimately, now that we’ve seen both end-game level activities, I think I’m more excited going into the House of Wolves than I was for Dark Below. The variation of the activities looks higher, the novelty of the new areas and gear looks better, and I just think that players are going to be returning to Destiny after a break refreshed. Will the story content be groundbreaking? Probably not – but honestly at this point we shouldn’t expect it to be. As I’ve said since day one – if it’s more of the same with Destiny, that’s not a bad thing here. It is still I think the most fun game I played last year, just ahead of Titanfall. It’s got flaws – probably ones that can’t be fixed with the game almost 10 months deep. But there’s still a ton of fun to be had in here – and it really does look like House of Wolves will deliver.

The Best Star Wars Games

Since today is May 4th, which is the one day when it’s cool to be a Star Wars fan (it’s cool to be a Star Wars fan all the time by the way) I thought we could look at the best Star Wars games out there.

Knights of the Old Republic

We’ll start with one of the obvious choices – Knights of the Old Republic. I’ve talked about this game in the past when I held RPG week last year. It, along with Pokemon, are the two RPGs that really started down the path of Role Playing. KOTOR still holds a very special spot in my gameplay history – it introduced me to BioWare after all – and I try to play through it again every few years. What really makes KOTOR so special is the writing – the story behind all the action is so engaging, that you forget that you don’t even start as a Jedi or with a lightsaber. It’s got one of the best twists of all time, showing maturity in crafting the story that was rare at that point in time. The sequel may have been a little bit of a step back, but it’s still a solid game too.

Star Wars Battlefront

Sticking with topical choices, we really can’t not mention Battlefront. The first was solid, showing that applying a formula that was very similar to Battlefield would work with the Star Wars licence; but the sequel was really where it came to life. Playing as the hero characters was a blast, without being unbalancing. The scope of the battles was incredible – with vehicles engaging in the action at the same time as a large amount of infantry. At a time when shooters were really starting to come in to their own on consoles, Battlefront managed to stand out. The new entry, due out this fall, has big shoes to fill, but with DICE at the helm, I think we have a good chance to see the return of a great. E3 could be huge for Battlefront.

XWing Vs TIE Fighter

Let’s step way, way back now to the first Star Wars game that I ever played – and is still my very favorite – X-Wing Vs. TIE Fighter. In the 90’s, flight sims were way more prevalent on the PC. My father, who got me into gaming, had a handful of classic flight sims – Red Baron, Jane’s F-18, Jane’s AH-64D Longbow – and X-Wing Vs. TIE Fighter. What always drew me to the Star Wars title was not only the franchise, but the accessibility. You didn’t have to worry about a ton of gadgets and gizmos, but still got to fly a bunch of different classic Star Wars ships.

One last one that I want to point out is one that I think people may have been more willing to overlook: LEGO Star Wars. When the LEGO games started to come out, I was in high school, so it wasn’t “cool” to like LEGOs. I initially thought it was a kids’ game. I only played it when my friend told me it was fun – who had only played it because of his younger brother. Looking back now, it’s crazy to think that – the LEGO games are fantastic examples of simplifying the design, to make it accessible to the kids while still retaining depth for the older gamers. The Star Wars games in particular show off the movies and universe in a way that just makes it super easy for new fans to become lifelong fans.

When we talk about licensed games, there’s always a worry that the games are cash-ins. That they just use the licence to drum up some sales, without really worrying about creating a great game. Somehow, for whatever reason, the Star Wars licence has managed to avoid that for the most part. It’s not perfect – there have been some misses of course – but it does seem to have a higher than average hit rate. As Star Wars reenters the public eye thanks to the new movies and games, I hope that we’ll see that trend continue for a long time to come.