Late to the Party Part Two: Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of MordorContinuing my recent trend of finally getting to playing games I missed from the fall, I picked up Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor from the Ultimate Games Sale a couple weeks back now. I’m not super far in – it is an open world game, which means that I’ll be playing it pretty slowly as I want to make sure I get everything done before I advance the story. That said though, I have been having a fantastic time with it. The lore behind the game is already super well known – the movies from the early 2000’s did an incredible job of bringing Tolkien’s work to the mainstream. And this medium – an open world game, that isn’t trying to do everything – is perfect for exploring some of the stories that exist in the lore, but haven’t been told. In this case, it’s telling part of the rise of Sauron at the beginning of the Third Age.

From a gameplay standpoint, this game draws a lot of inspiration from the Assassin’s Creed games, along with the Batman: Arkham games for the combat. The parkour and stealth mechanics feel like they were picked right out of an AC game, which is a good thing. It feels fluid and doesn’t have to be overly complicated to get that. The stealth doesn’t feel cheap either – the alerts all are easy to understand and easy to get back into stealth. The combat makes it easy to do just about anything – stealth kills are brutal and effective, the bow combat works perfectly and the swordplay is great at making you feel like a true warrior.

Shadow of Mordor Campfire

One of the big aspects of any open-world game is the side stuff. Those can be anything from collectibles to side missions to lore entries. Shadow of Mordor has all of those, but not to a crazy extant. The hidden collectibles are all revealed on the map when you climb the Forge Towers (which you should do anyway for fast-travel reasons.) The side missions don’t feel overwhelming – and unlock in a pretty logical fashion. Like I talked about last week about the LEGO games, there really needs to be incentives in-game to really go after 100% collections. Achievements aren’t necessarily the biggest motivator for every player. They absolutely should be there though – when there aren’t achievements for either collectibles or completion percentage, it really lowers my incentive to go after them.  In this case, you gain in-game currency, as well as experience, and even further the lore is expanded with each collectible. Taking the Tomb Raider approach to the achievements helps a bunch too – breaking them out into multiple individual achievements is a great plan.

Ultimately, I’m really regretting not picking this game up at launch – it’s a fantastic package from top to bottom. Getting it on sale was certainly a bonus, but it does make me wish I had picked up one of the better games from last year at the same time as everyone else. But such is the risk you run with so many games in such a small window – and this year could be even more packed.


Late to the Party: Smite

Smite CoverLast night I finally went ahead and gave Smite a try. I’ve had the Beta for quite some time and just never sat down to play it. Part of that hesitation comes from my (short) time playing League of Legends – which, while my friends were huge fans of, never really did it for me. I knew going in that Smite is more or less the same beast – a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) with the same pieces in place for the Conquest mode. Multiple lanes, AI minions, and targets that need to be destroyed for victory, along with a rotating cast of playable characters with the option to buy the ones you like for good. Smite does have some other modes going for it – in particular the Arena mode which is essentially a glorified Deathmatch.

Smite Ymir

What I was impressed with in Smite is that there is a good amount of intuitive control involved. It plays a lot like a third-person RPG/action game. After playing a ton of Diablo III this year, I was reminded a lot of that style game with Smite. These MOBA games borrow a lot in the way of skills from those classic RPGs – stuns, freezes, roots, knockups, the list goes on – and thanks to the third-person camera, it feels really crisp. The other thing that was in the back of my mind was that every person I know that has played a MOBA was immediately sucked in. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I do like playing multiple games, and I don’t want to get pulled into just playing Smite or Destiny now. I have enough on my plate where I don’t think that will be the case, but it is something that was on my mind last night.

The other thing that I think Smite has going for it that I really dig is that it uses Gods from traditional mythologies. Greek, Roman, Chinese, Hindu, Mayan and Norse Gods all make up the playable characters. In general the designs borrow from the classical interpretations, with some pretty notable modernizations. Adding in the Lore behind the Gods and Goddesses I think is a really cool move for people to read up on the classical mythology behind them. And with the number of Pantheons they’re drawing from, there’s still plenty of room for more characters to appear. The best move though that Hi-Rez made, I think, is that on each God’s summary screen, it tells you what that God’s strengths are, along with a general idea of how hard they are to play. That’s a nice little touch for us MOBA noobies – breaking up the characters into different classes further helps us define our roles.

Technically, Smite is still in Beta on the Xbox One. That really just means that there are still a few little bugs and quirks around, but also means that there’s plenty of room to grow. And now that it’s in open Beta, and is a free download means that the player base can grow – on a market that I think has really been waiting for this style game. Even if you’ve been hesitant to play a MOBA before, I really recommend grabbing Smite on the Xbox One – you might just find out you like it a whole lot.

Weekly News Recap – Week of July 13, 2015: Destiny 2.0 Edition

DestinyLittle different take on the Weekly News Recap here this week. We’re smack dab in the middle of the summer, which tends to be a slow time for news. This week we had the sad news of Iwata-San’s passing, and some news about Star Citizen‘s Kickstarter issues. But yesterday Bungie put out two new updates through the Destiny app/website – one the Weekly Update they always do, the other detailed a whole lot of changes coming for the weapons with the 2.0 Patch. There’s a lot to parse through with that so I want to talk about that today.

Shadow Price Destiny

The big focus in Destiny the last few months has been the current state of the Crucible weapon meta. Exotic Hand Cannons have reigned supreme more or less since December, while every other primary weapon type lagged a bit behind – especially the Auto Rifles. What we learned last night is that not only will those Hand Cannons be brought back more in line, but every weapon class available is getting some attention. Auto Rifles should be much more viable now – as long as you use them in their proper range, thanks to the change to damage drop-off. Pulse Rifles are getting a little tweak, mainly with the medium rate of fire archetype guns, dropping their base damage down a little. The big thing with Pulse Rifles is that in order to two or three burst, every shot needs to be a headshot now – which should reduce their quick kills, but generally keep them more stable. Scout Rifles are already in a pretty good spot – their generally the best long-range option now, and Bungie is reinforcing that role by reducing their close range effectiveness. Hand Cannons seem to be getting the most noticeable changes – the damage drop-off is being brought in to reduce effective range, pacing shots will be much more required for consistent precision shots, and their ammo is being reduced across the board. I think across the different primaries, this is the patch we’ve been asking for for months now. Weapons that have been behaving in ways they shouldn’t will hopefully be brought in line, and others that were left behind should be made viable again. That, in theory, should increase the amount of variety in the Crucible, which should help keep playing the PvP fun.

Destiny Felwinters Lie

Special weapons have been a sticking point lately as well – anyone who’s spent time in the Crucible knows all too well how strong long range, high impact shotguns are now, never mind when Blink is added to the mix. It’s been compounded by the fact that there are multiple longer range shotguns available now, and they can all be reforged to a perfect mix of perks. So to address that, they’re taking those perks that people look for – Shot Package and Rangefinder – and reducing their impact, along with some damage reduction, mainly for PvE. The Fusion Rifles have seen a lot less use, mainly because of the shotgun strength. So with 2.0, it looks like their making the changes based around archetypes – the long range Fusion Rifles are getting accuracy nerfs, while the close ranges get a slight boost. That should help put the Fusion Rifles back into their role as mid-range specials, especially with the shotgun nerf. Snipers have been more or less where they should be – long-range killers. However, the Final Round perk has been a pretty serious issue – it allows for one-shot body hit kills with a high impact sniper rifle. So to address that, Final Round will only impact precision damage now – which should already be a killshot, so really it’s only going to matter in PvE. The special weapon changes are again, more or less right what we needed. Shotguns didn’t need a flat range nerf, instead it was the perks that needed adjustment. Fusion Rifles needed something to help solidify their role to help counter shotguns. And Final Round was a serious issue that has been addressed.

Finally, we get to the heavy weapons. The only thing their even looking at here is Rocket Launchers – in particular it’s a blanket blast radius upgrade. However, much like Final Round, there’s a perk on Rocket Launchers that’s been a bit of an issue – Grenades and Horseshoes. In PvP it makes using Rockets almost a guaranteed kill thanks to the big radius for the perk to activate. So their reducing the range for the perk to trigger, which really should help keep it from being insane in PvP, but could end up being rough in PvE. That said, the changes here are good – it’s rare to see Machine Guns in PvP thanks to the ease of using Rockets right now, especially with reforging allowing any launcher to have Grenades and Horseshoes.

Normally, that would be enough for a weapon update. But that’s not all here – Bungie also addressed some particular Exotic weapons. it’s no secret that Thorn and The Last Word have been all but ubiquitous these days, for different reasons. Neither gun really fits into their intended design though, and so Bungie is looking at them. But we’ll start with two Exotic Auto-Rifles: Hard Light and Nechrochasm. Neither are particularly powerful now – their both the bullet-hose variety, which was hit hardest in February. Hard Light is getting some good attention – it’s getting a huge buff to stability, the bounce count for shots is increased and the gun will not have any damage fall-off. That’s a pretty substantial update, and combined with the Auto-Rifle buff, could make it a fun gun to use again. Necrochasm has its own share of issues – rarity combined with low effectiveness. So it’s also getting a stability buff, along with extra magazine and making that Cursebringer explosion more reliable and damaging.

Destiny Thorn

The two Hand Cannons though are really what we’re looking for. The Last Word, as Bungie said, is the fastest killing primary in the game, thanks to it’s insane Time to Kill. However, their intention was to keep it a close range monster; but thanks to a few little quirks, it’s been way more consistent at range. So they’re adjusting that appropriately – range is decreased, stability as well, especially while aiming down sights. On the flip side, the hip-fire bonuses are increased, pushing it into that role it was intended – and by fixing the bugs that triggered the extra damage while ADS helps it. And then there’s Thorn. Oh boy. Plenty has been said about the gun – here and just about everywhere else that talks Destiny. Through the Hand Cannon changes, the range shouldn’t be near where it was in the past. That leaves the Damage over Time to be tweaked – which they’re doing. Reducing it by about 1/3 of where it was, and lets it stack multiple times – it’s a good PvE tweak, and really shouldn’t make too much of an impact in PvP. Hawkmoon – the PS4 exclusive Hand Cannon – is getting some changes to reduce the chances for one-shots. Reducing the chances for the bonus damage perks to trigger should help keep it fair.

That’s when we get to the surprises. So far, every thing we’ve seen was more or less expected and desired. Bungie however is really making some changes to guns we didn’t expect. First up, Ice Breaker – in my opinion, the most important PvE weapon in the game. They aren’t really changing what makes it special, just reducing the effectiveness a little by slowing the ammo regen. It may sting a little, but I think it’s a fair move. No Land Beyond has basically been a joke weapon since it was added to the game. They’ve made a number of changes to help make it more effective – quicker handling, sight changes and changes to The Master perk. I still don’t see it being a particularly great gun, but could be slightly better. Black Hammer – a legendary Crota’s End sniper – is getting some tweaks to its White Nail perk. I don’t know a whole lot about this one, mainly because I don’t have the gun yet. Lord of Wolves, one of the new House of Wolves exotics is seeing a boost to the recovery perk it provides. And finally, the White Whale of exotics for most of us, Gjallarhorn is seeing a bit of a nerf – the Wolfpack rounds damage is being reduced. I’ve seen a lot of people crying about this one – here’s the thing: I really don’t think it’s going to be that huge a difference. It’s still probably going to be far and away the most efficient Rocket Launcher available, just doing a little less damage.

There’s a whole lot to sift through here, and it’s really hard to know just how much this will matter because we still don’t have a timeframe. In the past these major updates have come a few weeks before the actual DLC launches, so I would guess that we’ll see 2.0 sometime in August. Whether these changes will matter that much after The Taken King starts Year 2 remains to be seen, and I seriously doubt Bungie will say anything on that matter – if it won’t, saying that kills the player incentive to keep playing until then.

My Concerns About a Stacked Fall Release Window

Halo 5 GuardiansThere’s a reason that most gamers really look forward to the fall – that’s when the biggest games of the year launch. This year though – not only is it no exception to that rule, it could end up being one of the biggest fall seasons we’ve seen in a long while. Normally that’s a good thing, but I have a few lingering thoughts as we get closer to the launches this year.

One of, if not the biggest, things to keep an eye on in the fall season is the shooter market. It’s been largely defined in the last number of years by the competition between Halo and Call of Duty. That same competition will be present again this year, but also has a pretty interesting wrinkle thrown in – Star Wars: Battlefront, a game that’s been a desire for a long time. That, combined with the utter failure that Master Chief Collection ended up being, is why I am very much concerned for Halo 5. Microsoft and 343 won’t say it, but I think they both need Halo 5 to do well – maybe not light the world on fire, but it has to sell well. Xbox lost the Call of Duty exclusivity for DLC this year, Destiny has been a PlayStation focused game since launch, and all the pre-launch footage for Battlefront has been on PS4s. That’s a serious concern – the shooter market is generally the largest in gaming these days. Halo being an exclusive franchise is a plus – Microsoft knows that their fans more or less are almost always Halo fans too. I think 343 might be on a short leash here though – another debacle like Master Chief Collection could be a nightmare.

Fallout 4 Box Art

The other thing that I’m really keeping my eye on is the amount of games that are making returns. This year will see the return of Rock Band, Guitar Hero, Rainbow Six and Fallout, not to mention the previously talked about Battlefront. That’s a lot of franchises with long running fanbases. That tends to mean two things – strong sales, and super high expectations. I expect them all to do well – the music games probably being the lowest sellers, but still doing well. The real winners look to be Fallout, Rainbow Six and Battlefront – each is highly anticipated (which means strong sales) and all have looked strong prior to launch. Watch for one of these to carry the day in terms of sales.

Destiny Taken King Collectors Edition

The final thing that I’ve been thinking about is Destiny. It’s been a favorite topic of mine to write about here – and for good reason. It’s a fun game, with well noted flaws, and has been probably my most played game over the last year. But with all that, this fall could be the biggest test that Destiny has had since launch. More so than either previous DLC. The Taken King is easily the most ambitious addition to Destiny so far, and depending on how it’s received by the community, could go a long way toward spelling out Destiny‘s future. The pressure is crazy on Bungie here – the community is notably frustrated with the current state of the Crucible meta. Normally that wouldn’t be a huge deal – after all there’s supposed to be this massive persistent shared world to play. The problem is that the PvE content has more or less run its course – Prison of Elders is fun, but limited; the Raids have basically hit their peak as well. And so players dive into the PvP – an area that in theory has limitless for playing. The problem is that the Crucible hasn’t seen any attention in a long time – spawns are alright, but the weapons need some serious tweaking. The run-up to The Taken King is a big deal – Bungie has to at least show to the community that they’re listening and approaching this with some of the concerns we’ve had in mind.

All of these issues could end up being completely moot points in just a few months. Halo 5 could prove to be the best game in the series in years. Those returning franchises could all sell like hotcakes. Destiny could prove that it’s actually going to be able to support that ten year lifespan they said. All I know for sure right now is that the fall is always my favorite time of the gaming year, and September can’t get here quick enough.

LEGO Games – A Case Study on Gaming

Lego Batman 3 Beyond GothamThanks to the Ultimate Game Sale last week, I was able to pick up a few games I missed. One of those games was LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. The original game in that particular sub-series was one of my favorites among the LEGO games, and this one takes everything up a few notches. I’ve spent the weekend playing it pretty much nonstop, on the warpath for 100% (in-game and achievements) and it has got me thinking about the LEGO games as a whole.

What I came up with was that the LEGO games as a franchise really illustrate the evolution of the gaming industry in the last 10 years. When we talk about LEGO games these days, we’re really talking about the games Travelers Tales has released since LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game in 2005. So that’s what I’ve been looking at too – although I do still have a soft spot for the old LEGO Island game from ages ago. I think the major example that I’ve been thinking about pertains to the level of collectibles in the game. In the old games, there were minikits, and Gold Bricks were used for the cheats – and that was about it. In LEGO Batman 3, there’s minikits, Red Bricks, Character and Vehicle Tokens, Gold Bricks AND Adam West to rescue. Those are in each story level, as well as every HUB world. That’s a huge increase in the amount. And I think I may actually know what the underlying cause might be for the increase. It’s important to remember that those first games came out 10 years ago – on the original Xbox, PS2 and Gamecube. Those consoles didn’t have achievements or trophies. With the addition of those in the next console generation, developers looked for ways to add in some extra life to their games. A nice and easy way to do just that is add in a bunch of collectibles and give them some incentive with achievements and in-game value.

Lego Star Wars The Video Game

There’s been a whole lot of talk about collectibles in the past – what is the right amount, should they be purely hidden, or with a map, and should they have in-game results. The questions also involve the achievements too – do you need to collect each and every one to get the achievement, or percentages. Different games do it different ways – Crackdown had you collect 800 orbs, in addition to vehicle races. That was a little over the top. Tomb Raider had tiered achievements, you unlocked them at certain percentages along the way to 100%. Assassins Creed had multiple sets of flags, along with templars – but no fast travel really made hunting them down a chore. Now with LEGO Batman, there are a lot of collectibles in there, and only one achievement for overall 100%. But the very base way that the LEGO games work makes them a lot less of a chore. For instance, I managed to beat the game, free play each level, and finish out 6 of the HUB worlds in three days time. No penalties for death, and a low difficulty level really makes going back in fun, not boring. The sheer number of characters too helps keep it fresh. It’s pretty fun to go through the Batcave levels as deep-cut characters like Firestorm or Batman from The Darkest Knight story-arc.

I think when we look back at these past few console generations in another 10 years or so, the biggest innovation could actually be the addition of achievements/trophies. They’ve clearly had an impact on how developers look at their games, and for some can actually impact how players look at the games. I know if a game has a questionable list of achievements, I might hold off on picking it up. The opposite is also true – I grabbed Shadow of Mordor in the sale too, not only because I’ve heard nothing but good things, but also the list doesn’t look insanely involved, aside from one or two. And in that mindset, I think looking at the LEGO games really clearly illustrates that design change.

Black Ops III Comic Con News and My Nintendo History

NintendoToday’s title might be a little out of the ordinary, but that’s because I have an unusual plan for the day. I want to start with my thoughts on the passing of Satoru Iwata – Nintendo’s President and CEO. Over the last probably 5-7 years, I’ve moved almost exclusively to Xbox gaming. But the other console that I play far and away the most is Nintendo. I play my 3DS, I use the Virtual Console on my Wii and I went out and got a Super Nintendo last year too to play. Nintendo was my very first experience with gaming – my dad had an NES, and I used to play it all the time. In more recent years, Nintendo has been largely shaped and directed by Iwata. He kept Nintendo unique in the world of gaming – something that I think the industry very much needs. His presence in the Nintendo Directs was something that helped make them feel like events. It’s going to be weird moving forward, but I really hope that Nintendo can take the lessons he taught to heart and stay themselves.

Black Ops 3

Now, in other news, over the weekend we got the announcement of the Zombies mode in Call of Duty: Black Ops III out of Comic-Con. I’ve never really been a huge fan of the Zombies mode in the Treyarch games – mainly because my friends tend not to pick them up, and I don’t see Zombies as being a pick-up-group style mode. But that said, the new take on the mode in Black Ops III looks pretty damn cool. They’ve gone this route lately across the board, bringing in celebrities as the player characters in various capacities. Sometimes they actually play themselves – as in Call of the Dead; in this case it’s just their voices and likenesses. The cast this time around is pretty solid – to me it’s anchored by Ron Perlman and Jeff Goldblum.

The cast is really only a small section of the mode though. The setting is very important – and it looks like their doing something a little different with this one. It looks like we’re heading back in time – from the looks it seems like the 1940’s or earlier. And from what we’ve seen, it looks like it’s going to be set primarily in a cityscape. Future maps could break that mold – there could even be multiple maps in the launch game, similar to Black Ops II. The real meat though is the actual gameplay. And from what we saw with the reveal trailer, it looks like their expanding on the gameplay a lot more than previous games. It looks like their adding in a lot more variety in the zombies – including some more boss like ones. It’s hard to say exactly how it will play until we have it in hand, but it almost looks like they may have taken some influence from Extinction mode that was in Ghosts. We’ll just have to see in November.

Xbox’s Ultimate Game Sale Has Killer Deals

Sunset Overdrive Xbox Bundle

Starting this past Tuesday, Microsoft started their annual Summer Ultimate Game Sale on the Marketplace. It’s become a bit of a summer tradition for the Marketplace, especially since the Summer of Arcade has more or less been phased out. And just like that event, the Ultimate Game Sale is a fantastic part of the gaming year.

It’s no secret that the summer months are the slowest period in gaming. There tend to be far less major releases, instead supplanted by the major conventions all around. The Summer of Arcade used to highlight new smaller games during that slow period, making sure we had great games in our hands all year round. The Ultimate Game Sale does that same thing, just with a larger variety of games. And this year the selection is pretty damn awesome. There are plenty of awesome games that are marked way down – including some of the Deluxe editions of those games. Highlights include Dragon Age: Inquisition, Battlefield: Hardline, Mortal Kombat X, Borderlands The Handsome Collection and Diablo III. Add in this week’s Deals with Gold, which focus primarily on Destiny and its expansions and that’s a pretty hefty amount of triple A titles at really affordable prices. If you’ve been waiting to look at some of these games, this week is probably the best time so far to look into them.