Late to the Party: Doom (2016)

Doom 2016I talked Monday about picking up Overwatch recently, but that wasn’t the only game that I finally took the plunge with. As part of the Bethesda Quakecon sale, Doom (the 2016 version) was marked down pretty well, so I went ahead and picked it up. I’ve been a fan of Doom games going all the way back, so I was excited to see just how this one measured up.

I’m currently through the first three missions in the campaign, and so far, on Ultra Violence the game feels very much like I want a Doom game to. It’s fast, it’s incredibly brutal and the story is engaging enough to keep me invested from one fight to the next.The newer mechanics that Bethesda and id put in work really well with the fast paced action – the mantling means that vertical spaces can be worked into fights; the Glory Kills are brutal as Hell and help encourage aggressive play and the modern changes to weapons and the Praetor suit help encourage you explore and find the collectibles. It manages to strike a pretty perfect balance between the classic FPS gameplay of the original games and still feel like an FPS that belongs in 2016’s landscape. I’m only expecting the game to keep the bar high as I keep playing the campaign.

Beyond the story though, I’ve dabbled a bit with the online modes as well – mainly for the achievements so far. SnapMap is a really powerful tool, while still being really accessible. The tutorials for it are straightforward and they do a great job of outlining the potential for the editor, while still leaving plenty of room for experimentation. Some of the maps on the browser are tailor made for achievement boosting, others show off just how powerful the tools are. It’s a really cool thing to see, I’ve always been a fan of simple, but powerful map editors in games, especially console games. The actual online multiplayer is exactly what I wanted it to be. It’s totally different from pretty much every other FPS on the market these days. It plays super fast, you need to have good map awareness and keep an eye on your health. No more regenerating health here, you had better keep track on your health and armor. Since the Glory Kills still are in the online scene too, it helps keep camping to a bit of a minimum, as the game modes do too. The weapons feel very much like the classic ones – the rocket launcher in particular is just as good a weapon as it ever was back in the hey-day of arena shooters. With the re-emergence of arena shooters over the last couple years – Overwatch, Quake, Battleborn(ish) – the fact that the original king is back and in great form just keeps the style at the forefront. If you have any interest in the history of FPS games, or just want to play a fantastic modern shooter, Doom is absolutely worth your time.

Late to the Party – Overwatch

Overwatch Tracer SplashLast week I finally bit the bullet and picked up Overwatch, a game I’ve been super interested in after watching a bunch of Funhaus videos. I played the beta, enjoyed it, but let it go by the wayside. Now that I’ve put a week or so into the game, I thought I’d talk a bit about my thoughts with the Xbox One version.

I want to start with my biggest complaint, and that is that the story for the game and characters is being told outside of the game. There’s a bunch of animated shorts and comics that flesh out the world, and also the Heroes that you play. Since I was away from the game from launch until now, I had no clue about anything – I had to go on to the wiki to find out anything about the characters and story. On one hand, I understand that this isn’t really a game that depends on the story to drive the content – just pick a Hero and go to town. But Blizzard is one of the better developers out there at fleshing out a world and making the characters feel real, so I would have really liked to see something in game explaining it all.

Beyond that though, Overwatch has very quickly become one of the most fun games I’ve played this year. Even playing it solo, I’m having a blast pretty much every game I play. The only one that I really got annoyed with was a match on Numbani where the Defense team posted outside our spawn and just kept sniping in our doors – it took nearly the whole first phase to get out to the point. It’s a game that I absolutely understand is more fun with friends in a party to coordinate with. Even with that though, the roles are all pretty clearly defined where solo players should easily be able to have good teamwork. Each game mode feels similarly enough where you don’t have to play a few games in that type to get it under your thumbs, while still shaking up what team comp you should bring in. An escort match requires different Heroes and play than a control or hybrid match. Going in at level one, I certainly felt a little overwhelmed because the rest of the lobby was a bit higher ranked than I was, but the game does a great job of teaching you as you play that it wasn’t a learning curve at all. That of course is dependent on which Hero you play.

Overwatch Reinhardt

Of the handful of Heroes I’ve played so far – Reinhardt, Roadhog, Widowmaker, McCree, Reaper, Zenyatta and Genji – I’ve enjoyed every one, for different reasons. There’s a lot to dig into with the Heroes, and that really is why I haven’t tried some like Symmetra or Torbjorn since I see their learning curve a bit more intense than others. For me though, the most fun Hero I’ve played has to be Reinhardt – I have loved every game with him. I don’t normally like a support style tank, I usually lean more toward a Roadhog style, able to dish out a bunch of damage, but for whatever reason, Reinhardt has just been exactly the character I needed to pull me in completely. I just wish he had a little bit less reliance on healers or health packs. I also know that I’m coming in to the game at a little weird spot with the meta – on the competitive side of things, Zenyatta and Lucio are pretty much the most important characters on any team – and I need to learn the balance a bit more still. It boils, to me at least, back down to what I mentioned earlier – the roles that each character fits into is where that character will perform the best. The ones that are able to break their mold, those are the ones that are a little too strong – when a support/healer character like Zenyatta can dish out more burst damage than a number of other characters, that’s a problem. Same can be said with D.Va – a tank Hero that can dish out more sustained damage than almost any other Hero, with limited weaknesses. I don’t know when the next patch is inbound – I would expect maybe with Gamescom this week we might find out; we know that a new short is coming soon based around Bastion which might mean patch too. If that’s the case, I really hope that Zenyatta and D. Va come back to the pack a bit. We’re getting closer and closer to the fall deluge of games, with a superb lineup on deck, but if you haven’t picked up Overwatch yet, I think now is a perfect time. It’s a damn fun game, especially if you like old-school style arena FPS.

Late to the Party: Warframe

WarframeAs I’ve done here a couple times, today I want to talk a bit about a game that came out a while ago, but one that I’ve only recently picked up: Warframe. I steered clear of it at first because I thought it was another free-to-play MOBA style game, which have never been my favorite games. But after I Datto talk a bunch about the game on his stream, and since it’s a free game, I figured I’d give it a shot. Now that I’ve played it for a few hours, I kinda wish I had picked it up earlier.

Warframe, while it is free-to-play, is definitely not a MOBA at all. It’s much more like a third person action game more than anything. You’ve got different Warframe options that act as different playable characters – which you need to pay real money to unlock – and tons of different weapons too to mess with, all of which are standard MOBA trappings. The gameplay though is pretty much straight forward action/shooter. You pick missions that aren’t super long – playable solo, in a private group or matchmade – and run and gun your way through the enemies, taking care of whatever that mission’s main objective is. For a free game, the action and gameplay both feel pretty good. The gunplay is solid, with a decent variety in weapon choices; the melee combat isn’t overly punishing should you go that way, and the movement feels good and smooth.

If I have any real hangups with Warframe, it’s definitely that it wears the free-to-play side of it on its sleeve. New Warframes are few and far between, unless you shell out real money on Platinum. Certain weapons are also gated behind Platinum prices. A lot of the Xbox Live Achievements are also really grindy. It’s a game that I want to really like because the gameplay is there, but I feel like it’s a game that you have to be playing as a main game. I got it as a secondary game – I’m still all-in with Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Destiny and The Division and this was a game to play when I’m a little burnt out on those three. It’s in the same spot on my playlist as Gunstar Heroes, Mega Man Legacy Collection, and this week’s Battleborn Beta. For a free game, the ROI is definitely there, and I certainly think that Warframe is a game that is worth picking up, especially with a fresh update that just went live for it.

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.