Let’s Play: Horizon Zero Dawn

This summer we finally got a lull in an incredible year of games so that I was able to go into my backlog of games to play. At the top of that list was Horizon Zero Dawn.

Here was a new Playstation exclusive IP from a dev studio I never paid any attention to. But the pre-release buzz was really good and post-release reviews put it at the top of the games of the year, which is pretty impressive.

I state a few times in these videos that the level of polish and quality for a new IP is incredible. The visual direction and story are established with a sense of total confidence. The gameplay is tight and all the systems work together flawlessly.

And Sony has a new mascot in Aloy, a vibrant, brave, spunky, female protagonist. She has an aura of mystery but balanced with a virtuous code and a touch of rebelliousness. Ashly Burch’s vocals initially took a bit getting used to since I just kept hearing Chloe from Life is Strange, but was a great choice. Despite a few times where she sounded too much like a modern millennial, Burch gave all the poignant and emotional beats the proper weight needed to sell the story.

The main mystery in Horizon’s universe is extremely gripping and even hits a bit too close to home sometimes. I wasn’t prepared for how harrowing or tensely the history unfolded. Even though it’s told mainly through choppy holograms, audio clips, and emails, the developers were able to keep a sense of momentum and suspense that builds extremely well towards the end of the game.

In fact, the story is so tight that I’m not sure where the inevitable sequels will go. Sony has hit on a new franchise here, and especially with Nathan Drake (probably?) retiring, it’s hard to not to see more Horizon games on the… horizon.

Most online chatter has this game going neck and neck with Breath of the Wild for Game of the Year, and I can’t disagree. I’d probably put Persona 5 in the conversation. But we’re also about to ramp up again into some great looking releases in the fall.

And I’m definitely interested in diving into Horizon’s DLC in November.

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Persona 5 Review

I finished Persona 5 last night, clocking in 100+ hrs in a single playthrough.

I have to say… “Wow.” I’ve never played a Persona series game before so not sure how it stacks up to the rest, but this game was incredible. This could be the most perfect iteration of turn-based RPG mechanics I’ve ever played. Very rarely did I ever feel like it had become a slog to fight, and whenever I lost I never felt like the game was being unfair or cheap.

I think the story was pretty intriguing, even though it probably could’ve been cut a little lighter in the middle portion. But the jumping timeline and the calendar system kept the propulsion of the pace going.

If anything, I felt a bit constricted at times by the calendar. I would’ve liked to spend more time exploring or meeting up with friends but time was a valuable commodity.

My other gripe might be that items to replenish SP were few and far in between. Especially by the final few battles which you had to play back to back to back and every member on my team had used up all their SP long ago. I wasn’t even expecting the end to come so soon but the game really forces you to just hunker down and play the final 4 or 5 hours nonstop.

But the time I spent in this game really allowed me to feel invested in the characters and the game itself. [Minor spoilers] When a teammate makes their exit in the end, I actually teared up. Of course the game cops out by having the character come back, which while it made me happy, I sort of wish they hadn’t done that.

And the graphics… Oh my god, the graphics! This is such a beautiful game. Not just that the top-notch animation of the characters and cutscenes felt like watching an anime, but every tiny bit of this game was given the time and attention to craft what is pretty easily the most boldly stylish game I’ve ever played. Every other developer really needs to examine this game when they start considering their own UI and navigation system.

Finishing the game has definitely felt like an achievement. I feel a bit exhausted since I played through Persona 5 almost exclusively, without many other games to break up the experience. i will 100% jump back in for another playthrough… eventually. Mostly to try to max out my confidants and try a different romance option. Or just to listen to the amazing music again!

I have Zelda and Horizon next on my playlist, but this could be my vote for Game of the Year.

Let’s Play: Night in the Woods

I jumped onto another short indie game in order to take a break from my 90+ hrs of Persona 5. Night in the Woods had been mentioned a couple of times so I decided to give it a run.

I almost didn’t play past the first Let’s Play episode just because I wasn’t sure what I was getting. The game features cute animal characters and a playful art style, yet the story and gameplay deal very much in the mundane. I have no problem with walking simulators but I guess I was expecting some kind of platforming or puzzle element.

While there are mini games, they vary radically in terms of actual skill involved. There’s Guitar Hero style button matching and some minor platforming traversal, but then are some very basic move the cursor to grab an object that barely seems worth the effort.

Over the course of the story though I found myself getting attached to the very likable cast of characters. And I started to realize what the game was going for.

Themes of transitioning into adulthood, living up to expectations (or failing to), and having to let go or feeling a sense of loss, are all very mature topics that this game deals with. The cutesy style is an interesting juxtaposition to that. In fact, this game swings wildly and unexpectedly from humor and whimsy to very morbid and morose conversations. I’d be laughing one second at the insult tradeoffs and then suddenly become speechless at a friend’s dilemma over her mentally failing father. I also appreciated the subtle way they treated a LGBT couple in the game.

When the final act starts to bring up the heat on a more mysterious, fantastical story beat, I actually began to wish that the game hadn’t resorted to such tropes for tension and interest and just stayed invested in the tragedy of the mundane. To their credit, when things get really metaphysical, the game still steers away from any overt reveals or explanations.

All in all, this game ended up winning me over with its witty dialog and endearing characters. I think some actual voice acting and foregoing the more pointless mini games would’ve made for a better experience. Hopefully the success of this game will allow the developers to stretch their legs more in their next effort.

Now Playing

I’m deep into Persona 5 right now and there’s no end in sight. People have been touting 100+ hrs and I’m only around the 35 hr mark.

So far it’s great, but I definitely think the anticipation and high praise made me expect a lot. The game’s a little more confining than I expected, forcing me to do or not do things at certain times. Which can be frustrating because there’s a ton to do in the game and I want to do it all.

I’m also wondering if the game will change things up later on. Even though I’m not halfway, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on the mechanics and the gameplay loop. It hasn’t felt tiresome yet, but I’m afraid that I’ll get worn out by the same process throughout the whole game.

Other than that, I’ll still jump into Mass Effect Andromeda multiplayer from time to time. It doesn’t have its hooks in me quite the same way that Mass Effect 3 multiplayer did, which I can’t figure out why since it’s basically the same format.

My hunch is that there are just too many other games I want to get to. This has been an incredible year for games and we’re only now reaching the halfway mark.

The second half of the year doesn’t seem has loaded with games I’m anticipating. That’s even before Red Dead Redemption 2 got delayed until next year, which surprised absolutely no one.

I still have yet to play Horizon Zero Dawn and Legend of Zelda. I’m hoping that by the time I am ready to get to them, they’ll be on sale or at least in stock (looking longingly at the Switch).

For now, I’ll keep an eye out for more indie gems like Little Nightmares and What Remains of Edith Finch. And I’m still itching to do a second run-through of Dishonored 2.

I assumed I’d do another play of Andromeda simply because it’s Mass Effect, but the further away I get from the game, the less interested I am in revisiting it.

But good news is that a sequel to Life is Strange was announced! I have no idea what that game might look like, but I’m still excited.

Let’s Play: Persona 5 (intro)

I’m finally diving into the eagerly anticipated Persona 5!

Due to Atlus’ restrictions, I won’t be doing a full Let’s Play series. Which is a shame because, lord, is this game beautiful and awesome.

Rarely have I ever seen a game this slick and stylish. Every single menu or graphic has been infused with eye-candy. Not to mention the top-notch animation cut-scenes that look better than most anime.

I’ve now played about 12 hours and I still feel a bit railroaded, so hopefully things change as I move further into the story.

There’s a lot to do and see, and lots of people to talk to, but the calendar system really makes you think hard about your choice of action.

As a somewhat OCD completionist who wants to see and do everything, I find it a little bit constrictive and somewhat stressful. But I hear this is a hallmark element of the Persona series so it feels a bit wrong to criticize it.

Also, unless the game opens up new areas as I progress, I’m a bit surprised at the limited scope of locations in the game. For some reason, I had expected to be able to explore at least a good chunk of Tokyo but so far have been confined to three areas. Now, those three areas are pretty dense with activities, but still… I’m anticipating another 50 hours in this game.

Even those complaints are pretty minor in my book, as I’ve been enjoying my time already.

Also to note, since Atlus barred the PS4 broadcast/recording features, I had to resort to external capture methods for the first time. So that’s why the audio sounds a bit off. If I had planned to record the whole game, I would’ve tried to solve it, but don’t really feel like it’s worth it at this point. Apologies!

Let’s Play: Little Nightmares

I just wrapped up a brand new indie game, Little Nightmares by Tarsier Studios.

I saw a preview of this a few months back and was instantly intrigued by the visuals. Something about the lighting or the design just makes me think of real-life miniatures rather than rendered graphics. Imagine a Tim Burton stop-motion style with the mechanics of a Play Dead game.

Burton’s style I’ve always characterized as weird shapes where nothing fits together perfectly. This game has plenty of that. Wardrobe dressers with drawers that don’t align correctly. Or bookshelves that are narrow but twist their way up multiple stories high.

Possibly influenced heavily by Play Dead games like Limbo or Inside, this game also has a lot of puzzle platforming, but I like that they took it a step further. You interact with enemies quite a bit more (to terrifying effects). And you can pick up or move random objects in a room even if they don’t contribute to the puzzle solution. That was my main criticism for Play Dead: if you could touch or move an object, it was a big hint that you needed it to get past the current obstacle.

Also, this game is plain gross. But in a good way. Grotesque chefs were hacking away at fish heads, and a lanky-armed blind monstrosity was plucking up children and wrapping them up in gauze. And once one of them spotted me, the game turned into a pulse-pounding chase to escape their grasp. I was panting and sweating on more than one occasion.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but I’d love to hear reactions or discuss the way this game ends. So I hope and encourage anyone to play this gem of a game.

Let’s Play: Mass Effect Andromeda

Mass Effect Andromeda might be my most anticipated game in the past few years. I was a devout fan of the original trilogy, having completed runthroughs across all three games multiple times.

However, in the age of internet outrage, I forced myself to stay in the dark about anything concerning this latest installment and try my best to keep my expectations low. That allowed me to have a pretty blank slate going in to Andromeda.

I didn’t like abandoning the Milky Way for a whole other galaxy, 600 years into the future. That just minimized the effects of the events in the trilogy.

But, I suspect there was really no other way to move the story past what had happened. Bioware was looking for a clean start and this was their way to do it.

That meant losing a lot of familiar characters and environments. Luckily, we kept a lot of other elements, including species, aesthetics, abilities and weapons.

It was a joy to see turians, asari, and krogan again. Equipping the valiant sniper rifle was like finding an old, comfortable sweater.

In that sense, Andromeda was able to attain that elusive goal of “feeling” like a Mass Effect game. To me, at least. Plenty of people seemed unhappy and unsatisfied. (That goes back to my comment about hedging my expectations.)

Gameplay-wise, the balance of RPG and FPS seemed good. The side quests were much more robust (perhaps with a bit too much planet hopping back and forth).

The main story was a bit lackluster, but still managed a few nice twists. The main antagonist wasn’t as iconic or fearsome as the Reapers. In fact, the nice easter egg of audio logs about the Reapers actually reminded me how intense and dire that situation was, and unfortunately dulled the current story I was playing.

Mass Effect though was always more about the characters and your relationships with them. This is probably where Bioware managed to shine the brightest. It was a tall order to ask players to love the new teammates and Ryder as much as Shepard or Liara or Tali. Outside of the supremely annoying Liam, I think they succeeded. Even characters I was skeptical about, like Peebee or Cora, eventually won over my affection.

As for the Let’s Play, it was a challenge to play such a long, sprawling game with the pressure of keeping it engaging and entertaining. It was easily twice as long as any other game I recorded. I’m still glad I did, and hope it comes across well.

Not sure where Mass Effect goes from here (Bioware resists hinting at a new trilogy), but I’m still along for the ride!