Let’s Play: Dishonored, Death of the Outsider

I feel as if I’ve beaten this horse to death already, but Dishonored is a great series. Games like Dark Souls or MGS have never really clicked for me because I’m less into challenging gameplay or deep mechanics and more into story-driven experiences. I’d rather do a walking simulator with dialog choices than how to kill a tough boss in an FPS.

But if I can get won over by a stealth-action FPS, I think that says something.

It’s not that Dishonored has an engrossing storyline. Each installment works off of a relatively similar plot without a ton of depth.

But the world is extremely unique and interesting. Not quite steam-punk, but something that’s its own thing. And Arkane manages to change up or add to the power sets in each installment to allow for unexpected and entertaining gaming encounters. The level design is second to none, incorporating various approaches or escapes.

Death of the Outsider continues the high bar of quality, despite a more limited power set and borrowing liberally from some elements of Dishonored 2.

Some tweaks have allowed the player to use skills more often and also face less consequences for blown stealth and more action.

While the game provides some closure, I was surprised that the door wasn’t shut as definitively as I was expecting. I doubt we’ll see another Dishonored anytime soon, but Arkane has at least managed to leave a tiny crack in the void for us to come back.

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Let’s Play: Uncharted, The Lost Legacy

I blasted through this latest release of Uncharted as soon and as quickly as I could. Not to get through it, but more out of excitement for a new Naughty Dog game. And possibly the last Uncharted game.

While not quite a DLC for Uncharted 4, this release doesn’t quite count as a full game. It re-uses much of the guts and elements of Uncharted 4, but involves a whole new cast and different settings.

I read a few reviews and impressions that were mostly positive but had some gripes. I think video games in a post Breath of the Wild world will have some tough things to live up to. A lot of complaints were of the limitations of the environment. If it looks like a ledge to climb, why can’t we climb it?

But I found that criticism unfair. Uncharted is not meant as an open-world game, nor is it meant to compete with adventure games like Zelda. We didn’t complain that Zelda didn’t have as deep a story or nuanced acting like Uncharted does.

What this game aims to do, it does extremely well. I loved the main characters of Chloe and Nadine. Their interplay was engaging and interesting, and their individual personalities were enjoyable and relatable.

Playing this game just made me hope that Naughty Dog continues the franchise with Chloe as the main hero. Her character is vivid and likable. I have no problem with these smaller, shorter games if it means more releases in shorter time periods.

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.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

Having not played a Legend of Zelda game since A Link to the Past, Breath of the Wild was a wholly new experience.

Fully 3D and open world meant complete freedom. Praise for this game has been about how if you can see it, you can get to it. And it’s true: there are no invisible boundaries that block you. Any hindrance I encountered was more about if I didn’t have enough stamina or the right clothing for the environment.

Other than somewhat confining me to a beginning area (although fairly large) to casually introduce game mechanics, the game never dictates what a player should do. You could even rush right into the final area to confront the end boss if you wanted to. You’d be almost guaranteed to fail, but the game doesn’t exactly say no to you. Open world has never felt so… open.

The storyline is fairly standard Zelda fare: Link is a legendary hero, Zelda is the princess in peril, Ganon is the big bad, and Hyrule is the expansive world in which to explore. Outside of the main quests and some side missions, there’s really no storyline or dialog. Players are free to run around and discover the environment.

That’s where the beauty and richness of this game really shines through. Instead of heavy exposition or long pages of text to flesh out the world, Hyrule casually and subtly presents itself by exploration and discovery.

I continually marveled at how almost every location I wandered into felt like it had a deeply baked-in sense of history unique to other locales. Ruins of long-gone structures told as much of a story as talking to inhabitants of villages. Even small touches, easily missed such as a patch of cobblestones among the overgrown grass would hint at a history to that area.

Enemies are littered throughout the land, but other than in the first few hours of the game where I lacked equipment and hearts, none of them ever felt challenging. In fact, they never level up with my character’s progression. Soon, my Link became an overpowered beast, easily mowing down hapless goblins with the same sticks and clubs they had when I first encountered them in the game.

But it makes sense that the enemies are only a secondary element. In Breath of the Wild, Hyrule is the singular focal point.

In an age where games usually hold a player’s hand, to the point of just providing a line to the next location, Breath of the Wild almost never tells you where to go or what to do. The game never falters to portray freedom, discovery and wonder, all without sacrificing tight, robust mechanics.

In fact, it’s amazing that the puzzles are all so well executed in a way where there are multiple solutions. I solved a few of them with an absolute knowledge that I somehow did it in a way the game probably didn’t intend.

Nintendo really outdid itself with this iteration of The Legend of Zelda. And that’s saying something. It’s amazing how so many developers struggle for years to output a game and Nintendo’s teams continually create innovative, polished games so often.

As games head towards more cinematic experiences, relying on motion capture, vocal performances, quicktime events, dense worldbuilding exposition, Breath of the Wild proves that a video game can give an equally immersive experience without any of those elements.

Even after beating the main villain, I can’t wait to jump back in and see what else Hyrule has hidden away, waiting to be discovered.

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.

Let’s Play: What Remains of Edith Finch

Another quick Let’s Play, where we do another small indie game that was just released called What Remains of Edith Finch.

Basically a walking simulator game, I can see a lot of people turned off or dismissive towards this title. However, if you’re someone like me who enjoys a good story in a video game without needing to have lots of things to shoot, this is another engrossing tale that packs a lot in a short two hour play-time.

You play as Edith Finch, back at her childhood home, traversing through its many rooms and hidden passages to recount the tales of her dead relatives. Apparently there’s a family curse where each person dies a random, sometimes horrible death. Thus the game ends up being unintentionally creepy, despite its slow, serene pace and lack of typical video game scare tactics.

I appreciated how the developers approached each relative’s death in a unique way, giving us a new perspective as well as new visual style. One relative’s death was relayed as a comic book, another as a surreal time lapse. One of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had was trying to relive a relative who was succumbing to schizophrenia, so the game forced me to live out two “realities” simultaneously. By the end, I really felt like I was losing my mind along with the character. It’s a powerful example of the medium’s unique ability to get us into the viewpoint of a character.

Again, this game may not be everyone’s cup of tea. The play style, the slow pace, the price tag (especially for the short run-time) will all be factors that will deter many.

But I think anyone willing to step into this game will end up with a rewarding experience.

UPDATE: Ok, minor spoilers… I just read about the game’s canonical connection to the developer’s previous game, Unfinished Swan. I don’t think the experience of this game was hurt at all by not getting the reference, but it seems like I missed out on a pretty mind-blowing moment. I even comment on liking that portion’s music, which is from the other game. Oh well. It’s cool that they did that. Wish I knew about it at the time!