Review: THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD is Time Well Spent

[All screencaps taken from gameplay]

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild
Developed by Nintendo EPD
Published By Nintendo
Released March 3, 2017
Available on Nintendo Switch and Nintendo WiiU 

I want to start this review by saying that I was skeptical that Nintendo could win me over with the Nintendo Switch. I had lost most of my interest in console gaming. I never even had much interest in buying the predecessor to the Switch, the Wii U. I lost interest with the Wii, it just bothered my wrists and didn’t hold my interest and attention.

Then Nintendo released trailers and footage for the latest entry in The Legend of Zelda series (the nineteenth in the series), The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and I fell in love.

Link starts the game very bare bones.

This game is gorgeous; the look of the land of Hyrule is worth just sitting and gazing out over the landscape. It even has weather: rain, sun, thunderstorms and snow in the higher elevations. It is also huge! It takes a lot of time to get from one end of the map to the other. Thankfully, they give you a way to warp to shrines and towers that you have activated. You can also travel by glider and horse — and you have to capture your own horse!

Another feature of this game and a first in Zelda franchise history is that weapons and shields break after several uses. Therefore you have to keep picking up or buying new weapons to keep on your quest. This may seem tedious, but it can actually be quite rewarding if you’re battling a tough enemy and manage to pick up their weapon and kill them with it.

I could just watch that water flow by for hours.

The gameplay is open-ended. You are given a quest to take back the Divine Beasts, destroy Calamity Gannon and rescue Princess Zelda, but you are not expected to rush off to Hyrule Castle right away. Instead, it gives you all the time you want to do side quests and explore in search of over 90 shrines that will give you tokens that you can turn in to get more heart containers or more stamina. As of the writing of this review, I have only defeated one of the Divine Beast guardians.  There are also hundreds of hidden beings across the land that will give you Korok Seeds, you can then turn these in to expand your inventory.

I enjoy this game that I almost have no problems with it. My few complaints are small, like accidentally hitting the right joystick too hard and zooming in when I’m trying to make a jump (which causes me to fall).

Another beautiful sunrise. Let’s take the apple.

As of the writing of this review, I have completed one of the Divine Beasts, collected 39 Korok Seeds and completed 55 Shrine Quests and I am so looking forward to the rest of this game.

I have some thoughts about the future of the Zelda franchise. Breath of the Wild is a great game and a good start for the reimagining of the story. Now I think they should add more to it. Fishing, something of a staple in some of the past Zelda games, is absent from this game. I would love it if they added it back. It would also be nice if you could repair broken weapons instead of having to constantly pick up new ones you’re enemies dropped. They already have mining in the game, you could turn this into a basis for weapon repair. Just take your ores to a blacksmith and reforge that sword.

I would also love to have a game where you could play as either Zelda or Link. Maybe Zelda could do actions that Link can’t perform.

Anyway, I look forward to the next game in the franchise!

I highly recommend this game for anyone who is looking for a quest for adventure!

 




GEARS OF WAR Movie Adaptation Finds A Writer

After nearly a decade in the works and an announcement last fall, the Gears of War movie has been assigned a writer. Shane Salerno, who currently has been working on the four upcoming Avatar sequels, will be penning the script for the Universal Pictures project.

Last fall, Universal and Microsoft announced the Gears movie was in development. Rod Fergusson, head of the developer of the Microsoft subsidiary studio, The Coalition, said the film was the next logical step for the Xbox franchise. The film will be produced by Scott Stuber and Dylan Clark of Bluegrass Films.

The film will not be based on the Gears video game, but will instead be set in the same universe, a post-apocalyptic planet called Sera where a squad of commandos battle hordes of aliens known as Locusts. At the fall announcement, Fergusson also stated that their goal was to simply copy over the story from the game, but to make the best Gears movie possible rather than one that was the most faithful to the games.

Gears of War was first launched in 2006 and has led to sequels that has grossed more than $1 billion worldwide. Originally, New Line cinema tried unsuccessfully to bring the franchise to theaters in 2007 with Len Wiseman attached to direct. Microsoft acquired the property in 2014 and now has been able to move forward since they partnered with Universal in 2016.

Not only has Salerno been working on the Avatar projects, he also did the screenplays for Armageddon and Oliver Stone’s Savages. He also co-wrote the story for Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands.

There is no word yet on a release date.




Planet Comicon 2017: Blood, Honor, Board Games

Planet Comicon was this past weekend and while I was there I dropped by their casual board gaming room.  While I was there, I chatted with the guards manning the gates.  I also listened in on a couple of the pen and paper role playing games.  The table top games were listed on the Planet Comicon schedule.

The game room was bigger this time around that from year’s past and situated closer to the convention’s front entrance that ever before.  As a couple of the convention staffers manning the room mentioned, in previous years, the gaming room had a tendency to be located a little bit out of the way, or among other gaming rooms making it a little bit harder to find than this year.  With a more visible location the room received more traffic and they had the board games to spare!

Welcome, to Board Game Mountain!

I sat down with Christopher, T.J., Caleb, Lora, and Bill, Planet Comicon’s Dungeon Masters of Board Game Mountain, and asked a couple of questions to get a better feel for the ambiance the board game room had to offer.  While we were talking, I noticed that some staff responsibilities, like checking board game in and out of the vast library, had “who would do it” decided by games such as “Rock Paper Scissors”.

Amongst the conversation, they told me that the game room had been a part of Planet Comicon for a number of years, but this year they had gotten the largest room so far.  Last year, the previous room had gotten so packed that the area had to be expanded this year to accommodate more guests.  The larger room had a great set-up.  Plenty of tables and chairs for avid gamers, and even spaces for custom set ups which included a custom gaming table that was equipped with a special flat screen embedded into the table’s surface.  There was also a long table set up with a custom 3D printed miniature dungeon.

Pulll up a chair, set up a game, and play a while.

I also questioned the staff about their favorite board games:

Christopher, whose favorite game is Betrayal at House on the Hill, was really impressed with the game’s newest expansion pack.  His favorite thing about it was that the expansion includes the house’s bathroom (the main game apparently didn’t come with one)!  We also talked a little on the game’s mechanics.  Christopher reminisced on the scenario he liked the most where a Roc lifted a house with 6 players while only 5 parachutes, leaving the players to scramble Musical Chairs to escape.

T.J. recalled his favorite game that he played at a different convention.  He had picked up a card game that was launched on Kickstarter.  The person he had bought it from had a booth at the Mid-Americon he attended.  Even though T.J. had trouble recalling the name of the card game he remembered that it was something between a card game and an RPG.  The cards create characters and give room to create custom player driven stories for these new characters. The game is organized with cards for characters and a special “peg based system” that is for combat among “good guy” and “bad guy” pegs.  T.J. commented that it “was a pen and paper RPG without all the entrapments of D&D.  Fast set up and neat.”

~Every country has a monster they’re afraid of, in their nation!~

Caleb had a different approach to his favorite game.  He had fond memories of a game with a more casual party nature.  Caleb said he liked Clue, the “original” game, for its nostalgia.  He liked the mind games that came with like the psychological mind games about it, especially when you are the killer.  Caleb also commented that the game Connect Four conveys an unusual air of despair yet people constantly check it out.

Lora chimed in to state her appreciate for games that require points (like victory points), or racing to build the biggest kingdom, to win.  They pit players against each other; working to get scores higher than each other’s to claim victory, games such as Dominion.  Lora also said that her competitive nature and love of boar games lead her to victory in a charity tournament of Dominion.

Some games take up a lot of space with all their pieces and parts.  But don’t worry, there were more than enough tables for everyone to sit down and play.

Bill likes pen and paper role playing games, especially Pathfinder.  He liked the exhilarating stories and being able to build custom characters however you’d like along with the game’s neat mechanics.   In our conversation we traded stories about characters we’ve both created in this game.  He recanted about mixing and matching abilities of an old Dungeons and Dragons rogue to create a medieval version of D.C.’s Batman.  He played this character in a “Play-by-Mail” game that’s similar to another title, Chess-by-Mail.

I also posed some more general questions to this circle of staff magi.

One of the reasons they were board game henchmen was that it was a cheap way to go to the convention.  They all agreed that working in the game room is a remarkable job.  They enjoy leading people to play new and different games that they may not have played before.  The group enjoyed seeing player’s faces light up while discovering and playing a game.

From casual games like Cranium and Clue to more geeky games like Bones featured above, there’s a board game for everyone.

Sentinels of the Multiverse, was a big hit with new players discovering new games to play.  Together they talked about how there are many games in the massive board game library that people probably would generally pass by, not knowing the magic the boxes contained.  But once players were exposed to them, they would find a new love. Ask players what they are into is really cool as it is all helping to spread the board game culture.

For a brief moment, I also sat down with the two gaggles of players playing the schedule pen and paper games that were notated on the official Planet Comicon schedule.

The first game I sat down with was the Star Wars RPG ran by Sterling Hershey.  The game was of his own design.  Hershey was also a game developer who worked on the Star Wars RPG by Wizards of the Coast.

Dice, check. Droid, check. Snack fries, check.

When I sat down at the game table, a droid announced over the space ship’s intercom “master your steaks are here” putting the table’s players on edge.  The ship they have found themselves on seemed to be of some grand importance.  Maybe it was a flag ship, or held some well-respected, yet malevolent, dignitary (or Sith Lord, same difference).

The rag-tag band was in the middle of fighting brutish aliens called “Gamorreans”. You can think of them as big barbarian space aliens that semi-sort of resemble pigs. “Good thing gamorreans are stupid” remarks a player nervously to the others.  This was just after the team narrowly escaped detection while the group sneaks (albeit narrowly) around the alien occupied ship. The player’s then accessed the ship’s computer to check its schematics. The schematics helped them to scheme against the malevolent actor and maneuver themselves undetected through the ship which they trespass.

This is a small snippet of Sterling Hershey’s “convention campaign” titled Force of Destiny.  For this game, there were a total of five players.  GM Hershey let me know that the player’s goal was to obtain the passenger list, hopefully while remaining undetected.

Next up was the good old fashion Dungeons and Dragons with the sparkling new 5th edition.  I sat around the table and listened to the players fight off a band of highwaymen and goblins.  This was part of something called, Adventure League.  I was informed by the Game Mistress that this adventure was from the previous season.

“We will need to play a round of ‘fist-a-clease’ to decide our next move…”

The troupe was hired by a caravan to help deliver a statue.  They had to go from Vurthyl, a city in the East, to the more mountainous western city of Parnast.  The players had taken a captive and were in the middle of questioning them.  The captive was a goblin who was left on the brink of death after the combat. Given a chance, he tried to make his escape, freeing himself from his rope bonds and runs from the team.  He dodges a harrowing swinging spear from one of the player’s vein attempts to stop him.  After a few moments, the players succeed in stopping the goblin’s escape.  They did this by pinning him to the ground by his cloths with an arrow.

In the excitement of combat, one of the player’s shouts “I’m going to loot the looter”! The highwaymen’s corpses left a pile of loot in the manner of weapons, armor, and gold coins.  While the more meat headed muscle brained characters argued about who gets what swords and, more importantly, who gets to prove their brute and manliness by interrogating the goblin, one of the sneakier women upstages the arguing men and interrogates the goblin quite handily.  All that happened while a more magical inclined player finds a strange “healer’s bag”.  It was filled with valuable magical creature potion ingredients.  The ingredients turned out to be the toenails from a giant!

There were some great things I saw in both of these games.  Interestingly, the character sheets that were laminated.  The maps were drawn on with dry-erase markers for easy clean-up.  Players had name tags in front of them that helped the game masters remember what player was what character.  Also, my favorite moment was the discussion of “fist-a-clease” a player created wrestling contest they used to make decisions.

The board game room was a place of glory, honor, winners, losers, and fun to be had by all.

All images were taken by me, Casey Shreve.

 




Nintendo Switch: Unavailable Near You

This is kind of a rant about Nintendo as a company and how it treats consumers. Under a different banner, it can also be an open ended question about why people still like and defend a company that treats its consumer base so poorly time and again.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a large gaming industry week long event aptly called the “Game Developers Conference”, or GDC for short. There, I was surprised to see the company Nintendo teaming up with various developer platforms, primarily Unity3D, to demonstrate some of the Indie games running on their new Nintendo Switch console. I had a great time with some of their demonstrations and wished to learn more about the Switch console, but time is limited and they had many other people to demo for.

RELATED ~ 8Bits: Talking About the Nintendo Switch

So this brings us to today. I went all around town here in Kansas City looking for, not the actual console to purchase, but a demo. A small setup with the console and a television to play for fifteen or twenty minutes just to test the waters and feel out the console more thoroughly. Not only did I find out that such demo stations did not exist (as they do for every other major console), but new shipments of Switch consoles for purchasing isn’t expected until mid-April. Which is really awkward since Nintendo’s own website states that the system is “Available now at these retailers” and every single clickable option returns “unavailable. Something odd that I saw in every single store I visited was that retail store’s shelves had tons of extra controllers and accessories in stock, collecting dust on shelves… because nobody will buy an extra controller for a system they can’t even get.

RELATED ~ Nintendo Announces Its New Console and It’s a SWITCH!

On one hand, we should always see this coming every time Nintendo does, well, anything in these modern times. They did this limited supply tactic with their game altering plastic figurines called Amiibos. They did it again with a more recent venture, the super rare NES Classic nostalgia system, and now here we are again with the Nintendo Switch.

This all runs into a theory that I like to call “Nintendo hates their customers and is allergic to money”. The availability crisis Nintendo seems to be refusing to learn from, let alone fix, isn’t a new tactic, but it seems to add to the overall outlook of the company when it comes to consumers. Even with some of the games that come out from Nintendo in the not too distant past seem to be at odds with what players want.

I’m still burned on their ruination of Star Fox, a franchise that I hold dear to my early gaming days. Not because it broke with canon, but because it featured broken and impossible controls for no reason other than a vain attempt to justify the Wii U’s awkward tablet. Or the unnecessary dumbing down of Mario Party 10 for the Wii U because competitive board games are “too spoopy” for younger audiences.  It’s hard to not wonder if the gaming company just holds its player base in contempt or is some how self loathing.

There’s just these little things Nintendo seems to do that add up to the company not actually wanting players to enjoy their games. For example, not making a new Mario Kart for the switch, but re-releasing the same version from the Wii U with an added map and a couple of extra cross-over promotional characters (Birdo is still missing, however). Even the new Zelda game has good chunks of fun buried under a mountain of uniquely non-fun experiences.

I think Jim Sterling from The Jimquisition sums up the whole ordeal quite accurately (caution strong language):

https://youtu.be/cRicuKHmjZA

There is a little bit of good news that comes from the time that we are all forced to wait for the next wave of shipments… Maybe in the next few months, Nintendo will acknowledge the controller issues, dead pixel problems, and other problems the early adopters are having… but I know those are tall orders that Nintendo may never feel the need to do anything about.

 




Donnie Yen Joins SLEEPING DOGS

Original Film and DJ2 Entertainment are going to brave the video game adaptation market. They have signed on to producer Neal Moritz’s Sleeping Dogs, based on the top-selling video game by Square Enix. Joining him in the lead role is the original Ip Man, Donnie Yen (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story).

No director has been named, but Moritz’s Original Film has experience with action fare films including the Fast And Furious franchise as well as the XXX franchise. Joining his producing team are Dmitri Johnson and Dan Jevons, with Toby Ascher and Stephan Bugaj executive producing.

The movie is based on the action video game, which is set in Hong Kong and focuses on martial arts fighting, racing, boat chases….and shooting while doing all that. Yen is set to play no-nonsense decorated cop, Wei Shen, on a one-man mission to bring down a dangerous Triad gang on the streets of urban Hong Kong.

Usually turning a video game into a movie can be difficult with complicated story lines. Moreover, they are not given great scripts, which can be hard for the actors. However, the studios do keep making money off them. Sleeping Dogs does not have a complex lore to follow, like Assassin’s Creed. It is the basic tale of good guys versus bad guys and everyone stuck in-between.

The addition of Yen should also seal the deal for the movie.

He has a long background as a fight choreographer and is well known as the star in the Ip Man franchise. It is the biographical martial art story based on the life of Yip Man, a grand master of the marital art Wing Chun and teacher of Bruce Lee. The first film, released in 2008, focuses on Ip’s life that took place in Foshan during the Sino-Japanese War. The second movie, Ip Man2: Legend of the Grandmaster (2010), centers on his life in Hong Kong, which is under British colonial rule as he attempts to promote his discipline of Wing Chun. Ip Man 3 was released in 2015 and introduces the relationship between Ip and a young Bruce Lee. Ip Man 3 brought in $124 million in China last year.

Using the popularity of Yen in the Chinese market, Paramount placed Yen front and center when marketing for xXx: Return of Xander Cage, where he plays Xiang opposite Vin Diesel. The moved paid off when the film had the second biggest IMAX February debut ever in China, behind the 2014 The Monkey King 2 and has pulled $283 million worldwide – more than $121 million from China alone.

Sleeping Dogs released in 2012 for PlayStation 3, Windows PC, and Xbox 360. Two years later a “Definitive Edition” re-releases hit PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The developer, United Front, and Square Enix attempted a spin off called Triad Wars, a free-to-play multiplayer PC game which takes place in the Sleeping Dogs universe. However, lacking the charm of the original game, the receptions was lukewarm and the game was shut down in early 2016. United Front did attempt a pitch of an official sequel to Sleeping Dogs however, Square Enix passed. Now that United Front closed down in October 2016, unless a third party comes in, a game sequel may not see the light of day.

Currently there is no mention of a release date for the film.

 




8Bits: Talking About Micro-Transactions

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This month, we’re talking about micro-transactions.

Are they good for the industry? Are they bad for the industry? Did they start off with the best of intentions and then slowly drift off to the Dark Side? Our crew discusses the impact micro-transactions have on game play, extensions, DLCs, collections, upgrades, and what it all means for the wallet. Is it better to play through achievements to get the new weapon or skill? Or do you bypass that effort (and fun) and just buy that war hammer for $6?

Games we’re playing:

  • Master of Orion 2: Battle of Antares
  • Star Trek Online
  • LEGO Star Wars, X-Wing, Star Wars: The Old Republic
  • Mass Effect
  • Battlefield
  • ReCore
  • Assassin’s Creed
  • Destiny
  • Grand Theft Auto

The panel: Jennifer Wise, Lauren Garrison, Jared Hawkins, Thomas Townley, Chris Jensen

 




ECHO CHAMBER: The RESIDENT EVIL Franchise

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This month, the Gang of Meddling Kids gathers ’round the table to discuss the Resident Evil franchise. From its first days as an early Playstation game to its current status as the top-grossing horror film franchise of all time, Resident Evil has delivered several iterations. Some good, some not. And with the movie franchise winding down (maybe), is it time for the video game series to do the same? Or is there still room for more games pitting Alice against the Umbrella Corporation?

 

The panel: Ann Laabs, Thomas Townley, Jared Hawkins, David Baker, Sam Sentman

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PAX South: Come For the Atmosphere, Stay For the Atmosphere


[Guest article by Chris Grucza]

If you’re a gamer and you’ve never had the pleasure of attending any of the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) events, you should probably look to rectify that as soon as possible.

This year’s PAX South in San Antonio, Texas builds on the tradition in a very real way, delivering a gaming focused convention that doesn’t care what genre tickles your fancy – they’re all here with amazing representation.

Want to see some of the latest hardware from various computer vendors? Or find out what’s new in tabletop games? Maybe you just want to find out what Nintendo has up their sleeve next. PAX South 2017 answers all of those questions and more (Dell’s Alienware line actually looks like it might not suck any longer, it’s ridiculous how many new table top games there are, and the Nintendo Switch had a 4+ hour wait to demo it.)

But the real focus of the event isn’t the event itself. It’s the people and the community. One of the biggest issues I’ve seen at comic-con type conventions is the ridiculous amount of assumptions of consent due to cosplay. This has gotten so pervasive that Dallas Comic Con last year literally had signs up saying “Cosplay is not consent.” It can make for a wearisome day when that’s the vibe you’re trying to defeat.

PAX does not have that vibe. The PAX vibe is “Hey, we’re in line together and we don’t know each other but let’s play this card/dice game to kill time.” It’s “everyone’s a gamer and that’s awesome.” It’s “you’re new to the community so let’s welcome you.” It’s inclusive, loving and welcoming. All things that every convention should be.

Is there a point to this? Maybe, maybe not. But point yourself over to www.paxsite.com to keep informed as to when the upcoming PAX events are. If you’re a gamer, they’re required attending.”

 

Chris Grucza is a gamer, nerd, musician. Not always in that order.




8Bits: Talking About the Nintendo Switch

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The Nintendo Switch comes out March 3! Who’s ready? Our staff takes a look at the new game console. Price? Portability? Will there be enough games to make it worth having? What about the controller size? Battery life? Speculations and expectations abound in our discussion about the console that’s not always a console.

END-GAME CONTENT: discussion about the new Super Mario Run app released for iOS (Android hits in March). There are some things you should know before you download this app.

Games we’re playing:

  • Assassin’s Creed 2
  • Destiny
  • Final Fantasy 9
  • Final Fantasy XV
  • Injustice: Gods Among Us
  • Star Trek Online
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic
  • Uncharted 4
  • Yoshi’s Wooly World

The panel: Lauren Garrison, Jared Hawkins, Thomas Townley, Erik Inlow, Jeff Hackworth

 




G33K Out: WonderCon 2016 – High Scorers Panel

[All photos courtesy CW3 Public Relations.]

Episode 19: Wondercon 2016 – High Scorers Panel

(Episode 18 was NOT posted on SciFi4Me, as it was not genre related. It was an interview with cinematographer Jimmy Matlosz.)

Last March, I attended WonderCon here in Los Angeles. We covered it here, and I had a lot more content that I never had time to do anything with.

One such item was a chance to meet up with some of the guys that were on the “High Scorers Panel: Star Composers of the Video Game World”. The panel was, obviously, music composers for video games talking about their work. I managed to get a chance to interview some of them before the panel. I first talked to Gordy Haab (Star Wars: Battlefront, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct) and Niels Bye Nielsen (Hitman, Ratchet & Clank Series), and then I talked to Bill Brown (Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six, Captain America: Super Soldier, Lineage II) and John Kaefer (Quantum Break).

Head’s up: due to the press set up, any time I talked, the mic was not in front of me. I bumped up my audio as much as possible, but it’s still pretty noticeable.

And now, time to geek out.

/su_audio]

You can see more of Angie’s work (and her social media connections) over at her website.




Casting News: Daniel Wu Joins TOMB RAIDER Reboot

[Header image by Gage Skidmore]

 

Photo:”Into The Badlands” Facebook page

Fans of Into the Badlands will be pleased to know they’ll be seeing a familiar face in the latest reboot of Tomb Raider. Daniel Wu is set to join Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, The Danish Girl), who will be playing Lara Croft in this adaptation. Wu, who played Gul’dan in Warcraft: The Beginning, has been gaining popularity from his portrayal of the lead character, Sunny, in AMC’s Into the Badlands, which is set to return with its second season this Spring.

Tomb Raider is currently scheduled for to release on March 16, 2018. Warner Bros. has teamed up with MGM to bring the latest adaptation of the popular video game series to life. Graham King’s GK Films, who acquired the film rights in 2011, will be partnering with the studios to create the film. King will also serve as producer with Roar Uthaug directing and Geneva Robertson-Dworet writing the script.

According to Variety, Wu is set to play Lu Ren, “a ship captain who partners with Croft on a quest to find her father.” Walton Goggins (Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight) is also on the roster as the film’s villain. This adaptation is slated to be about Croft’s origins, focusing on her first expedition. Though the reboot has been in development for years, it wasn’t until Warner Bros. got involved that it really started coming together.

The first game in the Tomb Raider series was released in 1996. The games follow Lara Croft, an explorer who travels the world searching for lost artifacts and encountering dangerous villains. Two other feature films, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003), grossed $431 million worldwide for Paramount.




XCom 2: A Game of Bug Eyed Freaks

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Developer: Fraxis Games
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4
Disclosure: Copy Purchased

The XCom series is a science fiction turn-based strategy game where aliens have invaded and taken over the Earth, and it’s up to you, a member of the underground human resistance, to fight for humanity… or what’s left it.  In XCom 2, the latest installation of the series, humanity has just about had it and the evil aliens have successfully infiltrated the media, making most of the public side with their cause, even to their own detriment.  Soylent Green is people, after all.

xcom2_map

XCom 2 follows in the same systems of the previous XCom titles, most of which are turn based strategies.  The players and missions take turns in each mission.  You have a base that you can upgrade and expand by adding new rooms over time.  However, unlike the most recent previous title, Alien Unknown, where your base expansion was incredibly limited and the player is given very little information about what buildings do what, you are somewhat guided in what rooms you “need” to build for story and have plenty of expansion slots (maybe even a couple extra).  Still, in both games, there’s no take backs.  Once an expansion slot is used, that’s what it is.  The only way to change a mistake (say, building too many power conduits) is to restart your entire game.

xcom2_hotzone

XCom 2’s combat is fairly straight forward.  All the player’s units take a turn doing all the things they need to do such as attacking, moving, hacking, and opening doors.  And once you expend all of your unit’s actions, the enemy AI does the same with all the enemy units.  There is a lot of interesting tactical choices you can make and the maps that you play around in are rather expansive with plenty of strange and fantastic places to hide and shoot from.  Units are well varied giving you a wide variety of combat and ability combinations between units to keep your small strike team rather fresh rather than monotonous.

What I liked

In short, what I liked most was the downloaded content and the fan-made mods.  Excluding the mostly lack-luster cosmetic DLC packs, the two extra content packs that added additional missions, enemies, and units were pretty OK.  Both content packs were quite short and didn’t add as big of an impact the price tag should demand, but the changes were nice and notable nonetheless.  One of the DLC packs, specifically the one that added the S.P.A.R.K. unit which is a big hulking robot that kicks some serious can (that is similar to but not as overwhelmingly impressive as the mech units from XCom: Enemies Unknowns), seems like it should have been in the game from the start.  The robot’s gun shreds armor which becomes extremely necessary as every mid to late game missions feature armored foes and very few normal units have the armor shredding ability.  Armor being a rather tough obstacle to overcome if your units are unable to counter it by shredding it.

I was surprised to find XCom 2 open to player modification or, if It did, would be like most strategy games and be extremely limited in function and content through a dedicated editor.  To my surprise, on PC, XCom was linked to Steam’s Workshop system.  And through that, modders have taken the time to fix some of the issues built in XCom 2’s release, issues such as a lack of items and crafting mid to late game.

xcom2_team

Between the DLC and the mods, XCom 2 became not just playable, but actually enjoyable.  There’s a good deal of issues that the game had on launch, which in turn is responsible for the “Mixed” review rating on Steam.  But enough tweaking of the system from the players have gotten it into a pretty great state.  In general, as the trend of releasing unfinished games as “early access” and “features to be added later” and then expecting the players to mod the games to working states, it a rather undue burden on players that are unpaid to do such work.

What I did not like

For starters, let’s talk difficulty curve.  The thing is, difficulty should be a curve that wavers between two axes: the time the player has been playing and the player’s skill level.  The longer the player has been playing a game, it’s safe to assume the more the player has learned and the more skill the player has obtained.  There is kind of a “sweet spot” in between those two axes where the game’s skill is not too hard to leave a player frustrated or too easy leaving the player bored.  Kind of like Goldilocks, it has to be just right to keep the player’s playing and satisfied.

This chart from an article on Gamasutra on cognition and game difficulty displays the difficulty curve as it relates to player skill and the game's inherent difficulty. It also shows the states of cognition for each point within the chart.
This chart from an article on Gamasutra about cognition and game difficulty displays the difficulty curve as it relates to player skill and the game’s inherent difficulty. It also shows the states of cognition for each point within the chart.

 

There were aspects of the canon DLC that were pretty game breaking.  The new characters seemed to be a necessary addition that should have been included with the original launch.  For instance, mid- to late-game all enemies have various stacks of armor.  Armor negates damage based on how many stacks a unit has. More armor stacks, the less damage you can do to that unit.  And nearly all enemies have it in the higher levels.

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Getting rid of an enemy’s armor is a top priority and only certain units can do that.  The DLC adds a unit called “S.P.A.R.K.” which has attacks that destroy armor.  For that fact alone, this unit is a stark necessity.   It seemed to me to be an odd aspect of the game to save for “extra paid for content”.

Then there is the DLC that nearly ruined the game for me.  In concept it is an interesting take on the turn-based style of the game.  The DLC adds three different bosses; they are various “upgrades” of three current units, and these bosses are super dangerous.  What makes them dangerous is that they get an action after every player action plus full actions on the enemy’s turn.  They can kill several of your units at a time while you can only move to cover one unit at a time.

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What makes this game breaking is the timing.  If you start a game with the DLC, chances are that you will stumble upon the activating missions at the very beginning of the game, which is what happened to my play.   From that first mission, the bosses will randomly spawn during any mission there after until you kill them.  The good thing is the damage you do to them is persistent and that they run away after getting hit so many times.  But the damage they wreak and the time they take up to handle is overwhelming for a beginner who lacks the equipment and sustainability available in mid to late game.

 

Is it worth playing?

There are a good number of issues in XCom 2, especially if you don’t have access to a Steam community workshop filled with player created modifications and downloads.  The game’s official DLC seems to be walled off featured content instead of true expansions.   The game lacks balance, especially in the beginning as the difficulty curve starts out incredibly high.

https://youtu.be/F2KVjktGePY

These problems aside, the game is pretty enjoyable.  With a story that pits a rag-tag group of human resistance fighters against an evil alien insurgency, the game really nails the underdog fantasy fighting against impossible odds.  It also does a great job keeping the action in the gameplay flowing even while still handling the turn based system.  It does a good job bridging the gap between hard core turn based strategy games and a more broad general audience.

It could have used a few more mission types to add more variation to the objectives given in each mission.  For the most part it was enjoyable and the story made coherent sense even though the main story was a little short.

 

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Cards For Humanity: Sci-Fi Expansion Pack To Fight World Hunger

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[featured image: Cards Against Humanity]

For a long time, fans of science fiction have enjoyed the worlds and technology created by authors. Now they can put their own twist on the fate of the human race (or whatever species they are) with Cards Against Humanity’s new Sci-Fi expansion pack.

Last year they released their first ever Fantasy pack with the help of a dozen fantasy authors, including Patrick Rothfuss, Neil Gaiman, and Jacqueline Carey, who brainstormed for playful questions and hilariously grotesque answers. This year’s Sci-Fi release enlisted the help of authors, including:

  • Delilah S. Dawson
  • Elizabeth Bear
  • Jim C. Hines
  • Myke Cole
  • Martha Wells
  • Catherynne M. Valente
  • Patrick Rothfuss

The thirty-card pack poking fun at the Sci-Fi genre is $5. Through December 19, all proceeds from the expansion pack will first be doubled and then go to Worldbuilders, Rothfuss’s nonprofit organization, which supports Heifer International. So far, they have raised $21,378 from the packs.

Heifer International is a nonprofit that works with communities to end world. However, instead of simply a donation of supplies, they work to empower families with the “teach a man to fish” philosophy. They provided the education and supplies needed to bring sustainable agriculture and commerce to the areas with long histories of poverty. Animals not only provide food, but also a source of reliable income, such as agricultural products like milk, eggs, and honey which can be traded or sold at market.

Rothfuss’s organization, Worldbuilders, allows donators to purchase items like chickens, tree seedlings or well installations which provides the supplies need for Heifer Internationals mission.

Cards Against Humanity was created by Highland Park High School alum for a New Year’s Eve party, using Apples to Apples as an influence. Co-creator Ben Hantoot has cited experiences with games, such as Magic: The Gathering, Balderdash, and Charades, as inspirations with Mad Libs as the most direct influence.

In December 2010, a Kickstarter campaign was started to finance the game, meeting its goal of $4,000 in two weeks. When it ended at the end of January 2011, they had raised over $15,000, just under 400% of its original goal, which allowed the creators to add fifty more cards to the set.

This is not the first time Cards Against Humanity has been involved with a charitable cause. Previous proceed donations include the Wikimedia Foundations, several educational projects through DonorsChoose, scholarships for women going into STEM and the Chicago Design Museum.

It has been stated that the company has generated at least $12 million in revenue since 2011. The approximate donation amount from the small list of their ventures above is around $670,000.

 

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THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: OCARINA OF TIME Soundtrack Goes Vinyl

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While debatable if The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a good game, most Nintendo fans will admit it has a really fun soundtrack. Materia Collective, a label created to produce and release music alongside creative interpretations and arrangements of new and classic game scores, teamed with indie publishing label iam8bit for a new vinyl release of the Ocarina Soundtrack.

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The album called Hero of Time will not sound like the music gamers heard on the classic Nintendo 64 game. The Koji Kondo’s original score will be re-recorded by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra, composed and arranged by Eric Buchholz, who has promised to “breathe new life” in to the classic Ocarina of Time score. Buchholz is no stranger to the world of Zelda, touring video game concerts globally, which include The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony and The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses.

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Ryan Brinkerhoff provided the original artwork which looks more stylish than the actual game, showing Hyrul Field in the day and at dusk. The albums will be pressed into 180-gram heavyweight colored records in green and purple with Rupee designs. They will be placed in a gold foil-stamped sleeve that will have a die-cut cover in the shape of an ocarina and a Triforce design in the rear.

Ocarina of Time was one of the peak moments in the Zelda franchise. It was released in 1998 and became one of the best-selling titles for the Nintendo 64. This set is not licensed by Nintendo and was initially funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign which raised $51,963.00 with 1,003 backers that was started in September 2016

The 64-piece orchestra will perform the music live for the recording in Bratislava, Slovakia next month. Other video game scores they have recorded include Warhawk for Sony and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for EA.

Pre-orders for the $40.00 package began on December 9 and will be available during the second quarter of 2017.

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Annapurna Pictures Expands Into Interactive Video Games

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Annapurna Pictures has decided to expand into the gaming industry. They have established an interactive division that will focus on producing and publishing video games called Annapurna Interactive.

Megan Ellison, founder and CEO, stated that she’s had a long passion for video games, citing Nintendo’s 1998 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as her all-time favorite. Her focus for Annaurna Interactive is to develop “personal, emotional, and original games” that will push the boundaries of interactive content.

The artistry and diversity of interactive storytelling is exciting, and we look forward to exploring the limitless possibilities in gaming. We want to empower artists across this medium to make Annapurna Interactive their home, and I believe we’ve assembled the perfect team to make that happen.

They are set to release two games in the spring of 2017.

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The first is Jason Roberts’ Gorogoa, a hand illustrated puzzle game. The screen splits into a grid comprised of tiles, each acting as a window into the game’s world. The idea is to arrange the tiles, moving them next to or on top of each other.  The player can also enter the tiles to affect the illustrated worlds within, with simple and joyful interactions. To move forward, the player not only has to arrange the composition of the tiles, but discover the connections between them. Currently Annapurna Interactive’s website lists this for PC and iOS.

The second game is What Remains of Edith Finch from Giant Sparrow, who’s first game was The Unfinished Swan in 2012. It is first person perspective, following Edith Finch as she researches her family history to find out why she is the last Finch alive. She discovers eccentric characters through the stories, ranging from the 1900’s through present day. Each story ends with a death, and together, aim to capture what it’s like to be “humbled and astonished by the vast and unknowable world around us.” What Remains of Edith Finch is listed for PlayStation 4 and PC.

They also plan on releasing games from other industry talents, including developer Funomena and creative director Keita Takahashi, the creator of the Katamari Damacy franchise and Mountain Games, led by Ken Wong, who was lead designer for the mobile puzzle app, Monument Valley.

Four executives have been hired specifically for Annapurna Interactive: Nathan Gary and Deborah Mars from Sony Computer Entertainment America’s PlayStation group; and Hector Sanchez, former producer at PlayStation and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment; and Jeff Legaspi, previously with Santa Monica Studio. Together, the team’s credits include Journey, God of War, Mortal Kombat, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Flower, and Fat Princess.

The five-year-old Annapurna Pictures’ film credits include the recently released Sausage Party, Weiner-Dog, Zero Dark Thirty, 20th Century Women, and Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some.  They are currently in post-production on Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s Untitled Detroit Project and is developing and adaptation of Maria Semple’s novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

 

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