DayZ Standalone

25 12 2013
DayZ Standalone

DayZ Standalone

Morning! This is me writing down some of my thoughts and impressions from the newly released DayZ Standalone Alpha, and why I think you should play it. For the record, I played the DayZ Mod for so me time, but ultimately stopped playing due to the vast amount of security breaches, which lead to large groups of players running scripts that compromised the games integrity and more importantly the game dynamics that are at the core of DayZ’s strength.

At first glance, or reading a few hotly contested forums, the inexperienced  DayZ player will assume this game is strictly about PvP and less about survival. They wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but I’m here to tell you that it is much more than that, and even though the DayZ SA is only in Alpha, the reworked mechanics and engine are setting the stage for a unique experience you can’t find anywhere else.

Let me first start by telling you a brief story. Since the Alpha has launched, I’ve lost several characters. If you are completely new to what DayZ SA is, you spawn with a character, you try to scavenge for gear, food, medicine, clothes, and more importantly weapons. If your character dies, it is done, you respawn and try again. You can die from zombies, sickness, disease, exposure, dehydration, hunger, and more commonly from other players.

Continuing with the story, after several deaths, I had a character that had been alive for several days, and running with a group of friends in RL inside of the game. ( Banding into social groups is often the only way to increase your longevity for any length of time ) We found ourselves a nice part of the map ( Which is over 230 sq km in size ), and eventually we were all considered “geared” with military and hunting gear. I personally had the Mosin ( the current bolt action sniping rifle )

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As a general rule, our group doesn’t automatically shoot other players unless they pose a threat, especially in towns, coastal areas, and in the forest. However, when raiding military camps, all bets are off. It is an unspoken and understood rule of DayZ SA. This is where my story leads, I want to tell you about the first player life I took, how it made me feel, and why I had to do it.

Several of my pack were raiding a valuable military structure, and were completely exposed from the windows and doorway entrance. I personally was on over watch, or in a “guardian angel” designated marksman position. I warned my squad over chat, and proceeded to dial in on the back of the unsuspecting player at around 400 meters.

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With uncommon amounts of adrenaline pumping into my system, I steadied the scope and lined the shot up. He was alone, I knew he was here for the same reason we were. He wanted to survive, he was looking for military grade gear and weaponry to facilitate that survival so his character might live a day longer…… or, he could be what is referred to as a “bandit” in DayZ SA. People that gear up, head to the player spawn areas, and purposely kill players for the sheer enjoyment, and their gear.

Either way, as is the most time tested ROE ( Rules of Engagement ), he was a threat, and being on the airfield, there are never any negotiations. I radioed in to my squad that I was taking the shot. Barely able to keep the scope still due to anxiety, I fired the first 7.62 bullet square into his back, reloaded, and then fired a second shot. He dropped immediately, never knowing what happened, and likely not even hearing the shot before it hit him.

Now why is this story important? It’s the only game, ever in my opinion, where you truly experience several phenomenon in a digital video game to this extent. First and foremost, players can generally experience something called “pathos”. It is essentially when they are vicariously living through their character, and display interesting psychological things about them. Like having vested interests in their well being, referring to the character as themselves, especially in a spacial reference. Due to the harsh nature of DayZ SA, the longer your character is alive, the better gear you get, and the more healthy you make him/her, you really start to care about your character. You’ve survived countless terrors and engagements with players, hunted for food/water, scavenged for gear, and deep down you know that in one wrong move and in a single instance, it can all be taken away from you.

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As human beings, we all at some level understand loss, risk, reward, forming social structures/communities, and more importantly we understand predatory survival. DayZ REALLY plays upon these exact instincts. Everything about the game is designed to encourage that. There are no annoying and intrusive HUD or UI elements, no player nameplates or target reticles ( so the only way to spot a player is to literally see them )

Most games, especially action/horror games employ a design technique called “negative space”, or commonly referred to as “pacing” in level design. Basically, think of any horror game, Dead Space being a great example, and think of the parts of the level where the bad guys leave you alone, you calm down, maybe read some story segments, regain some health, find some ammo, etc. However, you know, in the pit of your stomach that the next engagement is around the corner, and the anticipation starts building.

This is another reason why DayZ is so powerful. The game takes advantage of the powerful Arma II engine, and gives you over 230 sq km of play space ( if you aren’t familiar with measurements, that is roughly over 142 sq miles of play space ) while also rendering scenery, players, and vegetation at an extreme distance. With all of these elements intertwined, you and your friends ( or just you ) will spend HOURS alone, but you have to be prepared and watchful, because if you run into the wrong people, your characters life can be ended in seconds. So when something does happen, your adrenaline literally shoots through the roof. There’s been times where I can barely keep my hands from shaking due to the sheer anticipation or adrenaline while trying to stay alive.

Inevitably, loss happens, and it’s amazing to see the game dynamics that happen all on their own, nothing scripted or predestined by the game. When a friend or a player goes down, you are not prompted to do something about it, they either die, or you try to help them.

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This is a real scenario I took a screenshot of with the group I play with. Nobody told that player on the right to take up security and watch outboard, nobody told the other two players not in the screenshot to post up security down the street, and most importantly, nobody told the player with the defibrillator to try and save the players life. DayZ SA is just a game with a set of systems, that can be understood, and used to whatever purposes you see fit as a player. You can try to save people, you can mug people, take prisoners, avoid players, be a bandit, whatever.

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This is all possible in a game that is only in Alpha. Repairable vehicles, hunt-able animals, a full crafting system, player build-able structures, are all coming. Can you and your squad last long enough in the future to establish a base in the forest, build up fortifications, defend against zombies, infection, starvation, and the biggest danger of all, other players?

That all being said, there are a few caveats with the DayZ SA. First and foremost, you have to get used to the inventory and movement system. If you have never played Arma at all, it will come as a little “clunky” to you at first. The game doesn’t move like a FPS or Action Hack & Slash, it moves like a war simulator, as that is what much of the code is based upon. Fortunately, Dean Hall and his band have revamped much of the inventory and added a hotbar, which are GREAT improvements over the Mod. They also moved most of the processes server side to combat cheaters/scripters, etc. So far, it’s working great.

I could spend all day talking about the individual mechanics, player dynamics, but I’ll sum it up in a statement from one of my squad mates while having this conversation during a long forest trek. “Why is this game so awesome? That’s because, in DayZ it isn’t ‘what’ can happen, it is that ‘anything’ can happen”.

Plus the amazing sunsets!

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The Typing of The Dead: Overkill

8 12 2013

Obviously one look at this game and two things should be obvious. The first, is that this game does not take itself (or anything) too seriously. Second, that the game is based around a zombie killing grind-house type genre. So why am I writing a blog post about this game? Because it’s refreshingly fun, and also because it has the potential to do something amazing for education type game. Now before I talk about that, let me explain the basic mechanics and what you can do in this game.

The game actually does a great job at introducing you to new mechanics and events in the game. Obviously as the name implies, this is a typing game. I’m sure we all remember the old style “space invaders” typing games some of us played back in the MS-DOS days on an old 486. The crafty folks at Modern Dream have basically taken the same concept of educational typing challenges and slapped it into a cheesy zombie shoot em’ up type action game. You don’t actually control your avatar, which ends up being great later on because you are obviously typing! The camera movement is reminiscent of any arcade shooting game you would have played in the 90’s. If one doesn’t come to mind, just think of Time Crisis.

Kill it before it gets to you!

Your avatar will navigate various levels, where you will literally be presented with typing challenges. The basic mechanic is you shoot zombies by typing whatever the presented word is. Naturally, depending on the difficulty of the enemy, the typing challenges are often time sensitive. If you take too long, you’ll start getting hit or eaten by the enemy. Successfully typing the word results in shooting the enemy, target, or challenge. The overall concept of the mechanic might not sound engaging, but it’s actually very cleverly executed. Word of warning though, as I previously stated, the game does not take itself to seriously and is plainly meant to target adult audiences with the crass humor and violence.

Like I said, crass humor.

Like I said, crass humor.

While playing the first couple of chapters ( yes there is a story ) I found I was actually experiencing anxiety as hordes of zombies closed in on me and I struggled to blast away on the keyboard to execute them in time before they started chewing on me. Most of the time however, I found myself literally laughing out loud at the audacity and slapstick type humor the game possesses. Not only are the game events ridiculous and over the top, a lot of the humor is built into the words the game presents for you to type. Sometimes, it is just senseless random words, other times full sentences of the most ridiculous phrases you can imagine.

Example of ridiculous phrases

To keep the gameplay from getting stale, or giving you cramps in your wrists, they incorporate pickups and bonuses in the rooms your character clears. You activate these when you see them by simply hitting ‘tab’. Sometimes they are bullet time items, which can be strategically used to slow time down when killing multiple enemies. The game will also sometimes give you just single letters on a group of zombies or projectiles being thrown at you, which helps break up typing full words or phrases. A lot of them will also be bonus based twitch skills. The majority of the game is actually based around your ability to react and prioritize targets. You will often be approached by several obstacles or enemies and have to figure out which one to start typing first. You can even back out of a phrase you are typing in order to engage another target first. At first glance, this would sound kind of clumsy and an overall pain, but the game handles the transitions very smoothly. The game will also automatically pick the correct phrase you wish to start typing by the first letter you hit. So no two phrases that you are presented at the same time with will start with the same letter. Upon  completing a level, challenge, or mini-game you will be presented with your stats, so the game even has leaderboards!

I’m good at typing!

As you’ll notice from that picture, the game even incorporates a multiplayer game mode. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m assuming it functions similar to Time Crisis which I mentioned earlier. You can play with random people on the internet through matchmaking, or you can invite your friends via Steam. The game does an interesting job at pacing, level design, and unique events throughout the levels to keep you excited and perhaps a little anxious. There are even boss fights, which are usually involved in managing multiple typing challenges with varying time sensitive twitch typing events. Overall, the gameplay is fun, surprisingly engaging, and actually refreshing.

This baddy likes to throw stuff at you.

This baddy likes to throw stuff at you.

So now that I’ve covered the basic mechanics and what you do in the game. I want to talk about why I was really impressed with this game, other than it being engaging to me. After the initial “sticker shock” hit me when I found I was enjoying something that I didn’t expect to like in the first place. The thought occurred to me, “I’m having A LOT of fun with a game that’s just making me type words….” So once you look through the over-the-top humor, classy grind-house action and art aesthetic, this game is doing something pretty amazing. You can literally have a lot of genuine fun playing this game, and all you are doing is practicing your typing skills.

So from a design perspective, I’m immediately drawn to other possibilities… what if you could do this with math? Programming? World History? Can you imagine if portions of your high school experience taught you various subject matter via interactive methods like this that ACTUALLY engage you? If you actually look at how much information in the typical game a player is required to learn, memorize, and retain it is pretty amazing. I think this is the power that games can have, and it is an untapped potential. Our education system is long over-due for an overhaul. It hasn’t had a major overhaul since the industrial revolution, or thereabouts. I urge you to take the time and watch some of this gentleman’s lectures. http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

So at the end of the day, this game is not only fun, engaging, but it is also making you practice and refine what would be considered a “hard skill” on your resume. ( My WPM is 150, or something crazy ) It also does a great job of showcasing how we can create games that are unique and refreshingly fun while being outside the “norm” of game genres. You can pick this game up for $20 on Steam right now, so if this looks like it would appeal to you, I urge you to take a look.

Thanks for reading!





Tomb Raider 2013 Review

16 03 2013

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Introduction:

I have to start off by saying that this should have been the game I’d been waiting on and following since it was announced. However, I had the misfortune of making Aliens: Colonial Marines the game I had been following and anxiously waiting for since 2007. Much to my chagrin we all know how that game turned out, but I digress on that point. What I’m getting at is Tomb Raider, for me, more than lived up to the hype it built up before release.

Lastly, before I get started, let it also be known that I did play the “old school” Tomb Raider games, but I wasn’t exactly a diehard fan, so I think my opinion should be fairly un-biased in approaching this game. (At least I’ll pretend that it is ☺)

For those of you that have not played the game, or are mostly oblivious to what this game is about, basically Crystal Dynamics decided to do a reboot on the Lara Croft franchise. Which in my opinion was a solid move as the franchise was in desperate need of the revival.

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Setup:

So if you’re a classic Tomb Raider player, you’re probably used to playing a female avatar in short shorts, skimpy top, ridiculously large bosom, and dual wielding pistols while vanquishing bandits with physics defying aerial maneuvers. While that approach worked in the 90’s, nowadays, the trend in AAA games tends to be hyperrealism. Basically, Crystal Dynamics took this idea, and really ran with it. They realized they needed a more “human” Lara Croft than in previous renditions of the game. So how do they accomplish this? They do a prequel of course! What better way to attempt actual character development with this heroine than going to a time when she’s young, innocent, and not the badass Tomb Raiding diva we were used too.

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More than that, they needed to make Lara Croft relatable to audiences. As previously stated, the classic formula of having a cliché hero/heroine just “blowing shit up” doesn’t cut it much anymore, it’s typically far less engaging to audiences, as they want something real, like I’ve already said, something relatable.

Initial Impressions:

The first hour in the game is spent going from quick time event to quick time event while Lara is literally brutalized and beaten relentlessly, and if you’re not on the ball, killed in some pretty viscerally nail biting ways. Fortunately, the extreme linear nature of the first hour does not persist for the rest of the game. The first hour is really about establishing one thing, Lara is alone, hurt, cold, starving, in a foreign place, and most importantly, she’s incredibly afraid for her life.

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This is an important fact because the rest of the game you’ll watch as Lara goes through a transformation of an innocent archeology graduate to a steadfast heroine, who is not squeamish in the least in dispatching her enemies.

Some critic argue that the transition from Lara being unwilling to take lives to when she no longer has a problem with it happens a little too quickly. While I do agree, it happens rather quickly, based on the severity of their situation in the story, it doesn’t feel too awkward or unnatural. Especially after you see some of the scenes she goes through, you probably won’t have a problem with her willingness to take human life so readily.

If you are familiar with the classical “Hero” cycle with story arcs, you’ll find a lot of checkmarks and parallels with Lara Crofts story.

Environment:

After the first hour of play, the game really opens up. For the most part, the game still follows a linear design, however, within specific areas you’re free to find tombs (which are puzzles without enemies), salvage materials in the area, hunt for food, or you can keep plowing along the main story quest. With the salvaging, there’s a nice meta experience as you constantly acquire and upgrade your gear, it adds a nice progression system to the game.

Getting back to the environment, to date, it’s one of the most breathtaking games that I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying. Keep in mind, I played it on PC but I’m told it looks very beautiful on console as well. I found myself just periodically stopping and panning the camera so I could enjoy the visuals of the island. I think out of the entire play through, which took me about 12-13 hours, there was only one or two areas that didn’t look absolutely stunning.

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The environment also does a really good job of hiding the overall linear aspect of the game. It FEELS like a sandbox type game, even though it truly isn’t. One way it accomplishes this is by the “campsite system”. Once you’ve discovered a campsite location, you can travel to it from any other campsite. This allows you to go back and explore tombs, or large areas that you might have blasted through.

Speaking of the tombs, they are pretty satisfying, and some of the puzzles are pretty creative. Overall, I think they could have made some of them more difficult, but they were creative and interesting enough that it more than made up for it. From a design perspective, the Tombs are a very creative way of incorporating “negative space” into the pacing of your game. “Negative space” is time in the game where designers give you a cool down from excitement, usually that equates to time in games when there aren’t enemies trying to kill you. They do this because they want to bring your excitement (chemicals in your brain) down to a lower level, so you don’t get fatigued on an engagement level. However, I’m going off on a tangent so I digress. Basically, the tombs allow for a nice break from the action! (See, much more simple lol…)

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Core Gameplay Mechanics (Combat, platforming, etc.):

So let’s get on to some of the core mechanics in the game. Naturally, first and foremost Tomb Raider is a platformer. You’ll do all sorts of climbing, jumping, falling, zip lining, running, dodging, and overall manipulating your environment to attain some goal or objective.

What is also unique about this Tomb Raider is that they incorporated a fair amount of combat into the game. I think they did a pretty good job balancing combat with platforming elements however. When you enter into a space where enemies are present, Lara will automatically go into a crouched combat mode. You can choose to hide in the environment and silently assassinate your enemies with a silent arrow, or you can close with them and engage with guns and a climbing pick axe.

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The thing I was most impressed with was the fact that some areas require you to manipulate objects, then jump off them, or use them in some way while they are still in motion to achieve your goal. This sounds like a “well no shit it’s a platformer”, but if you know anything about game development, setting up collision volumes and the proper physics properties on objects within the game is a tremendous amount of work. Needless to say, they pulled it off pretty damn well.

UI:

To be honest, there really isn’t much of a user interface in this Tomb Raider game, which is a good thing. You have your classic non-diegetic ammo HUD counter, and when you enter Lara’s “instinct” mode, you’ll see specific objects light up in a tac-com type UI. For Lara’s health, they use the classic meta-physical system of blood splatters and your screen changing colors to represent how close to death you are. There’s no health bar, and Lara’s health will slowly recharge over time. You’ll also get audio and visual cues from Lara that she’s been damaged. Overall, there are as few as possible UI elements within the game that you actually see.

Overall this is great as you spend more time looking at your character and the beautiful environment she’s running around in.

Stability:

Like I said earlier, a solid play through with about 80% completion of everything in the game took me about 13 hours…. and the game didn’t crash once! Granted, if you have an Nvidia card, there are supposedly some issues with on that hardware setup. Or you can play on console and probably not experience any crashing either. I highly recommend you play it on PC if you have a rig that can run it on at least high graphics settings, especially as you can turn on the Tress RX function and see how it looks when every single strand of hair is animated. Sometimes, it gets all out of wack and you see some wonky animations, but overall it looks amazing.

I run a fairly decent high-end machine, and I still had to turn some of the graphics from their highest setting, so the game has a very high potential if you’re an enthusiast and like buying $600 video cards every six months. Either way, the game is absolutely gorgeous.

Complaints:

I only have a couple of comments here. One is that the quick time events do not transfer very well to PC. Half the time you don’t know which button you’re supposed to be mashing, and the hit detection for the keyboard during quick time events just sucks all around. Most people I know just had an xbox 360 controller plugged into their PC, and grabbed it real quick for the quick time events. They are doable, and you actually get used to their brokenness, but easily the biggest drawback to play the game on PC. Fortunately, after the first hour of play, there aren’t very many quick time events, so it’s only a minor inconvenience.

Lastly, the only other complaint is that there are certain parts of the game where Lara doesn’t react how you’d think she’d react, there’s a few character dialogue sequences that feel….. fake. Fortunately, there are less than a handful of them, and the overall character development and dialogue are so well done that it doesn’t break the engagement of the game or story. Considering how many sequences they had to draw up, act out, animate, and what not I’d say that it’s pretty damn well executed. Especially considering that it’s not a Call of Duty 4 hour campaign, even rushing through, I still sunk about 13 hours in, so you definitely get your money’s worth.

Summary:

Overall, I think Crystal Dynamics knocked it out of the park with this game. I feel they did a good job of doing a solid heroine hero cycle as I felt a connection with the character I was playing, and not only through pathos, but in triumph in overcoming obstacles and watching the character change after life altering events. I thoroughly enjoyed the Tomb Raider reboot, and I think the new Lara Croft is an engaging, realistic, and relatable female character for audiences to connect with. If you haven’t given this game a look, I highly suggest you check it out, as you won’t be disappointed.

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Feel free to comment here with your thoughts!





Spec Ops The Line Review

31 12 2012

I know I’m cutting this one close, but I wanted to get it in before the end of 2012. The reason I want to do that, is up until this point, for this year and gaming period, I finally played a shooter game that challenged previous conventions, and had a story that actually made me think about what I was doing.

Originally, when I stumbled upon this game, I played the demo and decided not to purchase it at full price, particularly as the demo wasn’t anything impressive. Upon revisiting the game, and actually playing it, I can tell you it’s well worth your time. Especially if you’ve been looking for a shooting game where you feel mentally challenged. Before I get to the main segment of this piece, let me get a few technical negative aspects that I didn’t like about it first. Naturally, I played this game on PC and the controls do not convert well to a keyboard and mouse. They take some getting used to and there were certain places, or controls, in the game that didn’t function well because of it. If you’re playing with a controller or on console, you’ll be fine and won’t notice these issues.

Now that I’m done with my main complaint, let’s get on to what I experienced while playing through.

NOTE: I will try to keep this as spoiler free as possible, I just want to convey emotions I experienced by certain actions, not give away key plot points.

Moving on, if you are an avid gamer as I am, than you have probably played a fair share of shooter type games, especially as it’s been an industry staple as of late, thanks to the COD’s and BF’s of the industry. Having been playing these games since as long as I can remember, I never once felt regret for having to do something, or any of my actions. The games themselves were usually over accentuated power fantasies, thusly spent the entire game ramping you up to some type of hero or badass to save the world. Naturally, there’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s an old recipe and it’s been done far too many times.

This is where Spec Ops The Line really shines. Personally, if they had removed “Spec Ops” from the title, it would have been better off in my personal opinion, but I digress. Without any specific spoilers, you’re an American Delta Force team sent into Dubai, which is being destroyed by sand storms, to find out what happened to an American Army unit which defied orders and went in to Dubai to evacuate the citizens. Once again, without spoilers, your small team more or less gets stuck right into the middle of a civil war between American troops, CIA, and Rebels.

 

It quickly becomes apparent, that things are not going to end nicely for anyone, but you have a glimmer of hope throughout most of the game of rectifying the situation, but along the way you keep having to make decisions that are hard and feel very wrong, but as they are forced upon you, you literally have no choice but to press on. As your team progresses through the hellish encounters and decisions they have to make, their morale, dedication to the mission, and even physical appearance changes and breaks down. They react to the decisions you’ve been forced to make, which is rare in shooters, as AI teammates usually stay quiet and are hardly ever developed as characters. In this game however, everything starts to become personal for each one of your teammates, and it shows significantly as the story progresses.

I honestly can’t say much more than that, or go into detail, or I’ll be giving up key elements of the story, and nobody hates anything more than a spoiler! I can promise you, however, that the ending will definitely surprise you, and leave you trying to mentally sort all the pieces together. When I was finished playing through, I legitimately felt bad for what I’d done, but I still feel that I didn’t particularly have any choice in the matter at the same time.  A lot of it sums up to a damned if you do and damned if you don’t type scenario.

 

For me, this game was a sign that shooter games CAN be made to send a message and do something more than create a power trip type fantasy. As gamers, we don’t always need the cookie cutter shooter game, with the ever so predictable “Terrorists are going to nuke the world, and only you can stop them” plot line. I also noticed that a lot of ratings for this game were mediocre on most websites. Which surprised me, as game journalism is always crying for the “mature” grown up shooter experience that does something more than feel like an 80’s action movie. This is probably a result of the marketing team which was responsible for getting this game out there, not truly understanding what they had on their hands, but I digress on that as well.

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Perhaps you won’t have the same experience playing this game that I did, but I honestly believe if you are searching for a more meaningful experience in a shooter game, you should seriously give this a shot. It’s fitting, that I publish this review on the last day of the year, as this game is my diamond in the rough, and to this point is the most unique action shooting game experience to date.





The Witcher 2 Review

23 12 2012

 

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I know I’ve been absent from my blog for some time, well life and business has a way of catching up with you. Now that it’s the holidays, and I have some time to write, I want to talk about a game that snuck up me. Now, as a frequent user of video games, I want to talk about a game that came out of nowhere and had me completely enthralled.

If you’re an avid gamer, you know what I’m talking about. That awesome feeling when you stumble upon a game that resonates perfectly with you, and you find yourself playing nonstop. This is particularly amazing when you weren’t looking for that game the in first place. As the incident goes, I stumbled upon The Witcher 2 on a Steam sale, and picked it up with barely a mild interest, honestly, it was a drunken impulse buy.

With an hour or so into the game, I was completely hooked, and amazed by the overall experience that I was having. There are very few games that I can say this about, and The Witcher 2, definitely earns the prestigious merits and accolades. That being said, let’s dive a little into why I thought the game was amazing, and some of the issues I did run into along the way (nothing can be perfect). Join me, for a quick analysis of The Witcher 2, as we peel a few of the layers back and take a look under the hood!

Visual

Story, aesthetics, and fantasy universe, now with less spoilery-goodness! (Okay maybe a little)

Let’s start with the games strongest feature, and that is undeniably the story. You will find yourself in a rich fantasy universe, reminiscent of a medieval world; complete with all the trappings you would expect, and more. The world is full of the traditional races you have seen countless times, dwarves, elves, and humans etc.

There are several things that really stand out about the story and the environment with this game, that I felt were incredibly fascinating. First, and probably the most interesting to me, is that there are no real “Good” or “Evil” decisions that you make. Many RPG games follow the traditional style of awarding the player “Good” or “Evil” points for the decisions they make in the game, especially if the game has branching path decisions or not. At first, you feel that this is going to be the case, as you will have to make some pretty big decisions, who to side with, who to kill, who not to kill, what types of reactions you use, etc. Even though you can make seemingly “Evil” or “Good” decisions, you realize by the end of the game, that it doesn’t matter. As is true to reality, “Good” or “Evil” is simply a matter of perception, your choices in game have huge rippling effects, but the world goes on and you don’t transcend into some champion hero, or sinister villain.

I won’t spoil the last encounter, mainly because I enjoyed how the developers let you truly choose, especially against traditional game endings, but needless to say, you will probably be surprised.  Closing comments on the “Good” & “Evil” concept, I feel that not having to worry about what type of points that would be awarded for my choices, I was able to REALLY project myself upon my character while making the decisions on a case by case scenario with how I felt my character would really act. Overall, it allows for a greater sense of immersion in the story and the character you’re playing.

The next piece of the story, and the fantasy universe, that stood out was how pronounced and visible the societal issues between races were in this game, in fact, it ended up completely altering my decision making process to when I started. As spoiler free as I can be, you start out naturally allied with a specific race or faction, but as the game progresses, you see rampant racism, acts of genocide, and other tragedies commonly frequent in real life scenarios.

These issues, were well done enough that it led me to completely changing who I was allied with, which you get to choose eventually through pivotal decisions, and ended up taking me down a completely alternate story path from what I intended to go down from the beginning. In conjunction to that, the game has a particularly “adult” theme to it, so I don’t recommend letting your kids play this if you have any. Don’t let that keep you from experiencing the story though. The adult theme lends a very strong hand to establishing the fantasy setting, and doesn’t feel too over accentuated or gratuitous, as it can feel in some games.

That will segue into my next portion of the story, the romance plot! All at once, you can hear the collective clicks as all of the males reading this close the web browser! (I kid) Seriously though, it’s actually a driving portion of the game, which naturally leads to the “damsel in distress” story arc. Normally, I’d sigh with the thought of the story doing nothing new, but this time, it felt good to me. Plus, there’s a pretty solid twist at the end, which ties into it, so you won’t be let down.

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I do have one gripe about the romance plot, but I’ll leave that out, as I feel it might be a bit of a spoiler so I’ll just tease you with it instead!

Summary of story and universe:

Overall, I felt the universe was rich, well crafted, and very easy to immerse myself into. You’ll feel and see the obvious inspirations that the developers had from several sources, yes; some Tolkien is in there too. You’ll be greeted with gorgeous visuals, strong adult themes, societal issues, mythical monsters, a captivating story arc, and a hero cycle that feels great.

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Core Gameplay Mechanics:

So on to a few of the functional aspects of the game. To sum up the combat, it is pretty much a third person hack and slash, with menu based special abilities/items, which are used in real time but in a bullet time type mechanic. Confused? Okay in English, you can chop your enemies to tiny bits with your swords, or change your spell & item hotkeys during combat with a wheel menu layout, while you do this, you enter a bullet time state, thus giving you time to strategize without fully pausing the game or interrupting combat.

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The combat mechanics feel pretty good, and are kind of fresh. You can choose to go all out melee, or you can bounce around setting traps, tossing magic, and throwing bombs/knives at your enemies.

I feel that there are some balancing issues with the combat, as far as correctly ramping difficulty throughout the game. For example, early on, I was fighting by the skin of my teeth, but I felt that once I crafted some nice swords and armor, plus a few points into my chosen skill tree, that I was unfairly pummeling my enemies after the first chapter. Perhaps this is on purpose, as when I started the last couple encounters, and the end game sequence; I was quickly on my toes again (and dying a lot). It also could have been because I was spending time exploring, crafting, and doing quests outside of the critical path of the story arc. (So maybe I was ahead of the curve a little, which that isn’t inherently a bad thing)

I did feel that on occasion, the combat felt a little clunky with specific encounters. Plus, the AI was a little too easy to deceive at times. Don’t let that discourage you though; you’ll have plenty of moments where you are too busy fighting for your life to notice small issues.

There are a few QTE’s (Quick time events) throughout the game, but they are spread out enough that they don’t detract from the combat. They are usually saved for fighting mini-games, and boss finishers.

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Overall, I felt the combat mechanics were different enough to be fun and interesting, but I think there are some balancing issues with the difficulty ramping, and the game didn’t particularly force me to use all of my abilities. I found I was using maybe 45%-50% of my available abilities. I found a few dominant strategies, and stuck with that for the majority of the game. Personally, this didn’t detract from my experience, but from a design perspective, it’s not really a good thing.

UI

Not too many issues, however, I will comment on the inventory interface. At first, when buying/selling, or navigating your inventory, you’ll probably feel a little confused. The interface does a poor job of properly highlighting your selection, and until you get used to it, you can easily become lost. It’s not game breaking, but I feel they could have designed the inventory UI just a touch better.

Bugs/Issues

The most issues I observed on my play through, was some minor AI pathing and reaction issues. Overall, nothing too obvious to the untrained eye. I have heard, from other sources, that there used to be some “blocker” type bugs that would prevent a player from progressing. I believe, that these have been addressed and fixed, as since I just purchased the game and I did not encounter any of these issues. Keep in mind though, there are different story branches you can proceed down, so maybe some of these bugs still exist, but I ran into none of them.

Summary:

The Witcher 2 was a sleeper game for me. I didn’t really know anything about it, but once I spent a few moments in the game I was hooked, and played practically nonstop through the game. Perhaps, the game just happened to resonate to me perfectly, but I feel that anyone who values a compelling story, fleshed out characters, and a rich environment will immediately take to this game. Besides, the game is probably on sale on Steam, so give it a chance and tell me what you think!

Hope you enjoyed my small review of The Witcher 2, and I hope I kept it as spoiler free as possible!