Destiny: Rise of Iron – First Impressions (and review I guess…)

I really, really want to be fair in this. We will see how that goes.

After about an eight month hiatus from Destiny, I logged in and played for the first time last night. I’ve logged in two or three times since January, but they were only to see what was up with the new patches. In those cases, I didn’t even go on a patrol let alone actually take a run at any missions. The main reason for that hiatus has been blasted across the internet, you don’t need me to really add anything. Either way, Rise of Iron was released last night and I was ready to get my game on.

Two and a half hours later, I beat it.

I am not even kidding. The story stretches maybe four or five missions. I sat down at 8:00. Between my daughter waking back up and having to get her to sleep, and the uncharacteristic OCD fervor that made me reorganize and throw out everything in my inventory and vaults (due to the awesome revamp to infusion), I started playing at 8:30. By 11:00, I had beaten the story missions. There is still the big strike with Sepiks and the raid left, I don’t think those are the same anyway, and there is a ton of stuff to find, but that’s it from a narrative point of view.

By now, you may realize I have a negative tone. The reason for this, and I think this is my main takeaway, is everything I anticipated Destiny would do well, they delivered upon. It looks good, it plays well, it’s fun, and there are guns all over the place. But everything I had hoped they would improved upon, and everything I was afraid they would fall short of, was exactly as feared.

I have an issue with the length of time, but my core problem is around the execution of the narrative itself. The story centers around Saladin, the last remaining Iron Lord (the dude who runs the Iron Banner), as he recruits the Guardian to destroy the technology that killed all the rest of the Lords of Iron. I say that it centers around that, but that’s actually pretty much a synopsis and that’s the problem. Saladin loses his shit because next “worst thing ever” (SIVA) has broken out and he thinks it will destroy everything if not contained. The Fallen, who were touted as such a big enemy, hare just fodder. This space herpes, broadcast as a plague for some reason, hasn’t so much modified them as much as it is being used by the Fallen to build new body parts. Other than a few mini bosses (and I still have to see how the strike and raid play out), there are no unique enemies delivered from this. It is anticlimactic from a story perspective and falls flat from a gameplay point of view.

This is emphasized by how quickly it is resolved. Within a few missions you go from “The End is Nigh!” to “S’Cool, I go this”. I singlehandedly in my case, take down the entity that killed over a hundred Lords of Iron. Granted, for some reason Rasputin was involved in that massacre (because, you know, when is he not?), but even in the storytelling no one seemed all that concerned by this plague. I’m not even really all that sure why it’s referred to as a plague. It doesn’t do anything that the Hive’s gunk doesn’t already, just with a color and texture pallet change. There was some affliction of the Iron Lords, but nothing is given to build that up or emphasize the way it infects a host other than one scene toward the end (when you get the axe).

I have not yet read through the Grimoire cards and am looking forward to doing so, but the narrative of the story is so disjointed that even if the plot and lore is filled in offline, I can’t help but hold Bungie accountable. Yet again, they have ignored the most fascinating and intriguing parts of the game by either omitting them entirely or burying them in the damn grimoire. I am very interested in what SIVA actually is (I think it’s a self replicating nano machine meant to alter and build stuff for colonization), Clovis Bray’s role in its development, why Rasputin was involved, as well as the Lords of Iron. Why are they immortal? Are all the Guardians? If this was truly a moment where the Guardians, as a whole, discovered that immortality did not equal invincibility and that the light of the Traveler did not protect them from all harm…shouldn’t that have been a bit more of an emphasis?

I would have loved to have seen the Fallen’s role in this expanded. They are the more boring enemies other than their grimoire references to having been a race the Traveler visited and possibly uplifted in the past. The idea that they would “splice” their bodies isn’t terribly original but would have expanded their lore a bit. I would have liked to have seen a decent boss from them as well, something a bit different (think Draksis).

Why in the hell haven’t the Vex gotten involved in this? Seems right up their alley.

It may have come from Mars, why isn’t the Cabal (probably the most ignored of the enemy races) not involved in some way?

There was also a lot of speculation that Charlemagne, the supposed Martian Warmind, would have been involved. Nada.

I am hearing some people applaud the story. A lot of those people seem to be comparing it to Destiny’s original content and its earlier expansions.

No.

The Taken King set a new bar for this. It had fascinating lore, a seriously threatening villain, and galactic stakes. It still had problems with burying a lot of that in the grimoire and failing to really convey all of that in the story, and overall the threat was again too easily vanquished, but it was the new standard.

This is not that.

And the real reason this matters, The Taken King was the achievement of what Bungie had originally set people up for. I was not an early Destiny player. I played the beta, took one look at this, and said to myself, “this is all it’s going to be”. And largely, I was right. It never truly reached the scale, the story, the breadth that people expected and were promised. The Taken King, as good as it was, still wasn’t the achievement of that promise. It was a wonderful step in the right direction.

Destiny wants to be an FPS and an MMO but doesn’t really hold itself to the standards of either. The gameplay, the actual mechanics of shooting and combat, continue to be probably the best executed I have ever played. I would say the PvP probably holds itself up pretty well too. If it were just an FPS, that would probably be fine.

But it’s not.

There was a lot of frustration from people who wanted constant content. Who wanted big content. There has been griping and complaining about the story, the missions, and what you actually do in the game to even out the grind. This needs to be addressed. At the moment, Destiny executes well as an FPS, but I look at the top FPS game out there, and Destiny falls short. It doesn’t have the epic campaign of Halo (which has faltered most when the story is its weakest) nor the mass multiplayer engine (or release schedule) of games like Call of Duty of Battlefield. As an MMO, specifically one that developed this concept of a loot shooter, it has made progress but I think we are right back where we were the end of last year. People have new guns and armor, it’ll be great for a month while they mess around with the Raid. Content such as new guns, puzzles, challenges, etc. will be time released and it will create a storm or interest for a week or so each time, but it will die down and in the end people will be looking for more. What will they get? Crickets. Promises of a Halloween event. Destiny 2. Next time.

I love Destiny. I am trying to be fair to this. I am disappointed by this release because it is a reaffirmation that Bungie is just going to throw scraps to its fan base. This is one of the most anticipated titles of the year for one of the most successful new franchises in recent memory developed by one of the most lauded studios of the past three generations.

That is the standard I apply.

 

Pillars of Eternity

Didn’t realize this had a name beyond Project Eternity. This was started back before Kickstarter really shook things up or was well known. I didn’t pledge then, but I certainly have now after seeing this. For those that don’t know, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn is basically the best video game of all time.

Ever.

No, you don’t understand. There is no hyperbole here. I am ranking it against Bioshock, Pokemon, Chrono Cross, Deus Ex, Half-Life, every single game that I have ever experienced and that has helped mold me into the person I am today.

Nothing has ever topped the experiences I had with Baldur’s Gate. When I have those ridiculous fantasies all authors have of their book being turned into…everything, you know, movie, tv show, comic, video game, that’s how I picture it. Because that is perfetion.

Seriously, ever.

Anyway, I don’t know if Eternity will live up to that. Probably not, because I just vomited my affection allover this post and I don’t see anything really being able to match mythical nostalgia. Nevertheless, I am excited.

The Wolf Among Us

I knocked out the first two episodes of TellTale Games’ (Creator of the Walking Dead video game) The Wolf Among Us over the weekend.

For the uninitiated, Wolf is based on the comic book series Fables. Published by Dark Horse comics, it tells the story of a community in New York City made up of all the storybook characters you love and know after they escaped from their Homeland dimensions following a devastating war with a being known only as the Adversary (unless you’ve read far enough, and I’m not about to spoil who the Adversary really is). Fables is the only comic book series I’ve ever followed long term. It will get its own post, mainly because playing the game made me dive back into the series, but know this, it’s fascinating.

The game follows one Bigby Wolf, sheriff of Fabletown, formerly known as The Big Bad Wolf. The game does a fantastic job of summing up a complicated world very quickly. You may not understand the significance of the Farm or the Adversary, or perhaps why Bluebeard is like he is, but you have everything you need to enjoy the story. If you already are into Fables, it’s filled with little easter eggs and surprises. Meeting Grendal, in particular, was a lot of fun.

The storytelling, like the Walking Dead games, is top notch. I cared and hated for all the characters involved, everyone comes off very interesting, and the plot is an intriguing whodunnit, all mixed with the rich lore of the Fable world.

I have only one problem. At first, I thought maybe I was just remembering things differently. This is what actually made me dive into Fables again, to see if I had been mistaken in my perception.

What was it?

Snow White.

In the comic, Snow White is the Deputy Mayor of Fabletown. She does all the nitty gritty work that Mayor King Cole can’t be bothered with. She’s confident, strong, and intimidating.

In the game, she’s the assistant to Ichabod Crane, who is himself the Deputy Mayor. That’s canon, and what they’ve done with that is great and accurate. No complaints there. The problem comes from the timid, nervous, fretting Snow White who doesn’t stand up to anyone, hugs her arms, and whose eyes dart around in whatever scene she’s in. She’s steadily getting stronger, and I think they’re going for a buildup to the character we see in the comics, but I don’t buy it as a fan. She’s hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. Portraying this as a young Snow White, when really this is a small fraction of her life, doesn’t correspond to what I know about her. Even before she fled the Homelands, Snow was a stone cold bitch who didn’t take shit from anyone. Charming, Rose, and the Dwarves taught her those lessons. This was the woman who held a sword against the Big Bad Wolf, not a girl who was cowed by Ichabod Crane.

I hope to see that change a bit as the story goes along, otherwise everything works perfectly.

If you like TellTale’s games, Fables, or adventure games, give this a try. If you’re not familiar to Fables, this will introduce you to a world like nothing you’ve ever seen.

The Walking Dead: Season 2 (All That Remains)

I bought a few games over the weekend, all because they were cheap or on sale. It’s been a while since I dove into a game, so this was a lot of fun.

The first of these was the first episode of the second season of The Walking Dead video game. The second season continues the tradition of rich storytelling and strong, powerful character driven moments. It differs in that, now instead of playing Lee, you play Clementine herself.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the first episode. It begins, quite innocently, with Clem now that she’s met up with Omid and Christa, who is now big pregnant. Because the Walking Dead is the Walking Dead, it doesn’t take long for one of these characters to no longer be in the picture.

I won’t dive into the story too much, but I can’t let it go without commenting on one particular scene that I did not see coming at all. It was truly one of the most heartbreaking moments I’ve ever seen and it happened on so many levels. Play it, you’ll know exactly what I mean the moment you drop the beans.

God.

Anyway, I strongly encourage it. Clementine steadily evolved into one of my favorite characters in the first season, becoming a unique person caught in between her innocence and trying to survive. Now you get to see that bear fruit. Whereas she was pretty much entirely protected before, in the first episode alone she is put through a stressful amount of danger and pain. What they’ve done really well is building her dialogue choices so that you see her development into a young woman, now acclimated to a world where she must survive.

I also got the first two episodes of A Wolf Among Us and Max Payne 3, all of which will get their own posts. In the meantime, look forward to the next episode of the Walking Dead.

Metroid

metroid

Metroid is the reason I love gaming.

I am not exaggerating, I am not being sarcastic, the very first video game I ever owned, the first one that I ever played in my own home, with my own system, with my own time, was the original Metroid on Gameboy. I’d played games at the arcade, my grandad took me there when we went to the mall, and I’d played game at friend’s houses, but that was the first one that was mine.

Unreality Magazine led me to a post on UpRoxx about the frustrating nature of Nintendo, how while they refuse to make any new titles that might bring them out of this tailspin, they also ignore core franchises that made them what they are. Metroid is their prime example.

I’m not going to recap the article, go read it if you want to know why Metroid would be a smarter decision than the rest of the shit Nintendo keeps shoveling out. I’m going to focus on what’s great about the series, and why it needs another entry in the franchise.

What makes Metroid great? Core to the franchise is the feeling of exploration. Whether you are playing on a black and white Gameboy or the flashy Gamecube version, you feel like you’re in a big world. It is filled with canyons and mines, mountains and jungles, always leading to a new place. One of its legacies, something that will be felt for years to come in gaming, is the way it deals with sealing off areas, forcing you to have a new attachment, gun, accessory, to get into that new region. It has always handled backtracking with finesse, giving you more to do with new enemies and environmental challenges as you go.

When they introduced Prime, they really made that wide world feel alive. It was filled with enemies, some the villains you’ve been facing, others just the natural fauna of whatever world you’re on. It introduced ruins and lore, lost puzzles and mysteries, and set out to make you record the life, history, and lore of…well, damn near everything.

To me, Prime was the epitome of Metroid and that’s what I loved so much about it. Before I could be wowed by the action, the puzzle solving, the collecting of the weapons, arms, add-ons, I was entranced by the lore. I loved finding something new to scan, whether it was the history of the Chozo, a new critter, or some other piece of lore. I could have spent the game doing just that.

The great thing about Metroid Prime, you don’t have to. The action was top notch, giving you a variety of weapons and style to fight everything. Enemies varied their tactics and abilities, responded differently, and were challenging. Even the Gameboy versions were a challenge that required different tactics.

Prime’s presentation was fabulous. Every moment, whether it’s discovering something new, solving a puzzle, or an encroaching danger, is punctuated by fabulous music. It was beautifully made, with great effects, and better art. The enemies are well designed, the bosses unique, the environments memorable.

And let’s just be clear on this, there is no more beautiful woman in gaming than Samus. You want the strong female character…well, ignore Metroid M and you’ve got it. She’s not the best example of a character in general, that’s never really been the point of Metroid, but she’s a good example of minimalism of design. She always comes off capable, a badass, someone who is control of the situation. Enough is conveyed to make her endearing (and gorgeous) without having to do really anything at all.

I’ve been preaching against Nintendo for years, maybe not here, but I have. Ever since the Gamecube, they have shown a refusal to expand their portfolio. They have embraced far too willingly. They over utilize some properties (looking at you Mario) while ignoring others. Their hardware has lagged behind since the N64 and they fail to innovate. No, the Wii was not in innovation. It was a fad. One day, a day that is approaching sooner and sooner, they will go the way of Sega.

I just hope a serious player buys the rights to Metroid.

Because I want to explore again.