The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PC, PS4, SWITCH, XBOX ONE)

This review has been sitting in my drafts waiting for a slow day for the past 3 months. However now that the games are starting to dry up So with that lets get down and dirty with our Witcher (in all aspects of the term).

In The Witcher 3 we return to the story of Geralt of Rivea, a witcher which (for those of you who don’t know) is a monster hunter for hire. After reuniting with his on-again-off-again lover, the sorceress Yeneffer. She tells Geralt that he has been summoned to an audience with the Emperor Emhyr ruler of the Nilfgaardian Empire. The Emperor tasks Geralt with finding his daughter Siri who is being pursued by the Wild Hunt. Given that Siri is also Geralt’s adopted daughter after having been awarded her when he evoking the Law of Surprise after saving Emperor Emhyr’s life in the past, he accepts. Geralt then travels the land picking up Siri’s trail and confronting the Wild Hunt on the way.

As previously mentioned in my Metacritic post all those moons ago, I didn’t have a lot of past experience with The Witcher series before playing the game, a couple of hours with the original game and binging the Netflix series. So I knew enough to get me through the first module but no where close to achieving my Bachelors in Witcher Studies. This was fine however, the game seems to understand that it was going to bring in new players to the series so the game includes a handy glossary detailing important people, places and events for the unknowing, forgetful or slightly confused. It broke up the flow of the game a little, like having to stop and read the ingredients list of each item I put in my trolley when I do my monthly shop, but the upside was I didn’t feel as if the game was shunning me for not being one of the cool kids. This is also true with the first area of the game being one long tutorial detailing every mechanic of the game and giving a feel to how the rest of the game was going to unfold.

All this contributes to one of the strongest aspects of The Witcher which is it’s ability to create an interesting and engaging gaming experience. The world is teeming with background and lore, which makes you want to explore each of the small villages between Novigrad and Babylon in order to learn more about the world, as well as finding more quests and things to do/kill. Truly immersing you into the Ronin-esque lifestyle of a witcher. Strolling into town, bartering your loot, tracking down the local monster that’s been terrorising the locals, kill it, mount it’s head on your horse, get paid then mosey on out of town without nary a wave or tip of the hat. Along with the addictive card game of Gwent and the treasure hunts; The world is packed full of things to do and see. Plus if you ever get tired of dicking about there is always the main story which is encapsulating and very well written, everything about it from the characters you meet to the monsters that you slay feels like it belongs in the world, nothing feels out of place.

That being said, just like every time I go out for ice cream, it is possible to have too much choice. The combat is a good example of this. There are so many bells and whistles that just serve as extra baggage. There’s a whole assortment of potions to brew with various effects as well as a multitude of spells and sword techniques to master. However, I managed to get through most of the game using mostly quick attack, dodge and the fire spell. If I needed healing I’d had enough food I’d bought from my travels between inns to open a small chain of restaurants. It must have got to the point that by the time I got to the end of the game I must have eaten enough roast chickens to label them an endangered species. Although I did start to use the weapon oils around the end of the game, mind you it was only because it wasn’t until I’d upgraded them to max level that they really had any major effect. Whist I’m ranting a bit, what are Geralt’s swords made of? I know one is supposed to be steel and the other is silver but given how quickly they break they might as well be made of polystyrene wrapped in wet newspaper. To finish off my list of gripes I have about the game, there were one or two technical issues I had with the game bugging out now and again, mind you they were no where near in number or severity of that of Fallout 3 (which is my go to example of buggy games) but there were enough to get my dander up.

Besides my small tirade of niggles the game really is one of the pinnacle open-world action adventure RPG’s, which is quite the praise especially given how dense I mentioned the genre is in my Horizon Zero Dawn review. It delivers the goods exactly where it needs to and does it with such gusto it’s not hard to see why people are calling it “The greatest game of all time”. I disagree with the statement but I’d defiantly place it much closer to the top of the list than the bottom. Overall I don’t think I could have bettered the levels of enjoyment I got from The Witcher 3 for the £13 I spent on it, except maybe with the exception of some Nitrous Oxide and the Black Books box-set.

Minecraft v1.0 (PC)

This week I’m going to be looking at a phenomenon that has been spreading through the internet community like crabs at art college. So prepare to need another trip to the STD clinic as I explore the world of Minecraft.
I originally bought Minecraft last year during it’s beta stage for the equivalent of pocket change, and you know what? My pocket change has never bought me this much fun before. Usually because I’m stingily hoarding it like some sort of Scrooge McDuck, Montgomery Burns hybrid, but I digress. Now the game has officially been released it gives me a chance to look over the finished project and comment on some of the more and less favoured updates to the series.
I’m finding it hard to see the whole game aspect of Minecraft, except for the fact that there are zombies and skeletons and you can kill them with swords, axes or even shovels and hoes if you so wish, it’s your world, I’m not going to tell you what to do, but that’s not what you’re there to do. It would be like hiring a plumber to come over to your house to piss in your sink. No, you hire him to fix your pipes (in one way or another). He pisses in the sink of his own accord. Minecraft is just as it says in the title, you mine and you craft, simple.
That’s enough of the background stuff, now onto the juicy middle of the review. One of the biggest flaws of the game is how easily the game can alienate new players who enter the game starry eyed a ignorant to the world of pain that will be unleashed when night fall hits. Somehow the new player has to figure out how to gather lumber, make into wood, make a work bench, make some sticks, make a pick axe, dig some stone, make a better pick axe, find some coal, make some torches and then seal yourself in a big hole in the ground because presumingly it’s now night time and things tend to die quickly when alone on the surface at night. Things in this context being YOU. All this without one bit of guidance. A tutorial wouldn’t go amiss guys. Mojang reacted to this by adding baby’s first achievements for doing each of the above, although that is about as effective as gobbing on a forest fire to put it out.
Ok, so we’ve ready for out underground adventure we can begin. My advice would be not to just start digging and hope for the best. That’s like randomly picking a spot in the Lake District then start digging hoping you’ll find diamonds. Nope, all you’re going to find is some angry locals and soil. Try and find an already open cave or fissure to start in. That way you can acquire the most resources with the least amount of digging. Now that we’ve found some resources we’re starting to feel hungry… What? Hungry? It’s barely been half and hour and you’re hungry!? Starving Ethiopian children can survive for days without food and you’re hungry now!? One of my pet peeves with this game (if you haven’t already noticed) is the hunger bar.
Now that all that is over and we have our resources we can now start the craft part of the game. This the moment where you have to create your own fun. Be it exploring and charting the world of Minecraft or create a 70 block high cubist impression of Michelangelo’s David. The choice is yours. On the development side it’s a rather lazy move but it’s an effective one none the less. It forces you to take on your project, the kind of thing that you spend all your spare time on just so that moment of gratification after 8hrs of continuous gameplay, only to be followed by a feeling of regret once you realise that you’ve just waisted your day off building a virtual cubist Doom Fortress.
The game should come with a health warning mentioning that each time you play it has the ability to ruin your day and shorten your life-span. Mainly due to the stress of having your pride and joy blow up in front of your eyes due to a Creeper related accident. Seriously, those things must feed off of the sheer frustration of players.
On a final note. Despite the years of my life I’ve lost and the extra gray hairs I’ve gained, I do enjoy playing Minecraft. It’s a great way of killing an hour when needs be but caution must be taken when playing. Otherwise you will be sucked into it like a triple cunted hooker (I don’t steal analogies of people, honest) and the next thing you know 7 years have past, which would be odd because the worlds supposedly meant to end next year.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PC, PS3, XBOX 360)

 

Now the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Finally, Skyrim under the microscope (although given the size of the game it doesn’t really need to be put under the microscope).
I’ve been looking forward to this game for a long time and must say it was defiantly worth the wait. Ever since I completed Oblivion I’ve been wanting Elder Scrolls V. It was a long wait but that just means that Bethesda could take their time on the development and polish it over to a fine shine. Although it is an amazing game and definitely tops Arkham City as my Game of the Year, it isn’t without faults. Also since people don’t like it when I’m nice to a game so I will be furiously picking knits like an OCD Delia Smith.
First thing that has to be noted is that the game is huge. I thought Oblivion was big but even that is dwarfed by the Skyrim map. I read somewhere that Skyrim was meant to be 3 times bigger than Cyrodiil. This does mean that their are time where you can feel overwhelmed and lost. This is made up for by the sheer number of missions that are possible. Sadly though bar the main quests alot of the secondary missions are the same missions repeated. Either the killing of bandits or go kill a dragon. Although the game doesn’t allow you to run out of missions they do repeat themselves very regally. Like Top Gear repeats on Dave, you’ll find the same mission repeating itself every couple of hours.
The game I must say it’s very pretty. I picked up the PC version (so I can mod it later), I started playing on the medium graphic setting and it looked pretty on that. I then later managed to turn it up to High without too much of a sacrifice on the game play and I was astonished by how beautiful the game was. I enjoy going up to the tops of huge cliffs, look out onto the lands of Skyrim and just take in the scenery like some sort of Meerkat staring off into the wilderness on the lookout for Lions, Honey Badgers and other nasty characters. Although saying that some of the textures look rough and pixelated, which is a shame given the level of detail on everything else. Although you’re going to be looking into the distance that much it’s not exactly going to ruin the game for you, and if it does you are officially a snob and need to lighten up.
Like all of Bethesda’s recent games Skyrim also could have done with a bit more polishing to iron out more of the bugs. Although the game isn’t as bad as Fallout 3 or New Vegas in the bugs in the unmentionables department. They are still noticeable. Many a time I’ve found the game crashing to desktop. I’ve also found a fair amount of time where the wire frame ran underneath the patten texture, but hopefully this will be fixed when the next updates come by.
There was a big deal about the dragons in the game being unscripted, meaning that they’re not programmed to a specific set of actions every time you fight them. Although this does sound as though you’ll never have the same dragon fight twice, it can cause a few “what the fuck” moments. For example, I was asked to break a prisoner out of a prison, preferably without being detected. I couldn’t sneak in since my sneak skill was so poor. I noticed a dragon flying around nearby so I hatched a plan to direct the dragon over to the prison and have the dragon kill the guards and I can waltz in once the dust settles and smoke clears. Sadly though my plan fell apart when the dragon decided that the angry Nord firing arrows and breathing fire on him was less of a threat than the menacing looking Mud Crabs. Stupid Dragon.
I did mention last week that I would let you how Skyrim compares with Oblivion. Although I think Skyrim is the better game, be it just Oblivion with better graphics, more snow and dragons, I still have fonder feelings for Oblivion. This is less to do with the game and more to do with how I feel/felt for them. Oblivion I first picked up on a whim, I had just got my PS3 and only had one game for it, so I wanted to quickly build up my library, I heard good things about The Elders Scroll series so it made sense to pick it up. I went into the game not knowing what to expect and it blew me away. Skyrim on the other hand, was massively anticipated and had a huge hype behind it that. This meant that the game had huge expectations and was going to be difficult to clear it’s expectations by the same margin Oblivion did. It’s alot like Portal and Portal 2. Although Portal 2 is the better game, I still prefer the 1st one.
Overall I really enjoyed Skyrim, so much so that I will be playing it some more. It has defiantly taken over Arkham City as top contender for Game of the Year. Then again with over a month until the end of the year and when I review the gaming year, there’s still a chance for a few more games to impress me. There is still the new Assassins Creed, Saints Row the Third, Skyward Sword still for me to play and review. Modern Warfare 3 also (ha ha, just a joke, it’s terrible).  This does raise the question of what I’m going to be reviewing next week. Maybe Saints Row the Third or I could jump back and review something much older. Until then, I’m going to continue escapades across the lands of Skyrim.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PC, PS3, XBOX 360)

 

I mentioned last week that I was originally going to review Oblivion before Skyrim was released, but didn’t get the chance to give it the re-play through it deserves. Well now that I’ve had another week to play it I think I have enough material to patch a review together. Plus I don’t want to push my review for Skyrim too far back, so here’s The Elders Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
I first played Oblivion when I first got my PS3, it was the 2nd game I ever bought for it. I instantly fell in love with the game and played the hell out of it (Although when you have the choice between that or Genji, the choice really is a no brainier). I also a few weeks ago purchased it for the PC with the main purpose of moding it. Although most of the mods I found were to add skimpy bikini’s and huge breasts (probably says alot about some of the kind of fans the game attracts).
Don’t get me wrong, Even given the things I am about to say about the game I still thoroughly enjoyed Oblivion, hence why I was so excited about the release of Skyrim. The game starts in the Imperial Dungeon for the crime of *insert crime here*. Then Captain Jean Luc Picard turns up, starts the main quest rolling and dies just as quickly as he came. Upon leaving the dungeon the story is your own. Stepping out into the big wide open world you get a grand sense of openness which although sounds like a good thing is actually the games biggest let down. The game map is huge with very little to fill it. Getting from quest to quest is in a word boring. Travelling through the same old scenery can drag on a bit, sure one may have more trees, one may have more snow, one more rain but it all feels the same and repetitive. This makes an already long game even longer, maybe too long at times. I am reminded of Gita Bellin saying “Success is a journey, not a destination. Half the fun is getting there”. Games like Assassins Creed & Wind Waker with their roof jumping and their sailing prove this. They both make travelling from A to B fun and exciting. Making you want to explore every nut and cranny of the world. It’s a trait that can bring life back to a dying game as well as a death sentence to others. Although Oblivion does have horses, they feel like getting a piggy back from an arthritis ridden quad amputee. There is also the fast travel system but that only works for places you’ve already visited. Both feel like they were added at the last minute when the development team realised “Shit, travelling around the map feels fucking boring, how can we solve this?”. All this could easily be avoided by adding more into the game. With that huge map the game feels empty and devoid of anything, just like the real countryside.
Considering that the game is a Western RPG the games interface is surprisingly friendly and easy to use. Inventory is easy enough to scroll through and use. Magic spells are easy enough to change through using the hot keys. You also don’t need a glossary on your lap whenever you pick up new weapons to make sure that they are not as good as the one you already have equipped. Levelling up is also as simple and as realistic as it gets, in essence the more of a skill you use, the quicker it will level up. The more you sneak past enemies, the better your sneak gets. Although I don’t get the whole needing to sleep thing before you go up a level. It’s as if the games giving us a half arsed excuse to make us use the beds they’ve laid all about the map.
The character creation has a fair amount of variation with each race having their own unique pros and cons, then add the pros and cons of each individual star sign. This means that whether you chose to be a Nordic Adonus or a sexy dark elf rogue the characters feels unique, meaning that the game has an essence of re-playability. Although all missions are available to all characters, this doesn’t entirely mean that all missions should be attempted by all characters, for example. For the thieves guild missions there is a mission where you have to sneak into the Imperial Palace and steal an item of immense value (although more of you probably know what it is I still won’t name what it is just in case there are people reading who haven’t played it). Doing this mission as a claymore swinging Imperial is only going to make things more difficult for you. Like trying to put a square into a round hole, although it is possible with help from a jig-saw it would surely be easier to put the circle in there instead.
Although it’s really up to you as to how long or short the game is, Once you’ve completed all the missions there really is nothing left for you to do but wander around the vast forests of Cyrodiil killing all who have the misfortune to cross your path. It’s at this point that the PC version comes into it’s own with the ability to mod the game and such a strong backing by both Bethesda and the gaming community, you can add an almost infinite amount of extra quests to the game (this fact alone makes PC gaming superior to consoles). By what I heard in review of Skyrim this has been solved by adding procedurally-generated quests as well as tasks from guild after completing their story missions meaning that all forms of gamers can enjoy Skyrim forever and ever.
Overall I enjoyed Oblivion. It is clear to see with a game such as Oblivion why The Elder Scrolls series is highly rated and why Skyrim was so highly anticipated as well as being so highly regarded by those who play it. As to where Oblivion stands amongst it’s peers, I’m not too sure. To be honest Oblivion was the first Elder Scrolls game I played and I’ve yet to play Morrowind (*gasp*). There are a number of fans that say Morrowind was better, alot that say Oblivion was better. Having only played one of them it really isn’t my place to say which one is better. As for where Skyrim sits in all this. I’ll tell you next week.

Fable 3 (PC, XBOX 360)

This week the revolution begins as I expose the power struggle within the kingdom of Albion in Peter Molyneux’s latest fable… Fable 3
I’ve been a fan of the Fable since it’s humble beginnings. Back in the days when Microsoft were the new kids to the console wars one of it’s later exclusive titles was Fable. A game where you ran around Rural Medieval killing things and farting in public. It was like The Sims meets Elders Scroll. It’s game play ws unique and even if the story was a bit weak (Given the name of the series you’d think it’d be all about the story, guess that kinda got lost in translation somewhere along the way) it was still a good game that I still play to this day.
Then the 360 came out and thus Fable 2 soon followed which was in essence the same but with minor tweaks and upgrades. Then a few years later came Fable 3, where in someone decided that the formula needed mixing up a little, the old saying “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” comes to mind. It’s a game that wreaks of improvements that the series really didn’t need. For example, in the first 2 Fable’s the was to level up was done but using a melee weapon to given you melee experience, use a ranged weapon to gain ranged experience, use magic to gain magic experience and gain general experience by killing things and you levelled up different skills depending on the amount of experience points you have, sounds ok. Fable 3 however does things differently, you gain experience by doing almost anything but it killing things, making friends, making pies, buying houses, completing quests… To which it can all be used to open chests giving you upgrades in all manor of things. It just means that someone could become a master swordsman just by making lots of friends.
The story is simplistic, basically you are the younger brother/sister of the current king who is a tyrant and it’s up to you to overthrow him and bring power back to the suffering masses of Albion (which has now transcended into the Victorian era). So must gain allies and build support for a revolution. It’s enough of a story to drive the plot but not something that’s going to stick with you for years to come. After you amass your army of rebels and overthrow your brother you’re then suddenly informed of an impending doom that will invade Albion in a years time, so for an in game year you must either keep the promises you made to your companions along the way and have the country decimated by the evil blob or amass the huge amounts of gold needed to fund an army big enough to allow everyone to survive. Sounds intriguing yes, but some of the choices I have to make still have the air of one extreme or another. One choice in particular that sticks out is to abolish child labour and refurbish one of my mills into a school or I could Force child labour and have them man the mill. Why can’t I abolish child labour but keep the mill? That would make sense. Also why do I loose money if I lift prohibition on alcohol? The game has it’s own train of thought at times that is completely alien to common sense.
The combat is the same as in any Fable game where you have an arsenal of melee, ranged or magic. Although in Fable 3 instead of having to buy better weapons, you can upgrade the ones you already have by levelling up or completing certain achievements (e.g. kill 100 enemies at night, etc.). Although there are several weapons available it’s easy enough to go through the whole game with the starting weapons.
I have always enjoyed the dialogue in the Fable series, it rarely seems forced and has that quaint hint of British humour about it.Compared to the likes of the Elders Scroll series where the dialogue always seems monotone and dull. Alot of big British names also appear to do cameos for the game, the biggest probably being Stephen Fry who’s character is one of few returning character from Fable 2. Also new names to the line up include John Cleese, Jonathan Ross, Simon Pegg & Michael Fassbender.
Peter Molyneux has always been very big on mentioning with each Fable game that the player will have total freedom to do what they like during the game. Although this sounds hopeful, all 3 games have been lacking in that department. What Peter refers to as freedom I would say is nothing more than time wasting. Anything outside of the quests feels like wasted effort, sure I could marry a NPC, have a couple of kids and live in a nice house, sure I may get gifts now and again but there is no real reward for it. Although it was similar in earlier Fable games it gets worse in the 3rd instalment because it’s even more hard work to get somebody to like you. First of all you have to impress them with whistling and dancing, then run a small quest and you’re friends, repeat and you’re in love, go on a few dates, get married, take to bed, have kids… In all honesty I got bored at whistling. Sure it’s more realistic but I (as well as alot of people) don’t play games to emulate real life. I have real life to do that for me thank you very much.
Overall Fable 3 is definitely the worst game of the series. It would have been so much better if people decided not to dick about with the formula that made people fans of the first two games. Upon watching it again. During Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw’s video review of Fable 2 he comes out with the phrase “You can, but why would you want to?”. This speaks even truer in the 3rd instalment since it takes about three times the effort to do anything and bares about a tenth of the reward. To end, play Fable 3 if you wish, just don’t blame me if you also feel empty and unfulfilled afterwards.

Batman Arkham City (PC, PS3, XBOX 360)

 

Finally a game reviewed which wasn’t released years and/or months ago. I’ve been spending my weekend playing Arkham City and this is what I think.
Upon writing this review I have just read that Arkham City has doubles the début sales of Arkham Asylum in the UK. Since I’m mentally stuck in the mid-Victorian era where Britain ruled the world. I like to think that the British are capable of knowing a good thing when they see one (bar the unthinking masses that watch awful television such as “Big Brother” and “The Only way is Essex”, but I digress). This act of materialism proves it. Arkham City is a good game. Not quite the game I would show off as the pinnacle of computer game evolution but defiantly the strongest contender for Game of the Year so far and with my other eagerly awaited sequel being pushed back to 2012 (Mass Effect 3 for those of you who care to read) it’s looking like it’s going to be a one horse race.
Arkham City takes what we loved from the Arkham Asylum and give us more of it. More Villains, More Heroes, More Gadgets, More Challenges, More cape “whoosh” noises. The biggest difference is that Arkham City gives us just that, a whole city in which to play with. Although the names Arkham Town or District Arkham would have been more appropriate given the size of the map but I guess they didn’t go down well with the focus group. Still, it’s bigger than what we had to play with back on Arkham Island.
With a whole “city” to play about with, Batman turns into a Sandbox game, meaning Individuo’s rule of Sanbox is valid. A sandbox game no matter how good the story will fall flat on it’s face if it is tedious and boring in getting from point A to point B. To show this I have 2 examples, 1st off the blocks, Mafia. As stories go I’ve not seen many if any gangster-based games top it but driving from point to point in what felt like a cardboard box tied to a sloth kind of killed it. My second example, InFamous, on the other hand had a story that was ok, nothing outstanding, but gliding along electrical wires and rail tracks to get between objectives was as fun as a barrel of chimps. Rocksteady looks like they copied their notes from Sucker Punch in this module and it shows in the way Batman travels around the city. Gliding around Arkham City is probably one of the things I found most fun about the game. Ducking and diving around obstacles, making that “Whoosh” sound. Almost makes you feel like a real super hero.
Did someone mention the story? No? Ok, but now that we are on the subject. I found the story to be very schizophrenic. At times it can be deep and drag you in like chocolate lesbian wrestling (especially around the end). Then other times (the first half in particular) it feels frantic and rushed as if the game is moving me on so I can meet as many characters in the Batman mythos as possible before time runs out. This is not surprising then given my biggest niggle about the game. It’s short. I played it for only 2-3hrs on the Friday, then played it again for another 3-4 hrs and found I had completed the game. I wasn’t even speed playing either, I was doing my best to mess around, try out some of the side quests, pick up a few Riddler trophies and solve a few of his riddles (I had roughly 120 of them when I finished the game). The story is compressed and concentrated as opposed to Heavy Rain which its more drawn out. Heavy Rain is more of a standard coffee while Arkham City is an espresso. Heavy Rain you casually sip at it, take your time and take in the flavour, while Arkham City, you drink it down in one go and let the caffeine go nuts on your brain.
Luckily for me my flat mate who bought the game bought the collectors edition so I’ve also had a play around with the Catwomen missions. I wasn’t expecting a whole alot from the missions when going into them because it’s release date DLC. I was right to do so because I didn’t get alot from the missions either. The story is very weak at best. Kitty’s stash has been taken and she wants it back. She’s horrible in combat, since she can only get a fraction of upgrades compared to Batman. Although her wall climb and ceiling crawl is very useful for not being seen, and when she walks her hips have an amazing wiggle.
Overall I really enjoyed Arkham City, which should be obvious enough since I did say that it was front runner for Game of the Year. Although I do wish it was bulked out a little more so I could enjoy the show that little longer, then again in the words of that child loving Nazi sympathiser Walt Disney “Always leave them wanting more”. I didn’t read any of the comic books before play Arkham Asylum or afterwards, but Arkham City has actually made me more interested in the mythos of the Batman universe. I find myself looking up less known characters on the internet such as Deadshot and The Mad Hatter, to learn more about them.
So where does the future lead for the franchise? Given the main story and how it ended, it doesn’t leave anything open for a direct sequel or even any sort of sequel at all, but in one of the side mission Batman is warned about “A coming darkness”. So I don’t know. I hear rumours that Rocksteady are interested in making a Superman game. Maybe this way I can learn more about Superman’s enemies, because currently I get to Lex Luthor then I’m stumped.