Final Fantasy XV: The game that keeps on giving.

Posted: August 22, 2017 by ryanlecocq in Features, Off-topic

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When I originally completed FFXV, my feelings were that I was amazed it turned out so well. With the almost 10 years of horror stories coming out of the game’s development, I expected a complete trainwreck. What I got was a very decent FF game with a few blemishes, that were completely drowned out by a great cast and a killer ending. Fast forward to almost a year later and Final Fantasy XV is on its way to becoming one of my very favorite FF games. No, it’s not nostalgia growing on me at an accelerated rate; it’s actually the fact that Square-Enix has improved and expanded the game so much, that it’s twice the game it launched as.

In the past 10 months, FFXV has received countless patches that improve gameplay, 2 side story DLCs (with one more coming late this year), a bi-annual carnival event, a multiplayer beta and the ability to turn your car into a f*cking monster truck of all things. Most of these are things that I do not even expect or ask for from a single-player JRPG. When I spent $25 on the season pass, I expected 3 short story DLCs and maybe some free weapons. I did not expect the developers to create a multiplayer mode and a VR fishing simulator out of nowhere and give them to me for that same cost. Beyond that, the game has probably received 7 or 8 patches already, that were specifically aimed at fixing any and every complaint against the game. Everything from additional dialogue and gameplay, to additional graphics settings has been added through free patches. Compared to games like Mass Effect or Fallout, this is an unheard of level of free stuff.

To explain this odd corporate behavior, let’s rewind to before the game came out. Reports have surfaced that Square-Enix was more than a little worried about how FFXV would fare out in the wild. To say the game had a long and troubled development is an almost comedic understatement. After at least two changes of the game engine and at least one near total re-write of the story (under 2 directors)6, it’s a wonder this game was good. So being no strangers to the game business, they were preparing themselves for backlash if the game didn’t meet the sky-high expectations. It’s hard to estimate the development cost of FFXV, but if you add estimates for marketing and the cost of developing those 2 game engines, it’s likely FFXV had to sell 2-3 million copies just to break even. That would make it on of the middle performing FF games, but a better seller than any JRPG recently. So Square-Enix were wise to fear that a game with an imperfect reputation might struggle in a tough market.

Surprising a lot of people, Final Fantasy XV launched to good reviews and seems to have sold almost 5 million copies by the end of last year, making it immediately profitable for Square-Enix. Apparently they were really, really thankful for this. Early in 2017, Hajime Tabata (the game’s final director) announced that players would be getting a year+ of FFXV updates and that development of the game would continue above and beyond planned content. At the time people were kind of like “huh?” This is pretty unheard of for a single player RPG of any kind. We’re used to 2-3 planned DLCs and maybe a bug fix or two, but this sounded like something different. Months later, after playing all the stuff above, I can tell you this is definitely something different.

For those of you who haven’t been convinced to play the game yet, or those waiting for the finally announced PC version, here’s what’s been (or will be) added to FFXV:

 

“Bro Episodes”

A lot of people were disappointed initially when Episode Gladiolus released, because we expected the story DLCs to carry over data to and from the main game. The Bro Eps are more like side games, with their own gameplay style and no saved data carried over. Rather than being like most DLC expansions, that let you increase your power beyond the previous max, these are intended more as a look at the supporting characters. They are pretty short, so if we weren’t getting all the other content, it would be a ripoff for the cost of the season pass. For plot though, they have been excellent. The side stories have featured more screen time for fan favorite characters like Cor and Aranea, as well as the beloved villain Ardyn. Beyond that they feature some very fun gameplay gimmicks that are a neat break from the main game.

 

The Choco-Mog Carnival

So when you were playing the single player RPGs of the past 10 years, did you always wish that there was an in-game event like FF7’s Gold Saucer that was timed like WoW’s Darkmoon Faire? Yeah, me neither, but apparently Hajime Tabata did. That’s basically what the Choco-Mog Carnival is. Twice a year (so far), the city of Altissia hosts a carnival event that allows you to play minigames and win unique prizes. A timed event like this would feel right at home in an MMO, but is downright bizarre in a single player JRPG. This whole idea that we would be rewarded to keep playing the game is a novel concept to JRPG fans. The Carnival is actually a blast. It features activities based on the best parts of the game and while the prizes are not for the most part essential, they are often fun.

 

Comrades Multiplayer

In yet another completely unexpected announcement, Square-Enix decided that FFXV should have multiplayer too. Because why not? Pretty much everyone scratched their heads as to what kind of game this could even be. We should have guessed from the constant nods to Monster Hunter throughout FFXV. Comrades is pretty much a Monster Hunter isnpired mini-game that up to four players can participate in. Like in that series, you meet up in camp, then go on an instanced mission to accomplish a set goal. Players can create their own avatar and gain experience and items separate from the main game. So far we’ve only seen the beta, but chances are the final version won’t be too different. While the beta had some hiccups and the game is pretty basic, it’s a completely unexpected multiplayer component that is actually pretty fun.

 

And here are a few even more unexpected upcoming releases:

 

Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV

When Square-Enix announced that FFXV would have a VR spinoff, I think we were all a bit puzzled. What would it be like? Would it be a crappy promotional “experience”? Some of us held out hope that it would be a deep and satisfying fishing simulator and… WTF? Really!? It is in fact a deep and fully developed VR fishing simulator. According to the people who have played it, it’s actually awesome and could easily stand alone as one of the best PSVR games. Once again… bravo FFXV, bravo. Word is that this will ALSO be free for owners of the season pass of the main game.

 

Final Fantasy XV: Windows Edition

I shouldn’t really say this is unexpected in itself. PC ports of Square-Enix games (of varying quality) are inevitable at some point. A supposedly solid port, developed by the original team, a little over a year after release on consoles, is amazing. Once again FFXV is proving to be the model that future JRPGs should follow. Tabata immediately stated after launch that a PC port was a priority, but they wouldn’t half-ass it. It appears they are going to deliver, because reports say the game is already running smoothly at 4k resolution, with all the graphics settings PC users expect.

 

Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition

In today’s edition of “what will they do with FFXV next?”, Square-Enix has decided to remake FFXV with a cute appearance for mobile. Apparently deciding that they don’t need Telltale to do it for them, they have made their own cute-ified version of their world that strongly resembles the mobile Kingdom Hearts game in art style. Little is known about this game (it was just announced today), but if it is even as good as the worst of their other mobile games, it should be a hit.

 

And finally, a huge blemish on the otherwise excellent FFXV series:

Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire

This mobile game showed up with little press earlier this summer. It is exactly what it looks like: a clone of Clash of Clans, just like the Star Wars, Marvel and every other licensed versions you see all over the mobile stores. This game appears to have been completely outsourced by Square-Enix and you have to wonder if they even know what is being done with their license. You see, FFXV: ANE has the distinction of being probably the most heavy-handed and transparent as a cash-grab, even among those infamous peers. The monetization of FFXV’s mobile strategy game was so absurd, it drew a flood of bad press immediately on release. Here’s hoping this one just goes away.

 

Who knows what else will come out of this game before they move on to FFXVI…

If you aren’t familiar with the term, The Mandela Effect refers to collective false memories, where many people remember something incorrectly. The term was coined by Fiona Broom, in reference to many people believing Nelson Mandela had died in prison in the 1980s. If you have been reading the news for the past few years, you probably heard that Mandela in fact died recently, in 2013. Despite this widely known fact and the probably thousands of pictures of him post-prison, many people insisted that Mandela had died decades earlier.

Fast forward to 2017 and this term is thrown around constantly, every time a bunch of idiots are just plain wrong. Simple spelling errors are understandable. Lots of people suck at spelling and grammar. For example people thinking the Berenstain Bears was spelled “ein” or confusing McDonalds having a “Big Mac” just comes down to ignorance about names and spelling. The Berenstains always spelled their name that way, since who knows how many generations ago. Among people of Scottish and Irish ancestry, Mc and Mac are more interchangeable than a lot of us realize now. There are a lot of Macs in Ireland and Mcs in Scotland, as well as people whose names changed when they emigrated. It didn’t seem strange at all when the “Big Mac” was first sold at McDonalds, it just seems strange to us now because we associate Mc and Mac with Ireland and Scotland respectively, never to be mixed.

Those aren’t the ones that really drive me insane. It’s the pop culture ones that have become so popular recently. Yesterday I had 3 people separately share an article about The Mandela Effect and the examples in the article caused me almost physical pain.

You see, the difference is that spelling errors or ignorance of linguistics are perfectly honest mistakes. When you insist that Sinbad was in a movie called Shazam, where he played a genie, you are just plain wrong. That movie actually does exist, so you are right in a sense. The only thing is, it’s called Kazaam and stars Shaquille O’Neal. So in reality, the people who insist on “Shazam” just can’t tell the difference between two black guys with facial hair. Furthermore, they’ve confused a comic book character (Captain Marvel, who is summoned by the word SHAZAM!) who is kind of like a genie, but not really, with a movie about an actual genie. So it’s not an honest mistake brought on by a typo, it’s pretty much a declaration of racial and cultural ignorance in itself. It pisses me off, because for some reason I LOVED THAT MOVIE as a kid. In fact, laugh all you want, but I loved all Shaq’s movies as a kid and even played Shaq-Fu for hours. Even though I can now admit that movie was awful, people still worked on it and none of those people were Sinbad.

Another popular one is people believing that Freddie Mercury said “We are the champions of the world” in the original version of the song. I am a huge Queen fan and I can forgive you for this one, but it still ticks me off. I haven’t seen anyone correct this, so as someone who knows, here’s the reality according to album jackets and YouTube. Originally, the song did not include “of the world” at the end of each chorus. Freddie Mercury added it during a 1985 live performance, adding a motif to several of the songs from that album, which was called “News from the World”. This was immediately after he had written “Princes of the Universe”, which includes the lines “got your world in my hand” and “We’ve got to be the rulers of you all.” So using that sort of rhyming scheme was kind of hot in his mind at the time. It sounded really good, so it was included in later recordings. Now although that seems very convoluted, I as just one of millions of fans had my memory jogged and was able to find the truth, with minimal research to remind myself of what actually happened. The problem here is that 99% of non Queen fans seem to only remember the version that was featured in The Mighty Ducks and cannot accept that the song had many variants.

I promise this will be the last long and ranty example, but I can’t resist talking about the Disney Halloween Treat. Many of us fondly remember the Disney Halloween special that aired for the better part of 5 decades on various television stations throughout the world. But what shorts did it contain? Did Ichabod Crane attempt to outrun the Headless Horseman? Did Satan rise up out of Bald Mountain? People have wasted hours and hours on the internet debating what this program contained, when the answer is stupidly obvious: there are many versions of the Disney Halloween Treat. In the days before The Disney Channel, Disney didn’t have absolute control over how their content ended up in television broadcasts. Disney’s Halloween special was chopped up, re-ordered and spliced together with other Disney shorts by television networks around the world for decades. There are 3 versions that survive to today, all of them available on YouTube. Two of the shorts included in various versions, “Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman” and “A Night on Bald Mountain” were considered controversial or too graphic for many networks (beheading and/or Satan are forbidden on TV in many countries). Bald Mountain was originally meant to be included in Fantasia, but was cut for the same reason. So in many versions, one of these two is replaced with “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” from Fantasia. The short where Donald and Goofy are starving seems to appear in almost all versions though, which I think is ridiculous, because it’s clearly the most disturbing one.

 

The long-winded point I’m trying to get to, is that inventing a ridiculously long-running meme about alternate realities may have been funny for the first few years, but it is really getting annoying to us nerds who are actually into these things. I mean, I love Rick and Morty too, but this is getting absurd. The facts are that Shaq deserves credit for being in Kazaam, even if it was a pile of crap. Freddie Mercury deserves credit for making his own song better in a moment of inspiration. Disney probably doesn’t want anything to do with most versions of the Halloween Treat, because most of them were totally butchered by the TV studios. While it’s a waste of time trying to be ‘right’ most of the time, there is a certain justice in at least trying to be ‘correct.’

Because if Nelson Mandela had died in prison, don’t you think that would have changed things a bit? It would definitely make him much more of a martyr. Let’s apply that same harmless error to other historical figures. Let’s change history so that Vlad the Impaler and Hitler died in prison, before their most notorious deeds. Now they don’t seem so bad, do they? Or maybe let’s turn it around and say that Galileo Galilei didn’t die under house arrest. Let’s say he spent his twilight years in brothels. Now he doesn’t really sound like a martyr for science does he? These are pretty extreme examples and I admit that they are as good as a straw man argument, but the principle is not too different. Not caring that Sinbad and Shaq are different people and actually look pretty different, is kind of racist. Really the only things they have in common are being black, having facial hair and having a name starting with S. You really can’t claim to confuse them on any other means. So I don’t think I’m stretching it too far to say that the concept in itself can be harmful and not just annoying.

I feel like a more cerebral version of “Adam Ruins Everything” sometimes, especially with this and my previous denouncement of “shipping.” What can I say, besides that the more you study psychology, the more you realize that little jokes aren’t always harmless. Little slights and changes in history can fester over time and lead to things like the massive controversy we are facing now about how we remember America’s civil war. There is only one accurate version of history and while it is very unlikely that it will be perfectly preserved, we can at least make a serious attempt. Celebrating being wrong and making jokes about it, is a different side of the same coin that is the willful ignorance tearing our entire country apart. At least that’s my opinion and I hope you at least consider it.

 

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A lot of people who are WoW curmudgeons will tell you the older version the better. Their reasoning pretty much boils down to the fact that WoW has gotten progressively easier and they feel that unskilled players have ruined the game. While I can definitely understand that point of view, my reasons for missing the original World of Warcraft are a little more nuanced than that.

My wife and I are avid players of whatever 1.12.1 private server we can find that is stable and remains in operation. Gaming media seems to think for some reason that Nostalrius was one of very few Vanilla WoW servers, but there are actually hundreds. Most of them are just run on someone’s home server and barely meet the definition of playable. As someone who started playing right before TBC was released, I remember how the game played and want something at least close to that experience. Fortunately there are always at least a few 1.12.1 servers in operation that meet my standards.

If you consider private servers piracy, I can live with that. If Blizzard would make this content available in any way, I would gladly pay for it. You see, when Cataclysm was released in 2010, the entire original map was remade. Besides a few time-travel instances, there is no way to access any of this content anymore. So it isn’t just a few old players wanting to go back to older versions of spells and talents, we actually can’t even play the quests anymore that we fondly remember. So that is why I have been begging Blizzard to re-release this content (preferably for a one time charge, with no monthly fee) on any platform. This article is about some of the reasons that even people new to it would love a chance to play Vanilla WoW.

 

Story and Lore, front and center.

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If you have only been playing WoW in recent years, it may be hard to believe that there was a time when it had really interesting original lore. Recent versions have pretty much filled every quest and dialogue with pop culture references and clear nods to movies and television. While there is still definitely a central plot, it doesn’t really concern itself with adhering to any central lore. The WoW universe has become like the Marvel and DC universes, where killing characters and bringing them back to life can be done for convenience.

The Warcraft universe has always taken some inspiration from other series, most notably Warhammer and Lord of the Rings. At its core though, it has always had an original universe filled with different history and factions. It used to be important to know who these people were and what they were doing. If you were a dwarf, the feud with the Dark Iron dwarves was part of your history. Players would recognize factions like the Argent Dawn and the Steamwheedle Cartel that were featured in the plot of previous Warcraft games. You could even decide for yourself how to interact with neutral factions. If you decided that you hated pirates, you could go into your character panel and mark all neutral pirate factions as hostile, so your character would attack them on sight. In modern WoW all of this has become completely irrelevant.

The thing I really miss about Vanilla WoW, was how each race and quest had a plotline that really made you feel that role. Your starting areas would establish your culture, often creating traits that permanently molded your character and how you play them. As you progressed from 1-60, your class quests were also much more intense and personal. While the class quests of today are basically glorified tutorials for the new abilities you get, old class quests really tested your dedication to your role. You were expected to do things like infiltrate higher level areas, using your class skills to avoid certain death. The rewards were actually relevant too, because dungeons were much harder to farm for better loot.

Even some of the things people complained the most about, like globe-trotting quests and quests that required huge spending of gold, often fit in with the plot and made sense. As a servant of your chosen order, it makes sense that your boss would send you with an important message to Theramore, even though you are questing in Stranglethorn Vale. It also helped you discover flight paths and other dungeons, since you were not automatically given the former and there was no Dungeon Finder. Besides word of mouth, these random annoying quests were often the way you discovered new parts of the game.

Overall it just felt more like a real, living world. The reason it was so easy for so many of us to get lost in the World of Warcraft, was because it was such a compelling and deep universe to immerse in. The farmers and their never-ending need for bear asses were still annoying, but the game did a better job of making them seem like people who mattered. I remember fondly the first time I completed the level 12 paladin quest line. One of the steps required you to give a bunch of cloth to the guy walking around begging for cloth for the orphans. He tells you this should be enough to last them all year, but since the game had no instancing then, he goes right back to begging for cloth right after. So we decided he was a scammer and spent the next 10 minutes following him around Ironforge and warning people not to get scammed. It was pure RP gold.

 

Classes felt unique.

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World of Warcraft has really become a disgustingly simple game at the basic level. I’m not mocking the skill of high ranking players, the toughest content is still a challenge. But in the most basic sense, WoW classes have been reduced to different flavors of the roles Healer, Damage and Tank. While other MMORPGs like Guild Wars 2 and Final Fantasy XIV have fully developed support and crowd-control classes, in WoW these are just secondary functions that most classes can choose to help with. It doesn’t really matter that much if you are a Druid tank or a Warrior tank, as long as you can hold enough threat.

It used to be very, very different. It’s not even just combat balancing either. Classes used to be balanced across the entire game, but not in each aspect. It doesn’t make a lot of sense in some ways and that’s why it isn’t like that anymore. Basically, it’s easiest to explain like this: A mage was undeniably better in PvP than a Warlock, but a Warlock got a free mount at level 40. Since mounts cost 80g, which was almost inconceivable back then, this was an enormous bonus. So yes, the Mage could annihilate the Warlock in a duel, but the Warlock was already galloping from dungeon to dungeon, while the Mage was grinding gold to purchase a mount. It was the same with Warriors vs. Paladins. Other classes were balanced in ways like Priests were by far the best healers, but Paladins and Druids could also tank if needed.

There’s also something to be said for the fact that being able to create a portal was once a skill that would make you rich. Before flying mounts, long range travel was a humongous pain in the ass. I could go on and on. There was just this strange sort of balance across all parts of the game, that really required you to get to know a competent player of each class.

 

Crafting and Professions were actually fun.

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These days it’s difficult to understand why crafting even exists in WoW, besides achievements. It has become little more than a boring chore to attend to between expansions, when you have absolutely nothing better to do. Blizzard has even so much as admitted this with recent expansions, by allowing you to craft plot-based weapons that are totally separate from and superior to traditional crafted gear. This all started when level progression got faster and faster. Crafting has been streamlined somewhat to keep up, but it’s like a turtle and hare race. You will blast up to whatever the current level cap is long before you can craft anything useful, then spend hours in low-level zones catching up your crafting to eventually make things that are moderately useful in endgame content (mostly consumables).

Would you believe me if I told you there was a time when even fishing was fun? There are a lot of changes in gameplay that have slowly made professions the awful tedium they are today. The faster progression is the biggest, but not the only one. There is also the fact that before Dungeon Finder, everyone wasn’t farming every instance for the very best gear. These days every single level 40 player is walking around with the best complete set for their class. In the old days, those random green items you would get from your professions would actually be useful. Not only that, the stuff you were crafting was actually useful, because your gear wasn’t already OP. The party leatherworker unlocking the next level of armor kit could literally be the difference that allowed you to complete a dungeon.

It’s really hard to even explain all the ways that WoW has gotten easier and made professions obsolete. Getting adequate bag space used to cost a fortune, so knowing a tailor was almost necessary. Basic potions were essential, even at low levels. There were also far fewer consumables in the game, so things like bandages and the many gimmicks made by engineers, were really useful items to have. This is another area where I could just go on and on. There are so many items and practices that are just made completely pointless in modern WoW and many of them relate to crafting.

 

Now I want to touch on a few things that are both good and bad. Most of these are things we remember fondly, but have been changed for obvious reasons as games have evolved. There are some things that people just plain will not tolerate, because standards have changed.

 

World PvP

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In Vanilla WoW, there were only what are known today as PvP servers. While in modern WoW, this mostly marks a server where players are focused on competition, it also means that players of opposite factions can fight in contested areas. In Vanilla WoW, this was the only way to play and there were a lot more contested areas. Basically anywhere outside of your starting area, it was open season for the Alliance and Horde to go at it. This was parodied famously in the South Park episode “Make Love, Not Warcraft”. That episode may not make a lot of sense to people anymore, as nobody has participated in much world PvP in years. It’s honestly just more fun to do it in many battlegrounds WoW has made available, with their various level ranges. Just the effort to get enough people in one (non-instanced) place to have any lengthy combat is almost prohibitive today.

There are a lot of good reasons for this. While it’s fun to remember those massive battles we had in The Barrens and the Hillsbrad Foothills, that was like 2% of the time. What constant PvP mostly involved, was higher level players of the enemy faction camping in questing zones and griefing people for hours on end. It was super annoying and caused many a keyboard to be broken and account to be cancelled. So these days, anyone who wants to enjoy the quests and content should just go to a PvE or RP server and avoid this entirely.

In order to bring old players back and introduce new ones, something would have to be done about this. I think it’s essential to bring that conflict back for a successful Vanilla revival, but it would have to eliminate the griefing issue. The best methods I can think of is by making battles timed events, like Battlegrounds, to draw players in to compete at certain times. The other would be to just make certain zones contested only at certain times. Say for example you could have contested zones become PvP during peak hours on a server. So if you are questing in one of these zones and it hits about 7-10pm local time, you know it’s time to evacuate if you don’t want to fight.

 

Some Classes Sucked

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What I said up above about class skills balancing out combat effectiveness is true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s also the part where you go into a dungeon and all of that is useless. If you are playing a Warlock or a Paladin, it’s easy to look around at the other classes and their abilities and just think “F**k, why do I even exist?”. That was just the reality back then. For Warlocks especially, you were pretty much the black sheep of the whole community. Nobody wanted you in a party if one of the many other classes who could do everything better than you were around. Sure, they would take you if there wasn’t already a rogue and a mage, but you would never be selected over another class unless you were an absolutely godlike player.

Now that is a really sh*tty feeling.

I think for the most part, the class balance by patch 1.12 was decent, but there are a few changes that really should be made. Warlocks should be slightly better in general and Paladins should be able to excel in a role as long as they specialize. There is a reason that Paladins are now focused by moving the best bonuses way down each talent tree. The first solution Blizzard tried during WotLK was to just make them better, which lead to broken tanks that could also cast Lay on Hands every 20 seconds. It was really great after sucking for so long, but I admit it was a terrible solution. You could just have a party of 3 Paladins, that could steamroll anything intended for a party of 5. For Warlocks though, it worked very well, because they just got screwed on everything besides the mount.

 

The Graphics need the “Rose Tinted Shades” effect.

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There is a practice in re-releases and remakes that I like to call the “Rose Tinted Shades” effect, after the similar term in psychology. Basically this means you shine up the graphics enough to not be an eyesore, while still preserving the look of the original. Nintendo did probably the best example of this with Wind Waker HD. The game looks exactly the way you remember it, without the crappy tube tv effects it actually had back then.

It would be pretty easy to put in things like better looking water and shadows, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. Really all Vanilla WoW needs to be functional on modern hardware is an HD facelift. To my mind that would mostly have to do with draw distances and textures. On modern higher resolution monitors, it’s easier to make out just how awful the terrain in the distance looks. It’s also quite noticeable when NPCs pop into view. Just a few little tweaks (much like what can be achieved with console commands already) could make it very playable, even by modern standards. Similarly it would be very easy to upscale the menus and UI a bit.

 

Make Meeting Stones Matter

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You may have noticed those funny looking obelisks with Hearthstone emblems on them near Dungeons. Those actually used to do something. You see, before Dungeon Finder, someone would trek out to the Dungeon (often in hostile territory) and put out the call for their friends to join them. It was a pretty crude system, but it lead to many fun and frustrating moments. Obviously there were too many of the latter and that’s why we don’t use them anymore. I’m not saying I have the solution, but something would need to be tweaked.

I would be strongly against just adding Dungeon Finder. I think that was probably the biggest thing that changed how it feels to play WoW. There must be baby steps we could take in between though. Like maybe making it possible to create portals to meeting stones with a consumable item or something like that. If players didn’t have to spend up to an hour and risk death to get a party together, it would make the experience much more approachable. Not saying I don’t miss some of those random conflicts around Deadmines and Wailing Caverns, but it was definitely something best left in the past.

 

I just want to wrap up me love letter to classic WoW by saying it is just plain stupid not to make money on this content. Almost every other game Blizzard has made is available for sale in some shape or form, yet there is no way to play a version of WoW that is only 13 years old (well besides private servers of course). Sure, I can see that you would not want to cannibalize sales of modern WoW, but that’s not very realistic. Nobody is going to only play the tiny bit of content in Vanilla vs. the giant buffet that is modern WoW. Realistically it should have no monthly cost or be included with a retail WoW subscription. I would totally see it as an experience like Diablo being patched to run on modern systems. You may crack out on it for a while, but you aren’t going to stop playing newer games.

Realistically, Vanilla Wow could run on mobile platforms, but it would still require a keyboard. Most tablets can be equipped with one though, so I don’t really see this as a significant barrier. In an ideal world, it would work similar to Gameloft’s very WoW-like Order and Chaos, where you can play it on both PC and mobile, preferably on the same servers.

I’m not really expecting Blizzard to read these posts, but if you read them and also want to play Vanilla WoW again, spread the idea!

VAGUE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR PREY, BIOSHOCK SERIES AND SYSTEM SHOCK SERIES.

It’s hard sometimes to go back and remember what it felt like when you were first playing a game you loved. The memories tend to grow on us and also subsequent playthroughs and press coverage change the way we view the game later. I can however, remember almost exactly what it felt like to experience the major plot twist in each Shock game. Whether it was revelations about Shodan in the original series, or the secret of “would you kindly?” in the Bioshock series inspired by System Shock, they always leave an impression.

So anyone going into the very Shock-like Prey would expect a major twister in there somewhere. The game does not disappoint, well actually it does. Prey completely drops the ball on timing, if not content of the major plot twist. I’ll get back to this later, but first I want to explain how important the timing has been for each past game. If you think back to the final act of each Shock game, then remove the story parts, you will probably realize something: on the surface they’re kind of weak. It’s really hard to come up with good challenges for the player once they have all the best upgrades. So the final acts of these games often just involve throwing lots of the toughest enemies at you, in difficult situations. Since you are just trying to chase the plot at this point, it totally works. Then at just about the point where you would get sick of it, some amazing revelation happens, followed by some mind-blowing cutscenes.

This is pretty much the final act of every game ever ending with Shock, as well as the similar Deus Ex series. We expect it at this point. I guess Prey does not end with Shock or Ex, so maybe it’s just me that feels it carries this heritage. Regardless, Prey totally botches its late-game reveals. The plot twists taking place at the end are really predictable and accompanied by some awful room-clearing segments that feel straight out of Aliens: Colonial Marines (no, that is not too harsh). The boring, kill waves of enemies gameplay is actually not that different from the end of the previously mentioned games. It’s just that what is happening to drive you forward is nowhere near as interesting.

And then, after you have spent 10 minutes watching the credits and debating with yourself if you just wasted your time, the post-credits scene has a totally awesome plot twist. Like, after many people probably pulled the disc out and returned it to the store. As cool as it was when it finally happened, that is almost tragically bad placement. Making me play through a nearly worthless 2 hours at the end that almost made me hate a game I was loving, then finally, if I watch the credits, blowing my mind. Makes no sense at all to me.

I often wonder what games looked like in the minds of their creators, at various stages of development. I wonder how many huge cuts and changes completely altered the final experience. Prey made me wonder this intensely. In the end, the alarming and exciting twist came too late to save my experience of the game. I would have almost preferred to have a shorter game that didn’t include the extra tedium.

Regardless of how it happened, the timing of the major plot twist made all the difference in my gaming experience. It took Prey from what I would have called the next Shock game, to something I will probably move on from quickly.

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“This, is the arm. We made it out of the money the studio sent us.”

I recently got around to watching the new Twin Peaks episodes and while I loved the raw David Lynch on display, they added to a sinking feeling I’ve had recently. I’m also going to lump Alien Covenant and the recent X-Files continuation in as well, since I saw them recently and contributed as well.

You see, I’ve had this growing unease while watching the rebirth of some of my favorite series and it can be summed up pretty simply; I don’t think these guys can tell a story anymore to save their lives. While they expertly show us the beauty of the camera, they seem to struggle to fit even 10 lines of meaningful dialogue into a scene. What’s worse, when they do get heavy on the exposition, it seems to range from creating holes in their own canon to outright breaking the mythology of the series (that’s you X-Files). As a fan, I haven’t just been hanging on all these years to see more of your amazing cinematography. I WANT TO KNOW WHAT WAS GOING TO FUCKING HAPPEN. That is why we have been buying your DVDs and keeping those royalties flowing all these years. Not to give you time to find ways to build steadycams out of bamboo.

As an amateur writer myself, I generally take the side of the creator and say “it’s their thing, they can do whatever they want if people buy it”. We can come to an extreme though, especially in the case of the Alien prequels or the X-Files, where you basically just throw out the window everything the fans loved about the story. That isn’t good in any sense of the word. It’s just kind of selfish and egotistical and makes me want to remind them that creation is a life of sacrifice and selflessness. You give everything of yourself to influence people’s hearts and minds for what you hope is the better. Even if your purpose is just entertainment, you need to at least deliver that. Art that is entirely selfish has no place being paid for by others.

Now I don’t want to be too harsh and say ‘how dare they’ or some such other entitled crap. It is their thing and they can do whatever they want with it. As a fan though, I have to just ask why? Why not just tie up the loose ends people want resolved in a manner that is reasonable, while still being unexpected?

I started this article talking about Twin Peaks and I do want to mention that I think it’s the least offensive of these examples. While it is true that I’ve seen about 10 minutes worth of plot in 4 hours of screen time, what filled the other frames was often breathtaking. David Lynch has not only wowed me with some unconventional film-making, but also an unexpectedly excellent performance in the cast. I never would have imagined that the creator’s silly character on the show would deliver my favorite scenes in front of the camera as well. His awkward compassion is 4th wall breaking and makes me appreciate the depth of the man on yet another level.

That being said, I think he’s being pretty damn lazy moving the plot forward and it makes me wonder if the cause is stubbornness, delusion or just plain lack of story ideas. I wonder that much, much more so with the other two examples. With Ridley Scott’s recent films, I often wonder if a bunch of producers are trying to wrestle him to the ground and failing, as he crawls to the mail slot to dump his demented final cut. Covenant was another breathtakingly beautiful film, that made absolutely no sense, even to someone who has also read the novelization and seen every theory video. With the X-Files, I often wonder if Chris Carter just passionately hates us all and wants us to stop liking the X-Files. It’s just that awful (except the Lizard Man episode of course).

I really do want to say that I feel terrible even writing this. These guys literally built my childhood and it’s really difficult being so critical of their work. It’s also really difficult to watch their work recently though, so I kind of feel obligated. Like a friend that doesn’t want you to drive home drunk anymore. Maybe the creators of these properties are just playing on some higher level that I am incapable of comprehending. Maybe these films will be like the works of Nicola Tesla, unappreciated until decades after his time. It kind of feels like they are just screwing around though and blowing millions of dollars to do it.

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If you haven’t played the new Prey yet, I highly recommend it. Especially if you are a fan of Bioshock. This should come as no surprise, as Arkane Studios developed Bioshock 2. They also developed Dishonored, which is a lot like Bioshock as well. So it shouldn’t seem strange for the game to share a sort of central DNA at all.

There was this one moment though, when they made the ol’ “door code is 0451” reference. It could just come as a nod, as it appears in several Warren Specter games and most of the games inspired by them. It started (as far as I know) with System Shock and has been in Deus Ex and several other games in series Specter started or inspired. So it’s kind of like the Warren Specter fan in-joke at this point. It’s originally a reference to Fahrenheit 451, System Shock is full of sci-fi references.

It got me thinking though, that Prey is a LOT like Bioshock. I mean, sure, so is Dishonored, but Prey is A LOT A LOT like Bioshock. Not just gameplay, but pacing and plotting as well. It made me wonder a bit if 2K was originally planning to go a Call of Duty route and have two different internal studios make alternating Shock games. After all, Arkane had already made the well-received Bioshock 2 and the sleeper hit Dishonored, so it makes perfect sense. Then whatever happened at Irrational Games, causing them to be dismantled. Somehow that resulted in the death of the Bioshock series (at least for now) and suddenly there was a Prey remake in development that had nothing to do with the original Prey.

It may all just be coincidence, but it seems a bit too well-timed. Right about the time you would think a new Bioshock game would have gone from planning to production, the Bioshock brand dies and there’s suddenly a very Bioshock-like game going from planning to production. It worked out perfectly timing-wise for Bethesda, as their prolonged struggle developing Prey 2 had just resulted in cancellation. Since the game we now know as Prey suddenly bust onto the scene as an in-development game, it seems odd that they would have been writing and designing it alongside Prey 2 as a plot reboot of the series. The original Prey 2 was intended to continue the plot of the first game, so another game coming out a few years later and undoing all that would be total nonsense.

This is just my newest industry conspiracy theory, but I have a strong sense about this one. Not the least bit because I was part of a very active thread on the Bioshock forums, right before the collapse of Irrational, where we fans suggested the moon or a space station as the location for the next game. The title Lunarshock was floating around and I personally was pushing for it to be a secret Russian station abandoned on the dark side of the moon. Prey is on a space station and not exactly following the most popular ideas on that thread, but the connection is unmistakable. Everything from an alternate history where JFK survived, to a more System Shock like gameplay was discussed at length between developers and fans. This was in 2013, right about the time the seeds for Prey would have been planted.

Believe what you will dear readers, but you read it here first.

Hellpoint: there is life after Dark Souls

Posted: April 25, 2017 by ryanlecocq in Features

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For many of us, the conclusion of the Dark Souls series left us, for lack of a less punny term, feeling a bit hollow.  Personally I would search constantly for new games that would scratch that itch for a complex, difficult, dark and cryptic game.  Every time I would end up disappointed, finding nothing but games that took all the most basic aspects of From’s seminal series, but none of the genius.

Then, last Sunday afternoon, I discovered the answer to my muttered prayers to dark deities: Hellpoint.

The thing that sets Hellpoint apart from the many pretenders to the abandoned throne, is its dark and mysterious tone and lore.  I don’t want to imply it’s just a ripoff of the approach taken by From either.  CradleGames had developed their own dark mythology, with complementary gameplay systems to match.  Hellpoint has a new and unique approach to spooky NPCs, creepy locations and obscure lore.  What’s more, it doesn’t steal Dark Souls’ gimmicks, just its basic gameplay style.  The Quantic System used to determine timed game events and enemy behavior is similar to, but completely more interesting than Demon’s Souls’ soul attribute system.  It has the potential to suddenly unbalance gameplay, but not in a poorly designed way like Breath of the Wild’s blood moons that broke the game at launch.

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The most important thing that Hellpoint nails absolutely perfectly, is the give and take of Souls combat.  I think most of us can agree that other Souls pretenders, like Lords of the Fallen, fail at that absolutely essential thing.  Hellpoint pulls it off effortlessly, even in the current pre-alpha state.  Combat has that same frenzied, give and take feel that is not unlike real fencing.  Although the gameplay is not an exact copy (and features a dedicated jump button!), I felt immediately at home.

While the currently available demo is in a very early state, I honestly had more fun playing it than all of the From Software betas I have participated in.  One of the biggest reasons for that, I saved for halfway through the article to share.  This game has drop in couch co-op.  Yes, that thing that only Salt and Sanctuary has managed to bring to hungry fans.  You may have to steel yourself for the horrors of the singularity, but you don’t have to do it alone.  CradleGames even has all sorts of mischief in mind for PvE and PvP features that are inspired by, yet unique from what we are used to from Souls games.

The final main thing that Hellpoint does that others don’t, is creep you out with quality dark art design.  Everything in the game looks like something that crawled out of a Clive Barker movie or the equally evil black hole in Event Horizon.  It’s definitely reminiscent of what a mix between Dark Souls and Dead Space would look like, but still with a horror all its own.

Hellpoint is currently a little over halfway through their Kickstarter and a little more than halfway funded.  They already have a demo up, that has swallowed almost 20 hours of my life.  If you have a giant, black, Dark Souls sized hole in your heart, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Hellpoint Kickstarter:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hellpoint/hellpoint-a-dark-sci-fi-rpg/description

Hellpoint Steam Page:

http://store.steampowered.com/app/628670/