The beauty of gaming

While good gameplay is always much more important to me than fancy graphics I too like eye candy. Who doesn’t?

I also like to have mementos of my adventures so I can revel in nostalgia later.

Combine the two and it’s no wonder that I take lots and lots of screenshots. Today I’d like to share some highlights. As always, click to enlarge.

Screens_BD

This is the city of Calpheon in Black Desert Online. It’s the most realistic depiction of a medieval town (as I imagine it) I’ve seen in a video game to date, and it’s especially beautiful at dawn.

Screens_Destiny2

Destiny 2 is a good looking game for sure. This was my favourite vista.

Screens_EQ2

Another shot of Everquest II’s Obol Plains. Not bad for a 6-year-old zone in an almost 14-year-old game.

Screens_EVE

Multiple fleets are fighting here in EVE Online, with Lakisa and myself right in the middle. Doesn’t look like death and destruction from afar, does it?

Screens_Arkham

The Scarecrow levels in Batman: Arkham Asylum were really special, gameplay- as well as graphics-wise. Damn, now I’d really like to play it again.

Screens_GTAV

And what could be a more fitting shot to end this post than Trevor’s supercool Unflinching Walk from GTA V?

Advertisements

Memorable vs always fun gameplay

The other day Tyler contemplated about what kind of games are worth playing, and which one’s are more or less a waste of precious time to him. It’s an interesting read. He concludes that, while it’s all fine and dandy as long as you’re having fun, the most important aspect to him is if the game creates good memories. My first reaction to it was ‘Exactly, mate!’.

He cites Heroes of the Storm as an example for games that are fun to play, yet don’t leave lasting memories or feelings, making the time spent playing them meaningless to him in the grand scheme of things.

When I look back at all the games I’ve played I too hold those most dear that left me with lasting memories of thrilling or hilarious adventures. I even have a couple of posts in draft stage that will share some of those.

ArcheAge Adventure1
Just a little teaser, stay tuned

It’s no surprise then that I always gravitated towards games that offer much freedom, because that makes memorable stuff to happen more likely. It’s the reason why I still keep coming back to EVE after almost 13 years, and why I am more interested in sandbox style games in general.

But: everything has two sides. Thinking about this made me realize that the games I have the fondest memories of were also the ones with the highest percentage of downtime. By downtime I mean either doing a lot of extremely boring stuff, or even waiting for something to happen and essentially doing nothing.

EVE, for example, can be like that to the extreme. First you grind pretty boring missions or combat sites for hours on end to earn enough funds for your PvP ships, then you participate in fleet ops that take three hours or longer and there’s not even a single hostile ship to shoot. It’s not always like this of course, and when it’s not it can be very awesome. Unfortunately the ratio of boringtime to awesometime has always been pretty bad for me, at least until we joined Holy Cookie.

EVE_POSrep
Slowly repairing a station’s shield with no enemy in sight

On the other hand you have those games with pretty fixed gameplay loops, like HotS in Tyler’s case or Path of Exile and Overwatch in mine, which do let you experience cool moments but don’t really leave lasting memories or feelings. If you hear me tell a ‘That one time at bandcamp…’-story chances are it will be about EVE, Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Black Desert or ArcheAge. Maybe Everquest II. PoE, Overwatch, Call of Duty, Destiny 2…probably not so much.

What the latter games don’t have, though, is the aforementioned downtime. At all. You log in…and play. And play. And play some more. Until you log out again. It might always be pretty much the same and therefore not give me those coveted memories I want to blog or tell my buddies about, but if the gameplay is fun to me, it’s fun all the time and not just a small percentage of the time with a lot of boring in between.

PathOfExile 2015-03-22 14-26-35-508
If this doesn’t look like fun I don’t know what does

Now, what to do with these insights? I guess I’ll just continue to play whatever I feel like at any given moment, until that one game finally comes along that has the potential for the most memorable experiences while omitting all kinds of boring gameplay and downtime.

One can dream, right?

Having much fun in Destiny 2

What I knew about Destiny 1 when it launched is pretty much this: A Diablo-style ARPG that plays like a first person shooter, with MMO-like raid mechanics. Which sounded right up my alley. I don’t like to play shooters on console at all though, so I gave it a pass.

Hence when Destiny 2 was announced for PC I got pretty interested. I followed it’s development loosely, and when the console version was released I tried to use reviews and such to get a feel for the game without spoiling too much. The general consensus seemed to be that it’s more of the same, with some improvements but not much innovation. In short, if you liked part one you’ll like this one too if you don’t have too high expectations.

This, combined with the fact that some friends of ours would also be playing it on PC, was more than good enough for me.

So I bought it on release day. I loved it from the start. So much so that I decided to snag a Collector’s Edition on day two, which then was available again on Amazon. I offered it’s code for the base game to Lakisa with a heavy discount, which was enough to persuade her to give it a try and play the game with us.

Now, four weeks later, I’m still having a blast, playing at least for a bit every single day.

There’s no need for me to cover the basics of the game, those can be found everywhere. I’d rather elaborate what it is exactly that I, personally, like about the game so much.

  • It’s incredibly quick and easy to get in and out of the action.

While the menus are a bit consoley and could be more convenient, the act of going somewhere and doing a thing couldn’t be easier. It gets even better in relation to grouping. When I log in and a friend is already playing, I just join his group (called Fireteam here), and boom, one nicely animated load screen later I’m standing right next to him and join in whatever he’s doing. He doesn’t even have to invite me or anything.

  • There are no artificial barriers between my friends and me

95% of the game’s content can be played as a group, no matter at what character- and powerlevel everyone is. When a friend plays a new character I can just join like described above and play alongside him, even the low level main story missions.

  • Every little thing I do feels rewarding

For me there’s always something to do, and nothing feels like a waste of time. This is because the game always drops loot, and the loot scales with my powerlevel. Granted, at around 270 and above most loot doesn’t help to push the powerlevel much further, but I still feel rewarded when my efforts net me heaps of Glimmer, Shards etc. (think crafting materials), as well as XP for Bright Engrams (cosmetics, faster/different speeders and ships). Even when I help out said low level friend I get all of this, and there’s always a little chance to snag an Exotic that I don’t have yet too.

  • It’s collector’s heaven

When I first found out that only one exotic weapon and one exotic piece of armor can be equipped at a time I was a bit miffed. I considered these to be the ‘Unique Items’ of this game. At least for weapons that’s not quite true however. Exotics are more like ‘these unique items have extra special abilities, so you have to choose one’. Legendary weapons, which are one rarity step below, are also unique. And there’s lots and lots of them. And you can collect them all. Want the best hand cannon? Get Better Devils. Need a great Submachine gun for PvP? Try to snag Antiope-D. Looking for a solid allround scout rifle? Nameless Midnight might be for you. Getting a weapon I don’t have yet feels great every time, even if it’s one I probably won’t use much. Plus, you never know when a mechanic comes along that calls for just this weapon. Speaking of which…

  • The raid mechanics are even better and more fun than I had anticipated

I have played the raid only twice up till now, and finished it once. But boy, did I have fun. I didn’t think it possible in a shooter, but the mechanics are really interesting and engaging, and the much faster pace compared to the MMO raid-combat I’m used to makes it all the more fun. It’s also much more forgiving since dying doesn’t cost anything and a wipe doesn’t cost too much time either. If we don’t have to talk things through after a wipe we can be having a go again 10 seconds later. The mechanics also make you think about the build and weapons you use. Your normal go-to subclass or power weapon, for example, might not be the best pick for a specific encounter. Planning, preperation, execution. Fun and profit.

  • The open world feeling is really good

I didn’t have high expectations in this regard, but was in for a pleasant surprise. Not only are the zones pretty big, they are also chock full of stuff to find, of nooks and crannies to explore. I like the Lost Sectors in particular. An inconspicuous street door or a little hole in the ground can lead to a vast basement vault or underground cavern, filled with enemies and a boss guarding a treasure chest at the end. This is what I had hoped for back when Hellgate London came along in 2007. I actually think of Destiny 2 as the game Hellgate wanted to be in more than one regard.

Sometimes I just cruise the landscape looking for treasure chests and boss enemies, joining public events and exploring Lost Sectors when I stumble upon them. I just do whatever strikes my fancy. There are full fledged MMOs out there which make this kind of play less fun and much less rewarding than Destiny 2 does.

  • There’s no global or general chat, and no whispers to strangers

This might sound odd, but for me it’s a blessing. I’ve written about my negative experiences when playing with strangers lately. And I know for sure, without a doubt, that I would have had some more by now if Destiny 2 had global chat and /whisper to non-friendlist people. I really don’t need self proclaimed “pro gamers” telling me I’m doing “their” public event wrong or that I suck at PvP, thank you very much. Great stuff Bungie! I mean it, thank you!

  • The story’s pretty good, the voice acting is great

I have seen some scathing reviews about the story in Destiny 2, and while I can comprehend some of the criticism, I think it’s not that bad at all. Ok, the antagonist looks goofy as hell and is cliché to match. During my second and third playthrough I skipped every cutscene with him. The cutscenes starring the good guys I quite like though. The characters might not be very relatable, but at least they’re likable. They’re also perfectly animated and the lip-sync is the best I’ve seen yet. I’m generally not a sucker for high end graphics, but in a game that aims for photorealism I can appreciate when it’s done right for once. And boy, is this a gorgeous game.

I love the voice acting. Nathan Fillion’s Nathan Fillion, not much more to say there. I also was genuinely delighted to hear Lance Reddick’s voice right at the beginning of the story. He’s just great too. Nolan North as the character’s ghost shows his incredible versatility once again, I wouldn’t have known that it’s Nathan Drake talking to me without looking it up. Even some characters with very small roles have good voice actors, like James Remar (Dexter’s foster-father Harry) and the one and only Peter Stormare as leaders of two of Destiny 2’s factions.

There are of course many who are already complaining that they have nothing more to do. That they are finished, that the game is dead, whatever. For them, this might be the case. In my opinion they’re doing themselves a disservice by rushing through the content and ignoring everything that doesn’t reliably push their powerlevel.

If you play the game like me, you’ll have fun for quite some time and won’t grow tired of it. I’m still not quite at max powerlevel, I haven’t got every weapon and every piece of armor I’d like to have, I’ve not yet seen every Lost Sector and not found every lore object.

What I have loads of, though, is fun.

Now all Bungie has to do is give me an ingame means to take screenshots, and I’ll be happy all around. Seriously guys, PC games have to have this feature, especially when you decide to block the usage of FRAPS, Bandicam and the like. I’m giving you free advertising here…wouldn’t it be great if I had nice screenies to go along with the text? 😉

d2_cayde_6
Malcolm Reyn…err…Cayde-6 seems to agree.

My multiplayer malaise

Since I started playing and got addicted to Ultima Online in 2001 I have almost exclusively played multiplayer games.

The reasons are manifold. It’s not that I always play in a group, far from it. But even when playing alone, being in a world inhabited by other players gives everything I do a far greater sense of realism. When I craft, not only can I use the item myself, I can also sell it to someone else. When I am too lazy to go out and gather crafting mats myself, I can buy them instead. And yes, I too am not immune to feeling a sense of pride when I achieve something not everybody achieves, and being able to show it off by riding a special mount or wearing a special title or somesuch.

I also like that there’s no ending in multiplayer games. To be honest, I’ve become reluctant to invest dozens or even hundreds of hours into a game that I know will go “that’s it, you’re finished, now go and play something else” at some point. I feel that everything I achieve while playing the game will just go poof when I reach that point.

As of late, though, I withdraw from all kinds of multiplayer activity more and more. I hardly ever play Overwatch anymore, I have cancelled my FFXIV subscription. At the moment I mainly play Uncharted: The Lost Legacy on PS4, GTA V (just the story mode) and Path of Exile (always alone except for the occasional trade) on PC.

Why the change of mind?

It’s actually rather simple. During the last year or so, the vast majority of encounters with other players I had (EVE Online being the exception, believe it or not) were…bad. Just bad.

There’s been much talk about toxicity in all of online gaming lately. MOBAs and Shooters like Overwatch seem to be the worst offenders, but they’re not the only ones, as I had to find out.

When Lakisa and I were playing the Main Story in FFXIV sometime in August we reached a point, as you regularly do in this game, where we had to do a dungeon to progress further. And I absolutely did not want to. The last dungeons we had done had been utterly stressful and unfun experiences, and I just didn’t want any more of that. The group finder does a solid job in getting you together with folks playing the right roles relatively quickly. What it can’t do, though, is get you together with people who are relaxed and fun to play with. And this kind of human being seems to pretty much not exist anymore in that game. Everyone is go go go, pull now, pull everything, faster, faster, all while standing kneedeep in bad stuff all the time. I’m telling you, I refuse tanking or healing for anyone I don’t know from now on.

Unfortunately this pretty much killed my enthusiasm for that game altogether, so we are taking a break.

There’s a whole bunch of multiplayer-centric games launching before the end of the year that I’d normally be very interested in. I’ll pass on most of them.

There’s Star Wars Battlefront II. Lootcrate shenanigans aside (they’re bad though, reason enough to not buy it to be honest) this looks pretty awesome. The ‘I’m right in the middle of the battle of Endor’-feeling of the first game was tremendous. It wasn’t perfect, but they seem to have taken a lot of fan feedback to heart and improved part two a great deal. The story campaign isn’t enough reason for me to buy it though, and I just don’t want to play the multiplayer right now.

Call of Duty is returning to World War II. I haven’t played a CoD since Black Ops 1, but this one looks pretty interesting. Still, not buying it.

Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds is all the rage and makes all the money right now. It sure looks fun and interesting. Won’t be playing it.

The one I’m really looking forward to and that I’m actually gonna buy is Destiny 2 for PC. I haven’t played the first one because I don’t like to play shooter mechanics on console. But I’m pretty sure I would have liked it, and the sequel seems to be, while not very innovative, a straight upgrade on all fronts. The most important thing: I can and will only play it either alone, or together with a couple RL friends that are also buying it. The enemies’ AI might not be great, but at least it won’t make me ragequit the game with it’s antisocial behaviour.

No play with and/or against strangers for me anymore, no Sir. For now anyway.