The Evolution of the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Evolution of the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Fun fact: I was hoping to do a review on the game soon, but considering I’ve been playing eighty hours and I’m still not done with the first act, that clearly isn’t happening any time soon. Bless the hearts of anyone who reviewed this at release because I can’t imagine rushing this game. So far the scaling makes it possible to mainline the story quests, but why would you want to? Most of the character interactions and quest variety is in the details.

Like Assassin of Kings, Wild Hunt made a lot of effort to revamp a lot of aspects of the series. Some revert back to the original title, some meld both its predecessors, and some are all its own. Let’s go ahead and break it down.

This title adds in some missing open world concepts and basic logic. Players get a comprehensive world map with no limitations on travel. No long do you fail quests just for not finishing them in an unspecified time limit. So far quests tied to characters remain active–even after they leave the current area. With the increase in content, that’s appreciated. I could barely make sense of the proper order to finish quests in the previous titles; there’s no way I could do it now.

With these new, sprawling maps, you can fast travel. With the confined spaces and joy of exploration in the first two, I didn’t mind. But here the maps are so big that more of your time playing would consist of backtracking than anything else. You have to walk or ride your horse until you unlock an area’s signpost.

Same goes for searching all the question marks on the map. It feels like the game was jumbo-sized to offset this new convenience. I love it. I’ll fast travel to a nearby village or mountainside and clear out all the monster nests, abandoned sites, and hidden treasure.

Now that I’m done acting like the first person to ever play an open world game, let’s get to the systems that are constants in the series: alchemy, inventory, and combat.

Alchemy

The alchemy system is an odd one. It harks back to needing a strong alcohol base to make everything, but you only need to make bombs, blade oils, and potions once. After using the materials the first time, you’re given three to five uses depending on the recipes–normal, enhanced, and superior, respectively–and once these run out, you must meditate. If you still have alcohol in your inventory, the system replenishes your used items. It’s odd because I feel like I have better access to alchemy materials now that I don’t need as many.

You do have recipes for exhaustible items, but they are mainly for magical alchemy ingredients and some alcohol bases. It’s a weird circle, but I enjoy it. I get a big thrill from finally tracking down everything necessary for a new kind of bomb or a manuscript page for an upgraded potion.

Inventory

Now the inventory system is the love child of the first two in the series. The beautiful grid system is back, letting you better visualize what’s in your pockets. But you have unlimited slots, your capacity limited by the weight of the items instead–just like the second. You can carry more by using upgraded saddlebags, a weird one logically but is still useful. Still, I like it even with the weight component.

Combat

Now the combat is WONDERFUL–even with the group style still not making a comeback. You have your normal signs, fast and strong attacks, and wheel of doom a.k.a where you keep all the bombs. You can finally drink potions with a button press again, and you can use a crossbow to auto-target flying enemies. Dodging only takes two key presses in the direction you want to go. Honestly it is not all that different from the second game’s combat, but the few tweaks make it smoother and simpler.

An important PSA: only attempt to steal while breaking and entering. The guys won’t stop you from entering strange houses, but don’t you d are rifle through barrels in plain daylight. Finally the Witcher has added some logic to its looting. If a guard sees you pilfer a bottle of dwarven spirit, he will rain down his axe, but guards and home and store owners don’t mind you clearing out their entire inventory of broken oars and silver platters.

Also I hate water levels, just so you know.

Stay tuned.

Witcher 2 Review a.k.a. 100 Post Extravaganza!

Witcher 2 Review a.k.a. 100 Post Extravaganza!

The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings Enhanced Edition is the second in the Witcher game series from CDProjektRed. While it feels like an evolution in many places, a few parts feel like they took a few steps back.

Story

In the sequel, Gerald of Rivia is an adviser to King Foltest when a man with golden eyes–a trademark of a witcher–kills the king and frames our protagonist. You spend the rest of the game looking for answers and trying to clear you name.

Also Geralt has still not recovered all of his memories from the AMNESIAAAAAAA from the first game, but with Triss’ help, he starts having more flashbacks. They still lack some detail and go by so quick that is makes some of his conversations about politics and the surrounding regions hard to follow. It’s not so bad that reading the novels is necessary, but it wouldn’t hurt either. You can still follow the basics of the story without understanding the details though, and if you’re like me, you’ll love the graphic novel style of the depictions of his past. Gerald is one of my favorite game heroes but still remained a mystery until now. It was good seeing his past, and the art style made it great.

The number of decisions you make in the Witcher 2‘s story are fewer but have more impact on the direction of the game. For example who with which you choose to side at the end of the first act gives you two different quest lines for the rest of the game. this adds replay value that many games with similar choice mechanics tend to lack. The Witcher 2 is essentially two separate games with only the beginning and a few boss battles in common.

Other times you make subtle choices. There were a few ultimatums I was unaware I was being presented with. While this is a huge improvement for RPG choice mechanics, my guilty conscience left me replaying one or two later sections to rectify my actions.

Gameplay

I think I’m in the minority here, but despite its low-level of difficulty, I prefer the combat from the first Witcher game. Three words: group style combat. The fast and strong attacks made it to the sequel, but the style geared towards attacking hordes of enemies were cut. In this swordsmanship branch of the character tree are group finishers, but they require you to fill up an adrenaline meter; they act like limit breaks from JRPGs.

Outside of that, it’s not so bad. Parrying and counterattacking–called riposte here–are simpler to do, and blocking in all directions is an ability you can get rough leveling up. Instead of having to select attack styles manually, fast and strong are assigned to the left and right mouse buttons. It’s easier to use items like daggers, traps, and bombs as well as your signs. You select whatever you want from a wheel mid-combat, and you’re good to go.

The difficulty spikes are rough and impossible to predict until late in the game. At the end of each act is a boss battle so hard it feels like you are meant to lose. Once you’re in the midst of the battle, you know what you need to do, but you can’t do it without reloading a previous save. Why? You can’t drink potions and craft the necessary attack items without meditating. No constantly knocking back swallows for vitality regeneration, no using white afford’s decoction when you’re close to death. This one small tweak added all the complexity the first game lacked.

The inventory system was also overhauled. Instead of being accessible from the main game screen, you exit out to a separate one to handle everything. From there, you have unlimited inventory slots but a limited weight. So replacing the rationale that Geralt only has so many pockets but is strong enough to carry whatever he picks up is the Elder Scrolls way of thinking where a single plate leaves you moving like molasses. The first was clunkier but was a nice change from the weight-based system that writes its own jokes. Also the new system has everything broken down into categories, some overlapping. It works decently, but sometimes bugs out if an item fits into multiple categories, especially if it is a quest item. I’d pick something up, and when I went to use it, it was nowhere to be found. I had to go to forums just to navigate the menu. For example you have to use warrior nekker’s blood to break a spell for a quest. I had some but couldn’t find it anywhere in my alchemy screen. Turns out that even though the other ingredients for the quest were found there, this one was only under quest items. These silly issues were headaches that the last system never were.

Quests

If there was an aspect of the Witcher 2 that left me more conflicted, it was the quests. Like the Witcher, the quests are divided into chapters and must be completed before continuing to the next. Unlike the first, the chapters are then divided into smaller parts without ever telling the player. Multiple times I failed quests halfway through a chapter for some arbitrary reason that I couldn’t have figured.

Outside of this poor choice, the quests themselves are outstanding the main ones are strong and multi-layered. You never know if what you’re doing and for whom you’re doing it are good in the right, but you know it needs to get done regardless.

The side quests have variety–witcher contracts, investigations, debates in philosophy, and riddle-solving. The intermittent battles and conversations tie these radically disparate adventures together.

Verdict

Despite much of this sounding like complaining, I loved this game in its entirety. I can’t get enough of the characters, the story, the quests. Even with the changes to the sequel of which I’m not a fan, I can’t recommend this series enough. It’s definitely my favorite Western RPG in a fantasy setting.

Also a favorite game series period.

Stay tuned.

[Note: This being my one hundredth post sort of snuck up on me. I have a list prepared for a certain special and self-deprecating post.]

A Different Monster Hunter: The Witcher Review

A Different Monster Hunter: The Witcher Review

I haven’t covered a game with exorbitant amounts of content lately. I’ve stuck to smaller adventure games with few side quests and branching paths. This is my first large RPG since Dying Light, so I’m going to take a more structured approach instead of an anecdotal one.

Story

CDProjekt Red based the Witcher series on Polish novels from the nineties about a mutated monster hunter, or witcher, named Geralt. Though he dies at the end of the books, the first game picks up at his resurrection with–AMNESIA:

downloadNot long after Geralt’s miraculous recovery, members  from the rebel group Salamandra attack Kaer Morhan, the headquarters and training grounds for other witchers. These rogues steal the mutagens and potions used to give the witchers their, for lack of a better word, superpowers. Until now these were protected secrets, and Geralt must hunt down Salamandra and figure out their plans. On your journey, you meet the residents of Vizima and the surrounding areas. You find priests, warriors, witches, merchants, and average townspeople. Soon you’ll also find that these sleepy towns are a façade that covers up a racial and political power struggle. Nonhuman races–elves and dwarves–are the lower class, and those fighting for the church are quickest to believe this. On the flip side, elves and dwarves formed the Scoia’tael, a vigilante group whose actions feed into the public’s belief that nonhumans are savage. This complicated societal structure plays well into the choice mechanics.

Like many modern Western RPGs, the Witcher series employs choices, some meaningless and some monumental. During the Prologue, you’re forced to choose which of two battles to fight–go with Triss to defend the lab or stay and fight a large monster called a frightener. Your decision affects the events that follow, and at the end, Vesemir asks Geralt if he thinks he made the right choice. If the player hasn’t caught on yet. This lets you know subtly to make your decisions carefully from here on out, even if they seem innocuous at the moment.

Unlike my experiences with Dragon Age: Origins, the Witcher series’ morality system weaves a complicated web instead of remaining on two separate poles. Geralt can to constantly switch sides of the current fight with a single choice and even stay out of political matters entirely. Witchers traditionally go where the money does, not where the passions do.

Not spoiling anything, the people you choose to support or let live out of indifference are there to help you in the end in a way that isn’t contrived like many others who attempt this format.

And that long ramble brings me to–

Gameplay

Now if the goal of a witcher like Geralt is to hunt beats, how is the combat? In a word: easy. Using your sword is a matter of aiming the camera at the enemy and clicking the mouse in counts of three. That is the only combo. Any upgrades to the attacks doled out are applied automatically without any additional button presses needed. The only decisions lie in which fighting style you choose and which sword. Geralt has two different swords, one for humans and one for monsters. Each sword then has three fighting styles–fast, strong, and group. Which you use depends on the number of enemies and their speed and accuracy.  At no point is there an increase in the difficulty of execution, only an increase in the opponent’s strength. This imbalance keeps there from ever being a true challenge. The only times I ever lost were when I was either unprepared or impatient.

The strategy instead lies in the use of items and magic. Geralt uses potions to increase his attack, defense, health and vitality regeneration, and other statistics. The trick is you can’t use them all at once because of toxicity and other ill effects. Using too many potions lowers your ability to fight well, so you must prioritize. Other potions give you advantages at a cost, e.g. increased accuracy for decreased defense. Then after deciding on what concoctions to swallow, you then must think about blade oils. While JRPGs depend on elemental relationships (ice and fire, water and electricity), Witcher uses the enemy’s species to dictate weaknesses. You have oils you can apply to each sword specific to necrophages, insects, specters, etc. These are essential when encountering hoards of the same enemy type. Otherwise you may get overwhelmed quickly.

Now how do you get all these potions and oils? This game has an alchemy system you can access while meditating, also known as how to pass time quickly. You use herbs you pick and monster parts you carve off of enemies to create everything you need. Each potion requires a certain quality alcohol base, and each oil needs a type of animal fat. Before you make anything or collect any ingredients, you have to find or buy the recipes and encyclopedic entries. This style creates a certain collection mechanic to make sure Geralt is the most well-informed hunter in the land. You also only have limited inventory space for these supplies, so must either constantly make potions, or prioritize which ingredients you want to collect.

Now the most integral part of any large-scale RPG is the quest system, and that is where Witcher shines. A few of the story quests continue throughout entire game with updates to your journal with each piece of new information. Then each chapter has its own main quest, whether it is exploring the bumps in the night on the outskirts of town or figuring out if there is a mole in the monarchy. AND THEN the chapter has its own contained side quests such as contracts to fight certain monsters or killing large game for trophies. AAAAND THEN you have side quests that continue throughout the entire game such as perfecting your dice poker skills or climbing the ranks as a fist fighter in local pubs. There is so much content and such a variety, but the structure keeps you from getting overwhelmed by possibility. You only obtain a certain number of quests in each chapter and must complete them immediately, helping you figure out the order in which you need to finish tasks and letting you know when you are ready to progress through the story.

And lastly that takes us to–

Performance

For a game released in 2008 for the PC, it still ran poorly on my 2014-era desktop. It constantly dropped frames and only ever hovered around 45 FPS. It crashed at least once every other time I booted it up. Whenever the game would start to lag, I would get that same heart-in-throat feeling I would from playing the Sims on my MacBook after not saving for a while (Seriously, if there was ever an example of compatibility not equaling functionality, but that’s for an other time). I also encountered certain bugs that have been around since launch. I would go looking on CDProjekt Red message boards to find a solution to what felt like a very unlikely problem only to find it had been around since the game’s inception. Once I was supposed to escape from the sewers with a ladder, but for some reason, the cutscene where the soldiers bring in the ladder just never happened. I wasted two hours running around underground thinking I hadn’t done something to trigger it only to figure out all I needed to do was load a previous save and cross my fingers.

Despite some of Witcher‘s lack of reliability, the graphics still looked great. Though the scenery and animations are dated, they are not distracting. While not the best, they still look realistic and don’t hinder a new player’s experience. It’s on par with Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origin which was released around roughly the same time.

And with that we have–

Verdict

Even with its quirks and low level of difficulty, I can’t recommend it enough. To finish all the side quests, I put in over sixty hours and never got sick of it. The only thing I would do differently looking back is play on a higher difficulty. It is incredibly cheap now, and if you are looking to play through the series, start here. I got this game on sale for $1.50. No joke. Keep an eye out, and play it ASAP.

Stay tuned.

 

Everything I Do Wrong in Monster Hunter Is Right For Me

Everything I Do Wrong in Monster Hunter Is Right For Me

I can’t stop playing Monster Hunter. Guys, I can’t stop. Seriously, my 3DS is turned on and at my desk right now waiting for me when I finish writing this. I seriously cannot wait to go fishing again.

Wait, what?

In case you can’t tell, I am clearly doing something wrong. In case you don’t know, the Monster Hunter series is exactly what it sounds like–you hunt monsters. So why can’t I remember the last new monster I fought?

  1. Gathering. I think the caravan I work for is filled with hunter-gatherer and nomadic sort of folk, yet for some reason, they are incapable of none of the above. In normal video game fashion, the only one able to do anything is me–even fishing and mining. Seriously, one of the first towns to which you travel has a career miner and yet I’m the only one who can take a pickax out to the fields. While the fetch quests is probably only filler, I still spend more time picking leaves and weeds up off the ground than anything else. Oh, there’s a giant dragon terrorizing a band of kittens? Eh, there’s limitless honey over here. I know my priorities. I even do the Harvest Tours where your only goal is to aimlessly pick flowers for fifty minutes before battling a new monster. It is Dragon Age: Origins all over again where I enjoy the busy work that others criticize the series for. Don’t ask me to get you eggs though. They are useless except for the puns (Egg-speditions. Really, Capcom?). I don’t know why I can carry a hundred mushrooms without dropping one, but this giant wyvern egg is out of my league. How about I scramble it out here on my BBQ pit and pack it in Tupperware instead?
  2. Choosing a weapon. I can’t do it. Ideally, you are supposed to find one or two weapons your prefer–maybe one melee and one ranged–and stick with those, learning all the intricacies and crafting the best possible builds. Instead I keep finding more and more weapons I love. Out of all the ones I tried, the only one I didn’t like was the traditional bow. Currently I’m trying to get the best dual blades, hunting horn, insect glaive, and light bowgun, and I haven’t even tried half of the selection. This means my rare resources are stretched further. Luckily, the closest I’ve come to a gambling addition is playing the probabilities on what ore I’m going to mine.
  3. Expeditions. I know these are new to the series, and I don’t know how much time the average player is supposed to spend on them, but I think I’ve done more of these than traditional quests. If it says a wild palico or poogie might appear–or in normal worlds, cats and pigs–I disembark without a second thought. Who needs story progression and new raw materials when I can get a ninja outfit for my pet pig? Also the treasure areas mean I can possibly get battered, broken, and rusted armor and weapons, also known as more time to play the probabilities. At least I’m only wasting away my valuable time instead of my meager finances.
  4. Single Player 4 Lyfe. Outdated language aside and forty hours in, I have yet to hunt with friends. I’ve talked about my aversion to multiplayer before, and it still applies here. I already know I don’t play right and don’t want to either be reminded or make anyone else suffer that. Instead of slow and methodical movement and combat, I take the angry toddler approach–all might, no thought, and a good bit of running away. I have fun when I play, and I know I’m not great; it’s more fun for me to relish that in solidarity instead of putting it on display for other people. Let’s ignore how me writing about it here totally contradicts that.

Basically no matter what I do wrong, I still can’t get enough. By the way, if you have ever tried the series before and found it slow, confusing, or impenetrable, check out some of the following Youtube channels. They help a lot and are each done in a different style, so find what works for you. I highly recommend it.

  • Kitty Kat Gaming melds walkthrough and casual Let’s Play perfectly.
  • ProJared does a lot of great beginner’s guides. The link is to his material on MH3U, but the advice is still great and applies.
  • Arekkz Gaming has detailed tutorials on all the weapons, game modes, and quests that are edited to perfection.

Stay tuned.

Bastion: Part 1

Bastion: Part 1

I’m going to get back to being the best creative superhero for the ages, but first I need my sinus-clogged brain to clear up before my powers can return. Instead I chose to start a game where all of the story is told to me, and my only responsibility is to hit everything.

I played about half of the game a couple of years back, but playing on my MacBook Pro hindered my progress. While it technically ran, it would lag half of the time, and the graphics took on this ripple effect the rest of the time. Eventually I just put it down, planning to come back when I had a better system. Now the stars–or graphics cards–have aligned, and here we are.

I’m not going to lie–I am a chronic multitasker. No matter how enthralling a game is, I always want to keep something on in the background, whether it is Netflix, Youtube, or a podcast. This is one of the only games I’ve played that forces me to listen to the entirety of it instead of only tuning in for cutscenes or dialogue. Considering it is more than a few years old, you’ve all heard this narrator, but if you haven’t, go look him up. Throughout the entire game, he narrates your every move whether you are kicking ass or falling on it instead.

You start off waking up in a broken and deserted world with nothing in your possession. The ground is cracked and almost gone, only appearing as you start to walk on it. Wingardium Leviosa and what not.

It might seem small, but it makes what from what I played feels a little hack-and-slash into a more explorative game. There are hidden upgrades and bits of lore in the corner of the map, but you have to guess from the shape of what’s left of the ground to know whether or not there’s a path. You’re motivated to get these things too since from what I remember of the game and what I’ve replayed so far, that is how you get the most information about what happened to your home. Without it, you’re just a little schizophrenic adolescent on an acid trip.

Hack-and-slash or not, the combat still feels great. The game gives you a lot of options for weapons and style with only a few slots, forcing you to know how you want to play. More often than not, I’m the kind of player who finds a play style that is best for me–typically melee since my aiming abilities are not always reliable–and don’t change. Here the special abilities for the ranged weapon are so great that I find myself using it more. I gave up a spinning hammer attack for a ricocheting bow attack and can still enjoy it without feeling tied to it.

And for a little bit of honesty: I still haven’t played that much this entire week because my sinuses are filled with fall pollen and dog fur. I’ll stalk up on DC shenanigans this weekend so I can bring something more substantial Monday. Promise. Stay tuned.