D2 Beta Final Thoughts

From my limited perspective, if I were Bungie I’d probably declare the Destiny 2 beta on PS4 a success. It served two major purposes: it was a marketing exercise, like any beta these days in a world almost post-demo. The other purpose was the technical jiggery with servers and tests and the like. I know critical reception is probably not the most favourable, just look at my initial post on it. However, I would hesitate to bash the game based solely on the beta.

So let’s look back at the 5 days of beta. I played on 4 of those days, dipping my toe into two classes, one go at the strike, and several attempts at the Crucible PvP multiplayer.

My initial thoughts weren’t the best. The game is essentially more of the same, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. The good comes for those Destiny nuts who have played over 1000 hours of the game and probably wouldn’t stop if Destiny 2 weren’t coming. It also provides a level of consistency, but I reckon that’s a bit of a weak pro. Thankfully, the hints from the beta indicate that the system and UI contain welcome refinements.

The cons of being “more of the same” come in the form of a hackneyed feeling, it’s just getting a bit old. And then, when considering any PvP activity, there are still those thousands of Destiny nuts who have 3 years of experience with virtually identical mechanics over the newcomers. Arriving late on the scene for any multiplayer shooter can be daunting, annoying, and sometimes feel inaccessible. It also raises the questions over whether or not they’ve updated the engine, because the assets seem uncomfortably familiar. Many of the developmental problems with Destiny were down to the archaic engine and development hell that Bungie put themselves through. Has this improved?

The one level of consistency I welcome, regardless, is the basic shooting mechanics. They remain tight and satisfying. Destiny carries elements of what makes any good twitch-arena shooter. When you can concentrate on shooting your opponents rather than sitting in menus trying to set everything just right, then I’m an automatic fan of the shooter. Of course, it would appear Bungie has still taken this for granted, because the menus (at least in the beta) still lacked the kinds of settings many other competitive shooters have these days. It would be great to just have the more in-depth options, you know? For example: Where is an FOV setting?
Still, Destiny 2 feels great at the basic gameplay level, and that weighs heavily in its favour.

The other major positive takeaway I had from the beta is the intriguing story. I do have an element of doubt in my mind though. The intriguing bit is that Ghaul and the Cabal come along and fiddle with the Traveler and take everyone’s light away. Phwoar! But the light thing is what the basis of the game’s mechanics, story, and gameplay were built on! Well done Bungie! You seem to have shaken things up!

But.

Light levels are still there. It’s just called Power now. You still have your ghost. Strength, Intelligence, and Discipline are still present, they only have new names. So, what kind of impact can this story really have then? If Ghaul comes along, snatches away the light, eviscerates the Traveler’s floating ball, and razes the Last City and we can walk away and still have identical gameplay and levelling systems, what did those things matter in the first place? It’s a bit of an existential question for me, and many will probably not care.

I do care, purely because if you’re going to make such a big deal about your story, and if it goes through the motions of utterly decimating the established systems and yet fails to change anything in practice, why should I then trust that this story will live up to the hype? We’ll just get our light back, or we don’t need to because we have light’s good-enough cousin called Power.

The eternal optimist in me, way in the basement of my mind, is mumbling past hist gag while he struggles against the restraints: “What if this is just a beta set up with old systems to mislead?”
Shut up Carl.

Anyway, back to the beta. I’ll reserve judgement on systems like the drop rate of exotic and legendary items for the full game. This beta’s purpose was clearly not to preview any improvements or changes in that area. There were like 20 weapons and 2 armour variants per class in the whole thing, so let’s not use that as a meaningful sample.

Overall, having played for the duration of the beta, my conclusions have fleshed out a bit. I’ve decided that I’m more likely to pick this game up on release, purely out of a morbid curiosity. I enjoyed some aspects of it, and it’s possible that I like some of the refinements in this second iteration of the game a lot more than the first. However, those refinements are small enough that they could have merely been quality of life updates in the original. Visually, I will reserve judgement until the full release. The new social space, The Farm, was visibly incomplete in certain aspects, and other parts of the game have an all-too-familiar air about them. The strike on Nessus could have been any one of the Vex’s instalments in the solar system. Hopefully the full release will have better visual distinction.

I have a better overall impression of Destiny 2 after the beta, and yet I’ve come away being able to better articulate my doubts. Those doubts are firmly established in my mind, and I already have a sneaking suspicion that they’ll be saving me considerable disappointment with the full release.

The Valerian Verdict

I went to see Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I had been relatively excited and optimistic. I like Luc Besson’s work. Léon: The Professional is a phenomenal movie. The Family is one of the most underrated movies I’ve ever seen. The Fifth Element speaks for itself as a pop culture icon. The one blot on this record is Lucy. A film has never made me that angry before. It was a pile of utter rubbish.

Despite Lucy, I found myself optimistic for Valerian. If any of you have seen the trailers, you’ll know this was sold as a visual masterpiece with an intriguing sci-fi premise. I can’t say I was as disappointed as I was embarrassed.

No, the movie wasn’t so bad that it was embarrassing, rather I felt a vicarious embarrassment throughout the film during many of the on-screen interactions. This was the only thing on my mind when I walked out of the cinema.

The two leads did not work together. In fact, I found little fault with Cara Delevingne (I do not claim to be objective, she’s gorgeous). Dane DeHaan (who I have nothing against, other than his appearance in Amazing Spiderman 2) gave me the figurative collywobbles every time he came on. Any scene where he had dialogue could not end soon enough. With him being the lead, this did not bode well for the movie. There were some action scenes where he wasn’t bad, especially when he was engaging in physical acting rather than speaking.

Beside the on-screen cringe-chemistry (cringistry?), I found much of the movie to be a bit haphazard in terms of the narrative thread. At times I sat wandering what the scene in front of me had to do with anything, at other times I sat there wishing it would end. There were even some jarring moments where there seemed to be some completely out of place slap-stick kind of humour attempts. The entire “romance” thread, which intruded onto the stage from the very outset, was so out of place it distracted me throughout. Not to mention the complete lack of romantic chemistry between the leads.

Overall, I’m disappointed that this is the turn the film took. Let’s make it clear: I didn’t hate it. I don’t think it’s a bad movie. No. Those make me rant and rage. Like that abomination Lucy did.

I saw it with my dad and he seemed to enjoy it. He sat through a 2 hour 17 minute movie with nary a fidget nor a sigh of “when will this be over?”, which in itself is a ringing endorsement from him.

Personally, I just couldn’t get away from the intense cringe-worthiness of the entire thing. There was even a portion of the film where I just had to look away and shut it out, squirming like an 11 year old boy forced to watch his parents kiss at the anniversary dinner.

Overall, I rate this film just above a thumbs-down, with a palm-down wobble and a “meh”.

Booky Book

As someone who has been paid to write and edit, I’ve got a startling admission to make: I haven’t finished a single book this year. I’ve started 5, and finished none of them. I’m in a weird reading mood. I occasionally have a pang of desire to read, but other things distract me instead.

I mean, it’s getting a bit desperate now. My Goodreads challenge this year to is to read 12 new books. I’m currently 6 behind schedule. Ugh.

I therefore commit to actually catching up and finishing my challenge by the end of the year, here in this public place. Well, public-ish.

What is it with so many things in this life taking us away from the activities we love? Sometimes twisting them, sometimes sapping the desire for them from our very core. I remember when 24 hours in a day was unfathomably long. Now even a single week feels like a blink.

So, what are the books I have yet to complete (and some of them start)? I have a heap just waiting for me, so I have no excuses. I’ll read these next, probably not in this order.

Skippy Dies, Paul Murray
American Gods, Neil Gaiman *
Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby
Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harai *
The Mixer, Michael Cox
Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman *
The Long War, Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter *
Seven Sins, Karen Runge *

Those are just the books I actually own and have selected to read. Not including the ones I have on a wishlist, my shelf, or in a cupboard.

All the asterisks are the ones I’ve started, but since neglected. Neglecting a book is by far one of the worst guilt trips I can think of. There’s a part of my mind, somewhere at the back, that is utterly appalled and intellectually indignant that I would dare to abandon a book without finishing it. Yes, I know, Me; I ought to finish what I started. How dare I, a self-proclaimed lover of books, neglect to finish my reading. Shame on me, shame!

Hey, on the bright side, I might even pop a short review of each on here. Writing material to keep me engaged in this little project of mine.

Finally, if there is a random person who happens upon this blog, I wouldn’t turn down some book recommendations. Until next time.

Shootery Lootery

I’ve spent a little more time with the Destiny 2 beta. It’s amazing what I’ll do to get a shooter fix when Battlefield 1 servers are empty after the update.

My opinion on buying this game on day one is still swinging wildly from side to side, like a pendulum powered by indecision and gamer’s addiction angst. There’s this thing that many gamers will be able to relate with: the strong desire to get a new game on launch. I know not everyone is like that, and many of us have to wait for price drops and budget increases, but the desire is still there. It’s my theory that it’s this pent-up desire that makes so many of us lose control on the ridiculous sales.

Anyway, back to Destiny Vol. 2. It’s not bad. I reckon I’ve said that before. It’s more of the same, it’s ever so slightly prettier, it’s got a bit more story intrigue, and probably the most noticeable change is the ever-present “2” in the marketing.  We get it, it’s a different game *avuncularly conspiratorial wink*.

Seriously though, this feels a lot more like a polished expansion than a new game. Destiny: The Snuffing of the Light. This is the biggest source of my instant nausea when thinking of buying this game. However, there are some counter points that are attractive. The foremost of these is the new story and antagonist. Ghaul is pretty darn cool, menacing and calmly casual while ripping the light from the Guardians. The way the story mission in the beta ends motivates me to play this story. Coupled with the presence of NPCs during combat and play (at least in the first mission), this is a far more attractive story campaign than the first.

And yet, there’s a large element that still puts me off. Destiny is a looter shooter. I like me some shooter goodness. I do not like RNG-based looters. This is a more recent discovery, after having something bothering me when playing both The Division and Destiny over the previous year and a bit. In fact, it’s growing to be antipathy. In a shooter, RNG does not belong anywhere near elements that affect gameplay. Create a random loot system for anything purely aesthetic, cool. When you have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting a certain gun, that’s when it loses appeal. In the shooters I enjoy, like Battlefield and Call of Duty (judge me, it’s cool), you work toward certain guns. You unlock them by completing tasks and assignments, rather than them maybe possibly sometimes dropping in your lap after a million hours of disappointment and dashed hopes.

Of course, it’s possible to ignore that aspect of Destiny. Just play the campaign, enjoy the story, move on. The problem with that is the first game had a disjointed narrative campaign that only appealed due to the shooting mechanics and because I was playing with friends. A game has to specifically be built around the mechanics, like 2016’s Doom, for me to not care about the story. And that’s not even a good example, because Doom‘s story was worlds better than the first Destiny. Which is a crying shame, due to Destiny having such amazing lore.

So, what is it? Yea or nay? I don’t know yet. I’ll probably decide long after the beta. And if I have enough cash at the time, I’ll probably just buy it on launch anyway. I have enough friends who play it to have potential good times on the horizon. Yet, there is too much vying for my attention. Lawbreakers is out shortly, I still play the crap out of Battlefield 1COD WWII will have to be played, and Battlefront II is going to be a future time sink. So, does my destiny lie with 2. Probably not, but let’s not rule it out entirely.

Dee Two

The Destiny 2 beta is here, and people have flocked to play it. Those with the pre-order codes (and those who have good friends) have some “early access” (or does everyone else have late access?). The PS4 closed beta started yesterday, 18 July, and the Xbox One one (heh), starts today some time.

I haven’t paid a lot of attention to any reports, but my experience was smooth sailing in terms of server connections and latency.

I had the opportunity to play the opening mission, the beta strike, and some PvP. My initial thoughts are far more “meh” than “wow”. I’ll play a bit more of the beta, but it might take some convincing to actually buy this game on launch at this stage. I didn’t hate the first Destiny. I just arrived late. I don’t have a particular love for the game either. More of the same doesn’t appeal to me, and so far this is just past familiar and just short of identical. Some new sub-classes, new icons in the menus, and some more cinematics don’t have me convinced just yet.

All that said, I’m willing to sit on it some more. Yet, with the packed gaming schedule, I’m probably going to prioritise other titles.

More tomorrow (probably).

Many Movies

Yet another slow news day for gaming. So let’s talk about another interest of mine, albeit far more casual: movies. I think I like movies as much as the next person, I’m far from a cinemaphile. Still, I have my opinions on certain movies. Well, most movies.

This year has already had some great films come out, and some not-so-great ones. Noteworthy titles so far have been LoganGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2Wonder WomanThe Mummy, and John Wick 2.

Probably the one I have my doubts over the most, and I need to see it again for a better opinion, is Wonder Woman. I adore Gal Gadot, purely because she’s drop dead gorgeous. She’s got decent acting ability, but I think my judgement is clouded. My reservations over the film come from various angles, one being the concern that as a DCEU film, it was more enjoyable because the other offerings have been rather poor.

That said, Wonder Woman was enjoyable to watch, and didn’t have my distinct disdain like Ghost in the Shell. I’m still extremely grateful that I didn’t pay to see that.

I still have some movies I’m looking forward to for the second half of the year, in order of anticipation: Star Wars VIII: The Last JediSpider-man HomecomingKingsman the Golden Circle, and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

I consider myself a Star Wars fan. Maybe not an uber-fan, but a big one nonetheless. I’m somewhat surprised at the lack of excitement for this year’s instalment. I understand that this is the third year in a row with a Star Wars film, but surely I can’t be the only one excited to see what’s next for the new generation of the saga. We’ll be getting an older Luke, one who seems to be done with the Jedi (what does it mean, Gray Jedi? No Jedi? WHAT). We’ll hopefully see Finn wake up from his coma, otherwise this is John Boyega’s easiest pay-cheque ever. There’s a lot to bring together and to leave hanging for Episode IX. Hopefully we’ll get an iconic moment of shock.

Spider-man Homecoming is out this Friday, and as a Spidey fan I’m extremely optimistic about this third version reboot. Tom Holland’s portrayal was the only redeeming factor of the forgettable Civil War (which I still think of as Avengers 3). While I’m optimistic, I am realistic. There is a lot of room for disappointment. So here’s hoping.

Kingsman the Golden Circle has me excited, but also somewhat cautious. The first one was phenomenal. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s easily one of my favourite movies of all time. Top 25, easy. This one looks like it will be star-packed, which could go either way. Some movies with this many big names are over-loaded, a bit like Queens Park Rangers from the 2013/2014 season. Some do well. This one has already spoilt the return of Colin Firth’s character, so hopefully it blows us away, instead of making us regret that they made it.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a Luc Besson film, and that’s enough to get me to see it. Ignoring the filthy abomination that was Lucy, I trust him as a director. Léon: The Professional is, to date, one of the best films I’ve ever watched. Pure genius, made exceptional by three superb cast members. The Fith Element was great, but I watched it as a kid and it never left much of an impression. The Family, with Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Dianna Agron was completely underrated. Hopefully this is more of the same, rather than the pure trash that was Lucy.

And to leave you off, with maybe some hype about the upcoming movies I’m hyped about, here are the trailers:

PS Plus July 2017

It’s a bit quiet on the news front. It’s post Crash release hype that’s winding down in the form of opinion pieces and reviews, some talk about other games, a bit of hype for Lawbreakers, and other waffle. Nothing groundbreaking. Today is also the day PSN refreshes and we get this month’s PS Plus titles.

The “free” monthly games have certainly had their share of controversy among gamers. In fact, I mostly hear whining and complaining about it. If it’s not that we’re not getting AAA releases, it’s because we already have the AAA games offered this month. It gets old fast, all this nagativity from gamers. No, that’s not a typo.

I’ve found lately, and maybe this is because I frequent Reddit more often, that gamers are both considerably negative, and extremely whiny about their views. Opinion is fine, but this sense of entitlement is just too close to what the “real world” is full of for my tastes. Gimme gimme gimme. Me me me. (Me monsters.) However, I came here to talk about this month’s PS Plus free games, not contribute my own nagging to the gamer nagativity (it’s an epidemic).

Last month’s lineup was excellent, including Killing Floor 2 and Life is Strange. While I couldn’t give a rusty fig about Square Enix’s high school drama adventure, I see its inclusion on the list as a major positive. Killing Floor 2 is a fun, but maybe a bit simple, co-op shooter I spent a few enjoyable hours on. It’s about the stature and quality of the games included.

This month, we’re getting more bang for our buck! Until DawnGame of Thrones a Telltale Series, and That’s You all feature in what is probably one of PS Plus’s better months. Now, I’m not one of those who will say that PlayStation Plus is about the free games, those are bonus as part of a subscription to an online service. That said, I am impressed when they make the effort to include titles like these. You know, the kind to improve the perception of some that PS Plus games are stuffed with worthless indie titles and shovel-ware. I still have zero desire to play a Telltale game, I probably won’t play Until Dawn soon, and party games are a thing from the PS2 era for me, but the stature of these games shouldn’t be ignored, especially something like Until Dawn.

Still, I have seen complaints that people already have Until Dawn, so they should get a substitute game instead. I find that hilarious! The sense of entitlement is disgustingly un-ironic from the source, yet tragically ironic in reality. I could probably dedicate a whole rant-filled post to that. Thankfully, not today.

Yet, I think I can try see where some of these people are coming from. When PS Plus launched during the  PS3 days, it was built around this free game system. A lot of people still think about it as such. A subscription wasn’t required to play online multiplayer, and Plus was entirely optional. With the advent of the PS4, however, things changed. Sony made it that PS Plus was required to play online multiplayer. It transformed into a subscription that pays for the PlayStation online services, with a bonus set of “free” games every month. Clearly a lot of people haven’t made the mental transition yet, even four years after it was announced.

I’ll admit that there is still more to the argument, especially when you bring up the actual infrastructure of the online service and its quality and maintenance, but that’s branching into another aspect of the discussion. Subscription purpose vs rewards, for example.

And that’s it. Great PS Plus offerings this month. Since I’m not an Xbox man, but maybe I can have a look on that side and discuss their lineup at Games with Gold. Especially since the Plus argument is usually done in comparison to what they have over there. Until next time.

Crash! Bang! Boom!

 

It’s been a while again! My blog discipline needs some work. As such, I’m putting out a quick one today to get back into writing (briefly).

Crash Bandicoot The N. Sane Trilogy released this previous weekend on PS4, and boy was it popular.

I’ve spent most of the weekend either playing Crash, or steadfastly avoiding it. It’s probably the best example of a remaster available, and the originals have been translated excellently onto current-gen software. The problem with this is that I’d forgotten how punishingly difficult these games are. Well, at least the first one. I think I’ll put a proper “review” of the trilogy together when I’ve played more of the second and third games, for now I’m completing a task 21 years in the making.

I first played Crash Bandicoot on the original PlayStation at a friend’s house. The lack of a memory card, and the fact that we were little kids, meant that we didn’t really progress far in the game. We spent most of our time with Warped later on, seeing it as easier and more fun.

I think many of us have forgotten how difficult games used to be. It’s possible that difficulty has been watered down for the masses, which makes sense. Games has supposedly become an industry more lucrative than the film industry (I can’t find the numbers, remind me to research this later). Even if games aren’t bigger than movies, certain numbers don’t lie. Over 60 million PlayStation 4s have shipped since the console’s launch. That’s a massive number. The Xbox One number might look small in comparison (probably 30 million), but that’s still a hefty total. That’s about 90 million current-gen consoles out in the wild. Even with overlap of ownership, that’s a lot of people buying games that cost anything between $1 and $90 (remember those collector’s editions and Season Passes). That’s big.

I digress. Gaming is big, it’s popular, and there’s reason to believe it’s growing. Of course, if you’re selling games, you want it to be accessible when you’re dealing with these numbers. All that to say that it seems reasonable that games have become less difficult. Talk about a long walk for a short drink. Geez.

It turns out Crash Bandicoot was made in an era when game devs were evil sadists, and gamers willing masochists. And we still adore them for it. We remember those torturous sessions fondly, and releases like this fall into “nostalgia”. Probably the best example of Stockholm syndrome I’ve ever seen.

Anyway, Crash  has been hard. And while I have been tempted to squeeze my controller into fine dust at times, I’m enjoying returning to a series I haven’t touched for years (see what I mean about that syndrome business?). I guess I’ll leave the detailed impressions for another post.

Until later, alligator.