Greatness Delayed Podcast #036: We Deserve Better

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Is God Of War As Good As People Say?

When God of War (2018) had finally been delivered to the masses, it was smothered with 9’s and 10’s out of adoration by virtually every respectable review outlet known to man. The praise was due to a culmination of the game’s great graphics, an in-game camera that never cuts away, a more measured approach to combat, its story, side-quests, and open world design. Just like that, any and all concerns associated with the studio’s decision to change the franchise so drastically had melted away overnight.

But is God of War really one of the best games of all time?

For those unfamiliar with God of War’s previous story, it was about a man turned demigod by the name of Kratos. He pledged his life on the battlefield to Ares, the original god of war, for victory in return. As a result, Kratos was granted great power and had a pair of blades permanently chained to his forearms. He used these to carry out the god’s bidding time and time again, but his thirst for blood was redirected when his wife and daughter were killed by his own hands. He destroyed Ares and became the new god of war, but was then forsaken by the remaining pantheon up on Mount Olympus. Needless to say, this didn’t go over well and Kratos went on his most destructive rampage yet, not stopping until Zeus was reduced to little more than a bloody pulp. This was the end of the main trilogy, leaving Kratos’ fate ambiguous to the audience.

2018’s God of War picks up many years later. Kratos has aged, settled in to the world of Norse mythology, had seemingly found a new love and had a son. The woman of his life recently deceased, to respect her wishes, he and the boy are tasked with releasing her ashes from atop the highest mountain in all the land. But before they’re able to set off proper, a mysterious stranger appears with an ominous message, something along the lines of, “We know who you are and you’re not welcome here.” With nowhere to hide, the demigod and his boy – a mere survivalist in training (you can’t quite call him a warrior, not yet) – decide to push forward with the task at hand before something worse catches up with them.

It’s a straightforward premise to be sure, but the heart and soul of this adventure is the relationship between Kratos and Atreus. It’s clear that Kratos was too busy providing for his family to be much of a father, and when he was around, the pressure he put on his son had strained their relationship. Kratos was all business and no play, and unlike his actions in Greece, we can sort of understand why. He knows the world is full of unsavory beasts and beings, and if his boy is to survive, he needs tough love.

Some of the more critical fans out there don’t care for Atreus’ inclusion, because he’s not just there at the beginning, but stays by Kratos’ side throughout. This isn’t unlike Ellie from The Last of Us, but she, wittier and wiser than her years let on, was a far compelling companion.

Personally, I don’t love Atreus but I don’t hate him. I appreciate Atreus because he’s roughly my son’s age and acts the part. When it comes to exploring the world he’s quite green but also acts like he knows everything. So, when the game wants you to explore every nook and cranny to find all the hidden goodies, Atreus attempts to pull you off the path… and I can’t understand why. Is it to remind us how to get back to the main quest? I’ve yet to get lost in God of War and certainly don’t need Atreus’ help. This game may be open world, but it’s not Skyrim. In fact, I question the ‘open world’ claim in the first place (more on that in a bit). We really don’t need Atreus to mimic Ocarina of Time’s Navi – “Hey, LISTEN!” – and that’s something that every developer should do their best to avoid.

Atreus is a handy extension during battle though… eventually. He’s useless at the beginning, but the more he learns (and the more you upgrade his skillset), the more he’s able to help. Halfway through the game the kid is a bonafide life saver. He’ll unleash arrows (at your command) that either stun or deal damage to foes, so he’s viable for reducing their health and managing crowd control. As he strengthens and grows, Kratos will acknowledge his child’s improvements and thus improves their bond. They still have their issues though. Kratos clearly wants to comfort his son but feels he can’t. Atreus wants a father figure but resents the one he has. This plays out in interesting ways.

Now, I’ve seen people say that the secondary characters are great, and they are… but only to a certain extent. They’re written and acted quite well, but God of War relies too much on recycling the few it has as opposed to presenting new ones. The two you’ll see time and time again are a pair of estranged dwarven brothers, and while they’re entertaining, you almost feel like they’re the only two characters you meet throughout the game. There are others, sure, but none as prominent as they are. The game does a good job of explaining how they manage to pop up in each location before Kratos and Atreus are even able to get there, but without an expansive cast to back them up, their inclusion makes God of War feel a bit hollow. You could certainly argue the previous games lacked in the same area, but they also weren’t nearly as story driven.

It’s worth noting that the story, by the way, is barely there. The writers do a decent job at exploring the world’s lore and providing some back information on its characters, but God of War never feels, at least narratively, as epic as its visuals. There’s some surprises, yes, but considering the slogging ‘slow burn’ technique employed – which I’m usually a fan of – those payoffs come way too late in the campaign.

But let’s get away from the narrative and cast and talk about design.

There’s been a lot of buzz about God of War’s open world and how you’re able to return to old areas to unlock things that were previously forecasted as late game content.

Personally, I don’t see it.

You could technically call this an open world, but it’s not, at least not in the strictest sense. It’s more like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (two references in one article… niiiiice). They N64 classic used Hyrule as a central hub area with each unique area branching off of that. God of War is quite similar as it uses a large lake as its central hub. Once you branch off to chase the story or side quests, things get extremely linear. The backdrops along the way are breathtaking and make your environment feel expansive, but from a travel perspective, you’re basically dealing with a bunch of corridors that are occasionally broken up by small battle arenas and puzzle rooms. This illusion of an open world mixed with the reality of linearity makes God of War feel like it has something of an identity crisis.

And by the way, even those linear paths can be a chore to traverse. Nearly every time you turn around, there’s a new chest just begging to be unlocked. There’s a few ways of doing this: by finding and smashing three vases with runes etched on them, by doing the same but with a strict time limit, or by rotating runic columns until you find the right combination. I applaud the developers for wanting to add more content to the game, but this is virtually all they offer until you’re at least halfway through the game. At that point, you have the option of going back to certain areas and engaging in battle with corrupted Valkyries, but the ‘open the chest’ variants are what make a good portion of this game’s ‘things to do’ list. You could blow past these time wasters to carry on with the main story, but then you have to live with knowing you probably passed up something that could have permanently increased your health.

Lack of variety also rears an ugly head with the adversaries you face. You pretty much go up against the same enemies over and over again, and that includes the mini-boss trolls. The surprising thing is that God of War seems to space out the major bosses few and far between. In my first fifteen hours or so, I think I’ve had three actual boss fights. Otherwise, the developers have said, “More trolls!” I believe Cory Barlog himself had stated that the reason there weren’t more epic boss battles is that they simply didn’t have time to include any. That’s a pretty big omission, considering the most memorable moments from previous installments had been going up against the Colossus of Rhodes, Poseidon, etc.

The combat itself feels pretty good, although it takes a bit of time before it finally gets to an appreciable state. The early game leaves Kratos with few moves and skills at his disposal, so it gets tiresome doing the same combination over and over again. But once you’re able to string more things together and can actually count on Atreus to help you out, it’s extremely fun to unleash upon the hordes of enemies that come your way. You can throw your axe, use it for melee, or drop it altogether and pound someone with your fists. The variety of ways in which you can approach your adversaries isn’t vast, but boy, does it feel good. But the fact that it takes some hours before combat feels fun is definitely a problem.

That’s really the running theme here, isn’t it? This game’s pacing feels off, mainly because while the game boasts about 30 hours of content (if you’re looking to do everything along the way), very little of what’s offered outside the main quest feels substantial. Instead, it’s just the same rigmarole on repeat ad nauseum. This game would have been much leaner, and for the better, if the developers stopped looking for excuses to pad things out. But they probably didn’t because despite what you’re led to feel with the ‘open world’ and all that ‘content’, most of the given areas in God of War aren’t very big… they just appear that way. These pacing issues are what caused me to take a break halfway through the game and come back a couple of months later, because I just got to a point where I felt like it wasn’t respecting my time.

That’s not to say that God of War isn’t a good game, because it most certainly is. It does plenty of things right, but for so many reviewers to overlook its flaws sort of baffles me. Some people say that God of War is the greatest game of all time. Some have said it’s the greatest game this generation. Others have said it’s the best game on the Playstation 4. I know my opinion is subjective, but I postulate that it’s neither of these things. I think what we’ve got is a game that didn’t have enough time in the proverbial oven to become fully realized, and that the studio was pretty darn lucky that everything shaped up as well as it did. With another year or maybe two, God of War probably could have reached the upper echelons of greatness that people already claim it’s at, but as of now, I think it’s just ‘pretty good’ with occasional flashes of greatness.

A 9 out of 10, in my opinion, it is not.

Greatness Delayed Podcast #035: We’ve Got To Stop Taking Such Long Breaks

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Mike and Gus talk about God of War, Microsoft’s first party problem, Nintendo’s Labo and Switch cracking, and E3 wishes!

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PS+ Giveth, PS+ Taketh Away

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PS+ users are finally getting the hard hitting month of games they’ve been waiting for. Throughout March of 2018, people will have access to Bloodborne (PS4), Ratchet and Clank (PS4), Legend of Kay (PS3), Might No. 9 (PS3 with PS4 crossbuy), Claire: Extended Cut (Vita and PS4 crossbuy), and Bombing Busters (Vita and PS4 crossbuy).

People have pined for amazing AAA blockbusters to enter the program on PS4 for some time, and now their wait is finally over. There’s a caveat to this announcement, though, and it’s that the Vita and PS3 will no longer be part of the free games portion of PS+ as of March 8, 2019.

There’s a variety of takes on this across the internet, and many of them are predictably hyperbolic. Daniel Ahmad (@ZhugeEX), a respected member of the online gaming community, stated: “Sony sacrificing the PS3 and PS Vita so we can get good games on PS Plus again.” I think that’s probably part of their plan, but no, this wasn’t a move ‘for the gamers’, as Sony so often leads us to believe.

I don’t think anybody expected that the PS3 and PS Vita would get ‘free’ games forever. At some point, it’s no longer financially viable for a company to pay developers and publishers large sums of money to feature games on platforms that people have long since moved on from. We’re well past the halfway point of the PS4’s life cycle (we won’t be waiting another 5 years before the PS5 is released), and with over 70 million consoles out there (as of December of 2017), people are spending less time on last generation machines than ever before. So, why continue to support those old fossils with ‘free games’? This was going to happen sometime, and ‘now’ seems about right.

But there is another issue, here. Each platform had two free games each month, and sure, if you no longer play on the Vita or PS3, you probably don’t care about losing games on those platforms. However, many of the titles on those platforms were crossbuy, so PS4 users probably got about 4 games they could add to their digital library each month. Sony have clarified that in the Vita’s and PS3’s absence, the PS4 will still only receive two games each month. So, people are going to have access to fewer games each month.

And they’re excited about that?

Well, it certainly helps that Sony has dangled a pretty attractive carrot at the time of this announcement. “Who cares about losing the number of games you get each month?” They ask. “When you can have games like Bloodborne and Ratchet and Clank, that’s all you need!”

No wonder people are excited.

To be fair, Bloodborne is, in my opinion, the best game the PS4 has to offer. The fact that everyone with a PS+ membership can enjoy it now is great, but I’m wary about taking this as a sign of things to come. Sony have pulled bait and switch routines before. In case anyone has forgotten, Driveclub was supposed to be free to all membership holders, but that’s not exactly how things went down.

But let’s say that the PS4 will see a regular trickle of solid AAA games from here on out. Are they really spending that much more to get the likes of Bloodborne on PS+? No, it’s not like they’re paying off an independent developer so their game will debut on the platform day and date for the low cost of nothing. Bloodborne has been out for ages now, and most of the people who were interested in spending money on it already have it. So, now they can hook a bunch more people that may potentially buy the game’s DLC (as will the developer). After all is said and done, I’d wager Sony are probably going to SAVE money… at least, until the PS5 comes out.

Business is business, and that’s fine, but I think it’s important for gamers to have a realistic view of what’s really happening when a company delivers bad news from one hand while holding something shiny in the other.

YouTube Culture Is Out Of Hand

I just wanted to take a few moments to talk about the Logan Paul thing. I know it’s old news, and because he isn’t a video game blogger, the relevancy of this discussion may seem at odds with this site. However, I think it’s important to remember that this only happened a couple of months ago – which is like, an eternity on the internet – and we shouldn’t be so quick to forget. Furthermore, this story impacted the gaming community a great deal. A lot of our favorite YouTube content creators were compelled to talk about it because Logan Paul’s actions, much like Pewdiepie’s, ultimately affect their livelihood. So gamers all over have been subjected to this story and had to think about what they’ve seen and heard.

For those who have managed to miss this story entirely, Logan Paul went to Japan and visited what’s unofficially known as ‘the suicide forest’. He and his crew came across a dead body that hung from a tree, filmed it, brought the footage home, edited it, and then tossed it up on YouTube.

This hit extremely close to home for me. I often suffer with depression and my mind has certainly brought me to dark places. I know that when someone feels like non-existence is an answer, they’re at their darkest, loneliest, and most vulnerable hour. They wanted peace, and the only way they thought they could get it was by committing suicide. It’s an awful place to be in, and yet, Logan Paul thought it was appropriate to not even allow this person to find the peace they sought in death. It’s worth noting that Logan Paul blurred the man’s face in his video, but that doesn’t nullify the blatant lack of respect for this man’s most private moment. When I say ‘lack of respect’, I mean it. That’s not hyperbole. He and his friends were joking around in the body’s presence. I mean, did Mr. Paul really need to do a dab… in front of a dead body?

Oh, he blurred the guy’s face and bookended the video with a message about ‘doing this for awareness, so here’s a number to the suicide hotline’, but his attempt at sincerity falls flat because his actions didn’t back it up. There’s no mistaking that with this video, Logan Paul revealed who he was to the world: A callous ‘get those clicks no matter the cost’ worm.

And believe me, I tried to give him the benefit of doubt. When this story broke, I thought there was a chance that maybe, JUST MAYBE, the internet was freaking out for little reason. Groupthink often leads to hyperbole, turning mountains out of molehills. But no, the public outcry was well deserved.

I don’t fault Mr. Paul for wanting to film in the suicide forest. He probably likened the experience to visiting a haunted house. You know the stories, you know the legends, so going there can be frighteningly good fun. I mean, you don’t expect to go and actually FIND something, you know? Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ll grant him at least that much.

I will, however, hold his feet to the fire for continuing to film after finding the body. You could argue that maybe his nerves went screwy and he wasn’t sure how to react. I’m willing to entertain that, but what about everything that came after? He had the walk out of the woods, the ride back to his hotel, the ride to the airport, the plane ride back home, the ride back to his house, and the hours he undoubtedly spent editing to reflect on the situation. And yet, after all that time, he still decided to publish the video.

Either he was too daft to understand what he was doing, or he knew how controversial this would be but decided post it anyway (which is worse).

I’ve seen a lot of people brush this aside as, “Oh, Logan Paul just made a mistake. He’s only human.” But this wasn’t some slip of the mouth. It’s not like he forgot to pay a bill. He put someone’s dead body on YouTube. His audience are generally young people, and that’s not something they need to be subjected to. There’s no going back from that kind of a mistake.

But vlogger Boogie2988, being the kind and forgiving soul that he is, took it a step further. He said that while Logan Paul screwed up and needs to be punished in some capacity, he deserved a second chance. I can’t agree with that sentiment… like, at all. For really big screw ups, second chances have to be earned. So, Logan Paul could have taken some time off to make new content, showing he was going to take things a bit more seriously. Of course, he didn’t. He came back after a month’s hiatus, encouraging people to eat Tide Pods and used a taser on dead animals.

I don’t really have anywhere that I’d like to go with this. This piece was more to rant about the current situation with Mr. Paul than anything else. I’m really tired of certain people trying to defend him, or justify his actions in some way as if they were no big deal. It doesn’t matter if the guy had passed on and wasn’t aware of what was happening. What about the family? What about them, now that their beloved relative has been recorded and put on every corner on the internet?

This ‘oneupsmanship’ culture needs to stop.

Battlefront II: Initial Impressions

There’s been a lot of controversy around Battlefront II, and that’s putting it nicely. The gaming community has made it clear time and time again that they don’t want microtransactions or loot boxes in their $60 games, but it’s painfully clear these business models aren’t going away. We can protest as much as we want, but they cost next to nothing for studios to implement. Regardless of the (good) fight the core gamers are waging online, one thing they don’t take into consideration is that they are the minority. Casual gamers make up a pretty sizeable chunk of sales, and as Ubisoft has just proven – microtransactions are surpassing their digital distribution sales – they’ll subsequently spend money on microtransactions and loot boxes.

I’ve played some Battlefront II, and I thought I should share my initial impressions with you guys. Before I do that, let me be clear: I don’t like microtransactions and I don’t like loot boxes. I wish they weren’t part of the gaming landscape… but they are. Knowing this, how you decide to speak with your wallet is entirely up to you, but I’m going to try and help you make as informed a decision as possible.

How Prevalent Is The Card System?

Anyone who thinks they’re going to play this game and escape the card system are absolutely fooling themselves. It’s your primary progression system, and the acquisition of cards is done via loot boxes… and yes, you can buy loot boxes with real world money. But how terrible is this system, really?

EA needs to do a bit more tweaking, I think. There’s a few different kinds of crates you can buy with credits earned in-game, but the most expensive, and most important one is undoubtedly the Trooper Crate, which provides access to new weapons and abilities and costs 4,000 credits. Sounds like a fairly high number, and it is, at least a little. Each round of online play will last about 10 minutes, and sometimes you can earn as little as 200 credits, or as much as 400 (these numbers are based on my personal experience with the game, and they seem to vary based on actual in-game performance). This means that at the very least, if you’re a really great player, it’s going to take you over and hour and a half to obtain a Trooper Crate. Keep in mind, this is without obtaining credits through other means.

Along the way, you’ll also earn credits by completing certain incentivized goals the game has set up, and boosts the amount of credits you earn in a fairly substantial way. In fact…

Heroes

A majority of the discussion online has been centered around key characters, such as Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, originally costing 60,000 credits. That’s an insanely substantial grind, and it was what ultimately made me say, “Nope, not buying this game.” After the backlash online, they’ve revised the hero costs to be 75% less, so Vader and Luke are now 15,000 credits apiece. I’ve probably spent 3 and a half hours in multiplayer thus far, and with the credits I’ve earned in game as well as the challenge rewards credits I’ve earned, I’ve already unlocked Darth Vader and I’m halfway to Luke Skywalker. So, the grind here has been pretty reasonable.

It’s worth noting that the game does have a number of heroes and villains unlocked at the start, such as Rey, Kylo Ren, Han Solo, and Yoda. Honestly, I wanted to experience these characters more than the others, as I’ve already spent a good amount of time playing as Luke and Darth in the last game. I’m not excusing the devs for gating characters in the first place, as it clearly shouldn’t have been done, but unlocking them doesn’t seem to be a chore… at least not yet.

Multiplayer

The beta didn’t shine this game in the best light. 90% of my playtime was spent helping a ship get from point A to point B, which was way too linear for my liking.

The multiplayer I’ve experienced in the full however feels much, much better.

If there’s one thing about the last Battlefront that was frustrating, it was that the previously designed levels, as much as I loved them, were probably too open for their own good. Stick your head out but a little, and someone’s going to start picking at you from a mile away. Of course, servers allowed up to 40 people to participate. I think games are up to 28 now, and the maps, while still allowing plenty of room to breathe, have been crafted a bit more carefully. They’re tighter, but not to the point of inducing claustrophobia. There’s a lot more cover when traversing from point A to point B. These are pretty solid improvements.

One thing you’re not going to see is Walker Assault… at least, not as you knew it. This time, Rebels must work their way to points on the map which have rocket launchers. Someone needs to pick it up, give it a moment to warm up, and then let loose. If they manage to pull this off before getting pulverized by the opposition, and the hit is successful, the AT-AT’s systems will be temporarily compromised, allowing your team to start draining its health.

I haven’t really spent enough time to determine what the balancing issues are, though, so I can’t really comment on that just yet. But overall, in some ways, I’d say the standard multiplayer this time around is better than ever, especially the Heroes vs. Villains mode.

The star this time, however, are the flying maps. Flying takes a little getting used to but feels great once you do, and the level designs are jaw-dropping. Remember that place from Episode II where all the clones were being made? That facility out in the rough ocean where the rain was pouring like crazy? You need to see this map in action.

Single Player

I’ve spent about an hour, hour and a half in the single player mode, and I’ve been having quite a bit of fun with it. One thing that’s an absolute strength is that they’re changing the method of play every so often. One minute you’re utilizing a flying droid to get around a rebel base, the next you’re running around going ‘pew-pew’, and the next you’re flying and dogfighting. I’ve heard that it’s a 5-6 hour campaign, so that’s not going to be worth the price of admission for most people alone. Thankfully, this new iteration of Battlefront is relying on a single game mode, and is offering a number of different options between the campaign, the arcade mode (pretty much Skirmish), and the numerous modes of multiplayer. This actually feels like a complete package (minus the loot box stuff, of course).

The arcade mode has a pretty stupid time gate on it, though, because the developers don’t want you to earn credits through it all day without ever touching multiplayer. They’ve said this is to prevent people from messing up the multiplayer system by earning too much too quick, but their intentions couldn’t have been more transparent. They just want to make sure you still have an incentive to buy loot boxes than to find an easily grindable way to earn them yourself.

Overall

Keep in mind that these are only my initial impressions with the game, but I’m going to echo what most other reviewers have been saying. Battlefront II, from a gameplay perspective, is a solid experience. I’ve spent more time these last two years playing Battlefront, and I see myself spending hundreds of hours on this game, too. Could it be better? Absolutely. Would I recommend this to everyone? No, not with the current progression system. I certainly don’t begrudge anyone for hating this game because of what the publisher has done. It’s a shame that stuff has to paint part of the picture as a whole, but it does. But for me, for my money, Battlefront II is a blast. I’m having more than enough fun playing the game as-is. Unlocking weapons through a grind was part of the last game, too, and microtransactions weren’t part of that equation. Now that they are… well, you’re still grinding for new weapons. Most of the additional weapons I personally couldn’t care less about… not in the last game, and not in this one.

Here’s hoping that EA makes more changes in the future so that more and more people feel comfortable hopping aboard, but as someone who really enjoyed the last Battlefront game, I’m extremely happy with the current product (as in, now that they’ve reduced the amount of time to grind for heroes).