Assassin’s Creed: A Walk Through Time Part-1

It’s 2007 and gaming will see an incredibly impressive showing across all genres and platforms. The year was simply an amazing time to be a gamer with a massive launch of beloved titles and series to include Bioshock, Mass Effect, Uncharted: Drakes Fortune, not to mention popular sequels with Super Mario Galaxy, Halo 3,and God of War 2 to name just a few(…and there was way more than a few!).  It was in this rising tide of amazing games that Assassin’s Creed would launch in mid-November with its first entry in what would become a lasting franchise.

Assassin's Creed The Ezio Collection_20190419001620
Proof Ezio’s badass…maybe a little into his sword also?

Now I won’t go into too much story break-down as there are plenty of other well-documented articles and videos that go into great detail on individual aspects.  What I want is to look at each game as a whole and share some past and more recent highlights.  In particular the more accessible, to modern audiences, which really starts with Assassin’s Creed 2 and the Ezio Trilogy.  However, it would be a disservice to not spend a moment with the game that started it all. I should also note I played the Ezio Trilogy in its remastered collection on PlayStation 4.

Assassin’s Creed introduced us to a millennia-old conflict between the freedom-fighting Assassins and the oppressive Templar Order. It’s here we meet Desmond Miles, a man whose memories are key not only to end this secret war but to the ultimate fate of all humankind.  Desmond will use the “Animus”, advanced technology that allows him to re-live and control the lives of his ancestors, in order to uncover information about the “First Civilization” and the mysterious “Apple of Eden”.

Assassin's Creed The Ezio Collection_20190418195800
Altair hunkers down for a spell…

Assassin’s Creed was generally well received by both critic and gamer alike, though most agreed on the same pro’s and con’s.  Playing as Desmond’s descendant Altair Ibn-La’Ahad offered simple but satisfying combat and exploration, with periodic returns to the modern day with Desmond.  At release cutting edge visuals, animation, and overall design would receive high praise.  On the other hand, many found side mechanics like tailing, pickpocketing, and eavesdropping to be repetitive, along with some sticky movement and tedious modern day sections hurt what was otherwise a solid open-world action title.

I recall after the original launched sacrificing much sleep to prepare Altair with upgrades to max armor, throwing knives, and medicinal pouches needed to wipe the Templar menace from the Holy Lands.  Sadly, I maintained only a passing interest in Desmond and his modern-day struggle.  In short, towards the final act, the McGuffin presents itself as the “Apple of Eden”…things get weird..both in and out of the Animus. Start the Credits. while I greatly enjoyed my time with Altair and was intrigued by the prospect of more tales in the Assassin universe I was immediately distracted by other gigantic games of the year.  It was a blast exploring around but…2007…Mass Effect…Bioshock…I mean c’mon.

Assassin's Creed The Ezio Collection_20190418201844
I had waaay to many screens from Venice…still beautiful.

It would not be too long until the return of Assassin’s Creed but this outing of Templars and Assassins would be presented from the perspective of the brash but charming Ezio Auditore.  The sequels would span the Renaissance period and promise more diverse mechanics, upgraded combat, and diverse location, as an art student they had me at renaissance.  Long story short I loved Assassin’s Creed 2. From the sequel onward the series would consistently find a home in my games library. Each title pushed series forward with stream-lined iterations and an overabundance of content.

At the start of what is now known as The Ezio Trilogy, we begin with Assassin’s Creed 2 where we follow a young Ezio Auditore a vengeful young man who wages his battle across varied locations including the gondola -filled waterways of Venice.  The series receives a huge shot in the arm with upgrades across all elements.  With more engaging combat, stealth, collectibles, optional puzzle-platforming tombs and a robust suite of progression.  Assassin’s Creed 2 was important as a concrete foundation for the series with the first game coming off more like an ambitious proof of concept by comparison.  Everything about the second game felt focused and polished and received high praise and success commercially and with critics.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The second remains largely intact in 2019 with a varied color palette, fascinating architecture, and prolific historical figures.  You meet Leonardo Da Vinci, who is here is playfully and repeatedly quote by media critics as the Q to Ezio’s Bond by providing Ezio with new gadgets.  Ezio is trained at brothels in the art of pick-pocketing and staying hidden.  Later he’s trained by his uncle “It’s…a..me…Mario!” on swordplay.  It’s obvious Ubisoft developers wanted to lighten the tone and enrichen the formula established in the previous title.  The gameplay and mechanics just feel mostly good with just a few too many moments of the infamous “sticky” traversal.

Basically still everything I could want from this historical themed open-world game. A bevy of content, interesting characters, visceral combat, and an organic progression system.  I was surprised how easily I was again hooked on Assassin’s Creed 2 and happily chased down nearly every collectible and upgrade.  I was completely satisfied on completion with high hopes for any diving into the sequels.

Assassin's Creed The Ezio Collection_20190411000900
The stunning Roman landscape.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood sees Ezio growing into a confident leader with his own budding army as he strives to wrest Rome from Templar control.  Brotherhood brings adjustments to combat, customization, with even more collectibles and side stories.  New features include a recruitable set of NPC allies who can be called at will for quick assassination or sent away to complete their own quests.  Quests which gain Ezio resources used to further improve allies, Ezio’s arsenal, and even repair Rome itself.

 

 

Unfortunately, the Desmond side of Assassin’s still feels a bit on the slow side.  I find I’m always itching for more Ezio gameplay.  Otherwise, Brotherhood still holds up, though outside of multiplayer not hugely different from AC2.  Still, I enjoyed watching Ezio come into his own as a master assassin. The one minor gripe with Brotherhood I had was that it was clearly intended to be the next leg of the story and did not really intend to be a complete tale all its own.

Assassin's Creed The Ezio Collection_20190410235244
A mature Ezio takes a needed moments rest…

Finally, We come to Assassin’s Creed: Revelations where we Ezio, now a wisened leader and mature mentor, seek to resolve long-buried secrets of Altair and the assassin brotherhood as he explores the shadow, fog, and rebellion-riddled streets of Constantinople.  Many features and mechanics from Brotherhood title find there way into Revelations with further improvement to both single and multi-player experiences.  Early a tower defense-like mechanic is introduced that finds Ezio as a seasoned commander calling on assassin units to fend off encroaching waves of enemies in defense of brotherhood hideouts.  Also, new this time around is the ability to craft bombs used for offensive, defensive or diversionary tactics. This outing also gives sees Ezio with a fancy new hook-blade adding diversity to combat and traversal options.

Assassin's Creed The Ezio Collection_20190411003405
Gotta’ Hookblade

The final act of the trilogy remains my favorite of the three as I found Ezio’s characterization to be the most captivating element of any of these early titles.  Not to mention Ezio’s budding romance with a new character Sofia as perhaps one of the most natural relationships in a game of this kind.  Every fight, every jump, and fall cleary wear on Ezio as he grunts and groans with mustered effort. It’s these small details that sell him as a very real and aging hero that remain uniquely striking to me(plus he’s not the only one aging…)  I was compelled to simply wander and take in the sights and sounds of the foreign yet intriguing streets of Constantinople.  The visuals, animations, and sound designs definitely showed their place at the top of the three.  Ezio’s final adventure and Revelation still holds a special place for me within the franchise.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I was given a small lens to view events, stories, figures, and life at some of history’s most prolific periods through the eyes of Ezio Auditore, Altair Ibn-La’ Ahad, and Desmond Miles.  I was able to skirt about the high walls of Jerusalem, to wander the smokey bazaars of Turkey, and swim the canals of Venice.  Those moments alone are worthy of praise.  They’re also videogames that bring fun play through exploration, thrilling combat, and honed mechanics.  There are more than a few spots rough with age but as a whole, the first four titles in Assassin’s Creed series have maintained an overall sense of quality and still a great deal of fun.  Assassin’s Creed is always a perfect choice if you want to swashbuckle your way through history with a few cheeky winks and polished gameplay.  It’s clear that the developers at Ubisoft are fans of history and encourage you to be one as well even if its only play in their ornate old-world sandboxes.

Assassin's Creed The Ezio Collection
Where have I seen that before?

-Brandon

 

P.S.  If your reading this Thank you!  Stay tuned as Part-2 drops next Friday. Please feel free to share any comments.  Also, apologies if I glossed over any parts you find important this was already way too long. Also.. Also…I should give a shoutout #Gamespot, #GameInformer, #IGN, #Wikipedia, and many others whom I used a quick reference on a myriad of info checks! I’m still learning so if you think I missed a specific credit please let me know.  Have a great weekend!

Assassin’s Creed: A Walk Through Time

A bustling city, a city full of merchants, laborers, wealthy lords, and ragged beggars. All citizens mill about the streets, back alleys, and roadways content with the daily routine.  A mysterious hooded figure weaves through the crowd unnoticed and intent, the figure strides towards an immense tower encircled by various birds of prey.  After a brief climb, the stranger gains a new vantage point. A small group of suspicious men in a darkened alley is spotted in the distance, among them is a man of clear wealth and standing, his target.  leaping high into the air the stranger’s arms spread like wings, tumbling gracefully, and finally falling silently into a hay-filled cart on the street below. 

Displaying acrobatic and athletic skill the stranger crosses from one rooftop to the next closing in on his prey.  Finally, arriving on roof withing range of the group, the hooded figure peers down at the men.  Hesitating only a moment to prepare for what comes next, the figure springs from his perch, producing a small blade from his left hand the assassin aims his strike at the unaware Noble below.  The wealthy noble crashes to the ground from the sheer concussive force of hooded figure’s aerial attack. The noble’s body lies motionless as blood begins to pool in the sand and stone beneath.

Assassin's Creed The Ezio Collection_20190411001844
Assassin’s Creed The Ezio Collection

The two men stand in shock as the hooded stranger slowly rises from the corpse of their compatriot.  The assassin retracts his small, now stained-red, blade back to his palm.  The men draw their swords for a desperate retaliation. With a sudden flash of the stranger’s arm, one of the two men shambles to the ground as a small throwing knife has found itself buried deep into the man’s skull. The last man lurches forward slashing wildly at the figure.  With no wasted motion, the assassin parries the blow and returns with a powerful thrust, piercing through the chest of the man. 

With all threats eliminated the assassin scans the area before moving on, his task is complete. He then disappears into the streets and fades into the nearby crowd of busy citizens.   

A classic Assassin’s moment.  Assassin’s Creed is one of my favorite franchises in the modern gaming era. Also with recent speculation and rumor of a new Viking age entry, I thought it would be perfect time to revisit the series.  Over the next few weeks, I plan to post my thoughts and experiences as I make my way through Ezio’s quest to Cassandra’s Odyssey.  This post is a something of an opener to give any of you reading a sense of my writing and my of thought process…

Assassin's Creed The Ezio Collection_20190411000441

The Assassin’s Creed franchise to me is all about moments.  Moments of exploration, invention, immersion, and finally action.  Since its inception, back in 2007, the franchise has become a tent-pole series much for its massively successful publisher Ubisoft, as its place within the modern open-world action genre.  The franchise has only grown with each entry, as each adventure expands new lore, mechanics, historical setting, as well as generally growing in popularity.  While some titles perform better than others critically and commercially, there is no doubt that this franchise has and will continue to have a lasting effect on the video game industry.

Assassin's Creed® Unity_20190412092345
Assassin’s Creed® Unity

Assassin’s Creed has expanded, changed, and evolved, with each game experimenting with its narrative, progression, and even gameplay mechanics.  Personally, I found something to enjoy in nearly every entry.  The series has reached a point where players whether casual or hardcore are completely aware of what these games are and what they offer.  The series is also enjoying a seemingly unstoppable upswell in popularity and quality. To say little on availability as currently, you can find an Assassin’s Creed game on nearly any platform.

For simplicity, I intend to keep the scope to main-line titles(sorry PSP/DS/Mobile) in addition to keeping to the games that can be picked up and played on current platforms i.e. PC, PS4, XB1, etc.  Additionally, I plan to complete the main story with at least one or two of each side mission/collectible in every category to have a more complete and rounded perspective.  The idea is to experience as much with each title I can and to keep things timely.  I will be breaking this into multiple posts to keep things more concise and cohesive.

Assassin's Creed® IV Black Flag_20190411013204
Assassin’s Creed® IV Black Flag

I’m excited to go on this journey with you and share my thoughts and experiences as I virtually tour through ancient lands, end tyrannical regimes, and work alongside historical figures.  Ultimately I hope to learn how this series has shaped a genre, used its historical settings in fun ways, and evolved to become on the biggest game franchises in 2019.

Friday, I’ll have Part-One up. In the first post, I’ll talk a bit about the first game as well dig into the more successful Ezio Trilogy.  The next Friday in Part-Two I’ll wade through the dangerous waters of Assassin’s Creed 3, Rogue, and Black Flag. The following week in Part-Three I’ll start moving to the more modern games with Unity and Syndicate.  The final Part-Four will be looking at the most recent Origins and Odyssey games with possible predictions of future titles.

Lastly, I should mention I realize this is definitely not the first overview of the series out there and definitely won’t be the last.  So, feel free to plug other creators, posts, articles, and videos.  Sharing stories and info is half the fun of gaming today so please, by all means, let’s share, recommend, and comment(politely please). So hopefully if anything you’ll enjoy the read, if not let me know where to improve things.  Thank you and have a great week.

-Brandon

 

 

I Hit Pause-Writing In A Void…

So, it’s been a hot minute since I have posted anything.  Reason for this is simple.  I have been taking time to re-evaluate what I want to do with this blog.  Initially, the only real goal for the site was to creatively share my thoughts, opinions, and ideas with fellow gaming enthusiasts and any other interested parties while maybe making a few friends and connections along the way.  After looking through the small range of my content things come off decidedly “meh” and my approach could use some tuning…(Warning, very informal article/thinking-out-loud read below!!)

After a few months of mostly reviews and a few opinion articles, this nagging sensation has been creeping over me that I wasn’t really creating engaging or meaningful content.  There is simply a stunning amount of impressive, writers, bloggers, journalists and content creators out there many of whom provide impeccable writing, unique perspective, or a charismatic personality.  I realized that a change was needed, I asked myself why I want to engage with an article that more or less reads with takes very similar to others.  What is the unique hook or pitch?

play2

 

The articles I have been providing thus far have been fine albeit on the bland side.  I attribute this to my inexperience as a writer as well as my lack of fresh perspective.  experience comes with time and effort that simply must be worked at.  Perspective, now that’s a tricky one.  When it comes to content about gaming and related media I don’t have a really unique view…

After months of just spinning with pen-in-hand I honestly still don’t have a clear cut answer.  As I maintain knowledge of the gaming and geek culture sphere and remain invested and interested a simple solution has slowly crept into my mind.  The answer lies with others, other writers, gaming communities, creators.  Individuals with a far more interesting take than myself are where I can glean insight and foster new creative ideas. Perhaps an Aha! kind of moment…(well more of a duh moment)

04-06-e3

 

So armed with that painfully obvious revelation that I’ve been insular and closed off with my process things were now clear.  The next step is to simply reach out and engage…have some interesting conversations, basically do what social media and forums should be doing…(I was on the late…bus?train?) My sidequest is added with the question of where to start? Who are some great folks willing to speak more critically, constructively, or with unique views? This form of media is an oceanic fluid of change that continues to move and flow at an incredible rate so I guess I’m just looking for some swim lessons…(I like metaphors…and side comments apparently!)

So I’ll close this self-indulgent rant and hope this will reach some folks looking to share some thoughts on our shared interest and passion for writing, gaming, and maybe a little on how to help cultivate each to be more creative, thoughtful, and giving when it comes to how we look and talk about our favorite awesome-weird past time.  A maybe just maybe I can hit start and just play again(cheesy!) Be Well! Good day/night to you all!

-Brandon

indexbye

 

-Oh goes without saying really but please leave a comment if have any recommendations or advice or anything. Thank you again for reading…obviously 😉

Darksiders 3 – The Complicated Feels of Fury

Darksiders…if you’re reading this either you’re a fan or you have no idea what this series is. The Darksiders franchise is something of a cult status never quite breaking into mainstream nor dipping into total obscurity. When the first game in series arrived in 2010 it was both praised and chastised by critics and gamers alike for utilizing familiar mechanics from some of the most well-known titles in gaming often drawing comparisons from the Legend of Zelda and PS2 era God of War series in the same breath. The Darksiders series is also known for its unique albeit campy story and cast of characters, which with each entry centering around the apocalypse and one of the infamous Four Horsemen.

For the third installment to the Darksiders series, we’re quickly brought up to speed on the story and lore for this world where angels and demons continually wage battle across a post-apocalypse ravaged of Earth. Maintaining the balance between the forces of heaven and hell are the fabled Four Horsemen beings respected and feared by both sides due to their immense power and skill in battle. Fury, one of the Four Horsemen, is summoned by the Charred Council for a mission. The Charred Council, the omnipotent commanding force behind the Four, have tasked Fury to track and recapture the escaped Seven Deadly Sins, whom here are incredibly powerful entities that personify and embody each sin respectively. On the hunt for the Sins Fury must contend with embattled angels and demons while journeying through varied and hazardous ruins of human civilization. Along the way, Fury learns about humanity, herself, and her role in the larger conflict.

Darksiders III_20181126214151
Creepy and quiet.

There is a genuinely striking design on display with bold and creative use of color, lighting, with some impressive environments and set pieces. The moment you find the colossal Haven tree-sprawled throughout the towering husks of what was once a large metropolitan city is awe-inspiring and a little somber. The strongest elements for me were when I was reminded that this world had once belonged to us humans. The cast is small and outside of Fury or The Watcher characters here get relatively little time to develop much beyond one-note characterizations.

Sadly audio suffers in that nothing particularly stands out. This seems unfortunate because I felt that past titles used sound and music to create themes or mood. Music is sparse and simply never used as much. Otherwise, Darksiders is mostly quiet with some ambient wind and growls to give a minimalistic and on occasion provide an appropriately unsettling vibe. Much like the souls’ games, it’s clearly been inspired by, here the music and sound function as basic cues for fights and to punctuate boss battles.

Darksiders has always been about fighting, platforming, and puzzle solving. Fury approaches things on the decidedly more “fight first” manner which fits her feisty and impatient personality. Fury is less interested in puzzles and platforming and will frequently make comments that seem to be lifted from message boards of the previous entries. Like when she comments on one of the few puzzle rooms with “Why is it always in threes…”. However, despite this rebellious attitude Darksiders 3 continues to be a hybrid of mechanics mashed together. With this installment falling more on a Dark Souls/Metroid inspired combo than the previous Zelda/God of War fusion.

Darksiders III_20181208180214
The Glaive an effective tool and ranged weapon.

While there are still some vestiges from previous entries such as a boomerang-like weapon, the glaive. Many of the ideas from earlier games have been trimmed down or simply cut away in favor of a more “stream-lined” action approach. While combat is more engaging than in the past, this new interpretation feels like something was missed as the whole title puts nearly all its focus on combat. Story and character elements take the backseat along with puzzles and platforming.

Speaking of combat, fights are small, methodical, and more intimate. Enemies react quickly and can kill, promptly channeling an experience in line with Fromsoft games like Bloodborne or Dark Souls. This forces you to become knowledgeable on Fury’s powers and moves with her most important skill proving to be her evade move. Now while I did enjoy the stylized slow-motion evasion trick when it worked, the timing in the early stages provided plenty of frustration and more than a few cheap deaths. Admittedly once you become familiar with the core concepts and level up a bit there is some fun to be found with the visceral combat scenarios that I grew to enjoy despite some early difficulty spikes.

Darksiders III_20181208172310
Gliding around helps elevate platforming sections.

Outside the core combat, there is also platforming and some light exploration. Platforming is basic and never attempts to break the mold nor does it try to challenge you serving more like a break between combat encounters. Fury obtains abilities along the main story called Hollows that provide some needed variety for traversal. Hollows, powerful items that affect nearly every aspect of the game. They provide Fury with additions to her arsenal like a secondary weapon, an elemental Wrath attack, and more importantly a new traversal ability.

Hollow abilities are fun albeit familiar such as the Force Hollow’s transforming Fury into a magnetic ball that rolls along marked paths(cough..Metroid), an explosive high jump (…Castlevania) or the Stasis Hollow that allows you to walk on water or climb straight up certain walls(…more Castlevania). After gaining a few Hollows you can poke around to discover hidden materials or collectibles. These items will be needed for further upgrading or leveling as you move through the world. While I respect the choice to avoid huge and sprawling levels with bloated amounts of collectibles, Darksiders 3 never seems to make exploring fun or all that meaningful despite some intriguing level design.


Fury starts with her trusty whip, healing item Nephalim’s Respite (basically the flask from Darksouls), and Havok Form. Despite all that Fury seems oddly fragile and nearly every fight a desperate battle for survival in the early stages. As Fury defeats enemies she gains souls which can be exchanged with the always strange and conveniently located demon trader Vulgrim for level increases, temporary boost items, or healing shards. The need to find a vendor in order to level seems like a step back but with the number of trade locations and if you have ever played any souls-like game you quickly become accustomed to this progression loop.

Darksiders III_Fury_Swipe
Taming Fury’s demons…

While in battle Fury will accrue Wrath which can be spent on a special attack that varies in function based on what Hollow is equipped. Each Wrath attack is a potential game changer depending on the circumstance such as the Flame Hollow which engulfs Fury’s body entirely adding fire damage to attacks as well as creating a fiery area of effect. Then there’s the Havok Form one of the few returning abilities shared by previous protagonists War and Death with their Chaos/Reaper Forms respectively. The Havok Form when activated transforms Fury into a monstrous manifestation of power that for a short time can inflict massive damage, become invulnerable, and can completely heal all previous damage.

Darksiders III_20181127000825
The Watcher and Fury.

Fury’s tale here is brief and simply a backdrop with themes of identity, blind allegiance, with seeds of betrayal and intrigue planted here and there. The problem with the story is Fury’s lack of motivation. Additionally, events or characters from the previous games and lore are never touched outside a few quick name drops or cameos. Fury basically just wants to bring down the Sins because she’s bored. Of course, her reasons and goals change as the game progresses but unlike War or Death, there is no real push or sense of urgency until very late in the game. The story and characters, unfortunately, are never given much to do and when they get a moment there is very little build-up or pay off.

Now I did experience texture pop-in in quite a few cutscenes and usually when I moved to a new area. Also, moments of mid-level loading occurred that would put the game completely on hold almost at random. Sadly in my play time, there was noticeable frame dropping particularly in areas with lots of moving parts and more enemies. Darksiders 3 would benefit from a post-launch patch to aid with performance.

Darksiders III_20181126214042
Busted up cars…key décor for any apocalypse.

Darksiders 3 was all over the place for me. I think it brings a slick presentation but proves to thin on substance. If this was simply another action title it would be fine but as part of a series that known has established an intriguing world with unique characters, it feels stunted. Having said all that I do enjoy the Darksiders series both for its very comic book visual flair and its campy nature. It’s strange to want a return to the apocalypse but I wholeheartedly want to see how the series plays. We can only hope that after War, Death, and now Fury stories have been told we would if nothing else get a strong final story for the final horseman. I remain cautious but optimistic that this won’t be the last we see of the mighty Four Horsemen and their tale.

-Brandon

Darksiders III_20181126220655

If you took the time to read this, Thank you so much.  Please feel free to leave any comments below if you liked this or just want to talk games.  Once again Thank you, if you feel inclined please follow, like, or share.  Have a great day/night…whatever the case is.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas – Space Adventures…Featuring StarFox

Strafing laser fire, barrel rolling through enemy ordnance, Fox McCloud dances around enemy attacks.  Fox then counters by unleashing a barrage of the Arwing’s charged missiles exploding an elite bandit’s ship into fiery debris. Meanwhile, Falco, squad mate and team hot head, provides backup mopping up what remains of enemy ships with equal parts skill and attitude. The dust settles as team StarFox receives a call from the crew of the Equinox detailing new intel on nemesis Wolf O’Donnell’s location. It would seem that StarFox has a new heading…

SL03
The Arwing is definitely my favorite ship.

If the above sounds a moment from a StarFox game that’s because basically it is, but the interesting part is that this is not a StarFox title. The game is Starlink: Battle for Atlas, the latest title from Ubisoft and newest foray into the toys-to-life scene. In Starlink players are tasked with saving the Atlas galaxy from the evil machinations of Grax and his Legion, an army of combat machines dedicated to dominating the Atlas galaxy and all its resources for their own unknown purposes. Standing in their way is the crew of the Equinox, a group of plucky young pilots who have the incredible power of the Starlink. The “Starlink” mechanic is used to swap weapons, spacecraft, loadouts and pilots in an instant allowing you to quickly improvise under any circumstances.  If you have the toys the “Starlink” mechanic is basically story explanation for what happens when you change out parts of the toys, while in the digital edition you hop through a few menus to adjust your load out to what you need.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas is an action exploration game with RPG-style upgrades and leveling mechanics. Originally, I was a bit skeptical about Starlink specifically with the toys-to-life angle. However, with the Nintendo Switch release and the inclusion StarFox with his famed Arwing ship, as well as the announcement of the all-digital release I was completely on board. So, I jumped in and having now completed it I wanted to share a few thoughts on the digital edition.

20181024_112153
You can seamlessly fly from planet surface to space quickly and smoothly…

The story begins shortly after the crew of the Equinox is attacked by Grax’s forces.  Equinox pilots Mason, Razor, Chase, Hunter, Levi, and Judge return from driving off Legion fighters only to discover their friend and mentor Victor St.Grand was abducted by Grax during the fight.  The group then sets off to find St. Grand along the way the will encounter colonies in need, bandits to fend off, and planets under attack. The Starlink crew will also discover clues to the true nature and goals of Grax and his Legion.

Starlink provides a main story quest line, side quests, as well the brief but fun StarFox missions.  Speaking of the StarFox story the basic premise is Fox and his team are on the hunt for Wolf O’Donnell arch nemesis and leader of team StarWolf.  As Fox McCloud the rest of team StarFox work their way through Atlas they discover Wolf’s plan and reasons for his venture into the Atlas galaxy.  The StarFox content is fun though a bit sparse, though admittedly Fox and crew are decently integrated. Fox and Co. mostly feel like a part of this galaxy and its characters with their interactions in conversations and cut scenes.

SL04
Space ships just move great particularly when cruising…in space.  

First off space combat feels great, its offers intuitive dog fights that have you slickly boosting, turning, and rolling for quick retreats or to re-engage enemies. Attacks are handled using both triggers to fire off weapons attached to either corresponding wing that feel both snappy and weighty. Movement and combat generally feel good and provide just enough a weapon and ship variety, with space combat providing more freedom of movement and ground combat suffering from a sort of tethering effect keeping you somewhat grounded. While ground combat feels less compelling but works just as intuitively a space combat just with a lot more circle strafing…a…lot…more.

Additionally, Legion ground forces begin to take on elemental properties as you progress through the game becoming imbued with either fire, ice, or crush/gravity elemental effects. To counter these enhanced enemies its becomes necessary to quickly swap weapons or loadouts on the fly using the “Starlink” system, for instance fire enemies are vulnerable to Ice so swap to the freeze ray for added damaged and a frozen status. Along with elemental effects there is a fun though limited elemental combo system, so for example should you tag an enemy with a black hole-style vortex and pop off some round from the Volcano weapon the attack then becomes a fire vortex. Combat is fast, fun, and straightforward while I do wish there were more enemy types or variety to combat scenarios in general though I’m reminded to keep in mind it is a toy-based game marketed to a younger audience.

SL02
In addition to combat there’s exploration, a Far Cry style map control, and naturally there are trappings of an RPG on display here as well. In Starlink you can gain levels for each pilot with each level gaining points that can be pumped into each pilot’s individual skills. Generally, these skills increase passive stats that impact simple aspects like shield recharge, energy, health gain, or damage. Each pilot also has a unique ability that can be upgraded in his or her skill tree alongside more generic passive skills. The leveling for pilot skills feel a bit like a missed opportunity especially since all upgrades boil down to stat boosts with few having huge noticeable impact on moment to moment play outside of perhaps some of the bumps into Pilot Ability increasing their range or effectiveness. Pilot Abilities such as Mason’s Orbital Strike, Hunter’s Shadow Strike, or Razor’s Guitar Hero-style Power Chord can be helpful in a pinch and are the most impacted by leveling.

You regularly acquire mods from just about any activity from completing quests to defeating enemies. As pilots become familiar with a weapon or space ship they level those items individually and unlock additional mod slots for further enhancing, later upgrades allow you to either fuse or copy mods to provide you with more tools to upgrade items as choose. I found the mod system to be effect towards the later stages once you have unlocked all mod slots on an item the only downside again is that like the leveling the enhancements provided don’t drastically alter the way you play.

Another facet I want to quickly touch on is planet completion and Atlas allies.  In typical Ubisoft style there are lists of things to do on each planet such as building radar installations, clearing bandit encampments, or recruitment style missions.  Each side task adds to two lists one is an overall completion rating and the other indicates Legion or Starlink status.  The later determines enemy strength and presence, the more missions you complete to easier to navigate the world becomes.

20181024_112124
There were times when I just enjoyed aimlessly flying around these worlds….

The overall aesthetic can feel reminiscent at times to contemporaries, however there is a generally appealing look and feel to everything in Starlink. There is a great usage of color, shape and silhouette that help keep visuals engaging. On the sound front what’s there is good sparse but good a sort of blend of classic superhero scoring with retro informed synth sounds. I enjoyed the sights and sounds but as with many other elements in Starlink just wish there was simply more meaningful content.

SL05
I can’t speak to the toy items but you regularly swap weapons on the fly…there are loadouts and they matter.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a fun title with mostly great qualities. Starlink has confident and colorful visuals, a decent modern and synth-informed soundtrack, tight gameplay, a no frills but functional leveling and gear mod system, and kind of forgettable though story and characters. Surprisingly to me for a toys-to-life style game there is a lot to like going on here. Admittedly there is a high price point regardless if you go either physical toys purchase or digital edition. The StarFox addition for the Switch version adds a little flavor and is well incorporated but ultimately that addition feels simply like a nod to fans more than anything. Also, while its less than likely we will get a true sequel anytime soon this may be the most fun I have had with StarFox and his crew in a good long while and is a great way to introduce him to a new audience. I enjoyed my time with Starlink: Battle for Atlas and remain strangely optimistic for its future as a decent franchise with or without the toy element.

-Brandon

 

StaFa
Fox McCloud arguably the best Fox pilot of all time…

 

 

As usual a special thank you to any and all that give these silly little write-ups a read.  If you have anything to add or criticisms please leave them in comment section below.  I am always looking to improve, expand, and get conversations going so if you feel so inclined please like, share, all that jazz.  Thank you.

Opinion: Open World Games – A Broad Look At Some Large Worlds

The first moment I can recall using the term “open world” to describe a game was Grand Theft Auto 3.  I remember the whole idea at the time being based on the simple concept that at any given moment I can go off the beaten path and explore the game world outside of what the story dictated.  The idea behind open world games has existed long before Grand Theft Auto or Elder Scrolls brought the idea to the more mainstream audience, previous pc and console RPGs also dabbled with the mechanic of allowing players to explore and take it the world at leisure.  While this style is common place now the early years and game technology limited your ability to play the game in any other way that what the story or developers planned.  In 2018 the concept of open world games has become one of my personal favorite types and with the currently popularity I thought I’d take a moment to share some thoughts.

GTAV
GTA V is undoubtedly the most popular sand box game and is truly impressive….and still just making $$$

Open world or sand box games have been around for a while and are now enjoying a major upswing of success across all platforms.  With so many games utilizing this player driven style in recent years its seemed that was a danger of  the genre growing stale and player base getting bored.  While many titles were adapting the open world format there was very few new ideas presented either.  As with many other formats or types of games the open world game seemed to have hit its stride outside a few popular titles like Grand Theft Auto 5, which was already moving more towards an online multiplayer focus.  Much like the first person shooter the open world genre was due for a either a break or reinvention.  The genre would receive the shot in the arm in needed in 2017 with a title on Nintendo’s newly released mobile console hybrid in the form of Zelda : Breath of the Wild, which after receiving immense critical and commercial success ushered open world back in to the gaming frontline in a season dominated by battle royale or competitive shooter titles.

BOTW
Still have not seen everything…actually still no where close to beating it either…

2018 has already seen a slew of generally successful games of the open world style with titles like Far Cry 5, Sea of Thieves, Forza Horizon 4, State of Decay, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, not the mention the peerless Red Dead Redemption 2 just a couple weeks away.  Open world games are something of learning process.  Developers are slowly peeling back the layers with each new entry into the space showcasing something new or interesting. The genre is looking hopeful and thankfully seems to be improving with each new entry making some attempt to avert the missteps of other titles.

FORZAH4
Arcade-like racing in a huge world…yep im in…

One aspect of the open world genre that has held up since its  original inception is nearly all games of this type generally offer a huge amount of things to do.  Between the main quest/mission line, side quests, collectables, and other miscellaneous tasks offering us a heaping wealth of content.  Whether its narrative, exploration, or more simply for  grinding/leveling purposes generous amounts content is something of a hallmark of this style and rightly so.  If the world is impressive to live there should be many reasons to dive even deeper.

I also particularly enjoy the notion that action is championed equally alongside exploration. Typically action is done in a way to keep things engaging usually through combat be it shooting, melee or some combination of the two.  when combat is integrated with the exploration as it adds some level of tension that is many times needed to keep things from getting to stale.  Also open world combat can provide its own rewarding loop of play with games like Marvel’s Spider-Man or the newest Assassin’s Creed providing fun combat and loot mechanics that enhance what could be very grind heavy repeated fight scenarios.

SPIDERMANPS4
Marvel’s Spider-Man…a perfect example of the modern open world….and sooo much damn fun!

Another facet that I enjoy is that with all the size and scope of open world titles there are some truly amazing short stories to be found. Read just about any review for games in this vein and you’ll find typically you’ll find the unique and some of deepest content found within the side quests.  The characters and world found in this style allows creative teams to weave tales and twist characters in ways that more linear games simply don’t have the time for.  Side stories are great because many times they play with the players notions of the world, characters, or even ourselves as the player.

I know some may disagree with me on this point I actually find the recent inclusion of loot, leveling, and character upgrades into the space. At times these aspects tend to be the most satisfying element that really further push exploration and the need to see and do everything.  The loot is the carrot and is really what pulls me along to finish collectables or some of the less narrative driven side quests.  Basically while I don’t think it’s completely necessary for every game to have loot ,crafting or some analog of those mechanics sometimes they can flavor things enough keep me invested to see what that next upgrade is or what that new weapon or item is and how it changes my play style.

ACORIGINS
So you get to slide down pyramids, tame crocodiles, and dress like a cat-deity…..yes please.

Now as much as I love many aspects of open world games there is another side.  The ugly side of the coin lies with mechanics, ideas, or gameplay elements that I hope eventually get left behind or iterated past.  Now while they are generous with content they also have a tendency to give just too much.  Many times there is simply just have too much which can lead to fatigue setting in or in some cases content simply never being touched.  Fatigue is an important element to touch on as it also introduces us to the argument of quantity over quality in terms of content.  My personal problem is when there is so much “samey” content I tire out before seeing other aspects or reaching completion out of the necessity to take some time away to garner renewed interest.

SOD2
State of Decay walks that line between interest and boredom with its gameplay loop…still whacking the undead upside the dome still manages to stay fun.

Alongside fatigue there is also a lot of repetitive missions or quests that become much more noticeable.  When you’re chewing through mountains of like objectives, gameplay, or narrative arcs not to mention collectables these tasks or events can feel like cheap attempts to pad out game length.  While many of these side offerings are optional some are needed to keep your character viable or attempt to indulge the completionist in all of us.  Each entry into the sandbox style game continues to learn and evolve optional content so hopefully we get to a point where most if not all extra content feels involved or connected and less of an arbitrary time sink.

FARCRY5
Oh Far Cry what a franchise guilty of so much of open world tropes…both good and bad.

So open world games are huge that is most of the reason many of us get excited about each new game in that style.  Are you be an amazing super hero saving the big apple with an evolving repertoire of gadgets and skills? a legendary warrior of an ancient world growing ever closer to godliness?  Games are where these places and people can be explored in a complete scope.  Open world games give players a chance to step into another time or place and really take all of it in.

I appreciate the resurgence of this style and hope that it is one that continues to curate and iterate upon itself.  We’ve arrived at the point where any fictional or real life inspired world can come to life.  What better way to see things than giving players control and letting us go off to see, hear, or become part of things as we want.  For me that is perhaps one of the most empowering concepts gaming has to offer.  Open world gaming isn’t going anywhere but I can’t wait to see where it takes us.

RDR2
Rumors say Red Dead Redemption 2 could change how open world games feel and play…I eagerly wait to see how.

-Brandon

 

As usual I want to extend special thank you to anyone who takes time out of their busy day to give this a read.  If you feel so inclined please drop a comment and let me know if you have any thoughts to share or perhaps ways I can improve things.  Once again thank you!

Tooth and Tail: Some Bite To This Pretty Pixel Strategy Tale.

In a slight change of pace I decided to take a break from Nintendo Indies which have been nothing short of a constantly revolving door with new games dropping seemingly by the ton.  What a change I made when I went….to the Playstation 4 indie section.  Here I found just as many varied, weird, and creative indie titles as you could possibly think up.  I took a long hard look at Tooth and Tail from Pocketwatch games a small team whose previous work found some critical success in the form of Monaco: What’s Your’s Is Mine.  The quick take here is Tooth and Tale is pixel art, Real-Time Strategy game with emphasis on moment to moment action as opposed to the genre staple of heavy resource management as well as console-friendly designed controls.

1914011
One look and you know this is full with charm…and rodents.

After viewing the intro cinematic I was immediately drawn into this strange but familiar story of human-like animals and their very desperate struggle in a grim and stylized world of conflict.  After the dramatic introduction I was brought to the start screen which was accompanied by the subtle yet evocative musical score provided by composer Austin Wintory of noted fame for his award-winning work on the soundtrack for the Playstation hit Journey.  While initially I was a bit disappointed to see yet another game using the now fairly common pixel-art style, in Tooth and Tail everything seems to tie together in a complementary fashion with the sights and sounds coming together to make something special with additional mention to amazing hand drawn illustrations used to showcase each unit as well as their respective leaders.

 

The biggest standout in Tooth and Tail for me is the exceptionally interesting world with each faction having believable motivations for waging war.  The main story of the campaign is the that of a war between four factions the Longcoats, Common Folk, KSR, and the Civilized as they each vie for control and the right to eat, which in grisly fashion those on top get to decide not just who eats but whom they will eat.  The plot is really about different factions of these animal people fighting for survival, Order or against oppression.  The different machinations or themes play out in a very realistic way with our own real-world history of conflict and war being the clear inspiration.

galerie-tooth-and-tail_1
Out Fox your enemies!?….yeah sorry.

The units and characters are where things differ with badgers, boars, foxes, and rodents standing in for humans in the narrative here.  The characters are lively and read easily with personality while also animating with movement you might expect of each animal based class even when its a skunk launching poison mustard gas at a group of gun-toting squirrels.  The campaign takes the usual approach of the RTS genre in really being more an extended tutorial or training mode to prepare you for multiplayer gauntlet.  It was fun to get a look at each faction and to get a glimpse at their reasons for fighting though sadly there was not all that much provided beyond some small nudges and winks to each factions history.  I was disappointed as this world feels like it would full of great characters and intriguing stories but we never get much beyond a basic understanding.

Tooth and Tale is first and foremost a real-time strategy game.  You assume the control of the commander a unit on the field who is able to lead, scout, as well as determine what locations to build upon.  Once you have some resources on hand you can then grow your army with the ultimate goal of wiping the enemy and their resources at least some times.  Typically that is the basic loop of the RTS genre creat a large army then dominate, here Tooth and Tail makes its own mark on the RTS brand.

tooth-and-tail-TEST
Just something fun about a flamer-thrower wielding boar called Uncle Butters.

The first major change is a welcome one as consoles have for some time proven to be a difficult platform for RTS games to flourish simply due to the lack of mouse control which tends to lead to awkward or overly elaborate control schemes.  Here everything was designed with the console controller in mind with most actions being either a click or hold of the triggers to command units.  Its pretty impressive the how intuitive it feels to place units and to create resource farms…which here are literal farms.

My one problem with the controls are more with the simple fact that I you are limited in what you can do tactically when compared to other games of this type.  For instance you can either select your entire army or just one type of unit which can lead to some situations of frustration as you are unable to set up multiple units with equal survivability. Though I should mention campaign mission structure is not set in a way that you will StarCraft style completely dominate a map as focus is less on amassing numbers and more on clever use of whats at hand, which leads me to my next point.

ToothandTail4
Be prepared to protect and lose a lot of farms and pigs, how do you feel about bacon though?

 

About halfway through the campaign I hit a wall it was a wall of pain and frustration.  As mentioned before the missions are not standard RTS affair and rarely do you have the freedom to take your time and amass a huge fighting force.  Instead missions quickly take on skill challenge vibe by having limited or a small number of units and resources, with added obstacles for increased challenge like a desert whose heat will ruin your farm in short order or a snow level that slows and kill your units if they remain too far away from base for too long.

The challenge ramps up drastically with little to no warning.  Now im sure RTS fans may likely sniff at these challenges being as something simple but as someone with a basic understanding of the genre and gameplay I found this steep learning curve somewhat off-putting.  Basically the first half of the game feels like everyone can play and enjoy then the latter half is where you begin to separate the casual from high level players.  I am not one to shun from challenges but the degree things spike was jarring and I definitely had to use to creative thinking and planning to get through later levels.

tooth-and-tail-08-14-15-1
I don’t care if they say he stinks, look at that guy in the corner he’s…just…badass.

Beyond the steep curve theres a great story in Tooth and Tail that I honestly wish i got more details and back story to further flesh out that world.  Outside of the campaign there is a few multiplayer options which here are Ranked, Unranked, and Offline modes of play.  Now I know im a bit late to the online party with Tooth and Tail dropping on most platforms last year but rarely was I able to even get a match going.  I usually find myself waiting for quite a while only to be dropped at which point move may way down until I end up just messing around in the Offline mode.  So while I was disappointed to get only a few matches going in online multiplayer I found the offline mode to be just as satisfying in a somewhat more relaxed pace, though even here there are moments when the A.I. can kick things into gear and utterly destroy you.

Tooth and Tail is unique game in its attempts to subvert RTS norms through focusing more decisive actions and moving away from the sheer numbers strategies which is refreshing.  I was truly captured by the world and remain downhearted that I was unable to get more of this unique place and its compelling denizens.  I found the combat to be intuitive on the control end with a heavy dosage of frustration lying in its brutal learning curve.  All in all its a beautiful world that never lets you get too comfortable.  Tooth and Tail is a game that I am hard pressed to recommend to anyone other than more hardcore RTS community which is unfortunate because I feel like the sights and sounds can have a strong impact on really anyone.  Hopefully there will be more opportunities down the road to further explore this world and maybe then it will be a friendlier visit.

1497703818_tooth-and-tail-2
Take in a calm moment….they rarely happen.

Thank you to any and all who take the time to read this article. Yay reading!  In all seriousness though Thank you.  Please let me know if there is anything you want to share or if there is anyway I can improve on what I’m doing here.  I hope this give a little insight but least of all a pleasant little read.  If you feel inclined please share, like, follow, yadda yadda, blah blah….Thank you again have a great weekend!

-Brandon

T&T002
once more a rad skunk…