Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - Year In Gaming

This year was bit more tame than others, mostly because I spent a lot of it playing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, League of Legends, and Warframe. All which were online games that have been running well before 2014. So instead of writing about my best and favorite games of 2014 which would be fairly short and lacking I'll just write about my gaming experiences for the year.

Final Fantasy XIV: ARR was my first serious re-emergence into MMORPGs since I quit World of Warcraft way back in 2007 or so. (And there was that little stint with Guild Wars 2) I started in probably late January and quickly leveled a Paladin to cap within a week so I could play with my friends who had already been playing for a few months. After a bit of playing a tanky Paladin I leveled White Mage, a healer, and then a Monk, a punchy melee DPS class. I had the MMO trinity at my finger tips now and I was able to fill any role my team needed. We casually raided end game and I was able to be there for the first few clears of some bosses which made the whole experience blissfully reminiscent of World of Warcraft first boss kills, but on a much smaller scale. WoW had 25-40 player raids while FFXIV only had 8 man teams for the serious content and 24 player dungeons, but those were honestly fairly casual.

In patch 2.2 Square released the Second Binding Coil of Bahamut, the second end game raid series of bosses. My free company (guild) just got to finishing the First Binding Coil so this was pretty exciting, except that the first boss of Second Coil became an impenetrable and unbeatable wall. In fact the boss was such a gate for us that we lost several members that left to either move on to another faster progression guild or just to take a break from raiding because it became such a heavy burden. I personally left the guild's raid team to move on to find a new static team and raid which was pretty fun for a while. I mostly just played with my guild previously so playing with other players from the server and meeting some good people out there was refreshing. Progression was pretty good for a while, but after a few months of great boss kills we got to the final boss of Second Coil. Another brick wall of demoralization and a decathlon of movement and fight mechanics. Like before, we lost a handful of members that lost interest after being blockaded by a boss for so long, a boss that was mandatory to defeat before moving onto the third and Final Binding Coil of Bahamut. Content patch 2.4 came around and that meant the release of the Final Binding Coil of Bahamut. Over time Square would add a strong buff to players which was consequently a nerf to the final boss of Second Coil just to push players over the hump and get everyone to newer content, a concept I actually like as far as allowing players experience the whole game. About a month and a half after that patch I finally got my boss kill, but at that point I'd been at it so long and just felt generally uninspired to continue playing. I had to tell my static team that I wasn't going to resubscribe after the month and that I would take a break from the game. It was a strange experience that felt similar to quitting a job where all your coworkers were just your friends. Farewell, Eorzea.

Overall, FFXIV was, is, a great game that caters to people that put in the work and time to advance their armor and weapons. People that had the time and ability to grind away at the many aspects of the game were probably the richest and had the most up to date relic weapons. My biggest gripe with the game has to be the network issues between Verizon FioS in the north east region of America and the game servers in Montreal, Canada. It's been reported that there was a "bad node" between the routes that FioS and the servers so usually around prime time, and other times there would be absolutely terrible lag spikes anywhere from 1-45 seconds long which made any attempts at end game content during those times utterly unplayable. The ways around this were to either not be on a Verizon ISP or SUBSCRIBE to another (Subscribing to FFXIV was already $13) "gaming VPN" service to route you to another direction to the server. I hope Verizon and/or SquareEnix can sort out their latency issues, but both sides say it's not their issues and pass the blame on.

League of Legends at this point is almost an abusive relationship. League can be the most challenging game at times. The feeling that you get when you and 4 of your friends can some how coordinate strategies on a map and execute them to defeat 5 other real people in a game that could be compared to Soccer combined with Chess, has been unbeatable for me in a multiplayer experience. My friends and I recently completely shut down a team 18-0 and it's an even more impressive thought when you think about how there are other players on the side of those enemy heroes trying to play against you. On the other side of this exhilarating player vs player game are the bad times, when you're trying to learn a new hero or role and your team is absolutely not having your mistakes and errors. Which I can understand, sometimes you just want to play well and when someone is losing their lane and not able to 1v1 and the enemy jungler is completely getting fed off/snowballing of your nooby errors, it can make for a bad time. This being a free to play game allows the doors to be open to players of any background or age. That being said you have a wide range of player toxicity to bathe yourself in during bad rounds. At the end, League of Legends is League of Legends and I'll probably keep playing this game for a while. Anything else I say will probably be redundant in the sense that most people that are interested in League of Legends have an idea of the game or at least experiences from playing other MOBA type games.

Also League got a great visual update this year that really matches the texture and art styles they're going with when they release all of their new champions (Something that they do with increasing frequency and quality (minus Azir, apparently) lately). It's nice to see the new content being pushed out on a good basis to stay interested.

Warframe is absolutely more of the same (Except the new logo!) I love this game because it doesn't require a high level of focus for me to play well and still have a good time. I can listen to podcasts or just talk to friends over Teamspeak while running a Tower 3 Survival for 30 minutes and still do fine. I'm trying to get more into the void to get some beautiful new Prime frames and weapons. The community in this game is pretty decent as far as free to play communities go so that definitely doesn't detract from the experience. An interesting comparison I've been hearing lately since the release and sort of disappointment of Destiny, is how similar the two games are. They're both scifi based on our solar system featuring extensive and repeating farming runs to get better gear so you can do more of the same gameplay. A fair comparison and one of my friends who still plays a lot of Destiny feels the same way about it as I do Warframe, that it's just a go-to game to play and not have to really divert all your attention to. (Because listening to a podcast and just being on the internet is not entertaining enough.)

Anything else involving my thoughts on Warframe or League of Legends can probably be found in my post about Free to Play games.

2014 was a pretty great year (and honestly the year for it) for Blizzard and Diablo 3. The release of Reaper of Souls brought a lot of people who had already dropped the game, to return and endlessly grind their way through hell again. Diablo 3 also released for consoles and our now current generation of consoles which opened countless doors for console games to jump on a train to New Tristram and Sanctuary. In addition to a new Crusader class, level cap increase to 70, improved Paragon leveling system, the expansion had a ton of improvements to the game such as better class loot drops and being able to change stats of an item with enchanting. This year even had a new seasons system to add extra incentive for players to start a new character and aim for a leaderboard spot to get rewards at the end of the season. It's nice to see Blizzard trying to support this game and really keep players interested.

Transistor might've been one of the games I was most excited about this year and bought as soon as it came out on Steam. I loved playing through Bastion and enjoying its soundtrack by Darren Korb. Transistor is a that abides by a familiar formula of unique isometric gameplay, stylized and color scenes and great music. Instead of The Kid from Bastion, Transistor features Red, a famous singer from the scifi city of Cloudbank who loses her voice. Her co-star, the Transistor is her weapon as well as her sidekick and together using different ability "Functions" such as Crash(), Cull(), Load() and more to defeat different types of robots known as The Process. The combat system is fairly unique and allows the player to use the Functions in real time or use a Turn() to stop time to strategically plan out attacks and ability combos. Functions could either be used as an active ability or equiped to another ability to upgrade it and add a new effect. Crash(), which is normally a close range attack can be slotted into Breach(), a ranged piercing attack, to add a stun and disruption effect. Every single Function ability can be an active ability, upgrade, or passive. Experimenting with different combinations was extremely enjoyable and finding the right Function loadout that fit your play style was just as rewarding. The story is mysterious and you keep playing to unravel why Red lost her voice, what are the process, where is everyone, and what is this Transistor? The color palette of Cloudbank is something that has stuck with me for a while and the aquas and orange accents in an other wise dark city are wonderful. My Steam profile background will be Cloudbank for a while. I adore just about everything in this game from the fantastic soundtrack, to the atmosphere and characters. 

Now I've already posted about Titanfall in the past where I wholeheartedly gush about the game for something like 1700 words, but I picked it up for Xbox One with the whole season pass for a total of around $13 which was an utter robbery. Guess what? The game is still tons of fun, the mobility mechanics are still solid, and dropping giant robots (with new voice packs, including a Japanese OS voice to make you feel like a Gundam Mecha pilot) with massive guns is still a blast. My only gripe with the game now is how even as fun as it is, it loses you (even myself at times). It's lost so much of the community it had since it released that lobbies on Xbox Live are rarely full off of peak hours. Games dwindle down to 2v2 or 3v3 and it's sad. Playlists are filled in the hundreds at nighttime hours and it can wind down to just you and your Titan alone. Definitely hopeful for Titanfall 2 if it's in the works and wishful for something to keep the community in it for the longhaul.

Around mid-November is when I finally picked up an Xbox One because of these insanely great sales coming around. $349.99 for a 500gb Xbox One with Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag and Assassin's Creed: Unity included, AND Best Buy threw in a year of Xbox Live. This was an offer I could not pass up (Also Halo: Master Chief Collection was right around the corner, but we'll get to that later). It felt pretty nice, dusting off my Xbox Live Gamertag and playing a console again. The Xbox One controller felt familiar enough that the transition from a Xbox 360 gamepad was barely noticeable. The amazing CG trailer at E3 this past summer really sold me and hyped me up for Assassin's Creed: Unity. Ubisoft has absolutely amazing CG trailers for the games even since the first in the entire series. The trailer had me so excited for Unity that I bought Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, Assassin's Creed Revelations, Assassin's Creed III, and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag all during the Steam Summer Sale. I ate up Brotherhood because it was so familiar to Assassin's Creed II which I really enjoyed. Got probably 40% into Revelations before I considered myself done with that game for the time being and put it into the backlog. I barely even touched Assassin's Creed III aside from 2-3 hours so I won't really speak much onto it, but it didn't seem like my favorite in the series yet. Now Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag was a game I ate up and played through wholeheartedly (not just because it was the only game available to me on Xbox at the time before Unity was released). I really wasn't expecting to love a game in the Assassin's Creed series that revolved around pirates and sailing the open seas, but damn it I did. And aside from Assassin's Creed II, Black Flag is my favorite Assassin's Creed title. I will gladly go back to that game sometime to knock out more achievements and just sail the seas listening to my crew sing shanties in between the surprisingly enjoyable naval warfare.

On to the controversial Assassin's Creed: Unity. I was pretty excited for this game the night before release. I had it digitally preloaded, but work the next day. So I get home that evening of the release and hop in only to be greeted by a day one patch. While that downloads I check my feeds and see tons of blog reports of all the technical issues for the game. I figure they can't be that bad and play around for a bit. All of this after I turned on English subtitles and changed the voices to French, because British accents for a game that takes place in Paris and a bit of Versailles is ridiculous to me, Ubisoft. The first cutscenes and actual gameplay were extremely framey, probably around 20 FPS or lower. Later on you run to a large palace with a huge crowd of NPC's congregated outside of it and this is when frames had to have dropped well below 20 FPS. I haven't gone back to the game since I finished the story so I'm not sure if actual cutscenes had a much needed frame rate boost yet. Combine the massive frame rate issue, character and texture pop in, and NPCs pathing up and down boxes, rails, and just generally acting stupid and you could see how all the blog reports called this a technical disaster. We'll go with that title for now. The game also features a companion app that is required to unlock a large amount of treasure chests, chests that can contain a small amount of pocket change or a costume from another Assassin's Creed game. While those aren't necessary for a full game experience, it sure takes away from it when you try to open a chest and it tells you to download a mobile companion app. There are also microtransactions to instantly get weapons or armor with real money instead of playing the game and earning Livres like a true Frenchman. A few patches later it's definitely more playable. I completed the story line and really didn't hate it but I felt like it didn't add much to the Assassin's Creed mythos at all. Ubisoft is obviously trying to throw even more ambiguity between who is the bad guy between the Templars and Assassin's what with your childhood friend and love interest being involved with Templars and even with the same day release of Assassin's Creed: Rogue where you get to play an Assassin turned Templar. At the end of the day I wish this was a game I didn't get immediately (though it was bundled with my console) and something I would've absolutely waited for to get cheaper after all the bugs were patched out just to get through the story before the release of whatever Assassin's Creed game releasing in 2015/2016 that got me excited. I'd give it a IDidntHateIt out of 5 rating.

Speaking of bugs and patches, we have the sole reason for me getting an Xbox One at all, Halo: Master Chief Collection. Going into this I was so incredibly excited. 4 Halo games on Xbox One. 60 frames per second and about 1080p (almost) resolution. 4500 gamerscore in achievements, Halo 2 completely remastered, cutscenes done by the masters at Blur Studios, and a classic multiplayer experience that Halo fans on the internet have been panning for with every subsequent Halo release that felt "less Halo" than they preferred. The hype was so real and his was shaping up to be the absolute killer title for Xbox and for Microsoft to shine. Halo is Xbox and Xbox is Halo after all. The campaigns are there and they are as fast and gorgeous as ever. Halo 2 Anniversary turns Halo 2's campaign into a next generation beast. As expected, Blur Studios completely nails their cinematics and only seem to get better. They are on the edge of photorealism that I haven't seen other games cinematics achieve.

Halo: Master Chief Collection lands the campaign part of the delivery. I can't complain much at having 4 Halo titles in 60 FPS on one single disc. Now comes the painful part, the matchmaking disaster. For whatever reason the MCC shipped with a slew of matchmaking and stability issues that really hurt the the whole experience, enough that a lot of people put the game down entirely uninspired to continue playing it, or even returned it to stores out of disappointment. While I understand that a lot of gamers really just wanted the solid nostalgia laden multiplayer dream of Halo 2, I still believe the Master Chief Collection holds up with the campaign. It's difficult to argue against disappointment when it's taken 7 weeks and counting to sort out all these issues. I'll remain optimistic that eventually 343 and Microsoft can sort out the rest of their multiplayer issues. There's still a lot of game in the MCC to play however, and we shouldn't overlook that.

This generation of gaming seems to really contain a lot of issues with stability in a variety of ways. Even Dragon Age: Inquisition down in this post has a lot of bugs (characters pointlessly walking back and forth during cutscenes, dead party members dropping from the sky to follow the player, being launched into the air after dismounting a horse, etc). Watch_Dogs was the massive letdown filled with bugs and really just looked like a sloppy game. We can only hope for this coming 2015 year is better for games to be better tested and more stable. The lesson of the year is to really not buy things day one and to stop preordering. I know I will.

Several years back I bought Dragon Age: Origins after playing Mass Effect hoping for a similar game in a fantasy setting instead of scifi. It didn't exactly meet those expectations but it wasn't such a bad experience for me. You could choose a dialogue option and your character usually stood there trying to act out the emotion of the scene on his/her face, but would never actually speak. Even Mass Effect 1 had full dialogue options and voice acting that really fleshed out your character. Your character was essentially mute and that made for a strange game. I still played through it, not entirely sure if I entirely loved it, but sure that I didn't hate it. Normally with a game like this I'd play through it a few times, but I chose not to and passed on a second playthrough. Dragon Age: Inquisition is the experience I wish I had when I played Dragon Age: Origins. Your character actually has a personality, as does your team and party who are as diverse and colorful as the cast from Mass Effect. This is exactly that "Mass Effect style" game that I wanted, but the combat and atmosphere are different enough to feel like a refreshing world. The world of Thedas is gorgeous visually and the game features so many different environments for the player to quest through. The presentation of the game is something that Bioware nails. The seemingly sudden appearances of the dragons, roaring through the desert or rainy mountain scene as exclamations from your party varying from excitement for a challenge or fear of being eaten, fill out the experience so well. It was something that felt like when you see your first dragon in Skyrim, probably the most relatable title in terms of vast fantasy exploration. One of the big parts of the story are the closing the rifts and the breaches into the fade so that demons and monsters don't destroy the world and that really adds the sense of urgency you get similar to playing Mass Effect 3 and having the Reapers breathing on your neck at every turn of the game. I haven't yet finished the story on my first playthrough, but I'm enjoying the gameplay as much as interrogating my party members after each story quest to make sure I didn't miss any great moments.

I picked up Sunset Overdrive fairly late. Late like "5 Days ago because it was $30 on Xbox Live sale Late" compared to the October release. I can confidently say this is probably the most enjoyable and fun game I've played in all of 2014. Combine Tony Hawk's Pro Skater with Ratchet and Clank and a splash of Deadrising 2 and you have this profanity slinging, explosive teddy bear launching, ridiculous game focused on mobility and obliterating energy drink driven zombies, corporate robots and human raiders. The core of Sunset Overdrive is cenetered on mobility and keeping your combo meter up. The higher your meter goes the bigger your score in certain missions, but more importantly it allows you to use your powerful amps which enable abilities like shooting fireballs, lightning or tornadoes when you swing your melee weapon, or shoot out shards of glass or explosive fire when you ground slam attack, and my favorite expelling lightning bolts or large streams of fire as you grind around on rails and wires all over the city. Mobility is such a focus point mechanic of this game that if you don't even have your combo meter charging up at all, the game doesn't play music in open world situations. When you start grinding, swinging off of poles, vaulting, wallrunning, or super bouncing off of cars and air vents, the infectious blasting beats of the amazing soundtrack start to blast and enhances your energy drink driven combo spree so much more.

The weapon modifications are wildly creative as well. You already have a gun that shoots records and bounce from targets to target, why don't we add a mod that sets those record projectiles on fire as well as your enemies. There's a large cannon type weapon aptly named "The Dude" that launches bowling balls that shoot flames horizontally, mowing down packs of OD zombies along the way. When you're playing you are constantly focusing on several different things at once, are my deployable weapons up, how's my ammo, is my combo and overdrive meter still going, where am I going to jump to next, where's the next wave of OD for me to kill. When you achieve massive combos and insanely high scores you feel like the Mozart of killing zombies in this ridiculously colorful city. The entire Punk Mentality is strong and all of that comes off successfully in the dialogue between the diverse and colorful characters you meet in the game. And the color palette in this game is amazing. Every scene is vibrant and enthusiastic, from the abandoned or overturned cars to the monolithic and modern skyscrapers in downtown Sunset City. At it's core this game is pure fun. The dialogue between characters and sometimes even directly to the player is smart in a way you might not expect and it comments on conformity in our own world. Sunset is so aware of itself as a video game commenting on mechanics like how quest NPCs disappear right after giving you a quest, grinding out pointless achievements and much more. Sunset Overdrive has pretty much been the only game I've been able to play since I bought it the other day and I've just about got all the achievements already. Even hunting down all the collectibles has been an enjoyable experience for me. I fear the obscenely entertaining movement mechanics in this game will ruin all platformer titles to come. Absolutely a great title to end my 2014 gaming year on.

It also features my favorite fast travel animation of all time.

So these were the games that were most notable in my 2014 year.

Games I wish I played before the end of the year:

  • Far Cry 4
  • Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor 
  • Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire
  • Destiny (I know the complaints about it, but I'm sure I'd still like it some bit)
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order
  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
  • Forza Horizon 2
  • Mario Kart 8
  • Super Smash Bros. Wii
  • Shovel Knight
  • Super Time Force Ultra
  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
  • Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Games I'm most excited for in 2015:
  • No Man's Sky
  • Batman: Arkham Knight
  • Star Wars: Battlefront
  • The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
  • Halo 5: Guardians
  • Tom Clancy's: The Division (really hope this title doesn't get Watch_Dogs'd)

2014 felt like a transitional period for gaming to me. Gamers were starting to get the next/current generation of consoles and a lot of gamers got deeper into PC gaming this year. More titles were made with the current generation in mind and less of trying to keep the last generation consoles in mind and holding them back. We got see to the real first taste of what developers can do with the newer technology and hopefully it only gets better. I hope developers and publishers delay games instead of pushing them out unfinished with the hopes of patching out the issues later. The Witcher and Arkham Knight have already been delayed which is a good sign. I think in general, gamers can deal with getting a  finishe game later in the year rather than an unfinished and terribly unpolished game.