Saturday, September 24, 2016

Mother Gamer Plays The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

 I was excited to play Witcher 3 Complete Edition as I had never played it before, yet I had read all the books about the Witcher Geralt and liked them a lot. I have not played the first two games, but they are both on my to play list. Geralt's world is interesting filled with complex characters, fantastic monsters, and great storytelling. All I can say is that I have a ton of games to play and some things get backlogged. I still have a stack of PS3 games to play and of course, I'll be playing the remastered Skyrim for PS4 when it comes out and that's another game I haven't played yet, but for this moment let's discuss how much I loved Witcher 3.

 Yes, I loved Witcher 3. I stayed up way too late many a night playing this game because I was having so much fun running around killing monsters and helping people in need. My vision of Geralt was someone who did his best to do the right thing and that sometimes that meant siding with the occasional monster because there were times when humans were the real monsters. The story drew me in right away and these were characters and lore I was familiar with so I was thrilled to explore the entire world in the game. Truly, I unlocked entire maps because I just had to know what everything was. The areas that were too high a level for me at the time I made a note of where they were and came back later. I think it's great when a game makes exploration fun and it definitely helped having Geralt's horse, Roach to help that exploration go a bit faster.

Geralt and Roach doing a bit of exploring. What a view!

The environments in Witcher 3 are amazing. I would find myself stopping and just looking around at the scenery whether it was roaming through a forest or wandering the streets of a city. The attention to minute details was quite impressive. The gameplay is great. The gaming controls are fine tuned to make battles fun without feeling frustrating and the camera angles are spot on which made a terrific gaming experience for me. The music for Witcher 3 is beautiful. My favorite music was for the area of Skellige. Skellige was also my favorite place to explore because it was so pretty there with all the wild flowers and forests. I genuinely liked the people there too because many of them did not treat Geralt with complete suspicion or call him a freak the way they did in cities like Novigrad. They respected him and what he did; the fact that he was a Witcher and had cat eyes didn't really come up much. I felt that showed a lot of variety in the thinking of the people in the different areas.

There are so many side quests and that's not including the side quests included with the Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine DLC side quests. The completionist in me loved that there were tons of side quests. Side quests are totally my jam and I hunted down every single one and had a great time doing it. I did the main quests as well of course and I enjoyed the story greatly. The big thing that I loved about the side quests and story quests is the complexity of the situations and the characters involved. There is no hard black and white line and many times there are gray areas. Some decisions weigh heavily because they are not easy to choose and they feel like you really have to pick the lesser of two evils, but whichever you pick at least one or many people will be affected by it. For example, do you let a group of children get eaten by evil witches and a baron's wife lives, but she's under a curse and is mentally ill or do you save the children, but release an incredibly angry tree spirit in order to do so which leads to the baron's wife dying, the baron committing suicide out of grief, and the spirit killing all the villagers who hired you to destroy it? These are the types of situations that gave me pause and made me think about my decisions very carefully. Throughout the game, your decisions affect the story and the endings which definitely makes things interesting.

Geralt doing his Witcher thing. 

There are mini games to play as well. I enjoyed the horse races because those were fun and worth the time and effort. They gave some great rewards such as saddle bags that increased my inventory space and saddles that increased my horse's stamina and speed. Then there's a card game called Gwent which you can play with various people ranging from innkeepers to some of Geralt's friends. I really tried with Gwent. It was a bit confusing for me and I found myself looking up videos on YouTube just to try and get the gist of it, and it helped a bit. However, a huge shout out to my friend Danny for giving a simple explanation of how it worked and the best strategy to winning because that helped more. I mainly just wanted to finish the Gwent side quests I had and I managed to do that. After that, I no longer bothered playing Gwent. It just wasn't my thing, but I will say graphics wise it was a well designed mini game and while it was a tad frustrating for me, I understood why many of my friends enjoyed it. There's also fist fights tournaments (think Fight Club) that Geralt can participate in. I aced the heck out of those and won all those prize coin purses. My favorite fight was the Rock Troll because it was interesting and I got to learn his name at the end; a reward for winning the fight.

Geralt wins the match! Yes, Witchers have many scars. It's a rough business.

Level grinding was not a chore for me in the game because there were so many quests and Witcher contracts which involves hunting specific monsters or investigating things that might involve monsters. These offer good experience and a lot of money for Geralt. There are times when the leveling feels a bit uneven because sometimes the main story quests give more experience than a few of the contracts and side quests. It's not a big deal, but it is noticeable. The skills menu for unlocking Geralt's Witcher abilities and upgrading them is easy to navigate and quite user friendly. My favorite skill was an upgrade of the Axii skill known as Puppet which could make enemies fight each other. The cutscenes and voice acting are superb; while the loading times are practically seamless which made me very happy. 

Geralt taking down a Basilisk. 

 Now, I'm going to talk about something relating to the game that has come up while I've been playing it. I actually debated about whether or not to put this in my Witcher 3 post because I love video games and I enjoy talking about them with my friends and family who also love them. Video games for me are an escape and something fun to do so I can relax and just stop worrying about things for a little while. I want to have fun and be lighthearted sometimes and video games is just one of the things that offers that to me. However, after three different friends gave me a hard time about playing this game I decided that yes, I would address it. I did inform them that I would be writing about this and that I would not mention them by name, but I wanted to make sure they would be comfortable with it. They were gracious enough to agree and I thank them for that.

First of all, I don't like anyone telling me what to do. Ask my parents. There was a time when I was told to eat my vegetables when I was a kid and instead of doing that, I stealthily put them under my chair and claimed my plate was clean because I wanted to go play with my friends. Hey, I was four. What the heck did I know about being a mastermind? My parents bought it for two minutes until they discovered it and yes, it was wrong of me to think that I didn't have to listen and tried to fool my parents but this gives you an idea about how long I've been like this. Don't get me wrong, if you just have a conversation with me and we have a healthy discussion I will listen to what you have to say. What I don't respond well to is comments like, "You should NOT be playing that game because of this, that, or the other thing." Ultimately I like to decide and think for myself and I think everyone should be able to decide for themselves whether or not they want to play a game, read a book, or see a movie. 

While playing Witcher 3 two things came up about this which were I should not play the game because there are no people of color in it and that it was sexist to women. I honestly did not know there was a huge hullabaloo about these things when the game was first released because honestly I get busy with things going on in my life and I tend to just choose games that pique my interest. I thought the game looked interesting, so I bought it. That's really all there was to it. 

Yes, I did notice that there were a lot of white people in Witcher 3 in areas like Skellige and Novigrad and yet I also noticed that there are many other races such as Dwarves, Godlings, Elves, Dopplers, and Rock Trolls. I also noticed that while there seemed to be some of the German language in the Nilfgaardian dialect many of them were not white. In fact some of the soldiers of Nilfgaard that I spoke to looked like Spaniards while others looked Persian. With the Hearts of Stone DLC many of the Ofieri looked like Ottomans, Turks, and Arabic people. So yes, there are in fact people of color in the game. 

See? It's not all white people. We're done here. 

 I'm not going to give you the, "But it's fantasy!" excuse because that just won't work and doesn't explain my thoughts on it. I will say this. Yes, I think we need media from ALL cultures, races, backgrounds, and walks of life. That is important and shows how vastly different yet wonderful our world is and just how many incredible people are living in our world. It is nice to see everyone represented, because that is our world and it's a beautiful one. That has been slowly but surely changing. With games like Mass Effect and Fallout 4 there are all kinds of different races of people in these games and I think that's terrific.

Here's the thing. That isn't Geralt's world. If you've read the books or looked up anything about them at all, you will see that. It is loosely based on Medieval Eastern Europe and sadly, there was not a lot of diversity.  These are not "white people Americans"; these are Polish and Eastern European people in the game. These are stories written by a Polish author and there's a lot of Polish folktales in them as well as Polish culture (thanks to my friend V. for informing me that much of Geralt's armor was based on traditional colorful Polish dress) and the game was done by a Polish studio. I feel that they have as much right to be proud of their Polish heritage, stories, and to celebrate the fact that something that comes from their country is popular as much as I love my Filipino culture. It is NOT racist to celebrate who you are and where you come from. Those stories and those folk tales are part of their background, their identity and to imply that they should be ashamed of it and not celebrate it is racist in itself. We need diversity; not have everything be completely homogenized. 

As for the second aspect regarding the game being sexist towards women, I just find myself wondering where this comes from. There are several, I repeat, several strong female characters in the lore of Witcher and in the game. How is any of it sexist towards women? Look, I understand not liking all the boobies in the brothels and the sexual scenes in the game. It's not for everyone and some folks are just not down for it. It never bothered me and some of those sex scenes have some amusing humor in them. The argument that Geralt feels no emotions so it's sexist towards women is utter crap. If a person takes the time to actually read any of the books, read the lore, or actually tried to play the game they would know that Geralt can not express emotions on his face because of all the mutations that Witchers go through. Geralt actually feels very deeply especially when it comes to people like Yennefer who is his true love, Ciri who is like a daughter to him, and of course Vesemir who is a mentor/father figure to him. The fact that he can't physically express those emotions due to him essentially being a mutant shouldn't count against him. 

The issues with things like Ciri being called a bitch by men or Yennefer being called a whore; those are things that happen in the real world and they sure as hell happened way too often throughout history. Part of the storytelling of many artistic things is that it finds a creative way to discuss real world issues and inform you hey, this kind of thing happens open your eyes. The part I loved is that these women did not need saving. They handled it themselves. The man who called Ciri a bitch? She broke his nose and she stuck up for herself. Yennefer handled the man who called her a whore and she held her own very well. These are not wilting flowers. These are strong, intelligent, and brave women in the story and I was thrilled that a fantasy game had them. Honestly, as soon as I heard the sentence, "Feminist Frequency said..." I felt my eyes rolling because this is such a stretch. I'm not saying that they're not entitled to their opinion because they are, but I did not see any evidence of that in the game at all and I disagree.

I am not denying that racism, sexism, and bigotry exist because sadly they do. I wish they didn't, but we as people still have a long way to go. The good part is that there are many of us who are working together to evoke change and gradually change HAS happened. Our work is not done, but we'll keep working and fighting together one day at a time. 

Games are meant to be fun and for me Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt was so much fun and one of the best games I've ever played. The story, the open exploration, and the diverse characters were amazing and I enjoyed it immensely. Now, I'm going to play through again on new game plus because the completionist in me wants to get all the different endings and the game is worth playing multiple times if one wishes. 

Geralt increasing his Witcher powers.

*The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is playable on the following platforms: Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4, and XboxOne

Friday, September 2, 2016

Fallout 4: Nuka World DLC An Imperfect Finale, But Worth Playing

I had been counting down to what I called Nuka Day, the release date for the Fallout 4 Nuka World DLC. I was quite excited to play the final DLC for Fallout 4 because the idea of an abandoned amusement park while not new (they did this in Bioshock) sounded like it would be interesting and fun in a setting like the Commonwealth Wasteland of Fallout 4. Once I had it downloaded, I started another adventure in the world of Fallout 4.

 It's best to come fully prepared when you start Nuka World. You have to be at least level 30 in order to start the quest. In my case, I was level 72 and by the time I finished I was level 79 which shows you just how much there is to see and explore in Nuka World. Definitely bring your best power armor as well as plenty of stimpaks, Rad-x, and RadAway because you're going to need all of it for many of the battles that come up.

 The way Nuka World starts is you get a radio signal from the Nuka World amusement park broadcasting advertising for it and when you go to investigate, you discover that it's a fairly nasty trap thought up by some raiders and you have to survive a deadly obstacle course known as The Gauntlet. At level 72 this was no big thing for me and I had maxed out several perks which included being able to disarm traps and mines which helped a lot. There are a few surprises here and there that definitely keeps you on your toes and my power armor really took a beating, but it felt a bit exhilarating to be running around and kicking ass.

Welcome to Nuka World!

Once you get to the end of the Gauntlet you have to fight the Overboss and this is where you meet Gage who tells you the truth about that particular fight, perhaps to further his own agenda or something even more sinister. Either way, you're prepared for that fight because of his help and it is a pretty spectacular one. The odd thing is that once you've achieved victory over the Overboss, suddenly you're thrust into the leadership position and become the new Overboss. That moment feels a bit awkward because you didn't really sign up to the be leader and were in fact tricked into showing up, but it does give you an introduction to Nuka World and gives you a good reason to finally get to explore it.

Kicking ass and chewing bubblegum. It's what we do in the Wasteland. 

 Your first area to explore is the main entrance of the park where you get to meet the three raider factions that seem a bit more organized than the usual raiders and who are unsure of your intentions and who you are. You also get to have a hilarious conversation with N.I.R.A. (Nuka World Informational Robot Assistant) the Nuka World greeter robot and you can get a quest from her as well. Once you've gotten acquainted with this area there are five main sections of the park to explore with themes ranging from western to space. My two favorites were Galactic Zone and Safari Adventure because they were interesting to explore  and there was a character in a quest located in Safari Adventure who I truly liked a lot.

A hilarious meeting with N.I.R.A. Nuka World's robot greeter.

 There are a couple of areas outside the amusement park to explore such as an abandoned town and a settlement with a religious group that calls themselves Hubologists. Nuka World gives you that feeling of a huge area to explore and there are a lot of things to see and do with a few more things that can kill you like Gatorclaws. That's right, two deadly things that can rip your face off merged into one. Thanks Vault-Tec scientists. It's exciting to explore and find all these different things because there is a sense of danger in some of the places you need to clear out for quests. I had to plan a strategy just to take out a Nukalurk Queen who was in a full blown rage because I dared to enter her territory. That fight was crazy and intense and I loved every second of it. There's a few new weapons and armor that you can get as well as a couple new power armor sets to add to your collection. There are a couple of fetch quests that are a little tedious because they don't really give you an idea of where to look for them like trying to find 35 star cores for a computer mainframe.

New power armor is always cool to have.

 There are radiant quests to do that the different raider factions give you as well as a few quests from folks like the Hubologists. This is where I had a dilemma about the fact that here are raiders who are not exactly good people and are all for horrible things like slavery. "No one has a bomb collar that doesn't want one and no one is a slave who doesn't want to be" is their messed up reasoning about this. My thought response was, YEAH RIGHT. I had played my character to be essentially a chaotic good type. I did my best to do the right thing, to try not to hurt anyone as best I could, and to help as many people and settlements as possible even when Preston Garvey drove me nuts with the radiant quests. 

 While it is an interesting concept and a cool idea that you can decide to join the raiders and become a big bad scary raider yourself, Nuka World doesn't feel like it really is friendly towards your lone wanderer if they're a hero. Granted you don't have to wage war on all the settlements you helped if you don't want to, but it seems like there are only a few quests that are you actually helping others. The rest seem to be blaze through in a storm of bullets and take what's not yours and it doesn't matter who you kill to get it. That's great for anyone who wants to try their hand at being the villain, but for the way I've played this character it did not sit well with me. I also find it strange that you would even raid your own settlements and I feel that perhaps this should have been a quest played alongside the main story quest instead of after the main one was finished. 

 You can at least finish the Grand Tour quest line before you decide whether or not you're going to live like a pirate or be a hero. I decided I did not want to be the villain. I felt that my character had worked very hard to help everyone in the Wasteland and I could not turn my back on the people who looked up to me and I could not turn my back on people who needed help i.e. the bomb collared slaves. This brought up the Open Season quest which you can get from one of the slaves who happens to be a doctor; Mackenzie who told me what I had already figured out about the raiders in Nuka World. This gives you a chance to continue being the hero if you wish, but make sure you've done everything you wanted to do before attempting it because it will finish things up. 

 The story feels a bit light in Nuka World and I think I liked Far Harbor better because for me, the story had more depth and even gave some great back story to one of my favorite characters, Nick Valentine. That isn't to say I didn't enjoy Nuka World because I did, but some of the pacing felt a bit uneven and forced. I did have fun exploring it however and I did like playing the last DLC of Fallout 4 because overall Fallout 4 has been a game that has been a nearly flawless and enjoyable gaming experience for me. This wasn't a bad way to spend twenty dollars. Nuka World is an imperfect finale, but it is worth playing because overall it is fun to play which is one of the big things that's important to me in my gaming. It was a creative and cool way to say goodbye to Fallout 4. 

A view of Nuka World from the top. Farewell, Fallout 4!

*The Nuka World DLC is available to play on these platforms: Microsoft Windows PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One