Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mother Gamer Plays Witcher 2 Assassin Of Kings

I enjoyed the first Witcher game so I was looking forward to trying out the second one. I played the enhanced edition of Witcher 2 on the Xbox 360. Once the introduction to Geralt was underway at the beginning, the game started with a tutorial of the basic combat controls and information about how to use the items menu as well as upgrading Geralt's abilities. I liked that everything was concise and easy to read and I could scroll through everything pretty quickly.

Start of the game, menu system is nice.

The story itself was interesting for me and of course I like Geralt a lot because he is a complex character who isn't really good or bad, but he does try as often as he can to do the right thing and stand up for others. That's not to say he doesn't have flaws because he does, but at least he owns up to them.

 The armor was pretty cool and I liked that you get a special armor that ups a lot of stats right from the start and it was the Blue Stripes special forces armor. I did find better armor later on, but that one did nicely for the early part of the game. Alchemy is a constant of course in the Witcher games and during my adventuring I grabbed all the things that could be used for it as I went. Some things were specifically quest related so I was ready with all the right items when those happened. 

Geralt in the Blue Stripes armor.

 The battle system is well done and if a battle was challenging, I could easily switch the difficulty level to easy. For me, it was just fun to explore and look at everything because the scenery looked amazing. I put off doing main story quests just to do side quests and explore everywhere. One of my favorite side quests was with trolls because it was fun and it also showed that Geralt doesn't feel it necessary to kill every monster especially if it's not harming anyone.
 Naturally with  all the quests there are choices to make and this rings very true for the main story. Who you side with and what you do can wind up with a variety of results towards the end. I ended up playing Vernon Roche's path (humans) first and then Iorveth's (elves, dwarves, and other nonhumans) path the second time. 

Geralt helps a troll. 

While I liked both paths for different reasons, I felt that I liked Iorveth's path better. There was just a bit more depth to it for me and there were some very interesting reveals about Iorveth himself who I liked and Saskia who I thought was a great character. Some of the decisions weren't easy at all and that's par the course for the games. There's no good or bad choice, it's all a bit of gray. It definitely made me think carefully about my decisions during the game.

* Okay this is the spoiler warning. There is going to be some spoilers about the books coming up next so if you have not read all of the books yet and don't want anything spoiled, don't read past this point. If it doesn't bother you, read on.

 One thing that bothered me was something the narrator said in the game. It was a moment where it was said Triss told Geralt about Yennefer and his toxic relationship with her. I felt incredibly annoyed by that line because once again this was something that was incredibly unfair to Yennefer and implied that Triss is just so sweet all the time. She isn't. While I understand this is set at the point where Geralt still hadn't recovered all his memories and Triss is manipulating him so that she's the only romance option, I thought that was a pretty crappy thing to do. I don't hate Triss, but I don't like her either because of some of the things she's done. I know Yenn isn't perfect either, but neither is Geralt. These are all characters who are flawed and make mistakes. 

My issue is the treatment of Triss in the games just glosses over or willfully ignores what she did. It explains why so many people claim Yennefer is a terrible person and go for Triss. Triss is not so nice.  Instead of helping Geralt recover his memories, she manipulated him and seduced him with magic even though she knew that this was her best friend Yennefer's lover. Then there's the fact that she betrayed Geralt and Ciri to the Lodge of Sorceresses because they wanted to use Ciri's powers for themselves. Wow, how nice of her. Yet there's no mention of it at all until Witcher 3 and they just hint at it which is ridiculous. 

The thing is I have read the books so I know why Yennefer is like that and it's not because she's as some have put it, "a cold bitch" it's because it's a defense mechanism for not getting hurt. That cool facade is just that. The people who actually know her very well like Geralt and Ciri know her to be a truly caring person about those she loves. You don't give up your life for someone else's if you don't love them. Yes, Yennefer did that and the other side of that is Geralt traded his life for hers to the Wild Hunt. These are two people who deeply love each other.

 Yes, they had issues and they were at points in their lives when they got together where it seemed they were not ready to be in a real relationship. I mean for goodness sake, Geralt cheated on Yennefer something she does bring up and Geralt didn't fight back because he knew he screwed up. Yennefer faltered too in the relationship when she couldn't decide between a mage she had known for years and Geralt. They would part ways often, but ultimately they would always come back together. In the books it shows so much more about their relationship and you see that Geralt and Yennefer are two sides of the same coin. Both are stubborn to a fault, incredibly intelligent, and understand each other because they both had a really rough childhood. They genuinely love and respect each other. I think people who have played the game and never read the books don't get a chance to see that Geralt and Yennefer are meant to be together and the big thing is Geralt doesn't see anyone else. He only sees Yennefer because this is a person that challenges him, that is his equal, and isn't afraid to tell him when he's wrong and it works both ways. Again, these are two people who truly love and respect each other. 

 Look, I understand why they tweaked Triss a bit. It was a matter of aesthetics and adds a bit of drama to the games and that's fine. However, I wish they had been more evenhanded with both characters an show that they are both flawed, not just Triss is so angelic and Yennefer is evil because that is not the case at all. That's the only thing that really bothered me in the game and I did not romance Triss and I did not go to save her either. I'm not sorry. 

*End of book spoilers

 That bit of irritation aside, I did have fun playing the game. The Dice Poker mini game is playable here too and once again I found myself having to reload saves to be able to win the quest related matches. It wasn't a big deal and I did win after that. The matches are fairly quick and easy. I mean, it could have been Gwent. Oh yes, I went there. There are also arm wrestling matches. I did have fun arm wrestling my Dwarven buddy Zoltan. There is also the fight club mini game and that one is always fun for me. What can I say? I like having Geralt knock the mundanes around. 

Geralt kicking ass and taking names.

Doing all the side quests and main quests in Witcher 2 for both paths I did notice that the game is rather short. There's only 3 chapters of main story which isn't a big deal, but I was surprised when I was at the end of the game the first time playing. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it. I had fun exploring, fighting monsters, and making difficult decisions that would shape my story. Both my play throughs were interesting and I never found myself bored at all. I think I noticed more in Chapter 3 because 3 itself was so short. There were only 3 quests in it and then the ending so it felt a little abrupt. That being said, I liked Witcher 2 and had fun playing both paths and seeing the different endings. I also loved the artwork and music in the game. I'm glad I got to play it because it was interesting and made for some fun gaming.

*Witcher 2 Assassin of Kings is playable on the following platforms: Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, Linux, and OS X

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Mother Gamer Plays The Witcher

While I have read The Witcher books, I had never played the first two games. I know that's odd, but sometimes I miss games here and there with everything that's available to play. I loved the third game and a friend suggested I check out the first two. Luckily for me, The Witcher was on sale on Steam and I got the enhanced edition. I got the second game also for Xbox 360.

I was pretty excited to start the first game, just to see what it was like. The opening sequence for the game is interesting talking about Geralt and how he helped to lift a curse on a princess who had become a striga, a type of vampire. This gives you some insight into what a Witcher does and it sets the scene for the story. As opening cut scenes go, I thought it looked great and it definitely hooked me into the story immediately.

Starting the story at the stronghold of Kaer Morhen, gave a pretty good feel for how the battle system works. I chose the mouse and keyboard controls with an over the shoulder camera. There are two top down camera angles that can be used as well as the option to use the mouse to control everything. I chose the casual setting so I could just enjoy the story and atmosphere during the first play through. Playing through the tutorial part of the game helped to familiarize myself with the three fighting styles; strong, fast, and group. Depending on what type of battle you're fighting you can switch from each one fairly easily.

Hello, Geralt of Rivia.

The items menu is easy to get to and I didn't have trouble navigating it. I did find I would run out of room however and have to pick and choose which items I wanted to put in storage at the nearest inn in town. Alchemy is a big part of the game as Geralt needs to mix various potions that enhance some of his abilities or do things like increase his vitality. There are books and scrolls Geralt can pick up during his adventures that unlock knowledge on monsters, plants, and alchemy formulas. Some can be bought from merchants while others are rewards for completing quests.

The items menu layout is user friendly.

It seems that this is a part of the story where Geralt still hasn't regained his memories and is with Triss Merigold when Kaer Morhen is attacked and all their secrets and materials for creating Witchers are stolen. It's a pretty exciting start to the game and the battles were a lot of fun. I was also amused at some of Geralt's conversations with his friends as he admitted that he didn't remember certain things so they had to remind him or fill him in on various events that have happened.

Sure graphics wise the game is dated, but it still looks good and plays really well. The cut scenes alone are well done even the shorter ones that are just introducing you to a new area. The music is beautiful and I liked that each area had it's own unique music because it set the atmosphere for the different points in the story. The battle music is great as well adding to the excitement of Geralt battling monsters. The voice acting is good for some of the characters. Geralt's voice of course is great and Vesemir's too. Dandelion's voice threw me off because it was a totally different voice than the one I was used to in Witcher 3. Turns out for the first game, it's a completely different person doing the voice acting for Dandelion's voice. It wasn't terrible, just different. 

One of the lovely cut scenes in The Witcher.

There are a lot of side quests that you can do in the game in each area while doing the main story line quests. Exploring is fun because you can run into more side quests and the scenery is interesting whether it's a small village or a spooky cave in the swamp. Side quests are my jam and I loved just running around picking them up and battling monsters. Some of them are just simple fetch quests like gathering a certain number of herbs, but I still had fun doing them just for the exploration factor.

Geralt exploring a village.

Geralt is a Witcher which means he slays the monsters and monsters are a big thing in the game. There are all kinds of monsters ranging from Strigas to Graveirs. There's even an island full of wyverns and an island full of fish people to add to the fun. Battles are good, but every now and then they got frustrating. There were a couple of boss battles where I found myself getting frustrated because with one battle, there was no option to save before fighting so I had to do one fight over again before fighting the actual boss. The other fight involved a lot of tentacles and a sorceress who really wasn't helpful (sorry Triss, but it's true) so I had to use all of Geralt's Witcher skills and race around the room. I did win, but only because I had maxed out all of Geralt's abilities.

The save feature is fairly straightforward. You just click on your journal and go to system and save. There is an autosave function that activates any time you go into a new area which is convenient if it's just before fighting a boss in the area. Your journal keeps track of all your quests and information about all the people and things Geralt has seen during his adventure.

Geralt battles a Graveir.

 One of the things I loved about Witcher is all the choices you have when trying to decide what to do in conversations. There's really no good or bad choice, some things are varying shades of grey. It's really up to you if you choose to do something or not do something. As you progress, you see as you go how each decision affected everything and it adds a lot of interesting details to the story. 

There are romance options too, mainly between Shani and Triss. I chose Shani because honestly I have never liked Triss (I've read the books and there's a good reason why I don't like her), but for those who do like Triss you can have a romance with her. You can have dalliances with other women in the game too such as a couple of nurses and a certain princess. I thought it was kind of odd that you received romance cards with a painting of each woman on it afterwards, like a trophy of sorts. The artwork on them is well done though. 

There are two mini games you can do, fist fighting and Dice Poker. Geralt can wager that he'll beat someone in a fight and as he wins each fight, he can search for stronger opponents. Dice Poker is played with dice and playing cards. Dice Poker is a bit frustrating because it does seem that the results are totally left up to chance and it seemed that most of the time the game was heavily in favor of the NPC winning constantly. I learned to save my game before each match and reload just in order to have a chance at winning for the quests relating to Poker Dice. I was sure that Zoltan (Geralt's Dwarven friend) was cheating at this game a few times. I had more fun doing side quests than I did playing this strange little game. 

One of my few Poker Dice wins. This game is weird!

I really liked the loading screens for the game because it showed different art work paintings of areas in the world of Witcher. They were lovely and I enjoyed seeing all the different paintings. There were even a few of Geralt and some of his friends which I thought were fantastic. The loading times are fast which was nice and the game runs really smoothly. 

I liked the story a lot and while the story is only five chapters there's a lot to see and do just with the side quests and mini games alone. Once you complete the main game you can play fan made adventures with Geralt and his friends. There's no voice acting in them, but some of them are a lot of fun. My favorite was one called The Wedding. I had fun playing The Witcher because of the story, the gameplay, and the characters. I do plan on playing through a second time because it was that enjoyable for me and trying out different choices for the story. I'm not sure if I'll play Poker Dice this time around though. Zoltan can't keep winning all my money! 

One of the pretty loading images in The Witcher.

*The Witcher Enhanced Edition is available to play on the following platforms: Microsoft Windows

Monday, January 9, 2017

Final Fantasy XV Great, But Not Perfect

I just finished Final Fantasy XV and I had so many thoughts about it, that I needed a little time to process everything before I wrote this. I came to the conclusion that with everything I want to discuss about the game that this will have spoilers in it. I do my best not to do that, but with some games I just feel the need to talk about some of the things with spoilers because they're a big deal to me. All that being said, this is the spoiler warning. If you have not completed the game yet and don't want it spoiled for you, don't read this until you have. Now that we've gotten out of the way, let's begin.

When I started the game, I chose to go through the tutorial. This is a smart move for anyone just starting the game because it gives you a good idea about how the battle system works and what the controls are. It also explains how Noctis' warp strike works and gives tips on how to plan out strategy while using it. It's quite helpful before starting your adventure.

Learning the ropes in the tutorial.

The beginning of Final Fantasy XV doesn't really give you an explanation about what's going on. You get an opening with Prince Noctis and his friends already on their road trip. There is a cutscene with Prince Noctis talking to his father before the trip about his upcoming wedding to Lunafreya. You don't really get a clear explanation for why this is happening other than it's to secure peace between their two kingdoms. This really doesn't do a very good job of easing you into the story and letting you know who's who. You can watch the Kingsglaive movie to give you a better idea about the opening and the five anime episodes of Brotherhood to understand more about Noctis and his friends before playing the game. It does help a lot with knowing what exactly is happening. I really don't understand why they didn't include those in the game (Kingsglaive is included with the deluxe edition) because it would leave you feeling less confused about what is happening. It doesn't really make sense to not have something that is pretty crucial to the main story not be there. Once the initial introduction is done, you get to start exploring the world in Final Fantasy XV with Noctis and his friends/bodyguards Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus in their car known as the Regalia. If you did the special quests through Amazon pre-order (I did) you get a pretty spiffy gold Chocobo skin for the car. You can also customize the car any way you want which is pretty neat.

The Regalia with a gold Chocobo skin.

The open world and scenery are beautiful. I found myself stopping to admire the view quite often. The musical soundtrack is good as well, complementing the mood of each scene perfectly. You can pick up side quests in the various towns and you should as these help a great deal with level grinding. There are special quests too known as bounty hunts which you can pick up from the local diner in the area. These quests are a bit more difficult, but they are worth it because you get some great items from them as well as money for your expedition.

Taking a moment to enjoy the view.

Each of the guys has their own skill set too. For Noctis it's fishing, Ignis can cook, Prompto takes photos of everyone and everything along the way, and Gladiolus is good at foraging. You don't level up in the conventional way. You rest at an inn or camp outside and rest and all the experience you've earned battling monsters racks up the points there in order for you to level up and this is also how you level up the skills for everyone. When you rest you can choose what recipe Ignis makes and take a moment to look at all the photos Prompto has taken and choose which ones you want to save and share with your friends. It's rather nice looking at all the photos seeing battles or seeing the guys just hanging out together in the different places they travel through. 

Prompto using his photo skills.

The camping thing brought up something I wasn't too thrilled with in the game. The main reason you have to rest at night is because you can not travel at night at all since there are demons everywhere and they are insanely powerful and will kill you. On the one hand, it does add to the atmosphere of how dangerous traveling at night is and that taking a break for the night is a good idea. On the other hand, it kind of takes you out of the immersion of the story because it limits your exploration a bit and that's frustrating. It's not a big deal, but it's noticeable. 

Driving everywhere in the Regalia is interesting. You get to have little conversations and you can listen to music on the radio. You also have moments here and there where Prompto will ask if you can stop and take a picture together. I did try driving manually and the controls are just okay. I found myself choosing the auto function frequently. I know it's a game, but it bothered me that no one in the car is wearing seat belts. Factor in the weird showboating of Noctis sitting up on the back of the car and I found myself wondering why no one thought of safety at all. I know that's weird worrying about their safety in a video game, but you know they would have had a terrible accident in the real world. You can fast travel after the introductory chapters are done which is convenient if you just want to get there. Driving in the Regalia can sometimes feel tedious. I think it's impractical that you have to shell out 10 gil every time you fast travel however. While I understand that is to pay for the gas in the car, I still feel it's rather stupid. At one point in the story you can travel to the past because of a dog named Umbra. This is his ability and you can do that to go back and continue doing various quests.

NO. Don't do this kids. Safety first!

The story for the most part is pretty good. As I traveled with Noctis and his friends, I came to like each of them because of how they interacted with each other. A lot of people said that Noctis is sullen, but I don't think that's the case. I think that it was more about Noctis having a heavy responsibility on his shoulders and he's fairly young. That's a lot of pressure to handle and it seemed that he was more of an introvert and isn't really open with anyone who doesn't know him really well the way his friends do and even then he's still a bit reserved. That is not necessarily a bad thing. I actually liked Noctis and I felt sad for him when I realized some aspects of the story involving him.

I did love visiting the Chocobo farm. Two of my favorite things in the Final Fantasy series are Moogles and Chocobos so I was excited to visit the Chocobo farm. I smiled at how delighted Prompto was about seeing Chocobos and it was cool seeing everyone just hang out with all the sweet Chocobos. Once you do an initial quest there, you can rent Chocobos for a specified amount of time and ride them all over the place exploring to your heart's content. You can also customize the Chocobos for your party by changing their colors which is tons of fun in itself. There is a Chocobo racetrack nearby and you can race everyone on your Chocobo. I spent a lot of time there and time fishing. Maybe too much time, but I had fun! 

Whee, Chocobos!

The combat system is okay, but there are issues. Sometimes you can get overwhelmed by enemies and running away for a minute is the only option. This does make you plan out varying strategies to figure out what works and what doesn't, but sometimes that can be irritating when you're trying to win a fight. When it comes to magic spells, you have to craft them in the user menu and then equip the spell. I actually thought that part was great because it was a different take on magic. The user menu is pretty easy to navigate and you can change the outfits for the guys fairly easily. Each outfit has different stats depending on what you want for battle. I just wish there was a little more variety other than hey we're a boy band, but at least they're well designed.

I didn't mind a lot that there weren't women in the party. I knew it wasn't that kind of story. We had an all female game with Final Fantasy X-2 and that was great, so it didn't really bug me that all the main characters in the game are guys.  However, I did mind some things they did to the women in the story. I noticed that Cindy the mechanic is there for basically fan service and Prompto to talk about how hot she is. Before anyone gets all up in my business or rudely comments on here (don't do that, if you can't be polite I'll ban you), I'm not against sexuality at all. Cindy is the main mechanic for the Regalia. Without her, their journey would be impossible. She keeps the Regalia running. Her outfit does not scream mechanic. Think about it, she's working in a garage and she's going to wear this odd outfit that does nothing to protect her from all the oil and chemicals that come from fixing cars. How does that make sense? I liked Cindy. I thought it was fantastic they had a woman that loves tinkering and loves fixing cars; that is smart. I did not love that they decided she would be blatant fan service. 

Lunafreya is barely in the story. You get some flashbacks with her and Noctis explaining their childhood friendship and yes it's very sweet, but you only get glimpses of her once in a while to push the story forward. Look, I get it. She's not the main focus or character of the story, but I wish there had been a little more with her because it feels like she was just there for the ride until her imminent death. Granted she was already dying because of being in constant contact with the astrals, but her death didn't have that much of an impact because the story didn't really allow you to get to know her fully. 

That brings up another thing that drove me crazy about the game, the summoning of the astrals. I don't know who designed it this way, but a few times I felt the urge to shake them. Yes, I know the astrals are pretty much gods and gods can be fickle so that means that sometimes when you try to summon them they don't show up. The system is flawed when it comes to the summons. You have to have certain conditions for them to show up such as the battle has gone on too long, you're almost dying, or the terrain. It's infuriating when the conditions are right and you are trying to summon an astral only to have it not show up at all. When they do show up, they are pretty incredible. I HATED the summoning system. I still do. It's awful. I longed for a simpler time when I could summon astrals on command.

Pretty epic fight with Leviathan.

I actually took a small break from Final Fantasy XV mainly due to the Christmas holiday and honestly, I found myself getting a little bored in the second half. The first half of the game is fantastic with lots of exploration, quests, and mini games. The second half felt a bit tedious because every few minutes I would get attacked by Empire soldiers which started to feel like a chore when I was trying to do other things. There were also some excruciatingly slow load times when going into a new area which tried my patience a bit. Then there's the obvious Gilgamesh fight they cut when Gladiolus disappears for a while with no explanation. That is now going to be a DLC. That's great and everything, but why did they cut it from the game? Again, another thing that makes no sense.

The main villain Ardyn for me was not that great. I couldn't even really hate him. Sure he was a jerk, but when you find out his back story I just felt sorry for him and understood why he was so filled with vengeance and hate. The thing is, you don't really learn his back story until almost the end of the game which does not make sense to me. This seemed like a pretty important plot point that needed to be in the game. I'm throwing in the fact that Prompto is a person made from a demon also because that is a huge plot reveal that they should have gone into here in the game. It's rather noticeable in places where they clearly cut things from the game's story, but I don't understand why because a lot of the things they cut seem pivotal to the story.

Ardyn the villain. Meh.

I felt a little disappointed in the second half because it seems that the game started out strong and they knew what they wanted to do and by the time it was winding down to the end it felt like a different game almost. It also felt like they weren't sure what they wanted to do or how they wanted to finish the story. We have the Empire hunting down Noctis and his friends and towards the end of the story they're wiped out. Who knows when it happened because you never get to actually see it which brings a strong disconnect to the story. There's a lot of loose ends that they just didn't bother dealing with and they seemed to have rushed the story to the end. 

I didn't like Noctis alone in Chapter 13 because it took forever to navigate that dungeon. There was a lot of annoying backtracking and the ring of the Lucii Noctis is gifted with is pretty useless. It has a drain spell that kind of works, but I was relieved when he finally got a sword to fight with. There's a pretty massive time skip of 10 years with Noctis being trapped in the crystal and then we get to hear Ardyn's sad story. While I understand the main theme of the story is sacrifice for the greater good, it's a little depressing to realize that there will be no wedding and he's basically been lead to his death so everyone can live. It is sad and it's meant to be. I did like Noctis and his buddies so when they had their final goodbyes I did get teary eyed especially when Noctis asked Prompto if he could choose a photo to take with him. It was an emotional moment done beautifully. I just wish there had been more moments like that throughout the game. 

The boy band grew up.

The final fight is fairly epic and the music for it is amazing. It was sad saying goodbye to Noctis as he defeated Ardyn and breathed his last, but he managed to help save the world and bring light to it once again. After the credits of the game there are two cutscenes which are quite touching with Noctis and his friends and Noctis with Lunafreya happily married in the afterlife. It was a nice note to end on and I'm glad they did it. It softened the blow of all the deaths. I needed a soft touch after all the emotions. 

Once you beat the game, you can go back to your last save and play through any quests you missed and you can check out several in game events that have unlocked such as battling a giant tortoise. You get bragging rights and tons of spiffy stuff!

Final Fantasy XV is great, but it's not perfect. It's worth playing through at least once because the one thing that kept me going was the fact that I liked the main characters and the story wasn't completely terrible. For what it is, it is fun to play overall and I did enjoy myself especially when it came to exploring and playing all the mini games. The end game stuff is challenging, but fun as well. There is DLC coming too so that may be worth checking out, but the main game itself is the big thing worth playing. 

Farewell, Noctis and friends.

*Final Fantasy XV is available to play on the following platforms: Playstaion 4 and Xbox One