Game: Chaos on Deponia

Borderlands 2Finished “Chaos on Deponia”. Played on Linux.

This is the second instance in the Deponia series. It brings back the “Deponia” experience playing Rufus again, the notorious, infantile boaster. And you meet the characters of the first episode again, like Goal.

Though, I have to admit, that this game feels like the developers wanted to spin the story further of Rufus been in love with Goal, fighting his rival Cletus, getting to Elysium and saving the planet… but run out of ideas. The riddles are abstruse (e.g. the music in the dark alley) and sometimes just weird (e.g. the baby dolphins). Quite often you (at least me) have to resort to trial and error. Hints are super subtle.

The main character, Rufus, is a charm, and the humor is there. But, uhm, I think the one word which sums it all up is “awkward”.

A big minus for the riddles but still a big plus for the setting and the protagonist: Rufus at Deponia.

7 out of 10

Game: Pillars of Eternity

Pillars of EternityFinished Pillars of Eternity. All played on Kubuntu Linux.

Pillars of Eternity is are a very nice remembrance of one of the golden ages of RPG: it’s a Baldur’s Gate arrived in the modern days.

You play a “Watcher”: someone who is capable to look into one soul and see memories of this particular person. This knack let you know if someone is telling the truth or lies to you. On a new world called Eora, you strife the landscape of Drywood. Here chances are, that babies are “Halloborn”, without a soul. The locals are desperate and taken quite fanatic actions, e.g. killing advocates of the so-called animancer. You are to investigate this phenomenon and as it turns out will confront the history of this place, the gods, and a lot of opponents in the path.

The whole story is narrated textual. There is a ton to read and shows how much the developers of the game lay their heart in it. The landscape is a beautiful design and the combat is fun and one major plus-point of the game.

Though the story got confusing from time to time and characters are seldom rememberable. Also, I can’t help to repeat “less is often more”. There are tons of buffs and spells with little variance as it seems to me. There are three things, which annoyed me most: the artificial restriction to only camp a limited number of times by having a maximum of 4 “campfire supplies” (for whatever this is) is stupid (if I consumed more, I have to return to some settlement to buy new one. What a waste of time!), the loading takes “ages”, and the difficulties of dragons. For the last, I got my party up to level 16 and still could not face the Adra dragon or the alpine dragon. Everyone else was a piece of cake. So I let all dragons (but the Skydragon).

And beside some bugs (once I had a full crash) the game runs smoothly on my Kubuntu Linux.

A feast for friends of old RPG with some minor quirks.

8 out of 10

Game: Borderlands 2

Borderlands 2Finished Borderlands 2 – Well sorta.

Borderlands 2 basically Borderlands (which I reviewed here) plus with more weapons, bigger landscape, more characters, more vehicles, bigger …, more …, bigger … and it’s awesome great!

Interestingly there’s no real new game change. It’s all the same. But it still remains a fantastic deal of fun. Yet, I needed 160+ hours to finish the main quest and all (at the time of writing available) DLCs. BTW: the Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep is by far the most brilliant DLC ever made for a computer game. The integration into the game, the humor, the sidekicks to other beloved franchises (like Dark Souls) are just … fantastic.

Though, even after 160+ hours, I have not completed all quests. From the 1001 quests (well there are not that much, but it feels like that) I still have some (~10-15) open which turned out to be basically grinding at its best.

And besides the somehow awkward interface (I more than once sold a weapon by mistake to Marcus, since the interface jumps up and down, when selling stuff – why? Or why is this somehow shaped 3D view of the interface? When selecting a weapon to compare to the inventory I sometimes found myself in a clicking orgy jumping back and forth between equipment slots and the backpack.) there’s this somehow “trend” in the AAA game industry: provide some quests to keep your players at the game for tons of hours by giving them mere senseless tasks. This is work. As a plea: please stop this. 20h – 30h hours of a game can be enough if it is well written and want to tell a story. 100h and more is not a sign of quality but if quantity. Even 200h of bad game doesn’t make it any better. And, for me, that’s not what I’m particularly looking for. Ok, Borderlands 2 is a brilliant game, but even here this tendency to go for 150+ hours turned into actual hard work.

Still: besides this last grinding stuff and the weird interface, I still highly recommend Borderlands 2 as one of the best loot shooter available.

9 out of 10

Games: The Witcher 3

The Witcher 3 - The Wild HuntFinished The Witcher 3 including both DLCs yesterday, 3rd Nov. 2018.  

Oh my god! This game is perfect!

It’s not that the landscape graphic is simply breathtaking. I deliberately walked around and refused to ride on Roach. Just to get the immersion in this detailed feature-rich world.

It’s not that the developers packed detail after detail into this game. E.g. Geralt is growing a beard if you are not going to the barber every now and then. Even after 200 hours of gameplay I still see new details. This is amazing!

It’s not that the gameplay is rightfully balanced. I finished the game at the hardest level but one. Rolling, dodging light and heavy attacks, etc. all are fluent. It’s a feast for the eyes to see the Witcher fight.

It’s not that there ain’t stupid “go there, bring me this” side quests. Even the simplest job goes into an intriguing mini adventure with twists and turns. The main quest in the main game but also in both DLCs is great!

… and sometimes hilarious. Remember the 3 drunken witchers trying to invite sorcerers to their party via the crystal telescopes? Or talking to Roach after using a hallucinatory drug?

It’s not that the world is immense and there are tons of things to do.

It’s all of the above and much, much more.

This game is incredible. One of the best games I ever played.

11 stars out of 10.
11 out of 10

Games: The Book of Unwritten Tales

The Book of Unwritten TalesFinished “The Book of Unwritten Tales” on 15th March 2018 – again, a second time.

This is a real the nice adventure to play on the market. You switch between the characters of Wilbur (a naive gnome), Ivo (a sexy elven maid) and Nate (a scoundrel and moreover a philanderer). With these three you try to save the world from the wrath of the witch Mortroga. That’s pretty much all to the story to say.

Yet, the developers packed the way to save the world with a lot of gags and laughs which are not exaggerated or intrusive. Every now and then references to modern pop culture are made with a wink.

The riddles are rather easy to solve and the whole game is fluently solved. The ending, however, is rather sudden.

All in all a lovely adventure in a beautiful fairytale world and absolutely worthwhile a trip.

8 out of 10.8 out of 10

Game: Life Is Strange – a second thought

During the weekend the game “Life Is Strange” still keeps bothering me. I cannot understand how such a game received such high ratings: Metascore of 83, average user rating of 8.6, “overwhelmingly positive” on Steam based on nearly 100k reviews and won some Game Awards.

I feel the urge to write down my thoughts to get rid of them.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

To the game’s defense, there are three items the game does best in a really excellent manner:

1. If your target group are white (female) US teenagers, then Max is the most identifiable person. There are all ingredients in there combined. Max personal situations, her personal thoughts, and ambitions, her situation in “school” (actually an Academy), etc. If you want to create a game to attract this audience you couldn’t have designed your main character better than this. Yet, strictly speaking, Max is not a teenager, however, the main audience is.

2. The atmosphere is well caught: the graphics are nice with a soft impressionistic touch and the game’s music deeply underlines the game’s location and placement of a young teenage girl.

3. The developers obviously thought always what scenes or pictures would have the most emotional impact in a deep girl-girl friendship. This is found throughout the whole game, e.g. Chloe dancing on the bed with Max taking picture of her (celebrating friendship), and especially at the end given this dramatic choice to sacrifice your best friend and let her die for the greater good of saving Arcadia Bay. This is the situation in which the whole developers of Dontnod in association with Square Enix keep trampling with both feet on your lachrymal gland to squeeze every little bit out of it having you crying and suffering.

But here it ends. And if you manage to get an emotional distance things turn.

The game driving mechanics of Chaos Theory and time rewind abilities are not explained in any way. They just are. Max awakes in the classroom having this time rewind ability all of a sudden. Yes, she somehow asks her science teacher about it, but she does not give a clue or has a hint either. And this is the *only* attempt in the game, to explain anything about this weird stuff. Though you get a lot of symbolic references to Chaos Theory as it has hit popular beliefs, e.g. the butterfly and the storm.

Throughout the game, you walk back in time and change things. But all of your doing turns out to be bad. Again, without any explanation or causal relation. The best example of this is when you decide to save Chloe’s father William by hiding his car keys. As a result, William does not have a car crash and survives. But this leads to giving Chloe a car (I assume on her birthday) with which Chloe then has a terrible car accident leaving her paralyzed. Therefore we have to go back in time a second time and let William die in order not to get Chloe a car at her birthday and thus getting our old, grumpy Chloe back.

If this is how Chaos Theory works, then effectively anything goes. I do not see a real causal connection, why a living William has to result in Chloe been totally disabled. In both alternative timelines, Chloe has a car. She just had no accident in the one and a terrible in the other. Why not have William live and go back in time with the help of a photo, as Max learns to do in the game, and prevent Chloe having that accident right before. Like hiding her keys as she did with William. Or, at least, get in contact with her by any means and prevent her from driving? There are a lot of possibilities. Just be somehow creative.

Now, I don’t think that this is how Chaos Theory actually works. If you are interested and start to study it, you will get pretty soon in a great deal of science and very heavy math. “Anything goes” is clearly *not* the main theme of Chaos Theory.

When we strip this Chaos Theory and time rewind Mumbo-Jumbo aside, what’s left is a pretty predictable mediocre teenager-thriller. The very smart, good-looking teacher Mr. Jefferson is the single person which is not some kind of whacko. All others are to some extent, some more (e.g. the Academy’s gardener or Nathan), some less (e.g. the Science teacher, most pupils). Therefore, as a rule of plot, Mr. Jefferson is the gardener in “the gardener is always the murderer”.

Then there are a lot of logical faults in the game as well. And this is not just laying down on railway track to chill is just super-stupid, or that no one cares you jumping around like The Flash on the street using your time rewind abilities, or examing running laptops with opened up social media profiles right next to the owners’ person been a private insult and strictly No-Go. The story itself fails.

As an example: after you discovered the Dark Room, Max and Chloe went to the junkyard to discover Rachel Amber’s body and then went to the “End of the World” party at the Academy to face Nathan as their prime suspect.

For me, the folder of Rachel Amber which Max and Chloe discovered in the Dark Room had a very big yellow post-it attached, written “Take me”, double underline and three exclamation marks. Yet both decided to not take anything at all as proof or evidence. They just left. And then they decided to face Nathan, … for what? Do they really assume that Nathan will have a great insight, admit the murder and will be voluntarily escorted to the police? Max met Nathan in the restaurant prior and we do see that he is in a pretty bad shape. He is psychologically highly unstable. After we searched his room we met him also on the floor of the boy’s dormitory. From this we know at least two things: 1. he has a weapon and 2. he is not afraid to draw it and point at you. It has been a great effort to separate Nathan from his gun in this scene thanks to Warren giving Nathan a head bump. All this is known by Max and Chloe at the party. Talking some sense into Nathan is therefore not an option. Instead, he’s pretty dangerous. But then it seems that Chloe doesn’t want to talk to Nathan anyway. She has a gun and wants revenge for her dead friend Amber. This is understandable, though pretty stupid on its own. As for Max her only realistic option is now *not* to mingle with the party people in search of Nathan alone and letting her friend Chloe go for some sort rampage on her own. Instead, one will prevent Chloe doing something terribly stupid and leave the case to some professionals, e.g. the police.

Now switch over to Mr. Jefferson. Yes, he is the psychopath, but he is actually very smart and intelligent. He has a sick fixation of making great portraits with the most innocent look, but he is certainly not dumb. He knows that the two girls have disclosed his secret. We learn this from his dialogs with Max in the Dark Room, where frankly admits, that the whole place is under surveillance. If he watched them, he has to assume that the girls picked up some evidence. He maybe watched them closely and may even have seen them leaving empty-handed. But then Max always carries this bag of hers around and maybe he overlooked something and they took something.

He may also learn by listening to them that both are heading for the junkyard first to find Rachel’s body and then go to the party. He knows the route pretty well and thus can calculate how long it takes from the Dark Room to the Academy by car. If he even watched them arriving at the party he knows that the girls must have stopped *somewhere* on the way, doing *something* because it took them longer as expected compared to a straight ride. But maybe he does not know any of this. Then it is even worse for him because he must suspect the girls have told someone about the Dark Room or at least having them placed some evidence or writing somewhere of this Dark Room.

So time is ticking for him. Any minute the girls live raises the probability of him getting disclosed. Sure, he is wearing gloves in the Dark Room with Max, therefore if he has been so super cautious then there might be no fingerprints. But Mr. Jefferson is a maniac, proud of his “work”. Therefore there must be some links in his “work” connecting him as the master and creator. And even if he took care of this as well, nobody can help to drop some DNA traces around a workplace he regularly is at, e.g. a hair, some skin fragments. You can’t help since this is unconscious and unnoticed. As a conclusion, he must get rid of the Dark Room as soon as possible. Maybe he can manage to save some his work, maybe not. But this raises in him the want to kill this two stupid girls even more since they endangered his masterpiece, his opus Magnus.

The only logic options for him are: 1. kill the girls as soon as possible and 2. destroy the Dark Room and any links from it to his person. Unfortunately, he does not know what the girls have been up to in the meantime and therefore he must be fast, very fast indeed. They maybe told the police and some squad may be on the way to the Dark Room already. Time is running out.

After he killed the girls he must examine the girl’s belongings. When he does, he’ll find the smartphones. Now if they are locked he has no clue if the girls told or texted anyone. Are the phones locked? Well, most laptops in the game are not. Yet, one challenge for Max actually is to unlock Nathan’s phone. So we can safely assume the phones are locked. Has Mr. Jefferson then the ability to unlock these phones? He uses Nathan’s phone. Well, Nathan and Mr. Jefferson had a deep relationship concerning the Dark Room. So it is likely that Mr. Jefferson knows Nathan’s pin code to unlock the phone. The same cannot be said about the girl’s phones.

But even if the phones are not locked, there are many, many communication channels on a smartphone: phone, SMS, WhatsApp, Signal, Facebook Messenger, Facebook posts, etc. Mr. Jefferson has to check *all* of these to be sure that the girls didn’t tell anyone. And he doesn’t know if the girls just stopped somewhere and told someone on the way to the party.

What does the game plot: he creates a trap for the girls by using Nathan phone and kills Chloe. Then he takes Max to the Dark Room and creates a photo session, having enough leisure to talk and muse around. This is highly unlogical and totally irrational.

At the second installment of the party scene now Max has some more knowledge: 1. it is Mr. Jefferson and not Nathan. 2. Mr. Jefferson has already killed two people in front of Max: first Chloe and then David as he was sneaking into the Dark Room. Though, due to her rewind powers, she manages to save David. 3. Mr. Jefferson was caught by surprise by David. Now David is a war veteran, a soldier trained in combat. David had a gun in his hand and Mr. Jefferson had no weapon at all. Yet this did not impress Mr. Jefferson in any way. He fought David, overwhelmed him and actually killed him (at first). 4. Max knows, that Mr. Jefferson is aware of the girls had discovered the Dark Room and he is up to at least kill Chloe.

As a result, Max knows that the girls lives is in super high danger. The only realistic option is to seek out help and protection and tell anyone of your findings: the police or at least David urging him not to do something stupid on his own. But, again, this is not what happens…

Summary: the game plot is mediocre and the behavior of the main characters is highly unlogic and irrational up to be even moronic in some cases.

The message of the game then is that you have to accept your fate. Changing anything will get it just worse. Let your best friend die for the greater good. Or let others die so you can have your friend. This is the best you can do. Accept it and live with it.

Sorry, I think not.

And I can’t believe that this game has had such an impact. Am I the only one seeing this?


Game: Life Is Strange

Life Is StrangeFinished Life is Strange yesterday. Peeww… This is a hard one and I had my fair share of troubles. Yet not in the manner most of the reviewers had. This is my personal experience and opinion, quite contrary to most reviews. But: YMMV – your mileage may vary.

Warning: this text contains spoilers.

You play Max Caufield, a would-be art photographer, attending the Blackwell Academy in Arcadia Bay at the age of 18. You return to this location at the US west coast (I recall, it’s Oregon) after spending 4 years abroad. You experience strange daydreams involving a tornado hitting Blackwell and eventually are the witness to the murder of your once best friend Chloe by a classmate of yours. It is this when you discover that you have the ability to rewind time and change the course of actions. First, it is just a little tiny fragment of time. Later on, you discover how to go back by a large amount by focusing on old photos. What started off as a coming-of-age story turns into a thriller in which you are drawn into the secrets of Blackwell, discover the fate of the disappeared Rachel Amber and finally face the antagonist. The game keeps you reminding that it is about choices made and experiencing the consequences.

The game mechanics are Square Enix attempt to create a story-driven narrative cinematic episodic game like TellTales “The Walking Dead”. In a 3rd person manner, you walk around, talk to people and are confronted with several dialog options which do have moral implications not easily answered. There are some riddles too, yes. But like in the TellTales games they are no real challenge anywhere (e.g. fetch 5 empty bottles at the junkyard, bring Chloe a cup of water …). Sometimes the riddles take Max ability to rewind time into account: restart a dialog with a person, since you discovered some secrets during the same dialog before or walking to a spot, rewind time while staying on that place put and start walking again. At the end of each episode you a presented with a résumé about your choices, those of your friends on Steam and worldwide.

The Unreal Engine 3 is working under the hood to provide a nice looking scenery especially when it comes to lighting. I thought the game music fitting though not everybody’s cup of tea. The graphics also bear some impressionistic touch which some argue about. Besides having sometimes failed lib synchronizations – speaking with lips closed – I had no glitches or any bug at all.

All in all very well done on a high technical level.

But… It seems to me, that all the characters in the game are perfectly technical designed to attract a certain audience: white US teenagers, preferably female, at the age of 16 to 20. Max is talented in arts and some sort of outsider not directly entangled in social life at the Academy though she knows everyone as everyone knows her. She tries hard to find her own way and place in life, come along with each and everyone and generally speaking has a very good, golden heart. Oh, and a very handsome, charming teacher too. Writing this I realize how cliché this actually is. There are all stereotype characters of young female teens assembled: the plotting bitch (Victoria) and her girls, the sweet, nice nerd (Warren), your best friend, always giving you a headache reflecting your relationship over and over again (Chloe), …. and even the prime antagonist fits in nicely: the gardener is always the killer, the least suspected person. Sadly, being older, male and European and thus having a totally different cultural background I could not get emotionally attached to Max. Ok, well, I’m clearly not part of the target group for this game.

Then I could not get around some aspects and decisions done in the game by the characters. Some were even quite moronic to me: e.g. laying down to chill on active (!) railway tracks, leaving the Dark Room without any evidence of its existence to face the prime suspect already known to be a psychopath and not going to the police instead, etc. Or take the walk-rewind-walk powers of Max: to anyone watching her, this has to be seen as if Max is warping around the street. Disappearing in one place and reappearing some meters away in a blink of an eye. Yet, nobody seems bothered or cared.

The world is well done with a lot of details. Though your interaction ability is very limited and most of the time somehow boring too. To a great extent, you spend the game talking to people giving you little new information on average or walking around examining mainly unimportant items. I lost track how many posters I checked or to any of Max’s comments on photography equipment. The pace of storytelling is soooo slow. I do understand that some gamers felt bored and quit the game right in the first episode.

The developers always remind you that this game is about choices and their consequences. However, this is *not* meant for the game mechanics: yes, there are some different results (e.g. Kate jumping off the roof or not), but in the end, you are always presented with a binary decision no matter what you did in the game. This statement rather reflects the whole theme of the game, the whole story: rewind time and see the outcome.

In here is the main shortcoming of all: nothing is explained in the game. Zero. There are always some hints to Chaos Theory (one episode is actually named that). As for Chaos Theory, there is really a great deal of science behind it, a lot of math actually. But the game uses this buzz word for any justification and keeps very superficial about it. It is as if you constantly ask “Why?” and “How?” and the game responds always “Oh, Chaos Theory of course! The Butterfly Effect, you know!” without explaining anything at all. Note, Max ability rewind time is left uncommented also. Magic?

This leads to having Max feeling guilty for everything since in her strenuous but vain endeavors to make things right by rewinding time and change the course of actions other bad things happen. I failed to see any connections. E.g. there is no reason at all, why having William kept alive will cause Chloe to be bound to a wheelchair. Even more strange: Max could have picked up a photo of Chloe right before the accident and changed that. Done. All happy.

This has its climax in the last, fifth episode where it culminates into some real gibberish. It has given me the hardest time. I even thought to get myself a gun and shoot stupid Chloe myself as we have been on the way to the party a second time. Just in order to get it over with. Though I saved here in the end. The sneaking sequence did not bother me as most other players did. Yes, the camera placement in this scene has been quite awkward and the whole thing seems misplaced. But, well… The fifth chapter has the notion that the developers run out of ideas and tend to integrate some crazy experiments into the gameplay. Since quite soon in this episode, there is no real news: the murderer is revealed and the end is just a matter of time, lurking around the corner. So they coded in some crazy, interesting, yet unimportant stuff into this episode to make it worthwhile. E.g. experiencing the reverse time effect at the Academy was quite intriguing.

Yet, the last few moments are a great example for how well the game was designed from a psychological, technical point of view: right in the nightmare scenes you are confronted with Chloe insulting you deeply and making fun of you (A), then shortly afterwards you recall all your good moments with her by walking by many of these nice moments with her on path in a dark dream-like world (B) and finally she confronts you with the epic question either to kill her and save Arcadia or keep her alive and let Arcadia Bay suffer (C), causing a heavy moral dilemma.

I did the later and watched the outcome of the other on YouTube. It didn’t touch me. I got totally disconnected at the moment Max blaming herself for killing William in order to get her “old” Chloe back.

I value story, immersion, and attachment higher than technical perfection. So, sadly, for me: 3/10. I know this is in stark contrast to the main line of reviews. Again: YMMV.

3/10 3 out of 10

Game: Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin

Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First SinFinished Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin. Well “finished” closely. I missed the Fume Knight and Sir Alonne, but from the rest, I got each and everyone.

So, how is Dark Souls 2? Well, it’s not a bad game. … which is quite a catastrophe compared to the legendary Dark Souls 1.

Dark Souls 2 takes all the recipes which the new designers have been fond of in Dark Souls 1 and added and tweaked some details here and there. Notably, on character death, your maximum HP lowers down to at least 50% (but there are ways to get around this). And the number of enemy re-spawn has been limited to 12 or 15 (it seems to depend on the area). Due to some more heal options (Life Gems) it seemed to be a bit easier. I got the impression that the normal game is far easier than Dark Souls 1 has been. It really felt like being made for the casual gamer. Then again, the three DLCs are even more difficult than the Dark Souls 1 DLC has been. At least for me.

A difficulty which for me was beyond the barrier of acceptance with the Fume Knight. This was just boring frustrating (if you should have known in advance, you should have spared some smelter sticks to block the self-healing ability of the knight, but you don’t. Maybe I missed to read the small print on some item, alas, no-one told me in advance).

I once read the limited amount of enemy re-spawn is to prevent people from grinding. Funny, because for me, it *gave* me the reason to grind: kill all enemies until nothing re-spawns. I did this for about 95% of all areas and reached level 222(!) with this approach. Yes, a total grinding campaign. Bad design decision. Backfired for me.

Then the designers thought, that PvP is the real extra something to Dark Souls. And they made it non-consensual everywhere in the world. In Dark Souls 1 this was sort of ok since when you have been hallowed no-one could have invaded your realm and forced a PvP on you. This is different to DS2, because here in order to limit the probability to be invaded you have the burn those highly valuable human effigies (humanity in DS1 terms). Or play offline.

But when playing offline you won’t get any achievements.

Another bad design decision. I like Dark Souls combat style and world immersion, but I am greatly loathing doing PvP.

As I discovered this, I started to make my own save games and whenever I got invaded I CTRL-ALT-DEL and kicked DS2 from the process table and loaded my old save game. Some people got annoyed by this and flamed on Steam. Well, read my comment before flaming. I clearly stated that I *will* do this. There are areas in DS2 for PvP. Go for this, but f*** o** while I’m playing. This idea with the Blue Sentinels trying to protect you when invaded never worked for me (another bad design decision?).

As a result, I finished the whole game *without dying even once a single time!* and hardly used any human effigy ever … since I reloaded my save game all the time I died. :P

Then there is the universe. DS1 and DS2 have a huge amount of lore to tell. It is a fascinating world. Yet, From Software still hasn’t managed to tell a story. It is all in the item descriptions and in those mystic dialogues. But DS2 keeps on the virtue of DS1 in: “unable to tell a story”. You have to read the item descriptions on these tons of things (weapons, armors, keys, blah, …) and make some logical deduction. I come to the conclusion, that they thought this is some DS1 thing they should keep up doing. Well, I would like to have seen some story telling. I think From Software isn’t just capable of doing it.

And, while I’m at it: DS2 has no cohesive world. In one level you are in bright daylight, two stages beyond that it’s dark night and the moon is shining. The world in DS1 has been somehow “organic”, each level, each stage carefully designed and interlinked. DS2 is more like platform runner: now “Water Level”, then “Wood World”, then “Castle Run”,… Some levels are great (Dragon Aeire), some are just not (well, The Gutter, anyone?).

Another aspect is, that in between DS2 and “DS2 Scholar of the first Sin”, they added more enemies and rearranged them quite heavily. Whereas in DS1 it seemed that every opponent has been placed there really carefully. In DS2 they just threw more obstacles in your way, mistakenly thinking that’s what you want. For some enemies there seems no real reasoning but just that the designer simply had to the power to do so. This is not a good level design.

If there hasn’t been a DS1 this game is would have been quite nice. But given that there is this legendary masterpiece of DS1 (with respect to all its flaws), DS2 is more a setback to the series. Yet, it still “isn’t a bad game”. But clearly didn’t live up to the expectations.

Sadly, I reward 7 out of 10.7 out of 10

Game: Outlast & Outlast: Whistleblower

OutlastFinished Outlast and its DLC Whistleblower. Phuuu! Played fully on Linux.

Outlast is a nice first-person survival horror game. You are an investigator researching the rumors about the Mount Massive Asylum. You arrive with your car, park the car just at the gate and from this point on you are on your feet, walking around the manor. No one is seen, doors shut tight. Then you find an opened window and you crawl into the building… starting the horror.

Pretty soon you find remnants of brutal massacres. Entrails, heads, limbs, and blood – gallons of blood – everywhere. This is the “good” old school of American horror: gore, gore, GORE! There is no time for a subtle inkling of some ‘thing’ which causes you goosebumps. Mhm, nope. It’s pretty expressive, direct. Brutal. And as if it isn’t enough, the DLC masters to even add to this already very high level of gore. Whistleblower introduces yet two other lunatics with a very unhealthy sense of body fixation. Along with several pretty hefty cutscenes.

And, oh – btw – the graphics are excellent. Light, shadow, smoke, all are very good placed. Some light bulbs are blinking, some lights are shaking. More than once you need your camera with some night vision capabilities to view your path in more or less absolute darkness. These all add to the atmosphere.

From time to time you find documents revealing what has happened to the asylum. The story which started off been rather some sort of cliche turns out to be quite interesting.

Then the gameplay: rather soon you discover to be not the only survivor in this pretty large building. Some inmates are afraid of you, some ignore you, and some … try to kill you. Namely, one big super strong guy, Chris Walker, is very keen and eager to get a “grip” on you. Pretty explicit when he succeeds…

Sadly you are not able to interact with the environment in any other manner than open doors, pick up batteries, jump over obstacles or crouch under them, pressing some buttons, moving some boards and pickup up keys to unlock doors. There is no inventory. You may not combine anything on your way through the manor. No nothing you can use as a weapon to defend yourself. Oh, and no health bar too: run for your life! … or hide under beds or in lockers and pray not to be discovered.

This is also the critic on the game: as a player, you have virtually no agency. There is always exactly one single way the developer wanted you to go. Sometimes faster under stress as been chased to death, sometimes with some leisure. However, you do not have any real choice. As such, Outlast is likely more a horror “movie” than a horror “game”. There is nothing for the player to do as to exactly do what the developers wanted to. Point. No (or at least a very, very limited) interaction with the environment. You can’t even turn the lights on (or off, if you really wanted to be it even darker than in the first place).

If you are interested in good stories, riddles, interesting places look elsewhere. If you are into the most extreme American teenager horror money can get you: welcome.

Still, the enacting, the presentation of the game is really engaging.

7/10 7 out of 10

Game: Dark Souls: Prepare to Die

Dark Souls: Prepare to DieI did it! Praise the sun! I. FINISHED. DARK SOULS: PREPARE TO DIE! … OMG, what a game! A masterpiece. Puhhh…

Ok, I admit that the very first impression of the game is rather poor. The graphics are washy, the intro story is confusing: you are an undead, waking up in a prison cell, somewhere where the undead are used to be locked away. But there seems to be at least some nice guy which drops down the prison cell key. Ok, never mind that the key is somewhere _inside_ a dead corpse lifted by the “nice guy” and tossed down right next to you. Hey, you are free! Unarmed but: let’s run! And so the adventure begins. The very first 3-4 zombies are easy, but right after 10 seconds you are confronted with the first boss and it is this moment you encounter the “Dark Souls” moment: Wait! What?? WTF!!! You are crushed, trampled, yes: even slaughtered, without chances to merely scratch your foe. This is Dark Souls. Welcome.

Very soon you discover that this game is a very well elaborated man-to-man-battle-simulator-RPG. When you play Dark Souls and hear from some clickfest like Diablo III, you can’t help but smile gently: “Kids…”. Dark Souls is hard. It adopts to your fighting style and there is a plethora to choose: heavy slow tank, fast dexterity swordsman, bowman, magic wiedling socerer,… You can’t be all, so focus on your choice or mix on your own risk. And every enemy can kill you. YES, even if you are a level 100 super tank: a baby zombie *can* kill you if you do not defend. Every enemy bears some fighting patterns you study to locate weak spots in order to merciless exploit them. You learn to hold you shield and swing your weapon just at the right time, keep distance, detect when the enemy makes a wrong choice and overwhelm them with fireballs or magic missiles. At every level up you can increase an attribute and this will influence the game, slowly but steady.

Right at this entry level at the first boss battle the audience parts. One group will leave the game: it is too hard, too much frustration, no easy kills or easy wins. The other group will stay: “Not with me!”, “I’ll kill you, bitch!”, “There must be a way!”. And there is *always* a way. Even when the first encounters with the boss are disastrous, the game is never unfair. Well, it balances very, very, very close on the cliff of unfairness but it manages every time to be on the “fair” side. Because there is something to this game other games do not achieve: even in the darkest moments there is hope that if you try something different you’ll succeed. It is not explicit; the game induces this feeling, this inkling. It is as if a voice whispers from the off in the background: “Oh, a pity! You were soo close! Next time, you should try to hide behind one of the pillars to better avoid the fireballs! Or … have you seen this hole at the left side? This could be a path to some place you might have some advantages…”. So you try and try and try…

… and this causes you to gain an incredible satisfaction when you finally found the way, the hint, the technique to bring a once feared super-human boss to its knees. The moment “VICTORY!” blends in on the screen you sometimes have to drop your controller, because your hands are trembling and you got to have a break to cool down all the adrenalin in your body… WoW, I can’t remember any game which caused such intense feelings.

The game features tons of weapons, armor, rings, items, etc. All with unique powers, advantages and drawbacks. Weapons and armor can also be improved in various ways. A dagger feels as a dagger and a two-handed-sword feels as two-handed-sword. And it is this list of items which tells the story of Dark Souls. The item descriptions are the main way to guide you into this world. So it is much reading. Yes, there are some NPCs, but way too seldom.

And, of course, the game lets you do what you want to. There is no guide, no hint, no “question mark” on your map (there ain’t even a map!). All is done by reading the item descriptions, exchanging some words with the few NPCs and exploring the world. If something is yet too hard: turn back and try elsewhere.

The levels are great and well designed (also some are a bit close to the edge of unfairness: Tomb of the Giants, anyone?).

The setting and the game lore are mysterious and fascinating if you are into dark fantasy. Though not easy to come by: it is all buried under many, many item descriptions of rings, wands, swords, axes, robes, plates, bows, etc.

However, I also found some points to criticize: what weapon do I empower with which boss soul? Crafting system is nice, but the smiths in the world do not tell you much. I ended up having several unused boss souls, because I didn’t know which common, prime weapon I have to bring to +5 in order to make some unique boss weapon. Such boss weapons do bear definite enhancements which make some battles way easier. But which? How? What? The game doesn’t really tell you. Well, ok, I could bring up every basic weapon to +5 in order see. But this is a bit stupid grinding, isn’t it?

… and there is plenty room for more hints and tips. It would even add to the world feeling, if there is not so much “silence”. Be more narrative. Just a bit. Please. The world *is* cool. Why hide it?

For the records: I killed every boss in the game including the (very!) much tougher DLC ones but the Princess in Anor Londo. All of them. Alone. Ok, for some I added the NPC Knight Solitare, but no real online player. Very nice online game concept by the way: you can jump into other games to either aid the host or attack him. Communication is done solely by gestures. I ended up as a heavy melee tank fighter at level 107 with my Elite Knight Armor set at about +9 to +10. My favorite sword is the Lightning Claymore +5. I didn’t care for any covenant. It seems that everyone experiences different difficulties due to their unique fighting styles. For some bosses I needed more than 20 runs (Knight Atorias, Black Dragon Kalamet, …) others were relatively easy (Centipede Deamon (first encounter: kill), Gwyn Lord of Cinder (6 runs), …) and the Bed of Chaos didn’t bothered me much (~ 5 tries). So when talking about Dark Souls bosses: YMMV.

Legendary. 10/10. 10 out of 10