Video Games

The Girlfriend’s Perspective- God of War

Though the game has been released for several months, and our household’s copy has already been beaten several times, I feel it necessary to share the love of God of War. Sony’s 2018 release of Playstation’s latest variation of the uber-popular franchise is my vote for best game of the year, and we haven’t even gotten to Spiderman yet (expected September 2018). The game has an emotional script, the most gorgeous graphics I’ve ever seen in a game, solid comic relief, and tons of side missions to allow the player to go off track whenever they please.

The story of the game begins with the death of Kranos’s wife, and the accepting of the mission to carry her ashes to her desired resting place, along with their young son, Atreus. Along the journey, much of the family’s unknown backstory unfolds before Atreus, leaving Kranos in an awkward position where he finds himself emotionally stuck between being a King-God of Badassary, and a good dad. Sad. Cute. But, I’m girlfriend’ing this up. The fight scenes that ensue are intense and violently creative. Atreus eventually develops into a character that you can utilize to help you fight. You can switch between characters during a fight scene, fight with Kranos, then shoot arrows with Atreus, and I like that in this game you’ve got a helping hand, instead of writing a script around a defenseless child.

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The lists of items to collect in this game is the scratch to the OCD itch. Items collected allow the player to forge new weapons or upgrade personal items for both of your characters. There are times when you play for an hour or two just looking for items to collect. They’re abundant, they’re obvious, they give you experience points, and are collected until you find Brok, one of the blacksmith brothers, and upgrade your personal effects. The first opportunity you get to upgrade is the axe Kranos carries. After you’ve done a few missions and have collected enough items within the game, you’ll have to opportunity to upgrade weapons, bows, axes, armor, boots, and underclothes etc. Though side missions, solving riddles, and collecting isn’t a new concept to games in the slightest, I’m impressed by the amount and perceptive value of lists of things to do.

Mimir was a favorite character of mine, he was the comic relief character that was used in the script of the game to keep things from getting too heavy between Kranos and Atreus during difficult family realizations. Mimir tags along as a severed head that is tied to the back of Kranos’s armor, he’s got a Scottish accent, and has the most humorous one-liners and quips of the game. He’s kind of metal.

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The graphics in God of War are some of the most impressive graphics I may have ever seen. Not just on my own TV, but ever. It’s one of the clearest, most thoughtfully detailed, most close-to-realistic graphic creation out, with the closest comparison possibly being Assasin’s Creed: Origins. There’s not much else to say on the matter, other than someone needs to get an award. If I’m overdoing it, I suggest you mute the, listen to the soundtrack for the movie 300, and play. (I know the difference between Nords and Spartans, but, 300 may be a good visual representation.)

Would I let my kid play it? He’s 9. I think I’ll still wait. It’s not like it’s a Viking Grand Theft Auto, but it’s got some graphic violence, and a little bad language, so personally I’d prefer to wait on that aspect of it sharing it, but as far as anyone who is interested in third-person quest games, this ranks as one of my top favorites and I recommend you get it, try it, hate Atreus for a few days, then LOVE it.

Score 4:5

Video Games

The Girlfriend’s Perspective- The Nintendo Switch

I advertise as “the girlfriend” because I don’t have any real, deep rooted interest in most technology, but the man of the house is a video game and electronics junkie who brings the work home, and home to work. I do not and will not advertise that I am in any way a gamer expert, I’m simply giving a different perspective of feedback on what I experience. I don’t always like what I watch, hear, or test, but there are those magic moments where we can all agree that ‘this is cool.’ The Switch was one of those products for me.
The 32 gigabyte Nintendo Switch hit the market in March of 2017, and my family still cannot get over it. The Switch is Nintendo’s answer to the hand-held and console mashup, where you can play the device in three separate manners, making it super versatile and approachable to all styles of player types. Like mainstream consoles, The Switch provides you with the option to play in-store purchased games, and an online play store where you can purchase and download digital copies of games and explore free games and demos that are promoted.

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The mechanics of the device is the basic screen with two side panels (called joy-cons) of buttons, as most other hand-held devices; however, the panels are removable by sliding them off. By pulling off the paper-thin kickstand that is attached to the back of the screen, the player can now watch the game in a free-standing position, while playing with one colored panel per hand (the joy-cons come in black, neon red, and neon blue). The third option is to simply detach the joy-cons, and slide them onto a separate skeleton remote, giving the player the ability to watch their screen and play using a close-to-proper controller. I don’t recommend the third option of using the joy-cons in the skeleton remote unless the player has small hands. When put together, the controller is a smaller than normal size, and if you’ve got big hands or long fingers, they may overlap in the back of the remote, and can be uncomfortable for certain games. The matter can only be left up to taste and personal comfortability.
So far, we’ve been able to enjoy The Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild, and the amiibos that come for the game. The Switch has several games that give the option to use their console accessory, the amiibo; it’s a small figurine, normally each game has several different characters that each would have their own amiibo. Their effect in the actual game vary, but as an example, in Legend of Zelda, the Wolf Link amiibo when pressed down on the joy stick of the joy-con will introduce a wolf to battle with your character. Other character amiibos may give your character health, food, or other fun possibilities. The drawback of the love for the amiibo is the use of generator is limited to a certain number of uses per day.

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The quality of the games is just as wonderful as Nintendo has ever made games. Zelda has been great, Super Mario Odyssey has been great, but we find our store-purchase interests pretty much end here, and wander into the play store for the short demos or free games available. I am hopeful for the 2019 releases for Yoshi, where the nostalgic little dino gets his first stand-alone game on Switch. I’m looking forward to the core Pokemon game, but it doesn’t have a solid release date yet. I’m looking at you, November. The prices of Switch games vary but stay within the typical video game range of $40-60 on average. The console itself is around $300 depending on the variation the player is choosing (sometimes you can purchase packages at a discounted price).
Would I purchase the Nintendo Switch? Yes, and I have, and if my son were to ask me, I would probably buy one for him as well. The battery life is about 15 hours, it’s great for car rides, I can download and watch Hulu if I’m tired of focusing on the game, and it works as a fantastic paperweight while writing or paying your bills by an open window… It takes epic screenshots and has 4GB of memory capacity, it comes with its own docking station and USB cord. Purchase of badass case sold separately. Enjoy it.

Video Games

Under Review: Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon-zero-dawn-box-artI’m way late to the party on this February 2017 release from Guerrilla Games but the party is still hot, hot, hot.

Horizon Zero Dawn is a brand new take on action role-playing games developed to take advantage of the processing power of Sony’s Playstation 4 platform, and particularly the Pro model if you are fortunate enough to have a 4K entertainment system at home.   Beyond really astounding graphics and what may be one of the best uses of HDR I’ve seen yet, let’s take a minute to talk about what makes Horizon Zero Dawn (HZD) a must own.

You play the role of Aloy starting as a six year old girl being guided by her caretaker through a world of diverse nature and advanced machines.  I don’t want to give you too much plot as it has been an absolute joy to experience and a very slow burn that I’m still discovering myself, but you’ll learn little bits and pieces about where you are and how it came to be over the course of the play.

The story quickly jumps to the future where you’re honing your skills to explore the world around you as a woman in your early twenties.  There are clans of people that fear the technology, those that embrace, and those that shun.  You’ll have to navigate all of them and more.

HZD has done a masterful job of picking through some of the best gaming elements you can think of to blend into a fresh and meaningful journey.  Twenty hours in, I’m reminded of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Elder Scrolls, Assassin’s Creed, Fallout, the Arkham Knight series, and even Metal Gear.  That may sound impossibly boastful, but I stand by it.

Guerrilla Games has taken this recipe and cooked up an experience that doesn’t feel repetitive at all, which is one of my biggest complaints with even the strongest games of its kind like the Assassin’s Creed series.  Instead of skipping through scenes to continue on with hunting and gathering from point A to point B, I find myself vested in the story and eager to interact with one of the multiple options you have to tilt the story with.  HZD is almost like a fully interactive Choose Your Own Adventure book in that there may be different paths to get the same outcome, but the experience will be unique to your play style.

Beyond that, this is a very inclusive world.  You’re going to see every ethnicity, a variety of belief systems, and strong female characters that may look strong and beautiful but stop decisively short of being a sex object.  Aloy makes a point of cutting anyone off that tries to comment on her looks or figure.  It may seem like a small thing, but as a life long gamer it was refreshing to immerse myself into characters that felt authentic to a real world experience.  No kidding – my wife actually loves watching me play this and seeing a heroine’s journey unfold.

As for game play, I set the difficulty on hard and HZD feels extremely difficult.  I die often and you have to scavenge for medicinal plants to keep going.    You know how a lot of these style games refill your health after a major battle sequence or save?  You’re going to miss that.  I’ve actually killed every enemy in a sequence and then fallen down a cliff missing a zip line and had to do the whole process over again.  That said, I’d call it a refreshing challenge versus a tedious frustration.  You get a real sense of accomplishment from doing a quest well and it makes the interactive cut scenes that much more appreciated when they come.

The combat system feels really good too.  As you scan and learn enemies, you’ll see each has their own weaknesses and strengths that you’ll have to take advantage of to be successful; even if the enemy is 10 levels lower than you are.  You are primarily armed with a variety of bows and arrows as well as a lance, but there are plenty of elemental options to throw in with traps and slingshots to boot.  The system of scrolling through weapon and ammo types is really well done, allowing you to change mid battle without it feeling like an interruption.

Another beautiful touch is time slows slightly but flipping through your gear only blurs the action a bit and slows time.  Essentially, you don’t pause the action even if you’re begging for a second to regroup like I often have.

Character leveling is done through a familiar tiered point system as well as tiered gear you can customize.  Uniquely, the purchase system in the game is done with Traders.  You might have amassed a hefty amount of metal shards, the games primary currency, but you might need something like 1200 shards and a specific robot processor or animal bone to get the gear you want.  You’re going to end up hunting everything you see with purpose.

The upgrading process is one of my only true frustrations with HZD.  You absolutely have the ability to make outfits and weapons your own, but there’s very little guidance other than your own experience.  You’ll end up spending a good amount of resources to develop an outfit or weapon without knowing if you’re doing something that’s helpful to your game play.  Additionally, you can add modifications to many of your items, generally more to the rarest gear, but the ability to remove one you’ve added is a very high tiered skill to obtain.  That’s only made more daunting by the fact that even if you wanted to focus all of your leveling points to a specific element, you’re going to learn quickly that most of the diverse upgrades are nearly necessity versus just a bonus to make your experience a bit easier.

The enemies in HZD, besides difficult, are varied and keep your head on a swivel.  Stealth is as important as combat, but even when you start to get comfortable with things, a new kind of enemy will approach and throw you for a loop.  Wait until the first time you take down a new, very large and difficult robot only to be (in my case extremely) surprised by the mechanical vultures that swoop in to steel the best loot and fight anything in their way.  This means you.  You’re never truly safe in the game.

Guerrilla Games set the bar extremely high with HZD.  I’d give this entry a solid 8.5 of 10 and I don’t know how much of an argument you’d get from me if you said it was as good as a 9.5.  I don’t know how or why this game flew under my radar for ten months, but I’d recommend dropping what you’re playing now to get into this title today.