Months Behind: Horizon Zero Dawn

Note: I am trying to avoid major spoilers with this review. If you haven’t played the game yet, I hope this encourages you to do so!

Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170807205621Earlier in the year, I was in the mood to get a new game for my PS4. I hadn’t been playing much lately, and there were a few games coming out that caught my attention. At this time, I had to decide between Mass Effect: Andromeda and Horizon Zero Dawn. After a brief look at both, I went for Horizon for the main reason that there were was a robot dinosaur on the cover. What started as an impulse buy in March ended up being a game becoming one of my favourites of all time. I finished it at the beginning of August, partially because I didn’t want the game to end.

Starting the game, my first impression was just how beautiful everything looked. The landscapes and vistas were amazing, and every once in a while I would see the corpse of a gigantic robot that somehow died long ago or the remains of a building that is barely standing. The integration of familiar views with these bits and pieces that pique your interest is done in such a seamless way, that there are many parts that you can stumble across without knowing.

For those who aren’t aware, Horizon is an open world game that takes place in a post-post-apocalyptic setting. The very first loading screen tip gives the synopsis:Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170807205301Through the game it is explained how Earth became what it is, and what is happening now that (of course) will cause lots of really bad things to come to pass. There will be allies and enemies met, and choices made will determine what those people will do in return.

The main character is Aloy, an outcast living with her adopted father Rost, who teaches her how to hunt. He also sets her on the path to finding out more about her past, which sets the rest of the game in motion.

Since it is an open world game, the order in which things are done is fairly flexible – with the main story being the only thing that goes in a set order. I had most of the map explored far before any quest had taken me to that place. Because of this exploration, there were a few places and NPCs that I found that I never would have otherwise.

What I liked

Story

Oh man, the story. First and foremost, a game has to invite you in to its world and capture your interest and keep you playing the game. For me, story is at the top of that list – and Horizon more than delivered. From the very beginning, seeing Aloy be named by Rost, I was hooked. Just how their culture was set up, and asking questions right from the beginning.

As the games goes on, answers are given, and more questions are asked. On the whole, I liked how the game wrapped things up at the end. There were openings for a sequel or downloadable content, but nothing too much that left me unsatisfied. Without going into spoilers, this game could easily be turned into a book series, television show, or something along those lines. I just want more.

A rich, full world

The world is so rich and full. The settlements and towns felt lived in, and the NPCs helped show that there were actual people who were there.

The named characters that you would interact with for the story were fantastic. I really enjoyed getting to know the other people that Aloy would team up with, and find out more about them and where they came from.

Visuals

The entire game is absolutely beautiful. Not only are the landscapes great, but the people and the architecture shows character.

One thought that kept coming back to me, as I saw various people, was: “I really wish I could cosplay this.” The characters had their armour built out of the machine parts, on top of the normal leathers that we would see for this type of society.

From looking at people, you could see their standing or faction based on very distinct visual styles. Each was unique and fit with the personality that they were given.

The animations were right on point, with the best one being any time that Aloy would rappel from somewhere. Here’s an example.

Combat

There are two main enemies that are encountered through the game: machines and humans. Early in the game, a device is given to Aloy that helps her find the weak spots on the machines. This is a key item for combat, since there will be massive machines with many options for attack. The weaknesses are highlighted, but it’s still up to the player to actually hit them or decide which type of attack is best to use.

With human combat, standard game mechanics work – headshots are great, everything else not so great. Looking at my stats, I was at around 55% headshots on 558 human enemies killed.

My favourite part of combat is stealth. Thankfully there is a plethora of a certain type of long grass in this area (which also happens to have red tips, like Aloy’s hair) that can be used as cover. If an enemy can be taken out without alerting others to your location, you can stay there as long as necessary.

There are a number of weapon types, starting with the trusty bow & arrow, but including some fun additions. My most used, apart from bow & arrow, was the tripcaster – setting up tripwires that could either shock (immobilize), blow up, or set things on fire. Some weapon types could knock off machine components, which would then limit the types of attacks that could be used against you.

Rather than just charging in, there was almost always an alternate way of taking down an enemy. Being able to use different tactics for different situations was quite refreshing.

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What I didn’t like

Inventory management

This is a complaint I have for most games. I absolutely hate inventory management.

I understand the necessity of it, because being able to carry an unlimited amount of supplies, ammunition, armour, potions, traps, crafting materials, and weapons is a bit overpowered. Just the question how Aloy manages to fit all of that in her pouches is beyond me.

Through a majority of the game, I was within the max carry capacity for resources, until I sold off a bunch of the machine lenses that I didn’t need. Maybe it’s just how I play my games, and that I hate even thinking about an instance where I won’t have enough materials to make something.

Tutorial quests

When a new weapon is obtained, a new tutorial quest is given to test out the weapon. For example, with the ropecaster you are given the task to tie down certain amounts of machines. This is great, except for the fact that it can only be completed while the quest is active.

I know it’s a small gripe, but I would always forget to activate them when I needed to, so I wouldn’t get credit for them – which is quite annoying when I would do the completed requirements for a difficult enemy. Perhaps I just didn’t do it the way I should have, but it would have been nice if I didn’t need to worry about it.

Hunter’s lodges

The idea of the hunter’s lodge is great: it’s a way to test the limits of what you can do in the game, to use your skills to the utmost ability. However, I’m not great at doing these. I got enough of the requirements to get the hunter’s lodge quest to open up, but after that I basically ignored them.

This is completely personal. The lodges themselves are a great idea, but it just wasn’t my thing.

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Overall thoughts

I cannot say enough great things about this game. I went in with little knowledge about the game, but quickly fell in love with everything that was offered. After playing through it for over 93 hours and getting all but five of the standard game trophies (all of the hunter’s lodge trophies), I highly recommend this game to anyone who enjoys a story based open world game.

As soon as the DLC of The Frozen Wilds was available, I pre-ordered it immediately. I tend to shy away from pre-ordering anything anymore (especially digital content), but I just can’t wait for more.

TL;DR: On a scale of one to awesome, I give Horizon Zero Dawn a score of super amazing.

Horizon Zero Dawn is available on the Playstation 4, developed by Guerilla Games and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment.

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Overwatch

I’ve never been a good FPS player. This doesn’t stop me from enjoying the genre, however.

There’s something about Overwatch that appealed to me from the first announcement of it. The comic book style is quite nice, and the general story of it is also good. More than likely, it’s just the fact that it’s a FPS with Blizzard polish on it.

Since Overwatch was released at the end of May, I have put a decent amount of hours into it. While I am nowhere near being good after playing a bunch, I think I’d graduate to the level of being “not bad”.

mvp

So far, I would consider myself a support main. Perhaps it’s because there isn’t as much aiming required – one thing I’m still not great at – but it also seems to be a role that other people don’t seem to want to do.

My top played heroes definitely reflect this, with 4 of my top 5 being support. Since Ana is a relatively new hero, it’s likely just a matter of time before she joins the ranks of being in top played. Because I’m still working on my aim, it will likely be a while before I’m anywhere near decent with her.

I played Team Fortress 2 back in the day, and my most played character was (to no surprise) the Medic. Almost identical to Mercy, I was better at supporting instead of being on the front line. Now that I have more experience and I play more frequently, I’m slowly getting better.

As a whole, Overwatch is exactly the game I want, with the level of polish that Blizzard always delivers. With Jeff Kaplan as the game director, you have someone who is very well versed in game design as a whole, and is really listening to feedback and actually responding to it well. There have been multiple updates and changes so far because of direct requests from the player base.

I hope that this game has legs. I’ve really enjoyed the eSports scene, and I’m sure that it will grow exponentially. There have been players who have gained in popularity because of streaming and eSports, and I’m learning things from them to be able to elevate my game. Thanks to Seagull, Surefour, AskJoshy, and many others who don’t suck for streaming so I can pick up on your tricks.

Overwatch is just a lot of fun. At the moment, it’s scratching my current gaming itch – the Halloween event certainly doesn’t hurt – and Blizzard is giving it a lot of advertising and marketing to bring it more to the masses. All hail our new FPS overlords!

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Launcher OrderI last wrote about my current frame of mind regarding World of Warcraft on October 24, 2015. Since then, I think I have logged in to WoW a total of perhaps twice. The interesting part is that I haven’t really missed it.

After playing the game since launch – coming on over 11 years now – nobody can question my devotion to the game. As I’ve said many times, it is a fantastic game and I have enjoyed my time in it. However, as life goes on and life priorities change, so do gaming priorities. Times change, and I have changed with it.

I had a good discussion on Twitter with my friend Vosskah. I agree with him that I believe that I have just out-grown the target demographic for WoW. While at one point I could do the extended gaming sessions to achieve my goals, I’m now looking for games where I can have brief matches to do what I want to do, then be done. There were many times when I had full-day gaming marathons full of WoW. I have been a subscriber to WoW for longer than I have been married or had kids. Where I am now is completely different than what I was back in November 2004.

As of February 1st 2016, I will cease to be a subscriber to WoW. I cancelled my recurring subscription, and it feels a bit liberating. This has been a thought of mine for a while now – I considered cancelling when it was previously up for renewal in August of last year. I remained subscribed at the time, which ended up being a waste of money. If I did log in, it was for a couple minutes at most, and more often than not I would just play Heroes or something else.

As the usual Blizzard fanboy that I am, I still am playing the other games – and WoW will never not be installed. I’m sure that one day I’ll be back. Going forward, I will continue to focus on getting not as crappy at Heroes of the Storm, and I’m very excited for when Overwatch is released later this year. My PS4 is getting good use, and my kids will never let me rest.

This is a bittersweet moment for me. I feel like I’m breaking up with a partner that I’ve had for the past 11 years, but after having slowly drifted apart. We’ll still remain friends, but we’ll see other people. Farewell for now, friend.

Enjoyment Factor Versus Challenge

I mentioned before that I’ve been playing Heroes of the Storm quite a bit. I absolutely love this game, and have been having quite a bit of fun. While it’s not the first MOBA (or team brawler, or whatever we’re calling the game these days) I’ve played, it is by far the one that I’ve enjoyed playing the most.

League of Legends held my attention for quite a while, and I still really enjoy watching competitive play. It truly is amazing how people can get that good with a game. I’m sure it would be nice to be paid to play a game, but I’m sure it would stop being a game for them after a while. The reason I stopped playing LoL was because of how serious people were. If I didn’t take the exact right item at any point in a match, or if I made a misplay, or if I did the slightest thing “wrong” to them, they would flame me to no end. League is well known for this.

Enter Heroes of the Storm. As a whole, I’ve found that the community is very helpful and accepting of newer players. Of course there will always be those who are less than pleasant, but thankfully I’ve had little interaction with people like that. That brings me to my main point, which is the balance of enjoying what you’re playing versus having a challenge.

heroprofile 20151028I just reached 400 games played, and I’ve been at level 40 (max level) for a while. Slowly but surely, I’ve been leveling up my various heroes and trying to get better with them. For me, even at this level of experience with the game, the question is still what type of game I want to play.

A vast majority of the games I have played were Versus AI (335), and the rest have been Quick Match (65). With Versus AI, I’m sure that my win rate is around 95% or so, but with Quick Match it’s 52.75% (according to HotSLogs). Where the one side is much more satisfying, as there are more wins – there really is such a great feeling when it’s an extremely close match, and we can squeeze out a win in Quick Match. I want to get better at the game, and I know it’s not really easy to get better when you’re going against an easy opponent.

However, I just get nervous when I do Quick Match. Even though I’ve been doing a fair amount more of them recently than I did before, it’s not easy to pus that big blue button that says “Ready”. I haven’t done any Hero League games specifically to avoid that anxiety.

The more I play the game, I want to get even better at it. The enjoyment factor of winning is definitely there, and it just plain sucks to lose a game – even worse when it’s a losing streak. However, challenge brings out better thinking and encourages innovation in play styles. I know I’ll never be as good as the pro players, but hopefully I’ll at least not suck.

The Cold Dark Between

I don’t remember the last time I logged in to World of Warcraft to do something other than check my garrison. It’s been months. Unfortunately, I don’t really miss it either.

Right now it’s in that wonderful period between WoW expansions where people as a whole get bored. This started for me shortly after patch 6.1 was released, as I found that I wasn’t really getting what I used to out of the game. Things for me have changed quite significantly since I started the game, so it’s not entirely surprising that I’m not enjoying it as I did before.

While it’s understandable, I must admit that it’s a little bit sad for me to admit this. I’ve had a subscription to WoW since day one. I got my Wolfrider statue in the mail last year for the 10 year anniversary, and it is displayed in my house with pride. I have every single novel written, I have a bunch of other merchandise that shows how much I absolutely love this game.

At the moment, however, I don’t see myself returning until Legion. Even then, I’m not entirely sure if I’ll return since I don’t know what my frame of mind will be.

Don’t worry Blizzard, you still have my money.

In the past months, I’ve been keeping occupied with other Blizzard properties – actually, most of them. Heroes of the Storm has taken over most of my time, along with Diablo III and recently StarCraft II in preparation for the release of Legacy of the Void. Cities: Skylines and various PS4 games have rounded out my current playtime roster. Overwatch beta starts next week, and I’m really hoping I can get in on that load of awesome.

Having limited playtime, I’m finding that I want to play a game but I don’t know entirely what game I want to play. I play a few matches of Heroes and I’m done with that for the night. I play some Cities: Skylines for a bit, but not for an entire night. When I started WoW, I could play that game for hours on end and not get tired of it.

I realize that not all games can have that level of time associated with them – in how long it’s been out for altogether, or the long storied history it has. WoW is a unique game, and I’m pretty sure that the only thing that will come close to it again will be something made by Blizzard.

As I’m writing this, I’m listening to a Heroes of the Storm podcast while watching a Twitch stream of Heroes on my second monitor. For the moment, this will do fine. I really do hope that one day I’ll get back to WoW and enjoy playing it again.

Molten Core LFR Madness

Tonight I decided on an experiment. I’m going to queue for the Molten Core LFR and list my accomplishments through it, or lack thereof. As a reminder, I’m a Feral Druid, and all times are Mountain Standard Time (MST) – the only time zone that matters.

8:12 pm: queued for LFR, approximate wait time 9 minutes.

8:13: queue is ready, looks like a fresh run. Huge sigh to try and get ready for what is ahead.

8:13: zone in, first pull is already under way.

8:17: first tank drops group.

8:19: first complaints in chat of the fact that it’s a fresh run.

8:28: first core hound pack pulled.

8:29: Lucifron engaged.

8:31: Lucifron killed.

8:33: core hound pack respawn.

8:35: Magmadar engaged.

8:36: Magmadar killed, with no fears. Creepy.

8:45: Gehennas engaged.

8:47: Gehennas killed.

8:56: Garr engaged.

8:58: Garr killed.

9:02: Baron Geddon engaged, along with a mob pack.

9:04: first wipe of the night. I am shocked and amazed.

9:07: Baron Geddon engaged.

9:10: Baron Geddon killed.

9:13: first non-boss death. Lava Elemental aggroed me, tanks were busy.

9:16: Shazzrah engaged.

9:17: Shazzrah killed, with 11 people left alive.

9:31: Sulfuron Harbinger engaged.

9:35: Sulfuron Harbinger killed.

9:39: Golemagg ninja aggroed by a stupid mage.

9:41: second wipe of the night.

9:43: Golemagg pulled by a rogue randomly dropping from above him.

9:44: third wipe of the night.

9:48: Golemagg pulled properly.

9:51: Golemagg killed.

9:54: Majordomo Executus engaged.

9:57: Majordomo Executus defeated.

10:02: Ragnaros summoned.

10:07: Ragnaros defeated. Hatespark the Tiny collected, huzzah!

As a whole, I am actually very happy with how it all went. the group that I ended up getting was very organized – the tanks marked the targets, healers were fantastic, and DPS did an excellent job. The only wipes we had were from a few people being stupid, and not the raid as a whole failing.

This was my third time trying to complete this, and I am very glad that I never have to do it again.

Crossing the Floor

AllianceGarrisonGate

Typically, the term “crossing the floor” is used in politics. It is where a member of a political party leaves their current one and goes over to another.

Similarly, I have crossed the floor for only my second time in my World of Warcraft career – after spending about nine years a Horde, I’m back to playing Alliance on my main. Korath the Tauren is now Korath the Night Elf. (It still feels weird and a bit dirty saying that out loud.)

It all started almost a year ago, shortly after the Siege of Orgrimmar started. I had stopped playing consistantly, and was playing more Diablo than Warcraft. There were times where I went over a month between logins. On my Horde Main, I did the LFR stuff to get achievements (not actually getting my Garrosh kill until a month or two before 6.0 dropped), yet it felt that I was doing it for the sake of completion and nothing else.

At the same time, I was working more on my Alliance Mage that I had transferred to play with some friends that I had met in real life a while back. This was mainly due to the fact that I wanted to see the Alliance version of Mists of Pandaria, and to play with some other friends.

Shortly before Warlords was launched, I found out that my guild had decided to merge to get prepared for Mythic raiding. I was definitely surprised at this, but since I wasn’t logging on very often it wasn’t shocking. There were a bunch of new people in the guild that I had never seen or heard of before, along with the familiar faces that I have known for almost ten years.

I’ve gone through a guild merge before, which ended up being decent at first and ending up not awesome. If I was a regular core raider of the guild, it might be different – but as a casual player who doesn’t do any raiding apart from LFR, I was feeling quite left out. I didn’t even feel comfortable speaking out in guild chat.

After weighing all of the options, I made the decision to move my main character – Korath the Tauren Druid – over to the Moonrunner server and faction change to Alliance, so I could play with my friends that I knew and was comfortable with.

korathNightElfA few years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet up with some people that I had met through blogging: specifically, Fannon from Dwarven Battle Medic and Ophelie from Bossy Pally. It was fantastic to meet other WoW bloggers and just to get to know other people.

I’m a very shy and introverted person. One of the scariest moments of my life was getting out of my car and walking into the pub where we all met.

However, it was one of the best choices I ever made. Through this meeting, it set up a get-together with other bloggers: this time with Vidyala and her husband Vosskah, and a few others. Instantly, my wife and I formed a friendship with them and were able to have great conversations.

There was only one downside to all of these people. All of these people were Alliance, where my wife and I played Horde exclusively. (My very first characters were Alliance, but around the original Zul’Gurub patch I switched to Horde.) At that time, I server transferred my then level 60 mage to Moonrunner just to talk to them, and left it at that.

Now, all this time later, it paid off. Unfortunately I did have to spend more money to do the server and faction change, but it was most definitely worth it – along with the fortunate timing of getting it on sale. The group of people I play with are fantastic, I’ve been able to meet a bunch of new people who are just a whole lot of fun. I know I’m still in the honeymoon phase, but I really don’t have any complaints as of yet.

The only downside of my WoW time right now is that my wife isn’t playing anymore, but that’s just due to her complete lack of free time with looking after the kids during the days and working at night. Ah, the life of a young family.

In a political sense, crossing the floor can be a disaster. Constituents feel like they were misled or betrayed, and it can cost someone their career. However, in this circumstance it has been one of the best choices I’ve made in a while. Once again, I’m excited to play WoW and habitually log in to check my garrison missions. Right, and actually play and have a crapload of fun.