Thoughts on Blasphemous

I didn’t hear about Blasphemous upon its release last year. I also am not typically looking for Metroidvania style games to play — I enjoy them, but few do much to set themselves apart from the crowd. Recently the Playstation Store has been hosting a “Mega March Sale” and with much of the world on quarantine, it was a perfect way to pick up some games on the cheap to have something to do while social distancing. It also turns out that this game does set itself apart in ways I didn’t expect, in that it has combined elements of those games that have come before but has done so in a way that appeals to modern gamers. So yes, it’s a side-scrolling hack n’ slash game, but it does have check points, more interesting combat that evolves over time, and a fantastic art style reminiscent of the Atari/Amiga era of the 1980’s. Examples:

Thought this is pixel art, it’s very high res and the animations are smooth. Back in those early days these images would have been still with very little animation, whereas these are full on cutscenes done in this fantastic artwork. But, I understand that this isn’t for everyone, so your appreciation may vary. Blasphemous is also a rather adult oriented game. There are religious influences along with blood and gore. I’m assuming there might even be nudity, because it’s already come close, but whatever the case the aesthetic works very well for me. When you’re actually playing the game, it looks a bit different, but is still pixel-perfect:

You’ll meet a variety of characters, mostly in various states of unrest. There is a small safe area that is functionally a town, where you can save your game and use the currency to make upgrades to your fighting skills, along with infusing your sword with additional properties. It turns out there is quite a bit of progression when it comes to this, as various skill/item trees exist in the menus. Your sword gets Mea Culpas, your magic spells are called Prayers. You’ll also collect prayer beads that give valuable passives, and there are some items that increase your health, the number of health potions you can carry and your magical energy as well. This is reminiscent of the Souls games in that your only fail safes are the couple of potions you can carry, and refilling them and saving your progress only happens when you visit the shrines that are pretty well spread out.

The combat is also more than just button mashing. You have the standard sword strike, and it chains up to three times. You can duck and jump swing to hit differing enemies, but eventually you’ll run into those that have wide swinging arcs or other defenses, and will have to either slide past them or parry into riposte. These things all make more sense when you’re playing the game, but each set of enemies comes with their own challenges. Death comes early and often. Upon dying, you’ll also drop your soul, and the guilt of losing that energy weighs upon you. Finding the soul in the world where you died will gain you back the favor and whatnot that you’ve lost.

Really, if I had to make comparisons to other games, this is the 2-D version of the Souls games, but also more reminiscent of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. I feel the back and forth nature, along with little baubles to collect and side quests that aren’t really very defined fits the mold of that game. The gothic design of the game helps as well. Overall this was a very pleasant surprise of a game and I’m glad I picked it up. If you’re into this style of game you’ll definitely want to give it a try.

The FF7 Remake Demo

We’ve known about the Final Fantasy VII Remake for several years now, but the time has finally come to see more. It has actually been delayed once, and we’ve already seen a few trailers that show off parts of the game, but finally a playable demo has been released. As a huge fan of the original game (it was my first FF game, it was the reason I bought a Playstation back in high school) I knew that I’d be interested in an updated version of the beloved classic. As information trickled down we were unsure if would be a faithful recreation or if things would be changed. It was also said that the game would be “episodic” and though I can see this being okay if they split the game the way they did in the 90’s, by making each disc of the original into a full episode, I still would prefer a whole game all at once. I assume this means that development of future episodes isn’t completed yet, and we still don’t know exactly where this first episode will end, but for now let’s just talk about what happens in the demo.

As you can see above, the game is clearly gorgeous. All of these screens show some of our main and supporting characters and all of them are introduced throughout the play session I had with the demo. To be clear, this isn’t a lengthy demo, but it does allow you to see how cool the game now looks, and also runs through the entire Mako reactor scene that introduces Cloud and the rebel group Avalanche. We also get to see how combat has evolved, and you’ll have to see some of the next screen shots for me to really describe it.

Anyone who has played the original game knows that it was a product of the times. JRPGs of that era mostly relied on ATB meters in order to determine turn order for actions that would take place during the battle. Also seemingly gone are random battles, in that you only fight when you happen upon some enemies as you traverse the level, there aren’t “unseen” enemies that attack you as you wander. I do feel this is a positive change in some aspects because I hated getting swarmed by things as I was trying to get to chests and other secrets. However, this may prove problematic if you encounter a tough fight and would need to level up on these random battles. Since we don’t ever get to a point where we get to see the world map and how that will be handled, its unclear if this was just part of the demo. Whatever the case, combat feels less like the turn based strategy of the former game, and instead feels much more like Final Fantasy XV in that regard. However, in XV you weren’t able to swap between characters, only issue commands, whereas in this title you can control who you want and still issue commands. So the best of both worlds I suppose. There is an difficulty option that also lets you focus on purely giving commands rather than also trying to do the combat yourself, so that’s a great choice for those of you who don’t care to button mash. It is a bit button mashy, but at the same time fairly fluid and responsive. Basic attacks happen when pressing square. You can change stance with triangle. Otherwise spells, abilities and items are all used via a context menu. I loved the combat, but that last boss before blowing up the reactor was a bit of a challenge without more phoenix downs.

Upon completing the reactor scene you are treated to pretty explosions and a zoomed out view of the city before the demo winds down. Clearly this is only the tip of the iceberg but I was hit in the feels immediately. I cannot wait for full release at this point, as I already know it’s going to be a blast. I’m just curious how much more of the original game will make it over and how much of it will change. Time will tell I suppose. You can download the demo for free via the Playstation Store if you’re curious to see for yourself.

The War Report: Yorvo’s Wrath

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but it turns out I have quite the collection of Magic: The Gathering cards. Obviously I am aware of having bought said cards on a multitude of occasions over the course of the last four years, but I didn’t realize that I could literally create a handful of decks with cards I had sitting in boxes. There have been times where I have purchased chunks of cards, either via booster boxes, buying multiple commander precons, making a large singles purchase, or even that time when I bought a bundle of guild kits. Despite having a large box full of EDH “staples” and also several large boxes of common/uncommon bulk, I didn’t realize that I could make playable decks with what was there. There are multiple reasons for this discovery, the main one being that I have been playing Magic several times a week via the PlayEDH Discord channel, and because I’m getting in so many more games I’ve been inspired to brew and deck build more often than I already had been. Another reason is financial. I don’t have the same disposable income I once did, so I haven’t been able to buy as many cards of the newer sets, and I’ve only made one singles purchase over the last few months. I’m happy with this situation, mainly because it forced me to look at what I already had and upon going through and sorting cards and other projects, I’ve managed to build out deck ideas I already had using cards I own instead of buying more expensive versions that I had initially brewed.

My typical brewing process is finding a commander or theme I think is interesting, and then going online to MTGGoldfish where I keep my decklists and building it on the spot. I will take into consideration cards I know that I own, but will oftentimes find cards I don’t own that would be integral to the deck. However, upon reflection it has turned out that oftentimes I can still make a solid mid to mid-high deck without spending money, mainly because I have so many staples. This has had the unfortunate effect of blowing up some of my already established decks and borrowing cards from others though, so in effect I’m borrowing from myself in order to make a new deck work, but will have the hassle of swapping out cards when I want to play others, or eventually I’ll have to put together a list of cards that are being shared and buy extra copies, or I’ll have to bite the bullet and make a staples binder and just proxy the more expensive cards to use among multiple decks. Cards like Sensei’s Divining Top are useful in more than one deck, but then it’s a $40 card and I don’t think I want to buy another copy. With all that said, I have been building new decks quite regularly over the past couple of months. As you can see in the picture above, there’s seven new brews there since the end of January, and of those I’ve managed to make six playable and fairly focused decks that have seen success in multiple pods. Today though, we’ll be talking about one deck that I didn’t expect to be as much fun or as effective as it is. Today, we’re talking about my boy, Yorvo:

When this cycle of new legendary creatures from Throne of Eldraine was spoiled, I thought to myself that the only one I found even remotely interesting was Torbran, but I already have a mono red deck helmed by Krenko and Torbran fit right into that one. I never paid attention to Yorvo, but eventually played against a few different players that were running mono green decks that just did crazy things. I attempted to build a mono green ramping deck helmed by Molimo back when I first got into EDH, but it wasn’t very successful. I’ll attribute that to not really understanding how to build good decks and other factors of being “green” to a subject. A couple of weeks ago, the Jumbo Commander YouTube channel posted a video featuring a $35 budget build of Yorvo and upon finishing that video I was sold. Upon looking through my collection of green cards, I knew I could build a solid deck and it ended up being worth about $170. Though dollars don’t necessarily equal success, in this case I think I’ve made the deck even better than the budget build and it has had nothing but good games against decks I would think should beat it pretty handily. So what do we want to do with Yorvo? Well, he’s a creature that enters the battlefield with four +1/+1 counters on him, so he is essentially a turn 2 or 3 beater that just gets bigger over time. That doesn’t meant that we’re going for a full on Voltron build though, despite the fact that it could be effective. Instead, I’ve built a deck that ramps quickly, has a ton of utility and can smash with big beaters, or can go wide with a Craterhoof Behemoth finisher. Let’s first look at our ramp package:

We have mana producing effects in every slot possible. There are mana producing creatures, spells, artifacts and enchantments present. Each of these cards has synergy with green/forests because obviously that’s the only color we’re playing with, but some of these cards can interact with other cards in the deck as well. For example, Gyre Sage comes in as a 1/2 elf that does nothing. However, when you play any 2 power or 3 toughness creature, it will then get a +1/+1 counter put on it due to its evolve ability, and then can be tapped for mana. If this comes down early and you are casting creatures on curve, you might be tapping this guy for 3 or 4 green mana a turn for a low investment. Playing out creatures with Growing Rites of Itlimoc on the field will result it it flipping, and being the budget Gaea’s Cradle it was always meant to be. Next up, creatures that we are ramping towards to pressure our opponents:

These creatures serve as our beaters and our enablers to wipe the board of threats or to finish off opponents. In total there are 18 elves in the deck, so finding Ezuri in the mid to late game while you have a solid board of elves can lead to the victory if you have the mana to pump up your elves via his ability. On the flip side, if you have several 4+ power creatures then Goreclaw can help them out by making them bigger and giving trample, similar to Ezuri’s ability. You can also drop a Thunderfoot Baloth or Craterhoof Behemoth to grant big boosts to your team along with giving trample. Loyal Guardian can give our team +1/+1 counters while Trollbred Guardian will then give everything with counters on it trample. You can see what I’m going for here. Either go wide or go tall, but either way smash through with trample damage. Next, let’s look at our removal package, because we can rest assured that others will take notice of our board and try to stop us, so we should do the same to them.

Unfortunately green doesn’t do much in the way of board wipes. They do however have an amazing suite of artifact and enchantment removal effects. Since we’ll be developing a creature heavy board, our biggest vulnerability is to board wipes. I’ve included Spore Frog for those times when your board has been destroyed and you need to prevent that crack back. Otherwise, most of these effects target artifacts or enchantments. Beast Within can target anything but comes with the downside of giving that opponent a 3/3 beast. Kenrith’s Transformation does the same, though the 3/3 is an elk, and can only target a creature. It’s still worth it to knock out a problematic commander. Lastly, let’s look at some of the other utility within the deck:

Here we have a selection of cards that do stuff we want to do. Fierce Empath will tutor up your big beaters/finishers. Brawn hits the graveyard and gives all of our creatures trample. Genesis will give us some creature recursion. Sandwurm Convergence gives us tokens each turn, but also stops flying creatures from attacking us (and this is literally all the protection we have from them). Others will let us draw cards for sacrificing creatures (like those tokens?) or just in general. There are a few others here that I didn’t highlight, but you can see the full decklist over here. Overall the deck has performed well in every game I’ve played. I’ve regularly out ramped my opponents and typically have a more threatening board state faster than anyone else. Drawing cards is regular. Manipulating +1/+1 counters is often. Swinging for tons of damage and eliminating multiple players has happened as well. I believe it’s won or nearly won most of the games it’s been played. It’s also resilient, because board wipes do happen, yet I seem to still rebuild faster than others. If you want a fast and fun (and kinda dirty) deck to play I’d recommend something like this, and honestly this shell will probably work for most mono green commanders with some minimal tweaking. I’m surprised by how fast and consistent and fun it has been.

First Impressions: Black Mesa

I acquired Black Mesa from Humble Monthly a couple of years back, if I recall correctly. At the time, the only thing I knew about it was that it was a fan-created project that aimed to remake the original Half-Life (aka “The Black Mesa Incident”). It was billed as the same game, but with some quality of life improvements and “reimaginings.” When I first downloaded it, the title was in Early Access and the devs were talking about things that were going into recreating Xen, which is the final portion of the original. A couple of years later, and here we are. The game is complete, and has left Early Access. Despite being tempted to check it out on more than one occasion, I instead decided to see when/if it would be completed, and thankfully this one made it through the EA slog to full release.

First things first, I applaud the team for already having widescreen support built into the game. It should be a given in 2020, but I’m not surprised when a game ships without this support. Graphically the game looks and feels like Half-Life, but has a weird mixture of new and old tech that is somewhat confusing. Don’t get me wrong, I was instantly hit in the feels during the introduction and tram scene, but portions of the environment look like 1998 and other have higher res textures that look great. Where this remake really shines is with lighting and atmospheric effects.

The scene above where the reactor goes wild and you are temporarily teleported to another world was particularly good looking, but unfortunately doesn’t make as much of a showing via screenshots. Whatever the case, I can appreciate the love and care that when into recreating this beloved classic in a newer-but-not-new engine. I’ve only just played through the first couple of chapters, where shit hasn’t entirely hit the fan just yet, but I have enjoyed what I’ve played so far and it has brought back a bunch of memories from my high school days. The story doesn’t seem to have changed at all, but apparently there were improvements to AI, particularly the soldiers and alien fighters in later levels. It feels just like playing the original, but I can enjoy it on my modern machine, and for that I’m thankful. I do wish it was more of a remake on the level with the latest Quake/DOOM/Wolfenstein reboots, but it will do. Now can we have Half-Life 3?

Also included in the package is multi-player, which was for a time one of my favorites until modders made full on new games with the Half-Life engine, and then it was more about Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, and this other one I can’t remember the name of but you play as space marines vs. aliens. Whatever the case, multiplayer is supported, but I haven’t given it a whirl just yet. I’m curious to see if there’s an audience for it, with the loads of competition that’s probably just better. At the end of the day, I’m happy to see this game make it out of Early Access and I hope it’s a way for a new generation to fall in love with Half-Life, and the shooter genre in general. I’d recommend it for the nostalgic feels, though I’d say it’s a must-buy if you somehow haven’t played the original.

Next For Riot Games: Valorant

We’ve know about “Project A” since Riot’s tenth anniversary stream that went live late last year. At that point in time very little information was revealed outside of that code name and the fact that it would be a hero based tactical shooter, as if Overwatch and Counter-Strike had a baby. Despite the fact that I’ve loved Counter-Strike since it was just a mod, I never really cared for Overwatch. In fact, I haven’t really cared for many of these style of “Hero Shooters” and I’ve played a handful of them. However, I do think that if any company has the ability to get me to play their games without question, Riot Games does. They’ve built trust with me over the years and despite taking breaks from their main game League of Legends, I always find myself coming back around. So far I’ve enjoyed their other forays into new territory, with Teamfight Tactics and the little bit of Legends of Runterra that I’ve played. As such, I think I am the target audience for this new title, which we now know is called Valorant. First things first, let’s look at some fresh alpha game play to put things into perspective:

Wow, so this really does look like Counter-Strike, but with characters called “agents” who have various abilities. Otherwise, it’s still plant the bomb (called a spike here) if you’re on the attacking team, or defuse the spike if you’re defending. Otherwise, killing the entirety of the enemy team (as there are no respawns) will win you the round. Polygon has a ton of info up about the game, including a Q&A that addresses game play, fluff skins, and future plans, along with another article detailing all of the agents and their abilities. There isn’t anything inherently unique about the premise of the game nor the abilities of the agents, but it still looks like a lot of fun. I tend to be better at first person shooters than I am at other styles of game so I think it’s something I could actually be competitive at. Graphically it looks sharp, but apparently the minimum specs mean you can play the game on a toaster. Thankfully my aging machine is still more powerful than a toaster, so I should be able to jump in right away.

There is a planned beta that I assume will happen soon. The launch window is summer of this year so I think we’ll be able to beta test within the next couple of months and Riot can make adjustments from there prior to full launch. I can’t seem to find a way to sign up for beta yet, but as soon as I can play it and talk about it some more I will do so. I’m actually pretty hyped for this one, but I am trying to temper my expectations. Whatever the case, as more information drops I’ll be sure to throw my two cents out there.