Thoughts on The Last of Us Part II

Somehow I’ve let the better part of a month go by without writing anything here, and I think I’m just in one of those creative dry spells. Whatever the case, I did spend some time playing through The Last of Us Part II and I thought I could at least put a post together about it. First of all, if you aren’t familiar with the developers of this series, Naughty Dog, you should look into their games. The Uncharted series has been long running and each game is definitely worth playing through. Somehow Naughty Dog has figured out how to push the systems their games run on to their maximum capabilities, along with pushing the boundaries of storytelling in video games. Adult themes, beautiful locations, graphic violence… it’s all here, but it elicits emotion in ways that only the best films of Hollywood can. I’ve never felt tears welling in my eyes from playing a video game until I indulged in their stories, and I cannot recommend these titles enough. The first game in this series was gut wrenching as well, but you grew to love Joel and Ellie and carrying them through to the end of the timeline was an amazing journey.

The sequel starts you off playing as Joel again, coming back home from some journey, and home being a settlement somewhere in the western portion of the United States. One thing I should notate now is that I plan to talk about various parts of the game including the finale, so spoilers will be present. You probably should skip the rest of this article until you’ve completed the game. But hey, if you want to see if the overall plot even interests you in the first place, read on! So this game puts you into the direct control of various characters, all of whom have a tale that directly intersects with the others. From what I remember about the first game, you only played as Joel save for a short bit playing as Ellie, but this game puts you in the shoes of Joel, Ellie and Abby, and at the same time jumps around on the timeline. There are flashbacks to where Ellie was a younger girl, ditto this for Abby. Joel is really the most limited character, because after playing him at the beginning, you’re given control of Ellie, and soon enough Joel is dead. That’s not entirely a spoiler I suppose as we all knew that was coming, but it was still sad and I’m glad there were some flash backs of him throughout the game because he was a really great character and I missed him after a time.

Joel’s death was fairly traumatic. This settlement where these folks live is still a part of this post apocalyptic setting, so there is still the ever present threat of the infected. We see plenty of examples of how they have evolved throughout the game as well, because various new forms exist in the sequel. Due to the need for supplies and the need for living people to protect themselves, this settlement has several outposts nearby, and groups of survivors head out to them regularly to keep the area infection free along with grabbing anything of use they might find. They are not the only bastion of society though, and soon enough it becomes apparent that some of the other humans in the area are not so friendly.

Those who played the first game might recall the main plot, where Joel who is a smuggler, was paid to smuggle a girl (Ellie) to a “Firefly” (one of the new world factions) outpost because it was determined she was immune to the virus as she had been bitten but never turned. It turns out that what the Fireflies needed from her to make a vaccine would kill her. When Joel found that out, he broke into their lab to rescue Ellie, and inadvertently killed some of the Fireflies. Well, turns out that one of the scientists he killed was the father of this girl Abby, and she has been looking for Joel for a long time. Rumors made it up to Seattle where she was staying, and her and some cohorts headed south to find Joel. They do find him while he is out with Ellie and his brother Tommy, and they seriously injure both Tommy and Ellie while Abby beats Joel to death. They let the other two live, as she felt she had her revenge, and they head back north while Ellie and Tommy decide that they need to avenge Joel in a similar way. Tommy ends up leaving without her though, and through some other story bullet points, Dina joins Ellie in her journey to Seattle. This is probably the point that many people took issue with, as the now main character enters into a lesbian relationship with another character, and I heard the SJW’s ruin everything cries from the mountaintop. Whatever your preference or orientation, this is still good storytelling and fucking get over it already.

There are some seriously intense moments throughout the game. As I said, there are a bunch of flashbacks and moments in time where you play the game through Ellie’s perspective and then Abby’s. First there’s the journey to Seattle with Ellie and Dina, but then as you progress you eventually play as Abby and see what she has been going through with her WLF companions and we’re also introduced to a local fanatical faction that are called the Scars. They are more tribal and less dependent on technology, while the WLF (Wolves) are militaristic. Conflicts are abound between humans and the infected. Eventually Ellie kills off a few of the people who were present when Joel was killed, and also follow’s Tommy’s trail, finding more dead. She eventually kills off a couple more and then finds Abby. Abby ends up shooting and killing some of Ellie’s friends, and nearly kills Dina, but shows mercy due to the Scar kid she’s been helping. She agrees to part ways and never wants to see them again, and you’d think that would be the end.

In what I first thought was the epilogue, we see Ellie and Dina in a farmstead along with an infant. We can presume that Dina managed to have the baby and they’ve started this new life. Presumably this is not far from the settlement they stayed at near the beginning of the game, because Tommy shows up and says that he’s found Abby again, this time in Santa Barbara. Dina chases him off saying they’re done with that, but soon enough you’re having visions of dead Joel and can’t help but want to track her down again. Dina warns you that she won’t wait around, but you head out anyway.

This final sequence sees you tracking down Abby, getting caught by some other faction that had already caught her, fighting your way free, and then sneaking into their base to rescue Abby. You find her put up on a stake in this harbor, a cruel death awaiting her. Letting her down, she then cuts down the Scar boy (Lin) and they head off for a boat to escape. It’s this point where you fight her again, and though you win the fight and could have drown her to death, for some reason you let her go, and she takes off. In a strange twist, each of these characters had someone kill their people, became obsessed, had the chance to kill each other for revenge multiple times, and then had a change of heart when it came down to it. I suppose we all are still human after all.

The true epilogue happens next. Ellie returns to the farmstead and finds it empty save for her stuff in one room. Dina and the baby are gone. You play Joel’s guitar one last time, and then head off into the wilderness, presumably to find Dina, or perhaps start yet another new life. It was a sad but fitting end. I hope that we are not done with this world, but perhaps there are new characters and stories to explore. Whatever the case I thoroughly enjoyed this title and I highly recommend picking it up.

World War Z Impressions

I mentioned on Twitter the other day that I had pulled the trigger on World War Z, after having read elsewhere that it was likened to Left 4 Dead. I was a bit skeptical at first mainly because video games based on movies are rarely a good thing, let alone video games based on movies based on books. However, this doesn’t really correlate with the movie or the book, save for the setting of the real world being overrun by “zeke.” Yes, they went ahead and used a different word for zombie, yet again.

Similarities between World War Z and Left 4 Dead can surely be seen, as it is a game that is level based, and you’ll see various “special” zombies that do things differently than your standard zeke. The co-op campaign pits you and three other players against the zombie hordes, though there are objectives to complete along a fairly linear path. At certain points you’ll encounter huge waves of enemies, and these aren’t the slow plodding zombies of some games, no these guys are fast and pissed off. Specials like the “Bull” or “Stinkbag” can really put a hurting on you, with one charging in to pick you up and slam you on the ground until one of your partners guns him down, while the other releases some toxic gas when it dies, blinding you temporarily. Really, the way the zombies move and the way they climb on each other like ants to scale walls are the only similarities one can make between this game and its movie counterpart.

The game plays like a third person shooter, but does not have cover mechanics. You can attempt to use stealth by crouch-walking and using silenced weapons, but I found that it was just as effective to wade into groups and slash away with my knife. You’ll take more damage that way, but you also save ammo. Each episode is broken down into sections, so you’ll be at that particular location for a few chapters before moving onto a new part of the world. So far I’ve cleared all but the final level which is Tokyo. New York, Jerusalem and Moscow were all increasingly difficult, but we managed to clear them nonetheless. I convinced my best friend to get a copy of the game, as it was reasonably priced at $40, and co-opping our way through it has been entertaining. You would think that only four episodes isn’t really worth that price point, but we have only cleared the “starter” difficulty level (one skull) and there are a total of five difficulties. Much like Killing Floor 2 that we played quite a bit a couple of years ago, there is a progression system that allows you to eventually clear those higher difficulties.

There are two ways to progress in World War Z. Firstly, there are a number of classes that you can choose to play as, and each of them earns XP individually. This means not only is there the option to play these levels again on a higher difficulty, but also to level up additional classes. I really didn’t know what to expect from the game so I didn’t know which class would work best for my personal playstyle, but I ended up playing the “Fixer,” which is basically a support class. It starts with a scout rifle, silenced pistol, and a supply bag that you can drop for your allies so they can refill their explosive ammo. I figured playing something more supportive would mean my teams would be better balanced, and since I’m only playing with one person I know, you can’t rely on randoms to try and make a balanced team. In most of my games most players were using the Gunslinger or other more offensive classes, while my friend was playing a tanky role so we did end up fairly balanced anyway due to our efforts. As you earn experience you’ll unlock perks that can change the way your character plays. For instance, I started off with the supply bag, but eventually got access to “masking grenades” and then later put a point into a perk that makes the masking gas lethal to zombies. This allows me to contribute more to the horde fights, while most players were ignoring my supply drops. The perk tree is pretty long, so I imagine things will change up again before long.

When it comes to weapons, you will earn experience for them by killing with them. As a weapon levels up, you’ll be presented with upgrade options and can take your pick as to how you want to customize your gun. I leveled up an Assault Rifle first, and put a scope on it which gave more power and accuracy. On the Bullpup I went for an extended mag modification. Use a weapon more often and you’ll level it up faster, but having extra goodies on multiple guns is good because you don’t know what you’ll end up with. Apparently on the higher difficulties there are more zeke, they have more health and there are less supplies spread out along the map, so you’ll want to have more than one modified weapon.

Outside of the co-op campaign, there is also a multiplayer side containing several extra game modes. Things like capture the flag, king of the hill and deathmatch are present, but instead of bigger games with only players, these game modes pit small teams against each other, but throw zombies into the mix. For instance, I played a round of deathmatch and the two teams ran into each other quickly and started fighting. The goal of this mode is to get to 50 kills before the other team, but there is also a time limit — if that runs out the team with the highest score wins. After fighting for a while, a notification pops up that states “critical noise level reached,” and at this point a horde will swarm your position. You’ll have to fight off zombies and other players at the same time, but can also try and stay out of sight and let the zombies do some of the work for you. I believe if you die to a zombie the other team gets a point, but I’m not certain. That would make sense.

Looking forward, the dev team has already outlined their roadmap for the summer. All of the above updates are supposed to be free, and so far there are no microtransactions present, but I can imagine the “new weapon variants, new character skins and new character accessories” to be something they might monetize since everyone else is doing it. The new Tokyo mission is something that should have probably released with the game, as each other episode has 3 missions each and Tokyo only has 2 at present. A new special zombie is a nice add, and an extra difficulty level is probably going to be needed sooner than later. Rotating game modes are also a good idea, and I’ve heard they are also working on a wave-based survival mode as well.

Overall I’d say that World War Z is a game that feels like Left 4 Dead and Killing Floor had a baby. It mixes elements of many successful games that I’ve had a blast playing. I see this being in the regular rotation for the foreseeable future. If you’re on console, I’d recommend grabbing this immediately. If you’re on PC, you’ll have to get it via the Epic Games Store… so if you don’t have an issue with that, have at it. A worthwhile purchase for $40.

Quick Thoughts: Games on the Cheap

Generally speaking, there are far too many games released in a given year to play them all. Sometimes you have to spend your limited expendable funds carefully, and that means skipping some titles in favor of others. What’s great about our current gaming climate, is that typically a year or so after a game releases (or stops releasing DLC) it typically has a “Game of the Year,” “Complete” or “Ulitmate” edition. This bundle will save you money, because a) you didn’t pay full price for the base game and b) you now get all DLCs included for either the same asking price or less. Give it a little more time, and you can usually catch these bundled titles on sale and save even more money. You won’t be on the cutting edge, playing the newest, hottest games on release, but in the case of most titles, you’re not missing anything by playing them late. In most cases I’d argue you’re smarter that the guy who pays $60 at launch for a title and then pays $10-20 per DLC on top of that. Nevertheless, I have found a few titles I’ve wanted to play in recent years but hadn’t gotten around to, bundled as I’ve mentioned and on sale to boot. It was very difficult to resist a copy of each of the games I’m going to discuss, and yes that means I purchased them once I saw the price was right. Let’s jump in, shall we?

I absolutely wanted to play Horizon: Zero Dawn when it released. The first time I saw it at E3 I knew it was a title that would be up my alley. I’m at a stage in my life though, that some games that I believe will be enjoyable aren’t always. I’ve also been trying to cut down on spending on games due to the fact that so many either collect dust or disappoint me. But for $10, I knew I needed to grab a copy, particularly because the Complete Edition came with bonus goodies and the game’s lone expansion The Frozen Wilds. I have not been disappointed by this title, and the inexpensive nature of the purchase doesn’t affect this — it’s a damn fine game. You play as Aloy, a young girl outcast by a tribe in a post-apocalyptic world where robot creatures roam the landscape and tribes of humans fight among themselves.

There’s a lot to digest in the early portions of the game. It’s clear that “the Old Ones” died off for some reason or another, and somehow, robots have formed into various beasts (perhaps a form of evolution or created by the dead ancients). You’ve been taken in by Rost, an outcast from the Nora tribe. He has sheltered you, but as a little girl you don’t really understand why the tribe won’t talk to you. On one fateful day, you end up falling into a cave that is a ruin from the old days, and find a “focus” which looks eerily similar to a bluetooth ear piece, but is definitely more useful. It provides information on the environment and things within it, becoming an excellent tool. Wanting to rejoin the tribe, Rost agrees to train you for “the proving” which is a ritual that allows tribesmen to become “braves,” and for outcasts to rejoin the tribe. The meat of the game is a third person shooter style, with some stealth elements, RPG progression, and a beautiful world to explore. It’s open world to a degree, though you’re held back for a time as you grow up, complete the proving, and become a “seeker.” Having that title allows you to leave the sacred lands of your people, and find answers. At certain points you are given “choices matter” styles of conversation prompts, and are allowed to choose your path. I assume these actions have consequences, but not many have shown up yet. I’m still in the early portions of the game though, so perhaps some of these will come back around. Overall the game looks great and plays great. It’s a title on the level of games like those made by Naughty Dog, where the graphics are top notch and the game play and story matches its beauty. I’m in love with it, and definitely look forward to what comes next.

I bought the original Titanfall for PC. In the past year I’ve decided to boycott Origin though, as I prefer my PC games to be linked up through Steam. As such I wasn’t going to buy the sequel on PC (and have already purchased a copy of Dragon Age: Inquisiton for PS4 so I can avoid having to use the additional platform). That might sound stupid to some, but I don’t mind playing EA games on the console, whereas I’m annoyed with the company on PC. So here we are. Titanfall 2 looked amazing when I first saw it — it’s more of the same, but that’s definitely not a bad thing. However, I just didn’t pick it up on release and hadn’t though about it for quite some time. Seeing the Ultimate Edition on sale for $8 though, and I was sold. This being a multiplayer game, there was worry about whether or not people would still be playing it, but unlike its predecessor, this one has a single player campaign, so I knew at least I’d get to experience that. So far, it’s been okay. Very similar to Call of Duty campaigns I’ve played in the past, just with the benefit of being a better game than CoD.

Being a Titanfall game, you get the requisite boots on the ground action along with the mechs that you pilot. There’s still wall running and double jumping, fast and furious gunplay and of course, MECHS! It’s a blast to run around, jumping and sliding and calling down your titan to fuck shit up. I have yet to play the multiplayer but I did check out the menus and saw a pretty healthy population despite being fairly late when I was playing. I think because it sets itself apart from other shooters on the market it has managed to keep a following. I’m glad that not everyone is off playing Battle Royale games and still appreciates a good ol’ fashioned FPS. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts about this one soon.

The last game isn’t a bundle deal, but is a remastered version of a game I first played on PS3. Burnout Paradise was a fantastic title that came out of nowhere for me. I believe it was my sister’s (now-ex) husband who showed me the game, and I only played it at his house and didn’t get too much out of it. I just remember thinking that it reminded me of Need For Speed Underground, which was one of my favorite NFS titles of all time. The remaster here takes the original game (and appears that the DLCs are present, so perhaps this is a bundle after all) and polishes it up a bit. The intro movie is still clearly PS3 graphics, but once you get into the game it looks a bit better than its OG version, and definitely runs at a higher frame rate.

You start the game with a crappy car and have a semi-open-world to explore. Like the Need For Speed games, you can roll up to points on the map that will start up a race, or can battle with random NPCs on the road. There are also stunts and collectibles along with challenges where you can pit your high scores against those on your friends list. It’s the same experience as before, but due to my limited time with the game in the past, I can now delve further into it. I managed to upgrade my license and open up a few new cars in my first session, and I look forward to getting down with more racing — it really is a blast.

As I said, I’ll likely have more thoughts on these games as I progress. At this point I would say they are all worth your time, even if you don’t get them for as cheap as I did. Each scratches a different itch, and I’m pleased with the expenditure.

Thoughts on Defiance 2050

I wrote about the original Defiance back in 2014, which was about a year after it released. A game put out both for PC and Consoles that ties into a TV series seemed weird at the time, and honestly the TV show was probably the better of the two. I enjoyed the first couple of seasons of the SyFy Original series, but then it started to get lame and was cancelled. So it goes. The game continued on however, despite the fact that I literally knew no one that was playing it. I got it on sale on my PS3 and played it for a few hours. I compared it to Borderlands, but only wrote a few paragraphs in some of my State of the Game posts and didn’t post a single screen shot, so my comparisons here are strictly from memory. Back in July, the new, revamped version of the game, Defiance 2050 was released by Trion. Why it was decided to essentially rename the original game I’m not sure, because this still feels like the same exact game. Changing some marketing materials around does not a new game make. I’m not sure exactly what was promised, but the game has been pretty universally panned as just a reskin of the original with nothing new to add. I wanted to see for myself, and this time around the game is free to play instead of buy to play, and I saw it pop up on the Playstation store a while back and downloaded it.

I fired it up the other day and finally got around to checking it out. Yeah, the story line starts off the same. You get a cameo from two of the main characters from the TV series. Nothing has changed. I guess you could say the graphics look a little sharper, as the PS4’s processing power is definitely better than the PS3’s, but I’m sure on PC it probably looks identical. It runs alright but there are quite a few buggy areas and hitching in the animations. Your character looks really wonky when running and I don’t know why that is. Overall it literally is a reskin of the same game. The map appears to be the same and doesn’t have new areas that I would have expected of a game that is this old. Remaster or not, this is the same damn game from 5 years ago and it doesn’t look like much in the way of new content was added. I’ve probably put in about the same amount of time into 2050 as I did the original, and I honestly don’t see anything different. I also don’t see anything here to hold my attention.

The real reason I decided to download it is because my old roommate and I used to co-op our way through the Borderlands games, and this being somewhat similar to that I thought this might be a game we could play together with no entry fee. I did want to test the waters myself first though, and having done so I’m not even going to suggest downloading it to him. What a waste of time that was!

Final verdict: Don’t bother.

The Order 1886: Complete

In a strange turn of events, I’ve managed to complete another game from the backlog in under two weeks. I’m not sure how it happened but my focus was on this title and it was short enough I suppose that I finished it in a reasonable amount of time. In only a few short play sessions I managed to knock this one off the list, culminating in the finish last night. The story line was managable but not necessarily the best thing I’ve ever experienced. The Steampunk alternate time-line London felt realistic enough despite the existence Lycans, mainly because of the inclusion of real world locations and people. Nikola Tesla made his appearance early on and continued to be a staple throughout the title. The game takes place in Whitechapel and that’s a real world location as well. It felt firmly planted in reality and the supernatural and technological details were original enough that they didn’t deter from the game as being something you’ve seen a thousand times before — nor were they so over the top as to harm your suspension of disbelief.

The culmination of the conspiracy plot ended in a way that there was clearly the intent to make a sequel, though looking around I can’t find whether or not this is in the works or will never come to fruition. Clearly the devs were interested in making sequels when interviewed, saying “The Order was never written as a one-off story,” however it doesn’t seem to be in development either. Cliffhanger endings like this suck when they happen in any medium (more common with TV shows I’d say), but it is part of the business.

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We may never get to see what’s in store for Galahad and the Knights of the Round, but it can be concluded that the Order isn’t going anywhere, and Galahad will likely be up to his own agenda working as a sort of vigilante. Perhaps one day we will see for certain, but for now I’ll just say that the game was fair. It looked nice, played well enough, and wasn’t too frustrating. I would be interested to play a sequel if it ever comes, but either way I’m glad to have completed another game from the backlog!