Absolver Impressions

What’s your take on Absolver? It’s an online brawler with big emphasis on customization, reminds me of God Hand:

It’s interesting, and manages to make single and multiplayer combat work fairly well in the same system by taking a lot of the lessons from dark souls and increasing the pace slightly. It’s just kinda simple because you don’t have access to that many attacks at any given time, and can’t switch stances very quickly. Continue reading

First Impressions on Icons: Combat Arena

What do you think of Icons: Combat Arena?

Literally everything about this game looks bad.

The name is bad, coming off as generic or misleading. The characters aren’t iconic, they’re unknown. The name doesn’t sell the unique premise of the game or stand out in any way.

The character designs are bad, looking like bargain bin MOBA characters. The only one that stands out as being distinctive or identifiable to me is The Kidd and I dislike the way he looks. They lack personality and a big part of making a fighting game appealing to people is giving the characters personality.

The sound effects are weak, sounding like someone punched a pillow while wearing mittens. The particle effects are lacking, using the same hitspark for practically everything. Attacks don’t seem to have any hitstop, especially not smash style hitstop where the character will vibrate for a bit before being sent outwards.

The animations are especially bad. They have extremely weak or non-existent anticipation phases, and almost no followthrough. The biggest problem is just that the posing is weak and not exaggerated nearly enough. The lack of hitstop doesn’t help. Most motions just go straight from A to B with no breakdown or anticipation, sort of just popping into place. People tend to underestimate the amount of exaggeration you actually need to make an animation look impactful.

As for the moveset design, I’m seeing Fox, Captain Falcon, Ganondorf, Marth, and an original character. If the game is just going to be practically a carbon copy of melee but worse, why the hell would anyone play it?

This is the problem with Smash Clones. Smash Bros is an extremely detailed game, in every facet of it. It has detailed models, animations, mechanics, sound effects, and more. Smash Clones don’t put in the work to recreate all of that. They don’t put in the work to develop new systems that have as much detail as smash’s systems. There’s a ton of traditional fighting games out there, and they all have very different plays on what you can do with that control scheme and game mode. We have a few smash clones, a few platform fighters, and they all have very samey plays on smash mechanics, with a little extra. Rivals is smash except without grabs, with parries, and no ledge, plus ridiculously broken recovery. Brawlout is smash with no blocking of any kind. PSASBR is smash except no DI, and only supers kill.

If Smash Bros is Street Fighter, then we’re not seeing KoF, we’re not seeing Guilty Gear, we’re not seeing Marvel 3, we’re not seeing Samurai Shodown. Smash Clones aren’t very good at copying smash and they aren’t very good at making their own appeal. Project M got all this stuff right, but it also inherited a lot of its backbone from Brawl.



Tekken 7 Overview

Have you played Tekken 7? If so, what do you think of it?

I’m playing it now, I’m still learning how Tekken works, not really having any 3d fighting game experience and I think I’m starting to get it after a lot of studying, guide reading, and a little play with friends and ranked netplay.

Like, the framedata is REALLY different from the fighting games I’m used to. Nothing faster than 10f startup? Different inputs? Everything except jabs is minus on block? -13 is mostly safe? Block in the standing position by default with lows and throws being the reaction tester guard break options? Pressure with jabs is real and loops into itself, but it can be ducked and whiff punished? Continue reading

Hollow Knight Review

I feel like Hollow Knight sits somewhere at the intersection of an older style of game and a newer style of game. Older in that many enemies have contact damage, and simple geometric movement patterns and newer in that the main character and enemies have a significant number of animations, which don’t necessarily have instantaneous startup, and have varied effects across their play time. It leans way more heavily towards the older style however.

The health system is interesting. You have a limited number of hits you can take, and attacking enemies lets you gain souls, used to heal, so only by attacking and killing enemies can you gain a source of healing, which is cool. Feels a bit like what Joseph Anderson suggested BloodBorne was trying to do, and a bit like Doom. The amount of enemies you need to kill to fill it up and the amount of health pips it will heal are not the same, you need to kill more enemies to fill it up than it will heal in pips. Killing enemies when it’s full is a waste, so if you’re down a pip, it’s more efficient to heal first, then kill them, but it take a while to heal, so there’s risk inherent in trying this. Versus stronger enemies you can have a loop of attacking them and pulling back to heal. In boss battles where they have a lot of health, you can go through loops of attacking them and healing when you find opportunities, or shooting them for extra damage. The heal animation is so long that few enemies give you opportunities to heal however.
Continue reading

Halo 2 Review

You can read my Halo: CE review here.

For this review I’m playing the Vista version of Halo 2 on PC. I heard that legendary was crazy bullshit in Halo 2 with one-shot kill jackal snipers, so again I decided to start on heroic first.┬áThe very first thing I noticed when I gained control was that Master Chief actually moved at a respectable movement speed. No more slow plodding (though it is still fairly slow in the scheme of things), and significantly less floaty jumps. You gain the same height, but much higher gravity and jump force. This made me initially hopeful, before I got railed into interactive cutscenes. Okay. Fine. At least they’re short (and never show up again).

Once getting into combat I initially had some confusion over the controls, and how dual wielding worked, and at first it felt pretty cool to have an SMG in one hand and a plasma pistol in the other, then I discovered that with two weapons at once, I couldn’t switch out to whatever my third backup weapon was, or melee enemies without dropping the offhand gun, or throw grenades at all (yet he can somehow magically reload both guns while holding them). So I very quickly went back to the regular 1 weapon at a time setup from Halo 1 before I had even been through 3 encounters. Continue reading

Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

I beat the game in 25 hours and 43 minutes, getting about 4-6 stamina upgrades and 1 extra heart container. I completed none of the great beast dungeons and went straight for Ganon’s castle once I felt my gear was good enough. Going into the game, I’d heard that it was basically a waste of time to pursue sidequests or try to get every shrine and korok seed on the map. I figured that maybe playing the completionist game wasn’t a good idea, and the combat wasn’t really amazing from all the footage I’d seen, plus I’d heard there weren’t that many enemy types beyond what we’d seen, so it wasn’t going to get better as I explored more, but perhaps there’s a good game in there somewhere. I had heard about the gear-based progression and I had two big questions, what’s preventing a player from using up all their gear and being forced to start from scratch, and what prevents a player from skipping ahead by entering areas with really strong enemies and finding a way to take their gear? So in playing the game, I made it my mission to try to get as powerful as possible as early as possible. I didn’t use guides to tell me what was available, and I ended up exploring a fair amount of the world, mostly the western half of it.

I played the Wii U version of the game. I did not have particularly optimistic expectations about the game (been burned too many times on 3d zelda games, beaten literally all of them except Majora’s mask, which I played a bit more than half of) but overall I came away with a generally positive experience. Perhaps unlike other reviewers, I am not judging this in the context of the other Zelda games. I tried to find the things this game in particular did right or wrong.

Binds

The binds are impossibly non-ergonomic. Why is weapon throw, a function you’ll rarely use, bound to R, and lock-on, a function you use CONSTANTLY, bound to LZ? I don’t know about anyone else, but using left shoulder buttons throws off my balance. Plus having your most common action, run, not be next to jump and attack, is not the best decision.

I think a more sane set of binds would be:
A = Jump/cancel (this moves jump next to run)
X = Run (having run on X sandwiches it between jump and slash, giving easy access to both functions, since it’s common that you’ll want to run and jump or slash)
Y = Slash
B = Confirm (confirm needs to be somewhere and it doesn’t make sense having it be on X, which is the other way I could have bound these buttons)

R = Lock-on (R, being a button is more reliable than a trigger, and I prefer commonly used functions on the right side rather than left)
RZ = Use Rune
L = throw weapon (you need to throw things a lot, so it makes sense being on a button instead of trigger, as well as being on the opposite side of the use rune button, so it’s easy to pull out a bomb and throw it, though having that mismatch between trigger and button can be confusing)
LZ = shoot arrow

Also it would have made sense to have a face button like X let you discard weapons and shields when you’re in the quick swap menus for those. Those menus are otherwise well implemented, just missing that fairly obvious feature.

botw controls.png

I played the game using a PS3 controller with the above binds by using a homebrew app called HID to VPAD, which supports a fair number of common HID controllers. I found this to be a lot more comfortable and hopefully it should not affect the objectivity of my review, since it did not improve the ease of any standard game function.

Lock on / Camera

Lock-on requires you to be facing the enemy with link, rather than locking onto what’s at the center of the camera, or what link is facing should there be nothing at the center of the camera. Meaning if you’re running away from an enemy with the camera looking behind you to track them and want to lock onto them, pressing LZ will suddenly make the camera turn around completely and face nothing. The proper way to lock on in this instance is to turn around and then press LZ, but because there’s a longer turnaround speed when you’re running, that’s frequently not really possible

Lock-on bizarrely lets you alter the camera mid-lock-on, and gets stuck in the camera position you set it to, so you can screw up your camera if you try to mess with it mid-lock-on. Basically, lock-on sets the camera’s rotational point as halfway between you and the enemy, and will zoom the camera to always keep both you and the enemy on-screen. If you don’t touch the stick, it has a default where it’s panned slightly off to the side, so you are framed diagonally and facing slightly downwards at the enemy,and it will keep this orientation as you rotate around them. If you touch the stick however, the camera gets stuck in exactly the position you leave it in, no rotation at all. So it’s very easy to get stuck in a weird position that doesn’t make sense as you walk around the enemy, like having link be on the far side the enemy, which makes it difficult to tell which way your inputs will go. Lock on also makes you walk slower, meaning it’s harder to run around enemies while locked on, so there’s reasons to lock on and off, but also it’s clear they did that to make it less easy to run away from enemies. They expect people to lock-on and are deliberately making it so they need to engage enemies the “correct” way while doing so, rather than running around them to gank them from the sides. If they had a bit more consideration for people not using lock-on, then enemies might be a bit more threatening.

Also the default camera angle while locked on can mess up attempts to sidehop towards the camera, which is irritating. Lock-on also does not switch enemies when one enemy dies or lock-on is otherwise broken, so you need to let go of the button and press it again to change targets when one enemy dies, and since it will follow link’s facing direction, if you back off and rapidly let go of the button and press it again, suddenly you’re facing a totally different direction. The camera is pretty awful at framing the action in general. It tends to stick to whatever angle you last set it to, but you need to move around a fair bit, so it gets lost, especially when there’s a ton of enemies and you run past them. Lock-on also automatically has you draw your shield in the direction of the enemy you’re locked on to, and it is a directional block, so other enemies can get around you. I’m just not a fan of having blocking be so automatic. Unlike comparable games, there’s no tactical investment in blocking in BOTW. Shields have a durability, so they’ll eventually break if they block too many attacks, but there’s no disadvantage to blocking, it’s just flat-out better to have a shield and be locked onto the enemy that’s attacking you.

The camera literally never auto-adjusts to follow link’s direction of movement, so you need to babysit it with the right stick all the time basically. It moves just barely too slow for me on the fastest camera movement setting. I wish they had a wider range of camera speeds.

Movement

I do not understand why running has a stamina meter or why it is expended so quickly. The stamina meter is connected between several different actions, but it doesn’t seem to have a logical connection between them the same way stamina is connected to your other actions in the souls games, especially running. Running expends stamina faster than any other form of movement, but is there really a good reason why you shouldn’t be able to run forever? I guess it’s to prevent you from running away from encounters easily, but most basic enemies can keep up pretty well, only bosses have trouble chasing you. And why does the limitation on how far you can run need to then extend over into your ability to climb or paraglide? Why does your ability to paraglide need to extend over into your ability to climb? It makes sense that there is a stamina meter, but not how it’s connected between all of these different actions, given that it’s used exclusively for movement and not for combat. I mean, I guess it’s a big more elegant than having separate stamina meters and makes more diegetic sense, it’s just really irritating to run so much and be out of stamina almost instantly. Would also be nice to not get slowed down and be unable to take certain actions when out of stamina.

I think running moves too slowly, I think climbing is too slow. There’s a tradeoff between jumping and climbing, stamina for speed, but the tradeoff is extremely severe and I don’t know why they didn’t just make base climbing faster and reworked the stamina to still consume the same amount.

The climbing system is robust as all hell. I’m legitimately impressed by this and how smoothly it works. Plus once you find out you can release climb on shallower slopes to gain back stamina briefly, climbing becomes a lot more strategic. It means you start looking at different parts of walls and trying to see places where you can afford to let go. It’s a fun routing traversal problem. The Akkala tower is a spectacular demonstration of this, with its use of goop that breaks up where you’re allowed to climb, and requiring you to climb up and around the wall of a crumbled castle.

Stamina elixirs make it so if there’s an extra long sequence where you want to glide, climb, or swim for a long time. you can do it that once, or it can save your ass in situations where running out of stamina means death. It’s an interesting strategic constraint to have them as a limited quantity.

You need to be moving in order to jump in a direction, and you have no air control. Kind of lame, not the worst thing in the world.

Many parts of the game use obstacles like brambles or goop or in one case flowers, and challenge you to get over them in order to get into a shrine, or they have you climb across multiple things. The world has its empty patches, but many parts of it have at least decent level design.

Setting up for a long paraglide is cool, as is the way you can transition from paragliding into shield surfing, which itself is constrained by the slope of the surface you’re surfing on. Shield surfing drains shield durability WAY too fast however, and it only drains durability in the contexts where it’s least useful. Why not just let people shield surf on grass but have it kinda suck and not drain their shield?

You can tame horses by sneaking up on them and getting on their backs. Interestingly, they will disobey your commands and you need to pet them to get them to stop disobeying. Doing this enough will eventually get them to stop disobeying. It’s unique, but not very dynamic. Horses move fast, horses can’t turn fast. You can jump really high off a horse. There isn’t actually a lot to say about horses. The whistle function is neat for drawing enemy attention. Horses can also be registered in stables and warped to any other stable, and stables always have warp points, so they’re a good destination for when you’re exploring a region.

Combat

I’m kind of meh about the combat. Enemies do a great job chasing after you, but their actual attacks are slow. You have a fair amount of recovery time on your attacks, and the enemies have poise, so you can’t really hit and run. It feels a bit like the game really wants to push you into either killing them instantly with an attack, or doing a perfect dodge into flurry attack to win, or of course using bombs or something. It’s really basic combat, it doesn’t really make use of spacing or timing in a dynamic multi-layered way (where small differences in positioning or timing can make a significant difference in outcomes). Though you can circle strafe the fuck out of individual enemies. It’s great how enemies will surround you and not attack one at a time, but all of their attack windups are really slow and the camera is not up to the task of framing multiple enemies at once.

The perfect dodge window is reasonable. You can basically press the button at any time their attack is active, which starts right when it begins to swing at you. Swings are generally fast, so you don’t get much time overall. It’s kind of nice how there’s two dodges though, and you need to dodge around the type of attack the enemy is using. What sucks is that you need to be locked onto an enemy to dodge, and your dodge only works on the specific enemy you’re locked onto. And I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to dodge with a bow and arrow out, which is dumb. Also, there’s a large area in front of the enemy where you need to be standing in order to activate perfect dodge. Basically, if you perform the right type of dodge while standing in this area before the attack hits you, you get the perfect dodge. A fairly large hiccup is these areas don’t match the space the attack covers very well frequently. Frequently they’re slightly bigger than the slice of space the attack will hit, meaning you can dodge in a space where the attack never would have hit, get the perfect dodge, and never be at risk of getting hurt. This is especially true with most vertically oriented attacks that need to be side dodged. Sometimes the perfect dodge area for horizontal slashes is a bit further out than the attack too, especially noticeable on guardian scouts using the axe attack. On some enemies it’s actually smaller than the area of the slash, so you can stand at the edge of their range, and get hit if you perfect dodge with the correct timing. Because lock-on is so goofy, you’ll frequently end up not locked on, or with the camera at the wrong orientation to do the type of dodge you want to. Or enemies will break your lock-on with certain types of movement, you won’t realize lock-on has been broken because the camera is in the same position, and you’ll try to dodge but not get anything. It can be pretty frustrating, especially against Thunderblight Ganon.

There’s barely any enemy types in the overworld, and they don’t have particularly interesting movesets. They have something resembling poise, but it doesn’t seem to be applied very consistently. Like, sometimes attacks will knock them out of poise, sometimes they won’t. Sometimes enemies have poise while attacking, sometimes they have it in a neutral stance. Sometimes you can hit an enemy in the air and it will knock them out of their attack, sometimes it won’t. It feels like there’s different percentage chances that each of these things will successfully put an enemy into hitstun, interrupting their current animation. I can’t tell if there’s an underlying pattern yet or if it’s really just random. It certainly seems like they’re more likely to enter hitstun during some animations rather than others. Enemies that are put into hitstun however stay in hitstun until the end of your current combo, which launches them.

You can jump cancel almost any grounded attack at any time, probably so you can dodge even while attacking, making the weird shit with poise on enemies a bit less unfair. You can cancel any air attack into paraglider at any time and vice versa.

You can heal in the pause menu from a practically unlimited number of meals you can prepare in advance. I think this is an incredibly poor move on the developer’s part, as it effectively extends your health bar almost infinitely. Your health is the sum of all your meals put together. In other games there’s frequently a real-time component to healing that makes it risky to attempt to heal, so in the short term you need to avoid getting hit too much to avoid dying. In games with menu healing, you don’t really need to care too much until you’re out of healing items. If you’re sent flying, you can pause while tumbling and heal, sometimes saving you from a true combo into death. It kind of sucks how you have absolutely no control in this state. It would be nice to have a ground tech or something on jump. Healing while ragdolled will pick you up quicker and prevent compounding damage, assuming you’re not still on a steep slope.

The two bombs have separate cooldowns, so you can switch back and forth between them for quick high-stun damage for free. Guardians and ganons ignore remote bomb damage, preventing you from cheesing these fights with inadequate resources. The bombs don’t deal as much damage however as your swords, so they fall off in usefulness as the game progresses.

There’s only 3 movesets for weapons, light sword, heavy, and spear. Light sword has a 4 hit combo, spear has 5, heavy weapon has 2. At the end of the combo, enemies are knocked down into a ragdoll state. Spear has significantly more range than the other weapons, but similarly leveled spears have much less damage, but they make up for it in DPS. Heavy swords get the most damage, but they do less DPS than other weapons with their standard combo, but much more on their charge attack and flurry rush. The charge attack on heavy weapons is also ridiculously powerful, on other weapons it’s not really worth using. They also have a slower startup, but this rarely matters because enemies have absurdly slow attack startups themselves. You can only use shields with light swords, so you want to switch to those any time a projectile needs to be reflected or blocking is important. This means the weapons are basic and fairly homogenous in function, but there’s some reasons to switch between the 3 types to match the situation, even if switching doesn’t significantly change the gameplay style the way switching a dark souls weapon for another does. Most of the switching is a numbers game, about picking which weapon’s durability you’ll use up versus their damage, or about accessing specific functionalities that only one weapon class has, rather than significantly changing the way you face combat encounters with each weapon type, but it’s better than nothing and still creates interesting decisions.

You can’t be oneshot at full health, which serves as an extra safeguard for low HP runs. (Except sometimes you can? Certain attacks sometimes bypass this, like multi-hits, it’s somewhat inconsistent.) I think the reason they never had an enemy deal more than 2 hearts in past zeldas was a form of accommodation for 3 heart runs, and this is a clever way of allowing enemies to deal more hearts in damage, but also allowing the player to play with low HP. Ironically, I became less durable when I upgraded to 4 hearts than I was before, because I needed more healing items to max out my life. Since they have this safeguard, I think it’s what enabled them to decently balance the amount of damage enemies do for a change. Enemies have a curve to how much damage they deal across the game, so they’re almost always dealing a reasonable percentage of your health in damage. weaker enemies may kill you in 5 hits, where stronger ones may kill you in 3, or even 1 hit if you’re “underleveled” (have less hearts than you’re supposed to have by the time you’re meant to reach that enemy).

Hitboxes on attacks are pretty accurate, You can duck under some attacks and being on the left or right side of an attack can let you go over or under it. Hitboxes for flurry rush dodges are not very accurate however. Link steps a bit forward during light sword attacks, helping the whole combo connect. He does not do this for spears, meaning the later hits can potentially push the enemy out of range before landing the final blow, which knocks enemies down or breaks their poise.

Enemy design overall is superior to past zelda games, but generally comes off as pretty amateurish. You can, at a normal jog, avoid most enemy attacks simply because they’re too slow to catch up with you. Enemies can chase you fine, but once they start attacking they’re rooted in place and can’t really fight.

Fighting guardians is entirely just standing still and perfect parrying them until they die. You actually have no way to defend yourself from them except perfect parrying or shooting them in the eye, which interrupts their charging animation. This is rather disappointing. It can be challenging to fight them, but it’s not deep at all.

Guardian scouts are more interesting than guardians, but still fairly boring. You can circle strafe them to avoid their attacks and punish, or perfect dodge for big damage, then they have 2-3 phases that only have one viable solution. One is them jumping back and you need to find a pillar to hide behind, one is them doing a rapidly rotating laser that makes an updraft you need to ride in order to get a jump attack on them, and one is them going into turret mode and blasting you with lasers.

Hinoxes are easily confused by you running circles around them. It has a ground pound attack that can hit you if you get behind it, but isn’t very dangerous, and it can step on you if you get too close to its feet. Your basic run speed is way faster than its rotational speed, so as long as you’re careful, you can just keep running to its side and slashing it. Plus, bombs will stun it and if you can get an object between you and it that the hinox can’t destroy and you can toss bombs over, then it’s a free win. Same deal for Moblins.

Lionels are fairly well designed. They have a few different up close attacks, they have two different rushing attacks, with different hit regions so they need to be dodged back or to the side, and they have a fireball attack. This means they have the bog-standard attacks every enemy has, and a couple unique ones thrown in for good measure. Their level of mobility makes it impossible to cheese them with bombs, so you actually need to fight them, so you actually need weapons that can deal damage.

Wizzrobes show up in some places and shoot easily avoided projectiles at you. When they move around they’re invincible, and they tend to appear a few feet up in the air, so they’re a total pain to fight. Since they’re so high up, you usually need to shoot them with arrows, which slows your movement, making it possible for them to hit you, so that makes a degree of sense, but becoming invincible every so often and only being attackable with one form of weaponry isn’t so great a design.

Something that could have been played with a lot more with enemies is different melee attacks that control different areas of space. Most melee attacks are pretty homogenous, being either a horizontal or vertical swipe, which can be perfect dodged for big damage. Enemies are vulnerable to circle strafing in specific circumstances, which adds a bit of variation to it, but perfect dodge is so rewarding that even if you die multiple times, you’ll save more time going for perfect dodges than trying to fight them without perfect dodges. It’s great how enemies will kick your bombs back at you, it’s a fairly basic counterplay that just works. If you’re careless you can blow yourself up. Moblins don’t have this animation however, so instead they just avoid the area that a bomb is laid in, which is pretty clever, but circumventable with a little effort.

I just don’t know what to make of the combat overall. It’s really optimal to run around enemies and strike at the right times, but then some enemies like guardians and lionels will basically always rotate to hit you on some attacks. Perfect dodging has a REALLY high reward, meaning if you can perfect dodge, then it’s basically always the best idea, and you might die getting it wrong, but you can reload from a recent save easy. Combat doesn’t have a great flow to it, it’s just barely workable. And all the issues with the lock-on, camera, and dodging only compound the issues with combat.

Boss Review

There’s 5 major bosses this time, and they’re remarkably solid on average. They’re not amazing, but each of them has a decent variety of attacks that can be dealt with in a few different ways, which totally meets the bar. Also all of them have a second phase where they start using a gimmick attack, and you need to use one of your runes to damage them, then they’ll knock it off and just fight like the first phase, but more powerful. Kind of a failure there but at least they didn’t insist on the puzzle boss thing for longer than a single cycle (except for waterblight ganon). Also each of them can be headshot, and 2-3 headshots in quick succession will usually stun them into a ragdoll animation, which is awesome, since it’s a fairly tricky shot to line up, they’re moving, and it can interrupt some attacks of theirs. Also each of them can be hit in both their hands and central body, making it so if you line up spin attacks correctly you can get double damage, which is cool.

Windblight Ganon

He has 1 basic attack, he’ll send out a tornado that tracks you erratically. He can also shoot you with his laser cannon but this almost never happens. The tornado has a cool movement pattern and it’s fun to mislead it. In Phase 2, he spawns a bunch of lasers that can shoot you, but if you avoid them or shoot him in the face then you can go back to just hitting him normally and he won’t even bother with the laser array again, but now he’ll spawn two tornados at once. After his tornado attack finishes, he teleports invincibly almost immediately, meaning you really need to stay on top of him and attack while the tornado is out to get any damage in, which is a great decision. It’s a little basic, but solid.

Waterblight Ganon

Phase 1 he has three notable attacks, a spear stab, a spear slash, and a stab downwards that makes a shockwave around him. He can also throw his spear at you, which he’ll do if you try to shoot him with arrows, so points for accounting for that and giving him a counterplay. The downwards stab basically means you don’t want to attack him up close, since it’s really hard to avoid and just wastes time. His forward stab has the typical issue of too large a perfect dodge area, so flurry attack is extremely effective on him for all of phase 1, especially because the forward stab is his most favored attack. The horizontal slash covers a massive area, and if you successfully perfect dodge it at the furthest range, you literally cannot flurry attack. It’s flat-out impossible. So most of phase 1 is just dodging and using flurry attack, kind of unfortunate.

Phase 2 he abandons all his prior attack patterns and starts summoning ice cubes that he sends at you. These move slowly, they home in a little, but are rather trivial to walk around. You’re supposed to use stasis to reflect the cubes at him to knock him down so you can wail on him, but it’s only really worth doing that with the first couple cubes. As he loses health he starts summoning way more, and by that point you should really shoot him with arrows to knock him down instead of relying on the cubes. If you shoot him then he starts doing a horizontal slash attack or a spear throw, but these are easily avoided. They do however make it harder to land a headshot, which is nice. Overall Waterblight’s phase 1 is like fighting a normal enemy and phase 2 has a mix of lame puzzle crap and pretty decent shooting.

Fireblight Ganon

Fireblight Ganon has 3 basic attacks, a slash from the left, 3 slashes from the right, and an overhead slash. The overhead slash suffers from the typical too large perfect dodge zone problem. The slash from the left and slashes from the right have a perfect dodge area that are slightly smaller than the area they actually hit, so you need to be close to perfect dodge them. After slashing he’ll sometimes fly off and throw a bunch of fire at you. I don’t really know how you’re supposed to dodge this consistently. Sometimes it happens, sometimes not. Fireblight is pretty interesting overall though, because he has some touches that are reminiscent of a dark souls enemy. He cannot pivot while attacking, and his 3 slashes from the right actually do not have hitboxes close to his torso, except on the last slash. So fighting him well is a matter of judging which attack he’ll do and either getting close to him, getting behind him, or backing up and dodging. If he does the slash from the left, you want to get behind him to attack during the active time and recovery. If he’s doing the 3 slashes from the right, you want to hug him and move behind him as you’re wailing on him during the attack. If he does the overhead slash, you want to back up, start moving to the right, but not too fast lest you walk outside the perfect dodge activation zone, and perfect dodge it. You can also shoot him with ice arrows to interrupt any of his attacks, and headshots will stun him, and put him in a pose where he leans backwards, making it harder, but still possible, to get another headshot, or you could use the time he’s stunned to get in a few attacks. So there’s a lot of different ways to approach this boss and he’s generally pretty solid.

In phase 2 he makes a shield that prevents any attack from getting through and charges up a fireball that will home in on you and explode in a gigantic explosion. He keeps doing this until you throw a bomb at him and remote detonate it, after which point he just does phase 1 stuff again. After breaking his shield, he’ll sometimes fly up and start the charge fireball again, but this is extremely rare, and you can interrupt it by shooting him with an arrow. I don’t know why they included this attack, it’s incredibly pointless. Seems like left over puzzle bullshit.

Thunderblight Ganon

Fuck this boss. This boss is a pile of janky horseshit. Basically he only has 2 attacks, throw a lightning ball at you, and teleport rush you. The lightning ball can be avoided by walking left or right, it won’t hit if you’re even close to standing under him, it’s just an awfully ineffective attack, I don’t know why they included it. The teleport rush is the real culprit here. It’s hugely telegraphed and easy enough to see coming, but it’s practically unavoidable by any means other than a dodge in the correct direction, which sucks because tons of the different things he can do, such as teleporting, getting knocked over, getting back up, they can all break lock-on, and re-establishing lock-on is a pile of dicks in this game. The actual attack itself has an extremely short perfect dodge window, so it’s almost always worth it to dodge early instead of late. Then you need to break his shield, and then you can finally wail on him, which puts him first in a special stun state, then a more general knockdown, so you can get 2 combos off on him. If by some miracle you perfect dodge, then you will actually not hit his shield, you’ll hit him directly, meaning that on the one hand, you don’t waste durability on the shield, but on the other, you get less damage overall than a shieldbreak.

Phase 2 starts with him dropping metal stakes in the ground that get zapped with lightning. you need to do a puzzle thing with them, pick one up with magnesis and move it close to him, I don’t know why they bothered. This attack is possibly even less effective than his thunderball. However after doing this once, he reverts back to a pattern like in phase 1, and this is where things start getting awful. Now his teleport rush has him attack rapidly many times, or teleport up, shield bash you and immediately hit you, or do a spinny attack with a vertical slice at the end. What’s really fun about these is, they tend to have more range than his attacks in phase 1, so you need to be extra careful about dodging at the right time, keeping lock-on, and backing up . You can try to run away from it, but this just wasn’t consistent in my experiments. What’s REALLY REALLY FUN about these attacks is they multi-hit you, so if you’re at 4 hearts like I am, they can one-shot you out-right. The recovery time after them is also shorter than in phase 1, and because you’re keeping your distance to avoid getting one-shot, not all of your combo on his shield might connect. I frequently would hit him with the spear, just for the extra range, and the last hit wouldn’t connect and the shield would regenerate. Plus, while he has the shield, he cannot be hit by arrows at all, and if you try to hit him during other animations than his attack recoveries, then he’s usually just invulnerable. One sure-fire tactic for breaking his shield though is sacrificing a weapon to throw at him, or using a boomerang. This instantly breaks his shield and puts him in a special stun state that lasts your entire combo. If you get him in the shieldbreak stun state, you can pull out a large weapon and use the charge attack to one-shot him. I did not have the luxury of having a weapon that I could sacrifice during this fight, so I suffered a lot. This boss is bad and whoever designed him should feel bad. OH, AND HE HAS A GUARDIAN LASER ATTACK WHERE HE HOLDS HIS SHIELD UP, SO YOU LITERALLY NEED TO REFLECT IT AND I HAD NO SHIELD FOR THIS WHOLE FIGHT, SO THERE’S LITERALLY NO OTHER OPTION HERE BUT RUN AWAY. GOOD DESIGN, NINTENDO!

Calamity Ganon

He has two large sword slashes, one horizontal, one vertical. These need to be dodged in the standard way. The vertical slash oddly, does not have the usual hit area problem. Both these slashes are really hard to avoid however, simply because they move really fast during the active frames. Cool that they ramped this up a bit for the final boss. Plus they make flames on the ground that you need to avoid, also cool. He can shoot guardian lasers, which can be reflected to stun him (There’s also a shield and some other supplies on the floor of this encounter if you pay attention.) He has 3 mechanical arms near his body that have horizontal and vertical slashes, and are all a bit easier to perfect dodge than the large sword, but these have a smaller range, you need to move in close to trigger them, and if you’re in that close, you can’t see what he’s doing with the large sword very well. Also the perfect dodge area on the vertical slashes is slightly misaligned over to the right, so you cannot get a perfect dodge on the left side of them. If you get too close to him, he can do a fast groundpound that knocks you away with a shockwave, so trying to get behind him isn’t viable. At regular intervals he’ll crawl up on the walls, and shoot various attacks at you, including guardian lasers, mini guardian blasts, giant tornados that home erratically, a charge fireball that follows you and has a large explosion, metal electrified stakes that follow you as you move, and jumping off the wall into a groundpound. If you get enough headshots on him in this phase (which is tough because he’s far away and moving along the wall), he can get knocked down so you can wail on him.

All the guardian lasers can be avoided just by circle strafing, but you have a decent reward for successfully reflecting them. Like the other ganons, if you do a charge attack near his limbs, it’s possible to double hit them and his central body for more damage. You’ll get the most damage in this fight however by either knocking him off the wall to wail on him, or doing a flurry rush off all of his flurry rush-able attacks.

Calamity Ganon’s pretty average as a boss design. You really just want to perfect dodge all his perfect dodgeable attacks for big damage, and wait around during the other attacks for him to do something you can dodge. There’s a fairly dynamic skill challenge in trying to shoot him off the wall, but it’s also kind of binary outcome-wise. Either you hit him for damage, or you headshot knocking him off the wall, or you miss and he doesn’t change behaviors much during this process or try to make it harder for you, so it’s just about hitting a moving target. Oh, and his flames can hit you during a flurry rush if you rush into them, which is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen and clearly shows you’re not invincible during a flurry rush, which is a terrible idea, given you aren’t allowed to do anything else during that time and can’t cancel it.

There’s a pig after this, but it’s just shooting targets on horseback, nothing notable, they might as well have rolled credits right there. This boss rush altogether was very challenging. I improved a lot across it, beating each boss in fewer cycles while wasting less resources, so it was a lot of fun overall except for thunderblight ganon being a pile of dicks and accounting for literally all my deaths except 3 that were to calamity ganon. Having you fight all 5 bosses in a row if you don’t face any of the dungeons is really damn cool.

Bootstrapping & General game flow

BOTW is kind of the bootstrap game, and eventide isle is a vertical slice of that. I faced it at 3 hearts and 2 stamina upgrades. You start with nothing but an oar and you need to scavenge the island for other weapons, so you can eventually beat the hinox and strong monster encampment at the top of the island. Eventide island also cleverly prevents you from saving, so you need to beat the whole thing in one go. They cleverly include a mix of strong and weak gear, much of the weak gear being brittle, so you will get more use out of it for smashing over enemy heads to steal their stronger gear. You have no arrows, but can harvest them by baiting arrow wielding enemies into shooting at you. The raw ingredients on the island heal a lot more than most raw ingredients elsewhere in the game, holding you over until you can access a cooking pan later on on the island. The enemy density is very high, and the weather and time of day is carefully controlled so you’re constantly under attack from all sides, by octoroks, skeletons, lightning, chu chus, and a blood moon will reset it all if you take too long.

The game is sort of about starting with nothing and building your way up to being more powerful, sort of similar to Minecraft. You’re given some basic utilities, like the paraglider and runes, these serving as a type of fall-back in case you run out of weapons. The durability on weapons makes them sort of like disposable guns. The durability is the “ammo” of a particular weapon. Once it runs out, you move onto the next one. Weapons are the most straight-forward way to kill an enemy, usually dealing the most damage fastest, short of heavy objects or explosive barrels, so you want to conserve their durability for when you really need it.

When you rush the game, when you don’t prepare properly. When you run up against a wall, and won’t take no for an answer, the game becomes a lot more fun as you start examining your environment and inventory for anything you can use to overcome what’s in front of you. You start scouting out metal objects that can be dropped from up high, considering using thunderstorms as a weapon, tossing key balls across gaps using stasis so you can guard yourself from lasers using magnesis on a metal chest. Creating updrafts using fire arrows on grass, bypassing your normal stamina limits with the last stamina potion in your inventory to just get over this cliffside, or glide just far enough across the ocean. Backtrack to where a giant metal object was to use it as a stepping stone or an impromptu bridge or ramp in another area. One time I found myself in front of a shrine on a raised hill in the middle of a stream, surrounded by briars on all sides. There was no hill nearby that was high enough for me to possibly glide in. The island had no grass and even if it did, I had no fire or bomb arrows with which to light it. So I pulled out some wood and flint I had, lit a fire using them, then dropped 5 chili peppers into the fire, creating an updraft from all the heat, and rode that into the shrine.

The game seems like it’s straight up about getting better gear as a form of progression, but it has a few subtle more permanent forms of progression. Hearts and stamina are the obvious ones, allowing you to take more hits and traverse further. Increasing Gear Slots is more subtle, since it affects your maximum possible damage output. However even more subtle is that the game scales everything over time. Enemies get stronger and drop better loot, and you can use scaled bomb damage, sneak attacks, or weapon breaks to kill or knock down enemies and steal their weapons. This means that effectively the stream of weapons coming in to you is leveling up as the game progresses, increasing your attack power as if your character were leveling up. It’s a bit unclear to me exactly what governs this scaling however, the rate at which it advances. Most moblin/bokoblin and skeleton encounters are scaled, but many enemies such as guardians, mini-bosses, and trials of strength are unscaled and will drop specific loot that might be below or above your level, however most of the rewards in chests in the various shrines are scaled. The unscaled encounters retain some type of balance by giving the mini-bosses more health than you can possibly deal with all your weapons combined, to prevent you from getting really powerful too soon. Bombs are ineffective in trials of strength and they’re also terrible weapons against lionels. Hinoxes tend to drop crappy weapons, so they’re not really an issue.

Weapons are your more simple and direct route to damaging enemies, but you have a limited quantity of them, and it’s not always enough to take down a given quantity of enemies, so you want to pick and choose when you use weapons of which strength to get the most use out of them against the right enemies. Many enemies die in one hit, and drop weapons, like skeletons, so you always have some source of weaponry, plus they appear near you at night and scale up into lizalfos skeletons as the world scales, which is clever. Various elemental keese also supply you with a steady stream of materials to make elixirs that provide immunity to various elements, which is necessary for exploring some of the more extreme regions, especially death mountain.

On the other hand, the game is kind of the normal open world scavenger hunt thing. There’s a ton of shrines, korok seeds, and towers dotted around the map. Shrines and korok seeds offer some of the best upgrades available, so you’ll probably be spending most of your time going after every shrine and korok seed you see, since these effectively upgrade your 3 biggest resources, HP, Stamina, and Damage Potential (more weapon slots means more combined damage output). A lot of the sidequests give so-so rewards and are generally about fetching certain materials. Shrines have an additional importance in that they add warp points to your map, so you really want to seek them out as a means of gaining control over the world. I find the open world scavenger style really addicting, which I wouldn’t mark as a point in favor or against a game. I got similarly addicted to Nier Automata’s side quests, but I really didn’t enjoy that so much in that game, because traversal is way less interesting. Here I think the skill and thought involved in traversal makes scavenging the map more fun.

They use shrines near villages, stables, and other important places to give you warp points to them, but oddly not most goddess statues, used for upgrades, though a goddess statue can be found in kakariko, making this a moot point. The color coding of shrines and towers as orange and blue is really clever actually. The glow makes them identifiable from far away, and you can see whether they’re completed or not. Considering they’re your primary world objectives, this touch is really helpful.

My advice is don’t play the game for completionism, especially not the korok seeds. Don’t bother with most sidequests. The best way to play is probably to take off in whatever direction you like, try to bootstrap yourself up as fast as possible. Go into things ill-prepared and try to find solutions based on what’s lying around combined with whatever’s in your inventory. The fun of the game is the mix of fighting and traversal that happens in the process of getting from place to place. It’s in the challenges of figuring out how to path through the terrain efficiently, both so you can get enough height to glide the maximum distance, and so you can hit the most points along the way while staying near high ground to glide to the next one. Then there’s the mix of boss fights and enemies that pop up inbetween, carrying helpful weaponry which you need to take down enemies, shrines, and bosses.

Miscellanea

The game auto-saves extremely regularly. I’ve gotten auto-saves before encounters almost every time. Unfortunately it only keeps like, the last 5-8 or so autosaves. You can generally expect the game to auto-save before any encounter, and avoid save scumming that way.

The game has a half-reasonable rupee economy this time around compared to other Zelda games. Rupees are fairly scarce, and items cost a lot of rupees. In my time playing, I was able to sometimes get a windfall of rupees from digging up and selling rare gems, but there was always something expensive and out of reach.

A TON of the previous annoyances of playing zelda games like unskippable cutscenes are very nearly gone. Almost all cutscenes are close to completely skippable. Almost nothing has set solutions and mini-cutscenes guiding you by the nose

Unlike in other Zelda games, Link will finally correct his weapon swings up and down according to lock-on, making it much easier to hit keese for example. I’ve never seen this in anything except the souls series, so good on them for picking up on that.

There’s a half-baked stealth system. Enemies have investigation and alert phases, and during the alert phase they cheat and can see you through walls, only forgetting about you when you de-aggro them. You can crouch to move silently and press jump to do a sort of swoopy thing and basically move faster while crouched. Enemies can detect you when you’re behind them unless you act fast to stealth strike them for massive damage. Enemies will investigate disturbances and partial sightings, so you can to a limited extent manipulate them. This isn’t MGSV is all I can say.

It’s neat how weapons breaking will send an enemy flying, which forces them to drop their weapon, so you lose a weapon, but gain one in the process, giving a unique utility to brittle weak weapons. (I’m told this stops working in the end-game though, I beat the game in the mid-game stage)

Equipment drops are scaled by the equipment you already have, seemingly the world scales at a fairly consistent rate as you progress. It’s hard to tell whether you can skip ahead in this scaling process or not. Some drops seem fixed, like lionels and guardian scouts in trials of strength.┬áChests in Shrines scale very noticeably as you progress from weak to strong drops. You can go back to early shrines to open the chests and get extremely powerful gear. I think damage from explosives like your remote bombs scales as well as enemies gain more health, so that it’s always relevant. The remote bombs are surprisingly weak, even against regular enemies, but they’re strong enough that they can kill a Hinox with persistence. I think I killed just about every Hinox by rotating between the two bombs and throwing them.

Temporary hearts and stamina are a bad design oversight, mostly because they always automatically refill your entire HP gauge, regardless of how big it is, before conferring temporary health. It would have been much smarter to allot a certain number of hearts as permanent and temporary, and having any temporary hearts heal your regular hearts if you’re not maxed out, with temporary hearts only conferred if you’re at maximum HP. So say a dish heals 1 heart and 5 temporary hearts. If you have 6 hearts total and you only have one heart, then the dish should heal 5 hearts, then add one temporary heart on top. If you’re at full 6 hearts, then you’d just gain 5 temporary hearts on top. Both temporary hearts and stamina are a good idea, because they add a variability to how much health you can have, especially when you don’t have many heart containers, just their implementation leaves things to be desired.

Overall

Breath of the Wild is a huge step up for the series. There’s a level of attention to detail in many places that the series simply lacked before now. More than that, many of the game’s abilities and levels represented a complete change in ethos for the development team from previous games. Many interactions between various abilities had differing effects based on positioning, timing, and the relative orientation of objects. Many different objects were capable of acting on other objects in compounding ways, making for a large number of possible situations that can come up based on what’s being combined. The team finally wasn’t scared of having a balanced economic system and enemies that could deal significant portions of your life bar in damage consistently across the game. Overall, I think I’d give the game a 7.5/10, for being significantly good, but not exceptional.

The trouble with the game is probably just that the combat isn’t amazing. It’s passable. The enemy types are fairly homogenous, with similar types of attacks to each other. The design of attacks doesn’t really take into consideration space very well, and since perfect dodge is the answer to everything and enemies have randomized super armor poise, you end up fighting a lot of enemies very similarly.

Beyond that, many of the shrines could have stood to have more multi-threaded level design. There’s cool skips possible in many of them, but most of them are designed to be very one-note puzzle > solution. Ideally they’d design these such that you have an option, like throwing a bomb to move a boulder for example, and depending on where that bomb explodes the boulder is moved differently, and then you need to adjust and react to how it moved and keep doing different things to keep control over it. For example, in one of the gyro puzzles, I found that if I tilted the ball maze the right way, I could get the ball to land on top of the walls of the maze, then guide it into the final path out, and skip most of the maze. This was difficult in its own way, and honestly the gyro controls are horrible, but hopefully it serves as an example of how you can design challenges that have this variable input and output, so there isn’t one static solution that you’re either in range of or not, but instead this complex evolving and mutating situation that you can manipulate in different ways to get different results, but all paths have difficulty to them.

This is kind of representative of the whole game, it has tinges of promise here and there, but does not do all the work necessary to leverage the hidden depths of its systems. They could have tried thinking a bit harder about taking these occasional spots of interesting, considered, multi-threaded level design, and sticking them next to each other, layering them on top of one another, and had a more consistent success overall. What’s there is promising, it’s inspirational, but there’s a lot of work left to be done before it lives up to its full potential. Enemy designs are par, would need to be redone from scratch to have a big improvement, but just reusing the elements as they are, there’s a lot more they could do. Maybe we’ll see that when the DLC hits. I’m hoping it’s another eventide isle and NOT a cave of ordeals. (In the process of editing, the DLC was announced. Seems like Cave of Ordeals + Eventide isle equipment stripping. Eh. Half-and-half.)

Dark Souls 3 DLC Review

How was Ashes of Ariandel?

Pretty good. Has a neat opening where you fight a bunch of spear chucking enemies and flame breathing enemies, then you can fall into a wide area where there’s a ton of wolves that track you for really long distances and aggro the pack. Plus there’s trees that can breath ice at you or send tons of little fire bullets at you and try to blend in with fake identical trees. There’s a gnarly tree section where you gotta go down tree branches like it’s the great hollow and fight giant ice crabs at the bottom. There’s another section off to the side where you fight larger humanoid enemies with some dogs and there’s an archer up on a tower that shoots down at you with dragonslayer arrows that embed in the ground and explode a short while afterwards.

They use multiple enemies very effectively across the whole DLC, usually giving one of them some type of unique ranged attack, like the swarm of fire bullets, or the enemy that could generate earthquakes at a long distance. Continue reading

Nier Automata Review

Most of my comments about the combat system are pretty similar to what I said in my demo review. It’s a good combat system with fun fights, but it doesn’t really invite technical play the way its contemporaries do. It mostly expects you to pay attention to all the enemies and projectiles around you, and dodge appropriately, makes decent use of space, but not down to the level of micropositioning, just positioning. You can maximize your effectiveness by grouping enemies or lining them up. It makes sense to prioritize some targets over others. Ranged enemies tend to have less health than melee enemies. Combat tends to work as you mashing attack while holding down the fire button and positioning the camera appropriately, then dodging when something threatens you, using one of the dodge followup attacks for bonus damage. Also the hitboxes on attacks, both for the player and enemies, feel slightly larger than what’s visually represented. It’s competently put together, there’s not a lot to say about it.

The weapon equip system and the different possible move configurations is fairly cool and interesting to figure out. Basically, you have a light and heavy attack slot, you can equip a weapon to either of these slots, and you have 2 loadouts you can swap at any time. So you can equip your short sword to both heavy and light, or you can equip a long sword on light and a short sword on heavy. Specific weapon combinations equipped to specific slots will let you do a combination attack when you press light attack then heavy attack, the most basic example being short sword on light and long sword on heavy.

So the move list looks something like:

Light attack
Heavy attack
air light attack
air heavy attack
light into heavy combination attack
hold light attack
hold heavy attack for charge attack
jump + fire for a homing airdash
jump + heavy attack for a rising launcher.
dodge + light/heavy/fire for a unique invincible move depending on the weapon equipped
dodge + heavy in the air for a diving attack

And all of these can be canceled at any time into jump/double jump or dodge/air dodge, except air heavy with a long sword, which will let you cancel it post hit, but you need good timing.

The launcher command on 2B and A2 is terrible. You need to press jump + heavy attack. By default these are bound on opposite sides of the face buttons. 9S has it bound to jump + light attack, which you can press easily with just your thumb. This does nothing on 2B and A2, so I don’t see why they didn’t just double bind the command instead of binding it in such an awkward way by default. One of the premade control configurations has heavy attack assigned to a shoulder button, and you can of course customize your personal control configuration to make this easier, but I’d expect better bindings for the default configuration.

I think a lot of the weapons are redundant, but it’s neat that you have their combo lengths displayed as a stat that can also be upgraded. There isn’t a significant reason to pick any one weapon over any others, apart from combo length and damage spread. There’s more weapon differentiation in Dark Souls, but not really a compelling reason to pick any particular weapon, either as a choice of personal style or for tactical advantage based on the situation. All of them perform the same function as the weapon class and usually there’s one weapon in the class that does better damage with less spread than the rest of the class. Each weapon can be upgraded 4 times, but upgrade materials are rather rare for most weapons, and there’s not really a need to upgrade more than 1 weapon. Most of them have similar damage spreads when upgraded to max level.

Everything cancels into jump and dodge at any time in the animation. Almost everything at least. Pod Programs are uncancellable until the IASA frames at the end. This is pretty neat for combos, though not the most fancy system in the world. Charge attacks deal most of their damage over time, so dodging out of them means forsaking a lot of potential damage. Personally I think the ability to cancel attacks into dodge or block is bad form, means you don’t need to commit to attacking and can defend whenever an enemy attacks, which reduces timing based play, where players need to evaluate when the right time to attack is that they won’t get punished. This can also increase the influence of positional play, because sometimes it’s about finding the right time and the right place. You’re safe to commit to an attack’s animation if you’re in the right position that the attacks will miss you. Fighting games have on-hit cancels for this purpose, so you can’t cheese the system and can only turn one commitment into another commitment without canceling into nothing, and also can’t cancel if you whiff your attack. It’s okay to allow defensive cancels mid-attack, I’m just not the most fond of it. Bayonetta notably also allows this, but not during wicked weaves. Damage also increases as combos continue, so it’s beneficial to keep the combo up rather than dodging, which creates more of a committal style of play. Dodge Offset is a plug-in chip in this game, but it adds a skill element that allows you to dodge and keep doing the same combo if you’re on point. Since combos are one button in this game, it’s sensible that it would be an upgrade competing for your attention rather than a built in feature like in other platinum games. And of course since you can cancel anything into jump or dodge, you can use this to juggle enemies past where you’d normally be forced to stop.

The difficulty modes in Nier appear kind of fucked at first. Normal is really well tuned, you take average amounts of damage, enemies have average amounts of life, etc. On Hard, every single enemy will either two-shot or one-shot you. On Very Hard, you will die in one hit. Thankfully, enemy health does not increase by much on higher difficulties. Hard mode appears to be poorly tuned due to the oneshot-twoshot thing, but once you realize that every time you take a near death blow, time slows and you can pop a heal, hard becomes infinitely more manageable. The healing system is kind of broken. You can heal realtime or from a menu if you choose. Heals are extremely cheap, so you can stock up tens of them at a time, and unless you’re negligent in healing, or get one-shot, you basically can’t die. You can think of your health bar as not just what’s on the screen, but the sum total of all your health items added together as well. The trouble with this healing system is that it kind of teeters between it being literally impossible to die, and instant death. Having more limited healing supplies or real-time heal animations would have allowed them to tune the enemy damage more reasonably. Mostly the health system has the fault of being kind of counter-intuitive to the way you’d expect health and refills to work.

There’s a reasonable amount of willingness to mess with the open world. After 2 dungeon type areas, you have a massive boss battle with goliaths in the middle of the central hub area you normally run around, and at the conclusion of that battle, there’s a huge cave-in that totally reshapes the center of the map. In the 3rd arc, there’s a giant tower placed there. At the end of the first loop they fill the area with a ton of enemies spawning from all directions, arc 3 has the world filled with rogue yorha units. There’s a couple boss battles and quests that make use of the terrain across the world. It’s pretty neat. The world overall isn’t that big, it’s divided into larger areas that have a lot of interconnection within them, but not very strong connection to the other areas, usually just one path.

There are 3 overall arcs to the game, the first two arcs are loops. Each arc has you play as a different character, with slightly different abilities. The first loop, up to ending A, has you play as 2B. The second loop has you play as 9S, who lacks heavy attacks and has a hack attack bound to heavy attack instead. After the second loop, the third arc has all original content and wraps up the story. Most other Drakengard games have like 4-5 endings that you need to replay the game to unlock. Here you only need to replay the game once, and it’s as a different character, with new enemies, and new side-quests as well. I think this is a very strategic re-use of content. It’s kind of lame that a boss fight gets recycled for Emil’s fight, instead of him being an original boss though.

Enemy variety progressively improves as the game progresses, even long past the point you’d expect them to stop. Check the list of all the enemy types on the Nier Automata Wiki. They keep introducing new enemy types in the second loop, and all the way up to the finale. There’s a fair amount of variety among them. Enemies shoot a ton of bullets this time around, especially bosses. The bullet patterns have mixed projectile types, with many being capable of being shot down at a range. Some use waves, some use lasers. Many common enemies will charge at you. Another common feature is bulletproof and electrical shields. Bulletproof shields require you to hit the enemy a few times to get them off, electrical shields need to be shot to be removed. These can even be stacked on top of each other, so you need to shoot them, then hit them to get all their shielding off. Each area has enemies specific to it and most of the more interesting enemies are area specific. Bosses in the previous Nier had phases where they’d have specific weak points that needed to have their health depleted in a certain amount of time or they would undo the damage you did, requiring you to try again, essentially a DPS check for that segment of the fight. I thought this was clever, and I’m kind of sad it didn’t make a return. Unfortunately, enemy variety still isn’t amazing. It has a few stand-out units, like the flying drill worm things, the serious sam suicide screamers, the goliaths, and the quadrupeds, but most enemies just run up to you and do a melee attack, or shoot a steady stream of bullets from afar. It would be nice to have seen more attack variety that attempted to threaten different areas on the battle field, and more variety in movement, as well as vulnerable areas. It would be nice to have more enemies oriented around assisting their allies, either literally, or through attack patterns that increase the effectiveness of the units around them.

The bosses are similarly uninteresting unfortunately. The Adam fights mostly don’t really give you any reason to not just mash attack the whole time. Even his counterattack stance just leads to an attack that can be dodged for a powerful followup. Beauvoir is rather cool, shooting interesting projectile patterns to dodge, having assists from crucified androids that themselves can emanate hacking waves, deploying waves that cut through vertical slices of the air. Eve is kind of boring, just doing massive area attacks that are to be dodged, then some more interesting projectile attacks at a distance. Engels is primarily about shooting its face and walking out of the way of bullets until it does a melee attack, then you dodge that and hit his hands. Grun is a freebie shoot em up stage. A2 is kind of a repeat of the adam fight, except with a rushing attack across the stage and no counter attack. Hegel is kind of cool, but also a clusterfuck as all the orbs sit so close together and are all shooting at the same time, so you can’t really tell when attacks are coming. So-Shi only really attacks in front of itself and is so easy it can be beaten in the dark. Boku-Shi is really cool when combined with eve, shooting lasers and projectiles all over the place. Honestly for most of these bosses I just got into their faces and attacked, dodging as necessary. I think the original Nier had slightly more interesting boss designs frankly.

The first loop’s story is a bit underwhelming. The primary villains, Adam and Eve, didn’t get enough character development to really sell their motivations. Once the twist is revealed at the end of the second loop it starts to get a little more interesting, and even more so as there are more developments into the third arc, but it kind of falls apart at the end. It’s left unclear who the major players are or why a lot of plans were constructed the way they were.

Spoilers across this paragraph.
Like in particular it’s unclear who the aliens were and why they made machine life forms. Beyond that, it’s really unclear who initiated Project Yorha, or why there was a back door implemented to sabotage it. It’s a great twist that Humans are extinct and the whole project is just a way for androids to fulfill their need to protect humanity, however there’s no reason given for why it would sabotage itself. It makes it seem as though the alien attack was faked, but Emil’s storyline seemingly makes it clear that the aliens were real. If the aliens were real then it doesn’t explain why they made machine life forms that were so interested in imitating humanity, and were seemingly pre-conditioned to do so and always predictably make the same decisions time and again. It doesn’t really make sense that the machine’s connected consciousness would want to send an ark of machine lifeform data into the stars. I’m just kinda lost and disappointed there, because there was a huge setup from the premise that we’d get answers and we got some, but not enough for the plot to really make sense, and overall it’s a plot that is dependent on seeking answers. The route A plot could have gotten by as its own thing without being so answer driven if it had better character development for Adam and Eve, instead of kind of incidentally running into them occasionally and killing them as the need arises, but it didn’t really do that either. So the story overall lacks a satisfying catharsis, especially in ending E where the cycle is supposed to restart, but it’s unclear what that even means, or why it’s being restarted, or in accordance with whose plan, or what it’s supposed to accomplish.

That said, I’m glad there was so much content. Just route A alone felt a bit short.

The equipment system of Plug-in chips is fairly cool. The chips themselves have a fairly diverse array of functions, and the bonuses they confer are big enough to have a significant impact on encounters and your play-style. You basically have a certain amount of equip space for chips, each chip takes up a certain amount of space, and you get random chip drops from enemies, which can be of different power levels, or more importantly, take up different amounts of storage space. Then you can fuse these together to get more powerful chip levels, with a max of +6. You can also buy chips from vendors, but these always have the maximum equip size, so it’s in your best interest to fuse in order to get powerful chips with a small equip size.

Pod Programs are kind of disappointing in comparison to the Sealed Verses from the original Nier. Pod programs are balanced better, so there’s reasons to use all of them and they’re equally viable, while still having individual niches, but I think the magic meter was a better resource than the pod program’s cooldown time. The second and third pods are hidden reasonably well, though you’re given two rather clear clues as to where they are very early in the game. I didn’t find the second pod until late in the first loop, which helpfully had a sidequest associated with it. Finding the 3rd pod took me until the second loop, and looking it up online, since you need to go fishing and there’s not really any reason to go fishing normally. You need extra pods to charge the pod programs beyond a single attack, so it’s kind of lame that it takes so long to unlock them. Basically, with sealed verses, you had a magic meter that slowly refilled over time. When charging your sealed verses, you’d consume a certain portion of the meter per-cast. Meter could then be refilled by killing enemies, which were usually provided as extras in boss fights. If you were clever, you could kill an enemy before casting, then start charging the sealed verse such that you’ll absorb the magic from the enemy after you’ve already used up your magic, letting you charge even more. Pod Programs just use a straight-up cooldown timer, which scales to be longer based on the number of pods you use. This is workable, just not quite as interesting or flexible. It’s kind of understandable that they went this route because overcharging would be broken in automata with the old system, because you’re now able to move around and attack while charging the pod programs. Pod programs are one of the few animations you cannot cancel with dodge or jump, so you have a lot of extra commitment to them, which is sensible given how powerful they are. The upgrades for pods require really rare materials, so you’re unlikely to upgrade any of the pods until the second loop. The powerup parts act as a gating mechanism for upgrading the pods, so it’s kind of weird that additional rare materials are also required to upgrade them, most of which you won’t see until the second loop. I ended the game with only one of my pods upgraded to level 2 of 3 upgrade levels.

The hacking minigame is really neat. You have tiny enemies that you need to defeat in order to expose the core, which must be destroyed. There’s a number of subtle touches that make each of these really well considered, from the motion of the core, to the positioning of the enemies, to what types of projectiles they shoot in which patterns. You need to defend yourself by shooting projectiles to counter theirs. Some patterns give you holes through their projectiles that need to be shot out to get through. In some minigames, the core has phases where it will briefly stop firing, or steadily picks up the rate of fire as you destroy more enemies. Some of the enemies and towers have directional shields on them, so you need to get behind them, or move around them. In some later sections there’s longer minigames that have you move into arenas areas to fight enemies, but the way out of the arena is just a wall that you can shoot through, so you can either fight or risk breaking through, leaving the enemies behind, and both options are equally risky. This is a clever solution to this common dilemma of fast player, slow enemies, in 2d topdown or 3d space. It allows you to both run from enemies, and stay and fight them, but makes both options require you to engage at least somewhat with the enemies. There’s an arcade mode at the terminals that lets you replay every hacking minigame you’ve ever encountered.

All the hacking minigames take place in 20 seconds or less, except the story oriented ones. You only have 3 units of health, losing one each time you’re hit, destroying all bullets near you as you do. Actually hacking an enemy requires you to use a ranged attack on them, which depending on the enemy class, they may need to be hit by this ranged attack multiple times for the minigame to start. When you complete it, the enemy will blow up, dealing a large amount of damage to itself and enemies around it, adding a spatial component to choosing the right enemy to hack. This explosion is very large, so you don’t need to worry too much about grouping enemies up before you hack them. If the enemy didn’t detect you, or it’s a special enemy, then you get the option at the end of the hacking minigame to subjugate or remote control them. Subjugate makes them fight with you as an ally, remote control lets you control them directly, 9S disappears, and reappears when the enemy is destroyed or you self destruct. The hacking minigames in of themselves are beautifully designed, and their implementation into the main game is extremely smooth, letting you drop in and drop out of them very quickly, however since it doesn’t really manipulate enemies in the same space as regular combat, it doesn’t really add to the standard gameplay the way heavy weapon attacks do for 2B and A2. Also, you repeat many of the same hacking minigames across the game. The good design of these minigames means they have a fair amount of depth unto themselves, so even replaying the same one can have some variability, but after replaying the same one 10-20 times, it gets old.

Mech form in flight battles can mash and never get hit. Plane form has just barely enough recovery for bullets to get through. It would be cool if there were more free control flight sections like at the start of route B. The air battles are kind of simple. The hacking battles have better shmup gameplay thanks to better enemy design and lacking the broken melee attacks.

I wish some of the checkpoints were slightly more conveniently placed given how much backtracking there is, for sidequests or otherwise. Especially the amusement park checkpoint, which is particularly out of the way of sidequest and main quest objectives. I would also be happy with a faster run speed. It’s damn slow most of the time. There’s chips to upgrade it, and even an item that buffs it, but you max out at a 20% increase when you need like a 200% increase if you ask me. They ask you to run all over the place, and I can see some of it being a good idea, because you get naturally routed through enemy encounters by needing to run across the world, but tons of the quests have you running back and forth all over the place and sitting through long loading animations of the fast travel points. So you need to fast travel, run to a place, do the thing, then run back to the fast travel point, wait through a loading screen, and so on. It becomes really time consuming.

Level Scaling handled tastefully with many scaled and unscaled events. Most enemies in the overworld scale with your level, progressively getting slightly more difficult over time. Enemies for side-quests are always a certain level though, and you can be underleveled or overleveled for them. I’m not sure whether enemies for main story missions are scaled or not. The purpose of levels is to simulate improvement over time, however games also need to have a difficulty curve. Since in an open world you can go anywhere, the enemies placed there might not match your level, being too weak or two powerful. Level scaling is used to remedy this, but if enemies strictly scale upwards relative to you, then you’re not actually gaining any power, you’re steadily losing it over time effectively, so leveling up is actually detrimental. By having enemies that are higher and lower than you in level at certain key points it can help sell the illusion that you’re growing stronger by being more powerful than weak things, and weaker than more powerful things. You can come back to places where you previously got wrecked and wreck them in response. So generally good tuning there. I fought a level 60 enemy at level 40 though and all my attacks were doing like 10 damage to it, and it had maybe a few thousand HP. Plus it could one-shot me. So clearly level disparities can have rather extreme effects. This works to your favor in route B, where you’re overleveled compared to many enemies.

The game has a death system that’s actually rather similar to Dark Souls. It warns you as the game starts that there’s no auto-save, which I think is a poor decision personally, since autosave could have been implemented on top of their checkpointing system rather easily, in much the same way as dark souls. The game sort of half-lies to you about auto-save. On the one hand, it legitimately does not alter your save data unless you save at a terminal, on the other, when you die, your save is not reloaded, instead you are essentially teleported back to the terminal, leaving behind a corpse with all the exp you accumulated since the last save and plug-in chips you had equipped. Dying again will delete your old corpse. Losing experience points isn’t so bad, but losing your plug-in chips can be really brutal, since they drop like MMO drops and getting good ones can be tough, and you gotta fuse them, consolidating your supply into only a few chips, then they can just get up and deleted if you’re careless on a corpse run. Plus, they insist on having a long uncancellable animation for picking up your corpse, which you can get killed during. A general auto-save system could have been implemented as a quality of life backup for the existing checkpoint system without changing anything about how the game plays, and making it much easier to quit out.

Ending E is funny. It takes the “delete all your save data” thing from the original Nier and puts a twist on it that makes it way more effective as a tool. I haven’t seen anyone on youtube yet who has beaten ending E without accepting help. To spoil it, basically, Ending E is an extremely hard shmup battle in the same format as the hacking minigames. Occasionally throughout it, there are invisible checkpoints. When you lose, you’re asked if you want to give up or not, and eventually you’ll be told that another player is offering you help. Also you can see messages left behind from all the players who have beaten it before, cheering you on. If you accept their help, 6 more ships will surround your ship, and all shoot with your ship. If you are hit, then the player who offered you help has their encouraging message deleted, and they will no longer offer anyone else help. As you’re hit more, more and more player’s data is deleted. When you beat the credits, you’re asked if you want to leave behind a message of encouragement, same as those who offered you help, but this comes at the cost of DELETING ALL YOUR DATA. So the people you got help from to beat the ending had to delete their data to offer you help, and by taking damage, you erased the last bit of their sacrifice from the server holding all these messages. And you too can sacrifice to potentially help someone else who is struggling through the credits. If you choose to do this, you’ll see every single entry in every single menu disappear, one by one. I think this is a much more clever twist on the original idea. The actual credits have fairly interesting bullet patterns, with the department name functioning like a boss with more health and emanating more bullets, then individual people’s credits as small enemies. Beating a department name will cause another one to spawn, which also spawns more people’s names, but focusing on the department first is a good strategy earlier on, where focusing on people’s names first is a better strategy at the end. You gotta be on point to beat the whole thing, it turns into something out of a danmaku at the end, more than anything else in the game.

A2’s taunt meanwhile has IASA frames long before it ends and long before it even becomes active. IASA frames that cancel into normal movement, so you need to deliberately not press any directions while using it. Seems like clumsy implementation, doesn’t seem to serve a functional purpose.

The powerup items are really fucking powerful, like holy shit. Double damage. Double Defense. Much better than typical RPG powerup items. The economy for everything except upgrades is kind of broken though, so you can load up on tons of these and never run out. The economy is a bit better on the first game loop up to Ending A, but all buff and healing items are still extremely cheap relative to other items. It’s nice to have buff items that are really effective, however having them in unlimited supply isn’t the best.

So overall, I think it’s a good game, a bit better than the original, but the combat lacks options and doesn’t emphasize positional play quite as much as its contemporaries. It’s competent, but not exceptional in any regards. If I gave the original a 7/10, I’d say this deserves an 8/10.

Nioh Post-Release Thoughts & Review

So how’s Nioh treatin’ you my boy. Is it everything you’ve ever wanted or not? Are there any problems with it?

No issue. I thought it was getting a bit too easy, or maybe I was getting too good, or overleveled, so I decided to skip all the sub-missions for an area and only do the main missions, and that made it a lot harder.

Many of the early game areas had enemies removed to make them more easy, which is disappointing, but the difficulty is curving back up in the later game, we’ll see if it gets back to the demo levels. Continue reading