Overwatch – First Impressions

Overwatch (Closed Beta)

These are interesting times we live in.

For nearly the last 20 years, Blizzard Entertainment has relied on the Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo trinity to entertain fans and generate revenueand who could blame them? From Warcraft spawned the perennial best seller World of Warcraft, and lore infused Warcraft trading card game Hearthstone. Their latest fully released game Heroes of the Storm also draws from that trinity, clashing heroes from all three game worlds against each other in a multiplayer online battle arena.

While Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm branched out from their core list of games genre-wise, their legitimacy was safely backed with successful content from Blizzard’s big three titles. Now that Blizzard is breaking away from the holy grail and developing an entirely new game world in an entirely new genre (First Person Shooter), it wouldn’t be an understatement to say that everyone is watching.

First Impressions: Feels good, man.

ScreenShot_15-11-06_11-09-12-000For a company who is new to the genre, Overwatch feels like the efforts of an experienced FPS team who know exactly what they are doing. The aiming and shooting are both tight and responsive, and the game just feels solid. If you’re wondering what engine Overwatch runs on, it is actually powered by Blizzard’s own proprietary engine, and it feels fantastic.

zenyatta-screenshot-001.3n2TNIt’s in this “feeling” that Overwatch begins to come into its own. Each character feels dynamically different, not only with their individualized skill sets and weapons, but most particularly in the way they move about the map. Reinhardt the tank plods along with big heavy footsteps, while Zenyatta, well, he doesn’t even touch the ground at all and silently floats around in his zen-like trance.

ScreenShot_15-11-06_11-55-28-000Most characters also have some sort of secondary movement mechanic that allow them to quickly traverse obstacles around the map. From grappling hooks and wall running, to flying in the air with jet packs and short distance time traveling, characters can appear from just about anywhere if you aren’t vigilant enough.

The action is always moving at a frenetic pace, but it is a beautifully controlled chaos.

Who put the MOBA in my FPS?

ScreenShot_15-11-06_11-10-41-000As far as comparisons go, the general consensus is that the game is similar to Team Fortress 2 because of the ability to choose from different classes, but that comparison is superficial at best. A more telling description of Overwatch would be that it feels like a FPS injected with every fun element from a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game.

Each character has a signature weapon, as well as additional battle abilities that have their own separate cool-downs, and an ultimate ability. Like MOBA games, team compositions and hero synergies are definitely a thing, and using your ultimate at a timely juncture in a team-fight can be the difference between winning and losing a match.

Overwatch 1Another MOBA-esque feature of Overwatch is the inclusion of “tank” type characters in the game. These are characters that have big health pools and low damage output, but can protect other allies and draw enemy attention disrupting their formations. While they aren’t traditionally seen in FPS games, this type of character thrives in Overwatch and adds an extra layer of complexity in a straight shootout.

Unlike MOBAs however, is the fact that Overwatch does not require the same type of time investment per game, though it’s not to say you’ll spend any less time playing. The 10 minute match time is just the right bite sized treat to keep players coming back for more, making “This is my last game” a phrase that will lose all meaning after saying it for the umpteenth time.

A quality challenge

ScreenShot_15-11-08_14-34-41-000It may take new players some time to feel comfortable and confident in Overwatch, especially if they are new to the FPS genre.

Each character moves differently, shoots differently, and may have up to three different abilities not counting their ultimate. This depth makes learning any character a very rewarding experience, but learning only one character is not the meta of this game.

Instead, this a game where team compositions matter and character fluidity is a necessary skill to win matches. Attacking and defending as a team are completely different scenarios, and require different tools to get the job done. There is no one character that can do it all, so players must be able to play at least a few characters per class to have the right answer for any given situation.

Closing Comments

dva-screenshot-001.4TARvIn a relatively short time, Overwatch has made a big splash.

Blizzard has combined the genres of FPS and MOBA in a seamless way, with characters that are both diverse and memorable. I am personally not a heavy FPS player, but even I was drawn in to this incredibly unique experience. With each character playstyle being so different from the standard FPS archetype, I guarantee there is something in Overwatch for everyone.

As of December 10th, the closed beta will be on a break until mid-late January. If you aren’t in the Beta already, make sure to sign up and give yourself a chance to get in once the action resumes! Overwatch is a must play for fans of Blizzard, FPS, and gaming enthusiasts period.

– Brian F
Contributing Editor

Game Playing Review: Animal Gods

Animal Gods (Steam version)

Synopsis:

Animal Gods

The Animal Gods have fallen. Once sacred, they are now husks—haunted beasts lost to toxic fumes from a great bronze industry. Play as Thistle, a small & agile warrior hellbent on destroying the curse that plagues these creatures. Wield a 17th century BC Bronze Sword… and set the Gods free..

Personal Recommendation:
(Based on Steam Version on Windows. 2.8 unfortunate hours of gameplay via Steam review code)

Animal Gods 2

This was the most agonizing three hours of gameplay in recent memory.

Not every game is born equal, and as such my expectations of any one game are generally quite open and reasonable. But when your opening line and description on Kickstarter is that:

“Animal Gods is a stylized top-down action / adventure game set in Bronze Age Europe, 15th century BC. The game pairs the tight and polished action of The Legend of Zelda: A Link between Worlds  with a cast of characters and touching story moments that might remind you of classic 90’s JRPGS

I am almost offended! This game is neither action/adventure or RPG in the slightest, and those are some pretty big shoes to fill.

A more accurate description of Animal Gods is that it is a Little Red Riding Hood simulator where you wander through a ghost town, using your incredibly underwhelming (and situational) powers for the sole purpose of reading a teenage girl’s diary entries. As ridiculous as this sounds, I hope you never actually play to find out that I am 100% right.

In quantifiable gaming terms, Animal Gods is more like a platformer/puzzle type game than anything else. As the main character Thistle, you must navigate three different dungeons using the themed power of that dungeon to liberate the trapped god inside, conveniently finding bits of scattered lore throughout the in-game world.

While the game does have its moments of fun, one of the main flaws of Animal Gods is that it doesn’t give its audience any reason to feel emotionally attached.

Give me a reason to feel!

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The cast of memorable characters and touching moments talked about in the Kickstarter description are rather curious, because they don’t exist. It is a stretch to claim that there is a cast of characters when the three other characters are only mentioned in the diary entries, never once appearing in the game (save one dead one if you want to get technical). Interacting with the gods is also a shallow experience, lasting at the most 30 seconds with no real questions answered.

I would imagine that the main purpose of Animal Gods is for Thistle to restore the gods and find out the tragic backstory of this civilization–but who exactly are we doing this for? There is not a single living person in the game aside from Thistle, and we know nothing about her. Where is she from, and why does she care about any of this? There are no answers to any of these questions.

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Also, there is no conflict. Whoever caused this abomination to happen is nowhere to be found. Restoring these ‘haunted beasts’ to their former god status is as easy as completing a few puzzles (the boss fights literally ARE puzzles instead of fights), and nobody is trying to stop you. An argument can be made for the one solitary cube enemy type that serve to provide some sort of resistance as they MUST be killed to progress, but they have such little personality that they may as well not be there. Instead of tension which is good in an action game, there is only annoyance.

In short, someone flipped on all the lights in an abandoned house, and it is your job to simply flip them off.

Not very compelling, is it.

An exploration in frustrating game mechanics

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Although connecting emotionally with this game was impossible, I was at least hoping it would be fun to play.

Unfortunately, I knew right away once I had control of my character that this was going to be a bad experience. Due to Thistle’s crippling walking speed, the ‘over the top’ camera view and size of my character in comparison to the relative environment was a curious choice that quickly wore out its welcome. If you think her ‘agile’ movement is laughable now, wait until you see the leg cramps she gets when stairs are present.

In the above picture, it took my character nearly 15 seconds to walk from one end of that gigantic uninspired stage backdrop to the other. There are multiple instances of this happening, with the most frustrating walk lasting 30 mind-numbing seconds until I reached my deserved reward, which was, you guessed it, reading yet another poorly written diary entry–which brings me to my next point.

Animal Gods 23The second clue I had that this game would be substandard was when I didn’t have control over the text speed within the dialogue box. It was far too slow. If you pair that with the slow walking speed, and the fact that most of the exploration in Animal Gods leads the player to find more of these diary entries…it truly feels like the game is holding you hostage.

These seem like nitpicky details to judge a game from right off the bat, but these simple quality of life considerations should be absolute no-brainers when putting a game together. If these pedestrian details were overlooked, you can only imagine the lack of polish on some of the more important mechanics.

Animal Gods 22One such mechanic was adequately defining map boundaries. As pictured above, the left side of the picture gives an example of an edge your character would die upon crossing, but the right side of the picture shows a similar edge you had to cross to continue progress of that map.

If you’re going to introduce a game mechanic, it has to remain consistent through the entire game (unless directly addressed with a logical reason as to why it changed). Otherwise it looks like a sloppy oversight, and can be especially frustrating for a puzzle type game.

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However, the most frustrating mechanic of all, by far, is the fact that your character is ability gated throughout the game for no reason at all. Thistle has the ability to dash, use a sword, and shoot an arrow, but she is only able to do so in specified areas of the game. This only serves to cripple an already limiting game even further. If the dash ability was unlocked for the entire game, I am sure I could have finished the game in under 2 hours instead of the 3 that it took.

To be completely fair, some of the puzzle sections in Animal Gods were enjoyable. Thistle’s movement is much more fluid during the puzzle sequences, and the dashing mechanic was fun to some extent even if it was at times a bit unwieldy. Despite these positives, there are simply too many things holding this game back for them to make a difference.

Kickstarter curiosities

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The information on Kickstarter regarding Animal Gods is a little misleading.

Currently, the Steam client says that Animal Gods was released October 12, 2015, and has a price of $9.99, yet the Kickstarter campaign says the game is slated for a fourth quarter 2016 release.

However, if you look at their campaign updates (and scroll down a little), in May they announced the game coming out ahead of schedule. While this is well and good, the screenshots in their campaign almost look like they are from a completely different game. The graphics are updated, a world map exists, there are more enemies, weapons have new abilities, and damage points are now displayed whenever a weapon connects with a monster.

I understand that games often look different and have different features added/removed during development, but the final product of Animal Gods looks like a stripped down car resting on cinder blocks. What gives?

There is absolutely zero reason for a paid version of Animal Gods to exist as a final product in the Steam store when it is very clearly unfinished. If the developers ran out of money or encountered issues, they should have delayed release of the game, priced it accordingly, or at least offered some sort of goodwill on the Steam page that they would continue adding features to the game post-release. At the end of the day, people are still spending their hard earned dollars on this game.

Closing Thoughts

TriangleIt pains me to say that this picture of a triangle is more like any Zelda game than Animal Gods will ever be.

The fact that the game is so wildly different than advertised leads me to objectively say that I do not recommend this game, even if went on sale.

Animal Gods may look like an action/adventure game, but blow in its general direction and that cardboard illusion falls flat on its back. It is a shame considering the game is visually intriguing at times, but it is merely a husk of what it aspired to be–if it aspired at all.

– Brian F
Contributing Editor

Game Playing Review: Undertale

Undertale (Steam version)

    • Genre: RPG
    • Release Date: Sep 15 2015, Price: $9.99
    • Development: tobyfox
    • Platform: Windows PC, Mac OS, Steam, Wii U (November)
    • Official Site: http://undertale.com/

Synopsis:

“In this RPG, you don’t have to kill anyone. Each enemy can be “defeated” nonviolently. Dance with a slime. Pet a dog. Whisper your favorite secret to a knight. Or, ignore this choice and rain destruction upon your foes.”

Personal Recommendation:
(Based on Steam Version on Windows. 11 hours of gameplay)

Undertale 1I have completed many RPGs during my time as a video game reviewer, but I can’t say I’ve felt such a vast mixture of emotions and attachment to any one game in such a short period of time.

The best way to describe Undertale (and stay with me here) would be that it is a cheeseburger at first sight, something that many people are quite familiar with. But once you taste it, it also surprises you with an ice cream flavor you were craving, a kombucha tea flavor that you would have never tried but are now glad you did, and the unexpected kick of a bratty little kid that surprised you but didn’t hurt too much.

If you like surprising cheeseburgers (and RPGs), you will love Undertale and everything it offers.

(Editor’s note: The following review will not contain direct spoilers, because the game is much more impactful the less you know about it)

Action in pacifism

Undertale Review 8

Initially, this game has the classic fantasy RPG framework. There is an age old war between humans and monsters, and you as the main character somehow wind up right in the middle of monster territory. You will navigate towns and dungeons, find cool items, and engage in random battles while making your way back home– but right away the game encourages the player to “strike up a friendly conversation” instead of fighting when facing conflict. You might be thinking, “OK, so instead of mindlessly pushing X to attack, I push X to talk and win battles”, but it isn’t quite so simple.

Undertale Review 2

This is not one-hug-fits-all, and you can’t just ‘nice’ someone to death. Each monster has a unique personality, with likes and dislikes that may not be obvious at first glance. In addition, some monster’s behaviors change completely when paired up with other monsters, resulting in old dialogue choices no longer pacifying the monsters in these new situations.

Undertale Review 3

Even if you come in peace, monsters will still attack you because, well, they’re monsters! This will result in an interactive ‘bullet-hell‘ type phase where the player (represented by a heart) will have to dodge the monster’s attacks. Each monster has a unique set of attacks which can range from legitimately dangerous to downright bizarre. Once you have proven yourself peaceful to the monster, you will be able to end the battle and continue forward. For a game which promotes pacifism, the player is always actively involved.

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This is the timed attack system where the player must push the action button right as the vertical line passes through the center of the screen (indicated by the neon green area).

What kind of person are you when nobody is looking?

While the choice to attack or remain a pacifist is completely up to the player, the consequences to these choices are very real. The world at large is directly impacted, and can quickly turn into a very scary place if you decide to kill everyone. Generally, video games are a judgement free zone allowing players to do whatever they’d like, but make no mistake about it–Undertale is judging you. This game keeps track of the monsters you’ve killed, the times you’ve died, and even the times you have reloaded the game!

Did you accidentally kill an important character, and reload your save file to let them live instead? Not only does the game know, but it will even confront you about it. This apparent sentience is quite unsettling, and leads into creating one of the most terrifying final boss encounters I have ever faced in any game.

Undertale may look cute and simple in appearance, but the fact that you never really know what it’s judging or thinking leaves you with a slightly creepy feeling at times.

It’s all about the details

Undertale Review 5

The game has witty design, but not in the way that you might think. In fact, I would say some of the game design is rather rudimentary. The map layout isn’t the most innovative, and reaching previously cleared areas could be a little more convenient. The puzzles aren’t particularly difficult or groundbreaking, and it’s no secret that the graphics are dated. Even the attack system is fairly old-hat, minus the details of the ‘bullet-hell’ scenarios.

So why is this game good?

In the modern gaming world where superior looks and flashy gameplay allow a game to have unimaginative stories and uninspiring character motivations, Undertale places all of it’s efforts into creating highly relatable moments that are funny, but dark and real at the same time. The main goal of Undertale is connecting the player with the world, providing breaks from this emotional connection with action sequences, rather than vice versa.

Undertale Review 9

This results in interacting with a world that has every detail completely thought out, and boy does this world have charm. The jokes may be as small as funny area descriptions ‘You can’t go through the fire exit, because you’re not made of fire’, to completely defying traditional RPG mechanics such as a vendor rejecting buying your ‘old branches and used bandages’ for fear of going out of business. The game always tries to keep you on your toes, and the effect is two-fold for any RPG veteran (or pun enthusiast).

The world also has very personable characters, my favorite being the robot TV-personality who is programmed to have an obsession with killing you. He may be a maniac, but his aspirations of killing you are almost as strong as entertaining the monsters of Undertale, making sure he only attempts to kill you while on national television. Since the monsters of Undertale mostly have a bleak future, he takes it upon himself to make sure that future has some distraction and entertainment, which is oddly admirable.

Closing Thoughts

Undertale Review 7

Undertale is a must play for RPG lovers, as well as people who are looking for an experience outside of the usual. Even though this game only came out last month, I can already tell it will have a cult following. There are currently many forums dedicated to figuring out all of the possible endings of the game, as well as deciphering every obscure clue which may lead to the next possible secret being unveiled.

While Undertale doesn’t even operate on half the bits that most modern games do, I would say the feelings it evoked were twice as powerful. I don’t want to speak in absolutes and say that current games on the market don’t make me feel things, because they do! However, the feelings are generally short-lived and relevant to only that particular gaming session. Undertale on the otherhand, almost insidiously latches itself onto your heart, making you genuinely care for both the inhabitants of this imaginary world, and feeling completely responsible for the choices you have made well past the ending credits.

Knowing that more people will discover and talk about this game…it fills me with determination.

(Come on, I had to use the phrase at least once).

– Brian F
Contributing Editor