State of the Game: 30/10/2017 to 05/11/2017

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus: I’m Not Long for This World.

The Wolfenstein series’ soft reboot with The New Order back in 2014 was a gamble for then nascent developer MachineGames. The previous instalment in the franchise hadn’t performed well and many were left wondering if it would have a future at all. However they managed to release a game that was good in its own right, keeping the core old-school FPS feel and integrating it with modern-day improvements. The Old Blood was seen as a small stumble by most, the stand-alone prequel story not bringing enough to the table and being released barely a year after its predecessor. Suffice to say feelings were mixed around the announcement of The New Colossus as history showed that this game could potentially be a return to form or a continuation of its slow downwards trajectory.

For this writer, I’m glad to say, The New Colossus signals a big step forward for the franchise.

SPOILERS FOR PREVIOUS WOLFENSTEIN GAMES BELOW

You return again as B.J Blazkowicz, lying broken and bloody atop Deathshead’s fortress after defeating him. As your world darkens you give the order to fire on your position, hoping to rid the world of the foul technology that helped the Nazis conquer the world. However before you black out you see that your friends of the Kreisau Circle have come to rescue you, taking you away before they lay waste to the Nazi stronghold. Your recovery is long and just as you awake your location comes under attack by Frau Engel. With your broken body you haul yourself into a nearby wheelchair and return to what you do best: killing Nazis by the truckload. From here you continue your journey to free the world from Nazi rule.

SPOILERS OVER

The New Colossus is the second game to come to us via the id Tech 6 engine, the first being the DOOM reboot of last year. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was developed on a completely new engine as the graphics are a massive leap forward in almost all respects. However the release day version of the game was plagued with performance issues, something I noted early on after attempting to tweak my settings. After reading some forum posts I found that my drivers were 1 version out of date and, upon updating them, everything improved dramatically. The game still suffers greatly in outdoor areas, an ailment that seems to plague all id Tech games. Still this is one of the few games where I’ve been unable to max all the settings lest I turn the game into a slideshow. Kuods to MachineGames for continuing the trend of high quality visuals.

The core game play mechanics of The New Colossus remain largely the same as its predecessors being your typical mix of FPS and light-RPG elements. You’ll spend the majority of your time gunning down all sorts of different Nazis and their contraptions but how you go about that will be shaped by how you play and what upgrades you choose. The perk upgrade system is mostly the same, requiring you to perform certain actions in order to unlock them. Weapon upgrades are streamlined significantly, allowing you to unlock up to 3 upgrades for all of the normal weapons. Later on in the game you get access to contraptions which are another set of upgrades that unlock various areas of the game that are otherwise inaccessible. This then dovetails into the Ubercommander missions, which are essentially replays of missions you’ve already completed, allowing you to tackle them again with your newfound powers. All in all it feels like a tighter, more concise game overall which is saying something given that my campaign-only playthrough clocks in at just under an hour shorter than my The New Order playthrough.

Combat is mostly mid-paced, often starting with a stealth section followed by your typical corridor shooter affair once you are inevitably detected. There are some high action scenes where you’ll just be sending endless streams of lead down range but for the most part you can take your time when it comes to engaging The New Colosuss’ enemies. The shooting does feel a little on the rough side, the generosity of previous game’s hit boxes reduced somewhat requiring a greater level of skill on the player. Some of the guns feel completely ineffectual until you get one or two of their upgrades which, thankfully, won’t take too long if you take some time to explore a little bit. The game isn’t stingy with ammo drops either so no matter what gun you prefer you’ll most likely be able to use it as often as you want. Despite the slightly slower pace and less polished feel overall I’d rate the combat as equal to its predecessors.

Progression is broadly broken up into 2 main systems, perks and weapon mods, but you’ll also change the mix of your base stats as you progress through the game. Initially you’ll have a max of 50 health and 200 armour which, after a certain mission, will change to 100/100. This might not sound like much but it does change the flow of the game significantly, especially considering the game’s focus on over-charging your health rather than allowing you to increase it permanently. Thus the start of the game actually feels a lot easier than it does towards the end since you won’t be able to overcharge your health to 200 and also run around with 200 armour. If this is your first foray into Wolfenstein it might actually be a great way to ease you into the flow of the game.

The perks level up as you perform various feats and, curiously, don’t reset their counter upon death. This does mean that, if you’re so inclined, you could grind them out by save scumming but honestly most of them will come easily as long as you know which one to go for. They don’t provide massive benefits, usually just small benefits that will make your life a little easier, but all of them together do make a noticeable impact. The weapon mods are much, much more impactful often turning lacklustre guns into absolute beasts. The Sturmgewehr for instance when upgraded fully is by far the fastest way to take out armoured enemies and the Pistole is really the only gun that can be used in stealth when you get its suppressor. Progression stalls a bit towards the end since you’ll have upgraded your weapons of choice and unlocked most of the perks that aligned to your playstyle. The contraptions do add a little bit more flavour there but I didn’t bother unlocking the other 2 as I didn’t want to grind out the ubercommander missions. I’m sure if I did though I’d feel a little different about the progression stalling at 2/3rds through the game.

Whilst there are still some performance issues, predominately in outdoor environments, The New Colossus also seems to suffer from some weird bugs either due to running in borderless window mode (something which it natively supports), the Steam overlay or being alt-tabbed. Essentially whenever focus was taken away from the game and then returned to it there was a 50/50 chance of a crash happening. Often this wasn’t too much of an issue, the checkpoint system working well, however a few times it got me stuck in unskippable moments which I’d have to repeat a few times over to get past. Unfortunately I couldn’t figure out the cause of these errors as the crash reporter always alerted me that it couldn’t write the crash dump. I’m sure there’s a simple explanation to this and it will likely be patched in the future. Still if you’re wanting to avoid this it’s probably worth running it in exclusive fullscreen for now.

The New Colossus’ story telling feels head and shoulders above its predecessors, giving many of the characters and their relationships ample time to develop. To be sure the plot follows your typical action movie trope with few, if any, real surprises to be had. However there’s some great moments of levity and self-awareness showing that the writers knew that they were making yet-another Nazi story that needed something to liven it up. There is a bit of an obsession with long, drawn out scenes where you’re basically locked in place, some of which could have been trimmed down a bit and still had the same amount of impact. Still for a series where I used to rate the story as “interesting but forgettable” The New Colossus is one that I think I’ll remember fondly for some time.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a big step forward both for the franchise and MachineGames as a developer. The core of what made the original great is still there, retaining much of that old-world FPS charm whilst including modern mechanics to amplify that experience further. The game still suffers from some of the issues that seem to plague all id Tech based games but these are things that will hopefully be fixed in future patches. Over the top of all this, and likely the reason why I feel this particular game is a step ahead of its predecessors, is the story which does a great job of giving all the characters time to shine whilst steering clear of all too popular LOOK OUT FOR A SEQUEL cliffhanger. If Call of Duty: WWII left me wanting Wolfenstein: The New Colossus has me wanting for more.

Rating: 9.25/10

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with 9 hours of total play time and 38% of the achievements unlocked. 

State of the Game: 23/10/2017 to 29/10/2017

Call of Duty: WWII: Back to Basics.

The FPS games of the noughties were almost exclusively set in the World Wars, an era that has seemingly endless stories to tell. However as time went on and year after year brought yet another World War based FPS to the table I grew tired of the setting and, for the most part, left the FPS genre behind. When the settings began to move towards the modern era towards the end of that decade I found myself coming back; my interest in the genre reignited by the utter ridiculousness that the Call of Duty franchise offered. From then on every year I found myself coming back, my obsession with the series peaking with Black Ops 3 with some 150 hours sunk into the multi-player. So when it was announced that the next instalment would return the series to its roots I was a little sceptical as the original Call of Duty wasn’t the one I fell in love with.

Call of Duty: WWII follows the story of the 1st Infantry Division’s Red Daniels, a first-class private who’s military career begins at the bloody Normandy landings. It’s there that you come face to face with the grim realities of war as bear witness to many of your fellow soldiers cut down in front of you. From there you continue your campaign through the western front, pushing back the axis line as you march steadily towards the centre of their war effort. It’s never easy however and the strain begins to wear on you and your commanding officers. Do you have the strength to continue on, after all the horrors you’ve witnessed?

The previous generation of games was dominated by the muted, drab colour palette that just so happened to be perfect for the World War 2 setting. This helped with the technical limitations of the time, the constrained visual diversity serving as a bit of a fudge to make things more realistic than they’d otherwise appear. As time went on the visuals became cleaner, crisper and the colours became much more vibrant as a result. The return to the WWII setting brings that drab colour palette back but with the visual fidelity of the current generation. The result is a game that, on first blush, feels like it’s a step behind due to low visual variation. However the game does manage to surprise you at times, especially when it comes to the in-game cut-scenes. The automatic graphics settings wizard doesn’t do a particularly good job however, erring on the side of performance over visuals a little too heavily. Even on my near 3 year old rig I could push pretty much everything up to maximum @ 1080p and still maintain a consistent frame rate.

WWII is innovative in the sense that it takes the series back to its roots, ditching the past 8 years or so of a trend towards modern and futuristic, at times fantastical, warfare. Gone is the infinite health regeneration system, instead returning to the health bar and first aid packs system of yesteryear (for single player only though, however), The two weapon system remains and your selection of armaments is your typical WWII affair. The campaign is a set of relatively linear missions containing the usual mix of straight up corridor shooting, vehicle sections and the tried and true tacked on stealth sections. Unlike the previous 3 or so COD games there’s no upgrade or progression system to speak of, just you and whatever armaments you can find on the battlefield. Multiplayer is still the same core experience with levels, loot crates and weapon progression but there’s a few new things thrown in the mix to make things interesting. Overall it feels like a return to basics for the Call of Duty franchise, for better or for worse.

Unfortunately that return to basics seems to have brought with it the unrefined combat mechanics that we left behind a decade ago. The Call of Duty series has always set the bar for fast paced, highly polished action but WWII doesn’t meet the standards I’ve come to expect. Sure the action is as fast paced as ever and the sense of scale is still there but when it comes to actually taking down enemies the guns feel ineffective and the controls sluggish. This is most certainly a design choice, wanting to emulate the real world weapons and combat more accurately, but it does mean that the overall game experience feels more clunky than it has in previous instalments. Indeed for someone like me who’s enjoyed the trend towards utterly ridiculous, almost fantasy level combat, this feels like a big step backwards.

One positive thing to come out of this return to basics is the simplification of the campaign. It’s your standard play one mission, advance to the next deal with a handful of collectables scattered throughout the mission for you to find. Each of the missions also has a set of “heroic acts” for you to complete which are usually taking out an enemy who’s about to kill one of your squad or dragging a fallen soldier back to safety. Some of the missions have stealth sections which are, for the most part, very simplistic in their implementation. The few vehicle sections are a nice way to break up the combat and, unlike previous COD games, aren’t overdone to the point of being monotonous. All said and done the campaign will probably only take you 5 hours to get through which is close to what used to be the standard for the COD franchise. Honestly I quite like that length, especially with it broken up over 10 missions or so.

The plot of the campaign is your typical WWII affair with a heavy focus on you and your fellow war buddies. Sure they dip into the main character’s history a bit, even trying to throw you for a loop by pitting him as an unreliable narrator, but the story is pretty predictable. It does try to touch on some of the pertinent issues of the time such as gender and race equality but, this being a WWII game, the heroes are still your typical American GIs fighting the good fight against the Nazis. Honestly this setting has been done to death so much that I really don’t find much to enjoy in it anymore, especially in the medium of video games. Perhaps one day that will change, I’m always open to a compelling story, but for now the story that Call of Duty WWII presents is nothing above what I’ve come to expect from the series in a setting that I personally find uninteresting.

The multiplayer didn’t undergo the same return to basics that the rest of the game did with the new system staying true to the current norms. The difference comes from how the usual COD perks are acquired which are now part of Divisions. At the start you’ll pledge to one Division (you can unlock the rest later with an unlock token) and as you level them you’ll unlock certain benefits. Those benefits are all broadly aligned to a certain kind of playstyle but you’re no longer able to mix and match to the extent you were in previous titles. This means there’s a little less variety in how you build your load out but it should make balancing things a lot easier. Loot crates are still a thing and, like always, can be purchased using in-game currency or cold hard cash. Thankfully it seems to be limited to cosmetics only so you won’t be going up against people who’ve splashed cash to get a leg up on everyone else.

There are differences of course, the main one being an interactive social area where you can go to get missions, try out score streaks or weapons and open up your supply drops in front of everyone. Unfortunately it’s not an optional area, you will have to go there to do all these activities whether you like it or not. Personally I much preferred the older, more streamlined systems which didn’t require me to drop out of the matchmaking system. There’s also a few new game modes although most people are still playing team deathmatch or domination, just like they always are.

I’ve spent a few hours in the multiplayer and honestly I can’t see myself spending much more time in there. The same sluggishness present in the singleplayer is there in the multi as well which, when coupled with the P2P networking (which has always been a little iffy), makes for some not so great online play. It’s a shame really as it looks like the new loadout system could be something of a winner but I just don’t have the patience to keep on playing when the core mechanics just don’t feel as crisp as they used to.

Call of Duty: WWII takes the series back to its roots and in doing so loses many of the things that drew me back into the series. Gone is the highly polished, fast paced combat which it was known for, replaced with a system that feels deliberately sluggish. The campaign’s simplified nature is certainly welcome although without the solid FPS combat to back it up it’s just not as satisfying as it could be. The slight change ups in multiplayer are interesting but not enough to the carry the game on its own. Indeed whilst fans of the setting or early COD games might find something to love here I simply can’t see it. My only hope is that Treyarch can pull this franchise out of the ditch it’s found itself in as the last 2 instalments have been nothing short of disappointing.

Rating: 6.5/10

Call of Duty: WWII is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with 5 hours in single player and 2 hours in multi with 43% and 7% of the achievements unlocked.

State of the Game: 16/10/2017 to 22/10/2017

Destiny 2: Take Back Your Light.

Coming back to Destiny has always felt like slipping back into an old pair of shoes. Every time I’d go through the same process: be overwhelmed with the changes, find my footings through the campaign and then grind my way to the requisite light level before running the raid until I got bored. I must admit that whilst I did come around to playing a FPS on a console part of me always wanted it to come to PC as I just knew it would be a killer experience. With Destiny 2 I got my wish and whilst I’ve had to spend the last month or so carefully avoiding everything to do with its release on consoles I’m glad to say it has been well worth the wait.

Earth has come under attack by the Red Legion, a band of Cabal warriors who have never known defeat. Led by their Dominus Ghaul they caged the traveller and robbed all guardians of their light. You are left powerless, the gifts that the light granted to you seemingly gone forever. Soon after you are cast back down to Earth however you are flooded with visions that draw you to a shard of the Traveller that it flung away from itself during the collapse. The area surrounding it though has been heavily corrupted and no one who has entered the region has ever returned. This is where your quest begins to restore the light and defeat the unbeatable Red Legion.

On first look the graphics of Destiny 2 felt like they’d gone backwards from what I remembered of the original Destiny and its expansions. However after tweaking a few settings and spending a good deal of time in-game it became obvious that there have been a vast number of improvements made both to the underlying engine and the artwork the game uses. Of course I’m no longer introducing artefacts by running the game through a capture card although I had largely eliminated those when I moved to an Elgato HD60 Pro a year or so ago. The big bonus is the fact that I can now run the game at a buttery smooth 144FPS, something which I can still manage on my near 3 year old rig. Interestingly I know this game is pushing the limits of my system not because of stuttering but because my PC gets noticeably warm (since I usually rest my feet on the sides of it) during play. There have been some issues of course although the last couple patches have fixed most of the more glaring ones that popped up as part of the PC release.

By and large Destiny 2 remains faithful to the original in how it plays however there’s a lot of changes made for the sake of balance and quality of life (both for the developers and the players). The weapon classes have been reworked with primaries now being locked to kinetic damage, secondaries (now “energy”) all have an element type but also share the same weapon classes as primaries. Lastly some weapons (shotguns, fusion rifles and sniper rifles) have been moved to the heavy (now “power”) slot. Classes are mostly the same with a few tweaked and some replaced outright. You’ll still do the usual level thing until you hit the max at 20 at which time you’ll begin the same kind of light grind that we’ve been familiar with for the past couple expansions. Progression is now lightening fast up to a point after which you’ll be relying on weekly milestones, exotics and rewards from being in a clan to make any meaningful progress. At its core however it’s still very much the same game as it has been for almost 3 years and that is not a bad thing.

Whilst combat hasn’t changed much it is made that much better by being on PC. Of course I’m extremely, unabashedly biased in this regard but the fact that it was a great shooter on console was always going to mean it’d be a great one on PC. It did take me a fair while to get over my controller muscle memory, reaching for triggers that no longer exist, but it wasn’t long before I felt just as home on the PC as I ever did on console. The changes to the weapon system mean that your choice of heavy is much more meaningful than it used to be although, if I’m honest, the weapons that have moved into that slot now see much less use because they’re just not as good as the alternatives. Perhaps that will change as I find myself more gear but since I’m already at 281 light I don’t think that will change much. Unfortunately some of the lag issues are still present due to Destiny’s “complicated” P2P network architecture but they’re at least not as bad as they were at the original’s launch.

Levelling up is as much of a breeze as it ever was, happening organically as you progress through the campaign’s main missions. There were only a couple times that I had to drop out of it in order to get a level or two before being able to tackle the next one. This, coupled with not needing to go back to orbit after every single mission, means the pacing of Destiny 2’s campaign feels a lot more consistent with a lot less down time. Whilst the time to max out your level is about the same overall (8 hours or so) it does feel like a lot less thanks to the streamlining. They also do a pretty good job of re-introducing everything which is great for new players although it will be somewhat confusing to long time players (doesn’t my ghost know what the taken are?). Whilst the story is probably about on par with the original its overall execution does feel a lot stronger.

The gear grind is mostly the same as it was in previous expansions however now there’s a much heavier focus on the weekly activities. Whilst you can certainly keep levelling up your light without them it’s a much longer process, reliant on exotic drops more than anything else. Gone are the days when gear would randomly roll a light level around your current one, instead (past a certain point) they’ll always roll at a predefined level. The RNG comes from whether or not they include a legendary mod which bumps their light up by 5 levels. Once you have a weapon or piece of armour in a slot with one of those you’ll then be infusing it repeatedly until you reach light level 280. After then you can craft your own legendary mods and so all gear drops basically become on par. The only gear that will drop above your light level comes from the weekly events, the raid and the exotic quests (of which there are 4 I believe). This means you’re likely to hit a plateau each week before being able to progress. Still you should be able to get raid ready in a week and be able to blast past that easily in the second.

The renewed focus on Clans, with all the benefits that come from being in one and actively participating with it, was an interesting choice by Bungie. Certainly it ran against the way I used to play the game, preferring to just do everything on my own and hitting up DestinyLFG whenever I came up short. Joining a clan with an old friend of mine has been a pretty rewarding experience and I do look forward to doing more with them as time goes on. The clan interface could be a little better however, starting one requiring you to go onto Bungie’s website, something which the in-game client doesn’t tell you about. Once you’re past that point however it’s all pretty easy and, to be fair, you’ll likely be doing most of your co-ordination in Discord anyway.

As I mentioned before the story feels like it’s very much on the same level as it has always been, scraping just the top of the greater world’s lore. The grimoire is gone and there’s a bigger focus on putting much of what was in there actually in the game. A lot of the stuff is then hidden in the side missions, something which even I haven’t really gone through yet. That being said for those that I have played they’re a lot more upfront with bits of information, especially if you take the time to follow your ghost to scan things of interest. The great voice acting by the big name cast continues in Destiny 2 and the host of new characters brings a lot of life and levity that was missing previously. That being said it’s still not a game I’d say you’d play just for the story but it’s none the less an enjoyable one.

Destiny 2 takes the legacy that the previous game and its DLCs and rebuilds it for a new era. As a long time player of Destiny on the PlayStation 4 I can say unequivocally that it’s best experienced on PC as the platform gives the game all the things it needs to really shine. Bungie have done a great job of making the game approachable for new players whilst also ensuring it’s still got the things that the fans were looking for in the next instalment in this IP. Whilst I’ve yet to fully experience everything the game has to offer (which is saying something given the fact that I’m 26 hours deep at this point) it feels like the Destiny I’ve come to know and love with a few tweaks here and there to make everyone’s life just a little easier. I look forward to dumping many, many more hours into the game and its successive DLCs.

Rating: 9.5/10

Destiny 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and XboxOne right now for $89.95. Game was played on the pc with 26 hours of total play time.

State of the Game: 09/10/2017 to 15/10/2017

Dream Daddy: A Pun Filled Dadventure.

Of all the new genres that found life in the indie developer renaissance of the last decade the one that I’ve had the least interest in is visual novels. Given their preference for story over other game mechanics you’d think I’d be all over them but, for some reason, I just don’t see the attraction to them. I’m not immune to peer pressure however and after a few close friends got wind of Dream Daddy, a visual novel/dating sim where your romantic prospects are all fellow dads, I was bullied into giving the game the once over for a review. Whilst I might not be delving deep into the wonderful world of dating sims again anytime soon Dream Daddy was certainly a charming look into the world of what it means to be a dad in the modern world.

You’re a single dad and you and your daughter have just moved to a new house in Maple Bay. Ever since your partner died you’ve spent all of your available time and energy on raising your daughter and you’re not the social butterfly you used to be. It doesn’t take long for the neighbours to come and greet you, inviting you over for a BBQ and some good conversation. You quickly learn that there are other many single dads in the area and your daughter, who is college bound, pushes you to start socialising more. After signing up for Dadbook, the social network for dads, you begin your dating quest. Now all that’s left to do is figure out who your Dream Daddy will be.

Visually Dream Daddy feels like the Flash games of years gone by with the heavy outlining, solid colours and simple shading. Interestingly it was built on the Unity engine meaning that all those stylistic choices weren’t enforced on the developers, they were deliberately built in. Considering that you’ll be spending the vast majority of your time staring at the bottom of the screen however the visuals are somewhat moot. I don’t consider this a fault of the game per-se since its a defining part of the genre but it is something that has kept me from playing games like this in the past.

As you’d expect from a dating sim the game is mostly a text based adventure with sprinkling of dialogue choices to allow you to mould the story. For each of the 7 dads you can go on a total of 3 dates with them although, if you go beyond the second, they will become your Dream Daddy and that’s the end of the game. There’s a few mini-games dispersed throughout, taking the form of a simple challenge that’s part of the current date you’re on. All the choices and mini-game performance add up to a score at the end which, if you’ve done them correctly, will net you your Dream Daddy of choice. Mechanically it’s very simple although the scoring system is (and I believe this is a deliberate satirization of the genre) very obtuse so it’s hard to judge just what exactly you should say to get the highest score with your preferred dad.

The visual novel genre seems like a bit of a misnomer since the visual aspect is really only a backdrop to the novel part. You’ll spend almost the entirety of the game reading through gobs of text although they’re broken up into smaller bit sized chunks. Whilst I can appreciate the fact that the visuals do add something to the overall telling of the story it’s honestly not too much more. That being said I do think the genre lends itself well to the mobile platform as each section can be done in about 5 minutes or so. Unfortunately Dream Daddy is not currently available on any mobile platform but I’m sure it’d run quite well on any Windows based tablet device.

All the criticism of the genre and implementation aside Dream Daddy does a good job in telling its story, giving all the characters enough room to develop. The narrative is a lampoon of the loving but out-of-touch dad idea, pitting you as a kind of technophobic recluse who still does everything they can to support their child. It’s certainly not written by someone who’s gone through that experience themselves so the stereotype aspects are given a lot more air time than the inner monologue that would explain those behaviours. Still it acts as a good vehicle to explore the challenges that come with change and how sometimes we have to force ourselves to be uncomfortable in order to get more out of life. Many of the story’s aspects are also a play on the dating sim genre in general but, as someone who doesn’t play this genre regularly, I’ll leave the commentary on that to those more well versed in its nuances.

Overall the story is a charming look into what it might be like to be a single dad starting out on the dating scene after many years of being out of it. It touches on many issues that are relevant to growing up in today’s society and isn’t afraid to introduce ideas and characters that are likely to make you feel uncomfortable. The levity that is woven throughout the game’s story does make it easier to digest the giant walls of text however it does start to wear a little thin towards the end. It’s certainly a story I enjoyed although I don’t feel a great compulsion to go back and get all the dates with all the dads. That might be a different story if there weren’t so many other games I’m itching to play, however.

Dream Daddy was an interesting foray into a genre that I wouldn’t have typically found myself in otherwise. The light-hearted look into the world of being a single dad fresh into the modern world’s dating scene, even if it comes from a perspective of someone who hasn’t been through it, is charming to say the least. The fact that all the characters are given enough time to shine is definitely an achievement in itself, something that many games neglect. Recommending it generally though is a tough one as whilst I know there’s a fanbase for these kinds of games (both from the dating sim and general sillyness perspective) for your average Joe I don’t know if there’s much in there to like. Still I enjoyed my time with Dream Daddy, even if I don’t think I’ll be back anytime soon.

Rating: 7.5/10

Dream Daddy is available on PC right now for $14.99. Total playtime was 3 hours with 16% of the achievements unlocked.

State of the Game: 02/10/2017 to 08/10/2017

Middle Earth: Shadow of War: What Are You Willing to Sacrifice?

The sophomore release in a new game IP is always a telling experience. For the developer it means that the original release had merit, enough to warrant a sequel getting the green light. This provides them with an opportunity to hone in on what made them successful and what else they could do to improve the experience. Most critically though it sets the expectation for the overall direction of the series, showing us gamers what the developers want the game to become should it garner further future releases. For Shadow of War that direction is clear: it’s aiming to be the next big open world RPG to rival those from other veteran developers like Bioware and Bethesda. In many respects they have met this goal, delivering a game that’s several times the size of its predecessor, but that size has come at a cost.

SPOILERS FOR SHADOW OF MORDOR FOLLOW

Shadow of War takes place directly after the events of Shadow of Mordor with Celebrimbor’s memory fully restored he agrees to join with Talion to fight Sauron. Together they journey to Mt. Doom and forge a new ring of power, one that is free from Sauron’s corrupting influence. However shortly after crafting it the spider Shelob takes Celebrimbor hostage and forces Talion to hand over the newly crafted ring. Not all is lost however as she uses the ring to provide visions of the future to Talion who uses them to keep the human denizens of Mordor safe. However the ring, whilst free from Sauron’s control, still draws his eye and it’s only a matter of time before the Nazgul will come to take it away.

Just like its predecessor Shadow of War is a visually stunning game, absolutely overflowing with detail in all aspects. The aesthetic remains true to the original, retaining a muted colour palette with few flashes of colour to break things up. Whilst the opening credits of the game would have you believe it’s developed on a whole engined, dubbed Firebird, it’s still the same LithTech engine under the hood, albeit likely without the cruft required to support previous generation consoles and some improvements that 3 years worth of development typically brings. The visual fidelity didn’t come at a heavy cost either with my near 3 year old rig still able to run it at high FPS at 1080p. I’ll admit that good graphics are a shortcut to my heart and it’s great to see the series continue with the high standard that was set in the original.

On the surface Shadow of War feels familiar with the main game mechanics staying the same. The combat retains the same beat ’em up core however it’s now augmented by a whole slathering of new mechanics which add a lot more diversity to how your typical encounter plays out. The nemesis system is back again and the procedural generation system backing it now includes a whole swath of additional traits, adding a lot of variety to the Orcs that you’ll be facing. The world you’ll be playing in has also grown considerably with 5 different areas to explore, 4 of which contain keeps for you to overthrow to gain control of the region. The loot system has been significantly revamped and, much to the chagrin of everyone, now includes a microtransaction system which allows you to swap real world dollars for in game loot. Finally an online element has been added into the game, allowing you to avenge other player’s deaths and assault their keeps (both in a “friendly” way and in a ranked system). If I had to guess I’d wager that there’s about 3 to 4 times the content in Shadow of War when compared to its predecessor. Depending on how you feel about these kinds of open world games that’s either a great thing or giant red flag.

The increase in overall scale applies to the combat as well with Shadow of War really feeling like an all out war whereas Shadow of Mordor felt a lot more like isolated skirmishes. The reaction based beat ’em up core is still there however you’ll quickly find yourself dealing with many more enemies than you ever did in the original. Unfortunately the difficulty curve is mostly numbers based, throwing ever more grunts and captains at you in order to increase the challenge. The revamped nemesis system does mean that there are some ability combinations that are more deadly than others (like a top level cursed, no chance, assassin class orc that managed to kill me no less than 5 times before I could get rid of him) but once you get to level 30 or so you will have seen every combination the game has to offer. There also seems to be less tools available for dealing with large groups although I’ll admit I can’t exactly remember what made my build in the original so overpowered. Towards the end I did find a gear set that added explosions to the glaive attack, something which was an incredible amount of fun, but there wasn’t much beyond that.

Progression comes regularly both in terms of gear and skills. Unlike most RPGs where your early choices will dictate how the rest of the game unfolds for you Shadow of War’s skill trees are non-exclusive and unbound to your level. Some of the skills require campaign missions to unlock and most of the skill upgrades are level bound but, for all the base skills, there’s nothing stopping you from getting them at whatever level you chose. Considering the numerous different paths you have to get skill points (levelling, certain missions, side quests and collectables) it’s rare that you’ll ever find yourself wanting for a skill or upgrade. Indeed after about halfway through my playthrough I struggled to figure out where to spend my skill points because I already had basically everything I wanted. Of course if you want to unlock every upgrade you’re going to need all those skill points but, honestly, I don’t think there’s much point to doing so. Once you have all the base skills you’re basically as combat ready as you’ll ever be with a few key upgrade points giving you that slight extra edge should you want it.

Loot comes thick and fast but it’s tied to a RNG system that ensures getting the perfect piece for your build and/or playstyle will take some grinding to get. Pretty much every captain you defeat will drop a piece of gear and, should they have the Epic or Legendary title, a piece of gear will drop with that level. There’s some 54 pieces of legendary gear to collect and, unfortunately, they all drop at a random level that’s close to your current one. That means finding that sweet legendary early on is no where near as good finding it 10 hours later and there’s also no way to upgrade them, meaning they’re destined for the trash bin. This is, of course, part and parcel of why the microtransaction system exists, giving you a shortcut from the gear grind should you want to shell out a few bucks. There are in-game ways to earn some currency of course, the weekly challenge giving you enough to score a few chests, but the one you earn the most of can really only get you a few pieces of epic gear. The gem crafting system I pined for in Shadow of Mordor actually made it into Shadow of War and, honestly, if they had extended that to the entire loot system in some way I think it would’ve been fantastic. Instead the only way to make use of loot you don’t use anymore is to recycle it for silver which isn’t as useful as it first seems.

The grand scale of Shadow of War comes from taking the original’s ideas and copying them out about 4 times over. You now have about 5 areas to explore, 4 of which include fortresses for you to capture. So now you’ll spend a good chunk of time hunting down captains, turning them against their warchiefs and taking down fortress defences all so you can then overtake it and claim the region for yourself. The orc captains also seems to be far more aggressive in terms of when they’ll show up with the number of ambushes, blood brother revenges and other random encounters being far more frequent than I ever remember them being in the original. Indeed it got so ludicrous at one point that I had a betrayal, ambush and blood brother revenge all in one fight, pitting me against no less than 4 captains and their associated armies. I’m all for mechanics that enable emergent game play but honestly this was probably a little too much at times.

The fortress and nemesis system now extends online with you being able to take revenge on captains for killing other players and being able to attack other players fortresses with your own army. Both of these reward you with various chests and a spoils of war currency which, you guessed it, can be spent on more loot boxes. Whilst its kind of cool to see another player taking revenge for you there’s really no interaction beyond a notification. The fortress assaults are similar, only showing who was victorious. Personally it would have been nice to see something like a small movie of the player taking out the captain or the assault on your fortress as otherwise it’s just another piece of noise in the already overflowing world that is Shadow of Mordor. Of course if ranking high on a leader board is your thing then there might be a bit more in it for you with the ranked play but honestly I can’t see the attraction.

With a game of this size it’s inevitable that there’s going to be some bugs that slip through the cracks and boy, there are some doozies in Shadow of War. The physics system can get confused at times, contorting your character into all sorts of weird shapes or doing other amazing things like launching you in random directions when it can’t figure out what it should do with you. The free run system is also a little janky, at times being too aggressive in locking onto climbing points whilst at others being completely oblivious, sending you flying down to your doom. I also had numerous times when orcs voice lines would just refuse to play, the camera locked on their faces as their expression changed randomly whilst it waited on the sound file to time out. There is a watchdog timer for that thing though so whilst it appears that the game is stuck there it will eventually recover. This happened a lot during one of the scenes where you face a horde of undead orcs who, presumably, had their voices replaced with zombie like noises. These are all things that can be addressed in patches going forward so those of you who are waiting I’m sure your experience will be more polished than mine.

The story of Shadow of War is a step up from its predecessor, partially because it has a lot more room to explore the various elements it introduces. Of course thanks to the open world nature of the game the various story lines are almost wholly separate from each other which means there’s not a lot of depth to be garnered from completing them all. I was annoyed that different versions of the game seemed to include more story than the others but it seems that those campaigns are just ancillary ones, not forming part of the main story line. The retcons to the Lord of the Rings story are an odd duck to say the least, transforming some characters into different entities completely whilst also changing the main story arc in ways that only support the game’s version of the story. I’m not a die hard Lord of the Rings fan by any stretch of the imagination but the developers had to know that making such changes wouldn’t exactly be welcomed by long time fans of the IP. Still it was interesting enough, even if I didn’t have much emotional investment in any of the characters.

One main gripe I do have to level at the overall construction of Shadow of War is the final act called Shadow Wars. After spending 21 hours in the game, 7 more than I did in the original, I thought I had come to the game’s ultimate conclusion. Not so I was told, instead I would now have to do 10 siege missions to get through to the end. Considering the grind required for 1 was on the order of an hour or so I wasn’t entirely keen to spend another 10 hours going through non-story based content to see the ending. Indeed all the reviews I’ve read since then have said that the Shadow Wars grind was simply not worth it and instead I tracked down the 3 minute ending on YouTube. Let’s just say that I’m glad I didn’t waste my time on it.

Middle Earth: Shadow of War is a monster of a game, growing the scope of the original to something that’s numerous times its size. The core of what made the original good remains in Shadow of War, providing a solid base upon with Monolith has added in a truckload of more content. However much of that content is simply copy and pasted versions of the same thing, something which open world fans are likely to enjoy but those who fell in love with the original are likely to find tedious. For this reviewer I certainly enjoyed the majority of my time with Shadow of War however I can’t say that there weren’t times I wanted to shortcut the grind. That is, of course, why the microtransaction system exists but I’ll be damned if I spend money on digital items in a single player game. Overall, whilst I think Shadow of War is a successful sequel in its own right, it is weaker in comparison to the original, if only because it seeks to exploit the success of the past rather than build on it.

Rating: 8.5/10

Middle Earth: Shadow of War is available on PC, Xbox One PlayStation 4 right now for $59.99 (base edition). Game was played on the PC with 21 hours of total playtime and 52% of the achievements unlocked.