Why I’m Excited About Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

The trailer for the next Call of Duty game (Advanced Warfare) was released on May 2nd, and I found it very interesting for a number of reasons. Of course, the fact that Kevin Spacey seems to be a prominent character, as well as the fact that it appears to be a more futuristic game are the biggest takeaways from the trailer. But, it was some of the design choices and mechanics that got me thinking about the potential of this new CoD entry.

In one scene for example, a character puts on a pair of gloves that let him scamper up walls. Maybe it’s just because I’m playing Amazing Spider-Man 2 right now, but I immediately thought about the fact that the Spidey games are also under Activision’s umbrella. Could the wall-crawling tech in the new CoD be pulling from what Beenox has refined over the past several years? I hope so.

Activision also owns High Moon Studios, the developer of the Transformers games. So when I saw the mech/battle armor portion of the new CoD trailer, I was thinking about that connection as well. I mean, this dude looks just like Megatron, doesn’t he?

And those hover bikes could function like the Cybertronian Decepticons, couldn’t they? Not to mention, it’s rumored that High Moon Studios is actually working on the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of Advanced Warfare. Maybe they’re doing more than just porting to last-gen.

I know this is probably wishful thinking, but Activision has all of these studios and a library of action games to pull from when they set out to create each new iteration of Call of Duty. I’d like to see them leverage some of those resources more, and maybe we’ll see some of that in Advanced Warfare. And yes, I know there are different gameplay engines at work here, but even from a design standpoint, it would be cool if some of those other studios are consulting with Sledgehammer.

Finally, let’s not forget that Sledgehammer is a studio formed by two of the creators of Dead Space. I found the story in the initial trailer to be very interesting, and I am a huge fan of the original Dead Space. I’m hoping some of that DNA makes its way into the Call of Duty franchise. Those exosuits did look a little Dead Space-y (no pun intended), didn’t they?


Dark Souls II–Son of A…

The first time you die in Dark Souls II, you unlock an achievement/trophy called “Welcome to Dark Souls.” I got a good chuckle out of that, because of course it’s a nod to the fact that in the Souls series, you die–a lot. For me though, the moment when I achieve the true Souls experience is the first time I want to quit in frustration. That moment happened to me today, at roughly my 60-hour mark into the game, when I face the boss called The Rotten.

The Rotten is a pretty much a giant corpse golem, who attacks you with a giant meat cleaver in an arena filled with burning pools of oil. He’s slow, but extremely powerful, and all it takes is one good swing of that meat cleaver to take me out.

I have died trying to beat this boss three times now, and that’s including when I’ve summoned in help. But what turned my frustration into controller-throwing rage was the way I’ve died the past two times. On each occasion, I had The Rotten down to a last sliver of health, and I’ve died before being able to land the killing blow. I’ve never been so close to beating a boss twice in a row, only to die both times.

I’m actually writing this as I take a break, because I had to walk away from the game. I’ll be diving back in momentarily, but I had to mark this occasion, as it’s the moment in Dark Souls II where the game became a true Souls experience for me.


Dark Souls II–The Plateau

As I approach the 50-hour mark into my first playthrough of Dark Souls II, I’ve hit what I like to think of as “The Plateau.” My character is level 76, and I’m at a point where levels cost enough that I have to really think about where I’m spending my souls (the game’s currency). I’ve also unlocked the ability to really start upgrading some of my gear, which is also an investment that requires a lot of thought.

It’s this point in the game where my character build really starts to come together. I’ve gone with a Hex build, which requires an investment both in Faith and Intelligence, as it’s a hybrid spellcasting class. So, my “go to” spells are getting set, and I’m zeroing in on the armor and weapons I will most likely use for the rest of the game.

During this period, I do a lot of exploring, going back to areas I’ve already cleared and grabbing items I may have missed, as well as dropping my summon sign and letting people bring me in for co-op.

While some players might feel like this part of the game is a grind, I really enjoy it. There aren’t the big and quick jumps in level like the early game, but that’s fine with me. “The Plateau” is where I really get to know my character, and ready myself for the push through the rest of the game.

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare Keeps Getting Better

I think it’s safe to say that Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare has been the most pleasant surprise of my next gen experience. I’ve played Killer Instinct, Battlefield 4, Titanfall and more, but PvZ: GW is the one that keeps bringing me back. EA and PopCap have showed an impressive amount of support for the game since its release in late February, and this week’s latest batch of DLC looks like it will be a blast as well.

The Western-themed “Zomboss Down” features eight new characters and a new map, and is the second free DLC pack for PvZ: GW. Last month, the “Garden Variety” DLC pack was released, which featured a slew of new abilities, a new map and a new game mode.

If you have an Xbox One and haven’t checked the game out yet, I highly recommend it. You can grab it for $40, and I thought it was worth the money before the two free DLC packs. And as I mentioned in a previous post, it’s one of the few shooters that’s appropriate for kids while still being a blast for adults to play. On the Xbox One, the game features a split-screen co-op mode as well.


The Possibilities of Amazon Fire TV

So, Amazon Fire TV was announced last week, and while it wasn’t the true entry into the gaming console market I hoped it would be, I am still excited about the possibilities that it brings.

For starters, the fact there is a dedicated controller available from day one is a big plus, and a great sign for any potentially interested developers. It opens the door for a variety of older games that require a controller to be made available, as well as providing a roadmap for future games. You can also use any bluetooth controller with the Fire TV, which is huge.

Secondly, the tablet integration with Kindle Fire HDX is interesting, and already being shown of with Sev Zero, the game that comes with the controller. Lots of possibilities there in the future.

What I would love to see though, is Amazon really leverage their partnerships with publishers to get their big chunks of their back libraries on the Fire TV. They mentioned Disney, Gameloft, EA, Sega, Ubisoft and Double Fine already, so there is a lot of potential there.

And that’s really what the Amazon Fire TV is all about right now–potential. With Amazon’s ecosystem, and a growing in-house development studio, Amazon could carve out a nice niche in the micro console market.

This is also a great shot across the bow to Apple, whose fans have been begging them to get into the micro console space for some time.


Skylanders SWAP Force Brings Back Memories of Golden Axe

Yesterday I picked up the Xbox 360 version Skylanders SWAP Force for my seven-year-old. He had the previous version of Skylanders for his 3DS, and the nice thing about the series is that you can take the firgures into the next game. So, while the new version only came with two “SWAP Force” figures, he had enough to provide a lot of variety right off the bat.

As the name implies, the “SWAP Force” figures can switch their tops and bottoms with other figures, which grants new abilities to the figures. The more figures you have, the more combinations you can unlock. You can see how Activision takes the collectability of the game to another level, which is quite clever (and devious) on their part.

At the end of the day though, I think Skylanders captures the feel of games like Golden Axe, the side-scrolling arcade beat-em-ups. The added element of the figures leveling up and gaining new abilities adds a great element as well, and the ability to switch figures on the fly keeps the game fresh even when the gameplay is repetitive.

If you’ve got a young gamer in the house, the Skylanders series can be a fun co-op experience.


Dark Souls II–A World of Co-Opportunities

After putting twenty-five hours into Dark Souls II, one of the things that stands out the most to me is how much of an emphasis has been placed on cooperative multiplayer. As someone who really grew to love the co-op in this series, it’s been a great experience for me so far.

From Software has made it easier than ever to engage in co-op, and to customize the type of co-op experience you want to have. From the covenant you join, to your “Soul Memory” (the total number of souls obtained regardless of your character’s level), the game’s goal is to match you up with people who are about as powerful as you so you can play through a level at the appropriate challenge.

For those that don’t really want to deal with summoning or invasions, you can actually “turn off” the multiplayer features by Burning a Human Effigy (a consumable item that can turn you human) at a bonfire. For me though, the multiplayer is one of the most interesting aspects of the Souls series.

I’ve actually been using co-op as a chance to preview a level before I go through it in my own game. I’ll help a few people through the level as a kind of practice, and then make a run through myself.

You can also use co-op as a way to farm for souls, as the developers pretty much did away with the type of farming you could do in the previous game. I actually like this way better, as I’m helping others while I grind to get enough souls to either improve my gear or level my character. The only thing you have to be careful about when doing this is that your Soul Memory continues to increase, and you will eventually move past the level range of most players who are summoning or being summoned in a particular area.

One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed is that very few people are taking advantage of the ability to voice chat in Dark Souls II. I haven’t used it, and I haven’t encountered anyone who is using it. I really love the gesture system of communication, and the anonymous nature of the co-op. The gestures this time around are fantastic, and for me voice chat would ruin the atmosphere of the game.

So to recap, thus far I’ve been engaging in a ton of co-op, building up my character and practicing in areas before I make my boss runs. I am getting to the interesting part of my character build now, which I’ll talk more about next time.


Dark Souls II–The First Few Hours

Oh, it’s good to be home again. I have spent so many hundreds of hours with the Souls series over the past few years that there is a familiar comfort in slipping into the world of Dark Souls II. As much as Drangleic is a new setting, it shares so much with what has come before. The biggest difference that I have noticed in my first ten hours with the game is in the approach that I’ve taken to playing it.

I’ve been conditioned by the previous Souls games to know up front that I will be dying regularly in this game, and use each “life” to learn something. The only waste of time in a Souls game is dying needlessly without learning anything new. And I decided before creating my first character in Dark Souls II that I was going to challenge myself to play differently than in past games and explore this game in ways I had not explored the previous one.

So, I started with the Deprived character class, as you are spawned into the world with nothing, and you have no pre-spent levels. It’s the “clean slate” class of the Souls series. Normally, I would start with a spellcaster, because I prefer ranged attacks and the spell you start with makes low level play a bit easier. Not this time. The first enemies I defeated in Dark Souls II were with my bare hands.

The tutorial level is known as Things Betwixt, and for the most part it’s a place to practice with the controls, but there are a few optional, more challenging enemies (Ogres) in the area that you can either brave early, or come back and fight alter. I lured one of these to its death but decided to come back for the others after I had more than a dagger with me.

After the tutorial area, you find yourself in Majula, the main hub area of Dark Souls II. Much like the Nexus in the original Demon’s Souls, this is an area you constantly come back to for leveling, blacksmith access and merchants. NPCs move to this area as you progress through the game. The area itself is beautiful, and is a stark contrast to the murky nature of most levels in the original Dark Souls–it’s bright and wide open.


The first area I decided to trek through from the hub is the Forest of Fallen Giants, and it became immediately apparent that the combat in Dark Souls II was going to be more challenging than its predecessor.

The biggest changed I’ve notice so far are the roaming enemies, and the variety of enemy mobs. In Dark Souls, most enemies were standing in place, waiting for you to aggro them. They were always in the same place, and you knew exactly how close you needed to get in order to pull them to you. In Dark Souls II, many of the enemies are patrolling, which adds almost a stealth element to the game, especially when multiple enemies are present in an area.

And speaking of multiple enemies, there is much more variety to the mobs already in Dark Souls II. You are often facing off against two or three enemies at a time, each with different weapons and attacks. These encounters are much less predictable than what you’d see in the original Dark Souls, and you have less control over the battle itself. This means a smaller margin for error and a bigger emphasis on timing attacks, blocks, etc.

Right now I’ve cleared the way to the boss of the first area, but I’m still exploring the Forest of Fallen Giants, grabbing items and trying to level up a bit. As a deprived, I’ve had to get my Strength and Dexterity up enough to wield basic weapons, and I’ve not leveled my Intelligence up enough to even cast basic spells yet. It makes for more of a grind at the beginning of the game, but so far I like the challenge of having to scavenge for everything as well as having full control over what stats I invest in from the start.

What I absolutely know for sure about Dark Souls II is that I will be putting a few hundred hours into this game, and I’ll be writing a lot more about it on the blog here.

Stay tuned.


Xbox One: My First Two Weeks

After spending a couple weeks with the Xbox One, I’m optimistic about its potential, even though I’ve yet to be blown away by anything it has to offer.

I picked up Battlefield 4 when I grabbed the Xbox One, and while the game looks great, it’s not a dramatic leap forward from the Xbox 360. The same goes for Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, Killer Instinct and Call of Duty: Ghosts. Don’t get me wrong–all of these games look impressive. But visuals alone aren’t the main selling point of the Xbox One for me.

The worst part about the Xbox One for me is the interface. It’s really just awful to navigate. The only saving grace is that you can “pin” items to a home screen, so I’ve just basically put all the apps I use regularly in one place.

And speaking of apps, I have used both the Twitch app and the YouTube app quite a bit since I bought the console. Both are great. I’ve yet to really dive into the Skype app, but I will in the next few weeks.

One of the things I’ve been pleasantly surprised with so far is the ability to use regular headphones with the Xbox one and use the Kinect for your chat mic. The audio quality isn’t as good as a mic, but it’s a nice option and it allowed me to use a decent pair of headphones for game audio until I got my Xbox One headset. And speaking of that headset, it’s really nice. This is probably blasphemy, but I find it more comfortable than the Turtle Beach headset I had for my Xbox 360. What’s even better about the new headset is that you can unplug it and use pretty much any headphones with the adapter for game audio purposes. So when I’m playing by myself and the family is asleep, I can just pop in my phone earbuds and enjoy the audio without the bulky headset.

As far as chat goes overall, Microsoft just patched in cross-game chat, so I haven’t had the chance to try it yet. but I’ve had no complaints about the chat functionality so far. Time will tell.

Another pleasant surprise–the controller. I expected it to be just like the Xbox 360 controller, but I actually like it better. The shoulder buttons and triggers are wider, and I Iike the smaller and more concave versions of the sticks. The only thing that feels like a step back is the clicking of the sticks, but that might also be because the controller is new.

I have not used too much of the voice navigation on the Kinect yet, but there is one command that is pretty great–”Xbox, record that.” With that command, the Xbox automatically records the last 30 seconds of gameplay. So, you can capture a great moment right after it happens. You can also open the game dvr function and record up to five minutes of gameplay, but I found that a bit distracting, as i was trying to make something cool happen as opposed to just capturing something cool I did in the course of gameplay. No matter how you record, you then head over to the Upload Studio app to edit clips, add effects and then upload them to OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive), where you can share them. My one gripe with this (as you’ll see in the video below), is that when you embed a clip you saved to OneDrive, the video does not play in the blog page, but rather brings you to OneDrive to view the clip. I’m hoping that gets patched later on, as it really discourages the use of clips for blog posts.

Twitch broadcasting is supposed to arrive with Titanfall, and the most exciting thing about it is that you’ll be able to archive broadcasts, which is what really bummed me out about the PS4’s twitch integration. I will be doing a good amount of streaming and then posting the archived streams to the blog here.

So after two weeks, I’m definitely enjoying the Xbox One and I look forward to really getting into Titanfall with my gaming pals this week. Down the road a little, I am chomping at the bit for Elder Scrolls Online. That may actually become my most-played game on the Xbox One, if it’s as good as it’s shaping up to be.

I’ll be posting a lot more about my experiences with Xbox One, and if you have specific questions, feel free to pose them in the comments below.


So, I Bought an Xbox One

So, after all my blathering on about how the PlayStation 4 was going to be my console of choice this generation, I went out and purchased an Xbox One. Why? Two reasons, mainly. Availability and peer pressure.

I got paid for a writing gig two weeks ago and I suddenly had the money on hand to get a console. I knew if I didn’t get one then, the cash would end up going to something else. That’s just the way it works.

So, I ventured out on that Saturday morning two weeks ago in search of a PlayStation 4. Best Buy, Target, GameStop, Walmart and even my local mom and pop game shops were sold out of PS4s across the board, and I was hearing that April would be the next time they could safely say they’d have stock. Just to be sure, I checked online on the sites that track stock, and didn’t have any luck there either. I would have driven at least an hour out of my way to get a PS4, but there were none anywhere near me.

Meanwhile, every store I visited had Xbox Ones in stock. I had a handful of games that I planned on trading in, and after having no luck on the PS4 front, I went back to GameStop and picked up the Xbox One, a copy of Battlefield 4 and a 12-month Xbox Live Gold subscription. With my trades, I ended up paying roughly $500 for the whole package.

So to recap, Xbox One was immediately available when I had cash to buy a new console, and PS4 was not. It’s really that simple.

As far as the peer pressure piece, almost all of my gaming friends are Xbox users. The group we lovingly dubbed “Team Zombie” came together around the Left 4 Dead series on Xbox 360. Entire online friendships were built around the original Modern Warfare. And most of my friends were pushing me to get an Xbox One over the PS4. The main reason I wasn’t planning on it was that I am not able to get online with the gang as much as I was in the past, and I’ve become more of a solo gamer nowadays. But, since I have the Xbox One now, I’ll still be able to connect with that group whenever I can.

My purchase of an Xbox one doesn’t rule out getting a PS4 in the future, but now that I have a current gen console, that’s nowhere near a priority. In fact, the only drawback of the PS4 in my mind was the inability to archive streaming sessions on Twitch, which is something the Xbox One will now be able to do with the recent dashboard update. So my plan to do more streaming for this blog is firmly in place with the Xbox One, and with my PS3 via the Roxio GameCap HD Pro. Plan on seeing lots of Titanfall and Dark Souls II in the next few months.

I also plan on writing up my thoughts after the first two weeks with the Xbox One. Look for that in the next several days.