Bloodborne Diaries: New Ways to Learn from Death

Two weeks ago today, Bloodborne was released. And while the last couple weeks have been busy for me outside of gaming, I’ve managed to beat the first two bosses and die a whole heck of a lot. In short, I am having a blast.

And for the first time with the Souls series, I’m streaming and recording a good deal of my gameplay, which has been a really interesting experience as well. Like a baseball player watching videos of his at-bats, I’ve been able to go back and learn from some of my encounters, particularly with the bosses.

This has made Bloodborne a bit of a different experience for me, as I have previously relied quite a bit on guides and let’s play videos to navigate parts of the Souls games that I was struggling with. My previous strategy was to keep chipping away at a particular part of the game until I wasn’t progressing at all, and then seek out a guide or video to give me another perspective.

With Bloodborne so far, I’ve been revisiting my own gameplay videos to see where my strategy is breaking down, particularly with the bosses. Many times I’m just confirming where I thought I went wrong, but a few times I’ve seen things that I was able to go back and do differently the next time around.

Make no mistake, I’ll still be visiting my favorite wikis and let’s players during the course of my playthrough, and I have the hardcover Bloodborne guide on its way to me (if Amazon ever decides to ship it). But, being able to watch pieces of my own playthrough is a new tool that I’m really getting a lot out of. And since learning from death is a core theme with the Souls games, having another way to learn just adds to the fun.

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Clearing My Gaming Slate for Bloodborne

I usually have three or four games that I’m playing at any given time, seeing as I play on pretty much every platform out there. But there are certain releases that I know will be taking a huge commitment of my time, so I try to clean out my gaming slate before I start them. Dragon Age: Inquisition was one of those games, but that was just a warmup for the game that comes out tomorrow–Bloodborne.

I will be writing, talking and making videos about Bloodborne for the next several months, so I’m not going to talk too much about the game itself here, except to say it’s my most anticipated of the year by a country mile. I’ve put at least 400 hours into the Souls series of games, and I expect I’ll put no less than 100-150 into Bloodborne. That kind of time commitment–especially when I don’t have a ton f time to game–requires sacrifices to made.

I won’t be picking up Borderlands: The Handsome Collection tomorrow, as I know I won’t have time for it (but Nick’s grabbing it, so expect to see some videos here and on the YouTube page). I finished Dragon Age: Inquisition, Dying Light and The Order: 1886. The only other game I have going right now is Battlefield: Hardline, and that will be mainly for multiplayer with my Xbox friends over the next couple months.

But the end of March and all of April will be about one game–Bloodborne. And I can’t wait to dive in. Expect a ton of let’s plays, highlight videos and blog posts about the game over the next several weeks.

What was the last game you cleared out your gaming slate for? What’s coming up that you need to make room for?

The Order: 1886 and the Problem with Late-Game Difficulty Spikes

I marathoned almost the entirety of The Order: 1886 this past weekend, and for the most part, I really enjoyed my time with it. It is a very linear game with a healthy amount of cutscenes and quick time events, but I really got invested in the story the game was telling, and the third-person shooter elements felt smooth and fun to play. The Order is extremely polished, and it looks gorgeous from start to finish. I finished the game yesterday, and my playthrough clocked in around 6.5-7 hours, which is totally fine in my book.

My only real gripe with the game is its pacing. There are some chapters that are more cutscene than gameplay, and the interruption of gameplay with cutscenes in some places disrupts the flow of the game.

And then there was this:

This particular scene takes place in Chapter 15 of the game, the second to last chapter. It represents a difficulty spike that absolutely ground my playthrough of the game to halt, and left me thinking I might not even finish the game.

What was supremely frustrating about this particular scene is that you enter into a room in which there is no escape initially. Guards continue to spawn in at the back of the room, and there is no position where you are safe from being flanked. So, you are constantly moving around the room, which is fine, until you start dealing with the heavies (more powerful enemies). Because you’re constantly moving, you’re going to take some damage as you’re running around. Normal gunfire isn’t a big deal, but when enemies start using grenade launchers and thermite guns (which shower you with flammable material then set you ablaze), one shot from these heavies will finish you off. And the last ditch healing mechanic you have takes precious seconds to use, during which time other enemies just pump you full of bullets.

After dying a myriad of times, I did walk away for the rest of the evening. I managed to beat this section the following day, essentially by using a spawn closet for cover as I picked off the heavies, as they would not enter into the spawn closet for some reason.

The crazy thing about this particular segment of the game is it represents a big spike in difficulty. There was no other area in the entire game where I had to deal with that many enemies of various types in such a confined space, with no defensible position. It forced me to play the game differently that I had for all of the previous hours I’d spent with it.

Now, hitting one really frustrating point in the course of an entire game is not the end of the world, but I feel like it’s a big deal for The Order, because the flow of the story is so important to the experience. There is a sense of urgency to this part of the game, where Gallahad (the main character) is trying to get to a colleague as quickly as possible. That experience is completely shattered when one room becomes a meat grinder that causes you to replay the same section over and over again. It ruins the penultimate chapter of the story in a game where the story is everything.

The last time I ran into a momentum killer like this was in 2012’s ZombiU, which is still my favorite WiiU game to date (I wrote a whole series on it in 2012). There is a level where you get captured and have to fight your way out of an arena that almost made me quit that game (you can read my post on that here).

Whether designed to shake things up or to prolong the playtime of a game, the late-game difficulty spike can not only be a momentum killer, it can actually keep people from finishing a game, which is a bummer.

And just so we’re clear, I’m not picking on The Order here–I really enjoyed the game. But this particular section was a textbook example of something I think games can do without.

Do you have any examples of late-game difficulty spikes? Did you end up finishing the game in question?

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Co-Op Quick Look: Q*bert Rebooted (PS4)

I am a child of the 1980’s, one who grew up in arcades, and I spent many a quarter on Gottlieb’s 1982 puzzle platformer Q*bert. While the premise of Q*bert is simple–jump on colored blocks of a pyramid to turn them all to a different color–the game was difficult right out of the gate. From purple snakes to red blobs to monsters that jump sideways, there are a number of enemies that make Q*bert’s task difficult. Not to mention, one wring jump can take him right off the side of the level.

I actually put the most time into the Atari 2600 version of Q*bert, which you can see in the video below. For that time, it was quite a good adaptation, and the gameplay translated well to the home cosnole. Q*bert made his way to just about every home console at at the time, including the Commodore 64 and the NES.

And now, Q*bert has made his way back to home consoles with the recently released Q*bert Rebooted. The $10 game includes both the classic arcade version as well as a modern revamp that includes some new enemies and a challenge-based system reminiscent of games like Angry Birds. You can check out my Quick Look below.

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Dropping the Subscription Fee is the Right Move For Elder Scrolls Online

When the next-gen consoles were originally announced, the one thing that had me the most excited was the potential of getting more MMOs onto consoles. I had a blast with DC Universe Online for PS3, and I was hoping the power of the new consoles would really open the floodgates.

The game I was most excited about coming to consoles was Elder Scrolls Online, because I was already a fan of the series (I put 100+ hours into Oblivion on both Xbox 360 and PS3).

Until I heard they would be charging $15 a month.

With PS4 and Xbox One users already paying a monthly subscription fee for online features, adding another fee on top of that would dissuade many a gamer from even giving ESO a try. But, I had faith that by the time the game actually arrived on consoles, that fee would be long gone.

And so it came to pass. Yesterday, Bethesda Softworks not only announced the end of ESO’s subscription fee, but they announced the release date for the console versions of the game–June 9th. The game will cost $60 up front, but after that, you only have to put money into it if you want to. As with many other free-to-play MMOs, there will be in-game perks and other things to purchase for those who want them.

It’s no secret that the MMO strategy in the current gaming landscape is to launch with a subscription fee, get as many early adopters to pay for as long as you can, then transition to free-to-play for the life of the game. D&D Online, Lord of the Rings Online, DC Universe Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic and many more have followed the same path before, and for the most part, the transition has worked for them. The main difference for ESO is that you’ll still be paying up front for the game, similar to what Guild Wars does.

But the dropping of the subscription fee is the key to survival for these games, and I like ESO’s chances now that it will debut on consoles without that fee. I will absolutely be getting the game, and I’m happy to invest $60 to dive into the online world of Tamriel.

This is the right move by Bethesda Softworks, not just for the console versions of ESO, but for the future of the game. I think ESO could be huge on consoles.

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Console Gaming is No Longer a Smoother Experience Than PC Gaming

Seems like you can’t go three clicks on a gaming site these days without reading about broken console experiences. Games like Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Halo: Master Chief Collection have been rife with bugs and major issues since launch. The recent hacks of both Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network meant many people who got a new console for Christmas couldn’t download or play games on them. 

As I downloaded the 40GB update for Assassin’s Creed: Unity on XBox One this week (because a screw-up meant the “patch” was actually a re-download of the entire game), I couldn’t help but think:

Has console gaming lost the one true edge that it had on PC gaming for years?

I don’t think I’m alone in the reason I’ve preferred console gaming to PC gaming for years now–it’s been a much smoother experience. Not having to worry about different control schemes, driver updates and compatibility issues was a major reason that I have been primarily a console gamer for most of my adult life. If there was one thing you could count on when it came to console gaming, it was that things would just work. Buy a game, put it in your console, and play.

But not only has PC gaming gotten much easier over the past few years with things like Steam’s ‘Big Picture Mode’ and the fact that most games have controller support, but PC games offer a substantial edge to console games when it comes to pricing. As I type this, you can get the Tomb Raider: Game of the Year Edition for $6 on Steam. And through sites like Good Old Games, you can play classics like the original Deus Ex for $2.50.

The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have come out of the gate with a lot of the same problems that used to make PC gaming such a pain in the butt–constant updating, lots of bugs and in some cases, games that are broken on arrival and require multiple patches to fix. Add into that their unstable online services, and it feels like console gaming has lost pretty much all of the advantages it used to offer over PC gaming.

Most of the conversation around broken games and constant updates has centered around publishers and developers. But Microsoft and Sony might want to take a larger role in quality control moving forward, because the easier PC gaming becomes, the more likely console gamers are to jump over to the land of better visuals, better prices and a more stable user experience.

Final Thoughts–Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (PS4)

The last time I wrote about Tomb Raider was back in July 2013, when I had picked the game up on the Steam Summer Sale. At the time, the quick-time events in the beginning of the game were such a turn-off for me that I actually stopped playing it.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, and a flash sale that happened on PSN after Thanksgiving. I grabbed Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (PS4) for $18.00. And while the quick-time events are still the weak point of the game in my opinion, they’re just about the only weak point. Tomb Raider is an absolutely fantastic game, and I am so glad I gave it another chance.

Like many, I’m a Tomb Raider fan from back in the day. Playing the original on the first PlayStation is one of those experiences I’ll remember forever.

I was excited about the idea of the Tomb Raider reboot, and Lara becoming more of a fleshed-out character. And as fantastic as the new Tomb Raider looks and plays, I think the reinvention of Lara as a character is the game’s biggest achievement. Experiencing the evolution of Lara as a survivor and an explorer is easily the most enjoyable journey I’ve taken with Lara in the history of the franchise.

But let’s not gloss over the gameplay, because it’s pretty fantastic overall. The bow combat in particular is just super fun. And the one place I didn’t mind the quick-time events was in the finishing moves that add another layer to the combat system. by the end of the game, I had gone from long-range sniper to looking for opportunities to get up close and personal with enemies just so i could finish them with a flourish. The traversal mechanics are also excellent, and for me a huge leap ahead of anything I’ve encountered in the Assassin’s Creed series. I started dabbling in AC: Unity while playing through Tomb Raider, and it still amazes me how clunky traversal can be sometimes–but that’s another post for another day.

So, to recap–I loved the story and loved the gameplay in Tomb Raider. I am stoked for the upcoming Rise of the Tomb Raider on XBox One, and in the meantime I’ll be revisiting this game to complete the tombs that I still have to explore after finishing the main story.

I Can’t Wait to Die Again: Dark Souls II is Coming to PS4/XBox One in April 2015

One of the reasons this blog has been so barren over the last month or so is that I’m working on my next novel and participating in National Novel Writing Month. I have had no time to play games (well, I did create a character in Dragon Age: Inquisition), and I have barely been able to keep up with what’s going on in the gaming world.

BUT, anytime an announcement involving the Souls games (or Bloodborne for that matter) is made, my spider-sense goes off. Just as it did when Bandai Namco announced that an enhanced edition of Dark Souls II was coming to PS4 and Xbox One in April 2015.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin will feature visual upgrades, some tweaks to gameplay and most importantly, all three DLC expansions.

I “finished” Dark Souls II on PS3, although I have been trying to beat the Darklurker boss forever, so I haven’t started NG+ yet. I also haven’t played the DLC, and now I’m thinking that I’ll wait for the PS4 version to start a new playthrough and dive into that stuff.

Despite spending well over 100 hours with Dark Souls II on PS3, I still am just scratching he surface of that game. I’ll gladly but the enhanced edition for PS4. The only problem is that it’s coming out just a couple weeks after Bloodborne, so my guess is I’ll be getting Scholar of the First Sin a while after it’s April 7th release date.
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Diablo III Fits Like a Glove for This Old Gamer

Man, am I loving Diablo III so far.

I’m old–that is to say, I was around when videogames were first their way out of the arcades and into people’s homes. My next door neighbor had a Coleco Telestar system and my first console was the Atari 2600. I grew up on the Commodore 64 and the gold box D&D games (Pool of Radiance is still probably the best RPG ever made).

For me, sword and sorcery games hold a special place in my heart (I’ll be posting about my RPG love alter this week), and the Diablo series is unique among them. That may sound weird, because Diablo games are sort of a mish-mash of other games that came before them (Gauntlet and the aforementioned D&D games, to name a couple), but that’s what makes it unique to me. Even in 2014, the core gameplay and systems that made Diablo great in 1996 still hold up today, as they are the core aspects of D&D–fight monsters, level-up, get cool stuff. Rinse, repeat.

I grabbed the Ultimate Evil Edition of Diablo III for PS4 recently and have been having an absolute blast with it. For my first playthrough, I’m going with a wizard, and I recorded a bit of that playthrough the other day, which you can check out below. It’s from fairly early on in the first act, so it’s not super-spoilery.

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Even though the game has evolved since the 1996 original, Diablo III still has that old school feel, and it’s so easy to just pick up and play. I can put twenty minutes into it, or I can fall down the rabbit hole for hours. But I keep coming back to it whenever I turn on my PS4.

As I get deeper into the game, I’ll probably record a few more sessions and post about them here.

Trying Out PS4 Twitch Broadcasting With Outlast

After doing a couple of Twitch broadcasts with XBox One, I wanted to give the PS4’s version a try. So, I downloaded Outlast and played through the opening chapter. While getting the broadcast up and running was easy, I couldn’t figure out how to get the chat bar to disappear so the broadcast could be recorded in full-screen.

I’ll keep playing around with it, but you can check out the first part of my outlast playthrough below. I’ll say this about Outlast–that game is super creepy if you play late at night with the lights out.