Minecraft: Survival Mode (1.9 Pre-Release 3)

There are two things I’m mostly excited for in the gaming world that will be releasing within the next week. The first is Pokemon Red, Blue and Yellow releasing onto the 3DS eShop. (Bulbasaur REPRESENT.) The second is Minecraft 1.9, the first major update to the game since September 2, 2014. The Pokemon games hit on the 27th and Minecraft 1.9 is set to be released on the 29th, and since I’m an impatient bastard I went ahead and downloaded the pre-release version of the latter.

I’ve mentioned Minecraft briefly on this blog before, in my list of personal favourite videogames of all time. It sat at the bottom as an honorable mention, the reason being that “I don’t really consider Minecraft as a game so much as a creative platform for games. Sure, there’s the base survival gameplay, but I wouldn’t put that on my top ten due to lack of content.” And has that changed with 1.9? Well, no. Mostly because the enjoyability of vanilla Minecraft depends on two things: whether you’re playing with friends, and whether you have a good imagination and the attention span to carry out your ideas.

1.9, however, is quite the large update, most notably to combat. So without further ado, I launched the pre-release, created a new world and jumped in. And what did I find?

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Well, diamonds, actually, and within the first few minutes. This ended up being a vein of eight, which I had to return to mine after I’d found some iron.

But other than that, you may notice that I’m holding torches in my left hand. That’s the new offhand feature, used primarily for quick torch placement or the use of a shield, and switching out what you’re holding is actually less hassle than it seems when you get used to it. (If you press F, you switch what you’re holding with your offhand. I find that sandwiching a shield / torch between a sword and pickaxe allows for speedy switching between pickaxe-and-torch or sword-and-shield.) Combat now has more to it than simply spam-clicking with your sword; you must wait for it to recharge to achieve optimal damage output, and if you go up against a skeleton without generous employment of your shield, you can kiss your blocky ass goodbye.

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I never used to die much in this game. Full iron armour couldn’t save me from being trapped between two skeletons and a creeper, however.

Whilst some may mourn the ability to go up against hordes of enemies with ease, I welcome it. Not since my first delving into the game have I felt such unease at dusk, or felt the need to check behind me so often whilst spelunking. Open cave systems are now daunting as much as they are enticing. I’m enjoying single-player survival more than I have in months. It also helps that I spawned into a rather wonderful starting area, with plentiful coal, trees and greenery, and I must say I’ve been rather lucky with diamonds, too. If anyone’s interested, the seed is simply ‘1.9’, though I can’t say as to whether this will change what’s generated by release.

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They pushed me into a hole! I take it back! Bring back spam clicking!

I’d like to emphasise, though, that finding a good, medium-sized, vanilla server will work wonders for your Minecraft experience. Even if you’re not directly playing with others, simply sharing a world with them and talking as you play can eradicate the feeling of hollowness from the world. I play on a server which has a nice little economy system going on and allows you two personal teleport locations, one of which I share with my friend when we play together. When 1.9 releases on the 29th, I’ll probably go back to playing there, especially as we’ll be resetting the world (alongside most other servers, I expect).

 

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Cheat Codes

Remember cheat codes? They’ve been replaced by microtransactions, but they once stood as a grand pillar against boredom. If you had the internet then there were plenty of websites which had lists upon lists of them, which you’d scribble down onto paper and stick in the case of the game. Or, if you were someone like me, you’d collect lots of those little cheat code books that the gaming magazines handed out. Once I even bought a whole big book of ’em. Think I still have it lying around somewhere.

I was playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 with a friend yesterday, and we didn’t have a save file. This, of course, led to a lack of maps, and it was a few moments before either of us stopped to realise that we could just look up the cheat code to unlock them all. (By the way, have you ever bothered to play the level editor presets? There’s a whole bunch of them. Some of them are pretty good!) It made me stop and realise just what we’ve lost with the lack of cheat codes. I think cheat codes were phased out due to a combination of conflicting with achievement progress, and possibly to open up the way for microtransactions. If you asked me to choose between cheat codes and achievements I’d be conflicted, but the latter can shove right off.

Here’s an example. In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, you could enter a cheat code to get more money, and of course, you could enter it as many times as you’d like. In Grand Theft Auto V, you can still get plenty of dosh quickly, but this costs you real money. Of course, there are still cheat codes in GTA V, but there’s far less of them and I believe (though I may be wrong) that these were patched in with a later update. You may argue that online multiplayer is a large aspect of GTA V and that cheat codes have no place there, and I agree, but perhaps that shouldn’t restrict single-player gameplay.

And GTA V is one of the only games I can think of since the launch of the last generation of consoles which has cheat codes in the first place. Saints Row: The Third allowed you to buy a DLC which gave you access to cheat codes, but even this was a redundant idea due to endgame abilities far surpassing the need for any cheats, with the character legitimately gaining powers such as invincibility and infinite ammo. (I’m not saying I dislike this as a mechanic, because it was something exciting to work towards, although the novelty did eventually wear thin.)

Well anyway, I suppose I shouldn’t whinge too much. Perhaps cheat codes simply had their time, alongside the importance of high scores and level codes before them. But whilst high scores and level codes were succeeded by achievements and, well, save files, cheat codes seem to have gone the way of the dodo simply because they were a back door which allowed gamers to play with their game instead of feeding it money.

Wait… This Isn’t Tamriel! (Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning)

Kingdoms of Amalur is to Skyrim what Torchlight 2 is to Diablo 3. It was developed by one / some of the developers of its predecessor, it’s similar yet different in that it uses more traditional gameplay in place of the popular brand’s newer take on things, and the graphics and general aesthetic is more colourful, and less… gritty. Oh, and it’s also exactly what you’ve been looking for when searching for alternatives to the more mainstream franchise.

Now, as far as I can tell, I’ve just spoken heresy. Some of the user reviews for Kingdoms of Amalur beg you not to compare it to Skyrim, stating that it’s a very different game. And whilst partially, I agree, given its third person driven point of view and its more hack-and-slash combat, I also disagree. Now, to be fair, I’m only ten hours into the game as of now, but I can already see many similarities pop up between the two franchises, such as how stealth, lockpicking and pickpocketing works, how it has persuasion and crime, different guilds (sorry… houses) with their own questlines, and a myriad of other things. I’m not saying this is a bad thing; nor am I saying that this was unexpected, given that one of the lead game designers was prominent in Oblivion’s creation. In fact, this pleases me. There’s enough similarity here to feel right at home whilst still being a completely different and brilliant game.

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Here is my character, fresh out of the intro to the game. It’s… somewhat greener than Skyrim.

Take abilities, for example. Not to bash Skyrim’s exemplary collection of spells (see: fire hands, fire bolts, bigger fire bolts, fire floor), but I’ve always felt that something was… lacking. It is primarily, I think, due to the fact that spells are bought, not earned by levelling up. Not only do you learn them in Kingdoms of Amalur, but you can also put more points into them to make them more powerful. This is, like I mentioned in the introduction, a more traditional take on the game mechanisms of an RPG. It is also, however, better, removing simplicity and allowing far more customisation of your character’s ability to function in combat situations.

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It would seem that my penchant for accidental murder has carried over to Kingdoms of Amalur.

Now can we talk about scenery? I applaud Bethesda’s dedication to make an RPG that doesn’t think it necessary to include every biome, and this fits in with their apparent ideology that fantasy can be gritty and real instead of constantly airy-fairy. It attempts to immerse its players solely in one continent at a time, thereby building a more fleshed-out and believable environment instead of a handful of half-realised lands. And I respect them for that. But, man, sometimes I want to stop shivering when playing Skyrim and find somewhere warm to go bandit killing. And whilst, admittedly, I’ve not yet made it off the first continent in Amalur, I have visited Webwood, an area with an entirely different atmosphere to the surrounding lands. It’s full of, erm, big pink fluffy bunnies.

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These books… they’re not physics based! (They are readable, though.)

Finally, whilst I can’t exactly comment on it’s value as a whole yet, I can say that I’m enjoying the main storyline more than Skyrim, as well as many of the side-quests. The characters have more… character to them. When I arrived at the town of Gorheart, and I went through one of the merchant’s personal possessions and found a diary detailing the loss of her husband and her grief, and then found out more by talking to her about it. I then found notes by her husband’s graveside from his brother who promised to look out for the merchant and, well, I won’t spoil things. But as far as I can tell, there’s no accompanying quest. It’s just story for the sake of story, and it’s more interesting than half of Skyrim’s main questlines. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that they have more than three voice actors per gender. You know, soft spoken, rough spoken, and that one voice which says, “I’m going to betray you later in the questline because I’ve got that shifty voice.”

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It’s good to get away from Skyrim’s physics… oh goddamnit.

It’s a shame there won’t be a Kingdoms of Amalur 2, really. This was a game world unconnected to any other franchise who’s story wasn’t afraid to do things differently, who’s graphics weren’t afraid to look a little fantasy, and who’s game design wasn’t afraid to use tradition. And it does it really, really well. Hell, they even made me like gnomes.

Les’ Go Start Wars! (Lego Star Wars)

So yesterday, TT Games announced Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and frankly I am ecstatic… if a little apprehensive.

Let’s rewind a little.  The year is 2005. It’s my birthday. I’m ten goddamn years old. I’ve seen the Star Wars movies but have retained very little information about them. Enter Lego Star Wars: The Videogame. It does the impossible: it makes the prequels an enjoyable experience. As a hardcore Ratchet and Clank fan, this game feels familiar to me, and with a ton of content. Picking up studs like there’s no tomorrow. Jumping into free play and Darth Mauling it up in Episode III.

What I spent the most amount of time doing, however, was running around Dexter’s Diner and warping between characters, inciting battles and pitting enemy against enemy. Whilst it was typically an excercise in boredom, I probably did spend countless hours in the game’s hub world, destroying droids and watching their Lego pieces crumble to the floor with satisfaction. Lego Star Wars II: The Original Saga used the Mos Eisely Cantina for its hub, but it was never as good as Dexter’s Diner. In fact, the entire second game was somewhat lost on me, as I always preferred the first, though from what I can gather this is not the popular opinion.

But soon any and all conflicts regarding the better of the two games was solved as they were combined into a better game that launched on the (then) newer consoles, as well as PC. The PC version is the one I play to this day, and the only thing it’s really missing is achievements. As an avid collector of achievements, I’m still somewhat sore that this game misses them, as I’d surely go for 100% completion. Sure, there are other Lego games, and I do own them, but they’ve never really grabbed me like Lego Star Wars did.

Anyway, back to the present. (Or should I say a long time ago? Eh? Ehh?) I’m thrilled (though not surprised) at the eventual existence of Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens. What perplexes me, though, is that it’s coming out so soon after the movie’s release. Whilst it may be possible that TT Games worked alongside Lucasfilm or Disney to secure work on the game prior to the movie’s release, I could find no hint of such early access in their announcement. This means that, assuming we’re going from the fact that they’ve been working on the game since December, it should be finished and ready to go in… seven months? I don’t mean to be doubtful, as Ratchet and Clank games were made within a year of each other back in the PS2 era. I just hope this isn’t going to be rushed.

The other interesting thing about this is that they’re doing this per movie, instead of waiting for the trilogy to be over. I worry that there’s enough content in Episode VII to make a full Lego game. Or perhaps they’re using this one as a base, and will add the next two episodes as DLC? Which would make things awkward considering that the base game is named “Episode VII”. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.