Kritigri’s Top 5 Games Played During 2016

So it’s around this time of year that every starts making their top 10 games of 2016 lists, but as somebody who only got a decent gaming in August and was subsequently too busy playing all their older games in glorious 60fps at ultra settings, I’ve not exactly played much of this year’s games. So instead, I’ve created a list of the top five games that I’ve either started playing, or played the majority of in this year. So, without further ado:

5: The Elder Scrolls: Online

This game has a bad reputation for launching with a subscription fee, with many features of Elder Scrolls games missing, and apparently most inexcusably, for not being multiplayer Skyrim. Since launch, however, the mandatory subscription fee has been waived, a plethora of updates have polished the game and brought it up to standard, and whenever the game goes on sale, a rush of excited new players give negative reviews of the game for it not being multiplayer Skyrim.

ESO is a great MMO in its own right, and it might have been higher up on my list had I not only scratched the surface of it. While it’s true that I have 75 hours logged in the game, you can pretty much divide that number by 10 in regards to how much experience that’d give a gamer in a typical RPG. My character is yet to hit level 30, but I’ve very much enjoyed working my way through the quests in Stonefalls, Deshaan (both provinces of Morrowind), Shadowfen (part of Black Marsh) and have recently arrived in Windhelm (part of Skyrim, though the not the entirety of Skyrim is in ESO… for now.) I find the storytelling to be unique and interesting, and the fact that every quest and NPC in the game is fully voice acted is an achievement not to be sneered at, considering the sheer size of ESO’s Tamriel. The quest objectives themselves may be somewhat copy/pasted, but this is a problem – a trope, even – that many (if not all) MMO’s are doomed to follow.

So far, the only downside to ESO, for me, is that I mostly play alone. When I joined WoW some years ago, I was able to find a social guild that I could talk to before I’d even hit level 30; in ESO, most of the ‘social’ guilds I’ve joined say almost nothing to each other except for when they need somebody to join them for a dungeon. Perhaps it’s simply bad luck. More likely, it’s me missing my WoW guild. But this is a personal downside; ESO is actually a very solo friendly game.

4: Assassin’s Creed 2

Okay, so I’ve played AC2 before. What I really mean with this listing is the entirety of the Ezio trilogy. But I chose AC2 specifically because I believe it had the perfect amount of collectables and side-missions to complete, and was the most fulfilling experience of the three games.

The Ezio trilogy is a masterpiece of storytelling, and this is coming from someone who appreciates both the past and the present aspects of the story. Ezio himself is a truly likeable character, and the fact that we stay with him from his birth to his elderly life and watch him mature only increases my connection to the character. I also loved uncovering all of the templar conspiracies in the format of Subject 16’s scraps of code, and getting a sense for the wider narrative of Assassin’s Creed. I recently wrote a full blog post on the games here.

3: Grand Theft Auto V

More specifically, GTA Online. More specifically still, the PC version. More specifically still, the Cunning Stunts DLC. Because there’s a reason why the people of GTA: San Andreas Online went through the hassle of modding in silly midair stunt ramps, and Rockstar recognised this and capitalised on it wonderfully. It may help that I’m a longtime fan of the Trackmania series, but this is the first update to GTA: Online to really grip me. There’s a decent selection of tracks (plus you can make and share your own), and I’ve always loved the way cars handle in GTA V. Plus, it’s yet another wonderful way of making in-game money and numbing the microtransaction-enforced grind to get the things you want.

I’ve written more about the game here.

2: World of Warcraft: Legion

What, not number 1?

Anyway, if you’ve been reading this gaming blog over the last 5 or so months, you probably got a little sick of hearing me talk about WoW. Namely, I discussed it here, here, and here. And yes, I went on to play many hours of the expansion, partaking in dungeons and guild raids (for the first time) and world quests and all of the amazing things that Legion has to offer. In fact, I pretty much tunnel-visioned the game for 4 months straight. And Legion has so much content, you could never keep on top of it all. Blizzard more than made up for the barren of dead content that was their previous expansion.

But I burned myself out on it. I have no doubt that within a few months I’ll be back at it again, but I’m currently taking a break. For once, this was not because I’d log in and wonder what I could possibly do with my time, but instead, because I’d log in and be hit with a wave of indecision with so much choice. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but when you burn out on a game, you burn out all the same, whether it’s because of there being not enough content or just because you’ve played the damn thing for 4 months and ended up dreaming that the next raid tier was released early and got a little embarrassed and decided to focus on other things.

But that’s not why this game is in second place. Legion would be number 1 were it not for a game that actually trumped it.

1: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

At the beginning of the year, I was getting a little fed up about how bad my attention span was. For instance, I recognised that I had started up maybe four different saves of Skyrim over the last few years, always getting to Whiterun and then failing to continue, even though I was having fun. So, as part of my New Year’s resolution, I decided that I was going to 100% complete Skyrim. As in, get all 75 achievements, which include hitting certain levels, completing multitudes of quest lines, doing crafting, doing DLC, doing damn near everything there is to do besides clearing every single dungeon in the game.

And I did it.

I don’t think any game has held onto me the way that Skyrim has. I love the sassy NPCs and the physics bugs and the skill trees and the combat system and I love that I know the game inside-out enough to start a second playthrough with the Special Edition and know every nook and cranny but still not be bored. I love that after 170 hours I can still find a random encounter that I’ve never seen or play a fully unique quest that I never knew existed, that I can replay the civil war as a filthy Stormcloak instead of a faithless Imperial, that I can build a house again, that I can learn archery and sneaking and blind bloody murder and that I can look away from my screen and realise that 8 hours have gone by and that the real world still exists. I love that I still have so much to learn about the incredibly expansive, unique and hard to wrap your hard around lore, and that I can do this by deciding to go book collecting for my own library.

I’ve always said that my favourite game of all time was Ratchet and Clank 2 but I think we have a very strong contender here.

I’ve not even tried mods yet.

Honorable Mention

I feel like I owe Kingdoms of Amalur an apology. It should have been on this list. I bought it in February and played 9 hours of it and absolutely loved it, but for whatever reason, I stopped right there. And I always meant to get back to it, and I didn’t. But I feel like it’s another big, open-world RPG that I might just go ahead and 100%, because it is a rich, colourful, unique world that deserves attention.

Maybe 2017, eh?

The Travels Ezio Auditore da Firenze (Assassin’s Creed: 2, Brotherhood, and Revelations)

When Assassin’s Creed 1 was announced as a launch title for the PS3, I remember being somewhat interested, but ultimately, I never ended up playing the game. In fact, I kinda forgot about Assassin’s Creed altogether. It wasn’t until I decided to watch a Youtuber do a playthrough of Brotherhood that I really became interested in the series, and I bought and played 2 on PS3 some years ago.

Since then, I’ve been keeping a loose eye on the series, and in the recent Steam Autumn Sale I decided to pick up 2, Brotherhood, and Revelations. This was motivated partly by the fact that The Ezio Collection has recently been released on PS4 and Xbox One, meaning that everyone was talking about my favourite Italian in gaming once again. (Sorry, Mario.)

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Moments like this make me glad to not be afraid of heights!

From a narrative standpoint, it has been very interesting to see Ezio grow from a boy to an old man. I’m a sucker for lifelong narratives, and I’m currently halfway through Revelations and still finding great interest in the machinations of old man Ezio. (I could happily go on about my interests in lifelong narratives and life from the perspective of the elderly from here, but that’d be straying too far from gaming territory. Suffice to say it is a topic that interests me greatly.) But aside from Ezio’s story, I’m also greatly enjoying the story of Desmond Miles, the protagonist outside the animus who is using it to relive the memories of his ancestor, Ezio. Whilst some only care about the stories of past Assassins, I find myself drawn in to the sci-fi portions of Assassin’s Creed as well as the historical, though I hear this is significantly toned down in later games.

I have to say, I believe Assassin’s Creed 2 had the perfect amount of side missions and collectables. Whilst I’d not run around collecting 100 feathers myself, I found that outside of missions, the Subject 16 puzzles, the viewpoints, codex pages, Assassin Tombs and Villa management were enough to keep me satisfied. After 2, I feel that it gets a little out of control. I enjoyed the Borgia towers in Brotherhood, but they added Borgia Flags in addition to feathers, city management in ways of buying stores, investments, extra missions as rewards from 100% synchronisation, animus trials and more. And in Revelations, there’s still more to do. Though, I will admit that I am perhaps biased as somebody who is playing the games back-to-back, rather than as somebody who is waiting a year between games as they were developed.

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Assassin’s Creed has boasted odd glitches since long before Unity.

I’ve never really been one for stealth games, but Assassin’s Creed is somewhat different with how you move around the city, between crowds and across rooftops. Anyone familiar with the series will know of its uniqueness (if you can call a game with 9 main titles and a remaster ‘unique’ anymore). It’s not all about stealth, though; Assassin’s Creed has some satisfying swordplay, though I’ll admit that it becomes maybe a little too easy when they introduce kill streaks in Brotherhood. You kill one guard, you kill the entire crowd, so long as you time it right.

Parkour is also a huge element in the games, and the completely parkour oriented levels (i.e the Assassin Tombs in 2 and the keys in Revelations) are probably some of my favourite parts of the series. I love being presented with something seemingly insurmountable and being able to work my way there through conveniently placed nooks and crannies, leaping from one deadly hazard to the next. And Revelations definitely kicks it up a notch in terms of how dangerous it looks; there have been many sequences where a ledge will crumble as you grab onto it, and suddenly you’re kicking off of a falling rock and onto the parallel ledge, barely escaping your terminal fall. It can also be a source of frustration in the general run of things, though, as many times I’ll find myself running up a wall instead of past it, or leaping off backwards when I meant to simply jump.

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That’s, uh… that’s some good finger strength right there.

I only bought up to Revelations, but in a massive stroke of personal luck, Ubisofts free Ubi30 game this month is Assassin’s Creed 3, the very next game in the series. I very much look forward to playing it.

General Gaming Update

So last week I didn’t do a blog post because I had nothing to specifically post about besides having played 2 hours of DiRT 3, and this week I still have no specific game to focus my post on or the energy to discuss another gaming related topic. So instead, as I can’t bring myself to bail on 2 weeks in a row, I’ll just have a natter about what I’m currently playing.

With the release of Minecraft 1.11, I tried to get back into playing a new vanilla survival world, in the hopes of finally settling down in one place and building something that would amount to years of progress and enjoyment. This did not happen. I experimented with many different custom terrain generations and ultimately came to the conclusion that if I had to punch another tree I’d promptly stick my head into the nearest lava lake.

Instead of giving up on the game entirely, however, I decided to search for a good Minecraft server, as the one I usually play on has been down for almost half a year now and despite all of the good-natured Discord updates, my patience was beginning to wear thin. The server I did eventually find is called RenMX, and has a whole bunch of amazing plugins which transform how you approach the game, from the claiming system to an on-the-go storage system and crazy things like hidden collectible cards which can be used to spawn in items, buffs, pets or other things. The server has a 6 year history, and perhaps most enticingly they expand the world map with each game update rather than resetting it and forcing you to start over. Whilst I never overtly minded about the latter way of doing things, I find myself much more attached to a world that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

I’ve also been playing some more Tomodachi Life on 3DS. I won’t say too much about it here in case I decide to write a fully fledged blog post on it in future, but here’s something I wrote about it a year back.

The Autumn Steam Sale is here and my wishlist has lit up green. When I discovered that the Assassin’s Creed Ezio Collection isn’t coming out for PC, I decided to buy the original Assassin’s Creed 2, simply because it was £3.60 and whilst I’ve played it on PS3, I’d rather be able to play it in 1080p at 60fps because I’m a privileged bastard. So far, I regret nothing. I’m also intrigued by the upgrades to UPlay, such as how you can now use particular points earned by in-game achievements to earn a discount on future Ubisoft games. This is an idea I’ve had for achievements since they were first announced, so it’ll be interesting to see if any, er, more agreeable gaming platforms pick up this idea.

I went over to my friends house yesterday and tried some Battlefield 1 on his PS4, and whilst I might have previously not paid much mind to the game due to my own personal preferences in regards to thematic settings in shooters, I actually had a ton of fun. Battlefield has always been a series which rewards players well for participation instead of just how many baddies you done shot, and this only serves to make actual kills feel even more rewarding. Plus, the outbreak of skirmishes around the map make for fun emergent narratives that cause you to feel even more determined to push forward and take the objective.

And finally, I’ve recently re-installed the Elder Scrolls Online, after dropping it immediately when World of Warcraft: Legion began digging its claws into me. And I’m still playing that, to be honest, but it no longer takes up the majority of my gaming time and I’m eager to see how the One Tamriel update has changed ESO. Plus, it may help that I recently bought the game for a friend. I’m still only level 22 myself, but now that I don’t have to worry about being distracted by other quests and levelling up past particular storylines, I can let loose and get stuck in. I’m still not entirely certain how the alliance based storylines are going to work now that I can just teleport to the enemy and start working for them, though.

Kill, Loot, Die, Repeat (Overture)

In the recent Halloween Steam sale, I focused on looking for super cheap arcade style games that I could waste my time on in small bursts. This was partially because there wasn’t too much in the way of larger titles on sale this year, but also because I’m a little… entirely broke. But, regardless, I have come across a nifty little game called Overture for 40p.

Overture is an action-adventure roguelike which draws heavy inspiration from hits such as Diablo, Realm of The Mad God, Zelda, and The Binding of Isaac. Explore vast randomly generated dungeons and slay hordes of cunning enemies!

The mixed reviews initially put me off. I saw many complaints of people dying too quickly and unfairly and not even knowing what killed them, but having played the game for myself, I believe that these players have simply been running into enemy-spawning traps and failing to utilise the game’s running mechanic to evade the ambush. That being said, this game is a bit of a roguelike that you have to throw yourself into and die repeatedly to progress. If this doesn’t suit your playstyle, then this may not be the game for you, though I’ll add that the sense of progression is well implemented, and deaths feel more like a small hindrance than a punishment. The speed at which you can die if you’re not careful can make longer runs feel very rewarding.

Here’s how it works – you have four classes of hero to choose from, each containing some sub-classes that you can play individually. In the game, monsters and barrels and other assorted environmental caches drop gold, which fill your character’s XP bar for that run. When you level up, you get better stats. This gold also carries across runs, and can be used to purchase upgrades for your characters. These upgrades increase your character’s base strength when going into the dungeon, essentially guaranteeing you progress on even the most catastrophic of runs. So while this game may seem like you’re bashing your head against a brick wall at first, you’ll swiftly start to notice your character getting stronger and dominating the earlier stages that previously gave you trouble.

Loot does not carry over between deaths, but it is extremely easy to see what is an upgrade for your character on the fly. In Overture, you’re not going to be sitting in a character screen humming and hawing over which statistics you want to gain and sacrifice between two different sets of robes. Rather, you’ll run over a treasure chest at some point and a shiny trinket will drop with green bold text saying +ATT, +MRGN or something along those lines.

One issue I can understand is screen clutter. I often find myself running into an enemy and being damaged before realising what’s happening. I can fully understand the confusion about ambush traps and not understanding what’s attacking you under the sea of numbers and pixellated gore. But I also have to admit that I find that to be part of the challenge. This is a heavily action based game that relies on reaction speed, and realising that there’s a skeleton popping out of the ground to skewer you on a bone kebab is just one of the aspects of the game that you need to be on the lookout for.

My only other criticism in this game is the achievement system. There are four achievements – one for completing the game with a character of each class. There’s plenty of opportunity to give players achievements for upgrading their characters, reaching certain floors, collecting particular loot or slaying particular bosses. But this isn’t something that a lot of people will care about, and I’m aware that many developers don’t bother with achievements at all. Just a little personal gripe.

Anyway, the game is usually £3.99 (which I wouldn’t call unfair), but it sometimes goes on sale for much cheaper. If you want an easily pick up and put down-able roguelike to throw yourself into which isn’t a platformer or a tactical dungeon crawler, then I’d point you in the direction of Overture.

The Life of a Pretend Millionaire (Grand Theft Auto V: Online)

I bought GTA V on PS3 when it first launched back in 2013, and since then have kind of regarded that as a bad move, given that it was £50 and I didn’t even play it all that much around launch period. In fact, since owning it on PS3 I’ve hardly ever booted it up, save for when me and my friend want to fuck around in a private session. But he eventually upgraded to the PC version, and the game becomes somewhat significantly less fun when you’re running around a private session (or public session populated by 12-year olds with a Michael Bay fetish) on your own. But according to my Rockstar Social Club statistics, I’ve played over 50 hours of multiplayer on PS3, so I suppose that it did sort of pay off in the end.

Well anyway, I finally upgraded to the PC version last week and whilst I’ve still not had a chance to fuck around with my friend in a private session as is my usual go-to for the game, I did decide to give the actual multiplayer a try. Whilst I still prefer the relative safety of a private session to the insufferable explosive hell that is public sessions, I’ve found in GTA V the multiplayer racing game that I’ve always wanted. So long as the host isn’t a dick and the racing isn’t “GTA-style”. The recently released Cunning Stunts DLC has made up the bulk of my activity; for those of you who are unaware, it give players the option to race in the more arcade setting of loops, ramps, and mid-air racing rather than the typical street-racing that was in the game before. I’m willing to bet that this was a decision made after reviewing the popularity of similar-styled racing on hacked tracks back in GTA: San Andreas multiplayer. I certainly approve! Winning a hard-fought race of multiple players in this game is so rewarding, both mentally and in cash and RP.

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Weeeeeee!

One issue that people have with GTA Online is the microtransactions. I’ve heard it said before that they purposefully put the free new DLC at ridiculous in-game prices so players are forced to buy it via the purchasable cash cards. And sure, that’s certainly true to an extent, it’s their business model. But I’ve found that it also isn’t unobtainable through standard play. I’ve only got 5 hours played of GTA V on my Steam account, but I’ve already made over $250k just from chilling out with some Cunning Stunts matchmaking. And of course, it’ll take me a fair amount longer to reach the millions necessary for some DLC content, but it’s certainly not an unreachable goal for those who do play the game for fun and not to grind out money. And I’m not actually attempting to save up for any particularly expensive content; I’ve actually spent some of it on some car modifications and stuff, so maybe that’s why it doesn’t feel like such a grind to me.

Loading times and UI issues are legitimate criticisms, though, and they have been since the game’s release. There’s plenty of annoying nitpicky stuff, such as the inability to start a private online game unless you’re launching into it from the single-player campaign. When in multiplayer, I had a very hard job trying to find out how to simply play offical Cunning Stunts races with matchmaking, and there’s still no way of knowing whether the lobby you’re joining is going to be an active one with 10-16 players or one with 4-5 who then leave. And the waiting times between races border on frustration at the best of times. At the end of a race, you have to look at who won, wait for everyone to like or dislike the race, go back to the lobby, wait for the host to decide to start the game, choose your car / outfit or whatever, and wait for everyone to ready up before a final loading screen. This can take up to 5 minutes, based on personal experience, and depending on the length of the race, you’re looking at actually racing for about half the time that you’re online.

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It is surprisingly difficult to get a picture of one’s entire garage.

One thing I do love about GTA Online is the progression of ownership. When I walk into my garage, I like being able to look at my vehicles and remember where they came from. Many people just have a collection of supercars, I’m aware, but my supercar shares a garage with my Bifta (off-road buggy style thing), my suped-up mini, my Banshee (favourite car in the game), my two muscle cars (one stylish and one for casual open-world usage), that free sports car they gave everyone (an Elegy), my original stolen and insured car that I began with, and more. The other day I walked into my downtown garage and found one of the slowest cars in the game that I’d hijacked and painted pink in a free-roam session a few years ago with my friend. The memory brought an instant smile to my face.

So yeah, I’m having a good time with GTA, and I don’t regret buying it a second time. On PC it looks gorgeous. I should probably play some single-player, too, because I remember being interested in the story the first time I began it. Plus, if I remember rightly, they give you plenty of the DLC multiplayer cars for free in a garage somewhere for a test-drive. So if you need me, I’ll be zooming off the edge of Mount Chiliad.

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The Pimp Wagon, in all its glory.

Pokemon Sun and Moon Special Demo Version

Whilst I’m not exactly foaming at the mouth for the next Pokemon game as much as other people are (for I am still fully ensnared in the videogame crack den that is WoW: Legion), I decided to give the demo a go when it released today (see: 2 days ago, when this post was written). For those who are unaware, the modern Pokemon demos are typically standalone experiences that introduce the player to the setting and key game innovations for this iteration of the franchise. In this case, it document Sun’s (the main character who you’ll be able to rename in the main game) arrival to the first island in the game, and gives you some two main areas to explore: the town, and what would typically be called a route.

The first thing I noticed was the movement. In Pokemon X / Y, they allowed the player to move outside of grid-based movement for the first time in the franchise, although this was still restricted to roller-skates and bike riding. They expanded on this in Omega Ruby / Alpha Sapphire (ORAS), allowing grid-based movement only if you used the D-pad. In Sun and Moon, they graduate from this entirely, adding smoother running and walking animations and removing all remnants of the oppressive grid-based system.

But that’s only one minor improvement. From what I’ve gathered from the demo, one of SuMo (Sun and Moon)’s key selling points is its iteration. There are many quality-of-life improvements that are a great welcome from a game which has a tradition of following a set schematic, and the main game seems set to stray from tradition in more ways than the minor quality-of-life updates. But as far as they go, I was pleased to see they’ve added a way to check what stats have been buffed and debuffed during the battle. They’ve also added a system wherein you can see what moves are not effective, effective or super effective against an enemy if you’ve beaten them before. Part of me welcomes this change greatly, as the National Pokedex is getting too large to remember the types of every single Pokemon, though I do worry that this will devolve the game into less tactics and more mindless button-pressing.

I was never all that sold on the setting of Alola itself. I’m not a holiday island kind of a guy. But playing through the demo, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the cultural quirks which differed from the other regions. And that’s just as well, because they’re going all-out on this; the professor isn’t even a professor, because they want him to seem more laid-back. I’m a fan of what we’ve seen so far from Kukui and the, er, the rival dude who’s name escapes me. I even found myself enjoying Team Skull; there’s a big danger of them simply becoming edgelords, but they were actually somewhat amusing to me.

They give you a Greninja for the demo, and so far there’s been no indication as to whether you get to keep him or anything else from the demo to take to the main game (as was the case with the ORAS demo). At one point you get to use a Pikachu, and that was during the (frankly odd) trial where you had to go and sneak pictures of Pokemon, who would subsequently attack you. I have a feeling that that mechanic is going to be one of those features that Game Freak try to promote but ultimately ends up falling by the wayside. At the end of the trial, there’s a boss Pokemon, which is basically one of the earlier Pokemon but in a different form – which then assumes another, fiery form… it’s confusing. I’m not entirely sure I like that particular direction the game series is heading in.

Z-moves are cool, though. I’m not sure I was ever fully sold on mega-evolutions and having to mega-evolve your Pokemon in each fight to get the best out of them. Z-moves are SuMo’s mega evolution type game-changer. Whilst you only got a chance to use it once in a demo, I’m assuming that you can only use them once per battle, and that they do a hefty portion of damage. And the animation was awesome… though I can see it getting somewhat annoying once you’ve seen it a few dozen times, because it does take around 10 seconds to complete.

And then the demo ends but not really because New Demo Plus. You get to go back to the demo zones and ride a Taurus around, which is another feature coming in the main game that I absolutely love. It beats the bike by miles. Not only is it really fast – and has a charge move that goes even faster – but it also has utility, seemingly taking the place of Rock Smash as you barge past rocks and open up new areas. Speaking of which…

The area you can unlock with this charge is a kind of mini Safari-Zone. And I’m talking oldschool Safari Zone. There’s no time (well, step) limit, but they give you a certain amount of Pokeballs and chuck you into the long-grass, telling you to catch yourself some pocket monsters. However, demos being demos means there’s only three to catch – Pikipek, Yungoos, and Rockruff, so that gets stale pretty quickly.

And that about sums it up! I look forwards to playing the full game when it’s released. I should probably go and work on completing Pokemon Yellow so I can transfer those guys over…

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“Hey Slowpoke, can I leave the demo area?”