Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch) First Impressions

Every time a new Zelda is announced, Nintendo manages to light a collective fire among their diehard fans. Almost immediately, there are more questions than answers about the newest installment featuring our favorite wielders of the Triforce of Power, Wisdom and Courage. Most important of all, among this tizzy of emerging fan theories and confirmed features from Nintendo, the simple question of “Will it be good?” reigns supreme. With that in mind and with about 10 hours of gameplay under my belt, I can still say with certainty that this game is one of the best in the series.

The best way to describe Breath of the Wild is to say that, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” While a lot of the elements are a major departure from recent installments in the series, many also harken back to more classic elements of the franchise. Working together, all of these features give a fresh feeling to the game entirely, while still being a thoroughly Zelda-like experience; ultimately a mixture of old and new turns into a great game.

With that in mind, here’s a few of the features worth noting.

The World is Your Oyster

Taking a note from the first game of the series, Breath of the Wild begins with an open world and a generous old man. Once what serves as a tutorial is put out of the way, you are given freedom on how you want to approach things and a litany of distractions to prevent you from getting anywhere. Among the main quest and side quests, there are a number of shrines that serve as mini-dungeons to explore throughout the world. Each provides a puzzle or battle to overcome and serves as a worthwhile distraction. Beyond that, the world is littered with things to do. Enemy camps, collectible items, and materials populate the world around the player. More often than not, I found myself far and away from my original goal as I pursued one distraction after the next.

Variety is the Spice of Life

Variety comes in many forms in Breath of the wild. Unlike previous iterations, Link has a more robust assortment of weaponry than the typical sword and shield. Things like heavy blades, hammers, and spears are available and have their own properties in combat. While the standard sword still swings in a half circle arch, heavy blades and hammers possess a heftier swing that can also knock a shield right out of an enemy’s hand, and spears have a far more reach but don’t swing nearly as far. The arrows also come with their own assortment of choice, each possessing moves that can shock, sizzle, freeze or even explode enemies on contact. Though where the variety really shines is how the world lets you tackle every encounter and puzzle. Every enemy can be beaten traditionally by hitting them with whatever weapon you have equipped, but it’s far more fun to use the environment against them. Big rocks, flammable grass, and exploding barrels are some of the many ways you can turn the environment against Link’s enemies. Beyond that, puzzles can be treated the same way. While most of them have a standard way to solve them, many allow for the player to deviate from the norm and find their own way to solve them.

Broken Beyond Repair

New to the series, (unless you count the Giant’s Knife from Ocarina of Time) every weapon, bow and shield in the game has durability. What this means is that those items will eventually break, and that they will break often. It’s not too uncommon to have an item break after one or two encounters, or to have several weapons break during a particularly hard battle. While a mechanic like this could easily verge on the annoying, Nintendo has done a good job at making the loss only minor. There are so many weapons, bows and shields throughout the game that finding a replacement is almost instantaneous.

Prepare to Die

Shockingly enough, Breath of the Wild can be difficult at times. Since the world is open to explore that also means that it’s entirely likely that the player will encounter an enemy they have no business facing. Every so often, I would be one-shotted by what seemed to be a common enemy only to later find out that their weapon far exceeded my current hearts or armor. That said, the enemy AI also got a boost. They no longer run blindly into danger, and seek cover when attempting to shoot them from afar. They no longer attack one at a time, but instead seek to surround link and hit him from all sides if possible. Overall, this reminded me of A Link to the Past and the many times when I was either surrounded by enemies or fighting one that was far beyond my current experience.

Everything Old is New Again

Despite all the changes to the core gameplay, Breath of the Wild still feels like a Zelda game. The story is filled with a cast of colorful characters, the sense of adventure reigns supreme, and many other elements return to define this as a Zelda-experience. While the execution may be different, there’s enough here to make any diehard Zelda fan fall right back in love.

 

Siegecraft Commander (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Blowfish Studios || Overall: 6.5/10

Note: This is a review based on playing with normal-ass PC controls, not VR.  Play experience may be significantly different if you choose to play in VR.

Build stuff, blow stuff up, spawn little guys with swords, and watch it all come together in the hectically-paced Siegecraft Commander.  Your quick reactions and propensity to spam the map with your buildings will get you through almost any challenge the game has to offer.  While it is technically a real-time strategy game, strategy is not usually what is rewarded, single player or otherwise.  Since the game mechanics are pretty easy to understand, the title can appeal to a broad group in the strategy genre, mostly for beginners or people who never play RTS games usually.

The basic idea of Siegecraft Commander comes with placing towers on your map, and using them as stepping stones to travel across the map as you maneuver to vanquish your enemy.  To place one of your buildings, a slingshot mechanic is introduced.  Rather than simply clicking on the map where you want to perfectly place your building, you will have to gauge whereabouts you want to build by aiming with your previous building.  You can’t spawn buildings everywhere, however.  Terrain, other buildings, and seemingly-random obfuscations will prevent you from placing buildings down.  What can make the gameplay chaotic at times is that buildings are hierarchical — meaning your buildings are reliant on its parent building existing for itself to exist.  If Outpost A spawns Outpost B and Outpost C, and then Outpost A is destroyed, all three go down in flames (and all of the buildings attached to Outpost B/C as well).  You’ll have to keep an eye on your earlier buildings for any dangers heading their way, since you could lose 10 or even 20 buildings when an important node falls.

With those basicalities explained, you’ll have a number of different buildings available to build.  Due to a tech tree, you’ll need some buildings as a prerequisite for other buildings.  There is typically no hard limit to the amount of buildings you can spawn from one, but there is a limited amount of space around the existing buildings before you need to branch out further.  Buildings cannot criss-cross, as they lay down a straight line to their parent building, so you’ll need to plan out how you spread across the map in different lines.  Outposts are the most important building, as they extend your keep and can allow for the eventual building of all other towers.  You can make Barracks, which spawn infantry that auto-attack ground enemies and buildings, with no input allowed from you.  There are also other sorts of towers that shoot projectiles, but typically require manual control — the Barracks are usually the strongest tower since there is no micromanagement involved and you can spend more time brute forcing into your enemy’s territory with your regular Outposts to launch explosives from them while your infantry back you up.  The more advanced buildings are powerful in their own ways, but there’s not much impetus to bother with them due to cooldowns of their abilities or construction.

Unlike most RTS games, there is no resource-gathering.  There is a blue and an orange resource on the map that is required for the more powerful buildings — all you need to do is build an Outpost on them to acquire it as a binary value.  Construction is regulated by cooldowns, so if you accidentally launch your building onto an area that can’t be built on, you’ll be waiting for 30 seconds or so for your second try.  The goal is always to eliminate your enemy, and in the single player campaign you will always start out with just your initial Keep while the computer will start with all of their buildings down already.  They will sometimes expand or rebuild lost buildings, but it seems to depend on the level itself whether or not they are told to do anything.  I’ve had a couple of levels where they have a lot of buildings but don’t try to advance on your position other than with spawning enemies or projectiles, and others where they don’t do much but defend.  There are two single player campaigns, sixteen levels in all.

A multiplayer mode is included but unfortunately seems to lag out or become unresponsive at a certain point.  I was lucky and had my very first game continue for about 10 minutes and it was surprisingly a lot more fun than the campaign since you are racing against the other player(s) in a bid to outmaneuver them on the map and then destroy them.  All sides starting with just a Keep also makes it considerably more competitive, as facing against an already-established network of towers always feels like pushing a boulder up a mountain.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of frustrating aspects that don’t make the gameplay enjoyable.  First of all, the slingshot mechanic is a chore to use, and it is the primary thing you’ll be interacting with.  By default, the slingshot will not show you where it is going to land so you have to guesstimate where it might, and even then you’ll be ripping your hair out when it goes half the distance you thought it would for the hundredth time.  Frustration is further enhanced when your building lands somewhere it can’t even be built, forcing you to wait for extended cooldowns and deal with the slingshot yet again.  It would have been nice if there was some sort of flag for noting what terrain could not be built on so you didn’t aim it there.  However, there is a control option available called “Shot Guide” that shows you generally where the thing you are launching is expected to land, but it is for the campaign only.  I get why it isn’t available in multiplayer and is off by default, because it would probably make it not as fun since part of the enjoyment is seeing your opponents fail at hitting their target all of the time.

There’s also a lot of random bugs, the biggest one being that if a tower you are currently controlling dies, you won’t be able to select any other towers unless you open the game menu (via Escape); after doing so, you are then able to select a new tower.  Once, I even saw an infantry soldier die, then the sword came back to life (no person attached) and it started hitting my tower again!  It was kind of funny, but annoying at the same time since I didn’t know if the tower was going to take any damage randomly and the damn thing wouldn’t go away.  Perhaps with future game updates some of these issues will be resolved.

The graphics are pretty good and the cartoonish style of the art meshes well with the idea of the gameplay.  There are only two factions, so there’s not a whole lot of variety in units or buildings.  There is some nice/funny voice acting, but seems to be oddly incomplete.  As I got further in the first campaign, voice overs didn’t play during the story bits — they either weren’t working due to a bug or maybe they didn’t get around to recording them?  I honestly don’t know.  The music isn’t bad, either and also fits the theme well.

Another big feature for this title is that it is also designed for VR play.  While I didn’t get a chance to play this title in VR (I don’t have that equipment available to me), I have played with an HTC Vive for about half an hour or so.  I can see how the experience could be a lot more different, as controls are a significant obstacle for enjoyment here.  Since VR is still a pretty new platform, a game like this might be pretty unique in the range of titles out there.

While there are some interesting points to be had with Siegecraft Commander, I came away mostly frustrated with the experience.  Wrestling with the controls and the lack of information regarding where buildings can be placed is a big detriment to any enjoyment to be had.  The campaign doesn’t feel very exciting, and the stories weren’t too interesting either.

 

Formal Pirate Clothing – Commercial

Cast:

Bob American is the Captain (aka manager).
Joey McCurken is the First Mate (aka assistant manager).
Brandon Spaz is a pirate that shops at Formal Pirate Clothing.

BOB AMERICAN
Hello, how are you today, Mr. Pirate?  Welcome to the Formal Pirate Clothing store!

CUSTOMER
Jusssst great!  Arr!!

BOB AMERICAN
Can I help you find something?

CUSTOMER
I’d like to buy some clothes, but I just don’t know what wear, arr!!

BOB AMERICAN
What kind of look are you looking for?

CUSTOMER
I’m looking for a formal-looking suit, for work.

 BOB AMERICAN
You’re in luck, we have a special on suits today.
We have many combinations that will suit what you need.

CUSTOMER
Hey, that’s great, arr!

BOB AMERICAN
We have a black suit, that is a black jacket, black pants,
and a blue shirt with a blue tie.

CUSTOMER
Hmm.. that’s not really what I’m looking for… arr!

BOB AMERICAN
We have some black shoes that would look great with the suit you “arrrr!” buying.

CUSTOMER
Good, I’ll take those, too.  How about a pirate hat to go with it, arr?

BOB AMERICAN
Well, the only one that would go with your suit is this woman’s gardening hat…75% off!

CUSTOMER
That’s perfect, arr!

BOB AMERICAN
Come up to the counter, and I’ll have my assistant manager process the sale for you.

In the back, the security cameras just show Bob American talking to air.  The Customer is a ghost!!!

CUSTOMER
Do you take Pirate Express?  Arr!

BOB AMERICAN
Didn’t they go out of business 100 years ago?

CUSTOMER
Nonsense!  I just got it in the mail yesterday!

BOB AMERICAN
What is this mail you speak of?  Pirates do not have addresses.

JOEY MCCURKEN
Yarr!  It be a ghost, Cap’n!!  He has a damned locket around his neck!

CUSTOMER
Oh, this?  I got it from my dear departed aunt—

Just then, Bob American runs the Customer through with a saber.  Customer keels over with the sword sticking out of his chest as he bleeds across the counter and onto the register.

BOB AMERICAN
Oh.  He wasn’t a ghost, after all.

JOEY MCCURKEN
Oh.  I keep forgetting that the security system still shoots in interlace,
but ever since we got that new progressive flat screen, everyone looks like a ghost on it!

BOB AMERICAN
Joey, you just lost us a sale.  And I may very well go away for a long time when
the mall property manager gets a load of the water damage to the floor.

JOE MCCURKEN
The planet Earth moves through curved space.

BOB AMERICAN
Ah, yes, how can I forget.

End.

 

Mount & Blade: War Band (PC) Review

Developer: TaleWorlds Entertainment / Publisher: Paradox Interactive || Overall: 9.0/10

Mount & Blade: War Band is a medieval combat strategy RPG developed by TaleWorlds Entertainment.  War Band is a unique blend of strategy, adventure, and mounted combat that makes it a wonderfully pleasant game play experience.  However, there are a few issues that plague the game, namely with its presentational and user interface, which can put a damper on its enjoyability.

War Band takes place on a medieval continent named Calradia.  On Calradia, there are six different factions, whose leaders all claim they are the rightful rulers of the whole of Calradia.  Who you choose to begin the game with has less to do than where they actually are on the continent.  Every new game starts you off being attacked by assassins in the trade district of the major city of the faction you select.  After you win or lose this fight, a tradesman comes and saves you.  He pleads with you to help him save his brother that has been kidnapped by the group of people who attacked you.  If you choose to save him, you aim to gain a small sum of money.  If you don’t, you’re able to do whatever you like in the game as you please.

War Band takes it upon itself to let you roam around the sandbox it has created as soon as it can.  In fact, most of the game itself is free form and there is basically no real story or stringent quest structure to be had.  Events such as tracking down bandits and recruiting new members to your party become the story itself, as you fight battles and run around Calradia doing the biddings of Kings and their vassals, if you choose to do so.  If you progress far enough in gaining the respect of a King, you will eventually be asked to become a King’s vassal, and be awarded pieces of land acquired from your enemies.  You can also be asked to fight alongside the King in raids on castles, or come to the assistance of your allies against mountain bandits or enemy armies.

Another way to play War Band is by going against the current political structure in a certain area, and supporting a suitor that claims ownership of a throne.  By supporting these suitors, you are able to work to overthrow a King and make the person you are supporting become King or Queen in their stead, along with all the benefits and consequences that go along with that.  You are also able to establish yourself as a King or Queen and attack castles, acquiring fiefs for your own purposes.

The basis of the game itself is very interesting for gamers who have played games such as the Elder Scrolls and Civilization.  However, the game play itself has a couple of issues.  There is not a lot of explanation as to how to do certain things in the game, such as establishing yourself as a King or Queen. It is hard to find much information on it.

A lot of quests are unnecessarily vague.  It may take Internet research to figure out what to do or how to do a quest.  For example, you are told to bring some cows to a small town that has had their herd stolen by local bandits.  The only way to get cows is by stealing or buying cows from another town and bringing them to the first.  However, when you get this quest, that isn’t mentioned at all.  They tell you to “get some cows” and are left to your own laurels to figure out how to do it.  Unless you somehow happen upon the prompt to buy cows, it can be frustrating to figure out how to do this the first time.  Another instance where the game can be unnecessarily harsh is when a local Guild Master gives you a quest to find a Bandit’s Lair and expunge the threat.  The Bandit’s Lair itself does not show on your map until you are directly above it.  Considering the map of Calradia is huge and your unit is very small, it can take a certain amount of luck to happen upon the lair.  Quests like these do not lend themselves to making the game user friendly.

Combat itself is quite fun, and the large battles that can be had are quite enthralling.  Most of the time you will be fighting in first-person, but third-person is another option, and depending on the situation it is easy to switch back and forth.  Your character is able to use any weapon in the game, so it comes down to personal preference. One handed, two handed, and throwing weapons are available, in addition to shields, bows, crossbows, polearms, and maces.  There are four weapon slots for your character, allowing you to have a variety of weapons for the different situations you might be in.

Combat can take place in a variety of places, but most happen in the open field.  The open field combat stages take place on a map that closely reflects the type of area you are in, such as a mountainous area or in the woods.  Smaller stages take place on the beach, a mountain pass, or in a town.  In all of these situations, you are able to bring allies along with you, and as you grow your party larger and they become more powerful, you will begin to trump your enemies with ease — until you eye larger and more powerful enemies.  Simply put, the combat is the shining star of War Band and is what keeps you coming back for more.

When in combat, you use your mouse to change the direction you are attacking from.  To hit someone from above, you bring your mouse back towards you.  To hit them from the right, you move your mouse to the right.  You move using the WASD buttons, but there is no sidestepping with Q and E.  Q will bring up your quest log and E will kick in front of you.  If you are used to sidestepping, this can be annoying.  The objective of combat is to basically kill or knock unconscious all of your enemies.  Once that is accomplished you win.  If your army is quashed in the same manner, then you lose.  If you are knocked out before the battle ends, your army will fight at a lesser capability, and become more susceptible to losing.  It is very important to not only keep yourself alive through the whole battle, but to also help your army in the fight.  This brings a delicate balance between risk-taking and being careless and running into a group of enemies with spears.  You are also able to give your army orders to follow you, to charge, or to flank your enemy, among other commands.  These commands allow for strategy to be built around the situation at hand.

Graphics can take a big part in whether or not someone can be interested in the game without knowing anything about its game play.  With that being said, the game is downright ugly, and is about ten years behind.  The character models aren’t animated very well, many textures are smudgy, and just about everything has sharp edges.  While good graphics and animations aren’t required to have a fun game, it definitely makes it less painful to look at.  The unequivocally worst characteristic of this game is its graphics.  The second is the user interface.

The user interface is sorely in need of improvement.  When selecting from a long list of responses, it can be hard to figure out or remember which option you had last selected, so if you had to talk to the person again to get something done you may be confused as to which you had selected previously.  When looking through the in-game reference manual, it can be hard to find what you are looking for, stumbling across many pages and guessing what you might be looking for at times – this ties into finding out what to do for quests.

While navigating the map, it can take a very long time to travel and to even find where you’re trying to go.  There are no user-friendly options for accelerating travel speed, and sometimes you’ll be travelling for ten minutes straight before getting to your destination.  Over time, this adds up, and less time is actually spent playing the more interesting parts of the game.  Towns are also designed in a confusing manner, making them hard to navigate as well.  Each town has one leader that you are able to acquire quests from, but they are very hard to distinguish from other random town members at times.  The absence of a mini-map with markers while in towns would make this an easier exploit – otherwise, you are left to run around towns and talking to random people in hopes that they are the Guild Master or Town Elder.

Another user-friendly improvement that is needed would be with party management.  As you gain heroes to tag along with you, they bring their own blank slate for you to skill them up as they level.  The point of your party heroes is to fill in the gaps as far as your party skills go.  While this makes sense in theory, the execution doesn’t lend itself to helping the player figure out which skills are actually going to benefit the party or which ones another hero already covers.  Some sort of interface that tells you which party skills you are missing or have covered already as you are deciding which skills to level your characters with would make it a much more pleasant experience.  Otherwise, you have to resort to creating a small spreadsheet to figure it all out.

Party management is also irritating when it comes to managing your heroes’ equipment.  Instead of having one simple interface to tab through each party member’s equipment screen, you have to talk to him or her individually and ask to see his or her armor.  If you came into a number of upgrades to compare to what your party members have already, it is very tiresome to click three times to see one equipment screen, and then escape out of it, and then do it again for the next party member.  Most party-based RPGs have solved this problem by making it easy to switch to the next party member’s equipment/skill screen without having to exit back to the party screen, and War Band should have had something like that implemented.  Wasting time on obstacles like these can detract from the game’s enjoyment.

The inventory system also suffers from user interface issues.  You have a certain number of slots for inventory that can increase via skills.  Once you get to a large inventory capability, it can be easy to overlook what you may or may not have in your inventory.  A sorting option is desperately needed to re-sort your items and fill in slots from top to bottom.  This would prevent having to manually move each item, one at a time, from the bottom of the list to the top.  Another missing feature is a “take all items” option after defeating an enemy.  Instead of stuffing everything you can into your bags, you must click each item, one at a time, to loot them.  This, again, wastes time and energy going through and clicking everything you may want without automatically looting everything you can fit into your inventory.  In addition, inventory squares are fairly huge and could have sized down a little bit to accommodate being able to look at what you have in an easier fashion.

There is a multiplayer aspect to the game, but the most common are deathmatch or castle sieges.  The multiplayer modes are more akin to Counterstrike or other objective-based multiplayer games. Some sort of a co-op mode for the single-player game would be nice, but would have unique challenges to overcome, considering much of the game itself is traveling and quest-taking, and that wouldn’t exactly be very fun to experience alongside a friend for very long.

War Band also allows for modding.  If you find an interesting mod available, you are able to import it into the game and run it.  While War Band doesn’t have as many interesting mods as the original Mount & Blade does, there are a couple available that may be worth a try.  These mods change the single-player game in ways that the overall objective changes, or new armor/weapons are added.  Like many other PC games that allow modding, it creates a community that is involved with making these mods and keeps people interested in the game itself, as its game play could radically change with a new mod.

As a cohesive whole, Mount & Blade: War Band has many interesting and fun features. But if one thing of the game needs to be said, it’s that it mainly suffers from user interface design.  An overhaul in its user interface would severely be recommended in any future game in the series, and would lend itself to making the experience much more pleasing.  War Band is an activity that you can sink many hours into, and not realize where the time has gone. At first glance, the game can give the wrong impression, but War Band is definitely a title to experience.