FINAL FANTASY XV: FOR FANS AND FIRST TIMERS

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A Final Fantasy For fans and first timers is the message that greets you when you boot up the newest addition to the famous Final Fantasy series. And after a ten-year wait since the announcement of this game, it definitely needs to impress both groups.

But how has the game actually fared. Well it depends on what you look for in a game.

I’ll start with the story, it’s interesting but feels very disconnected from the world that you are playing in there never seems to be a threat significant enough to pull you through the story. This is especially true if you haven’t seen the prequel movie Kingsglaive.

Noctis Lucis Caelum crown prince of Lucis, who with his three retainers and friends is travelling to meet his wife to be Lunafreya or Luna Nox Fleuret. Noctis is the chosen King of Light who is destined to rid the world of darkness. It is when Noctis learns of the death of his father during peace talks with the Empire of Niflheim that he must set out to gain the approval of his ancestors. And with Luna’s help the support of Eos’s six gods Titan, Ramuh, Leviathan, Shiva, Ifrit and Bahamut. So he can take back the Crystal stolen by Nifelheim and fulfil his destiny.

Theproblem for me is that I never feel pressured to move the story forward, demons only appear at night or in dungeons, and unless you have a mission to assault a Niflheim base, you only see enemies from Niflheim when occasionally drop ships appear out in the world. For me this is where the story and the world are disconnected.

Because they appear only under very specific circumstances neither the Demons nor Niflheim feel like a threat that you should be hurrying to destroy. Even though according to the games NPCs both are supposed to be apocalyptic threats.

Although the first two-thirds of XV is open and free for you to explore, as soon as you decide to proceed to Altissia to finally meet Lunafreya the game becomes very linear. Altissia as a small city has a small number of side quests. But once you decide to gain Leviathans blessing the rest of the games has you running down a hallway. Fortunately around the same time you also gain access at rest points to Umbra a dog of Luna’s to travel back to past Lucis, or Altissia so you can continue side quests.

There has been a lot of talk about Noctis and his friends Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto and how great their relationship is in-game. Unfortunately the story missions make some odd choices with these important characters that ruin them for me.

Each of them has a short absence from the party over the course of the game, and when they return they have had major changes that are not explained. I believe this is where each supporting character gets some DLC in which I assume these stories are told. It is very disconnecting when these characters that you have spent hours with suddenly change with no explanation.

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Story completion is only the beginning.

Luckily however the moment to moment gameplay is amazing.

As has been typical of Square Enix Action RPGs you are given a myriad of options in combat. You only ever control Noctis but he is able to wield any weapon in the game, which could be anything from a great sword to a revolver. Each of which has strengths and weaknesses in a given situation allowing you to play as you like. I spent most of the game with a long sword and a lance for example.

The depth of this system is extended when Noctis is able to slot four weapons or magic at a time that can be quick switched with the tap of a the d-pad, which is useful when every enemy, has its own strengths and weaknesses that you can take advantage of. Even enemies in the same family have different weaknesses which keeps you switching weapon sets to be as effective as possible.

Ignis, Gladiolus, and Prompto each have abilities that you can employ at will with a tech gauge that should remind a Final Fantasy fan of the active time battle system. These abilities range from a regroup command from Ignis that heals the party, to a gravity well from Prompto that can drag enemies together, or a colossal smash from Gladiolus with his great sword.

These abilities break up combat and can be combined with other effects to unleash devastating attacks. For example try Ingis’ Overwhelm ability while Noctis is using the Bow of the Clever, the rain of energy bolts will tear almost any enemy apart.

Noctis has exclusive access to thirteen of his ancestors weapons, some of which are the only weapon of that type in the game, such as the crossbow Bow of the Clever or the shuriken Star of the Rogue. Once Noctis has collected a few of these he gains the ability to unleash them as a type of Limit Break super attack once a gauge has charged.

Magic is also available in FFXV but as a crafted bomb of sorts that Noctis can craft after absorbing elemental energy from deposits around the world. On their own they can be useful when enemies are weak to a certain element, but they can be combined with other items to be given powerful effects.

These can be potions and the like which will heal you when that spell is used, or meal ingredients that can make spells poisonous. Some powerful items can even make spells Limit Break above the 9999 damage cap.

You can even combine Rare Coins that you pick up with your spells so that they give you massive chunks of experience. Which is helpful when you take advantage of FFXVs unique experience system.

Experience is gained as you would expect through killing monsters and completing quests, however it is only applied to your party when you rest at a campground, motel or hotel. If you have the money a hotel at Galdin Quay will double all experience, and the Royal Suit in Altissia will triple experience if you have the 30,000 Gil.

Campgrounds allow Ignis to cook for the group which will give you buffs for the following day. Ignis will learn recipes as you collect cookbooks or ingredients from monsters or vegetables found in the world. He will even copy a recipe when you eat at a restaurant so he can cook it later. These buffs can give you increased exp gain, increased attack, magic, and health as well as other supporting effects to help you out.

XV even has an end game for when you have beaten the main story, this consists of completing side quests, difficult monster hunts or dungeon challenges which open up once you complete every dungeon once. There is even a secret dungeon that is all about puzzles and platforming rather than combat. These dungeons give you powerful weapons and accessories so you can tackle the next challenge.

Essentially FFXV is two games to me, one which has a largely forgettable story and one which I have so much fun playing and keeps me interested in completing the next dungeon or monster hunting challenge.

I am sure fans will enjoy the familiar systems and game-play that is unique to the Final Fantasy series.

First Timers will have no trouble in picking up this game, it is not at all difficult to understand the core systems to be able to enjoy playing. Perhaps if you enjoy it enough you can then choose to go deep and complete the many challenges that Final Fantasy XV has to offer.

Ratchet and Clank: A Game Based on a Movie That’s Based on a Game

Ratchet and Clank

Even though I have never owned a PlayStation 2 or a PlayStation 3, I have still managed to play most of the ratchet and clank games at one time or another. I had never finished one before this new rebooted game, but I still have very fond memories of playing the hell out of my friend’s copies whenever I visited them.

Story wise this game is a little bit disjointed, it feels like you are hopping between planets a too quickly. It doesn’t help that planets also feel much smaller than they did in previous iterations of the franchise, but this could be put down to wanting the game to release before the movie, or simply not having the time or money to build a massive game that looks as good as this one does. Basically it is supposed to be a re-imagining of the original 2002 game.

This is augmented by the fact that the story of the game is told by Captain Quark telling his life story to a fellow prison inmate, which leads to some funny voice over lines from Quark while you are playing through the game. It is interesting to note that the way this game ends could easily tie the rebooted game back into the whole franchise, as this new game is a story being told by an established character. Hopefully this means that there are more Ratchet and Clank games to look forward to.

There are also a few characters that remark on the absurdity of the setting of this game. Captain Quark for example “They made a game, based on a movie that’s based on my life.” Or the plumber on Novalis who remarks how familiar you look when you meet him, and as he says good-bye tells you “See you in the next reboot.” With this you can tell that Insomniac isn’t taking this too seriously and are still able to have fun with their characters and stories.

There are familiar gameplay sequences like the hover board races in Blackwater city, or captain quarks training course. These sequences make the game feel familiar to fans of the franchise, but I feel like there are enough differences to make the game feel new and not like a HD remake. I have a couple of friends who are massive fans of the series and I will be interested in showing this new game to them and seeing what they think about it.

All of the weapons, even if they don’t feel powerful initially each feel unique and have a power creep that makes each one fantastic one they are upgraded. It could be said that this reboot is a masterclass in designing a Ratchet and Clank game as Insomniac has clearly taken their best ideas and put them all into this game.

Weapon Upgrading for instance now has three paths to take. You level weapons up simply by using them, secondary to this is the use “raritanium” to unlock a hexagonal grid of perks that augment how the weapon performs. The sheepinator for example has a number of perks that increases the chance for raritanium to drop from enemies, on one planet where I was facing a large number of smaller enemies with the sheepinator I ended that section with about 40 shards of raritanium where I had been finishing sections with 8-10 shards before.

Ratchet And Clank

The third tier to weapon upgrades has a few requirements to unlock. Firstly you must get a weapon to level 5 which is the maximum a weapon can reach in your first play through of the game, secondly you must complete a set of three holocards (which you collect from enemies and secret areas) for the weapon you want to upgrade, thirdly you must finish the game once and begin a new game in challenge mode.

Once you have completed these three steps you are able to purchase omega (ꭥ) variants of a weapon which then can be upgraded to level 10, and also have more raritanium unlock slots, making weapons even more fun to use.

The RYNO is a special case, in previous games in the series it must be unlocked after paying a massive sum of bolts. Here however it is unlocked after completing a special set of holocards hidden throughout the game that feature the RYNO, the massive cost of bolts is left to the omega variant of the RYNO which is set at a whopping 1,000,000 bolts.

Graphically this game looks better than any game I have played on the current generation on consoles, it looks and feels like you are playing a modern-day Pixar or DreamWorks movie. It is also one of those few rebooted games that looks how you remember the original game looking back in 2002.

This is especially apparent when you have caused absolute chaos to unfold on the battlefield. For example throwing out a grovibomb to make your enemies dance, while you toss out a proton drum that pulses and arcs lightning towards enemies, with agents of doom running around and exploding on enemies, while also sheepinating enemies, then finishing the room off with a barrage from your RYNO. The amount of explosions and quality of the particle effects looks amazing, and the rain of bolts that is left after the carnage has ended shows how much time the developers have spent making this game look so great.

Anyone that owns a PS4, whether they are a fan of Ratchet and Clank games, or just missed the franchise, should give this game a go. It’s not very long but it is unbelievably fun, there is some good replay value in the challenge mode, as you keep your old weapons and have the chance at upgrading them further, allowing for even more chaos the more you play. So I recommend that you pick this game up, I do not think you will regret your purchase.

Tomb Raider: The Crystal Dynamics Reboot

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Last week I wrote about the uncharted collection and talked about how I feel like I was spoiled for the uncharted games because of the Tomb Raider reboot by Crystal dynamics. Today I am writing about just the first game in the rebooted Tomb Raider series simply because unlike the uncharted games I played them when they first released and I have had time to sit and think about each game separately. I will probably write about Rise of the Tomb Raider this week as well, but I don’t know think it will be tomorrow.

So I was watching E3 at the ungodly time of the morning that I have to get up in New Zealand to watch the live streams, when the reboot of Tomb Raiders was announced, and I have to say that I had no excitement whatsoever for it. This would probably be down to the fact that all I had ever seen of Tomb Raider before this was playing a PS1 demo and watching the Angelina Jolie movies.

Due to my distance from the franchise I just wasn’t at all interested in playing this game, I even completely forgot it was a thing until I saw my flat mate playing the game on his PC. I sat there for a while and was completely taken in by the setting and the gameplay, as he worked his way through a puzzle. I picked the game up the next day and spent the next few days doing nothing but playing through this gem that I had been ignoring for so long.

Tomb Raider is a pretty run of the mill treasure hunting story that turns to the supernatural, with the sections between and around story points being delivered through some amazing set pieces. Like climbing beneath a crumbling bridge to hide from the gunmen above so you can sneak into an ancient palace, which you then have to escape from while being hunted down and outrunning an inferno.

Where Tomb Raider excels is in its combat, it feels so smooth and easy to target and take out an enemy. You aren’t fighting the controls more than the enemies that are on-screen. The bow is especially great, because as you move through the game you are given upgrades that make it your most versatile weapon.

You get the ability to use your bow to fire rope arrows that help you traverse chasms and pull items towards you to complete puzzles. The fun begins when you are fighting enemies that stand on balconies and the roofs of the shacks around the island, if the building has a rope attach point you can pull the balcony out from under the enemies. This adds a bit of variety of variety to combat and can often help you to take out multiple enemies at once.

Upgrading your weapons is a big part of the new Tomb Raider games, and you are able to add a few interesting things, such as a grenade launcher to your assault rifle, or fire to your arrows. As you play you come across crates that give you experience to upgrade your character and the salvage currency needed to upgrade weapons, further into the game you also start to pick up weapon parts that once you have all of them for a particular weapon type, you get a permanent upgrade to that weapon.

Take the tree limb long bow you pick up at the beginning of the game as you progress you get a recurve bow, or later in the game, a compound bow. These small upgrades over time make you feel like you are gradually getting stronger and more capable of surviving the island.

I liked about the tales told through the collectibles that you pick up while exploring the island. There is the story of a priestess to the Sun Queen of Yamatai (the island kingdom), the story of a Japanese ambassador to Yamatai, and a short journal from a World War two soldier about losing all of his men to the island. These add to the mythology of the place, they make the place feel like it has proper history. Unfortunately for me these journals also helped me to figure out where the plot of the game was going way before it occurred in the game itself. So in this case although the stories help to flesh out the mythology of the island, they also hurt the pacing of the story.

Tomb Raider allows you to level up your character and augment your personal play style as well. You are able to choose to specialize in hunting, so you get more resources for upgrading weapons. Or you can specialize in combat, making it easier to take down enemies. You are even able to specialize in exploring, making it easier to find the secrets and collectibles on the map.

That last option really depends on who is playing the game, as some people like the challenge of finding all of the secrets themselves, without the help of the game or a guide. Others like to have the option to highlight the collectibles so that they can find then and 100% the game without too much trouble.

For the people who like to find the secrets on their own, the game has some neat ways of helping them along. When you are close to a secret tomb the game plays a certain musical tone to make you aware that you are close to something important, there is usually also a painting or a symbol near the entrance to a tomb that helps you along your way as well.

And for those that like a bit of extra help, you are able to utilise your survival instincts (super vision) to see a beacon showing you where to go to find the object you have selected on your map. This can still be a bit tricky from time to time as you often still have to explore a whole building to find exactly what you are looking for, but it is still easier than looking without any help.

The challenge tombs are great fun as well, they are neat little puzzles that challenge the way you can use the games mechanics to be able to platform around to the tombs reward. Such as using your rope arrows to pull a buoy into a rivers current so that it can make a flag pole turn so you can jump across it to a climbing wall that so you can get to your goal. The only problem with these puzzles is that they are not very difficult, it would be odd make more than two or three attempts to be able to solve a tomb. Even when replaying the game a couple of years later I was able to remember each puzzle and complete them straight away.

I love the work that Crystal Dynamics has done with this rebooted Tomb Raider series, and I hope they are able to keep up their good work, and give us even greater gameplay as the series moves on. I know they have improved from the first game into Rise of the Tomb Raider, I just hope they can continue this trend.

If you haven’t picked up this new Tomb Raider series, I recommend that you do. I’ve played it to completion on PC, Xbox 360, and Xbox One and I can recommend it on any of those platforms. So pick it up if you want to have a few hours playing through some amazing scenery, and having great fun while doing so.

 

Destiny: The April Update

Taken King

After having the chance to play through the newest addition to Destiny, I have to say I am quite impressed. There isn’t a lot of new content but the things that have been added are fun and have improved the quality of life in the game quite nicely.

In this update is the new three player Blighted Chalice strike, a new story mission that leads through to the new strike, the update of the Prison of Elders to level 41, and the new Challenge of the Elders.

The Challenge of the Elders is probably the most fun piece of content added in this update, it’s a boss rush mode crossed with a score attack mode set within the prison of elders. The aim is to acquire a high score of 30,000 points in a single run which will get you a new weapon, and then to also get a cumulative score of 90,000 over the week which will get you a new piece of armor. Points are gained by killing enemies in various different ways, such as grenade, melee, or super kills. In this first week for example, the modifier is for precision shots so you get more points for downing enemies with precision kills.

You get the most fun out of this mode by trying to get as many points as possible in a single run. When taking my third character through I was able to get the cumulative score of 90,000 in just two runs, with about 43,000 in the first run and about 47,000 in the second. Although it wasn’t my first time through the two people I ran the challenge with were running it for the first time, so you can see that it isn’t a very difficult mode.

Although there is very little difficulty in this new update, there were also a large number of quality of life updates that have improved the general gameplay of Destiny. The first of these is the fact that when infusing gear (essentially adding the attack or defense value of one item into second) you now get one to one conversion, for example a 330 chest piece being infused into a 280 chest piece will now guarantee that the 280 piece becomes a 330 piece, whereas before it may have only become a 320 item.

This new infusion system means that people are no longer carrying around large numbers of items with middling light levels just to make sure they have the stepping-stones to completely infuse new items. Added to this Bungie has also given Destiny players more vault space (item storage) in the form of a third page for weapons, armor, and general items, which means at least for now people have all the vault space they could ever need.

Finally Bungie has overhauled the loot system, where now item drops from the raid, challenge of elders, faction rank up packages, the nightfall strike, and exotic engrams will now have higher light values than your current light level, meaning you are always progressing to the maximum light level of 335. This is great as before you were simply stuck waiting for that single piece of gear you needed to drop, and then hoping that gear dropped at a higher light level than the piece you already had.

All of my characters started this new update at around 316 light, and after running the Challenge of Elders, the Raid, and the Nightfall strike on each character in turn, I have managed to progress them all through to at least 325 light. So if I am lucky and get the right drops this coming week I will be very close to or sitting at 335.

Unfortunately this is where I begin to worry, because although this new content is great I don’t think there is enough here to carry Destiny through to the next big content drop. Of course I hope I am wrong, but would love for there to be things hidden within this update that will give me more to do over the coming months.

These could be quest lines that give exotic items, like the Sleeper Simulant fusion rifle, the No Time to Explain pulse rifle, or heroic mission secrets like the one that gives you the Black Spindle sniper rifle. I would love to see the return of the sparrow racing league, as I had a lot of fun playing that while it was around.

All in all this April update has been great, and I hope that Bungie can continue to give us content to keep us involved in the world of Destiny.