games


First the good news: if you own Skyrim, you already own this: a free mod that’s its own game. It’s made by the same obsessive Germans who made Nehrim, and it’s the same sort of deal: new continent, everything hand-made, fully voice acted (in English too this time), and all the mechanics reworked. The bad news is that I bounced off it pretty hard.

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Yes, you can have a D.Va tattoo

I didn’t finish Nehrim, but I appreciated it. The tutorial dungeon, for instance, was way better than Oblivion’s, the side dungeons did seem hand-crafted, and there were some nice UI changes.

Enderal’s tutorial, by contrast, is terrible.

  • It’s full of cutscenes.
  • It’s divided into scenes, each of which forces you to the next one. Whatever you could do as a player against an enemy, even as a noob… well, you can’t do it, the cutscenes make the enemies win. There is no respect for player agency at all.
  • Not once but twice you meet a character who explains something to you, then for his pains gets killed (in a way you can’t influence).
  • There’s very little combat. The one thing a tutorial should do is introduce the basic mechanics! This one is focused on story… and it’s not even the game’s main story, it’s just how you got to Enderal.
  • There’s a lot of dialog, but no real choices, not even the usual Bethesda style of insulting the questgiver.  The final dude you meet basically forcibly enrolls you in the next quest.

So, finally I’m on my way.  I do a couple nearby side quests, I pick up a mess of herbs and such.  And then the murders began. Three wolves quickly wiped me out.

Fine, I’m not good at the game, or at wolves, but give me a break: I’m completely new to the game, I don’t know the mechanics yet, and I have trash weapons.  I tried again, defeated the three wolves, walked about ten feet, and was attacked by three more wolves.

Recall, this is a few hours into the game, so I have no health potions or any magic besides My First Fireball™.  Plus, the game is made by people who think Bethesda’s gameplay is way too easy, so there’s no health regen. And magic is evil somehow so using it makes you sick, though if you chomp certain herbs you’ll get better.

I guess somebody in Germany got a copy of Dark Souls. But I feel like they’re wasting my time. If they’re so proud of their quests and lore, why are they keeping me from it by placing wolves every ten feet on the road before I even get to the first quest marker? You’re not deepening the game or making it more Grim N Gritty by sprinkling in generic monsters like parmesan cheese, you’re just making travel tedious. And really, if you can’t make the game fun in the first three hours, it’s really hard to believe it gets better.

Now, if all this sounds great to you– you really want a game where you fight endless wolves and then flail around to find something to restore your health, and did I mention the inscrutable skill system?– well, more power to you.  Can’t complain about the price!

(And just to be clear, I don’t want tips on dealing with the wolves.  What I want is better damn design.  I gave up on Skyrim for similar reasons: I’d try to ride to another city and get waylaid by a dragon. Three times. Unless you’re writing Doom, just adding more of the same monster rarely makes your game better.)

I do feel a little bad about being so negative, because these guys are working hard for free, and that’s awfully nice of them. But I think it’s fair to say that it’s a step backwards from Nehrim.

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I never got into watching sports much.  And I still don’t! But it turns out I like watching esports, namely, Overwatch League and other high level play.  It’s back for 2019, and in just the second week we got the upset we’ve been waiting for since forever: the Shanghai Dragons won.

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If you’re not quite sure what that’s about: Shanghai had the worst record in the first season, 0-40. And despite a near total change in team roster, they seemed to continue it last week with two more losses. Yet they’ve been a fan favorite, largely because they have the only female player in Overwatch, Geguri.

(Not the longest drought for a team I’ve supported though.  That would be my alma mater, Northwestern U., whose football team lost every game during the four years I attended. Well, as we always said, our SATs were higher.)

If you know nothing about Overwatch, the rest of the post may well be undecipherable. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Tonight’s match was pretty decisive, though: 3-1 on maps.  The first two maps were close to blowouts; the third was a nailbiter. It was a capture map, Horizon Lunar Colony.  Shanghai and Boston each capped both points, for a score of 2-2. But Shanghai had nearly 5 minutes more time going into the next round… still, they lost a lot of that time advantage, and both teams capped again.  Now it was 4-4.  Third round: Boston didn’t have much time, but they got 2 of 3 ticks on the first point. Shanghai had to beat the capture percentage of 79.5%… and they did, in a chaotic fight that lasted all of one minute.  (They had 1:17 left on the clock.)

The crowd went wild; whereas there are few things sadder than the panning shot over the Boston team just after their loss.  (“Someone had the break the streak… but why us?”)

The outstanding player of the match was new: Dding, on Sombra.  He was constantly behind the enemy scouting and hacking, and his timing on her EMP was spot on. This was particularly fun to watch since I sometimes play Sombra.  I’m trying to learn the playstyle: hack and shoot till you start to lose health, then teleport back to where you left your translocator.  Unless I forget to set it up, which I do at least once per game.  Needless to say, Dding does not have this problem.

Matches so far this season have been full of surprises. Last year’s top three teams were New York, Los Angeles Valiant, and Boston. As of tonight, New York is still on top, but the other two are in the bottom six; indeed, Boston is the team that Shanghai just beat. London, which won the championship last year, is also in the bottom six.

The eight expansion teams have done surprisingly well: right now five of them are in the top eight in the standings.  Matchups have also been startlingly non-transitive.  Dallas, which I also support because of streamer/coach Jayne, is 1-2, but one of those wins was against third-place Seoul. Hangzhou slaughtered two teams last week, but lost tonight to #14 Houston. Seoul has beaten Chengdu, which beat Guangzhou, which beat Dallas, which beat Seoul.

Probably things will sort out soon enough. But I’d say that at this level of play, Overwatch is not quite predictable: the game rules provide a final ranking that does not necessarily correspond to team skill.  These are all really good players who fight as a unit, and most team fights begin with a single kill.  Somebody’s gotta go, and it may be semi-random. At my level, a 5×6 fight is far from definitive, but at the pro level, it generally means a lost fight. And ults are a huge wild card whose success depends on split-second timing, and very careful tracking of enemy ults. I’ve watched a lot of team fights where you’d really have to watch several times at slow speed to figure out why it went the way it did.

Lots of people have been complaining about Goats, or 3-3 as the casters call it: the three-tank three-support meta that’s been dominant since last summer. I think most people don’t like it because you have to be pretty high level to play it, much less appreciate it. Most people want to play DPS, and as Jayne says, all but high-level games are usually played as DPS deathmatch. At my level, it’s hard to even get two tanks per game. If you play DPS, you watch pro play and don’t see anyone playing your hero. (I don’t mind so much, because my main characters are tanks, D.Va and Orisa.)

Thanks to some recent game changes, Goats is slightly less dominant; some teams have ran a Symmetra, and some games tonight featured Reaper and Soldier. A few teams have tried a one-tank strategy, that tank being Hammond, which seems really weird.

It’s been kind of cringey listening to the casters trying to pronounce Chinese names. You’d think they would have someone they could ask, like the players. If you want to do better than most of the casters do:

  • Guangzhou = gwahng joe
  • Hangzhou  = hahng joe
  • Chengdu = chung do
  • Shanghai = shahng high

The -ang has the same /a/ vowel as in hot, father, taco; it doesn’t rhyme with hang or hung. For an even closer pronunciation, see my book.

Anyway, hoping Dallas can pull it together tomorrow afternoon…

I wanted to play this for years, and it’s finally available on PC. If you’ve been living under a rock since 2004, this is the one where you roll up objects into a big ball.

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And run into big poles, coming to a screeching halt

Your first question is undoubtedly, what’s a katamari?  Or a damacy, for that matter? The game’s title is 塊魂, better transliterated Katamari Tamashī. A katamari is a cluster, lump, or agglomeration; a tamashī is a spirit or soul. So, the spirit of agglomeration. Curiously, both words are native Japanese. If you read the words as Chinese they’d be kuài hún, which mean the same thing but are unrelated. Note the 鬼 guǐ ‘ghost’ grapheme in both characters which gives the title a nice visual pun. As the Chinese suggests, it’s a phonetic in the first word, a radical in the second.

(I should add: tamashī is what you’ll find in the dictionary, but the D in Damacy is not a mistake; it’s what’s actually pronounced, as this is a compound. It’s a sandhi thing.)

Curiously, 塊 seems to be a less common rendering of katamari; my two dictionaries list 固まリ instead. I assume 塊 was chosen for the visual pun. (Edit: Alert reader Yiuel Raumbesirc tells me that both renderings are used, and 塊 is used when the meaning is ‘an accumulation of stuff’.)

So, how’s the game? Most reviewers have said it’s delightful. And it is, though I’d say only about 80% so. The 20% is due to the strict time limits for each level, which probably mean that you’ll frustratingly fail a few levels before getting them. It’d be nice if you could have a Wimp Mode where you get 50% more time.

Oh, and in the “dumb things” department: the (relatively short) tutorial comes before you can change graphics settings. So you have to play it in windowed mode. Once you get to your home planet, go to the settings and you can play in full screen at high resolution.

Something that takes getting used to is the controls. You push the katamari around with two keys– WASD and IJKL.  This is slightly awkward, but that’s the point, really– it’s supposed to be awkward to roll this growing pile around a house, neighborhood, and eventually world. The ball also has momentum, so it’s sometimes a struggle to control it. Plus the camera only shows you the forward path; you can slowly and clumsily shift the camera by holding down just W (or just I).  There are supposedly burst and dash modes, but I never got them to work. (Literally: I press the keys and nothing happens.)

More importantly, when you run into things bigger than the ball, you stop and lose one or more items. This can make you curse, but it’s probably what makes this a game and not a walking simulator: you have to learn what you can and can’t pick up.  For most efficient rolling:

  • Learn to avoid what you can’t pick up yet.
  • Also avoid moving objects that are bigger than your ball.
  • Items you can pick up often come in arrays; take advantage of these pre-created paths and clusters.
  • Though the levels are free-form, they’re also graded in terms of object size. It pays to get all the stuff you can in one area before moving on.
  • On the other hand, don’t waste time with objects much smaller than your ball.
  • There are areas you can’t get to until your katamari is a certain size. For best results, be somewhat above that size.
  • You can pick up long thing objects (thermometers, axes, bottles) or flat objects (envelopes, cards) much earlier than more round objects. This seems to build up the ball faster.
  • Steps can stop you short. Sometimes you can get up if you have momentum.

As your ball gets bigger, you can roll over things with ease that used to be obstacles. The animate things cry out or scream as they’re rolled up, which would be disturbing if the art style weren’t so toylike.

The last level gives you a fair amount of time, and the sense of scale is breathtaking. Each map starts you off slightly larger, but you’re still picking up fruit and such things to start. But soon you’re picking up furniture, and then people, and then vehicles, and then buildings, and then entire cities.  It’s exhilarating when everything clicks and you’re constantly rewarded by a change in scale.

Katamari Damacy is a trifle– it took me under 10 hours to play– and maybe slightly overpriced at $30.  But it’s so completely original that I’m happy I got it over everything else on my wishlist. (Plus I’m having fun replaying levels to try to get a bigger katamari.)

The game has a lovely soundtrack, too– mostly bouncy J-Pop, but at least one bossa nova number.  (Bossa would be a good translation of katamari.)

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There’s a bonkers story to go along with the bonkers mechanic. The King of All Cosmos, in a drunken bender, has knocked all the stars and the moon out of the sky.  You are his son, far tinier but with the same odd taste in headgear, and you’re tasked with making katamaris which will become stars to replace the ones that were lost.

The main humor here is that King is a terrible father; he’s constantly berating you for your size and the smallness of your katamaris (if you merely make it the size he specified). On the other hand, he does give you presents, which he invariably loses, so you have to gather them up where they fell to earth.

He speaks in record scratches, which is amusing for about ten seconds; fortunately you can rush through his dialog with space bar, and skip it entirely with tab.

Credit where it’s due department: the game was designed by Keita Takahashi. There are several Katamari Damacy games, so perhaps we’ll see more of them released later.

One more note: an interesting design trick. Objects become more saturated in color as they join your ball. This probably subliminally reinforces your rolling, but also means that your ball stands out against the background.  (The world is still mighty colorful despite the subtle desaturation.)

Edit: I might be done, after about 28 hours. I replayed the whole game, then replayed individual levels to get better scores. Anyway, main point: it’s even more fun on a replay, since you know what you’re doing and what to avoid.

One extra control you’ll end up appreciating: press W + K to rotate the ball fast.

Edit edit: I wasn’t quite done… I played the whole damn thing again, without worrying about records, just for maximum fun. By this point the few annoyances (mostly, bumping into things you don’t want to) fade, and it just becomes relaxing fun.

I like reading Shamus Young on video games, but boy howdy do I disagree with his latest column. The issue is, should you be, and feel like you’re being, The Chosen One in games?

sr-main-personIdeally, the Chosen One actually glows

He’s talking about (just one aspect of) how Mass Effect Andromeda‘s story makes little sense.

In more recent BioWare games, the story has inverted all of this. The writer has adopted a parent / child relationship with the player character. The protagonist gets bossed around and you’re obliged to do what NPCs tell you to do, and the writer doesn’t even make much of an effort to get buy-in from the player. You can’t ask probing questions and the dialog doesn’t waste time justifying things to the player. At the same time the game patronizingly pretends like the player character is in charge. You’re the Inquisitor. You’re the Pathfinder. You’re the famous Messianic Commander Shepard. You’re so great. People look up to you. People love you. You’re special. You’re important. Now go do these missions and don’t ask any questions.

I haven’t played Andromeda, but I did play as Shepard, to say nothing of Batman, the Lone Wanderer, the Dragonborn, the Boss, Gordon Freeman, Jade, the Witcher, Empress Emily, Bayonetta, etc.  So the first thing I’d suggest is: these games are actually trying to tell you something important about being the Chosen One. It’s genuinely limiting. Being the special person who saves the world means that you don’t get to do whatever the hell you want. Being Batman isn’t dizzying freedom, it’s backbreaking responsibility. And yes, people will tell you what to do, because that’s what saving the world involves. You gotta go save it, and probably there’s only one way to do it. (Or two ways, one involving stealth, the other involving combat.)

(Also, I know he’s being sarcastic, but “people love you”? Are people fond of the one dude who can save the world? I’d say they’re far likely to be anxious, demanding, and irritable. They’re supposed to be saving the world, and here they are in my shop selling troll fat, or stealing calipers from my barrels, or reading people’s memoirs. I don’t want to see that, I want to see some world-saving.)

Shamus goes on to suggest a way to ‘fix’ this scene in Andromeda, and his way might well be better writing. But the reason his fix works is that it leads to the exact same results. That is, you’re still railroaded.  The cutscenes would set you up as Making Great Decisions, yes, but then you’d go and do the exact same things as when people were telling you what to do.

It can be fun when we do get to make overall decisions, but for obvious reasons this is a hard ask. It’s illuminating to fire up Fallout’s Creation Kits and examine how complicated a single quest is. 80% of players probably make the same main decisions, but you have to have options for the most absurd possible options. If decisions can have consequences later, you’re greatly multiplying the amount of work without increasing the amount of game players see.

Beyond that, though, I think it’s quite silly how games insist on setting up the player as the Chosen One. It’s the same sort of narrative escalation where every action movie has to be about the end of the world. Do that enough and the artificialness of the excitement becomes obvious. Corvo failing to protect the Empress once is a bad mistake; doing it twice implies that he’s just awful at his job.

Plus, you don’t have to be the Prophesied One! Maybe you’re just the security guy, as in Deus Ex. Or the guy with the really good wrench, as in Dead Space 1. Or a random survivor, as in Left 4 Dead.

Most intriguingly, you could be no more important than the NPCs. The best example of this is Stalker, where you are just one of many opportunists wandering the Zone. The first Borderlands managed this: the player character was just a treasure hunter, which is basically what the player was too. They ruined this in Borderlands 2 by making Vault Hunters some incredibly rare caste of superheroes.

Finally, the reason games often make stupid requests is, I think, a clue to how game development works.  You don’t have a writer sitting down, saying “The PC will now go fetch a doohingus”, and the quest department writes a Doohingus-Finding Quest. More likely, different teams have already created a bunch of levels, and the writer’s job is to come up with some insane story that requires traversing all of them. Like writing supervillains, it’s just not a job where every instance can make sense on its own terms. Sometimes they come up with a great reason why you have to traverse the sewer level next, sometimes they don’t.

Should you be able to push back at the writer’s lame suggestion? Maybe, but that’s part of why (say) Fallout always has a dialog option to insult the quest giver. It’s kind of juvenile. More effective is when the game itself lampshades the arbitrariness of the plot; the Saints Row games are notable for this. But that option is probably only available for comedy games.

The Overwatch World Cup Viewer is great for reviewing World Cup matches.  It’s also great for no-clipping around the world, seeing how the maps are put together and getting views you’re not supposed to be able to see.

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For instance, above you can see the entire Nepal map.  All three stages are loaded at the same time, but you can’t see one stage from the next.

And here’s an unusual view of Ilios showing all three stages.  You can see this statue from Ruins; it’s interesting that it actually has a face (and belly button), which you can’t see when playing.

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If you compare Blizzard World to the map of it, you can see that not everything is actually modeled. There are supposed to be a Spawning Pools Water Park and a Caldeum Market to the right, a Blackrock Mountain to the east, and a pirate ship in the water; none of these exist. But the rest of the park is pretty much all modeled, though only just enough to look OK from a distance:

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The house marked with an asterisk isn’t even on the ground.  Also note the shadowy figures in the foreground… apparently this part of the park is still open, and has visitors. You can see them moving around as you play the map.

There are even cars and riders on the monorail– though they’re rendered as minimally as possible:

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Here’s an unusual view of Hollywood. I’m really surprised that so much of the city is rendered, even if there’s also a lot of model re-use. You can see the theater where you spawn– the green roof in the middle background– so all of this is off to the left when you exit spawn, so most of it can’t be seen, even as Pharah. It’s interesting that they have enough of a polygon budget that they can model all this– including the backsides of buildings that you absolutely can’t see from the playable area. (And all those pipes and air conditioning ducts and curved roofs are really 3-d modeled.)

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(I’m surprised because in Hammer, the level editor for the Valve games, anything you can’t see is scrupulously removed.  If you put a cube in the distance, only 2 or 3 sides will actually exist in the level. Evidently we now have polygons to burn!)

Here’s the theater itself– the green area is the lobby of the theater where you spawn. Behind it, a little disappointingly, there’s just some random tiny buildings; they didn’t block out the actual theater.

OW HOLLYWOOD theater

I wondered if the Rialto map has all the extra bits required for the Archives event (where you are the Blackwatch team sent to deal with the Talon guy).  Nope.  They obviously re-used a lot of the map, but not the extra parts (like the restaurant).

Finally, here’s something you’ve probably seen, but only while plummeting to your death. It’s the Omnic shantytown located under the King’s Row power plant.

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This view is looking up toward the power plant. Again, this is suprising in the level of detail. You can see the track for the cart; the bright yellow circular thing just visible above the track is the dynamo (or whatever it is) above the final point.

Hmm, found some figures on the web. Alyx from Half-Life 2 has about 8000 polygons, which was a lot for 2004. (The Combine soldiers have only half that.) By contrast the Overwatch characters have 30,000, not including their weapons. That’s… a lot of polygons. So a few buildings with 100 to 200 polys are nothing to worry about.

(One trick which the game engine probably uses is to load low-poly versions of things that are in the distance. Still, the point is, the polygon budget is mostly thrown at the characters.)

A website suggested finishing the main quest in Destiny 2 rather than doing all the side quests, so that when you do get to them, they give you better gear. So, OK, I finished the main quest. Only now I think I’m done.

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Destroying the Death Star with handheld weapons

The main story is, I dunno, about 20 hours? It includes one mission I absolutely hated, because of the damn tank. Its controls are horrible, so I spent half the time driving it into walls and trying to extricate myself… you can call new tanks, and not infrequently I ran to the next spawn because that was easier than getting the old tank pointed in a reasonable direction. Plus I kept dying in one particular location, till I realized there was a separate fire mode I needed to be using.

But! The last few missions are actually pretty good! You have to eliminate the Legion’s Deathstar, you see.  So you go to a Legion base, fight your way through the absurdly chunky structures favored by these space fascists, kill a big bad, and steal his key codes and his ship. This apparently isn’t noticed at all, so you can fly to the Deathstar and cause havoc.  You blow it up and then head back to Earth to take out the biggest bad, old Ghaul the Inexplicable.

As I mentioned, you’re a mute unkillable zombie with no civilian applications, and that’s your secret weapon.  They can’t kill you.  So you get into a rhythm of shooting bad guys, hiding behind walls while you recover heath, and shooting some more. And occasionally ulting the hell out of them. (I still think the ults are doled out too sparingly, so you can never quite count on them. But if you think of them as a treat rather than an ability you should have, you’ll feel better. Plus, in the final battle they actually give you extra ults, so for once the final fight is kind of fun.)

There’s one brief section where you have to go into space. Now, the Deathstar is at the orbit of Mercury, so it’s hot. So you have to jump from shadow to shadow, while shooting enemies… or letting them fry as they cross the sunlit parts to come to you. This was pretty damn neat.

(The game, with its gift for astounding scientific illiteracy, calls this mission 1 AU.  That of course is the orbit of Earth; Mercury is at about 0.4 AU.)

So, Ghaul doesn’t get to blot out the Sun, plus he’s dead. After this, the game lets you back in the Last City, suddenly filled with other players.  Plus you get an engram, finally, which turns out to be a coupon for one piece of gear, and you can join factions, and you get a new spaceship, and the major NPCS have some gifts for you. And you can go back and do all those side missions.

I might, but it turns out killing Ghaul has done a number on my motivation. Look, I just saved the Sun and the entire solar system, rescued the Traveler, and now everyone’s got the Light back rather than just me. And you want me to go fight some straggling aliens here and there? You got thousands of Guardians now, let them do it.  I still have to go murder more of Ancient Greece.

I still don’t know what the other currencies are, and I think I only spent half my skill points. They have a dumb system where new skills replace the old ones– e.g. you can have three different types of grenades, but only use one kind at a time.

If I’d paid $60 for the game, I think I’d be a little disappointed… but for free, it’s a great diversion. It’s beautiful, it gives you plenty of things to shoot, and it has its moments (such as that run in the sun, or Nathan Fillion’s character). But it’s also rather clunky and confusing, it never quite knows what to do with its ideas, and it’s huge without being diverse.  And the story is overblown, throwing in threats like “destroying the sun” without having this either make sense or have any real impact.

An example of the “ideas” problem: the enemy aliens are all just murderous things with red health bars. Only two of the Legion even have voice lines, and there’s not a moment where anything they do inspires respect or sympathy. Within the same company, you could look at, say, World of Warcraft, where a lot of effort has been put into making the Horde an interesting rather than just eeeevil; or Overwatch, where the villains have something to say for themselves and the heroes may be questionable.

Another example: the game is set all over the solar system, but they don’t (say) play with gravity, or distance from the sun, or atmosphere, or temperature. The surface gravity of Titan is 0.14 that of Earth; that’d be pretty interesting.

As for the hugeness, I think the best open world games don’t just give you things to shoot, they add other stuff.  The Arkham games give you Riddler puzzles; Mass Effect has its romances; Beyond Good & Evil 1 throws in races, photography, and space pool; Fallout 4 has settlements; Saints Row lets you play dress-up and listen to the radio.

So, again, not a bad game. But, I dunno, it feels like a 20-hour game that thinks it’s a 200-hour game.

Blizzard gave me a free game!  Well, me and everyone else, but it’s still nice to get a message that you have a gift.  It’s also huge, 80 gigabytes… well, sorry, Team Fortress 2, it was finally time to uninstall you.

So, Destiny 2.  First impressions: it’s like Borderlands without the cel shading or the southern fried attitude. And weirdly rough around the edges.

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You have learned the Gek word for genocide

The story– did you know it had a story?– is that Earth is in the middle of a bunch of interstellar war. Humans are almost extinct; they live in one last city, called the Last City (names are terrible in D2), until some interstellar fascists called the Red Legion show up and destroy it. Their leader is called Dominus Ghaul and will make you miss the more caring, friendly nature of Zinyak.

You are a mute, frightening zombie.  This isn’t perhaps what the PR guys say; they call you a Guardian. But: you have a little floating robot who can resurrect you, and this is an explicit part of the story, not just a gameplay thing. You’re a fighting machine and you never talk– the robot talks for you. Clearly he’s not your “helper”, he’s the actual intelligence controlling you, and you’re a zombie.  Nonetheless, you’re humanity’s last hope.

It really does feel like a more serious Borderlands. You go on pretty linear routes, killing everything in your path– monsters named the Legion, the Fallen, the Vex– look, names are not the game’s forte. They thoughtfully drop guns and armor slightly better than your current ones. Occasionally you level up and get points to increase your superpower.  I’m a Hunter, so basically I dress like Reaper and my ult is Genji.

OK, positives:

  • I really like Borderlands, so the whole concept is pretty nice.
  • It’s very pretty, for post-apocalyptia. I mean, there’s nowhere left with a good restaurant and even the hubs are full of monsters, but it looks great.
  • Do you like Firefly?  They got most of the actors here somewhere.
  • In the hubs you can run into other players, and fight the monsters with them.
  • You can play co-op, but I haven’t yet.
  • You can triple-jump, which is 50% better than a double-jump.
  • Inventory management is pretty streamlined… it’s generally really clear if a piece of gear is better. This is actually an improvement over Borderlands where you had to do calculations in your head to find the actual DPS given things like round size and reload speed.

Negatives:

  • It’s full of stuff it doesn’t bother to explain. I have no idea how one should upgrade a character, or what the three different currencies are. I get messages that I’ve acquired something and can’t find it, nor do I know what to do with it. There are whole mechanisms– emblems, engrams, triumphs, gear customization– that are referred to but don’t seem to exist for me. (I get messages that I have a “triumph”, but the character screen says I have 0.) My character is an “Awoken” and there’s no explanation; they seem to be basically Dark Elves.
  • It seems buggy in places. Twice I’ve had to quit because enemies didn’t appear and nothing happened.
  • There’s an annoying, punishing half-attempt at platforming. Get the timing wrong, or fail to invest in that triple-jump, and you die. Come on, games, this was solved by Arkham Asylum in 2009.
  • The ult is really powerful, but they dole it out so slowly that you never know whether to use it, or save it for the next boss.
  • You have powerful grenades, and they’re on an over-long cooldown too. Devs, if you’re terrified we’ll actually use the powerful tools, maybe make them a tad less powerful rather than not letting us use them?
  • I know, suspension of disbelief, but I’m kind of put off by an utter disregard for physics. The story has the Legion wanting to destroy the sun, which makes little sense… they don’t even bother to provide a reason, or even explain why they’d do this while their own troops are scattered over the solar system. Plus, firing lasers at a star won’t make it go supernova and stellar explosions can’t go faster than lightspeed. You visit an asteroid named Nessus. A planetoid of under 100 km diameter out by Uranus would be a rather interesting setting, but in the game it’s a lovely warm planet with plants and running water and breathable air and Earth gravity.

In between: game devs, it’s not that hard to make a multiplayer game with a single-player story that does not contradict the multiplayer. Conan Exiles or The Secret World or DC Universe Online all managed it: they came up with stories where the player is not the Chosen One; rather, lots of people have these neat powers. Destiny 2 does not manage this– you are apparently the only Guardian who can take on the story missions. Yet you see other players and can play other missions with them, or even run PvP sessions. It wouldn’t even be hard to fix this up: oh look, we have a corps of Guardians.  They seem to outnumber the civilians, since the writers insisted on near-genocide, but since the Guardians are immortal zombies, perhaps it makes sense that their numbers would accumulate.

Anyway, it looks like I’m more than halfway through the story, so I expect I’ll finish it.  Googling, it looks like the thing I found and couldn’t identify was a Relic which unlocks more powers, which requires, astonishingly, killing more monsters.  Well, OK.

Does it sound like I don’t like it?  I don’t think I dislike it. The price is right, and it’s not actively tiresome, like say Agents of Mayhem. I wish it were a little more comprehensible, though, and maybe that the story went beyond apocalyptic space opera.

Update: Rest of review, after finishing off Ghaul.

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