I want to be more regular about updating my blog, so I’ve started journaling what I’ve been playing, just jotting down thoughts as I play. Here’s what I’ve been up to the past week.
Wolfenstein: The New Order (PC)
With the release of the sequel and all the buzz surrounding it, I decided it was finally time to play the first installment of the soft reboot of the Wolfenstein franchise. I bounced off of the PS4 version a year or two ago and never got back to it. This time I played the PC version. In my memory I had gotten much further than I had; in actuality I had barely made it past the prologue, which is when the game actually begins to pick up. Boy, did I miss out. I have a lot of thoughts on this game and it might be worth a full Optimistic Lookback, but for now I’ll try to keep my thoughts concise.
The storytelling is out of this world good, but it’s beholden to gameplay that ranges from mediocre to bad. The gunplay never really clicked with me, the stealth elements were half-baked and frustrating, and the boss battles were obtuse and annoying. On my first try with the game I played on the default difficulty, which I think was two away from the easiest, and I barely got through the early parts of the game. This time I bumped the difficulty down to the easiest setting and had a blast, literally, killing Nazis left and right. Even on that difficulty I had some close calls and even died once or twice. It is unbelievably punishing, and it doesn’t help that it’s often hard to tell exactly where damage is coming from, especially during the more hectic firefights. In one particularly frustrating moment I got ambushed by an entire platoon and the game’s inconsistent vaulting mechanic wouldn’t let me get over a piece of debris, and I died bunnyhopping at what was essentially an invisible wall. I played the PC version, as I mentioned before, and experienced a few crashes and some hitching in cutscenes, but mostly things ran smooth.
All that being said, the storytelling and acting are more than worth the price of a few frustrating moments. By and large the gameplay wasn’t terrible, and the incredible plot kept me wanting to come back just to see where the story took our ragtag band of rebels. It’s worth not spoiling a single thing, because the twists and turns that the plot takes are worth experiencing fresh. The characters are likable and very well acted. Even BJ, our roided-out main character, has depth that you would think just shouldn’t be there in an action hero.
Recommendation: If you like good storytelling, this game is worth experiencing. It balances dark material against elements of hope with a deft hand, never feeling relentless or gratuitous but never shying away from portraying the grim realities of human nature. If you’re willing to put up with a bit of bullshit, definitely play this.
Nioh: Complete Edition (PC)
I played Nioh on my launch model PS4 when it came out, and opted to play with the low resolution at 60fps. It played very smooth, which was a great option for an action game like Nioh, but it was muddy as all hell. Playing the game at 1080p with 60fps on PC is much, much better; the game looks great, although I did experience some frame drops here and there, which seems surprising given how well it ran on my PS4.
Nioh is sort of a Dark Souls clone, but its action is faster paced and tighter, with a sort of active reload mechanic tied to your stamina meter wherein you can use a timed button press to recover some of your lost stamina. It feels extremely good to play. It also ties in a pretty expansive loot system that is somewhat akin to something you would find in a Diablo game, and finding new armor or weapons is a system I always enjoy.
As good as it feels to play, the environmental and enemy design are pretty bland and repetitious. This holds it back from being truly great, as I think part of what makes a Soulslike game amazing is the world they build around it and the large variety of enemies. Without mixing up the enemies enough the game simply boils down to pattern recognition, and once you’ve faced one enemy a dozen times taking them down becomes trivial. That’s a big part of the reason I burned out on Nioh the first time around.
Recommendation: If you’re into the more challenging Soulslike games Nioh is definitely worth checking out, and the Complete Edition, which contains all the DLC, is worth the price of admission. Still, bland enemy and environment design hold Nioh back from being truly great, and it never reaches the highs that Dark Souls or Bloodborne achieved before it.
Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)
I “beat” Super Mario Odyssey in about a week. I say “beat” because once you’ve beaten the final boss the game throws several more levels at you. On top of that, there are somewhere around 900 Moons (this iteration’s version of collectible stars from previous Mario games) in the game, and when I finished the story I had around 200 or so.
Each level is beautiful, unique, and packed with fun and interesting objectives for Mario to complete. Some of those objectives are genuinely challenging, especially once you hit the later levels. The final hours of the “main story” are some of the most joyous, fun moments of any Mario game ever made, a gleaming dedication to fans of Mario.
The game controls pretty much like 3D Mario always has; when I started playing every move felt familiar, in a good way. This time they’ve added a few moves to Mario’s base a abilities, and on top of that he can now throw his hat up, down, left, and right, and then jump off of it for added distance. The added moves seem small, but they string together in unbelievably creative ways, meaning that this is the most mobile Mario has ever felt. Seriously, I’m not very good at the game, but I’ve seen some incredibly impressive videos of people deftly maneuvering across entire levels in seconds. It seems like a speed runner’s wet dream. The level design is some of the best in any game I’ve ever seen. There’s always something to do and you can always see somewhere new to explore; it’s clear they spent a very long time testing sightlines and making sure that the levels flowed well. There is only one level I didn’t particularly like toward the end of the game, but even that level was creative and fun in moments.
All that being said, there is one somewhat glaring issue that holds things back, if only a negligable amount; the motion controls. For whatever reason, many of Mario’s moves are tied to wiggling the controllers. As such the best way to play the game is with the Joycons detached, but that feels very awkward at first. If you want to play in handheld mode, using motion controls means you’re just straight up shaking the entire screen you’re playing on. Not ideal. On top of that, the motion controls just aren’t particularly consistent. They’re almost never needed, and there are some workarounds using button inputs, but using the motion controls makes the moves easier to pull off, and its frustrating that they didn’t tie some of them to button inputs, especially given that they didn’t even tie specific moves to all the buttons.
Recommendation: This one is a no-brainer. Super Mario Odyssey is one of the purest, most fun video game experiences I have ever had. It is now my favorite of the 3D Mario games. Inconsistent motion controls and one “meh” level are microscopic blemishes on what is a nearly perfect gaming experience. If you own a Switch you absolutely must play this game at some point, and if you’re on the fence about getting the Switch, now might be the time.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (PC)
Holy shit. I’m still working my way through this one, and one of the most recent story beats had my jaw on the floor. Wolfenstein II is relevant in some pretty uncomfortable ways, and it doesn’t shy away from it. The graphics are far better than the first (it is now running on the same engine 2016’s gorgeous DOOM was built on) and the storytelling is, somehow, more bold.
As far as the game itself, the same issues that pervaded the first game are present here, although this time around it seems like the game gives you more options to tackle the fights. I will admit that I’m still playing the game on its easiest difficulty, as that’s the only way I find it fun. I don’t want to engage with this game’s stealth mechanic more than I have to, much as I love stealth games; I want to be an unstoppable Nazi-killing machine, and I want to experience the story. It’s a story worth experiencing. I’ll have more thoughts on it next week, when I will likely have finished it.
Recommendation: I’m probably only a third or so through the game and already it’s one that I will wholeheartedly recommend. This is pinnacle video game storytelling, the kind that just doesn’t come around that often. It’s up there with The Last of Us in terms of writing, acting and cinematography. Oh, and I forgot to mention the incredible music, used sparingly but to great effect. Play the first game, and then get this game on sale this or next week depending on your platform. They are stupid good.
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That’s all I’ve got to say this week. Stay tuned for more weekly updates.
Writing a blog takes time and video games are expensive. I do this purely for fun, but if you want to see me do more live content or game capture, head over to my slightly revamped Patreon page and shoot me some support. For only $3 a month you gain access to my Discord channel where you can directly influence what sort of material I write, such as suggesting games for me to play or game-related topics for me to write about. Any money you give me will go directly to paying for capture equipment such as microphones, capture cards or cameras that I will use to generate more content for my blog. I appreciate you and all your feedback so much. Thanks for reading, and Stay Optimistic.