Rapid Fire Reviews: 9-20-14

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

A semi-regular segment in which I am too lazy to write full reviews of various games I’m playing so I instead write a couple of shorter ones.

Pay no mind to the fact that both of these ended up being pretty long this time. But, fuck it man. I dunno.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Director’s Cut)

Purchased on Steam and played on PC for 22 hours

This is another one of those games that I’ve started numerous times and just never finished for reasons unknown to even me. Like, seriously, I’ve played through the first eight hours of this game three different times. That’s at least 24 hours of my stupid, useless life wasted. An entire day. Think of what I could have done in that span of time. Ran a marathon. Volunteered at the homeless shelter. Climbed a mountain. Cooked spaghetti.

Anyway, I’ve always really fucking liked this game. There’s something about Human Revolution’s presentation and mechanics that just make it a wholly satisfying experience but in a different way to the original Deus Ex and, to a lesser extent, its slightly more embarrassing offspring, Invisible War. It certainly isn’t punishingly difficult like the original but it maintains just enough of the challenge and player freedom that it manages to logically feel like the modern gaming equivalent.

Part of the draw for me is certainly in the plot, or rather, the way the plot plays out. Human Revolution starts out on a high note with a great intro, one that establishes important characters, relationships, and events necessary to the story in great style, and then continues to intrigue all the way until where I am currently at the 20 hour mark.

A great deal of the heavy lifting is done by the character dialogue, which is extremely solid throughout and is highlighted to great effect in prominent segments that require you to read people’s personalities in order to convince them of your stance by choosing the most effect dialogue option against them. While this is made a tad too easy by having the social enhancement augmentation upgrade, it is nonetheless a very enjoyable and interesting mechanic.

The superb pacing is also a major highlight. In recent years I’ve often not felt compelled to finish games quickly due to exhaustively one note pacing (a la recent Call of Duty campaigns) which really only serves to highlight just how samey much of the gameplay actually is. Human Revolution maintains a tone of espionage throughout, making the pacing more slow and methodical, but still certainly manages to allow for peaks and moments of excitement. It keeps things feeling fresh and ensured that I wouldn’t be putting the controller down for long without feeling like I needed to pick it back up again.

I’m a big fan of those modern shooter RPGs like Mass Effect, Fallout: New Vegas, Bioshock, and Stalker (although just how much RPG there actually is varies a lot between the games) and Human Revolution stands as one of the best. Although there are no stat points, just the sheer number of options presented to the player in each mission makes solely skill based character progression still feel very meaningful. I built my character as a sneaky, non lethal hacking prodigy this playthrough because lately I have preferred to ghost through games, but I’ve taken the more direct approach in the past and I was pretty shocked at just how often the paths diverged from one another.

That said, my choice in character became problematic during many of the boss fights as sneaking around is often not an option. Or, at least, didn’t appear to be. This led to me just grabbing whatever heavy weaponry was available nearby and sprinting around the boss fight arena playing a game of hide and unload, which is decidedly shit I do not like. These segments were really the only ones that I died in, ensuring that rapid fire quicksaving was in order. I couldn’t imagine how this would have gone on a console where quicksave is not an option.

I was under the impression that the Director’s Cut of Human Revolution had removed, or at least heavily altered, the boss fights in order to make different play styles more viable but this does not appear to be the case. In fact, I have yet to notice any significant difference between the Director’s Cut and the regular version aside from what appears to be enhanced graphical stability on the PC release.

That said, I am deeply enjoying my time with Human Revolution. I’ve spent a significant portion of time just exploring the hub worlds and levels, completing side missions, hacking everything in sight, and reading the eBooks for back story. This level of completion is not something that I’ve really felt compelled to strive for since the original Mass Effect or Bioshock games, and it is a feeling that I’ve deeply missed.

Dark Souls 2 Crown of the Sunken King

Purchased on Steam and played on PC for 5 – 6 hours

I’m not sure if you guys know this about me, but I really like good games. Like, a lot. And Dark Souls 2 is a damned good game if not a great one. So, even though a great number of people really feel like FROM Software is shitting the bed by making DLC even after they said they had no interest in doing so, I can’t really hold it against them because the mere prospect of more Dark Souls 2 excites me, sometimes sexually. And honestly, Crown of the Sunken King represents, in many ways, not only an improvement to the formula of Dark Souls 2, but perhaps the gameplay that many Souls fans were wanting in Dark Souls 2 from the very beginning.

Crown of the Sunken King takes place in a city buried deep below Drangleic, underneath even the dark depths of the Black Gulch. A fact I find extremely strange the more I consider how well lit and not as creepy Shulva is when compared to the Black Gulch, but whatever man. The labyrinthian ruins that you explore is the remains of a once great kingdom that appears to have worshipped a sleeping dragon by the name of Sinh in this Sanctum City, but has long since fallen into darkness and despair. And really, this is all the information you are able to gleam from your environment initially, a fact that I really enjoy about this DLC. The deeply intriguing and mysterious nature of the story of the Sunken King requires much more exploring, reading, and analyzing than that of Drangleic. No doubt this is due to the story’s compact nature, as it is wholly told within a few hours of gameplay and only a few environments, so you cannot really compare the two, but the difference was still welcomed.

The level design is reminiscent of previous games in the Souls franchise because of the way that many of the paths loop back into themselves, making navigating them sensible over time but initially extremely overwhelming. Seriously, the first time I realized that entire structures could be raised or lowered by hitting a particular switch, revealing several different pathways, my head was swimming in all of the possibilities. A fact that stands equally in the game’s favor as well as against it. And some particularly dangerous enemies lie in wait around each tight corner and in every nook and cranny. Even the cannon fodder in this section prevent a challenge initially, although, just like any enemy in a Souls game, they can be figured out pretty easily with good patience and observation.

Due to the fact that the enemies are often few in number and/or easily separated from the pack through the use of smart aggro, most of the difficulty in Crown of the Sunken King comes from the environment itself this time around. Many narrow ledges and easily stumbled into pits can send you cursing into the depths if you aren’t paying careful attention. Well, that, and the boss battles.

Minor spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.

So, I really like trying to take on the bosses solo because I feel like it represents the point when the game is at its most fun. Learning the bosses’ movesets and weaknesses for the first time is super thrilling and deeply enjoyable because you have to manage your rising panic levels as the boss reveals more and more of itself. However, this fact can become less true during some of the multi-enemy boss fights, as it can take some serious patience to wait for attack openings between two or more massive enemies.

Fighting Elana The Squalid Queen in Crown of the Sunken King is an exercise in frustration thanks to her ability to summon a clone of Velstadt that has no qualms about completely fucking you up while the Queen stun locks you with her abilities, many of which are similar in nature to Nashandra, for obvious reasons. I assumed that focusing my efforts on Velstadt (or his clone or whatever) and killing him would make my life easier, and it was, for a time. However, she just wound up summoning another Velstadt in what seemed like no time at all, completely fucking all of my morale and making all of my strategizing feel pointless. This frustration isn’t helped by the fact that one of the most crucial bonfires in the level, the one right before the boss fight, is actually hidden behind an illusory wall, which I didn’t discover until after.

But, aside from this ultimately minor complaint, the rest of Crown of the Sunken King is some of the most fun I’ve had in Dark Souls 2. The visual design of the sunken city is deeply atmospheric and sometimes manages to be very beautiful in all of its gloom, and the story behind it all is absolutely fascinating to unravel. This first DLC comes highly recommended from me and I can only hope that the next two DLC campaigns are even remotely this good.

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