God of War - title

Vikings and norse mythology seems to have been a popular concept in games recently. Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, for instance, is an excellent hack-n-slash adventure through Norse hell. I've also been playing the Wasteland-like RPG Expeditions: Vikings on Steam (which I'm hoping to review soon). I also have games like Mount & Blad: Viking Conquest and Total War: Thrones of Britannia on my short list of games I'd like to play. And there was also the Viking character in For Honor.

Now, Sony's PlayStation flagship God of War has jumped from Greek mythology to Norse mythology. Having killed all the Greek gods, Kratos has apparently settled down in the mythological Midgard with a wife and son, only for his wife to die and his son be attacked by the Norse god Baldr. This sends Kratos and Atreus on a father-son bonding adventure to spread Atreus' mother's ashes from the highest peak in all the realms, and to learn why the Aesir are suddenly keen on hunting them.

Norse mythology seems to be a popular subject in media lately.

A father-son murder team

Atreus has some of the same problems that The Last of Us has with Ellie. Atreus doesn't feel vulnerable enough to demand protection, and he's rarely relevant outside of combat, except for his running commentary about what you're doing. Because of this, the actual game rarely feels like it's about protecting or escorting Atreus. And even though the game is ostensibly about Kratos teaching Atreus how to fight and be a man, the player never has an opportunity to actually teach the kid or take on any parental responsibility for him. It's just about Kratos throwing axes at draugr, and Atreus occasionally shoots them or jumps on their heads to help you out. The puzzle sections rarely require using Atreus (other than occasionally shooting something with his bow or having him scamper through a small tunnel).

Atreus is basically just an extra ranged attack.

That being said, I think that God of War makes some strides in the right direction (compared to The Last of Us). The player (and Kratos) can command Atreus to attack a target with his bow, which is one of the easiest and most consistent ways to deal stun damage to enemies, which opens them up to an intant-kill attack from Kratos. It's also a strategy that is pretty much essential on the harder difficulties. This creates a much greater sense of playing in tandem with Atreus, as he and Kratos often work together to defeat foes.

Atreus and Kratos can also break each other out of being grappled or stunned. I've never gotten a "Game Over" as a result of Atreus being defeated, so I'm not sure if that's a possible fail state. Being grappled or stunned only seemed to ever temporarily take Atreus out of the fight and negate the ability to use his bow. Either way, this is an improvement over Ellie from The Last of Us, who (as far as I recall) operated entirely independently from Joel, was never at any risk, and could be completely ignored for most of the player's time actually playing the game.

Kratos and Atreus can break each other out of enemy grapples and support each other in combat.

The important take-away here is that, unlike with Ellie in the combat encounters of The Last of Us, I never forgot that Atreus was there when playing God of War...

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Steam logo

The video game developer and distribution platform-owner Valve has announced that it will no longer moderate game submissions to Steam, and will instead "allow everything", so long as it is not blatantly illegal or "straight up trolling". This comes after literal years of complaints from players about the poor quality of games being submitted on the platform, and years of failed attempts by Valve to shut down or limit such releases. Apparently, they are just giving up.

Valve executive Erik Johnson made this announcement on an official blog post today, in which he defended the change in policy as a matter of protecting free speech rights.

"If you’re a developer of offensive games, this isn’t us siding with you against all the people you’re offending. There will be people throughout the Steam community who hate your games, and hope you fail to find an audience, and there will be people here at Valve who feel exactly the same way. However, offending someone shouldn’t take away your game’s voice. We believe you should be able to express yourself like everyone else, and to find others who want to play your game. But that’s it."

   -- Erik Johnson, Valve executive, official blog

I'm a huge proponent of free speech, and a firm opponent of censorship, but I'm not sure if this move from Valve is the right one. For me, this is less an issue of free speech and censorship, and more an issue of quality control. Steam is already inundated with crappy, barely-working games that are phishing for people's money. People have been submitting, and charging consumers for, blatant asset-flips, Unity tutorials, copy-pasted rip-offs and clones, achievement farms, and all sorts of other low-quality, minimum-effort games and "fake games". In essence, Valve is enabling illigitimate developers to sell defective merchandise to the public, and Valve is directly profiting off of those sales. Does this represent a conflict of interest? Is Valve under a perverse incentive to facilitate the sale of as much crap as it possibly can?

That doesn't even include larger indie debacles like Life of Black Tiger, which actually saw a release on PSN as well! It also doesn't include the vast array of Early Access titles that may or may not at some point be released as "complete", fully-functional titles.

Yes, it is nice that indie developers (especially budding young ones) have a platform on which to publish their work. However, the flood of games on the platform is not necessarily good for the consumer. Even if all the games that were submitted to Steam were quality games submitted by honest developers in good faith, the shear volume of games would already make it difficult to weed through to find what you are looking for.

Steam releases per year
Almost half of all games ever released on Steam were released in a single year.
Source: Steam Spy.

Instead of doing their own moderation or quality-control, Valve apparently intends to release a suite of controls intended to allow end users to filter out content that they don't want to see...

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Star Wars Armada

If you like the Star Wars: X-Wing miniatures game (and I do like it), or if you're eagerly awaiting the release of the second edition, but you don't want to house-rule that your car can act as a makeshift Star Destroyer, then Fantasy Flight has you covered. Star Wars: Armada is a higher-scale, tactical combat game using capital ships, and it might actually be a considerably better game than the core X-Wing set (at least better than the first edition)!

Planning ahead

Much like the board game Sails of Glory (which I also really like), Armada requires you to plan the actions of your capital ships a couple turns in advance. However, unlike Sails of Glory, it isn't the movement of these ships that you must pre-plan; it's their desired "commands". I was a little disappointed that the capital ships don't require that players plan their movement in advance, but then again, the maneuverability of these ships is highly limited, and only gets lower as the ship goes faster (if the ship in question even can go faster). There is a sense of inertia to these behemoth ships, but not quite the same level of inertia as the sailing ships of Sails of Glory.

Star Wars: Armada - maneuver tool
Ships move very slowly and have very limited maneuverability.

I do like that these ships both begin and end their movement relative to the font of their base. This alleviates the problems that X-Wing had with its large ships counter-intuitively moving faster than their smaller counterparts. And since the base Armada package comes with ships of varying sizes, this improvement is immediately noticeable without needing to wait for expansions: all ships move and turn at consistent speeds.

The rules do require that ships attack prior to moving. This means that you must plan ahead a little bit, since you have to position yourself for an attack in the turn prior, and have to anticipate who will have initiative and where their ship(s) will be if they get to move them before you get to make your attack.

Star Wars: Armada - defense tokens
Defense tokens give players
more meaningful decisions.

More meaningful decisions

Even defense is a tactical decision! And this might be the single, best change from X-Wing. Instead of simply rolling defense dice to cancel out your opponent's attack rolls, you get to chose a set of defense tokens to apply, and each one mitigates damage in different ways. One defense token may allow you to cancel out an opponent's die roll, while another will allow you to redirect the damage to another hull section's shields, and yet another halves the total damage dealt. These tokens refresh each round, unless you use twice in the same round, in which case, it is permanently discarded.

This alleviates another of the problems that permeated X-Wing: that damaging an opponent often felt like playing craps. Getting into perfect position and lining up a point-blank shot against an opponent can be completely foiled by dice rolls in X-Wing. Dice still play a role in Armada, but damage seems to be much more consistently-dealt, and players actually have a say in how their ships defend themselves from damage. It gives the player more meaningful decisions...

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Another summer, another onslaught of comic book movies. This year, we're spared the misery of another of Warner's DC Comic movies, so we get two Marvel movies (including the recently-released Infinity War and the soon-to-be-released Ant Man and the Wasp), and we get a sequel to Fox's Deadpool. The first Deadpool was pretty great, even though it wasn't as groundbreaking as it seemed to think it was. Nevertheless, it was thoroughly entertaining, and the sequel follows suit.

I do think that the first movie's humor is executed much better though, as the sequel frequently fell flat for me. That isn't for lack of trying though. Deadpool 2 almost tries too hard. The jokes come fast and relentless. A lot of them fall flat, but the volume of attempts is so high that the audience the audience is chuckling or laughing every couple minutes. It's almost a "Barney Stinson" approach to joke-telling: if you tell enough, at least some of them will work. Then again, it might also be different jokes for different people.

I rarely ever found myself laughing out loud during this movie. I laughed out loud to a few jokes in the first movie, but hardly anything in this one. It was a lot more quietly chuckling to myself or nodding along that "Ah, I get it". At least there weren't quite as many contemporary pop culture references this time around (which means this movie will probably age better than the first one will), as more of the jokes were at the expense of comic book movies and comic books in general. Since I didn't read X-Men too extensively, a lot of it probably just went over my head.

I only found myself laughing at a small fraction of the jokes, including the extended X-Force gag.

Again, Deadpool takes a lot of shots at the studio, complaining once again about the lower budget of the movie and the lack of any recognizable X-Men. He asks if Cable is from the DC Universe because Cable is so dark and brooding, and he takes several other shots at Batman v Superman and Justice League. He also takes a couple shots at Marvel Studios, including referring to Cable as Thanos.

Is the crappy quality of the CGI villain intentional? Is that supposed to be a joke? If so, does that justify the dated CG that was used?

Cable and Deadpool play off each other really well.

It's hard to tell if other signs of uninspired writing are deliberate jokes, or just examples of uninspired writing, especially since Deadpool quips once or twice about the movie's lazy writing. For example, does it really make sense that Deadpool and Cable are trying to stop Firefist from going on a killing spree, even though Deadpool and Cable kill literally everyone in their path to do so? Wouldn't that just reinforce in Firefist's mind that killing is acceptable?

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Movie audiences were all pleasantly surprised when the ensemble cast of Avengers all came together to make a pretty damned good movie. There was genuine anxiety regarding whether that movie could possibly successfully bring four movies' worth of superheroes together into a single movie, and manage to give everybody enough valuable screen time to make the whole thing work. Similarly, there was considerably anxiety regarding whether or not Marvel could double-down and pull off an ensemble of ensembles for the mega-crossover Infinity War. But at this point, I think we've all moved past any expectation that Marvel will screw up, and we all just assume that they're going to find a way to magically make it all work.

I had to wait a couple weeks to find out. I had planned to see the movie the Monday after release and have this review out two weeks ago, but fate conspired against that. Towards the end of the trailers, somebody pulled the fire alarm in the building, forcing the theater to evacuate. It was a false alarm, but by the time they let everyone back in, it was too late and the movie wouldn't be over in time to pick up the kids from KidsQuest before they closed for the night. Ah well. My girlfriend finally got sick of having to hush her students whenever they started talking about the movie, so she dragged me out to the theater earlier this week.

The sheer volume of characters, content, and punches here does make Infinity War one of the more unbalanced of Marvel's movies. It is after all, weaving a complex tapestry of superhero action, science fiction, and magical fantasy, and there's virtually no set-up or development for the characters. This movie is all climax all the time. It's probably the first Marvel movie that really requires that you have seen most of the lead-up material. There simply isn't enough time here to introduce who everyone is and what their deal is. If you haven't seen at least one film featuring each character, you'll likely be lost with regard to who they are. Guardians of the Galaxy, Civil War, and Ragnarok are pretty much essential prerequisite viewing. You can skip Ant Man though, as he's conspicuously absent from this particular compilation piece.

Infinity War is an ensemble of ensembles.

This movie would probably fail miserably if it were a typical super-hero movie focused around the heroes and their struggle (and failure) to beat the bad guy. Marvel knows well enough to not try to replicate The Empire Strikes Back. Instead, Infinity War is much more about the bad guy. Thanos is pretty much the main character here, and a great deal of time and effort is paid to trying to make him as relatable and understandable of a villain as possible. He is characterized with nuance, he's clever, he's ruthless, and he's consistent in his goals and ambition. Whether or not you sympathize with his point of view will, of course, depend on where you stand on the topic of universal genocide. Josh Brolin's Thanos does, however, have some pretty definitive swagger and charisma. His CG monstrosity has a lot of screen presence. It's too bad that the CG isn't always completely convincing though.

Because the bad guy is basically the main character (and protagonist), the entire narrative arc of the movie is almost the inverse of what you'd usually expect. The bad guys show up to create the dramatic stakes and sense of threat with aplomb, as expected. But instead of the rising action being a series of setbacks for the heroes with a climactic victory at the end, the heroes seem to come together and get everything mostly under control for the middle act of the movie, only to have it all go to shit when the climax arrives. Instead of the good guys losing in the end, the movie is framed as the bad guy wins in the end -- a subtle, but significant difference!

Thanos is the main character of this movie, and the dramatic and emotional arcs revolve around him.
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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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