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    Feb 13th, 2018 at 00:32:34     -    Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PS4)

    Got another hour or so of gameplay in today. I'm loving the world the game has set me in -- it feels distinctly Lord of the Rings, and even the fighting system makes me feel like I'm in one of the movies. I think that's one of the games biggest strong points, actually. I've played roughly 3 hours so far, and not once have I ever fought an enemy one on one. At first that frustrated me, but the more I've played, the more I've realized that it's trying to tie into the player fantasy. Because you play as a Ranger, a semi-mythical figure in the LotR universe, fighting a horde of enemies -- and winning -- makes you feel good. It makes you feel powerful and in control while at the same time making every battle, even the small ones, feel tense and chaotic. Also, because of countering and slo-mo critical hits and the ability to flow from enemy to enemy in a stylish way, every fight feels like it could be a choreographed scene from one of the movies. However, the game is set up in such an open-world way that you can often find yourself amidst groups of enemies you're just not equipped to deal with yet, and the resulting deaths feel like the game is punishing you for exploring.

    This concept of exploration punishment was also my first real introduction to the game's Nemesis system, wherein you kill leaders of Sauron's army (or they kill you) and the hierarchy of that army changes. However, dying to one of the leaders increases that leader's power -- and due to my constant (perhaps stupid) exploration, I died again and again to one leader, causing him to be incredibly overpowering. This only means that the Nemesis system is working as intended, and it's really cool in context of the game and world, but it can be frustrating to constantly run into this leader and know that I either run or die.

    I also spent the better part of today's play session ignoring the main story missions and instead freeing slaves captured by orcs. I'm not even sure that the time spent doing so was particularly worth it (I received experience and money for freeing the slaves, but nothing particularly grandiose and nothing that provided any type of narrative), so I'm not sure it was time well spent. The game prompted me to free the slaves and then didn't force me, but that meant that I would've felt like a bad person if I had ignored that hint and not freed the slaves. Interesting ethical situation, there.

    Also, ran into Gollum near the end of my play session? For some reason I thought this game was centuries before the main LotR movies, but apparently not.

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    Feb 11th, 2018 at 01:42:43     -    Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PS4)

    I played for about an hour and a half today. The game has me incredibly interested, even if I am a bit lost and confused. I thought the developers did a very good and interesting job with the opening of the game, which surprised me. About 5 minutes into the game, I was incredibly frustrated with the opening. I hadn't actually been able to play yet, and all the game had been was cutscenes and voiceovers. I'm a firm believer that games should get you to a playable position as quickly as possible, and it looked like the game was going to go full exposition on me instead. This was particularly worrying because the game kept showing flashbacks of the main character's backstory, but they had little weight to me because I didn't know who the main character was. Thankfully, though, it quickly switched, and I was able to actually play these flashbacks -- and even better, the flashbacks were the tutorial for the game. Learning how to sword fight because I was teaching my son how to sword fight was a genius move, really, and let the game avoid many of the problems of tutorial levels as well.

    Actually getting into the main gameplay has been a lot of fun. The "Nemesis" system that I've heard so much about is starting to peek out every once in a while, but it's currently daunting and has had very little explanation by the game. The fighting is fluid and natural, and the controls all feel very smooth. My one major complaint so far is that the game suffers from some pretty serious map and menu UI overload (unfortunately borrowing a little too much from Assassin's Creed here). There's so many icons on both the map and the menu that navigating them becomes a chore, which should be the exact opposite of what both of those things are there for. The game itself has been fun so far, though!

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    Jan 18th, 2018 at 00:22:45     -    Firewatch (PS4)

    I played a little over an hour tonight. There's still a lot I love about this game, but I'm starting to get frustrated as well. There is definitely a sense of a mystery being at play, and yet it doesn't seem to be headed anywhere. I think I'm at day 63 in the game, but nothing has really developed all that much regarding my ransacked watchtower (besides finding the teenager's wrecked campsite and discovering later that they are missing). I guess I just feel that the game isn't delivering on promises that it made -- or at least, it's not delivering on them as quickly as I would like. I kept expecting the quests that I went on to have some greater meaning or influence on the plot, but instead I just went on another quest to pick up supplies that had little to no meaning.

    My relationship with Delilah, though, is fascinating. I like Delilah -- who she is, how she talks, the way she treats my player character. I enjoy talking with her, and I always choose the nice, friendly dialogue option when talking to her. However, the last 15 minutes or so of gameplay I played turned from being nice and friendly to being flirtatious. I was fine with it for the first few seconds (I like Delilah, after all), until I suddenly remembered that I'm married. Then it all felt wrong, and it felt like I, as the player, had made wrong choices in making what I thought were the right choices. I felt like a bad person for cheating on my ill and disabled wife, if only in thought. Then I realized that none of this was real, but I still had those negative feelings, and the true ethical dilemma of the game started to become clearer to me.

    I also distinctly noticed the audio this time playing the game, which I hadn't noticed or paid attention to in earlier playthroughs. The use of music is very sparse, and only comes up during particularly big reveals or discoveries, such as when you're about to walk on to the teenagers' campsite. The music then stops, and the sudden lack of music becomes just as big of a statement as the music itself. It made everything seem eerie and intense, even though very little about the scene itself was that way.

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    Jan 17th, 2018 at 00:46:53     -    Firewatch (PS4)

    I played for a little over 45 minutes today, and I'm starting to get the feeling that this is the exact type of game that I'm going to love. It has mystery, great dialogue, fantasy environmental storytelling, and beautiful art to boot. To top it all off, at one point I actually got lost in the game and wasn't sure what to do next. It's been an incredibly long time since I've had that experience in a game; nowadays, games lead you from one step to the next. That's not a bad thing, but it was nice to be able to just get lost for a while. For a game all about wandering the Wyoming wilderness, it felt natural and right to be lost.

    This game, from what I can tell so far, has two main points: establish a mystery that needs to be solved (who robbed my watchtower, and what mysterious something is going on with Delilah), and establish a relationship between myself and Delilah. The fact that the two intertwine is obviously no coincidence, and makes me invested in both of them even more because of that. The subtext that's happening that focuses on the main character's relationship with his ailing wife is also fascinating, and brings up a ton of moral quandaries: is it ethical for him to be separated from his wife at such a crucial moment, even if her new situation is a better living condition? Is confiding and trusting in another woman the wisest thing for him to do, as a married man? Does having the player play a character that's made morally questionable decisions off screen imply some type of acceptance and approval by that person as they play them?

    There are a few things that are frustrating me, however. The game has occasional obnoxiously long loading times, particularly for a game that's nowhere near as big or complex as similar titles. Also, the immersion of the map and compass is nice, but gets annoying quickly when you need to check them frequently to locate yourself and where you need to go. I'm not sure it would improve the game, but a minimap certainly would have made getting from place to place a lot easier.

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