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Game Review: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Posted in reviews, video game, video game design by commorancy on October 6, 2018

a2b4debe8beb1ac5dee92d4a3774b014Truly, there’s nothing wrong with this game. Nothing, except for the fact that it’s an almost identical functional clone of Assassin’s Creed Origins, chock full of all the same bugs in Origin. I’ll make this one somewhat short and sweet. Let’s Explore.

Assassin’s Creed Origins

Earlier in the year, I wrote a rather lengthy game review of Assassin’s Creed Origins. I had a lot of gripes about Origins. Well, I’m sorry to say that few of my suggestions in that review made it into Odyssey. Most of those design flaws were pulled straight into Odyssey, something I should have expected.

I’m not going to write much on this game because I already had my long-winded say with Origins. Writing it here again would simply be redundant. I’ll suggest heading on over to read Randocity’s Assassin’s Creed Origins game review if you’re curious to find out what things I truly disliked.

Clone

If we thought Origins was a simple money grab, Odyssey most definitely is. Ubisoft basically copied the entire Origins game, created a new character or two, added a few new quests and called it a day. Odyssey is literally just a rethemed Origins with a slightly different locale and storyline. There’s also a bit more sailing involved, but the ship battles still offer a mostly horrible game mechanic. Senu is replaced by Ikaros. It also adds recruiting lieutenants for the ship which is akin to Brotherhood and already been done. You can recruit them all day, but you can’t do anything with them.

Overall, Odyssey feels like a clone designed to make Ubisoft yet more money without doing a lot of work. I was actually afraid of this possibility when I heard that Odyssey was announced so quickly after Origins.

Combat

I take some of what I said back. Odyssey is actually worse than Origins in combat. Now not only do enemies STILL use the stupid backing up tactic, now they climb away from you. I don’t know who thought THAT was a good idea? Enemies who are engaged in combat should STAY engaged in combat WHERE THEY ARE. Finish the battle right there. I don’t want to have to keep chasing them down to fight them somewhere else. Stay put!

Worse, the enemies are even MORE sensitive than in Origins. As soon as even one sees you, the whole camp knows you’re there. That’s just ass. There is no way one single enemy can alert the whole camp without a warning. And since he’s been engaged in combat the whole time, there is no way for him to alert. Sure, you might argue the clanking of swords might alert someone, but in reality, these guys fight test fights anyway. So, that’s not enough alone to alert the whole camp.

Desynchronization Game Loading

This part is just a total clusterf***. When I save a manual game save, if it is the most current save, I expect that game to be loaded after a desync. No, it doesn’t. It loads some random previous autosave instead. This forces me to wait through that autosave to load, then I have to go and load my manual save again. Stupid and time wasting. Ubisoft, get with the program here.

After a battlefield battle, it’s even worse. This is just some shit. If you run off the battlefield, the battle restarts immediately. If you desync, the game forces you to endure the entire restart of the battle including talking to Stentar and going through all of the game choices. OMG. NO effing NO. If you can restart the battle simply by abandoning it, you can let us rejoin without having to go through that long ass restart process.

Battlefield Simulators

Okay, no. This piece is just suck, all the way through. This is Assassin’s Creed. Got it, Ubisoft? It’s about Assassins. It’s not Warrior’s Creed, it’s Assassin’s Creed. Right? Say it with me Ubisoft, “Assassin’s Creed.” If I wanted to play WAR battles, I’d play Battlefield or Call of Duty or any other war simulator. Ubisoft has plainly gone off the deep end. No more battlefield simulators in Assassin’s Creed games, particularly when they are entirely useless (more about that later).

If you want to add this crap in, then at least let the hero act as an assassin and use the assassin moves. At least let my character get away from the battle and work on stealth or long range tactics. No, you can’t. As soon as the battle starts, at least two guards earmark you and there’s no way to get rid of them short of killing them. Even then, that triggers even more guards to come after you. You can’t shake them to hide and perform stealth maneuvers. Again, this is Assassin’s Creed!

Worse, there’s absolutely no warning of this play mechanic until it’s on top of you. Then, it’s too late to go back and bone up on the warrior skills. You have to fail out and then “come back later”. I hate that shit in a game. If you’re going to lead me into a battle simulator, at least give me a warning that shit is coming long before I get there so I can plan my skill-ups and armor accordingly.

Worse, these battlefield simulators are entirely pointless. You can win the war and claim victory for Sparta, then about a day later in the game be required to go do it again. What’s the point in claiming victory over a territory if you have to keep doing it over and over and over? At least warn me the territory is about to fall to the hands of the Athenians and let me go take care of it before it does.

Such absolute crap!

Bosses

I can’t speak for all bosses, but this particular boss is annoying as all hell. This is the Kalydonian Boar. This thing has two attack phases and the second phase is as frustrating as it is unnecessary. Thanks Ubisoft for making such crap bosses. The boar claims to be a level 13, the same as me. Yet, it takes massive numbers of hits to even whittle its health down. It’s not a 13, it’s like a 26. I hate this fake numbering of bosses when they are many, many levels of above you. Truth in labeling, Ubisoft. Tell us what the actual boss’s level is. Don’t sugarcoat it making us think it’s a 13 when it’s actually 26.

As soon as you enter the ring, it runs at you full speed. If you’re lucky, you can miss this attack and start hammering on it. That’s not the issue. As soon as you whittle its health down by about 1/8th, 4 baby boars show up and start goring you, in addition to big boar boss. Swarming is not something I go in for in any game of any type. When swarming is the tactic, I’m out. I also call bullshit on that tactic. It’s just a way to whittle your health down for big daddy boss. To me, this is a bullshit tactic. I’m here to fight the boss boar, not a bunch of annoying baby boar. And, where the hell did they come from anyway? They’re not in the cave and don’t emerge from the cave. They just miraculously spawn onto to the field. Again, I call bullshit. If you’re going to have enemies show up on the field, make the idea at least appear real. Put cages and open them up so we can at least know what’s coming. Just magically making them appear out of thin air is total BS.

The problem I have with the baby boar is that they gored at me so much, they pushed me off the playing field which… stupidly… resets big boss boar’s health, but not mine. I’m still being gored with red health, yet big boss boar has miraculously healed and the whole thing has reset. Yet, baby boar hang around to be a nuisance? Get with the program Ubisoft.

Even though big boss boar won’t leave the playing field, baby boar will and they’ll chase you down even if you leave the ring. Again, I call bullshit on this design.

In fact, there are so many design problems with this boss level I don’t even know where to begin:

  • If you’re going to have a border that resets the whole thing, then mark it clearly with some kind of translucent effect. I need to know when I’m about to leave it and can move back into the field.
  • I also need to be warned a “return to the battle” timer to avoid resetting the boss.
  • I should be able to kill this thing from the top of a cliff with an arrow. Nope, you are forced to enter the playing field and doing it strictly with melee weapons. Total bullshit.
  • No baby boar necessary. The level is well hard enough without that extra crap.
  • If you’re going to spawn baby boar, when I leave the area, they need to despawn immediately.
  • Set up the baby boar in the cave and have them come out of there so at least it makes sense where they came from.
  • Truth in labeling. If the boss is level 26, then put that number above its head.

More crap design from Ubisoft. This is kinda becoming a trend, Ubisoft. Might want to work on that.

Wood, Wood Everywhere, But None To Cut

As you wander around this forested landscape in Greece, you’ll notice a lot of wooded areas with so much wood, you might be wondering why you’re limited to “Olive Wood”? This part about games like this one makes me terribly frustrated. Just give me an axe and let me chop trees down. Don’t make me hunt all over the land for tiny “special” spriglets that are difficult to find and even more difficult to see.

Wood can only be obtained through the small mentioned spriglets like so:

Assassin's Creed® Odyssey_20181019111022

Instead of being able to use the ready amount of wood you find everywhere as far as the eye can see, you’re limited to locating these tiny little shrublets and harvesting them. It’s stupid.

The resources needed to upgrade your weapons and armor are wood, leather, metal and various crystals. You find these only in specially marked items on the ground and in war chests. In fact, it takes a ton of wood to make arrows, so you’re almost constantly running out just to keep your arrows stocked. On top of this, upgrading your weapons and armor requires tons of all of the listed resources… particularly Legendary Armor that requires a literal shit ton of it.

Assassin's Creed® Odyssey_20181019105956

I can understand the leather problem to an extent. The wood problem has no explanation at all. With piles of wood sitting around like this, what the hell?

The problem I have with leather in this game is that a steer that should yield the maximum amount of leather for any animal, but instead yields about 3 pieces. A bear which is probably smaller than most steer yields 10-15 pieces. An elk yields about 3 pieces. An elk is easily the size of the steer. These numbers are so artificially low, it’s just frustrating to go out and search for this. Oddly enough, wolves tend to yield the most amount of leather even though they’re dog sized. Go figure.

Ultimately, the resources are so scarce it’s not really even much fun to go chase after them. I easily spend hours running around collecting this stuff when I should be concentrating on trying to progress in the game’s story. Yet, to progress I need to upgrade my armor which requires these resources. So here I am, spending hours running around the game trying to find stupid little trees.

Then there’s Orichalcum. How many currencies do we need in a game and why? I’m getting a little frustrated with having 10 or more different currencies to buy from various vendors. Can we standardize on a single in-game currency, please?

Chickens

This story is as humorous as it is frustrating. It also sums up all of the things wrong with Odyssey in a nutshell. I had just gotten my behind kicked by some animal or NPC. I was running away to recoup my health. Anyway, my health was on the verge of being out (like one tiny little tick). I made my way into a city and a chicken attacked me. I’d never been attacked by a chicken EVER in Assassin’s Creed of any version. That chicken’s attack desynced my character. I know this was an intentional addition. The game made the chicken attack me because my health was that low.

This game is wrongly opportunistic in this way. I’m sure some developer thought this is extremely funny to add this in, but it isn’t. I wasn’t attacking this chicken nor had I made any motions to attack it. However, I do now. Every time I cross paths with a chicken, it dies. This is something that should be removed from the game as it is entirely unnecessary.

Perfect Vision

NPC characters in the game have perfect vision. I’m not even visible around a corner and NPCs see me and come after me. Again, this is so wrong. NPC vision shouldn’t be that acute. Yet another game design flaw. This is one of those pet peeves about games that truly drives me crazy. Game AI characters should have the ability to “see” about as far as 10 feet in the dark, maximum.

Overall

If you like Origins, you’ll probably like Odyssey. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer anything substantially different over Origins in combat, exploration or play value. In fact, I haven’t found much that’s majorly different from Origins. The one substantial change I’ve found is that you can play as either Alexios (male) or Kassandra (female). Everything else is pretty much Origins all over again. You can easily fall right into Odyssey as an extension of Origins without batting an eye. The controls are the same, the play value is the same, heck even the lands seem the same.

The graphics are still very pretty and the landscape is amazing to behold, but I got jaded by that with Origins. What I see in Odyssey seems just the same as Origins. In fact, I thought that in some ways, the Bayek character and his armor looked better than Alexios and his armor. It’s almost like the Alexios character was rushed or something.

It’s also nice not to hear the same NPC banter constantly being spoken over and over and over. So, that’s a nice change in Odyssey. It makes the play experience quite a bit less annoying, but you can avoid that in Origins simply by turning the voices off.

Because all of the same things about Origins that I disliked went directly into Odyssey (sans the NPC sayings), I’m giving this game the same review I gave to Origins. You’ll want to read Randocity’s Origins review to find out all of those nitty-gritty details. So, head on over to the Origins review right after this one.

Photo Mode Broken

I’m not sure what Ubisoft is doing over there, but they love breaking photo mode. It was broken in Origins and it is again broken in Odyssey. Half of the time the filter selection doesn’t work (up and down d-pad is locked out). The other half of the time, the HUD doesn’t disappear after 10 seconds preventing using the console’s snapshot feature. Seriously Ubisoft, if you can’t get photo mode working 100%, then why include it at all?

Slideshow

Here’s a slideshow of various images I’ve captured in Odyssey. Oh yes, it’s pretty… very, very pretty. Too bad it doesn’t play as nicely as it is pretty.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Score for Odyssey

Graphics: 9 out of 10
Sound: 7 out of 10
Game Saves: 4 out of 10
Gameplay: 4 out of 10
Controls: 4 out of 10
Combat: 3 out of 10
Stories: 5 out of 10
Multiplayer: 0 out of 10 (there is no multiplayer or co-op).
Stability: 2 out of 10 (unstable, laggy, infused with same bugs as Origins, at times unplayable)

Final Rating: 4 stars out of 10
Recommendation: Buy this game at $20 or less from the bargain bin or rent it.

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Game Review: Assassin’s Creed Origins

Posted in reviews, video game by commorancy on May 14, 2018

Assassin’s Creed Origins is an attempt by Ubisoft to milk this tired franchise for more money. With each new iteration, they are making more and more mistakes and the games make less and less sense. This game’s sole purpose to exist seems to be a money grab. Let’s explore.

Bayek and Aya

In Assassin’s Creed Origins, you play as the Medjay (pronounced madge-eye) hero Bayek. He’s a nobody really, but the game makes you think he’s somebody. Unlike Altair and Ezio, who were at least well respected for who they were in their respective communities, Bayek is a small-town-kid… kind of like Connor in Assassin’s Creed 3. Unfortunately, this plot device has already worn thin by this franchise. At least come up with something different.

Bayek’s wife is Aya. She only appears in the game in tiny sections and you do get to play as her (sort of) during a boat mission and a handful of other smaller end missions. In fact, Aya takes on a crucial role in one of the final assassinations taking away that pleasure from Bayek unnecessarily. However, you don’t get to do something truly unique and switch between (or choose to play as) either of the characters. Come on Ubisoft, get with the program.
Bayek-ACO

Bayek is conflicted all throughout the game because his kid was killed by who really knows for whatever unnecessary reason. This is intended to give Bayek motivation to become an assassin and kill for revenge (among other reasons).

Storylines

This is as good a time as any to talk about the stories presented. Bayek must find and kill 8 (or so) different individuals along the main quest. Most of them are temple priests who’ve done wrong… or at least, so the game tells us. Aya kills one of the primary baddies as well.

The side quests consist of fetch quests as well as a few side assassination quests, occasionally taking the time out to do racing or fighting. Unlike the original Assassin’s Creed, there is no run-climb racing. The stories are average and uninspired for an Assassin’s Creed title. The ending is forced and really explains nothing. The stories can be fun the first few times doing a task, but ultimately it’s the same things over and over… especially if you’ve already played the Desmond versions. It would be great if Ubisoft could figure out a way to make the stories more dynamic, fresh, less fetch-questy or fighty and do something different. Yes, it does have assassin in the name of the game, but that doesn’t mean everything in the game needs to be a fight. The majority of the stories have nothing to do with assassinations or being stealthy. The ones that do are so weakly written, they might as well just tell you who to kill and put a map pointer. Why bother with the crap setup? Let’s just get to the activity and be done with it.

Taking it to the Next Level

To revitalize this Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft needs to take this franchise to the next level by extending Assassin’s Creed into a full blown RPG. It’s nearly there, but it needs so much more. First, it needs to abandon the idea of a specific character’s look. Instead, let us choose our character’s look through various presets (head, body, body shape, height, facial features, etc). Second, let the player choose a class and focus on it (fighter, seer, magic user, etc).

While the main quest can be primarily about assassinations and then seeing the bad guys one last time in the Duat (the place between life and death) to give them their final send off, the second part of the primary quest should be about present day and the importance of the animus experience to the present day (something lost in this version). The rest of the time the stories should focus on assassinations. It can be side quests or it can be quests that are required to give you an item that let you finish the main quest. There are so many ways to improve the game into a full blown RPG.

After this, they will need to add auto-generating / regenerating dungeons to dive into with random loot. This gives the possibility of finding some really great weapons and armor during the game.

The game would need functional armor, not just costumes that look pretty when worn. In Origins, you can effectively wear nothing or steel armor and it doesn’t reduce your ability to take damage. Armor needs to protect the player character from damage in increasing amounts when worn.

Armor needs to be broken into pieces (chest, legs, arms, head, feet, etc). You should also be able to find or forge armor for your steed. This not only lets you increase your armor in levels, you can mix and match armor to create your own unique costumes. Right now, it’s a look-pretty situation. The costumes look great, but they’re not functional in the game. Also, whatever happened to dying the costumes? Where did that feature go? There is a dye shop in the game, but it can’t be used.

Weapons do have individual strength, but are leveled. That’s fine for the first pass. This method can be carried over. But, I’d like to see a way to craft and improve weapons from in-game materials (brass, copper, etc). The raw materials are in the game, but you can’t really do anything with them. Crafting is only in ACO in a tiny little way. It needs to be fully expanded. Also, having weapons break and wear out allows you to overpower an enemy and wear their weapons, shields and armor out, thus disarming them and gaining the advantage.

The side quests are fine, but lose the fetch quest idea as much as possible. I really tire of having to “go get” something for an NPC. They have legs and can get access to a horse, let them go get it. If it’s a fetch quest type that ends as the item in payment for my service, then I’m okay with that.. particularly if the item is a worthy weapon or piece of armor. But, I don’t want to have to carry it all the way back only to get a piece of food or some silly trinket. Let me keep the stuff I find or let me get it back in some way.

Co-op and group dungeons should be added. Let’s get back to the idea of multiplayer in an RPG. This means I can find and assemble a team to go into a group dungeon to take on a swarm of enemies that can’t be taken alone. This encourages team play.

Item and building interactions must be more complete. Instead of these facades that sit on the ground and do nothing (other than as obstacles to climb), the buildings need to allow for entry into new dungeons to master. Items on the ground should offer much more interactivity. There are so many containers that can’t be opened or checked. Instead, let the game choose which container types to fill with random loot.

This is by no means to be taken as an exhaustive list of ideas for turning Assassin’s Creed into an RPG. It’s nearly there already, it just needs to take the next step. This is exactly what the AC series needs take it to the next level and let it rival that of Bethesda RPG games. However, it’s going to need an entirely new exact game save system by abandoning the current checkpoint save system in Origins.

Random NPC Banter

This just needs to go away. The NPCs have, at most, 3-5 phrases they can say when you pass by them and using the same voices over and over. Don’t do this. Unless you plan to spend the time to create hundreds of different audio clips that can be randomly said by NPCs, just leave them silent. Hearing the same phrases over and over is just plain annoying and unnecessary.

Fighting

Unfortunately, this is probably the worst part of the game. While Assassin’s Creed 2 practically got the fighting aspect 100% right, Assassin’s Creed Origin gets it almost 100% wrong. The fights are not in any way fun. Let me just make this clear. Fighting should be extremely fun in a game like this, but no. There are two tactics the enemies use that just drive me absolutely crazy. It doesn’t matter if it’s an animal or an NPC, they both use this tactic.

Backing Up as an AI combat strategy

While I realize walking backward could be used occasionally by an enemy, it is entirely overused in this game. This tactic always has the enemy moving just out of reach of even your longest weapon. There’s absolutely no point in this AI tactic. It wasn’t in any other AC game, why is it here? It just wastes time and serves to frustrate. This crap tactic is at the top of my least favorite AI fighting tactics in a video game. I’ve never played any other game where this tactic is used by enemy AI. I don’t even know how to rant enough on this particular tactic, but it drives me bat shit crazy.

Note, I’ve seen this tactic employed with human NPCs, lions, tigers, hyenas and practically any other ground combat. Ubisoft, get rid of this tactic. It doesn’t make the game fun, it only makes the combat incredible shite.

Shields

While I realize some NPC’s have shields, the only tactic to get around the bigger shields is try and flank the enemy (almost impossible because they turn around instantaneously) or try to press and hold with a large sword (power attack). The problem I have with these two suggested combat tactics is that they rarely ever work. Yes, the game gives them to you, but by the time you attempt a power attack, the enemy has either stabbed you repeatedly several times or knocked you on the ground and stabbed you. Press and hold attacks are worthless.

Worse, it’s almost impossible to break through a shield on an enemy. The strategy I end up using is climbing and performing a top down assassination over trying to do a break on a shield. Again, Ubisoft got this part totally wrong. Let me at least pull that stupid shield out of their hands and disarm them. Nope, no such feature in the game. Disarming an NPC is just a basic maneuver in any fighting simulator, why is it not here Ubisoft? How about letting me me break their shield in half? Nope, not here either. Shields don’t take damage.

Worse, when I try to use a shield, it’s not nearly as strong as when an NPC uses it. This is the dreaded one-sided fighting behavior that I absolutely abhor in games. If you’re going to make a fighting game, at least have the decency to make it a fair fight. When you tilt the fighting towards the NPC and away from the player, that’s just a shit tactic, Ubisoft.

Finally, shields should eventually break. If I keep hammering on it with my sword, the NPC shield should eventually disintegrate. Nope, these NPC shields are entirely invincible. I shake my head at this crap design.

Combat Mode

In this game, it’s way too easy to trigger combat mode and almost impossible to shut it down short of running far, far away… and even then that doesn’t work if the enemy is on a horse or in a chariot. For whatever reason, an enemy’s horse is always about 25% faster than yours. This is yet another unfair cheat tactic on the part of the game. Horses should either be of equal speed or … what the hell Ubisoft? … let us upgrade our horses to be faster than theirs. Yet another craptacular design failure.

Can’t break out of animations

This should be self-explanatory, but I’ll go ahead and explain it anyway. When you’re in the middle of combat, if you attempt to do certain moves, you can’t do anything else until the animation plays out in full. I’ve had enemies desync the game because I inadvertently triggered a long combat animation sequence that you cannot stop. Because there is no way to break out of an animation sequence, you always have to let it play out in full, enemies can come in and stab or hammer or poke you.

This is even more commonly frustrating because sometimes if you’ve got two or three enemies, they can gang up on you and prevent you from getting out of their fighting tactics. If they hit you in just the right order, even dodging is impossible because the taking wounds animations have to completely play out and cannot be broken out of.

This is crap game design. The player character should always be able to regain control over the situation without waiting for a long-ish animation to complete. All animations need to be broken out of and stopped.

Leveled Characters

So I get that Ubisoft finally added numbers and character levels to the NPC’s in the game. It’s been a long time coming. But, the way this is implemented is entirely and complete garbage… especially for an assassin.

Some enemies are, for all intents and purposes, invincible. These appear with a skull in a red shield above their head. I shake my head at this crap. To simulate real people, the hero should be able to assassinate anyone at any level. Knives don’t discriminate based on level. Assassination is assassination. Level doesn’t matter to a knife. Levels should only matter for melee combat where skill is involved. A stealth assassination from behind or above should always kill the enemy regardless of level. I should rain down from above, knock them down then assassinate any NPC in the game regardless of level. This is how a knife works, Ubisoft. Unfortunately, Ubisoft sets it up so that whenever an enemy is ‘too strong’ (or too high a level), they are invincible from either weapon’s attacks or knife assassination. In fact, a sword that might kill someone at your same level, an invincible enemy might take at most 90 damage.

Again, this crap drives me absolutely bat shit crazy. It’s such a crap design. Ubisoft, stop, learn and listen… and STOP playing these stupid games with your franchises. If you can’t do leveled characters right, then don’t do them at all.

Worse, there’s a preference that allows you to set NPCs to fight at or around your level. Yet, when you turn this setting on, it does absolutely nothing. Characters who were weaker are always weaker. Characters who are leveled way above you stay leveled way above you. If you’re going to add this setting to the menu, Ubisoft can you at least make it work?

Can’t Kill Citizens

In past games, you could kill civilians, but if you killed more than 5, the game would desync. In this game, you can rarely do this. They are simply unkillable in many cases. He’s an assassin. Blades should work equally well on enemies and on civilians alike. Go back to desyncing if you don’t want us doing it. Don’t just prevent the blades from working at all. Though I have found places in the game where civilians can be killed, I’ve also found places where they cannot. This was an unnecessary addition to the game engine.

Horrible combat button placement

For whatever reason, Ubisoft has decided to muck with all of the previous combat button placement. In past games, attack was always on the ABXY or X⃝△▢ buttons in some manner. In Origins, Ubisoft decided to move them to the trigger buttons by default. Wait… what crap is this? Who ever designs games with attack on shoulder or trigger buttons? Thankfully, they offer an alternative mapping that at least puts them on X and Y. No, it’s not optimal placement, but it’s at least it’s on these buttons. Why would you put combat on X and Y over A and B? These combat moves should always be on A and B buttons (Xbox) or X and O buttons (PS4)… like every other game on the planet.

This is always called messing with a good thing and Ubisoft is now firmly guilty of screwing with this game just to screw with it and for no other reason. Bad design.

Smoke Bombs

In past games, you had the ability to get and drop smoke bombs at will. In this game, smoke bombs are tied to combat. To drop a smoke bomb in this game, you now have to perform some kind of combat maneuver, then following that maneuver, press the A button quickly to drop a smoke bomb. No No No NO NO! Dropping a smoke bomb should be a button on its own. Never tie it to a combat move. If I just want to drop a smoke bomb for no reason, that’s my choice. Stupid design.

Perfect Aim

This is one of those complaints I’ve had for a very long time and it keeps coming back time and time again. Every enemy has perfect aim and infinite line of sight. No one ever misses hitting you unless you’re overly good at dodging. Even then, arrows still seem to make their target even after dodging. Yes, you can use your shield to protect yourself, but if that works 50% of the time, you’re lucky. Some enemy is always knocking you back and typically enemies swarm making it impossible to use the shield effectively.

Swarming and moving out of range

Enemies in this game always want to come in swarms. When you climb to avoid the swarms, the NPCs (animals or humans) move just out of range of your ranged weapons if they can’t reach you. This means you can’t shoot arrows at them. This is plain out cheating by the developers. Don’t move NPCs just out of range because they can’t get to you. I’ve seen this tactic in other games and it is entirely unnecessary. Once again, stupid design.

Boat Battles

This is easily the weakest and most unnecessary parts of this game. Several times you’re on board a ship with Aya and random NPC schmoes who don’t make a difference to the story (other than Cleopatra in one battle). You’re tasked to sink ever increasing sized warships. These activities are stupid, unnecessary and overly hard to control. I didn’t find this part of the game at all fun. In fact, I would have preferred skipping this entire section of the game and have the game take me to the final destination. In fact, I almost abandoned the game entirely at this point. I managed to get through this lame, unskippable section of the game through some unnecessary tactics. If you can’t do boat battles right, don’t do them at all… or, at least let us skip the entire activity.

Seriously, what does a boat battle have to do with being an assassin?

Climbing Activities

As with other Assassin’s Creed games, climbing was the gimmick that made Assassin’s Creed work. It’s still in this game as well, but not explained as to how this character does it. He just does. As with other AC titles, climbing sometimes works, but sometimes doesn’t. It depends on what you’re trying to do.

In most cases, the camera gets in the way. Because climbing direction is heavily dependent on which way the camera is facing, when the camera randomly moves, you’ll end up careening off in the wrong direction and setting off a bunch of guards in the process. This is, in fact, one of THE most frustrating aspects of this game (and really, any AC game).

For utilitarian purposes, climbing works fine. For stealthy assassinations, I could swear that the game cheats and sends me careening right in the middle of a load of guards simply to alert them. I’ve learned never to use climbing as an assassination strategy unless there’s plenty of room to maneuver. Even then, it can all go horribly wrong.

Ignoring all of the combat problems, this is one of the games top problems. Though, I’ve had this complaint with just about every Assassin’s Creed game ever made. Though, this game seems to be worse about it than others.

Senu

In lieu of the previous semi-magical “Eagle Vision” that simply just existed, they replaced it with, you know, a pun. They give you “Senu”, a flying Eagle with ‘Vision’. It circles overhead like a vulture. When you activate Senu, you can control him to fly around and over various encampments to identify enemies, loot chests and various other identifiers.

Senu was an unnecessary addition to the game and does nothing to explain the other version of “Eagle Vision”. Instead, they should have simply used the tried-and-true Eagle Vision that had been long established in every prior game. It needed no explaining. Adding this eagle served no purpose other than to make a pun, which wasn’t funny. Senu could have been a great help if it could have not only stunned enemies, but actually damaged them by dive bombing them and/or pecking / scratching them. If you’re going to give us a companion (and since you’re already making this world completely unrealistic anyway), then while you’re at it, let us use Senu as a weapon against enemies right from the start. Such a waste.

Leveling Up

Yes, there is the ability to level up, but it’s so limited as to really not be helpful. You get enough experience points to level up timely enough, but it really doesn’t help make you stronger or better or faster most of the time. The majority of the perks are worthless. There are a few that help (poison darts, smoke bombs), but most don’t do anything to help make Bayek stronger, better or faster. In other words, the majority of the perks do nothing, with only a few having any real purpose. The few that do have purpose are so buried behind the ones that do nothing, you waste a ton perk points just to get to them.

Photo Mode

The photo mode in this game is nice enough, but doesn’t have near enough filters to make it worthwhile with depth of field being the best of the effects. Overall, it’s a nice enough feature, but it’s not worth playing this game just to use it.

Frame Rates, Audio Problems, Crashing, Lost Quests

Frame Rate Problems

One of the things I’ll say about the Xbox 360 versions of this game is that the frame rates were always consistent, particularly with climbing a synchronization point. When you get to the top, the camera circles the player character. This has always been a particularly smooth animation. Not in Assassin’s Creed Origins. Every single synchronization point animation is herky jerky and choppy… and this is at 1080p. I’m not even trying to run this game at 4K. I can’t even imagine what this animation looks like in 4K.

I only recently started playing this game because of a backlog of games I wanted to play first. I also thought that waiting would give Ubisoft enough time to patch stupid bugs. Well, they haven’t. This game is chock full of bugs and problems.

Lost Quests

This is a problem that also drives me insane. I’m playing along, select a quest and I’m on the way there to pick it up or finish it. There are two ways quests are lost here. The first way is I’m traveling a road and an invincible enemy appears and immediately spots me. Invincible enemies are an entirely stupid concept (see above), but they are also on horses that run far faster than mine does… which doesn’t make sense. So, they inevitably catch Bayek and desync. BTW, a single arrow shot or sword swing from an invincible enemy is nearly enough to desync. A second swing or shot and the game always desyncs. Upon respawning, the quest is gone. No where to be found. You can’t find it and you don’t know where it went.

The second place where quests get lost is when the game locks up and/or crashes. Upon restarting the game, the quest is gone. This one is just insanely stupid. It’s not like the game doesn’t have autosaves turned on all throughout. Even if the game just saved seconds before, the quest is gone. Worse, when you respawn, you can end up a long ways away from where you were.

I don’t know how many quests I’ve lost as a result of either of these two problems. Probably 15 to 20. This problem stems from the way this game chooses to save games (see below).

Audio Problems

This is a known problem. Ubisoft has had many reports of this problem going to late 2017. Yet, Ubisoft still hasn’t fixed this issue. I’ve run into it several times. After I’m done playing the game, I then sleep the Xbox One for a period of time. When I wake up the console, there’s no sound at all. When I attempt to change any audio settings in the game to bring it back, I only get an audio chirp about every 5 seconds. Note, the console itself has no problems producing sound as I get that from the Home screen and Cortana and other apps. This problem is entirely a bug in Assassin’s Creed Origins.

Crashing

Most games today crash occasionally. However, this game is well more buggy, crashing way more frequently than average. I’ve had hangs that turn into crashes. I’ve had hangs that recover. I’ve had random crashes with no hang. Since I’ve started playing, I’ve had at least one crash every 1-2 days. This game is not at all stable. Thankfully, the game saves frequently enough that you don’t lose what you’ve already collected. But, you may lose your active quest.

Game Saves

This game chooses to checkpoint save randomly. It makes a noise whenever it saves. I could really do without that noise. If you want to save a game, leave the noises off. Just save the game and put a visual notification. That’s all that’s needed.

You’d think that the game saves would do you a favor. In fact, they don’t. If you desync for any reason, you have to start whatever it was you are doing over from the beginning. The only thing that seems to be saved is chests you may have looted. These seem to remain looted after a desync. Other than that, your character respawns usually far away from the location where you were. This is annoyingly frustrating.

What is the point in a game save if not to recover exactly where you left off? Ubisoft, checkpoint saves are stupid. Get rid of them. Let us save exactly where we are and let us save at will. Let us start right back where we left off… in the middle of battle if necessary. Don’t throw us a long distance away and make us start that activity completely over. Stupid design

Graphics and Sound

While the cities and NPCs are ironically unrealistic in their actions, the visual world itself, particularly the sand dunes, the deserts and the oases are look reasonably realistic. Bayek’s character model is particularly well done. The same for the anime character seen in “Gift from the Gods” quest. I’m not even sure what that quest was about, but the character was straight out of a game like Final Fantasy. For less than 5 minutes on the screen, someone spent an inordinate amount of time modeling that character for the game.

The underwater action is well done and the water movement is better than most games of this type. As with most games today, these hyper-realistic game engines fall down in many small ways… specifically, low res models. While the lighting is well done, the statues and other models are just too low poly. Worse, the flags at the top of the temples are downright horrid. They fly and flap fine, but the edges of the flags look like something out of an 8-bit SuperMario game.

There is one sound thing that drives me insane in this game. It’s when Bayek has to constantly prompt the gamer to go do whatever urgent task is at hand. I don’t need or want that prompting. At least let me turn it off from the settings menu. Additionally, the enemies constantly taunt that the player’s imminent demise. I don’t want to hear this either. Let me shut off those taunting remarks from the enemies. These audio comments are entirely worthless. Either that or turnabout is fair play. If they NPCs can taunt, then let me taunt back with Bayek. Either that, or shut that stupid and repetitive taunting off.

DLC and Season Passes

As if I haven’t railed enough on this game already. Well, let me rail just a little bit more. The season pass costs $40, in addition to the $60 you’ve already paid. Yes, the Season Pass offers the following:

  • The Hidden Ones (Land add-on)
  • The Curse of the Pharaohs (Land add-on)
  • The worthless Calamity blade
  • The Horus Pack (outfit)
  • The Roman Centurion Pack (outfit)
  • 500 Helix credits

Questionably, Ubisoft has excluded certain DLC from this season pass (see below). This is where I begin my rant. What the hell, Ubisoft? First, you add critical game features (levels 41-45) as add-on content instead of actually, you know, patching the game where we already paid $60. I argue features such as increasing character level caps of the original game a critical game patch… not a DLC add-on. At least raise the level cap for everyone in any game version as prep for DLC add-ons. Tying this patch to a DLC is just asinine.

Second, you exclude certain DLC (e.g., the Deluxe Pack) from the season pass entirely? Why is this? All DLC world add-ons should be part of the season pass eventually, including whatever is in release day Deluxe Packs. Excluding these is just an unnecessary money grab. Sure, you can make a deluxe pack be exclusive for a month or two, but they should eventually make their way into season pass holder content. Shit, that’s an extra $10 on top of the $30 we’re expected to spend? Season passes are already questionable enough investments considering it’s possible that no further content will release for that $40 season pass price. Season passes are already a gamble for the gamer as there’s no guarantee of content quality, availability or indeed anything purchasing a season pass on game release day.

Present Day

As with most Assassin’s Creed games, Ubisoft throws in the animus portion as an afterthought. In fact, the story line almost identically follows the Lucy story line in the Desmond stories. Can you guys not think up anything original? The first time through it was fine, but a second time is pointless.

Perhaps it’s finally time to switch the roles around? Make the in-animus games as the afterthought and the out-of-animus present day the actual assassination area. I’d like to see an assassin scale a 50 story building and jump off into a dumpster below or use a parachute. I’d like to see then use the present day as a means to an end. It is fun to see these time period pieces, but let’s not lose sight of the story goal here. If you’re trying to tell a story about Abstergo, then let’s do that.

The in-game ancient temples were almost entirely worthless quest lines in the game as they never come full circle back to the present with Layla. Ubisoft, you guys have a lot of work ahead to actually turn Origins into something better than it currently is.

Overall

The game play mechanics are average. When the mechanics work, they work okay, but occasionally the collision detection is intensely bad. I can see the weapon connect with the enemy, yet nothing. This means extra work just to kill an enemy because the game didn’t detect it. Sometimes it means desync and forced restarting. The enemies who use the back up tactic just drive me absolutely insane. This tactic needs to be removed from the NPC combat AI. It doesn’t serve any purpose other than to frustrate. It doesn’t make the combat harder, it’s just plain stupid.

The stories are twice told tales that don’t really lead anywhere of any specific nature. The only story that ties it all in is when you exit the animus with Layla… Layla being a cheap knockoff of Lucy from Assassin’s Creed. However, what is she really doing there in the first place? We’ve already established the animus as a commercial thing that people can buy and use at home. Why are we going back to these coffin shaped devices? The only storyline that seems to tie it all in are the too few and far between temples were Bayek enables a pedestal which talks of Desmond and the imminent world destruction… not that Bayek will understand any of that… nor does he ever make any comments under his breath afterwards.

Worse, all of that modern day gibberish was inserted into the genetic code replay by the animus as a bug/feature rather than being an actual genetic memory from Bayek’s original story. Yet, Ubisoft completely ignored this leaving the gamer to assume that Bayek actually encountered that information. Sure, I believe he may have visited those temples, but I don’t believe he actually encountered that information during the reign of the Pharaohs. Why should I believe this? The story gives me more reason to believe the animus added that story element than Bayek actually having encountered it for real.

As for multiplayer, what multiplayer? Past AC games have had multiplayer elements, but this game has no direct multiplayer aspects. The only hint of multiplayer are the revenge quests which have you examine a body of a multiplayer in your world. Then, take on a revenge against the in-game enemies who killed that other player in their game. This is of very little consolation for the lack of multiplayer. It’s not like Ubisoft hasn’t offered multiplayer in past AC games. So, I’m befuddled why it was not in Origins.

This game could have been much, much better.

Graphics: 8.9 out of 10
Sound: 6 out of 10
Game Saves: 1 out of 10
Gameplay: 4 out of 10
Controls: 4 out of 10
Combat: 3 out of 10
Stories: 5 out of 10
Multiplayer: 0 out of 10 (there is no direct multiplayer or co-op).
Stability: 2 out of 10

Final Rating: 4.5 stars out of 10
Buy this game at $20 or less from the bargain bin or, if possible, rent it.

Movie Review: Alien Covenant

Posted in film, movies, reviews by commorancy on May 31, 2017

*SPOILER ALERT* stop reading now if you want to watch this film.

If you haven’t seen Prometheus, then you should probably skip this review. Also, if you want to see Alien Covenant, then I’d suggest you stop reading now as this will be chock full of spoilers. With that said, let’s explore.

Alien Covenant Story

This film begins as a sequel to Prometheus, basically where that film left off. However, it effectively tosses the Elizabeth Shaw character out before the film even begins. While we have seen this happen with the Newt character between Aliens and Alien 3, we’ve never seen it done to a main character. No, Newt wasn’t a main character. She was a supporting character and her loss was no big deal. However, I find it a huge problem to open this film and toss out the one redeeming character from Prometheus. A character that could have been as strong as Ripley. Instead, we’re left with a malfunctioning synth named David. I jump ahead a little bit here.

After a longish and unnecessary expository scene involving a very young Weyland and David, we proceed into the main film.

Colony Ship Covenant

The film starts out following a colonization vessel named Covenant with both crew, colonists in stasis and embryos. The mission is to land on an already vetted planet with a forgettable name to begin colonization. It will take about 7 years to get to that destination planet. However, the ship is rocked by a space anomaly and damaged along with the death of the captain. This ship damage premise actually starts out much like Passengers. This requires the newly assigned captain and crew to go out and fix the damage. While fixing the damage, one of the crew stumbles across a message in a bottle… or more specifically, a space transmission.

So now, the crew has decide whether to follow the transmission or continue on with the mission. Here is the first of many stupid plot devices. If your mission is to land safely on an already existing planet that’s been vetted for the purposes of colonization, why would you make a diversion to some unknown and potentially hostile planet? It doesn’t make any sense. In Alien, the reason the Nostromo landed was in part due to Mother and Ash. They had orders from Weyland to find this alien and capture it. However, the colony ship had no such orders from Mother or Walter (the resident synthetic — artificial person).

Plus, that colony ship wasn’t equipped for that sort of reconnaissance type mission in the first place. Yet, here we go traipsing into the unknown because the naive new captain deems it so even though his second actively protests. Wouldn’t they have at least trained all seconds in command for these sorts of contingencies?

We also find that there is a synthetic on board this colony ship who is named Walter and looks surprisingly like David from Prometheus, except he doesn’t have the British accent.

Planetary Diversion / Alien Backstory

So the colony ship, which was clearly not built for exploration, decides to spend time gallivanting off to this unknown world to find this message in a bottle. What do they find? Spores that turn people into xenomorphs, the Engineer ship (with Shaw’s message), a bunch of dead engineers on the planet surface and, eventually, David. We also come to find that Elizabeth Shaw is dead. We also find that David apparently chest bursted her in one of his experiments.

As the story progresses, we find there are spore plants that can infect people and back burst aliens out of them. We also find that David has unnecessarily re-engineered the species to require an egg and a face hugger. The same egg and face hugger we find in Alien. So, we’ve come full circle. Now we know who created the egg and face hugger, but what was the point?

The spores which seemed quite abundant on the engineer home planet were actually a much more sophisticated and deadly delivery system. No need for alien queens or eggs or even face huggers. Instead, just drop the spores and let them do the work. What we find is that David’s work was actually superfluous. The original design by the engineers was sufficiently deadly enough and easily delivered without the need to complicate it with eggs and queens and hives and stuff.

I’m not exactly sure why Ridley felt the need to degrade the original Alien story by setting up this crude prequel that degrades the idea. Worse, it really doesn’t even get into the head of David sufficiently to understand his motivations. All we know is that this synthetic is somehow damaged, yet still able to function. I guess that’s the point. Since the original Alien didn’t get to take Ash to a more disturbing conclusion, Ridley seems to be doing it with David instead.

Body Count

After the bodies start piling up, first from the spore aliens and then later from David’s face hugged variety, the crew gets fewer and fewer. Of course, this is to be expected and is entirely predictable in an alien film. Because the colony ship used its one and only one landing vehicle to land on the planet (why are they only ever equipped with one?), effectively the crew is stranded because a spore alien makes its way onto the ship through an infected crew member and one of the crew lights the entire ship up with gunfire into explosive canisters.

Being stranded means David comes to the rescue and this is where things turn mostly sour. After a bunch of David vs Walter stuff and some other spore alien death romps, David reveals his big surprise on the naive captain, his prized face hugger alien. Seriously, David hasn’t given himself to be that trustworthy yet, yet this naive captain calmly puts his face right over the top of an open egg. Ah, the stupidity of movie characters.

Anyway, David shows himself to be mentally unstable and Walter and David have a fight. Yet, we don’t really know how it all ends because Ridley cleverly cuts away before the end. So then, the colony ship makes a daring rescue with some kind of ship not designed to land on a planet, an adult alien gets on board and lots of yelling, gunfire and stupidity ensues. Walter and several other crew make it back aboard the colony ship in space, yet we have one more alien to take care of. Now that that’s done, we settle into our cozy 7 year nap. Just as the last crew member is in her cryotube, she realizes Walter isn’t Walter at all. David has somehow taken over Walter.

David in Walter’s body

Here’s where the film jumps the shark. So, Walter is a much more sophisticated and newer synth model. I’m reasonably sure that Weyland did not give David schematics of himself. Yes, David knew what he was, but didn’t have any idea how he was made. So, how is it possible that David could have, in the all of about 5 minutes he had after fighting Walter, transfer himself into Walter? Seriously, there was no equipment on that planet to perform such a data transfer. There had been nothing set up in the film at all to show that David had been working on anything like that. David’s experimentation was entirely with the aliens, not with his own physiology.

Expecting us viewers to suspend our disbelief that far is just insane. There is no way possible that David could have transferred his own programming into Walter that quickly. In fact, as sophisticated as those synthetics were, to believe Weyland didn’t put a fail safe to prevent such synth to synth transfers is also insane. Weyland was extremely paranoid and that idea certainly wouldn’t have slipped past him. Based on what I know about Weyland, it wouldn’t have been possible for David to transfer his programming into Walter. In fact, it’s likely that David’s programming wouldn’t have even worked in Walter considering how much newer the Walter model was.

At the end we see Walter/David burping up alien face hugger embryos. Wait… what? Since when do face huggers exist in small embryo formats like that? I thought they required eggs? I shake my head yet again. Between the embryo aliens and the David into Walter transfer, this whole movie ends up as one big unnecessary Deus Ex Machina.

Third Film

I don’t really even know if I want to see the third film. I already know what’s going to happen. Clearly, they’re going to land on their colony planet and become infested with Aliens with the help of David… unless Walter can somehow reemerge and stop it.

Alien Covenant is a below average film that tries too hard to fill in the details, but fails at pretty much everything it tries to offer. Worse, what it does offer only degrades the idea of Alien rather than enhancing it and it adds entirely nothing new to the franchise.

Stars: 4/10
Recommendation: Skip or rent if you must

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Posted in movies, reviews by commorancy on December 19, 2015

[Alert: This review may contain spoilers. Though, I have done my best not to reveal critical plot points and only discuss the technical merits of the film as a whole. If you are interested in seeing this movie, you should stop reading now. I have also written a deeper dive critical plot analysis article separately from this review.]

starwarsposterLet’s just start by saying that I’m usually very critical towards films, just as I am towards any other technology, device or game. I also don’t review every film I see. I only review those films that I feel deserve a review and Star Wars: The Force Awakens does deserve a review. Since The Last Jedi is out, please check out my new review. Let’s explore.

Disney and Lucasfilm and Star Wars

This is the first in a series of films to be produced by Disney in their newly purchased Star Wars franchise. How many total films that will be in this series is as yet unknown. However, I’d expect the current storyline to run at least 3 total films with The Force Awakens being the first in this trilogy. Why is this important? It’s important to understand the place of this film not only in relation to the past 6 films, but to future films that have yet been created. In other words, this film is only a small part in a larger story. So, even after seeing the film, there are still many questions unanswered… and this is as it should be for a first part in a larger set of films.

Star Wars Redefined

Star Wars is a much beloved series. Episodes 4, 5 and 6 set the tone for this series with iconic likable characters that have become a huge part of pop culture. Though, cracks did begin to appear as early as Return of the Jedi with George introducing the saccharine cuteness of the Ewoks in Episode 6. However, we could forgive George this one blemish in an otherwise amazing universe. Unfortunately, by episodes 1, 2 and 3, those beloved icons were no where to be found and the films ended up disappointing on so many levels. With unnecessary characters like Jar Jar Binks, wooden acting, badly cast child actors, horrible screen chemistry and the inclusion of a storyline about political satire that could bore your dog, we were less than enchanted with the prequel series by the end of episode 3. Though, I will admit that episode 3 was much better than episode 1 by a long stretch. In other words, the prequels set the bar pretty low for Star Wars films. That’s all in the past, thankfully.

With this newest episode, JJ Abrams has brought a film to the screen that is at once both fresh, new and exciting and looks and feels like that old pair of amazing fitting gloves that just never seem to wear out. In other words, Disney, Lucasfilm and J.J. should be commended on the restraint used in producing The Force Awakens and in keeping the universe look and feel fully intact. Also, it seems that someone kept JJ’s wild fantasies in-check and out of the film such as lens flare city and odd story changes that really wouldn’t have enhanced this franchise. Disney also managed to keep their disneyfication to a minimum. Keeping JJ’s fanciful, but unnecessary additions at bay and limiting disneyfication to a bare minimum has helped to solidify this film as easily one of the best for 2015. Though, BB-8 might have been a disneyfication.

This newest Star Wars installment has firmly set the tone for the things to come. Yet, the film is far from perfect.

The Opening

The film opens identically to all other Star Wars films with the exception of the missing THX deep note (which was getting tired anyway) and the missing 20th Century Fox fanfare (this is Disney now, remember?). Though, it was also oddly missing the familiar Disney castle logo. There is little fanfare in the opening. More or less, it was just the same as all other Star Wars films. The film segues nicely into its first scene, but this is where the pacing is off. Instead of opening to a rousing battle scene or some other rush of action, blaster fire and lots of people or ships shooting one another, we are treated to a much slower paced opening. In fact, it’s so slow of a pace, for a short time I was beginning to wonder if it would ever pick up. No need to worry, it does.

The Characters

Other than saying that Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill are all in the film along with Chewbacca, this film is about the new guard taking over the reigns from the old guard.. and that’s exactly what this film does. This is a transitional film. The cast is unknowns who do a decent job with their parts, but nothing spectacular. Though, I will say the on-screen chemistry between the new characters has yet to congeal. Not so much because there is no chemistry, but because there are few scenes were they are all actively together for more than a few minutes at a stretch. So, it’s difficult for me to judge the full chemistry between these actors as yet. They always seem to get separated within moments of coming together.

Stormtrooper Gone Bad

This is an interesting concept introduced into this film that has not been in previous installments. In previous Star Wars, whatever process the Empire had used to indoctrinate Stormtroopers seemed entirely solid and without question of loyalty after the process was complete. In The Force Awakens, the whole thread of indoctrination (and failure of said indoctrination) is explored and discussed explicitly and somewhat in-depth. I hope this concept makes a resurgence in later installments as a wider story arc. In fact, I would love to see it used as a linchpin in the entire destruction of the First Order and the Supreme Leader.

Questions and Answers

The Force Awakens both asks and answers old and new questions. One of them is the Stormtrooper Gone Bad motif. This is a new question that has yet to have a full answer. I’m anxious to see where that thread goes or if it’s just dropped. However, just as we have new questions, we have many old questions answered. Questions like “Did Leia and Han have a kid?”, “Where is Luke Skywalker?” and “What happened to Han Solo?”. There are many other questions answered in this film as well. Just as many questions were answered, there were just as many questions asked that have no clear answer. With The Force Awakens, JJ has perfectly straddled the line of balance between the answers to old questions with asking new questions. Questions we won’t get answers to until future installments. Because this is the first of many installments, it was inevitable that there would be cliffhangers and unanswered questions.

Death Star on Steroids

Yes, there is a Death Star story in The Force Awakens. In fact, like A New Hope and like Return of the Jedi, the Death Star makes a reappearance and on a much more grand scale. You’ll have to watch to find out what happens. Suffice it to say that this Death Star is far more destructive than anything ever built by the Empire. But, this isn’t the Empire. This is the New Order.. and likely if the New Order built one of these massive death machines, they likely built two or more of them. So, I’d expect to see another one or possibly a fleet of them in the next installments.

WYSIWYG story

While I realize this applies to computers, it also applies here. JJ didn’t put anything behind a veil. It is what you see. Yes, there might be subterfuge at work that we won’t realize until later installments, but in this film people take off their masks so we get to see them. There is little to be hidden behind masks for a 3 film story arc to reveal. It’s all revealed right here, right now, which is immensely satisfying. Who really wants to wait 3 films to finally see someone peel off their mask or find out who is really behind it all? In this film, it’s all put right out there immediately. No hiding. Limited use of masks. No hidden identities. No cloak and veils. What you see is truly what you get.

Though, we’ll have to wait and see in the next installments exactly what ‘points of view’ changes have yet to reveal themselves… and yes, there are questions that have yet to be answered.

Pacing

If there is anything here to fault of this film is its pacing. It starts out almost unbearably slow. Lots of scavenging scenes. Lots of random shots of conflicted moments of this failed Stormtrooper. An opening scene with the stormtroopers that while intended to garner some sympathy from the audience is mostly extraneous to the plot. We get that the New Order is to be feared. There is no need to beat us over the head with it. There were some scenes that even failed to advance the plot of the story and also failed to offer much in character development. In short, the opening is slow. After we finally leave Jakku, the pacing picks up and boy does it ever pick up. Once Han Solo is here, it’s a rollercoaster ride that lasts almost until the very end.

And then later… in the middle of the Death Star starship battle, we get interrupted by a longish lightsaber battle that leaves the Death Star scene hanging. Meaning, The Resistance (Rebels) trying to deal with how to bring down the death star and for the next 10-15 minutes, the pacing is killed with an awkward lightsaber battle that ends weirdly and doesn’t really conclude much. So, what were those X-wings up to the whole time the lightsaber battle was going on? Were they like on pause or something?

I would have expected to have more intercutting between the X-Wing battle and the lightsaber battle (like the lightsaber scene between Luke and Darth in Return of the Jedi and the space battle). The pacing between the space battle and the light saber battle in Return of the Jedi was amazing to behold. George didn’t always do everything right, but his editing skills were amazing. Unfortunately, JJ didn’t really seem to get the pacing or the tension here correct. So, the tension is almost completely killed while we watch this lightsaber battle unfold. I was hoping that these scenes would have been intercut better to keep the tension between both events high.

Overall

I enjoyed the The Force Awakens and want to see it again in 3D. I wouldn’t necessarily rate it a 93% that Rotten Tomato viewers have given or the 95% the critics have given it. I’d rate it more like 85%. It’s a good film and worth seeing. It especially ties up loose ends from what happened after Return of the Jedi nicely, but the pacing problems left me feeling less than impressed. Because TFA had nothing to do with the prequels, we can forget all about those films entirely and focus on what happened in episodes 4, 5, 6 and now 7. Well done Disney, JJ, Lucasfilm and George. Now, let’s see if we can keep this up and improve it for 8, 9 and beyond.

 

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Call of Duty – Advanced Warfare Review: Good, but a mixed bag

Posted in reviews, video gaming by commorancy on November 8, 2014

CallOfDutyLogoCubeMost previous Call of Duty titles were more-or-less grounded in some reality close to today. Well, Advanced Warfare finally tosses all of that aside and goes straight for a fantasy shooter. No longer are we looking at real world locations with real world weapons, we’re now firmly looking at some distant future where there are robotic suits you can strap on, flying drones with machine gun weapons, magnetic wall crawling abilities and more. This is definitely not the Call of Duty of yore.

Story

Your character, Jack Mitchell, is an ex-military war vet with a missing arm lost in a botched mission. As you’re being washed out of the military, Atlas corporation enlists you to give you a second chance with a prosthetic arm (and to become a mercenary). No sooner is the prosthetic arm strapped on than is Atlas sending you into a training simulation, to which you fail because the ‘arm isn’t ready’ (part of the story). As soon as you get the arm repaired, you are sent in a second time (yes, you do this mission twice) and you succeed the second time.

From here, you find out that the owner of Atlas, Jonathan Irons (Kevin Spacey), likes what you have to offer Atlas and continues to court you into their team. From here, the story begins.

Kevin Spacey as Jonathan Irons

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Kevin Spacey as Jonathan Irons

I’m mixed about this whole let’s-make-a-main-character-look-like-an-actor gimmick. In reality, the first and only thing I see each time I see this character is Kevin Spacey, not Jonathan Irons. In fact, Jonathan’s name is so not mentioned in the story that you really don’t ever know what this character’s name really is. Note, Spacey’s character name is so badly unmentioned in this game that I had to actually go Google his name to write this review. Unfortunately, that lack of namedropping doesn’t help this character to become more menacing. In fact, because he’s not in most of the game and because you don’t even know his name, what makes the writers think this character is even worthy of being a villain? I mean, one way or the other, this character had to die in the game. It was inevitable based on the way the story was set up. But, the character development around this villain is seriously lacking.

The rest of the story

Though, the story is less about Jonathan and more about you and Gideon’s (your sidekick) missions. It’s what drives the game and keeps the action interesting. The story is reasonably decent, but is centered around distinct missions that are distanced by time. So, the cohesion of the story isn’t always as good as it could have been. But, the action and lack of repetition does keep the story and environments quite interesting.

Story Choice and Player Character

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Cormack and Mitchell

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Gideon and Mitchell

Let’s just bluntly say, there are none. The story is linear. There are no choices that you can make that impact the outcome of any of the segments or the final ending. So, if you want to let someone live vs die, there are no choices in this game like this. You’re dragged through the story, more or less, as a tag-along for the entire game. While your character is made to seem important by Atlas, the missions treat you as a rookie who barely knows his way around a training coarse. The game does not at all treat you like you’re the well respected and experienced soldier that you formerly were.

Linear Shooter

The downside to this game is that it is a completely linear shooter. What I mean by that is that it has absolutely no open world elements. It’s a firmly closed world kept in check mostly by Mitchell’s death. Meaning, if you stray from the mission, Mitchell is dead. If you do the wrong thing, Mitchell is dead. If you lag, Mitchell is dead. If you do anything other than what the story requires, Mitchell dies or the mission fails and ends. If it’s not your character who dies, then it’s one of your sidekicks. If they die, your mission is over. If you’re looking for more of an open world to play around in, don’t look here. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is not the game for you.

Graphics

10525368_932844880078066_7906915004664649843_oOn the other hand, this game on the PS4 is absolutely stunning visually. From the detailed suits that everyone wears to the vehicles, to the landscapes, to the buildings, the signage, everything. There’s not a detail in this world that wasn’t painstakingly made in high res. Combining all of that with near perfect naturalistic lighting, and you have some amazing scenes in the game. In fact, the cut scenes may have been produced on the PS4 and recorded. The graphics on the PS4 are so close in look to the cut scenes, it seems they likely were recorded on the PS4. Even as visually stunning as this game is, it can’t overcome the forced linear nature of the gameplay.

Gameplay

For the most part, I like the game play. The controls are simple, they work well and the button layouts are perfectly placed. However, that’s not the real problem here. The real problem is the inconsistent nature of the suit (see Exo Suit section below). This game borrows heavily from games like Killzone Shadowfall (futuristic look and feel plus some story elements), Halo 3 (vehicle, weapons and shield) and Crysis (the suit and lighting). Unfortunately, as much as they borrow, it doesn’t help the gameplay that much because of the linear nature. In fact, the gameplay is so linear, it might as well have been a rail shooter. Why even let us wander off at all? Just put up barriers. Nope, instead, they let you wander off but then give you a warning message ‘You are about to abandon your team’.  If you stray far enough for long enough, the mission fails.

This is the most problematic portion of this game. Here the artists have created an absolutely stunning world with well developed characters using amazing character models, and we’re stuck being a tag along.  Though, the character AI on the sidekicks has to be some of the worst I’ve seen in a game. Gideon’s aim is about as good as a Stormtrooper in Star Wars. That is, he couldn’t hit the side of a barn if it were 5 feet away. Seriously, the game entirely relies on your aim and your gun skills to kill anything and everything that moves. The other characters do occasionally manage to kill an enemy or two, but usually only at close range by melee. Not usually by killing them with a gun.

There are also times in the game where Gideon’s voice work is truly and utterly annoying. There’s one mission where you have to cross what amounts to a highway with continual cars and buses speeding by. At times, I felt like Frogger. Anyway, what’s most annoying about this scene is Gideon says ‘Get across the road’ every 2 seconds. Literally, every 2 seconds he’s chiming in telling you to get across the road. But, there are like 10 enemies on the median waiting to pop a cap in you. So, the first thing you need to do is sniper them all off considering Gideon’s (lack of) ability to actually shoot a gun. In among his constantly annoying chatter, you’re trying to pick off these enemies. It’s like, “Dude, shut the hell up and shoot these people first. Then, we’ll worry about getting across the damned road.”  And even worse, just a few feet away from you is a pedestrian overpass. If you try to go over to the overpass to get a higher vantage point, you can’t. The game simply won’t let you. In fact, if you try, it will warn that you’re about to abandon your mission. So, where is that ‘use whatever you can to get an advantage’ strategy that Call of Duty was so previously famous for?

Simulations and Checkpoint Saves

1956906_932045896824631_5119604728357774203_oAs with most Call of Duty games, the developers like to throw in a lot of different game modes to keep the game from becoming stale. In this case, there are flight simulators, suit jetpacks, jumping super high, a hover bike, hover tank simulator, mech suits, drone machine gun control, etc. These are some of the various additions. These are few and far between. In fact, you’ll only get one chance at each of these. For the flying simulator, that’s actually a good thing. The flight simulator in this game is probably one of the most horrible flight sims I’ve ever played. It’s so bad, in fact, that it feels like you’re flying about 2 MPH and you can’t keep yourself from running into anything and everything in the environment. Sometimes the developers just don’t get these pieces right.

On the hover bike level, I actually failed at a point where I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to finish. Because you’re supposed to be following Gideon on his bike, the save check point saved my game at a point where I was just too far away. So, every time it restarted my game, I didn’t have enough time to catch up to him. I finally found a trick that somewhat reset the fail timer and let me finally get past this level without restarting. I had this same exact problem on the hover tank level with the checkpoint save. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any tricks for the hover tank and I restarted the entire mission from the beginning. In this game, checkpoint saves aren’t always your friend.

Exo Suit

The suit itself is kind of cool, but a little too derivative of other suits like the Crysis Nanosuit. Though the initial suit was more or less a skeleton that attached to your body (rather than full body coverings), later in the game you get a full body suit that is much more reminiscent of the suit in Crysis (cloak included).

The suit has a lot of cool features, but the enemies always appear to have technologies that conveniently counter some of the most useful of the suit’s capabilities, like the cloak.  I mean, why even offer a cloak in the game when you can’t even use it most of the time? Seriously, why spend the time building the feature in the game when it cannot even be used for much of the game?

The secondary problem with the Exo Suit is that the features of the suit are turned on and off by the story and level segment. So, while you do have a drone you can use, you can only used it at specific limited times. If you want to jump high, that’s only available at limited times. If you want to use the grappling hook, that’s only available on limited levels. Instead of adding more and more to your suit, the designers chose to enable the suit features only when the gameplay warranted their use, not when the gamer chooses to use them.

Overall

1522580_932845190078035_8037699168592533202_oIn among all of the above problems, I enjoyed the game’s campaign and story. The main problem with this game, just like Killzone Shadowfall, the campaign is very very short.  You can expect to finish the entire campaign in under 3 days casually playing. If you are a hard core gamer, you can probably finish it in under 24 hours. For $60, this is far too short. This is also the exact same way I felt about Killzone Shadowfall. It also has a great campaign game, but is too short. Halo 3’s campaign is much more lengthy.  It took me at least a couple weeks or longer to get through Halo 3, not to mention all the easter eggs all over the level (i.e., the skulls).

It seems with the next generation games, short gameplay is the number one problem. To produce these visually stunning, nearly photo real and human motion accurate games, the gameplay and story are sacrificed. This leaves the story no more than 2-3 days worth of play value. It’s unfortunate, I’d rather have a less pretty experience and a much more lengthy campaign that might take a month to complete. For that $60, I want to have a long and lengthy story experience. I want to walk away feeling like I’ve just experienced the equivalent of a visual novel. I want to walk away also knowing I got my $60 worth of play.

Unless you are a really devoted fan of multiplayer games, I’d recommend that for the reason of shortness, you rent it. Though, the game does look amazing.

Graphics: 10/10
Sound: 9/10
Gameplay: 7/10 (flight sim was horrible, suit lacks consistent abilities)
Overall: 7.5/10

Game Review: Watchdogs

Posted in gaming, reviews by commorancy on June 24, 2014

Watchdogs-artLately, I’ve decided that I don’t want to know anything about the AAA titles before they are released so I can be surprised. Going into Watchdogs, I knew nothing (other than it had some hacker theme). Well, I’m somewhat disappointed in this title. Let’s explore.

Grand Theft Auto

I don’t mind playing Grand Theft Auto clone games, but games that don’t expand that idea enough beyond jacking cars really don’t do it for me. That, and I’d only recently finished playing Grand Theft Auto 5. Yes, I know, I play games slowly and in steps. Just prior to that, I had finished Saint’s Row the Third, also another GTA derivative.

Rehashed Ideas

It’s not that I have a problem with game developers taking some ideas from games and using them in new creative ways. But, when you just abscond with the entire control system and gameplay mechanics nearly unchanged, that’s when it treads far too near plagiarism. Though, adding the ‘hacking’ gimmick to divert your attention away from Ubisoft’s blatantly ripping a page straight from Rockstar’s GTA book doesn’t mean I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m definitely not okay with this. We already had the original GTA and Saint’s Row, do we really need another GTA? It’s a cool game structure and all, as long as it’s under the Grand Theft Auto name. I forgave Saint’s Row only because of it’s satirical nature. Anyone who can add irony and satire to a derivative game franchise will always make me want to play it.

But, that’s no where to be found in Watchdogs. Watchdogs is as serious as serious games come. It makes no attempt at hiding the fact that it’s a GTA clone, but it doesn’t make fun of that fact either. It’s just a straightforward ripoff with no apologies.

Road Layout and Car Handling

If you’re going to spend time writing a GTA clone, then make the road maps accommodate driving a car. More specifically, driving a car fast. The one thing that really irks me about Watchdogs is the crappy road layout of the city. Seriously, if Rockstar got anything right with GTA5, it was the roads and how they work in relation to vehicles. With the exception of the Vinewood Hills area in GTA5, the rest of the roads had easy and realistic curves that work quite well with high speed driving.

Unfortunately, the maps are an extremely sore point in Watchdogs. You simply can’t do high speed driving in Watchdogs. Nearly every city road runs into literally an L turn. And I’m not talking about a curve like (. No, I’m talking about an L. If you’re doing high speed to avoid the cops, the road abrubtly L turns and you’re crashing into a barrier or coming to a crawl to make the turn. Bad bad design. It’s clear, Ubisoft’s level designers put no thought into the road design. You can drive maybe 2 blocks before encountering yet another L turn. The subdivisions are just not conducive to high speed driving. Sure, I expect some L turns on some roads. And even then, they were occasionally in GTA5. But, they were the exception, not the rule. In Watchdogs, the roads are nearly L turns at every dead end.

Another thing Rockstar finally got right was the driving feel of the vehicles. Not so much in Watchdogs. The cars careen all over the road in unrealistic ways. In fact, the handling is so bad, it feels like a game from the 90s or maybe GTA 1 or 2. It doesn’t matter what car you jack, they all drive like crap. Ubisoft just didn’t get the driving or the roads right at all.

Cops

Just like GTA, if you go vigilante on the public, the wanted level goes up and the cops come after you… right down the Helicopter chasing you with a search light. It’s just a complete and utter rip off of GTA. Though, instead of the wanted stars, you get this flashing line bar. Effectively the same, though. And, like GTA, as long as you can outrun the cops or are good at hiding, you can eventually evade the cops. I even evaded the cops by jumping in a waterway and swimming away even when a helicopter was after me. This is something that would never have happened in any GTA game. The helicopters would have simply sent you to the hospital. Of which there is…

Dying

When your player character dies in the game, the game reloads back to the same point where your character died. So, for example, if your character happened to die in the middle of the freeway, that’s where the game places you after loading. No money lost, no trips to the hospital. I’m mixed on this, though. On the one hand, I like that I don’t lose my place where I was. On the other, placing my character in the middle of a busy freeway on foot is not really ideal.

Though, losing your place is one of the bigger problems I had with GTA5. If you happened to be in a part of the city where you’re not sure the exact location or weren’t paying attention to the map when your player character dies, you’re transported to the nearest hospital which might be a very long way from where you formerly were. So, on the one hand, I like that your character spawns where it died. At the same time, it’s not always practical to spawn in some of these locations. Overall, I’d say this is a miss by Ubisoft.

Hacking

Yes, Ubisoft did add the ‘phone hacking’ feature to Watchdogs as its primary gimmick. Note that hacking was actually a big part of Saint’s Row the Third, but offered up in a different way. The mechanics involving the cell phone hacking here is actually done very well. But, it doesn’t add so much to the game that you feel it’s a primary reason to play this game. The hacking is really to be thought of as another weapon that can help or hurt you as you progress through the game. Because the game is way overshadowed by the GTA5 feel, the hacking piece feels like an add-on that could have just as easily been added to GTA.

I would have preferred them rip off Assassin’s Creed’s climbing and or the quest system over GTA5. Give me the ability to climb the buildings over jacking cars, popping caps and joyriding.

Though, I will give credit to the camera hacking system. In fact, the entire game could have revolved around camera hacking. As long as you can ‘see’ another camera in the camera you’re viewing, you can hack into it. With this idea, you could string along camera hacking and ‘travel’ throughout the entire city without leaving the street corner. In fact, with this idea, it could have had other abilities like exploding street lights or hacking other devices that you might even be able to thwart crime simply by using the phone. While this infinite camera hacking idea wasn’t explored, it has a great potential at making a big part of a game. This is the one idea in this game that was left way underutilized but had immense potential. In fact, the camera hacking could have been a game unto itself.

Overall

Having just completed GTA5 and SR3, I’m still in my ‘I don’t really want to play another one of these games’ modes. I’ll snap out of it in a year or so, but for now it’s not really something I long to play at this point. GTA5 also had a whole lot going for it with the ability to mod vehicles and store them in garages and also supported switching between multiple player characters. While I don’t know if modding cars or storing cars is yet possible in Watchdogs, I’m not really planning on playing this game for a while to find out. I’m just a little burnt out on this style of gaming, but I’ll pick it back up eventually.

Because the roads are also not conducive to street racing, the game really made a huge blunder here. If the roads had been designed with more subtle curves to allow for high speed racing, chasing and escaping from cops, Watchdogs would have been a whole lot more fun with the cars. As the city roads are designed, it’s a chore to drive around the city. If you’re planning to rip off GTA (which is effectively a car-centric game wrapped in story), then you need to design the in-game roads to accommodate racing the cars. Right now, Watchdogs just doesn’t work well enough for that.

Recommendation: Rent or Buy
Gameplay: 5/10
Mechanics: 7/10
Car Racing: 2/10
Graphics: 10/10
Audio: 9/10
Overall: 7/10 (needs improvement)
Comment: Derives far too much if its play from GTA5. Road design is crappy and doesn’t work properly for racing.

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Elder Scrolls Online: What were they thinking?

Posted in botch, gaming, reviews by commorancy on May 12, 2014

Elder Scrolls Online[Updated: 8/30/2018 to cover Fallout 76]
[Previous update: 7/4/2014 to cover Cyrodiil and Craglorn]

I’m done playing the Elder Scrolls Online. What is it? It’s the newest installment to the Elder Scrolls video game series as a massive multiplayer online game (MMO). Though, my first question that comes to mind is, “What were they thinking?” This game is a huge step backwards for the Elder Scrolls Franchise in so many ways. I know a lot of players ‘like‘ the game (which is all subjective), but in this article we’ll try to understand why this game is not the caliber of a game that it should have been for an Elder Scrolls installment. Let’s explore.

Console Version — Delayed

The Elder Scrolls Online game was available on the PC first and eventually made its way to consoles such as the PS4 and the Xbox One. For the PC, the game was released on April 4th, 2014. For the consoles, the game had planned to release on June 15, 2015 . Zenimax originally announced a six month delay for the release of the console versions, but it took much longer. In lieu of that release, they have made an offer to let you play sooner. If you bought the PC version before the end of June, you were able to transfer your leveled character over to your console. This, of course, assumes everyone has a PC to play it on. Zenimax attempted to build a unified ESO universe where all players from all platforms are using the same world. It didn’t work. This explains the six month extension required to attempt a unified MMO across all platforms has never been attempted by any game developer to date. That Zenimax attempted this unified world was both ambitious and risky. It also meant trying to get Sony and Microsoft to allow this. It didn’t work. It was ultimately wasted time and effort.

It’s also worth noting that if you’re buy the Xbox One version, you will be required to buy an Xbox Live subscription ($59 for 12 months).  If you’re playing on a PS4, you don’t pay anything extra. The PC game formerly required a credit card to enroll in a subscription to unlock that included 30 days. As the game has aged, Bethesda has changed its policies. Also note that many players whose time has expired have lost the ability to play when their credit card declined for unknown reasons. On consoles, it’s free to play.

Console vs PC

After having played this game nearly to completion, I definitely had second thoughts about marrying the console release and the PC release players together. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s a really bad idea and a recipe for disaster. Why is that?

Consider that it takes at most 2 months to complete the game and obtain veteran rank 1 (level 50). Yes, it’s a relatively short Elder Scrolls by comparison to previous installations. To obtain further veteran ranks, you simply have to grind, grind, grind. Most of this grinding is done by hanging around with groups of other people and doing laps. This means you’ll go from one battle to another (maybe 3 or 4 total) in a loop. This loop battling is, well, boring. It does level your player up, but it’s not really much fun after you’ve done it for a while.

If they had married the environments, it would mean that by the time the console players are eligible to get to Cyrodiil, all of the VR12 players will be picking off these ‘newbie’ console players one by one in PvP mode. It’s going to be quite a bit unfair to all of these new console players. In fact, I believe that it would be better at this time to completely isolate the console players into their own servers separately from the Mac/PC edition. Let the Mac/PC players continue in their own world but without the console players. It already is unfair when newbies try to even enter Cyrodiil if you try to play after the game had already existed for 2 months..

In fact, it would be a whole lot more fair to weed out the veteran ranked players from being able to see or interact with non-veterans.

Released too early?

The PC version? Yes, unfortunately. In fact, I played it on a quad core Mac mini (which has its own set of problems.. some related to the game, some not). That said, the game has lots of bugs, glitches and problems. Some quests have characters speaking German when the dialog printed to the screen is in English. There are times where parts of the environments don’t render correctly. The quests are sometimes haphazard and don’t appear to be in any way linked. Gaining skills and experience is random, though somewhat structured around these random quests. The game lag can get quite annoying at times. The script kiddies are already at it mining for gold, loot and experience.

Immersive Experience? Not quite.

In Skyrim, the environments had been working towards full interactivity and more realism. It wasn’t quite there yet, but you could pick up apples, heads of cabbage, weapons and armor. You could carry them around in your inventory, wear items or even move them around in the environment. It was a fully interactive and immersive experience. While some of this carried over to the Elder Scrolls Online (like crafting) far too many things didn’t (list below).

In Elder Scrolls Online, too much of that interactivity is missing. Sure there are containers to open, but you can’t kick the containers around, knock them over, break them, pick up apples or cabbages or weapons and move them around or even place things into the containers. In fact, far too much of the interactivity that was beginning to show in Skyrim was completely abandoned in the Elder Scrolls Online. So, what’s up with that?

Defiance

What does Defiance have to do with the Elder Scrolls Online? ESO seems to use the same MMO engine. Granted, Zenimax tailored the engine to its own purposes (within limits), but the underlying basics (things that cannot be easily changed) are still there. So, while this MMO engine provides relatively pretty environments, they’re static. You can’t do anything to the environments. The plants are fixed, the boxes are fixed, everything is fixed. There is nothing that the player can do to move anything around. The only thing that’s movable in the game is the player and a horse (and enemies).

One of the things I always enjoyed about Oblivion, and to a lesser degree in Skyrim, is that there are wandering enemies and friends. In fact, you don’t know which is which until you come upon them. One of the things I had been hoping for is a less ‘enemy’ based game.  Meaning, no one should be an enemy until you make them so. Which means, nothing should attack you until you pick a side or provoke them. Alas, not here.

Based on Zenimax’s questionable choice of choosing the same engine that Defiance uses, that leaves the Elder Scrolls Online with less than satisfying in-game play. In fact, for some of the same reasons I abandoned playing Defiance, I abandoned playing the Elder Scrolls Online.

Game Mechanics

While the combat mechanics are similar enough between ESO and Skyrim, they are also different because multiple network players can jump in and help. Though, as I said, in some dungeons, multiplayer is not possible.

On the flip side of that, though, the multiplayer experience is weak and uninspired. The whole running around without collision is way less than realistic. Network players don’t collide and simply walk through one another like ghosts. I’d prefer a much more realistic collision detection. I’d also like an experience where people can participate in commerce, like owning shops and running them at a fixed location. I would also like to see network players be able to create quests, dungeons and bosses. Yes, player created content should be clearly labeled and excludable via preferences. But, it should be part of the universe.

Voice acting and the like

I’m not terribly impressed by this installment of the Elder Scrolls series. In fact, the choice of Michael Gambon (or a very close soundalike) was not a good one. His lines are inconsistent even between the same dialog in the same paragraph of spoken dialog. It sounds amateur and rushed. This is something I would never have expected from Zenimax/Bethesda.

Graphics

It’s funny. This game looks great in some places, and really bad in others. The landscapes, for the most part look spectacular with the sun shining. In the dark, however, it’s just flat and dull. There’s almost no lighting in most places when there’s no sunshine. Interiors are dull and lifeless. The lighting model used in this engine is, at best, fair. Again, this is what you get when you buy into an off-the-shelf engine. Instead, I would have preferred them modify a Crytek engine which has about the most realistic lighting model I’ve ever seen in a game. Unfortunately, this game suffers from the lack of quality lighting in far too many places.

For example, armor on knights looks great when in direct light or in sunlight, but in the dark there’s nothing to make it look volumetric. It just looks flat and dull.

Multiplayer Gaming

Because this is an MMO game, there are plenty of network players. Unfortunately, much of the game is focused on single player questing. Sure, your comrades can join you in defeating some monsters, but there are also plenty of dungeons where this is not possible. This is the same as Defiance and this is the single reason I stopped playing Defiance. You can easily wander into an unbeatable boss dungeon and simply have to abandon that quest leaving it unfinished. If that quest is part of a chain of quests, that whole quest-line is also dead. This is entirely frustrating and I won’t deal with games that do this.

More than this, the single most frustrating thing is that people leave their characters logged in all of the time and clutter up the environment. You’ll find hordes of network players hanging around banks, clothing creation tables, armor creation tables and other similar workbenches. Sometimes there are so many people that you can’t even get to the table to use it. Sure, you can walk through the players, but if you can’t get visible view of the table with the camera, you can’t target the table to work on it.

One of the other frustrating network player problems is that you’ll tend to find network players hovering around key quest giving NPCs trying to do the same thing you’re doing. The problem that falls out of this is trying to determine what character is actually the quest giver. Having hordes of people around something also gives away where that thing is. Also, it’s really stupid to hear a quest giver NPC saying something like “You’re the first person I’ve seen in ages.” Really? Like how many other network players are logged in right now playing this exact quest in this same dungeon? Stupid dialog such as this amazes me in a network multiplayer player game. Who at Zenimax didn’t get the memo that this is a network multiplayer game?

Which leads to one more problem… shared resources. Some items in the environment are basically ‘one player at a time’. That means if you find a Water Hyacinth and someone grabs it ahead of you, they get first dibs and it’s gone. This means you have to go find it somewhere else. This problem has happened far too many times during quests leading me off on scavenging tangents. In fact, a similar issue is when I’ve just started a quest and a minute later, the quest ends saying the quest is completed. I’m like, what the hell? Then I realize, someone else just finished that quest and it gave me the completion notice also. This is bad. You should always be required to finish whatever quests you start on your own unless that quest is explicitly labeled a multiplayer quest.

Cyrodiil

At the original time of writing this article, I hadn’t yet ventured into Cyrodiil. However, I now have. Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn’t get any better in Cyrodiil. In fact, it really takes a turn for the worst. While all of the non-Cyrodiil zones are standard questing and dungeon crawler types, Cyrodiil is the antithesis of what Elder Scrolls has always been.

Yes, Cyrodiil offers a huge map that encompasses all of the cities we’ve come to know from Oblivion, but instead of being thriving quest giving communities, it’s a barren landscape of forts and castles, few and far between. In between these military installations is a whole-lotta-nothin’. Really. There is nothing there. While there are quests that are placed onto your area quest map, the quests are all campaign related. Things like, taking over a fort, capture the Elder Scroll, etc etc.

ZeniMax degrades Cyrodiil into yet another version of Hasbro’s board game Risk, only in MMO video game format. I’d liken it to another game like Civilization, but it’s less like Civilization and more like Risk. There are 3 factions: Red, Yellow and Blue. Depending on which faction you join, you’re responsible for making sure your ‘team’ captures the most stuff during any campaign.. with the idea being to capture the entire game area, just like Risk.

No, I’m not avert to playing a game like Risk, it’s just that I’ve already played Risk many many many times over the years. Risk is not what the Elder Scrolls series should become. Yet, here we are. The Elder Scrolls games should always be about questing and dungeon crawling, first. There are so many better multiplayer ideas that could have been used on the Cyrodiil land, but unfortunately we get Risk instead. This Risk game is not bad for what it is, but it’s just not creative nor in keeping with what I would expect from an Elder Scrolls title. It’s also far less than impressive than what I would expect from Bethesda.

Castles and Rebuilding

The worst part of Cyrodiil’s Risk is its castles. The other teams can build catapults and other weapons to use against your castles. As the castles get bombarded, they break and fall down. If the castle falls down enough, the other team can capture it. To keep this from happening, all of the players must not only continually rebuild the castles, they must also use their own ‘money’ to rebuild it. If you want to rebuild a wall, you have to pay for it out of your own stash of money. No money? Can’t rebuild. Personally, I found this minutiae to be just too over the top and unnecessary.

Winning

Yes, while it’s important that your ‘team’ wins Cyrodiil during the campaign, there are a lot of sub-game types also embedded in the area like capture-the-flag and death-match all wrapped into this single area. It’s also worth noting that Cyrodiil is almost entirely PVP (Player vs Player). There is very little PVE (Player vs Environment) in Cyrodiil.

The problem with Cyrodiil is that it is far too sprawling with literally devoid of anything other than PVP gameplay. Seriously, this land is so big, trying to find enemy players in it can be as challenging as fighting the battles when you finally find them. The sore point when your player dies is that the spawn points are so few and far between, you’ll end up spending literally 10 minutes just trotting back to where you were on a horse simply to try that battle again. Because there are so few spawn points, it makes Cyrodiil a truly painful experience when battling. Definitely not a battle-friendly environment. This is a pretty huge fail on ZeniMax part. The spawn point is also entirely dependent on who kills you. If you’re killed by an environment NPC, then you spawn like you normally do. If you’re killed by another player, you’re forced to respawn at very selective spawn points owned by your faction… which could be on the other side of the map.

Worse, they’ve turned the Elder Scrolls themselves (the actual Elder Scrolls) into a game of capture-the-flag. Instead of being useful as scrolls, now they’re just tokens to carry around. It’s now the job of other teams to grab your team’s ‘Elder Scroll’ and take it back to their own land. It’s then your responsibility to go get that scroll and put it back into its home area. Yes, it’s degraded the Elder Scrolls into Capture The Flag. I mean, I don’t know how much more degrading it is to see the actual Elder Scrolls, which are supposed to be some of the most coveted and sacred of magical artifacts in Tamriel, treated like play toys.

If the Elder Scrolls themselves are such prized artifacts, why are they floating on an alter sitting out in the open under a dome? Shouldn’t they be in a library or underground protected? Who thought this would be a good idea?

On top of the derivative problems present in the Risk-like strategy aspect, it’s just far too sprawling to really make this area of any real value. The campaigns in Cyrodiil literally last 90 days. That’s 3 months. And it would take every bit that 3 months just to even try and take over the entirety of Cyrodiil. I guess if the only thing you’re trying to do is level your character up to Veteran Rank, then it’s worth it. Oh, and the only way to get Veteran Rank is to have taken part in Cyrodiil actively. Yes, that means rebuilding castles, as boring as that activity is.

Unfortunately, Cyrodill literally doesn’t thrill me. First, it trivializes the Elder Scrolls. Second, because the area is so sprawling with nothing else to do there but focus on taking buildings over, it’s really way outside of what I consider an Elder Scrolls game. I mean, the idea behind the battles is interesting. However, using a board game derivative to build your implementation is far less than impressive, Bethesda. It seems like the game developers just didn’t have any better ideas than ripping off the Risk board game.

Instead, I would have preferred to see several types of campaigns. Instead of 3 factions all working against one another (PVP), that they all work together towards a common goal… like taking the area back from the Daedra. I don’t mind PVP and I’m glad there’s an area here, but ZeniMax should at least offer up other methods of conquering Cyrodiil than simple-minded and derivative PVP gaming. If you really want to do PVP, I’d rather just have an arena somewhere. I mean, a small location with limited map sizes where gamers can simply go in and battle in an arena. In fact, Arena was one of the early Elder Scrolls titles. Why not offer an area as an homage to the earlier Arena battles? With multiplayer, it makes perfect sense. Yet, they give us the Risk-derived Cyrodiil. I continually find myself venturing back to the questing areas over being in Cyrodiil.  I find myself bored to tears after spending even 15 minutes in Cyrodiil. Just give me the standard quests and don’t force me to rely on Cyrodiil to advance my player character.

Faction Lands

When you begin the Elder Scrolls Online, you will become part of a faction such as the Daggerfall Covenant, the Ebonheart Pact or the Aldmeri Dominion. Depending on which faction you end up in, certain parts of Tamriel will open and others remain locked. However, once you complete Cyrodiil as a veteran, you will be able to go through all of the rest of the closed lands. Personally, I think this is rather stupid. If, as a designer, you’re going to create a world with many lands, let all players go through all of the lands. Don’t selectively exclude gamers based on a faction. This is stupid. Of course, we can create and level up other player characters who end up on those other factions, but that’s means you have to manage 3 players all leveling up together. This is something I don’t want to do. I play a game no more than once, never three times.

Craglorn

After having recently reached Veteran Rank 1 (VR) — AKA Level 50, I was ‘invited’ to be transported to Craglorn (the recently released Veteran Rank area). Don’t expect Craglorn to be like any other land you’ve visited. Oh, no no no. Zenimax has once again changed the rules of the game. When you reach VR1, you might think you’re now reasonably strong. Again, no no no. Reaching Craglorn is like starting ESO all over again at Level 1 with no armor or weapons. In Craglorn, ALL of the enemies and I mean ALL of them are VR 11 or higher. Oh, but there’s one more change to this area. ALL of the enemies in Craglorn swarm. There is no way to get a single enemy alone to grind and rank up. Nope. If you hit one enemy, at least 4, 5 or more VR11 enemies come charging at you. Think about this for about 30 seconds and you’ll realize the problem… I’ll wait….

So, having thought through the problem, you quickly realize there is absolutely no place to grind here. None. The only way to grind here is to group with others and grind together. Even then, grouping VR1s together probably won’t be that successful. Effectively, you cannot quest solo in Craglorn until you’ve reached at least VR 12. Worse, the first quest given in the area has you fighting VR11 bosses… which are, in fact, VR20-somethings. Even worse then that, it takes killing a shit ton of enemies just to move the VR experience bar even a nudge. So, yeah. It’s unlikely a VR1 character is going to step into this area and win at anything let alone rank up fast. Expect to spend some gold on new VR ranked weapons before entering this area.

Craglorn is probably one of the worst ZeniMax fails around the entire ESO game. Though, I have to admit that ripping off the board game Risk is right up there with Craglorn’s design. But, setting your character up as VR1 in a primarily VR11 area is just simply insane. Again I must ask, “What were they thinking?” This is not challenging. It’s just an exercise in frustration. I’d have to say that Craglorn is probably game designing at its worst. Every other gaming area, they’ve had general enemies no more than 1-2 ranks higher than where you are. But, throwing a VR1 ranked character into a VR11 territory is just stupid.

About the only thing I have found to do is loot treasure in this area and join in on some world battles whenever I can find them. This way I can at least try to rank my character up very slowly. But, finding world battles around the area is fairly difficult because there aren’t that many people here questing and world battles are few. Even dolmens aren’t in Craglorn. Oh, there are dolmen’s marked, but they don’t work like the regular dolmens. Again, Zenimax changed the way this area works. Inconsistent to say the least.

Craglorn is really designed for grinding, pure and simple. If you go in there, expect to grind, grind, grind.

Gameplay Differences

Let’s understand some of what I consider broken between the Elder Scrolls Online compared to Skyrim. Some of you might like some of the changes listed below, but I preferred where Skyrim was heading. That is, moving towards making everything interactive and more like our reality with real physics. Taking a step back in gaming is never a good idea. Here’s my list (note this is not comprehensive):

ESO: Horses appear out of thin air and disappear into thin air
SKY: Horses are stabled, must be found, can die

ESO: Horse animation is stilted and cartoony
SKY: Horse animation looks at least more realistic than ESO

ESO: Containers are fixed and contain gold 1 max or food (not necessary)
SKY: Containers can contain jewels, gold > 20 or potions.

ESO: Food is unnecessary because magicka, health and stamina regenerate almost immediately after combat ends
SKY: Food is necessary until you get armor or enchantments that increase health regeneration which is typically very slow.

ESO: Objects are fixed and cannot be moved
SKY: Objects are movable in the environment: Apples, weapons, ingredients, etc

ESO: Defeating an enemy yields 1 gold and possibly a glyph or quest item (rarely armor and never armor the NPC was wearing)
SKY: Defeating an enemy yields gold sometimes and whatever armor and weapons they had. Their armor and weapons can be stripped.

ESO: Bows automatically come equipped with arrows. The bow holds the damage.
SKY: Bows and arrows are separate and have separate damage levels. Couldn’t craft arrows. They were always found.

ESO: Unknown if you can own a house
SKY: You can not only own houses, with Hearthfire you could build one from scratch.

ESO: 60 max slots for items and every item (including each ingredient) requires 1 slot (excluding some quest items). If you run out of slots, you have to use the bank which gives you only 60 more. Then you have to buy more with gold.
SKY: Expandable slots for items and unlimited items can be stored in containers in owned houses. Granted, houses cost at minimum 5000g, but once you buy a house the storage space is unlimited. You could get more slots by finding the Horse stone, scrolls, casting a spell or by wearing enchanted items (which can be found or created).

ESO: Soul Gems are very very scarce. Basically only available from sellers.
SKY: Soul Gems are easy to find. Specifically, they are usually found in dungeons with mages or necromancers.

ESO: Once in battle mode, there’s no way to sneak. The game simply won’t let you. If you do manage to hide in battle mode, the game takes you out of battle mode as though you had run away. The enemy’s health resets requiring you to start the battle over from the beginning. This includes bosses.
SKY: Once in battle mode, if you hide behind a rock or container you can usually hide. If you crouch and hide in battle mode, the game does not reset the enemy’s health unless they have regenerative capabilities or you leave the area.

ESO: An arrow’s range is a 5-6 feet. If you’re out of range, an arrow does nothing.
SKY: An arrow’s range is at least 50-100 feet. If you can see the enemy and you can aim, you can hit them.

ESO: If you’re in sneak and attack an enemy, you’re immediately taken out of sneak and the enemy knows exactly where you are and begins attacking you. The best you get is 1 sneak attack.
SKY: If you’re in sneak and attack an enemy, the enemy will come search for you, but you can move and avoid being found. You can continue to sneak attack as long as you remain undetected.

ESO: Equipping a new weapon is cumbersome.
SKY: Equipping a new weapon is through the weapon wheel (as long as it’s set up in advance).

ESO: Entering a menu to switch weapons or consume a potion doesn’t pause the action. Enemies continue to attack while trying to switch weapons or consume potions. You need to have them on hot keys.
SKY: Entering a menu during battle pauses the battle to allow switching or consumption of a potion.

ESO: Dying reduces durability of all equipped items.
SKY: Dying ends the game and you have to reload. Durability of items is determined by its use, not by player death.

ESO: Boss battles inside a dungeon trap you in the dungeon until the battle is done, you quit out of the game or you die. There is no way to flee an interior battle as exit doors aren’t usable.
SKY: You can always exit a dungeon even when in battle.. excluding certain bosses which lock you into an area (i.e., arena battles).

ESO: Swimming yields no skill improvement.
SKY: Swimming improves strength

ESO: Diving in water not possible.
SKY: Diving not only possible, but required to reach some quests.

ESO: Mouth movements with dialogue are simple open close like a puppet
SKY: Mouth movements with dialogue use mouth phoneme animation to seem like they’re actually talking

ESO: Sneaking costs stamina, does not level up
SKY: Sneaking levels up as you use it near enemies, costs no stamina

ESO: Repairing armor is at least 5x more costly in comparison with the gold you obtain. Repairing all items might be 200G-300G and you might have 500-800G or so.
SKY: Gold is plentiful and repairs are 10G or so per item. It might cost 200-300G for all items, but you probably have 2000-5000G

ESO: Bots and script kiddies => a side effect of multiple players
SKY: No bots => no online play

ESO: Some dungeons don’t allow network players in. You’re left alone to complete the boss which can be challenging because you cannot sneak or hide in battle. Basically, you need to be a mage or warrior for these dungeons. Rangers and Thieves won’t easily work.
SKY: N/A.. but you can use alternative tactics like sneaking and sneak attacks which are not available in ESO once battle starts.

ESO: Map is tiny (about a quarter of the screen) and looks like a cartoon.
SKY: Map is full screen, makes it much easier to find things.
Though neither have a search feature which would make finding places on the map a whole lot easier.

ESO: Custom waypoints not available on map
SKY: Custom way points possible

ESO: No stealing, no pickpocketing
SKY: An intrinsic part of every other ES game since at least Morrowind

ESO: Fast traveling costs gold (costs more as game progresses)
SKY: Fast traveling is free

ESO: Books cannot be taken or stored. Though, Lorebooks disappear after reading them and end up in a ‘library’ on your character.
SKY: Books can always be taken (unless it’s specifically stuck to an area).

ESO: Can’t sit in chairs
SKY: Could sit in any chair

ESO: Can’t kill any NPCs
SKY: Can’t kill some NPCs (critical characters, kids, etc), but can kill most.

ESO: Items cannot be dropped and picked up later. They can only be destroyed.
SKY: Items cannot be destroyed, but can be dropped or sold to free up slots.

ESO: Travel only to waypoints at any time. Traveling not from a waypoint costs gold. All territories are infested with large numbers of constantly spawning enemies. Dungeons are not always set to the player level and are frequently set higher to encourage network co-op, otherwise it can be impossible with a single player.
SKY: Travel to any city at any time. Occasional enemies can be easily avoided. Dungeons were set at or close to the level of the player making some levels too easy to play. Though, some dungeons aren’t.

Frequent Updates

While I do realize this is a multiplayer game, some of the updates can be especially big and have long download times. For example, some updates are as large as 8GB (nearly the same size as the full game). Download updates are frequent at intervals usually once a week. So, expect to wait to play while the updates are downloading and installing.

If they’re planning on this many updates this frequently, then the game should come with a background updater to automatically download updates during idle times.

Overall

The Elder Scrolls online is, at best, a mediocre game. The choice of the Defiance MMO engine to drive ESO leaves a lot to be desired. I was actually hoping Zenimax wouldn’t use that engine as there are many problems with it. While Zenimax was able to customize some pieces better than Defiance was able to, there are simply some pieces that still don’t fit with the concept of an Elder Scrolls game. In fact, using this engine is far and away a step backward for an Elder Scrolls technology advance. It’s unfortunate too because I was actually liking where Skyrim was heading. And, taking what Skyrim was to a Next Gen console would have made the next installment spectacular. Instead, with the Elder Scrolls Online, what we’re getting is not the next step, but a lateral move that’s about as compelling to play as Morrowind.

Though, at the time Morrowind released, it was very compelling. Today, Morrowind seems antiquated, as does the Elder Scrolls Online. Unfortunately, Zenimax tried using something off-the-shelf and the result is less than stellar. It’s unfortunate too, because I was just getting into the Elder Scrolls series. If this is what we can look forward to in Elder Scrolls games, Zenimax, you can count me out.

As for Cyrodiil, it is basically boring empty space with mostly nothing to do. There is effectively no standard questing in Cyrodiil. All quests are military quests such as grabbing the Elder Scroll and moving it somewhere else or spying. Unfortunately, Cyrodiil is basically such an uninspired area, I find myself bored often and frequently leaving to find quests in other lands. Unfortunately, at level 46, I find myself actually running out of standard quests and no way to get to the other unopened territories. So, I’m actually kind of stuck for more stuff to do in the Elder Scrolls Online.

In fact, what I’ve been doing as of late is just finding resources and putting them up for sale in guild stores. At least there’s pretty much a never ending supply of resources, except on Cyrodiil where, again, there’s literally nothing but a huge and a big game of Risk.

Fallout 76

This section has been added here to discuss Bethesda’s newest MMO, Fallout 76. It’s highly likely that Bethesda/Zenimax has simply taken the ESO engine and used it to build Fallout 76. I haven’t played or seen any play of Fallout 76, but I’m not holding out hope that FO76 will be substantially better than ESO.

I’m certainly hoping that they have abandoned the Risk board game PVP mode. It was totally unnecessary and out of character even for an Elder Scrolls game. It will definitely be out of character in a Fallout game.

I will have to reserve my judgement of Fallout 76 until its release later in 2018.

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Movie Dissection: Tron Legacy

Posted in entertainment, film, movies, reviews by commorancy on December 18, 2010

Updated: 1/7/2012 – Disney greenlights Tron Legacy sequel

To start off, I am a reasonably big fan of the original Tron film. Yes, the first Tron story was a bit of a letdown, but it worked for what it was. After all, it was the first film to use computer graphics to that level within a film.  Definitely a ground breaker.

Achievements

Tron Legacy is also a ground breaker once again, but much less so.  Its technological advancements in film are much more subtle.  A lot of people may not have thought about this, but Tron Legacy is the first film to use an actual actor’s likeness in a film to play the actor at a younger age using a CG head and real body. I had predicted that this would happen eventually, and here we are.  Tron Legacy now opens doors up to creation of new films by Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.  Granted, the animation on the face is a bit stilted and unnatural, but it works for the CLU character.  It doesn’t work so much for Kevin Flynn’s younger self. Nevertheless, the character works in most instances.  If they had spent just a bit more time on the face, they could have made it look and act even better.  Avatar is proof of that.

Story

While I really wanted this story to work well, it doesn’t come together as I had hoped.  Basically, the CG is so strong that the story has to be twice as strong to overcome the incredible visuals.  The trouble is, it doesn’t.  But then, the same can be said of the first Tron film.

However, the two main problems with this film are 1) lack of formidable villain and, by association, lack of a real payoff at the end and 2) Tron is not the main character and is visibly absent most of the film.  After all, this film is named ‘Tron’.  Tron is the character we expect to see.  We do see him in flashbacks and, without spoiling the film, in other places as well.  However, for 95% of the film, Tron is absent.  In the small parts he’s in, Tron really contributes little to the overall story.

I realize that this one is about the ‘Legacy’ aspect of Kevin Flynn (i.e., Sam Flynn).  So, Sam takes the front stage in this production. That’s okay were Sam Flynn a super likable character.  Unfortunately, he’s not.  I liked him well enough, but not nearly as much as I liked Kevin Flynn in Tron.  In the first Tron film, we the viewers felt just like Kevin who was plopped into this fantasy world unexpectedly.  So, we’re experiencing it all for the first time just like he is.  With Tron Legacy, the audience already understands much about the world having seen the first film. So, wasting time on the introductions of the world isn’t really necessary.  To their credit, the producers/writers did try to skip much of it.  But, the whole clothes cutting and redressing scene was a bit overkill and kind of showed us just how cheesy the costumes were.  Like the first film, it would have worked better and saved lots of time if Sam had awoken in the world fully costumed. That whole costuming scene could have been skipped (which was awkward anyway).  I understand the setup between him and one of the female dressers, but that meet-and-greet could have happened in a different way.

Tron original film rules ignored

I also keep thinking more and more about Tron Legacy vs Tron and I keep coming up with more and more holes. Holes that are big enough to drive a truck through.  It’s really very obvious that the writers (former writers from Lost, I might add) just didn’t consult the original film before writing this story.  Without consulting the original film, they just arrived at an idea that didn’t really take into account all of the previous rules that had been established in Tron. Worse, it seems like the writers and producers thumbed their noses at the fans by not following these rules.  Following the rules, however, would have made Tron Legacy much more complete and true to the original film.  It would have also made Tron Legacy far better than it is now.  And, it would have shown that the writers were committed to providing a full experience to not only the casual viewer, but also to the die-hard fans of Tron.  Instead, this film only appeals to the casual viewer and completely ignores and, worse, insults the die-hard fan.

First example, the whole reason the game grid exists in Tron is as a result of the arcade video games in real life. The game grid is a virtualized, but identical active game as what the gamer sees on the arcade CRT.  Just as the gamer plays the game in real life in an arcade, so the game progresses identically in the virtual world with 3D people.  As a result, the game grid exists because of real life gamers.  As the gamers play games, so too do the game grid games.  In 2010, with games like World of Warcraft, Halo 3 and Assassin’s Creed, the writers could have had a field day with such an updated game grid.  Yes, it might have ruined the aesthetic of the game world to see people dressed as Master Chief or Ezio, but it would have made Tron Legacy far more true to what’s going on today in gaming and, at the same time, make Tron Legacy a lot more fun to watch.

In Tron Legacy, this entire arcade to game grid aspect was either forgotten or intentionally dropped.  The trouble is, this rule has already been established.  So, the movie should have at least popped out to the real world to see gamers playing on mobile phones, computers and Xbox 360s to show that the virtual game grid is still tied to a real world game.

Second issue… although, I have to admit I didn’t initially think of this one and don’t necessarily agree with the thinking behind it. Some people have surmised that the Encom mainframe had been shut off the whole time between Tron and Tron Legacy and thus the virtual world wouldn’t have existed. The reality is, there was a computer in Flynn’s Arcade that appeared to contain the virtual world.  So, while Encom’s computers may have been shut off, it appears Flynn had moved the entire world into his own personal server.  So, while some people seem to find this part of the film a problem, I don’t. Flynn was the CEO of Encom and easily had enough money and power to build a hugely powerful computer system in the basement of Flynn’s arcade to manage this world.  Sure, it might have been shut down for a time, but it certainly appears that Flynn had successfully transferred both the world and the computer into the arcade’s basement.  He certainly had enough money to do this. It also appears that this computer is fully functional when Sam arrives at the arcade.  So, I don’t see an issue with this part of the movie.

Third issue (see Encom below for more of this).  When Flynn took control over Encom after Tron defeated the MCP and released the files incriminating Ed Dillinger, I full well expected Flynn to drive Encom to become a game development company.  In fact, had this premise been realized, this would strengthen the idea behind the game grid and the existence of the virtual world.  Instead, for whatever reasons, the writers decided to turn Encom into an operating system company like Microsoft.  Now, that doesn’t mean that Encom doesn’t make video games, but it does mean that it is not Encom’s core business.  If that whole board room meeting had been related to a new video game title, the whole Tron Legacy story would have been dramatically strengthened.  Also, in Tron, Encom was an R&D group think tank.  That is, they designed extremely cutting edge prototyping products, like the digitizing laser.  The very same laser technology that digitizes and transports both Sam and Kevin into the virtual world.  Again, the writers ignored this part of Encom’s business completely to the detriment of Tron Legacy.  Considering that that digitizing laser was designed in 1982, I would have expected to see that digitizing system being sold on the market and people entering into their own virtual worlds (separate from Flynn’s world) by 2010.  Yet another lost opportunity for the writers to create an interesting spin on what happened with Encom.

Fourth issue,  after Sam ends up back in the real world at the end of Tron Legacy, he’s fully dressed in street clothes. As far as I know, he didn’t pack an extra set of clothes.  So, the whole costuming process inside the virtual world (where his clothes were cut off and discarded) doesn’t make sense.  Worse, Quorra, who isn’t even human, also pops out into the real world fully clothed in street clothes.  Again, where did these clothes come from?  I’m quite sure that Sam didn’t expect to be leaving Flynn’s with a female companion.  So, I’m quite sure that an old dusty arcade wouldn’t have such clothes stashed away.  So, again, this is a problem.  Although, some people surmise that Quorra didn’t actually make it out.  Instead, Sam is somehow having a delusion or an hallucination of Quorra and she’s not actually there. I don’t know that I agree with this.  I have my suspicions as to what’s going on, but I’ll leave that for Tron 3 to fully explain.

[Updated 1/16/2011]

Fifth issue is that the original digitizing laser consumed the space of at least 2-3 building stories and at least one football field.  This is a huge laser equipment laboratory.  In Tron Legacy, this digitizing laser is now located in the basement of Flynn’s Arcade?  Unfortunately, I just don’t think that this sized laser equipment fit within Flynn’s arcade basement space.  So, the question is, where is the rest of the huge laser infrastructure?  Just not thought out well enough.  However, if one of Encom’s newest products had been a self-contained USB digitizing laser (for home use) and that had been what was being discussed in the board room, then having this laser in Flynn’s basement would have made a lot more sense.  And, it would have made sense from a time perspective (all technology gets smaller).  But no, this issue was not addressed at all.

Sixth issue.. this is not so much an issue, but an observation about how the laser works.  According to the first film, the molecules are digitized and then suspended in the laser beam.  When the molecule model is played back, the object reintegrates.  With Quorra, it actually does make sense that she could end up in the real world.  How?  Well, there were two users in that world: Kevin and Sam.  Two real world users with real world molecules.  Kevin’s molecules would still have been suspended in the laser beam.  When Kevin explodes after reintegrating with CLU, those molecules are still trapped in the laser beam.  There’s nothing that says that those molecules have to play back out as Kevin.  In fact, Quorra could use Kevin’s suspended molecules to play back into her form and become human.  Of course, that would leave no more suspended molecules for anyone else to exit the grid.  That also means that for someone to leave the grid with a real form, that a real person would have to enter the virtual world.  I’m assuming that as long as that person lives, those molecules are tied to that individual.  If the user dies in the grid, then an ISO or another program could exit into the real world using that dead user’s molecules.  Another issue is that Kevin’s molecules would be suspended in Kevin’s form when he went in.  It would take at least Yori to reconfigure the laser beam protocol to play out Kevin’s molecules into Quorra’s form.  Yori was the program designed by Lora to manage parts of the digitizing system.  Unfortunately, Yori isn’t in Tron Legacy.  So, Quorra should have exited the virtual world in Kevin’s form and clothing.

Encom 2010

Other than the bored room meetings (pun intended), we really get very little of what Encom does in the present.  With technologies like the digitizing system that are displayed in Tron, I would have expected Encom to be a lot farther along in technological breakthroughs than selling ‘the latest greatest operating system’ (ala Microsoft). Clearly, this part of the film is an afterthought.  It wastes screen time without really telling us much about Encom.  It is really used as a vehicle to set up Sam Flynn’s character.  However, even that vehicle falls flat.  Honestly, the film would have been served better by not knowing or seeing that specific Sam Flynn escapade.

Villainy

Unfortunately, CLU isn’t the appropriate ‘Program’ to be a villain.  First, CLU is supposed to be Kevin Flynn’s helper program.  So, it seems odd that he has gone rogue anyway.  Secondarily, he isn’t really designed to be a villain.  So, turning him into one just seems somehow wrong.  Worse, he really isn’t a worthy adversary in the games.  If he is as good as he is supposed to be (along with his black guard henchman), they both should be able to best Sam Flynn easily.  So, this whole part of the film just doesn’t really work.  But then, Quorra interrupts the games early.  Kind of convenient, but at the same time gives us no payoff.

Adversary

Unlike Tron, which has the MCP, we have no such villain in Tron Legacy.  CLU is it, but CLU just doesn’t come across as a proper villain.  He seems more like a henchman for something bigger.  Yet, that something bigger just never materializes.  I actually expected to see Kevin Flynn emerge as the villain in this film. That would have been something.  It would have really justified the ending of this film, showed us a completely different side to Kevin and, at the same time, have given us a huge payoff at the end.  Alas, that doesn’t happen.

Action

The movie definitely starts the pacing off on the right foot and continues at a pretty solid pace until just after Sam Flynn exits the game grid.  After that, the story comes to a crawl, as does the action.  So, unfortunately too, this leads to a lack of payoff.  It also doesn’t give Sam Flynn any screen time to kick butt and take names which this film so desperately needs.  The wins we see with Sam are more out of luck and accidents than out of skill.  Sam never does get enough screen time to show that he has any skills that are translated from the real world.  Even his lightcycle skills don’t show through no matter how much Ducati footage is included in the opening. We need to see Sam win at something where the stakes are substantial.  Something that at the end of it, we cheer for him and his win.

Visuals and Audio

What’s to say about the visuals other than, “stunning”.  The music by Daft Punk and the audio effects are superb at doing what movies do best: set the mood and tone.

Payoff

In the end, there really is no payoff.  In the first film, Tron’s first goal is to get a message to his user.  So, Tron fights his way through to a communication tower.  In Tron Legacy, Sam’s and Kevin’s only objective is to get to the exit portal (not unlike the communication tower in Tron).  So, when they finally get to the portal, it seems trivially easy.  There is really no opposition along the way.  Just a quick trip with a Solar Sailer and they’re basically there.  No grid bugs, no hidden Mickey Mouse heads, no Recognizer chases, etc.  Just a trip without any incidents.  In Tron, getting to the communication tower is only half the way through the story.  Tron still must battle the MCP.  At the end of Tron Legacy, there was no battle.  In fact, there was nothing to battle at all, other than Kevin’s own guilt.

Unfortunately, the ending was really explained by Quorra about 20 minutes before the end.  So, I won’t give it away, even though Quorra does.  But at the portal, there is no real payoff with CLU or Tron.  In fact, there is no real positive payoff at all.  The ending leaves more questions than answers.  So, unless Disney plans on Tron 3, we may never know what happens.  This really feels like half of a film.  It feels like we’re missing the other half of this film.

Overall

The story could have been far better.  However, the producers rely on the visuals and the music (which, granted, both were very impressive) to carry this film.  Again I say, the plot could have been far far better. We need at least one payoff and we don’t get it.  I was even hoping for a little payoff with Sam on the game grid, but even that doesn’t happen.  Sam, like Kevin in Tron, also needed to befriend someone in the virtual world besides Quorra.  He needed another companion to travel around the virtal world and show him the ropes.  And, for a split second, I thought it might actually happen when one of his lightcycle mates almost gets his bike wand back.  That is until CLU runs him over and Quorra steps in.

Also, there are lots of subtle things that just don’t work or are missing.  For example, as a user in Tron (first film), Kevin is able to absorb energy and use it in unusual ways.  Clearly, he is still able to do that to create CLU in Tron Legacy.  He also uses this power to steal a non-working Recognizer in Tron. However, the writers don’t explore this aspect with Sam at all.  It could have helped out in several instances and would have made for a more cohesive film. There was also no comic relief element like the ‘bit’ in the Recognizer in Tron.  Not that we need ‘bit’ in this film, but I think that humor could have helped in places.

Even though the story is a bit weak in the film, the story for Tron Evolution (video game) is much stronger than this film.  In fact, it has many of the elements and payoffs that the movie lacks, including a proper villain with Abraxas.  However, that doesn’t mean that it’s the best game of 2010. Far from it. However, the story is definitely better than the Tron Legacy story. If you’re really into Tron lore, you should check out Tron Evolution to fill in the story gaps that the movie doesn’t fully explain (i.e., the ISOs).  I am disappointed that the film glosses over the ISO storyline and, instead, leaves it to the video game to fully explain these concepts.

I like the film, but the story really needed to be far stronger to match the visuals.  Overall, I rate this film 7.5 out of 10 stars.

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