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Definitive Ranking of GoldenEye N64 Levels

Kylie

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About a week ago Nintendo announced their new console, coming out in 2017. The “Switch” seems to have awoken many a fan, and of course, many a detractor. I’m personally quite happy to ride the hype wave, certain that this will revolutionize the gaming industry in a lasting way. Nintendo has done it before, and for that reason, I think it’s the perfect time to reflect on its former successes.

The N64 was arguably the company’s greatest console, and with its host of groundbreaking single-player games, such as Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time, it’s not a difficult argument to win. Yet it’s also the “party” games like Super Smash Brothers and Mario Kart that are the reason many a millennial has still not given up their banana-shaped controllers.

GoldenEye 007 is a game that comfortably bridges these two categories. Its multiplayer gave us split-screen combat with varying types of matches (“The Living Daylights” aka flag-tag ftw), and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still get immense enjoyment out of challenging my friends to a proximity mine battle in the stacks. However, its single-player mode was no slouch either, and perhaps one of the first times that consoles were taken seriously for their potential to produce quality first-person shooters.

Looking at the game in 2016, it’s aged…alright. Really, it’s still an all-around enjoyable game. But after completing a recent play-through, I realized that some of these missions are just real clunkers. Therefore, I give you the 100% Definitive™ list of levels, from best to worst.

1. Facility

The level that should need no introduction. This is hands-down the game at its best. You’re playing through a mission that Bond actually went on during the movie, you get to sneak around with a silenced PP7 and feel like an actual spy for a fair amount of it, there’s moments where you have no choice but to clean the room (and feel very talented for having done so), and the music is the coolest the soundtrack has to offer. Plus you get to see a 64-bit Sean Bean!

The worst that can be said about it is that for those completionists hoping to unlock the invincibility cheat, you’re going to be spending a considerable amount of time here. Even perfect runs can get screwed over by Dr. Doak’s RNG-reliant placement.

Best moment: the satisfying click-clack when you use the door decoder

Best cheat to use: 2x throwing knife. Really makes your bathroom surprise extra fun.

2. Control Room

I’m starting to wonder if maybe the soundtrack sways me unduly, because this is certainly the second best in that regard as well.

However, for a level where it’s rather difficult to sneak and where there’s a few unfortunately placed drone-guns, this one still has that ineffable 00-agent “feel” to it.

The objectives seem more varied, and by this point the guards pose an actual threat to you. Additionally, the map is straight-forward, but offers enough side rooms for you to feel like there’s plenty of choice. The maze that is the stairs leading from the first to second floor, and second to third floor can be irksome, but once you get Natalia through that first door, it’s fine. And unlike most levels involving her, she actually enhances the experience.

Best moment: protecting Natalia from the guards pouring into the room. The tension is THERE.

Best cheat to use: slow animation. Especially with aforementioned best moment

3. Train

There’s really nothing particularly revolutionary here. This is a fast paced level where you are just unloading bullets nonstop. It’s difficult on any setting above agent, and about as heart-pumping as you’re going to get with block graphics. What puts it high on this list for me is the ending of the level, where you get to play out an actual scene from the movie, more or less verbatim. Plus that watch laser is just fun.

Best moment: when you get shot in the back by the guard that emerges from a bathroom behind you. This is the kind of attention to detail I crave.

Best cheat to use: double RC-P90+infinite ammo. You’re welcome

 

4. Silo

Man, I must have hit my head and forgotten about that part of Goldeneye where Bond chases Ourumov through a weapons silo in in Kirghizstan. Though to be fair, the fake backstory they invented for this level is actually plausible.

This is another fast-paced shoot ‘em up, but what makes it extra fun is the self-imposed timer on the level once you drop the first plastique. It’s not quite as good as the train, mostly because every damn floor is utterly identical to the one before it, but just work your way through one, and you’ll see why it’s a formula worth repeating. Oh, and the scientists rarely get in the way.

Best moment: routing around the floor for that damned circuit board you missed

Best cheat to use: fast animation. Also chug a latte just before starting it up.

5. Archives

Can you tell that I have a penchant for canon-compliancy? The archives mission follows Bond’s arrest for his theft of the Tiger helicopter, which is more or less what happens on-screen (minus Natalia’s “boys with toys” remark). You escape an interrogation room, rescue Natalia, and even meet up with Dimitri Mishkin, before jumping out a window. In this case, it really is the objectives that push this level over the edge, rather than the cringe-worthy slew of “use this item on this random thing” that come up later.

However, Natalia inevitably getting scared and hiding in the attic is a nightmare, especially if you’re pursuing the invisibility cheat.

Best moment: working your way into the hall just after you shoot your guards. On 00-agent this can take time.

Best cheat to use: paintball mode. It looks the prettiest here, since it’s a well-lit level with stylish green walls.

6. Frigate

Fans of the movie remember that time that Bond boarded a ship, fought some rando with a towel, and threw him down a flight of steps. Fans of the video game remember that time Bond boarded a ship, freed a slew of hostages, and successfully planted a tracker on the Tiger helicopter. I think you can see why the later is preferable for a play-through.

There’s really not a whole lot wrong with this level; releasing the hostages is a legitimate challenge, and dare I see even a fun one. However, the map is a bit on the confusing side of things.

Best moment: when you finally find the helicopter despite having heard it growing louder for the past ten minutes.

Best cheat: 2x grenade launcher. Nothing improves your aim like someone’s life on the line.

7. Runway

Man, that opening title sequence to Goldeneye was pretty great, wasn’t it? This game at least milks all they can out of it.

“The Runway” is sort of cute in how hard it tries. There’s a tank sitting there! And you need to take out turrets of randomness on higher levels! But in reality, this is a level that you can zip through in under half a minute. It’s hard to call it fun, so much as to call it “there.” But there’s also nothing to say against it?

Best moment: when you realize that the DK-mode cheat time limit is 5 minutes.

Best cheat: what are you doing? Just get to the damn plane!

8. Cradle

This is actually a level that is more fun than not, in fairness, though if you’re playing above agent, ammo becomes a problem. Here, you get to pursue Alec Trevelyan as he yells out quips from the movie that were put into a blender. There’s a drone at one point, an endless stream of ZMG-toting guards, and Alec definitely has a weapons advantage here.

The biggest issue, however, is the seeming randomness with Alec’s chase, including when he inexplicably decides to run to the end-stage of the level. It feels very repetitive, and very out of your control.

Best moment: when you miss the damn platform dropping down the latter.

Best cheat to use: Magnum. Gives you that “pistols at dawn” kind of feeling.

9. Bunker 2

It’s always a risk to return to the same level for a game, but the second time you hit the Severnaya Bunker, it’s well worth it. Sure, plot-wise Bond being there makes no sense, but it’s a crazy amount of fun to break out of your cell with the magnetic watch (Live and Let Die shout-out!), and then sneak around collecting incredibly weird shit, including a VHS copy of the Goldeneye movie.

Um.

The best part is that you get to leave Natalia in the cell for most of this, though I’m pretty sure she can’t die anyway.

Best moment: finding double silenced-PP7s in the safe

Best cheat to use: 2x laser. It’s super nice down these long corridors.

10. Depot

I’m a little surprised this level is landing right in the middle of the list, because in many ways, the Depot is quite flawed. The map is dark and not at all intuitive, and the objectives pretty much just amount to “press the B button at this thing”.

However, its unstructured nature actually feels like a challenge, in a good way. It’s not the kind of level you’d break a guide out for, but it’s one where you do feel like you’re solving something. Plus there’s one part where you just blow shit up. No, it’s not part of the movie, but it also doesn’t try to be. It actually might be the level that feels the most closely related to what came in Perfect Dark.

Best moment: when you first realize that half the guards are carrying grenades.

Best cheat to use: Silver PPK. A good shot really, really helps here.

11. Aztec

Okay, I really have no idea why this game just decided to stick two missions from Roger Moore movies at the end.

Either way, this is the better one. Your enemies are wearing yellow jumpsuits so they’re easily spotted, and there’s moonraker lasers. Plus your mission revolves around making sure a shuttle takes off, and you get to kill Jaws.

Good ol’ fan-service fun.

The map is confusing, and there’s lots of ducking through vents, but…lasers. Just don’t think and have fun with it, like anything Roger Moore-esque.

Best moment: when you have a minute to run around and do nothing as the ship is taking off.

Best cheat to use: All weapons. Start toggling through all of them, because this is not a level worth taking seriously. Klobb it up.

12. Bunker 1

I wouldn’t call this a bad level by any means, and there’s even a cameo by Boris Grishenko (he pulls a gun on you!).

There’s also plenty of sneaky-sneaking, including an objective to destroy all the security cameras.

The biggest issue, however, is that it pales to its successor, especially with its much smaller map. It’s certainly fun, but the replay isn’t quite as engaging (though this is actually another level you can beat in about thirty seconds on Agent).

Best moment: when you try and throw the Goldeneye key back onto the table and it always misses.

Best cheat to use: hunting knives. They’re oddly satisfying here.

13. Dam

The Dam is a damn good opening level to the game (see what I did there). There’s few surprises, and only one objective (jump) for the Agent difficulty. At the same time, it introduces you to your silenced PP7, a KV7 Soviet, and a sniper rifle, while teaching about B-activation mechanics, shooting locks, and alarm systems in a pretty seamless way.

What’s less seamless is the mystifying mission for Secret Agent and 00-Agent, where you go beneath the buildings to do something with some computer mainframe. It really just forces you to stay onto a glorified training course, and the longer you’re there, the more apparent it becomes.

Best moment: when you accidentally get stuck behind that damn truck and have to wait forever for the door to open.

Best cheat: slow animation. It’s not that you’ll need it, but it just feels so satisfying to zip through, and mercifully the doors aren’t subjected to the slowing.

14. Caverns

I don’t know what this level is. I don’t know what this level is even trying to be. All I know is that it’s basically a straight-forward path, and the only thing keeping it interesting are the enemy weapons you pick up. You won’t be upset playing through this, but…just. Why?

Best moment: I guess when you call in Jack Wade, but that’s also the only moment that’s possible to remember here.

Best cheat to use: Bond invisible. It’s actually downright fun in this case, and one of the levels where invisibility doesn’t compromise a mission, like in the facility when Alec can’t see you.

15. Statue Park

I do have to appreciate how wonderfully this evoked the movie, but boy is it not fun to play through. The map is dark and incredibly confusing, and the enemies seem to spawn from nowhere (and blend perfectly with their surroundings). You’ll spend more time than not passing the same damn giant hammer, feeling like Frodo and Sam in Emyn Muil. You are going in circles, yes.

Best moment: Sean Bean, back from the dead.

Best cheat to use: tiny Bond. It makes the statues seem really scary, plus you wanna look your best for Alec, don’t you?

16. Egyptian

And here we are at the second Roger Moore level, this one inspired by both The Man with the Golden Gun, since you have to pick up a golden gun. And also Live and Let Die again? For some reason, your objective is to kill Baron Samedi, who still can’t be killed, and still is not over you disrupting that whole opium ring, I guess. So what’s there to do but chase him around an incredibly dark map after locating the golden gun in a puzzle room of no-logic?

The memes make it not a total loss, but the actual gameplay leaves a lot to be desired.

Best moment: every time Baron Samedi laughs. They really nailed his characterization.

Best cheat to use: Gold PP7. You have to win this pissing contest.

17. Streets

I might get skewered for this, but there’s also a reason I blacklisted “Strand of the Ancients” in WoW: I don’t really like vehicle quests. The Hoth battle in the N64 Shadows of the Empire might be a small exception, but they actually put effort into those mechanics. With this tank? Not so much.

The map is awful, but I’m pretty sure if you guess mostly right-turns, you get there fast. However, you also get to deal rockets being fired at your head, and mines to ride over. The car you’re chasing isn’t even in-sight at any point! The worst is the extended objectives for harder difficulties, where you actually have to explore these damn buildings to find Valentine. It’s like a maze, but one you’ll likely die in the middle of 6 or 7 times before remembering it. Give me the Zora trials on the moon any day.

Best moment: when you see the end gates and your eyes fill with tears of joy.

Best cheat to us: turbo mode. Don’t bother with the tank and just end this nightmare as soon as you can.

18. Surface 1

Look. The surface levels suck. It’s just snow, nothing but snow. However, this is the surface level where you can actually see something, and where your objective is mostly “go towards that giant dish.” You’ll do it, but you won’t be happy about it.

Best moment: when you realize the Klobb is the only gun you have any ammo for.

Best cheat: invincibility. You’re going to be accidentally missing guards anyway, and this is not a level worth repeating. Slap it on and call it a day.

19. Jungle

As much as I’m happy that Xenia’s “good squeeze” wasn’t adapted to the video game, this was not the way to go about it. You’re once again shoved into a dark level, but this time all your enemies are in camo, and there’s random drone guns everywhere. The only positive is that Xenia is carrying a decent weapon you get to use, but it’s just a slog-fest where you’re almost guaranteed to die the first few times around. Don’t get me started on 00-Agent.

 

Best moment: Xenia has very cool music.

Best cheat: DK mode. It actually helps a ton here.

20. Surface 2

I have nothing good to say about this level. NOTHING. It’s “Surface 1”, but with objectives that take you to buildings that are more inconveniently located, and with a dark RED sky so you can’t see fucking anything. But you’ll get shot still, don’t worry.

Best moment: when you accidentally trigger alarms and send everyone crashing towards you.

Best cheat: enemy rockets. Just go full-on with the misery.

***

It should be noted, however, that no matter how bad this list is towards the bottom, it beats every level from The World is Not Enough N64. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some flag-tag to play with lasers in the complex.


Images courtesy of Nintendo

Kylie is a Managing Editor at The Fandomentals on a mission to slay all the tropes. She has a penchant for complex familial dynamics and is easily pleased when authors include in-depth business details.

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Roleplaying Outside Your Comfort Zone

David

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Greetings readers! I’ve returned to write more about tabletop RPGs. Last time, I wrote about the different, non Dungeons and Dragons games you can play. This week, I’ll be writing about roleplaying. Specifically, roleplaying characters you aren’t used to. But before we begin though, I want to make one point very clear:

You do not have to play in any situation that is triggering, or makes you uncomfortable in any way. Your safety and mental health take precedence over everything. It’s important to always keep that in mind. Particularly if you have an enthusiastic group of people around you. You don’t want to disappoint anyone, and you can end up in situations that are upsetting. You are always allowed to stop and a good GM—a good person—will stop and give you time to recover. Keeping this point in mind, let’s start by answering the first question…

What is ‘Roleplaying as different characters’?

What exactly do I mean by roleplaying different characters? At the most basic, it’s playing as a character that doesn’t share your beliefs or personal experiences.

At first blush, that seems simple. After all, most people have never cast a magic fireball spell before, or swung a sword, or talked to a dragon. The trick to playing as someone different comes mostly from the details however. Start with something simple. If you’ve mostly played male characters before, play a female character. Try playing as character from another culture. If you’ve always played wizards or sorcerers, try playing a character that doesn’t use any magic. It’s a small change, but it’s one that can make a big difference, particularly if you’ve never given it much thought before.

Once you’ve taken these small steps, try taking it another step further. If you’ve always played a character who looks out for the little guy, trying playing an aristocrat. Keep in mind that adapting to some roles will be easier than others. Playing someone who can’t use magic is pretty easy. Learning to inhabit the role of a peasant, or (in the case of people used to privilege) an oppressed minority is much harder.

Once you are used to these smaller steps, the next big hurdle is roleplaying in games that are outside your typical choice. There are many different games out there, and some require more in-depth roleplaying then others. And within the ones that require more roleplaying, there are the ones that are unusual enough that roleplaying becomes more challenging. The two biggest examples for me are Dogs in the Vineyard and Eclipse Phase. Both games have very different themes and goals, but they are alike in the way they challenge the player to think outside their typical comfort zone.

A Dog eat Dog world

Dogs in the Vineyard appears at a glance to be a fairly typical tabletop RPG. It’s a Western, but that’s about its only distinctive trait on the surface. It’s once you start looking closer at the details that you see what sets it apart. The first thing is that it’s set in a fantasy version of the LDS territory of Deseret. Fewer showdowns at high noon and closer to early colonial America. And the characters you are playing as? Holy gunslingers.


The game has you playing as itinerant preachers, problem solvers, and exorcists. Called ‘God’s Watchdogs’, they make a circuit around the various small towns and homesteads in the territory, administering various blessings and dealing with problems as the crop up. Sometimes the problems just require you to talk it out. Sometimes it escalates to gun fights. It’s always the player’s choice to escalate, and that adds to the stress of the roleplaying.

The difficulty with roleplaying in this game is that the characters, by their very nature, are religious. And not just religious, but belong to a religion that follows early LDS teachings. Multiple wives, no drinking, etc. For some people, such as myself, the leap is not that difficult. Still uncomfortable, but not that big of a deal. For other people who may have come from more difficult religious upbringings, casting yourself as the enforcer of dogma is a much higher hurdle to clear. But casting yourself in that role can be important. It lets you see what is attractive about it in the first place and maybe do some good from a position of authority.

Octopus…IN SPAAAACE

Eclipse Phase at first blush is nothing like Dogs in the Vineyard. Dogs is a semi-fantasy western. Eclipse Phase is a sci-fi/cyberpunk/trans-humanist setting set in the future. The basic premise of the game is that at some point, humanity evolved by its own hand. Now considered (and called) ‘Transhumanity’, it was practically a golden age, with people able to choose new bodies for themselves. You could avoid hunger, pain and death forever…if you could afford it.

However, ten years before the game proper starts, the earth is devastated by AI known as TITANs, and they infest both people and machines with deadly viruses. They also kidnap tens of thousands of cortical stacks (Which are what consciousness is stored on in this setting when not in a body) before fleeing the solar system. What’s left of transhumanity has broken into dozens of smaller factions, each competing with themselves. The players generally belong to a faction dedicated to quietly eliminating the greatest threats to transhumanity. You can play any number of different ‘types’ of bodies, with different skills and physical abilities. And yes, you can even play as an uplifted Octopus.

The difficulty in roleplaying in this game comes not from real life problems with organized religions, but from futuristic fears and bodily autonomy issues. The viruses that the TITANs created are still around, and can still twist both your mind and body in grotesque ways. Even disregarding that fact, there is a bias in the game against baseline human bodies. As someone who feels very strongly about bodily autonomy, I have a hard time roleplaying in this game. Some of my other friends however, particularly those who identify as transgender, find being able to to play as something other than their current selves a relief. There’s something for everyone.

Keeping the ‘play’ in roleplay

These are just two examples of games that might have more difficult scenarios to roleplay then others. There are dozens of other games out there, and nearly limitless ideas that creative GMs can come up with that might test your ability roleplay. Like I said at the start of the article: You don’t have to play in something that makes you uncomfortable. People play these games to have fun, and your enjoyment and safety is the most important part.

However, if you are comfortable with the game, and it’s just outside the traditional role you cast yourself as…try it out. If you’ve ever been to California Pizza Kitchen, you know they have a guarantee: If you order something new and you hate it they’ll give you your usual, free of charge. It’s the same principle with characters. Do the opposite of what you’d normally do. Roll for random personality traits. And if you hate it? Play what your comfortable with and have the GM save the old character as a NPC. Good luck and happy gaming!


Images courtesy of Lumpley Games and Posthuman Studios

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First Impressions from Deadfire

Michał

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Hello, readers of the Fandomentals. A week ago, I decided to write a recap of my first impressions of Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, once I bought it on Monday. This turned out not to be the case, as bugs prevented me from playing once I bought it. But now the bugs have been patched…so I’m at least able to write about what I’ve played since Friday. There’s a lot to unpack even in this context. I will avoid any actual spoilers, seeing as plenty of people might want to read it to decide if they want to buy the game.

The game is big in more senses than one

Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire is big in many senses of the word. We’ve got a much larger area to explore than we did in the first game, obviously. And to explore, we need a ship. Which brings with it ship management, finding crew, equipping it… I’ve only scratched that so far, really. I’m still using my first ship with a couple of new cannons. The ship-to-ship combat system is very elaborate, but I can’t say I’ve understood it yet. I’ve only defeated one enemy ship that felt like a tutorial.

The game isn’t quite what I’d call an open world, but closer to it than most “traditional” RPGs. The classic dilemma of following the main storyline or screwing around doing sidequests is certainly there, as is a variety of NPCs to talk to and factions to side with (or against).

But the physical size of the Deadfire Archipelago isn’t all there is to it. Like I expected, multi-classing and subclasses open up so many avenues. Now, of course, our teammates have a limited selection of classes, and only a few of them have subclasses, but it’s still a series of choices as you gather your party.

With so many choices, though, it’s easy to make the wrong one. The game warns you that multi-classing isn’t recommended for new players, and it’s true. Multiclass characters don’t get more abilities than single-class ones – they simply get to pick from a wider variety, in exchange for a slower power growth. It’s the player’s job to make good use of the synergy.

Of course, if you can make good use of it, the effects can be wonderful. Not necessarily powerful, but very fun and satisfying. My main character is a fighter/rogue, specializing as a streetfighter on the rogue side – that means he gets faster and deadlier when he’s flanked, beaten up or both. Setting up situations where that happens and then making sure he doesn’t die is exciting. It really is about trading flexibility for power. A single-class character will pack a punch, but a multi-class one rounds off a party in a different way.

The combat isn’t quite what we’re used to

I can’t say the game has challenged me much so far, though. Or rather, it has been uneven. Most of the time I comfortably defeated all encounters, but then I ran across an area where I had to stay on my toes, use Empower points to refresh my resources and retry the battles. Maybe it was because I was running a somewhat haphazard and sub-optimal team, with two multi-class characters aside from my own character. Or perhaps it was simply a more dangerous area.

Later on, I took on a quest where I couldn’t even scratch the enemies. As it turned out, it was a level 16 quest, with me being level 8. The journal failed to inform me of it as it was supposed to. The faulty difficulty scaling is a known issue that the devs are working on… I hope so is the journal. There is an option to adjust level scaling – I set it to scale only on the main storyline and only upwards.

Challenge aside, the combat is much as it was, but not quite. Gone are daily spells, and non-spellcasting classes have more options on average. Spells take longer to fire off. Various penalties and bonuses have been folded into an affliction and inspiration system, though not all. It’s a familiar but subtly different experience. But it certainly engages me more than the first game’s combat did.

Wouldn’t be an Obsidian games without bugs on release

You’ve seen me mention the journal not working properly. And I can’t talk about the game without mentioning the bugs, I’m afraid. I mentioned up there that I couldn’t play it for a while because of them. That was because Eder’s fate after the first game didn’t import properly; he talked about different things that had happened. For those who consider it important, it might have been enough to wait for the patch. Which, thankfully, helped.

Still some stuff remains unfixed. The biggest one I’ve noticed in my own run is companion dispositions and relationships. They progress too quickly – a new companion gave me a chummy speech about how much he likes me after two conversations where I did something he approved of.

No other companions have professed their deep sympathies to me yet… But another thing happened far too quickly. After I recruited Pallegina again, I got to talking to her about gods. As you may remember from the original game, she’s not very fond of them and is vocal about it. This doesn’t sit well with Xoti, a new companion who is a devout priestess. This plays into the game’s new system of inter-party relationships.

Which is all well and good and interesting. Except for how Xoti started yelling at Pallegina, which ended with me having to take sides or trying to reconcile them… after that one conversation. I don’t think it was supposed to go this way, since Xoti’s lines implied that she’d endured Pallegina’s opinions far too long.

This also applies to romance, incidentally, causing some companions to start flirting with the Watcher as soon as they approval rises a bit. This happened to me as well. I won’t tell you with who… I won’t spoil the surprise. But I do hope they patch it soon to make those relationships more organic. I’m still deciding if I want to romance someone or go with the “leave me alone, people, I have enough crap to deal with” option.

Smaller things

There’s some minor things that I like and those I don’t. I love various shortcuts in map navigation. You can resupply your ship from anywhere in a city, and head straight to a particular building when entering a district. A small but handy quality of life feature.

Crafting got even bigger, and thus I can’t be bothered to even read the list of all the consumables I can craft. Weapons and armor can only be enchanted if they’re uniques – each unique weapon has a list of traits you can add to it.

That would be great if there was anything resembling balance between the number of those. But there isn’t; by all accounts, swords, greatswords and sabres outnumber everything else.  I’ve already found three unique swords myself. Reportedly, the number of unique crossbows is one. In the whole game. They’ve blundered into the same mistake the Baldur’s Gate games once did.

The skill list got bigger as well. While I admit it’s hard to keep track of who has which skills and making sure I’ve got it all covered, it’s a much more real choice than it was in the first game. Having multiple people with the same skill is also no longer redundant in dialogues and scripted interactions, with our merry band being able to help us make them.

All in all, I’m having a lot of fun with this game, despite the rough edges. It’s still the traditional RPG gameplay with a new spin, only the spin is even newer. Even if you’d rather wait some more until more patches come out to fix more bugs, I can still recommend Deadfire, based on what I’ve seen so far.


Images courtesy of Obsidian

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Will God of War Change Your Mind on the Series?

Bo

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By now gamers have at least heard the hype. God of War has received universal praise not only as a great game, but as a contender for the best game of this current generation of gaming. Having spent nearly all my free time since its release losing myself in this game, I can tell you the hype is real. Whatever you’re reading about the game, it’s true. It’s all true. This is a remarkable game in just about every area. One that caught me completely by surprise.

But you’ve heard all this by now. The better question to ask might be whether this game will change anyone one’s mind on the series. Will this latest God of War draw in gamers who did not like previous games? Will it draw in gamers who never saw reason to give the series a shot?

Well, that’s a complicated answer. There are many reasons to think it would. There also exist reasons to think it won’t.

god of war kratos atreus

Why it Will

Make no mistake, God of War makes many changes to the franchise that somehow manage both to take significant steps forward while also retaining the classic feel of the series. The gameplay is outstanding; it’s deep, diverse, epic, and the Leviathan Axe not only lives up to the legacy of the chain blades, it arguably outdoes them. Kratos loses nearly nothing in translation to the new camera perspective. He is basically every bit as quick, strong, and brutal as he was before.

Where previous games were more iconic for the brutality and spectacle of the gameplay than the actual mechanics, this game actually ups the stakes in the complexity of the combat. The axe gives Kratos a variety of gameplay choices. You can slash up close, throw it from afar, use it to freeze enemies, use it to trip enemies, or use it to pin them to walls. Once it’s thrown, you can use Kratos’s bare hands to shatter enemies or just accumulate stun damage quicker, opening them up to God of War’s signature button-prompt brutal finishers.

Atreus also avoids the fears of adding a companion by operating as an absolute force in combat. While he starts off somewhat limited in his capabilities, by the end of the game he has multiple types of elemental arrows with different effects, grapple moves that open opportunities for Kratos, and melee attacks all his own. His response time to the player’s commands are fantastic. He also avoids the fragility issue forcing players to constantly rescue companions in other games. Atreus is a strength of this game’s combat. With some of the tougher fights, and especially on higher difficulties, he is a necessity to success.

These various tactics come in handy against an improved variety of enemies. Previous games certainly had a huge variety of different enemies, but your strategy against these enemies didn’t really vary. You used your preferred combo or two and they carried you throughout the game. Some bosses would require more advanced use of combinations, parrying, and environmental usage, but overall you were blasting through the game with the same couple combos.

This game has fewer enemy types on paper, but they necessitate a greater variety of strategy. Some enemies are immune to the axe and require fists or a weapon acquired later. Some are best handled through stun damage. Others require ranged attacks. You have enemies that heal, enemies that turtle behind shields, and enemies that attack fast and viciously. There are enemies that hide underground and can take a long time to defeat if not stopped.

By the end of the game, when all these different enemy types start mixing together, players will need to switch weapons, range, aggressiveness, and use of Atreus, and often from enemy to enemy. For those action fans who wished for more depth in God of War’s gameplay, this delivers and then some. I’m still not sure you can put it on par with the combat of games like Devil May Cry 3 or Bayonetta, but it’s at least closer than it was before.

Then again, I suppose gameplay probably isn’t the reason a gamer didn’t like or care about God of War before. Most likely what turned you off was Kratos and the uber-testosterone coursing through the game. Between the romanticism of insane violence and vengeance, the absurd sex minigames and nudity, and Kratos’s one-note toxic masculinity, the original games definitely don’t appeal to everyone. To be fair, the first game told an effective story (for the time) speaking against the person Kratos had become. That doesn’t change those elements within the game and it sequels, though.

Have no fear, this new God of War shares little in common thematically or even content-wise with its predecessors. The violence is still there, for sure. It is a hack-and-slash action game, after all. Otherwise the themes, characterization, and content almost feel like a direct response to critics of Kratos’s previous adventures.

Kratos himself is an entirely different person. He’s a man running from the horrors of his past and harboring no desire to return to it. A lot of the super-machismo male fantasy suff has been ditched. Violence and death are actively spoken against. There’s very little romanticism of violence, and a central theme of the story is actively speaking against it. Kratos is definitely still an angry man, but one who has seen the horrors of violence and vengeance and wants to avoid them. It’s a direct rebuttal of his former attributes.

The central story revolves around Kratos and Atreus bringing their wife/mother’s ashes to a mountaintop per her final wishes, and as such they spend the game in mourning. The main plot never diverges from this goal. There’s no violent goal here. Kratos aims aren’t about killing. Yes, he kills a lot, but it’s never the reason he seeks to do anything. He avoids killing at crucial moments. God of War gives the series a newfound maturity.

This maturity also extends to God of War’s past of extreme violence and sexualization regarding women. There are no sacrifices, no sex minigames, no bare chests at every turn. In fact there’s no nudity at all that I’ve seen. I know when people heard about the game starting with a dead mother, they worried we’d get the same vengeful fridging that the first game delivered, but that is not the case here.

The story told never strays from this maturity, either.  It maintains a subtlety unexpected of fans of the previous games. The relationship between Kratos and Atreus drives much of the story, and it is a complicated one fraught with emotional complexity. Uncertainty defines the interaction between the two; uncertainty about being a father, uncertainty about Atreus’s worth as a son, uncertainty about their feelings or shared grief. As the plot develops, the secrets Kratos keeps about his past create a friction threatening their relationship.

This parental theme extends to the main villain as well. Parent/child dynamics are the engine beneath God of War’s hood, not the old standby of vengeance. Santa Monica Studios really nailed it here. They tell a mature, complicated story that hits incredibly epic peaks without ever losing the subtle, personal tensions beginning the journey. This is not your old God of War.

Another problem gamers might have had with the previous games was the use of the Greek mythology. While I love them, they didn’t show much respect for the mythology. They just used the settings and characters to tell stories regardless of the source’s characterizations and such. I loved it, but others may have resented such careless use of the myths. Have no fear, God of War treats the Norse pantheon better. Mostly this comes from a greater commitment to the world of Norse mythology through every step of the world.

As an outsider, Kratos is pretty clueless about this new godly realm he inhabits. This gives the game a chance to teach both him and the player about Norse mythology without crossing into lame exposition. Every step of the game is steeped in old tales and visual lessons that make for incredible worldbuilding. Atreus and another companion tell stories related to the scenery or current events. Translated runes tell you about a location. Hidden shrines provide cool history lessons.

God of War really commits itself to a more proper use of Norse mythology. More than the originals ever did.

This creates a believable, lived in setting steeped in history. One that I had a great deal of pleasure exploring. You explore about half of ten realms, and travel along the branches of Yggdrasil. You meet light and dark elves, dwarves, and gods. You travel Skyrim-esque snowy mountains and fiery cliffs dripping with lava. Every realm is unique and colorful. With all the things God of War does right, the worldbuilding is the biggest surprise to me. I’ve never been more interested in the Norse pantheon.

They do switch the characteristics of some of the realms and play with the characteristics of a couple gods, but these are small issues compared to the overall package, and only for those familiar with their myths.

Overall this is a mature, well-created package that somehow manages to take the best parts of the old games and improve upon a lot of things people disliked. I expect a lot of people who lacked interest in the series will love this one. It’s very much the Resident Evil 4 of the God of War franchise. Just without falling apart at the end like RE4 did.

god of war kratos yell

Why it Won’t Change Your Mind

Unfortunately, there are reasons it may not. Some of these continue old problems, while others are a twist on the old problems, and might be enough to invalidate changes I previously mentioned.

First off is the violence level. I stand by the story not glorifying violence. The gameplay, not so much. God of War very much continues the same visceral violence in its action that made its predecessors famous. Kratos dismembers and decapitates and cleaves in half just like always. In many ways the game has the same issue as a game like Uncharted, where the gameplay’s level of killing doesn’t match the character’s supposed attitude toward killing.

Now, Kratos isn’t meant to be a charismatic good guy like Nathan Drake, but for someone who spends most of the game speaking against violence and killing, he sure does a lot of it. I don’t think the game does anything at all to portray the gameplay violence as anything except cool. There are trophies for each specific method of brutally ending the enemies in front of you.

And sorry to rat myself out here, but it is cool. It’s freaking fun, but others may like it even less than before because of the contradiction of story and gameplay. At least he’s fighting monsters rather than other human beings.

When it comes to Kratos, for all his change in demeanor, he is still a pretty gruff, macho depiction of your typical toxic masculinity. He’s a rough guy who doesn’t show his emotions and can kill things with brutal efficiency. He goes to great lengths to hide his emotions. This isn’t a negative so much as a consistent continuity. There’s no reason Kratos should change completely from the violent asshole of the original games to someone softer and open about his feelings. His portrayal here makes perfect sense with where he should be.

However, many gamers who didn’t relate at all to Kratos may still find it impossible to relate to him. That’s fine. Kratos very much appeals to a certain kind of gamer. Santa Monica Studios did a great job making him a more appealing character, but Kratos will never appeal to everyone.

There’s also the huge issue of the woman inspiring the journey Kratos and Atreus undertake. That is to say, we don’t know anything about her until the final moments of the game. Even then she’s the literal stereotype of the Idealized Mother/Wife. You have no idea what she looks like, no idea how she feels about anything, and even the little tidbits we learn about her past actions treats her more like a symbol than a person.

She really differs little in concept from the dead wife and daughter who inspire Kratos to take vengeance on Ares in the first God of War. So if you weren’t interested in watching a grieving Kratos murder things because of a dead wife the first time, you might not be this time.

It sucks to have this woman who is so central to the plot receive no personality or traits unrelated to being a mother or wife. Anything would have done. The game’s finale eventually reveals some of her motives and life, but it’s a bit too little, too late. The best you hope is that these motives are expanded upon in the next game so she can be more of a character. There is good reason to think that happens, thankfully.

And unfortunately, she represents a larger issue God of War has with women. It’s true they fixed the problems previous games had with immature sex and nudity, but they took the Mass Effect 2 approach to fixing these problems. Namely, they cut damn near all female content altogether. There’s one woman in the entire game. I suppose you can technically solve a problem by eliminating almost all content related to that problem.

(Now, there are 8 hidden Valkyrie fights, and obviously the Valkyries are women. However, I can’t really count optional boss fights as real representation.)

Now, this is a bit of a nitpick. I admit that. The one active woman in the game is a really good, really complicated character. Easily the best in the entire franchise, unless I’m unforgivably forgetting someone. She stars in many of the game’s best scenes and never stops being fascinating. Also, the cast is remarkably small so one female protagonist isn’t some huge offense when there’s only one adult male protagonist and his son.

Still, between only having one living woman and one dead woman who is basically the idealized version of Rose Quartz probably won’t do much to bring in gamers dissatisfied with the representation of women in the other games. Now maybe I just don’t know Norse mythology well, but surely they could have fit more women into the game? Or at least given them lore focus like other characters receive? So many gods, elves, giants, dwarves, and other characters feature in the discovered lore throughout the game. Why not use more of those to mention the Norse goddesses?

Again, this whole issue may unfortunately not be much an issue to many gamers, but for some they’ll find it difficult to care if they didn’t before.  This God of War vastly improved on the games before it, though. I need to make that clear. I can’t say it improved  enough to bring in the audience who disliked the previous games. Kratos still isn’t appealing to feminist sensibilities in any way.

Final Verdict

Overall, I’d expect a lot of people to see the improvements this God of War made over its predecessors and, at the very least, want to try the game. It improves in almost every area. I could complain about the number of boss fights, but that would fall under “reasons you liked previous games but not this one.”

The only question here is really whether it improved enough, not whether it improved at all. And it didn’t just improve, it improved astoundingly. It completely eliminated some of the worst complaints about the previous games in the series. This is a new God of War for a new era of gaming. One that is at least worth a shot.

If you like action games, give this a play.

Maybe you despised Kratos, or the misogyny, or the mistreatment of Greek mythology in previous games. Maybe the gameplay didn’t thrill you like other games of the ilk. Every single one of these issues has been addressed. Maybe you still won’t like Kratos that much. Maybe you’ll grumble about another dead wife with no personality of her own. Maybe it still glorifies violence more than you’d like. I still think every gamer owes it to themselves to try this game.

You have to at least try what is arguably the best game of this generation.


Images Courtesy of Sony Interactive Entertainment

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