Game Ramblings #143 – Watch Dogs: Legion

More Info from Ubisoft

  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Platform: PS5
  • Also Available On: PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series, PC, Stadia

I really enjoyed Watch Dogs 2. Ya, it’s clearly an Ubisoft open world game with all the things that come with that. Ya, it’s clearly got some elements of Grand Theft Auto. However, where it stood out was in its use of stealth and hacking to make direct combat largely a choice, and not a necessity. Legion continues that path, and improves in it in a number of ways. While some of their story and metagame choices didn’t hit as well as me, the stealth aspects alone ended up being enough for me to recommend this one.

We’re starting here because the stealth spider is where I spent probably 75% of my game time. I’m not kidding. As a gadget, it does damn near everything the player can do in terms of the core loop in Watch Dogs. It can take out guards, it can hack things, it can open doors, it can pick up items. What it also does is give a much smaller visual footprint, allowing for an even better ability to hide. It transforms the series from something where a stealth focus feels like a fun but lucky situation into a place where stealth is absolutely a primary way to play the game.

However, this thing isn’t just useful for stealth on its own. Outside of combat and need to get in tight spaces? Use the spider. Stuck in cover trying not to get shot? Toss the spider thing out to flank your enemies and start taking them out one by one to open things up a bit for you. Need some sight lines but don’t have a camera to hack? Toss the spider out to a spot with a better vantage point. It’s such a versatile tool that in a lot of cases it would feel incredibly overpowered. However, in game like Watch Dogs? It just makes sense thematically with all the hacking and hi-tech involved, and makes sense within the gameplay where stealth as a full-time option is already encouraged.

If there’s anything I really had a big issue with, it’s around the story. It’s not that I found it bad – generally speaking I found the overall story to be fairly interesting – it just felt unfocused.

One of the big marketing features around the game was that you can recruit anyone and play as anyone. That’s pretty close to true. If you see someone that you find interesting in the world, you can start a recruitment mission for them. Finish up the mission, and they’re added to your team roster. You can hot swap to them at any time and go right away. If you die in a mission, the person that died can either be perma-dead or on a bit of a timeout, depending on the difficulty you choose. This part is all pretty interesting. You can build out your roster focusing on the skill set you want – whether it’s hacking, weapons, stealth, team buffs, etc. In that regard, I think the system succeeded.

However, on the story front it felt less successful. Since anyone can be thrown into the story at any time, it felt like the story happened around the team members. If they die, it’s not generally a big deal. They’re replaceable. They each have some voice acting, but most of the story is presented by fixed members, whether it be your AI assistant, the DedSec London leader, or the antagonists. From a story perspective, it doesn’t really matter who you’re playing as so in that regard the stakes for individual team members feel pretty low. Within the overall narrative, you have an interesting tech-focused story, but it feels like something that happens regardless of who you’re playing as. It was kind of a weird thing that I never really could reconcile in my head, and it resulted in the gameplay being the thing that drove me forward, and not so much caring about where the story was going to end up.

Luckily, this is a game I would recommend on the basis of its gameplay alone. The core game is fun enough. Combat works pretty well, driving works pretty well, the upgrade systems work pretty well, there’s enough fun side content to do between story missions. However, the star of the show is the stealth aspects for me. Those alone make this game one that will bring me back when the DLC expansion comes out, and it’s enough to have me looking forward to the future of this series.

Game Ramblings #129 – Shantae and the Seven Sirens

More Info from WayForward

  • Genre: Metroidvania
  • Platform: PS4
  • Also Available On: Switch, Steam, Xbox One, Apple Arcade

I fucking love Metroidvanias. I fucking love the Shantae series. Guess what? I fucking loved this game.

Alright, that was probably too simple of an opening. A lot of what I’d say about this game matches with exactly what I said in the ramblings for Pirate’s Curse or Half-Genie Hero, and that’s a good thing. This is another iterative release in the series, and it takes what made the past games really work and moves it forward in important ways.

The first big one is that instead of being level-based, this is 100% a true Metroidvania. The entire game takes place on a single unified map and new areas open up purely based on upgrades you receive. While I definitely liked the way previous entries encouraged re-traversing levels once you gained new abilities, there’s just something to having a pure open environment. You see and make note of those open ends of hallways that you can’t quite get to or those things in the environment that are obviously something that you can interact with, and make mental notes to return to later.

Where they end up making use of their history of level-based gameplay is in the handful of labyrinths that come up. These act as pillars to the overall story and upgrade path, but also serve as mini-tutorials to learn new powers, as well as the core spot for the big boss fights in the game. It gives a nice on and off pace to exploration where you kinda futz around finding new areas and exploring for hidden stuff, then go into a labyrinth and really focus on combat for a while in a controlled linear environment.

The second thing that really stood out to me was how well integrated the transformations were into gameplay. In a lot of ways, this felt very much like Pirate’s Curse. That game required upgrades to be fast and easy to use due to story reasons causing the loss of transformations. In this one, the transformations are automatic. There’s things like the newt form which gives you a dash and wall climbing. There’s things like the frog form which the frog which gives you the ability to swim. Thematically they make a lot of sense, and the fact that they’re automated makes the game flow pretty much a non-stop affair, which is a huge benefit to the game pace.

That’s not to say there aren’t dances, but in the case of this game they’re all there as one-off attacks that don’t have permanent transformations. These are definitely useful in their own right – for example an electric attack does AoE damage to all things on screen, as well as powering up mechanical devices – but they definitely have a much more straightforward use that isn’t tied to moving through the world.

This is just a really fun game. There’s not been that many Metroidvanias that really have high pace gameplay and almost purely melee combat, and the Shantae series continues to be at the forefront of that style. Movement is fun, combat is fun, the bosses are fun. It’s just all fun and I can’t think of many better series to recommend in this genre right now.

….and don’t worry. Everyone’s favorite Squid Baron makes his return.

Game Ramblings #123 – Bugsnax

More Info from Young Horses

  • Genre: Adventure
  • Platform: PS5
  • Also Available On: PC, Mac, PS4

I know this is kind of a weird first game to play on the PS5, but it was the perfect storm. I was in the middle of moving into a house, so games were getting delivered there. However, I was still working remote from my apartment, so I delivered the PS5 there to be safe. I wasn’t going to have the PS5 plugged in long term because it also had to move, but I needed something to test the system out, and this was free on PS+. I also knew that I was starting the dive into Yakuza: Like a Dragon, so I didn’t want to start something that was going to take long or require me to remember a ton of information.

That would all seem to indicate that this was a complete chance play through, and to some extent it was. I’ve been looking forward to playing this one for a while since I was a fan of Young Horses’ previous game – Octodad – and I have the physical release on preorder whenever it decides to come out. However, like that one, Bugsnax is not really a system seller, and it’s really not meant to be. Ultimately what it ended up doing was filling the same slot that the previous title did – be a mechanically quirky but interesting puzzle experience, have an absolutely absurd story, but end in a way that left me absolutely satisfied with the experience that was put in front of me.

That pic feels like as good a place to start as any, as it really encompasses a lot of the absurd aspects of the game. Yes that’s a giant living maki roll. Yes it’s something that you have to suss out the mechanics of catching. Yes, it’s core to moving the story forward for one of the side quest chains in the game.

Bugsnax works the best when you’re solving puzzles in order to catch things, and the handful of boss battles really nail the feeling of that. The general individual creatures you catch act as a sort of training method to get through the harder stuff. You generally use one trick in order to catch them. Sometimes it’s using the right sauce to lure something out of hiding. Sometimes it’s using the launcher to toss a thing at them. Sometimes it’s using a trip line to stop something running around at full speed. However, the boss fights tie it all together.

In the case of the sushi roll, it’s the recognition that you need to scan its path to figure out where it’s going to be moving, then setting up your zipline to trip it, then when it breaks apart, running around to catch the pieces until you have them all. In another example, it’s using a trap type that a creature hates to lure it into a specific location where you can then use the hook shot stand-in to pull a rock down on its head. For a game with only a handful of specific tool types, they get a lot of mileage out of their inventive use and combinations possible to really push what you learn against smaller creatures into clever capture mechanics on the larger ones.

Of course, it helps that you want to capture everything. To some extent, you’re drawn in by the clever and very groanable naming and visual scheme of the creatures, such as the crab apple – named after the plant, but very obviously a crab made out of apples, or things like the mothza supreme – a giant flying supreme pizza. You’re also drawn in by the behaviors of the creatures themselves. They emote out of fear when you’re chasing them, out of happiness and anger when you send their favored sauces their way, out of shock when something gets the drop on them.

However, the PS5 version definitely gets some unique touches that are already starting to show the promise of the new controller. Catching a creature does little audio cues of the creatures yelling their names in a way very reminiscent of the Pokemon TV show. It’s something that’s been done in the past on consoles like the Wii, but the quality of audio coming out of the DualSense controller is a marked improvement. Different tools do different things with the modifiable triggers, with custom click points that make it act like the old double action Gamecube analog trigger. It’s also worth noting that the quality of haptic feedback available here is a marked improvement over the last generation’s implementation on the PS4 and Xbox One and being more in line with what we’ve seen done with Nintendo first party titles on the Switch, with feedback on things like creatures walking into the player trap having obviously distinct feedback, allowing you to catch creatures just based on feel while you hide out of sight. It was surprising to see how much these little feedback changes improved the experience, but it’s a level of polish that I’m now hoping to see happen more often throughout this generation.

It definitely also helps that the NPCs and story play a nice balance between lighthearted and absurdist. From a non-spoilery perspective, the core of the story is that you’re a journalist documenting an expedition researching and cataloguing the Bugsnax, which when eaten change the character’s limbs into that snack. The expedition folks seem entirely unconcerned that they slowly turn into fruits and vegetables that you force feed to them, which is hilarious and absurd, and incredibly dark as you roll through the story. It lasts long enough to have its own set of twists and turns, but also doesn’t overstay its welcome. There’s also a nice balance of core story and side quest content, giving you an obvious golden path to go through, but plenty of options to venture out and learn more about the townsfolk if you want to, all while catching more new things to turn them into.

So is it a next-gen showcase? Nah. Do I think it’s better on PS5 because of the controller? Yes. Do I think it’s worth playing? Depends. This one falls into a niche where I would easily recommend it to fans of games like Pokemon Snap or Slime Rancher. It’s distinctly an adventure/puzzle game, and it’s casual enough to get through but offers some nice range of easy to difficult content that fits into a lot of skill ranges. It was also the PS+ title for November for the PS5 launch, which right away puts it into the “why not” range. If nothing else it did exactly what I needed out of it – it entertained the hell out of me while giving me a way to test my PS5 and gets me started for the next generation.