Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Fallout 4's Downloadable Content

Just so you know, I have also (finally) updated my Fire Emblem 14 DLC rant to reflect the second pack of DLCs released almost immediately after I first published the rant. Didn’t figure it deserved its own rant slot a second time, but I didn’t want to let it go totally unnoticed, either, since I’m full of myself and want everyone to read every word I write.

With the recent release of Nuka World, Fallout 4’s run of Downloadable Content has come to an end, and so has come the time for me to pass judgment on the game’s add-ons. Which are good? Which aren’t? Which are actually worth the price? And how does the game’s suite of add-ons compare to the previous title of the series, Fallout: New Vegas, which was overall quite good with its DLCs? Read on, and find out.

Or just go do something more interesting. I probably would.

Note: As always, my focus is only on add-ons that involve some kind of story content. DLC that solely affects gameplay elements is ultimately unimportant, so I’m not going to talk about it here. Thus, we’ll be ignoring the Wasteland Workshop and Contraptions Workshop DLCs for Fallout 4, which do nothing whatsoever but add some new building stuff to the settlement system in the game. I like messing around with the workshop and building settlements as much as the next guy (in fact, given what some of my settlements look like in the game, I think it’s safe to say I like it way, way more than most “next guys”), but I’m certainly not going to advocate spending money on playing around with what amounts to pretend postapocalyptic Minecraft and Barbie.

Anyway, on with the show.

Automatron: Eh...not a strong start for Fallout 4’s add-ons. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing particularly wrong with Automatron. The basic idea is that you meet up with a robot named Ada who wants to avenge her recently murdered master, and you go on a quest to a few locations to locate the individual responsible for it, stopping them from enacting a plan to fill the Commonwealth with deadly robots. Ada joins you as a companion permanently, and things wrap up in a way that’s predictable, but not unenjoyable.

The thing is, although there’s nothing that stands out as bad about Automatron, there’s also nothing that stands out as really interesting, either. Ada is an alright companion (and she gets serious bonus points for being the only party member who has nothing negative to say about you picking up junk objects...I swear to Mieli, I have gotten so sick of Nick and Piper getting judgmental every time I pick up a desk fan!), with a little more personality than some of the game’s party members, a little less than others, but nothing that really makes her especially compelling. The story of this quest is straightforward and simple, and it neither introduces any really interesting ideas, nor strongly represents the series theme of United States culture, nor the themes more specific to this installment of the franchise. Really, the most notable thing about this whole quest line is that you get to fool around a little more with being the Silver Shroud during the final showdown. Which is fun, to be sure, and something Fallout 4 needs a LOT more of, but a tiny handful of conversation cues aren’t exactly a reason to fork over $10. So, I dunno...I wouldn’t really recommend this one, I guess. At least, not for the current asking price. You can do better with your time and money than “neither good nor bad.”

Far Harbor: Ah, here we go, MUCH better. Far Harbor is just great, exactly what I want from a Fallout 4 DLC. It’s got a decent story, in which you get hired to find a girl who’s gone missing in Maine and end up getting involved in a conflict between caustic fishermen, synth refugees, and crazy radiation-worshippers. The concept is cool (even if the plot-moving motivation is “find someone’s kid,” which Fallout 4 kinda overuses), there are some decent characters (Dima is particularly great), there’s some great bits of Americana (I enjoy the stuff about Vim, the Fallout equivalent of Moxie soda, quite a lot), the new companion, Old Longfellow, is alright, the atmosphere of the island is perfect (the radioactive fog concept utilizes the Fallout setting nicely), the cult of Atom actually gets some significant story attention, and the best character of Fallout 4, Nick, gets another dose of solid character development. Best of all, Far Harbor really presents some succulent mental morsels. There’s a central theme to the DLC, that being the concept of the truth: how concrete it should be, how far one should go to investigate and tout it, whether it truly is the best policy and how sometimes it isn’t so easy to even really tell what is and isn’t real to begin with. The choices you make about the future of Far Harbor at the end of this DLC excellently test your commitment to honesty, and even the happy ending (peace between all 3 major groups on the island) still has an unsettling undertone, for it may be that it sets a dangerous precedent as it favors unity, peace, and nonviolence brought about by a secret manipulation and allowing a crime to remain unknown and unpunished.

I’ll give away no more than I have, but suffice to say, Bethesda really did a great job in making their detective side-story into an examination of the concept of honesty, and the question of what the truth is really worth to us, which in itself ties strongly into some of the most important issues facing the United States today as we struggle not to give up our freedoms to our government in exchange for (false) promises of security. Good, good stuff, Bethesda. This DLC package is definitely worth iiiiittttwaitholyCRAPisthatright is Far Harbor really, actually $25!? Twen-goddamn-ty-fucking-five-pissing dollars? Jesus jumping on a jungle gym with James Earl Jones, that’s only 5 bucks shy of being half the cost of Fallout 4 altogether! Seriously? The entirety of Far Harbor is like a tenth the size of Fallout 4’s main game, if that, yet it costs almost half the price? Sheesh! 25 bucks...I’m pretty damn sure I didn’t get 25 hours out of this add-on.

Okay, well...I dunno. Far Harbor is really, really good. I’d say it’s 1 of the best parts of Fallout 4. It’s up there with Point Lookout, Dead Money, and Lonely Road as far as quality Fallout DLCs go. Is it really worth the amount of money you could pay for another game (albeit not a flashy AAA title) altogether? That’s hard to say. I don’t recommend it for its asking price, but at the same time, I don’t recommend against it, either. I guess this, like Automatron, is gonna be a case where it’s going to be worth it some day, once the costs of Fallout 4 are cut substantially, but it might not be worth your money at the moment. Too bad. Do make sure to grab it sooner or later, though!

Vault-Tec Workshop: Poor, sweet, stupid Clem. Vault-Tec Workshop is a quickie. You find a vault, its overseer decides to have you enact social experiments straight out of some foolish corporate executive’s wet dreams which focus on enhancing productivity by eliminating humanity, explore a cave a bit. I think that’s about it.

The gameplay elements of this DLC are obviously the intended focus, adding a bunch of new options to the settlement workshop, but there’s still something of merit to be found in this add-on. The story, such as it is, is quick and not terribly compelling, but there’s a little food for thought and relation to American culture in the questions being raised (though in a humorous manner) regarding how far is too far in our capitalist obsession with squeezing every possible ounce of productivity out of our citizens.

It’s not bad for what it is. But is it worth its price of $5? Meh...I dunno. Not really. It’s not unenjoyable, but there’s so little to it. Hold off until it’s 50% off or something.

Nuka-World: Wait...what? That’s it? This is the last DLC for Fallout 4? No more after this?


Sigh...alright, then. Nuka-World is a mixed bag. On the positive side, pretty much all the stuff going on on the side in this DLC is pretty solid stuff. The Grandchester Mansion is cool, the exploration elements are solid, the lore is classic Fallout material, Sierra’s sidequest is great (and just having her return from Fallout 3 was an unexpected little joy), and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a hoot to see those Hubologist dimwits again. Didn’t realize how much I’d missed laughing at the Fallout equivalent of Scientology since the second game. I’ll even give it a point for a gameplay element, which you know is pretty damn rare for me, because damn if it isn’t a (literal) blast to use weaponized Nuka-Cola shot out of a squirtgun.

Even a bit of the raider-related stuff is enjoyable in this DLC. Raider Radio is amusing (well, for 10 minutes, anyway), and the Gauntlet and battle with Colter is good. Gage is an alright companion character, too, though short-lived.

But the issue with this DLC...well, it’s the raider-related stuff. And that’s the main storyline of Nuka-World. And that’s a problem, for several reasons. The first reason is simply that the main plot of Nuka-World is not interesting. You arrive at a theme park, you become the leader of the raiders hanging out there, you bring the entirety of the theme park under your raider gangs’ control, and then you attack the Commonwealth while settling internal disputes with your raiders. That’s it. There’s actually less intellectual exercise to be had in this DLC’s main plot than there is in the rinky-dink little Vault-Tec Workshop add-on! The main story of this whole thing can just be summed up as, “Be a raider.” Not especially compelling.

The next reason that this is a problem is that it runs counter to the protagonist’s character. Due to the nature of Fallout 4’s main plot, the protagonist is left with a decent degree of malleability with her or his personality, but not nearly as much as with previous Fallout titles. Don’t get me wrong, here, I’m not complaining about that--the trade-off is that the more rigid structure of the Sole Survivor’s character means a much more interesting personality with greater depth than any previous Fallout protagonist, which is definitely a good thing. Unfortunately for Nuka-World, though, this means that even though there have been options in the main game to make your protagonist quite evil, those options are of an organized, structured kind of evil (namely, the well-meaning but utterly conscience-lacking Institute, or the bigoted asswipes with the Brotherhood of Steel). There’s really just nothing in Fallout 4 to set a precedent for Nora or Nate becoming a raider, and it doesn’t mesh with pretty much everything we know about her or his personality, regardless of which pathways you’ve taken in the game proper. This just doesn’t work.

Hell, even the voice acting for the protagonist seems to confirm that this doesn’t jive with her/his character. Courtenay Taylor has put in a great performance for Nora in Fallout 4, allowing the character of the Sole Survivor to develop almost as much through her voice acting as through the script itself, and Brian Delaney has done a solid job as Nate, too. Yet neither of them sound even remotely right throughout this DLC when speaking for a Nora or a Nate who’s totally down with being a raider. The voices that work so well as saviors of the Commonwealth, as misguided sycophants of the Institute, as thoughtless toadies of the Brotherhood of Steel, as desperate parents, and as flippant jokesters just do not work in any way as dedicated raiders. The character that Taylor and Delaney have helped to build over thousands of lines of dialogue simply does not work in this position.

Worth noting as well is that it’s not even all that well implemented in regards to the main game. I mean, the act of raiding settlements in the Commonwealth works just fine, but if you do this before you’ve completed the main story of Fallout 4, things can get...pretty disjointed. In the main game, if you get on the bad side of all the other factions, you can still side with the Minutemen to take down the Institute--they’re basically your fall-back option, the way to complete the game which you can’t mess up. But since the Minutemen are as anti-raider as it gets, if you start raiding the Commonwealth with your Nuka-World bunch, Preston Garvey, the leader of the Minutemen, will hate your guts and refuse to have anything to do with you...except that he’s still bound by plot programming to be the failsafe option for beating the game, so you can still have him and his faction cooperate with you to take down the Institute, even as he frequently tells you what a scumbag you are and how he’s done with you. Seriously, one conversation you’ll be discussing how to take down the Institute, then the next moment he’ll be mouthing off to you about how what you’ve done is unforgivable and how he can’t work with you any more. Forget the fact that being the raider overboss doesn’t fly with the game’s themes or the protagonist’s character...more tangibly, this shit doesn’t fly with just the basics of how the game works!

Now, there is, of course, the option to just up and obliterate the raiders of Nuka-World, and free the traders they’ve subjugated. Being that I am not a complete and total loser, I took this option myself, and encourage you to do the same. But the major plot focus of the DLC is on the raider aspect, so doing the only sensible and decent thing means you’re only going to get as much out of this add-on as the exploration and sidequest aspects can provide. And by itself, this isn’t too much of a problem. You still get a decent Fallout experience even if you’re cutting off the main story of the DLC early. While it’s disappointing that it worked out this way, the Nuka-World DLC would still, under normal circumstances, come up as positive for me.

But it’s the last DLC. This is the final moment of Fallout 4, the send-off to this great game! This DLC is the one which will give you the impression you get from the game overall as you walk away from it. Heck, this is the send-off to the Fallout series for some time; from what I hear, Bethesda isn’t even going to be thinking about Fallout 5 for quite a while. Apparently they just want to sit back and focus on their inferior franchise for a bit, presumably because the content of any given Elder Scrolls game’s story, lore, and cast requires a fifth of the brainpower to write, if that. And so this is what we’re given as the final moment of Fallout 4?

This is a DLC that focuses on joining up with the bad guys! And not even bad guys of any significance to the story and themes of Fallout 4 overall! There’s only a single connection in Nuka-World to any of the major points in Fallout 4, that being the Settlement thing, in that you can, as a raider, raid the settlements in the Commonwealth. And that connection is awful! The settlements of Fallout 4 are pushed in the story as a major thing, and hell, they’ve been (rightly) touted by Bethesda as a way to keep players invested in the game over time, giving the audience something to do between DLC releases. 2 of the DLCs for Fallout 4 have absolutely no plot, they just give more settlement options, and 2 more of the game’s DLCs, Automatron and Vault-Tec Workshop, base their small plots around the use of the settlement system! Of the 6 DLC packages that Fallout 4 provides, Far Harbor and Nuka-World are the ONLY ones that aren’t specifically centered around the settlement system. So what kind of bizarre idiocy is it that this final send-off to Fallout 4 is focused on turning around and having you destroy all the settlement stuff you’ve worked on so far, that the game has pushed as a major focus?

This should have been a good final note to Fallout 4. A theme park for Nuka-Cola? The idea is perfect! Theme parks are a huge part of American culture, soda is a huge part of American culture, and I honestly don’t think that there’s anything that embodies the Fallout series as much as Nuka-Cola does. The setting was in place for a perfect Fallout experience, and the side stuff in this DLC shows that Bethesda could have really done it right. But everything good about Nuka-World is kept to the background, and instead our last moments with Fallout 4 are being pressured to betray the Commonwealth, betray the protagonist’s character, betray her/his friends, and betray some of the ideas and focus that are at the very heart of Fallout 4. What a terrible disappointment.

I think my overall verdict on Fallout 4’s add-ons is pretty obvious: a big thumbs-down. Not enough decent material in half of the DLC packages that even bother to have any sort of story content, and Nuka-World, though it has many good qualities, focuses on all the wrong things at exactly the wrong time. If only Far Harbor, which connects to the themes of Fallout 4 properly and has pretty much nothing but good content in it, had been the final would have made Nuka-World a lot easier to accept and appreciate. But even Far Harbor is marred, by that unreasonable price tag.

I thought I was safe with Fallout. I really did. Fallout 3 and New Vegas provided such great overall experiences with their add-ons...I really thought I wouldn’t regret buying the Season Pass for this game. But I do. I am, in fact, thoroughly disgusted with myself. I don’t know how many more times I’m going to let myself get taken advantage of before I finally get it through my thick skull: You cannot trust companies. Maybe between this and my foolishness with Fire Emblem 14’s DLC, I’ll finally have finally wised up.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Witch and Hero 1's Reputation

I figured out quite some time ago that if you want a legitimately trustworthy video game review, you’re going to have to do some searching. Official, mainstream reviewers of games, particularly RPGs, are thoroughly incompetent, and their write-ups on games are so ignorant that sometimes I have to wonder if they’ve even ever played a video game before. I think that some review sites are actually going back in time and hiring people from the 1800s to cut the cost of employee salaries.

And that’s not even talking about IGN, the game journalism corporation that makes Fox News look like a legitimate enterprise. I mean, are there still any living, conscious human beings left on planet Earth that actually believe that IGN scores measure the worth of the game, and not the worth of the bribe that the developer gave them? People living in mud huts for whom the concept of electricity sounds like the work of the gods know that IGN is shit. I think if you found a frozen, perfectly preserved caveman and thawed him out, even he’d be up to date enough to know that when you hear the name “IGN”, the socially acceptable reaction is to laugh.

So anyway, what I’m saying, in a roundabout way, is that there’s no easy, quick fix for when you want a video game review that you can trust. Sometimes one of those video review show guys will do the job adequately, like Angry Joe or Jontron, but there’s only so many games they can get to, so usually you’re digging around for that one customer review that actually sounds like he or she shares your values on what makes a good game, and also like he or she has maybe even played a game before. And this is why I really don’t know why I felt the slightest surprise at seeing the degree of negative reactions that ‘official’ reviewers give to the little 3DS RPG, Witch + Hero 1.

Don’t get me wrong, this game’s nothing special, and nor is its sequel. You’d have to labor long and hard on it to elevate it to even being worthy of the term “good.” But neither is it very bad, and certainly not to such a bitter extreme as most seem to attribute to it.

Witch + Hero 1 is a fairly cute, innocuous little game with a simple premise whose small plot is told through visuals alone. To the game’s strength, the overall mood that W+H goes for is lighthearted, rather than serious, and that’s a lot of why it gets a pass from me. It knows what it is, which is a short, pixelated little quest of finding and defeating Medusa,* with a gameplay style so simple that your only attack is to ram into your enemies face-first and try to get them to die from this before you do. It’s very limited, yes, but it works with those limitations as best it can, rather than trying to pass itself off as something more than it can be. I can appreciate that. Most of the time, what I want is powerful stories with great characters that explore the nature of the human condition, but I don’t mind a break every now and then for a little game out to make me lightly chuckle. Kind of reminds me of Alundra 2 in this regard. If you go into Witch + Hero 1 with the idea that it’s supposed to be something it’s not trying in the slightest to be, then yeah, you’ll probably hate it.

Or you might hate it because you’re a hypocritical idiot who’s so bad at video games that even I look masterful by comparison. I’ve seriously read more than 1 review of this game in which the reviewer complained loud and long about the simplistic, bland gameplay that’s about grinding, not strategy...and then turns around and spits fiery fury at the fact that there’s an inventive strategy for defeating the final boss. Some people, I swear.

Anyway, that’s about all I have to say on this subject. Sorry most of the rant was about the shitty state of affairs of professional reviews, and only marginally talked about the the actual game. Hey, I don’t claim to actually be good at this ranting thing. Final Verdict: Witch + Hero 1 isn’t good enough that I’d recommend playing it when there are so many more meaningful RPGs out there on the 3DS to experience. But it’s also not bad enough that I discourage you from playing it, either, and it definitely is not the monstrosity that other reviewers make it out to be.

* Fun Coincidence: I played this game the same year as I played Kid Icarus: Uprising, another game whose (supposed) main villain is Medusa. Always weird when that sort of thing happens. Like that year I played 2 entirely separate RPGs that featured Rasputin as an antagonist.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins's Villain

Be warned: this is one of those rants where most of it is me talking about non-RPG stuff and only relating it back to the RPG at hand at the very end. But hey, whether I’m talking about RPGs or non-RPGs, it’s all a bunch of boring pontification anyway, so let’s do this!

You know what a major problem with the Korra RPG is? Besides a dull and cliched plot, 0 character development, and the inexplicable exclusion of one of the most important characters in the series, I mean. It’s that the game completely fails to include the major theme of the entire Legend of Korra series: Balance. Personal balance, balance of the tangible world and the spiritual, balance of government and civic issues, all of these aspects of the concept of balance are explored throughout the cartoon’s entire run, components of the show’s major focus. Hell, even Korra’s ultimate choice of romantic partner is a tiny, subtle example of this theme--the woman who bends all the elements joining with the woman who represents those who can bend none. But that all-important concept of balance, which unifies all 4 seasons’ stories together into a single, thoughtful animated treatise, is nowhere to be found in The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins. And I think 1 of the parts of this game in which this theme is most absent is in the game’s villain, Hundun.

The villains of The Legend of Korra are thoughtfully created according to the theme of balance. Each is motivated by causes and ideals which are, in their basic form, good, as Toph points out in the show itself. Amon from Season 1 wants to take bending away from everyone in the world, and that’s wrong--but this ambition originates from Amon’s belief that everyone should be equal to one another, and that is a worthy goal. Unalaq from Season 2 wants to become a dark Avatar and unleash 10,000 years of darkness on the world--but this intention was born from his dissatisfaction with the fact that the people of the world were gradually turning away from an appreciation of nature and spirituality, which actually is a significant problem that needs to be corrected. Zaheer from Season 3 plunged the Earth Kingdom into violent chaos when he murdered its queen, and attempted to kill the Avatar for good--but he did so because he believed in freedom for all people to live their lives as they choose, which is certainly a good thing.* And finally, Kuvira is a harsh tyrant who is utterly merciless as she brings the Earth Kingdom forcefully under her heel--but her ruthless dictatorship is born from a love for her nation, and a desire to make it a stable, secure land again (instead of the chaotic, aimless anarchy that Zaheer’s actions turned it into).

Each major Korra villain has good ideals at heart; it is simply that they themselves are out of balance while seeking to achieve these noble ends. They’re consumed by the rage, disappointment, fanaticism, and self-doubt of their pasts. Korra stands as the reflection of each of them, the representation of balance, the Avatar, and because she stays balanced in her heart and body, she doesn’t just defeat Amon, Unalaq, Zaheer, and Kuvira: she herself brings about the balanced ideal that each wanted, whether actively or passively. As a result of Korra, Republic City, the heart of the world, goes from a city ruled by benders, who each already have their own nations, to a city ruled by freely elected non-benders, who until now have had no entity to represent them in the world: equality, as Amon wanted. Korra opens the gate between the physical and spirit worlds, meaning that humanity would be forced to live alongside the spirits and thus keep a respect for the world and the spiritual from now on, which is what Unalaq wanted. Korra’s actions and selflessness inspire the new airbenders of the world to reform the Air Nation into a global force for good, nomads who travel the world not just for the hell of it (as was the case with the original airbender society), but with the intent to do good and bring balance to all those they come across: a force to protect the peace and happiness of the world made up of many, instead of just the single Avatar, a step away from 1 person deciding the fate of millions and toward the self-determination of the people which Zaheer values. And thanks to the inspiration of Korra and the wisdom of her friends who share her values, Prince Wu decides that the Earth Kingdom will be united as democratic states, installing a new system of government that can work for peace and stability to the satisfaction of all, accomplishing the core of what Kuvira desires.

So you see, the villains of The Legend of Korra are a very, very major part of the theme of balance to the show. The show’s writers are careful to avoid making each season’s villain some black-and-white bad guy. Each one is fighting out of a genuine desire for good, but because they themselves are imbalanced, their methods of accomplishing these good intentions are harmful to others. By contrast, Korra is balanced and always seeking to do right thing in the right way, and so, after defeating each villain, she accomplishes that intended goal in the right way. Cool.

Unfortunately, Hundun of The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins is no such layered, thoughtful villain. Basically, a thousand years ago the guy and his conjoined twin ruled a nation as evil kings who had some super special power known as the Chaotic Attack, the nature and origins of which really isn’t explained to any satisfactory detail in the game. The Avatar of that time came along, beat the crap out of Hundun, and banished him to the Spirit World. 1,000 years later, Hundun is back and wants to take revenge on Avatar Korra, then plunge the world into chaos, because...evil?

Where is the depth in this villain? The personality? What balance can be found in this story? Hundun has no more personality or quality as a villain than Final Fantasy 5’s X-Death, or Antasma from Mario and Luigi 4, or Thanatos from Secret of Mana. He started as a jerk with no discernible good motive, he just became a bigger jerk when he added a thirst for vengeance to his villainous resume, and that’s all there ever was to him. He’s evil for the sake of being evil; there is no greater goal hidden underneath his badness. And without an underlying noble belief or motivation, Korra’s victory over Hundun, and thus the whole story of the game, is just empty filler, a meaningless piece of fluff to the Legend of Korra series. She can’t exemplify the balanced, morally right way of accomplishing a goal that doesn’t exist, and that means there’s just no connection whatsoever to the theme of balance. And since the entirety of The Legend of Korra is devoted to this theme, Hundun and everything associated with him--meaning, the entire Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins game--really just has neither a place in the series nor a purpose for existing.

* Also, someone really did have to get rid of that abusive, selfish, power-hungry queen, I gotta say.