Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Minecraft Story Mode Episode 1: The Order of Stone Review

Telltale Games is known for their episodic interactive movie-esque games like the Walking Dead Season One, Wolf Among Us, Tales From the Borderlands, and others. Every mentioned game has been praised for the quality and how great the storytelling is. That said, many people (myself included) had some doubts as to how Telltale could possible make a game about Minecraft given the lack of story and primary focus of being the iconic square sandbox building game that everyone knows and loves (or hates). Despite a few issues along the way, I'd say that Telltale Games found a way to make it work and work well.

You play as Jesse (either boy or girl, its your choice). Jesse and their friends are trying to win the building competition for the upcoming EnderCon in order to meet one of the legendary heroes from the Order of the Stone. As is the song and dance of video games, things quickly go to hell in a hand basket as you uncover a conspiracy that quickly spirals out of control and threatens to destroy the entire world. It is up to you to find the remaining members from the Order of the Stone and put an end to the horror that is terrorizing the world. 

With Jesse's faithful pig companion by his side, what could possibly go wrong?  Answer: Everything
Telltale Games set out to make a story game that felt like it belonged in Minecraft, and they certainly succeeded. Just like how Tales From the Borderlands looks and felt like the Borderlands series, Minecraft Story Mode accomplishes the same thing. The menus, sounds, and even graphics fit perfectly with the idea of having a story take place in a Minecraft setting. It really feels like the events transpiring are occurring in a world that could actually be built (given enough time) by players in Minecraft, which is a great touch for the game.

Gameplay is broken up into several phases, for lack of a better term. More often than not the player will be watching cutscenes with lots of dialogue, with interaction being the ability to choose what Jesse will say or do next. Once in awhile you will have to walk around in an environment to find something or interact with an object. Then of course there is combat and quick time events in more fast pace sequences. One thing Minecraft Story Mode adds to the equation that is really interesting, and a great touch given the source material, is the ability to craft certain items that are critical to the plot. 

Most Minecraft fanatics will probably know what I am building in this screenshot.
 Unfortunately, using Minecraft's stylized graphics is working against Minecraft Story Mode. While it works for most any situation from an animation standpoint, it falls apart when it comes to lip sync and mouth movement for dialogue. Often the movement of the characters mouth does not match with what is being said and that is to be expected to some extent given that it's difficult to make a character in Minecraft style graphics look like they are actually pronouncing words. This can often be rather distracting and it mars the experience for the player.

Overall, Minecraft Story Mode is off to a great start with the first episode. The story may not be as filled with betrayal and death as other Telltale Games, but it is still interesting nonetheless. It may not be for everyone, but Minecraft Story Mode will be a memorably experience for those capable of approaching it with an open mind. 

RBFB Rating: B-

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Destiny: The Taken King - The Good, the Bad, and the Future

It's been almost a month now since Destiny: The Taken King was released. With the release of this expansion, Destiny has undergone many changes. Most of the changes were good, but there were certainly several things that aren't as good with the beginning of year two for Destiny. We will be going over some of the strengths and weaknesses of The Taken King, discuss a few possible ideas for improvement, and briefly talk about what lies ahead in the future for this series. 

First and foremost, the biggest improvement The Taken King has made is without a doubt how Destiny actually tells its story. One of the biggest complaints from the first year was how poorly implemented the story was. Given all the memorable moments that occurred throughout the first three Halo games and the two spin offs (AKA ODST and Reach), I was certainly scratching my head as to why Bungie had somehow taken ten steps back in presenting a story in their game. The story was always there, but for some reason they decided to lock it up behind a bunch of grimoire cards that only a handful of people are going to read given the declining popularity of reading something longer than a paragraph. 
Talking villains... it's like they actually read my blog... (probably not) XD
 In the first story mission alone, there is more story and cutscenes explaining what is happening than what was present last year. There are more characters talking to the player as they progress, and Bungie uses the levels to help tell parts of the story as well through scripted events and calling out things for the player to look at through masterfully crafted environments. Even the side quests tell much more story than Destiny has ever been known for, and this is an improvement that I hope Bungie keeps working on. Destiny has a great story and universe, but Bungie was never able to properly apply it until now.

The campaign has far more variety than last year. While there is still some of the old 'scan stuff with Ghost and fight off hordes of enemies' that was overused in the Year 1 campaign, The Taken King mixes things up with a variety of interesting new things that happen during missions. From a minor stealth segment, to running from invincible enemies, the campaign for The Taken King provides enough entertainment to keep you playing all the way to the end. Even after the main story is done, there are a bunch of follow up side quests that are part of the epilogue known as “The Taken War”. 

A boss fight at the Court of Oryx.  Just a small tier 1 boss, but a good example of what to expect.

There is even quests and side missions that have nothing to do with Oryx and his dark armies, including an expedition into the Vault of Glass to investigate a mysterious signal. Quests aside, The Taken King also offers players a great deal of things to do while exploring the Dreadnaught. From summoning bosses at the Court of Oryx to treasure chests hidden all over the place, patrol mode offers far more content than it ever has before. The sheer amount of content available in The Taken King is impressive, and it makes me wish that the original game had been more like this. At the very least, Bungie seems to be learning from their mistakes. So as we go forward in the future, I hope Destiny 2 will have the same amount of content as The Taken King if not more.

Destiny has received a lot of praise for the quality of the raid content, and Bungie did not disappoint with the latest raid known as King's Fall. King's Fall is without a doubt the most challenging raid in the game so far, and there is nothing more satisfying in the game than taking down a boss and finally beating the raid. My only complaint about the raid would be that jumping puzzles got overused. One or two were fine, but by the third segment they had outstayed their welcome. 

Screenshot from a recent run of King's Fall.  We were victorious. ^_^
While Destiny now has a great deal of strong points, it has gained some strange weak points that weren't there before. I have a feeling most of these are unintentional and that it is a result of a lack of foresight on Bungie's part given their lack of experience making a loot based game like Destiny, but at least they admit that they are still trying to figure out how to make Destiny better. The biggest issue that needs to be fixed is how unrewarding most activities feel. Nightfalls are barely worth doing anymore as the rewards do not match the challenge, which was also an issue with the Level 35 version of Prison of Elders during House of Wolves where the rewards simply had too low a drop rate to make farming Skolas worth it. Even the Daily Heroic story missions feel less rewarding now that they no longer reward Engrams. Bungie had once said that the loot system would provide better rewards, especially in the raid. Unfortunately this is not the case as there are a lot of people complaining how all they get during King Fall is Moldering Shards and nothing else; even from the final boss. In short, Bungie needs to improve the rewards for all activities and fix the loot system to be a little more intelligent like they had promised they would. 

Oryx's arrival can be considered a herald of good things to come for Destiny... from a gameplay standpoint.
 Next week, an in-game micro transaction store will be added to Destiny. The store will sell eighteen brand new emotes that you can equip to your character. While many people have concerns about this new system, these items are cosmetic only and will not have any effects on gameplay. Not only that, but rumor has it that Bungie will not be doing two mini expansions after The Taken King. If the rumor is true, they will be releasing free updates and new content every few months until Fall 2016 when Destiny 2 comes out. It is unclear if they will do mini expansions for Destiny 2, but it is likely that they will do a 2.5 expansion similar to how The Taken King could be considered to be Destiny 1.5. At this time there is no mention of whether or not this is Bungie's plan but the same source did predict the micro transaction store, which proved to be true. Even that old document leak that described the entire ten year plan Activision has with Bungie mentioned a micro transaction store.

I intend to keep you all posted as new and exciting things happen in Destiny. If the original plan is to be believed, we have at least eight more years worth of Destiny to come and I look forward to seeing where the series goes overtime.