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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

(This comment is based on the 1.06 version.)

Witcher 3 has been around for quite a while now, and almost everybody already stated their opinion; the game received almost universal praise from all sides and seemed to live up to the hype expectations, but it is really as good as they claim?
In my opinion, The Witcher 3 is an excellent game, but definitely not without problems and -most of all- it wastes an insane amount of potential to be as “casual” as it can get. Now I'll explain why.

Setting and Narrative

One thing is sure: CDProjekt RED worked behind this title with passion.
The original dark (and with “dark” I mean *really* dark, not like some pretentious recent videogames filled with clichès of violence and racial hate) fantasy setting borrowed from Andrzej Sapkowski is an excellent base to build upon, yet the developers made sure that their original stories were consistent not only with their source of inspiration, but also with a very complex system of interrelations, choices and consequences.
Like in the previous chapters, you are left in the dark of the possible outcomes of your choices: you are the only one deciding how to act, as nobody ever forces you to follow a certain path rather than another, yet you could never predict how your own actions could influence others in the long term.
This is actually one of the aspects I appreciate the most about CDProjekt's games: unlike in your average big budget western RPG, you are not some sort of Messiah capable of binding the fate of the universe to his own will, but a common person (genetic mutations aside) who can have a strong influence on matters that will always, eventually, settled by others.
The world Geralt lives in is as unfair and politically incorrect as it could get... actually mimicking our 21st century contemporaneity while dressing it with fantasy clothing. Religious fanaticism, sexism, racism, homophoby and abuses of every kind are all there, but the game treats them in a mature way meant to give meaning to what is shown, rather that to childishly fuel the fires of an already overly toxic and violent gaming "community".
Many critics from the usual suspects have been already raised (like “oh my gawd there is no black character there”! Strange to explain, especially in a game based on Eastern Europe folklore...), but they are really the same pointless and imbecilic old rants you can see everywhere, so let's leave them there.

Back to the game itself, this time the story revolves more on Geralt's personal sphere rather than on political intrigue: the narration is quite straight forward, as you don't directly meddle in politics and you already know your enemy: you simply need to protect who you hold dear and prepare for the final confrontation that could free you once and for all from the Wild Hunt torment.
What the game lacks in plot complexity is abundantly recovered in the humanity (both meant under a good and bad acceptation) of characters and situations: all of them, even the less important, are masterfully written and believable, and they serve to drive you towards your goal more emotionally than rationally.
One example above all: the Wild Hunt is not a really big menace for the world you live in; they don't threat the social stability of the world you live in, they don't want to destroy your kingdom and they don't bring the end of times with them. They are those that hurt you and the people you hold dear, those who try to enslave your daughter and those that personally, continuously pursued you, filling your life with fear and sorrow. This time you are not the brave and selfless hero, but a tired man trying to live decently that needs to turn from prey to hunter.

In any case, even if the main narrative always remains deep, the game often does not take itself too seriously, offering many comical breaks and funny references.
One last thing: when the developers said that each side quest offered a brief story on its own and none felt the same, they were not lying. Even if the missions are not very different from what you could find in any other similar game, the charisma they have put into them makes all of them unique and transforms what could have been tedious repetitiveness into the pleasure of discovery.


As you can expect from a game of such massive proportions, the mechanics have been greatly enhanced from the previous episodes and you will never miss variety.
The basics are precisely the same of the old installments, yet this time the possible variations have been hugely increased: your character can spend his ability points, combining at will the skills form three development trees (combat, sign and alchemy); each of the five signs has two uses; you have access to a wide array of potions and bombs, each suited for a specific kind of monster or situation and upgradable up to two times when you find the appropriate recipes; the crafting system has been renewed and made a necessary step, granting you the possibility to create new equipment from smiths when you mange to gather both diagrams and components and forcing you to maintain your gear in good conditions by either having it repaired from specialists or by doing it yourself (with variable results); the monsters are numerous and different, each one adopting a certain tactic during an encounter; the new card game, Gwent, is probably the best minigame ever inserted in a videogame.

All this does not come without criticism, though.
It is abundantly clear that the game wanted to appeal to the biggest possible audience, and for this same reason many of its aspect ended to suffer.
Above all, the controls have been clearly designed for a gamepad, and little to no attention was kept for mouse and keyboard. While it is still perfectly playable on a PC (as imo using hotkeys is still way better than having to cycle through menus or, worst, accessing the terrible skill/item wheel by pausing the game mid-combat), CDP didn't bother to implement many little elements, like for example the ability to use a sign directly when pressing the dedicated hotkey.
In TW2, you could select a sign and then activate it with a specific key, but if you desired you could also press a number and let it work immediately; here, the numbers just select the sign, and you need to press another button to cast it. This is uselessly inconvenient and it just slows the pace of the game, making the use of the ability wheel (did I already say that I HATE console-ish ability wheels on PC games like nothing else?) optimal for a flawless fight.

Also, the difficulty is incredibly low: “Death March”, the highest difficulty setting, is the only one presenting a challenge, while the others are simply ridiculously easy. So much, in fact, that playing on normal or below is simply not fun.
What really irritates me is that, despite the incredible depth of the variations you can adopt in combat, none is really required. Even if the bestiary helps you studying your enemies and discover their weaknesses, the tactics you adopt as consequence are just a shortcut to victory, rather than a necessity.
The Venomous Arachas may spit a powerful poison, but you can simply avoid it and just hit and dodge until it dies, rather than preparing an anti-venom Golden oriole potion (unlike with the Kayran in TW2, where you would simply die if you didn't drink the specific antidote); you can use Yrden to let a Wraith become more “material” and easier to hit, but they are vulnerable without it as well; you can use a Moondust bomb to prevent a vampire form disappearing and regenerate, but this will only save you a few seconds of fight at best.

If you want my recommendation: don't even bother to play the game under the maximum difficulty setting. The Witcher 3 is great and extremely fun, but only when all its assets are needed to succeed. The rest is just there to allow everyone (and with everyone I mean “those who don't like to bother with the mechanics of an RPG and just go through the game with random equipment and randomly assigned stats, I wonder why they play games at all”) to finish it. Seriously, you can beat it on normal using only the roll and fast attacks.

(PART 2)
Post edited July 20, 2015 by Enebias
Assassin's Creed Chronicles China (Xbox One)

This games was half price last week on Xbox Live, and since i had the exact change of AU$5.95 in my account i decided to give it a try.
Lots of people say it plays along the same lines as Mark of the Ninja but with AC branding. Those people are probably right, but i haven't played Mark of the Ninja yet. From games that i've played the game it reminds me of most is Commandos Behind Enemy Lines, but with one character and far more control. Basically you spend your life avoiding enemy view cones.

The graphics and art are excellent. The level design is okay, though pretty linear- only a few places have alternate paths to your target and even then they are minor and really exist for if you want to achieve the secondary objectives for the best score. Of the 12 chapters, 9 are stealth levels and 3 are action timed escape levels- but don't worry the times needed are very generous and easy to pass, even the high score times are easy enough once you know the path.

A good aspect of the game is that you can play to whatever level you like and have time for, you set the difficulty yourself by how you choose to play. If you want the biggest puzzle challenge then try for perfect scores which means not killing anyone except designated targets. The other end of the scale is pretty much run and gun style...kill everything and don't worry about not being seen- but your score suffers. The score sort of matters because it decides how much your character upgrades, as you really do start fragile. So it's a puzzle game essentially.

The only part of the game i didn't like is that the entire first play through feels like one big tutorial, the game is still interrupting you even in level 9 with new moves/items which takes you out of the moment. However now that i've finished it, i realize that the real game is the second "plus" play through anyway, where you start with all abilities and the tutorials are gone. Or you can play the "plus hard" mode where can pretty much take one hit and die, no health upgrades and the enemies have better awareness.

I put about 10 hours into the one normal and one "plus" play through. That's pretty decent for the $5.95 i paid, even the full price would be okay. Did i like it? Well i don't play games through twice, back to back if i don't like them. It's not a classic or anything but i like the idea and will get the following two games in the series as well.
Post edited July 20, 2015 by CMOT70
(PART 1)

Technical aspects

And now we arrive at the painful point.
I'm sure you are all aware of the supposed downgrade of The Witcher 3 and its numerous issues, both graphical and not.
Well, I'm afraid to say it is all true: the screenshots moving around the Internet a few days before release showed a very accurate comparison between what it was supposed to be and what it actually is.
To be fair, I was expecting either a graphic downgrade (because seriously, who could run anything similar to the first shown images?) or to run it at low detail or framerates, not both.
As it is, the game does not only not even remotely resemble the first 2013 commercials, but it is also hugely downgraded from the demo video we saw at the end of 2014. A vast amount of details from the already downgraded (but still gorgeous) build has been brutally cut off, and the field of view is so restricted that it seems like going for a walk during a day with extremely muggy weather.
Many textures, especially those concerning wood, foliage and rocks, are awfully low-res and I'd dare to say much less impressive than those seen on The Witcher 2, and they are in marked contrast with the extremely detailed and improved character models.
This article shows several images that can give you an idea of what I'm talking about.

The worst part, though, is that the game does not run well on any non-Maxwell chip.
My not-even-two-years-old GTX770 model can never maintain 60 frames regardless of the settings (yes, not even with everything on “low” and with all the post-processing effects off), and the only parameters that influence it are hairworks, shadows and foliage visibility. Lowering the latter opens the way for terrible “popping”, with results like making you see the grain fields materialize before your eyes on that who just seemed empty soil. In any case, I get an absurd shift between a minimum of 35 fps (in villages with lit fires) up to an almost constant 55 in the others areas and a very sporadic 60 in woods with a combination of low, medium and high specs (those for textures, terrain and water almost not influencing the framerate at all).
A friend of mine, owner of a GTX 970, runs it well on high/ultra with all the post processing effects enabled, so... I sincerely doubt the difference is justifiable.

Then, there are bugs. Lot of bugs. None really game-breaking, but nonetheless very annoying, especially the mutagens one (which ignores the bonus you get for combining them with your abilities each time you reload, forcing you to reposition them manually).

Art and design

Despite the previous paragraph, you can be assured that exploring the world is a real pleasure: each of the four major areas has been meticulously crafted to be as believable and atmospheric as possible, with a massive amount of detail and a very wide difference between zones.
The war ravaged, swampy lands of Velen carry the signs of the superstitious nature of its inhabitants, leading you trough unsettling sceneries in a dark and grimy setting closely tied with spirits and dark magic, while the lands of Novigrad resemble more closely the clean and ordered farmlands near a major city.
Those vast areas are built to seem as real as possible, hence you will spend your time working in vast territories with quite simple maps, similar to what you might have seen in a Rockstar open world title; there are many points of interest, but they are never tied together like in a Piranha Bytes' game.
Where the map design really shines, I my opinion, is in Skellige: the archipelago home to proud Viking-like clans is not only a real beauty to behold, but optimizes the reduced space by adding a lot more of verticality to maps and adding way more complexity, making exploration much more interesting and rewarding.

The characters models are nearly perfect for what concerns both expressions and equipment, showing the most impressive care for details combined with an awesome motion capture system that clearly display their emotion and a top quality voice acting.
The soundtrack is also one of the most evocative you could find, greatly enhancing every single moment of the game; I would dare to say that without it The Witcher 3 wouldn't be nearly as great as it is in its whole.

Summarizing: The Witcher 3 has some very huge flaws in the technical department, yet it is undoubtedly the best open world game I have played since the times of Gothic 2. It's narrative is unmatched by any game other than Planescape: Torment (though it approaches the player in a less philosophic and more direct way), its looks and sounds are astonishing and the gameplay -provided you are playing at an high difficulty setting- is among the richest you could ever find.
In an AAA market that sees open world as a compulsory feature, giving birth to an oversaturation of many outright disastrous titles and wide but shallow and devoid of charisma action RPGs, CDProject has managed to craft a sumptuous game that will keep you interested for an hundred of hours without ever seeming repetitive; while it's definitely not without its problems, I'm glad to know that big budget games clearly appealing to masses can still be good, as The Witcher 3 is one among the very, very few games of its kind I can say I have really enjoyed in the last decade.
Post edited July 20, 2015 by Enebias
Damn, sorry for posting right in the middle of your two part review..would of looked better with consecutive posts!! Good review though.
Post edited July 20, 2015 by CMOT70
CMOT70: Damn, sorry for posting right in the middle of your two part review...kinda messes it up a bit! Good review though
No problem at all! Actually, I have to thank you.
Since my review was way too long even for two merged posts, the site was blocking me to submit the second part. Your comment helped me to get out of that situation! :)
Post edited July 20, 2015 by Enebias
Policenauts. Hideo Kojima's follow-up to Snatcher, about cops who are also astronauts (get it?!). One of them has an accident in space that puts him in suspended animation for 30 years, and when he comes out his ex-wife asks him to track down her missing husband. His search leads him to a fancy orbiting space colony and he hooks up with one of his old Policenaut buddies to solve the case. Basically, it's a sci-fi take on Lethal Weapon and other buddy cop movies.

I liked this game (visual novel, really) but it's bloated compared to Snatcher. Kojima wrote a TON of exposition for this thing, and in order to progress in certain parts you need to click on as much as you can and do a lot of reading. It's interesting to see how much detail was put into the world-building but there are times when you just want to get on with the plot instead of doing more reading or watching more cut-scenes. Most of the regular gameplay takes the form of either light-gun sections that can be played with controller also, and there are some puzzles, one of which requires knowing the manual - thankfully I found a graphic online that got me through this - and another is a somewhat oddly translated bomb defusing minigame for which I needed a walkthrough for the final portion.

Credit to the fan translators for this, though. There's so much text here that translating this game was obviously a Herculean effort, especially since the game is very reactive to the order in which you do things and will adjust responses accordingly, so you have multiple responses even to minor interactions.
Gears of War 2

Completed it back 2008 and again in 2010 (then sold it) on regular and hard modes respectively. Seeing a used copy on sale I decided to grab it to have a little fun and maybe complete insane mode. It was more frustrating than fun since I was not playing co-op.

Not surprisingly the game still looks really good. One of the better cover shooters out at the time (and still). Great fun was had when I could pull off an execution (which is not often on insane mode). Basically, insane mode is where Marcus is apparently made of wafers and Spackle.
Depth Hunter 2:Deep Dive

Don't remember where I got that one on Steam. It's a diving "game". I write "game" because it is not really challenging. I mean, okay, you have objectives (find and photography that place/these fishes, hunt x fishes/fishes of particular types), you have upgrades (oxygen reserve, camera, harpoon, etc...) which have a real gameplay impact, but still in general this game is really easy and I finished it with the just released "Kraken" DLC in a little more than 4 hours.

Reading that, you might infere it's a boring game.

Well, in fact, not at all. I mean, the underwater environments are really well done, and the base game have 5 different settings. The fishes are nicely done too and easily recognizable, even from afar. You even have some crabs, turtles, rays, jellyfishes, dolphins, etc...
So, while not difficult, this game is quite relaxing to play. The music is atmospheric,which fits nicely to the environments. You even have a "completion-oriented gamer" way of playing that game, since in every level there is a finite number of coins and treasures you can hunt at will, there even a "free roam" option available once you finished the first mission of a level.

Plus, the pics you take in-game can be turned into wallpapers for your computer. Even if it might not be 4K pics, still, it's a nice touch from the developers.

So, that game is for you if you're in a contemplative mood, if you like playing by short sessions, if not being challenged by a game is not a problem.

It was not a problem for me, so I must say I liked this game (even with the anti-climacic ending of the DLC... grrr...)

So far in 2015:
Ryse: Son of Rome

Do you love, love, LOOOOVE quick time events? Then boy, have I got a game for you! The game is nothing but going from a massive battle to the next for five hours. And the funny thing: even though there are literally tons of quick time events (i.e every execution): you don't even have to get them right, and the result will still be the same! How's that for some mind-boggling. How about instead just have us do our "own executions" by selecting which button to press in each stage of the execution, thus changing the outcome, yeah? That would be a hundred times more fun.

Anyway...there really isn't that much else to talk about the gameplay. All you do is fight, fight, fight in a somewhat similar manner than in the Batman Arkham games. The thing that really bugs me though, is that even though the combat is similar, they switched the buttons around - and you can't change them. For example, I'm used to the Y button (on a controller) being the counter button, but in this game, Y is bash and A is counter. You wouldn't believe how many times I got that wrong, even in the very end. Never could learn it. Thankfully the game is pretty easy, so it doesn't even matter that much.

I will say that the visuals are very stunning, but sadly you can't admire them too much, because the game follows a very strict, narrow corridor. The story is okay too, if very short, but I think I rather take a shorter story than having to endure any more of that tedious, repetitive combat against the exact same enemies over and over again. Honestly, I'm willing to bet around 90% of the budget went towards the graphics, and that they had to wing everything else. Add horrible menus and a forced, useless upgrade system without any innovation, and you have a sub-par game that is hardly anything remarkable or memorable.

edit: Oh, and just what the hell is a "Ryse"? I know that Crytek is obsessed with the word "cry", but this is getting ridiculous already. Stop making up stupid words, goddammit.
Post edited July 21, 2015 by DProject
Technobabylon a recently released cyberpunk adventure title coming from the combined efforts of Technocrat and Wadjet Eye, the same studio that helped in bringing back the genre to its old glory.

As for any title published by Wadjet Eye, the technical department is as simple as it could ever be: the game has been built on the “minimalistic” but effective Adventure Game Studio engine, and the controls consist only in the standard “right click to examine”/“left click to interact”/“browse inventory bar” scheme typical of all the recent (or better, not old) entries in the genre.
The puzzles are many, and they present WE's label mark of a balanced and fair level of challenge that forces the players to think without frustrating them with overly complex or downright convoluted puzzles, allowing both narrative and action to flow seamlessly.

Despite the apparently simplistic choices, the developers managed to make the game look awesome trough a pixel art curated in the smallest details; each screen always manages to transmit the mood of an ambiguous world which leaves the same same room to both dystopia and everyday “normality”.
Actually, this might be the best point in the whole game: the setting never feel alien, and it feels representative of a very likely possible future for our planet. The technological advancements make perfect sense as a development of our current scientific standards, and the believable logic behind them is always explained to the players during various conversation among the main characters, especially the less tech-savvy one.
In my opinion, this brings up a lot of food for thought, in particular when, after allowing you to familiarize with the setting, the game starts to press harder and presents you serious matters under a different spotlight than the one you might be used to view them under.

Technobabylon is set in the city-state of Newton, a multiethnic new independent settlement built as a scientific hub and safe haven for migrants after half the world has been ravaged by both nuclear war (in Asia) and dire civil unrest (in the now separated territories of the former US), controlled by Central, a powerful new-generation AI capable of self thought and able to interact with the entirety of the territory at once.
The “Trance”, the evolution of the current Internet where minds can be almost completely dissociated from their bodies and directly interact between themselves and the stream of data, takes a major role in both narrartive and gameplay, allowing the player to move on two interconnected layers, manipulating both physical and cybernetic space.
You take the role of three different protagonists: a cyberspace addicted living in the poorest district of the city-state of the city and a team of two “CEL agents”, scientific policemen, composed by a geeky younger woman expert in webs and neural relays and an old fashioned and quite conservative older man; as the story unfolds, their paths will inersect for very precise reason that I will not mention to avoid spoilers.
During the last section, you can actually solve puzzles by combining their efforts as you might have seen in Resonance, and it is a real pity that this apsect has not been further exploited.

This time, the developers took no restraints: while the plot does not delve too deeply in the combination of noir and cyberpunk genre standard canons, managing to always seem light-hearted without ever abandoning its seriousness, it does not shy away from gruesome violence and, sometimes, even disturbing episodes.
In relation to that, I liked the choices the game presented: while -aside from the very last moments- they do not materially influence the main events, they nevertheless allow you to confront your thoughts with their potential outcomes. Though way more simpler and smaller in scope, I would compare it to Deus Ex: the narrative is very linear, yet your perspective on it can make huge difference on how you perceive what is happening.

[i]I definitely recommend Technobabylon to everyone, as in my opinion it is not only among the best Wadjet Eye has to offer, but it has what it takes to become a real modern essential.
It is more than deserving of my official seal of approval![/i]
I love the visual style, storytelling and atmosphere of both Snatcher and Policenauts, I just never quite warmed up to the traditional Japanese style of adventure gameplay with its limited interaction on mostly static screens and overemphasis on dialogue and simple examination of the scene.
I wonder if there are any Japanese adventure games that successfully combine the style and flair of Snatcher & Policenauts with the more involved puzzle solving of Western adventures games?
Stuff that goes in the direction of the Tex Murphy series and Blade Runner, doesn't have to be a Japanese Day of the Tentacle with a focus crazy inventory puzzles, just more interactive than Snatcher & Policenauts.

Enebias: Technobabylon
During the last section, you can actually solve puzzles by combining their efforts as you might have seen in Resonance, and it is a real pity that this aspect has not been further exploited.
Great review, I see you're putting your vacation week to good use!

I agree that it would have been nice to have more cooperative puzzles like in Resonance, on the other hand it kinda fits the storyline of Technobabylon that they did not include this notably until the end of the game.

It underlines the tension between Charlie's old ways and Max's new ways, and Latha is a cyberspace hermit anyway who feels out of her comfort zone being in meatspace, having to interact with people in RL. They're all kind of on their own until the end and it enhances the dystopian atmosphere and feeling of isolation.
bad_fur_day1: Silent Hill 3 - HD Collection
Never beat the final boss, tried a dozen times. :(
Bought and finished Steins;Gate in just a few days. Amazing time travel story.
Post edited July 21, 2015 by omega64
bad_fur_day1: Silent Hill 3 - HD Collection
omega64: Never beat the final boss, tried a dozen times. :(
Hmm, I didn't think it was a overly hard boss fight compared to other videogames around the same time. Metal Gear Solid 2 for example was much harder to beat Solidus Snake.

The god will cause a fire semicircle that shoots out fire in your general direction, you just have to move out of it's way running from left to right at the back of the room and it won't hit you. He will stand up a lot of the fight, when he bends over you can run up and hit him in the face with three strikes of your katana and you can run back out of his reach before he will take a swing at you.

No big problem, maybe try it again sometime.
omega64: Never beat the final boss, tried a dozen times. :(
bad_fur_day1: Hmm, I didn't think it was a overly hard boss fight compared to other videogames around the same time. Metal Gear Solid 2 for example was much harder to beat Solidus Snake.

The god will cause a fire semicircle that shoots out fire in your general direction, you just have to move out of it's way running from left to right at the back of the room and it won't hit you. He will stand up a lot of the fight, when he bends over you can run up and hit him in the face with three strikes of your katana and you can run back out of his reach before he will take a swing at you.

No big problem, maybe try it again sometime.
I might, I just used up all my healing items and was terrible at the game. :p
Just finished <span class="podkreslenie"><span class="bold">Gothic 1</span></span> with Level 34 and 68 hours playtrough.

What an excellent game! A wonderful RPG. Totally worth it. ^_^