Amorphous Experiences

Exploration is at the heart of every great adventure.

Whether you’re exploring the irradiated ruins of post-apocalyptic societies, the vast expanse of space, or the vibrancy of ancient Greece there’s always something new to see or do. I seem to be drawn to these experiences nowadays. I don’t really know why, though. Whether it was a conscious decision wrought from previous experience, such as the hours spent scavenging the desolate landscape of the Capital Wasteland, or whether it was the various MMORPGs that encouraged me, is hard to say. But it’s been an interesting transition from the countless JRPGs of my formative years.

Not that I’ve abandoned JRPGs entirely.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom were both excellent JRPGs. I’ve just decided to invest hundreds of hours into the most recent releases of the Assassin’s Creed series, too. Mostly because of those pesky question marks. Oh, how they haunt me.

Prior to Assassin’s Creed: Origins I’d never experienced anything from the Assassin’s Creed series. While that entry (and those that follow it) are considered the black sheep of the Assassin’s Creed family, I found myself wholly absorbed by the sheer breadth of content available. It’s an incredibly competent RPG with an enthralling main campaign story. I feel the same way about Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, too. Not that I’m anywhere near finishing its main campaign. It’s like a towering chocolate gateaux, where each layer of sponge is a new task to complete and each chocolate curl playfully dusted atop its peaks is a new mechanic. While it may be incredibly alluring- and undoubtedly satisfying- it is best consumed in smaller portions. It would be unwise to attempt to eat a chocolate gateaux of such magnitude in one sitting.

Some doors are better left closed.

Not that I’m complaining. I couldn’t be happier with these purchases, not only have they exceeded every prior expectation but they exhibit complexity often woefully absent from modern RPGs. Divinity: Original Sin has similar immensity, as does its sequel, Divinity: Original Sin 2, both featuring noteworthy character development mechanics. I’d always considered statistical development to be the staple of any RPG but I’ve found many RPGs to be sorely lacking. Offering no attributes (or abilities) to invest in, or affording insignificant progression for doing so.

Which is why the release of Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning has inspired me.

The original release, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, is an outstanding RPG, and one that I’d like to revisit. Naturally, the remaster would (arguably) be the best way to do this. But I’ve still got a handful of achievements to unlock in the original release, and I’d like to attempt to unlock those first.

As a result, I’ll (eventually) have two character builds. I’m considering a Finesse/Sorcery hybrid build for the original release, while I’ll probably settle on a Might build for the remaster. I’ve not actually done one of those before. I’ve built a Might/Sorcery hybrid before but never solely Might. I’ll be focusing on various quests in the original release, as many of the achievements I’ve yet to unlock are related to certain quest lines. While I’m greatly interested in the post-release DLC, Fatesworn, in the remaster, as that promises new content. I’ve been intending to revisit Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning for some time, but much like Dark Souls or Fallout 3, which I’d also like to revisit, I’ve not set aside the time to do it. I’m always busy with something else. But I’m going to try to make time for these (and my creative pursuits) in the future.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

The Last of the Medjay

He who swore to protect all of Egypt.

Devastated by overwhelming grief and unrelenting in his vengeance, our remorseful protagonist, Bayek, tenaciously hunts those responsible for the death of his son. Once the proud Medjay of Siwa, now the unyielding protector of the oppressed throughout Egypt, he remains noble in his intentions despite bloodying the sands. Assassin’s Creed: Origins is an extraordinarily satisfying narrative-driven RPG, which is experienced through the breathtaking scenery of ancient Egypt in an ever-evolving open world. You’ll find outposts to infiltrate, caves to explore, tombs to raid, and dozens of snakes in jars.

Snakes in jars that wait endlessly with no nourishment.

Snakes in jars that require someone to actually smash the jar before they can be released. Yet, somehow, innocent bystanders manage to be bitten (and killed) by these snakes. There are many mysteries- the Papyrus Puzzles and Myths of the Pharaohs- but this is the greatest mystery of all.

Mysteries of the snakes aside, Assassin’s Creed: Origins has been a truly magnificent experience. I never grew of tired of exploring Egypt and I spent over a hundred hours doing so. Even when exploring the Sinai and Thebes during The Hidden Ones and The Curse of the Pharaohs, respectively. With the latter being a perfectly executed supernatural excursion, allowing you to venture into the afterlife and face the newly-risen Pharaohs. They were challenging boss encounters, too. I could have easily been defeated were I to make a mistake while fighting them, despite being Lvl 55 and having fully upgraded legendary equipment. That’s not something I’ve said about many RPGs. Especially when fully upgrading Bayek takes considerable effort, as Carbon Crystals and Shards of the Star are not exactly easy to acquire.

The Pharaohs have been roused from their eternal rest.

The Hidden Ones also reintroduces numerous characters from the main campaign which creates excellent continuity. Rather than being an entirely unrelated expedition, travelling to the Sinai builds on the character traits exhibited by Bayek prior to this point. Weaving more tales into his rich tapestry of human experiences. I had wondered if certain characters wouldn’t make an appearance if you hadn’t met them prior to starting to the DLC, but I doubt that they would (or could) as each character holds a certain significance in the story to follow. Which wouldn’t be as engrossing were they to be replaced.

Regardless, they’re both among the best DLC that I’ve ever played.

I’ve written before of the absurd attention to detail present in the world and the interactions with other characters are no exception. Seeing how certain characters develop throughout the story is as fascinating as exploring any tomb, and seeing how Bayek responds to that is just as fascinating.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Assassin’s Creed: Origins but I couldn’t have imagined that it would be as astounding as this. You could tell that the developers were passionate about their creation, and that they were intending to create a truly one-of-a-kind experience. Perhaps not just with Assassin’s Creed: Origins but with the entire Assassin’s Creed series. While I enjoyed much of the experience The Curse of the Pharaohs was definitely my favourite DLC, and it makes me more hopeful for the prominently featured mythological beasts of Assasin’s Creed: Odyssey. But I’m also excited to be exploring the colourful locales of ancient Greece. If you enjoy deeply engaging RPGs with meaningful character development then I can’t recommend Assassin’s Creed: Origins highly enough. It really is something special.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Having Too Much To Do

It’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Artificially extending the existing content of video games to lengthen the overall experience is nothing new, and seems to be increasingly prevalent in some modern releases. But it doesn’t really add anything to the player experience. It’s not satisfying having to sit through repeated content over and over again, nor does it feel particularly engaging to continually grind to no discernible end. Having numerous mechanics to understand can be enjoyable, though. It just depends on how these are presented to players, and how natural it feels to interact with them on a regular basis.

It should never feel particularly forced.

Which it usually does. Whether it’s a tedious repeatable (or daily) quest that offers a paltry reward, or a dungeon that presents no inherent challenge but is integral to your eventual success. There are so many awful ways to do it. But there are some video games that have done it really well.

I’ve recently been playing Assassin’s Creed Origins and I’ve been continually surprised by how wonderful the overall experience is. Hundreds of question marks litter the world map signifying new cities to discover, tombs to explore, war elephants to challenge, and much more. You could also partake in gladiatorial combat in two different arenas, or race for glory in the Hippodrome. Not to mention there’s a compelling main campaign to follow. Something I need to remind myself of when I’m working through the absurd amount of content that there is. Yet I’ve not once abandoned an optional objective because I’ve grown tired of it. It’s slightly ludicrous how enthralling I find exploring the vast sands of Egypt to be. I also can’t wait to sail to Thebes and experience the majesty of the otherworldly The Curse of the Pharaohs DLC.

Found a bowling alley. Never leaving.

Yakuza 0 is another outstanding example of this. There were so many things you could do as either protagonist besides the two substantial minor campaigns, all of which would contribute in some meaningful way to their character development. There were also far too many mini-games to learn. I didn’t even attempt the majority of the optional challenges, as I likely would’ve spent hundreds of hours doing so. I know that I spent far longer in the bowling alleys than I should have done. I even acquired a chicken that helped me conquer the Kamurocho Real Estate Royale.

They certainly didn’t cluck up their job.

There are many other excellent examples of this. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, Disco Elysium, and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order to name but a few. It’s so refreshing to have single player experiences which aren’t mindlessly lacklustre, featuring compelling main campaigns and optional objectives.

Most of the aforementioned video games have interesting and ever-expanding open worlds to explore, too. Which seems to be something that I’m drawn to nowadays. I’m not sure if that’s a conscious decision as I’ve had many good experiences with them recently, or whether it’s a mere coincidence and doesn’t influence me in any way before purchase. But whichever it is I don’t mind. I’m just glad that single player experiences haven’t entirely disappeared in modern releases. Not that I’m entirely opposed to co-operative experiences, as I’ve got quite a history with MMORPGs which are inherently co-operative. But single player experiences shouldn’t need to suffer (or disappear) because of those. Both can exist independently of one and other, and each provides their own benefits and drawbacks to their respective genres.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

The Roof Less Travelled

Egyptian shingles were certainly built to last.

Either that or someone is being paid to follow Bayek around and repair every shingle left devastated in his relentless pursuit of justice. Not that I’d be surprised if someone was following him around, but I doubt it’s for a reason as innocent as shingle repair. They probably want to murder him. Most people do. For some unexplained reason that surely has nothing to do with all of the people he’s killed, the treasures he’s looted, or the local wildlife he’s hunted. Not that I really concern myself with their murderous intent. There’s a reason that I’ve invested so heavily in the Warrior tree.

Mostly because I’m not very good at sneaking around.

I’m not even sure why I instinctively retreat to the roof when cornered. I’m not particularly proficient at (nor have I specialised in) using a bow, and I have no techniques with them. I just seem to fare better from the safety of the roof when they’ve called for reinforcements and I’m surrounded.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins is the first of the Assassin’s Creed series that I’ve played. It took months of deliberation before I decided to purchase it, but I’m glad that I did. I now fully understand why this series is regarded so highly. If this is a notable departure from the mechanics usually present in the series, then that which came before it must have been truly special. There’s a certain attention to detail present throughout the entire experience. You’re met with an ever-expanding, vibrant, colourful world which is populated with meaningful NPCs. NPCs that don’t mysteriously disappear when their quest has been completed. Exploration is as fluid and as unrestrained as you would expect (and want) it to be. Combat is surprisingly exhilarating and ridiculously satisfying. Even hunting wildlife is strangely appealing.

I’d rather be on a roof than dealing with this.

The character development mechanics are also wonderfully extensive. Skill points can be invested in three distinct skill trees, each allowing you to specialise in certain weapons or techniques. Each weapon class has its own fighting style and performs differently in combat. Armour can be upgraded to increase your health, increase damage dealt, or increase the number of arrows (and tools) that you can carry. Tools can be unlocked via the Seer tree, and these can alter how you approach situations. You’ve really got unprecedented freedom to complete objectives as you see fit.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve opted for close quarters combat.

It’s certainly useful when infiltrating enemy strongholds and when fighting most enemies, but crocodiles enjoy slapping me. So whenever I’m hunting wildlife I’ll use my bow even if I don’t need to. As some animals can only be hunted with a bow, because they’ll run away if they happen to see you.

I’m surprised at how enthralling I find Assassin’s Creed: Origins to be. Not that I expected any less of it, but vast open worlds often feel lacklustre as there’s so much to see but so little to do. The regions in Assassin’s Creed: Origins are the opposite. They’re not ridiculously huge but there are so many locations to visit, puzzles to solve, treasures to acquire, and secrets to uncover. It’s slightly ridiculous how enjoyable the exploration is. I doubt I’ll be playing through the entire Assassin’s Creed series, but I’ll definitely be playing Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey as that looks absolutely breathtaking. Visually and mechanically. I’m just wondering whether I’d have been more receptive to the first entries in the series were I more interested in stealth, and whether I’ve been missing out on really amazing experiences because of it.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie