I think I might have a new favorite video game

So I was planning on spending some time today talking about PAX. If you are not aware, PAX is a more video game-centric convention that is on a scale more grand than anything in the board game world.

I went to PAX a week or so ago and had a great time. I sort of went on a whim with my wife after a fan invited me to go. The exhibit halls were overwhelming, but we eventually found our bearings and navigated ourselves to some games that suited our interests.

The most monumental moment, however, happened outside the main hall. My wife and I wanted to get away from the ridiculous crowd of people and decided to check out the console free play area. You have to go check out specific titles from the library and then are given some amount of time to play on a designated console. So we’re looking through the list of available games, and, way down at the bottom, I see Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

I haven’t bought a console in over 10 years, so I hadn’t experienced this new Zelda game at all. I’ve played through every previous major Zelda title, though, and I’d heard great things, so it seemed like a good opportunity to try it out. I only got to play for about half an hour – enough time to mess around and marvel at some of the more prevalent innovations of the game.

But after I played, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. This strong idea formed in my head: I needed to buy a Nintendo Switch and play this game more. A lot more.

It’s a recurring theme around here that I am a cheapskate. I don’t buy new things, which is why this idea in my head was so weird. I’m going to spend close to $400 just so I can play more of this single game? That doesn’t make much sense.

But, in the end, I did. Against all reason, I bought this thing. That’s how strong the pull was. And I don’t regret it in the slightest. Breath of the Wild is a truly sublime experience.

First, I feel we should talk about scale. When you start out the game, you are confined to an area that feels pretty large. Like, the size of a modest retro Zelda game – think the original or Link to the Past. There’s a huge mountain, a river, multiple forests and ruins, and plenty of secrets to keep you busy for hours. Then you complete some objectives, the barriers to the rest of the world open, you zoom out of the map and realize, “Holy crap, that area I was in that felt pretty big was only about 1/100 of the entire world now available to me.

That’s not an exaggeration. 100 times bigger. It’s like the size of the entire World of Warcraft base game. It’s like the size of Wind Waker, except instead of covered in nondescript sea, it is covered in a majestic landscape full of interesting geographical features, vibrant life, and more secrets and other interesting stuff than you could ever hope to find. The scope of the game blows my mind every time I think about it.

And it’s really all that stuff inside this massive world that makes the game so wonderful. It is not an empty landscape. There are so many things, it is more-or-less impossible to go from point A to point B without getting distracted by a surprising amount of fun stuff you see on the horizon. I think about a game like Skyrim, where traversing the landscape to get from one point of interest to another was almost a chore – something you had to do to get to the good parts of the game. In Breath of the Wild, no trip feels like a chore. Moving through the world is a joy every step of the way.

Part of the joy comes from the beautiful, varied environments of the game. Every corner of the world feels alive with detail and interesting features. And there is such a sense of freedom unlike any other game I’ve played. In most games, a huge mountain range represents a barrier – a limit of the world. In Breath of the Wild, you can go anywhere. That mountain is a challenge, and so you climb the damn thing.

Enhancing this are my favorite part of the game – the Koroks. These are little woodland creatures that can be found everywhere, if you take the time to look. Anything that looks out strange or out of place – a weird flower, a circle of stones, a pinwheel spinning in the breeze – there’s a strong chance a Korok is hiding somewhere nearby. There become so many different ways to interact with the world to get these stupid little leaf dudes to pop up and give you a treasure, it makes the world come alive even more.

I love exploring the unknown, and Breath of the Wild gives you a massive, massive world that is just begging for you to explore every nook and cranny, all the while you are learning new ways to use your powers and upgrading your equipment to expand your influence over the land. So much in the game is not explicitly explained to you, but you just have to discover through experimentation.

There were so many times when I encountered something that I didn’t think I could do. I thought I would have to unlock some new ability and come back (I’ve been trained to think this way by countless other Zelda games). But, inevitably, all I lacked was the knowledge, not some special item. I remember encountering these overgrown treasure chests half-buried in the ground that I couldn’t open. I thought, “Well, maybe I’ll need a shovel or something. I’ll come back.” And then I realized I could use my magnetic power to just rip the chests out of the ground. It was very satisfying.

I do have complaints, though. I think the cooking system is a little boring. There are so many different ingredients you can find while exploring the world, which makes traveling all the more exciting. But eventually you realize that, despite all the varied things, all cooking just boils down to the same handful of temporary bonuses you can give yourself. Nothing truly special can be accomplished through cooking, which drains a lot of the excitement of finding new things.

And I was a little disappointed in the game’s version of a proper “dungeon.” Dungeons have typically been the best part of any Zelda game, and Breath of the Wild has four main ones, but they are a little small and lackluster. I get what the game is going for. The excitement comes from the gigantic world, and the lead-up to these dungeons is truly interesting and satisfying, but still, when every other aspect of a typical Zelda game has been improved upon, actually going through these truncated dungeons can feel a little anti-climactic.

This game is absolutely marvelous, though. I still have a long, long way to go before I finish it, so I can’t say for sure whether it is my favorite game I have ever played. But the hours I have put into it so far have exceeded my highest expectations. I am just so impressed with what Nintendo pulled off with this game. It’s almost depressing. Like, nothing I ever create will ever be as great as this game I am experiencing right now. It is a pinnacle, and you should try it out if you get the chance.

Best everything of the year

time stories

Towards the end of the year, I typically dedicate a couple posts to talk about my favorite board games and video games of the year, but this time we’re going to do it all in one go, mainly because I already talked at length about my favorite games. So we’ll be running through that, and then we’ll move on to other things like TV shows and movies because, well, I want to.

So strap in and get ready for lots of opinions. (more…)

Can we talk about Darkest Dungeon?

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I’m a big sucker for old-school turn-based RPGs. Though, judging by my latest series of posts (and – let’s be honest – the vast majority of posts on this website), that fact was already readily apparent.

And it is with that fact in mind that I will just say right up front that Darkest Dungeon hits all the right notes. It fills me with a dark, hungering glee as I watch my party descend further into madness, wondering how far I can push them before their souls break.

But let’s back up. Darkest Dungeon is a video game currently in early access on Steam. It is indeed a turn-based RPG where you perform missions exploring randomly generated dungeons with a party of four adventurers selected from a larger stable of recruits. In the dungeons, you’ll not only have to keep an eye on your party’s health, but also their stress and the light level of your torch. As you complete missions, adventurers will level up and gain quirks (both good and bad) and you’ll gain items that can be used to improve your base camp, giving your adventurers better equipment, skills and stress relief. (more…)

Is it fun?

catan-fun

I like to play Flash games. There are a lot of great gems out there made by people with great ideas and a bit of programming knowledge. We live in an age where people have the power to create whatever they want. And, sure, there’s a lot of amateur garbage out there, but there’s another side to that spectrum that is pure awesome fun times.

And awesome fun times is really all anyone is after. We play games to have fun – to stimulate that pleasure center in our brains, because that’s what humans do (more…)

The best video games of the year

boi

Okay, I just want to say up-front that I’m not really qualified to declare a “best video game” of the year, but I did it last year, so, heck, let’s do it again.

The truth is that I have played exactly 2 video games that were released this year: The Legend of Grimrock 2 and The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. This list is stupidly small for 2 reasons: I am cheap and I don’t have any time. I also don’t own any current gen consoles, but I think that’s covered in the “cheap” category.

Wait, wait, I did play a little Smash Bros. for Wii U over Thanksgiving, but not enough to speak on it. It was fun. Now that Samus doesn’t revert to Zero Suit after a smash attack, she might actually be playable again.

But, anyway, that’s not what we’re here to talk about (more…)

Toki Tori 2 is the best video game of the year

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Haha, okay, so this comes with the caveat that I don’t really play that many video games. I used to play a lot more, but I try to do things more productive with my spare time when I can. Recently my video gaming has picked up a bit since I forced myself to slow down with the Forge War business. The goal of that was to spend more time working on my thesis, but a man’s gotta have some procrastination tools at hand, right?

Also I watch a lot of television and the hiatus over the holidays has also given me some free extra time. All of this is to say that I’ve recently been trying to get through my Steam backlog of games purchased in previous Steam holiday sales, and this effort has coincided with the current Steam holiday sale, and so I’ve played a fair number of games in the past few weeks – not all of them from this year, of course – and Toki Tori 2 is the best of the lot (more…)