Game of the Month: Destiny

A couple of month ago I noticed that a lot my PlayStation network contacts were playing the beta of a game called Destiny. The last game whose demo sparked that much interest was Mass Effect 3. So naturally I was curious and looked the game up online: a combination of a science fiction themed MMORPG and a first person shooter. Based on that and favourable reviews of the beta I decided to pre-order the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

Destiny is indeed a first person shooter and a well made one at that. Fast and nice looking graphics, big maps, lots of different enemies and an arsenal of well balanced weapons to fight them. Besides story missions that can be played alone or cooperatively Destiny also features various player vs. player modes which are in design similar to video games like Unreal Tournament. Destiny also contains some role playing elements: the player can choose between three different classes for the character which match the scheme found in many role playing games: Titan (Soldier), Hunter (Rogue) and Warlock (Mage). Each of the classes features three grenade powers, a powerful melee attack, a special jump and a Super. This super power is what distinguishes the classes from each other. Hunters e.g. get a Golden Gun which fires three powerful shots while Warlocks can trigger a powerful explosion by casting Nova Bomb. If a character reaches level 15 its second subclass is unlocked. This subclass provides a different set of powers which mostly notably includes a different Super. The player can switch between the two subclasses anytime but needs to level them up separately.

Destiny provides a very satisfying first person shooter experience. The well tuned combat system, the elaborate map design and the smoothly working multiplayer mode all contribute to that. It is particular fun when you take on one of the challenging Strike missions with your friends. As the game doesn’t feature any get out of jail free cards (like e.g. Mass Effect 3 multiplayer’s Medigels or Cobra Missiles) team work and coordination are very important. You have to decide quickly whether you want to risk exposing yourself by reviving your team mate or whether you wait 30 seconds for them to re-spawn. The role playing part however is disappointing. There isn’t much story, only hints, very little dialog and no way for the player to influence the plot. And while the concept of the Super is interesting its excessive cool down times prevents the player from using it frequently. I end up using it even less often than I could because I want to keep it charged in case a really challenging fight is around the next corner. There are also very little customisation options for your equipment. Most armours look very much alike and you need an extra item to apply one of the predefined colour schemes. Acquiring good equipment is even more important than in other games because it is the only way to level up past level 20. But as so often in video games you either need a lot of luck or spend hours and hours of grinding to get the desired equipment.

I definitely enjoy playing Destiny despite the underdeveloped RPG aspect. It reminds of Borderlands 2 in a good way. And to be fair Bungie, the company who created Destiny, called the game a shared world shooter which is a reasonable description. They never promised to deliver the MMORPG that players were hoping for. Based on that I’m however wondering whether the game will really have a life time of 10 years as Bungie promise. It will all depend on future expansions to this game world.

Game of the Month: The Last Of Us

I had it all planned out: when BioWare releases Dragon Age: Inquisition in October I would buy a PlayStation 4 (PS4), Sony’s new video game console, and enjoy playing this game on the new hardware in brilliant graphics. But my good old PlayStation 3 needed a proper farewell of course. I decided that Naughty Dog’s highly acclaimed The Last Of Us would be the perfect game for the occasion. It was supposed to be the last title I play on my good old console, beside the occasional match of Mass Effect 3 multiplayer of course. But no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.

The first change of plan was due to a very pleasant surprise: my beloved wife gave me a PS4 as a birthday present back in April. But the next surprise wasn’t all that pleasant: BioWare postponed the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition until November. Fortunately Sony came to the rescue by releasing a remastered version of The Last Of Us for the PS4 . I therefore revised my plan and chose this game for the induction of my shiny new console.

On a quick glance The Last Of Us is a third person shooter. In a post pandemic world the player has to fight zombies and find supplies to survive. What sets this game apart is the story telling. It begins with an interactive prologue during which the player witnesses the beginning of the zombie apocalypse and the downfall of civilisation. It also introduces Joel, the main protagonist, and shows him during some of his defining moments. The main story begins 20 years later when Joel meets Ellie. By random chance Joel ends up in the role of Ellie’s protector and agrees unwillingly to bring her to a remote research station because she might be the key to the survival of the human race. But during the long and dangerous journey Joel and Ellie discover that there are worse things than zombies.

I’m a huge fan of video games which combine good gameplay with a strong narrative. And The Last Of Us delivers on both accounts. Because ammunition is scarce and the zombies outnumber Joel and Ellie you have to plan your fights very carefully. Stealth and good tactics always beat blazing guns. Often the best of course of action is to avoid open combat all together. In between the action sequences frequent cut scenes tell the multifaceted story. The player encounters a lot of characters which are all well written, realistically acted (via motion capturing) and excellently voiced. The game manages to stay clear of the stereotypes frequently used in video games and instead portrays all protagonist as real human beings with flaws and virtues. Playing The Last Of Us feels like being part of an interactive story. You are alway eager to find out what happens next. Good visual and sound effects complete a truly marvellous video game experience.

I greatly enjoyed playing The Last Of Us. While it definitely doesn’t push the PS4 to its limits (the PS3 heritage is still recognisable) it provides an exciting adventure. I grew fond of the characters during the course of the game and was a bit sad when it ended. I’m not sure whether I want a sequel. Probably not because The Last Of Us is just perfect the way it is and a sequel could ruin it.

FIFA World Cup 2014

Every four years football rules the world when the FIFA World Cup takes place. There are a lot of people who hate it when that happens. But there are probably even more people who love it. And I am one of them.

Despite living in Great Britain for almost 10 years I still cheer for the German team, probably because I’ve always done so. Although the Germans didn’t play bad at all during the last three world cups I still didn’t believe they would win it this time. There always seems to be a team which is slightly better, a little more clever and maybe also more eager for the title. For the 2014 tournament I was sure that the host, Brazil, wouldn’t let anybody stop them on their way to the sixth title. Well, anybody except possibly the Spanish team which had dominated international football in the last six years. But just like the rest of the football world I was in for a big surprise.

It begun during the group stage: after a shocking 1:5 defeat against the Netherlands Spain also lost 0:2 to Chile and became one of the first teams to be eliminated from the world cup. Overall a lot of the so called small teams were doing really well: Chile, Columbia and Costa Rica all reached the knockout stage without problems, while two more former world cup champions, England and Italy, were eliminated. It seems that the concept of big teams and small teams is no longer meaningful, which makes the whole spectacle even more enjoyable.

Germany had a tough group with Ghana, Portugal and the USA. Except for a hard-fought draw against Ghana everything went as hoped for and the team reached the knockout stage. In the round of the last sixteen the German team met Algeria, the best African team at this world cup. The German team struggled against the well defending Algerians for a long time before they finally managed to win the match in extra time with 2:1. But their performance had been far from convincing. However for the next match the German trainer Joachim Löw changed the tactics and to my big surprise the team managed to defeat the French team, who had played an excellent world cup until that point, with 1:0. But in the semi final the Germans had a mountain to climb: they were up against Brazil.

The upcoming match triggered painful memories of the 2002 world cup. After an abysmal performance at the UEFA Euro 2000 the German team reached the final of the world cup with luck and fighting spirit. But they found their match in the Brazilian team with their outstanding striker Ronaldo who ended the German aspiration for a fourth championship with his two goals. I wasn’t sure that this year’s semi final would go any better, in particular because the Brazilian team just had to win the tournament on home soil. Their football crazy nation wouldn’t accept anything less.

But 29 minutes into the match everything had changed. Brazil were down with five goals and heading for the worst defeat in the history of their outstanding football team. The game ended 7:1 for Germany, breaking several records. Brazil had definitely been at a disadvantage after losing their best player Neymar (injury) and their captain Thiago Silva (second yellow card) in the previous game. But their performance was still inexcusably poor. The Germans on the other hand played quick, precise, elegant and efficient. They made their seven goals look easy. By the end of the second half the Brazilian crowd were cheering for the German team. It was unbelievable. I’ve been watching FIFA world cups since 1978 and have never seen anything like this before.

After their stunning victory in the semi final the German team was of course the favourite for winning the title. But in the last match they faced the Argentinian team, the second football super power in South America. The two teams had met in two previous world cup finals with each of them emerging victorious once. It was a tough and exciting match with major goal-scoring opportunities for both sides. But after 113 minutes it was Germany’s Mario Götze who scored the decisive goal. The rest is legend: Germany won their fourth world cup title.

Let me finish with a quote by my beloved wife: I think that went rather well. 🙂

Taking comfort in the Unfairness of the Universe