Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Ubisoft (2013), PS4. A single-player, third-person, action-adventure game set in the 18th-century Caribbean.

Welcome back to the super special TLYW Year of Console Gaming, in which we attempt to play 14 games in 14 months. Today is 1 May, it’s Month 5 and I am terrifically excited to announce this month’s title.

As you know, we’re on an historical trajectory throughout this year. January and February were pre-history. March was Ancient Greece. April was the Middle Ages, specifically 1272. This month, we are going to leap forward about 450 years to the year 1715, so we will see if civilisation has advanced any, after we spent most of April travelling around primitive, rural villages.

Yes, it is the 18th century, an age of swashbuckling piracy. Our hero for the month is Edward Kenway, a Welshman who leaves his home for a year to do a spot of piracy because he needs to start making some proper money. His ship meets with disaster and he soon finds himself washed up on a sun-drenched island in the Caribbean, where many pirate adventures await him, taking him to cities such as Havana and Kingston as well as out on the open seas.

Readers who by now are coming to know my taste through the Year of Console Gaming will immediately recognise why this game, not particularly new and the sixth in Ubisoft’s perhaps over-exploited Creed production line, made it into my list of must-play games for 2017. I hardly need to explain, do I. In theory, it has everything I want. Glorious sunshine. Beaches. Glittering blue sea. Palm trees. Tropical plants and birds. Ships. And not just pootling about on a raft, like I was doing in Ark: Survival Evolved, but actual galleons that have epic sea battles with other ships. That’s what I want. That right there. That is my idea of sexy.

Oh please oh please oh please let it be a good game. It is like looking at holiday brochures.

It promises large, open-world gameplay and is the first AC title to make naval exploration and battle just as important as land-based activities. I cannot wait to get started. I dipped my toe in the blue Caribbean water when I was having my Xmas holiday and the PlayStation was brand new and I really liked what little I saw of it so I am really thrilled now that I get to play this exclusively for a month. Wish me luck. I need to hit the beach running so that I can get out there on the sea for some proper adventures in the short time we have available.

Here’s the trailer so you can see what I am in for.

Year of the Console, April Review. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Welcome back to the official Year of Console Gaming that we are having here on TLYW. I can hardly believe it is the end of April already, which means it is time to stop playing this month’s game and give it a review. As you know, we are following an historical trajectory through 14 months of gaming. April represents the Middle Ages: I spent the whole month playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which is set in the 13th century; a time of peasants and rural villages and suchlike.

White OrchardWitcher 3 is a lot like Skyrim, as I expected. One critic remarked that W3 is to Skyrim as Game of Thrones is to Lord of the Rings, and after a month of gameplay, I think that’s fair. Skyrim is more serious and I would say more atmospheric also the artwork seems a bit more imaginative. That said, I seem to remember that Skyrim makes you spend a lot of time fighting in dark, labyrinthine caves and I really prefer to be outdoors as much of the time as possible. W3 provides for a lot of outdoor PVE. You can ride your horse around the open countryside until you come to a cemetery or disused sawmill and if there are wolves or ghouls or drowners around that want to feast on your flesh, they come out into the open and you can fight them under the blue sky and the sun. I say that, in fact the weather in W3 is usually terrible. You can be riding through some meadows, following a stream and admiring the mountains in the distance and then just as you remember that you should take screenshots, the weather turns. It starts pouring with rain and there are miserable, howling winds. As a result, while there is lots of open countryside in W3, which I like, it is a bit too close to the real thing, in my view, what with the terrible weather and resulting puddles and mud. I felt like I spent a lot of time in muddy fields, ruining my hand-crafted boots.

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What you think it is going to be like.

Velen

What it is actually like. Geralt stands outside in a howling storm. Oh look, it is raining again.

There’s a distinct main quest chain and for much of the first four levels you are going to be directed around and locked into the story, which results in what feels like a lot of time watching cut scenes and taking messages from one NPC to another. This is particularly noticeable as the first four or five levels seem designed to be slow paced in the sense that you don’t get much XP for anything that you do. You are going to spend the first few levels firmly in the starting zone and the game really makes sure that you explore it thoroughly, unlock all the hidden treasures, start crafting and learn how to engage in combat semi-competently before releasing you into the wild to take your chances in the larger world. This was initially frustrating but then by the time I moved out of White Orchard I was happy that for once I knew how to fight and how to get new gear.

These RPGs often suffer in the area of NPC dialogue, facial animation and acting. It’s hard to get it right. I found the Skyrim NPCs stilted and puppet-like, with wooden conversation. W3 is a bit better in this respect, but only a bit. Geralt’s adopted daughter is annoying, which doesn’t make you feel like going on a life-threatening, epic quest to get her back when she disappears. His wife, Yennefer, is horrible. She’s very attractive but she keeps saying sarcastic things that she thinks make her seem funny and clever when in fact she’s just being a bitch. Again, do we care if she and Geralt are permanently separated? Finally, there is Geralt himself. He is not badly acted, if you overlook his unlikely American accent, but he keeps having to make all these moral choices in the game and the implication is basically that he is a good guy. Except the game is also programmed in such a way that if you want crafting materials and saleable junk, which you do, then you loot them from crates and barrels and cabinets. Including inside people’s houses and no-one will raise an eyebrow or say a thing about it.

Eventually, Geralt will start crafting in a serious way, because he has realised he will need level 6 gear (ooh), and this will drive him into every house he passes so he can burgle it, in full view of the owners. His morals quickly evaporate and he robs the poor, the sick, the elderly. He robbed one family who were all lying on the floor of their house, apparently starving to death. Inexplicably, they had a silver platter and some emerald dust in the kitchen dresser (why didn’t they sell these items for food?!) and Geralt walked into their house, took their valuables and walked out again, stepping over the dying bodies of their children on his way to the door. Really nice. And that’s our hero.

Maybe that’s why I ultimately don’t care too much what happens to Geralt. He isn’t a very nice man, his personality doesn’t have much depth and his family members are unpleasant. That said, he is great at riding his horse and finding his way around and he knows how to have fun with fighting. The sword strokes and small repertoire of magic spells aren’t too hard to pick up and he certainly looks quite flashy and sexy as he jumps around, beheading things and showing off his special moves.

White Orchard

Geralt heroically slaughters a low-level bandit.

I managed to become a reasonably good fighter at level 4 and I could see how if I keep playing it, combat is probably really fun and satisfying as one’s skill increases at later levels.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, CD Projekt (2015), PS4. A single-player, open-world action-adventure game set in 1272.

Plot and setting: Monster-hunter Geralt rides on horseback around the countryside and various mediaeval villages, slaying ghouls and mythical beasts while searching for his missing wife and daughter.

General remarks: Fairly engaging. A large open world with lots of space to explore and move around. A generous amount of quests and a good balance between the main quest chain and various side quests.

Thumbs up: Runs smoothly, seems to be bug-free so far. Combat and crafting are both pretty easy to learn – systems have some variety without being needlessly complex. There’s a really nice thing you can do when riding your horse, if you hold down the X button on the PlayStation, the horse will canter and automatically stay on the path, if there is one. Really helpful. Lets you enjoy the scenery and concentrate less on driving.

Thumbs down:  Because I don’t like Geralt and his family very much, and because Geralt isn’t a character I would have built for myself, it’s hard to know what my long term goals are within this game. Build good armour and weapons, obviously. The main quest line takes off quite quickly once you get out of the starting zone and the Wild Hunt faction looks like an enemy worth fighting.

Return to?  Yes, possibly. It’s a strangely amoral and emotionally detached experience but combat is quite enjoyable and there are abundant quests.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of Year of the Console as we move on to a new game and a new era of history, starting on 1 May.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Welcome to Month 4 of the Year of the Console Game. It is 1 April and I am incredibly excited to announce the game that we will be playing throughout this month, as we move from Antiquity into the Middle Ages, on an historical trajectory that will continue for the next year. The game for April is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

I have already made it out of the starting zone and collected some screenshots, check it out. As you can see, it is going to be very outdoorsy, just the way I like it. Sun shining down. Snow on mountains. Rivers. Attractive sunsets.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Game of the Year Edition_20170328001645

Witcher 3 is an action RPG that is played from a third person perspective in an open world. According to Wikipedia, that world is 30 times larger than in the previous two games in the Witcher series and the practical upshot of that is that I am going to be spending a lot of time exploring, on horseback and occasionally on boats, which sounds perfect for me. It is set in 1272, so we have moved on from the craziness of Ancient Greece and have joined a society that is much more similar to the present day than anything we’ve played so far.

With its knights, rustic inns and many dangerous & fictional predators such as gryphons, The Witcher 3 is bound to feel like familar territory to any RPG gamer. There are obvious parallels with Skyrim, which I played on the PC and loved. One review of W3 said that Witcher 3 is to Skyrim as Game of Thrones is to Lord of the Rings. To me, this says that Skyrim is the more intelligent and complex game, with better, more serious storytelling, while Witcher 3 is going to be about glamour and spectacle, but we shall wait and see if this comes true. I’m not against a bit of glamour and spectacle. I enjoyed Skyrim‘s subdued, almost monochrome, palette and austere, Nordic landscapes but I have the feeling that W3 is going to be more showy and if there are beaches and glittering blue seas, I will not complain.

There is a story, not one that you need to care about if you haven’t played the previous two games. Our hero is that blond guy you see in the pictures. His name is Geralt and he is searching for two missing people: his girlfriend and also his adopted daughter; an annoying child who looks disturbingly like a miniature adult. He’s going to travel around this giant landscape doing quests for people who might be able to give him some information. He will end up fighting various beasts and ghouls but will be aided in this endeavour by being a Witcher – a specially-bred monster-hunter who can do a bit of magic as well as swing a sword and use a crossbow.

Combat seems like it’s going to be fairly straightforward. Apparently, dodge, parry and counter-attack are essential skills for melee combat so I shall make sure to get some practise in early before I level up. Other than that it’s just a case of whacking things with the correct choice of sword or using one of only about half a dozen magic spells. I think the combinations of buttons are going to be simpler than God of War III and there should be less extreme button-mashing.

The Witcher 3 was developed and published by CD Projekt. It was released for the PS4 (and Windows and Xbox One) in 2015. It immediately won numerous Game of the Year awards. I think we are in for a fun month. I hope so. I will let you know how I get on.

Trailer:

Year of the Console: March Review. God of War 3 Remastered.

God of War 3 Remastered. Sony Santa Monica Studio (2010, remastered 2015), PS4. A single-player, third-person, action-adventure game set in Ancient Greece.

Welcome back to the TLYW Year of Console Gaming, in which we attempt to play 14 retro and contemporary games in 14 months, on the PS4 and Xbox 360, in order of the historical period in which they are set.

March was Month 3, in which we left behind two months of pre-history and moved forward into Ancient Greece, to follow the adventures of an angry man called Kratos who is trying to take revenge on his father by leaping up a big mountain and hitting things with flaming swords. Here’s where I’ve abandoned Kratos, probably for ever. Standing on a platform. You are supposed to grapple across to another platform but I kept falling off and dying until I couldn’t take it any more.

God of War® III Remastered_20170327221550

That largely summed up my experience, actually. This game was a tough one, the gameplay was well outside of my usual style and repertoire. There was a fair amount of puzzle-solving and there seemed to be a heavy requirement to remember combinations of Playstation buttons in order to execute dramatic combo moves. The combat is almost all melee. Being able to mash buttons on the handset very hard and fast is an essential skill and so there were significant periods of time where I was hammering buttons frantically while grimacing, clutching the handset awkwardly and making it all sweaty. Then I would inevitably die and have to do the fight again. It was not very dignified.

Everyone says the graphics are nice and they are not lying, it is fairly impressive scenery. This is a platform game so you have to move through the landscape on a set trajectory, which was unfamiliar to me as a player of open-world games; I kept wanting to change direction and finding that there weren’t many places to move.

Here are some screenshots of the scenery and general action.

I relied heavily on walkthroughs to help me figure out what I was supposed to be doing, and even then it took me ages to catch on to things like destroying vases and jars to gain experience points.

Thumbs up: The outdoor scenery and some of the buildings are quite nice. The action was quite exciting.

Thumbs down: It was just too linear and platformy for me and there was too much extreme button-mashing. I prefer a slightly more thoughtful, slower-paced sandbox game with a wider choice of in-game activities. Also, Kratos’s world is very dark and gloomy when it’s not on fire and I missed the glorious sunshine and unspoiled nature of Far Cry: Primal and Ark: Survival Evolved which we played in January and February.

Return to? Probably not, I’m afraid. The rewards weren’t sufficient to keep luring me back in for consistent play throughout the month. I think I completed about 20% of the content before giving up. However, it was certainly a learning experience and expanded my console gaming skills. I would never have played it if I hadn’t embarked on this Year of Console Gaming project and needed something set in Antiquity. So I’m quite pleased that it delivered this new experience even though it wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had.

It’s almost April, Month 4. I’ll announce the new title for the month on Saturday. I’m very excited to begin and to share the news so stay tuned.

God of War III Remastered

Welcome back to the Year of the Console Game. It is 1 March and I am super excited to announce the game that we will be playing throughout this month, as we move from pre-history into Antiquity, on an historical trajectory that will continue for the next year. The game for March is God of War III.

god-of-warGod of War® III Remastered_20150311214233

The setting is Ancient Greece and your character is that muscly guy who you see there, whose name is Kratos. Kratos is the son of Zeus, king of the Olympian gods. In the earlier parts of this trilogy of games, Zeus has somehow betrayed Kratos, and now Kratos is out for revenge. This is going to involve leaping around wildly and hitting a lot of things with a big sword.

The God of War series is by Sony’s Santa Monica Studio and first appeared in 2005 for the PS2. It is critically acclaimed, was a flagship brand for PlayStation and is agreed by many players to be one of the greatest games of all time, so lucky me that I get to play it. God of War III Remastered was released in 2015 for the PS4, which is the version I am going to play.

This is really going to push the boundaries with my console gaming skills, which is what I wanted. Ark: Survival Evolved offered opportunities for puttering around quietly in a boat. Far Cry: Primal permitted me to spend most of my time in the bushes, firing arrows at things from a distance. God of War III is going to be something else altogether. This is old-school console gaming. I can expect:

  • constant hack-and-slash action that requires quick reflexes and the ability to remember combinations of buttons;
  • elements of platform gaming, which I haven’t seriously engaged with since the 1990s;
  • puzzle-solving, see above.

The need for fast reflexes and remembering complex combinations of buttons worries me a bit because I am old but I wanted a challenge so now I’ve got one.

Everyone says this is a gorgeous-looking game and that’s important. It’s going to be action-heavy and fiery and will certainly make a change from two months of unspoiled nature, dinosaurs and neanderthals. Here’s the trailer so you can see what I am in for throughout March.

Year of the Console: January-February Review. Ark: Survival Evolved & Far Cry: Primal

I am beyond excited about The Year of Console Gaming that we are having on TLYW, which is actually going to involve 14 games in 14 months, extended from 12, so that I could fit everything in.

As you know, we are following a trajectory through history this year, in terms of the period in which these games are set. I now know the timetable! January and February are (were) pre-history. March is Antiquity. April is the Middle Ages. May is the Enlightenment. In June we enter the 20th century. WW1 in July. 1940s in August. September brings us into the 1990s. October is the 2000s. November and December are the present decade, January 2018 is the future (how appropriate) and February 2018 is fantasy. There will be a mix of retro games and newer releases, with a total of 9 games on the PS4 and 5 on the Xbox 360. A year from now, I will be a far more skilled and knowledgeable console gamer than I was two months ago. We finally return to PC gaming in March 2018 and I already know what I am playing on that date. All will be revealed!

Today marks the end of February, which means I’ve just come to the end of my month with Ark: Survival Evolved. As I approached the end of the month and realised I was running out of time, I became much bolder with my gameplay. I stopped worrying about building a secure base and rounding up escaped dodos and went exploring instead. I built a raft, sailed around on it and got lost. I visited an island that I’d previously only viewed from a distance. I killed various dinosaurs and even managed to tame a couple and ride around on them. Finally, I tamed a pteranodon and used it to fly all the way up the map, from the luxurious south beach to the snowy mountains in the north. When I arrived, I killed a T rex and a bear, started to build a little house, got caught in a snowstorm and froze to death. The scenery was spectacular and most of your game time is outdoors, so it was right up my street. Final souvenir photos:

Notes to myself, so that I can remember what I thought of these games when I want to come back to them.


Far Cry: Primal, Ubisoft (2016), PS4. A single-player, open-world action-adventure game set in pre-history.

Plot and setting: Early humans run around mountains and valleys, spearing rhinos and firing arrows at members of rival tribes.

General remarks: A gentle introduction to console gaming. I was able to take my time learning the handset and controls while still making in-game progress. I brought the game almost to completion within a month, eventually tiring of the final boss fight.

Thumbs up: Lots of time outdoors in attractive scenery. I was guided through various well-structured quests and the story was quite involving.

Thumbs down: I spent too much time viewing the attractive scenery using hunter vision, which makes everything grey and yellow. At times the story felt a bit constraining and I wanted more freedom to decide what to do next.

Return to? Probably not as I more or less finished it, but I would play other games in the Far Cry series.


Ark: Survival Evolved, Studio Wildcard (2017), PS4. I played on single-player mode, but there’s a multi-player option. An open-world, action-adventure, survival game set in pre-history.

Plot and setting: Humans co-exist with dinosaurs, are attacked by T Rexes and fly around on pteranodons while building elaborate houses and inventing firearms.

General remarks: A pleasure. Very restful. I say this despite the horrendous and constant dinosaur attacks in the central and north parts of the country. The southern beaches are lovely and you can sail around in your boat relatively undisturbed.

Thumbs up: Lots of time outdoors in attractive scenery. Complete freedom to do what I want, at my own pace. Genuinely open-world, lots of exploring with an amount of combat to suit the individual player. Sophisticated options for tweaking the gameplay settings on single-player mode.

Thumbs down: This is a new release that will benefit from a few patches. My two biggest gripes were the near-impossibility of placing or sometimes even seeing fence foundations and the magical ability of dinosaurs of all sizes to intersect walls, rather defeating the point of the wall. Minor bugs resulted in things like my character getting stuck on top of ladders.

Return to? Definitely. In a year from now, hopefully some patches and bug fixes will have resolved some issues.


Stay tuned! Tomorrow we’ll begin a new game, as it is 1 March.

Blog Updates

Do you talk to yourself? I do. I think it is something that kicks in when you’ve been living alone for a long time. I might be doing stuff around the house and sometimes I comment out loud on how it is going. I say things like ‘right, then’ and ‘ffs’ and quite often ‘I’m not having a very good time’. Today I was happy. Everything seemed to be coming together. I am free from the world’s worst job. Business is doing okay. I have recovered from a 10-day sinus infection. I am popular with boys and lots of people want to date me. I’ve been seeing art and culcha around London. I said out loud, a propos of nothing, ‘I am having a good time!’ It was a rare moment of genuine and complete happiness. Of course, I was tempting fate by saying this and I stupidly returned a phone call to receive news of a family member who is one long, perpetual, expensive, time-consuming problem and a bad news generator. Fuck me for being happy for five minutes. By the end of the phone call, I’d started smoking again.

Anyway. I planned to update the blog today and that’s what I’m doing. It’s even more important to keep updating the blog when your patience is being tested and so I shall attempt to restore my previously good mood.

I’ve decided to start collecting Achievement Points and Brownie Badges again and have updated the blog pages. Also, we used to have themed seasons here on TLYW and now I finally have a more normal life, I am reinstating them. Here are the two major ones.

Classical Music, Yo

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I have developed a sudden taste for classical music. I don’t know where that came from, I am usually all about house, hip hop and reggae. As you know, I’ve recently been to two performances by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and then I went to The Pirates of Penzance by the English National Opera, which I have already blogged about. Then I went to see Verdi’s Rigoletto, which I will blog about separately. I’m going back to the London Phil next week for some Stravinsky and before I forget, we have these magical things coming up in London over the next few months:

I am just going to ride this wave for as long as it lasts. It’s educational and uplifting.

Year of the Console: 12 Games in 12 Months

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As you know, I take gaming very seriously and this year I am expanding my repertoire by taking up console gaming. There are so many things that I want to at least try, so I am ambitiously going to play 12 games in 12 months. Just the other day I was overcome with a stroke of genius. I could have played 12 games in no particular order, or played them in order of the date of publication but instead I am going to play them in order of the historical period in which they are set. This is going to be great, it will prevent the gaming from becoming too repetitive, will give a theme and sense of progression to the gaming  year and will encourage me to play things I’ve never considered or tried before, which is what Console Year is all about.

January and February are both pre-history. If I’d had this idea earlier I would have played Ark: Survival Evolved (dinosaurs) in January and Far Cry: Primal (Cro-Magnons) in February but instead I did them the wrong way around. But I won’t remember this in a few months.

Far Cry Primal. Screenshots of my actual game play! Finally figured out to get photos off the Playstation.

Ark: Survival Evolved. It took me a while to figure out how to not get killed all the time. Now I’m really into it but February is going to end on Tuesday so I have to play as much as I can in the next 36 hours.

It’s almost March and so my history theme suggests that I need to play something set in either Ancient Greece or the Roman Empire. This isn’t going to be easy as there was a rash of games set in antiquity 10-15 years ago and barely anything since. Also most of the Roman Empire games were for the PC. But I will find something. After that we will zoom through the Middle Ages, slaying dragons along the way. Then some 18th century piracy. A spot of Victorian steampunk. World Wars 1 and 2. I expect to hit the present day around September and we will be playing futuristic sci-fi by Xmas.