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‘Destiny 2’ and Bungie’s Commitment to Their Fanbase

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Destiny 2 has finally been revealed, and a hardcore group of ravenous guardians are eager to continue their journey in one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the year. It’s with a unanimous sigh of relief for Earth’s greatest advocates of the light that the wait is finally over. At this point in the original Destiny life cycle, guardians had already acquired enough light and experience to decimate the “God-Knight” Crota many times over. They had avenged Queen Mara of the Reef on countless occasions by bringing the treacherous Skolas to justice. Even the great and terrible Taken King didn’t stand a chance against a loot-heavy guardian hell-bent on absolute annihilation of this grand foe. Destiny 2 signifies a time for change in the world that Bungie has crafted for us – a time for something new and fresh. It also shines a light over a developer that listens to its passionate fans, as it attempts to rectify the glaring issues that have plagued the original Destiny since its awkward launch back in September 2014.

Securing and maintaining a loyal fan base is notoriously difficult for any video game company, especially in an age where titles are constantly being adapted and supported post-release. It’s a balancing act not dissimilar from watching a clown spin plates while pedaling a unicycle and reading memoirs of a clown; which is to say, it’s bloody hard. With so many different loyal fans to please, Bungie has certainly taken great strides in producing eloquent solutions to their many glaring oversights (the Dark Below era comes to mind). Whilst it is important to listen to every fan, Bungie is also aware of the whingey whiners, and they know to filter out the chaff that comes their way on a daily basis over at the forums. Judging from the gameplay reveal at today’s event, Bungie has identified the key complaints, and while it might not solve every whiner’s problem, it goes a long way towards improving the key Destiny experience.

The original story was crap, an over-simplified husk resembling a story that revolved around a binary (and not to mention vague) battle between the light and the darkness – there’s nothing else to be said for it. Post-DLC content proved that Bungie could polish a turd, and with the contribution of voiceover work from fan-favourite actor Nathan Fillion, Destiny fans were treated to a surprisingly rich and nuanced universe. Destiny 2 carries on from the great work of The Taken King as it tells the story of how a group of battle-weary guardians regroup to defeat the leader of the Red Legion, Dominus Ghaul, after they are defeated on their own home turf. There’s potential here for a vastly more mature narrative, as Ghaul’s motives aren’t as maniacal and world-ending as portrayed by previous antagonists. Instead, Ghaul simply seeks to correct an injustice on himself, as he believes that The Traveler should have chosen him to harbour the light – not the inhabitants of Earth. The guardians are simply in his way.

The downfall of the Tower’s guardians suggests a more story-driven tale for our favourite loot-hungry explorers, as they no longer possess the power of the light, and with the news that players’ stats and equipment won’t carry over to Destiny 2, this now makes logical and narrative sense. The reveal of the opening mission from Destiny 2‘s campaign actually looks like a meaningful and epic story beat instead of the humdrum “go here, kill that, now go here…” mundaneness of its predecessor. This mission has more impressive set-pieces within its short time frame than the entirety of the game you already own. The story resembles a similar approach towards the Mass Effect 2 premise in which Shepard would seek out dangerous companions to assist him in defeating the collectors, and if it’s anything like that then we’re in for a treat.

Not only is there a sharper focus on the story, but there are also key system tweaks that will make Destiny fans weak at the knees. The vexatious action in which Guardians had to go to the orbit screen before they chose what planet to travel to next has been removed in the sequel; instead players can now travel to a planet from wherever they happen to be. No longer will fans have to sign into Bungie.net to create and manage their clans – now fellow guardians can create their clan in the actual game. The actual game! A common complaint in the original game was aimed towards traversing the lifeless and dull open world when a story mission wasn’t activated. Boring patrol missions have since been replaced by meaningful side-missions given to you by a wide range of characters that encourage you to explore the lost sectors, as well as hidden areas in which the player will have to defeat a boss if they want the rare loot it protects.

Destiny always felt like a title that catered more towards the community-inclined gamer than their solo counterparts. Bungie has attempted to remedy this by introducing their new system, called “Guided Games,” as a harmonious solution that encourages solo players and clans to join forces to tackle the multiple raids, strike missions and anything else the game provides. It will be interesting to see if this successfully overcomes the hurdle of integrating the solo player into the multiplayer game that Bungie obviously wants the title to be. Even the Crucible game modes have been changed so that it’s always 4v4 players. More accessibility and flexibility is something  fans have been craving for since the original’s release, and it’s imperative to nail the foundations of the multiplayer experience, especially when Bungie knows that Destiny 2 goes up against Call of Duty:WWII and Star Wars Battlefront II during the Christmas period.

Destiny 2 looks to be bigger and better than its predecessor in ever conceivable way, and the reason is simple: Bungie listened. Looking at all these alterations reminded me of my own frustrations whilst playing Destiny. I knew I loved it, but at the same time I could tell it was missing something necessary to qualify it as an amazing game. Bungie has taken on board the feedback of their dedicated community, and they have actively demonstrated what they’ve learned from the first game, hopefully giving the fans what they want. I might not care that PC gamers are finally getting Destiny 2 on their system, but it’s also great news nonetheless. I might be completely jealous of everybody at the event being allowed to play the game straight after the conference, but… actually I’m just jealous.

 

 

Films, games and music: the big three! If you like any of these, chances are we're going to get on just fine. I'm just a balding, goggle-eyed 26-year old Masters graduate from the UK, and I'm here to talk games! Let's dance.

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Games

Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘Dark Souls’

Despite the difficulty and learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the Dark Souls series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers.

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Dark Souls Remastered Review Nintendo Switch

Over the course of the last decade a lot of games have made large and influential impacts on the medium of gaming but few have done so as significantly or triumphantly as Dark Souls

The pseudo-sequel to Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls took the framework of the original title and altered it considerably. Gone were the many individual stages and hub area, replaced by a massive open world that continuously unfolded, via shortcuts and environmental changes, like a massive metroidvania style map. 

Dark Souls also doubled down on nearly every aspect of the original. The lore and world-building were elaborated on considerably, making the land of Lordran feel more lived in and expansive. An entire backstory for the game, one that went back thousands of years, was created and unfolded through small environmental details and item descriptions. 

Dark-Souls-Remastered-Darkroot-Garden

The bosses were bigger, meaner and more challenging, with some of them ranking right up there with the best of all time. Even standard enemies seemed to grow more deadly as the game went on, with many of them actually being bosses you’d faced at an earlier time in the game. Tiny details like this didn’t just make the player feel more powerful, they added to the outright scale of the entire game.

Still, if we’re here to talk about the biggest influence Dark Souls had on the gaming world, we have to talk about the online system. While the abilities to write messages and summon help were available in Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls improved on and enhanced these features to the point where they changed the game considerably. 

The wider player base made the online components work more consistently as well. Rarely were players left standing around for 15-20 minutes waiting to summon or be summoned for a boss fight. There were more messages on the ground to lead (or mislead) players, and the animated spirits of dead players warned of the hundreds of ways you might die while playing through the game. 

Dark Souls

The addictive nature of the game and its rewarding gameplay loop would lead to the establishment of the Souls-like genre. Like with metroidvania, there are few compliments a game can receive that are as rewarding as having an entire genre named for them.

Since 2011, the year of Dark Souls’ release, dozens of Souls-likes have emerged from the ether, each with their own little tweaks on the formula. Salt and Sanctuary went 2D,The Surge added a sci-fi angle, and Nioh went for a feudal Japanese aesthetic, to name just a few. 

Either way, Dark Souls’ influence has been long felt in the gaming industry ever since. Despite the hardcore difficulty and intense learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers. For this reason alone, Dark Souls will live on forever in the annals of gaming history. 

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Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

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Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

Earthnight is an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

Earthnight

Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

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