A bustling Starbucks, a wooded trail, a food festival, a popular park two miles from Nintendo of America itself; these are a handful of the diverse locations I’ve attempted Pokémon GO‘s raids, released as part of the game’s one year anniversary celebration. One of the most highly anticipated elements to the game, the raids came alongside a large update to the gym system which saw more gyms added, a PokéStop at every gym, a new badge or level system to increase the rewards doled out by those PokéStops, a new motivation system to replace the previous prestige system, increased Pokémon-type effectiveness, and some helpful limitations placed on the gyms to prevent teams from laying claim to them for too long and to rekindle the competition. These positive changes have had an immediate impact, reigniting interest in the game and improving one of the game’s most forlorn pieces. Unfortunately, the raids, the most enticing and exciting portion of the update, are, in proper Pokémon GO tradition, brilliant in concept but lackluster in application. Raids may give players a reason to pick the game back up again, but, for some, raids are liable to encourage laying the game down for good. Raids bring a long awaited social element to Pokémon GO, now if only there were anyone to play with.
GO‘s raids work much the same as the game’s gym system. Every so often the game will inform players that a raid is beginning soon at a nearby gym. A giant egg will appear over the gym with a countdown timer. Once the timer hits zero, regular gym functionality ceases as a giant version of a rare Pokémon hatches from the egg and takes over the gym for the next hour. Then, rather than tackling the boss solo, like the typical gym experience where a player gradually whittles down the gym’s motivation in the hopes of eventually claiming it and leaving one of their own Pokémon there to defend it, players from all teams from around the area are encouraged to band together with up to nineteen other players to defeat the monstrous Pokémon within the allotted time, all in the hopes of reaping some exclusive rewards and potentially catch a weaker version of the raid boss. The only things necessary to participate are a character level exceeding five and a raid pass, which players can receive for free once a day by spinning the PokéStop wheel at a gym.
Mechanically, raid battles operate the exact same as gym battles, only fought alongside other players present against one large adversary. Tapping the screen results in a player’s Pokémon performing a fast attack, which gradually fills a meter. Once full, player’s can hold down on the screen to perform a charged attack. Swiping results in the Pokémon dodging, allowing incoming attacks to be evaded, making for an engaging enough timing game involving adeptly timed attacks and well timed reads on incoming assaults. Also new is the three minute window which players are given to attack the boss. At different levels, one through four, the monsters encountered vary as do health quantities. Tier one to two bosses can be handled solo by a competent player, and a tier three encounter, though recommended for thirteen players, can typically be tackled by three fairly regular players or even by one strong player, though the true challenge then is the time limit.
Succeeding in defeating the boss nets players a handful of new, exclusive items such as Golden Razz Berries, which fully restore motivation or make a wild Pokémon much easier to catch on the next attempt, Rare Candies, or TMs which alter a Pokémon’s move set. It also grants players a certain allotment of premiere balls dependent upon team involvement and which faction controls the gym amongst a few other things, giving players a set number of attempts to catch that particular Pokémon. These being some of the rarest, most elusive Pokémon in the game, including Charizard, Lapras, Alakazam, and Tyranitar to name a few, Pokémon GO gives players more than enough incentive to participate. Unfortunately it doesn’t give players equal opportunity to succeed.
For whatever reason (money), developer Niantic saw fit to put a cap on the number of regular raid passes a player can hold at a time: one. Assuming a player hasn’t gotten a pass that day and they’re already sitting on another, the game does allow players to receive another after they’ve used their original pass. Players can also purchase an unlimited quantity of “premium raid passes” for 100 Pokécoins, the equivalent of one U.S. dollar. Since players can earn upwards of fifty Pokécoins a day in game, essentially earning a premium raid pass every other day, that’s not all that egregious a cash grab and does allow players the option of buying in in a pinch. However, that does discourage participation to an extent, actively countering the social intentions of the addition. For example, I might pass up a particular raid because I already have the featured Pokémon, am holding on to my daily raid pass in case something bigger and better comes round, or have already used it. In any of these cases, I’m essentially abandoning fellow players who might not have had the opportunity to catch said Pokémon and leaving them one less ally in what is potentially a challenging fight. This might not make an impact in tier one and tier two fights, but three, four and, eventually, tier five fights, which are predicted to be legendary Pokémon, tend to require more players. What’s worse, it’s impossible to tell if anyone is in a raid and joinable, compounding the issue and making me far more hesitant to burn a pass.
The largest flaw with Pokémon GO‘s raids is that it’s simply too challenging to find other players, and the game provides absolutely no tools to assist players in the social arena. Once the raid begins in earnest and the raid boss appears, players have one hour to challenge the boss. That’s a large window of time in which countless players will come and go, and with no way to sync schedules, there’s no guarantee players will encounter one another during their attempts, even in densely populated, urban areas. I tackled two raids back to back in downtown Seattle surrounded by throngs of potential players. Both ended up being solo raids. Again, in a massive park, one of the most popular in the immediate Seattle area, one swimming with people and positively brimming with lured PokéStops, gyms, and my pick of raids, I had no way of telling which raids were being attempted by other players, and, despite picking one with one of the most desirable Pokémon, my attempt was miserable and lonely. With matchmaking times of two minutes and battles lasting no more than three, it’s really no surprise that the true struggle with every raid is merely encountering other players.
The word “raid” brings games like World of Warcraft and Destiny to mind. Raids in those titles are truly endgame material and some of the most riveting, challenging things players can tackle cooperatively. That’s kinda the opposite with Pokémon GO. The recommended player number is way overblown, and typically if the player count matches the tier level, players will have no problem toppling the boss. In fact, bosses often fall faster than a baby taking their first steps. Players in suburban and rural areas might be thankful for easier wins, but when tier one and two raids don’t typically require more than one Pokémon, even when soloed, it’s a little questionable. Perhaps a solution to all of these issues, both social and in terms of difficulty, is raids scaling depending on the player count. That would allow players in suburban and rural areas to actually succeed in some of the tier three and four raids. Or perhaps Niantic could introduce some form of online matchmaking system which partners players fighting the same Pokémon in different places together. The best solution, the one that would actually give the app a true, genuine social element, would be to give players the option to be seen on screen by other players and perhaps allow them to indicate that they’re in route to a particular raid (not while driving, of course!) In conjunction with extending the range of the “Nearby” indicator for raids, players would have a better selection of raids and could prioritize the teamwork required ones more simply, making GO‘s raids the social experience they were always intended to be.
Pokémon GO is the best it’s ever been, and with raids now live, there’s an even wider variety of things to do and experience out on the go than ever before. In true Pokémon GO fashion, the latest update is conceptually promising while the actual product is pretty severely flawed. Raids are a great new addition, giving players even more reason to play than before. Unfortunately, they’re all too dependent on being able to find other players to play alongside. With virtually no way to connect with other players in app, the burden once more falls on the players to either find help externally or just not bother. What should have been a fun, social experience no matter where you are feels a bit too much like another slap in the face of suburban and rural players. There’s an immense amount of promise here, but without continued improvements and care on Niantic’s end, raids are liable to fizzle out leaving Pokémon GO much the same as it was before, popular, sure, but so far from what it could be.
‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off
The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.
Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.
Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.
The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.
To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.
In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.
On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.
By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.
Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.
Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.
‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale
Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?
From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.
“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”
The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.
Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.
However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.
At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.
“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”
The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.
On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.
Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.
‘Resident Evil 3: Nemesis’ — A New Height to Survival-Horror
If we can forget that Nemesis was a poorly designed rubber goof in the Resident Evil: Apocalypse movie, we can easily state that he is the apex predator of the series. The follow-up to Resident Evil 2 had quite a few expectations to fill and, for the most part, Resident Evil 3 delivered. While not so much a fan-favorite as RE2, there was a lot to like about RE3. The return of RE‘s Jill Valentine, some new intuitive controls, and, of course, theNemesis.
RE3 marks the first time in the series where you are limited to one character – Jill. Through this, the story is slightly more focused and straightforward – despite the plot being all about Jill trying to leave Raccoon City. RE3 director Kazuhiro Aoyama cleverly sets in pieces of RE2 to make this work as both a prequel and a sequel. If you’ve never played RE2 – shame on you – you would not be able to scout notable tie-ins such as the police station. With a large majority of the building still locked up, Marvin Branagh, the wounded police officer who helps you in the second game, is still unconscious and has yet to give anyone the keycard which unlocks the emergency security system.
Where RE3 really shines is in its latest entry of Umbrella Corps. bio-engineered tyrants called Nemesis. The hulking tank brought a new dimension to the series, invoking more cringe-inducing terror and stress than ever. As if zombies and critters jumping through windows weren’t bad enough, now you have to worry about an RPG-wielding maniac busting through a wall and chasing you around the entirety of the immediate environment – and chase is certainly brought to a whole new level indeed. It became a running joke when you would encounter a handful of zombies, but could escape unscathed by simply running into another room. Nemesis, on the other hand, will continue his pursuit no matter what room you run into. At the time, this brought a whole new level of detail in the genre. Knowing that at any given moment he will just appear and will certainly derail whatever key or plot item you’re quested to look for made Nemesis a very intense experience.
Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror.
The gameplay also takes a few different approaches in this game. There will be moments when you encounter Nemesis, or certain plot occasions where you will be prompted to make a decision. It was a great alteration to the series, as it added new layers and weight for the player. Another addition to the gameplay came in the form of control although as minute as it sounds, is having the ability to turn a full 180 degrees – yes you read that correctly. Resident Evil quintessentially coined the term survival-horror, and survival certainly predicates the genre. There will be times – if not numerous times, you will run out of ammo. When those moments used to occur, you would have to make your character turn in the slowest fashion imaginable to make a run for the door and to safety. It was those moments back then that would pull the player away from the action. With the addition of the quick-turn ability- which was actually first introduced in Capcom’ Dino Crisis game – it gave the player the chance to just cap a few zombies and dash creating more seamless and dynamic gameplay.
The level design of Resident Evil 3 is grand, if not grander than RE2. A lot of the setting and scenery take place in the open air of the city and a few other places around the vicinity. RE and RE2 mostly took place indoors, and those settings helped create unique moods especially when it is all about tight corridors adding a more claustrophobic feel. Aoyama definitely went with a bigger setting and atmosphere in the follow-up. The game takes you through a police station, a hospital, a local newspaper office, a clock tower and a factory. More often than not, though, people tend to forget the scope and grandeur of RE3. Not to mention you can only… spoiler… kill Nemesis with a Rail-Gun at the end.
Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror. It took everything that it did so well in the previous titles and made it bigger and better. Nemesis encapsulated fear and dread in ways rarely experienced at the time. The scene where he popped through a window and chased players through the police station has always remained a nostalgic moment, much like anything that comes through a window in the RE series. In fact, a bit of advice for anyone playing the first-gen of RE titles: beware of windows.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 16, 2016.
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