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‘Xenoblade Chronicles X’: The Best-Worst Game of 2015

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When Xenoblade Chronicles first arrived on the scene, it was one of the biggest surprises of 2012. A JRPG at heart, Xenoblade broke the mold by injecting the stale formula with the more modern trappings of an MMO, creating a best of both worlds scenario that played to a wide swath of gamers. The fact that it appeared as a gigantic RPG on the, by then, starving Wii console, certainly helped matters, and in the end Xenoblade emerged as one of the sleeper hits of the generation.

Cut to three years later, and at long last we have the long awaited sequel, Xenoblade Chronicles X. How has it delivered on the success of its lauded predecessor you ask? Well, that’s a tough question to answer. In fact XCX might be one of the most carelessly mixed bags in terms of quality to grace consoles this year, which is saying quite a lot after the way Batman Arkham Knight, Metal Gear Solid V, and a host of others managed to divide gamers in 2015.

On the one hand, Xenoblade Chronicles X offers more of exactly what everyone wanted from a Xenoblade sequel: an even bigger open world, even more quests to tackle, and a better fleshed out yet still addictive battle system. It also added mechs to the equation, a long-standing part of the extended Xeno-universe which makes a welcome return here (more on that later). But what about the cost of hammering such a staggering amount of content into a single game on the Wii U?

x-16-1

Hi, I’m a 13 year old genius scientist. Also humanity will establish interstellar space travel and giant mech combat by 2050. Welcome to JRPGs.

Unfortunately, it isn’t pretty. XCX has a laundry list of problems, and some of them are big ones. The first, and most noticeable, of those is in the plot department. Joining Xenogears, Xenosaga, and the original Xenoblade, XCX had pretty big shoes to fill in that department, and so far it is lagging hard behind its forebears. Full disclosure, I’m only about two thirds of the way through, but by this point in any of the other five games in this series, players were all in on an epic and involving quest. Not so this time around.

Instead of the religious and philisophical debates of Xenosaga, or even the man vs. machine dynamics of Xenoblade, a war which was fought on the living bodies of literally titanic Gods, we have a standard sci-fi story of humans settling on a new planet. The cast is made up entirely of Americans, anime stereotypes though they might be, while the aliens are just the standard run of the mill sci-fi tropes. In a game this big, that’s a problem. If you want players to invest hundreds of hours of time into your world, you’d better give them a world they care about and characters they want to spend time with, which brings us to the next problem with this game—because wow these characters are bad.

Let’s start with the two worst offenders: Tatsu and Lin. Tatsu is a Nopon, a race we first met in the original Xenoblade, and if you thought these cartoonish nincompoops were obnoxious three years ago, get ready to double down on that. Meanwhile, Lin is a 13 year old girl (?!?) as revealed a few hours after you meet her, who happens to be a genius scientist and master chef. Okay so I’ll just get to it, are you ready, here’s the joke: Lin wants to eat Tatsu. Funny right? No? Not even a little? Okay then, get ready to hear that same joke whether you like it or not for the next 200 hours. Before missions, after battles, in cut scenes, text dialogue exchanges and on and on it goes. If you were playing a drinking game where you had to take a shot every time you heard that joke over a three hour session, you’d find yourself in a ditch or in the hospital.

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Combat takes some getting used to but is ultimately pretty rewarding. Also, the creature design is ace.

Now, there are less irritating characters in the cast, though at least a couple of the others fall into this category of absurdity (I’m looking at you L), so the obvious solution would be to just swap these characters out for ones you like right? Well, you’d think so, but that’s because you’ve been playing games since the 90’s right? Ya know, back when this idea first popped up. Well, too bad loser, because any quest that has cut scenes, character interactions, or any bearing on the story requires the same three characters. Two of them I mentioned above, and the third is the most stoic character in the game, Elma. Who’s the fourth member of the party? Well, that’s you, but unfortunately you’re basically Link this time around, so don’t expect to say much. Fancy switching characters up anyway? Get ready to smash your head against the wall.

Xenoblade Chronicles X has 21 playable characters including your custom avatar, but if you want to switch out, you’re going to have to go and find them. You read that right- you have to go look for a character if you want to take them on a quest with you. Need a specific character to accomplish something? Just look down at the overwhelmingly large map of New Los Angeles, a huge hub made up of six areas where your 20 companions are just scattered about with nothing special to differentiate them from the other icons on the map.

Maybe you recall a game called Chrono Cross; it was the sequel to Chrono Trigger and remains one of the best RPGs of all time. That game had a staggering 40+ playable characters in a quest that was only as long as that. Sounds crazy right? Hold on. It also had a weird system that allowed you to access all of them from the pause menu and swap them out at will. What sorcery is this!? Bear in mind this game came out 15 years ago.

La-famille-de-Tatsu

Start tying the noose, because this little idiot is with you for the next 100 hours or so.

One could go on all day about the design flaws in this game, really. Xenoblade Chronicles X promises you mechs from the start, but it forces you to play for 30-40 hours before you can finally get one. There’s no percentage counter or completion ratio for its ridiculous amount of quests so you have no idea how far you are along in completing the game. The main story is incredibly short in the grand scheme of things and seems to have little bearing on the world whatsoever. The cut scenes are static and the voice acting is uninvolving; just a lot of talking heads and ‘pan the camera wherever you want’ type scenarios.

There’s also way, way, WAY too much to do. Playing Xenoblade Chronicles X is like running a small business in terms of micromanagement, and even the most stalwart of players will be overwhelmed almost immediately. May the Mechonis help you if you’re an OCD completionist, because this game will make your eyes bleed.

Get ready: there are five continents, hundreds of destinations, over 700 achievements, dozens of affinity quests, hundreds of square miles to thoroughly explore, data mining probes, mech management and maintenance, art and skill upgrades, soul voices to swap out, characters to mix and match, and much much, more. Now to be fair, some of these things are optional to a certain degree, but the sheer volume of information and responsibility that is thrown at you over the first 10-20 hours is daunting to say the least, and it only gets more overwhelming as the game continues on.

The long and short of all of this makes for a clear and obvious shorthand: Xenoblade Chronicles X is a game with a lot of problems, but what might surprise you, if you haven’t played it yet that is, is that this also might be one of the best games released this year. If that sounds like a sort of riddle or conundrum to you than you’re not alone—rarely have I found myself so conflicted with a game as this.

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Whatever you think of the whole package, these mech battles are pretty amazing,

Cresting the 50 hour mark, I have no plans on abandoning this title, even with the bevy of great games released over the last year that I still have yet to catch up on. The reason for this is that even with its mountain of problems, XCX is still a very compelling and magnificent experience when it works. Exploring living, breathing ecosystems made up of predators and prey, with creatures that range from the size of a small bird to the size of a brontosaurus, is intensely involving and leaves the player filled with excitement as they wonder what new creature, docile or deadly, is waiting around every corner.

The same can be said for the environments. As I mentioned before, this game is staggering in its size and scope, and that means there’s a lot to take in on the visual spectrum. Roaring waterfalls that go on for miles, a giant series of rings balanced impossibly against the horizon, an alien set of moons and stars that change and blend in seamlessly with the scenery, and tree roots so large that you can walk up them as if they were stairways. There’s a lot to love here; it’s just too bad that its so frequently held back by XCXs many problems.

So, is Xenoblade Chronicles X a game that you should play? Well, if you had a lot of love for the original, than the answer is probably yes, but in an age with so many huge games, and many of them much more well refined than this, the game becomes a tougher sell. If you like JRPGs and the Wii U is your console of choice, than the answer is a resounding but slightly hesitant yes. You’re going to need to have a pretty big tolerance for JRPG bullshit to get through this journey.

Playing this game is like watching the kind of television show where you’re on the edge of your seat one minute, and rolling your eyes a few minutes later. For me, that puts it in a similar neck of the woods as say, Dexter, Smallville, Heroes, or The Walking Dead. Sometimes you’ll love it, other times you’ll wonder what the hell you’re still doing here. As with that comparison, there are going to be rewarding moments for those who stick through the lower points, but, to keep with the analogy, don’t expect this to be your Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. A show like Supernatural is still going and will continue until 2018 at this rate, but that doesn’t mean most of us are still going to be with it by then.

Mike Worby is a human who spends way too much of his free time playing, writing and podcasting about pop culture. Through some miracle he's still able to function in society as if he were a regular person, and if there's hope for him, there's hope for everyone.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. David Scheele

    July 7, 2016 at 11:55 am

    I was sorely disappointed by this game. Sorely sorely disappointed. It was heartbreaking for me. I got a wiiu bundle with the game and was ready to sink another 120hours into it, like with the predecessor who i oh-so loved.

  2. Adeolu Adeoye

    July 27, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    I have to disagree with you on the story. It’s not just a generic JRPG plot. The main themes of the game are discovery, loss and inter-species relations (which can be seen as an allegory for race relations). The main story doesn’t flesh all of this out. These themes come through in the missions. There are many over the course of the game where a character is struggling with the loss of their family, friends and planet. There are many where the different races you meet during the game either choose to befriend and work with each other, or go out of their way to kill each other, and reject any kind of unity between races. One mission even sees you helping out an inter-species couple get married. Several missions teach you about each species’ culture and beliefs, and have you participate in ceremonies like burials and marriages. This game really captures these themes, but you have to go out of your way to talk to the planet’s residents and learn their stories. Characters aren’t just going to show up at your door and offer you their life stories.

    • Mike Worby

      July 28, 2016 at 1:24 am

      While I understand what you’re getting at, I would argue that a game like Mass Effect 2, for example, did a much better job of exploring the themes you’re talking about. The fact of the matter is that the writing just isn’t very strong for the side quests or the main quest in XBX.

      • CommonSense

        September 19, 2016 at 5:35 am

        Replaying this game and wanted to revisit this.

        Story wise, it could be the lightest on the cerebral story the xeno series is known for, falling below series peak xenoblade (Gottfreid Leibnitz’s monadology, functional programming with monads, divine geometry, pythogorean religion, and pretty much anything else that uses the monad as a concept). Below gears, and its incredibly on the nose interpretation of basic freudian concepts mixed with sci fi wtf awesomeness… and seems to just level off around Xenosagas overly verbose and yet somehow pointless and impotent take on Friedrich Nietzsche’s works…

        The main problem seems to be a truly God-awful localization. Seems the translation team was completely oblivious to the source material, which this time around was jungian concepts like logos, eros, (or anima/animus) the collective unconcious, the shadow, transformation… And just completely butchered the underlying meaning of the game… You can see the visual allegories of the logos or eros (this is actually the player character… the avatar of humanities collective unconcious) the collective unconcious, the shadow of mankind… but none of it makes any sense with the dialog because of the butchered localization.

        It would be as if the Monado (named primely after the monads in functional computer programming… Which is amusingly exactly how the monado works in game… Shulk literally re-programs reality.) Was named beam saber in the localization instead… The overt story would still be the campy shonen boy with magic sword story… But the signature Xeno understory, the ability to see whats really going on… would be crippled….

        So we don’t really know how X’s story is really doing… Unless there is a Carl Jung buff who is fluent in japanese… All we know is that what was localised… Is full of holes dead ends and unexplained absurdities…

        On a design level, the world is simply aces. Complete and utter perfection. Unfortunately, that was ruined by the fact none of it mattered. Exploring was nutered in X compared to the original because of X’s Extreme adherance to mission structure and level locks.

        In the original exploring offered huge rewards. You would often find a treasure chest, (yes the original Xenoblade had normal chests for those with the skill to find them) high level gem, or high level enemy, which if the player defeated above his level was rewarded with high level weapons or armor well beyond what they would normally get at that point in the game. It was fantastically designed so that almost all areas stayed rewarding for revisits throughout the adventure.

        X destroys this… The level lock and mission structures are awful. Even if you discover some crazy beasty and manage to take it down, you cant equip your rewarc for 30 levels/dozens of hours. BOO!!

        So what if you find some awesome landmark, you wont be able to interact with it until you are on the specific quest, and then pretends its the first time you ever came across the super important artifact… BOOOOOO!!!!

        Those are my main gripes with X, which like the author and others i still somehow truly love. The potential is just so potent… Just mix the best aspects of X, with the best aspects of its predecessor, and well be all set for another impact like the original xenoblade.

        • Mike Worby

          September 19, 2016 at 1:23 pm

          It really is too bad, with a few tweaks here and there this game could’ve been something truly special, like its forebear.

          • CommonSense

            September 19, 2016 at 3:11 pm

            Yeah. But I really dont feel like it was in the cards… The bad design choices all seem like hasty compromises, to reign in a massive project that simply had to come out someday. The silver lining i see here is invaluable experience creating and managing projects of the size and scale o XcX… The evolution of a long long long overdue open world design that finally doesnt rely on ‘potato world’ land/space/time compression (the hardware technology has been capable for over a decade…) This experience seems to have paid off in spades with monolithsofts work on the new Zelda being a clear show stopper.

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What Are Some of the Switch’s Best Indie Devs Making?

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The Nintendo Switch has quickly become the preferred platform for some of the most talented indie studios in the industry. Its pick-up-and-play form factor and Nintendo’s concerted effort to court smaller developers this generation (complete with indie-specific Directs) has resulted in a library that’s positively flourished.

Despite the eShop falling victim to some of the discoverability and shovelware issues that long plagued Steam, there have been some real standouts over the years. Since video games take quite a while to produce, there’s often speculation as to what some of the premier developers have been working on. Let’s take a look at four of the most recognized indie studios on the platform and have some fun trying to figure out what they might be up to.


Sidebar Games

It’s hard to believe that 2017’s Golf Story was Sidebar Games’ first project as a studio. The two-man team from down under balanced a delightful dose of Australian-tinged humor with clear callbacks to the Mario sports games of old to deliver one of the best Switch exclusives in 2017, bar none.

Unlike the other studios on this list, Sidebar has been extremely silent on development progress; we can only glean bits and pieces from the few interviews they’ve done. We know the game has been in development for roughly two years and that Sidebar was still in active development as of March 2019 when they put out the call for a pixel artist for their next project. There’s also a fair chance that the new game will either be Switch-exclusive or target Switch first, seeing as how Golf Story is still one of the Switch’s top 10 best-selling indie games to date as of Spring 2019. If exclusivity worked so well the first time, why not try it again?

What Can We Expect?

Whatever Sidebar is working on, it’s almost guaranteed to be single-player and story-focused. One half of the dev team, Andrew, has gone on record multiple times saying that he’s “very partial to story modes.” This also players into one of their strengths; though there was a great time to be had with Golf Story’s golf, it was all elevated by the game’s ridiculous-yet-lovable characters and wacky situational humor.

Since the team has already deconfirmed a sequel as their next project, there’s really not much to go on. While I’d personally love them to tackle something Mario Tennis-inspired next, there’s a good chance they’ll avoid sports altogether. As long as the wit found in Golf Story is alive and well, though, their core audience is sure to be interested.


Fabraz

Despite being incredibly simple from a visual standpoint, the deceivingly charming Slime-San is still one of the best platformers to come out in recent memory. The game’s striking three-color art style isn’t just unique, but it’s also ingrained into the platforming mechanics in inventive ways. Beyond having a look all its own and a stiff challenge for players who wanted it, however, Fabraz went the extra mile to build a fun cast of characters and even a hub world to explore outside of the main game. It was a pleasant surprise from a relatively unknown developer at the time.

Fabraz has been anything but complacent since Slime-san’s launch. The studio released two free content expansions, ported the game to other consoles, and even got into the publishing business. No matter their other ventures, however, the team has made sure to tease their next project every so often since the start of 2019.

What Can We Expect?

Fabraz speculated that their new game was already roughly 60% complete at the start of October. Since it only began production in December of 2018, it’s safe to assume that the next game will be relatively small in scope. It’s also likely that Fabraz’s next outing won’t be “Slime-san 2,” since the original game received such heavy content additions months after release (including an expansion literally titled “Sheeple’s Sequel.” The team certainly knows how to make magic from very limited resources, so it’ll be interesting to see what they can do with a bit more of a budget, a new art style, and tons more experience.


Game Atelier/FDG Entertainment

It feels like Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom came out of nowhere. The team at FDG Entertainment had published indie darling Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King just the year prior and the console port of Oceanhorn before that, but there wasn’t much talk about FDG’s capabilities as a developer. As it turns out, however, Game Atelier’s choice to bring them on as a co-developer was the best thing that could’ve possibly happened to Monster Boy. Five long years of development later and fans were treated to one of the best platformers in recent memory.

Though it launched on all consoles, Monster Boy famously sold eight times more on Switch than PS4 and Xbox One combined, reminiscent of the sales of Blossom Tales on Switch. Needless to say, FDG’s next title will be targeted squarely as the Nintendo community. But what could that next project be?

What Can We Expect?

A Monster Boy sequel. FDG recently celebrated their collaboration with Game Atelier on Twitter and announced that they’re collaborating once more. The commercial and critical success of Monster Boy can only lead one to believe they’re hard at work on a follow-up together. Thankfully, with such a solid base to work off of now, this one shouldn’t take nearly as long to release.


Chucklefish

Chucklefish has garnered a great deal of respect in the indie community as both a developer (Starbound, WarGroove) and frequent publisher (Stardew Valley, Timespinner, the upcoming Eastward, and others). Their eagerness to bring so many of their top-notch titles to Switch has made them one of–if not the–most lauded indie studios on the platform. If it’s coming from Chucklefish, there’s a good chance it’ll be of the highest quality.

What Can We Expect?

Witchbrook! Chucklefish announced the game way back in 2017 and instantly had both Harry Potter and Little Witch Academia fans foaming at the mouth. It’s a magical school simulation/RPG where players will attend class, learn spells, make friends, date, and work towards graduation. The company’s CEO and lead designer, Finn, has been incredibly open about the game’s development from the beginning. In fact, he made the ever-changing Witchbrook design document public in August of 2019 to give some insight into the game design and planning process.

Since there’s already so much we know about where the game’s going, this is going to be used as more of a “Hopes for Witchbrook” section. To keep it short, let’s focus on two of the game’s most make-or-break elements: dating and world-building.

Dating

One of the things many RPGs struggle with is making dating feel meaningful after the relationship starts. People love romancing in Stardew Valley, but the experience itself is really rather shallow; bring characters their favorite items, talk to them daily, experience a few touching cutscenes and voila! All that’s left is to put a ring on it and have a baby.

My hope is that in Witchbrook, the real fun starts after the relationship begins. Being able to have lunch together, go to festivals, celebrate anniversaries, plan outings, and even introduce them to the player’s in-game friends would go a long way in making the relationship feel more than a ribbon to be crossed.

World-Building

When someone asks the seminal question “What fictional world would you love to live in?” the world of Harry Potter almost always tops to list (right next to Pokémon, that is). It isn’t just because of magic itself or the emotional ties people have to the cast, but more so because of the immense amounts of personality and lore J.K. Rowling infused into the world. From the dark history of Hogwarts to the vast array of magical beasts to the establishment of Quidditch, there is a whole movie and video game series that has been created based on mere slices of the Harry Potter universe.

Naturally, it’d be silly to expect Chucklefish to achieve as much depth in an indie project as one of the most successful authors of all time did over the course of seven books, but there’s still plenty of potential. Since the game will primarily take place at the school, exploring why the school was created and how it’s changed over the years could be quite interesting. Then there’s how different populations of the world at large feel about magic, how various magical species play a part, the favorite magic-imbued pastimes of students in the world of Witchbrook, and so on. The key will be to infuse magic into every element of the world (and gameplay) as naturally as possible. And after reading through the extensive design doc, I’ve no doubt Chucklefish will be able to pull it off.


The indie scene on the Switch is thriving more than ever. New talented developers are making the platform their home every day, and those who’ve already proved themselves are hard at work on their next premium experience. The next wave of releases from these studios can’t come soon enough.

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‘Death Stranding’: And Now for Something Completely Different

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Death Stranding Slow Connectivity

Video gaming as a medium has often been perceived as little more than a toy. Even with Nintendo pushing the NES as a part of the home and more than just a toy– a strategy they’d adopt again for the Wii– there are still many who see games as toys, rather than an expression of an art form. It makes perfect sense, though. If there’s one thing modern video game culture has pushed front and center this past decade, it’s instant satisfaction. As big-budget games embrace homogeneity, the medium’s priorities have shifted from capitalizing on its inherent interactivity to making sure gamers are never bored with their $60 toy. Reggie Fils-Aime famously said “If it’s not fun, why bother?” for a reason, but when every big-budget game is paced the same, structured the same, and plays the same, where’s the fun to be found? 

About Death Stranding…

It’s far too early to even assume what kind of impact Death Stranding will have on the medium & industry (if any), but as one of the last big budgets games to release in 2019, Hideo Kojima’s first crack at the “strand game genre” is a nice note to cap the decade off on– one that serves as an almost necessary palette cleanser as the medium heads into the 2020s. Death Stranding offers audiences a chance to breathe, to look at themselves in the mirror, and to reconnect. Not just with the world and others, but with a medium built on interactivity. 

Hideo Kojima is often criticized for his cutscene ratio, to the point where it’s not unusual to see critics suggest he just make a film, but the fact of the matter is that most games do need a story. Not just that, video games have the potential to present a story better than any other medium. Readers and viewers can place themselves in the shoes of their protagonists, but a game makes the player become the protagonist. How we control our characters, how we play, how we interact with a virtual world– all this is a reflection of ourselves, one that only the gaming medium can offer. 

Not that it often does, at least not meaningfully. Modern developers are afraid to lose consumer interest, and the increasing shift towards the “games as a service” model has ensured that gameplay loops are simple to pick up, simple to get into, and simple to stay into. Games are something to be played with– toys. And there’s immense value in that. Video games can be a fantastic way to reduce stress & clear one’s thoughts regardless of how they’re designed, but such an approach means that the average gamer is going to be accustomed to gameplay loops that are structurally derivative of one another. 

On the flip side, there are the games that prioritize narrative too much, or simply devalue their own gameplay with extraneous content. From Hideo Kojima’s own gameography, this is a mistake he clearly made with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Even from this decade, it can be argued that what little importance Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain placed on the story ended up hurting it in the long run because it distracted from the core gameplay loop. There’s a reason so many developers follow similar game structures and build off similar foundations: they’re reliable, they get the job done, and it does result in great games. Both The Last of Us and God of War (2018) are clear examples of how mechanically homogenous & predictable games have gradually become this past decade, but they’re still great games.

Death Stranding is one of the slowest AAA titles to release in quite a long time.

Death Stranding is most comparable to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and perhaps The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but really only on the most surface of levels. Death Stranding has AAA backing, but it has the creativity and ingenuity of a modern indie. While AAA developers have lined up for uniformity, the indie half of the medium has arguably never been better. Those who grew up alongside video games are now developing their own, calling back to and even evolving forgotten genres. All the while, AAA games only move closer to the Disneyfication of movie production– hit all the key demographics, make it “accessible” for everyone, and make sure there are no real ideals or beliefs. No need to upset potential consumers, right? 

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Death Stranding was backed by Sony and developed by a massive development team, but Hideo Kojima’s direction is far more in-line with the modern indie scene than that of his AAA cohorts. Death Stranding is one of the slowest AAA titles to release in quite a long time. It’s slow to start, slow to pick up, and even the core gameplay loop is slow. It takes hours before players get their first vehicle, and even longer before they finally get a weapon. Death Stranding saves its actual core gameplay loop for so late in the experience that it’s not unreasonable to suggest the game sees an entire genre shift halfway through. But that’s missing the point. Death Stranding’s “genre shift” is only going to feel so for those who don’t want to engage with the first half’s crawl– those who just want to play with a toy. 

Of course, just wanting something simple and immediately engaging to play is fair enough. For working adults with limited time to play a game, in particular, but not every game is going to resonate with everyone, even if a game like Death Stranding is designed for anyone. Death Stranding seems inaccessible & foreign in a generation where every big genre release plays like the last, but between a myriad of difficulty options and an online system designed to make the player’s life easier– one that works & works well– Death Stranding takes the medium’s interactivity to its next logical step: connectivity. Real connectivity, though. A connection that goes beyond playing against or with someone for a few minutes. 

In Death Stranding, players can leave a tangible mark on, and in, the world. Players can build structures for others, share with others, and just do something as simple as “liking” others. Those opening hours are incredibly valuable as– without the means to kill or fight back– players are forced to interact with the game world on a deeper level beyond combat. Death Stranding takes its time developing its gameplay loop, drip-feeding weapons, and concepts. Even the online component opens itself slowly, forcing players to understand what it means to be alone before they can forge real connections– with the world, others, or themselves. 

This is what Hideo Kojima understands better than the majority of modern AAA developers: games can connect a feeling directly to the player. Death Stranding’s best moments (as any should be) stem from gameplay. Kojima’s storytelling is engaging as ever, but it exists to bolster the gameplay– as does the slow pacing, as does the aggressive enemy AI, as does locking out weapons for hours on end– everything in Death Stranding is ultimately in service of connecting players to Sam in a way that feels genuinely meaningful. Through Sam, audiences can observe an America that’s in ruins, but one that society is rebuilding.

As Sam reconnects America, opportunities arise to finish bridges for others, leave supplies in remote areas, or just warn of dangers ahead. It’s very Dark Souls-esque in nature, but with a gameplay loop that minimizes traditional action, Death Stranding is the rare AAA game that’s bold enough to embrace the medium and everything it represents, for better or worse. A video game interacts with an audience in a way that books and film can’t. Controlling an avatar is an intimate act and reflects us better than most might realize. Death Stranding recognizes this fact, turns its back on modern gaming mainstays, and attempts to reconnect the medium together. 

Death Stranding is a slow game, but the longer path walked only presents an opportunity to reconnect oneself to the heart of gaming: interactivity. 

AAA gaming and the indie scene shouldn’t be divided. A gameplay loop doesn’t need instant satisfaction to be engaging. Story and gameplay shouldn’t feel disconnected. Standard online multiplayer can be more rewarding when PvP elements are tossed to the wayside or even just outright ignored. Death Stranding resembles the average AAA title in many respects, but it allows itself to be eclectic, off-putting, & sincerely unfiltered– in regards to politics, human nature, video games themselves. Only time will tell if “strand games” will take off, but keep in mind that the stealth genre didn’t exist when the hit “action” game Metal Gear released for the MSX2 in 1987. As Death Stranding makes abundantly clear, everything changes with time. 

The 2010s have not been a bad decade for the medium, far from it. The past ten years have seen truly legendary consoles and games come out of the woodwork, but it’s impossible to deny the shift that occurred (and had been occurring) in AAA game development– one that’s driven the medium far away from meaningful interactivity, where flavor of the month games long to be played for all eternity, like Toy Story-esque monstrosities given form. Death Stranding is a slow game, but the longer path walked only presents an opportunity to reconnect oneself to the heart of gaming: interactivity. 

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From Escape to Inspiration: How Video Games Promote Creativity

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Escape

The stresses of everyday life are often enough to put heavy strain on even the sharpest and most durable of minds. No one is immune to the pressures of work, school, or even the personal struggles that weigh down on everyone. Now more than ever, with advancements in technology and the increased prominence of fantastical immersion, video games have become more of an escape for people of all ages.

No longer are video games considered the medium for children looking to “waste time.” Rather, these virtual worlds have transformed into an integral part of how a grand portion of the globe’s population interacts with each other. Moreover, video games offer a much-needed respite from one’s struggles, drawing people into a fictitious realm in which they journey with a hero on their adventures in a compelling fable, or compete with other players worldwide.

Whatever one’s reasons for playing, video games are an outlet through which gamers alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and a myriad of other emotions, giving rise to joy and relaxation alongside a sense of accomplishment. This escape provides users with an opportunity to not only temporarily get away from whatever troubles them, but also inspires them and promotes creativity.

Inspiration

The old ways of acquiring inspiration (books, role models, school, friends and colleagues, etc.) are still tried and true. However, just as humans have evolved over millennia, so, too, have the means of stimulus and influence. Alongside these traditional sources of encouragement comes video games—visual, interactive stories and competitions that stimulate one’s mind and get hearts pumping and adrenaline rushing.

From betrayal to romance, the most traditional storytelling tropes have been plucked from novels and cinema to create these immersive, interactive worlds. Video games offer lessons in commitment, dedication, persistence, and so much more. Repeatedly, fans see their favorite heroes get knocked down, and then those same fans take control of those heroes and take them through the journey of picking themselves back up.

Assassin’s Creed II has players take control of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, even after they witness half the character’s family murdered before their very eyes. They join Ezio on his journey to avenge his family and develop into someone who refuses to give up, who uses ingenuity to learn and expand his own horizons to accomplish his goals—a tale of hope for anyone struggling to bounce back after trauma and tragedy.

Furthermore, from a technical standpoint, the advancement of video games in terms of how much they have evolved over the years is enough to inspire any aspiring video game developer. Taking one look at the beautiful worlds companies like Ubisoft, Bethesda, Square Enix, 343 Industries, and so many more create does wonders to convincing a plethora of gamers to learn how to code or write a compelling story.

Despite previous misconceptions that video games only give people a space in which to waste time, this hobby (or often profession, if one considers the earnings of the top eSports competitors) has shifted opinions to a more curious perspective. It’s difficult to ignore something so popular that promotes so much creativity.

Creativity

Initially, video games were a mere medium of entertainment. Simple games like Pong did little to foster the mental acuity of their users. However, since the 1980s, video games have surpassed their meager, albeit fun, precursors. Solving puzzles, exploring vast geographies, and overcoming challenging obstacles are just some of the facets of modern video games that force players to think a little deeper about the game’s objectives.

Sometimes, the direct path isn’t the answer, and video games teach players how to come up with alternative solutions to their problems. For example, titles like 2018’s Kingdom Come: Deliverance or 2001’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic give gamers the ability to choose how to complete certain missions, forcing them to deal with different consequences depending on the choices they make. Not all problems are easy, and video games can help equip players with the tools they will need to think about multiple possible solutions to a challenge.

Beyond ruminating about alternative solutions, the creativity avid gamers develop through video games will help them in other ways, such as their ability to think critically about certain concepts and form their own perspectives on complicated situations. Is the Dragonborn character gamers control in Skyrim defined only as the Dragonborn, or does that character bring more to the table than being a slayer who can communicate with mighty, scaly, winged lizards?

Video games keep fans’ minds churning with ideas for their own stories, whether those tales are reflections of their own lives or the inspiration for elements of their own literary or cinematic endeavors. Fans often draw courage from the heroes in their favorite titles, looking to them to help them out of a rut or learn how to deal with their own troubles. 

Whether learning how to use a little more diplomacy to negotiate through a bad situation or finding the gumption to learn martial arts to stay in shape or for self-defense, much of gamers’ motivation can be traced back to the inspiration they garnered from the heroes they see in all forms of media, and video games are no exception.

Evolution

Just as humans have to crawl before they walk, video games had to start small and gain traction before the world was ready to advance them to their current state. No longer are these virtual, interactive worlds a backdrop that people use to merely pass the time. Rather, they are the catalyst for courage, inspiration, creativity, and entertainment.

While video games have come a long way since the early days of Pong, they have still only progressed to a state of adolescence. Technology is advancing at a more rapid rate than ever before, and companies are no longer limiting themselves in terms of what they can achieve with one of the fastest-growing, financially prosperous, emotionally charged industries the world has ever seen. 

Dylan Warman

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