Assassins of Kings

I knew about King Foltest only because he was one of the primary Gwent heroes in The Witcher 3, but I never really made the connection between ‘the card’ and ‘the character’, but it all makes perfect sense really when you think about the number of cards based on NPCs in W3 as it is, there was always bound to be a few nods to the earlier games littered throughout.

I’ve recently finished the Prologue to The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, and it is an absolute banger. It places you front and centre of a battle with Foltest, as he seeks to reclaim his (illegitimate) children from a baroness named Maria Louisa La Valette, and in what culminates in a great little ‘taster’ to the world of the Witcher, you end up in the sewers, fighting soldiers and knights, and by the end of the level you are helping Foltest to escape a dragon.

Perfection.

Despite the fact that the game is just all-around solid, what pleases me the most is how similar it is to The Witcher 3.

I absolutely have the aspiration to crack on with W2 … but by God, I know the level of commitment it took to clear W3, so there is a little demon on my shoulder reminding me of that each and every time I hover my controller over the game.

It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve added another title to the pile of shame.

37.733 Miles

TT Isle of Man

I hate motorcycle games. Other than the fact that I’m not very good at them, there’s a good chance that there’s a deep psychological trigger for me reminding me that I’m not very good at riding the real thing either.

In either case, I’m a sucker for a free game and a few easy achievements, and so with one of this month’s Games with Gold being the TT Isle of Man, I put my metaphorical helmet back on and took to the streets.

To be honest, there’s not a lot different about TT Isle of Man from almost any other motorcycle racing game I’ve played – and I guess that’s not necessarily unexpected, but in an age where driving games like Forza can really innovate, I guess I expected … more.

After struggling through the rather bland and long-winded tutorial (it probably wasn’t that long, but boy it felt like it), I did a quick check of the achievement list to see what was a reasonable few challenges to tick off the list. The single lap of Snaefell Mountain seemed to be a reasonable result, thinking that – like other races – it would be a few minutes of bike-riding pain to earn a quick-and-dirty cheevo.

Twenty minutes into the ‘race’ though (and I used the term loosely – it became apparent a few minutes in that I had no chance of being any sort of challenger), and I regretted my decision. Bland environments, terrible compatibility between player and game and just an all-around insufferable achievement, and needless to say I’m glad that I did it and don’t have to do it again.

I’m sure there’s a niche motorcycle racing market out there.

I’m just not it.

Quantum Break Initial Thoughts

The thing with being a gaming parent is that you know you want to milk every last opportunity out of your gaming session that you can. Whether it’s a full hour, ten minutes, or if you’re lucky enough to have an afternoon-on-the-couch-wearing-little-more-than-your-boxer-shorts-and-a-smile, you need bang for your buck.

Which is a long-winded way of giving an excuse as to why I have never gotten around to Quantum Break.

To be fair – I’ve never had anything against the game. I remember back in E3 when Shawn Ashmore came on stage to announce the title, and Aidan Gillen was touted as the next big thing, coming off his success in Game of Thrones, and even then I liked what I saw. But in the same breath, it also came at a time when Microsoft was pushing entertainment over gaming. When ‘always on’ was destined to ruin gaming for almost anyone that doesn’t live in the internet Utopia of West-Coast America. And so, for much of this generation – I’m happy to admit, I was pretty much all-in on PlayStation.

Fast forward a few years, and Game Pass has given me the opportunity to finally wander back in and have a go at Quantum Break. Full disclosure: I haven’t watched any of the episodes yet, and that’s largely for the same reasons that I described at the outset: (ironically) time. Already, I enjoy the combat. I’m playing on the easiest difficulty because I really just want a solid story experience, but there’s still something quite satisfying about the gun-play with a few spatters of time-controlling special powers thrown in for good measure.

The story is still unfolding – I’ve just completed Act 1 – so I suspect more will become apparent as I go forward, but already I’ve chosen the Hardline approach for Monarch to take – which is a nicer way of saying ‘kill anyone and everything’. I’m having some ethical issues with that choice, but at the same time, given everything I saw in the story so far, it seemed the most appropriate.

One thing I did want to highlight at this early stage was the sound design. It’s not often that I comment on the sound design, because it’s usually so vanilla from one game to the next – but whoever is doing the mastering of the gun shots and weaponry at Remedy needs to be given a pay-rise. It is easily the most satisfying gun audio I’ve heard in a game for the last decade.

For now, I’ll continue the story. There seems to be an issue streaming the episodes so I’ve had to download them for the time being, which is fine because I’d be lucky to be able to watch them until later this week anyway, but I am looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

And then, I suspect, I’ll also be ready to give Control – Remedy’s latest title – a look.

Gears POP!

I am a sucker for a mobile game with Xbox achievements. It’s one of the main reasons why I play Microsoft Solitaire so much, and I have no qualms in touting the virtues of Wordament to any-and-all who will listen. Sadly, people don’t really take to my warped sense of digital justice like I do, and so they just end up heading back to their match-three game or scrolling through their Instagram.

Not me though. I think it took me all of fifteen seconds from when I got the notification that the pre-order for Gears POP! was ready to having the game downloaded and starting it up.

Then the connectivity issues happened.

I’m not going to labour the point because I don’t mind a few teething errors, and thankfully they corrected themselves fairly soon thereafter, which meant that after an hour of gameplay, I had already earned myself two or three achievements, and by the end of the day yesterday, I was at 9% completion.

Not bad for a very brief afternoon’s work.

The game itself is essentially just a Clash of Clans clone, though with POP! characters based on the Gears of War franchise. It just seems like a whole bunch of licensing agreements were prepared by some junior lawyers that got too convoluted and something had to be done with them, but, strangely, it works. Considering I’m really only on level two and working with characters that are, essentially, just upgraded versions of the starting set, I’m not sure how much the game will open up as I get new characters, or, more likely, I go up against stronger opponents.

Progress from here-on out will be slow, because some of the achievements require you to play into the hundreds of games, which is not insurmountable, but it will take time. Each game I played against a human tended to run down the timer, rather than being the one-sided battle that I had anticipated, with some of the games only conquering one base, or going to sudden death. If you can get some time away from the world so that you can play this unencumbered, then you are absolutely in the best position to win, though I’ll see whether that holds true as I continue playing, or whether my own inability is just waiting to shine through.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep working towards those delicious, delicious achievements.

Robocraft Infinity

This title from the Xbox Game Pass library is an interesting blend between a mech combat game and some sort of Minecraft-lite crafting mashup. The premise surrounds simply building, or modifying, a mech made up of small blocks and weapons and then taking them into battle.

For the few games that I played, I elected to go with a T-Rex variant of the mech, which seemed to be a fairly solid all-rounder, though I was able to see how handy, for instance, a wheeled mech would be able to capture points quicker, or an aerial mech was able to navigate to enemies easier.

The load times on this title are terrible for something with low fidelity visuals and otherwise basic concept, but it’s not a bad title, and otherwise ‘safe’ for younger gamers to play – with some supervision (it does, after all, have lasers and other weaponry in it).

Pokémon Rumble Rush

I make no apologies for my love of Pokemon, and when its a game that links in with The Pokemon Company, as well as my Nintendo Account, then I’m philosophically obliged to give it a red hot go.

I’m not sure what void this game fills, but it’s a fairly mindless romp into the world of Pokémon. It’s possible that, down the track, there might be integration with the Pokémon Bank and the other Nintendo titles that use the Nintendo Network. I love to see this sort of integration in mobile gaming, and I’m optimistic to see how Xbox does more of it in the coming months with xCloud, and not to mention iOS updates to allow for use of the Xbox and PS4 controllers.

Time will tell if developers pick up and support it, but I shall remain optimistic!

Horse Haven World Adventures

If I’m perfectly honest, it was the Ubisoft name that convinced me to give Horse Haven a go, though I never would have normally picked this game out of a line-up.

At its most basic, it’s the same as any other world building game – upgrade here, farm this, nurture that. The hook here is, essentially, horses, which might appeal to my sixteen year old horse-loving niece, but for a thirty something bloke with a love for everything indoors? Not so much.

On it own, that isn’t enough for me to discredit Horse Haven because it operates as advertised. I don’t know how long the game has been around, but it’s operating in a market that is saturated with similar games, though, like the pull which originally roped me in, it’s the Ubisoft name which offers perhaps the greatest confident that the game will be supported longer-term.

Is it worth a go? Sure. If you are interested in the genre and want to see how the AAA developers do it, then this isn’t a bad one to pick up. If you’re done with the genre though, don’t expect anything new or exciting here.

Except horses. Lots of horses.