Nioh

A fantastic Dark Souls clone.

Nioh is an action RPG in the vein of a Dark Souls game.  I’m a Dark Souls addict, so I’ve had my eye on this game for a long time.  It came out a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been playing it here and there.  I haven’t come close to finishing it yet, but I’ve spent enough time with it to talk about it intelligently.

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The overworld map in Nioh.

Nioh takes place in feudal Japan.  The player character is William, some white dude from London that is fighting his way through Japan.  Honestly, the story is so dumb I’m skipping through any cut scenes I come across.  I don’t really know why anything is happening in the game, the storytelling doesn’t come close to the level of Dark Souls so I’m just pushing past it.  I’m not playing this game for it’s story or it’s characters, I’m playing it because it has taken the Dark Souls combat and run with it.

The levels are spread across different regions of Japan.  You select a mission from an over world map, and each level is a self contained environment.  I don’t know how long the game is, but I just beat the 8th boss and traveled to the third Japanese region.

Combat in Nioh is excellent.  You pick one of five or six weapons and build out your character using stat points (a la Dark Souls) and skill trees.  The stat points feel familiar, but the skill trees add another dimension to character progression.  In Dark Souls, each weapon has a predefined move set.  There are many weapons, so combat feels varied based on how many weapons you use.  This game has much fewer weapons, but the move sets slowly build out as you progress through the skill trees.  While this system limits the variety of weapons, it gives combat a progression that Dark Souls doesn’t have.

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A yokai enemy.  There are lots of these guys in the first few hours of the game.

In addition, there are multiple stances for each weapon.  Low stance does less damage but makes your character more agile for dodging.  High stance does high damage but makes dodging much slower.  Mid stance is a balance between the two.  Depending on the situation, you have to switch stances to adapt to your enemies.  Sometimes you need to change stances mid fight.  You can also change between one of two equipped weapons at any given time.  The combat is fast and fluid, and I’d say it’s even faster than Bloodborne.  Bloodborne is probably the pinnacle of the Dark Souls series for me (I know it’s not an actual Souls game), so the fact that the combat is faster and feels more dangerous is huge praise.

The enemy design is interesting.  Many of the enemies are based on Japanese folklore.  There are yokai, which are demonic monsters and regular human enemies.  The yokai are fun to fight against, but the human encounters are more challenging.  The yokai each have about 3-4 different moves they’re locked into, so they’re attacks are easy to predict.  The human enemies are much more nimble, and can move between stances just like you.  This makes encounters with human enemies far more interesting than yokai, as their attacks tend to be much less predictable.  There are also red swords dotted across each map.  These swords represent a player character in another world who died in that spot.  You can summon a copy of that person’s character and fight them in your world.

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One of the early game bosses in Nioh.

The bosses are probably the least interesting enemy so far.  Many of the bosses have a one hit kill attack.  Many of these attacks are not telegraphed in any way.  This means that you can start making progress against a boss when all of a sudden, through no fault of your own, you’re dead.  Bosses are a huge part of my enjoyment of Dark Souls.  When you come across a new boss in Dark Souls, there is a learning process that occurs.  You slowly come to learn the attack patterns of the boss and eventually overcome them.  There is a huge amount of satisfaction from learning these patterns and beating a boss.  In Nioh, when you’re trying to learn the patterns of a boss and you’re one-shotted, it can be extremely frustrating.  However, I’ve been able to make slow and steady progress against the bosses. I haven’t come across one that is completely unfair yet.

As I outlined above, I have a few problems with the game.  It’s certainly not perfect.  However, the combat is excellent.  It absolutely rivals the combat in Bloodborne, my favorite Dark Souls game.  I’m not sure if I like it more than Bloodborne yet, but I definitely plan on playing through to the end.  I may or may post an actual review once I’m done, I’ll play that by ear.  Either way, Nioh is a fantastic experience and I’m having a great time with it.

Basket Case – Green Day

Last week I talked about Linkin Park and how much simple riffs helped drive and motivate me to stick with the guitar.  Basket Case is literally the first real song I ever learned on the guitar.  I had a crappy little knock-off amp and my Squire, and I could not believe I was making the same sounds I heard in this song.  This is literally the song that drove me to learn the guitar.  Basket Case (and the whole Dookie album) showed me that music can be heavy and melodic at the same time.  I love the song, the album, and it’ll always have a special place in my heart.

Review – Resident Evil

A return to horror pays off for Resident Evil.

Resident Evil 7 came out recently to strong reviews.  I’ve never been a huge Resident Evil fan, but I really enjoyed RE 4 and the reviews convinced me to give it a shot.  I heard that this game was supposed to get back to it’s survival horror roots.  I like horror movies, and I love forcing my wife to watch horror movies even more.

One thing that I think I’ve failed to mention on this blog is that I kind of hit the jackpot with my wife.  She enjoys watching me play video games almost as much as just watching normal TV.  For instance, I picked up Nioh (post incoming) the other night and set it to download before we went out for dinner.  When we got back, it had installed and was ready to go.  She was disappointed when I told her I was too tired to play it until the next night.  None of my other buddies wives do that, so I think I’m a pretty lucky guy in that respect.

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The primary antagonists, the Baker family.

In the past, the Resident Evil proper games have always been played from a third person perspective.  This game brings the series into the first person perspective for the first time.  This is a great choice, because the shift in perspective plays to Resident Evil 7’s strengths.  The game is set in a large plantation in the south of Louisiana.  Ethan, the main character, is searching for his missing wife.  The first person perspective brings the player in close and amplifies the horror aspects of the game.  Ethan has to explore a house filled with the murderous Baker family and a bunch of goopy sewage monsters.  Having the perspective in close makes the jump scares that much more effective than if the game was in third person.<

The pacing in this game is also very different.  Instead of constantly mowing down enemies with machine guns, encounters with enemies are much more rare.  A lot of the game is spent creeping around the house, solving puzzles, and trying to avoid fighting one of the Bakers.  The game creates a sense of tension and suspense by limiting the amount of ammo you receive, so you’re constantly worried about the next encounter.  I never ran out of ammo completely, but the game gives you just barely enough ammo to survive each encounter.  Subtle music and audio cues also increase the tension.  The first hour especially was very scary, it literally felt like watching a horror movie.  After the first hour or so the game falls into it’s natural rhythm of exploring, solving puzzles, and boss fights.  But that first hour was really something, and it absolutely freaked my wife out.

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Goop monster.

The combat itself is alright.  The enemies are susceptible to headshots, and the sensitivity of the movement and aiming is very slow.  The enemies move their heads a lot, so it can be difficult to consistently hit the goopy guys consistently.  Add to this that you constantly feel like you’re on the verge of running out of ammo and the normal enemy encounters are fun and increase the tension of the game.  However, the boss fights are super dumb.  There’s not much creativity going on with the boss fights, you basically just have to pump all of your ammo into them until they drop.  I was hoping for something that matched the rest of the game, but the bosses felt ripped out of the older RE games.  Point and shoot until they’re dead.  Maybe adding a puzzle boss or something that played up the horror focus of the game might have been a better choice.  I don’t know, I’m not a game designer, but the boss encounters were a glaring sticking point for me as I played through this game.

Resident Evil 7 takes the series back to it’s roots.  There’s almost no mention of traditional RE characters or settings (not even any zombies really), and I think that was a wise choice.  It feels almost like a standalone story told in the RE universe.  If they keep making games like this one, then I’m back on the Resident Evil train.

 

Baby Update – 2/15/17

Just a quick update on all the things happening surrounding the baby.

We’re currently sitting on 17 weeks and 4 days.  Almost half way!  My wife’s belly is growing day by day and she’s pretty much back to her old energy level.  We have a checkup appointment with the OB doctor later this afternoon, so hopefully we get a better look at the baby.  It’s been a few weeks since our last ultrasound, so I’m really excited to see something that looks more like an actual baby than the garbled jelly bean we’ve been seeing up to this point.

This pregnancy has definitely had some challenges.  I’ve been really busy at work and I’ve had a hard time motivating myself to get the crib started.  I know it’s going to be a ton of work and I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.  It’s also been difficult with my work schedule and my wife’s work schedule. to make time for each other. Even though we’re going through this life changing experience together, at times it feels like we hardly see each other.  It doesn’t help that it seems like every single weekend we have something going on with family or friends.  We’re going out of town together in two weeks, so hopefully we get some quality time together.

Points of Authority – Linkin Park

I haven’t listened to Linkin Park in years.  One of their songs come on the radio while I was driving around, and it reminded me of when I was first learning to play the guitar.  The main song from this riff is one of the very first things I ever learned to play.  The song is tuned to Drop D, and the riff is made up of three power chords. At the time I was just getting into heavier music, and the ability to replicate the sounds I was into at the time was a revelation t0 me.  It was those early experiences that made me fall in love with the guitar.  My musical tastes have moved past Linkin Park, but this song will always have a special place in my heart.

Assail – Review

A lackluster conclusion to Ian Esslemont and Steven Erikson main series.

I’m not going to structure this review, I have been reading this book along with the Malazan re-read for months and I’m pretty well done with reading or writing about this book.

Assail is a challenge for me.  It’s the last book in the Malazan Empire series by Ian C. Esslemont.  He writes in the world he created with my favorite author, Steven Erikson.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  On the one hand, there is more content set in the Malazan world.  But on the other, there are the inevitable comparisons in terms of quality between the two authors.

Assail is a very flawed novel.  There are several characters that don’t hit home for me, namely Kyle, Jethiss, and Orman.  Shimmer was fun to read about, but everyone else was shades of boring for me.  Granted, this was my second time through this book and it was set at a glacial pace due to the re-read, but I dreaded every chapter I read.  There is a big reveal at the end regarding the Vow and the Crimson Guard, and upon my first reading I hadn’t figured out the mystery.  The last few books have been building to this reveal, so that spurred me on when I read Assail the first time.  With the mystery no longer a mystery, I had to drag myself through this time.  It’s unfortunate, because I really enjoyed Blood and Bone, the previous novel in the series.  I liked it the first time through and again with the tor re-read.

Assail is not the worst novel that Ian Esslemont has written, but upon a re-read (and possibly due to the structure of the tor re-read) I had a really difficult time pushing myself to get through it again.  If you’re deep into the Malazan, there are some good reveals toward the end that make this a worthwhile read.  Other than that, Ian Esslemont has other books that are much more deserving of your time.