Mental Health in Video Games: Persona 5 – REVISITED

This article contains spoilers relating to Persona 5’s Fourth Dungeon and the gameplay that immediately follows.

My last post on mental health in video games looked at how Persona 5 addressed mental health in the form of the isolated, agorophobic character Futaba. This article highly praised the game for its approach, however as the game progressed I realised that this good work is quickly undone by the subsequent approach to helping Futaba aclimatise to life outside her bedroom.

When she first spends time outside of her room it is apparent to everyone in the Phantom Thieves that Futaba struggles to engage with people in conversation, particularly around topics she is not interested in. The way the Thieves address this is to talk about Futaba as is she is not present and to discuss how to socialise her, without her input. Futaba is treated like a broken object that needs fixing rather than a severely emotionally traumatised person who is working out how to live a more normal life.

After the beautiful way that Atlus explore Futaba’s mental state in her entombed pyramid palace, with the Phantom Thieves having to allow Futabato open up the palace herself, it feels jarring to have this undercut by the first things the Phantom Theives do once Futaba joins the team.

One bit that caught me particularly off-guard and emphasised how inappropriate this was, was a scene where Futaba is encouraged to work at the coffee shop both Joker, the lead character, and her guardian Sojiro, work at. Sojiro, aware that she is a social shut in, asks her why she is now coming out and putting herself in these situations she finds uncomfortable. Being given a dialogue choice at this point I said that it was her idea, believing that she had, despite the poor way the party spoke about her in her presence, agreed to this process. Futaba then calls me a liar. She is not happy to be here and is only here because of peer pressure exerted by her new friends. That felt super uncomfortable.

This discomfort is increased as the gang are determined to turn this hikikomori from a social shut-in into a bikini wearing beach-goer within a week. They set out an invasive, demanding and non-consensual timetable which ends up being successful despite this being very far from the real result you would be likely to get from imposing so much pressure on someone who suffers from severe social anxiety.

As many of you will be aware, social anxiety takes time to overcome. For individuals that suffer from social anxiety having friends who are willing to help them push their comfort levels is a good thing, but there is a huge amount of responsiblity on those friends to respect their friend’s boundaries, and ensure that they do not end up in over their heads. Some people when they are overwhelmed are unable to express themselves and so will appear to be quietly compliant, as harmful experiences and emotions build up, increasing that persons ongoing aversion to social situations. Learning to overcome anxiety takes time and there are set backs in real life that make the process take longer.

For a game that gets so many other things right, particularly when addressing the issues of mental health, it feels particularly jarring that this situation, which is a central plot point, is dealt with so indelicately.

I really love Persona 5 and it is easily one of my favourite all time games, which is why I hold it to such a high standard when I look at it’s story and content critically. I can only hope that future Persona installments can avoid having these uncomfortable moments, leaving us with nothing but 24 carat JRPG gold.

Impressions: Bloodborne

A Hunter must hunt…

Bloodborne is a game I tried to play several years ago, but it didn’t fully click with me, other games came up that I wanted to play and it ended up falling by the wayside.

Not the best first impression clearly, but that is not the end of the story for this beautifully gothic game…

After not playing Bloodborne for a long time I played Sekrio: Shadows Die Twice and I loved it. The game taught me to play aggressively, focusing on parrying and riposting; a stark contrast to the defensive, conservative combat encouraged by the Dark Souls games. It turns out that this game retroactively trained me into the correct mindset for playing Bloodborne.

But there would still be one more insight I would have to gain before I was drawn back to Bloodborne; the discovery of the cosmic horror that was lurking beneath the surface.

Over the past four years I have become very interested in horror, watching many a video-essay on horror in both film and video game media, and I realised there was much more to Bloodborne than the visceral bloody gothic horror that Bloodborne appears to be. Great Ones, the cosmos, nightmare realms, all lurk behind the opening stages of Bloodborne, and are the very essence of Lovecraftian cosmic horror.

Like many other From Software games, Bloodborne is filled with lore that is found in item descriptions and locations, with a wide space left open for personal interpretation and analysis. It was by watching lore analysis videos, by youtubers such as VaatiVidya, Lance McDonald and TheLastProtagonist, that I discovered a deep passion for the story that Bloodborne has to tell. A story of humans striving to attain a greater level of understanding about the universe and their place within it, but discovering an eldritch truth that drives them to madness. A story where mankind’s battle against their own inner beastial nature take on a far more literal and visceral dimension.

The story is intriguing, and is considered by some to be the best realisation of Lovecraftian horror that has been achieved in video games.

The gameplay is similar to other FromSoftware games, with a focus on evasion and parrying enemy attacks. When you take damage you have a small window of opportunity to recover your health by attacking the enemy, which encourages an aggressive playstyle, and you will quickly learn in game that backpedaling is not the way to succeed in this game, its all about sidestepping or dashing through enemy attacks to try to flank them, and punishing every opening that the enemy presents you with.

It is fun, fast paced and exciting.

The aggressive gameplay is complimented by beautiful sound design and an a wonderfully detailed gothic artstyle. It feels like you are truly stalking beasts through the small streets of a gothic era european city, and it lends itself wonderfully to the thematic horror stylings the game has. Frantic fights give way to atmospheric tension, which builds as you expect an ambush around each corner, knowing that it takes just one hit to wipe out your health, but if you retaliate quick enough you can regain your health and get the upper hand.

The game is difficult. and this will undoubtedly cause issues for some players, which make the game somewhat impenetrable. The same can be said of the indirect storytelling; if you like a clearly defined story, then I would recommend starting by checking out the lore videos that various youtubers have made on Bloodborne as a prelude to playing, as it will give some structure to the game that would otherwise be somewhat obsure.

Bloodborne is certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a brillant game if you are looking for a game which is difficult, and has an obscure story that takes some searching and interpretation to tease out. It is very much my kind of game, and I hope that you can enjoy it as well!

One to Watch: Wandavision

When the credits to Avengers: Endgame rolled it was an experience. The culmination of ten years of cinematic development, and one of the most ambitious and successful movie projects that has ever been attempted. When I left the cinema I felt the catharsis of seeing it through to the end.

I also felt a sense of relief.

I wouldn’t need to follow the Marvel Cinematic Universe anymore. I wasn’t interested in following ‘Phase Four’, I might watch a Spiderman or the next Thor: Love and Thunder, because I enjoy Tom Holland as Spiderman and Taka Watiti’s contributions to the franchise.

But then Wandavision came along, and it seems I am being pulled back into the MCU once more…

Wandavision follows the lives of Avengers Wanda and Vision as they try to live a typical suburban life whilst hiding their supernatural powers from their neighbours. Each episode is set in a distinct television time period, changing between episodes from the 60’s to the 70’s to the 80’s all the way to modern sit-coms in the latest episodes. However all is not well and the aesthetic changes, and moments of fourth-wall breaking, suggest something far more sinister is at play behind the scenes of the happy sit-com you are presented with.

The series is a masterfully crafted mystery, with rising stakes and tensions as each episode goes on. Each episode feels painfully short, running at about 20-30 minutes long, as the the screen cuts to a ‘please stand-by’ placeholder before credits roll, just as the tension reaches breaking point. It it intentional and it really builds up the mystery of what is going on in an exciting way.

This series is a gem of experiemental story telling. The MCU is trying something different and it is carried powerfully by the chemistry and acting talents of Elisabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany who play the titualar Wanda and Vision. If you have enjoyed the MCU to date, Wandavision is an easy must-see, and is a real breath of fresh air in a typically formulaic franchise, in the same way as Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok have been, earlier in the franchise.

Whilst watching all the other MCU films is not a necessary prerequisite to watching Wandavision, you may find yourself lacking some understanding of the characters presented if you have not seen their character development through Age of Ultron, Infinity War or Endgame. The chemistry these characters have is obvious from watching the show, but how they reached this point is something that may only be clear to those who have seen the three films listed above, particularly in regards to the key emotional beats that the series follows.

And yes, to you MCU fans who are curious, this is set after Avengers: Endgame. I know. THAT is all part of the mystery of what is going on, and trust me when I say the mysteries really grow as the series goes on.

Wandavision is a great series and has re-invigorated my interest in the new phase of the MCU. I would have passed on the upcoming Falcon and the Winter Soldier series that will be released right after Wandavision concludes, but Wandavision has given me enough hope that the MCU is doing something interesting that I might have to just check it out…

Wandervision can be viewed on the Disney+ streaming service.

Impressions: Remnant from the Ashes

Remnant from the Ashes is a game I discovered completely by accident when watching YouTube. I had heard nothing about this game before watching this random video, but I was intrigued by what I saw.

A post-apocalyptic third-person shooter, which involved online co-op and dodging attacks thrown at the players by Dark Souls-esque enemies.

I had to give it a go.

Fresh off playing Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, I was feeling hesitant to try a game I had heard so little about. I needed some tried and tested quality in the games I was playing, but I took a chance on picking up Remnant from the Ashes in the PlayStation Summer Sale.

This was a satisfying purchase.

You play a human fighting across a post-apocalyptic Earth, taken over by the plant-based horde of the Root, bringing guns to what would typically be a sword and shield affair in any other entry to the Souls-like Action RPG genre.

The world you explore is pseudo-randomised, with different dungeon layouts being generated each play-through, and randomised bosses and events filling these worlds, leaving the player with a unique feeling campaign, add giving players to ability explore uniquely rolled layouts that other players have discovered in co-op play. It is a neat feature, and also leads to a replayable game experience.

But all of these features are mere gimmicks without a solid core gameplay to build these features into.

Thankfully Remnant from the Ashes delivers on this gameplay, with some crazy gun-shooting, quick-rolling, fast-moving gunplay which keeps you on your toes in a fun and high pressure way.

The game feels fluid and weighty, the random generation is nice, although the random boss generation can lead to some difficult fights. My first boss was an enemy that spawned explosions on you every 3 seconds. It was overwhelming and I had to go online to find out how to beat him because I was struggling significantly with the encounter.

Once I saw that you had to just keep running the battle thankfully opened up and I beat him on my second attempt after watching the video.

You dodge-roll out of the way of enemy projectiles, you can melee enemies that get too close, you have to control your space, and you face more horde-type enemies than you get in Dark-souls, but it feels perfectly balanced for the gun-play focus of the game.

The game world is well realised, if not a little bland. I am currently exploring a ruined city and it is…a ruined city. Not particularly exciting, but I am aware that you explore different locales as the game progresses I am not able to comment on how well these other locations are realised at this time.

In cut scenes the game looks pretty ugly; character models have clearly been designed for being looked at from a distance, and they look plastic and awkward up close.

Thankfully in general gameplay everything looks fine. It is not pushing any bounds in graphic fidelity or beauty, but that hardly matters when the core gameplay is so solid and fun to play.

This game feels like the anti-thesis to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order; not the prettiest game, but it has a solid, tightly tuned combat system creates a fun, fluid experience that is a fun twist on the action RPG genre.

I am excited to play more of this game which at this stage I would categorise as a diamond in the rough.

Impressions: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

I have not played a Star Wars game since Disney took over the franchise. Not for any particular malice, but rather because the only Star Wars offerings, remakes of Battlefront and Battlefront II, appeared to be pale imitations of the original PS2 games they were based on.

Lots of promises were made by EA following the lukewarm reception to the Battlefront remakes, and the outright hostility that was shown towards the lootbox system.

No more lootboxes

A 100% Singleplayer experience

It seemed to be everything fans were asking for.

Finally.

It was clear to those of us watching EA’s handling of video games and the Star Wars Franchise that these choices were not where EA wanted to go with gaming, particularly after their quite definitive claims about the future of singleplayer gaming.

Thankfully for us fans of Star Wars video games EA decided to eat their hat and produce a singleplayer game, which was in no way connected to the critical acclaim Sony’s singleplayer God of War remake recieved, and how much criticism their own offering, Battlefront II, recieved the year before Fallen Order’s release.

So what are my first impressions of this game?

It is beautiful, so very beautiful. It is also painfully unpolished, but despite this issue it is also very fun.

Beauty

When I first loaded up the game the first thing that stood out was just how visually stunning it all was. The game opens on a spaceship junkyard, and the main character, Cal, is part of a salvage team dismantling Clone Wars-era technology. I had real moments of fan-boy awe as I saw the Clone Dropships up close and personal or lasers tearing apart an outdated Star Destroyer.

The graphic detail and dynamic lighting effects are beautiful, and great emphasis is drawn to the lighting throughout the game when you use your lightsaber, which you are given access to not long at all into the game’s introduction. You will use your lightsaber as a light source in-game, in place of a torch. It is a simple but elegant touch to the gameplay that really shows off the dynamic lighting wonderfully.

The graphics are complemented with sonorous music that is unmistakably Star Wars in feel and tone. The combination of visuals and sound design make for an immersive and exciting step into a new Star Wars story.

Polish

My first encounter with a lack of polish came with the game’s combat. This game is frequently compared to the Souls-Borne games, and this is an unfortunate comparison as I entered the game expecting it to play like Sekrio with a lightsaber.

This game is not Sekrio with a lightsaber.

You are encouraged to use the parry in Fallen Order, but the timing is not as instinctive as it is in Sekrio. You have to take account of the animation window that it takes Cal to move his lightsaber into parry position to catch the enemy weapon as it lands. It is a difference in timing that I have not been able to master. I found myself dying several times in the intoductory sequence. I would not have begrudged this so much if it was not for the painfully long load times.

On a PS4 it takes 30-60 seconds to reload from a death. This elongates the downtime between deaths, which happens frequently if you are playing on the higher difficulties. That mixed with a slightly heavy feeling combat, meant that I had to turn down the difficulty for me to have a good time.

Low posture, stun locks and heavy enemy attack tracking made me feel more that I was fighting unpolished combat mechanics rather than challenging gameplay. One example of this would be the force stasis abilty. You can stun an enemy in game, and the most instinctive use of this ability would be to stun an enemy and run behind them to get a backstab kill. Unfortnately this is not something you can do in game as the enemies, even whilst in stasis, can track your movement as fast as you can move.

There is a lot more I could say about the balance of combat in this game, but I feel it would be better suited to a deep dive on video game combat.

Other niggles I have with the game include texture pop-ins, lag, and stuttering. I have not experienced this issues in another PS4 game before, and certainly not to such an extent that I notice it and it impacts my enjoyment of the game.

Fun

Regardless the issues I have highlighted above, this game is a really fun experience.

I have put the game down several times due to frustration, and boss-related rage, but I have always wanted to pick up the game again. This is a game that am thinking about in-between gaming sessions in a positive way. I always forget the niggles and frustrations I have an am left with a desire to dive deeper into it.

When the game works, it works wonderfully, with fluid action making you truly feel like a jedi in combat. The platforming and exploration is fun and satifying, with the game containing several well thought-out environmental puzzles. When I have struggled to solve a puzzle, it is down to my own failure to apply what the game has shown me, rather than issues with the puzzle mechanics themselves.

Exploration is rewarded with customisation options, which are great for the lightsaber, Mantis (your spaceship) and BD-1 (your personal droid), but rather lackluster for Cal himself.

Conclusion

I really love this game despite its flaws. If you have never played a souls-like game before this is an excellent entry level into the genre, particularly given the use of difficulty choices, which make combat significantly easier than will ever be found in the souls games, whilst retaining the checkpoint and enemy respawn mechanics of the infamous set of games.

The game has solid mechanics, and I would be excited to see EA really polish these mechanics to perfection in a Jedi: Fallen Order 2. The story is sufficiently engaging for an Action-Adventure game, and is a must-try for fans of the Star Wars franchise.

Flashback Friday: No Man’s Sky – A Zen Exploration

This Flashback Friday I look back at the first video game article I ever wrote on this blog. It is crazy to think this happened over a year ago! I hope you enjoy this early exploration into video game blogging.


No Man’s Sky – A Zen Exploration

I have a full-time job.

I have a young child who I have to put to bed as soon as I get home after a long work day.

I have very little mental capacity to focus on anything when I finally sit down and rest.

No Man’s Sky has been my game of choice for these days.

I have Dark Souls, The Witcher 3, and even Metal Gear Solid: Phantom Pain in my catalogue of games I need to finish, but these are all games that require more thought and mental activity than I can muster at the end of a long day, as I am sure more than a fair number of ‘grown-up’ video game fans can attest to. It is in this exhausted mental void that I discovered the beauty that is No Man’s Sky.

At its launch No Man’s Sky was a monumental flop with everyone who had been interested in the game. I was not one of those people, having heard of No Man’s Sky in video game media, but nothing about it seemed to spark my curiosity. This is something I am incredibly grateful for, as it means I have not approached the game from a place of previously being burned by it. In the years since initial release No Man’s Sky has had several large updates, including Atlas Rises and NEXT. After these updates I found it selling for £10 on the PlayStation Store, and noted that it had started to get some positive reviews. I figured I would give it a shot, if the game was rubbish I wouldn’t need to cry over it. With this in mind I took to the stars.

This is not so much a review, as there are plenty of those elsewhere, as it is a record of my experience with this controversial game. I really love this game. I have recorded about 32 hours gameplay, and it has been a relaxing exploration through the vast emptiness of space. I have a handful of personal ships and one large Freighter, which I treat mostly as storage for the various items I collect. I have the beginnings of a base, which I initially built simply to further one of the in-game quest lines, but have slowly started to add to as my desire to do so has grown. There are lots of ‘bits’ to do, lots of quests, which are generally not my cup of tea and I simply activate so they can be fulfilled in the background to reward my own exploration, but they mostly follow the same formula and get repetitive easily. However the exploration truly is the name of this game.

My favourite thing to do in No Man’s Sky is land on a planet I like to look of, so no scorched or barren ones thank you very much, and just explore. Scanning all the animals I can find, looking for strange new plants on the surface, then hopping in my ship, flying a bit further around the planet, and hopping out again to see if there is anything I have missed. Ensuring I stop by any outposts on the surface, and have a good old-fashioned loot, is simple and repetitive, but the infinite variation of kinds of animals and plants makes this experience a tranquil one. With headphones on you become your traveller, listening for the squeaks or creaks of animals, exploring caves, or just stopping to get a beautiful view of the procedurally generated universe. The photo above I took on a toxic planet, which I just thoroughly enjoyed exploring. I can’t put my finger on what it was about this planet that kept me exploring for several evenings in a row, but it was an immersive and compelling experience, that truly helped me to relax at the end of a long day.

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Giant antlered care-bears are the perfect way to relax at the end of the day.

With the approach I take to exploration the piecemeal storyline and drips of information as and when you find specific monoliths or computers works perfectly. I am not playing this game desiring a story, and so the little bits I pick up on different planets make me feel like an archaeologist picking through the pieces of an ancient civilisation. I can see how this game is not everyone’s cup of tea, and in a different life I think I would be among those people, but when you are exhausted, sometimes it is nice to just take to the stars and see what you can find.

There is a kind of multiplayer in this game, but I don’t enjoy other people entering my game-space. I like multiplayer in other games, but when it comes to No Man’s Sky, having another player on your isolated planet is like having someone trampling on your freshly planted flowerbed, it interrupts the very thing you are there to enjoy. Whenever someone starts to connect to my currently habited galaxy I always get that feeling of ‘out of all the galaxies in the universe you had to warp into mine’. Which is quite funny given the name of the game. The feeling of isolation is one that I crave in-game, and this is probably due to the strain of being an introvert working in a very extrovert-centric job.

This game is a real joy. Is it perfect? No. is it grindy? Kinda. Is fun? Absolutely. This limitless, isolated exploration is something that will keep me coming back to No Man’s Sky for years to come, when I get tired of the story driven games I tend to be drawn to, and with its recent update, that I will soon be playing, I am looking forward to many new and interesting things to discover.

If you like this article check out more video game impressions here.

Book Review: ‘The Last Wish’ by Andrzej Sapkowski

‘Evil is evil…Lesser, greater, middling, it’s all the same.’

Last Wish book

My first exposure to the world that Andrezej Sapkowski created took the form of the critically acclaimed Witcher games by CD Projekt Red following the adventures of an amnesiac monster hunter named Geralt of Rivia.

The loss of Geralt’s memory ensures the player does not have to have a prior knowledge of the books the game was based on before picking up and playing, as the games are set after the events in the books, and Geralt cannot remember what happened.

That changes by the final game, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, as Geralt has regained his memory, and his past from the books drives forward the story in the games.

One of the missions in that game is named the Last Wish, which calls back to the very first book in the Witcher series, a poetic curtailing of the world that Andrezej established.

But before we look at the end of the story we have to turn back to the begining if that story and that is what The Last Wish gives us.

The Last Wish has a non-standard narrative structure, taking the form of a series of short stories that establish who Geralt of Rivia is, tied together by the overarching narrative of Geralt reflecting on his during a time of recovery following an injury during a particular monster hunt.

This particular structure does leave you feeling like you are watching the clip show episode of your favourite TV series, but the fact that these stories are new prevents the creeping boredom that can be evoked by the often overused TV trope. Instead we are shown who Geralt of Rivia is by being given a selection of stories, such as might be told by a travelling bard, for us to understand who he is, even if we do not fully understand where he has come from by the end of the book.

The writing style is simple but paints an effective picture of a well-realised world where folklore and fantasy blend together with a realistic medieval setting. I understand the world well very early on in the book, but still have questions about the mechanics of its ontology, which is how a fantasy world should be introduced. The characters in the world don’t fully know and explore the mysteries of the world at the same time as we do.

The book is translated into English from its original Polish and so I will put some of the simplicity down to being lost in translation, as the rest of the world building is effective enough that simplicity is not distracting or unwanted.

A good sense of humour pervades the book with a smile being brought to my lips on several occasions, whether that be by characters own wit or happenstance to unexpected retellings of classic folklore tales.

If you enjoyed watching The Witcher on Netflix, this book is a nice read to see the source material, however all bar-one story in the Last Wish made it into the Netflix series, meaning you will not be reading much that you are not familiar with, and the Netflix Series is fairly close to the source material save for a few minor variations such as would be expected from any adaptation. As such if you read the Last Wish you will know a large portion of what to expect from the Netflix series and vice versa.

I fully enjoyed reading this book, it was a short but fun, slightly pulpy experience, which felt more than the sum of it’s parts by the end.

Having read this book I am now itching to read the rest that Andrezej Sapkowski has to offer. It is not the finest fantasy story ever written, but it is undeniably interesting and fun read, that does not overstay its welcome, and has left me wanting more.

Impressions: Death Stranding

Hideo Kojima is a renowned video game auteur, who has always brought a distinctive and unique approach to video game design, blending innovative gameplay with serious subject matters alongside wacky easter eggs and comic-bookesque villains. The stories in his flagship Metal Gear Solid franchise were always convoluted, confusing, but also deeply touching stories of humans in conflict.

One of the higher-profile controversies in the gaming world over the past 5 years was the breakdown in the relationship between Hideo Kojima and Konami, the company that had published every game he worked on. Konami removed Kojima’s name from all promotional material for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, pulled the plug on the hotly anticipated Kojima-led relaunch of Silent Hill and refused to allow Kojima to accept an award for his work on Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. It was a very public breakup that felt very uncomfortable for long-time fans of Kojima’s work.

But Hideo Kojima left Konami and set up a new production company working for Sony, and immediately began work on a new IP

That IP was Death Stranding.

Death-Stranding-Box

When it was announced all that could be said about it is that it looked…odd. Norman Reedus, in the nude, stood on a beach with a baby. What on earth is this game going to be about?

The answer when it comes is undeniably unexpected.

It’s a game about a postman.

Norman Reedus, the player character is a postman, and you are going to be spending several hours doing something that has become an overused staple of all MMO RPGs and sandbox games: fetch quests.

Take X from point A to point B.

Death-Stranding-cargo
Inventory management, the best part of any game!

It’s so simple, but at the same time so much more is going on. Because it is not just about fetch quests. Death Stranding tells a story about connections. The world has been torn to pieces by the mysterious event known as the Death Stranding, and everyone is isolated and divided. And you walk across the country to bring people together.

Hideo Kojima has always invited us to experience video games as art, and Death Stranding is a poem.

Of course, not everyone likes poems, and I would not begrudge someone who does not enjoy what Death Stranding has to offer. But if you want something different and are willing to open yourself to it, the game speaks volumes.

The game connects you to players all over the world, not by traditional multiplayer, but rather by seeing structures other players have placed in the world. You can place a ladder or a rope to traverse an impassable cliff, and other players around the world can use it too. Likewise, you will be able to use the buildings and constructs that other players who came before you have utilised. You are independent, but you are connected, and those connections are good. In days when Western politics are increasingly polarised, having the message reinforced that we are human and we are better connected cannot help but bring comfort to those of us who are weary of partisan conflict. It is a message that comes at the right time and the right place.

Traversal is a challenge by itself – you have to ensure your cargo is properly balanced and you are taking easy routes to ensure you do not trip or fall. You need to plan for what is coming ahead of you and take it easy, not overexerting yourself to get to your destination.

Enemies are a real threat, with human MULE’s wanting to steal your cargo and invisible BT’s creepily hunting you, you will need to work out the best ways to creep past or avoid them, or as the case may be, fight them. But combat is not the focus of this game and it is not build to be an action game. If you get attacked you can lose cargo, which can be knocked off your back or destroyed, and if that happens you fail your mission. So you again need to appropriately plan for what enemies and challenges you will face along the way.

Death_Stranding_bt
This is all you can see as the BTs stalk you…

Music is beautiful and sometimes haunting, setting the scene of an isolated but oddly connected experience, and the graphics are beautiful. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit down and enjoy the view, and that is something Death Stranding lets you do.

I am over 11 hours into the game, and still am not certain about everything that is going on. There is an expansive plot and I have no idea who the bad guys are at this point in time, but I am excited to find out. I am enjoying everything I am being asked to experience and can’t wait to see what more Kojima has planned for me.

DS harmonica
Nothing like playing the harmonica in your downtime…

If all you are looking for in a game is fast-paced action then this is probably not the game for you. If however, you are a fan of Hideo Kojima this game is an obvious buy. If you are looking for a different experience in gaming then this game might just be what you are looking for. I have always felt that video games are art, and for me, Death Stranding stands as a beautiful testament to that claim.

One to Watch: The Witcher

‘Toss a coin to your Witcher…’

The Witcher Poster.jpg

So you watched Game of Thrones and were hooked. The deep character arcs, the bleak setting, the political intrigue and of course, the sex and violence. It was all looking so good…until Season 8 when it all turned to ashes. You never thought fantasy could work for you, and now you’re not sure what could compare to Game of Thrones at its peak. What could bring that excitement back?

From amongst those ashes, The Witcher steps up to the wicket with a grim-faced Henry Cavill leading the team, and boy does he hit it for six.

The Witcher follows Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher, a monster-hunter for hire, as he tries to live his life avoiding and navigating the schemes of mages and kings as destiny thrusts him into the limelight.

The Netflix series is 8 episodes long and is based on the book series by Polish author Andrezej Sapkowski. This is the same book series that was adapted into the award-winning ‘The Witcher’ video game trilogy, which has set the standard for immersive and narratively compelling sandbox games. But the Netflix series should not be reduced to comparisons to video game adapted movies; it is so much more.

The first point to note is that the video game series is set after the conclusion of Andrezej Sapkowski’s books, whereas the Netflix series based on the books themselves, which forms an interesting prelude for those who want to go on to play The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt.

The acting and action are gripping and bloody and the political plots that are set up are intriguing; all the hallmarks of an exciting fantasy story. The story is not entirely linear, which can be confusing, however when I realised what was going on I found it enormously satisfying to piece together. Some of my friends enjoyed this less, and whilst it is not an issue I had with the series, it is definitely a matter of personal taste as to whether or not this element of the series would be enjoyed. One complaint I do have about the non-linearity of the storytelling is that several character relationships advance off-screen, which can make it hard to understand who has known who for how long at certain points. I think this could be remedied by having a few more episodes to the season to expand on these connections, but I believe that the directors have provided an excellent series given its relatively short number of episodes.

My only other complaint about the Witcher is the CGI in places is janky, and clearly on a TV budget, not a film one. This is not fatal to the series and understandable given this is an untested TV IP. Hopefully, future series will be given a higher budget to correct this.

Witcher BAnner

I thoroughly enjoyed this series and cannot recommend it enough to people who enjoyed Game of Thrones or who have played The Witcher video games. I am already itching for a season 2, and have started reading the book series to get my Witcher fix.

My final recommendation is not to watch this series on a commute. There is a significant amount of nudity, particularly in the early episodes, which might make for an uncomfortable public viewing experience.

Impressions: The Spyro Reignited Trilogy

My first Spiro game was Spiro: Year of the Dragon and I remember loving it. It was simple, it was fun, it had some platforming based puzzles, which were perfect for a young gamer such as myself at the time. It was a light experience.

Because of this, my nostalgia hype-o-meter hit dangerously high levels when I discovered that a remake of Spyro was going to be made, only updating the graphics to current generation specs, whilst maintaining all of the old gameplay.

I was excited, after all this would be the perfect opportunity to experience the older games I never played in high fidelity, as well as getting to re-experience Year of the Dragon. So I had no choice but to get the eloquently titled Spyro Reignited Trilogy upon its release.

Spyro Game Case

My first impression upon loading up the game? The graphics are beautiful. This is Spyro as I remember it, but so much more polished. The colours are vibrant and the character models are crisp. Every level has been painstakingly recreated with precision and it feels like there is some love in there too.

This collection does not feel like so many ‘HD Remasters’ that we see frequently, which are in essence ports of older games with a bit of spit and polish, that are released, sometimes successfully, and sometimes like the infamous Silent Hill: HD Collection, very unsuccessfully. This collection is a remake, where the game has been rebuilt from scratch to bring it to us, and Insomniac Games were brought back, to work alongside the developer Toys for Bob, to ensure that everything about this project managed to get Spyro just right.

Spyro has never looked so pretty

I enjoy playing challenging games, but as many of you will be aware, there is only so long you can play difficult games before you need to take a break. The Spyro Reignited Trilogy is that break. It is a relaxing breath of fresh air. Simple puzzles are enjoyable to play, and this is a game I will be able to let my child play much sooner than Bloodborne or Metal Gear Solid. The flying levels are an actual challenge and a pain to get 100% completion on, but some challenges are to be welcomed when you have such an easy and relaxing time playing the rest of the game.

Furthermore, the trophies available in the game are a little bit outside of the box compared to the usual progress check trophies that are found in modern games. Trophies are granted for slightly more novel exercises, which take some intention to do. They are nothing complex, but it adds to the experience, making them similar to the classic skill points that still be obtained in-game.

I am enjoying working playing my way through the Spiro Reignited Trilogy, and it provides a crisp and nostalgic breath of fresh air to the modern line up of hardcore challenging games that I tend to spend more of my time playing.