Bethesda @ E3

As some of you may know, Bethesda Softworks announced in February that they will be hosting their first ever conference at the Electronics Entertainment Expo in LA this year.  Given Bethesda's blockbuster lineup, this has led to a lot of hype surrounding the conference.

First, I'll write some thoughts before the conference about what I think they'll cover.  There was the announcement of Fallout 4 just last week, so we know they'll go more in-depth with that during their hour conference.  Secondly, someone was 'accidentally' live streaming a conversation at Bethesda just last night talking about Dishonored 2..  This was one that many had hoped for, but was never really expected, so they'll most likely officially announce the game.  We know id Software has been working on a new Doom for a while now, and that's also expected.

After that, it's pretty much up in the air.  Elder Scrolls Online has been out a while now, so I expect an announcement for an expansion.  It recently came to the console generation, so I would almost expect any expansion to be much cheaper for them - or staggered to allow the consoles the same amount of time with the base game as PC users had.  Unfortunately, I haven't delved too deeply into ESO so I don't know where I stand on the matter.  However, what I *do* expect is an announcement for the next numbered sequence in the long-heralded game.  They'll have to do a lot to top Skyrim, but I can't imagine they'll announce their own conference and exclude any of their franchises.  Personally, I want to either see the Summerset Isles or Hammerfell.  

Further, Bethesda could even surprise everyone and announce a sequel to Rage.  I consider this to be a long shot, simply because id has been confirmed to be working on Doom, but perhaps Doom is practically done and they've had time to prep some Rage footage.

Anyway, the above was written at 9:30pm, half an hour before the conference.  I will finish this with the real announcements after I nerd out on it.

Alright, after a very inspiring opening video, Bethesda has decided to change it up somewhat and decided not to show a trailer for Doom, but instead to show true gameplay.  It looks just as spectacular as I expected it to be, as they showcase a few of the amazing weapons and many different finishing moves on the myriad of enemies.  They also showed off a bit of multiplayer before returning to the singleplayer and showcasing a level in Hell.  They also announced a custom map too for the game, titled Doom Snapmap.  Every copy of the game will get this, and will allow modders to shine wherever they may play.  It looks very in-depth, and could aim to shake up the idea that PC gamers get all the mods, that's for sure.  The game is currently slated for a Spring 2016 release.

They also spoke a bit about Battlecry, a team-based shooter reminiscent of Team Fortress.  It looked very cel-shaded and not entirely up my alley, but it looked good.  They're now accepting beta applications at the Battlecry website, and if you apply before the 18th, you'll receive priority beta access and special in-game items.  I'll probably skip this one, myself, but it does look like it could be fun.  This one should be getting a 2015 release.

As mentioned in the second paragraph, Bethesda officially announced Dishonored 2.  After a very polished trailer, it introduces a new character, Emily Kaldwin, and shows her moving fluidly through a much brighter city than the previous game - though this city is also in the throes of a plague.  The Outsider makes a return appearance, and takes place in Karnaca, and you can choose to play as Emily or Corvo, who also makes a return (It's possible that he's the one who trained Emily?  They didn't explain any of the story, but probably for good reason. There isn't a release date as of yet, but they did announce a remastered definitive edition of the previous game, which is coming this fall.

Moving to their MMO, ESO appears to be getting an update which allows players to enter the fallen Imperial City - possibly as a raid instance, since it appears to be quite intricate. Further, they mention Orsinium, so maybe we'll get some backstory on the orcish homeland.  After those small tidbits, they show a screen that I wanted to see from the beginning: the Dark Brotherhood note.  That was enough to get me to possibly consider getting back into this game, since I've always loved the Dark Brotherhood.

More on the Elder Scrolls front, they announced Elder Scrolls Legends, a strategy card game that sounds a lot like Hearthstone.  They mention mobile devices, but the game appears to mimic Hearthstone and will release on PC and iPad.  Slated for a 2015 release, they didn't show any gameplay or anything about the game, so I'm very curious to see how it plays.

Finally, they get to the showstopper: Fallout 4.  As suggested by the trailer, we finally see the beginning of the war.  It starts out with some gameplay of real face sculpting.  You can not only select pieces of a face and make changes - no sliders! - but you can also choose a male or female character.  That in itself, is huge, especially after the deadly...fallout (bad joke, am I right?) from Ubisoft last year saying how hard it was to animate a female character.  Further, your in-game child is generated based on the couple that you create during that opening sequence.  I don't know what purpose that will have, but it's fascinating that you can modify the character you don't choose and still have those choices make a difference in your game.  Further, they appear to have made it fully voiced, even with the ability to choose a name; they have pre-recorded over a thousand of the most popular names in use, so that you can use your name and still be able to have full dialog.  Obviously for people like me and others, you won't have your name in-game, but it's a huge step forward for RPG immersion.

As for the story, they didn't reveal much aside from saying the bulk of the game takes place two hundred years after the war begins, and that you are the sole survivor of Vault 111.  You can choose between First or Third Person Perspective, as well as being able to do basically anything; you are never locked into dialog - you can turn and leave after starting a conversation, or you can shotgun people in the face.  It's a very dynamic approach to conversations, one that I've not seen used in that form before.  They also showcase the dog seen in the trailer, and apparently he counts as a true companion; you can issue orders to him, he can fight alongside you, and you can treat him like a real friend.  It's very interesting.  They've also mentioned a layered armor system.  While they didn't quite explain this very well, I believe it means that you'll be allowed to fully customize your loadout.

As for the Pip-boy, they've spent a lot of time crafting it, giving it real heft; your protagonist finds it outside the vault when he leaves, and it can be given upgrades - they mentioned games that can be played on your Pip-boy, which means I'll probably waste so much time on that it will be utterly ridiculous.  Finally, they announced Fallout 4 Pip-boy Edition, which has a real Pip-boy, which you can add your phone into and use the second-screen app for Fallout 4 - you won't need the Pip-boy to use the app, but it certainly adds a measure of flair to the whole thing.

They segued into a new game they announced as well called Fallout Shelter.  On iOS devices, you can make your own vault, where you're the overseer.  It takes clear inspiration from such games as FTL and XCOM, where you can build a vault and try not to kill everyone.  It's free to play and does not have a paywall; there is no pay to win.  Even better, it is out now.  I plan to play it for a while to see how lost I get into it.

Luckily, they weren't done with Fallout 4.  You have the option to salvage pieces from the world to rebuild your home.  The limitations are currently unknown, but it shows them tearing down a burned down house for resources, which are then used to build a home.  Through this, you can build your own town, and NPCs can show up and populate the town that you built.  Further, it will be attacked by raiders (Todd Howard all but confirmed that you will have to defend it) so it has a form of Tower Defence built into it.  It seems super ambitious, but everything about this game seems to be that.  Case in point, you can not only build multiple towns - and even set up trade routes between them - but every item has a purpose; it can all be salvaged and used to craft weapons and armor.  There are 50 base weapons and over 700 modifications for those weapons.  Even better, you can also have your own power armor.  It's all very exciting stuff, but they saved the best for last: Fallout 4 will grace the world with its presence on November 10, 2015.

So, as for my predictions, I was about half.  They announced stuff for ESO, but no numbered entry - though that was a tad hopeful, since they were already working on Fallout 4.  They didn't announce anything for Rage, but again, id's already super busy.  All I know for sure is that I'm going to preorder this almost as soon as I get the chance, since it looks so amazing.  All in all, this was a huge start to what I hope will be a spectacular E3.  I plan to do similar reviews for a couple other conferences that I plan to watch, so stay tuned for those

Final Fantasy XV Episode Duscae Impressions

Final Fantasy XV Episode Duscae is the long awaited demo for Final Fantasy XV. Coming bundled with Final Fantasy Type-0 HD in a 'Day One Edition', this is our first look at the upcoming game which currently has no release date.  However, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD was released March 17, 2015 for the PS4 and the Xbox One.  The copy I have was made for the PS4, but the quality should be similar across all platforms (and barring any unforeseen circumstances, there will be a review of Type-0 at some point soon).

Firstly, I would like to mention that the gameplay contained within Episode Duscae may not be totally indicative of the final product.  What has been released is merely a sampling of the final game, a sampling which is likely to be changed before the final product makes its way to consumers.  As such, this is not a real review, merely a look into the released product.  We shall see once the game is truly released how well these impressions hold up.  With that out of the way, I shall get on with the bits you came to see!

Episode Duscae begins with some backstory explaining that our band of brothers, Noctis, Ignis, Gladiolus and Prompto,  are traveling across the country when their car breaks down in the province of Duscae.  In order to get back on the road (and, presumably, continue eluding Imperial forces) a sum of 24,000 Gil must be gathered.  While it seems possible to gather the sum without ever following the story of the demo, that story is laid out immediately after gaining control of the group: hunting the great 'Deadeye', the Behemoth.  Giving a total of 25,000 Gil upon successful kill, the aim of the demo is ultimately to kill Deadeye.

After a short tutorial on combat - it is skippable, but since the combat was such a departure from previous entries, I deemed it appropriate to go through with it as a matter of principle - you are given free rein.  I started my demo by running off and killing some of the wildlife, which I was informed was called a Sabertusk.  A pack animal, they typically attack in groups of 3 to 5 from what I could tell.  After dealing with the lot of them, this game's version of the Battle Over screen appears as an overlay that tallies up the EXP gained and a couple other morsels of information which factor into an EXP bonus, which modifies the base EXP given by each enemy.  The better you handle the battle, the more EXP you get, which is a very nice addition.

After I killed a few of the Sabertusks, I turned my attention to the Garulas.  Looking like enormous cows, they are harmless to you...until you attack one of the herd. I found this out accidentally as I happened to hit one while trying to fend off a Sabertusk attack.  What made that battle even better was the further addition of rare spawning Imperial Guard Troops.  While playing the demo, a patrol of Magitek Troops will land near you and engage.  That battle was quite hectic, as I was fending off three different groups of enemies - though the AI seems to keep them separate, as each engaged the other in differing ways as well, making it quite fascinating.  Luckily it's hard to die in this game.  When your HP gauge is depleted, that nice white HP bar becomes red.  Which it's fully depleted, you drop to your knees and are susceptible to 'permanent damage', which means damage you take depletes the red bar.  After each battle, your health regenerates, but only up to the end of the red bar; so the more damage you take while downed, the lower your total health until you camp.  Having the red bar totally depleted results in death and Game Over.  However, if you manage to escape the scrum, one of your brothers will come stand over you and allow you to recover, returning your nice and white health bar.  The same thing can happen to them, and any of you can help them - I've 'rescued' a comrade a couple times, and the other AI partners did so in a later battle.

Another departure in this game over previous is that EXP isn't automatically given.  In order to level up, you have to camp - usually done once the sun goes down, but presumably whenever you like.  When camping, a meal is made based on ingredients you have in your inventory (killing the wildlife can give you drops normally found on that animal, and you can also buy foodstuffs from shops around the area), and this meal confers bonuses the next day.  After the meal screen, you're taken to a screen that tallies up all the EXP gained for the day, and then levels your characters up based on that.  Personally, I'm slightly against the need to camp to level up, but the meal buff makes it almost worth it.

At any rate, after destroying a few packs of Sabertusks and Magitek Soldiers, I turned my attention to the mission at hand: killing Deadeye.  The structure of the mission was exciting: I had to track his position and finally move in on his apparent den.  Once you enter the den and come face to face with the beast, you have to track him through the mist, using his blind eye and rocks for cover - this use of the cover system was quite ingenious, but it functioned like any insta-fail stealth mission from other games, so it got annoying after a couple failures - before finally moving in on its true den.  Ignis laid out a rather good plan - though rather simple - and following through on it seemed too easy.  My fears proved right when the beast jumped up and attacked.  We regrouped and fought it for a bit before it proved too much and we were forced to flee.  I feel like the game should've explained that better, since I hit a game over screen far too many times because my group ran off without me, leaving me alone with the beast and unable to flee.

After I managed to get away, we searched for clues and found out that there was a cave near a ranch that was apparently 'haunted'.  Obviously, four bros were  more than up to the task, so we went in search of that cave.  After battling through a goblin horde, Noctis acquires the summon for Ramuh.  From what I've heard (since I have stopped playing the demo for other reasons at the moment), the summons only activate upon 'death' so I have yet to see this in action.  However, it appeared to be what I needed to do, since my current quest objective is to return to the lair of Deadeye.

From what I can see, the game is very well crafted.  It looks gorgeous, the controls feel right (though the camera could probably use some work) and the banter seems okay - I do hope there are more lines in the finished product, since they repeat themselves quite often.  The Duscae region we are exposed to is but a small portion of the game proper, so I'm sincerely hoping to see as varied a continent as we've seen in not only other entries into the franchise, but also other open-world games like Skyrim that we can see have been borrowed from.  Just look at that monstrosity to the right; that was as close as I could get, so each of those spines is easily as large as Noctis.  I hope to be able to walk across that water in the finished product and lay waste to that hulk, just to see if I can do it - much like every encounter I had in Skyrim.

All in all, I"m very happy with the demo.  I'm sure I'll be playing it multiple times to see what I can find locked away in it, but until then, the demo simply stoked the fire I have for this game.  I hope E3 gives us more information about this game, most importantly an actual release date.