Red Dead Redemption 2

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I started this blog for myself, as a way to leave reminders and reflections to look back on in the future. I finished Red Dead Redemption 2 recently, and when I considered taking a break from exam studying to write a blog about it, I thought “but what hasn’t been said about it? Everyone has written and posted a million thoughts on it.” But that’s the line of thinking you practice when you have an audience, and while I am honored and grateful that I do have a few kind souls who check this blog on occasion, I try not to worry about ‘producing,’ because that can stifle my desire to write anything at all. So, like Arthur Morgan and his frequent note-taking and sketches, here are some brief and somewhat random thoughts about my time with RDR2. There will, obviously, be some spoilers.

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There was some concern about the sim aspects of the game – the weight management, horse care, gun maintenance, etc. – and I have to admit I was a tiny bit worried about it as well. Rockstar used similar systems in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and I didn’t like how they (mostly the turf wars) intruded in my open-world exploration and adventuring. The opposite happened with RDR2. Because I started the game during end-of-semester madness and played the rest between intense study sessions, I almost slipped into shallow mission-hopping, just plowing through the game without enjoying the world. But I actually found myself embracing the little things, which quickly turned into a routine, just like the real world. These minute, world-building details gave the game a texture that few other games have.

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I tried to make it back to camp every night, or every other night, to get at least four hours of sleep. I loved making it back in the evening, before everyone had gone to bed. I would hitch my horse (more on her later), feed her a few carrots and brush her down, then greet a few friends on my way to the stew pot. I’d ladle myself a bowl (no doubt made with the meat I harvested from the wolves that attacked me a couple of days prior), then wander over to one of the few people I actually liked, maybe Tilly or Mary-Beth, and chat with them as I ate. If I needed a beard trim, I’d do that before turning in, and in the morning I’d drink a cup or two of coffee while making small talk with whoever else was loitering around the low fire. Then it was off to work, as I’d feed my horse an oatcake, pat her down, and head back into the wild.

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When I was out in the world, I was always aware of how dirty I was getting. It was dusty in the desert, muddy in the swamps, and dirty (and sometimes bloody) everywhere else. So I also tried to take a bath every few days, if I could. I wasn’t making a conscious effort to role play. I just felt like I needed to. I felt refreshed coming out of a hot bath, even if I could never quite get my clothes clean. I would forget about my guns more often, but once I bought and customized my two primary weapons, the Schofield revolver and a bolt-action rifle, both black with silver engravings, I kept up with the cleaning and maintenance more often.

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As with the original RDR, I decided to stick with one horse: the one that came with the special edition. She was a grey war horse, big and powerful, so I named her Freya, after the queen of the Valkyries (at least in God of War lore, heh). I didn’t eat much myself and was perpetually underweight, but I kept a healthy store of hay, radishes, apples, peaches, oatcakes, and more to feed Freya because she was constantly working hard to get me from place to place, and she never threw me once. Plus I ran her into several trees, riders, and over cliffs, so she deserved to be spoiled. Speaking of spoiled, I know I gave a spoiler warning earlier, but just in case someone is reading this and hasn’t played the game, I’m about to spoil something big. So, you know. Just another warning. Ahem. Near the climax, when Freya was gunned down, I actually shed some tears. The game was emotionally intense at points, but I never teared up or cried during other beats. I don’t know if it was an extension of role-playing a hardened gunslinger, and I was definitely moved by some events, but I never broke – except for when Freya went down, and I crawled over to her to say goodbye. That hurt more than Arthur dying, because I knew that one was coming. Somehow I believed my faithful steed would survive that mess. Le sigh.

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I do think that the epilogue was too long, as others have said. I think overall it’s great, and I love some of the same kinds of world-building minutiae (the house building especially), but it could have been half or a third as long and been just as effective. I do think that the epilogue and the clips that show up in the credits do a wonderful job of bridging the two games, though. I almost wish they’d release a remaster of the first game, because it would be really cool to jump straight from the sequel (prequel?) into the original game. I think having played through the events that prompted the first game’s narrative, many of the lines and scenes would have so much more power. They probably will release a remaster at some point, but if it’s not within the next few months I’ll probably pass on it. I really feel I need the emotions and memories to be fresh in order for it to be effective. Maybe I’d play them back-to-back sometime down the road, though.

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Some final, random thoughts that I don’t have the time to expand on: I know Arthur was hung up on Mary, but I was quietly crushing on Mary-Beth. Sadie was annoying at first but became one of my favorite characters. She should get some DLC. Killing Micah was so. damn. satisfying. I didn’t hunt very often. I bagged a few legendary animals, but my main source of meat was animals that tried to kill me or what I bought from butchers. I only encountered one cougar, and (surprise, surprise) it killed me. There was what I guess was a witch’s hut up north, and I drank from the cauldron inside (don’t judge me, I’m adventurous, okay?) and passed out. I couldn’t tell if it had any other effects and I didn’t lose anything that I could tell. *shrug emoji* The game’s weather and atmosphere systems were incredible, as was the geology/topology, which is a continuing interest of mine in games. I have many more thoughts, big and small, but I think I’ll end it here, before this blog ends up as long as the epilogue. *badum csh*

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My Gaming Radar: 2017

First, I should say that this is not necessarily just a list of unreleased games that I’m excited about playing in 2017. The stack of games I’ve bought but haven’t played yet is bigger than my bank account, so my immediate gaming future will be spent catching up on some of those, and I begin my list with those that I actually plan on playing in the next few months. I couldn’t hope to get through the entire stack, even if I had several months off (sorry, copy of Secret of Evermore that I’ve had for almost twenty years!), so I’m just going with recent-ish purchases.

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Aside from that, yeah, these are some games that I am very excited about and are scheduled to be released in 2017. It’s a long-ish list already, so I’m excluding games that I’m only passively interested in (sorry, Ni no Kuni II, I still have to finish your predecessor), games that I’ve already played in some form (like Final Fantasy XII or Dragon Quest VIII), games that I’ve started and am still playing (The Division, Rock Band 4, GTA V, etc.) and games that are only rumored to be coming out (like, well, half of the games for Nintendo’s Switch). I’ll conclude with games that I want to see announced this year, because if anyone reads this and gets that far they deserve to be rewarded with even more text to half-read and zero-enjoy. You’re welcome!

Final Fantasy XV

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This game was in development for so long that I hadn’t even thought about it in years. Real, literal years. But when I got an email about pre-ordering it, an old familiar excitement rushed through me. Final Fantasy games have changed a lot over the years, but I haven’t hated any of them, even if some are less memorable than others. And some, like XII, are high up on my favorite-games-of-all-time list, so I am very excited to play this one. I’d been waiting for winter break to start it because playing narratively immersive games is hard for me during the busy semester, so I should get to it before I’m out of time and up to my neck in all kinds of work again. I know very little about it, because I tend to avoid reading previews and reviews on games that I am very excited about, to avoid getting too hyped or running into spoilers, but it looks gorgeous from the few screenshots and videos I’ve seen. I just hope the combat is fun, like it was in XII.

Life is Strange

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This game seems pretty easy to consume in small chunks, so I will likely save this for the middle of the semester, when I can guiltily sneak in only 20-30 minutes of gaming every few days (if I’m lucky). I’ve heard lots of good things about it, and I have very much enjoyed other recent games that have more of a focus on narrative than mechanics. It also came up in a presentation I attended, about using video games in literature courses, so I am curious to play it with that in mind and see how I might fit it into my own future courses.

The Last Guardian

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Okay, full disclosure: I own both Team Ico’s Ico and Shadow of the Colossus but I have yet to beat either of them. Or, well, play either of them for more than five or ten minutes. But I will! Some day. Some distant, distant day. I am determined to break that habit with The Last Guardian, which I never thought I’d see released at all. I enjoy big, mainstream games as much as the next person, but sometimes I need these smaller, quirky games to remind me of the vast spectrum of what video games have come to be. Also, that bird-dog better not fucking die, man. I’m telling you right now, Team Ico, despite the game already being complete!

Paper Mario: Color Splash

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Now we’re getting into the games that I will probably have to save for summer break, but I am still very excited about games like Paper Mario: Color Splash. The Paper Mario series has followed the Nintendo tradition of refining and perfecting a solid formula rather than reworking and trying to revolutionize new entries. The upside to this is that you end up with some of the best games on any platform, but sometimes it can feel tiring after a while (lookin’ at you, Animal Crossing). It’s somewhere between the two for me, with regards to Paper Mario, so I’m both expecting a high quality, thoughtful experience with Color Splash and hoping for something different enough to make it feel like a very new and different game. But the cute style and odd humor will win me over, either way. Paper Peach is still on my list of tattoos that I might get eventually.

Dead Rising 3

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The first Dead Rising game was, I thought, flawed but fun, and the second improved a bit on my main area of complaint (the whole ticking time-bomb structure). Even if I don’t get into the story or characters in this third entry, I’ve always loved exploring the detailed environments and the many ways with which to dispatch the undead. The previous entries did an impressive job with the last gen hardware, considering how good the games looked and how many objects were on screen at once, so I am excited to see how the Xbox One’s horsepower lends itself to creating an even more chaotic and inspiring world.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

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I don’t have much to say about this one. I’ve enjoyed most of the Call of Duty games and I get around to playing them when I can get them for pretty cheap (I don’t play online so I never feel very rushed). I expect that this will be a solid, fun, short experience.

Halo 4

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Man, I loved Halo 3. I played it online, a lot, and I had tons of fun with the video editor. I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to buying the fourth game, and I don’t expect I’ll get online with it this time around (having the right set of friends being into a game at the same time helps, I think), but I anticipate some epic, cinematic science-fiction battles.

Battlefield 1

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I have a lot of FPSs to catch up on, it seems. Battlefield 1 looks gorgeous and I’m curious to see how they handle the World War I setting. Like many people, I picture that war as being very slow and bleak, but the videos of Battlefield 1 make it look very fast and flashy. For as much cynicism that this  disparity had generated early in the game’s development, it sure has gotten a lot of good press post-release. So I might try and get to this before summer, if I can.

Titanfall

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I never bought into the hype for this game, but it looked good enough to buy at a hefty Black Friday discount, so I’ll play it before I forget about it and it’s doomed to the probably-won’t-play-for-years pile.

Street Fighter V

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Fighting games are super easy to play casually, so I’ll probably play this game (and the next entry)  sporadically throughout the semester. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Street Fighter IV, so I expect this one to be at least as good.

Mortal Kombat X

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I don’t remember the last time I played a Mortal Kombat game regularly, but with fairly strong buzz and a roster of DLC characters that include some of my favorite cinematic villains, I couldn’t pass this one up. Even if I don’t get into it half as much as I did with the first few MK games all those years ago, it will be nice to revisit the characters (and have a current MK game laying around for social gaming gatherings).

Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past

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Oh, man. Ever since Dragon Quest VIII enthralled and enchanted me over ten years ago, I have been waiting anxiously for another Dragon Quest experience like it. With no proper sequels released on home consoles, I made do with the Nintendo DS remakes, which were great, don’t get me wrong, but they didn’t have the same vastness and sense of exploration that VIII did. I don’t expect Fragments of the Forgotten Past will satisfy that sense, but I love the series so much that I will eat it up anyway. It will at least keep me satisfied until…

Dragon Quest XI

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Okay, so, very little has been released about this entry in the series, leading me to doubt it will be out in 2017, but that’s what it’s listed as so I’ll hold out hope. And my hopes are high, given that this will be the first single player game in the main series to be released in the US since, well, VIII. And the few screenshots that I’ve seen look absolutely stunning. I hope they maintain the old-school RPG gameplay, which is a staple of the series, and don’t try anything too revolutionary. Still, just seeing a new Dragon Quest world rendered with the power of the PlayStation 4 is going to make waiting hard. But I will, and I’ll probably self-impose a blackout on reading any press about it, starting — now.

Resident Evil 7

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Resident Evil 7 comes out just two weeks after the semester starts, which means… well, it means I’m going to have to play fast to make it through it before I get too busy. Waiting is not much of an option. Not only am I a big Resident Evil fan, but this game looks like it goes back to the series’ horror roots in the best way. I haven’t decided whether I’m going to play it in VR or not yet. The screen tearing and jaggies in the “Kitchen” demo worry me a bit, as does the fact that some VR games make me nauseous after a while. I’ll probably start out in VR and see how it feels. The graphics and lighting in the regular demo are spectacular, though, and I can’t wait to see where the biological agents come into play, as so far they’re playing the whole ‘inbred, rural serial killer’ thing up, but that is almost certainly a front. Like the mansion in the first game, I’m sure there is some underground or off-site facility where mutant/zombie stuff happens. As disappointed as I was that Silent Hills was cancelled, I like that Capcom seems to be embracing the same kind of tone and style for this new Resident Evil.

Outlast 2

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Another embarrassing admission: I still haven’t beaten the first Outlast game. I died a few times in a row when I got to the basement, and I just wasn’t equipped to deal with that level of repeated tension and anxiety, so I put it aside. I’ll have to get back to it, because as a horror fan I loved the premise and atmosphere, and the sequel looks so great. The cornfield setting is especially exciting for me, because I live and go to school in a city surrounded by corn. I’m even trying to think of a way to bring it into the classroom, too, since my students will be well acquainted with corn field and their creepiness, so we can analyze setting and its effect on different audiences.

Horizon Zero Dawn

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I don’t know much about the plot for Horizon Zero Dawn, other than it’s a sort of post–post-apocalyptic reclamation scenario (right? I might be remembering incorrectly). But the video they showed at E3, and the screenshots that I’ve seen have been stunning. I’m all about large, colorful, luscious landscapes, and this game looks to have that in spades. I’m all for new female lead characters, too, so I’m hoping she is cool and memorable.

Ace Combat 7

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I’m cautiously optimistic about Ace Combat 7Ace Combat 4 is one of my favorite games of all time, but since then the series has disappointed me to various degrees, with the last game I tried playing (Assault Horizon) being the worst of them. Having said that, 7  probably wouldn’t even be on my radar if it weren’t for the fact that it’s going to be fully compatible with the PlayStation VR. Will I get sick and want to have a real barf bag handy in my virtual cockpit? Maybe. But it just might be worth it. I just want the controls to return to the days of the fourth and fifth games in the series. Please. Pretty please.

Red Dead Redemption 2

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Rockstar is so secretive about their games that I can’t even predict whether this will really be released this year or pushed back to spring 2018, but it seems slightly more likely that the former will actually happen. I loved Red Dead Redemption far more than I’d expected to, and Rockstar went so far above and beyond with Grand Theft Auto V that my hopes are apologetically high for the sequel. I’m hoping it’s set up like GTA V in that there is a fully fleshed-out single player campaign and then a vast and full-featured open-world multi-player mode as well. I’m ready to ride or die either way.

Star Trek: Bridge Crew

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Okay, so the screenshots released for this game aren’t exactly inspiring. In fact, they look pretty generic and, well, crappy. BUT! Star Trek! In virtual reality! I won’t be too worried about the graphics being sub-par (I might even welcome it, in VR) if they get the gameplay and simulation parts right. My favorite Star Trek game is the SNES version of Star Trek: Starfleet Academy – Starship Bridge Simulator. I loved being in the role of a cadet making their way through the academy and, eventually, getting my own ship and rank. This game sounds like it could potentially be a spiritual successor to that game, so I am hyped for it. I’m not sure it will start in the academy, but I hope so. Either way, I’m definitely excited to give this a shot. It might be a dud, but at the very least it will be a neat novelty game for the VR.

Mass Effect Andromeda

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Is this the game I’m looking forward to most this year? Maybe. Probably. Maybe. The Mass Effect series is among my favorites, and this game looks pretty spectacular so far. The only thing keeping me from being more certain about its status is the cast of characters. The other Mass Effect sequels had the benefit of returning, beloved characters. I’m sure BioWare will conjure up yet another complex and lovable/hateable (in a good way) crew, but I don’t know anything about them at this point, so… I’m purposefully being wary. I’d rather be pleasantly surprised than disappointed. Anyway, I hope away missions to planets makes a return, like the Mako missions in the first game. It would be even better if it were expanded on and you could land on any terrestrial planet. With games like No Man’s Sky and Elite: Dangerous it seems like an obvious direction to take, but once again I’m not going to get too hopeful. Regardless, I love BioWare and I love Mass Effect, so my life and free time are theirs once this comes out.

Nintendo Switch

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Aside from what Nintendo showed at E3, I haven’t heard much about the gaming line-up for the Switch, so I don’t have much to go off of. There’s supposed to be a new Mario game ready for or near launch, duh. And there will eventually be a new Mario Kart, Mario Party, Metroid, etc. I’ve never been big into mobile gaming, so that part of the design is passively interesting at best for me. I am also a little disappointed (but not surprised) that the core system is not likely to be much more powerful than last-gen consoles. But, at the end of the day, it’s a new Nintendo console that will have new Nintendo games… gimme dat.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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Okay, one last shameful confession before we wind things down: I bought The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess with my Wii at launch. I was super excited for the series’ return to darker and more realistic visuals. I played it for an hour or so and then didn’t touch it again for four or five years. At that point I felt dumb and guilty for never having given it a chance, especially given how much people seemed to like it. So I picked it up, played for seven or eight hours… and stopped. Again. I can’t let that happen again, so I am determined to play the shit out of Breath of the Wild, which looks colorful and fun and pretty wonderful so far.

NES Classic Edition

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I have been trying to get one of these since it launched. It seems Nintendo is up to its old tricks, limiting stock and using the resulting madness to fuel sales for months. It works, of course, but I wanted one before it was the ‘it’ thing to grab. I have many of the games loaded on it, but for those that I don’t, and just to have a slightly up-res version of the NES with classic controllers, I want one. Badly.

Other Wishes

Very briefly, here are some non-obvious games I’d love to see announced or released this year. First up is Bully 2. It’s not that I loved the original more than any game ever, but I did very much enjoy the world and characters, and the fact that a sequel seems like a given and seems to constantly be rumored to be coming, I want it more and more every year. Maybe this year.

Second is Mother 3. After Nintendo’s surprise release of EarthBound Beginnings for the Virtual Console, my hopes for a US release of Mother 3 went from ‘never gonna happen’ to ‘any day now’ instantly. I was so sure they would have announced it last year, on the tenth anniversary of the Japanese version’s release. I lost some hope when it wasn’t, but it still seems like it has to happen at some point… I really hope it’s this year.

What else would be cool? A new Knights of the Old Republic game, thought it seems highly unlikely. A Star Wars VR game. A remake of Final Fantasy VIII, which seems highly likely (but not for another few years, probably). A new, real, huge Animal Crossing. A new Civilization Revolution would be nice, but is doubtful. And, of course, a Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross sequel or remake, as unlikely as it is.

Even without these dream games, 2017 is already shaping up to be a pretty decent year for video games. I look forward to E3 in the spring and how that might change things. Until then, I have an endless stack of games to get to.