2022.03.30

Elden Ring bridge trap hanging

I have another post queued up for real world stuff like Ukraine and the market/return of Gamestonk, but let's talk about the big March PS5 releases.
IRL

Ocean rainbow 500mm storm

Rob came down and met me and Jes and Dani at Ponto. I was hoping to hang out and shoot some overhead waves but there was weather. So I turned the 500mm on seagulls and rainbows and drenched people.

Elden Ring

Elden Ring start area samurai tree field

Me and J have managed a few sessions of Elden Ring and we're quite enjoying it.

Meme Zelda here is Elden ring bitch

Elden Ring feels a lot like Zelda, and I mean the original Zelda with its massive overworld and frequent caves. I suppose Skyrim did that too, but oftentimes in Skyrim a small cave entrance would lead to a massive network of chambers and underground cities and such. From a playability standpoint, in Skyrim you kinda have to think twice about derailing your current plans, in TLOZ and ER you can just pop in for a boss/item/deathloop.


Keeping the above comparisons going, one of the most iconic moments from the Elden Ring early game went like this:

We were sneaking up on some dudes in a swamp, trying to decide if we could take them. In a Skyrim-like moment of draconic grandeur and Souls-like moment of involuntary excretion, a dragon swooped in and wrecked the whole NPC group. Then settled in and told the whole swamp, "try something". We backed away slowly.

Open world Dark Souls

Elden Ring combat coop soldiers

Elden Ring closely follows the mechanics of other Souls games. For co-op combat, this means that enemies have a single target lock (that they switch from time to time) and will ignore the other player. This makes for easy 2v1 battles and slightly harder 2v2+ battles with minons. Large enemies and bosses still focus on a single player but mix in AoE and no-look attacks.

Bosses and difficulty

Elden Ring Margin Fell Omen combat Rogier

The Elden Ring dungeon bosses vary from "not too bad" to "we'll uh... come back", with some requiring a craftable to make the battle winnable. True to the genre, the main bosses require a lot of attempts or grinding.

Here's where the open world thing kicks in: where linear souls games require replaying prior locales to grind/unlock, in Elden Ring you can just point a direction and go somewhere new. The overworld isn't particularly friendly, but if you're walking around a ton of unspent xp, you can probably make it to a campfire.

Load screens

Elden Ring load screen skull head snake tentacle

Shout out to the load screens:

thumbnail Elden Ring load screen zombie horse rider thumbnail Elden Ring load screen werewolf Blaidd thumbnail Elden Ring load screen merchant fire

Messages

thumbnail Elden Ring message try fingers but hole thumbnail Elden Ring message edge lord

One of my favorite mechanics of Bloodborne was making J wait while I wrote a message to the soulsverse. It's an awesome balancing feature in souls games that lets you tell others when they're walking into an ambush or missing a secret area. Or completely lie, hoping that some naive player will jump into a chasm that you promised has a secret.

Since the allowable dictionary is finite, people have gotten creative in writing sophomoric jokes. I have deep respect for the helpful messages, the troll messages, and the meme messages.

Scenery

Elden Ring scenery bridge tower

The game looks good and uses both gloomy colors and pretty colors - something unheard of in the genre. I think. I've only played Bloodborne and Nioh.

thumbnail Elden Ring shore pillars grass thumbnail Elden Ring castle view night

Bestiary

Elden Ring enemy lobster

The enemies aren't always especially inventive. Then again, in Elden Ring I can say, "J, watch out for that bear/wolf/crab/lobster/tentacle creature!" It's a lot more informative and specific than the Bloodborne/Nioh exclamations, "J, watch out for that tentacle creature/tentacle yokii/tentacle skeleton/light blue tentacle creature!".

thumbnail Elden Ring merchant mule church thumbnail Elden Ring Erdtree Burial Watchdog combat thumbnail Elden Ring beach octopus thumbnail Elden Ring boar dead jellyfish
thumbnail Elden Ring dead horseman ambush
Horizon Forbidden West

Horizon Forbidden West Aloy jumping explosion

Moving from a co-op masterpiece to a solo masterpiece, I've made some progress in Horizon but have a feeling it'll take some time before the west is won. There are some very vague mid-game spoilers here.

Story

Horizon Forbidden West Aloy base Far Zenith map

The main conflict in Forbidden West reveals itself rather slowly - over a half-dozen main quests - and the story is not short on antagonists. Aloy sets out to solve a world-ending plague, but runs into Sylens, the Tenakth, the Tenakth rebels, and the Zeniths. The situation is a litte more nuanced than good vs evil.

HZD introduced players to a post-apocalpytic realm of robot dinosaurs, risen from the ashes of "the ancients" (that's us). HFW attempts to measure up to HZD with a story that includes a global plague and interplanetary colonization (Far Zenith). It's ambitious, perhaps unnecessarily. I'll be ultimately disappointed if the Far Zenith arc is just an origin story for a handful of baddies - there's so much potential in the *other* attempt at saving human civilization.

And it should be said that the apparent need to save Earth again more or less invalidates the struggle of the first game. At least Aloy isn't short on randos who recognize her as the savior of Meridian.

Gear, chests, and locked doors

Horizon Forbidden West Aloy Carja Blazon armor

HFW follows the HZD model for weapons and equipment: a variety of types/rarities, simple modification slots, and elemental focuses. Forbidden West adds a few weapon types and elements and thereby does not mess up a good thing. But when you take a step back, the loot/equipment system is kind of meh.

Chests are more numerous in this game but they aren't especially exciting; they mostly just carry ammo crafting components. Now, I like that ammunition is scarce (but not too scarce) but I'd rather just buff the machine drops than sprinkle chests everywhere.

Horizon Forbidden West Aloy scuba underwater Vegas swimming

HFW employs the Zelda mechanic of providing unlockable equipment that enable new abilities/area access, e.g. you unlock scuba gear. This is awesome in that it lets you swim around without an air meter and it lets you fight a Loch Ness monster bot. But once robo-Nessie has been vanquished you think of all the places that had unreachable areas due to lung capacity. (Aside: thank you, game for telling me that the area was unreachable with current gear, saving me from drowning a couple of times before realizing there was an unknown mechanic at play.) Anyway, you get the scuba gear and go back to these places to find a few crates with ho-hum items.

Certainly going back is not obligatory, but games usually provide nice rewards for players who recognize and remember a secret. Now, if New Game+ starts Aloy with her scuba mask and fire stick and other access items, that's a pretty good NG+ incentive.

Is the world too big?

Horizon Forbidden West snowing view

Yes and no, but pretty much yes. There's something to be said for an impossibly-large map in a game that's meant to be an open world. But it's also neat, in open world games, to set off in a direction and know that when you get toward the edge of the world you might find a unique challenge or item. Considering how beautiful and intricate the environment design is, it's almost criminal to not encourage exploration.

This brings us back to the less-than-compelling incentive system and lack of neat stuff to sprinkle around the map. Like with progressively-accessible areas, there could be better motivation to scour random corners of the forbidden west. I've found myself inclined to scour the main areas of the map, because western settlements have better gear that makes the early vendors kind of worthless.

Mods and cosmetics

Horizon Forbidden West Aloy cauldron

The weapon mod system lets you focus or diversify attack modifiers, sometimes emphasizing rather niche ones like damage while sliding. This mechanic been carried forward from the first game but leaves me wishing the developers had dipped their toes into the Borderlands/Division realm of creative weapon effects. Having a wealth of effects/modifiers options could address some of the gear/map incentivization issues; I would totally venture to a remote slot canyon to retrieve the schematic for a MIRV corrosive arrow.

Moving beyond bows and tripcasters and slingshots, the HFW armor sets are designed to complement to a player's style/skill build. What's more, you can craft paint dyes to create that unique look. With a wealth of character skills and weapon effects, Guerrilla could have gone a bit farther with armor customization (maybe even linking to cosmetic components), but it's at worst a set-it-and-forget-it.

The wildlands

Horizon Forbidden West tallneck night desert

The geography of the HFW world is executed to perfection. The forbidden west is dynamic but traversable, enemies are neither too sparse nor too dense.

thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy view valley perch thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy desert tallneck climb thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy Plainsong night view thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy cauldron jumping puzzle
thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy border cutscene tanakth
thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy cauldron facility tanks thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy glider sandstorm desert thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy swimming casino Las Vegas
thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy sneak Las Vegas dome Paris
thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy glider valley view thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West amazing fort view scenery thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy Las Vegas snapmaw
thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy charger riding ruins thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy nighttime wasteland desert charger ride

Enemies

Horizon Forbidden West skydrifter posing

Having not played a Horizon game in four years, I'm happy to jump back into vaguely familiar combat/enemy mechanics. While behaviors and components have probably been tweaked, the biggest change I've noticed has been and emphasis on elemental strenghts and weaknesses. The introduction (I think) of apex variants of enemies is a good way to ramp the difficulty and rewards(?).

Of course, the real monster is indeed man. And it's annoying that they wear helmets.

Horizon Forbidden West widemaw override unlock

Unlockable overrides are still a thing, though they now require specific components to complete (in addition to clearing the Cauldron). I quite liked the override mechanic in the last game but my few uses of it in this one have been lackluster.

thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy stealth spear strike thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy stealth sneak bandit leader thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy slide clawstrider thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy bristleback override thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy riding charger
thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy stealth kill thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy fanghorn battle thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy overpass snapmaw lake
thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy tideripper trapped ropecaster thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West tideripper thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy ropecaster thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West skydrifter mountain fire
thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy specter snow

Production quality

Horizon Forbidden West jumping Aloy

I'm still floored by the amount of motion capture that went into this game. Sure, a AAA PS5 title should have nice, fluid character movements that work with the terrain. HFW does this, but every bit of dialogue seems to have its own mocap sequence - even talking to the randos at camps who give you map pins. Weirdly, it makes the dialogue trees seem artificial because Aloy has to return to the same pose to ask the next question. Otherwise, like with The Last of Us games, the natural feel to character interaction sets the game apart from the standarde fare.

thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy conversation side quest thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy conversation sparkly petals thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy climbing ladder wildlife thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy Sylens hologram conversation
thumbnail Horizon Forbidden West Aloy conversation looking skeptical