Fallout 4 Review: I Had A Falling Out With Myself

Fallout isn’t a game I thought I would actually like. When I was buying the PS4, there weren’t many games I could think of that I was really interested in, so I picked up Fallout 4 thinking it would be a decent time-waster, but nothing too spectacular. I was extraordinarily surprised when I got completely sucked into the world, and coming home from work became synonymous with playing Fallout.

I’ve never been a fan of open-world “sandboxes,” largely because I feel there’s a lack of direction given to a player. I also feel that there is such a thing as having too much content, which is something I felt when playing Bethesda’s previous game, Skyrim. Not only that, but I’m not exactly a fan of third- or first-person shooters, as I often have trouble with aiming guns in games. I’m much more comfortable in more hack-and-slashy experiences.

Fallout 4 addressed both of these usual grievances of mine, without falling out of their trappings completely. There is a lot to do in Fallout 4, but nothing takes up a whole series of quests except the main story and each of the four factions. All the side quests can be accomplished one at a time, in a single sitting, so it’s easy to just turn the game on, take a quest to clear out a building or find an item, and finish it before dinnertime. There’s always something to do, and it can always be done without ruining your social life (unless you let it).

Meanwhile, the V.A.T.S. system takes a lot of the frustration I have with shooters out of the game. Using ability points, you can slow time and auto-aim at specific parts of an enemy, allowing an easier battle. You will have to shoot regularly most of the time, but the system is still a great boon, as you can make a fight much easier to deal with very quickly, and often before it even begins.

Combat as a whole is very solid. There’s always adequate cover for the heavy battles, and smaller battles are usually handled out in the open to allow for quick dispatching of enemies. It does occasionally throw you a curveball you might not be able to handle without a few loads of a save, though. One particularly nasty enemy even shows up as a boss in one of the first story quests, long before you expect to have to fight something of its caliber. These happen seldom enough that I just consider it the game preparing me for what will come ahead, though.

My favorite part of the game is definitely the companion system, though. Throughout the game, you meet with people who will ask to travel with you, and each have likes and dislikes. As you rise higher in their sights, you learn more about who they are, and with many of them, you eventually gain the ability to romance them. At the highest level of affection, you unlock a special perk, unique to that character, which gives you increased experience on skill checks, more damage on a headshot, or one of many others depending on who’s with you.

The absolute best part, though, is that while your companion is travelling with you, they cannot die, ever. Enemies will critically wound them, but at that point start ignoring them, and your friend can no longer be damaged. You can heal them to instantly get them back in the fight, or wait for them to recover naturally, but you never need to worry about them dying. This is such a massive improvement on the companions system from Skyrim that I have no idea why Bethesda didn’t have it to begin with. No longer do you need to worry constantly, or cover them in a fight. It’s so much weight off the mind, and I love it so dearly (and not just because all my companions would die if not for this mechanic).

The main story is decently engaging, though it can occasionally throw something at you that you might not be able to handle. One story boss fight, in particular, starts you in the middle of a small office room, surrounded by enemies, a foot away from the boss himself. Expect a lot of loads on that one. A few quests later, and the game expects you to wade through a nuclear storm for 10-30 minutes, surrounded by the hardest enemies it thinks you could possibly handle. Take baby steps, though, and you’ll make it.

One thing I was wary of going into Fallout 4, based on Skyrim, is the idea that this game might have a silent protagonist. Other than the Dragon Quest series, I’m not really a fan of silent protagonists. The silent protagonist is supposed to allow you to slip into a character’s shoes, but for me, it usually just makes them completely un-relatable. That’s why I’m very glad that your character does have a voice in this game. You still choose how you want to react, but the character definitely has certain mannerisms in the way they speak which give them a sense of identity.

There’s a great crafting system for weapons and armor, which allows even basic items you find early on to be useable for quite a while, with the proper upgrades. The only drawback is that it requires you to carry a lot of junk with you so you can have the components required for upgrades, and it can weigh down your character quite a bit. Also, you don’t know what components an item has until you look at it in your inventory, meaning you could end up carrying a lot of junk which you’ll never use.

Altogether, this game is one of the best experiences I’ve had playing a game in a very long while, and there isn’t much that ruins that experience. Fallout 4 is a very well put-together game that definitely deserves a spot on your shelf if you have the time to put into it. It isn’t perfect, but it gets close enough for me.

Final Score

10/10

Phenomenal

Kid Icarus: Uprising Review-Still Not Starring Icarus

Kid Icarus: Uprising is like a child’s bag of candy the day after Halloween, or a stocking you open on Christmas morning. There’s sure to be some very nice stuff in there when you open it, but there’s also going to be some more dubious content. The ratio is completely unknown, and depending on your personal tastes, may be skewed one way more than the other.

Let me start with the biggest thing Uprising did right: flying is amazing. Nothing in this game is greater than entering a stage and being thrust into a soaring chaos of enemies. It’s so fun to fly around and just shoot at enemies, dodging from their attacks as you throw lethal arrows or energy shots back their way. It’s thrilling, intense, and instantly gratifying, easily being worth the price of admission.

The problem comes with the rest of the game, namely the ground combat. Ground controls try too hard not be too different from the flying controls, but that unfortunately lends them to being floaty, picky, and difficult. Sometimes, you’ll sprint when you want to walk; other times, you’ll do a quick dodge as you try to do a slight nudge. The controls are oversensitivity at its finest, and if you aren’t used to them (or even if you are), you’ll find Pit doing all sorts of things you don’t remember wanting him to do.

This is alleviated somewhat with the grand staged boss battles, which are always exciting and will keep you on your toes. Every boss is unique, and you can never go at one the same way you would take on another. Every boss also takes place in a giant arena, with no fear of falling from making a twitch reaction dodge.

The weapons are a mixed bag, as well. The ranged weapons, which don’t lose power over distance, seem to be objectively better than the melee-oriented weapons, especially for players unused to the game. Melee weapons like the swords can be fun, though mostly because they still have decent ranged attacks. Staves and clubs, unfortunately, don’t have that luxury, being a pain to use unless you’re right on top of the enemy, which can make them nigh-unusable in the flying segments, making what should be an exhilarating experience into a chore. The trade-off is that they are better to use on the ground combat segments, but you still have to suffer from all the control issues mentioned above.

One last thing about the controls, though; don’t play this game for more than two stages at a time. Just don’t. Even if you have the game stand, the gamer claw you have to play with will give you carpal tunnel or some other nerve-degenerating ailment. It’s so painful and taxing to play for long periods of time, and that’s with the game stand. Don’t even attempt to play it on the go. I know the game was designed for the 3DS, but it really should have been on the Wii U, because you need to sit down to play Uprising.

On everything but the gameplay, though, this game absolutely nails it. The music is outstanding on every stage, always portraying the right emotions for the circumstances. Special shout-out goes to the flying music for Chapter Six, which has me going back to play it over and over just to hear that tune.

The characters are wonderful to listen to, with enjoyably cheesy dialogue and interesting growth from stage to stage, keeping you engaged with the story and thus, the game. As difficult as the game can be, it’s hard not to want to keep playing on for fear of not hearing what else they have to say.

I wish I had more to say, but that’s all there really is to Uprising. Uprising’s stilted and sometimes broken gameplay is stitched together by a superbly written story and characters, and for that reason, I can only say that the entire experience is absolutely mediocre. It’s definitely worth picking up if it looks interesting to you, because what Uprising sells itself as is exactly what you’re going to get from it. Just be aware that you might need to see your doctor about nerve damage in a few months.

Final Score

5/10

Mediocre

Tales of Zestiria Review: A Shepherd With No Sheep

I’ve been a fan of the Tales series for some time, playing through Abyss, Symphonia, and Xilia and loving each one to pieces. So naturally, I was hyped when I learned about Zestiria, the newest Tales game that would be coming to America. I tried to stay away from any news about it, though, because I wanted to play it with fresh eyes, as much as I could. So it was that I bought it on Day One, and began playing it the day after.

The best part about a Tales game is the characters and their interactions, and the same is true of Zestiria. The characters are likable and memorable as soon as they appear, and I enjoyed watching them change and grow subtly across the game. Interactions are frequent and often funny, which kept me engaged with the cast. I would often stay at inns even when I didn’t need to, just to see what would be said next. There were a couple of instances where I was disappointed in how little a character had changed from beginning to end, but in the larger group, these characters still had their place.

There are always two characters on the map at all times, though who it is will change as the story progresses. It’s not simply a visual touch, either; talking to the other character will allow them to share their thoughts on the current situation, or give clues what to do with a current sidequest, or even reminders of a sidequest you have yet to begin. This function makes the game a much more streamlined product than previous Tales games, by giving sidequests more of an “I think I’ll do this one right now” mentality as opposed to the “Do I really have to visit every town at every point in the game and talk to every NPC to make sure I’m not missing anything?” mentality of previous games. It’s basically a more permanent version of the skits in Xilia that triggered after story events as a reminder of possible sidequests.

“Points of Interest” are sprinkled across every map, serving as a vehicle for some interesting skits and world-building information. They also give out “AP,” which is basically a skill point that is needed in order to equip certain battle abilities, which make combat easier and can be used in various combinations to change up strategy. Some of these “Points of Interest” are also monoliths, which teach various aspects of the game when read, thus rewarding any who go out of their way to search for them. Alternatively, you could say the game unfairly holds back key information until later in the game, making it impossible to know the full rules of combat until later in the game.

Combat itself is much more fast-paced than any previous Tales game. This is because of the lack of any “TP” meter, usually used to enact a character’s more powerful skills. Instead, every attack is attached to an “SC” meter, which drains with every attack or spell, and refills fairly quickly by standing in place. Having more SC makes attacks deal more damage, while running it out makes them deal less in exchange for a constant barrage of damage. It allows for a different strategy in every fight, whether standing back to allow friends to deal the damage or staying in the fray to keep up the pressure.

Unfortunately, beyond that, the combat system is more than a little dreary and over-complicated. About a quarter of the way through, you learn of a silly rock-paper-scissors element in combat between normal attacks, special skills, and magic spells which was unnecessary and only made fights harder and more annoying, especially while playing as a Seraph character. No character can use all three, so every character is always disadvantaged in a fight, but none more than the Seraphim, whose most damaging attacks are spells, and can be cancelled out by normal attacks. The whole system is pointless and the game would be much improved by simply removing it.

The human characters can “Armatize” with Seraph characters, doubling their power, allowing use of different skills and even stronger Mystic Artes later in the game. While playing single-player, this is a great ability that can make normal fights fly by and allow an edge against bosses for some time, increasing strategy. However, with more than one person, I’d imagine this would get irritating fast, just like Xilia’s Link Battle system. It would lock out whoever was playing as the Seraph character, essentially blocking them from the game. I enjoyed Armitization, but this is a pretty obvious downfall of the system that I’m sure will frustrate more than a handful of players.

I’ve mentioned strategy several times so far, and I’m not done mentioning it, as much as I would like to. The biggest complaint I have with the game is the equipment system. Basically, beyond basic stats, every piece of equipment can have up to 4 bonus skills, which fall into different categories. You can fuse equipment together to obtain different skills or add more skills to a previous item, but they have to be the same kind of equipment. Lining up various skills in categories or rows also give more skills, and it’s all very complicated.

And stupid. I hate this system. I’d be in an optional dungeon, searching for hidden treasures and whatnot, and run across a new piece of armor that I’d never seen before, only to find that because of bonus skills, it was weaker than the stuff I’d had since the first town. I didn’t feel like I was progressing or being rewarded. I felt cheated.

Speaking of optional dungeons (and dungeons in general), they were very underwhelming. A few stood out, if only for being exceedingly irritating (what is it with water temples being shit?), but most were straight, angular corridors or straight, slightly curved, brown caves. The fields were all very beautiful and I enjoyed walking between the dungeons, but the dungeons themselves were drab and boring.

The story of a Tales game is usually where they’re allowed to shine the most, alongside the characters, but I wasn’t really feeling this one as much as the previously mentioned Tales entries. There are never any real curveballs thrown, the bad guy at the start is the bad guy at the end, and no one among the party is a traitor or a spy. It’s all very traditional storytelling, stuff that Tales has been bending and subverting for over a decade and a half now, done completely straight. I think it might have been done as a throwback to Tales of Phantasia, which was similarly very traditional, but it only made the story a very average one at best. There are very strong emotional moments, however, and it’s not done without heart or care, so it does stay minimally interesting even in the slowest sections. The payoff is very lackluster, though. I doubt many people will be happy with the ending of this game. The ending disappointed me with its brevity and lack of any real meat. I don’t want to go any further than that for spoilers, but if you’re expecting a strong, flashy ending, you’ll be left very wanting.

This last detail has nothing to do with the game as a whole, but I felt it needed to be brought up. Namco Bandai made the previous Tales character outfits DLC for Zestiria. I got them as a pre-order bonus, but most people will have to shell out a few bucks for a feature that’s been included in almost every other Tales game ever as a bonus for fans who had played multiple games. It’s very skeevy and, at this point, feels like stealing from a dedicated fanbase they know would be willing to fork over the cash if they had to. It’s very frustrating for me to see a company I had a fair amount of respect for falling into the same pitfalls as other AAA companies.

Final Score

6.5/10

Above Average