In my previous C-Blog, I went into the basics you need to know to get started on Digital Extreme's PC/PS4 free-to-play Canadian Space Ninja co-op action game, Warframe. Now I think it's time to move on to the advanced tips and tricks you'll need if you plan on thriving in this strange-but-addictive game. There's a surprising amount of systems in place and not much in the way of hand-holding, so getting the most out of the game may require a little help. I'm currently playing the game on the PS4 which is a few updates behind the PC version, so PC gamers may find some of this information to be old news.
Addendum and Errata: A couple of days after publishing my Beginner's Tips, a new update for Warframe went live with a number of different tweaks and improvements that addressed some of the issues I had written about. In addition to a couple of new bosses, new weapons and a new Warframe, they also streamlined the previously clunky slide and wall running.
The slide no longer ends with you in a crouch but is also much more controllable, allowing you to go into and out of the slide whenever you like simply by holding or releasing the L1 button during a run. You can also start your slide in mid-air for an additional flourish, which is useful for advanced platforming.
Wall running can now be activated simply by holding in the jump button at a wall, which makes it much more intuitive. While you can shoot or stab in the midst of a wall run, it's still hard to pull off given the cursor's default position when you start the run. Luckily, the only time shooting while wall running is mandatory is the Rank 8 test which can be cheated with the Nova or Loki. Hopefully some additional patching will happen to make this a little less frustrating.
The update also added a Trading Kiosk for clans. So now you have the option of trading mods, keys or platinum between clan members which, in addition to a number of clan exclusive weaponry, makes joining a clan a practical decision rather than an optional one. (Clan Destructoid. Hint, hint.)
Capture and Rescue missions also got a little more complicated. The targets in Capture missions now fight back and run from you meaning you can lose them if they get too far ahead of you. Enemies will also now attack the person you release in Rescue missions, so simply opening their cell and bolting to extraction isn't always going to work.
Also, I neglected to mention that some stages (usually when fighting the Corpus faction) have lasers blocking the doorways that can cancel your shields if you run headlong into them. You can shoot out the cameras to drop the lasers but you can also powerslide or dodge roll through them. Which is handy if you're bolting through the stage in a hurry.
Also, enemies in Survival missions get stronger on a timer not due to starting new Life Support modules. That's what I get for listening to the guy yelling at people in game instead of checking the wiki.
Clans: There are several bonuses that come with joining a clan. In addition to the labs that build gnarly clan exclusive weapons like the majorly OP Ignis flame-thrower and Ogris rocket launcher, there is an obstacle course for training your platforming, a dueling room for duking it out, and a Trading Kiosk. Only the Warlord can add or destroy new rooms to the Dojo but everyone in the clan can contribute to the cost.
Building labs to research new gadgets and weapons is a great idea and anyone in the clan can contribute resources towards starting the research, which is nice as it can be pretty expensive to do. Once research is finished, anyone in the clan can buy a blueprint and start building their new weapon.
Trading Kiosks allow you to trade mods, keys or platinum between clan members. Alternately, you can invite non-clan members to your Dojo to make trades there. You can barter or negotiate theses trades in the Social Menu (more on that soon) and then, by temporarily making them clan members, invite them to your Dojo to make the deal.
Some of the very rare mods can sell for as high as 200 or even 500 platinum right now, so while you can't make real money from it, your grinding efforts can pay off in lots of in-game cash.
(Insert shameless plug for the Destructiod clan here.)
The Social Menu: On the PS4, the social menu activates when you press the Option button. The first tab that pops up allows you to access a public chat room for talking, trading or recruiting. The second is your in-game friends list and the third is your clan.
If you want to initiate a trade or recruit for your clan, this is where you'll go. Once the game goes cross-platform, this will be your only way to contact PC players. The main draw to using the social menu, beyond inviting friends to your game, is to join or ask for help with Tower Key missions and Orokin Derelict missions, which are where all the really sweet high level loot can be found.
Scrolling through an exhaustive list of every single Warframe player logged in for the one guy who wants to join you is a pain in the ass, so if you need to talk to or invite someone to your game, simply type this: /invite Username or /talk Username. It will save a ton of time, I promise you.
Tower Keys, Orokin Derelicts & Nightmare Mode: Looking for some rare mods or some fancy-schmancy Prime weapons or Warframes? Don't mind an extra challenge to get it? Then you'll want to look into these options:
Tower Keys: Tower keys can be bought in packs in the Market or can be found as prizes in Survival or Defense missions for lasting a certain length or time or number of rounds. You access your keys through the Keys listing on your main menu. There are keys for every mission type with three different degrees of difficulty.
Tackling these Tower missions will require maxed out Warframes and weapons with a full crew. If you don't have enough friends online, recruit from the social menu. Seasoned players may be able to handle a few of the Tower 1 mission types solo but, by and large, you'll need help. The risk is worth it, though. Just be aware that the frame rate, especially on Survival and Defense, will drop precipitously towards the end. You may require a Tylenol after a Tower 3 Defense.
Orokin Derelicts: A step above the Tower Keys are the Orokin Derelicts. The blueprints for these are available for cheap from the Market but creating them is only part of the issue. These levels feature advanced platforming and harder enemies but most also have hidden rooms with high level loot that can only be unlocked with a specific Dragon key.
These Dragon Keys are also available for sale in the Market but require a Tower Key to be made, making them much more valuable. There are four Dragon Keys in all and equipping each gives you a different negative status effect: no shields, cripplingly low health, reduced movement or reduced damage to enemies. The hidden door in these levels can only be unlocked using one of these four keys meaning you will need four players with maxed out weapons/Warframes to survive, each equipped with a different key, if you want to find that loot.
Nightmare Mode: If you're still craving the risk vs. reward of super tough enemies for the chance at rare loot, you can also try Nightmare Mode.
Nightmare Mode is represented on your mission map by their skull icon. Once you complete a stage, it may pop up again with a skull on it denoting it as a Nightmare difficulty level. (You retain the ability to play it again at normal difficulty, though.) This could mean anything from level 40+ enemies, to no shields, low gravity, slowly dwindling health, a ridiculously short timer or any combination of the above. The upside is that the chances of finding better loot are increased (but not guaranteed).
So there's plenty to do in the game even if you beat every one of the nearly 200 individual missions in the game.
Weapon Tips and Suggestions: Being currently unemployed, I understand the desire to save some money so I wanted to take the opportunity to make some suggestions about weapons and Warframes that will hopefully save you some time and money. I have not bought a single weapon in the game outright. My entire arsenal is built from blueprints. There's genuinely no need to waste money buying a weapon, just grab the blueprint and farm for some resources.
Choose weapons that best compliment how you're building out your Warframe. If you're tanking, you should really look into the Galatine sword. A Rhino with a Galatine can hold out for a long, long time by himself. Support classes might be better served with a sniper rifle or another mid-to-long range, high accuracy weapon like the Paris or Latron. If you don't have to be in the thick of it, don't.
I wasn't a fan of most of the primary weapons until I hit Rank 6. That's when the Soma unlocks. If you're in the game for the long haul, get the Soma as soon as you can. Between the accuracy, the clip size and the ridiculous critical hit chance, nothing beats it. I modded mine out with Point Strike and Vital Sense for increased critical hit chance and damage and it now has a 75% crit chance for 6.6 times the normal damage. In a clip with 120 bullets. I almost feel bad using it for how quickly it mows everything down.
The Soma: When you absolutely, positively got to kill every mothertrucker in the room. Accept no substitutes.
If you're more of a casual player or haven't hit Rank 6 yet, join a clan and pick up the Ignis flame-thrower from the lab. It. Is. Amazing. The damage output is crazy and even at level one any enemy under about level 10 will die instantly. Modding it with additional fire damage only makes it more ridiculous. A must have weapon. Similarly, the Ogris rocket launcher does amazing damage. The drawback is that you can blow yourself up with it via splash damage so be sure to watch where you shoot.
Beyond that, if you can luck into finding a Gorgon blueprint via the daily log in reward, it's a solid choice. It's got a slow wind up time but once it gets going, it can be very punishing.
Out of the primary weapon blueprints for sale in the Market, the Braton and MK-1 Braton are the workhorses. Standard assault rifles, to be sure, but reliable. There are burst-fire options like the Hind and Burston if you prefer accuracy over rate of fire but fully autos are more useful by far when things get heavy. The Boltor is well worth your time once it unlocks.
Shotguns aren't as useful as I'd like. Between the long reload times and tiny clip size, the damage they do doesn't really even out versus fully autos. That said, if you need a shotgun, the Sobek is a solid choice. Your enjoyment of shotguns will improve a lot if you can find the Tactical Pump mod that decreases the reload time.
For secondary weapons, similar problems arise. Single shot weapons do good damage but the rate of fire and the fact that every shot requires a button press means that on higher difficulties it becomes a pain to keep up. You even risk tiring out your trigger finger against bosses and higher level enemies. The first boss in Mercury drops parts to a single-shot pistol called the Seer which should be your go-to for the first couple systems. It's equivalent in other games would be a Magnum or Desert Eagle. Do yourself a favor and start farming that straightaway.
If you want to carry a single shot secondary, be sure to dual wield. Aklato, Akbolto and Dual Vastos are all solid dual wield options. Otherwise, Twin Vipers or Kunai should be your first stop.
Melee weapons are more or less a dealer's choice category. Each one has different strengths and weaknesses, but the close range necessary means that ultimately it boils down to what character you choose and how you play.
There's a reason about 50% of the Rhinos you see will be carrying the big, two handed Galatine swords. Turn on your Iron Skin ability and the ability to attack multiple targets in one swing will get you through just about any problem you face. Dual Ether swords, Fragor hammers and Scindo axes also advertise the same ability but the Galatine remains the most efficient and brutal choice.
I prefer ultra close range combat so I like the comically large Furax gauntlets, if only for the charge attack where you pull back and punch something in it's stupid, ugly face. There's also the Obex and Kogake if you want to look like a futuristic Muay Thai warrior.
There's a plethora of different swords with different abilities, so there's no shortage of options based on usefulness or aesthetic pleasure to choose from. However, it's pretty remarkable to me how much fun I have had with the Glaive. And not just because Krull was my favorite movie as a pre-teen. You can use is as a melee weapon or you can use it's charged attack to throw it and augment it with "punch through" and "bounce" mods to send it flying through multiple enemies and bouncing off of walls. Always a joy. There's also the Kestrel boomerang which will ragdoll enemies it strikes. Including humanoid bosses (at least until they patch it).
There's also a handful of different weapons available in Prime form by doing Tower Key and Orokin Derelict missions. Just be mindful of your inventory limit. You can buy two additional weapon slots for 12 platinum but if you're playing on the cheap you may want to go into a buy/level/sell loop for weapons you're unfamiliar with and keep a few slots open for your favorites.
Warframes: The important question with Warframes is: how do I get more? Luckily, all frames can be farmed in game without the use of platinum, to varying degrees of difficulty. Some bosses drop parts which, after buying a blueprint in the market for credits, can be built in the foundry. Others are a little trickier. So, here's a comprehensive list of where to find which Warframe as of Update 11:
Warframe - Boss (Location, System) Ash - Tyl Regor (Titania, Uranus)
Banshee - Very rare random drop from Capture, Spy & Defense Missions or Orokin Derelict Defense missions. Blueprint can be given as a Daily Login reward.
Ember - General Sargas Ruk (Tethys, Saturn)
Ember Prime - Random drop from Tower Key Capture or Defense missions.
Excalibur - Ambulas (Hades, Pluto)
Frost - Lt. Lech Kril (Exta, Ceres)
Frost Prime: Tower Key Exterminate missions
Loki - Hyena (Psamathe, Neptune)
Mag - Sgt. Nef Anyo (War, Mars)
Mag Prime: Tower Key Survival missions
Nekros - Lephantis (Orokin Derelict Assassinate)
Nova - Raptor (Naamah, Europa)
Nyx - Phorid (Infested Invasion - currently located at Naeglar, Eris)
Oberon - PS4: Not available yet. PC: Councilor Vay Hek (Everest, Earth)
Rhino - Jackyl (Fossa, Venus)
Saryn - Kela De Thaym (Marrow, Sedna)
Trinity - PS4: Councilor Vay Hek (Everest, Earth) PC: Capt. Vor & Lt. Lech Kril (Illiad, Phobos) [Placement will change with the update that introduces the Oberon warframe]
Valkyr - Alad V & Zanuka (Themisto, Jupiter)
Vauban - Random Alert Missions
Volt - Random rare drop in Survival missions after minute 20.
Your next question might be: which ones are good? Well, that depends on your play style. Different Warframes represent different styles from tank to support and in-between.
If you want to be a full-on damage dealer, your best bet is picking Excalibur as your initial frame. He's a melee-focused frame and since the Rhino can be found by farming the boss in the second system, Venus, you can fill your two initial Warframe inventory slots up straight away.
Between Rhino's Iron Skin ability, which grants temporary invulnerability, and his Stomp, which instantly kills lower level enemies and puts stronger ones in stasis for several seconds so you can pick them off afterwards, he's really the perfect tank. Paired with the massive two-handed sword, Galatine, he becomes a big, lumbering death machine.
Ember and Nova Warframes have stronger offensive abilities than the Rhino at the cost of being more fragile. As glass cannons, you're going to want to upgrade their health and shields as much as possible and be a little pickier about where you choose to make your stands. Ember's World On Fire ability allows her to push forward through a stage very easily as anything touching the ring of fire around her will likely die before touching her. Nova's Molecular Prime is devastating as well, turning a number of enemies into walking bombs. Killing one starts a chain reaction that explodes everyone else in the vicinity.
If you prefer a more passive support role, you should start with the Loki frame and try to farm the Trinity from Vay Hek in the Earth system as soon as possible as it is going to be moved to the much harder to get at Phobos system in the next update or two. Trinity's Blessing ability is the only one in the game that allows you to heal and effects all allies regardless of range. It also offers invulnerability for a short time, which can be upgraded with the right mods. My main frame is a Trinity and it's Blessing currently lasts for 22 seconds and can be further upgraded to just under 30. If you're in a problem that 30 seconds of invulnerability can't fix, there's just no helping you. There's also the Enegy Vampire ability which allows anyone shooting a particular target to regain energy, which is a godsend in boss fights. The downside is that you don't have any direct damage abilities.
Loki is an often underestimated warframe. Most players don't seem to know how to use him correctly. His cloaking ability allows him to help up KO'd players without being seen, his Decoy can draw enemy attention away from Defense targets and his Radial Disarm makes any enemy in it's area of effect unable to fire weapons (also excellent for Defense). Paired with a sniper rifle or bow, you can control the battlefield from afar, helping your teammates and picking off enemies without risking yourself.
The hard-to-find Vauban warframe is another great support option if you're lucky or obsessed enough to watch every alert mission for parts. Like Loki, he's all about battlefield control and smart players can even use seemingly silly abilities like Bounce to their advantage to keep enemies at bay.
Nyx is must have frame for any high level Defense mission as the Chaos ability pits all enemies in a radius against each other... and even unaffected enemies will attack the controlled enemies as the AI will go after anyone who attacks it. It has a couple of direct damage abilities as well, making it a good mix of offense and defense.
On that topic, if you're looking for a good split between attack and defense, your first choice of frame should be the Mag while looking to get a Frost, Saryn or Volt later on. The Mag is a very basic, unfussy frame that isn't particularly flashy but definitely gets the job done. It's generally best to whip it out when fighting shielded enemies but it's Crush ability is pretty lethal against anything. Saryn is the polar opposite of Mag in that her poison abilities work best against the Infested.
Even more than the Mag, Volt is particularly well-suited to Corpus and Grineer missions. I was lucky enough to get a Volt frame before it became a pain to find and people seem a little down on it but it is perfect for Survival and Defense missions against Corpus or Grineer and it's Overload ability can be especially useful in a pinch.
You're going to have to go pretty far out into the universe to find a Frost frame, but he is certainly worth the trip. Snow Globe is great for slowing down enemies so you can pick them off (very useful when defending a target) and Avalanche is a great high damage option if you mod its radius.
I don't see a lot of people playing Ash but as a stealth frame, it could be seen as a step above Loki for those who like distracting enemies but want some direct damage options as well. It's best to use this frame on a team with at least one character tanking, though, so he can flit in and out of battle with his Smoke Screen and Teleport without getting hammered with damage.
The only frames I would caution against using (at least at the beginning) are Nekros, Valkyr and Banshee. Banshee, in addition to being hard to find, has been made somewhat obsolete. Her Silence ability isn't as useful as it could be and the aura mod Enemy Radar has rendered her Sonar pointless. Her marquee ability, Sound Quake, does solid damage but leaves her stationary while it's active.
Nekros is a style of over substance frame. He looks pretty cool but his main ability, Shadows Of The Dead, is only useful for cluttering up a battlefield and hindering enemy movement. It doesn't do much in the way of actual damage. Desecrate is very useful for farming resources but otherwise there's not a whole lot to recommend it.
As far as the Valkyr goes, it seems like she was misconceived from the outset. Like Nekros, she looks cool but as a front line fighter her lack of shields make her a paper tiger. Compared to the Rhino, she's subpar in every respect. The idea, a berserker melee fighter, is solid the game doesn't really reward ultra close range fighting so you could spend most of the duration of her Hysteria ability whiffing at enemies who are just out of reach.
Good teamwork will be key to any mission so it's always best to find some reliable players and pick frames that best suit the situation and roles (offense, support, etc.) that give you the best chance at success.
In Closing: That was a lot of words. I hope some of them help you find your way through this strangely addictive free-to-play shooter. The promise of regular updates and new frames is sure to make this a regular stop for me. I hope to see you out there in universe, Tenno. Good luck.
Warframe is an... odd game. The free-to-play PC/PS4 title mixes elements of loot hoarding games like Diablo with strategic combat aspects of MMO's and builds them into a four player, third person co-operative shooter. It's hardly perfect, it can be a little glitchy and rough-around-the-edges, but if you like a deep co-op experience (and it's honestly the only one available for PS4 players right now) there's plenty here to like. The developers plan to make the game cross-platform sometime in the next few months, so the merging of both communities will allow for even greater potential.
That said, Warframe is not a game that eases you into the experience. Playing Warframe for the first time is not unlike renting a game in the olden days that didn't come with an instruction booklet. There's a brief combat tutorial and then you're thrown into the game to learn either by trial-and-error or the copious use of online FAQ's. For those reasons, the game is not for everyone. Even at the low, low price of free, a lot of players will be turned off by either the F2P nature or the lack of hand-holding. Hopefully, that's where I'll come in.
I'm going to give you a brief rundown of some very important information you'll need to know to get through your first ten or twenty hours of the game and on your way to shooting jerks in the face with confidence.
Free Crap: North American PS Plus members will immediately want to download the booster pack provided to them, free of charge. It contains 100 Platinum, the game's real money currency, 50,000 Credits, the game's in-game currency, 5 Mods for upgrading weapons and Warframes, and 3 Day XP and Credit boosters which doubles what you earn.
Warframes: There are, at this writing, 15 different Warframes to choose from. After the game's combat tutorial, you get a choice of three basic Warframes. Choose wisely because the level cap is 30 and if you play regularly during while your XP booster is active, you'll level up very fast. The other initial Warframes are available to buy in the Market at a discounted price of 75 Platinum. Otherwise, you'll be paying 225 or 325 for a new Warframe.
Over the course of the game, you can find parts and blueprints that will allow you to create more Warframes using resources and Credits, but they are very rare drops and random to boot. I've logged about fifty hours into the game and I've found maybe ten or twelve parts to different Warframes so far. Not enough to craft a new one. (Farming bosses seems to be the best way to get more, something I haven't done overly much.)
Each Warframe has a unique set of skills for different play styles. Melee, support, ranged, stealth or a variety of different powers. However you like to play, there's a Warframe for you. You might just have to cough up some dough to play it.
Movement: Very important. There are light platforming elements in some stages and I don't recall the game every prompting me how to do these so I'll highlight them for you here:
Wall Running: By holding in the run button and the jump button at walls and ledges, you can run vertically to areas above you or horizontally across chasms. Sometimes you may find a secret area or sometimes it's simply how you progress through the stage.
Sliding: The L1 button defaults as a dodge roll but if you click while you're in a run, you'll go into a John Woo-style slide that's good mostly for a stylistic flourish. You can't run and shoot so going into a slide allows you to continue firing while moving at a rate similar to running. The drawback is that isn't not a controlled slide, you simply keep going forward. The other is that you finish the slide in a crouch and you have to click the L3 to stand again. Stopping to shoot is a more effective option.
Missions: Mission objectives come in several flavors, some self-evident, some not:
Sabotage: Destroy a set number of enemy devices or destroy a reactor and escape to the extraction point.
Exterminate: Kill all enemies in a single level.
Rescue: Find a jailed NPC, open his cell by completing a Cipher (a simple timed puzzle that has you moving hexagons to form a shape) and escape to the extraction point without letting the NPC die. The NPC's are fairly hardy so while this is an escort mission, you don't have to worry about guarding him too closely.
Capture: Find a specific enemy, kill him, and press the O button over his corpse to absorb his data and escape to the extraction point. (The game doesn't prompt you to kill him so the term "capture" can be misleading.)
Assassination: A boss fight. Find him, kill him, leave.
Defense/Mobile Defense: Find and guard a specific object for a set time period. This can be frustrating if you have a crew of lone wolves as people have a tendency to leave the spot in search of action. A Warframe with a defensive ability (like Loki's defensive bubble) can be a godsend here.
Deception: This type involves one character taking a datamass "payload" which they carry in one hand (reducing them to using only their secondary weapon or melee while holding it) and taking to a designated spot before exiting the mission.
Spy: Locate and hack four terminals and take the datamass objects back to extraction. Like Deception missions, carrying a datamass will reduce you to using a secondary or melee weapon while you carry it. Luckily, one member can carry all four devices leaving the others free to fight.
Conclave: A PvP arena.
Survival: Survival comes in a few different flavors. They're procedurally generated so you can never be sure which kind of mission you're getting or what the level will look like. If you want a lot of items, credits and resources in a short amount of time, this is your best bet.
Survival missions are wave-based Horde Mode types. Sometimes it's simply surviving increasingly difficult waves, sometimes you have to defend an object while the number of rounds you have to survive ticks down.
A Warframe with defensive abilities (like Loki) or a support Warframe with healing/invulnerability abilities (like Trinity) are pretty much mandatory. Health orb drops are not a sure thing and when you have twenty or more enemies charging your position, your shields and health disappear fast. Having support is the difference between tons of loot and pure frustration.
For the infinite wave type, after a set number of waves the game will give you an opportunity to take an upgrade and quit or continue fighting. It's a majority rules vote. The longer you last, the more items you pick up off of dead enemies and the stronger the item the game offers you when you quit.
Be aware, though, that between the tons of enemies, and four Warframes using flashy abilities, the frame rate can and will take a major dump if you're all clumped up together.
Another Survival type involves fighting while a life support bar slowly ticks down. After a set amount of time passes, a life support module will be sent into the battlefield where you might fight through a never ending army of baddies in order to turn it on to boost your life support meter. The catch is that every time you turn on a new life support module, the enemies increase in difficulty. After turning on a number of modules, your contact will alert you that they've found credits or an upgrade. Once the life support bar hits zero, your health and armor deteriorate quickly until only one hit will kill you. The longer you hold out, the more you get. Only one survivor needs to reach the exfiltration point to succeed.
Getting the most out of this mission type requires teamwork. The magic number you're looking for before turning on the next life support module is about 55%. You're going to have to move as a group to get to the next designated area or else people will get overwhelmed and left behind. Sticking together is key.
Upgrading: Every facet of your weapons and Warframe can be upgraded, which is great, but it can also be a little daunting.
Upgrades are random pick-ups that take the form of a card, which looks not unlike something out of Magic: The Gathering. There is a name, a picture, a description, a number, a type, and a symbol. There's also it's commonality rating and some irrelevant fine print.
The number is the upgrade cost. Your weapons and Warframes max out at level 30, which gives you 30 total points to distribute to the various slots on your item at maximum. The symbols denote a specialty. If you match the symbol on the upgrade card with a slot bearing the same one, you can install that upgrade for half price.
The number of times a card can be upgraded is listed as a blank slot on the left center of the card. When you upgrade it, they slots will fill up with white marks.
You can further upgrade your loadout by using Fusion Core cards. These are random drops you find of differing rarities as you play. They can also be bought in packs via the Market. To place a Fusion Core, you can either click R3 in the weapon's menu or go your Arsenal screen and click on Mods and then Fusion.
The more rare the Fusion Core, the more oomph you get out of using it. You can use as many Cores as you like but you can't go past the max level of points you have available. There's also a negligible credit cost to apply your Cores.
If you find a Warframe or weapon you'd like to specialize in, you can buy an Orokin Reactor or Orokin Catalyst to super-charge them. This double the amount of points you can spend to a maximum of 60.
On top of that, you can buy a Forma, which allows you to either stamp a slot with any symbol you like or change one symbol to another at the cost of going back down to level zero. Presumably, this allows more advanced players to customize their Warframe with the abilities of any other Warframe, though I haven't been able to test that theory yet.
So while a maximum of level 30 seems really low, the number of things you can do are actually pretty robust.
Ranking: The cumulative levels you gain in Warframes and weapons adds to a meter at the top of the main menu screen. When that meter is full you will get an option to take a brief test which, when you succeed, will raise your rank. Certain weapons and Warframes are XP locked and can only be accessed by raising your rank.
These tests aren't particularly difficult but you still want to take your best weapons into battle just to be safe. And rather than spending more and more money on new weapons and Warframes, you can simply buy a Forma for cheap, lower your weapon or frame back to Unranked and start all over again.
Sentinels: Sentinels are optional armed, floating companions who accompany you on missions with a variety of different abilities. Like everything else, they are upgradable. Depending on your style of play, there's a Sentinel that should fit it. For combat specialist, there's the Dethcube Sentinel armed with a assault rifle, for stealthier Warframes, there's a Shade which will make you invisible to approaching enemies. I use the Carrier which comes with a shotgun and vacuums up item drops for me, so that I don't have to worry about missing an item in a rush.
They're cheap to purchase outright (75 Platinum) and easy to assemble by buying a blueprint, so there's no reason not to pick one up. Every bit of extra firepower will help on the more advanced stages.
Obviously there are a lot of gamers who will balk at the very idea of a free-to-play game and that's fair enough. It's also a very grind heavy game, which might be another sticking point. Warframe is certainly playable without any money but you will hit a ceiling very fast and your only option will be lots and lots of grinding. I've currently spent about sixty dollars on the game, the same amount as I would any new release game and, given the amount of time I've sunk into it, it seems like a fair trade.
It's a solid shooter with some quirky lore and plenty of replayability that I can go into in another post down the line. It has it's issues, the same as any other game, but if you bought a PS4 at launch, there's no reason not to at least give it a shot.
I've started a Destructoid clan so feel free to let me know in the comments if you want to join. I'm still working out how running a clan works on the PS4 vs. the PC but the hope is to allow people to rock the Destructoid logo on their shoulders as they play. Cross-platform play is scheduled to go into effect during the "launch window" so PC players can join the fun as well.
Discussing the quality of Saints Row 4 seems a bit of a moot point by now. It's got a Metacritic rating between 77 and 86, depending on your console. It's a fan service heavy love letter to the fans who helped a Grand Theft Auto also ran evolve into a satirical, over-the-top orgy of comedy and violence. As Volition's fourth entry in the series, they've streamlined the experience in such a way that it makes the pace of other recent open world games like Sleeping Dogs and even GTA IV look plodding and slow by comparison.
What really makes Saints Row stand out is it's populist streak and it's inclusiveness. It's more than just the character creation or the fact that the game never penalizes you for how you choose to present yourself, male, female or otherwise. (If I want to cruise around virtual Steelport naked wearing only a horse head mask, and believe me I do, so be it.) They also aren't afraid to offend the homophobes by tying achievements into doing everything you can with a character. Including having The Butt Sex off-screen. With Dudes!
Given that the plot of the game involves the Saints being imprisoned on an alien spacecraft, there are numerous sci-fi references, including several to the still controversial Mass Effect 3. At one point, still early in the game, you are given a choice between going through one of two doors (red and blue, 'natch) each with their own arbitrary and ridiculous list of consequences that have no bearing on anything we've experienced up until that point. Faced with this choice, all your character can do is just sigh dejectedly and choose. It doesn't come off as mean spirited but as a bit of pointed satire... however, if you're like me and you spent months waiting for game journalists to talk about narrative logic, story mechanics and subtext only to hear them drone on about more meta concerns like "artistic integrity" and "fan entitlement" in-between wildly condescending to, or even outright insulting, their audience then hot damn does this feel like a bit of validation.
(And, seriously, the next schmuck who whinges about "it's the journey, not the destination" is getting a Ralph Waldo Emerson book thrown at their head so they can read that quote in context and finally realize why it does not apply to art.)
Even the romances, if you can call them that, are used for parody. There's no conversational courtship, gift giving or friend/rival bars to manage, it's just a button press. And you can press that button as many times as you like. So if you're one of the many dudes on my Twitter timeline who are madly in lust with Kinzie, you are, at any point, a button press away from a punch in the face and some wild (off-screen) sex. It doesn't effect your game in any other way and, if you listen to the audio logs, you'll notice that all of the characters other than The Boss have unofficially paired off with each other. Yet somehow, even as parody, there's something satisfying about the instant gratification.
Ultimately, the romances in BioWare games are pretty tame affairs that result in an equally tame sex scene. Once you succeed, you may get some additional in game dialogue and a mention in the epilogue but otherwise that's it. You don't have to manage it and you never have to worry about breaking up unless you initiate it yourself. (Just like real life!) As much as BioWare fans invest in these romances, they're actually very, very surface level. So having Volition point out the very real silliness of them works as another little love tap to the series and their fans.
I do have my quibbles with the game but none of them are too serious. I experienced some (unintentional) glitches and several system lockup's when transitioning from the spaceship that serves as your hub to the simulation where you spend most of your time. (Which might be the game or a sign my 360 is about to poop in it's hard plastic casing.) Once you unlock superpowers, driving becomes not only pointless, but an annoyance when the game forces you back into a vehicle for story or loyalty missions. The addition of superpowered running and gliding also cuts the overall game length by probably 2/3rds since you can cross the city in a handful of leaps and bounds. The side missions, while fun, still feel like busy work yet upgrading your superpowers are tied to it. Also, while the definitely slapped a coat of paint on Steelport there's literally no variation between The Third and Saints Row 4. It's entirely cosmetic.
What interests me more are the storytelling improvements and how Volition treats the formula of open world gaming and storytelling, in good ways and bad, and how developers can improve the formula going forward. Especially with a new Grand Theft Auto dropping in only a few days for everyone to chew on.
Saints Row was a pretty standard crime story. Not necessarily poorly told but not memorable either. Saints Row 2 wisely doubled down on the comedy yet still had some effective dramatic moments as well. Saints Row: The Third, despite all the pointless excess typified by the in-game porn stars (apparently at then publisher THQ's behest), still told an effective, if silly, story. The big drawback has always been that the other Saints were always plot devices or caricatures as opposed to actual characters. Nowhere was this more clear than the case of Shaundi.
In Saints Row 2 she was a lovable, easy going stoner chick who mostly just got damselled. In Saints Row: The Third, she underwent a complete 180 into a hyper capable, well-dressed, no-nonsense businesswoman. Who, again, mostly just got damselled. Saints Row 4 attempted to reconcile her odd personality transplant by splitting her into two different people. Because Saints Row ain't exactly subtle.
The push and pull between O.G. Shaundi and the real thing was the best written and best handled subquest line in the game. Shaundi's shame at her past indiscretions and lifestyle and how it lead her to overcompensate into what O.G. Shaundi, acting as the de facto voice of a lot of Saints Row fans, considered a humorless stuffed shirt was great fun to watch. It's also important that they didn't choose favorites. O.G. Shaundi, while unorthodox, was still effective while Shaundi was to-the-point but equally so. And the whole thing culminated in what initially seems like another damsel moment where you have to choose between them before they take control and save themselves. It not only works to reconcile the both sides of her but as a clear statement that the writers are thinking a bit differently about how they approach their characters. (And a special shout out should go to her voice actress who nailed present day Shaundi as well as O.G. Shaundi's hoarser, smoked out tones.)
Unfortunately, this doesn't extend as much to the other Saints, but they present different problems. Pierce, as comic relief, doesn't particularly need a more clearly drawn character. More pathos would just make him harder to laugh at. You can't do much with Johnny Gat either without running into the Wolverine Conundrum: how do you explain how a badass character becomes a badass without making them less of a badass? Cleverly, his mission involves being dropped into a Streets Of Rage style brawler from back when no one gave a damn about believable characters or motivations. Bottom line: Johnny Gat was always a badass. The End. You could have argued that his "death" in The Third was due to a death wish brought on after Aisha's death but since they've retconned that... nevermind, I guess.
While people who played the first two games are well acquainted with Gat, some more examples of Gat actually being badass would have been nice. There's a lot of deference shown to the guy without a whole lot good reasons for it. Especially since the mission I had to replay the most was one where Gat was in a chopper and kept getting shot down. Which isn't very badass.
Not being very emotionally connected to the other Saints meant their missions were a little more by the numbers. The only real oversight was the one character who, after Shaundi, could have benefited the most from some actual characterization: Kinzie. We know that Kinzie is a riff off of Lisbeth Salander from the Dragon Tattoo novels (in personality, at least) and that she's ex-FBI... aaand that's about it.
The extent of what I got from Kinzie's missions are: she's doesn't want to be "normal." Well, okay. Putting aside that it reused the 50's setting from the beginning of the game and a character from The Third with no direct connection to Kinzie and who they had to really stretch to make fit, it didn't really tell us anything new or interesting. Since she's the character you interact with the most over the course of the game, it felt like a lost opportunity.
This leads to something that's less a criticism of Saints Row 4 than open world gaming as a whole. We're rapidly reaching the point where the typical cycle of "go here, talk to this person and get a mission" is becoming stale. Many of the missions in Saints Row 4, for example, are gained by choosing them from a text menu. And that's fine. It's tried, true and easy to program. Nonetheless, with the number of games offering open world experiences increasing, the way developers approach interacting with the world is still largely the same.
We're given these huge worlds to travel through however we like, but the minute we undertake a quest it becomes an entirely on rails experience. Obtaining quests is also completely simplistic. Good writing can cushion the blow a bit but we're still able to see the strings being pulled. So what you end up with are games that constantly remind you that, when it comes to advancing the story, your freedom is a sham. And if you want to make it a question of immersion in the game: am I The Boss of the Saints because I'm the best? Or am I just the best at being told what to do?
Obviously most development teams don't have the time to implement a more progressive approach to quest gathering in open world games. Even Skyrim, which is arguably the best example of presenting a non-linear open world with dynamic subquests, is hamstrung by the fact that Bethesda has a reputation for games that are nearly broken on release which have to be patched over the course of months to be playable.
Part of the problem can be solved through things as simple as dialogue or misdirection. Having the character only grudgingly following orders or just changing mission objectives on the fly because your character decides he has a better course of action, just off the top of my head, would lead to a sense that you are still in control. Much moreso than just blindly following whoever is chatting at you in your ear. However much of a pain it would be to script entirely optional semi-hidden subquests or encounters that aren't listed on your mini-map with big gold stars, it would pay dividends in creating a world you actually feel a part of. In certain ways, I almost prefer the L.A. Noire style of open world where there are no distractions from the main plot. It had a story to tell and it told it.
Going into the next generation of gaming and seeing big publishers rely as heavily as they do on "open world experiences" some actual thought is going to have to go into how they present them. Assassin's Creed is going to eventually run out of notable time periods and locations to plunder for their yearly installments and even GTA is essentially presenting the same basic urban framework only bigger and more complex. Fatigue is going to set in, if it hasn't already. With the additional horsepower of the PS4 and Xbox One, hopefully we will some additional innovation to go along with it.
In the meantime, we still have games like Saints Row 4 which mine from a rich vein of potential parody in an industry that often, with the hundreds of people involved and potentially millions of dollars at stake, takes itself far too seriously. The series seems primed for a next gen reboot, unless they find some way to top taking over an interstellar alien race. (Time travel for an AssCreed riff?)
Parody and satire are a reaction to something rather than a facilitator, so while I don't expect the gang at Volition to redefine the genre, they've certainly proven themselves capable of evolving. We, as gamers, just need to keep the pressure on developers to keep evolving along with us rather than rehashing the same tired gaming mechanics.
Competitive multiplayer has never really interested me. It just hasn't. I have too many obsessions already without taking the time necessary to really excel at stuff like Call Of Duty or Halo. Deathmatches feel like a hamster wheel and the luck aspect doesn't exactly appeal to me either. You can memorize all the maps, prestige class five times over, tweak your loadout to the nth degree and still... all you need to do is turn the wrong corner at the wrong moment and you'll get laid out. I'm a very competitive player, I just don't get a feeling of actual success from the multiplayer games that are popular right now.
I know that most people like to use these gaming sessions as an excuse to bullshit with their friends but here's the thing: I'm 75% deaf. Shooting the breeze with me means listening to a lot of me going "Huh? Wha? What was that, man?" as I try to separate my friend's lame jokes from the explosions and gunfire happening around me. Which is no fun for anyone. So, yeah, I have a tendency to want to get to the point very quickly. I may like you and I may enjoy gaming with you but there's not going to be a whole lot of bro'ing out, in the traditional sense. What gets my blood up is the knowledge of a job well done.
I've being playing co-operative games for as long as I've known they'd existed. Going back as far as playing Contra with my big brother in the arcades to side-scrolling space shooters on the NES. They weren't games that were optimized for co-op but they were at least options. Even later games on PS2/Xbox like those cheesy Hunter: The Reckoning games got a lot of play amongst my friends. My first real taste of a true co-op experience was the least likely: System Shock 2.
It's only relatively recently that I've started following gaming sites closely so the initial release of System Shock 2 came and went without crossing my radar at all. It was about a year after it's release that I lucked into a used copy and it immediately became one of my favorite games of all time. I never beat it, though, because I didn't want it to end. (I had the same problem with Silent Hill.) So it sat on my hard drive for a couple more years until I found myself temporarily living with a very close friend of mine. I'm pretty sure he hadn't played it before and wanted to give it a try when one of us got the bright idea to burn an extra copy and try out the co-op. And it was glorious.
(As a side note: we are kind of the exceptions that prove the rule, as far as co-op survival horror. System Shock 2 was designed to be a survival horror experience right down to my friend, Lorin, and I sharing already limited resources. This is vastly different than something like Dead Space 3 which was built to be a action/horror game. It also helped that Lorin and I both went out of our way to keep the atmosphere of the game going: we only played at night with the lights out. Neither of us cracked jokes. We really gave ourselves over to the tension. Once we beat it, we tried playing with a third friend who just cowboy'd through the first couple of levels and we both lost interest. Even if you do build a co-op survival horror experience, it only works if both people want it to.)
The two of us picked complimentary classes, we used different kinds of weapons so as to not drain the other person's ammo, and communicated some basic tactics. If one of us was wounded, the other would take point. I'd do the hacking, he'd cover me with psionics. We took our time, savored everything we could and beat the game. Because Lorin was using a cracked copy, once we beat the final boss the screen just immediately went to black and booted us to the main menu but we didn't care. To this day, I have not had a better co-operative experience playing a game.
This is the sort of attitude I've taken into other co-op games, with varying degrees of success. You can't predict how other people will try to play so I generally find myself falling into a support role just because no one else will. Healer, mechanic, sniper, you name it. You get your macho dudes who want to hog all the glory for themselves, the schemers who think they can run a game like a military platoon (forgetting that military wisdom usually states that plans only work until the first time you meet the enemy), the inept, the lazy, the uninterested. You take your chances.
Outside of the two Left 4 Dead titles, the games I've played the most co-op this generation have been fairly unlikely obsessions: Lost Planet 2, Syndicate and Resident Evil: Revelations. In each case, your survival is dependent on the skill of your team/partner. If you go cowboy, you screw it up for everyone. Things like enemy placement, power ups and objectives are generally pretty static. It becomes a matter of how perfectly you and your team can execute your mission. That, to me, takes more skill than just spinning a roulette wheel in a Call Of Duty Team Deathmatch.
Lost Planet 2 took a page from the Monster Hunter handbook with giant monsters who could be taken down a number of different ways. Syndicate, while not the Syndicate people remembered (and brought low by a really mediocre campaign), nonetheless had an excellent co-op campaign that no one played. Both games were, to me, really undeserving of the dismissal they received. (Incidentally, I really wish Fuse were a better game because that could have totally been something I loved.)
Resident Evil: Revelations, while not exactly a return to form from a campaign perspective, has the excellent two-player Raid Mode. I've never played a game before where I had to trust my partner so much, especially if you're hunting for S Ranks or Trinity Bonuses. In the beginning, I was helped along by higher level players who shepherded me along, taught me the ropes, and really turned the game into a weird kohai/senpai relationship. Using the in-game chat system, they would tell me when to hang back or follow. Granted there were just as many people who played for 300 hours and still didn't know what the hell they were doing, but finding those guys who knew their way around was a godsend. And when I leveled up myself, I would go back and play the earlier levels, doing the same thing for the n00bs that others did for me. It turned out to be a really unique experience where the co-operation wasn't solely in combat but in the entire approach to the game. I've gotten more friend requests from randos playing Raid Mode than any other game... and most of them don't even speak my language.
In short, gaming with me means trying to find camaraderie in successfully completing a mutual goal, as opposed to a mutual BS session. It may not be as immediately rewarding as a simple hang with your friends, but when the pieces are all in place it can be truly memorable.
As usual, my reviews are pretty spoiler-heavy, but I've cordoned them off after the end of the review for people who don't want to be... y'know, spoiled.
It's very heartening to me that the three video games that have provoked the most discussion in the last year are story-heavy games that center around a relationship between two people. This generation of gaming is rapidly coming to a close and we've gone from a situation where having a good story is a pleasant surprise or a bonus to an actual selling point. Telltale's The Walking Dead went for huge dramatic crescendos, Bioshock: Infinite went for more of a headfuck, and now we have Naughty Dog, already proven in cinematic game experiences, trying their hand at the post-apocalyptic action/stealth/survival horror genres.
The Last Of Us and The Walking Dead do share a lot of the same DNA, to the point that I was worried that Naughty Dog's offering would suffer from over-familiarity. "Older man with a violent past tries to escort an innocent young girl to safety during a pandemic/zombie apocalypse" is a pretty well-worn genre at this point. We know how it ends: "I can teach you no more, son." "Nooooo! You're like the Dad I lost/never had or whatever!" "You'll be okay, kiddo. I'm gonna die now." "Nooooo!" *fade out*
The Walking Dead played these genre conventions to the hilt but was saved by giving us a sense of choice in how we survived the world and a young charge we actually felt invested in saving. The Last Of Us, it turns out, follows the same basic story beats but ends up in a different place by the end. Telltale's episodic series is, by comparison, a celebration of the human spirit in comparison to Naughty Dog's bleak, hopeless, uncompromising world.
It's a world that is being slowly reclaimed by nature. Buildings, unused and unmaintained for two decades, have decayed, fallen apart, sprouted grass, and attracted wildlife. It's a kind of sad, frightening beauty that even extends to the areas taken over by the plants that spawn the cordyceps spores, which look almost like human beings turned inside out: petals that resemble skin and stigma, anthers, and filament that almost resemble human organs. It's a world that's devolved, slowly erasing or reclaiming every inch of human advancement. Whatever the world is now, it's not ours. Human beings have, naturally, devolved right along with it.
What were originally conceived as quarantine zones have becoming permanent city-states ruled over by fascist thugs. We see their handiwork right away, murdering anyone for any infraction they feel warrants it. It's a brutal utilitarianism that has no time for due process or empathy. In the wilds, you're constantly on the run from nearly feral hunters who have zero qualms about killing and possibly eating any unlucky travelers who wind up in their crosshairs. We occasionally hear bits of conversation that hints that these people are just trying to survive in a world that's actively trying to kill them, but the fact that they immediately default to remorseless killers whenever you're spotted makes them ideal cannon fodder as we shoot, stab and strangle our way through waves of them later on. There's a bit of every reviewers favorite new vocabulary term "ludonarrative dissonance" in that they never try to negotiate or surrender but that's still, to me, within acceptable levels.
Our protagonist, Joel, has no moral high ground to stand on himself. After the events of the heartbreaking intro sequence, he's been whatever he needed to be to survive: a murderer, thief and smuggler. He's a survivor but his loss and his subsequent experiences have turned him into a cold, selfish, stubborn, and largely unlikable man. He's very much the "grizzled hero" archetype but without anything resembling a heart of gold underneath it. I got the impression that if it weren't for his partner (and presumably his lover) Tess, he wouldn't be doing much of anything at all. She's the driving force of their smuggling operation while Joel seems to mostly just go through whatever motions are called for. Though the motions usually seem to involve killing someone.
The game proper kicks off when, after confronting a double crossing colleague, they get roped into escorting a young girl, Ellie, to the militant freedom fighter faction, The Fireflies, where they hope to use Ellie's seeming immunity to the cordyceps to come up with a vaccine. Joel, unwilling to invest in a quixotic cross country trip for some pipe dream, is ultimately forced into it. The notion of hope has apparently become so alien to the man that even the risk of believing in something is enough scare him off. Throughout the game, I never so much liked Joel as understood him.
Ellie, on the other hand, is immediately likeable. The "perky teenager" thing could have easily rubbed me the wrong way but as the only real bright spot in a cruel and fucked up world, she became a pressure valve. The foul mouth, bad jokes and general know-it-all teenager-ness of the character is usually the only thing to look forward to. You're playing as Joel but Ellie is clearly our point of view character. The first time she tried to help me take down an infected runner, I cheered. I had been busy trying to find cover to desperately flip through my weapons to find one that had more than a bullet or two and out of the corner of my eye I see her leap on the thing's back and start stabbing it with her pen knife. The little brat just saved my life and I loved her for it.
While the game is thankfully designed to not be an escort mission where you need to hold Ellie's hand the entire time, it was the thing that kept continuously breaking my immersion. Ellie is effectively invincible and invisible so there were many, many occasions where I'd be creeping around and trying to find an angle on an enemy and Ellie (or another partner) would literally walk right in front on them to huddle next to me. In a world designed to be so engrossing and intense, something like that makes it impossible to suspend disbelief. Frankly, I would have preferred if Joel just kept continually insisting that Ellie hang back in combat situations and she rejoins you when you've cleared the area out. Neither is a perfect option but to have my immersion interrupted repeatedly like that was the biggest obstacle in maintaining the experience Naughty Dog tried so hard to create.
Other reviews and comments I've read have complained here and there about the scavenging you have to do, but I loved it. Not only did it give me a chance to explore and admire the amazing art design of the game, it provided an opportunity to interact with it as well. What you see usually isn't just some background on your way to another combat scenario. Houses aren't just empty, they're abandoned. You can still see family photos on dressers and toys littering the floor in some child's room. They're interrupted lives rather than just some empty space that exists in the game. Finding some scissors or bandages or bullets was just a bonus for me.
The violence in the game is particularly noteworthy in that it fits the world perfectly. When Joel strangles someone, he actually strangles them. No Schwarzenegger-esque instant neck snaps. If you linger at enemies you've head shot, sometimes it looks like you can see the entrance and exit wounds. Other enemies, depending on the gun you use, will have their heads explode when you hit them. As in little tiny chunks of skull debris around their body. This game is definitely not pulling any punches. Occasionally Ellie will make a surprised exclamation when you brutally murder someone and I'd be lying if I didn't say that I didn't occasionally share the sentiment.
My only other major criticism of the game stems from the combat. Frankly, I was fine with the infected taking multiple headshots to kill, but when it came to the human enemies, things got very frustrating very fast. There are a couple of weapons that offer armor piercing upgrades but ammo is so scarce that you can't be guaranteed to have any when you need it. While I like the scarcity of the ammo as far as giving things a survival horror feel, the way that the ammo is parceled out made sure that there were long sequences where we are never given any hunting rifle or shotgun ammo, etc... so if you didn't save any from the section where it was more plentiful, you're just out of luck.
This lead to multiple situations like this: I'm in a firefight. I'm behind cover. I poke my head up and headshot a guy wearing a helmet. The guy falls down and pops back up again sans helmet. I pop up again and headshot him again. He falls down again. Assuming he's dead, I try to move to the next bit of cover only to get knocked on my ass by the same guy who is still shooting at me. I understand that this is a game where you're not supposed to feel like a superhero and many gamers would likely breeze through the combat if a headshot meant an instant kill but nothing breaks the spell of the game faster than an enemy surviving multiple headshots. It's one of two imperfect options but, like with Ellie's invisibility, I would have preferred the option that didn't take me out of the game.
That said, the scarcity of ammo and the strength of the enemies, especially the infected Clickers, make for some wild sequences. Shivs become mandatory in not only stealth killing them but saving you from their insta-kill attacks. Runners are easier to deal with but are big trouble in packs and Bloaters need to be shot in specific areas to be killed efficiently. On Hard difficulty, I rarely had more than ten bullets for any gun at any given time and every missed shot was enough to make me wince. Even scavenging as much as I could there would be lengthy sequences in which I was missing a specific ingredient for a much needed shiv or med kit. Every combat situation seemed to dissolve into panic by the end of it. Only a couple of times was I able to successfully navigate a sequence without being spotted and it felt goddamn triumphant when it happened.
The game is broken up into seasons which take place during specific locations including my hometown of Pittsburgh (it looks pretty much like I left it, to be honest). Each section has it's own unique vibe to it, which keeps things from getting stale, and the games take care to break up the style of play, so you may find yourself on horseback or hunting deer to change things up. Much like the Uncharted games, though, when you see oddly placed cover, prepare to start shooting.
After a blockbuster sequence during winter, we move onto the real finale which feels oddly like anti-climax. And I'm fine with that. Actually, I was oddly tense and keyed up for the final section the game because I kept expecting the writers to go for the obvious and easy ending but they never did. After an occasionally frustrating fight against some armored enemies, everything gets wrapped up in an intriguing ambiguity. You don't have to worry about the game leaving an important questions unanswered but it does leave you with a final scene that allows you to draw your own conclusions.
As a game, Naughty Dog is still perfecting it's cinematic experience. They're still not quite there in terms of making everything perfectly seamless from a gameplay perspective but it is a very well told story, even if it hews very close to what we'd expect up until the end. It's certainly a step up from Uncharted 3, which fell a little bit too in love with it's own characters. As a capper for this generation of gaming, it's a fantastic send-off. It's uncompromisingly bleak and gorgeous to look at. If you're open to the experience, it will take an emotional toll on you. Here's to a new generation of games that hopefully follow suit.
SPOILER WARNING! Here's where I start talking specifics about what I thought of the story, so back out now if you haven't played yet!
Joel is a dick. He's the character you control through most of the game but, as I mentioned in the review, I never liked him. Understood him, but never liked him. The loss of his daughter, calcified by twenty years of murder and robbery, had made him into a hollow shell. It isn't until Utah that he feels comfortable enough with Ellie to joke with her (having the shared experience of killing people who want to eat them is a pretty good bonding experience, it turns out) but by then she's lost in a melancholy of her own.
What makes Joel's decision at the end, and our complicity in it, work is that we know that Ellie is more mature than just about every character in the game, so when the Fireflies decide to operate on her without her consent, they've essentially compromised themselves into being the villains. As much as Joel's decision is driven by selfishness, he's not wrong to do it.
The irony is that if Marlene had taken the time to talk to Ellie instead of treating her like a non-human, something she felt she likely had to do in order to make what she felt was the "right" decision, there's a good chance Ellie would have agreed to the surgery anyway.
Ellie's melancholy at the beginning of the Utah sequence, I thought, was originally just her coming to grips with the events in David's camp. Until she has that conversation with Joel about what he thinks the Fireflies need to do in order to get vaccine. Joel, re-energized and hopeful, dismisses it as just doing some tests and taking blood samples... but Ellie isn't convinced. I think she was preparing for the fact that she was going to have to sacrifice herself to save the world. And was trying to be okay with it.
Marlene isn't evil, she's just lost herself. She got the means and the ends all mixed up. She knew that there was no guarantee the surgery would provide a vaccine. She was willing to kill a child she was tasked to care for on the off chance it provided something useful. Ultimately, she was just using Ellie to her own ends. Joel is precisely the opposite. As much as he wants to save this child the way he couldn't save his own, he's also doing it for her benefit. That's what makes Joel's actions ultimately heroic to me.
I get the argument that he is essentially damning the world but I don't agree with that either. There's no supporting evidence for this, but I think Ellie isn't just a genetic aberration, she's the next stage in human evolution. There's no way of knowing how many kids born post-cordyceps have developed an immunity until they get bit. But the chances of surviving an attack with just a bite are slim let alone other people letting you stay alive long enough to prove you won't turn. And considering you have as much chance being killed by hunters or dying from starvation or disease, there's no telling how many kids being born are just like her. But that's all supposition.
Ellie is "The Last Of Us" because she represents everything that's still good about humanity. She's the only character who doesn't act from a place of selfishness. Joel is Joel. Tess is out for herself and only sees the light when it's too late. Marlene cares only for her mission. Bill is a solipsist. Sam puts everyone at risk by not telling anyone of his infection. Henry blames Joel and then kills himself because he can't take responsibility for himself. Ellie is the only character who remains true, even after her run in with David who is arguably the worst humanity has to offer.
Joel represents all the bad decisions, selfishness and shitty, violent impulses that were ingrained in Humanity Mark 1. Protecting Ellie from those who wanted to harm her, even if she was prepared to sacrifice herself had anyone bothered to ask, and then lying to her afterwards are proof of it. Joel is not a redeemable character but neither is he truly villainous, just sadly human.
The question at the last scene is, to me, can Ellie believe the lie? She says "okay" but there's nothing in her face that particularly sells it one way or the other. And if she can, what does that say about her? Has she had enough of being the Golden Child and wants to get on with what passes as a normal life? If so, is that okay given what she's capable of? (Personally, I don't think the lie is sustainable.) The fact that they switch Ellie to your control in the lead up is a nice touch too, making it more like Joel is lying directly to you. Not only do I like that they left it pretty ambiguous, I like that they had the balls to not go with the dramatic-strings-and-weepy-send-off ending. It's ultimately a very personal story.
Like I said in the review proper, I really liked the game despite some flaws. I just hope more people follow Naughty Dog's lead and make more story-driven games that don't revolve around easy, smug horseshit like Far Cry 3's whole "you're a terrible person for enjoying all this carnage we lovingly provided for you." This game is a great example of meaningful violence. I'm definitely interested in whatever Naughty Dog does next.
This afternoon, Microsoft essentially threw a Molotov on a grease fire when they announced that they were backing away from the DRM, used games and online check-in features for the Xbox One that have caused so much consternation amongst gamers. After being flanked and decimated by Sony during their E3 press conference, and after a near terminal case of Foot In Mouth Syndrome in the wake of it, we knew Microsoft was on the defensive. However, adhering to the well-worn rule that corporations on the level of Microsoft never admit that they're wrong, many people just expected them to slide quietly into a second place showing in this generation's already carnage-fueled Console War.
However, in comes today's announcement which amounts to a full strategic retreat. It's not worded as such, naturally, (it's been pleasantly PR'd into almost sounding like it was their own idea) but just about all of the issues that stuck in people's craw were addressed: No daily online checks which will brick your system if you don't have a stable connection. You can resell or trade your games to whomever you like at the cost of announced features like family sharing and disc-free gaming. DRM will be up to the publishers and, after seeing the fit people have thrown in the last few months, there's a good chance they'll only institute it slowly and quietly. Also, to match Sony, the system will not be region locked. Unless you're like me and you mistrust the notion of cloud computing and/or hate the notion of an always on Kinect watching you like the quietly judge-y eye of Sauron, there's no reason the Xbox One shouldn't regain a place at the top of your Christmas list.
This has naturally provoked the usual responses: gamers cheering victory at having won a rare battle for game ownership and at the same time decried as a loss to publishers and developers by guys like Cliff Bleszinski. It's also been the subject of a lot of empty cynicism, typified by this tweet from John "TotalBiscuit" Bain (proof that not all bowler hat wearing British video game personalities are created equal) in which he turns his nose up at the idea that the hashtag culture and Facebook posts had any bearing on changing Microsoft's position because... dead revolutionaries in Turkey?
First of all, that is some wild, wild false equivalency there. To somehow equate actual dead human beings with a consumer rights issue in regards to a video game console reeks of an almost Autistic disconnection to reality. Mothers are mourning their dead children right now. You're arguing about video games. These two things don't belong anywhere near each other. For any reason.
To be fair, Bain clarified his position in subsequent tweets, almost to the point of completely neutering his original statement (unless you happen to be one of the ten people in the world who truly believes that their tweets were solely responsible for Microsoft's change of heart) but I bring it up more as an example of a particular worldview. Bain is far from alone in his assessment. There's a lot of people supping on sour grapes tonight.
To listen to the few developers and publishers willing to speak on the subject publicly, you get the impression that they aren't so much angry as exasperated. Like kindergarten teachers wrestling with a particularly unruly child. To hear them tell it, we just don't understand what they're trying to do with the Xbox One. We don't understand how badly developers are being hurt by used game sales. And if we did, we'd be completely on board with Microsoft's new all-in-one entertainment box of pure joy.
This speaks, in bold and italics, how little they think of their audience. And yet I still can't see them as mustache-twirling villains. I believe that they believe what's coming out of their mouths. Having worked for a Giant Unnamed Corporation for six years now, I see how these decisions happen. The people in charge are so removed from the way normal people operate that they're completely unable to relate. They think they're being magnanimous but they don't actually know anyone who is being directly affected by their policies. It's not evil (not normally), it's just out and out ignorance. So, yes, people like Cliff Bleszinski have yet to find a burden they aren't willing to unload on gamers to line their pockets, but they've convinced themselves, though ego and love of money, that we don't really understand what we want.
The Xbox One is not a carefully crafted compromise between what gamers want and what publishers and developers need. It shifts the playing field so far away from the rank and file user that a backlash had to happen. Microsoft would have us believe that they're essentially giving us Steam in a box with some bonus accoutremounts like "cloud computing," an always-on Kinect and TV integration. They also continue to completely miss what makes Steam appealing.
"Me no trust that white face man, like Geronimo..."
Valve's genius lies in the fact that they aren't a publicly traded company at the constant mercy of perpetually paranoid and frightened millionaire investors. They also have an unconventional management structure that companies like Microsoft, Sony, EA, Activision, et al, would never have the bravery to implement. They want the money Valve makes and the goodwill it's gotten them without the sacrifices and risks they've taken to get there.
Microsoft wants the cheap and dirty answer to Steam. (Sometimes called "EA Origin.") Some game journalists, most of whom should know better, have talked pie in the sky fantasies about the Microsoft equivalent of Steam Sales and whatnot, also completely ignoring exactly how unique Valve's position is. Want proof? Look at Microsoft's attempt to steal Sony's shine with the Playstation Plus and their virtual library. Microsoft's offer? Halo 3 and Assassin's Creed 2. Games you've already played and sold years ago. Games that are multiple iterations removed from that by now. Games you can pick up for the low, low price of $3 or $6 used on Amazon, respectively. Games that have been cross referenced and double checked on spreadsheets for their minimum effect on the bottom line. Meanwhile, Sony is offering interesting indie titles like The Cave and Thomas Was Alone as well as smaller games like Sleeping Dogs and Spec Ops: The Line.
So, yes, Microsoft is clueless. They're looking at numbers and missing the big picture. Sony is only marginally better, having had their own descent into hubris with the PS3 announcement. Even now, their position is to just maintain the status quo, allowing them to pull ahead by virtue of doing absolutely nothing. Certainly GameStop is no hero, having sketchy policies that undercut their consumers as well. (Personally, I go to Mom and Pop used record stores for my game trading.) And while Microsoft soils their chinos? Valve is already floating the possibility of digital used game trading which will put them another generation ahead of their console brethren and win them a whole new round of plaudits.
These corporations exist to make money and will only give back as little as they can to maximize profits. That's business. Not good, not evil, just business. Yet corporate types and their apologists are only part of the problem. Some people are evidently immediately suspicious of what they see as an angry mob which steamrolls over any nuanced position.
While there's certainly no shortage of pointless, free floating anger on the Internet, it's often given far too much weight by virtue of the fact that people are drawn to negativity. A lot of these angry social media commenters are professionally angry. Acknowledging them validates them. Most people have a hard time keeping in mind that when it comes to dealing with trolls, you are actually the least important part of the equation. Their anger and whatever wires got crossed in their heads are the real issue. You're just a convenient target. There's a certain amount of ego you have to let go of if you're ever going to survive the Internet.
Which brings us to the courageous souls rolling their eyes at the idea that this angry mob of people who don't want to give up their consumer rights have somehow deluded themselves into thinking their voices matter, even if all they could do is change a Facebook photo and tweet at some monolithic corporation. Because, y'know, people are dying fighting for freedom in Muslim countries and that.
Firstly, if you're doing something, you're not doing nothing. That just seems like common sense. I'm a hack blogger no one cares about, I like talking to people about subjects likes this, but most people have lives and jobs and kids. This is of interest to people insomuch as they like games, but they're limited in the amount of time they can spend. There are no trenches here. There are no battles to be fought. You commiserate amongst friends, you refuse to pre-order, you tweet your displeasure at Microsoft. That's more or less the extent of what you can do. Because, at the end of the day, you're arguing about a luxury item.
If you really hold people gathering together around a common cause to be such a useless endeavor, what were you expecting to happen? An actual movement? Occupy Microsoft Headquarters? You'd just mock them for that too, for taking things too seriously. The reality is that every little bit helps. It fosters an atmosphere for discussion and gets the information out. Just because they don't wear the slogan on a t-shirt or tattoo it on their skin doesn't mean they aren't helping.
I consider my cynicism towards giant, multinational corporations to be an informed cynicism based on experience. In a sense, I admire Microsoft for being so ballsy with their wanton greed. Usually there are systems in place to hinder creativity, foster a sense of homogeneity, and avoid risk. People, on the other hand, are endlessly surprising. This isn't some kind of soppy, wet Liberal hugfest either. Microsoft's decision, I'm sure you'll find, was motivated by not wanting to lose money. They're worried about losing money because people were taking to social media and talking about how much they don't want what Microsoft is selling. Which translated into slower pre-order numbers. Which, compounded with the messaging problems they've been having, translated into A Problem. Twitter wasn't the only factor, but it was a factor.
One of my biggest problems with this industry is about how the gaming press, developers and publishers treat the people who make their livelihood possible. There's a disdain in a lot of people I find very disturbing. As if somehow we random dudes wield a power equal to the multi-million dollar corporations who provide us with our entertainment. Where all people remember is the troll who told them to "fuck off and die" and not the ten people who praised them. As if that's everyone else's fault and not the fault of the troll and the failing of the person's own ego.
We don't have any real power. That's what makes Microsoft's reversal all the more delicious. No one with any sense is claiming full credit for it, but nor are we just buzzing flies, fit only to be swatted away by those with a bigger soapbox to stand on. We won a very minor victory in a not-particularly-important fight. If someone wants to make a comprehensive chart about how much money the industry is losing to used games sales vs. how much they're losing to bloated budgets for bland sequels with diminishing returns, I'm down... but, if you don't mind, I think I'll take my victories where I can find them.