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Flawed Masterpieces: Dark Souls

Welcome to Flawed Masterpieces. A series designed to look at the weaknesses of gaming’s greatest titles, and remind us all that the past was not perfect.

Dark Souls is a great game. Actually, as the title of this article suggests, it is a masterpiece.

I’ve only thought of Dark Souls more recently with the release of Bloodborne, which has reignited my love of the Souls franchise like a freshly kindled bonfire in the hopeless night.

Yet as much as I love Dark Souls (I once wrote it ruined me for other games, and stand by that statement in many ways) it is not a perfect game. Some of its flaws didn’t become evident the first time through, nor the second or even the third. But as I go through what will be my fifth playthrough of From Software’s great contribution to gaming, I have found there are things about Dark Souls which do hinder the game. Some of these hindrances are small. Others…well to be honest some of them continue to impact the franchise to this day.

So with respects to my fellow Dark Souls travelers, I present the biggest flaws of Dark Souls.

The Magic System

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Magic in Dark Souls was intentionally dialed back from its Demon Souls counterpart, on the grounds that the old magic system made certain parts of the experience meant to be challenging in a specific way, far too easy to get around.

That’s fine, but the problem became that making a pure magic character in Dark Souls is a huge chore. Even assuming you have a slight indication of where to go and how to manage your path to pure sorcery (which, as I’ll be discussing later, is a big assumption) you’ll find your ability to manage the early game on your limited spell repertoire alone to be nigh impossible. Even the act of casting a spells will require some online fact checking for many new players.

Eventually, you can get a handle on how the process works, but this doesn’t mean the game makes this class pursuit any easier. Compared to regular weapons, truly useful spells are incredibly difficult to locate even for the more thorough players, and Dark Souls system of granting you a limited number of casts per bonfire visit means that at some point you will have to devote resources to an alternate form of combat.

I’m sure that this is where some Dark Souls players who went through the entire game with nothing but spells will tell me I’m crazy, and that devoted magic builds are incredibly powerful late game, but the fact remains that Dark Souls treatment of magic throws every possible hurdle at the player who wishes to use it as a primary resource.

And that’s what really bothers me about the process. Not that magic isn’t viable or entertaining, but that for a game already so focused on making things as difficult as possible, the heavy restrictions placed on such a primary mechanic  simply feel arbitrary.

Blighttown

Blighttown

I don’t mean this entrant to be as controversial as it will inevitably be, but I am of the camp that says Blighttown is an uninspired misery.

Let’s start with something everyone can probably agree on. Blighttown’s framerate, especially pre-patch, is a joke. It’s so bad in crucial moments, that the conspiracy theory that it was intentionally implemented into the level to add to the general misery doesn’t actually sound that unreasonable.

Beyond that, the entire basis behind Blighttown seems to have been to throw the most miserable aspects of the game at the wall to see what sticks. That means curses, unavoidable enemies at the bottom of ladders, leaps of faith courtesy of awkward platforming, unreasonable distances between bonfires, annoying enemies and poison around every corner.

Some of these can be countered through shortcuts and the right combination of inventory, but in true Dark Souls fashion it’s going to be very likely you won’t have acquired much of it by the time you get to Blighttown. That means you’re in for multiple, miserable attempts through the long way around.

And that sucks. Dark Souls is at its best when it’s difficult, but fair and Blighttown eschews that notion in favor of introducing the kind of annoyingly overwhelming (and wholly unenjoyable) level of frustration non-Dark Souls fans have come to unfairly associate the series with. On my multiple playthroughs of the game, it is always the one area I roll my eyes at, even with the shortcuts.

Surviving Blighttown has created a brotherhood among Dark Souls players, due to that overwhelming feeling of satisfaction that comes with besting it. However, that doesn’t make it a good level. Just an epic pain in the ass.

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A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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Naxxramas Revisited: Ranking The Impact of Every Curse of Naxxramas Card on Hearthstone

While it has become somewhat foolish to expect anything less than total success from Blizzard Entertainment, I must say that the growth of Hearthstone in just over a years time has simply astounded me.

It’s easy to point to the game’s sizeable player base and revenue numbers to really drive this point home, but as a somewhat religious player of Hearthsone, when I talk about growth in Hearthstone, what I’m talking about is content.

Looking back at the average Hearthstone game when I began playing in its beta stages compared to the game now reveals two entirely different animals. Hearthstone‘s meta game (a term used to describe the ever shifting value of certain cards, decks and strategies) has kept chugging along due in some part to the creative strategies of that aforementioned astounding player base, but largely because of the contributions of Blizzard, who have been routinely updating the game with card tweaks, updates and of course, expansions.

The latest expansion (the PvE style adventure mode Blackrock Mountain) released this past Thursday, and even though we’ve only been able to experience one of it’s five weekly released wings, already it has left a footprint on the game’s meta, that has Hearthstone players everywhere going headstrong into the breach once more battling against the winds of change.

It’s also left me thinking about the last Hearthstone expansion we got, Curse of Naxxramas. Released in July of 2014, Naxxramas was the first substantial injection of new content into Hearthstone, and its overwhelming success forever set the benchmark for expansions.

But as I said, Hearthstone is a game that changes quickly. So, in honor of the release of the newest adventure, I thought it might be fun to look back on  Naxxramas to determine just what cards have left the biggest impact on the game’s meta.

Largely, then, these rankings are based on the overall effect they had on the game, but in cases of cards that are about equal, the tiebreaker went to overall quality.

Let’s get started.

29. Stoneskin Gargoyle

Gargoyle

Not much to say on this one. Bad stats, heavily dependent on elaborate scenarios for even theoretical uses and possess an ability that’s more unique than it is genuinely useful.

Pretty much everybody thought it was going to be bad at the start of Naxxramas, and they were right.

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A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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Why It’s Time We Finally Pay Friday the 13th for the NES A Little Respect

*It’s been a long  break since my last post. Maybe I’ll break that down later, but for now let’s talk about Friday the 13th

Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

Wait.

Before you start, I just want to let you know that I’m not trying to say Friday the 13th is a good game. It’s quite far from it. In fact, I can’t imagine the scenario wherein I would say to a gamer, regardless of their age or gaming experience; “Hey, you know what you should play? Friday the motherfucking 13th for the NES.”  In fact, I’m not even trying to argue that the game is some kind of underrated experience, or hidden gem that’s value has only revealed itself after the years have weathered away the earth and dirt that once covered it, leaving us with only a glint of something beautiful that we can truly admire.

Friday the 13th for the NES is not that gem. But it is what I used to refer to in my youth as a “shiny stone.” A shiny stone is ultimately just a worthless rock. However, it may have glints of minerals or some other crystalized formation that give it just a little more merit than the average stone. Not enough to make it an irreplaceable piece of history mind you, but just compelling enough to keep with you longer than you otherwise would.

But let’s back up a bit for the unfamiliar. Why is Friday the 13th for the NES so hated?

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A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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Valiant Hearts Video Review

A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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Valiant Hearts: The Great War Review

Valiant Hearts is a game that makes me question the very nature of video game reviews.

It takes us to a time and place that video games rarely explore; Europe during the First World War. There we follow the stories of four people who have all found themselves mixed up in the war against their will. There’s Karl, a native German living in France with his wife Marie, who is called back to Germany to serve. Marie’s father Emile, who gets drafted into the war by France. Freddie, an American living in France who joins the war in order to seek vengeance for his fallen wife. And Ana, whose nursing and driving abilities aid her in a quest to find her kidnapped father.

Oh, and there’s of course a loveable medical assistant dog named Walt, who crosses paths with each of these characters throughout the game.

Part of what makes this game so very hard to review, is just how beautiful it is. Valiant Hearts’ art style takes cues from several prominent graphic novels and classic Disney films, but I can’t say that I’ve ever really seen anything quite its equal in any other medium. You can get an idea of just how gorgeous this game is by looking at pictures of it, but to truly appreciate the full extent of its artistic majesty, it must be seen in motion.

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A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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Amidst Concerns, There is Hope to Be Found in Nintendo’s New YouTube Policy

Earlier this year I managed to upset a few people by suggesting that Nintendo was making an error by not even bothering to acknowledge the Twitch Plays Pokemon phenomenon. I believe the phrase “click-bait” was tossed around.

Despite some of the more enthusiastic claims to the contrary, it wasn’t my intention to insult Nintendo or its fanbase to any serious degree. It’s just that as a fan of Nintendo who happens to live in the modern world, it became frustrating to see another instance of them falling so far behind the times, in terms of adapting to, and even taken advantage of, modern internet gaming culture culture.

Nintendo’s going through some rough times at the moment, that admittedly have very little to do with whether or not they gave Twitter shout-outs to Twitch. But for a company with a history of sticking to their ways to a fault, it was disheartening to think that they were not learning from the past, and were very much willing to repeat it.

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A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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Just As It Should, Unreal Tournament Now Belongs to the Fans

Like the ending to a good Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, sometimes its satisfying to see it all come together.

In a previous post, I mentioned that not enough was being done to cherish the games and franchises of days gone past, and ensure that they have a healthy presence in the future. In another word related doo-hicky about Unreal Tournament 2004, I also lamented the notions  from developer Epic that suggested we would not be seeing another Unreal Tournament game anytime soon.

In both instances, it was troubling to realize that no matter how beloved, influential, successful, and full of potential a gaming series may be, ultimately its place in the future is not certain.

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A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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10 Years Later: Half-Life 2

This is the 30th, and final, part of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

At no point was Half-Life 2 just a game.

Following the cliffhanger ending of the legendary Half-Life, the idea of its sequel was a pipe dream. One that’s grandeur and impossibility seemed to grow with each year, as the hype train rolled along with a fury never before seen by the industry.

At the time of its release, Half-Life 2 stopped the world (not to mention, the still young Steam service). November 16, 2004 was a day that seemed surreal to many. The sight of Half-Life 2 on your computer was a real “pinch-me” moment. Even before you booted it up, that sensation it provided damn near justified the 6 year long wait.

After its release? Well, we’re living in that world now. One where Half-Life 2 has achieved god-like status, and the mere idea of a follow-up has become a cultural phenomenon on-par with any actual release in the series so far.

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A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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10 Years Later – Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door

This is part 29 of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

To me, there’s a strong difference between “loved,” and “beloved.”

Beloved is a word that implies more of a deep, unquestionable fondness for something. Even when you love something, you can readily admit to its faults. When something is beloved, though, it’s reached this point where your affection for it is well-beyond reason, yet at the same time, seems to be a perfectly logical emotion, based on the thing itself.

A big part of the reason that Nintendo has one of the more…shall we say ‘enthusiastic’ fanbases out there, is that they tend to deal heavily in the production of games aimed at achieving the beloved status. That’s certainly the case with Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door.

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A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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10 Years Later – Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War

This is part 28 of a month-long look at the games of 2004. To see the other parts, click here.

In 2004, I can safely say I knew nothing about the Warhammer 40k universe, aside from the fact that it existed. This may not sound like a big deal, but among my friends, it was a mortal sin.

From what I was able to gleam of that whole universe, it seemed interesting enough. The trouble was that every time someone would try to fill me in on the particulars regarding it, they would launch into this half-hour diatribe that you tend to encounter when you mix super-fandom and a fictional universe with years and years of history to cover.

The result of these sit-down conversations was the distinct feeling that I was on the brink of something fairly intriguing, but could never really get the proper introduction required to really bridge the gap, and get me to the land of fandom properly.

But then came a real-time-strategy game set within the Warhammer universe called Dawn of War. With it arrived an introduction trailer of particular merit. This one, in fact:

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A gamer and writer since developing motor skills, I'm just here doing the things I love the most. Click on my name above for a more complete bio, and full contact information. Also don't forget to follow me on Twitter at: @ByrdMan014

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