A struggle for survival has never been so beautiful.

After recently beginning my third play through of The Last Of Us, and subsequently having cried for the third time after seeing Sarah’s death scene again, I had a rush of emotion and reinforcement of realization that The Last Of Us is a masterpiece that I love, and simply just want to speak about.

When I think about the cultural masterpiece that is The Last Of Us, I don’t have the word characters in my mind. I have the word people floating around. I have Joel, Ellie as well as other people that we meet throughout the game in my thoughts, the same way that I think about friends or family, and this is the product of absolutely stellar writing and video game craftsmanship. Neil Druckman, alongside all the crew at Naughty Dog were able to make me, as well as millions of others across the globe actually care about the people within this game through a platter of reasons such the incredible performance given by voice actors Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, as well as the constant, captivating fight for survival that these characters must endure. In addition, the relentless and vicious nature of the world that this lovable duo must live through, only has the player on the edge of their seat, praying for the pair to come through untouched after each and every encounter. Through all of this, an honest, true to the world and down-right excellent soundtrack helps the player to become immersed in this seemingly real world. And it also helps to make Joel, Ellie, as well as many other members of the cast come across as real people.

 

There are probably hundreds of aspects of The Last Of Us that somebody could analyse and praise, however the one thing that sticks out to me as perhaps the most memorable aspect of the Last Of Us, is the development of Joel and Ellie’s Father and Daughter like relationship, throughout the experience. Twenty years before the main events of The Last Of Us take place, and also twenty years before Joel and Ellie actually meet. Before the apocalypse even began, Joel had a daughter named Sarah, and of course, Sarah is killed right as the infection is first beginning in a devastating, and emotional scene which sets the brutal and gritty tone for The Last Of Us. Now when Joel meets Ellie for the first time, it is because he is taking on a job to escort Ellie across America in search of a group of Fireflies that are based at a particular hospital. They don’t know each other and there certainly is not an emotional attachment between the two. It’s a job that Joel doesn’t particularly want to do but nonetheless needs to get it done. Throughout the earlier stages of the Last Of Us, Joel comes across as ignorant towards Ellie. It’s apparent that he doesn’t want to be travelling with her, and it almost seems like he actually dislikes her, as he disregards any good that she does for the pair. He even goes as far as to show anger towards her when she saves his life. She’s effectively a burden on his life,  however as events unfold and the violent nature of modern America soaks into the pair, a tightened relationship begins to unfold, as the pair become emotionally attached. Furthermore this attachment only expands unto the player as they become emotionally attached to both Joel and Ellie. It’s an infectious emotion that holds a trickledown effect which is triggered by Naughty Dog’s masterpiece. The triggering of emotion is something that happens frequently throughout The Last Of Us. The developers  and writers behind this game masterfully crafted a fragile relationship which could be vanquished at any given time. This realisation causes the player to genuinely care for the characters within this game. The trickledown effect that I just mentioned returns. As the game progresses, Joel begins to protect and care for Ellie as if it was his own child, and us as the players then begin to care for Joel and Ellie as if they were our responsibility.

 

I speak about beauty within character formation and emotional attachment, however beauty exists within The Last Of Us and Joel and Ellie’s struggle for survival simply within the environments that the player, Joel and Ellie explore. Post-apocalyptic  America as depicted within The Last Of Us gets a coating from all four of the seasons. Starting with Summer, and ending with Spring. Through all four of these seasons we see harmonious and elegant areas. From lush woodland which Ellie witnesses first hand for the first time, to abandoned overgrown universities and Spore-infested subway tunnels. The gorgeous environments that you get the pleasure of traversing contrast with the horrors that inhabit them.  However I feel like the seasons entwine with Joel and Ellie’s developing Father and Daughter like relationship. As I mentioned, The Last Of Us begins in the Summer and ends in the Spring, and during the adventure, Joel and Ellie go from being total strangers whom have no love for each other, to the pair becoming so closely bonded. I feel that in terms of weather and the seasons themselves, Summer is the least harsh, and perhaps the most pleasant when it comes to survival. It is a time where wild-life and nature is thriving most. I feel that this translates to Joel and Ellie’s relationship. When they first meet, they’re within the wall and when they leave, they face the easiest of the challenges that they face, compared with what comes later down the line. They haven’t experienced or been through much together, as a pair. Come Autumn and they’ve been through a fair share together, and thus their bond strengthens. Continuing onwards,  deep within Winter and the storyline involving David, one of the most trying times for Joel and Ellie, what is in my opinion the most emotional and biggest turning point in the developing Father and Daughter relationship occurs. Ellie survives a horrific near death experience at the hands of cannibal, David, and during the cut scene after the fight, Joel clutches Ellie to him and tells her that she’s safe, before calling her ‘baby girl’. This phrase is imperative as the only person Joel has ever said that to is his late daughter, Sarah. The building of the pairs relationship reaches what could be seen as maximum strength during the most brutal and trying time (Winter) and it brings the pair closer than ever. This relates back to what I said about the seasons, as generally speaking, Winter is the harshest of the seasons. Wild-life dies out, and the coldest conditions are in effect. The normal effects of Winter obviously effect Joel and Ellie during their journey, but it’s the way that this changes their relationship which is beautiful. Finally, Spring. During Spring, new life enters the world. Resurrection and renewal occurs. It’s essentially a reset on natures calendar. The way that this translates into Joel and Ellie’s lives is that their bond is at its peak. The tables have turned, and Joel no longer sees Ellie as a burden. Instead, it’s obvious that he very much cares for her. This is obvious as he chooses to save her life, rather than allow a vaccine to benefit the entirety of humanity, at the end of the game. From Summer to Spring, Joel has flipped his feelings for Ellie completely.

 

I don’t think I’ve ever felt raw emotion, empathy and pure love for fictional characters more than I have for Joel and Ellie. The world that they’re living in is so delicate, as is their relationship, and seeing both their world and relationship transform alongside each other is an incredible, and in my opinion unrivalled thing. I speak a lot about special games, and The Last Of Us is one of them. Raw and honest emotion hits you throughout the entirety of this journey, and it’s a journey that I will always re-visit, and cherish for the rest of my days.

Thank you Naughty Dog.

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Thank you, Dark Souls.

Two days ago on the 27th March, From Software released the final DLC for the final Dark Souls game ever, thus bringing the trilogy to a close. While this doesn’t mean that I won’t be playing the games anymore, delving into the lore, streaming the game etc, it does mean that there will be no more fresh content released under the Dark Souls name, and for me and many people around the world, this is the end of a special era. The goal I have in mind while I am writing this is just to talk about how I got into Dark Souls, my fondest memories of the games and anything else that crosses my mind regarding the series. Just a look back at my personal experience with The Dark Souls franchise.

 

My first time playing a Dark Souls game…

I was a very late comer into the Dark Souls universe. While the first Dark Souls game released in 2011, it wasn’t until 2015 that I first downloaded the original game after receiving it for free on Xbox Live Games With Gold. I remember I had the game installed but it wasn’t for a couple of months or so that I randomly decided to give Dark Souls a whirl. Like many people, the only thing I really knew about Dark Souls was how difficult the game was, however I had heard some good things regarding the game and I had seen some clips on YouTube of people playing. I thought it looked pretty interesting in all honesty, due to the fact that I’ve always been drawn to high/dark fantasy content. Anyway when I first began playing Dark Souls, I quickly learned that people were not lying… The game was truly difficult. I really felt my patience tested during my first times playing like I never had before with a game. Being a consumer of AAA games content in the modern era, will almost undoubtedly mean that you will be used to having your hand held through many gaming experiences. The majority of popular AAA releases ensure that the most casual gamer is catered to. Key pieces of information such as how to get to a certain location or objective or how to complete a certain objective/goal   are very often given to the player, resulting in an easier experience. Games that wholeheartedly guide players through its experience often lose the opportunity for true mystery and challenge of experiencing the unknown. Well in Dark Souls it quickly became apparent that Developers From Software did not care if players weren’t able to make it to the end of the game. The world that you find yourself in doesn’t throw itself at you, telling you everything worth knowing; it is you the player who throws themselves at the world. Trying to learn and navigate the semi-open world and master class map. Trying to come to terms with the harsh combat systems, the relentless enemies, learning how to upgrade weapons and more. Dark Souls is a game that will punish new players. And this was a new and interesting concept to me.

 

My first ever Dark Souls save which may I add never saw the end of the Ornstein And Smough fight was shall we say, a strange build. Of course being a completely new player, some of stats and weapon upgrades were questionable. With no knowledge of  scaling ratings and the like, I remember splitting many of my Soul Levels between vitality, strength and Dexterity, not bad right, While using a Morning Star which I think I upgraded to approximately +4 or +5. It was a combination of laziness and fear that led me to having the Morning Star as my main weapon of choice. You of course receive the Morning Star underneath the elevator at Firelink Shrine so this was an early game and easy to access weapon for me. As soon as I saw that it did more damage than the other two weapons in my inventory I knew, or thought, should I say, that this was the weapon to carry me through a large portion of the game. I immediately upgraded the weapon to +1 and it was at this point that the mentality of “there’s no going back” hit me. I seem to remember realizing that the Morning Star wasn’t the ‘best’ choice of weapon to upgrade, as I was seeing players on YouTube videos deal so much more damage than me during boss fights, however I was afraid of having to restart my weapon upgrade progress as this would require getting more upgrade materials in this harsh and unforgiving world, which led me to constantly upgrading the Morning Star, which I’m sure I was convinced, would deal great damage upon many upgrades. I just wanted to stick with what I knew. Using bad weapons and builds was a part of a first playthrough though, right? I hope at least anyway.

 

While the Asylum Demon and Taurus Demon were difficult fights which unsurprisingly took my noob self a few attempts to beat, it wasn’t until the Bell Gargoyle’s fight that I learned true challenge. Yes, the Undead Burg pummelled me relentlessly, as I spent days trying to traverse that one area, however in terms of boss fights, the Bell Gargoyle’s were my first real vein-popping challenge that almost made me quit the game forever, out of frustration. This time of frustration was also something that allowed me to realize and appreciate what Dark Souls did as a game though. Within the first two boss fights (Asylum and Taurus Demon), there is the opportunity for plunge attacks from high ledges, which undoubtedly decreases the difficulty of a fight, which is of course a short term bonus, however I remember getting all too comfortable with that plunge attack life style. I remember entering the gargoyles fight and having that ability ripped away from me. A huge game mechanic, and cheesy strategy simply taken away from me. It was just me and the gargoyle on this rooftop, slogging it out until the death. It was at this point that I realized that Dark Souls would always keep me on my toes, and I should always be open to learning new mechanics and skills. In addition I learned that I should never take anything for granted as a new player in this world. These lessons were also reinforced when I realized that a second gargoyle actually joins the fight during the battle. The second gargoyle is of course on half HP from the get go, and it usually only executes  a very predictable and easy to dodge fire attack, however nonetheless… For a first time player seeing that duo in a boss fight for the first time, and so early on in the game, was very daunting to say the least. From Software very cleverly took my growing confidence, as I grew closer to victory with each attempt, and tore it apart, by simply throwing in another enemy to worry about in the fight. It was something that I wasn’t used to as a player. Something that Dark Souls hadn’t warned me about, but From Software didn’t care. I just had to get over it, and overcome my challenges. And after over a hundred attempts  on that fight and after finally tasting success, I knew that this game was a journey that I would never forget.

 

Realizing that Dark Souls is special…

 

As somebody that genuinely loves the Dark Souls franchise, there are of course a platter of aspects of the game that I have come to love over the last two years. I’ve previously posted a Dark Souls post which praises many aspects of the game that I love, and so I won’t just repeat myself here. At least not too much anyway. I came to realize that Dark Souls was special pretty much immediately upon playing the game. On the surface and to most people, Dark Souls is “That really hard game” and sure, Dark Souls is hard, and it’s one of the many reasons I love the games, however when a player delves deep into the universe that From Software have offered us, it becomes apparent quite quickly that there are so many more memorable aspects of the game rather than the difficulty at hand. The in depth and seemingly infinite lore which players can unearth. The elegance and ferociousness of the games OST’S, the beautiful enemies, NPC’s and environments which all have a story to tell, even if the player just looks at them. The many builds that players can utilize to complete the game. The faint, and yet rewarding and exciting link between players worlds through PvP. The games brilliantly smart level designs. These are all just a few things that outshine the games difficulty and learning curve in my opinion. Of course only those who step up to, and conquer the challenges that Dark Souls throws at them will understand this. It’s essentially a reward. You’re reward for not giving up is the ability to witness more and more of a beautiful world.

 

Fondest memories…

 

There’s no doubt  that there are to be many more fond memories for me to experience within the Dark Souls universe, however seeing as there will be no more content released in Dark Souls’ name, let’s talk about some of my fondest memories to date.

 

Firstly, I have to mention the release of Dark Souls 3. I began playing Dark Souls in April 2015, and so the first Dark Souls release in which I got to personally experience was Dark Souls 3, a year after my introduction to Dark Souls. I’ll never forget how ready me and the community were for Dark Souls 3. I remember I watched Lobos JR all night until mere minutes before the games release, and when the time struck, I as well as thousands of players across the world all began to uncover the content of Dark Souls 3 together. The community truly felt alive, and I truly felt like I was able to finally live out a big event within the Dark Souls community. The same goes for the games two DLC’s, Ashes Of Ariandel, and The Ringed City. There’s just something special about playing a game or DLC alongside the community as soon as it is released. Boss fights, areas, secrets and more are all discovered together, and it truly brings the community together as one.

 

Continuing onwards, another fond memory I have of Dark Souls is discovering the room full of Chaos Eaters in Demon Ruins (Dark Souls 1). This is a fond memory due to the fact that after over 200 hours of play time, I still had not discovered this room. After finally entering the room, and falling through the floor into the secret room below I was mesmerized. I simply believed that I had seen every area within this game and so realizing that I was wrong was not only amazing, but wonderfully refreshing. People talk about wishing they could experience things like Dark Souls for the first time again, and discovering that room after so many playthrough’s was a glimpse into being able to do just that.

 

There are too many fond memories to be able to write about them all, so I’ll mention a couple more, but a very special moment for me within Dark Souls happened a couple of days ago, on the day of the Ringed City’s release in Dark Souls 3. The fight with Slave Knight Gael. This fight was so incredible, particularly the arena that you fight him in, that I know it will stay with me forever. The sheer vastness of the arena that is covered in desolate sands just feels like it goes on forever. I probably spent twenty minutes simply running around the arena before, during and after the fight with Gael. In addition to this arena, the OST and elegance of the fight itself just puts that fight up there with the most fond memories for me within Dark Souls 3, however it is the arena itself that amazes me most.

 

Some of my fondest Dark Souls memories don’t even come from playing the game. Watching streams of the game is always very entertaining, as well as simply listening to the OST’s.

 

Something that I often think about when it comes to Dark Souls, is the relation between a players skill and knowledge, and  the linearity of the game. When a player takes on Dark Souls for the first time, they will quickly learn as we have mentioned that the game doesn’t throw information at you. The player is left to essentially work out where to go and in what order, and the way that new players work out whether they’re going to the right area at the right time, is by seeing if they’re being absolutely destroyed by the enemies in a certain area. Take Firelink Shrine for example. Upon first arrival at Firelink Shrine, a player has multiple options. They can either go upwards to Undead Burg (the intended route for new players), downwards into the catacombs (an area which developers want you to visit during late game, down an elevator in New Londo Ruins (another late game area) or back to the Asylum. If a player begins to wonder in the direction of the catacombs, they will soon realize that they shouldn’t visit this area immediately because the enemies deal insane damage, and take so long to kill, in comparison with the enemies on the upwards climb to Undead Burg. The enemies towards the Burg can mostly be one-shotted and so naturally players will stick to this invisible and optional linearity, that is in place within the game. After a little exploration and combat with the locales, it should seem obvious that Undead Burg is the route to go upon first arrival at Firelink, and this is the intended route set out by Developers. While it is the intended route set out by the devs, it is not the only order and route that players can take, and this brings me onto the skill and knowledge aspect that I mentioned earlier. When a player is experienced enough with Dark Souls, they can take it upon themselves to ignore the intended route and order of areas visited, and go straight into the Catacombs for example where they can fight the Pinwheel boss fight. In addition somebody might choose to farm enough souls early on to go and immediately kill Sif, a boss which is intended for the later part of the game. The game isn’t completely open world, as that just isn’t what Dark Souls is about, however it is open world enough, combined with unrivalled level design,  to allow for unique, strange and simply fun routes to be taken which freshens up a players experience and simply adds a level of re-playability to the game.

 

What’s next for me and Dark Souls?

 

The Dark Souls universe is itself a work of art that will stay with me for my entire life. The love I feel for these games is unrivalled by any other game I’ve ever played. I know that I will continue to write about anything Souls related. In addition I will continue to stream the games on Twitch, and furthermore I want to try making some lengthy videos simply discussing Dark Souls when I gain the equipment to properly do so.

 

These are a few of my favourite things…

 

I can only feel guilt when trying to pick a favourite from a group of things that I love so much, so I think I’ll name a couple of my favourites in each category. Seriously it’s too much to ask for me to pick only one.

Favourite area: Majula – Dark Souls 2 receives a lot of criticism for its sometimes lacklustre areas, and environments, however Majula (the main hub and safe place of Dark Souls 2) is the polar opposite of lacklustre. Every Dark Souls has a main hub area, that is essentially the players safe place, and Dark Souls 2’s Majula is a place that truly makes the player feel at home. The unique evening sunset that beams down onto the never ending rippling waters, combined with the innocent, and tranquil OST makes me never want to leave. Many of the NPS’s in Dark Souls 2, and some of the ones housed at Majula don’t know why they’re where they are, and some don’t know how they got there, but obviously Majula must be pretty special for them to want to stay. A feeling of true happiness and optimism comes over me every time I’m basking in Majula’s glory. In addition as I briefly mentioned, the aesthetical properties of Majula are indeed very unique to the Dark Souls series in many ways, and I love that so much that it’s my favourite place within all of Dark Souls history. There are other areas that I equally love, such as Dark Souls 3’s Undead Settlement, and Smouldering Lake, Dark Souls’ Undead Burg and many more but if I had to pick one, I’d have to go with Majula.

Favourite Boss: My favourite OST piece and areas stick out to me much more than my favourite boss fight does. I like different fights for different reasons, and so I’ll mention a couple. First of all, the Bell Gargoyle’s in the original Dark Souls will always be in my mind as one of my favourite boss fights, and this is primarily because of the sheer challenge that it brought me as a new player, two years ago. I mentioned earlier how difficult that fight was for me upon first playthrough. It taught me that Dark Souls was beatable, and that there is always a way to beat a boss. In addition I simply love how From Software decided to shake things up by just adding in another Gargoyle to the fight. It throws new players off completely as they simply are not expecting a second enemy, but if they can take on that challenge, I’d say they can take on any challenge in the game. Furthermore, any boss can be hard upon first playthrough and then feel like a breeze when you understand how to kill a boss easily, however the Bell Gargoyle’s are the embodiment of that realization for me. After over one hundred attempts at killing that boss, it is almost funny to me now, knowing the speed run strategy of using gold pine resin, and staggering the gargoyle’s with an early game weapon such as the Battle Axe. Simply pummelling the Gargoyle’s non-stop will result in you being able to kill the first gargoyle before the second has even landed, and this of course means that you will never be in a gank situation. What seemed like such a difficult fight, is actually very easy. From Software even give you the opportunity to find three gold pine Resin’s before the Gargoyle’s, at Undead Burg. What was once the hardest boss fight for me, is now essentially the easiest, and I find that fascinating to think about.

 

In terms of my favourite boss fight because of the quality of the fight itself, there are so many to choose from that I love, however Covetous Demon has to take the top spot for me. I just simply loved the star wars fan service that From Software delivered with this fight… But in all seriousness, Dragonslayer Armour is always in my mind as my favourite boss fight. I love the aggression that comes with this fight, the fast paced action ties in with the frantic OST, to concoct a very memorable boss fight. In addition, is Dragonslayer Armour actually a living thing? I believe it is controlled by the by the outside Pilgrim Butterflies, meaning that the boss you are fighting is actually just a suit of armour. I like this, because despite it seeming like there’s no personality to the fight at hand, or any sort of emotion, as there is supposedly nobody inside the armour, the move-set and aggression displayed by Dragonslayer Armour, almost leads me to see a person inside that suit of armour. Like somebody is truly inside. To be fair, it reminds me of the synths within Fallout 4. They aren’t really people, however they display human characteristics and emotions, and this leads me to feel empathy for them.

 Favourite OST: Souls Of Fire – Souls Of Fire is the name of the piece that plays within the character creation and load a save screen on Dark Souls. You’ll hear this track before you’ve even set foot in the vastness that is Lordran. It’s a beautiful, elegant and calming piece. Essentially the calm before the storm.

 

To conclude this life changing series…

Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2, and Dark Souls 3 are all games that mesmerize me every time I play them. All three of these games and their DLC’s inspire me on a level that nothing else can, and I know that the interests and hobbies that I continue to pursue in the future such as writing and streaming, will all be influenced by these games. The sheer beauty of these games is something that I simply cannot put successfully into words. I’ve wrote more than one post about different elements of Dark Souls in the past, and it never feel s like I’ve explained my love for these games properly. Dark Souls has changed my life in many ways. It has helped me through bad times, as well as being there to enhance the good times that I’ve had. A game that started out as a challenge with a massive and what seemed like an unfathomable learning curve, has turned into what is in my eyes, a work of art in which I’ll appreciate and continue to talk and create content about for many years to come. To everybody who has ever worked on a Dark Souls game, thanks for the laughs, the tears, the Goosebumps and thank you generally, for a trilogy of masterpiece’s.

Thank you Dark Souls,

A fan.20161025000123_1

Atmospheres And Aesthetics (AAA Games) #3 – Hyper Light Drifter

The third entry into the Atmospheres And Aesthetics series will see us discuss the action RPG released in 2016, Hyper Light Drifter. This game was developed and published by Heart Machine and was very well received by critics and fans alike.

I wanted to begin talking about this game with a quote taken directly from developers Heart Machine’s website. “Explore a beautiful, vast and ruined world riddled with unknown dangers and lost technologies. Inspired by nightmares and dreams alike.” I used this quote as it sums up the game very well. You truly do explore the world that you are traversing. Most games have an element of exploration to them, however Hyper Light Drifter really sticks out to me as a game that does exploration to a very high standard. This is due to the fact that the locations of the keys and treasures required to progress through certain areas of the game aren’t shown to you. You aren’t even told that you actually need certain items to progress, and so the exploration element of the game begins. In some games searching for what can seem like hours for one certain item can become extremely irritable, however with Hyper Light Drifter, the more you search a certain area, the more the game opens up to you. New enemies, contrasting areas and secrets become visible to the player and this keeps the game refreshing, even when trying to search for one particular item.

Something that I absolutely love about Hyper Light Drifter is the fact that the world initially is split into four parts. North, east, south and west. Each of these four areas of the world contain very contrasting and vibrant terrains in which the player must explore. In the north we are greeted with a blizzard battered zone. In the east we are mesmerized by a zone filled with water falls and canal like structures which must be crossed by jumping over stepping stones or accross bridges. The west is home to a cosy, autumn mood which is filled with thick, lush pink trees. The sound of the wind whisks around you so elegantly that it creates a feeling of home (when you’re not being attacked by bandits). And finally in the south… Well I haven’t explored or unlocked the south zone as of yet.

All of this 2D beauty, charisma and charm is sewn together by a soundtrack crafted by the artist Disasterpeace. The electronic based OST brings a mixed bag of emotions to the player. For me I felt that the soundtrack opened up a creative void for me, as there is a mysterious and secretive element to the tracks that play within this game that creates a fruitful concoction with the fact that the game itself is very secretive and mysterious. While there are times where the soundtrack to Hyper Light Drifter can get a little frantic, the OST generally holds a very mellow and relaxed tone, and this contrasts brilliantly with the fact that Hyper Light Drifter is a very difficult game. You will die a few times during your play through of this game and the unexplained exploration within the game can get a little frustrating when it feels like you’re making no progress. However the OST will always be there. Keeping you calm through its mesmerizing and mellow beauty.

The things that I wanted to say about the ambient sounds within this game, are very similar to what I said about the OST itself. The ambient tracks within this game are some of the most tranquil that I have ever had the pleasure of hearing in a video game. The flowing waters of the east, the howling winds of the north that make you wish your character was in the warm indoors, the autumn whispers of the west. The ambiance is of such a high level that I feel like i’m in a different world when I hear those tracks. They’re so elegant that they make you feel bad for exiting the game.

Hyper Light Drifter is a very special game to me. I was recommended it by a friend and I took his word and purchased the game. After going into the game blind and discovering such a beautiful 2D world that had one of my favourite soundtracks of all time tagged with it, I was instantly hooked and I knew that Hyper Light Drifter was special. The game is so powerful that at times I will just find myself staring at the screen, taking all all of the games creative wonders until my character decides to meditate on the ground. I would recommend this game for even one of the elements of the game that I spoke about here today.

The Last Of Us Part II is coming.

So at PSX 2016 just last week, Publishers Sony Computer Entertainment, as well as developers Naughty Dog announced part two of their critically acclaimed game in which millions of people hold dear to their hearts. The Last Of Us was released in 2013, and  captured the minds and hearts of so many people; through a harrowing, emotionally captivating storyline, which followed the lives of two very special characters, Ellie and Joel. Through post-apocalyptic America in 2033 we followed them on their emotional journey of love, hate, friendship and despair. The one of a kind storyline was infused with gritty, and well polished game mechanics such as the ability to scavenge parts to upgrade weapons, and intense third-person combat, as well as a beautiful soundtrack composed by Gustavo Santaolalla which fits like a glove into the world of the Last Of Us. Colin Moriarty, a former writer for IGN; and the man who reviewed The original game, said the following.

“It’s PlayStation 3’s best exclusive, and the entire experience, from start to finish, is remarkable.” The Last Of Us went on to score a perfect 10 from IGN and received outstanding reviews from other video game outlets also.

After being given a peek into the world of The Last Of Us Part II, in the form of a trailer, and discussion interview in which Ashley Johnson (voice actor for Ellie), Troy Baker (voice actor for Joel) And Neil Druckmann ( writer of Last Of Us Part II), I wanted to talk about some very interesting things that we learned during the trailer, and interview.

 

To kick it all off; the thing that stood out the most to me, was the games title. The new Last Of Us game is not a direct sequel, but instead an extension onto the tale of the first game. I felt this was an interesting and credible move by Naughty Dog, due to the fact that not all that many developers title their game “Part II”. Instead a direct sequel is usually the path taken. Of course, since the original games release and exceptional reception, fans have been skeptical as to whether a second game would be released. It was thought by so many people that The Last Of Us was perhaps too good for a sequel. There has always been a notion that the original game could not be beaten, and would be tarnished by a follow-up. Talk of The Last Of Us 2 occurred all the time, and through all the speculation I do not  believe that many people expected this title. It was a clever move by Naughty Dog, as I feel that they have taken away some of the stigma behind a sequel, by essentially extending the already released game, instead of having something completely new. This ideology that I am talking about works both ways though however, just let me explain. For those who were all for a sequel or a second game, ever since the original, and they wanted to see a similar game with the same characters, then this idea of titling the new release “Part II” gives those fans the notion that the game will indeed be similar. It won’t stray far from the path of what they were given in 2013, as it is an extension rather than a whole new thing, or sequel, and this has been proven already slightly, because of the fact that adored characters Ellie and Joel are returning.

 

Ellie And Joel returning is fantastic news in my eyes. I have only played the Last Of Us once, back in 2013 and I can still safely say after the many master-class games that I’ve played since then, that Ellie and Joel still stick in my mind as not just characters, but people. People that I actually care about. I shed tears during their original adventure multiple times and I felt a genuine attachment to them. This is not something that I feel easily with video game characters. I feel as if I have missed the two survivors, and I want to be able to live in their world again, so I essentially can see how they’re coping. I want to empathize with them. This leads me onto touch on some news surrounding Ellie and Joel’s return. Firstly, and something that I am very excited about, is the news that in The Last Of Us Part II, we actually play as Ellie primarily. This contrasts to the first game, as we played the majority of the game as father figure Joel, with hints of gameplay featuring a controllable Ellie. Furthermore, it’s great to hear that Ashley Johnson is once again voicing Ellie, as is Troy Baker voicing Joel. The two actors hold such an incredible talent. A talent that to me, takes on the form of an elixir. One that helps to immerse you into Naughty Dog’s vision of post apocalyptic America. The tension and raw emotion can literally be felt with these actors, and this is something that seriously boosts the quality of The Last Of Us. So the voice actors are the same, the characters are the same. Has anything changed? Well, Joel was already a middle aged man in the original game, so physically, he’s still his usual grizzly self it seems. However Ellie was thirteen in the first game, and now, six years down the line, she is of course nineteen. The pair of course share the same age gap between the first game and the second, however it is of far more significance for Ellie. In six years, she has gone from an early, curious adolescent, who was still discovering things such as her sexual orientation, to a grown woman. A woman who seems to have a new outlook on the world. An outlook of vengeance. A woman who will probably have new goals, beliefs and potentially a whole new personality. The same goes our grizzled lovable dad. While physically he won’t have changed as much as Ellie, emotionally and mentally perhaps he has, The pairs brutal experiences over the last six years have probably changed them forever. Many questions have arisen for me after learning about this game. Has Joel been further broken by the new world that he traverses? Does the death of his daughter still haunt him? Is he still as strong as he once was? These questions link back to the empathy that I said I feel for these characters earlier on. I don’t just want to know how they’re doing, but I want to help them on their journey. I want to ensure their survival.

 

Naughty Dog have crafted multiple master-class games over the years. The Last Of Us is of course included, however more recently we’ve seen releases such as Uncharted 4 which showed off the true capabilities of the PlayStation 4. Graphically mesmerizing, with constantly smooth gameplay, and a gripping story which makes you want to keep playing forever; The Last Of Us Part II will only build off of releases such as this. During the PSX discussion, writer Neil Druckmann mentioned that the Last Of Us Part II will feature some evolution from the first game in terms of mechanics, but also inventions, and this leads me to feel a great feeling of exhilaration. No information was given on these new mechanics, however it of course still early days, and it gives us the fans the opportunity to ponder, speculate and discuss as a community even more topics surrounding this up and coming game. No release date or even window has been given for this project as of yet, however I wouldn’t hold your breath on a 2017 release date. 2018 or maybe even 2019 are the release years that I would place my bets on. Guessing only the release year correctly probably doesn’t land you a whole lot of cash though I imagine.

 

To summarize, I am so excited for The Last Of Us Part II. I’m more than ready to see how our favourite duo Joel and Ellie have been doing, what’s changed in the post apocalyptic land of the free, and I’m just generally excited and ready for Naughty Dog to wow us yet again with another gripping story.

 

 

Atmospheres and aesthetics #1 -DOOM.

So over the last few months I’ve come to realize that the most important thing to me within a video game is the soundtrack, the ambient sounds in which can be heard, and the general mood that is created through these sounds as well as the aesthetics of the game. It’s the art style, and the ambient sounds and soundtrack that fuse together to create the general tone and atmosphere of a game. They make the world that you’re delving deep into come alive, and they give the soul to the experience itself. At least in my opinion. I often find myself simply listening to ambient sounds of a game on YouTube, or the official soundtrack itself so often. I reflect on the emotions that I feel as a result of playing these games, and I take vast amounts of inspiration from these worlds at the same time, which I then spin into writings that I enjoy to create. It’s for these reasons that I have decided to venture out unto a journey where I write about my favourite video game atmospheres and aesthetics in a new series called AAA games (Atmospheres and Aesthetics)

 

To get this series off the ground, I wanted to start with an incredible game that has an extremely in your face tone to it the entire time. The DOOM series was re-booted earlier in 2016, and the game features an explosive soundtrack in which was composed by the extremely talented Mick Gordon. As modern metal riffs fill your ears, you’re encouraged to continue mowing down all in your path. The absolutely devastating sound of an 8-string guitar’s lowest string being smashed constantly gives the player the motivation to continue traversing their way through this hellish world. People say that many different games make you feel like a true hero or “badass”, however in my opinion, DOOM truly lives up to that claim; through fast fast paced smooth, gore filled gameplay, and a melodic, eerie, and low toned soundtrack. DOOM makes you feel like a badass more than any other game has managed to over the last couple of years.

 

Crimson blood stains tattoo the surfaces that you climb and sprint past, while the sky above is cracked open with pure hell energy pouring out of it. The game is pure mayhem and it truly doesn’t let up. However if you just stand still in an area after you’ve cleared it out of the demons that sprawled themselves around it, and take in the smokey, deep orange ruins of the world that sort of remind me of The Pitt from Fallout 3, but with a slightly deeper and darker colour tone, then you’ll hear the howling of the winds, combining with occasional audio flashes of synthesized ambiance. There’s an edge to this ambiance. It’s relaxing to listen to, but when you’re in the game, and you’re staring out into the distance at a broken, desolate world, you are reminded through the ambient music that hell awaits around every corner. I was watching Mick Gordon’s Pax Australia panel from this year and he was discussing the DOOM soundtrack. Something very interesting that he talked about was how the thrash metal riffs that find their way into early DOOM games in 1993, didn’t so much fit into DOOM 2016. Gaming and technology has evolved since then, and so has music, particularly within the Metal scene. I particularly like the following quote from Mick that touched on this.

“The difference we realized between DOOM in 2016 and DOOM in 1993, is that you’re the bad guy. The Demon’s are scared of you. You’re the enemy, so the music for that guy needed to be evil music.” Mick Gordon  then went on to explain that that’s how the use of 8 string guitars came about. He wanted lower, heavy, mean and evil sounding riffs instead of upbeat Metallica like riffs for DOOM 2016. That whole story and Mick’s Pax Panel in general led to me to realize another reason that I love DOOM. I already knew from the word go that I loved the gameplay, and I fell in love with the OST instantly, however it opened my eyes to the fact that the evolution of games and music have been recognized and combined skilfully. First Person Shooters have only become more and more fluid and smooth over the years, with the opportunity for gore to look very realistic and sickening. While metal music has taken the road of getting lower and heavier all the time with bands like Black Tongue and Meshuggah pioneer this energy filled devastating sound. The two just go hand in hand so so well. It’s the perfect concoction.

 

The technical side of games doesn’t really fit into this series that I am starting up, however I find it essential to mention that this game runs so well. Even on consoles the game maintains (for the most part) a 60FPS frame rate, despite the constant flow of destruction and enemies, as well as the gorgeous graphics.

 

Bethesda and Mick Gordon teamed up, and created something of a masterclass level. Smooth, relentless gameplay in a bloody, broken dystopia of a world, combined with modern, low metal riffs, make for something of a masterpiece. The ambient sounds that can be appreciated at quieter points of the game, are eerie and relatively spooky. The sounds remind the player of the hell that they are going to face (literally) and the monsters and enemies displayed are brilliant representations of hell. DOOM overall is an amazing game; one that I feel developers across the world could learn a thing or two from.

 

 

 

Dark Souls 2’s unique charm.

Dark Souls 2. Criticized for it’s lack of creativity when it comes to boss fights, boss arenas and areas in general, when compared with the original Dark Souls. Criticized for it’s game changing fast travel system which is accessible from the start of the game, slashing apart the chance for a naturally entwining and linking world. Empty box rooms plague Drangleic, as do randomly scattered enemies who feel like they have no purpose being where they are. All of these criticisms that Dark Souls 2 receives, and more, however I still love this game nonetheless. I feel that while the original Dark Souls and Dark Souls 3 share similarities in the charm that it emits onto the player, Dark Souls 2 has a very unique aura about it. Characteristics which are unseen in the original game or the third, however just fit right in with Dark Souls 2. A different director overseeing Dark Souls 2, was obviously going to have an effect on the games direction and was going to give the game a unique personality. It’s also important to remember that Dark Souls 2 had a rough time in development. Director Tanimura quotes:

“Yes, this game actually went through quite a troubled development process. Due to a number of factors we were actually forced to re-think the entire game midway into development. We really had to go back to the drawing board and think once more about what a Dark Souls game should be.” – Design Works Interview.

 

Immediately, when you begin your journey through Dark Souls 2 you find yourself in a dank and dark cave, a very familiar location description after playing the original Dark Souls. Light is seeping through a crack on the other side of the cave, and within a few minutes you find yourself basking in that very light in a beautiful sun set safe haven. The surrounding waters serenaded by the golden glistening sun, under the evening sky. This gorgeous location is called Majula, and is your safe haven as well as a checkpoint between very important areas within the game. As you enter, the sound track that played at the start of the game repeats, however this time at a higher pitch. I believe this correlates to the increase in light that is exposed unto you, as you enter Majula from Things Betwixt. An increase in the softness of the sound track, when an increase in light occurs. They compliment each other very well in my opinion. Connecting areas such as Heide’s Tower Of Flame and Forest Of Fallen Giants are also day time orientated, and this leads me to speak about the charm that I think is created partly by the day-time and more colourful areas of Dark Soul 2. Yes there are day time areas in the original game, places such as Undead Parish see sunshine trying to burst through the clouds unto Solaire and the player, however Dark Souls 2 is a much more colourful game with a deeper emphasis on the colour schemes in certain environments. This was of course to be expected, because Dark Souls 2 came out later, and so was developed with better technology.  However nonetheless I feel that having bright and colourful areas such as Forest Of Fallen Giants, in innocent and relatable seeming places such as a forest, suggest that there is no escape from the harshness of Dark Souls 2. Enemies aren’t just coming at you in a crypt, the abyss, or a fear instilling cathedral, but instead a Forest of bright beauty. A forest, also being a place that one might find themselves in within the real world, makes the experience that little bit more believable.

Continuing on, after the player traverses their way around the Forest, they will encounter a boss called The Pursuer. This fights arena takes on the aesthetic properties of Majula. The evening sun returns in full force to cover the dance like fight in a glaze of gold. This light hearted, gorgeous, and romantic arena, is heavily contrasted by a brutal and hate fueled fight. Dark Souls always shines at creating paradoxical scenarios in which the player questions while scratching their head in confusion, but as I mentioned, I feel that Dark Souls 2 had a unique way of doing this, with some of its unique environments combined with a more popping colour pallet. In Dark Souls 3 for example, we have the chance to explore Archdragon Peak. An area that basks in mid day sunlight, however Dark Souls 2 brings us these areas in a unique kind of way, that I guess I just can’t completely put my finger on.

 

Often I see Dark Souls and Dark Souls 3 grouped together as similar games in the series, while Dark Souls 2 is set aside as it’s own experience. A failure in many peoples eyes. Unique features and gameplay mechanics such as Life gems, very fast weapon degradation, unique parrying, Pharro’s Lockstones, Fragrant Branches of Yore set this game apart from the others. While many of these features aren’t the best ever seen in a souls game, they give Dark Souls 2 a very quirky feel which I have learned to fall in love with. Dark Souls 2 certainly isn’t my favourite game in the series, however it is special to me in a unique kind of way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rockstar Games announce Red Dead Redemption 2.

 

Rockstar games have announced the long anticipated sequel to 2010 western open-word hit Red Dead Redemption, after years of speculation, and two teaser images being posted to social media sites earlier this week.

 

Releasing in the Fall of 2017 for PS4 and Xbox One, Red Dead Redemption 2 will have a trailer to accompany the announcement this coming Thursday at 11AM EST. Rockstar games’ official site had the following to co-exist with the announcement image:

“Developed by the creators of Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption, Red Dead Redemption 2 is an epic tale of life in America’s unforgiving heartland. The game’s vast and atmospheric world will also provide the foundation for a brand new online multiplayer experience.”

 

PC players are currently expressing their disappointment at the lack of a PC release, however if history repeats itself, then Red Dead Dead Redemption 2 will release a year or two down the line from the console launch, as was seen with the launch of both Grand Theft Auto Four and Five. However no comment has been made by Rock Star as of yet.

 

In other news relating to Red Dead Redemption 2, the parent company to Rockstar Games, Take-Two Interactive, secured a domain for Reddeadonline.com which suggests that the online experience seen within Red Dead Redemption 2 will take on that name. The original Red Dead Redemption included a vast open world multiplayer experience which attracted a very impressive amount of players, as did GTA V, so it of course makes sense so have an experience similar for Rockstar’s next project.