• Retrospective, Part 2

    Updated list of games played taken from Backloggd.

    The last six months have been weird. Between my first bout of COVID, a car accident, a fried motherboard, and deciding to quit my job, I’ve had more trouble than normal focusing on games. Add to that the continued decline of Twitter and I’ve pretty much had to rethink my entire approach to recording my thoughts about games.

    With that in mind, I decided to finish the year with another recap of some of my most recent playthroughs. My tangible goals were practically nonexistent this time around, but the idea’s to shift to handwritten journals and a six-month retrospective calendar next year.

    In terms of stats:

    June 20, 2023 –
    December 31, 2023

    • Played: 13
    • Finished: 10
    • Abandoned: 2
    • In Progress: 1

    June 19, 2022 –
    June 19, 2023

    • Played: 41
    • Finished: 35
    • Abandoned: 4
    • In Progress: 1
    • Shelved: 1

    Unsurprisingly, my pace for finishing games over the last six months dropped roughly 35-40% from the prior year. Part of this, though, came down to my choice in games: I generally spent more time playing longer RPGs than shorter titles from other genres.

    I also tended to pick games I was more likely to enjoy this cycle; with limited time and less of a clear motive to branch out, I figured I might as well keep things simple. In the process, I found myself much quicker to jettison those that couldn’t hold my attention, regardless of the exact reason.

    Even then, only a couple stand out as being especially painful, so I’ve decided to stick this time with a Top Five and Worst Two:

    Top Five

    Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
    [17h 12m]

    A fantastic narrative adventure with one of the greatest licensed gaming soundtracks outside of Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland. Not that that’s surprising — after the success of the MCU’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), any Guardians game worth its salt pretty much needed to have an outstanding soundtrack to succeed. Marvel’s Guardians knocked it out of the park by underscoring its surprisingly realistic character arcs and bombastic narrative with fantastic song choice, stunning costume design, and genuinely enjoyable easter eggs at all points along the way. Combat could at times become slightly shallow and repetitive, but hardly enough to take away from the overarching experience — and the “Huddle” mechanic was always more than enough to make up for it.

    A young Peter Quill looks at a movie poster for Furthings.

    Crysis 3 Remastered
    [6h 54m]

    As with the BioShock trilogy, I get the sense that the “best” Crysis game is a matter of contention. I’m not quite convinced that Crysis 3 wins that competition, but something about this one stuck with me more than the rest. Maybe it’s because I was finally playing as Prophet, who was basically a non-entity (sometimes literally) in the previous two, or maybe it’s because it felt like it tried to tackle some of the deeper questions behind the whole series. In the end, I wanted more — if only because I think they were on the cusp of doing something great.

    A cutscene from Crysis 3 identifying a low-altitude weapons system called HADES.

    Ghostwire: Tokyo
    [26h 51m]

    Now one of my all-time favorite games. I let Ghostwire sit on my backlog for over a year because it ties directly to my research — I wanted it to be good, I knew it’d feel like work, and I needed the time to really dedicate to it. And it was worth the wait. Although it does have problems, like the occasional fetch quests and semi-floaty, repetitive combat, the narrative caught me off-guard and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a game as well-researched when it comes to its treatment of so many smaller elements of Japanese culture. It doesn’t need a sequel, but I would love to see Tango return to this world in the future.

    A mural in a red-tinged basement in Ghostwire depicts Hannya, the primary antagonist.

    Baldur’s Gate 3
    [200h 48m]

    The playtime alone should tell you all you need to know. To be fair, my PC did die right before I finished my first playthrough (~70hrs) — but I still made the choice to start fresh about a month later on my backup. I’ve wanted to play D&D for so long, and Baldur’s Gate proved more than capable of scratching that itch for me. My only regret is that they added Honor Mode right before I finished Tactician…

    A conversation with a pig in Baldur's Gate 3. The pig says, "Oh, how kind of you to say! I have been growing my bristles out -- it's something of an art, you see."

    Final Fantasy X HD Remaster
    [49h 20m]

    One of the two JRPGs (alongside SaGa Frontier 2) that sparked my love of games as a kid. Despite all of the time I’d spent with it, though, I’d never once finished the game — I was always too intent on trying to fully upgrade every Celestial Weapon. (I still didn’t manage to do that this playthrough, but I came closer than ever!) The story stands out to me as one of the more powerful of the series, if only because I’m partial to the religious and philosophical overtones that drive the entire journey. But more than anything else, I have only two words: Sphere Grid.

    The whale-like Sin flies on translucent wings above the city of Bevelle at sunrise or sunset.

    Worst Two

    Disco Elysium
    [4h 42m, Abandoned]

    To put it bluntly: I don’t think Disco Elysium is a bad game, but I’m not convinced it’s as good (i.e., well-written) of a game as I’d been told. I gave this one a solid try, too — a solid three tries, if I’m being honest. My initial problems were with the pacing, which I felt was far too slow, and the roll system, which I thought was far too punishing (damn you, Cuno!), but I didn’t actually believe either were indicative of the quality of the game. I still wanted to like it, and now I’d even argue that my time with Baldur’s Gate has probably better prepared me to deal with the gameplay, as a whole. That being said, I couldn’t get past the dialogue options tied to each of the four political alignments, which always felt much more like a caricature of a mid-2000s Buzzfeed “Which Character Are You?” quiz than a nuanced treatment of personal ideology. I suspect there’s more to it, especially given the sardonic humor that seems to characterize the broader game, and yet I have little real interest in slogging to uncover it. This one’s just not for me.

    The protagonist and Kim Kitsuragi discuss the Chi-Rho, a "symbol of the Perikarnassian church."

    Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood
    [1h 15m, Abandoned]

    I downloaded Earthblood on a whim because it seemed to have a promising premise: Eco-terrorist werewolf fights corporate overlord. I’ve never regretted anything more in my life. Unlike Disco Elysium, it’s just plain bad. The voice acting is terrible, the characters are basically lifeless dolls, and the stakes are practically nonexistent. Stealth is presented as an option (via traversal as a standard wolf), but I couldn’t identify a reward for pursuing it in the early game, at least not when the faster and easier alternative is mercilessly slaughtering dozens of guards in a blood-fueled rage. I saw better endless horde-style combat in Dynasty Warriors 3.

    Two white sheep on grassland in front of a blue lake.
    I didn’t take any pictures of the game, so here’s a couple of sheep that will give you more enjoyment than it ever could.