Saturday, September 30, 2023

Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty - It's All Preem Chooms

It’s no secret that Cyberpunk 2077’s original release was marred in controversy. While some PC and Stadia players, remember that? had a fantastic time, others  were marred with bugs and players that attempted the game on the PS4 and Xbox One were left with a suboptimal experience to put it lightly. In fact the launch is what you could just frankly call a disaster, let’s not sugar coat it, the company’s stock currently only trades for about a third of what it used to at it’s peak in November 2020 a month before the game was released. But until that point CDPR had earned a reputation with the Witcher franchise as a developer that made great games and believers, such as myself, held out. By the time Cyberpunk 2077 was on patch 1.6 the game had hit its stride. It was truly a must play RPG. Now with the release of 2.0 and the imminent release of Phantom Liberty CDPR have made good on all of that initial hype this game was released to.

In a bold move CDPR is providing the 2.0 patch free to everyone who already owns Cyberpunk 2077. With that imminent update everyone that has the game on either PC, PS5, or Xbox, 2.0 will not be available on the last gen consoles, will get access to Vehicle combat, a New Police system (which quite frankly feels like the system from Red Dead, GTA, or any game with an escalating police system, that is until Max Tac shows up and just mercs you choom. A new Perks System, the old perk trees have been reworked and if you look hard enough those of you that are familiar with Edgerunners will see some familiar faces. Stamina has been changed so it’s depleted when you fire weapons, not running. This one actually feels kind of odd, it just doesn’t make sense but I didn’t feel that it negatively impacted my gameplay experience so I largely forgot it. In fact it probably helped because whenever I would sprint I would heal and I basically felt like the juggernaut in this game. More on that in a minute.  Ripperdocs have also been reworked and  you’ll be prompted to visit one as soon as you log into the game. Just be careful that you don’t visit one that you previously pissed off because they’ll just tell you to go f off.

One of the single most impactful changes though is the change to armor and cyberware. These changes had me sink more points into Technical ability than I had the first time I completed the game. (Don’t worry, you’ll get a free respec when you first log in). Previously I felt I had to be stingy with my cyberware. Now I was doing everything I could to get more. That and the fact it added more amor to V made me feel a superhero, or supervillain. I really did  become the Juggernaut. Running into fights with little regard for whether or not I was shot. I was using my shotgun to brute force my way through any objective because of how fast I could regenerate health while sprinting and my armor prevented me from taking very much damage to begin with. This was the ultimate power fantasy. The dopamine hit felt so good everytime that yellow text would pop up and say obliterated when I’d blow the head or arm clean off my victim. I could even carry more than two guns before I felt heavy and started running out of oxygen….

So even if you decide not to spend another dime on this game, you’ve basically just been handed hours of new content to keep you occupied. I highly encourage you to check it out.

With Phantom Liberty V will make their way to dog town and find themselves embroiled in a spy thriller that is worthy of the big screen. And that’s not just rhetoric either, with the cast of A list actors that guide this game across the finish line this really could be something you’d see on the big screen and not just with a flashy N at the beginning of it on your streaming device.

Between the main story quest and optional gigs Phantom Liberty adds over 30 quests to the game. Most of those optional quests are chock full of interesting characters as well. They aren’t as drab as go to x and collect y. They are more like, go to X, find Y, encounter huge twist, face giant moral dilemma, try not to get everyone killed, get paid.

It wouldn’t be Cyberpunk 2077 without everyone’s favorite rocker, Jonny Silverhand at our side but there are new additions to your motley crew this time around, and it’s not just Idris Elba as Solomon Reed that will have you sit up and take notice, President Roaslind Myers, So Mi Song, Colonel Kurt Hansen, and even your fixer Mr. Hands are more than paper deep. The first time you “meet” Mr. Hands you’ll be privy to a private conversation that you typically just don’t hear video game characters having. But one of my favorite characters was someone I had to rescue on a gig, I could have just killed him but I put V’s neck on the line to save them, and that was because he came off as so human, not something that really happens in a lot of games of late.

Dogtown does feel different from the rest of Night City and has some cool history to it that I won’t get into here because I want you to learn about that yourself when playing the game. The gang / police known as the Barghast that run the streets have a great aesthetic to them to go with their lore. One thing that does really stand out about Dogtown is it’s more of an island within Night City and not just another borough. 

The relic system is a new progression system that is also exclusive to the Phantom Liberty expansion. You’ll earn new points not through experience but but locating key objectives in Dog Town and jacking into them. You’ll unlock a lot of new abilities that place emphasis on your cybernetics, such as Jailbreak which boosts your Mantis Blades, Gorilla Arms, Projectile Launching System, or your Monowire.  That’s really one of the things I think works the best and I really enjoy about this expansion. The emphasis on cybernetics. I felt like I was more focused on my weapons and body in the release version of CP2077. Now I feel like we are really being rewarded for having V be all chromed out. 

I also felt like my character was constantly getting better. It felt like that improvement shards dropped with more frequency and it appeared that almost everything I did was earring V experience so I was constantly upgrading skills through out my time in Dog Town and V never felt stagnant as if I were solely waiting for an experience bar to creep from level 30 to 31.

When you run out of scripted content to do there are also a few more “modes” that are added with Dogtown. Drops, and Courier missions. In drops you’ll see planes zip across the sky and drop cargo for the Barghest faction. You can either choose to ignore it or go kill a few fools and capture some loot and ennies.

With courier missions you’ll end up having to retrieve a car for El Capitan a fixer that you’ll meet early on in Dogtown. There are two courier missions that are story related but other than that don’t fret if you fail one. Walk away and live to jack another day.

And while the main game already had multiple endings, completing Phantom Liberty will add another possible outcome for V.

I have hit a few minor bugs during my playthrough but nothing a simple save and restart didn’t fix. Other than that, vehicle combat still feels clunky but those are the only real quibbles I have with the game. 

Once CP2077 got to 1.6, which is where it should have been at launch, was really a great game. But even then I felt like sometimes it depended on shock value more than it depended on actual game play. Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty is the culmination of CD Projekt’s promise to their fans when they originally announced the game in May of 2012. 11 years later their vision is complete, and it is fantastic to say the least.

Score 9/10

Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum - Not so Precious

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is a stealth platformer where you take on the role of the titular character, Gollum. Notice I didn’t say hero, because Gollum is anything but.

Developer Daedalic, however, had a wonderful idea. Take a beloved franchise and tell a new story that occurs during an iconic journey that all of us know so well.

The Lord of the Rings Gollum takes place at the same time as the Fellowship of the Ring. While the Bagginses of the Shire are busy trying to take the One Ring to Mount Doom Gollum is busy trying to retrieve The Ring for the all seeing eye.

There is plenty of room in Tolkein’s wonderful world of Middle Earth for new stories and I welcomed the chance for Daedalic to fill in some of the blanks of what Gollum has been up to between the time we last saw him in the Misty Mountains during the Hobbit and when we met him again in the Lord of the Rings.

The character design of Gollum and the rest of the cast felt familiar but at the same time did not resemble carbon copies of what we saw in the movies. The Uruks were menacing and some of the more iconic enemies we see, small spoiler but this takes place within the first 5 minutes of the game, like Shelob were presented with an interesting spin. 

The war for the ring isn’t the only war that is taking place in the game. There is also a war over Smeagol conscious. Where we saw Smeagol and Gollum have a debate in the movies we get to control it in the game. Players will be presented at times with options on how to respond to certain situations, either as Smeagol the meek hobbit, or Gollum the dark and twisted hobbit monster. There is even a game play element that is added to this at times where you’ll have to convince one personality to answer a certain way by answering questions from the other personality. Answer wrong three times and he’ll say what he wants. Answer three of the questions correctly though and the other personality will go along with what you want to say..

The most prominent gameplay mechanic is the platforming. Climbing your way to new heights you’ll set your sights on completing chapters. Scuffed walls, rope braided plants, and spinning platforms make unique challenges for Gollum to trapeze his way across.

During certain sections you’ll have to sneak about the Uruks. You can do this through a mix of hiding in the shadows, climbing under tables, or scurrying through bushes. You can even cling to the side of a ledge to get out of eyesight. By tossing rocks you can knock out lights to increase the area of shadows to hide in and even distract your enemies. Once in a while you’ll even get lucky enough to sneak up behind an Ork without a helmet and throttle them to death. It feels very satisfying to make your way through a room full of patrolling orcs by using your wits instead of brute force, what doesn’t feel good though is getting stuck on a corner or trying to quickly dash from one shadow to the next only for the game to lock up and you be discovered by that patrolman you were attempting to avoid.

For as much promise as Lord of the Rings Gollum had it is marred by technical difficulties. I reviewed the game on a PC built with a Ryzen 3900x, 32 gigs of RAM, and a Nvidia Geforce RTX 3700. So not cutting edge, but not a Potato PC either. At this point I’d say it’s pretty similar to an average PC. That’s by design because that’s what most people will be playing on. 

The game struggled to maintain 30 frames during cutscenes and at times would turn into a slide show. I turned the settings down to medium, had a resolution of 1920x1080, Ray tracing off, DLSS on, and during most sections of the game I could sustain over 60fps every few minutes are so there were times my frame rate would drop into the teens. I found myself dying to lock ups and stutter more than to my own negligence. I wasn’t just dropping frames. I was pouring them down the drain. It was so bad I couldn’t play with a mouse and keyboard, I had to resort to using a controller because with a mouse and keyboard I would keep doing a 180 during performance hiccups.

I did also try the game on the PS5 and I did not have as near as bad of performance issues with but there were still noticeable irregularities with the graphics.

There is a day one patch on the way but for a game that has already been as delayed as LoTR Gollum has been, these performance issues should have already been ironed out. This release a game as a performance mess and clean it with patches is becoming tired.

Technical issues aside LotR Gollum filed a nice gape in the lore. The wall art throughout the game is engaging, the vistas feel epic, and the models The platforming felt good, when the controls where bugging out from performance issues, and the story was engaging. Additionally finding collectibles provided more context around the world that Tolkien created. 

Until they can get the performance issues ironed out I can’t recommend that you buy this game and I score it a 5 for mediocre.