Papo & Yo

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This third person adventure game was completed in less than four hours, but somehow it felt a little longer than that. It was for the most part easy but also charming, and with many original puzzle ideas. The closest thing I can find to compare it with is the American McGee’s Alice series, only without the combat. It had the same level of surrealism and also felt like it could maybe sort of fit into that universe somehow.

The game touches upon a light story of the small kid Quico and his alcoholic father in a few brief cutscenes, but by far most of the game is spent solving puzzles in arena after arena with metaphorical substitutes. In the beginning there’s another kid that teases you, and it doesn’t take long before you get the small robot Lula on your back as a jet to make double jumps possible. Lula can also be asked to fly over and activate a circle by clicking the right mouse button.

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A general style of puzzle design is that white chalk lines means interactive stuff. Animated cogwheels drawn on walls can be clicked to make a building walk to a different place so you can jump across roofs. Handles can be pushed or pulled to tip over a stack of buildings into a “snake” you can run across. Keys can be turned to open up a passage, typically by walls and buildings being lifted away.

The Witcher 3: Leftovers

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Developer: CD Projekt RED | Released: 2016 | Genre: RPG, Third Person

I completed the main story of The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine (the second expansion pack) in the end of December 2016 and wrote a blog post about it, but I still had a few question marks and secondary quests to finish off and I did so in January. I must say that some of these secondary quests were really funny and absolutely worth completing. I’ll get into detail about some of them in the spoiler section below.

It also turned out that there were a few additions to the game that I had not discovered yet in my previous blog post. One was the “Hanse” bases – unique map icons of fortified castles or caves swarming with bandits. Clearing these out could be challenging, especially if some of the bandits managed to light signal fires to call upon reinforcements. A base cleared out would be followed up by a short cutscene of soldiers taking over the place. Bandits in the surrounding areas would then have dispersed.

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Another change was that clearing out a town had a different cutscene. In the vanilla game, villagers would immediately walk in and settle down. Now Geralt started meditating instead, a timelapse of a day passing by was shown, and as Geralt came back to his senses, villagers were now living and working there. It made sense that the developers wanted to make this change. The previous cutscene felt like the villagers were just outside the combat area, waiting for Geralt to finish off the monsters.

“Great, he killed them – let’s go!”

The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine

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Developer: CD Projekt RED | Released: 2016 | Genre: RPG, Third Person

I had a vacation between Christmas and New Year and I managed to complete the main story of the second and last expansion pack. I was invited to a new zone by a couple of noble knights in shining armor. The new zone had a different color palette, more vibrant and saturated, and the buildings looked like something from the southern part of Europe. But to be honest it didn’t really feel all that different. The dungeons, the caves and even the big town felt like it could just as easily have been part of the main game.

At least the people there were much friendlier towards Geralt. No more spitting as I passed by.

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The second expansion followed the trend of a harder difficulty that the first expansion introduced. I was particularly miffed at the spewing plant monsters that spawned around a monster area, confusing me with bubbling pods and forcing me to run around all over the place. Sometimes I avoided a spot in the distance because I could see those pesky plants warming up for a fight. Some of the vampire enemies, especially the naked ladies, were also a bit too tough for my liking.

The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone

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Developer: CD Projekt RED | Released: 2015 | Genre: RPG, Third Person

It took me almost 17 hours to get through the first expansion pack – main quest, secondary quests, treasure hunts, question marks and all. Again the writing of the story and quests was of a very high quality, and there was a lot of both awe and humor to behold. If anything, some of the tasks fulfilling the three wishes of Olgierd von Everec were quite arduous and that actually held me back a few times.

“Should I play some more today? Urggh, that wedding/heist… I think I’ll watch some Netflix instead.”

I was also slightly disappointed at the generally higher difficulty. The last half of the vanilla game had lulled me into a great feeling of superiority, defeating monsters with ease, but in this expansion pack I constantly had to be on my toes. I reckon most players like that, but I’ve always liked having it a little easier. And it was not just the bosses. A giant toad and a mage with crazy tornado skills were tough, but as bosses that was kind of expected. The new enemies like boars and spiders ran all over the place and it was hard to get close to them without using freezing bombs. Even old vanilla enemies were not easily defeated.

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Geralt of Rivia, Gaunter O’Dimm and Olgierd von Everec – the three main characters of the expansion.

There was also a new “temporary” love interest in the expansion in the form of the red-headed medic Shani, which unfortunately I couldn’t remember at all from the previous games. She reminded me a whole lot of a younger version of Catherine Willows in CSI.

The Witcher 3: Part 1

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Developer: CD Projekt RED | Released: 2015 | Genre: RPG, Third Person

This may very well be the prettiest game I’ve ever played so far. The texture detail is really out of this world. The faces of the 3D models are extremely detailed, with stubble, pimples and birthmarks accompanied by realistic facial animation that fits the lines of dialog well. The clothes really look like clothes, whether it’s dry or wet from rain – it’s almost like I can feel its volume at times.

Graphically, this game sure is a feast for your eyes.

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But as is typically me with big and complicated RPG these years, it didn’t actually grab me until the third session or so. It felt too overwhelming to begin with. Tons of screens, skills, inventory tabs, a tutorial that frequently paused the action, and words on the internet about enormous maps with a never-ending amount of question marks to find and reveal. I persevered because I knew it would be like this for me in the beginning and it turned out to be the wise thing to do.

Eventually it finally managed to grab me because of how meticulously it was designed. Although I didn’t agree with all of the gameplay mechanics, it was clear that the developers really tried to do their very best in many areas. If one part of the gameplay made me frown a bit, five other things made me grin like a child being offered an ice cream that needs to be held with two hands.

Especially the side quests have been really impressive so far. So many RPG pile this up with quests about acquiring ten bear asses, but in The Witcher 3 they are almost all interesting and varied, with lots of dialog and often a bit of detective work. Borrowing from games such as Rocksteady’s Batman series, I can turn on my Witcher senses (a fish eye effect then occurs) to spot evidence in red, examine it with comments, then perhaps following a red trail of footprints or a thread of smell meandering through the air. Surprisingly many side quests have this part built into them and it’s a nice digression from smacking monsters.

The Witness: First Impressions

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Developer: Thekla | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

After completing Pneuma, one of my friends gifted me this game on Steam – removing it from my wish list. He spoke of his endeavors in this game and it got me enticed. I installed and started it almost immediately and played it for more than 5 hours yesterday. Enough to dish out my first impressions about it.

I completed Jonathan Blow’s puzzle platformer Braid back in 2012 and have had an eye on his next game ever since. It seemed like quite a quantum leap from Braid – from a 2D platformer to a completely open world puzzle game in a pretty 3D engine. I didn’t care much for the pretentious story and ditto quotes in Braid, but the gameplay was truly awesome. It had so many time manipulating ideas that really surprised me by how ingenious they were. And just as I thought I had seen it all, Jonathan Blow managed to conjure up yet another fresh approach.

Suffice to say, I was very curious about The Witness.

Of course The Witness just had to be one of those modern games that starts immediately without a title screen, just like e.g. Limbo. You could say that as long as the spot is as secluded and safe as it is, but I don’t know. I’m probably old fashioned, but I actually like a title screen up front as the first thing.

Then again, ten years ago I didn’t care much for digital games and stubbornly wanted a disc in a box, and look at me now. Why waste shelf space on a box when you can have it on Steam?

So maybe in a few years, title screens will be the annoying thing.

The game started with very small baby steps indeed. Almost all puzzles seemed to be based on using the mouse to draw a line through a maze on a panel, and it started with the basic straight line, then an angled line, and so forth. Soon mazes appeared with dead ends, and the starter area made it clear how the panels turned on more panels through wires now lit up, meandering through the grass and over walls. So, lots of following wires and finding new panels with puzzles to solve.