Dyson Sphere Program - PC Preview

Dyson Sphere Program by developer Youthcat and publisher Gamera Game -Shanghai Game Mirror Intelligent Technology Co. Ltd.PC (Steam) Preview written by Susan N. with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes


Dyson Sphere Program is a game that I always fail to say when mentioning it to others because I call it 'Dyson Sphere Project.' To create the sphere is a task beyond comparison and it is quite a behemoth to complete. Icarus, the robot you play, crash lands on a procedurally generated planet. The sole objective Icarus has is creating the Dyson Sphere, hence the name. The best part is, that the end objective is not truly an end because players can build multiple Dyson Spheres throughout the universe.

This title has lots of elements to love, even though it is an early access title. However, it does have a couple of minor grievances that I will cover later on, but I highly recommend it for players that enjoy factory-building games like Factorio, Satisfactory, and Astroneer.


Gameplay

As I mentioned, we are the MIGHTY ICARUS, who needs fuel to function. Unfortunately, in the beginning, Icarus is like a vegetarian, surviving off of wood and leaves. It isn't until you find coal that players are able to consume fuel more efficiently. You will have plenty of fuel sources as you begin your automation journey towards building the Dyson Sphere. And each resource will require tons of materials to be crafted into parts and machines. With any game of this genre, an important beginning step is automating buildings and objects that are frequently used like conveyor belts and tesla towers for power distribution. It is the key to survival. The alternative is restarting the game, which can be quite tedious, to say the least.

Throughout my playthrough, I restarted on a new planet twice. Even then, I overhauled and relocated whole sections of my factory because the area no longer served its original purpose. It also didn't help that Icarus landed in a terrible location that was far from much-needed resources. At first, it was perfect because of its proximity to coal, iron, copper, and stone. However, once I researched the ability to use oil, I found that my starting location was miles away from any of it. Thus my need for relocation. As they say, best-laid plans of mice and men!

So, for players that enjoy the casual strategy of mass producing items to achieve an end goal, Dyson Sphere Program is right up there with other awesome factory builders like Satisfactory, Factorio, and Astroneer. This title is truly a testament to a nearly perfect game even though it has some minor issues that I will cover later.


Tutorial

In every factory simulation game, I always find the tutorial to be lackluster. In Dyson Sphere, players will receive notifications when they've researched a new machine or ability. This is the effective 'tutorial' of the game and I find it to be a bit reactive since there are a few machines that are not clearly explained. Even after reading through the descriptions, I found myself scratching my head because the purpose of some materials isn't readily apparent.

For example, a big issue I had was holding onto the research cubes in my inventory. The building which creates the cubes is the same building as the one that researches the technology. What this means is players need a stack of buildings to make the research cubes and a separate stack that receives all of them to research the technology. In essence, players will need all five cube types being produced in five separate stacks and a sixth stack that executes the research. To do this, players have to click the research button on the right side of the building menu instead of the cubes on the left! Knowing this saves players a lot of time! I'm happy that a viewer told me what I did wrong before I researched the yellow cubes.

On top of that, I found that the tutorial doesn't push the player forward in any way. There isn't a popup that reminds players of their task, nor does it give recommendations for the next step. If Dyson Sphere had a small bit of direction, that'd be awesome. There were too many moments where I asked myself, "Now what do I do?" or "Why do I need those?" This certainly doesn't change my love for the game, but a small nudge would be a tremendous help.


Space Travel

Since players get to be a mech, one of the coolest things about Dyson Sphere Program is the ability to fly both on the planet and to other stars in the universe. Yes, that's right. WE GET TO FLY. Clearly, this is a selling point for me!

With that said, I have some issues with space travel for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I wish the controls were more intuitive. Double-tapping the spacebar allows your mech to fly. And to push past the planet's atmosphere, players have to hold forwards to counterbalance the gravitational force. To accelerate, players use the shift key, and to decelerate they use the 'S' key. Why not use the 'W' key to accelerate? As for landing on a planet, players have to use the alt key. The acceleration key is the strangest decision in my opinion and I'd love to rebind that key because I don't like it this way.

Secondly, space travel brought one other irritating realization which is that players cannot set a waypoint to a destination. And if you've already scouted a planet with high resource numbers, players need to remember where it is located. This isn't a problem in the earlier stages of the game but after going to different solar systems, it can become problematic.

Despite these small issues, I really love the space-traveling mechanic of Dyson Sphere Program. It is relaxing and visually stunning. Besides, the universe is a vast open area that is waiting to be explored and automated into factory brilliance!


Graphics and UI

Dyson Sphere's graphics are absolutely breathtaking and it's all in the small details. We begin the game flying towards our first planet, which is spectacular as we see the vastness of space, the depth of color in the stars and the sun, and then when landing, the beautiful oceans and trees appear. Our first planet is Earth-like with oceans, greenery, and rock formations. Wandering around this planet we find mineral deposits that will be used to build our epic factory.

Along with the graphics comes the interesting UI of the game. It's laid out really well overall and it isn't until later that certain elements become annoying. As an example, players will often open their replicators to produce a component or building. This is fine but to use the object requires players to open our inventory or open the menu which it is located. While the game requires efficiency, there are elements of gameplay that aren't so. That is one of them.

On the right side of the screen, players are able to view their planets' production statistics, power usage, and fuel consumption easily. The statistics menu shows players if they are producing too much or too little of any object. Because of this, players are able to strategize their next task towards their end goal. The statistics menu will also display the planets that have power, which is useful for locating where you have production.

As far as the downsides of the UI go, they are few but noticeable issues. Firstly, the text size cannot be changed in the options. I played this game on a television set and struggled to read the tutorial popups. Having an option to adjust text size would be fantastic. Secondly, when flying to another planet or star, there is no ability to have a planetary waypoint or marker. In the early game, this isn't an issue but in the late game, I can foresee this becoming a problem.


Tech Tree

As with any factory game, we have access to a large tech tree which allows us to do many things. For one, it unlocks different buildings and useful upgrades. In it, players can upgrade Icarus to be faster, stronger, and more efficient. The upgrades for the mech are paramount at the beginning of the game because having more power and inventory space is handy for late game building.

In the building upgrade tab, players are able to choose the order of research they require to complete the Dyson Sphere. It is laid out fairly well but can be confusing and dangerous if players aren't paying attention. I found that some technology requires several completed kinds of research to unlock. If players aren't careful, this can result in a restart!

One of my main issues early on with the research of technology isn't properly explained. In other games like Satisfactory, players keep the necessary materials in their inventory until they take it to the M.A.M or the HUB to research and upgrade. In Factorio, players use a separate building to put their research materials into. But, in Dyson Sphere Program, the research is a different button on the same building used to make the appropriate colored cubes. Since I didn't know any better, I held onto the research cubes to accomplish my task. It wasn't until a stream viewer told me about the second button that I was able to work on other tasks. So, while using only one building type is convenient for research, I would rather another building.


Dyson Sphere Pros and Cons Pros:

  • A unique take on the factory simulation genre.

  • Amazing graphics. Even a resource like water being transported on conveyor belts is animated.

  • Extremely clean gameplay.

  • FLYING and WARP SPEED!

  • An engaging strategy that immerses players for hours on end.

  • By default, the game displays the materials in every machine and storage box. This is unlike Factorio where players need to manually press a key. It is also unlike Satisfactory where players use conveyors on the output to see the contents.

Cons:

  • There is no cloud saving at the moment.

  • The sun is bright when flying towards it. I'd love to mute the brightness of it.

  • Playing in Windowed mode is pointless. The text doesn't scale properly, half the menus are hidden, and it just doesn't look good.

  • No hotkey customization (which is important because the middle mouse button breaks more easily on certain mice).

  • No text scaling or colorblind options.

  • Inability to see how many research cubes are needed for technology without enabling the "use inventory" option.

  • The tutorial is sometimes unclear as noted in the tutorial section above.


Final Thoughts

There are several reasons that Dyson Sphere Program is worthwhile to pick up. It is an incredibly polished game for an early access title and it's an excellent time sink if you want to crush an entire night into oblivion. (I won't judge. I have played Dyson until 6am without thinking about it. In fact, so did my SO. We did this at the same time. True story.) It is visually stunning from flying through space right down to the small details of transporting the products in cubes.

Dyson Sphere Program has minor grievances like not being able to rebind hotkeys, not being able to mute the sun's brightness, and not being able to set a waypoint to a planet. However, this title has nothing wrong with it. I've not seen a single game crash or stutter and there are virtually no graphics issues. The only exception to that is the one time I accidentally built a structure on top of my mech and the screen glitched out for a short time.


Dyson Sphere Program is a factory builder on a mega scale, unlike others in its genre. It requires players to think, adapt, and learn efficient ways of automating resources to achieve the end goal, the creation of the Dyson Sphere. And for an early access title, this game nails virtually every aspect it touches. Aside from some small details and issues, I cannot say anything bad about the game.

Dyson Sphere is a must-buy and If I had to give it a score it would be 9 out of 10. Besides, who wouldn't want to fly to other planets in a mech?

Score: N/A




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Cyberpunk 2077 - PC Review


Cyberpunk 2077 by developer and publisher CD PROJEKT REDPC Review written by Susan N. with a purchased copy.

Estimated reading time: 20 minutes 


In 1988, R. Talsorian Games published a tabletop RPG known as Cyberpunk, a dystopian dark future campaign setting with options to play a variety of characters like corporates, street kids, rocker boys, and more. Its inspiration "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" by Philip K. Dick spawned fantastical stories like Bladerunner, Demolition Man, Johnny Mnemonic, and Akira, just to name a few.

In 1990, Cyberpunk 2020 was released, which was arguably more popular in the tabletop community (and it's likely the system that I played in). The themes of artificial intelligence, hacking, and megacorporations are all explored in this universe. The Cyberpunk world also looks at the impact of drug culture, sexual revolution, and technology as a whole. Considering that technology was still a new concept, drug use was most prevalent during the '70s, and the advancing of a capitalist society, this game was fascinating to many.

So, when I learned that Cyberpunk was to become a video game, I wasn't expecting a masterpiece, I was expecting CYBERPUNK. And that is exactly what I received.

Gameplay

When it comes to gameplay, I look at the plot, character design, and dialogue choices. I often look at those aforementioned elements analytically and I try to take personal feelings out of the equation. With that in mind, the gameplay in Cyberpunk is fairly smooth, even on a sub-par system (which I will get into). During my gameplay, I had a great time, so much so that I dumped more than 100 hours into it and I still have tons left to do. However, certain elements need to be immediately addressed.

Story

The first thing to talk about is the story. CDProjekt Red brilliantly took a pre-existing world and weaved a wicked narrative that is both interesting and terrifying - keeping with the tabletop themes. Players are thrown into the thick of things. They will have to face death, consequences of actions, evil corporations, penalties of fame, AI considerations, substance abuse, hyper-sexualization, the impact of technology on humanity, and lots of violence. Cyberpunk 2077 presents these themes in a manner that is nothing short of shocking.

I love Cyberpunk because it is littered with moral questions. For example: Do you tell the politician what awful things you discovered? Do you accept the idea that an AI can be 'human'? What do you do when people are brutally murdered and you are powerless to stop it? These are all questions that show the brilliance of the storytelling. The game doesn't tell you what to think about these questions, you do.

While the story is wonderful in concept, it has its shortcomings. Most of the main story beats are done in a cinematic form which doesn't let players take an active role. And for a world that allows players to do anything, linear storytelling is counterintuitive here. I'd much rather have more autonomy throughout.

For example, there were most certainly options regarding the window scene. Roleplayers would attempt to escape through the vents or hide from security. Perhaps they could hack into the system to distract the guards. Who knows? It all boils down to let players try things that may or may not fail spectacularly.

Overall, I wish that Cyberpunk 2077 had a more active story in some ways. It feels too much like players watch the game instead of experience it.

Character Design

Johnny Silverhand's dickish role in this story makes a lot of sense. In fact, the situation with Johnny brings up moral questions, hilarious come-backs, and player empathy that made me appreciate the character. Johnny, like your character V, is not a one-dimensional character. He grows as a person, although often that is to serve his own agenda. I love Johnny Silverhand as much as I hate him. He is well written and pulls at your conscience and morals.

Aside from Johnny, there are plenty of other characters that I adore. For example, I absolutely love characters like Panam who struggles to find her place in the world after things go awry. She's a tough cookie who legitimately cares about her family. In fact, her questline is quite interesting as you navigate her complicated relationships with others.

Another character who fascinates me is Judy. She is incredibly intelligent and has access to way more information than another person should have. Her feelings towards certain characters are strong and unwavering. She's a tough character in her own right and I appreciate her devotion. While Panam's questline often made me question her relationships, Judy's quests showed me what true loyalty means.

While there are many other characters that players encounter, I'm not going to go into detail about each of them. What I will say is that CDProjekt Red created a lot of nuance in their characters. Each side quest allows players to learn about the people in the world, and it is heartwarming since side characters are often throwaways in games. Each character feels real with their biases, flaws, and feelings about the world. Sure, some of these characters are less than ideal but consider some of the people you may know in real life. Not everyone is a model citizen.

Combat

Let's talk about the combat.

I love that every encounter drops loot aplenty. If you want to play a character with two smart pistols and a katana, you can do that. What about a sniper, baseball bat, and shotgun? Check. How about if you want to go full melee with hand-to-hand combat, mantis blades (think like wolverine), and small knives? Cyberpunk has that too!

The gunplay is smooth and feels quite satisfying. Nothing is more epic than firing a revolver that packs a mean punch. Tech weapons require a charge time before firing but are lethal. Even the melee weapons have a decent feel to them as you slice and dice through enemies, often falling in hilarious ways. Sometimes headless enemies will try to fight back before they collapse.

After playing Cyberpunk 2077, I feel as though stealth is a bit of an afterthought. Most missions had two entrances making them predictable. Players often needed to sneak past the front door with guards and traps, or they used an alternate entrance requiring high amounts of body or technical ability. This frustrated me not because it limited options, but because the guards would always know. For example, after taking out an enemy, I hid the body in a corner where it couldn't be found. Unfortunately, the game would always treat them like they were discoverable. Thus, I stopped trying to be as stealthy because there was no point. If you didn't use a crate to hide a body, the guards would be alerted. My strategy became 'I might as well get some gear...'

Skill Tree


Cyberpunk 2077 has an in-depth skill tree that reminds me of a couple of tabletop systems. The easiest way to explain how skills work in Cyberpunk 2077 is to say that there is a main stat with skills underneath. The total amount of points you have in a stat is the highest a skill can become. And in those skills are perks that allow players to customize their builds. As an example, skills under Intelligence are quick hacking and breach protocol. If you have an Intelligence of 5, quick hacking and breach protocol can only go up to 5 until your stat is increased. When players look at a skill, there are a number of perks that unlock as you level up. This will allow you to do more damage or get more components or even move faster, depending on what sort of build you go for.

Most skills are only increased when players use them. So, a character's stamina will increase when players use the run function to travel and unarmed combat will only increase if you punch a lot of people. You get the idea here.

Crafting

Crafting is a skill that players can use, although it isn't necessary. Most weapons will drop at higher levels, mods are purchasable, and ammo is found everywhere. However, if one chooses to use crafting, they can upgrade their weapons, add damage to them, or craft ammunition and heals as required. Much like any other skill, players can assign perks to augment their gear or add damage. The point here is that players can truly customize their characters, just not in the way that they expected prior to launch.

The best thing about the crafting system is that you're never really going to be short on parts because there are plenty of items for dismantling! Traveling around Night City reveals all sorts of loot without needing to enter combat. As an example, legendary items can be found in a box that was located inside an unattended open shipping crate. The choice to craft items is yours.

Hacking

Hacking in video games is always interesting because often what people know of hacking is what script kiddies do. These are people who use programs like web shells to attack and exploit computers or websites. Often, these people are unskilled and still learning how to program. But to show hacking in media form is challenging. Mass media often creates abstract visual representations of what hacking looks like, without much realism. In fact, I once stumbled on a YouTube video where a hacker explains movie scenes (which can be found here) and he said something similar.

Anyways, I began with that because Cyberpunk 2077 does have a hacking component. Players can access and disable video cameras. They can also disable enemies by activating hacks through their cyberdeck. Depending on what level the cyberdeck is will allow players to initiate bigger hacks.

There is another form of hacking found in Cyberpunk 2077 that is found through certain terminals. Here, players need to match hash codes to brute force their way into the system. They do this by entering the first variable on the top row, the second value must be in the column of the first, and the third must be found in the row of the second. In essence, a code is inputted horizontally then vertically then horizontally again.

CDProjekt Red did well to use a system that wasn't extremely visual like other media. It's an interesting addition to the game, but I feel that there could have been more variety. That said, it is a great way to get some free money, thus, I'm all for it.

Graphics and UI

Graphics on PC

Earlier, I alluded to the fact that I played most of Cyberpunk on a sub-par system. This is for all you who seem to think that it requires a beastly system to run. I laugh at you with my low graphics settings on an i5 3570k processor with a whopping 12 gigs of DDR3 Kingston RAM and a Radeon RX580 GPU. Sure, I ran the game like a sloth in the downtown core, but it ran! I didn't even crash out of the game. What I DID need to do was restart the computer in between play sessions. My system could only do so much, but it was a small price to pay. Take that!

Anyways, despite the fact that I was playing on the aforementioned system, Cyberpunk 2077 ran quite well. I certainly wasn't expecting top-quality graphics or anything of the sort, but being able to play without crashing or too much blur was definitely a high mark for the developers. Player's don't *need* the latest and greatest to enjoy this title, they just need a PC. (Sorry console peeps.)

I will also mention the fact that I experienced very little lag in between city districts. For example, I spent a good amount of time in the badlands area which is open plains as far as the eye can see. Anytime I drove back to my apartment in Watson, I would have to re-enter civilization. In other games, transferring between zones would cause a loading screen or a brief hang, yet in Cyberpunk I experienced little. Games like Destiny 2 STILL have loading periods between areas on a map, so for those of you crabbing about the graphics, I laugh.

And don't worry, I will address the graphics issues and bugs soon(tm).

Music and Sound

I chose not to stream my playthrough of Cyberpunk 2077 for a multitude of reasons including the fact that my computer could barely run the game in the first place. Secondly, I was in a low state and I wanted to play it without distractions or influence from others. Thirdly, I wanted to immerse myself in the world without the hatred the gaming industry already had. Doing this meant that I didn't have to censor any of the content including nudity and copyrighted music.

I want to talk about the music in Cyberpunk 2077 because the expectation was to have one music genre. That's false. When players walk into The Afterlife, a bar in the game, they will hear the sounds of metal. At times when players steal cars, they will end up listening to a wide variety of stations like rock, electronic, or even Spanish music. Some of the music took me by surprise and I quite enjoyed the variety. This detail makes the Cyberpunk universe feel real. Unfortunately, many streamers had to listen to the copyright-friendly version which took out some of the mainstream artists like A$ap Rocky.

In fact, there is so much attention paid to the music in this game. It would be a shame not to show a behind the scenes video released in late November 2020:

Issues, Bugs, and Hot Topic Points

Graphics Issues:

As I mentioned above, I played Cyberpunk 2077 on a subpar PC with an older graphics card and a system that barely reached the minimum specifications of the game. That said, aside from the notable lag in high rendered areas (like the downtown core), I had surprisingly few graphics issues. Below are a couple of the issues I encountered:

     Seeing items on the ground that weren't interactable

     Cars glitching in and out of existence

     Cars partly embedded in the ground

     Failure to render people's faces and features in small instances

     NPCs sitting inside a set of stairs

     Ability to interact with a console through a wall

     Game crashing on systems with NVIDIA GPUs (like my significant other's PC.)

     Cars will often stop for no reason, even on highways!

     Cars crashing into cement barriers like they weren't there

     Sometimes V lost her apparel when switching gear pieces

     etc...

Since my gameplay was delayed, I did not have the egregious issues that others had. That's not to say they don't exist, but even on a shitty computer, it was still pretty good on the whole.

Gameplay Issues:

Other issues that I've learned about from watching several YouTube videos and tons of articles about various issues that I DID NOT experience are issues like:

     NPCs T-posing

     PC Crashing

     Police appearing behind you, sometimes in the air.

     Game stuttering, FPS issues, Poor performance, etc...

     Low quality texturing

     Enemies seeing you through walls

     Corrupted save files

     Cars driving in circles

     NPC rendering problems

     and many other issues...

This list is not exhaustive, by the way. None of these are particularly off-putting for me.

So, while the game is not free of graphical issues, many of these problems have been somewhat fixed on PC. But, if graphics quality is something that is key to your gaming purchases, then by all means wait for other patches before buying it. Also, I can't speak to the console version but I know that Sony took it off their store and has not put it back up. Take that information as you will.

Story Bugs:

"The Pickup" quest is the only main story bug I found. I was unable to play for a couple of days because of it. I did the entire quest to the very end where I had the option to stealth past the big bad. (I've heard that others don't get this option.) Unfortunately, the NPC does not leave the mission! I tried everything from looking for other entrances to restarting from an earlier save to 'forcing it' by phoning the character. Nothing I found online fixed it. I had my significant other work his magic by 'counter bugging' the bugged quest. He fixed it by running through the door before it closed. (I watched him do it. Trust me, I was shocked that that worked!)

I know that another major story quest is broken due to a patch. This is reprehensible. See, I can forgive buggy side quests, sluggish gameplay, and weird graphics issues, but if the meat of a game halts progression entirely, I have a problem with it. It's not like CDProjekt Red is an indie company with a small budget. No. They are huge and have taken risks and paid for them during the launch of The Witcher series. (Remember, The Witcher 3 was just as broken at launch.) As such, releasing Cyberpunk 2077 with major story issues is inexcusable. For those of you that still own the game and play it, my advice is to save scum the crap out of it. You will lose less progress this way. Trust me.

Character Customization:

During E3 when Cyberpunk 2077 was initially announced, we were shown an idealized version of the game. As many know, a game cannot always live up to the final vision the devs have. During that presentation, Cyberpunk 2077 looked like a game-changer. It was an ambitious title and was going to have everything. However, upon loading the game, I found character creation painfully light. Sure, one of its selling features is the ability to choose a feminine character with male parts or vice versa. Beyond that, there isn't a ton of customization. We can customize our parts and their size but strangely CDProjekt Red did not provide non-binary options. This is definitely a point that many of the LGBTQIA+ community has a contention with, and I understand the anger. While I'm on the topic...

Transphobia and Representation:

One of the largest topics about Cyberpunk 2077 outside of the graphics issues, lies regarding crunch time, and a broken release for consoles, is its representation. This is a point that bothers me on a few levels. It began with the famous "Mix it up" posters used to promote the game in real life, and this poster is also displayed throughout Night City. This poster shows a member of the LGBTQIA+ community in a highly sexualized or perhaps even, fetishized way.

I find myself at odds with this specific issue because on one hand, proudly displaying a person in an undervalued group, gives me the impression that CDProjekt Red was trying to celebrate everyone. I see it as people should be proud of who they are. AND YET, I understand that people view this marketing strategy as harmful because it can be construed that the LGBTQIA+ community is put on display as pieces of meat - much like women.

So, what I will say is this: If you choose to pass on this game because there isn't enough or potentially harmful representation, then feel free to skip it. But, know that Cyberpunk 2077 does have some representation. There is at least one character who is transgender and there are a few characters of different sexual orientations, some of whom can be romanced.

Furthermore, the game allows players to choose different types of sex workers throughout gameplay. As in, the game allows players the freedom to be whomever they choose. Yes, there are only a few diverse persons, but to me, it is a step in the right direction. And I feel like CDProjekt Red did better with its representation, character design, and story than it did with the launching of its game and its graphics.

Overall Thoughts

I believe the overarching theme of Cyberpunk 2077 is not to be a masterpiece game, but to make a specific point. Be who you want to be and take pride in who you are. To me, people are scared of being themselves. We, as a society, have to be more accepting. Our world is not pretty. It's full of hatred, sexism, racism, corruption, and violence. Cyberpunk 2077 shows how brutal and deadly our world could become if we let it. It is obscene so that people pay attention. Think about it. Our media is hyper-sexualized, our wealthy use unfair advantages for profit, and our technology is used against us. And it is my belief that the reaction to Cyberpunk 2077 shows more about what people don't want to fix, than what they do.

While I love Cyberpunk 2077 with its depth, there are certain things I cannot forgive. For one, the main storyline bugs are the most egregious of the games' flaws. If CDProjekt Red cannot be bothered to fix the main story to a playable state, then they should not have released the title. Another glaring issue is the fact that Cyberpunk 2077 can't run reliably on consoles. While I'm not a console player, I'm upset that a $70 game launched in a shitty state. I'd be angrier if I was one of the many that purchased their consoles for this game! A developer CANNOT be allowed to launch a game with many glaring issues and expect a free pass. By the way, giving players the ability to mod the game with features that were originally promised is a pathetic attempt to cover up your mistakes. Just saying...

Rating and Reasoning

I'm extremely angry at the fact that CDProjekt Red did two other abhorrent things:

1) They told game reviewers not to use their own game footage. In essence, forcing them to unwillingly LIE to gamers about the quality and the state of the game. This is disgusting on its own level. But,

2) They lied about the game being in a playable and finished state, particularly on consoles. Not only did the developer know people would be upset, but they let it happen. I mean, gamers still bought into the lies No Mans Sky sold prior to launch, right? They should get a free pass too... (Not.)

While I want to give Cyberpunk 2077 a raving review because there are many awesome elements like the crafting system, options for stealth, plenty of side quests, diverse characters, and amazing visuals, I can't. Cyberpunk 2077 makes players question their morals and the morals of others. It forces them to contemplate a world with functioning AIs. But, despite those points, the glaring issues are too great. With that in mind, I'm giving Cyberpunk 2077 a 7.5 score.

Score: 7.5 / 10


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Azur Lane Crosswave - Switch Review

Azur Lane Crosswave by developers Idea Factory, Compile Heart and publisher Idea Factory InternationalNintendo Switch Review written by Richard with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Azur Lane is a franchise you may be familiar with, as it started out as a mobile game and has since spawned an anime adaptation. You may also know the publishers from their other majorly known work: Arknights. Azur Lane Crosswave is a more traditional game compared to the mobile game, which I'm actually quite fond of, but still retains many of the same elements. So then, it's now time to take a look at some of your favorite anthropomorphized ship girls, now in 3D!

Azur Lane Crosswave takes place in the Sakura Empire, the Azur Lane equivalent of Japan, and one of the four (ish) major powers in the game. Crosswave focuses on two specific kansen (the name for ship girls), Shimakaze and Suruga, a destroyer and a battleship respectively. Shimakaze is the upbeat and outgoing type while Suruga is the serious type that doesn't want to be in the limelight. Unfortunately for Suruga, the training exercise that she's on with Shimakaze gets crashed by Sirens, the in-universe bad guys.

Upon destroying a transport ship, a bunch of wisdom cubes are released into the water. In order to collect the large amount of cubes and try to get some help examining the mysterious Siren technology, Atago and Nagato, the leaders of the Sakura empire, call a joint military exercise with the Royal Navy (Britain), Eagle Union (America), and the Iron Blood (Germany), with guest appearances from the Dragon Empiry (China). Needless to say, things don't exactly go as planned when the Sirens are involved.


Crosswave is largely in the form of a visual novel with the occasional battle, at least throughout the first two thirds or so of the game. You control a little chibi character moving around a restricted map, collecting boxes full of equipment and selecting event points. Event points are either battle or text, being labeled as Event Battle if it results in a skirmish.

Battles allow you to bring a total of six units in to the fight, three vanguard and three support units. Each unit has a unique passive effect that will help you in battle, such as passive health regeneration or increased torpedo damage. Unfortunately I can't bring my beloved Erebus as she wasn't included, but hey, I still get Kaga, Akagi, Eugen, and Bismarck. Battles may be rather sparse until the end game, but fans of the series may note that they are rather similar to the mobile game version.

Your three vanguard units will be out on the water shooting at enemy ships and ship girls. You'll have four basic moves you can perform, and while the type and reload speed differs between unit type and what equipment you have on, I'll use shimakaze as an example. Your first move is generally the fast firing low damage type, Shimakaze defaults as a constant bullet stream, while your second attack is usually the longer charge time but higher damage, for destroyers this is the torpedoes. Your other two attacks are rather universal, one being a lock-on attack that has a longer charge time, and a special move unique to the unit you are controlling. Shimakaze increases speed by a large factor, for instance.


Battle takes place in a 3D environment with enemy ships, shipgirls, and flying units, and you are free to move and dash across a square segment of the water during battle. You are free to swap between any of the three vanguard units still alive, and while cooldowns aren't shared, the AI will attack using your other members while you are controlling the third. The closer to your enemy you are, the more damage you do, but the more damage you take.

Battleships can get downright dirty with this, as a couple of times I came across a sturdy opponent, I swapped to Suruga, sidled up next to them, and unleashed a barrage that inst-killed them. Makes sense that Suruga was the hardest to face off against for me, really. Your abilities and weapons can both be upgraded, and you can find new gear, or create it in the shop, to outfit your kansen with better equipment. You also need to pay attention to the type of ammo each gear uses, as some are AP (armor piercing) or HE (high explosive).

You technically have two game modes, although one isn't unlocked for a while and might be challenging to start. On the main menu you have access to all your amenities from story mode, just not in the story proper. You can visit the store, check out the warehouse for items you've obtained, visit the dock where you can outfit your units or pay points to permanently unlock new units (be careful as they can't be used if you're fighting against them), story mode (which allows you to pick up wherever you left off rather easily), extreme battle mode (which is a series of 100+ one-off battles that get progressively more difficult but aren't locked behind walls of text), a gallery and photo op mode, and a scenarios section (where you can see some text only side stories that are rather entertaining.


Honestly, the game only really picked up for me right at the end, as the epilogue chapter is a bunch of fights with almost all the possible units you can get from the base game, except two. This is where you'll probably be farming the parts for the cognitive awakening, which allows you to break the initial level cap of 100 and increase it to 200. For those of you curious, the isomers for the two leftover units can be obtained from Chapter 1 and Chapter 4. While the estimated level requirement for battles certainly doesn't get that high in the base game, the extreme battles certainly do, not to mention the final fight absolutely demolished me the first time I did it in the post game. Good lord, Suruga put the fear of anything cute in me.

For those of you interested in going for the full 100%, let me give you some pointers after having done so. First off, the gallery is only fully complete with all the oathing scenes. This means increasing affection with every single unit, and then presenting them with their character specific ring. Affection increases from: 10 battles fought while in the formation, 10 battles as secretary ship, cognitive awakening. Might not seem too bad, but you also need to earn the isomers for the cognitive awakening through story mode, and the heart tokens for the rings from extreme battle mode. Another pointer: some scenes are tied to rating in battles. Try getting an S rank in every battle. It might sound a little daunting, but by the end game, you can easily replay many of the stages to crush your opponents. All you need is to complete the fight within 2 minutes and not have one of your units incapacitated.

So let's talk a little about the music and graphics here. Graphics first, I was really glad to see they kept the 2D designs from the mobile game for the cutscenes, as it really does keep the fans around. In combat is a bit of a mixed bag. I felt that graphically, the Switch version looked a little better than the PC version, and the water physics weren't as awful. The 3D rendering looked nice when displayed on the TV, but looked a little squished on the “mobile style” screen, although I'm not too surprised by this.


Map movement has the cute little chibi forms that I've grown to love from Azur Lane, and it was interesting to note that all the units that could have retrofits were in their retrofit outfits. Music wise, I've gotta give props to the composers, as there are both new tracks and remasterings of tracks from the mobile game. Yes Iffy, I see your influence here with that one track you put in almost all of your games. No, I don't think it's a bad track, just I'm starting to pick up on this too frequently for my personal taste. Seriously though, the music is actually really stellar. Every nation gets a theme song, the battle tracks are really kickin, the map themes match the setting pretty well, and some of the tracks you just want to groove to.

This all being said, battles are quick and the game is really mostly a visual novel. With a time limit of 2 minutes for an S rank in a fight, of course the battles won't be super long. The Switch port is nice because you can pick it up and put it down easy enough, but I really would have liked to see some more battles in story mode before the finale, even if they were optional. The story is unique in its own way, but isn't anything too spectacular. The characters are true to their mobile game versions at least, which is a positive, but there really is too much talking before you get to the action. The battles also tend to be either super easy, super tough, or drawn out sponge fights, for the most part. Did I have fun? Most definitely. Would I recommend it to anyone who isn't an Azur Lane fan? Probably not. On the plus side, it seems the Switch version comes with the DLC included.

Summary

Overall I have to say I really did enjoy my time with Azur Lane Crosswave. While I couldn't really recommend it too heavily to someone not a fan of the series, it definitely should be something to keep on your watchlist to see if it goes on sale. The gameplay is pretty good, albeit with shorter and sparse battles at the beginning, and the game is primarily a visual novel to start, so if you are ok with that, you'll probably like Azur Lane. There's plenty of post game and extra battles to engage in, and the music is really solid. It feels like the game got a graphics and water physics upgrade from the PC port as well. If you do decide to pick this up for the Switch, I suggest playing on a TV if available. Also, go check out the mobile game so we can get more of these.

Score: 7.5 / 10





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Nioh 2: The Complete Edition - PC Review


Nioh 2: The Complete Edition
by developer Team Ninja and publisher Koei Tecmo Games Co., LTD.PC Review written by Pierre-Yves with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes


After releasing last year for the Sony PlayStation 4 and seeing three subsequent DLCs titled: The Tengu's Disciple, Darkness in the Capital, and The First Samurai, Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo's Nioh 2: Complete Edition is here for the PC. Being a big fan of the original, a fan of the PSN demos leading up to it and having gotten myself the PS4 Steelbook Edition of Nioh 2 with the Season Pass, there was something about playing this on a PC with high end graphics cards that just made everything better.

Note: This review is based off of two separate systems, a much older gaming laptop running a GTX 1060M and a new computer running a GTX 3080.

Unlike the Dark Souls series that Nioh is conceptually based off of, Nioh went for a more historical approach instead of a one-hundred percent fictional one. By all means, Nioh, and now Nioh 2, is quite fictional but it was still based on surrounding historical events making it fairly easy to set the stage especially for fans of Japan’s history. Sure there are liberties with spirits, oni and yokai, but the overall events that happened still happened making the twists more fun for those that have an overall idea of the battles that take place. 

Taking place not all that long before the original and William’s travels from England to Japan, Nioh 2 begins during Oda Nobunaga's campaign during the Sengoku Era. Taking a departure from the first, Nioh 2 instead of putting you into the role of a specific person instead starts you off as an unknown person to the eyes of history. Designing your character to look however you want, you'll also have a bit of say in how your demon form looks as the other change from the original is that you aren't entirely human and honestly? It suits both the narrative and the new gameplay elements well.

From a structural perspective, Nioh 2 follows Nioh to a “T”. The main story is told through a series of missions that start off slow with a bit of narrative to set the tone and end on a high note with some rather epic boss fights. Side to the main missions are several much shorter ones that either need you to fulfill a specific object like getting an item, surviving several encounters or beating an opponent one on one. Combined, for the main story alone without replaying too many stages, you’ll easily accumulate thirty plus hours depending on how fast you can make it through.

Unlike the original, Nioh 2 while following the structure to a “T” told the story in a different manner which I found myself preferring over the first. Falling a bit more into the what if category, instead of traveling from one area to another of Japan, you’ll basically be staying in the same overall region but seeing it through a different lens of time as the chapters move forward. Said like that, one could think of this being a more “lazy” approach, but it was clear that each area had a makeover from one visit to the next based on the overall events especially if war came through and caused a fair amount of damage. This not only allowed for different challenges, but it also let you know from the beginning that you were in for new surprises and there were no shortages of those.

For the biggest change, not being human and instead half human / half Yokai made for some interesting gameplay choices. Now, instead of having your guardian spirit animals at your side to help you out in combat, they’ll instead enable you to perform a Yokai Shift into one of three separate modes. Brute, Feral and Phantom Yokai Shifting will each offer a different play style once shifted and what may work for one, may not work for another. Personal preference for me is that of the Brute that allows you to really lay down a smackdown without having to worry about dodging too much if a heavy blow is incoming.

More than your Yokai Shift though, each mode has a variation of what is known as a Burst Counter that is quite literally life saving. Not even at times, it’s just life saving. With the introduction of the Yokai Shift and the burst counters, enemies now have two variations of power attacks. The first, is as interruptible as ever and if you get caught you had better damned well hope you survive it because they hurt. The others are shrouded in a red glow and these attacks can be countered for a decent counter attack from enemies big and small including all of the major bosses. In a better late than never comment, the Last Chance Demo for Nioh 2 had these in place and even with the launch of Nioh 2 v1.X on the PSN, the amount of time you had was almost non-existent so I’m very happy that at this point they are much more feasible to pull off.

Touching back on the story and your trek through this era of a war torn Japan, there was one more element that makes the journey a bit more fun. No longer having to fully go at it alone, you can now summon the marks of other adventurers that are willing to lend you their aid. Like the first, you can still summon the graves of other players who have died for a challenge and better gear, but now, you can also summon others for an extra hand. More than this, you can also play in multiplayer with another actual player as well as summon in an extra hand. Combining these two aspects with the ability to meet other warriors of the time period for limited duration, you could have quite the retinue at times but don’t get used to it as you’ll often immediately drop back to one or two extra meat shields, I err mean cohorts.

Now with how much work went into Nioh, its DLC, and Nioh 2 with its own DLC, there are still some issues that come across that are both issues for the style and issues on “balancing”. Nioh 2 is brutal if you’re not careful. Enemies hit very hard and if you’re not willing to both spend a few points in upgrading your health, carrying around heavier armor, or getting REALLY good at dodging or using magic spells to lessen the brunt of the damage. You’re going to die. Over, and over and over again. Having already played through the demos leading to launch (and them getting easier) as well as the first three chapters, I already knew what I was in for which lessened that aspect, but getting into the fourth, fifth and final chapters, I was wholeheartedly reminded how hard it can be especially with certain mobs either not dying, or just being “broken” like the Tengu.

This actually leads me into an issue that I felt like I had over the course of the chapters. In Nioh 2, some enemies I felt just wouldn’t die when they were supposed to. This isn’t a “did you ‘git gud’ moment” but more of a you’re knocking the royal hell out of them with magics and Yokai Shifts and yet, they are still standing even if all of your combined hits should have taken them out five to ten hits ago. This isn’t just for bosses but also some of the tougher mobs that in certain cases act as mid-bosses or just giant obstacles like the cyclops. It’s just annoying and it’s one thing that I would like to be fixed in time as I’m far from done with Nioh 2.

One thing that I want to note before wrapping everything up, is how well things worked on the PC version once you’ve gotten your settings right. This is generally not an issue when playing on consoles especially when Nioh 2, like Nioh, was a console only, and in particular, a PlayStation 4 title first. Loading Nioh 2 on my brand new PC running a GTX 3080, I set everything to high and was wowed on my 34” Ultra Wide Monitor. The only things that didn’t quite jive so well when in ultra-wide were cutscenes that would black line on the left and the right. When moving back to my much older GTX 1060m based RoG laptop, it took a fair amount of back and forths before getting things running smooth and then another few hours before getting it to look almost as good while playing off of a 55” QLED Television instead of a monitor.

Summary

Overall, Nioh 2: The Complete Edition for the PC was an amazing port from the Sony PlayStation 4 once you get the settings right. At this current point, I’ve played through the main campaign coming in just under fifty hours but as of yet I cannot comment on the three DLCs of The Tengu's Disciple, Darkness in the Capital, and The First Samurai. So because of this, I’ll be back shortly with another article covering the other three additions as they were originally extras to the main title and have their own sets of modifications and obviously twists and turns.

Score: 8.75 / 10




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