[Game: Elden Ring, FromSoftware, 2022]
Tarnishing:

A Thorough Critique Detailing the Few Mechanical Flaws of FromSoft’s Elden Ring

 

Introduction:

Imagine sitting next to a friend and looking out over a majestic seaside vista. The sky is clear and there are birds in the sky. The sun warms your skin and occasionally a soft breeze sweeps through. Now, over the gentle sound of the waves, your friend turns to you and says, “Look, someone left some litter on the beach.” In this context, I am that friend. That remark is the equivalent of what I am about to do. Welcome to my article on Elden Ring!

Elden Ring overflows generously with quality, beauty, and entertainment.

Despite its incredible boss and enemy variety, it includes several of the best boss fights that are present in any game, FromSoft or otherwise. Despite the staggering number of weapons, weapon arts, shields, and magical abilities in the game, genuinely novel methods of attack and defense are found from the start of the game to the end. And despite the immense size of its map, it contains multiple individual areas, such as the Volcano Manor and Elphael, which stand alongside earlier creations like the Painted World of Ariamis and the Boletarian Palace as some of the best level design FromSoftware has ever done. But you don’t really need me to tell you that. If you’ve encountered any review or other type of media about Elden Ring since its release, then you already know all of that.

In setting out to write an article about the game, I wanted to approach it from an angle that would be different from the thousand others in existence, while also providing something valuable. There’s really no sense in me just throwing my praise on the praise pile. So, instead of talking about Elden Ring’s overwhelmingly large number of mechanical (and other) strengths, I’m going to dig into its vanishingly small number of mechanical weaknesses. For reference, prior to writing this article, I played through the game three times with drastically different builds, racked up well over a hundred hours of playtime, gathered 100% of the game’s achievements on Steam, and (as far as I know) beat every single unique and repeated boss that is present in the game.

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[Game: Elden Ring, FromSoftware, 2022]
Tarnishing:

A Thorough Critique Detailing the Few Mechanical Flaws of FromSoft’s Elden Ring

was last modified: May 10th, 2022 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Half-Life, Valve, 1998]
Half-Lively:

Half-Life, Black Mesa, and the Work of Art in the Age of Post-release Modification

 

Introduction:

In an unassuming former monastery building adjacent to the church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan, Italy, there is a wall decorated with the remnants of a mural painted by Leonardo da Vinci. In English, the mural in question is known as The Last Supper, and—due to a combination of the oil-painting-like techniques employed by da Vinci (which differed considerably from Fresco techniques, and thus were very unconventional for mural work) together with aspects of the construction and later history of the building—the work is badly damaged.

Meanwhile, about 20 minutes away, in a space on an upper floor of the Galleria Vittorio Emannuelle II shopping complex (next to the Milan Cathedral), at the time of writing this there is an exhibit known as Leonardo3 which includes, among other features, a computer-aided reconstruction of what The Last Supper would have looked like at the time of its original completion by da Vinci in 1498. The question I now pose to you, dear readers, is a simple one: if these were the only two options in existence, which one would you say is what is meant by the phrase, ‘The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci?’

I’ll give you my own answer to this quandary in due time, and (regardless of your own response) it’s almost guaranteed to be an answer you don’t expect. But I can’t provide it just yet, as first I need to take some time to introduce and discuss the main topic of this article: Half-Life. And I need to do that in order to adjudicate a similar superficially straightforward dilemma. The Half-Life remake Black Mesa is a terrific game, is an incredible labor of love, and is the single greatest fan-led project of its kind ever completed. But on top of all of that, does Black Mesa also count as being Half-Life itself?

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci - Half-Life, Black Mesa, Valve, art, Walter Benjamin

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[Game: Half-Life, Valve, 1998]
Half-Lively:

Half-Life, Black Mesa, and the Work of Art in the Age of Post-release Modification

was last modified: June 20th, 2022 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, FromSoftware, 2019]
Immortal Severance:

The Pros and Cons of FromSoft’s Action-stealth Hybrid Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

 

Introduction:

By almost any metric, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a terrific game. FromSoft risked a big departure from the settings, systems, and nearly stealthless, nearly jumpless, stamina-defined gameplay that had made their name across the preceding decade. And the risk paid off! They turned out an exceptional game that really doesn’t slack in any of the conventional categories by which games are judged: it plays well; it looks good; it sounds good; it tells an engaging story. It’s fun! So . . . if that’s all that needs to be said about From’s action-stealth hybrid, then why don’t I love it? I do like it a great deal. But why do I have this nagging feeling that Sekiro, despite its incredibly high quality, will never be listed among my absolute favorite games?

For starters, you can rest assured that the answer to those questions has nothing to do with the game’s difficulty. If you’re here for the next chapter in the ongoing saga of people opining about challenging games, you’ve come to the wrong article. But if not that, then what? Well, perhaps a promising way to go about this is to do what I’ve done in the past when there is an arguable flaw or set of flaws that I think is worth discussing within an otherwise excellent game: draw a clear line between what I like about the game and what I don’t like, in the simple layout of a pro and con list.

Now, when this discussion gets to the cons—to what I consider to be the flaws of Sekiro—they will not be flaws that most people care about. Even calling them flaws will be contentious. But you have to remember that, not very long ago, there was a stretch lasting over half a decade (beginning with the release of Demon’s Souls) during which the majority of the games FromSoftware released were among the greatest games of all time. This article is about gauging how well Sekiro measures up to that very high bar FromSoft set for themselves.

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[Game: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, FromSoftware, 2019]
Immortal Severance:

The Pros and Cons of FromSoft’s Action-stealth Hybrid Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

was last modified: February 16th, 2022 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Dead Space 2, Visceral Games, 2011]
Deadened Space:

How Small Elements of Design, Optimization, and Polish Combine to Diminish Dead Space 2

 

Introduction:

I personally hold what seems to be an increasingly rare opinion among players of the Dead Space series: that Dead Space 2 is a noticeably worse work of art than the original Dead Space—a lesser work of horror as well as a lesser game in general.

But I must admit that, on first glance, it’s not remotely clear why anyone would hold my opinion. After all, nearly every element that hooked people into Dead Space, nearly every element that I praised in my own article on the game, remains present in the sequel: an engrossing and precisely tuned sound design, a plot that deftly blends sci-fi and body horror, a set of enemies who navigate through ductwork to ensure no space ever feels truly safe, a dismemberment-based fighting system that increases combat complexity while enhancing uncertainty regarding whether any given foe is deceased, a pacing that spaces out spans of tension with spans of relief, a combat system that straddles the line between being restrictive and being empowering, and an eschewing of a traditional HUD in favor of diegetic menus and indicators on and around the player-character’s suit.

Yet, for all that, I would still maintain that there has been a slight slide down the scales of quality from the first game to the second. After some careful consideration, I’ve come to a conclusion as to why this is. Frankly, I don’t think Dead Space 2 has any big, glaring problems that weigh it down. It remains a very solid follow-up to the original, and an entertaining, worthwhile experience. This is not a traditional review of the game, which would surely be much more favorable than what follows.

Dead Space 2 screenshot with puzzle solved in zero gravity - Visceral Games, comparison, review, analysis

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[Game: Dead Space 2, Visceral Games, 2011]
Deadened Space:

How Small Elements of Design, Optimization, and Polish Combine to Diminish Dead Space 2

was last modified: February 20th, 2022 by Daniel Podgorski

{Guest Post} [Game: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, CD Projekt RED, 2015]

The Witcher 3’s Worst-written Characters

or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Enjoy the Game

 

Introduction:

Let me get this out of the way to start with, The Witcher 3 is undoubtedly going to be the best game of 2015 for me. CD Projekt Red definitely succeeded in creating a western-style RPG that delivered greatly on all fronts, especially in terms of the character development. It is the standard to which new RPGs will be held against.

I am a huge fan boy and like all huge fan boys I am now going to be overly critical. The very heights they achieved with their well-crafted characters only lend to highlight all the ones that fell short. This is evident in more than just the side or one-off characters; this problem extends into the main cast as well, particularly the villains.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt bad characters - CD Projekt RED

Fig. 1: Bad characters

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{Guest Post} [Game: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, CD Projekt RED, 2015]

The Witcher 3’s Worst-written Characters

or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Enjoy the Game

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Alec Brouillette