Dragon’s Dogma wants you to ChooseFebruary 1st, 2023
Dragon’s Dogma the type of narrow, niche fanbase that made me know I’d love it whenever I got around to playing it and even though I knew this would happen, I wasn’t ready for quite how much I’d love it.
Dragon’s Dogma is a weird game. It feels like someone played a game of telephone, describing the conventions and goals of the big western RPG genre to the designer of Devil May Cry, who then declared “I got it” and made a game. The reality isn’t quite as funny. Hideaki Itsuno had a lot of the core ideas for this game all the way back in the year 2000 and he clearly was a fan of the western games he was inspired by. But instead we get back funhouse mirror reflection of the genre, seen through the eyes of someone with a very different value system.
In many ways this is similar to Demon’s Souls, a reflection of western fantasies and RPGs with an entirely different value system. But in the decade since, Miyazaki’s vision has permeated the culture of the game, and besides coming from the same place, often aping the same references (down to Berserk), these two games could not be so similarly different. Dragon’s Dogma still feels almost like outsider art, a beautiful jewel that nothing else is quite like.
I could go on about the combat, how the game has some of the best feeling and satisfying variants of the Stinger attack I’ve ever felt, talk about how the classes are WEIRD, or other things but one of the most defining features of Dragon’s Dogma, that permeates its whole design is that the game wants to make the player Choose.
Now, it’s easy to look at other games, the morality systems of a Bioware game or whatever, good and evil routes and go “These games make you choose!”, and they technically do, but the point of the game is not to choose. The point of the game is to play a role, and the choices are what makes that possible. The choices are a means to the end. In Dragon’s Dogma, the choice is the goal — or perhaps, you could say, expression is the goal, but Choice fits the theme of the game all to well.
The thing that makes Dragon’s Dogmas choices so wonderful is they are complicated, obfuscated, and with unclear inputs and outputs. The game wants you to sweat your decisions, but it makes it very clear. Choosing is better than not choosing at all.
From character select this happens. So many of the choices you make in the character editor affects things. Long legs? You walk faster. Big? You can carry more. Light? You use less stamina while moving. Gender not only influences gear, but how some enemies react to you (but, blissfully, not who you can romance, which is…. everyone??). All these have an affect, but never an affect that is so strong you’ll regret it, or one that will keep you out of important content. Your pawn and its design matters to. You share them with the internet and how they look AND their stats matter. Program your pawn with a fancy TACTICS GRID? No no no, you sit down and talk to them. Your pawn gives you abstract questions, and you chose the answer. The game throws systems, items, loot and everything at you, forcing you to figure out what to experiment with, what to keep, what to do. What do all these stats and icons mean??? Wait I got only a few places I can mark with crystals to be fast-travelable? I gotta choose that too???
It all matters but it doesn’t matter. This isn’t Dark Souls you aren’t going to be punitively punished. You’re not going to be tricked into making choices you didn’t even realize you were making. In fact the game goes out of its way to make SURE you know what you’re deciding.
The “moral” choices in these games feel more real and nuanced than other games. There are rarely right answers. Characters understand. Do you give the hot merchant girl who seems a little shady a bunch of money? Sure, but it doesn’t hugely matters. She appreciates it, but the choice doesn’t come back to haunt you. Do you evict the family for the rich merchant? They’re understanding that you’re just the one breaking the news and SURE you can buy the house but the game doesn’t present it as the obviously good answer. It’s just something that can come up. What’s your reward? Appreciation. When the merchant goes to trial, is he guilty? I mean… he probably is for SOMETHING, but it’s unclear. You can find evidence for and against, you can forge evidence for and against. Hell, you can just FORGE items, even important plot items. Which merchant do you give the gold idol to? Do you help Mercedes during her duel? Is either choice right? Who is your beloved? Do you get a ton of special dialog with your loved one? No, they just go into your house. But you have the freedom to chose. Even how you give gifts and respond to pawns you hired fits this type of player expression.
The important part is that the choices matter enough for you to see results but not so much as to make you worry about gaming the system, or hunting for a best ending, or whatever. But making a decision is hard, and you have to make them.
Thematically, this plays through the whole games. Pawns are devoid of will, and is your will, your ability to chose that gives you command over them. The dragon exists to find someone to make an Arisen, someone with the willpower to choose. The present them with difficult choices and challenge them. They need someone with the strength to inflict their will upon the world. Grigori fights you with every ounce of his strength, but that wonderfully, beautifully written dragon wants you to kill him. He wants someone who can take what is theirs.
All this to find someone who can replace the “Seneschal” of the world, to slay the previous god and replace them, to refresh the willpower of the universe. Every step, you are given permission to stop. Grigori understands sacrificing your beloved for peace. Not embarking to find the Seneschal is a valid place to stop playing the game. The game even tells you, as you fight god, that the peaceful life is an underrated one.
… And once your god, you chose when to die. This is a game, fundamentally, about having the willpower to Choose.
Odds and Ends
Alright, this will be less focused but just to get some stuff out.
This makes sense, coming from the designer of Devil May Cry. The DMC games are filled with choice. It’s not about being OPTIMAL. you CAN be optimal, but the games are about style, about being cool, about expressing yourself. This leads into combat that feels like a toned down DMC. Stingers, double jumps, crazy infinite arrow blasts. The game doesn’t try and constrain you with offensive resources, it wants you to express yourself. I expressed my self by being a Mystic Knight, third strike parrying everything, and by oppressing all those who would oppose me, with my friend the orb. Now I’m doing NG+ as a solo assassin which is just FULL of options.
Visually, the game is dated but beautiful. You see the rough edges, but the lighting is unusually naturalistic. It just… feels like being in the woods, a lot of the time and it makes things just feel so real and immersive, even with some of the age. The game didn’t need to have a day night cycle. The game looks beautiful during mid day and it could be kept like that but… traveling at night is another choice, and one the game encourages despite it’s drawbacks.
The story of the game is wonderful. While being low in dialog and character building it still manages to stitch together an amazing cosmology. The cycle of godhood is so creative and the Pawns are just wonderfully weird. Grigori might be my favorite dragon ever? The voice actor does a hell of a job. I love shit like the Duke’s whole mini arc
I also love how wildly bisexual this game is. Like the Duke’s Wife assumed my girl was ready to hook up with her at a moments notice (and she was right). It’s definitely more of a female leaning slant but the game still gives you the freedom to… romance whoever.
The armor in this game is funny. Want DS style armor? Covered. Wanna be Red Sonia? Covered. Less options for boy sluts, which is unfortunate, but the swinging pendulum of armor has me loving silly hot fantasy armor again.
I cheated a bunch by the end of the game. Rift crystals were too rare because online isn’t THAT active anymore. Also I’d dupe items I had cause forging stuff, while affordable, was just annoyingly time consuming. I in theory like that inconvenience tradeoff, but after the 20th forgery I was like ‘alright alright enough of his’.
I played on the PC version so no Berserk armor, but I love how this game takes a totally different set of Berserk influences than DS. Very Golden Age-y, while also being its own thing. Especially stuff like “Hey we made Mercedes cause we clearly love Caska but she’s not Caska, and the weird Witch Pawn isn’t Schierke… even if she lives in a tree house guarded by a golem”. All the influences are obvious enough to be appreciated, but unique enough to not be rip-offs.
Anyways, Madeleine is my wife. Dirtbag girls forever, see you in Dragon’s Dogma 2.
2022 CleanupFebruary 1st, 2023
I know I said I was going to post on every game I played, but that turned out to be too much work. Some games are worth talking about but don’t operate well as whole post. So lemme hit the four games I didn’t write about
Breath of the Wild
Hey I’m caught up. The problem with writing about this game is everything has been said and it’s very obviously good. I liked it a lot, like most people. Big shocker, BOTW is good. So I just wanna hit two points.
First, Princess Zelda is so bullyable. Like oh my god she’s so pouty. It’s amazing how you could just tease her and she’d cry, even though she’d also be into it…. and how she can withstand combat with Ganon for a century. Truly a duality of womanhood. A true queen.
Second, I was thinking about that whole, awful article about how “Zelda had to be more like Dark Souls” thing and how some people might go “See that was right!!” even though… it isn’t. It does similar things like trust the player, allow the game to be cheesed, and just giving an unusual amount of freedom and that feeling of being trusted by the Dev is something a lot of people felt with DS… But it’s not like DS and never needed to be.
As usual, people who say something should be more like Dark Souls don’t actually know what’s good and special about Dark Souls.
This game rules so hard. It honestly deserved a whole post. The mechanically fun action of chopping up ships to the brutal depictions of capitalism and the even handed treatment of unions. Like “Yeah, Unions have problems. You have to contend with some of them. But you also know how worse the alternative is. Nothing is perfect.”
Fun story, well told, neat bonuses and just good core mechanics. This game needed a ship editor or something so the community could keep it alive forever. I hope the devs come back at some point to give it an expansion. It’s definitely a concept that’d benefit from just a little bit more meat.
I guess that’s part of why I never wrote a bigger piece. It’s so solidly great, but in a way almost too simple to go into deeply. A simple, tasty treat.
Not done yet but I wanted to talk about how Satisfactory is fundamentally opposites. Factorio is a game where eventually, macro building gets EASY. Difficulty comes from the unreliability of your input (materials) and from Alien attack. Building is easy and systems must be scalable because input and output will change constantly due to all these factors. Ignore a base for too long and something will surely go wrong. You travel to expand, but also to maintain. Factorio is about growing an unstable system fast enough that it maintains stability.
Satisfactory is different. They added blue prints recently, but even then, this seems to hold true. Outputs are CONSISTENT. You have to build with growth in mind, but future growth is predictable. Nothing breaks the machines. And nothing should break, Satisfactory is a pretty game. It wants you to explore. It wants you to be able to leave for days and come back to a working base. Bases are extremely hand built and building is hard. Modifications are painful and tedious. Fixing a problem feels like taking apart an engine. It rules. Satisfactory is about expanding a stable system and good planning. It gives you time to lounge around, look around, for fuck around with tiny problems. Every factory and machine feels deeply personal. It more has the vibe of like… modded minecraft skyblock.. In fact, I should try Satisfactory Skyblock
It’s amazing how two games so superficially similar are actually so different.
I like it now. Goldlewis is my dad. I swing the coffin and peoples health disappear. Most previous complaints are still mostly valid but I play Goldlewis now so they’re other peoples problems. Playing a character with no legacy version to compare to was a pro move. 7.5/10.
Armored Core: First and Second GenerationDecember 28th, 2021
I’ve been planning to play though a good portion of the Armored Core library for awhile now and now that the seal is broke, I probably won’t stop until I’m done with AC3 (I want to play AC4 and For Answer but lacking a machine that can do PS3 emulation, I’ll need to track down physical copies so… who knows when that’ll happen). But instead of waiting to finish the 3rd Gen of games (which… might be as many games as I’ve played so far), I figured I’d write about AC1 and 2 as they make up the first “universe” of Armored Core.
So right now I’ll be talking about Armored Core, Master of Arena, Armored Core 2, and Another Age, skipping only Project Phantasm (which seemed good but MoA was the more ‘must play’ entry) and about half of AA.
Armored Core (PSX)
Why did I not get this game when I was like 14? Bleak yet fun, clunky in the right ways, and so many options I would have played with if I was 20 years youngers. A game almost every AC fan tells new players to skip and foolishly!
I’m going to try to and avoid turning my journals into reviews ago. You probably know how AC works, and if you don’t check elsewhere. I just want to talk about what stuck out to me…
First, the utter bleakness. The first two missions give you the choice between “Eliminate Squatters” and “Eliminate Strikers”. These aren’t “in universe terms”. These are people squatting in a building and striking workers. With mechs, but whatever. The game immediately has the corrupt corporations that run the Earth to partake in unethical and unnecessarily lethal behavior. While the game is never so on the nose after that, it sets the tone and sets you up read between the lines as Murokumo and Chrome bicker about the other while trying to make themselves look innocent. But you’re a mercenary, you don’t care.
I also liked how the subtle priority you give to missions dictates which corporation wins in the end. While the plot leaves no true winners in the end, it adds a lot to the flavor. As does other things like how bits of the plot is revealed in emails, or the ranking system of Ravens, seeing lists of pilots and ACs that you might encounter in future missions.
The Human Plus event is horridly bleak and a great balancing mechanic. If you go into crippling debt, you sell your boy to medical experiments, losing your name but getting superhuman piloting powers. The game even hints that this is how most “volunteers” end up in the program.
The game is kinda ugly, even by PSX standards, but holds up more clearly than King’s Field (which I also love). But it’s ugly in an APPEALING way I wouldn’t want to see changed.
The game ends with a brutal, tedious, awful, save state demanding mission where you realize the top ranked Raven is none other than a Computer AI that is controlling the world. The computer begs you to stop. “Go back…it is not too late… …What is your wish? …Come no closer.“
Once you destroy critically damage it, it accepts it’s fate
“You are to destroy order? Destroy the world? Is that what you want?
We were needed, that is why were born. People cannot live without Order, even if it is a lie.
Go on living, Raven. You or I… which one of us was ultimately right? You have the right and duty to find that out.”
Armored Core: Master of Arena (PSX)
Master of Arena is strange in the original AC continuity. It serves as an alternative retelling of the original Armored Core. The Raven mercenary rank listing has been replaced with an Arena system where you can challenge those above you to reach “Nine Ball/Hustler One” (the AI in the original AC) to get revenge for killing your family.
Despite being a retelling, you can import your save from AC1. This hits into a problem with both AC1 and 2. Once you have what works for you, there isn’t much to tinker with. There could be such a thing as mission specific loadouts, but the game is never clear enough with you what you might want to bring. It also doesn’t help that some bits of equipment seem to just outclass everything. I found myself almost always running Karasawa and Moonlight Blade (Yes, that Moonlight) on a medium mech with only slight tweaks in exact arm and leg models through most of Master of Arena.
Still it was a lot of fun. The missions felt way more diverse. The way the game would suspend your arena license for plot reasons to make you do normal missions worked very well. The game also has an entire second disk of arena matches I Didn’t touch but would have entertained me for hours as a kid. It had arenas operated by weight classes to try and encourage build variety and using every leg type.
The twist (your operator being an AI/Huster One) wasn’t really much of a twist since you assumedly played AC1, but the fight is much much more intense, compared to the almost sad, deflating ending of the original.
The AI’s message to you is a little different, but it drops another line that will be important later.
“Those who wield too much power…those who only bring chaos…they are simply not part of the program.”
Armored Core 2 (PS2)
I loaded up Armored Core 2 thinking ‘wow, finally, I Can use analog sticks’! When that didn’t work, I went googling to find that, to my disbelief, Armored Core didn’t get analog support until deep into AC3!
That said, upon playing the game, the difference in controls were immediately transparent. The camera and aiming reticle just worked nicer and movement felt great. It was still largely the same game. Oddly, it might have actually ended up feeling smaller than AC1. Less big sprawling maps of underground complexes and more almost cramped arenas.
Mechanical changes were a mixed bag. Overboosting could be fun but felt extremely impractical and I absolutely hated the exact implementation of the heat mechanic, which is like some weird Dark Souls esque poison system. But that all didn’t matter compared to how much nicer the game felt to move in.
Karasawa still dominated the game for me. Apparently this was it’s most powerful incarnation. As such my builds were pretty stagnant, but still fun. The missions, while often simpler, were much punchier. It made it easier to go through missions, knowing I wasn’t going to walk into some massive 20 minute mission like I would sometimes in AC1.
Most of the story didn’t stick with me too much. A much more diverse version of the cooperate rivalry in AC1. But the villain Leos Klein, stood out. Klein is implied to be the your character from AC1. The most striking part of this feeds into how his lines echo Nine Ball.
“We all make mistakes. Don’t you think, Raven? We humans need strict supervision. We cannot live on our own. A state dedicated solely to Ravens… I’m a realist, not some fool. All that I’ve wanted to do was to revive the ways of old…”
When the computer asked the Raven in AC1 “which of us was right?”, Klein’s ultimate answer was that it was Nine Ball. That his actions were a mistake. That he has to… crash… Phobos into Mars to… bring back the old ways with Martian technology? I’m not sure how this was supposed to work but the message was clear.
But upon defeating him, he tells you how to stop Phobos. Nine Ball and Leos, as Ravens, both respect strength as the ultimate authority. You were victorious… so as Nine Ball cedes gracefully to Leos, Leos cedes to you. There is a whole lot of little thematic details in the story about the destabilizing effect of personal strength… that people as strong as you are dangerous for the world… and they’re probably right.
Armored Core 2: Another Age
To keep this short, I didn’t finish Another Age. Another Age is exactly the type of product I would have wanted when AC2 came out. Just an ABSURD amount of content, over 100 missions. Easy structure to see progress with. Missions tend to be more repetitive, but it’s more missions to use with your cool mech! I played abouth a 5th of the way through and decided it was time for AC3.
So if you’re replaying Armored Core now, it might merit a skip, but every missions would have been a precious gift to 18 year old me.
All and all, so far I’m having a ton of fun. AC3 is going slowly but well, and I expect to write stuff up again once I finish it and Silent Line.
Game Journal: Battletech (2018)July 23rd, 2021
Before I get started, lemme say that I have a very deep and personal relation with Battletech. From Mechwarrior 2, to painting figures and playing the table-top, to running campaigns over Megamek. Battletech, and it’s awkward, chunky aesthetic and it’s weird neo feudalism will always deeply appeal to me.
I love Battletech and the 2018 Battletech PC game does a lot to remind me why I love it. It also kinda blows.
Maybe Stylish is Good Enough
Battletech is a cool and stylish game. The great art, presenting Ken Burns style documentary cutscenes, mixed with a great soundtrack and overall just great presentation goes a long way. How space travel feels, how jumpships pop in and out of existance with a gently popping, eerily silent fireworks… so many things feel extremely right.
It’s also fun to see a story presenting in the earlier years of the Inner Spear. The Star League is gone, but the Clan’s aren’t hear yet and the Inner Sphere is still sliding into technological ruin. It’s also charming for a story to happen basically in the middle of nowhere, out in the Periphery.
I’m not going to get into the story. It’s not essential, but at the same time it was good enough for me to finish the Campaign. I liked the characters. I liked the tension. I loved how diverse the representation was (which also totally fits the setting). It was sufficient and then some, but without crossing the threshold into being interesting in its own right, but it helped elevate the whole package. I felt like I was taking a part in the Battletech universe, and that in and of itself is worth a lot. But even during my campaign playthrough, even while getting wrapped up in the Arano Restoration, I kept thinking… this game is kinda BS?
Battletech was Never Actually About the Gameplay
Lets be real. Tabletop Advanced Battletech has never particularly great game. Most tabletop war games aren’t. These games exist as whole hobbies. Minis, painting, lore, scenario re-enactment, PnP RPG add-ons for long term campaigns and enough balance to keep it reasonable. The games are not designed for competitive depth, they’re designed to be representative of a fiction in a fun way. By the standards of a lot of Table Top games, Battletech is actually pretty elegant!
But this put the developers of the 2018 Battletech game in a rough spot. How do you take Battletech and make it conducive to a long campaign with lasting consequences, but in a way that fits a modern tastes?
The rules end up like an impression of the classic table top rules and that is probably a good thing. Players like me who hadn’t played in years would have a hard time remembering what was actually different, while allowing them to tailor things for a digital experience. That said, there was only so much they could do without changing the feel of Battletech and some of the decisions they made were questionable.
Battletech has always made it hard to avoid damage. These are big armored tanks that take a lot of damage. Big clusters of missiles are going to slam into you, ignoring LOS and you’re gonna like it, because you’re gonna do it to the other person more! But it gets awkward when you’re trying to play an X-Commy style game of risk management and gets triple fucky when you get to the terrible missions the game has. Every mission has you send in 4 mechs to slug it out with 8-12 enemy mechs. It becomes a game of outcheesing the rather dumb AI, cutting down their firepower as fast as possible. What damage mitigation you do have is powerful (Bulwark gives huge damage reductions) but requires you to basically live in the trees. Mission are designed as if you’re not supposed to kill everyone, but clump enemies so close together and make your escape zone so out of the way that killing everything is usually the safe option.
It honestly feels very immersion breaking for me to just watch waves of mechs crash against me. These valuable, expensive machines that have operated for centuries, just throwing themselves away. In a game that should possibly closer to WW2 fighter pilot kill counts, you have slaughter, and with that slaughter, less changes to play safe. The game asks you to endure, but with no fun ways to endure. And if things go wrong? You can quit the mission at any time, cutting any tension but accepting your loses. It feels hollow. The asymmetry that makes a game like X-Com work is lost here. The only asymmetry is that the AI is dumb, but more numerous, but his equipment, in all its terror, is the same.
Some rule changes make this work. Maps, movement distances and ranges are shorter than in Table Top. This makes things more visibly manageable, but makes making use of terrain harder. Instead of trying to break LoS or use a hill to expose less of you, you’re standing on ‘cover squares’. Instead of scouting and attacking from a distance with long range units, you move in and brawl with your heaviest units. Missions never give you tonnage restrictions or BV value restrictions. You have no reason to take anything lighter than a heavy. Need a fast mobile scout? Use a Grasshopper. Especially in a game where getting hit and critted isn’t a question of if but when.
Repetitive missions with grindy objectives and little room for tactical maneuvering leads to a very dry, monotonous game that is either cruelly hard, or severely easy depending on how cheesy you’re being. I don’t think there is a single thing Battletech does better than any other game in this genre.
… Except for being Battletech.
It’s Kinda Unfair How Cool Battletech is
I should hate this game. I don’t even like Turn Based Strategy games that much. But it’s Battletech and it’s a strong Battletech story, oozing Battletech vibes and I can stomp around in a Marauder, blowing heads off with AC/5s to maximize salvage. Cheesing enemies is fun enough to survive the campaign and it wasn’t until Career where I was finally like “you know what, fuck this game?”
But you know what, that took like 80 hours so you know what? This game is pretty cool I guess, even if I wish the gameplay had just a little bit more going for it.
Battletech as a franchise is just that cool I guess.
Game Journal: Spec Ops: The LineMay 25th, 2021
I’m going to start labeling these writeups differently. I feel conflicted, usually, like I should be writing more, that I should almost be writing a review or something. So now games I play and write about be will be labeled as part of my Game Journal. While I’ll try and still give a reasonable amount of context, I am going to write (especially for more well-known game) assuming the reader has at least some familiarity with the game.
Aged But Not Outdated
I’d imagine Spec Ops: The Line can be a challenging game for some people to go back to. Almost approaching a decade old, games have matured a lot in both gameplay and narrative. A big budget game trying to have a message is nothing surprising now (even if the execution is often questionable), and from 2021 eyes, something like Spec Ops: The Line could possibly feel too on the nose, too overwrought and even too obvious. But if you can look back with your brain in 2012 mode, Spec Ops feels well ahead of its time, speaking to the audience an Indie Game type punk attitude, audacious instead of overwrought in its earnestness.
The game is also gorgeous. While little minor details can tell you when the game was made (I found myself fixated on one of my partner’s boots, with ‘shoe laces as a texture’) the game has aged remarkably well. Technology may grow old, but artistry survives. Beautiful setpiece shots and vivid colors. Before Mad Max: Fury Road, Spec Ops was the game showing the desert not as shades of brown, but as saturated and vibrant. Even the sand storms and violence cannot surpress the beauty of dubai and the game makes it clear you are in a place that once was and, in a way, still is beautiful.
The game’s almost otherworldly beauty is appropriate when matched up with the hallucinatory and trauma laden nature of the game. Despite constantly descending, you are constantly on top of huge buildings, confronted by scale and depth. It could almost be easy to miss, but the map layout is so unrealistically vertical that it comes off as some kind of mapmaking dutch angle. It’s not accidentally wrong, it’s purposefully uncomfortable. The characters are expressive, and how their bodies and demeanor change throughout the game doesn’t just serve to be immersive, but symbolically representative of the changes they’re feeling.
Third Person and Player Agency
A lot of Spec Ops discourse about the story has been done to death. If you want to know how Spec Ops communicates its distaste for heroic violence, there are many great deep dives you can read. But the thing I kept thinking about was the years of discourse about the game versus how I felt as I experienced the events in the game.
A common complaint is that the game blames you for things it forced upon you. That Spec Ops hates the player. That You Had No Choice. While this is thematically appropriate, my playing of the game didn’t feel so much like the game was forcing me and then rubbing my face into it, but instead like it was subjecting me to dramatic irony. Now don’t get me wrong, I think the game is perfectly excited for the idea that you might buy in in the same way Walker does throughout the game, but it is by no means required. From the first fire fight in the game, the voices in my head echoed ‘this feels wrong’. This wasn’t just an uncomfortable willingness for violence that one would expect from a 3rd Person military shooter. From the very beginning they identify that you are to make contact and then report back. But instead you dig deeper, and respond more violently, killing before asking questions that are clearly obvious to the player.
Do you buy in to Walker’s madness as your avatar or are you watching him, playing him like one would perform a morality play? The 3rd Person nature of the game makes things clear. You are not Walker. You might, for awhile, foolishly share his cause, but you are not him. You are watching his tragedy. How that tragedy reflects on the player is up to them.
As the game progresses and Walker becomes more visibly scarred, as his eyes become emptier, the game forcefully separates him from yourself. His actions grow more violent. Your execution animations, which I avoided for most of the game due to feeling unnecessary, increase in sadism as things progress.. Another fun detail is that ammo is scarce in the game and enemies only drop based on what weapon they have equipped…
… Unless you execute them. This was Doom 2016 years before hand. Execute an enemy and you get ammo for all your equipped weapons. The game doesn’t want to punish you, it wants you to play the part in this tragedy.
The White Phosphorus segment is chilling, harrowing and oddly beautiful. Many complain about the lack of choice, that they are forced to practically commit a war crime. The segment is gamified, throwing back to arcadey, indulgent Call of Duty segments, separating you from the violence. But are you separated? I feel this is a sign of how the game isn’t directly trying to judge the player.
The games tells you everything. It shows you what this stuff does. You know it’s horrible. Your subordinates debate the necessity. Walker makes it an order. You are (hopefully) not dropping blasts from the sky in a gleeful, guilt free haze of fun. You are waiting and cringing, fearful of what you’re going to see when you return to reality. The results are worse and then worse again.
The violence you unleashed is shown with an almost painterly artistry. This artistry is called back upon when the player gazes upon Konrad’s (or, as the Picasso quote goes, your) painting.
What’s interesting is the game gives you decisions. None of them matter, materially. The game doesn’t punish you or reward you. The decisions are either up to you, or up to your interpretation of Walker. Even come the ending, who does Walker blame? Can Walker return to a normal life, or is he consumed by violence, again, playing your part of the morality play. The endings are not a question of what you want to do, but how you contextualize the events you just saw.
I had this game sitting in my Steam library for years. It was gifted to me an eternity ago and I’m glad I finally got around to it. While the game is lacking as far as 3rd person shooters go, it’s gorgeous and the story, while heavy handed at times (with a few plot details that struggle under scrutiny), is chilling and memorable. There are many rich stories in games now, so while I won’t recommend it to everyone, it definitely has a lot to give to people who like to explore older titles.