A Bloodhound Named Tulip Made theHunter: Call of the Wild Bloody Brilliant for Me

I tried theHunter: Call of the Wild when it was on Xbox Game Pass a few years ago. I enjoyed the game moderately at that time, but there was a steep learning curve, and the game was obtuse enough to cause me to fall off. When theHunter: Call of the Wild came up on the Epic Game Store as a free game this week, I figured I’d give it another try. Not only was the base game free, but the DLC was deeply discounted.

I have a special admiration for games that companies run as a service over many years. Elite Dangerous, No Man’s Sky, and American Truck Simulator come to mind. Those are games I’ve played. I’m sure Elder Scrolls Online and other MMOs fall into that category. When done right, the level of depth and detail that emerges is impressive. Engine overhauls keep the games current over the years, and these small game studios polish and refine their product in a way that even bigger game companies often don’t have the resources to pull off. theHunter is one of those games. The original free-to-play version came out in 2009, with the updated paid version in 2017. There was a lot of griping about having to pay for DLC in 2017, but my oh my, has this game blossomed into something special come 2021.

theHunter is absolutely massive with all the DLCs

As of this review, there are 11 huge hunting areas in theHunter. Each of the areas has its own animals to hunt and a surprisingly not terrible quest system to get you moving around the expansive maps. The graphics of this game are the best outdoor graphics I’ve ever seen. Period. Everything down to blades of grass and branches look great from afar and up close. When animals move through the terrain or bed down, they dynamically lay the grass down. Animals look awesome. The shooting feels good. It’s all aces, but that’s not why I’m here. We need to talk about my bloodhound, Tulip.

theHunter is a difficult game. Even if you shoot a deer in the head, chances are good you’re not going to drop it instantly. If you’ve been moving through the brush, you need to take your heartrate into account when you shoot. You need to track the particles in the air to see which way the wind is blowing and mask your scent. The slightest noise can set animals off. It’s not uncommon to track animals for 20+ minutes, to possibly spook them and not get anything, or hit the animal in a non-lethal spot. That’s why the Bloodhound DLC is such a welcome edition.

You can issue commands to the bloodhound like heel, sit, lay down, or my favorite, track. When I do this, my bloodhound Tulip zeroes in on the trail in no time, and what could have been a frustrating stumble through the forest, where I may or may not have come up with anything, almost always ends up with me bagging my deer or other quarry.

I’m impressed by how natural the bloodhound feels in the overall gameplay. I was expecting a bolted on and novel component, but Tulip feels like she’s been in the game the entire time. The animals we’re hunting respond to her as well. If she gets too far ahead, she can spook what we’re after, so I need to call her back. If I’m trying to lure an animal up to a stand or blind, I can tell Tulip to lay down, and she will be quiet. The Bloodhound DLC moves the needle of theHunter: Call of the Wild from a relatively difficult and punishing simulation to an exceptionally fun game.

Thanks Tulip!

I still get the thrill of the hunt. I need to scout prints and trails and set up my stands, but when I finally take that shot, ole Tulip brings me along on an adventure. We frequently encounter other animals as we traverse the landscape. I’ll hear turkeys off in the distance and try to call them in. Or I’ll see a huge elk through the trees. It’s all good, because with Tulip’s golden nose, I can track down whatever I shoot. For players looking for a hardcore challenge from top-to-bottom, the Bloodhound DLC might be too much. For me, as someone that enjoys the casual hunting in games like Far Cry and Red Dead, it’s perfect.

If hunting an animal for 30 minutes with no guarantee that you’ll get it sounds appealing, I would say give theHunter: Call of the Wild a try. It’s on Game Pass and deeply discounted on other platforms right now. The DLCs, especially the reserves are totally worth it. And get yourself a bloodhound!

Exo One Review

Occasionally, I will encounter an exemplary piece of art that reminds me just how extraordinary human beings and their capacity for creative expression are. These pieces of art can be music, film, sculpture, and yes, our beloved video games. Exo One is a work of art that I would recommend not only to gamers, but to those willing to take in a new and exciting creative experience. Its otherworldly visuals, mysterious backstory, and truly innovative movement mechanics come together to create a tight, unforgettable journey. The fact that this game was made primarily by a single developer, Jay Weston, is freaking mind-boggling.

Humble beginnings

You begin the game in a strange alien world, controlling some sort of glowing orb craft. It isn’t long before you discover that you can glide, and that when you pull the right trigger on your controller, you are drawn toward the gravitational center of the planet. The craft you are piloting has a gravity drive, and the remainder of Exo One is the story of you unraveling the mystery of why aliens have chosen to provide you with this technology.

The discovery of movement mechanics in Exo One is amazing. I found myself consistently testing the limits; trying to get more momentum down a mountainside, hitting supersonic speed before slicing through the surface of an ocean, barely missing the bottom, and blasting out of the water to new heights. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this level of freedom and exhilaration in a game before. Playing Exo One feels like you’re controlling your own dream about flying, with an Xbox controller. It’s incredible.

The elements can be brutal!

The graphics and sound in Exo One are stunning. The music, created by Rhys Lindsay, is mesmerizing. For the love of God, they take the time to attribute sounds used from freesound.org when you finish the game. That’s how “indie” Exo One is, and it’s a major component of the winning formula. It makes sense that a game designed and executed by one person has a singular vision that games made by larger teams simply cannot possess. For those games, there are too many cooks in the kitchen, and the result we get as consumers tends to be polished and sanded down to a point where it’s novel, yet familiar enough to sell, while still being accessible to a wide audience.

Of course, there are plenty of indie games out there with one person working on them, but those games generally suffer from a good amount of jank. The promising ideas that exist get overshadowed by poor optimization, unintuitive controls, and broken cameras. Exo One doesn’t suffer from that. It’s laser-focused on providing the player with a sense of freedom and discovery, and it nails it in a way that I’ve never quite experienced before.

Maybe even more impressive than the feeling of nearly limitless potential and freedom in Exo One, is how Jay Weston has somehow layered in a narrative thread and constraints that feel natural and emergent to the overall experience. On one of the worlds, the magnetic field is so strong that your systems malfunction. You lose power and can’t glide. You can’t even steer. You must use the terrain and pull with the tides of gravity to gain momentum, until you launch yourself high enough to be struck by lightning, thus gaining time-limited use of your abilities. That felt good. And my confidence kept growing to a point where I had this sense of play as I traversed the world. I wondered if this is how animals feel when they leave the safety of their nest or den and strike it out on their own? It’s incredible to say, but that’s how this video game, Exo One, made me feel.

Charged Up

It needs to be played to understand it. Exo One is worth experiencing, even if it isn’t your type of game. It took me 3 hours to get through it. After I finished, I started drafting this review, made dinner, and waited for my partner to get home from work. After we ate, I picked up the Xbox controller on the couch and asked her, “Do you want to play something really cool?” It’s been about an hour, and I just heard an excited “Whoa!” from the living room. Mission accomplished. I doubt she’ll be the last person I show this game.

Exo One is available on Steam, Epic Game Store, and Game Pass.

Forza Horizon 5 Wheel Settings

The Forza Horizon 5 wheel settings are horrific out of the box. This is a bummer for such an outstanding game otherwise. Don’t worry though, I’ve got you covered. These settings should smooth things out considerably and cut down on that insane wheel oscillation.

Go into your advanced controls with your wheel to change these settings:

Settings for actual humans

Forza Horizon 5 Review: Not Bulletproof

Ouch!

You’ve probably seen the many reviews for Forza Horizon 5 floating around recently. Big surprise, it’s getting 9s and 10s all around and being hailed as the best open world racing game. It’s already the largest Xbox Game Studios release. Forza Horizon 5 is a slam dunk. I agree with this assessment for the most part, but I have a few caveats I’d like to bring to your attention about this release.

Despite all the high ratings pre-launch, Forza Horizon 5 had a rating of “2” on the Xbox store yesterday. This isn’t surprising, because a huge number of players, me included, could not get the game to run in any sort of stable condition on PC. Ultimately, running the game in admin mode worked for me, but seriously? This is a major release for both consoles and PC, and these stability issues were clearly not isolated to edge cases. I’m running a 3070 and could benchmark the game at a solid frame rate. Annoyingly, the game would crash before I could get through the super-long opening racing sequence, forcing me to start it over again.

I have a Series X, so I decided to fire it up, and my gold-plated PC eyeballs were immediately barraged by a default 30 frames per second slideshow. For some reason, Playground decided to default the game on quality mode on Xbox, which apparently provides more visual fidelity than performance mode, which runs at 60 fps. I honestly did not see that much of a graphics fidelity difference between performance and quality. The frames per second difference was night and day.

Forza Horizon 5 is a visual treat on PC

I eventually got the game up and running on PC. Ray tracing looks sharp on the 3070. I was able to run the game smoothly at 1440. The game looks great, although I will say textures will load in occasionally with a normal map attached or something. It’s weird, but overall, the game looks awesome. Racing through the jungles or streets of small towns in Mexico is a treat.

The driving in Forza Horizon 5 is identical to Forza Horizon 4. All the modes are there, along with an added item collection mode, which is fun enough. There’s seriously nothing new here. Although, there are some slight adjustments that add a bit of polish.

First off, the drivatars you face off against automatically will change to your car class and type in the open world. I appreciate this. If you’re driving an old Mustang, all the cars around you will be classic muscle cars. Having a bit more continuity reigns in the madness a bit, and I appreciate that.  

Secondly, the sound. Holy crap has Playground done something with the sound of the cars here. The radio can piss off. I turned the radio volume down completely in the options, but it was so I could hear the roar of the cars. Do yourself a favor and go into the cockpit of the cars to listen to the amazing sound work that is in this game. It’s truly impressive.

The sound of the cars is one of the more impressive aspects of FH5

What isn’t impressive is the wheel support. It was bad in Forza Horizon 4 and it’s just as bad in 5. You can use a wheel, but the default settings make driving off road nearly impossible. I don’t know how the hell they came up with the wheel settings for this game. There is no way a human being sat down and played this game before launch and said it felt good with a steering wheel. It’s that bad. Check out the RER YouTube channel for a video on starting wheel settings. This should at least help you keep it on the road. I recently ran an off-road race with the wheel and got last place. I ran the same race with the controller and got first place. It’s that much of a difference when I need precision during the races.

See ya!

Forza Horizon 5 is a mostly good mixed bag. It’s a fantastic game, especially if you like the Forza Horizon series. This game is not bulletproof by any means. They’ve refined what they did in 4. That’s good because 4 was a great game. There are some annoying launch issues affecting the PC launch though. Some big ones that would sink most releases. That’s slightly troubling, but for now, I’m enjoying this high-octane romp through Mexico.

Dune Shield Rules Explained

Dune Shield Rules

Full disclosure here, I will be discussing various scenes from the new Dune movie. If you don’t want any spoilers, run away! Okay…I’ve never read any of the Dune books, and I haven’t watched the original Dune movie, so beyond a cool looking trailer for the new movie, I really wasn’t that excited about it. After Mistic’s 4.75 bong review for the new Dune movie on theredeyereport.com, I decided to give it a watch.  

I loved it! I thought it was one of the better science fiction movies I’ve seen. One element that stood out to me as super-cool was the use of personal shields and how they were represented on the screen.

We get an introduction to shields when Paul Atreides spars with Gurney Halleck early on. Paul activates his shield and tests it by tapping the edge of his blade against his hand. The shield glows blue and does not let the blade pass. Paul then turns his blade and slowly presses the side of it against his hand. The blade passes through and his shield glows red.

There’s some high-velocity action going on here!

This is called the Holtzman effect in the Dune universe. Shields repel fast moving objects like most projectiles, but slower moving objects like Paul’s slow-moving blade can pass through. You can’t just hack away at somebody wearing a personal shield. Throughout the sparring match between Paul and Gurney, we see flashes of blue. These are blade strikes, but the shield is blocking them, rendering them non-lethal hits. The force of the blows is being transmitted, so you can knock over an enemy combatant, but the actual blade will not cut through.

This requires special tactics. Gurney eventually gets a blade through Paul’s defenses, stopping it just short of his throat. A combatant needs to slow their attack enough to pass through the shield and then strike. At the end of the sparring match Paul has two blades to Gurney’s throat, but Gurney has managed to pass through Paul’s shield on his side, so it’s a draw.

Ooopsies!

Understanding the mechanics of the shields in Dune adds an entirely new layer to the combat scenes. It’s helpful to be aware of a few more Holtzman shield specs. You can calibrate the velocity at which the shields will stop projectiles and other matter. For a personal defense shield, you need to have a relatively high penetration velocity to allow gasses, including breathable air to pass through. For a vehicle defense shield you can set that penetration velocity much lower because you have life support capabilities on the craft to produce oxygen internally. The shield’s ability to stop a projectile is dependent on the total velocity, that of the projectile and of the person or vehicle wearing the shield. One more thing, sandworms are attracted to the harmonic vibrations of Holtzman shields. Apparently, they get super pissed off about them.

Let’s check out a few examples of these rules in play. During the hunter/seeker scene, the drone stops right in front of Paul’s eye. The operator doesn’t know that he’s not wearing a shield. So instead of launching across the room and stabbing Paul in the jugular, it needs to get up close and personal.

Paul has some big balls.

So how the hell did they get Duke Leto? Dr. Yueh shot him with something called a slow pellet stunner. This operates as you would imagine, it goes slow enough to get through a shield. Take note that Leto begins moving, adding to the total velocity, and the projectile passes through.

When the base is bombed, we can clearly see the projectiles slow to a crawl before detonating and destroying the ships. There might be some other weapons at play here, like I said I’m a newbie, so if you spot any, I’d like to hear about them.

The Duncan Idaho battles are even cooler when you begin paying closer attention to the shields. You must consider that each strike that he lands is either a fast feint that is blocked by the shield, but is still transferring force, or a lethal strike where he slows down at the last second to allow his blade to pass through the shield. When an enemy fires a slow projectile at Idaho, notice how he stops moving before deflecting the projectile away and moving on.

Duncan Idaho when he finds out you are on a low carb diet.

There are many more examples I can show you here regarding the shields in Dune. If you are a Dune newbie, look at some of the fight scenes now that you have a better grasp of the rules of the world. I think you’ll see the fights in a different light, I know I did.

Great Library of Alexandria Discovery Tour

A discovery tour of the Great Library of Alexandria from Assassin’s Creed Origins. Check out our Great Library of Alexandria episode for more details regarding this incredibly influential place in human history. You’ll find the transcript from the Discover Tour Below.

Great Library of Alexandria Discovery Tour

Welcome to The Great Library of Alexandria. Near the district of royal palaces and within the most Mouseion was the most famous library of all antiquity. The Library of Alexandria was built to house all of human knowledge. at its pinnacle, the library was believed to contain over 700,000 parchments.

Great Library of Alexandria

While much of the collection was purchased at the government’s expense, the library also obtained books through other means. Any books owned by travelers coming through the city were seized to be copied for the library. The copy would then be returned to the owner and the original entered into the library’s collection.

Alexandria offered unrivaled intellectual and cultural attractions, eminent scholars from Athens roads and other Greek centers traveled to the city to learn and engage with other free thinkers. Both the most sane and the library were at the center of groundbreaking ideas and creative expression. The great minds of antiquity were usually well versed in many disciplines, which were often associated to specific schools of thought. The Peripatetics, the Stoics and the Cynics were among the most well known schools of the time. It is clear that Alexandria lived up to its fundamental role as a city for intellectuals, nurturing many great minds, whose impact reverberates through our modern world.

Smart People Doing Smart Things

Hypatia of Alexandria was a Greek mathematician, philosopher, astronomer and inventor. Though born in Greece, she eventually migrated to Alexandria. Like many great minds at the time, it is there that she became the head of the Neoplatonis School of Alexandria. From most accounts, she was highly respected by her fellow Alexandrians, both as a teacher and a philosopher. With her death, the age of great ancient scientific discoveries came to an end.

Hypatia of Alexandria

Kallimachos was born in Cyrene and educated in Athens. After his studies, he moved to Alexandria to work in the great library, a poet and a critic. He strongly rejected the epic format of Homeric poems, and instead fervently supported a shorter, more judiciously formulated style of poetry. His epigrams and elegiac poems were emulated by later poets. His work was extremely popular second only to homers own works.

Kallimachos

It was in Alexandria that mathematician Euclid, the father of geometry, wrote the elements, laying out the foundational work of what would become modern algebra and number theory. Euclidean geometry would become one of the most influential systems in the evolution of mathematics.

Euclid

How do you calculate the circumference of the Earth? With a camel, two sticks and shadows cast by the sun. This is what Eratosthenes of Cyrene described in his principal work, Geography, while he was director of the Great Library of Alexandria. He is credited for the invention of the armillary sphere around 250 BCE.

Eratosthenes

The earliest known and most complete armillary sphere of antiquity was the Meteoroskopion of Alexandria, with an imposing nine rings compared to the three or four of most other astrolabes. Known as the Zodiac Krikotoi amongst the Greeks, the Meteoroskopion was used to determine the location of celestial bodies around the Earth. Every self-respecting astronomer of antiquity would have sought to use this tool to better understand the celestial movements.

Meteoroskopion

Pythagoras of Samos was a well-known and respected philosopher and mathematician. He is best known for the Pythagorean Theorem. However, there is proof that the theorem existed in Babylonia and India, long before Pythagoras was born, casting some doubts as to who exactly originated the theorem.

I Finally Gave Prey the Time It Deserves

Some of the most enduring gaming memories I have come from the immersive sim genre. I got to experience such greats as System Shock 2 and Deus Ex on PC when they came out. The Bioshock games make my list for sure. I remember having a lot of fun playing with automated turrets and drones in Bioshock 2. I played a good chunk of Dishonored, but I eventually fell off it. I’m not entirely sure why. I’ve started Dishonored 2 a few times, and I always put it down shortly thereafter. I began to wonder if I just wasn’t into immersive sims anymore.

I recently joined the subreddit r/GamePassGameClub. Per their description, “It’s a book club, but for Xbox’s Game Pass!” It’s a fantastic idea, and the Game Pass game for October of 2021 was Prey. I told myself, well shucks, maybe this is my time to finally give Prey a chance.

r/GamePassGameClub

The game was awesome…like one of the better games I’ve played in years awesome. I rubbed up against the same reasons why I quit Prey before, but with a little prod and determination, man did it pay off. Let me share some of the reasons why I think Prey is so stellar, and you can decide to give it a try if you haven’t or raise your glass if you have.

The setup and environment you are traversing throughout the game, the huge space station, Talos-I, is beautiful, strange, terrifying, and maybe most importantly, lived-in. Arkane has built a world largely devoid of human characters, yet their traces are everywhere throughout the station. Their stories become part of your story. They are tied into your quests in a meaningful way, and they are expertly written and presented.

Your encounters with the alien menace in the game, the Typhon, begin with games of whack-a-mole and jump scares against terrifying spiderlike creatures called mimics that can transform into inanimate objects. You’re on edge early on, because you’re serious underpowered, and these suckers could be anywhere. As you progress, the Typhons send shadowy foot soldier types that might have fire or electricity attacks. Eventually, you find yourself facing off against some truly bizarre and powerful aliens.

Things get weird

After finishing Prey and reflecting on the times I put the game down, I realize not surprisingly that it was after three or four hours of being underpowered, swinging my wrench around at mimics, and quite frankly, having shot my nerves to hell with all the jump scares. Combat is undeniably slow in the beginning of Prey. You don’t have a lot of ammo, and your guns are not super powerful against the stronger alien enemies. Just like in many other games, you’ll get stronger and gain abilities with the more resources you collect. And this is where Prey really ascended to a keystone gaming experience for me.

The economy of resources in Prey is so freaking good. All the objects you find in the world, flowers, pieces of paper, baseball mitts, pieces of typhon, can be recycled and produced into other useful objects by using a fabricator. It’s satisfying to hear the clank of your recycled cubes coming out of the recycler and then building those things into medkits or shotgun shells. You’re on this huge space station, and it’s filled with resources needed for crafting, ammo, health, and abilities, but it never had too many resources. There were a few times in the game where I was down to my last bullets, but because of the open playstyle encouraged by Arkane, I could improvise. I learned to rely on auto turrets. It felt great to strategically place a few turrets, reinforce them, and have them obliterate an enemy that might have caused me serious problems.

You will not find fast-paced action in Prey for the most part. You will find many good combat situations that require you to approach them tactically, otherwise you will burn through your health and resources. The combat scale begins to tip away from being so underpowered once you augment the protagonist, Morgan Yu, with more neuromods. The upgrades are standard in the beginning, things like more health, ability to pick up heavier objects, or hack into the terminals. You can eventually scan Typhon enemies, learn their capabilities, and incorporate Typhon powers into your lineup. This evens things out considerably, and although you have a finite amount of hypnopoints to launch these attacks, it gives you many more options than just whacking a 10-foot-tall murder alien with a pipe wrench. You can possess these enemies or transform into inanimate objects yourself.

Keeping with the overall item economy of the game, you have many potential options for skill and power upgrades, but this isn’t Assassin’s Creed, you can’t get them all. You need to choose your skill paths wisely and commit to them, developing strategies that work for you along the way. I loved that everything I did in Prey felt consequential. I wanted to access every room, every locker, every emergency hatch, because it truly effected my survivability in the game, and it felt like this paid off in the end.

Prey allows you to traverse through space outside the station. This begins with a few quick fetch quest type missions, but soon you are moving around either outside the station or through zero gravity transport chambers within Talos-I. The movement feels great. I played the game on normal difficulty. During my playthrough, I didn’t need to worry about running out of air when I was doing space walks. This allowed me to explore what I wanted to, and Arkane did a nice job of peppering time-sensitive missions in to give you a sense of urgency out in the deep black.

Going for a little space walk

I’m not going to reveal any major story details here. They are worth witnessing firsthand. I will say you are often given a few options as to how you will handle major story situations, both of which possess their own unique merits and drawbacks. I legitimately sweated a few of the choices and thought through the pros and cons.

It took me a little under 30 hours to get through Prey. I was consistently rewarded for my exploration, but never in an overly generous way. It always felt fair. In the last hours of the game, I felt good about the weapon upgrades and Typhon abilities I had acquired. I could hold my own. Not obliterate everything on the map, just hold my own. If you haven’t tried Prey or have fallen off it like I had, I recommend taking more time to collect resources and finding ways to get into caches like safes and storage rooms. You will soon reap the benefits of your efforts, and it all comes together into a masterful immersive sim. Prey has renewed my love for the genre.

Into the Pit Review

Into the Pit Review

Into the Pit by Nullpointer Games looked awesome when I first saw a trailer. You’re running around with magic shards shooting out of your hands like they’re gatling guns. The action is wicked fast, and the colors are vibrant. The enemies are metal as hell. The aesthetic and movement quickly reminded me of games like Devil Daggers and Doom with a little Until You Fall mixed in. These are all very good ingredients to have in a mayhem and murder cake. It recently dropped on Game Pass, so I decided to fire it up on PC.

Here’s the premise. You show up to a small village with a demonic pit in the basement. Most of the villagers have been locked away in that pit by some asshole called the Alderman. Your job is to liberate these poor villagers from the levels of the pit, and by doing so, you will feel good about yourself and gain access to runes and upgrades.

Into the Pit is a roguelike FPS. You use the pit to access different areas by activating keys that can be purchased by the village key maker. Before each run, you can activate any combination of 6 runes, which provide things like extra health or a stronger chance to acquire certain types of upgrades once in the pit. Every time you enter the pit, the upgrades on spells are reset, but your rune upgrades persist. If you choose to leave the pit before reaching the heart, where the boss resides, or if you beat that boss, you keep your collectibles.

Once you drop into the first of five levels of the pit, you are presented with an alter containing 3 orbs. You must select each orb and choose a left- and right-hand magic power and a defensive power. Projectiles all emanate from your hands, and they each have distinct range and pattern characteristics. You have things like a shotgun shape and more of an assault rifle. There are sniperish and cannonish spell choices. The defensive power can range from extra health, to poisoning melee enemies when they attack you. All upgrade drops are based on a dice roll. You can influence that roll by equipping a rune, so if you wanted more curses, you could equip a curse rune, and you would have a higher chance of getting those.

Runes

Each level of the pit has 4 alters that need to be activated before you descend into a lower level, and each alter has 2 combat arenas attached to it that you need to choose from. On the gate of each arena, you see what type of collectible is found inside. To clear the arena, you need to destroy a designated number of keystones. There are also non-combat arenas with things like healing chambers or upgrade alters. This chance and choice make for some fun and impactful decisions as you play Into the Pit.

Let’s talk about spells. There’s no reloading your shooty-hands, but there is a short cooldown period and rate of fire for each hand. You need to take the range of each spell and the blast pattern into consideration as well. Will you go for long range and precise? Or will you go for up close and more powerful? Which hand will you assign which power? Left-mouse is left-hand and right-mouse is right hand. You can’t just hold the magic shooty-trigger down because of the cooldown. Keep in mind these choices are based on a dice roll. That means that you can’t get completely comfortable with a set. I tended to stick with a mid and short attack, regardless on which hand they landed on.

As I mentioned, each of the 4 alters has 2 arenas attached to it. Once you clear one of the arenas, the alter is activated, and it clears the other arena. This means you need to choose your arena based on which collectible you need topside. Or perhaps you need to fill up your blood meter to activate your cheat death ability which does exactly as its name implies.

You can rescue 3 villagers in each pit. You encounter 2 through random rolls, and they will be behind gates in the levels of the pit. You release the final villager after defeating the pit guardian at the lowest, or 5th level. All these systems are interesting, and at no point did I feel overwhelmed by them. After I did the first few runs into the pit, I had a pretty good grasp on how things were working.

Into the Pit’s combat is great. It is ultra-fast and manic. Enemies are flying in through the air, you’re weaving through waves of projectiles, all while juking around ground-based melee attack enemies and shooting everyone in the face. You feel powerful. Each time you clear an arena, you are presented with 3 upgrade options. You can upgrade your left or right hand or your defensive ability. Upgrades affect strength or add curses to your weapons and can be stacked. You could start out with a level 1 curse on your right hand and eventually upgrade it to a level 3 for your run. Selecting lethal combinations and upgrading spells just right feels super-rewarding as you cause your enemies to melt in front of you.

Combat

The village and little notes and dialogue exchanges you have with villagers are very cool and atmospheric. In terms of tone, this game is pitch perfect. Speaking of tone, the enemy sound design in Into the Pit is outstanding and critical to being successful. When you are circle-strafing a chamber of baddies, it is essential to identify which enemies are in proximity behind you. Fortunately, all enemies types have a distinctive sound, like the clacking of little monster feet on cobblestones, or the scream of a disembodied head. The game intelligently fires off these sound cues just in time for you to react, and all this happens extremely quickly, so you need to respond accordingly.

The graphics, especially the color pallet is wonderful. Dark chambers are lit up with bright flashes from your magic and from the exploding chest cavities of your enemies, drenching the ground in bright red blood. The game starts with a pixel filter enabled. I could immediately tell that there was substance hiding behind those pixels. I appreciate Nullpointer’s decision to let you disable the filter if you want, which I did.

What I have mentioned so far makes for a good game. Here’s what is preventing Into the Pit from landing firmly in the great game category. The game plateaus relatively early on and doesn’t make any meaningful change for a good stretch. Each new area has different enemy types, which makes for good variety, but you must kill a lot of them to clear the arenas. Each arena can take as little 2 minutes to clear. This is fine, but you need to free 30 villagers before descending into the final pit. That’s 10 pit descents, each with 4 levels of combat arenas with 4 alters that need to be unlocked on each level. If you never abort a run and return to the village, that’s 160 regular combat arenas with a boss at the 5th level of each pit. It’s a lot without having any big jumps in progress to show for it.

You can purchase most of the runes that you will use on your runs early on, and the resources needed to upgrade those runes, perception motes, are hard to come by. It wasn’t until I had freed 18 villagers, and I gained the ability to purchase perception motes, that my progress felt tied to the decisions I was making on resources and upgrades.

I found the arenas to be functional mechanically, they never hindered my combat, and appealing visually, but they seldom stood out. I was constantly focused on avoiding enemy attacks and seldom felt like anything in the environment elevated the combat beyond what I had done throughout the game. Enemy attacks become predictable after a while. Although becoming more proficient at the game and making smart decisions about spells and runes was somewhat satisfying, the boss battles were not challenging. If you circle-strafe, and you are aware of incoming enemies from the periphery, which happens at the mid-point of every boss battle, you will be fine. I never aborted my run prior to the final boss battle. The only times I died was when I tried to secure other alters prior to hitting a regeneration chamber. It’s an interesting calculation that you’ll have to make, and it adds a good strategic layer, but I was successful much more often than I wasn’t. 

Level Design

One final note, and this one might be based on my personal taste, but there wasn’t enough variation in music. The music was plenty good early on, but it got repetitive. I eventually turned the music off and listened to music and podcasts in the background. It turns out that black metal grunts and growls sound a lot like the enemies.

If you like what you see from the footage of Into the Pit, you should absolutely try it out. You can finish the game in about 10 – 15 hours. It’s an awesome experience. My hope is that Nullpointer keeps refining this formula. They have something good going here, and it’s not hard to imagine a future iteration becoming a standout, must-play experience.

Wrath of the Druids Review

I enjoyed core Assassin’s Creed Valhalla immensely, but by the end of the game I had lopped off one too many heads, dive kicked one too many bears, and Ubisoft had thrown too much incomprehensible Animus bullshit at me that I needed to take a hiatus from Valhalla. Several months later, feeling refreshed and lusting for the blood of my enemies, I decided to give the expansion Wrath of the Druids a go.

I’ll steer clear of major spoilers here. The setup for Wrath of the Druids is relatively simple. The King of Dublin, who happens to be your cousin Baird, has requested your presence in Ireland. There are faces that need to be kicked in and treasure to be plundered in Ireland, so of course, Eivor can’t resist. Upon first arriving in Dublin, you encounter a small city that looks an awful lot like the ones you left behind in England. I wasn’t terribly impressed at first blush, and I think this presentation was intentional. Baird has scraped Dublin up from the ashes, and for him to secure his and his son Sichfrith’s place as the rulers of Dublin and a part of Ireland’s future, he will need to win over High King Flann.

King Flann

You get an early quest to reclaim a trading post near Dublin. This is when the scope and beauty of Ubisoft’s Ireland comes into focus. The landscape is stunning. To be fair, it’s a greener and rainier version of the English landscape, but the rolling hills, waterfalls, standing stones, and settlements dotting the far distance make for a great contrast to England. It was exciting to arrive at vantage points and take it all in. I experienced many postcard moments where I would just stop and say, “Goddamn, this is good looking!” The bogs look great. Thick mists and rain make for a mysterious and enchanted journey through many areas of the map.

There aren’t any major changes to the systems from the core game. One notable addition is the trading posts and related trading system. Trading posts are distributed throughout the map. You need to investigate these posts, and by investigating, I mean viciously slaughter every bandit on the grounds, and locate the deed to claim the post. At each post you find a note telling you of a nearby location where you can find the deed. Obtaining the deeds wasn’t too much of a hassle, and it added a bit more ownership over the posts. Once you claim the post, you can build it up with structures that contribute more to your trading coffers.

Trading System

Through your trading liaison, Azar, you exchange materials with other regions to build the renown of Dublin. It’s much like building up Ravensthorpe, but Dublin’s renown goes up based on how many trades made instead of how many buildings are constructed. The trading system is a welcome addition. Not only does it incentivize material procurement through raids and exploration to build up the posts, but it adds a relatively low-maintenance management layer for the trades.

Another addition to the game is Royal Demands. You can go to pigeon coops to receive missions from kings around Ireland. By completing these missions, you will gain resources and more importantly the support of their armies and trade. It’s a decent concept, but the missions are the same run-of-the-mill activities that you’d be doing anyway. Things like conducting a raid on a settlement or assassinating a few enemies at a camp. To make things more interesting, there are bonus parameters like not being detected or not taking damage. If you manage to meet those parameters, you get bonus materials. I found the Royal Demand missions to be boring as hell. Fortunately, you don’t have to endure too many of these to progress the story of Wrath of the Druids.

The Animus is nowhere to be seen in Wrath of the Druids. It’s all built around the human stories of your cousin Barid trying to join the inner circle of the High King of Ireland, Flann. Another major character is the court poetess, Ciara, who quickly becomes a love interest for Eivor. Ciara is from the Druid tribes and has a complex relationship with the rising power of Flann. The characters in Wrath of the Druids drive the story along nicely. My favorite part of Wrath of the Druids was, well, the Druids.

Children of Danu Murder Chamber

They represent the old ways of Ireland, and a mysterious sect, the Children of Danu, have resorted to murder and deceit to preserve a pagan Ireland. The Children of Danu are into some weird shit like ritualistic sacrifice, and they are hellbent on not letting King Flann stay on the throne. I found the human manned fortresses and camps in Wrath of the Druids to be bland for the most part. If you’ve played AC Valhalla for any significant time, the fortresses are all too familiar. Druid territory and activity is another story entirely.

The Druids would frequently ambush me in the forest and deploy their green, psychedelic haze to confuse Eivor, just enough, to make the combat feel much more intense. Children of Danu enemies have animal companions, fire attacks, various disorientation attacks, and they conjure super cool pagan magic during battles. It’s a lot of fun, and when you get into the heart of Children of Danu territory, you are rewarded with an awesome boss battle and very cool visuals. I was getting big time Witcher 3 vibes during the Children of Danu sections and was absolutely loving it. There was a true air of mystery between all the magic and monsters.   

Things ramp up quickly with the Children of Danu, which shouldn’t be surprising, since the expansion is named after the Druids. My only real gripe with this expansion is that the Children of Danu are placed on the back burner at a certain point in the campaign. It was disappointing because I found the Druids so interesting and fun to fight. Wrath of the Druids eventually pivots to Order of the Ancients style hunting missions, where you collect clues to uncover the identities of entrenched Children of Danu agents. This was fun because you need to read the notes and do a little detective work to uncover the agents. Unfortunately, many of the agents are housed in plain jane fortresses and not kick ass Children of Danu murder lairs.

Druid Magic

I’m glad to report that Wrath of the Druids doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s maybe a 15-hour romp in Ireland, more if you want to get all the items and build up Dublin’s renown. If you liked AC Valhalla, I’m sure you’ll love Wrath of the Druids. There’s plenty of killing to be done, sites to see, and loot to be plundered. The expansion recommends level 55, but because of Valhalla’s enemy scaling system, it really doesn’t matter what level you are. The characters along your path are engaging, and the story makes sense. The new trading mechanic adds a meaningful layer to AC Valhalla’s already excellent looting and upgrading systems. The Royal Demand system is a bit lame, but it doesn’t take that long to get through it. The true shining star in all of this are the Children of Danu and the awesome boss battles and pagan magic. I would like to see more of this high fantasy-ish action from Ubisoft in future installments. It has a similar feel to Witcher 3, except with better combat, and me likey.

Far Cry 3 vs Far Cry 6

Hey guys, this is Oracle from the Red Eye Report. Far Cry 6 came out recently. I played through it, and I found the game to be incredibly tedious and uneven story wise. Something kept bothering me. Far Cry 6 plays well. Combat is a smooth experience. Ubisoft has built a beautiful and expansive world in Yara, and you have many options to traverse it as well: helicopters, horses, planes, tanks, and all manner of cars, and when you’re driving those cars, you’re blasting the radio and will often sing along to the tunes. That’s a nice touch. The more I reflect on Far Cry 6, the more I realize that it has many of these little polished touches. The sound in general is top-notch. Little audio cues reward you as you move through the combat. The jungles of Yara sing with wildlife. The game has an outstanding lead villain, Anton Castillo, played by Giancarlo Esposito. He’s evil, but he’s complex. As his story unfolds through cutscenes, you dive into the various layers of Castillo’s past and his motivations.

There are some real highs in Far Cry 6. I guess that’s why I felt so unsatisfied when I finished it. It was an okay game, I’d probably give it a 6 or 7 on a 10-point scale, but I knew it could be so much better. Far Cry 3 is considered by many to be the high point in the Far Cry series. When it came out in 2012 it established the winning blueprint for Far Cry games. I played it back in 2012, and I remembered it being a good game. But was my affection for Far Cry 3 based largely on nostalgia? Was the game as good as I remembered it, or is Far Cry 6 following the same blueprint as Far Cry 3, and I’ve lost my appetite for the Far Cry formula? There was only one way to find out. I fired up Far Cry 3 and gave it a go on PC.

The first thing you’ll notice about any AAA game like this are the graphics. Far Cry 6 is a good-looking game. I was able to run it maxed out on a 3070 card with a capped framerate of 60 FPS no problem. I will say that Far Cry 6 had a consistent level of detail issue for me. Things like clothing and dashboards in cars would load a super low-res texture, and when I say low, I mean N64 quality graphics. It was a little jarring when the rest of the world was a beautiful ray-traced visual feast. This low-res texture problem occurred on the weapons when you brought them up to look down the sights, making serial numbers and other details unreadable. I assume this is a bug. Like I said though, it persisted throughout my entire playthrough of Far Cry 6.

So how do the graphics of Far Cry 3 hold up? It turns out…really well. From top to bottom, Far Cry 3 looks great. The foliage on the Rook Islands is fantastic. The water looks watery. The only area where I would say Far Cry 6 beats Far Cry 3 hands down is draw distance detail. Far Cry 3 has an impressive draw distance for 2012, but when you’re looking super far, like jumping out of a plane far, or at the top of a tower looking at a beach miles away, you will see a basic tile pattern of textures. The rest of game looks so good the tiled textures stand out, and I will say, these occurrences are rare. The animations for enemies are relatively basic, but they’re adequate. Far Cry 6 doesn’t improve on any of these enemy animations. In fact, Far Cry 6 might be a step back from Far Cry 3, but that might have more to do with combat and enemy AI.

Let’s get into the combat. One of the things that immediately stood out to me about Far Cry 3 was just how raw and savage the combat can feel versus Far Cry 6. I mean raw in a good way too. I played both Far Cry 6 and Far Cry 3 on PC and Far Cry 6 quickly devolved into a headshot parade. Don’t get me wrong, I like me some headshots, but I didn’t need to work for them in Far Cry 6. If I shot someone in the head, let’s say across the room or a road, the rest of the enemies would not react. In Far Cry 6, when enemies detect your presence, they do this deer in the headlights thing, where they stop in their tracks and stare at you for almost a full second. I could perform headshots on the enemies in Far Cry 6 using a trackball and my feet if I needed to.

The enemies in Far Cry 3 are another matter entirely. First of all, they don’t stop and hang around for you to shoot them. They are running for cover or advancing and advancing quickly. If you nail an enemy in the leg as they’re running for cover, they might stumble, but they’re still moving. Combat encounters in Far Cry 3 are so much more intense and focused than the encounters in Far Cry 6. In Far Cry 6, you can be at a checkpoint that you’ve captured, and enemy vehicles will just keep coming until you have a pile of enemy bodies and a scrapyard of trucks, tanks, and helicopters. It just doesn’t make sense, and honestly, it gets annoying. These battles were rarely challenging.

Far Cry 3’s equivalent to this is a patrol driving up with a few vehicles. If you can’t nail the vehicle with an RPG or get the jump on the enemies before they dismount, enemies will fan out and take cover and advance to your position in the jungle. This makes for very high-tension and exciting combat in Far Cry 3. There’s no wanted meter like Far Cry 6 either. If you take the patrol out, and nobody else is around to reinforce, that engagement is over. Combat doesn’t feel arbitrary.

Outposts are another good example of the combat differences in Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 6. A checkpoint in Far Cry 6 might have 6 enemies, the outposts can have as many as 20. Because of the delayed reaction time of the enemies, you can quickly dispatch most of these enemies. No matter how late in the game you are, a headshot with armor piercing rounds, which you can craft at the beginning of the game, will take down an enemy. You can easily take out any security systems and cameras ahead of time. If the enemies manage to sound the alarm and call in reinforcements, you can take out incoming choppers and trucks with tracking missiles or hit your panic button, the supremo, and launch a flurry of heat seeking rockets that will take out a huge chunk of the enemy force.

You can take out security systems in Far Cry 3 with a well-placed shot, but many times you will not have a vantage point to get all of them in one go. Plus, if guards are near the alarms that you destroy, they will quickly catch on and go on high alert. In the later stages of Far Cry 3, I would recon an outpost and make the decision to go in and disable the alarm by hand, which would disable all the alarms in the camp. This decision was based on reconning the area, seeing where enemies were posted, identifying a straggler that I could lead off with thrown rocks, and expose a path to an alarm. Once I was in the outpost, I had earned skills that made close quarters combat much more dynamic. I could perform a takedown on an enemy and drag their body out of view or pull the enemy’s knife out after I had killed them and throw it to kill another nearby guard. By the end of Far Cry 3, I had accumulated an impressive array of skills, and every action that I was able to pull off to take down the outpost felt earned.

Far Cry 3 outshines Far Cry 6 in every aspect when it comes to skill tree and general progression systems. You begin the game with basic weapons like a Glock and an AK-47. They’re loud and unwieldy. Enemies and animals are moving throughout the world quickly. You start with 2 health bars. By the end of the game, you can get 6 health bars. You can acquire skills for takedowns. You can make yourself more resilient to blasts. You can reload faster. You can get skills that will enable you to collect crafting resources and money faster. Far Cry 3 is dotted with radio towers that you need to scale and activate to reveal the map. Those get progressively more difficult. The enemies start out as unarmored pirates that can be taken down with a few body shots. As you progress, the enemies’ armor goes up, and their weaponry becomes more lethal. Snipers and enemies with rocket launchers can make for a bad day if you get caught in a tight spot.

You need to upgrade your weapons in Far Cry 3 to keep pace. By the time you get to the second half of the game, the AK-47 and the lower caliber sniper rifles simply won’t cut it. You’ll need the .50 cal sniper rifle to perform headshots on the armored machine gun and flamethrower enemies. You’ll want to get weapons that can support attachments like extended clips and reflex sights. Those guns become available as you activate towers, or you can buy them with cash that you’ve collected. Once again, it all feels earned. 

Far Cry 6 lacks this sense of progression. Skills are tied to your gear, and you pretty much have everything you need from the jump. It seems like Ubisoft wanted to make things easy and on demand for the player. If you want a car, just call it in, one will be dropped off for you. Enemies don’t become more difficult as you progress through the game. Special forces get called in when you have a wanted level, and this is the closest the combat of Far Cry 6 gets to Far Cry 3, but you can quickly dispatch them with headshots or your supremo. Even taking over checkpoints and outposts feels arbitrary. There are so many in Far Cry 6. One third of the map probably has just as many outposts as the entire Far Cry 3 map does. It was great to get to the end of Far Cry 3 and have taken over all the enemy outposts. I truly felt like we were closing in on the enemy and taking away their options. That didn’t happen for me in Far Cry 6. After the credits, it was like, welp get back to work, this place is still a shitshow. It was incredibly dissatisfying.

Crafting in Far Cry 3 is brilliant. You need to craft your various carrying holsters and munitions pouches out of animal hides. Your ammo capacity is considerably less in the beginning of the game than what it ends up being by the end. You will need that ammo for later battles. The enemies are vicious and heavily armored. I was making many more “right tool for the job” decisions in Far Cry 3 than I ended up making in Far Cry 6. I’d ask myself, “Do I want to use my sniper rifle here or get the jump on them with my light machinegun or even go for a stealth kill?” The jungles of Far Cry 3 are dangerous as hell early to mid-game too. You’ll often hear a tiger or other deadly animal growling in the underbrush as you are trying to avoid an enemy patrol. You don’t want to start shooting, because then you’ll alert the patrol. If you get lucky, the tiger might attack the patrol and you can move in to mop up the mess. These encounters are truly dynamic, and they don’t feel forced.

So what are the major takeaways here? Number one, Far Cry 3 is a fantastic game that still holds up in 2021 despite it being nine years old at this point. The graphics are surprisingly good. The menus can be a bit clunky in the beginning. Tasks like crafting and buying and selling items lack some of the modern-day polish that Far Cry 6 has. Other than that, Far Cry 3 blows Far Cry 6 out of the water gameplay wise. If you want a sandbox where you can do whatever the hell you want, okay, Far Cry 6 is the better choice. If you want a well-crafted gameplay experience in a first-person shooter, it doesn’t get much better than Far Cry 3.

Here’s my number two. Ubisoft is getting it wrong regarding what players want from a Far Cry game. More is not better. Convenience is not better. I don’t need to always have a vehicle on hand. Not having one immediately, causes me to make decisions on how I will traverse an area, which then opens other encounters, whether that’s with wildlife or patrols. Enemy encounters should feel natural, not just an endless stream of enemies and vehicles beamed down from some angry god. When I take out a patrol or capture an outpost, I want to feel like I’m making a difference in the overall war.

Number three: Fix that freaking combat. Lose the deer in the headlights pause. Thanks for the super-rewarding sound effects for scoring a headshot but let me earn it and everything else in the game. If I don’t bother to earn skills and resources, make it clear to me that they are necessary for me to progress in the game. 

I’m super glad I played Far Cry 3 again. I plan on playing Far Cry 4 here soon. I’ll write up another article and a video for that one. A part of me is still holding onto a sliver of hope for Far Cry 6 and maybe an expansion to rectify the major flaws it currently has. The world that Ubisoft has built and the things inside it create a fantastic sandbox simulation. There are huge gaps in the gameplay though. We’ll see how Far Cry 4 compares to 3. I’ve seen mixed reactions to 4. Until then, check for more of my reviews on theredeyereport.com and download the Red Eye Report podcast for reviews and other random internet, culture, and news commentary. I’ll see you later.