29th September, 2023
Hello! Welcome back to our regular feature where we write a little bit about some of the games we’ve found ourselves playing over the last few days. This time: salvaged parts, Idris Elba and animal brawls.
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We’ve Been Playing, here’s our archive.
Overwatch 2, PC
I’m fascinated by the new story missions in Overwatch 2 because in them, I can so clearly see Blizzard’s ambitions for a fully-fledged PvE game. Except, of course, that vision didn’t pan out and so the work was salvaged and released as paid-for add-ons instead.
You can appreciate how much work had gone into it, though. There are three missions and they’re all voiced and scripted, some with lip-synced cut-scenes, and they take place on bespoke versions of levels you know, with new enemies and encounters. There’s a mission hub, where you assume the role of Winston at his computer, selecting which mission to do next. And the whole package charmingly tells the story of the reformation of Overwatch, which is where games both begin.
In other words, it’s quite impressive. So the follow-up thought is: why was the larger PvE game scrapped? I’m sure there’s a long and complicated answer, but I also have a theory of my own.
I think Blizzard gave up on it because the PvE experience never quite, fundamentally, works. The problem, as I see it, is character balance. The characters in the game have been tweaked and tuned over many hours’ play so none are too strong and none too weak – but only in relation to each other. Here, though, you’re not fighting each other but robots who walk around soaking up bullets, and as a result, it doesn’t feel like you have the right tools for the job.
It’s not that you’ll want for more survivability or manoeuvrability, or any of the more nuanced things Blizzard designed into the game. You will simply want more oomph. These are missions where you’ll rack up sometimes hundreds of kills, not handfuls, so anything bottlenecking your ability to do that will seem like a disadvantage. It’s just a different environment for the characters to perform in, and while some work well there, like Bastion and Pharah, most of the others feel underpowered.
But Blizzard can’t alter your PvE power because it will upset the delicate PvP balance. It’s a problem I think Blizzard was well aware of when it was designing PvE for Overwatch 2, because there was already a PvE skill tree in Overwatch 2 at BlizzCon 2019, when I played it there. The skill tree allowed Blizzard to independently increase characters’ PvE strength separately from the PvP game, but it’s no longer there today.
Salvaging something systemic that needs to integrate with the whole game was, I imagine, a much bigger job than importing some missions. Nonetheless, its absence leaves the story missions feeling more like a slog than I imagine they were originally intended to be. It’s only the third and final mission, at Torbjorn’s headquarters in Gothenburg – where the team is limited to Reinhardt, Bastion, Torbjorn and Brigitte – that the characters and gameplay seem to click, and the excitement rises.
Cyberpunk 2077, Xbox Series X
Cyberpunk 2077 in its version 2.0 is still a weird game. NPCs continue to drive erratically and float above random street corners like half-naked, swearing phantoms; the game crashes, and sometimes my quest doesn’t want to be a quest and I’ll have to hope a save and reload will do the trick. I still can’t stand V and their selfish, murderous quest to find a cure, either, and I hate that the go-to solution to almost every quest is ‘kill it’. It doesn’t make any sense to kill someone’s friends to talk to them, but I guess this is Night City so screw everyone but you, right?
Despite this, I’ve restarted a playthrough after finishing Phantom Liberty’s story, which, by the way, is the best thing Cyberpunk 2077 has ever done. Taking the narrative mostly away from V and focusing on other characters, in a high-stakes spy-inspired thriller, ticked all the boxes we thought the base game was going to at launch. Choices matter, characters other than V and Johnny Silverhand matter, and the quest design matches perfectly with all the covert tasks that come with playing spy.
I know the main story hasn’t changed and the bugs are still there, then, and that V is still V, but Phantom Liberty has made me excited to explore Night City again regardless. And partly that’s to do with the expansion and the 2.0 update, but there’s something else too: my tempered expectations this time around. I already know that everyone’s awful in the world so you know what? I’ll be awful too. I’ll just go all-in on V being selfish and role-play them that way. And if the game crashes? Doesn’t matter – I’ve got 10 back-up saves now to revert to.
I don’t know whether this altered headspace will be the same for everyone else. Whether or not it is, Phantom Liberty’s story is worth revisiting the game for anyway.
Party Animals, PC
When it comes to slapstick comedy, there’s a fine line between anger and humour. When a plunger gets stuck on the bottom of someone else’s ridiculous looking duck, I cackle with glee. But when my adorable golden corgi gets picked up and thrown out of the arena within seconds of a match starting for the fifth time in a row, I’m fuming. Schadenfreude’s a bitch.
Look, I’ll admit I am overly competitive. For some, the gangly physics and wonky animations of Party Animals are all part of its charm; for others (me), the randomness of each round and lack of skill required are infuriating. So I spend more time attempting to throw stinky fish at my opponents after being knocked out, which always feels ineffective. At least the squidgy animal characters are cute to watch, like a bunch of cuddly toys being thrown around a playroom. Like I say, it’s fun watching other people, and I do bloody love that corgi.
There’s also a lovely touch in Party Animals when the round ends and your characters fight to be at the front of a selfie. Although most of the time I lose that, too. Sniff.
I’ll say this too: a party with friends is better than a party with strangers. Getting a group of mates together for some silly, mindless fun is what Party Animals is all about. But a full eight-player lobby requires coordination, so most of my experience has been playing with randoms online, which is far from ideal. When you don’t know who you’re up against – and you can’t see or hear them in person – it’s all too easy for rage to erupt. I’m not sure a game has ever made me so angry.
I know, I know. It’s just a game, Ed, don’t take it so personally. And you’re right of course. Just don’t touch my corgi, OK?
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