Friday, May 18, 2018

Wolfsbane

I just finished Guy Haley's Wolfsbane, book 49 of The Horus Heresy.

The great galactic civil war is drawing toward a conclusion. This is the story of how, late in the war, Space Wolves Primarch Leman Russ takes his legion from the defense of Terra and strikes out on a doomed attempt to kill the archtraitor, the Warmaster Horus Lupercal himself, before he can lead his forces to an assault on the Sol system.

We know going in that he is not able to kill Horus of course, and that the attempt destroys a large portion of the Space Wolves legion. These are future historical facts, after all. The tale is in the telling, though, and Haley spins a fast-moving one covering a lot of ground and featuring a lot of important characters and momentous events in what felt like a pretty tightly wound novel.

Coming out of Wolfsbane, we know that the surviving Space Wolves are bound for Yarant, pursued by a joint-traitor legions force led by Horus' right hand, Ezekyle Abbadon, and that Horus himself is rounding up the rest of his forces to move on Beta-Garmon, which is a big and important strategic location on the way to Terra. I understand a major battle takes place there. That may be addressed in the next book to move the overall story forward, which should be book 51, Slaves to Darkness.

Book 50, titled Born of Flame, is an anthology of to this point uncollected novellas and short stories around the Salamanders. Also coming up on the release list are the Primarchs books for Jaghatai Khan and Vulkan. Up next for me is a Horus Heresy short story I have not yet read but own from a recent humble bundle, and the Primarchs book on Ferrus Manus. I haven't settled on what's after that one yet.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Introversion's Uplink

It was U week in the backlog bum's rush this week, so I thought I would check out the hacking roleplaying game Uplink.

It casts you in the role of a hacker mercenary taking jobs gathered up by the titular organization. The game is played through a Hollywood movie-esque PC GUI purpose built for hacking into remote systems and accessing the files there. If you can steal or destroy whatever it is the client needs you to without being traced or found out, then you are rewarded with credits you can use to upgrade your hacking hardware and software.

It's a clever take on an ancient formula of character progression, and it's done very well from a presentation standpoint. I liked it. I don't know how much more I might play of it, but I did enjoy testing it out.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Tale of a Genre Not For Me

It was T week in the backlog blitz, and I thought I'd try out Tales of Monkey Island, a Telltale adventure game. Monkey Island started out at Lucas Arts much earlier; this game was a revival of the series. 

I gather it was well regarded, but once again this genre just does nothing for me. I tend to dislike comedy in games anyway, and the play mechanics, if you can call them that, are so tedious that I can hardly bear to play these games. I end up forcing myself to stick it out for half an hour or forty-five minutes just to push past the intro and into the meat of what it's going to be. 

Boring, is what it's going to be. The stories are sometimes more interesting, and sometimes less. Blade Runner, or the Blackwood games, or Pendulo's Yesterday all had more interesting themes and narratives, but even those failed to keep me, through their obtuse, repetitive puzzles that only serve to stand in the way of those narratives.

Maybe that is the core problem of this and other some other genres--an imperfect union of story and mechanics. The two mesh together for me in a lot of other contexts, but not so much, here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Primarchs: The Second Batch

I'm finishing up the second trio of books I elected to read in the Horus Heresy: Primarchs series. These shorter length novels are pretty quick reads, and I get the sense they would be really adaptable to the screen, if anyone ever wanted to do such a thing, because of their generally smaller scope as compared to one of the Horus Heresy novels proper.

Roboute Guilliman: Lord of Ultramar - An interesting look into Guilliman's philosophy of war and legion building. We get to see the Ultramarines waging war against orks while trying to preserve the remnants of a long extinguished human civilization on the same planet. Some of the themes here are of the integration of the Terrans and Ultramarians in the legion, and when and where certain types of warfare are appropriate.

Magnus the Red: Master of Prospero - Magnus and Perturabo are sent to a compliant world in order to evacuate the population to save them from a natural disaster. All is not as it seems, of course, and the people may not be savable, after all. Magnus's thirst for knowledge and Perturabo's ends-justify-the-means pragmatism are both on display here.

Fulgrim: The Palatine Phoenix - It is early in the Great Crusade, and Fulgrim is just getting his legion up to its fighting strength, and getting out on his own with the 28th Expedition fleet. For his first compliance, he wants a quick, efficient, and bloodless settlement, if at all possible. To add a bit of flair to the challenge, he takes only a small handful of legionaries to the world, and sets himself a deadline of a single month to bring the world to heel. This book shows an interesting side of the Phoenician as he is yet to really fill out into his role as an arrogant perfectionist and aesthete.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Is Nothing Sacred 2?

Actually, many many many things are Sacred, or rather, Sacred is just like a million other games out there. A good portion of those do everything here better, as well.

It's almost a shame to get into a game and be kind of digging what its doing, only for that experience to be hampered by something like a cumbersome camera or the fact that the game is just plain old and many other things since have covered this ground with much more panache.

All these things and more are a drag on Sacred 2: Fallen Angel in 2018. It's my fault of course; I should have played this when it was new, probably nearing on a decade ago. However, all I can think playing it now is how much nicer it would be to be playing Path of Exile or Diablo III or Skyrim or Dark Souls 2 or...

I will say the UI isn't terrible, and the skill and character development systems seemed well thought out and allowing for a lot of crunchy customization.

Well, that's another off the backlog. I'm coming to realize it's better not to buy games if I'm not going to immediately sit down and play them.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Middle-campaign

I wanted to briefly mention that I did reinstall and pick up Shadow of Mordor once more. I have been kind of rewatching the Lord of the Rings trilogy lately, and wanted to play some in that world. Maybe I will eventually find what others have in that game.

In Final Fantasy Tactics, I have made it up to the beginning of Chapter III: The Valiant. I'm currently grinding out random battles to get my force to the jobs I want them to be going forward. I'm also roaming the land doing errands out of the various towns. I don't recall if anything important comes out of these, but they're fun to do all the same. I have Ramza as dragoon now. I'm not sure where he will end up. Maybe as a samurai, or perhaps even as a Mime. I have yet to unlock either samurai or ninja, or summoner or mediator on the magic track.

The campaigns continue.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Rocketbirds: What the Hell is This?

I wanted to knock something off the backlog, so I decided on Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken, which was a kind of uneven experience.

It's hard to really see what the developers were going for with this game due to how the themes of the plot, the art design, characters, and music all come together so disjointedly. It's not a great action-platformer to begin with, but the mixture of mid-aughts emo rock with cartoonish bird humanoid creatures and themes of total war versus an evil regime only serve to confuse. Were these supposed to be jokes?

On it's face, it's a bland 2D action game. There's shooting, and a little bit of navigation puzzling, but nothing even so complicated as in the original Metroid. A mechanic introduced a few levels in lets you mind-control enemies which is OK for setting up some slightly more interesting puzzles. One level I thought was kind of cool was set up as a jetpack dogfight in the sky outside the penguin regime's zeppelin. It played kind of like a twin-stick shooter but that you could only shoot in the direction you were flying in.

I got about halfway through the game, I am led to believe by the chapter count, but I don't think I'll ever be back to it. It's just not my kind of thing.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Lion War for Ivalice

I've played almost nothing but Final Fantasy Tactics in the last week. In that time, I have progressed through Chapter I: The Meagre to the early part of Chapter II: The Manipulator and the Subservient.

Chapter II begins with a bang, the first movement, back to the merchant city Dorter from Orbonne Monastery, results in the band of Ovelia's protectors (led by Agrias at this point) being ambushed by mercenaries and having to fend them off. An unknown malefactor from the princess's kidnappers has hired a crew to waylay Ramza et al to put them off the trail. Just who is behind Ovelia's kidnapping is unkown at this point. The band will move from here toward a meeting with Cardinal Delecroix of the Church of Glabados, though, in hopes he can somehow protect the kidnapped Ovelia.

For this playthrough, I decided to eschew the use of overpowered characters like Agrias and Mustadio and T.G. Cid where possible, to instead rely on training up generics through the job system. I'm not certain how to proceed at the moment, though. Do I keep knights and archers in those jobs, or level characters through those jobs on to more advanced ones? I am leaning toward the former, where in the past I think I mostly did the latter. I may only need a single party member as a given class, too, since the battle party size is only a max of 5 in this game.

At the moment, I have Ramza as knight, along with two generics in that class as well. I also have three squires in training along with two or three chemists, two archers, and combination black/white mage. I'm running the mage and a chemist in battles now, along with a mix of knights, squires, and archers as leveling dictates. Squire and chemist not only compliment each other perfectly, but are also the cornerstone of every good fighter- or mage-derived class available in the game. I think it's probably wise to go ahead and have every party member master one or the other (using the other as their sub-job) before taking another class as their main. To that end I should probably get my current chemists up to white and black mage status and then allow my current black mage to go back and master chemist. Chemists are always good to have around, especially later in the game when they get access to guns. Same goes for squires; they have a really good set of abilities and thus can always be useful.

So then, my new plan of development will be to always be rotating through the party of battle at least one squire and chemist, while also pulling from the other classes whatever is needed, be it knight, archer, dragoon, monk, or any various mage type. I'm looking forward to applying this new strategy already.

I'd like to progress through the story and into the 100-floor dungeon this time through the game, as well. We'll see how that goes.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The War for Valeria

I finally managed to wrap up my campaign of Tactics Ogre last night. That is to say I finished the lawful route of the main story. There is still a huge amount of game there to explore in the form of sidequests, a hundred floor dungeon, alternate chaotic and neutral paths through the story, and a postgame coda section of further missions.

I'm not sure what I want to do next in the game, but I definitely want to play more of it. I wonder though if I should take a break from it and come back at a later date. I suppose I can play a little more now and kind of gradually segue away from it to something else. Or maybe I'll just dive into my optimized version of FFT.

Tactics Ogre is great, though. It's a real masterpiece and by itself justification for owning a PSP, Vita, and/or Playstation Vita TV microconsole. The story didn't impact me as much at 37 as FFT did at 17, but it is no less well realized, and is certainly better localized than FFT originally was. I also finally came to appreciate the larger (up to 12) force sizes, appreciating the fact that I could double or triple up on classes I liked to really get the job done.

And that surprise ending! Now I see where the Delita/Ovelia epilogue scene from FFT was delineated from.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Burden of Loyalty

Book 48 of The Horus Heresy is another anthology. They stories are all loosely collected by the theme the title encapsulates -  that it's not easy being on the loyalist side in this war, for a number of reasons. They are mostly tales of sacrifice of one type or another in the name of Primarch, Emperor, and Imperium.

The Thirteenth Wolf features a group of Space Wolves who follow some wily Thousand Sons into warp portals as they are escaping the massacre at Prospero. I believe these are the ones who emerge much later on, changed, just before Guilliman returns in the 40K period.

Into Exile, Cybernetica, and The Binary Succession all deal with the split in the Martian Mechanicum during the war, and the eventual establishment of the Adeptus Mechanicus in the power structure of the Imperium.

Ordo Sinister features a powerful Psi-Titan that has been called upon to help out in the war in the webway, where the Emperor himself has busied himself and the Adeptus Custodes after Magnus the Red breached the portal connecting it to the chamber containing the Golden Throne.

The Heart of the Pharos sets up the novel Pharos with the mystery of what's in the mountain of the same name on the agri-world Sotha.

Wolf King is the story of the Space Wolves being waylaid by the Alpha Legion after their actions against the Thousand Sons at Prospero. They have to fight for their existence in the Alaxxes nebula, and Russ has to learn a lesson about who he is and who he pretends to be.

Perpetual catches us up with the location of Oll Persson and crew after their flight from Calth, and on their way to Terra. They are still in transit, here, pursued by Alpha Legion operatives, seemingly.

Monday, April 2, 2018

The End for These

Every now and then I revisit a game that put me off previously, or that I'm kind of on the fence on, and decide that it really just is not for me. I had around of these over the weekend:

Hearthstone - I thought to go back and give it another shot after a long time away, but it does definitely still turn me away with the nature of how random and haphazardly balanced many of the game mechanics and card abilities feel. I also really don't want to put in the time it would take to learn all the cards and combos I would need to get good, or to go about acquiring all of the cards to use, either. I am looking for something like a deck building card game to fit into my life, but this is not it.

Destiny 2 - I thought I might like to spend some more time in this game after recent updates, but just tooling around it a little the other night was enough to make me certain I had no interest in continuing to try to enjoy Bungie's latest, beyond completing the base campaign. At least not now. I might have been hasty to uninstall, but really I do think it's for the best. This game is nothing but a treadmill in the end.

Fortnite Battle Royale - I've had a fun enough time playing about 30 rounds of it, but I don't feel any drive to play to win, and I don't really care for the moment-to-moment gameplay now that I've seen most of the map. I get why people like the game, if not quite why it's hit such a critical mass lately. I just don't personally want to play it anymore. I'm really hoping for this mode to be dropped into another game I like and for it to be paired with some kind of interesting strategic progression or something I could sink my teeth into.

On a separate note, I my have a new beginning for an old favorite, Final Fantasy Tactics. I found a fan patch that would take the PSX version of the game, which is technically superior to the PSP port, and inject into it the new and far superior translation from said PSP port. Through the magic of emulation, this best-of-both-worlds amalgamation is playable on my PC. I would no doubt already be deep into the game once more, but for the fact that I am trying to finish off Tactics Ogre at the moment, as well. I do look forward to eventually playing through the game again in this theoretically optimal incarnation.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Very Much Timely, Very Much Not

The hottest new thing in the gaming zeitgeist at the moment is Fortnite Battle Royale. Epic announced Fortnite what must have been 5 or 7 years ago, and it languished in development hell for ages until Player Unknown's Battlegrounds found huge success last year, when Fortnite quickly bit off that same idea and recreated it within their game. It's been a massive success. They even got me to give it a shot, which is nothing short of miraculous, being that I had to download Epic's own separate game client to give it a shot.

In short, I think Fortnite Battle Royale is a pretty solid and fun multiplayer game mode. It's a very good fit for me, particularly because of the solo mode where the game is everyone-for-themself. That said, there's a lot of downtime in the game as I have played it thus far. I have been electing to drop into various areas around the map, usually away from others, in order to scrounge materials and an arsenal before making my way to wherever the shrinking circle is. I'm usually careful to keep a low profile until I have seen someone I can get the drop on. This means a lot of running behind cover and scouting out a location before venturing in. Sometimes a match can be 10 or 15 minutes of this before ending in just few short seconds of a firefight, or being sniped from afar with no warning whatsoever.
It's been fun to play some, and I'll keep dipping in for now, but it's hard to say how long it might hold my attention. I've made it into the top 10 a few times, as high as 5th place once.

I wanted to knock a game off of my backlog, and I was up to Q in the rotation, so I went with Quake Mission Pack 1: Scourge of Armagon. I'm on to the third level now, I believe. I keep hopping back and forth between this, the main game, and DOPA, the mission pack Machine Games put out a couple of years ago to celebrate Quake's 20th anniversary. I absolutely love Quake. These new missions feel pretty good for the most part, as well. They have added some environmental puzzles and elements to the game, and a few new weapons and enemies as well. I don't really have much of anything to complain about with what I have seen. Quake is great, and more of it is always a good thing, as far as I can tell. At some point maybe I'll get around to playing other games in the weird series.

I have also continued to make some progress through Tactics Ogre. I have taken Denam and his band up to chapter 4 in the campaign now. It appears he and his sister Catiua are secretly the heirs to some title somewhere or something. I don't quite follow the story, but then this campaign has been in progress since around 2010. My plan from here is to go find the next story mission and then grind if need be to finish it. Once my characters are closer to level 20, I can go to the pirate island in the southwest to do the optional mission there.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Transition Point for Gregor Eisenhorn

The Magos & The Definitive Case Files of Gregor Eisenhorn was released last month, and I have just finished it. The first half of the book, the definitive case files part, is a collection of just about every short story written featuring Eisenhorn or his protege, Gideon Ravenor, with some that don't feature either, but end up relating to the new novel, The Magos, in a different way.

Of the collected stories, a few were new to me: Pestilence, The Curiosity, Gardens of Tycho, and The Curious Demise of Titus Endor. A couple of these introduce the new character of Magos Biologis Valentenin Drusher, who figures heavily into The Magos in the latter half of the volume. Not included, that I know of, is a short, very short, story called Born To Us, which features Eisenhorn and longtime associate Harlon Nayl stumbling upon a Necron king.

The Magos is the first Eisenhorn novel not written from his own first-person perspective, which is in interesting choice made necessary by how the story is told, and the nature of the story being told. From this point in Eisenhorn's career and on (and previously in Master Imus' Transgression and Thorn Wishes Talon), we only get him in the third-person. We're not privy to what's going on in his head, because he is very literally no longer the protagonist and figuratively may even be an antagonist, especially going forward after The Magos, in Pariah, and the other books in the Bequin trilogy to follow.

The Magos, in plot terms, is much more like one of Eisenhorn's short stories than one of his novels. It's set in one place as opposed to across many planets, and much more about one particular lead in the quest he has taken upon himself--to defeat and destroy the Cognitae order, who serve the Ruinous Powers against the Imperium. By the end of the new novel, we wonder if he still has that goal in mind, or if another has taken its place as his prime motive, and we also have reason to doubt his mental health. Has old Gregor finally crossed that line into becoming the radical he always denied he had become?

It's enough to make me want to go back and reread Pariah, but I think I'll wait until author Dan Abnett is at least done writing the next in the series.

Stepping Out of the Light and Into the Dark Ages

I did manage to finish of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. In the end I feel it was pretty so-so like I mentioned before. Playing the Director's Cut edition meant that I got to play the Missing Link DLC section in line with the rest of the game, and that part was mostly pretty good, I'll admit, if a little heavy on the backtracking. I appreciated that at the end of the DLC section there was not just another poor boss fight, but a scenario that you could resolve in ways Deus Ex does better.

The final boss encounter of the game was also pretty weak, I felt, and then the pick-an-ending-any-ending thing at the very end was also kind of lame. Maybe if one or two options were closed off to Jensen based on his actions throughout the game leading up to that point, then it would have some kind of impact. Overall, I'm feeling underwhelmed.

Out of morbid curiosity I also went and played a little more of Deus Ex: Invisible War after finishing Human Revolution. It might have been an OK game, but I will never suffer through the way that engine constantly goes back to the desktop during loads and resets your desktop resolution to some archaic trash from 2003. Also, who has time for games that are merely OK these days? Ignore the fact I just soldiered through DX:HR for no apparent reason.

I also managed to sneak in some Tactics Ogre on the Vita last week. Miraculously, I brute forced my way through a battle that had given me trouble in the past. Come to find out, I made it harder on myself by attacking a bunch of neutral dragons in the map that I need not have fought with. Ah well, live and learn. I think I'll continue on a bit further in TO now that I got past that progress blocker. I ordered a PS Vita TV as well, so with luck I'll have it up on the big screen soon. Finally finishing off Tactics Ogre after all this time would be a hell of a thing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

I Guess I Asked For This

I've been playing a lot of Deus Ex: Human Revolution over the last week or so. I thought about returning to it to play something stealthy and because it was keeping with the theme of cybernetic augmentation present in XCOM: Enemy Within.

I'm not sure it's quite as good as I had expected or hoped, though. The options for navigating through the world are varied enough that you are not usually forced down a single path, but instead are given two or three routes to get to your prescribed destination, one of which is usually through some vents. I am thinking a lot of players and critics may have been taken in by the illusion of choice in this game. Next to Dishonored, the options appear very limited indeed.

I also question how varied it is possible to develop your Adam Jensen over the course of the game. There are only so many abilities you can use skill points to buy, and the game seems long enough that by the end you will accrue enough points to buy about every ability available.

One thing I like is that there is a shotgun-analog among the non-lethal weapon types. This allows you to knock out 2-3 guards at once whenever you accidentally raise an alarm, meaning you have more options than just quickloading when things go awry. Of course the most fun toys like the minigun and rocket launcher only do lethal damage, but even they come in handy when you are subjected to mandatory lethal boss fights, which is another iffy design decision at hand here.

Of course, the art is nice and very cohesive. It's not a terrible game, but in a lot of respects I feel like I'm constantly seeing the artifice that went into creating it. I'm sure its not just that the game is 7 years old now, and that everyone was a little naive when it first came out. Dishonored was released only the following year and I feel like it is a much better and more realized immersive sim. I'll keep playing it for now. I must be about two thirds through the game at this point.