Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Plague War

Guy Haley's follow-up to the book that launched the new era of Warhammer 40,000, Dark Imperium, entitled Plague War, is out, and I have finished it.

It is definitely the middle part of a trilogy. While Guilliman has a face-off with his fallen brother Mortarion at the end of the book, and interesting barbs are traded, they are prevented from coming to blows, with the promise of a meeting on the planet Iax to come in the final book. Elsewhere a Primaris marine comes to finally feel at home in his new chapter, the Novamarines, who lose their chapter master in single combat with Typhus aboard the star fort Galatan. The Death Guard aboard are routed, though, allowing the massive space bastion to fire down on the remaining forces of Nurgle on the surface of Parmenio, and forcing a retreat and handing victory to the forces of the Imperium.

Here we also see Guilliman railing against the Imperial Cult as he has before, but eventually deciding that dismissing it out of hand again would be repeating his worst mistake from the age before the Horus Heresy, and resolving to read his wayard brother Lorgar's earlier work, the Lectitio Divinitatus.

I am very excited to see where the story goes from here, and how the Primarch and Imperial Regent manages to synthesize the warring ideologies of the secular Imperium and the cult of the God-Emperor.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Into Mexico

I have played very little in the last few weeks, and only Red Dead Redemption to speak of.

I have made it through the first portion of the game and through the sequence that everyone raves about, the ride into Mexico, where a song (not the score) plays. Apparently that really did something for most of the people who remember the game, but I found it extremely underwhelming. Maybe it's that I was expecting something great, or maybe it's just that it's not all that special of an event on its face, and its just that it is memorable for how singular a moment it is in the game, which is usually pretty understated in the way the world is presented when it's just the world on display, and not presenting you with some broad approximation of a tired Western movie trope.

I'm fairly underwhelmed with the whole of what is on offer in Red Dead Redemption, but its world is pretty impressive. By which I mean the environment exclusively. The denizens are your typical Rockstar hackery, and the play mechanics your typical Rockstar garbage fire. I think I'll keep playing it for the time being, though. Until something breaks the camel's back or I finish it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A New MOBA Appears

I have picked up a game called Arena of Valor on the Switch. It's from the huge Chinese game company Tencent, and it's basically a League of Legends clone meant for mobile phones, but now ported to the Switch, and so playable with a controller. It's a lot of fun, actually, and distills a lot of what makes games like LoL and Dota so much fun, which effectively makes it more accessible. You don't have to think much about skills or gear you buy, and matches rarely seem to go to twenty minutes, even. I could do with some improvements to the UI and UX, but this is a very good start.

This past weekend I also made a little progress in Shovel Knight, defeating one of the mini-boss guys on the map, and buying some new armor at an armorer.

I also played a couple of matches of Fortnite, also on Switch, just to see what was up with how the map has changed lately.

I continue to practice my Spelunky runs, and to make progress through Red Dead Redemption, as well.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Breaking from Eorzea, to the Old West

I finished up the main story quests of FFXIV: A Realm Reborn. I had a pretty good time doing so, as well. However, I have decided to pause my sub to the game for a while. I don't like the mental pressure I feel to get the most from a game subscription, at least not while I have hundreds of games on the backlog, still. And many of those that I do actually want to play.

To that end, I have begun Red Dead Redemption, only about 8 years too late to be a part of the conversation, by my recollection. I'm impressed so far, even knowing the game's reputation as the greatest game of the last console generation. One thing that has struck me about it so far is the feeling of being in a vast open world, especially in contrast to FFXIV, which feels very theme-park-shrunken-kingdom. I'm not so sure about the voice acting. Some of it is really good, like the marshall in Armadillo. Some is pretty shaky, though, like Bonnie or John Marston, the player character himself. I had a pretty good time with a longer mission last night involving a firefight through a canyon as a part of a small posse. I also like that you can hunt wildlife and gather herbs and such. There's also just something nice about being in big sky country, shooting bandits and carrying on in that manner. I think I'm going to stick with it. I'm curious to see how the plot develops.

Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon is deceptively quick and easy to play and to jump in and out of, for a turn-based hex-based tactical war game.

And of course, I continue to play Spelunky each day, hoping to gradually get better at the game and to be able to finish it, and push beyond even that.

Codexes Warhammer and Other Another Game Book

I'm halfway through Heroes of the Space Marines at the moment, taking a diversion into Warhammer tabletop game Codexes, to both get the broad strokes of the lore behind major factions, and to check out how the lore has evolved over the years.

I went to ebay and bought a bunch of old 40K Codexes from past editions of the game. Most of the background here will still be applicable, but some has definitely been contradicted elsewhere, if not blatantly retconned. The nature of the setting is such that whether these changes are one or the other is up to interpretation. I prefer to think of the Codexes as being written (when it comes to the lore at least) from an in-universe perspective, and thus subject to mis- and dis-information, as well as the mundane twisting effect that the passage of time has on historical narrative.

So far I have read the Space Marines and Assassins Codexes, and have gotten into the Chaos Space Marines one. That leaves several more, including Necrons, Orks, Eldar, Tyranids, Eye of Terror, Space Wolves, and Imperial Guard. Many more remain that I haven't bought yet, and that's before I start trying to address the different editions of these books, or other campaign books, like the Gathering Storm set I read previously. If I continue to find them in the neighborhood of $5, shipped, then I likely won't hesitate. I just can't get enough Warhammer 40,000.

I am also continuing to read Derek Yu's Spelunky book, which is a pretty interesting window into the development mind of the creator of one of my favorite games.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Making the Aliens Pay in the Near Future and the Far

For my next backlog removal task, I was due for a game with a title beginning with an X. As it happened, I also had XCOM 2 installed on my PC and ready to go, following a long period earlier in the year in which I was engrossed in the previous game and its expansion.

XCOM 2, thus far, seems like a smart evolution of the first game, featuring a lot of the same systems and mechanics as Enemy Unknown, with some new twists and additions, as well. The theme of the game this time out is guerilla-like resistance to an entrenched and oppresive alien regime, and a lot of the machanics flow logically out from that. This time, most missions begin with your squad in a concealed state, and you are able to move around and get into position before springing your ambush on the unsuspecting Advent soldiers. The game also hits the ground running in terms of difficulty, being much harder right off the bat. It seems to almost be picking up from where the first previous game left off. I'm doing well so far, a handful of missions in.

I have also picked up my campaign of Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon. Returning to the game, I am more interested in figuring out how all the myriad tanks and infantry units differ from one another, and in making it to some of the missions where Space Marines and Titans come into play.

I keep playing Spelunky in futile hopes that I am getting better at the game, and may one day be able to finish Olmec at least, if not make it through hell to the extra hard part.

I'm also chipping away at the final parts of FFXIV: A Realm Reborn. I went to play a little last night, but it was down for patch day, so no dice. I need to find some better gear to get my item level up so that I can go into the next story dungeon duty. Quests in this game are called duties.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Years Later, No Ordinary Headache Solved

I played a little SpaceChem for the first time in forever this weekend, what's more, I finally worked out a solution to the toughest mission I had yet seen, entitled No Ordinary Headache. This one involved splitting molecules in one reactor, sending their constituent parts to another reactor, waste atoms to a recycler, and assembling the end product. It was very tricky, and I'm not sure my solution would work indefinitely, but it was good enough to get the 40 units of the final product I needed to move on. I may never solve the next puzzle, though.

While reading Derek Yu's Spelunky book, I am also playing the game again most days. I don't have any progress to report, though it will be a happy day when I do finally manage to defeat Olmec. I have started to try to speedrun the game, though. It is possible to make it through some levels in under fifteen seconds, I have discovered. To get the Speedlunky achievement, I think you have to finish the Temple in 7 or 8 minutes, all in. It sounds insane if you are familiar with the game, but I know for a fact it's doable. Can I do it? Maybe with everything breaking in my favor? Doubtful, though.

I'm getting near the end of A Realm Reborn in Final Fantasy XIV. I really like this game, but so far not at all for the same reasons that I love FFXI. It's just a different thing, even for all the shared elements.

Books! Check 'em Out!

I'm in the middle of  several different books at the moment. I wound up reading the entirety of Boss Fight Books' Soft and Cuddly, which was damned entertaining, actually. I learned a lot about Sinclair computers of the 80s in the UK. For instance, they used cassette tapes as storage, and a fifteen-year-old could shake the foundations of the UK video game scene in that day, which a hacked together shock horror maso-core game inspired by Alice Cooper.

I have since moved on to Derek Yu's book about Spelunky in the same series. This one is much more about the development of the game, being by the game's creator rather than a third party. Spelunky is one of my favorite games, so the book is pretty interesting.

As a political dissident and leftist by American standards, I have had a good time listening to the Chapo Trap House podcast, and so I thought I would pick up their book. I can hear the podcasters' voices as I read through it, but I'm not sure the entirety of that raucus schtick plays as well in the medium of print. Sarcasm and bite come through much more clearly when spoken aloud, but the same statements just appear odd in print, minus the tone, inflection, and other context clues you get from a spoken statement. I think it's still worth a read, though.

With regards to the 41st millennium, I picked up a set of four anthologies of stories about Space Marines. I finished Treacheries of the Space Marines already, and have begun Heroes of the Space Marines. I have read comparatively few stories about Space Marines set in 40K as opposed to 30K. It's interesting to see how, for instance, the Night Lords or Iron Warriors have changed in 10,000 years, and the ways in which they have not. September has nothing new that I am interested in releasing from Black Library, but there are several things coming in October I want to get, so between now and then I want to get through as many of these ...Of the Space Marines anthologies as I can.

Friday, August 31, 2018

More Twaddling

On the reading front, which has really come to the fore this year, I have come to the end of my 30K supply, and for a while I will be reading 40K. That will, however, be somewhat backgrounded because of the fact that I'll be reading paperback anthologies, rather than on my Kindle phone app.

What I'll be reading there will instead be a bunch of non-fiction. For my first couple, I have decided to look in on the Boss Fight Books collection I picked up a while ago. I started with the two I thought I might never read, Kingdom Hearts II, and one about a game I had never heard of before, called Soft and Cuddly.

The Kingdom Hearts II book was a personal analysis of a game I could not care less about if I tried. The parts where the author described her experience playing the game and how that fit into her personal life were nice, but the parts where she summarized the game plot and characters were pretty dull, I must admit. I skimmed through a lot of that.

Soft and Cuddly, and I'm only a chapter in, seems to be about placing the game of the same name in time and context. It seems to have been an accidental inflection point in the interactions between UK games and politics. I'm eager to learn more of this game I know next to nothing of and will never play.

When it comes to games, I've kept waffling back and forth between things lately. At first I thought I was kind of in the mood for some Mega Man X, but rather than hook up my SNES Classic to play that, I thought I would reinstall A.R.E.S. Exctinction Agenda and play a little more of game very much inspired by the old Mega Man games. There are some differences, of course. Ares doesn't seem to come together as nicely. Polygonal 2D games pretty much always look awful, and this is no real exception.

Next, I thought I could maybe actually get into La-Mulana in a real way, but that game continues to elude me. I admire it a lot, but it turns out I'd rather play Spelunky, after all. So I did just that.

Waking Mars I tried out because it begins with W. It seems OK, but I'm not sure I'll play any further past the 25% mark that my save has me at. It plays with jetpacking around subterranian Mars, and encouraging native plant life to grow, but something about it just wasn't quite hooking me.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is free for new players at the moment, and so the multiplayer mode is experiencing a bit of a revival, which is nice. The last time I tried to play, no one else was. And that's a shame, because this is the best 40K action game out there. I got in a few rounds last night, and I'll continue checking in for as long as the audience holds out this time. It may be the last time the game is really playable online.

I have also begun a subscription to FFXIV. I haven't made much progress in the last couple of weeks, but I am committed to seeing it through to the endgame. Going into Labor Day weekend 2018, this is what I am most focused on.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Khan in the Great Crusade

I read the eighth book in the Horus Heresy Primarchs series, Jaghatai Khan: Warhawk of Chogoris.

Like most in the sub-series, it explores the role of the titular primarch and his legion during the period of Imperial expansion before Horus fell, a period called the Great Crusade. The Khan was the fifteenth primarch to be found and reunited with the legion bred from his geneseed, the Star Hunters, which soon would be known as the White Scars, that moniker itself apparently a mis-hearing of their own term for themselves, Talskars.

Jaghatai and the Scars were always a group apart from the rest, preferring the wild and ragged edges of the Imperium, where they could be mostly left to themselves and their ways, some of which would come into conflict with those of their cousins in other legions. Chief among those was their use of Stormseers, those legionaries who were gifted and worked with psychic powers.

A good portion of the book deals with the early formation of the Librarius, a kind of joint venture between Jaghatai, Sanguinius, and Magnus the Red, to safeguard a place for psykers among the legions, which were scorned by some, Mortarion, Perturabo, and Leman Russ, especially. The Khan had been trying to sway Horus to their way of thinking on the matter, but the future Warmaster could not afford to take a side in the matter, maneuvering as he was for the promotion he knew was in the offing for one of the primarchs sooner or later.

The book also does a lot to set up the Khan's dilemma after the wider Heresy conflict has broken out--who to trust, the brother he admires and feels a tight kinship with, or the father he disagrees with but owes everything to? Who to side with?

Chris Wraight does a great job writing this one. He's quietly turned out some very good books and stories in the series, almost completely owning the White Scars, and doing a good amount of Space Wolves, as well.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Twaddling About

I don't really know where my head is with games lately. I suppose I need to just continue to focus on one thing, like I have been with FFXIV until the last week or so, when I deviated from the path. I went and dawdled in several things, but I may get back to Eorzea while my last couple of free weeks is in effect, before I have to take the sub plunge or not.

Grand Theft Auto III - I really wanted to hear the soundtrack and run around this iteration of GTA again, for the first time in about 17 years. It's still pretty fun, and I find the simplicity of the game refreshing. Granted, I have yet to play GTA V at all. I should get that at some point.

Minecraft - Similarly, I just wanted to jump into a world and waste some time poking at things without thinking too much about it. I dug deep into a mountain and that's about it.

No Man's Sky - It had a big update recently, and I thought I should check that out. It still seems too survival-oriented for me, like one big festival of gathering up stuff from a list to process into other things to give yourself even the barest improvement in quality of life. At least there's a new story thing that is kind of interesting, and the visuals are very nice. It's still no Elite: Dangerous, though.

Elite: Dangerous - Speaking of which, I had a craving for some deep space exploration and serenity, so I got in here and ranged out a few thousand light years to double my liquid assets by selling exploration data at a far-flung outpost. I have my next expedition planned, as well.

FFXIV - I'm working my way through the main story quests of A Realm Reborn. My character is a level 41 Warrior now. I'm still enjoying the game. I think I'll pick it back up tonight.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Slaves to Darkness

I just finished book LI, or "51" of the Horus Heresy, a novel by John French entitled Slaves to Darkness. It was grand.

At this point in the story, Horus has broken open the path through space he needs to take to Terra, and now needs to consolidate his forces for the final push to confront the Emperor and cast him down. However, his coalition is really not one at all, and drastically needs marshaling and whipping into shape. Which is where his brothers Lorgar and Perturabo come in.

The primarchs of the XVII legion Word Bearers and the IV legion Iron Warriors, respectively, they are also the only ones Horus can turn to in order to track down and break (as one would a wild animal) his brothers, now ascended to daemonhood, Fulgrim and Angron. The wayward brothers have to be focused so that their respective legions can be gathered and controlled and brought together with the rest of the Warmaster's forces for the assault on Terra.

This book involves a lot of primarchs, but rarely is anything shown through one of their own points of view. Instead, we get to see through the eyes of several legionaries close to Horus, Lorgar, or Perturabo for various reasons, to observe how these titans deal with one another.

I was struck by how much Perturabo got to be cool this time out; he is usually being played or subordinated or humiliated in some way. I think French likes him. I do, too. He's (usually) cold, calm, stoic, and dependable. And loyal, in his own way. Iron within, iron without. Just don't let him feel neglected or unappreciated.

I'm impressed by French's works. First Praetorian of Dorn, and now this, not to mention Tallarn or his other stuff I've read.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Chaos Space Marines Research

Since finishing up my last Horus Heresy novel, book L, I have elected to read more about the Black and Alpha legions in the post-Heresy period of the Imperium of Man.

It can be hard to pin down when these take place, but its safe to assume the ones around the Black Legion are in the first few millennia of the post-Heresy period, and that the ones about the Alpha Legion are happening in M41, or perhaps even M42.

Extinction is set in the period where the Sons of Horus are being persecuted by the Emperor's Children and other traitor legions and warbands. Abaddon has abandoned them, and is making a pilgrimage across the Eye of Terror to find himself, as it were.

Abaddon: Chosen of Chaos is just a scene or two from the point of view of Khayon, the POV character of the Black Legion series. Curiously, it is set later in the timeline than either of the existing books, and likely even the next one in the series, since Abaddon appears to be in posession of the daemon sword Drach'nyen in this story.

Unearthed is the story of an interrogator in the Inquisition doing his best to foil an Alpha Legion warband that have decimated an imperial planet. In the end, he appears to have been able to remotely trigger a self-destruct sequence in his own ship, killing the Alpha Legion that have taken it over. Their leader is a character who was at least mentioned in the book I am reading now:

Sons of the Hydra. This is an interesting tale of an Alpha Legion warband made of entirely of space marines who were once members of other legions or chapters. One came from the Night Lords, one from the Dark Angels' Fallen faction, one from a now wiped out Ultramarines successor chapter, and so on. They are being led on a quest to steal a warp artefact of some sort from the Word Bearers to supposedly deliver it to whoever is currently leading the overall Alpha Legion. We'll see how that turns out, of course.

Truth is my Weapon was basically just an Inquisitor interrogating a captured Alpha Legionnaire, and eventually executing him, done stylistically, of course.

We are One is the story of an Inquisitor who is tracking the Alpha Legionnaire Phocron... to the end of his career.

Hunted is centered around an Imperial Guardsman who is being used in ways he doesn't quite understand by an Inquisitor to track down cultists from within their cells.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Eorzea, Ho!

Vana'Diel, the world of FFXI, is perhaps my favorite in video games. It won't be around forever, though, and it's game systems are getting stiff in their old age. It was time I really gave Eorzea a shot as a replacement in my life, if not in my heart.

Eorzea is the titular reborn realm of FFXIV, a legendarily troubled game, at launch. The relaunch sometime later has gone on to become a very successful game, and one living very near to the top of the subscription MMO genre. This is no accident.

With A Realm Reborn, and the two expansions out at the moment, Heavensward and Stormblood, S-E has just about nailed the fusion of FFXI and WoW that they seem to have been going for. XIV retains a lot of what made XI great in the flavor of the world, characters, writing, and overall spirit, not to mention a flexible class system. It also rounds off much of what made XI difficult, if not player hostile, in its heyday. This is where I see the influence of WoW. The experience of getting in game and leveling my character up to 30 has had much more in common with Blizzard's MMO than S-E's previous.

I am fine with this. In fact, this might be the platonic ideal of the genre, in my book. I have played a lot of WoW, and really enjoyed it, but never grown attached to the world. I have only ever stayed around as long as the desire to level up lasted, and never felt and draw to go back and revisit any parts of the world I had previously played in. By contrast, just about all of my affection for FFXI is tied up in the world of Vana'Diel, with consideration to the friends I made in my time there. Melding very strong systems and game loops and structures to very strong world building is just good sense.

I watched the noclip video series about FFXIV on YouTube, and I think Naoki Yoshida, the game runner, has a really good head on his shoulders for MMO development. I don't know whether he was ever on FFXI, but having played Ultima Online and WoW, he was able to bring knowledge of what others were doing in the space to his work on FFXIV at S-E after the game's initial failure, for its relaunch.

I could see myself playing a lot of XIV, and I am planning to stick with it, probably as a subscriber after my now 45-day free period ends. I hear Yasumi Matsuno has been doing some work on the game, and I am very excited to get through the story to those parts.

I have created a Marauder, named Warmaster Lupercal, in tribute to Horus Lupercal, fallen son of the Master of Mankind. My semi-RP justification for this is that Horus once spent untold decades in the warp accruing power before returning and laying siege to his father's realm. I posit that Eorzea was one of the places he visited, and did many good deeds and fetch quests before gaining the power he desired from that place and then moved on. My adventures in XIV are surely reflective of Horus' trials.

I have reached level 30 so far, at which point I am given to understand that I can change classes to Warrior, though I don't know whether I should or should not, yet. Perhaps its even necessary; I haven't done much research to this point, because I haven't really had to. I'm just enjoying playing the game and having it explain itself, for the most part, and not having to rely on extra-game research. I'm sure there would come a time where that would be necessary later on down the line, if I wanted to get hardcore, but for now I'm content to explore Eorzea at my own pace, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of it soon.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Gaming While Abroad 2018

Having the Switch has been a real blessing in terms of the breadth and depth of experience available to play while way from home. I would never have thought to be able to take with me games like Fortnite, Bayonetta, Breath of the Wild, or the hottest new JRPG on the scene, Octopath Traveler, in the days of even the Vita or 3DS.

Much of my game time in Japan this year was spent with those, but I also checked in on a few others, including Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (for the kids, mostly), Shovel Knight, and Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon.

I took my 3DS along for the trip with the express purpose of playing Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux, and I did just that. I got about 3 hours or so in. So far, so good. the dungeon exploration is reminiscent of Etrian Odyssey, though thankfully without the need to manually draw in features on the map.

I thought I might like to play some Rocket League, but my wifi speeds are apparently not sufficient for it to work well via the Steam Link on my TV, so I guess I will have to keep that bounded within the four sides of my desktop monitor for the time being.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Words from the East

Most from as east as the UK, some about the Far East.

The Red Path - This story sees Kharn being sent an emissary from Abaddon. The Warmaster of Chaos apparently wants the Betrayer's help in his upcoming 13th Black Crusade. Kharn has no desire to follow the will of anyone but the Blood God, however, so Abaddon is forced to confront him in person, which goes about as well as you might imagine. It turns out, though, the for a time, the will of Khorne is aligning with the rest of the Chaos Gods through Abaddon. The Red Path will see Kharn act in concert with the Black Legion in the campaign to come.

Shroud of Night - This is mainly the story of an Alpha Legion warband, a harrow, in the newly split galaxy after the eruption of the Cicatrix Maledictum, the great rift of warp space to have spilt forth after Cadia fell to Abaddon in his 13th Black Crusade. They have been hired, in a way, by an Emperor's Children captain, sent to the world of Tsadrekha to corrupt the beacon there, a telepath witch the ability to act in a limited way like the Astronomican. However, a Khorne berzerker lord is also laying siege to the planet, and Kharn himself is in the mix, as well. This was a cool book, also featuring Primaris Imperial Fists, Sisters of Battle, and the Living Saint Celestine.

Born of Flame - Book 50 of the Horus Heresy. This is a compilation, though, of stories about the Salamanders legion before and during the galactic civil war. It's three novellas and a couple of short stories all by Nick Kyme, who has also written a trio of novels within the larger series around the legion and their primarch, Vulkan. The final novella in the collection, Sons of the Forge, has a cool flash-forward ending showing the 40K Salamanders chapter discovering the artefacts of Vulkan's creation that the story was centered around.

A History of Japan to 1334 - Just what the title says. I have only just begun this tome, but it's interesting so far. I know a decent amount about Japan's history from the Sengoku period through the Edo period, but not a ton outside of those.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Quickest of Hits

I've had a pretty crazy week, touching on a lot of different games, but basically all just because the whim struck.

Grand Theft Auto III - How many years has it been? I wanted to hear the soundtrack again, and just see what the game felt like after so much water under the bridge.

The Elder Scrolls Online - Revisiting the Orc paladin-analog I created here. Zenimax Online's dedication to the game has made me consider playing it more.

God of War II - Hype around the PS4 reboot made me want to go back and play this one that I never got to, previously. The first 45 minutes or so were pretty impressive.

Team Fortress 2 - I've been on a bit of a shooter kick lately. What really is the greatest of all time?

For Honor - I do like melee combat systems in games. This one seems good and crunchy so far.

Magic: The Gathering Arena - Maybe I do like this better than Hearthstone, after all?

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon - It was the game going when I turned on the Switch. Still very cool, of course.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Shooter McWeekend

I was bitten by the shooter bug this weekend.

I woke up Saturday and played a little Quake: Champions, and I would return to it late Sunday night after podcasting. Champions has the unparalleled feel of the original Quake game, and is a pretty casual and accessible shooter, being the basics of the genre as it emerged, and nothing like a lot of the more modern games which feature things such as cover, destructible environments, vehicles, and even reloading. I've had a good time playing the game so far, and I think I'll continue to do so. I've somehow managed to be the top scorer on my team in two of the four matches I've played. Matches seem to either go 10 minutes or until one team gets 75 kills. The mode I have been playing so far is four-on-four. I have one character unlocked aside from the Slipgate Marine, an alien warlord called Scalebearer, whose active ability and starting armor value I prefer, I think.

On Sunday morning, I thought I would check in on Call of Duty mutliplayer. However, no one is playing Call of Duty 2 online these days, so instead I decided to check out the campaign mode. I played the first 3-4 missions as a Russian in Stalingrad, and it was good fun, if a very simple game at its core. I don't think I'll bother going back to it, when there are so many other Call of Duty games to choose from. I have World at War still sitting untouched, and I would bet there are still people playing the first Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare online, as well.

Later Sunday, before going out for the day, I thought I would knock another off my backlog: Quake Mission Pack 2: Dissolution of Eternity. I played the first mission of the first episode, and it was cool. This may be a little more in line with the original game than the first mission pack, Scourge of Armagon.

Finally, Sunday afternoon, as a reward for finishing my chores for the day, I let myself try out Fortnite Battle Royale (now just Fortnite) for the Switch. I really like the game on that platform, maybe even more than on the PC. It's much less of a pain to run endless distances with an analog stick than by holding down W, and it seems easier to quickly swap to build mode, as well. I think it's a good fit for the system, but what's not? The only drawback I see is that the Switch requires Wi-Fi, and unfortunately does not use LTE, and so it's portable playability is hampered. I'll play more of the game this way.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Grim 'n' Gothic, Furturistic 'n' Medieval

Quake Champions - I have been curious to try this out, and it was free on Steam, so I thought I would give it a shot. It's much the same arena deathmach style of multiplayer FPS as Quake III or Quake Live were. It plays fast and smooth, with a focus on older values like knowing the power-ups, and raw reaction timing and aiming skills. It mixes these with the modern conventions of free-to-play games, including earnable loot boxes containing cosmetic rewards for your characters, and an overall player profile XP level. I want to play more. It's pretty effortless enjoyment.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin - I never made it very far into the vanilla release of Dark Souls II, but I had heard this was the better version to play for a number of reasons, so I picked it up on the cheap some time ago. I'm in a spot now where I want something to play while I can listen to some podcasts, and Souls games are almost perfect for this use. There is very little in the way of spoken or written narrative to concentrate on; its mostly crunchy combat and character building concerns, which I find go really well with spoken word audio.

At the moment I am building a melee-focused warrior, with an aim fight with a great axe or great club. I may try to get away from the sword and shield approach I used for a lot of the first Dark Souls.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Black Legion and Kharn

I've just come home from a week away on business, and I took the opportunity to dig deeper into Chaos Space Marines in 40K:

Black Legion - sequel to The Talon of Horus, and second book in the series of the same name. This one was all about the up and coming Black Legion breaking out of the Eye of Terror for the first time and starting their Long War on the Imperium. Rival traitor marine warbands in the Eye are a big threat, as are Sigismund and his Black Templars chapter keeping vigil over the Cadian Gate, awaiting the return of the traitor legions. Aaron Dembski-Bowden does not disappoint. And given the events of The Master of Mankind, I'm very much looking forward to the next book in this series, which it seems like will be about Abbadon claiming the demon blade Drach'nyen.

Kharn: Eater of Worlds - More than anything I was kind of shocked at how many beats this book shares with The Talon of Horus. In both books, the return of the legions former second in command is the centerpiece the whole thing swings around, in both the Emperor's Children are the main antagonists, in both a voidship is cast down as a projectile onto one of their cities, and both books are mostly focused on one warrior's point of view of the leader figure they are attempting to find or resurrect. From the looks of things both books must have been being written around the same time, as well, which is interesting. As for the Kharn book, it seems to have ended right at the climax. It's like it's missing a third of the book. What's here is pretty good, it just kind of ends, and there's no follow-up as far as I know. I would like to see what comes next at Skalathrax.

I didn't realize it until just now, but the short The Weakness of Others is from the POV of Kharn, and it is during the action on Skalathrax that earned him the moniker of Betrayer. It's just a short, though. A proper window into that event would have been nice, to see why it happened that way. It would still be possible, especially if told from the POV of the other characters in Kharn: Eater of Worlds.

One other short I read, Enyalius, In Memorium was about another onetime World Eater, dedicating the death of a massive Ultramarines voidship to a fallen brother Khorne berserker.

I still have a couple of Kharn/Chaos Space Marines books plotted out ahead of me, so I'll give an update on those when I finish them.

V Week, and Visitations

I wanted to check out Valkyria Chronicles for V week on the backlog. It made a really positive first impression. I'm definitely looking forward to playing more. I was a little surprised to find that the girl wearing the neckerchief in her hair is one of the military leaders at the outset of the game, Alicia. It seems to have a cool tactical battle system, though.

I played some of the newest single player content in Hearthstone, the Witchwood monster hunting stuff. In this mode you basically build a deck as you go, choosing passive abilities and cards to incorporate into your deck as you fight through a gauntlet of 8 bosses. I've made it as far as the seventh or either encounter, thus far, before hitting a seemingly totally insurmountable wall of a boss.

I have also spent some more time tooling around Skyrim in the past few days, not knowing what else to play so soon after coming home from a long business trip. I'm just checking things off the quest log in that game. I can't commit to any one storyline or character growth area for long, though I do like melee/ranged over anything at all magical.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Victory and a Ticker-tape Parade

I finally polished off my campaign of Final Fantasy Tactics using only generic soldiers and the job system. It wasn't easy, and I resorted to the use of save states sometimes, effectively creating my own version of the Chariot Tarot from Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. It was pretty satisfying, though, even if I did lock myself out of a lot of side content by removing Mustadio from my party early on. Turns out you need him to get half of the side quests and other special characters later on in the game.

Victory would have been much more difficult to achieve if not for one of my Orators having convinced a Tiamat hydra to join us in one of the final battles. That thing was invaluable in the fight against Ultima, the reborn high seraph. It was a lot of fun to revisit this old favorite of mine. I still feel like it's one of my favorite games of all time, even seeing some of its shortcomings in a fresh new light this time around.

For lack of knowing what to play next, I have spent the past few days frittering away free time in Skyrim, Hearthstone, and Heroes of the Storm.

I may have found a way to come to peace with Hearthstone. After having seen what a real Magic: The Gathering looks like in this format (hardcore and demanding of an attentive and dedicated player), Blizzard's dumb, bright, and capricious take might be more my speed after all.

I like playing Heroes of the Storm with and against a full load of bots. I don't want the pressure to perform or unwanted social interactions of opponents in... any game, really. I enjoy HotS and other games like it for the push and pull mechanics, comfortable in the knowledge that I have aged out of actually playing these against other people. I should probably just focus on single-player RTS games, but no one does progression and ongoing development like Blizzard.

There's not too much to say about my time in Skyrim over the weekend, other than that I decided to focus on some quests in a small area of the map, and decided to use fast travel sparingly on this character, to facilitate the completion of quests in a timely manner so the narratives aren't all hacked up, similar to how the medium of film uses jump cuts.

Talon of Horus, The

I've just finished Aaron Dembski-Bowden's 40K novel exploring the beginnings of the Black Legion, and the first in the series of the same name, entitled The Talon of Horus.

The book is set some indeterminate number of centuries after, but within a millennium of, the Horus Heresy. By this time the traitor legions defeated at Terra have all retreated into the Eye of Terror, and the Imperium has mostly forgotten about them and become accustomed to living under their undead god-emperor, now entombed on the Golden Throne.

It is told via the point of view of a onetime legionnaire of the Thousand Sons, Iskander Khayon, and has him laying out the story as a framing device to the Holy Inquisition on Terra, to whom he has willingly surrendured himself. Khayon begins the account with a short explanation of the state of the Nine Legions in the Eye, the ongoing Legion Wars, which pit them all against one another, for old grievances or for the glory of their respective Chaos gods, in some cases. We're introduced to Khayon's retinue, and before long he forms a loose band of other traitor space marines to go on a hunt for a weapon to foil the Emperor's Children and their plan to dominate the rest of the Nine Legions by cloning Horus, whose body has been kept by his former legion, until only recently having been taken in a raid by the Emperor's Children.

Over the course of the story, Khayon and crew come to meet Ezekyle Abbadon, former first captain of the Sons of Horus and right hand of the man himself, who goes on to be the main frontman of Chaos Space Marines in the 41st millennium, and the rest is fake history.

It was a pretty entertaining book for one somewhat versed in the overall lore of the setting, but I don't think I would recommend it as a place to begin for neophytes to 40K. Also, the Abbadon we see here is a wholly different person than the one present in the Horus Heresy series. Fair enough, it's eons later, and the man has been through some momentous things in the intervening years, but the only real explanation we have other than the obvious fact that time passes and things evolve and change is that at some point he went on a pilgrimage of worlds in the Eye, and through overcoming various trials basically reforged his personality, taking a lot of the edge off, while retaining and even bolstering his natural charisma and leadership abilities. He is able to compel loyalty and subordination here in a way not unlike how Horus and the other primarchs are described to so in their day.

Next up on my agenda is the next book in the series, simply called Black Legion.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Iron Hand, Medusa's Gorgon Explained

Well, perhaps not fully explained. The Primarchs novel Ferrus Manus: Gorgon of Medusa explores a little of Ferrus' mindset in the later stages of the Great Crusade, as the Emperor mulls over deciding on someone to take command when he wants to retire to Terra for his next grand project.

Ferrus of course thinks it should be him given the honor and responsibility. At least, going into the Gardinaal compliance campaign, he does. By the end you get the sense that he doesn't really want to bother with command of more than one legion, and all the coordination and patience that goes with that kind of role.

Despite being a book centered around the primarch, there are a ton of other characters present here, several of which are from other legions, with a lot being Emperor's Children legionaries. We even get the rare POV of the enemy force, in this instance a not-yet-compliant branch of recently rediscovered humanity that has mastered it's own local star system, but nothing further. They are recalcitrant to join the Imperium, and are in general a real trial of Ferrus' temper.

It was a pretty decent story, but perhaps the least focused on its title character of the bunch so far, or perhaps sharing that distinction with the Guilliman book. These two are as much about the character of the legions present or the events of the campaign they take place during.

Next up, having come completely current with all of the released full numbered volumes of both the Horus Heresy and Primarchs series, I'm going to take a diversion over to 40K to read the two books currently released in the Black Legion series by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, who is without a doubt a top-tier author in 30K. I'm excited for these.

Omnibus Sessions

I made good on getting Samurai to 75 in FFXI this year. I'm done with the game this time around, though I am set on trying out FFXIV soon.

I've also made some pretty good progress with my ongoing FFT campaign. I'm ready to begin the last several story battles, having trained up my crew of generics to a pretty high degree across their many classes.

I should briefly mention Mario Kart 8 Deluxe just because I loaded up my Switch for another purpose and found a race set in progress that I wanted to finish. May as well get all of the trophies in the 50 cc class, I figure.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a throwback to Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, and was created to fulfill a backer stretch goal for the Kickstarter of Bloodstaned: Ritual of the Night, which is a throwback to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Curse of the Moon seems very good, so far. It has multiple characters and pathways through the levels, looks and sounds like its inspiration, and has a friendly casual mode that grants infinite lives and removes knockback on enemy contact. I wasn't really aware this was coming, but it's been a pleasant surprise.

I've also been playing the beta versions of Magic: the Gathering: Arena, and Dauntless, though I think I'll put some more time into each before giving my thoughts on them.