Monday, May 18, 2015

Clear The Deck!

It's been a full several weeks, and I've been doing some podcasting with the Game Bytes crew, Lawman, Killt, and Redeye, to use their noms de plume, as well as tidying up of the game docket. The Witcher 3 releases today, and heading into that maelstrom, here's what I've been playing, in no particular order, and just for the record:

The Witcher - I finished up Side Effects and then played through The Price of Neutrality, as well. These were both pretty good little miniature Witcher adventures using the first game's systems and settings. The former is more light-hearted and comedic, the latter more of the hard-bitten dark fantasy side of the series, complete with hard choices and unforeseen consequences. They were worth doing, but could have and probably should have been folded into the main game somehow. Perhaps in addition to being available stand-alone.

The Witcher 2 - I had last played before they updated the game to the Enhanced Edition, about 4 years ago, so it's hard to really pinpoint what was new, aside from the obvious new cutscenes at the beginning and end of the game, and the new arena battle mini-game and tutorial intro to the game. I saw all of those things, still having an end-game save, and access to the others readily available. What I did not see was a couple of quests added to the third chapter of the game, one available on Iorveth's path, and one on Roche's path. My save was from my latter playthrough, Roche's path, but past the point where the added quest was accessible. No big deal, I think I got the quick refresher I was looking for on the game. I'm ready for Wild Hunt.

Minecraft - My older daughter, soon to be 4, prompts me to play it sometimes. We don't do much but run around looking at animals and random digging, but it's still worth mentioning.

Titanfall - I bought this along with all the full season pass at a heavy discount to play the multiplayer one evening with the Game Bytes guys I mentioned, on a stream, it turns out. It was good fun, but I lack the kind of time it takes to devote to a game like this to really get the most out of it. Plus, it really takes up a lot of hard drive space, which is the one area where my PC is really deficient. I only have about 500 GB in total available after the OS and other stuff is accounted for.

Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China - I finished it in about 6 hours' play time. It turned out to be pretty cool, overall. The art and presentation was the best part, but the play was alright, as well. It didn't overstay its welcome, which is nice. I only hope one day we can have a full-size AC in this setting, and preferably with Shao Jun starring again. I'm looking forward to the India and Russia games to come in this series.

Diablo III - My Monk is sitting pretty at level 70, and now with a decent compliment of endgame gear, to boot. I've actually dipped into the endgame on this character for the first time since they added Greater Rifts and all that goes along with them--everything since the 2.0 patch, really. It really makes me want to revisit all of my characters to some degree, and I probably will, in time.

Elite: Dangerous - Not much to report here, I'm still in that nebula, still scanning stars, still far from home. I'm not sure when I'll return, but I may weave this game in and our with my witchering in the coming months.

A Virus Named Tom - Pure backlog duty, here. I'm taking a sort of alphabetic approach, now that I have a weekly podcasting outlet. This game turns out to be a riff on Pipe Dream, where the core centers around rotating grid pieces to allow for the flow of electros on a circuit. There are a few added elements, mostly things that make it more stressful, such as having to control a grid-bound character as a cursor for your rotations, and then having to deal with other enemies and obstacles also on the grid, as well as environmental effects that blind you to the condition of the board and the like. Not really my type of thing, but it's a nicely put together package nonetheless.

Blocks That Matter - More backlog duty. I haven't gotten in much time, just yet, but it seems like a kind of combination 2D puzzle-platformer and Minecraft-like. I'll have to give it another go or two, but this also is probably not really my type of thing.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Shut It Down, Shut It Down

Blizzard has been good to me in granting access to Beta versions of their upcoming games. Beginning with Diablo III, which I greatly appreciated, and also with Hearthstone, another great game, and most recently with their DOTA-like, Heroes of the Storm. Awful title, by the way.

I'd had access for a good long while, but never got around to loading it up until just last night, thinking I should at least make use of the privilege. After all, I want to stay in their good graces and hopefully get Overwatch access as well, in time.

I played through the 3 tutorial and training pieces at the outset of the game, and wound up buying the starter pack, which was on sale at something like a 77% discount. I'm not a huge fan of the model they're using, which is that of League of Legends where you buy each hero as opposed to that of Dota 2, where all heroes are available from the start and all you buy are cosmetics. I was given one hero free, Valla, the Diablo series' Demon Hunter, for owning Reaper of Souls, and the pack I bought included three more, Raynor, Malfurion, and a Dwarf I am unfamiliar with.

It was strange playing the tutorial and seeing Uther and thinking "oh, Omniknight," due to my familiarity with Dota 2. I think that sort of thing will happen a lot with this game, given the history of the genre.

I was very quickly having a good time with the starting parts of the game, and wanted to continue. I know where that path leads, though, and now is not the time. Maybe after The Witcher 3.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Three Weeks, Five Days, Twenty-Three Hours

That is the approximate time left until The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is released. I haven't thought of myself as excited for this game as I was for the second in the series, but the fact of the matter is that I do a quick calculation of how much time is remaining to allocate to gaming before this behemoth barges into my life and commandeers all of my time.

I've already waved off Pillars of Eternity for the time being, and between my steady engagements of Diablo III and Elite, I'm already unsure I'll have enough time to knock out the other couple of things I've picked up over the last week.

Diablo III Season 3 is under way, and I'm playing a Monk this time around. I've got her (Iskra) up to level 51, so far. I should be able to grind out the rest of the way to 70 before the Witcher 3 hits. I'm liking Monk a lot, so far. It's fast and powerful. It does seem heavy on the passive, healing focus, and aura type skills, though. I'm still not sure what I'll do in this game after I get one of each class to 70. On one hand, I'd like to further refine each of my characters in terms of gear, Torment levels, and Paragon points, but on the other I might like to have a go at Hardcore classes, or future seasonal rewards.

In Elite, I finally scraped up enough money to buy my Asp Explorer, a ship I had been wanting for a long time. I outfitted it as best I could for long-range exploring, and set out on an expedition to several points of interest within the galactic neighborhood. I'm currently still hanging out in the most interesting nebula I've seen so far, scanning loads of Type O stars and black holes. I'm thinking once I'm done here, rather than continuing on to the Bubble Nebula like I'd thought about, that I'll return to civilization to see how much I can get for my exploration data, and go from there. Before my next expedition, I want to be able to hop longer distances at once. Right now I can go about 20 LY at a time, but an Asp at it's full potential should get nearer to 35 LY. That will make traveling from place to place that much faster, and also make it possible to get to more and more remote stars and regions in the less densely populated areas between spiral arms and on the edges and outer regions of the galactic disc.
Elite is going to be my furthest back-burnered of games I consider a going concern, but I'll still be progressing in it, little by little.

As a sort of preparation for the upcoming big release, I'm going back and revisiting the first two Witcher games. I'd like to check out all the additional CDPR content available to both; two side adventures in the first game, and the material added to the second after I'd finished it at launch. So far, I've played through one of the side adventures in The Witcher, a fan-made module called Damn Those Swamps! which was of middling quality. I've begun the first of the CDPR ones, which I believe is called Side Effects, a fully voice acted side story that begins with Geralt trying to get his bard friend Dandelion out of debt to some shady characters in Vizima he owes money to. These are each probably a few hours long.

Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China came out yesterday, a mostly 2D take on the series, starring Shao Jun, a Chinese Assassin from the early 1500s, who first appeared in the short film Assassin's Creed Embers, where she made a pilgrimage to Tuscany to seek guidance from Assassin Mentor Ezio Auditore in his final days. It's kinda neat so far, with an emphasis on being stealthy, and a very nice art style. Some of the play from the 3D games is a natural fit for this game type, and some not, really. I'm only a couple of levels in so far, but looking to play more soon. Hopefully I can get through this before The Witcher 3 hits, as well. It shouldn't be too difficult. It seems built for replayability.

Kind of on a whim, I began Batman: Arkham City a couple of weeks ago. That game starts off very strong. It's got a very solid feel to it, and an interesting, if not at all believable, premise. Given ample time, I'd play more. We'll see if that should ever come to pass, though.

Monday, March 30, 2015


This is a post about pillars, in a way. Two major pillars of my pantheon of games, at least for the past few months, have been Diablo III and Elite: Dangerous. Also, Pillars of Eternity, Obsidian's Kickstarted modern successor to the Infinity Engine RPGs of old has been released, and I've played a bit of that.

A few other tidbits, first.

I finally uninstalled Borderlands 2, after giving it another go to see if the hook would set. It's not a bad game by any means, but it's not snagging me at the time being. I may have gotten my fill with the first game, but there's also the fact that I have umpteen other FPS to play, many of which I think I would get more out of for time spent. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, for instance.

I played a little SpaceChem recently, as well. That's a great game, but one that might be too difficult for its own good. I like that about it. I'm stuck on what might be one of the first really genuinely mind-bending puzzles, a level called "No Ordinary Headache." Indeed.

Rather than tool around in Assassin's Creed Rogue collecting miscellany, I jumped back into Shadow of Mordor for that Assassin-like feeling. It's a game that is way better than it has any right to be, as a licensed property. In fact, I think the license is pretty boring, and probably a major reason why I'm not head over heels for this game. It's very solid and fun in the moment, but there's pretty much nothing that actively draws me back to play it over one of my pillar games.

Speaking of which, I leveled up a Crusader to 70 and beyond for Season 2 of Diablo III play. I like it better than Witch Doctor, but maybe not as much as Barbarian or Wizard. Crusader seems designed around the concept an agro-grabbing tank, which I think has limited utility in a game like this to begin with, and then only in multi-player. I would like to try that way of playing sometime, but I wonder if it would be as efficient as going all-out offense. It might require having other damage dealing-centric party members rework their gear to disregard survivability and go 100% damage- focused. I'm not sure if I'll play any more of Season 2. I ran bounties all the way to 70 and then did one rift after that. I might like to run a few more and then try a greater rift, but then I might just wait until Season 3, when I plan to play a Monk to 70 to complete the full set of classes. After that may be when I focus on endgame stuff for each class, and when I finally delve into hardcore mode characters. There is still a lot of Diablo left to play.

Elite recently hit version 2.2, where two new ships were added, the Vulture (5M CR) and Fer-de-Lance (51M CR), both dedicated heavy fighters. I was able to afford a modestly outfitted Vulture with my earnings from exploration and trading, and set out to try 2.2's other big change to the game, buffed bounties. Simply put, the monetary rewards for destroying pirate ships got a big increase, so much so that to me it seems like easily the fastest and most enjoyable way to amass a small fortune. At some point, maybe in a Type-7 or larger, trade might edge it out in CR/hour, but without any of the thrill of combat. I earned over a million credits over the last day in about an hour altogether of hunting pirates at a RES (resource extraction site). That is quite an improvement over earning rates pre-patch, no matter the method. I'll probably crank out a few more million hunting bounties, hoping to raise my combat rating, before putting it all into an Asp for some real big-time exploration. That's going to be fun. I don't know where I'm going, only that it'll be a hell of a trip.

I mentioned Pillars of Eternity at the top of this post, but I really don't have much to say about it just yet. I've created a character, a sort of halfling woman who is a Chanter, which is a class that seems a lot like a Bard from FFXI, with buffs and debuffs. I've only made it through character creation and the first maybe 20 minutes of play thus far, but it does seem very faithful to the feel of games like Baldur's Gate and Planescape: Torment. I hope to dig deep into this one soon.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Rogue Assassin Shay Cormac

Assassin's Creed Rogue finally came to the PC, and I plowed straight through it over the last week. It's a very high quality port, and seems to run much smoother than Black Flag did.

It's also a very solid Assassin's Creed game, and the end of an era for the series, in more ways than one. Rogue wraps up the 18th century colonial North America sub-group of the series, along with the series' use of it's current engine tech, sailing mechanics, and hopefully some of its other tropes. Unity looks to break away from several of these mainstays.

Rogue is the second game to set the modern portion of the series at Abstergo Entertainment, taking place there a year after the events of Black Flag. In-animus, it is the story of one Shay Patrick Cormac, a young Assassin in Achilles' (of III, Connor's mentor) Colonial Brotherhood. Achilles and the Assassins (Adewale of Black Flag and Freedom Cry among them) are meddling in forces they do not understand, and a mission Shay is sent on to Lisbon involving a precursor site and relic goes awry in a really awful way resulting in a lot of potentially avoidable death and destruction. This leads to some major disillusionment with the cause of the brotherhood on Shay's part, and he breaks from them in a very final way.

Who should come along then, to pick up his spirits and further his goal of preventing more tragedy like that in Lisbon, than the Templars? Shay falls in with a Colonel Monro and several other Templars, but does not become one himself until further engagement with his former Assassin brotherhood cost him this new friend, as well. From there he is a close associate of the Colonial Templar Grand Master Haytham Kenway (off III, Connor's absentee father, rival, and showstealer, as well as the son of Edward Kenway, protagonist of Black Flag) as they focus on hunting down and destroying Shay's former brotherhood and recovering a precursor artifact (the same given to Shao Jun by Ezio Auditore in Embers, later stolen from Templar hands by Adewale and given to Bastienne in Freedom Cry, used in Haiti leading to a giant earthquake, stolen by Templar Lawrence Washington and taken to Virginia, investigated by the Templars, finally winding up in the hands of Samuel Smith, who Shay assassinates and recovers the box from, giving it to Achilles).

It's a good yarn for anyone familiar with the series, and a good trip down the path of the Templar, in that 'we're not so different, you and I' sense. I would like to see a game from the point of view of a Templar who began his career that way, since thus far the only ones we've been able to play as began their training as Assassins (Haytham and Shay). I wonder how much parkour is involved in the training of the average Templar, though.

I had a pretty good time with Rogue, but now that it's finished, I'm not too sure how much of the extraneous stuff I want to wrap up. I put in 70 or 80 hours with Black Flag, and Rogue is very similar to that game. Where it's not, it resembles III, which I also spent a good 70-80 hours with. I may be about done with this iteration of the franchise. Which makes it fortunate, then, that the next game, Unity, looks to change some things up. I'm hoping it's enough to make it fresh again, because there is already another game on deck for this fall, Victory.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Once Familiar

Once familiar is how I would describe The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. It reminds me quite a bit of A Link to the Past, but spruced up on more modern hardware with more modern design sensibilities. I like how it is analog and runs at a very smooth frame rate. Otherwise it seems fairly stock Zelda so far, save perhaps the item rental system, which if it pans out the way I'm hoping could lend the game an enhanced feeling of freedom over the usual. I haven't really liked a Zelda game in a very long time. I was wowed by Ocarina back when just like anyone, but looking back I can't help but feel it has been overblown, and I don't think I would ever want to replay it. I think my favorites in the series have always been the first and A Link to the Past. Zelda II holds a special place in my mind, but I wouldn't call it one of my favorite games by any stretch of the imagination.

The Homeworld Remastered collection came out recently, and I was given a copy as a gift by my good friend and podcasting buddy Esteban. This is a series I've seldom heard much about, but what I did hear was always very glowing. It's very well-regarded. So far I've played through the tutorial in both the remastered and original versions of the first game. It seems novel, an RTS that is relatively slower paced than most in a fully three-dimensional space setting. I'm planning to delve deeper into the remaster, as time goes on.

My Diablo III Season 2 Crusader is developing nicely. She's level 48 now, I think. This class makes a pretty satisfying brick house. It's neat to be able to just face down everything enemies try to throw at you and almost browbeat them into submission, albeit with a flail or some such. The shield-centric abilities are neat, too. You may trade off some loot-grind efficiency for the feeling of being untoppleable, but I don't mind.

I recently made a long exploring expedition in Elite, cut short somewhat by my desire to contribute to an exploration-themed community goal. I earned over 2 million credits with all my discovery data, and put that into a Lakon Type-6 trading ship, which allows for up to 112 tons of cargo. My Cobra would max out at 60. I've now flown everything up to a million credits in price, and my next ship is tentatively an Asp for more deep, deep space exploration. I may hop into a Viper for some combat play, though, or one of the new ships coming in the next update, if their sticker costs fall in under the 6+ mil required to fly an Asp. Right now my total net worth is probably around 5 mil, but I wouldn't be able to get much out of an Asp without about 8-10 mil for the ship itself and the additional modules needed to make the most of it. It's going to take some hours in trading to be able to afford that.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Long Game

I am playing the long game with both Diablo III and Elite: Dangerous as a matter of course, and with Warcraft III just because that is how I feel like handling it.

Warcraft first. I completed the first main campaign, leading the humans under Arthas to Northrend where he claimed the cursed sword Frostmourne and killed Mal-Ganis before returning home to slay his father, the king, and take the crown for himself. Not a very nice guy, Arthas. It looks like the next campaign is Arthas again, this time as the lich king leading the undead in their quest to... well, I don't actually have any idea. I guess that is my incentive to continue the game.

Season 2 of Diablo III competitive play has begun, and I'm leveling up my fifth character, a crusader. So far this class is more fun than the Witch Doctor I played in Season 1, and I may hit 70 faster this time around, leaving time to get more Paragon levels and gear up for rifts and greater rifts. Last time around I hit 70 and bailed, more or less. It probably helps that I started my crusader off in adventure mode from the jump, which is a lot less tedious than the campaign, which I have had my fill of for the time being.

Elite, then. I mentioned my plan in my last entry, and that's more or less what I did--find trade routes and focus on making money until I could afford the best scanning equipment for exploring. I did detour into bounty hunting a time or two, but now I'm off for some serious exploration. I think I might take a few days' trip into the unknown before returning to sell the data, upgrade ship components, and repeat, with the idea to eventually go to the extremes of the galaxy and to afford larger and larger ships. I'm still in a Cobra, which is a good all-arounder, but could already afford a Type 6 for trading if I really wanted. Maybe after this exploration stint I'll get one of those and work up to an Asp for some really uber-hardcore exploration.

Monday, February 2, 2015

At the End of One Journey, Middle of Another, and Beginning a Third

I played through most of Journey with my 3-year-old daughter Mia beside me, sometimes grabbing the controller and walking in circles. I don't have too much to say about it other than it is pretty, and empty. The perfect thing for a bunch of breathless impressionables to imprint upon themselves in a space otherwise fairly devoid of such. A lot was made of relatively little.

I thought I would dip back into Fallout: New Vegas for some of the DLC, and I even went so far as to cue up one, Lonesome Road, for my next session. Turns out that will probably be on hold for a while.

The brunt of my gaming time over the last several weeks has been with Elite: Dangerous. It's very addicting. I've gone through an exploring phase (Sidewinder, Adder), followed by a bounty-hunting phase (Eagle, Viper), a short detour into mining (Hauler), and now I'm concentrating on trading (Cobra) with the intent to return to exploring once I can afford the best scanning equipment. If I was a bit hesitant to pick it as my 2014 GOTY, any doubt in my mind has since been long forgotten. I may play it off and on for a very long time.

Now, though, I turn my focus back to the RTS genre, to a classic I've never played to date, Warcraft III. Can I hack it? Is it as hard as Brood War? Will I get into the story and then feel like I need to go play WoW more when I'm done? Will this be the game I spend most of the next couple of months on? Answers to all these questions and more to come.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sailing the Stars

Elite: Dangerous is still devouring most of my gaming time, these days. I've done a fair bit of exploring, ranking up to Surveyor. I headed down through Empire space to the very edge of the settled volume and making some decent cash in an Adder before deciding I wanted a piece of combat action. I then made my way back to civilization, bought an Eagle, outfitted it for combat to the extent I could afford, and started taking hunting contracts and looking or bounties. I think my plan for the next little while is to rank up my combat rating, make some money, and eventually get a Cobra Mk III, which should be good for a mix of activities.

I finished up my Seasonal Witch Doctor in Diablo III, getting him to level 70, as well as 10 Paragon levels. In the end I found a build I could rely on, and still hunted with a gargantuan, zombie dogs, and a bunch of fetishes. It's still not my favorite class, but it's alright. I'm planning to level up a Crusader, once season 2 begins. And eventually, I'll take all the shards and fragments I get while leveling in adventure mode and spend them on one of my level 70 characters.

I can't figure out what I'm getting wrong in Dungeon of the Endless. I've tried four times now, and I can't get past the first level of the dungeon, even on Very Easy. I need to do the tutorial again, because there must be something fundamental that I'm not understanding.

I briefly loaded up Fallout: New Vegas again, meaning to get on to the rest of the DLC for that game, but only made it as far as completing one unrelated side quest. So far.

I also revisited Space Marine for a fun session of killing Orks with chainsword and bolter.

Voxatron is a voxel-based game I had on my taskbar for ages without really trying out. As it turns out, it's a pretty simple Robotron-esque shooter with destructible environments. It's nice, but I kind of wish there was more to it.

I played some Minecraft with my older daughter on my knee, doing some cave spelunking and looking around for the pigs and horses and sheep she likes in the game. Our current world is the longest-lasting I've ever had. I think I'll make a go of it in this one. There's a really deep and complex cave network very near the starting position, as well as a stream and some mountains. It's a good place to settle, from a roleplaying perspective.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Discovery and the Seasons

Over the last week, I've been doing some seasonal maintenance in Hearthstone and Diablo. Hearthstone is easy. Once a month, I play enough games to reach rank 20 and earn a new card back, and then I'm done for the month, unless I care to play more here and there.

Diablo is a little more involved, but the seasons are also a lot longer. I believe this one began in about September of last year, and is slated to end at the beginning of February. Playing a season of Diablo, to me, means leveling a new character class (Witch Doctor, currently) all the way to level 70, and possibly beyond. I was just past level 30 when I decided I needed to finish up before time was up. I'm at 60, now, and I think I can probably earn a level or two each session I play.

I'm not really crazy about the Witch Doctor. It seems to me the distinctive thing about the class is the ability to use numerous pets do the heavy lifting while the player takes care of some limited crowd control, area of effect, and damage over time spell casting. This is fine, and gives it a unique niche among Diablo III classes, but I don't find it incredibly fun to play. It's perhaps a little too indirect for my tastes. The other classes I've played (Wizard, Warrior, Demon Hunter) are all very direct, at least how I play them. Wizard and Demon Hunter can lay traps and hazards of sorts, if the player is so inclined. Maybe I should ditch the zombie dogs and the gargantuan and try a Witch Doctor with a different focus, but I can't see how it would be anywhere near as effective, not to mention safe. The Witch Doctor himself has very little protection in the manner that I'm used to with my Wizard. Maybe I'll give it a shot, though.

The other game I've been playing, and where the majority of my game time is going, is Elite. I'm very much into exploring the incomprehensibly (realistically) large galaxy in the game, not doing any hunting, fighting, or trading, indeed not capable of doing any, with my ship kitted out for exploration over any other purpose. I just love exploring the unexplored, and it seems like a way to make a decent amount of money, though probably not as quick as trading or thrilling as combating your way to fortune and status.

Elite is not everything I want in a space game, but everything it is does fall into that category. As it hopefully fills out with deeper and more varied content and assets, I can see it eating up a lot of my time over a long period of time, something like a Minecraft or Diablo. I think it'll be a perennial favorite. I don't imagine Star Citizen or No Man's Sky will cover the same ground in the same way, though they definitely both have the potential to be something special.

I wonder how long it might take to gain Elite status as an explorer. I've already ranked from Aimless to Mostly Aimless to Scout, and I'm just getting started. I only just bought an entry level detailed surface scanner, and I'm still running on the base system scanner and in the starting Sidewinder ship. But after this theoretical rise to Elite as an explorer, maybe I'd try to do the same in trading or combat. We'll see. I really like this game, though. Maybe that was obvious, considering my Game of the Year post. It was a very late entrant to consideration, the latest, I think, but it certainly did click with me in a way that no other game did in 2014.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 In Games and Literature

Another year has drawn to a close, and it is time to take stock of what I played and read in 2014. First up, the awards:

My Game of the Year: Elite: Dangerous
Honorable Mention: The Banner Saga

Past years:
2013: Spelunky/Hearthstone
2012: Dota 2/Diablo III
2011: The Witcher 2/SpaceChem
2010: Mass Effect 2/Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
2009: Demon's Souls/Red Faction: Guerilla
2008: Metal Gear Solid 4/Gears of War 2
2007: BioShock/Halo 3

The games, DLC, et cetera that I finished in 2014, defined liberally, as always. It's a grand total of 32, which is nice, but this is a particularly apples and oranges comparison with previous years when I was stricter about what counted as a completion.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag: Aveline
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag: Freedom Cry
Assassin's Creed Liberation
Baldur's Gate
Baldur's Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast
Baldur's Gate: The Black Pits
Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Ep. 2
Borderlands: Claptrap's New Robot Revolution
Borderlands: The Secret Armory of General Knoxx
Borderlands: The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned
Chocolate Castle
Civilization: Beyond Earth (Transcendence)
Diablo III (Master) (Barbarian)
Diablo III (Normal) (Demon Hunter)
Diablo III (Torment) (Wizard)
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (Master) (Barbarian)
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (Normal) (Demon Hunter)
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (Torment) (Wizard)
Goat Simulator
Half-Life 2
Hearthstone: Naxxramas (class challenges)
Hearthstone: Naxxramas (Normal)
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
Street Fighter IV (Easiest) (Ryu)
Talisman: Digital Edition
Talisman: Prologue
The Banner Saga
Uncharted 3 : Drake's Deception
Vlad the Impaler

The game backlog has continued to expand well beyond control, but I'm not too worried about it. These days I practically only play PC games, so limiting myself to one platform will at least boost the probability that many of these will ever be touched. I like to hop into something new on occasion, anyway. There will be no shortage of that. I do feel like I've made fewer cavalier purchases over the last year, but I haven't done the validation part of that assumption.

On the book reading front, I think this was a pretty good year.

Book of the Year: A Song of Ice and Fire I - V
Honorable Mention: Roadside Picnic

Without a doubt my reading highlight of this year was taking GRRM's series back-to-back-to-back all the way through all of the currently released books. The Horus Heresy stuff I read was also a lot of fun, but no one individual title stuck out as much to me as did Roadside Picnic, the book that inspired the movie Stalker and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game series. That was a cool book, and not too long. I also had fun rereading James Clavell's Tai-Pan and with Andy Weir's The Martian, a hard science-based tale of a near-future NASA mission to Mars.

Books read in 2014:

A Game of Thrones
A Clash of Kings
A Storm of Swords
A Feast for Crows
A Dance with Dragons
Age of Darkness
Book of Cain
Book of Tyrael
Deliverance Lost
Red Storm Rising
Roadside Picnic
The Martian
The Outcast Dead
The Primarchs
The Walking Dead 1-125
Visions of Heresy

That was 18, which is not bad, and double my 2013 count.

Here's to much more great playing and reading in 2015!

Steam Winter Sale BONANZA Pt. 2

Capping off the Steam holiday sale this year, just a couple of games.

Might & Magic X: Legacy - I was pretty disappointed with how little the quality of the graphics in game resembled the promo screenshots on the Steam store page. Bullshots, indeed. Otherwise, it seems like a pretty standard turn-based RPG in the first-person, advance-upon-a-grid genre similar to, but not so interesting as Legend of Grimrock, which it should be mentioned, is not turn-based, and more focused on puzzles, whereas M&M seems to be more of a quest-based type. It might be worth revisiting, at some point. Probably not, if I'm completely honest. Lack of time, better offerings elsewhere, etc.

Might & Magic VI - this was a freebie with purchase of the above. I understand it was a very impressive game back when it came out, but it looks like one of the most absolutely terrible things I have ever encountered in gaming. Time has not been kind at all to mid-'90s digitization of photos into game assets. I shudder to recall those pained, disembodied visages.

Apart from those, I've been cozying up more to Endless Legend, Dungeon of the Endless, and Ground Zeroes. I have one other new game to report, and that is Elite: Dangerous.

Elite is one of the oldest, longest-running, and most revered game series out there, despite being only verging on active over the 30 years since the first game came out in 1984. I gather much of the acclaim and appreciation goes back to the first game, which no doubt was a huge influence on almost every other notable 3D space flight, combat, or trading game since. Dangerous is the newest, crowd-funded game in the series,

Elite: Dangerous is very interesting in that it uses procedural generation to turn out billions of stars across our galaxy, all anchoring their respective system of orbiting asteroid fields, planets, and space colonies. The galaxy is built on a 1:1 scale with our own, real galaxy, and all the actual data we have modeled accurately (as far as I know), with the rest being computer-generated.

The game itself is about being a space freelance. Haul goods, become a privateer, a pirate, a mercenary, hunt bounties, explore uncharted space, mine asteroids, and just generally do whatever it is you wish to do to make your fortune and ascend the ranks of space pilots in the areas of military action, trading, and exploration. So far, I've eschewed combat for the most part, and hauled some goods back and forth for credits, but have been spending most of my time visiting and gathering mapping data on unexplored star systems. This is by far where I've made the most of my meager earnings in game to date.

I started in a system I've forgotten the name of, probably less than 50 LY from Sol, and I've been heading in a direction I'd colloquially term "galactic down" which is perpendicular to the galaxy's plane of ecliptic, parallel to it's axis of rotation, and down in that the coordinate number for that direction is negative relative to Sol's 0:0:0 origin location. I'm around 300 LY from Sol, at present. I'm planning to continue my exploration, and maybe to hunt some bounties or take on some military contracts here and there along the way. I got rid of my cargo hold racking in order to make room for exploration tools and a shield generator (mainly for safety from pirates).

I've been very impressed with the game. Very impressed, as I'll outline in my next post.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Steam Winter Sale BONANZA Pt. 1

It's Winter Sale time, and I've been trying to play everything as I buy it. This is my chronicle of this fool's errand, beginning with a few things I decided to catch up on before the sale:

Sid Meier's Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies - just a dumb mobile game ported to PC. It's got kind of a neat tactical WWII dogfighting system. I liked the first Ace Patrol on ipad and I had to win a gem auction in the sale lead-up period, so I chose a game no one else would bid on. It's worth a buck or two, but probably better played on a tablet.

Age of Mythology - Microsoft has seemingly come around to the existence of Steam and acknowledgement of their past as PC game developers, or at least they are allowing another studio to remaster and rerelease some of their past hits, such as this one. It seems it's an RTS where you can play various factions from world myths, such as Egyptian, Norse, and Greek traditions. I just did a couple of rounds of the tutorial campaign.

Dark Souls II - I really only played long enough to create a character and work through the beginning exposition to the point where you are given control of said character.

Dawn of War II: Retribution - I played some of The Last Stand, and started the campaign proper as the Space Marines' Blood Ravens chapter, the same faction (the only faction) that was playable in vanilla DoWII and the first expansion, Chaos Rising. I want to see their story through to the end, then perhaps check out Chaos or the Imperial Guard or another of the several factions in the game.

Dungeon of the Endless - It's a type of roguelike where you don't seem to have direct control over how your party members (2 to 4), but are able to alter the dungeon room by room as you go, gathering resources to level up your party and also trying to move an object from the starting room of a floor through to the end of the floor. I have yet to successfully make it to the second floor. It's interesting in that it shares the 4 primary resources (food, industry, science, dust) with Endless Space and Endless Legend, two other games that exist in the same universe.

Endless Legend - A 4X (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) empire-building game set in a fantasy and sci-fi melding world with incredible production values and aesthetics and really unique, distinct, and interesting faction design. It seems to be on the whole going for something Civilization-esque, but with a lot of tweaks aimed at making war more interesting by making stacked armies fan out to do battle directly on the hex-based overworld, which temporarily doubles as your battlefield, and addressing the common complaints about the endgame stages of these types of games involving too much micromanagement, as you have fewer cities to administer in Endless Legend due to a one city per region rule. I've been pretty impressed with the game so far.

Inescapable - I was given a copy to play for research purposes. It's a 16-bit looking sci-fi, alien planet, side-scrolling action and exploration game, obviously Metroid influenced, though without that much emphasis on combat, and instead more on revealing a story of ancient precursor races et cetera. It's solid, if not remarkable, though I did seem to hit a game-ending bug where I used up an item I still need to get around an obstacle. I don't see any way to fix this other than starting over from the beginning.

Mario Golf World Tour - It's a good golf game themed in Mario with some power-up gimmicks to spice it up, or not, depending on  your mood. This may see more play in the future.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes - A fantastic port to the PC. I made my way through the main mission once to this point, and I'm very impressed with how well it performs, and how well it plays. I'll be playing around with this quite a bit in the lead up to The Phantom Pain. It feels like the Tanker demo for MGS2 that was released along with Zone of the Enders so long ago. Keifer Sutherland as Snake doesn't even really bother me, though I would definitely prefer to have David Hayter back.

Primordia - I'm not a huge fan of point and click style adventure games that make you retread the same old ground over and over combining random items into puzzle solutions, but the plot synopsis made me want to try this out. It seems kind of cool, but again this style of play really does nothing for me, so I'm not so sure about it.

Rise of Nations - Another of Microsoft's old RTSs remastered and rereleased for the next generation. I liked the tutorial missions and the looks of this one a little more than Age of Mythology, I think, and the game has a stellar reputation, so it merits more of a look at some point.

R.U.S.E.  - The first few missions were really cool. It seems like RTS without all the busywork, basically just the strategic parts, with some tactical manipulation, but little if any base building or resource management. I didn't really get into the fake-out head games quite yet, though. I want to play more of this one, as well.

Space Hulk - Warhammer 40,000 Space Marines Terminators versus Tyranid Genestealers in very tightly-confined space ship corridors. It's a very tactical game, based very faithfully on the classic board game. Perhaps too closely for a video game. There are included options to speed up animations, but there is also the more recently released follow-up Ascension which I gather is aimed at taking a more video-gamey approach to adapting the source material. I like this one well enough, for what I played of it so far.

Total War: Rome II - Another RTS I only played the tutorial of. Seems cool, will have to follow up later with more time invested.

Wasteland 2 - Seven or eight hours in, now. It seems like a very solid and well written RPG thus far. I wouldn't say the hook is set just yet, but I get a feeling it might be were I to continue on further.

There are a lot of games above I really need to devote a lot more time to, and I still do not have a definite GOTY/Honorable Mention decision yet, either. The Steam Sale continues, and I kind want to check out Elite: Dangerous, too.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Great Ocean and the Dangers Therein

I hit the Horus Heresy very hard recently, polishing off all of:

Age of Darkness - A short story collection mostly set after the events on Isstvan V

The Outcast Dead - An interesting look into the imperial palace on Terra and the lives of astropaths and other sanctioned psykers

Deliverance Lost - Corvus Corax, primarch of the Raven Guard, and his quest to rebuild his all-but wiped out legion after Isstvan V, also featuring the machinations of Alpha Legion

The Primarchs - A collection of novels centering on Fulgrim, Ferrus Manus, Lion el'Jonson, and Omegon

They were all pretty good, highlights being the material featuring the Lion, Corax, Fulgrim, and Alpha Legion, especially.

I felt I should dig into something more 'literate' after gorging myself on epic Space Marine fantasy, and I'm now reading Moby Dick. It's a classic of American literature, and I'm guessing many read it in school at some point, but I never did. I expected it to be stodgy, archaic, and hard to understand, but I've been pleasantly surprised at how comedic and entertaining it is, and the language perfectly readable, if a little old fashioned. It's fun, so far, though I'm still not too far in.

Travel and Return

I recently went with my family to Japan for about three weeks, during which time I was able to play games relatively little, but I did get some time in, mostly in the company of my brother-in-law.

We played some Destiny with his and my sister-in-law's characters, and that was good fun. Their characters were level 25 to 28, and well advanced from my own meager level 21, but the content they had to run was all basically the same, with small differences brought on by the increase in difficulty settings. Destiny, it's a nice game to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

Also over at their place, I got in a little time with my account, grabbing a few levels on my Diablo III Witch Doctor (which is still in season, for some limited time), and also to show off Hearthstone and give a quick lesson on how that game is played and what the better (and worse) parts of that are.

The only real gaming accomplishment to speak of during this time was my completion of Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition's Black Pits campaign, which is just a series of arena battles in which you level up a party to about level 9-10 and in the end face some pretty tough opponents. I'm glad I did it, but it wasn't a whole lot of fun.

I had more fun, though ultimately limited by a desire to not get dragged down in what is essentially an obsolete experience, with Far Cry. It holds up well for a game that is 10 years old, and only just taking formative steps into the open-world shooter genre. The core gameplay and concept of what you would see later in subsequent Far Cry games, Crysis, STALKER, and others, is in place and very solid and a lot of fun, but the world is not completely open, and there's not a whole lot to do other than follow the critical path. It also seemed overly easy, though I stopped playing on the third or fourth mission, just after the first time you get a hang glider. I can get the same, but better, from other games in my library, and next time I have that hankering, I'll play Far Cry 3 or another game.

Lacking a definite go to for game of the year, I'm getting into Wasteland 2. So far it's pretty good. The combat draws a lot from XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and feels more like that game than Fallout or Fallout 2 (and certainly nothing like the original Wasteland). The writing seems good, if not remarkable just yet, and the mission design so far is interesting, forcing you to make a choice early on about which of two fires to put out, the other being left to burn. I'll need to play a lot more to know whether it is GOTY material.