Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Whale

After nearly a year of reading it off and on, mostly off, I finally finished Moby Dick. I liked it, for the most part. Some of the in-depth biological descriptions of whales lost me a bit, but the episodes the story is constructed of were pretty entertaining, and believe it or not I did not actually know how the book ended before reading it.

Granted, drawing the reading out over 10 months didn't help my understanding or memory of all the events within, but a quick read of the Wikipedia page of the book helped to job my memory and let me get a grip on the entirety of the story and structure of the book.

My slow pace reading Moby Dick shouldn't reflect on the book's capacity to be enjoyed, but rather on how busy I have been with other concerns this year, and how entertained I have been in other arenas lately. I'm looking forward to getting back into reading in a bigger way soon.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The War Grind

Playing through The Phantom Pain at a very reasonable pace really puts me in the mindset of a longtime private military corporation boss. Taking things relatively slowly gives a sense of what a long period of this type of operation might do to a character, the time it fills and how it functions as a segue from one time in their life to another. This is the real exploration of TPP, after all, filling in a crucial missing link in Big Boss's character evolution. As I progress through the missions and side ops I am slowly building up Diamond Dogs' presence in the market and on the battlefield, but also in the minds of allies, foes, and rivals. I sometimes hear two guards speaking to one another about the rumors that Big Boss has been seen in the area, that he's back after what the CIA and the US did to his former outfit, and that he's pissed. There are fears their outfit may one day be up against the legendary soldier and his own.

Evolving my own play style over weeks and many different missions and emergent situations also lets me further inhabit the role of a veteran operative. Sometimes everything goes sideways and you have no choice but to go loud in a big, brutal way. I try my best not to kill my fellow soldiers, even when we are at odds, but the mission must come first. I feel like this is true to Big Boss's character as spelled out by canonical cut scenes throughout the series. The Boss would much rather win you to his side through his charisma and ideology than put a bullet through you. The last plot-critical mission I did involved a troop of child soldiers. The contract was to kill them, and Miller would have had it done that way. Not Big Boss, though. He'd bring them back to base and at least attempt to give them something more approximating a pleasant childhood than they would get in the war-ravaged country they are native to. And that's what we did.

Destiny recently updated to 2.0 and it's primary "Year Two" release, The Taken King, is out. I've been re-acquainting myself with the game for a couple of weeks, now. Because of an improved campaign experience, a streamlined faction reward system, and more total content available to the lone wolf, I think it's in a better place than it was a year ago, but my core complaints are still valid. I find it simply absurd and arrogant and purposefully obstructive as a design practice to artificially limit what content is available to players the way Bungie does by denying matchmaking for certain content. More thoughts on TTK later.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Phantom Pain

It's here. Finally, the long-awaited interquel, the missing link, what is sure to be the final Kojima-directed Metal Gear Solid game...this year, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has been released.

What transpired between Operation Snake Eater and Solid Snake's infiltration of Outer Heaven has been a question of large import for fans of Metal Gear since MGS3's release 10 years ago. You could imagine Snake/Big Boss's frame of mind at the end of Operation Snake Eater, as he stood there saluting The Boss's grave, but what actually happened to put him in place as the big bad later in the series?

Portable Ops, while filling in a few ancillary series details, offered little in the way of clues. Peace Walker did a little bit more, but that game still left more than enough undetermined in Big Boss and Outer Heaven's future. Ground Zeroes, the prologue to MGSV, really got the ball rolling with the attack on Mother Base that put Big Boss into a 9-year coma, and The Phantom Pain looks poised to finish closing the loop. I expect more on the nature of the conflict between Major Zero, who created Cipher, Cipher itself, and Big Boss to come to light during Snake and Diamond Dogs' exploits in 1980s Afghanistan and Angola and Zaire and beyond. Who is Quiet? Is she really Chico, a decade removed from the trauma of Peace Walker and especially Ground Zeroes? What's Miller's aim, besides revenge? Or is it all-consuming? Who else is Ocelot working with besides Diamond Dogs? Who else is he working against, perhaps, is the question. Where are EVA, Amanda, Strangelove, and others?

What is Snake's will in all this? So far he's only sought advice from Kaz, and taken orders from Ocelot. Does Big Boss want to usher in The Boss's dream of a nation for soldiers because he believes in it, or because it's all he knows anymore? Is his heart still in it? These questions may be up to the player to decide, since we are the ones inhabiting his being in the game.

The play is fantastic in MGSV. It's the sort of open-world stealth you would see in something like a Hitman or Far Cry 2 or Deus Ex, done very well with lots of overlapping and interlocking systems that ensure no two encounters or missions play out alike. It also brings back the base building side systems from Peace Walker as well as that game's discrete missions, though these can also be accessed from the free-roam maps of the game's world. It's easily as much or more of a functional sequel to Peace Walker as it is to the rest of the series proper. I like this because it shows Kojima Productions really believed in the Peace Walker formula, despite it being released on an otherwise dead platform and overemphasizing the multi-player components of that game.

The Phantom Pain seems like it is shaping up to be a very large and very long game, so I'll continue these thoughts later. I should mention here, though, that I did play a lot more of Ground Zeroes leading up to this release, and it is also great in its own right. It is very much a smaller-scale version of MGSV, elaborated upon and made into a fine smaller-scope game of its own.

Exile's End

Exile's End was recently released on Steam, a game I contributed an ever so slight amount of writing to. I haven't played enough of it to see any of my work just yet, but supposedly it's in there. Which is pretty cool! I've wanted to be a published writer for some time, but I never thought it could happen like this, I must admit. I'll have to update my resume.

The game Exile's End is a remake of Inescapable, a 2D 'not-metroidvania' adventure game that pays homage to old Commodore and Amiga style games. What I have played so far is cool, and I'm looking forward to digging in more.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Goodbye, Mojave Wasteland

I finally wrapped up Fallout: New Vegas to the point it's going to get wrapped up. I finished Dead Money and did Old World Blues, which was a farcical sci-fi adventure, then went to the only remaining undiscovered location on my Mojave Wasteland map, a Deathclaw-infested quarry. Overall I think the DLC offerings in these games are sort of weak as compared to the main world and story content. I'd probably rather see them done as extensions or layers on top of the base game rather than separate discrete places and plots. Honest Hearts and Old World Blues were the better of the two, I felt, and Dead Money and Lonesome Road weaker and more constrained, which is odd considering how wide open Fallout usually is as a game. Next up will be this fall's Fallout 4, which I am very excited to play, of course. I also have Fallout Tactics that I've never touched, as well. Maybe I'll save that for sometime later.

I checked out Multiwinia for the GameBytes podcast. I was expecting nothing more than a slapped-on multiplayer mode for the original game, Darwinia, but this is actually more than that. Having not played Darwinia, I can't elaborate too much, but Multiwinia does have its own campaign missions, if you can call them that, in addition to multiplayer modes. It's an RTS reduced down to the pure essence of the genre, selecting little men and send them forth to conquer in your name. You win if you control more strategic points for a longer period of time than the opposition. It was OK, but a little too reductive for my taste, and with a control scheme that is a little too unconventional for the genre, I think.

My N game for the podcast this week is Nier, the Cavia action/JRPG game on PS3 from a few years back. All I've really heard about this game is how interesting it is in that it frequently changes up the game type and has a very novel, and spoilt for me, twist at the end of the game, or at the beginning of the New Game+ mode. We've just moved into our new house, and during the move I got a chance to play through the opening half hour or so. It's already weird. It was snowing in summer in the city and I fought shadow creatures with the help of a magic book, then some 1300ish years passed by and Nier and his daughter are the same ages and now living in a pastoral fantasy fishing village, apparently. I'm looking forward to playing more tonight.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Endless Detour

I am still working on Fallout: New Vegas DLC, Dead Money, specifically. These are all fairly long and involved, and this one is kind of a drag in some respects because of the extremely tough and numerous enemies you are mostly railroaded into killing. The story is at least fairly interesting, though, involving a heist scenario in a ruined casino resort.

I decided I wanted to get serious about my strategy 4X chops, in particular Amplitude's dual series, Endless Space and Endless Legend, as well as the offshoot Dungeon of the Endless. I'm starting by trying to really learn how to play Endless Space. I've begun a game on the Newbie setting as a pretty basic faction, and that is just starting to ramp up after an hour or two of playtime this week. I've been very busy elsewhere, but I want to get back to this soon.

King's Bounty: The Legend. My K game for the Game Bytes podcast. I have a few entries in this series I've never played, having only looked at the Facebook version of this first game that came out years ago and probably floundered and went away, just guessing. It's an adequate concept for a game, growing an army and doing quests in a stock fantasy world, fighting tactical battles on a hex grid in between. Not terribly interesting, but engaging enough to while away some time, as far as I could tell. Maybe the Armored Princess or Crossworlds sequels will be more interesting.

Lugaru HD: My L game. What if Max Payne was a rabbit that did Kung Fu in a wild, Russian steppe like location? That's kind of what Lugaru is like, minus the bullet-time, but with a pretty complex context-sensitive hand-to-hand fighting move set. Intriguing, wacky, and difficult. A curiosity.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

To The Finish

I was taking stock of all of the RPGs I am currently in the midst of playing or want to be playing soon, and something's got to be wrapped up and finished off. My first candidate for that is Fallout: New Vegas. I've got a couple more DLC modules to wrap up, Dead Money and Old World Blues, and at least one other optional quest line I'd like to do before putting a figurative bow on the whole thing. I think that'll be my main focus from here on, with my weekly alphabet tour of the backlog in progress, as well.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet - You play a little flying saucer and navigate through caves looking for pickups and the way forward. With the 2D, side-on perspective, it reminds me of a helicopter game I think we had on an old Win 3.1 computer back in the early '90s. You would fly a helicopter through caves to pick up POWs, if I remember correctly. I don't care about this game.

Jolly Rover - It's a point and click adventure game with a cartoon dogs-as-pirates theme. It seemed light-hearted and fun in tone, but as is the case with this type of game, it also seemed very tedious. I have yet to really get into one of these. What Telltale did with The Walking Dead was a lot more enjoyable.

I played a little bit more of The Witcher 3 the other night, mostly just to check out the changes to movement in the latest patch. It feels like a good change. I'm not trying to charge through this game by any means; there is no rush, and I'd rather savor it at my leisure than concern myself much with finishing off a massive 100+ hour beast like this for no good reason. With New Vegas, I'm almost done with it anyway, and I'd like to leave some space between it and Fallout 4, which I'm probably going to begin on day one.

I've made some good progress into Assassin's Creed Unity, as well. I've left off at the beginning of sequence 6 for now, which feels like a good early break point. I'll pick up there later on sometime. Again, no rush here. I don't think I'll be playing Syndicate until some time after release. I am liking Unity, so far, but it hasn't kicked into high gear just yet with regards to the plot. Just the standard play around Paris is pretty good. I've been trying to do some of the lesser-involved side stuff around to earn money to buy better gear. I'm not sure I care enough to do the riddles and mysteries, but the random assassinations and such are fun enough. I'm pretty well over the flag equivalents and treasure chests scattered around the world. If I'm very near one on the map or walk right up on it, I'll grab it, but otherwise I'm not going out of my way for that sort of filler.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Her Story is a very interesting game that has you sat down in front of a mid-90's police database, complete with Win95-esque desktop in the background, looking through short video clips of several interviews with a young woman regarding what was, at the time, a recent death. I won't go any further into the case or scenario details, because they could be easily spoiled. There is a very solid puzzle presented here, in trying to sift through hundreds of short video clips five at a time (a game rule, justified in-world by the database UI's shortcomings) to piece together the true picture of what happened from just this young woman's accounts, recorded at various times over a period of a few weeks. I had a great time rifling through these short video clips trying to find out what was going on, and even when I had figured out the main thrust of it in the first 20 minutes or so, I kept digging for more details until I was satisfied. I had only seen maybe half of the available clips, per an indicator in the game, when a prompt came up in the form of an IM window, asking if I had found what I was looking for. I had, and I did, in Her Story. This is a good example of a short, original, and very memorable non-conventional game, and it was under five bucks. Highly recommended.

I finally began Assassin's Creed Unity, putting in about five hours last night. We are now about 9 or 10 months on from the game's problematic release period, and for what it's worth, I saw almost no bugs or jank. There were a couple of odd NPCs with the jitters or dropping out of the sky, but nothing on the level of what there was, once. The thing that gave me the most pause was actually a prompt before accepting a very early story mission that I needed to basically go and level up before taking on the mission, which happened to be the one that ended with those systems being opened up. So no, it's not a perfect game, by any means.

I think the best thing new to the series in Unity has to be the fact that the city is modeled at a 1:1 scale now, meaning that everything feels bigger than in the past. It's not something I ever thought about previously, but looking back after playing a bit of Unity, all of the worlds of previous AC games, or probably most video games, must be like 3/4 scale or something. Distances and structures in Unity feel much more realistic, and that, I think even more than the improvement in graphics, really contributes to the feeling of walking around Paris.

There are some other new and welcome additions, such as a modified free-running control scheme, more and better animations, more character customization options, et cetera. I'll have to continue playing to see how this AC develops. Arno seems like your typical brash young jokester rake at this point, more in the Ezio or Edward vein than Altair, Connor, Shay, Haytham, or Adewale. I wouldn't say he's much like Aveline or Shao Jun, either, for what it's worth. I am fond of most of the series' leads, either way.

It's curious that they moved away from versus multiplayer with Unity, and with the upcoming Syndicate seem to have also dropped the co-op introduced here. I've never felt multiplayer was needed, or at all desired, for many games of this sort. It always just seemed like a waste of time and effort on the part of everyone involved. I highly doubt I'll ever do any of the co-op stuff in Unity. Good riddance; hopefully the time and money saved developing that will go toward improving the parts of the series that is are the main draw.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Old Favorites and New Hype

E3 2015 has come and gone, and with the excitement building for upcoming releases such as Fallout 4, Dishonored 2, and Metal Gear Sold V: The Phantom Pain, I've been revisiting prior games in those series. I wrote before about playing the Lonesome Road DLC for Fallout: New Vegas, which I did go on to complete (it was alright; more might have been done to spell out Ulysses' actual motivations, as I felt he was just kind of crazy).

I've also been revisiting Dishonored, beginning at first a high-action, high-chaos playthrough before noticing myself falling back to my natural stealth style of playing, and restarting the game with an eye toward attaining non-lethal/ghost ratings on every mission. It turns out I already did that on a few during my first run through the game, at least with Corvo. With Daud I ended up killing practically everyone in every level. This'll be a fun challenge if I get back to it.

The exceptional trailers for The Phantom Pain got me ruminating on the events of the series plot post Snake Eater, as well as the character and motivations of Big Boss and Miller (who is featured prominently in TPP trailers), so to refresh myself on the series I took to YouTube for cut-scene extracts of Portable Ops and Peace Walker. The former is largely irrelevant with regard to TPP, but does have some events of overall series import, such as the introductions of Colonel Campbell and Frank Jaeger, and the jumping-off point of Zero and Ocelot recruiting Big Boss to begin The Patriots with the fortune known as The Philosophers' Legacy. This is all in 1970 in the series' timeline.

Peace Walker is actually more relevant to Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain than I had recalled, as it is the events there in Costa Rica and Nicaragua that put MSF (Militaires Sans Frontiers) and Mother Base on the world stage as a nuclear power, teeing-up the 1975 "IAEA" (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspection happening as Snake infiltrates the US military prison base in Ground Zeroes, which turns out to be a front for an attack on Mother Base, presumably by Cipher, Zero's cronies post Patriots falling out, namely Sigint and Para-Medic, Paz, Skull Face, presumably, and others. The other Patriots, Big Boss, Ocelot, and Eva, seemed to have all went separate ways before 1974, when Peace Walker is set. Pease Walker also apparently cement's Snake's identity as Big Boss, and his determination to be loyal to neither country nor mentor, but to himself, and that his mission will be determined by the times and to resist attacks from the existing world order to destroy his "army without borders".

Then, replaying Ground Zeroes for more on Skull Face, Paz, Chico, and all that, I got hung up on how well the game plays and have begun doing some more side missions therein. All this is in addition to reviewing all of the promo material, trailers and demos, available for The Phantom Pain. At this point I am as excited for its release as I have been a game in a long while. It looks great, both from a lorehound perspective and a fan of open world and stealth games.

I've made some good progress in The Witcher 3, doing the Crones of Crookback Bog quest as well as another where I ran into Letho from the second game. That was a pretty great bit of fan service. I wonder what would have happened there for someone who had killed Letho, or at least indicated as much in the shave scene toward the start of this game. I told him he was welcome to go stay at Kaer Mohren, so perhaps I'll see him again later in the game.

Last and least, I played an F game, Fish Fillets 2, which was a painfully CD-ROM era looking puzzle game and X-Files homage/parody. I also played a G game, Gish, a hyper-difficult physics platform game where you play as a 12-pound ball of tar trying to hurl and cling and slide and push your way through contrived maze levels with unintuitive and difficult-to-grasp controls. I did not particularly like either of these.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Witchering Busily

It's been a busy few weeks! The Witcher 3 is out, but that's not all I've been playing, believe it or not. I've been bopping around to a number of things without much of a clear goal in mind other than knocking a few things off of the backlog and just having a good time. Thoughts:

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - It's great! It's all I know and love about the series, but more of it than ever, and in the context of an open world. The previous games were open, within a defined space, and ushered you along from locale to locale as the plot unwrapped. So far Wild Hunt appears to just keep opening up and leaving the entire world there for you to revisit as the adventure progresses and Geralt's abilities and capabilities expand. I've put in about 25 hours so far, and I'm really still just getting my feet wet. I'm at level 6, only just getting a grip on the main quests in the Velen region.

Fallout: New Vegas - The recent announcement of Fallout 4 made me want to go back and revisit this world, and I was primed to do so, standing right at the beginning of the Lonesome Road DLC adventure into The Divide, a war-torn and storm-ravaged region to the west of the Mojave wasteland which the Courier apparently has some history in. The antagonist here is a guy calling himself Ulysses, another former courier, one who somehow fell in with Caesar's Legion before apparently falling out again and retreating to The Divide for whatever reason, leaving a trail of clues for our player character courier to find and track him down for some kind of final confrontation. This has been a pretty straight-forward trek thus far, through ruins and missile silos and such. I'm intrigued to make it to the end to see what this is all about.

Elite: Dangerous - Frontier finally made arrangements for everyone to get Steam keys for the game, so I popped on long enough to make sure mine worked and the save transferred over alright. I'm still in my Asp, still out in a nebula far from home. Just this week the Powerplay update hit, introducing a few new ships and the new faction war system. I wish I had more time to delve back in, but right now I really don't, so this is pretty well back-burnered for the time being.

Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles - Something recently made me want to play Rondo and Symphony again, and this is the best way to do that. Unfortunately the copy I'm on now is new, a PSN download, and I have yet to unlock the two games I really want to play, and instead am currently limited to the 2.5D remake of Rondo, which is horrendously ugly and manages to feel pretty clunky, to boot. I hope to unlock the two good games soon.

The Chaos Engine - My C game for the GameBytes podcast. It's an old Amiga game, I read. It's very arcade-like, being a top-down shooter score chase. It reminds me of other old top-down games from the NES, like Mission: Impossible or Ikari Warriors or certain levels of Bionic Commando.

Deja Vu (The MacVenture Series) - My D game. This is just Deja Vu, the old first-person adventure game, the same one I remember from the NES, only this is the version made for Macs around that time. It was neat to see it again, but I really have no time for this sort of game these days. Too obtuse, too tedious.

Eets Munchies - My E game. Turns out this is by Klei, who have also done bigger and better things. I'm guessing it's a sequel to Eets Chow Down, which is the name of an XBLA game from several years ago that I remember, but never played. Munchies is clearly a port of an iPad game. You arrange things on a level then hit a button to let Eets navigate the level, going for a all the sweets therein before eating the cake at the end to finish. There are a thousand basic puzzle games like this on the iPad, none of them very interesting, as far as I can tell.

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.