Friday, October 24, 2014

Filling Out Twenty-Fourteen

The end of the year is rapidly approaching, and I like to come to some kind of annual conclusion on what my game of the year is, so I am now trying to revisit or look into some of the more notable releases of the year, to my sensibilities, anyway.

I also jumped sooner on at least one game, Shadow of Mordor, after hearing a lot of talk about its interesting Nemesis system. I've only played it for about an hour so far, but it seems pretty slick, with solid (Batman) combat, Assassin's Creed climbing, and multiple systems of unlocks for new abilities. It's a pretty good looking game, as well, especially powered by my new 970 GTX.

Civilization: Beyond Earth has also just come out, and I am most itching to get in and play it some more. I also have only spent about an hour with this one, so far, but I've spent 70+ with Civ V. While I am far, far from anything approaching good or expert at the game, I do really like it, and I see a lot, at least on the surface, of Civ V in Beyond Earth. I think I prefer the exoplanet colonization theme, too, as great as the historical cultures of the world theme, is. Both are very cool.

Legend of Grimrock II is out! I haven't had much time to put into this one yet, either, but so far so good. I really loved the first game, and this seems like more, and more robust, and nice outdoor environments, too.

The Banner Saga is on my short list of GOTY contenders, but it had been several long months since I last played (and never completed) it, so I'm trying to pick it up again. I played for about half an hour last night, and was given a healthy reminder on what is so grand about the game. The art is stellar, the writing is also great, and it even has a cool tactical combat system, though this may be its Achilles' heel, so to speak. It seems easy to play yourself into an untenable state. That may just be it's razor's edge balance speaking, but often the battles in this game have me feeling really stretched thin. I'll have to see how it further pans out. I don't really have any sense as to how deep into the game I am, other than an hour count (6).

Elsewhere, I've dipped into both Borderlands 2 and Diablo III for a bit of click and loot, I'm continuing playing Baldur's Gate (on ipad now) as a solo sorcerer, and I even played the first hour of Final Fantasy VII the other day just in the interest of refreshing my memories (and opinions) on what it seems is finally no longer the undisputed masterpiece of everything ever. While far from my favorite of the series, it is also far from my least favorite, and I think I would like to revisit it, in limited chunks, here and there.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Martian

I just finished Andy Weir's hard sci-fi story about an astronaut stranded alone on Mars after a freak accident and extenuating circumstances. It's very good and goes into a hellacious amount of detail in relating how a man could possibly survive such a situation. The research that must have gone into writing this book is staggering to think about, and seeing just how the main character MacGuyvers through each and every problem he's presented with is really interesting.

The problem with the book is mainly in the dialog between others back on Earth or the Hermes crew (on their way back to Earth after evacuating Mars and leaving behind our protagonist). It's terrible. It reads like awful sitcom-esque TV dreck. It's so bad it is distracting from the rest of the well-written parts of the book. It's not a huge part of the book, and far from the most important part of it, thankfully.

Overall, I did enjoy The Martian, and would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in the nitty gritty of spacefaring in the present and very near-term future. Almost nothing at all in here is beyond our current capabilities.

Blazed Based Baldur's Gate

I went and finished off Baldur's Gate, including all of the Tales of the Sword Coast content. There is some very challenging content in there, moreso than with the base game. The Greater Wolfwere, the Demon Knight, and Aec'Letec were all very tricky fights, and each more difficult than the final story confrontation with Sarevok.

I've had a blast with Baldur's Gate, and am definitely looking forward to more not only with the sequel, but the additional content in the Enhanced Editions as well as the upcoming Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition and numerous other D&D computer RPGs I already own.

For now, though, I'm going to play a number of things, starting with Legend of Grimrock II. It looks to be a refined, expanded, and enhanced sequel to the excellent first Grimrock, and I'm excited to delve in. So far I've created a group and explored a little of the beach you are washed up on after being shipwrecked.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

There Can Be Only One

I'm almost done with Baldur's Gate, I think. I actually finished the game completely unawares the other night. It turns out that Sarevok in the Undercity's Temple of Bhaal is the final encounter. I guess I should have realized that before killing him and seeing the message that my savegame was ready for export to Baldur's Gate II.

I re-loaded to a save just outside that fight and now I'm going around cleaning up all the sidequests and doing the expansion content. I would guess I have another 5-10 hours left with the game. The only things remaining to be done that I am aware of are a quest to get some sea charts and then find the shipwreck of Balduran, the founder of the city of Baldur's Gate, and then to delve into Durlag's Tower, which I think is the hardest dungeon in the game. I guess I could be surprised by a huge new quest chain that pops out of either of those, who can tell.

I've done every other major sidequest, as far as I know. I even have a few maguffins in my inventory whose proper owners I don't know where to find. I'll get through all of the aforementioned real content and then consult a wiki on these few odds and ends before going back to kill Sarevok--on the record, this time.

I'm not sure what I'll play after Baldur's Gate. I think I'll need a bit of a palate cleanser before moving on to the sequel. I did just get a new GTX 970 video card, as well, and I'll want to put it through its paces.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Done With Destiny (1.0.2)

I'm finished with Destiny for the time being. I completed the story missions, ran all of the matchmade strike missions, and got to level 21 out of curiosity for how the light leveling system works. It's a neat idea, but to play much more right now is just a waste of time. There is no way I'd be able to fit the raid into my life right now, especially not having to make it an appointment.

I'll wait for the next big patch or expansion that makes the game more friendly to solo play and interesting--more content, above all else. In the mean time, I'll concentrate on Baldur's Gate, which I am still enjoying immensely. I haven't played anything else on Steam in over a month.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Joss

I today polished off a reread of James Clavell's Tai-Pan, one of his best novels. I'd recommend it, Shogun, and Noble House to just about anyone, and the rest of his books, Gai-Jin, King Rat, and Whirlwind to those interested in reading more of his after that seminal trio. All but Shogun and King Rat pretty prominently feature the company Struan's, born out of Tai-Pan protagonist Dirk Struan's trading proclivities that (in the fiction) culminated in the establishment of the British colony of Hong Kong.

Struan's is actually based on a real company that is still around, called Jardine Matheson Holdings, a fact I've only just learned about today.

I love this book. I love the Tai-Pan, and how he deftly and competently handles every matter that pops up, how he is the consumate seaman, trader, and natural born leader of men, and possesed of a singular acceptance and understanding of the native culture of China, where he has been building an empire for twenty-odd years. He is very much an aspirational sort of character, if not wholly believable. Shogun's John Blackthorne is much the same, though a little more human. Struan, is, if you believe the talk, half-devil.

It's a hell of a tale, and has a great ending, but don't read any farther along in Clavell's Asian Saga timeline unless you want to be disappointed in how things turn out for Dirk's immediate successor as Tai-Pan. Joss, as the man would say.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bite-Sized Chunks

That has been my modus operandi the past three weeks, as I've been playing almost nothing but Baldur's Gate and Destiny. I did sneak in a little bit of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on my Vita yesterday, sating an acute yearning to play one of my all time classics for the first time in a long while after reading a recently translated interview with some of the Japanese production staff from back in 1997. That is one of the absolute best, most satisfying games to sit down and play in all my experience.

I'm closing in on 50 hours with Baldur's Gate, now. I'm in the titular city investigating the activities of the Iron Throne trade consortium. They're up to no good in one way or another. They are definitely behind all the assassination attempts aimed at my player character, and I will make them pay. Apparently I am one of the children or otherwise inheritors of Bhaal, the sort of god of death in the D&D setting of Faerun. I'm not really supposed to know that just yet, only that I have some mysterious history in my blood, but this game is 16 years old now, and had leeched into the well that is gaming lore, some of which I have drunk. I get the feeling there will be blood in my character's future.

Destiny is growing on me a little more day by day. Now that I've basically discarded the possibility of caring about the theme, focusing on the mechanics is a mostly pretty positive experience. That said, I only now have reached level 15 and unlocked my Warlock subclass, Sunsinger. That seems to mean having to gain a bunch of XP to relearn things like how to throw a grenade, how to glide through the air, how to use a special ability, et cetera. Still, the game is petty fun to play, and even when it's humdrum, it's the sort of thing you can just do and accomplish just the slightest little thing and listen to a podcast with. I find that a valuable sort of activity.

I've basically committed myself to finishing both Baldur's Gate and Destiny before moving on to anything else on the PC or PS3. Destiny I'll never actually finish, of course, just the story missions. I'll level up to 20 and see just how feasible it is to get much further than that. On the PC side, I don't have just a whole hell of a lot of options but to see out Baldur's Gate, since my 560 ti is on the fritz, and the replacement 970 I've ordered is out of stock everywhere, for the time being. Perhaps I'll confine my roaming dalliances to the Vita and 3DS in the meantime. I've got a few games relatively if not absolutely untouched between the two.

Monday, September 22, 2014

In With The Old, No Matter What You're Told

I've got over 30 hours on Baldur's Gate now. I'm getting more familiar and accustomed to the D&D 2nd edition rules. I had some more experienced players explain a few things like dual- and multi-classing, read up on a few game systems such as party alignment and reputation, and have learned a few other things just by experience, such as the situational utility of spells that do things like boost resistance to petrification and abilities like Find Traps or Turn Undead. Learn by doing works, to some degree.

I've more or less settled on a party setup I like, with three melee fighters, my PC who is a Wizard Slayer (fighter kit), Minsc the Ranger dual-wielding maces, Dorn the Blackguard with a 2-handed sword, and three ranged characters, Imoen the Thief on Bow, Dynaheir the Invoker with offensive magic, and Viconia the Cleric handling crowd control, buffs and debuffs, healing, and slinging bullets. As long as I keep my party's reputation in the mid-range, 9 to 12, everyone seems happy enough.

I haven't made a huge amount of progress through the story just yet. I'm hunting down a base of operations for the raiders that have been terrorizing trade routes from Amn (which I gather is to the south) to the city of Baldur's Gate at the north end of the Sword Coast. It's somewhere in the Cloakwood, but I don't have the foggiest idea where the Cloakwood is. It's not marked on my map, which is odd. I really feel like one of my 6-person party should know where it is. Oh well, the hunt for it has taken me on a few interesting adventures already, and every bit of experience helps. My party members are all 5th level now. I don't just go online and look up the location of the Cloakwood because I'm sure I'll find it eventually, and the roleplaying is interesting. I keep expecting it to appear on my map once I get near. We'll see.

Destiny. Well, I've been playing it most days since release, but never for more than about 45 minutes. I'm still on the Moon missions, only level 11 with my Warlock. It's good, and fun, but I get worn out on it pretty quickly each session. I don't think the campaign is all that interesting so far. The locations have none of the spectacle of Halo's levels, and there are no characters to speak of. I think this game was trying to go immediately from first to fifth gear, starting off in a mode that makes it lend itself to play like you would with Diablo III on your fourth character solely in adventure mode. I think that's fine in some respects, but it can also just put you that much closer to feeling like you've exhausted the worthwhile content if you are not completely head-over-heels in love with the game.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Baldur's Gate and Destiny

I've put about 8 hours into Baldur's Gate so far, and I'm really enjoying it, so far. I've recruited up to a full 6-man party, and we're venturing into some mines to root out whatever foul presence is despoiling them and their ore. I created my character as Neutral Good, since that's generally how I tend to come down on things, I think, but a couple of my favorite and most useful members to this point are Neutral Evil, and I'm wondering how long this can last. Will I be forced to deviate from my alignment so much that it causes problems? Can that happen? I don't know.

As far as my level of comfort with D&D systems and mechanics, I think I'm doing ok grasping the high level stuff, but so far combat has been a pretty simple affair of auto-attacking and deploying one or two abilities here and there. I'm guessing things will get more complex and difficult as the game progresses. I just wonder how situational a lot of the spells and abilities are, and whether I should ready something like Detect Evil, or how often I should have my thief looking for traps. All the time? Again, I don't know. But I'm hoping to learn.

I was able to get Destiny on day one from Game Trader, the local independent shop, but so far I've only played about half an hour every night. Which is fine by me; I'm in no rush to cap out or complete the story, which seems completely generic and uninteresting. I do like the game for what it is, and can even respect it for holding back emphasis on plot and lore, which are obviously not Bungie's strong suits. I'll be playing this one for a while, like a Blizzard game, I think.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Green-Eyed Devil Barbarian

Booklog be damned, I'm proceeding onto my sixth book in a row that is a re-read.

I've finished up all the Song of Ice and Fire material available, finishing off A Dance with Dragons last week. How long until book 6 is out? Too long. And even then there will still be the wait for book 7, and maybe even 8? Who knows.

In the meantime, I was reminded of a Tai-Pan reread I'd begun about a year and a half ago (how does the time fly so fast?). It was suitably long ago, and only about an hour's work, so I just restarted fresh again. I love James Clavell's work. Some are better than others, and even the best are beyond cheesey, but all of is Asian Saga of historical fiction novels are worth a read, and respectful of the cultures he explores.

I reread Shogun a few years ago, as well, these two probably being Clavell's best, though Noble House is also a real page-turner, and Whirlwind is interesting. Gai-Jin I thought was not so great, and I didn't really like King Rat all that much, either.

There's no one like Dirk Struan, though, save for perhaps John Blackthorne when he's not having to be schooled on proper etiquette. The Tai-Pan is real man's man.

RPGs, the 3DS, and a Couple of Other Things

We stand here on the eve of one of the most momentous days in all of our collective history. Tomorrow, Destiny is releaased, and with it the new order of science fiction first-person shooting and loot collecting for the new generation of game console systems. After tomorrow, everything will be different. Now is the time to take stock of recent events, before all is washed away in the coming deluge.

I have Destiny on pre-order at my local independent game store, but they're pretty slow about getting new games, so I'm not sure when I'll be able to pick it up. Hopefully this week, sometime. I am looking forward to playing it. Not wildly and with total abandon, but maybe like I have been Diablo III since patch 2.1, a little bit here and there--no rush.

I played all the way through and finished a game in two days last week--Evoland, which is something of an homage and deconstruction and examination of the RPG and adventure genre beginning with the NES era all the way up through Diablo III, though it mostly seems to focus on the Final Fantasy and Zelda series. It begins with very rudimentary, almost Game Boy-esque graphics and no sound to speak of. As you go along, you open chests that do things like supply sound and music, enhance the graphics, unlock new features and systems such as Active Time Battle, 3D polygonal overworld graphics, Pre-rendered backgrounds, etc. It was a decent stroll down memory lane for me, and just the right length. The only part I thought dragged a bit was during the 32-bit/FFVII homage areas. And the end came pretty abruptly, as well. I might have moved one of the dungeons from the former bit to the part leading up to the final battle. The whole thing took less than three hours, well spent, on the whole, I think.

I dug out my S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky save and progressed that some, following on from finishing Half-Life 2. I find the open world shooter to be so much more of an interesting and compelling experience than the linear, corridor-confined variety. Stalker, as I'll call it, is such a rich experience. It's one of my favorite PC-exclusive series, and without a doubt justifies maintaining the platform, even if that is all you ever play on it. I'm so glad I've still got half of this game and then Call of Pripyat to play through, as well. At the rate I go, they'll keep me in dour Russian post-apocalyptic free-form shooting adventure for a while.

I can't quit playing Hearthstone, even though I'm not "progressing" toward anything when I play it, other than perhaps a full collection of every card. It's just too easy to jump into for a few minutes here and there, and somehow remains fun even when it certain games are rage-inducing. I need to stop playing it, at least beyond the minimum each month to unlock more card backs. I have better uses of my time.

Psychonauts is one of those games whose reputation preceeds it. It's known to be a mechanically frustrating and well-written comedic 3D platformer, and I'd say that's about accurate from the hour or so I put into it. I see what they were going for, but I've never liked 3D platforming, or its garish Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic. The writing seemed good, I'll give it that. Otherwise, no sir, I don't like it.

Something made me pick up my 3DS a few days ago, and I've been playing a bit of my library for that system:

Crimson Shroud - Definitely a Yasumi Matsuno game (writing, art, presentation). This one is sort of board game like, in that you move from space to space on a map and roll dice a lot, and characters are little statue pieces (maquettes, they might be called). Seems cool, but I wish it had a better UI for equipping items and skills and stuff. This is the same one as Tactics Ogre, and it's cumbersome, I find. Still, there is a lot to like, here.

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures - I believe this was free at one point or another on the eshop. I messed around with it for a bit, single-player. Yawn. All the tedium I remember of the 16-bit era, and none of the real fun. Maybe that je ne sais quoi is impossible to catch now that I'm not allowed in Narnia anymore.

Steel Diver: Sub Wars - More fun than a boring game has any right to be. I'm mystified as to how this came out of Nintendo as a first-party release. There must be one rogue designer who is a big submarine warfare nerd. Fine, Takeda, we'll do your stupid submarine game, not like we have anything else for the 3DS Launch.

Super Mario 3D Land - My daughter knows who Mario is, and wants to see this game everytime she sees the 3DS. I finished a level because I was sick of looking at it.

To wrap things up, I am beginning Baldur's Gate, the recent Enhanced Edition by Beamdog. I've never played Baldur's Gate, though I have played Planescape: Torment, and some small amount of The Temple of Elemental Evil and miniscule amount of Icewind Dale. I fumbled my way through Planescape because it was magical experience, but I'm going to have to really master D&D 2nd edition to play this. I'm in that kind of mood now, and I've learned to strike while the iron is hot. Here goes!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Finally Done With City 17

I've had this campaign run through of Half-Life 2 going for probably two and a half years, but now, at long last, it is done. It is just such a long game, and I could never really play it for more than maybe an hour at a time before I'd had my fill for the time being. The thing is, it's a really great game, in the playing. I just think it has some length and pacing issues, perhaps. The ending sections, inside the Citadel, with the super gravity gun, are a riot. That was a nice way to cap off the whole thing, to be sure.

The plot, though, really leaves a lot to the imagination. On one hand, I like that. Being a part of the world, being shown rather than told, is great for a sense of place. On the other, it does very little to pull you forward to the game's conclusion, which might be why it has taken me so long to reach it.

Time has probably worn off the sheen of awe many saw on the game, but it's underlying quality does still show through. I'm curious what the episodes will bring; the way the game closed felt like that was probably it for City 17 and Alyx and that whole crew, but plainly it is not. We'll just have to see where the G Man brings us out next.

No promises on when I'll play any other other entries, though.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book 5

In Dance, A Song of Ice and Fire has widened its scope as far as it has ever been, with action taking place everywhere from The Wall to the Free Cities to Valyria to Slaver's Bay in the east, with a good amount of new characters and locations in view. Later in the book, we even get back to King's Landing and Dorne. Many of the POV characters are, or have been to this point, relatively minor, but seeing the world from their eyes does a lot to flesh out the happenings in Westeros and Essos.

It feels like much of the Essos action is converging on Daenerys, as Westeros continues to tear itself apart. It's obvious the purpose of the Ironborn in the books is to give Dany a fleet back to bring her host home. Tyrion will be her Hand or spymaster or the like. Aegon will win Dorne away from King Tommen, and I suppose Stannis dies heroically while mopping up the Boltons with the help of the wildlings, hill people, Manderly, and the crannogmen of the Neck. The Freys and the Lannisters will fall to Arya as a Faceless Man, and Dany will take the Iron Throne and then ride dragons with her nephews Jon Snow (himself a son of Rhaegar Targaryen) and Aegon (Jon's slightly younger brother of the same father) to the heart of the lands of winter to kill the dark god up there with Bran's help. Rickon comes out of the woods to rebuild and hold Winterfell, the hardiest Stark ever seen in the North. Sansa kills Gregor Clegane in the Eerie and holds it as Warden of the East, Jaime kills Cersei after Myrcella and Tommen both die because of her. Stoneheart kills Jaime, is reunited with Arya. Varys and Littlefinger duel at Cyvasse in Pentos. Fin.

This and That Before Diablo III 2.1

The last week has been fairly uneventful. I've played just a little of several different things, as seems to be my modus operandi, of late. Patch 2.1 for Diablo III is out today, and I'll be headed back to that game to begin a Witch Doctor as soon as Seasons are live. But in the meantime:

Hearthstone - I finished up all of the normal Naxxramas matches, as well as the class challenges, and have played a little conventional and arena. I have no real reason to continue playing this except that it's easy to dip into and out of, and mostly pretty fun. It would be nice to collect all of the cards, I guess, but I have no wish to climb the ranks of competitive play.

Analogue: A Hate Story - I only briefly checked this out, because my daughter saw the anime girl in the screenshot on Steam an wanted to "play" it. It turns out to be a very text-heavy research and interaction game. It seems pretty cool, with a very Korean-focused starship setting, presumably a generational ship. I really want to see more of this when I can focus on it.

Half-Minute Hero: The Second Coming - You're welcome, Esteban. It seems kinda cool, but I find that parody wears thin very quickly, for me. I'd love to see a more straight take on this game type, but I have zero idea of what that would look like. I guess comedy serves in this case. It is a very absurd premise.

Shadowgate - I kickstarted this remake of the game that originally intrigued me on the NES. The art looks nice enough, but I don't care for the UI presentation or the Item Verb Item mechanics, and the puzzles are as abtuse as ever, which might not be a good thing. I'm feeling pretty lukewarm on this one.

Wasteland - Yeah, the original. I feel like I'm starting to get a grip on what this game is, after a few false starts. I should play more before I play the sequel, which is officially out next month.

Goat Simulator - Mia likes to mess around with it, and it is pretty entertaining. More toy than game.

Half-Life 2 - Yes, yes, I am finally getting toward the end of this epic. I've just arrived at the Citadel, or rather a tunnel leading into or perhaps under the Citadel, opened by Alyx's robot, Dog. I've taken down striders in City 17, what could be next?

Borderlands 2 - I've done handful of quests and fought a boss, advancing into the next zone. I'm feeling pretty ambivalent on the game, so far. It feels like empty calories. Again, parody does next to nothing for me. Handsome Jack is fairly entertaining so far, though. It's something to play, and better than a lot, so I guess I'll keep going with it from time to time.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Book 4

I'm still trotting along at a brisk pace on my aSoIaF reread. I'm well into A Feast for Crows, now. This is where the structure of the tale changes and gets interesting from a logistical perspective. In Book 4, we're short POV chapters from several of our favorite characters, including Jon, Dany, and Tyrion. Instead, we have POVs in the south of Westeros, centering around King's Landing, the riverlands, and Dorne, as well as the Iron Islands. We get Cersei's point of view, and see her incompetence and flaws as a ruler first-hand. We get Brienne's story, which I'm not sure the purpose of, remembering how it plays out. We get Arya in Braavos, which is cool.We get Sansa and Littlefinger in the Vale, and we get action in Dorne and among the Ironborn, which is also cool. I'd forgotten that Victarion was a POV character in Feast. I remember his chapters from Dance being entertaining.

All in all, book 4 really seems like the beginning of the second grand movement in the series. The war of five kings has for the most part wrapped up, and the remaining players are turning their focus elsewhere, to the north and the Others, to the east and its dragons, or inward, with the case of the Lannisters and King's Landing. Sansa, Arya, Tyrion, Samwell, Jon, Jaime and others have had major character-defining turning points both internally and geographically, setting the stage for further action on down the road. It's an exciting time in Westeros, even if this book and the next are light on major shakeups in comparison to book 3, especially.