Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 Game Of The Year & Recap

My game of 2010:  Mass Effect 2
Runner-up: Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow

I took down 23 games in 2010, which is pretty good, I think, though I know I could have done better.

Games finished in 2010:
Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines
The Witcher
Civilization V
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions
Starcraft (Protoss)
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Alien Swarm
Call of Duty
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
Super Mario Galaxy
Planescape: Torment
Starcraft (Zerg)
God of War
Far Cry 2
Mass Effect 2
Vagrant Story
Yakuza 2
Metroid: Zero Mission

Past years totals:
2009: 19
2008: 26
2007: 15

I've got a big 2011 ahead; in addition to having a baby, I'm going to be doing more writing and job hunting on the side, so I'm going to go ahead and set a more realistic goal of finishing one game a month on average.  This will of course mean focusing more on games I want to complete, but I'm sure I'll get plenty of variety in there.  Also, with the epic amount of games I bought in 2010 (around 120!), I need to work on both playing a bunch of those, and buying less overall.

I'm going forward with 2 out, 1 in, with indulgences for games under $20, but I do plan to be more selective, considering my massive, incredible backlog of games.  Help me thin out the pile by voting for games I'll play in the Resolution feature of Call Of Podcast!

Happy 2011, everyone!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What Am I Doing?

Yeah, I still have yet to finish any of the games I listed in my last post.  I won't even list all the games I bought, though.  In my defense, they were all ultra-cheap.  Maybe I should take drastic measures for 2011, like limiting myself to buying one game a month, or buying everything I want now (no restrictions) and then closing the wallet 100% for 2011.  That would be tough.

Well, maybe my current system will work.  I've eased the cutoff price up to $20 because I was tired of debating whether or not to spend completion tokens on $13 or $15 games. I figure once a current-gen console game hits $20, it won't go much lower unless it's a real turd or mega-bomb.  Take for instance a by all accounts good game, Darksiders.  That game has been $30 and then $20 for a while now, but I've yet to see it get near $10, whereas some supposedly big releases this year that flopped I've seen on sale in the $5-$10 range, and I don't even mean on Steam!

So, I don't really know what I'm ultimately going to do with this whole game buying/playing balancing act, but for now I'll say 2 completions earn 1 purchase for games over $20, I guess.  I started at 1 for 1 above $10, but this may be a better balance as far as inflow and outflow.

Enough of that--games! I've been busy playing a whole host of stuff in the last few weeks, and that's what counts.  I got a new big-screen TV to game on, and that's caused me to mix things up some, as well.
I had a slight Monster Hunter resurgence on the Wii, playing a bunch more online and encountering several new big monsters I'd never fought before.  It's a great game, and a lot of fun.  Why the hell is it shackled to portables and hobbled, barely-online enabled systems.  Why bother with huge fail bucket projects like Lost Planet 2 when an HD Monster Hunter would be a sure fire success in Japan at the very least, and could crack the west wide open for Capcom?

I also returned to Bayonetta one night last week, to pick up where I left off a few months back.  I was pretty confused, having forgotten a lot of how the combat system flows and how to handle different enemy types.  Mixing up the weapons I used helped some.  I only went through one chapter, though, and I'll be needing to see to that again soon, to continue on and hopefully finish the game up before New Year's.  Bayo is a really fun game, but I just have so much else I'm more interested in that it's hard to get around to.  Yeah, life is tough in these hard times.

I've been playing a lot of Fallout, also.  I'm more acclimated to it now, and I've made some good progress.  I actually completed the first major quest, which is to find a new water chip to replace the one in the main character's home vault.  You're given a deadline of 150 in-game days in which to accomplish this, or the water runs out in your vault, everyone dies, and it's game over.  In my travels to find a replacement, though, I started to wonder if living underground in vaults is the best thing for survivors in the wasteland.  There is definitely life above ground, dangerous as it is up there.  I half expected the water chip quest to be the entirety of the main quest line of the game, and after finishing that up the rest of the world just being there to run around in and do as you will, but no, there is more to it than that.  I guess this was before the days of open world games as we know them, now.  No, my next task is to hunt down whoever or whatever is behind the too-rapid growth in the super-mutant population, and stop whatever they are doing.  I believe I ran into some of this faction in my search for the water chip, but when I return to where I met them now, circumstances have changed, and I'm attacked on sight, so I'm thinking about going to someone else for help, perhaps the Brotherhood of Steel.  I'm definitely getting into this game.

Another game I've been playing a big chunk of is Dawn of War II.  I have no way of really knowing how far into the game I am, but I'm estimating maybe halfway.  I keep performing well enough on missions to deploy an extra time each day, which as far as I can work out, is allowing me to pursue optional objectives in addition to playing out the main campaign.  My squads of Space Marines are all around levels 12-14, currently, and Wargear drops are plentiful on each sortie. This game is a ton of fun to play, but the mission structure makes it a little too easy to stop playing.  The missions can get pretty intense when you are essentially controlling 4 individual Diablo characters at once against hordes of enemies and boss encounters.  It's too easy to just walk away after one or two quick missions, especially playing near bed-time, when I don't want to get too amped up.  I really, really like this game, though.  I already own the first expansion, Chaos Rising, and the next, Retribution, is a sure purchase next year.

The recent announcement of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim made me really want to go back and play some more Oblivion (TES IV), so I found myself re-installing it this past Sunday.  I still have all of the Shivering Isles content unplayed, and it may remain that way, because now that I've played the total conversion mod Nehrim, I don't think I want to go back to the vanilla game.  The Nehrim designers, who also made total conversions for TES III: Morrowind, I'm given to understand, have taken Oblivion, broken it down into its constituent parts, and reassembled from them an entirely new world with its own mythology, creating an almost all-new RPG.  Sure, all of the building blocks are familiar, but entire systems have been overhauled to address some of the more common complaints players of Oblivion had, and the result is a game that I feel comfortable in saying is just better, mechanically.

Oblivion featured some odd, almost experimental design decisions.  Everywhere you went, monsters and loot were basically level-synched to your character, which allowed for total freedom in exploring the world, but meant that you would never really find anything all that exciting when you did.  You never found a super bad ass sword that made you entirely overpowered, you only found the sword that was balanced to be pretty decent vs the enemies who were balanced to put up not too much of a fight.  This all meant that leveling up in general felt pretty meaningless.  If you leveled, so did everyone else.  You would run into situations where random bandits on the roads would be wearing the same high level armor that you were.  Gaining new abilities never seemed to make you more powerful, only give you more variety in what you could do.

Nehrim fixes this by just going back to a more conventional setup where enemies are assigned static levels, and areas are populated with enemies and loot of a certain range of levels.  All of the sudden, combat and exploration are both more exciting, making for a better game, overall.  It doesn't stop there, though, they have overhauled the inventory and standard UI, also, making them more functional and PC-friendly.  Oblivion was basically a console port, and the inventory, UI, and FOV really reflect that. Nehrim helps out in those areas.  The map in the original game was a real pain to use, and the guys behind this mod have done a lot to improve on that, too.  You can still definitely see Oblivion's flaws poking out, but Nehrim tries it's best to smooth them over.

So that's what Nehrim is mechanically, but how does it play, you ask?  Well, it's of course a first person RPG, like Oblivion, focused on melee/ranged/magic combat and character growth featuring an open world and a ton of quests, all optional after the first couple of hours.  The plot is that you are a monk who has grown up in an abbey, and you receive a mysterious letter telling you that your life is in danger unless you show up to meet the sender at an old abandoned mine, and to come alone and tell no one. Upon arrival, you are attacked by trolls living in the mine, fall through some floor boards to the lower levels, and have to find your way out again, encountering other recipients of the same mysterious letter, most already killed by the trolls.  When you finally find your way back to the entrance of the mine, you are alone, and arrive to find a powerful mage torching a pack of trolls.  This mage explains that he was the one who asked you there, along with several other candidates, but of course did not expect the trolls or for all the other candidates to be killed.  Turns out, a secret brotherhood of mages (secret to avoid persecution in the magic-fearing kingdom) have been watching you and these other candidates for some time, and have decided you are fit of character and natural ability to join them.  It's literally an offer you can't refuse; they'll kill you if you do.  You are given a forged letter announcing your conscription into the army of the kingdom for some far-off war, and told to give it to the head of the monks at your abbey, and then to meet with the mage again in a nearby village.  The mage disappears, leaving you to your own devices.  This is basically where the game opens up.  You'll have to do a few little quests before you can leave the encampment surrounding the mine, which is under attack by a rogue group of mages (different from the group that has just recruited you, by their robes), but after that you're free to go out and explore the world and do as you will.

I'm following the main quest line so far, with a few diversions into caves and ruins I've discovered, and random side quests to uncover more about my character's past pre-Abbey.  I've been playing for about 5 hours, so far, and really enjoying Nehrim so far.  If you have a copy of the PC version of Oblivion (retail or Steam, either way), and you want to breathe some new life into it, definitely check out this total conversion, which basically amounts to a whole new 50+ hour RPG, and completely free, of course!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I've dug myself a hole, here:

Current MOST WANTED games of the now and foreseeable future:

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood
Tactics Ogre
The Witcher 2
Total War: Shogun 2

Those are going to cost 8 completions, but I'm in 3 in the hole, so I have to finish 11 games! Here are the ones I think I am nearest or most motivated to finishing off:

Bayonetta (about half done)
Fallout (motivated)
Dawn of War II (motivated)
Assassin's Creed II (haven't yet begun, but motivated)
Hitman: Blood Money (maybe 1/4 done, probably not too long)
Poker Night at the Inventory (I'll be done when I've won enough/all items and such)
Demon's Souls (somewhere like 1/4 done, but long & hard)
Titan Quest (somewhere near the beginning)
STALKER (somewhere near the beginning)
Halo: Reach (borrowed, shouldn't be too long)
Bioshock 2 (borrowed, shouldn't be too long)
Batman: Arkham Asylum (borrowed, shouldn't be too long)

That's 12 games that I could finish in a reasonable amount of time, and that are at least on my Radar of Shame.

I got to get off work and go get to work!

Saturday, December 4, 2010


I talked about it on the newest Call Of Podcast, 59, but I had accumulated so much credit at my local Game Trader shop that I felt like cashing it out before they themselves cash out of business.  Not that it's looking like they're going to, but I kind of feel like they're too good to last in today's market.  Anyway, I used my $140 of credit to pickup NSMB Wii, Starcraft II, and God of War III.  Of course, I didn't have 6 games completed to cash in the tokens for all these, but I did have 3, meaning I'm only 3 games in the hole.  Well, 5 games in the hole until I'm go for The Witcher 2 or Assassin's Creed Brotherhood or whatever I want by the time I've finished 5(!) more games.

Speaking of that never-ending battle, I'm doing well, up to 22 games finished in 2010 so far.  I just had a look through my Pile of Shame and culled a few titles that I no longer care about completing, old DS games, RPGs that I had played before and was halfway through, etc.  However, come Jan. 1, that Pile is about to get a whole hell of a lot bigger, with the astounding amount of games I've bought this year (and mostly for under ten bucks).

I have a feeling that the Road Map to Success idea I've been trying is just never going to work.  At best I can kind of anticipate the game I want to play next, but looking farther ahead than that or across too many genres, it's just way too much in flux for any projections to make sense.  It'd be like the local weather guy forecasting for Jupiter and Mars based on your local Tri-state area.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do for a 2011 gaming resolution, but I like what I've got going so far with the 2 out, 1 in token system with the $10 clause.  Maybe I'll think of something to complement that and/or something to help my life overall, like for 2009 I decided to stop drinking carbonated soft drinks.  It's been almost 2 years now!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Missions Accomplished

It's rare that I finish a game, relative to how often I play them, which is about every day.  It so happens, though, that just this week I've finished two of them, The Witcher, and Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines.

Finishing The Witcher was the culmination of about 5 months of on and off role playing as Geralt of Rivia, the White Wolf, a professional monster slayer. Geralt is minding his own business with the other members of his Witcher order when their fortress, Kaer Morhen is attacked by a mysterious group of mages who kill one of their dwindling number and make off with the alchemical and magical secrets behind the Witchers' abilities to mutate normal humans into the superior warrior-monk-mercenaries that make up their order. Geralt and the other remaining Witchers agree to split up and comb the realms of the world for clues as to who is behind the attack and why, and to attempt to recover the Witchers' stolen secrets and prevent whatever evils their mysterious mage assailants are plotting.

Geralt makes his way to Vizima, capital of the kingdom of Temeria, and before long finds himself embroiled in local power struggles, race relations, and close to picking up the trail of those who attacked Kaer Morhen.  The plot of The Witcher proceeds through a prologue, five large chapters of action, and an epilogue, and in total took me 60 hours to play through, taking time to go out of my way to finish 95% of the available side quests available on my single playthrough.  There are actually three distinct ways to play through the game, taking either of two sides to the main conflict, or a completely neutral path to the end of the game.  Major plot points apparently play out the same way, but the alliances you forge and those you spurn can have a large effect on what type of people you are surrounded by, and which other characters are open to you for friendship and more other, more amorous, relations.

I played Geralt more as a proxy for myself, often choosing the side of the conflict that I thought personally was more in the right.  It's all shades of gray in The Witcher.  Consequences of your choices are never laid out to you beforehand, and there is nothing approximating Mass Effect's meters of how much you are leaning to one end of the spectrum or the other.  I felt like because of those factors, I played more with my own mind than how I play Commander Shepard, whom I tend to steer in a certain direction for consistency and gameplay benefits, and whom I see more at a step removed from myself.  Shepard and Mass Effect I enjoy more like something being presented to me, but Geralt and The Witcher it was easier to see as something I was actually participating in.

There is a lot you have to be willing to overlook with the technical aspects of the game--random glitches, varying quality in the VA, every citizen of Vizima being one of about 10 models wearing different colored outfits, a less-than-perfectly optimized game engine, a combat system that can seem finnicky at times, and more, but when you balance all of that with the excellent story being told, the nice visuals, music, and excellent role-playing to be had, I can easily recommend the game, especially to people who are RPG fans, or certainly anyone who likes Mass Effect and could play that with badass swordsmanship, alchemy, and magic swapped in in place of guns and tech/psi powers.  Incidentally, the game is easily playable on any system that would run the Mass Effect games. 

Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines was, overall, pretty mediocre.  It kind of makes me melancholy in a way for the bad old days of shitty, dumbed down versions of real console games that I used to play on the Game Boy and Game Gear.  Games cast in the mold of their bigger brothers but shoehorned onto a smaller platform never turn out well.  This game really should have been re-thought and designed from the ground up for the PSP, like the Metal Gear Solid games have been.  I'm not sure how they could have done it and maintained the open-world feel of Assassin's Creed, but it probably could have been better than this half-hearted approximation.  The VA and music were not great, either, and there were a lot of audio glitches in the game.

The game wasn't all bad, though.  The fighting felt pretty faithful to AC on 360, and the story was at least a little interesting, though probably relatively inconsequential to the overall mythos.  I spent probably 5-6 hours playing it, and I felt I got my money's worth. But then, only about $2.50 came out of my own pocket for the game.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend the game, but if you got it as a pack-in or on the cheap, it'd be worth a try. 

I've had a hankering for some Call Of Duty/Modern Warfare type multiplayer lately, so I installed COD4 from Steam.  I played through the single player on a borrowed 360 copy, but this game came in a Steam COD pack I bought earlier this year.  After messing around with punkbuster some, I was finally able to get into the action, with mixed results.  I don't think these maps are meant to be played with a maximum of 50 players.  I eventually found a server with a more manageable pace of play, but by that time I had been repeatedly owned for about 45 minutes straight and was ready to move on to something else.  Still, this game is a lot of fun, and nothing else I've found can completely substitute for it in every way.

Keeping up with the RPG pile, after finishing The Witcher, I've moved onto the Fallout series, starting with the first. I'm not planning on barreling through all 5 games in the series sequentially or anything, I just thought I'd stick to the pattern of new school (Mass Effect 2), old school (Planescape), new school (The Witcher), and come back to the old with this game.  At the rate I'm going, I'm expecting this to last me probably until around next May when The Witcher 2 is released, but we'll see.  I'll probably end up playing this like I did Oblivion, just doing a bunch of random stuff and then rolling a new character and trying other stuff, eventually getting around to the main quest line once I kind of get the hang of the game.  This game is old, and it plays like an old game, so it's going to take some getting used to.  I'm off to a decent start with my first (of this go around at the game) character.  I don't really have any sense of the scale and scope of this game, but I'm excited to uncover it.