Monday, December 22, 2014

Steam Winter Sale BONANZA Pt. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Great Ocean and the Dangers Therein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel and Return

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tied Up A Loose End

I went back over the last few days and finished up The Banner Saga, which I began playing back in January. That was a really great game.

It's set in a very interesting non-standard fantasy world and tells a pretty desperate story of refugees on the move fleeing before a deadly and merciless invading force. The ending of the game does not really wrap  up anything at all, so there is much more of the story left to tell. I understand there will be another game or two--they're calling it a trilogy at this point, but there's no word yet on when a sequel will arrive. I am definitely interested in continuing the story though, and learning more about this world and the forces behind what seems like a forced migration caused by another forced migration caused by an unknown "darkness".

The art and presentation of the game are peerless in many respects, and the tactical battle system is novel, forcing you to break habits ingrained by other tactical roleplaying games. It is overall a very nice little package, lasting about 12 hours for a once-through. It's definitely on my shortlist for 2014 GsOTY.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Beyond Beyond Earth

The other night I finished up my fourth game of Civ in a row, 2 of Beyond Earth, one of V, and then another of Beyond Earth.

I managed to actually win the last one, going down the Harmony affinity path to the Transcendence victory. I noticed fairly early on that I shared a continent with only two other factions, one with only two cities, and the other a little bigger, with four. By this point I probably had nine, and a healthy military, so without much trouble at all, and very few losses, I dominated both other factions and brought the whole continent under my control. From there it was just a matter of expansion and being on the lookout for any border incursions while I exploited (or rather... harmonized) the land's resources and rushed to build the Mind Flower for the win.

After four full games and about 50 hours of Civ, I think it's time to move on to play other things. I'm not certain yet just what I'll focus on, but I did flirt a little with Diablo III and XCOM: Enemy Unknown last night.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Anything Less Would Be... Uncivilized

I'm a couple of games into Beyond Earth, now. My first game I played as Kavitha Thukar, which I think is the faction whose cities expand to new tiles at twice the usual rate. I was going for Supremacy, and still figuring things out when the victory was snatched out from under me by the African faction. In my second game, I was playing as the Franco-Iberians, focused on Purity and culture, basically building The Imperium of Man pre-Heresy. Everything was rolling along real well until out of nowhere ARC (the American analogue) runs off with the Contact victory. No one else stood a chance.

Beyond Earth is very cool. It is a whole lot like Civ V, but there are some interesting differences aside from just in the theme. The win conditions are different, depending on your affinity (Purity, Supremacy, or Harmony), The tech progression is also interestingly different in that it is a web rather than a tree, which makes sense since this is about civilizations branching out from a common start rather than making the same progression in parallel, just with paces staggered.

Speaking of Civ V, I just kind of wanted to check it out again after finishing a couple of games of the new one, and I got back in and am getting toward the end of a game as Venice, with which you are limited to a single city, and fumbling toward a culture victory. It probably won't work, at this point, but I'm still having a great time messing around with it. This is the first I've really played much with the expansions active, and the religion/culture and endgame stuff they added to the game is pretty substantial, not to mention all of the factions now part of the game that weren't in there, before.

I think it's great that Civ V and Beyond Earth can exist at once and both be unique while still sharing 90% of the same DNA. Neither makes the other feel obsolete or pointless.

Not much to report, outside of Civilization games. I played another short session of Shadow of Mordor. It's cool, but I'll need more time to get into it.

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


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.

Mid-August 2014 Playlog

It's hard to find a theme in these large collections of games I play for less than an hour at a time, for the most part. To review:

Talisman - I picked up both the solo adventure and full 4-player digital board games on Steam in a Games Workshop sale. While very, even completely, dependent on luck of the die roll, the game is decently fun. I found the variety of abilities and characteristics each playable character had offered up some interesting in-game ramifications. I played 2-3 complete games, which can be fairly long, before deciding my time was better used elsewhere. It was a satisfyingly fun experience, though.

Mount & Blade - I began my campaign and was immediately overtaken by bandits and taken captive, only to escape sometime later minus my followers and much of my wealth and possessions. This happened over and over, until I was left with no one, not even a horse, and next to nothing. The only choice left was between going full-rogue to probably die alone and reviled and taking up arms in the arena, winning gold and glory and, and hopefully parlaying that into followers. That's what I'm in the midst of, now.

X-Com: Enemy Unknown - I advanced my campaign through a couple of battles, finally taking captive a couple of the aliens and beginning to get a handle on managing my forces. This is another game I don't know why I don't just play all the time.

Half-Life 2 - I played though about 20 to 30 minutes of stuff up to a point where I'm making my way up through a warehouse area from subterranean tunnels, and there are all these Combine soldiers fast-roping down onto catwalks above me and they keep killing me. They'll get theirs, eventually.

Colin McRae Rally - this really is a very bare-bones experience. It's good for a quick race here and there, though. For $7, it's really not too bad.

Hearthstone - I figured it was no more random than Talisman, takes only a fraction of the time to play, has much better production values, actual people to play against, interesting solo content, and all the might of one of the biggest and best game studios in the world backing it up, I might as well invest my time further into this as any other digital card or board game. I've actually been enjoying the hell out of the single-player Naxxramus "boss battles," which are just duels against players with unique abilities and traits. They're almost puzzle-like in that they require a certain approach to win. While nothing like them, they remind me of the puzzles I used to do in The Duelist magazine about 20 years ago, when I was big into Magic: The Gathering.

Final Fantasy III (DS remake) - I finally knocked a few minutes into playing this, before taking it and all my other DS games and trading them all in. Not much to say, other than it's FF, and why the hell isn't the action ever on the top screen? Total loss on this, by the way. I bought it new in Japan, and even had the cool strategy guide to go with it, which I gave up for a mere buck alongside the game. Oh well, not like I was ever going to use it, anyway.

Kurohyou: Ryu Ga Gotoku Shinshou (Yakuza spinoff for PSP) - This was also a quick try-out before trade-in job. It's a Yakuza game, that much is certain. I thought it looked nice enough on the PSP. Series diehards or PSP gamers not already tired of the series should take interest. It's only available in Japan, however, and these games are heavy and deep with the sort of high-level and macho- slang Japanese that many non-native speakers will have trouble understanding (from my own experience).

Wipeout 2048 - I thought I'd played this one before, but I suppose not. It was only for about 20 minutes late at night when I was practically falling asleep, but I was pretty impressed by how well it looked and felt. I did a handful of races and placed decently among my friends, and I'm looking forward to playing more.

Borderlands 2 - I have merely begun, playing Maya the Siren, and having just beat the first boss, a sasquatch type thing in the ice that was bothering a claptrap. I've got to play more to rally form up an impression.

Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition - A gift from Esteban. I haven't really played SF since HD Remix, and that only casually. Before that the last one I really played much of was Super SFII on the SNES. Wow, it's a nice looking game, and it runs flawlessly on the PC. What really pushed me over the edge in wanting to play it (and now wanting to play more), was hearing of the feasibility of playing with a keyboard. It's not something I'd ever considered, but taken logically, there's no reason it should not work, and in practice I found it shockingly easy to pull off special moves, if not completely second-nature in the way that playing with a pad is. I think the keyboard layout is fundamentally better suited to the game than the average 4-button control pad, simply due to the six-button layout possible on the NumPad (4-7, with other keys for button combos), but also due to the ability to use A,S,D, and space directions (space being up/jump). It sounds ridiculous at first, but in practice, wow. It works. With some practice and getting used to, there's no reason at all this control scheme should not be competetive with, or even superior to, other input methods.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Book 3

Reading-wise, I finished up book 2 of A Song of Ice and Fire, and am into book 3 now on my reread. It's hard to tell due to the way all four of the first books are packed together on this kindle bundle, but I am guessing I must be about halfway through A Storm of Swords. There are three weddings in this book, and one has come and gone, the least remarkable of the three. A character has been maimed, two large cities sacked, and a cloak once turned, turned back. I'm really looking forward to books 4 and 5 again, since watching the show through season 4 was a good refresher on the first three books, the next two are much more shrouded in the mists of forgetfulness.

Strategy Potpurri & Et Cetera

I'm taking a break from Hearthstone. That game pisses me off. It feels like too much hinges on the luck of the draw. It's like the decks aren't big enough to mitigate it through card variety and multiple strategies per deck. Also the fact that you can only play as a single class and use a pool of neutral cards. Multi-classing would be an interesting thing to see added.

I've kind of been bitten by the strategy bug lately. A friend of the podcast sent me a Steam coupon for 90% off a game called Conquest of Elysium 3, which turned out to be a cool 4X-style game pared down to the raw essentials. The production values are nil, but the core of the game is quite cool. The thing is, every time I quit out of the game, it would glitch up my Steam client, necessitating a trip to the task manager to kill the whole thing and restart. Not cool. I wouldn't mind seeing a better-done version of that game, though.

I also played the beginning stages of a Civ V game as Shaka of the Zulu. I didn't like how things were headed, though, so I killed that game. I wanted to try out Endless Space, since it looked cool and I had heard good things and I already owned it. It certainly looks nice and seems playable enough, but again I wasn't satisfied with my ability to understand an play the game, so I gave up and moved on. On to Crusader Kings II, which I still don't know that I quite understand. I sort of played around with it for a couple of hours as a middle-tier lord, of Luxemburg. I managed to find a wife and produce a few children, so that was good. An ill-fated war effort followed, and then me wondering what I should be doing aside from just letting the game play itself out over the years, me making the odd decision here and there. If that's how the game is played, I may prefer a more hands-on game. I guess I'll try again with EU IV at some point.

Also on the tactics/strategy tip, I tried out Guardians of Middle Earth an Defense Grid: The Awakening. The former is a console-adapted MOBA that no one plays anymore, and the latter is a well done tower defense game, probably the best I've seen, actually. I might play more of it, or check out the sequel.

Revisiting Half-Life 2 yet again, I made some substantial progress, getting all the way through Nova Prospekt and back to City 17, where I am now on my way the Citadel. Along the way were a couple of challenging encounters around turret-placement and enemy wave defense. It's a great game, with a great feel.

A couple of new ones on the playlist that I plan to re-visit are Mount and Blade (I'm just getting started, here), and Colin McRae Rally, which I had time to mess around with for a few minutes, but that's all, so far.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book 2

I tore through A Game of Thrones in just over a week, and now I'm well into A Clash of Kings, as well. I see no reason not to continue right on through all five books, while the notion has taken hold of me so tightly. It helps that I can read on my breaks at work or while waiting at the DMV or such places, using the kindle app on my phone. I am still reading every day, but not at quite the breakneck speed I had for the first book. Books 2 and 3 are quite long, so I'm trying to maintain a good pace, but not overdo it. There's not much else I'd rather be reading than this series, right now.

Words Are Wind

Despite my best intentions, I never get around to playing what I think I'll play. Zero minutes of Mass Effect 3 played since last I wrote here. I have dabbled in several things, but committed to nothing. To recount:

Dota 2 - The International 4 happened over the past couple of weeks. I thought I might watch some, and play some, turns out I had only time for one game in either category. I want to play more, because Dota is a ton of fun. It's discouraging, though, to know that I'll never be better than more than about 3 in 10 players. I feel this way about most multi-player games, these days. Kids and the childless and the underemployed have it so nice, with ample time to get good.

Vlad the Impaler - A cool text adventure game with a gothic horror motif, set in Istanbul during the time of Vlad Tepes. It's like someone made this just for me. There are different choices to make in character creation and in your investigations that drive the narrative forward, and different outcomes to the whole thing. It's good.

A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda - very obviously heavily derivative of Mega Man games, but with some new twists, including analog 360-degree firing and the ability to construct consumables and upgrades from scrap dropped by enemies. It seemed cool if that's the type of thing you were looking for, games which are in short supply in this day and age, and native to the PC. This was part of my knock-em-off-the-backlog initiative.

Wolfenstein 3D and Spear of Destiny - I'd played Wolf 3D before, but not a hell of a lot of it. I picked it up the other day in the Quake-Con related Steam sale, along with the expansion and Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Boy, are these games tough to return to. Having to hold down a key in order to strafe is a deal-breaker. This and the older Doom games both are better in retrospect than to actually sit down and try to play with a modern control scheme. Unmodded, their mouse implementations are so foreign to modern conventions that it is debilitating. Quake fares much better, with a little tweaking of the options--and Quake is a better game, as well, much as I love the Dooms.

Goat Simulator - I guess we broke this out again, not too long ago. It's fun to fly around with the controllable jetpack mutator installed. I wish there were more areas to the game, but it is just a dumb toy, after all.

Hearthstone - I'm not sure what happened here, but apparently I am back to grinding out daily quests in order to collect more cards to build a good Shaman deck. I think that's my favorite class, for now at least. The Naxxramus expansions comes out today, or the first part of it does, at least. That will be interesting to check out.

Minecraft - Because there's just nothing like it for getting into a world and going exploring. Cube World is cool, too, but I kind of felt more like wandering and less like fighting.

Destiny beta - On the PS3, even. I like it. It's Halo crossed with Diablo but without Borderlands' questionable sensibilities. I wonder how much actual content there is, here. Every mission I've been on save the multi-player modes have been on the same big map. It is fun, though maybe only just engaging enough. How the story stuff plays out and how much of the rest of the solar system we get to see and how varied the play can be with only three character classes and limited amounts of enemies all remains to be seen. I'm keeping my PS3 pre-order, content with how it performs (freely online, I might add), though I am still hoping for a PC version.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Revisiting an Old Favorite

On reading, I've really upped my intensity, lately. I've been reading every day, I'm proud to say.

I finished Nemesis, the latest novel of the Horus Heresy I was reading. It was a pretty cool story of two star-crossed and doomed assassination missions targeting Horus Lupercal and The Emperor himself. Pulpy, and none too consequential to the overall Heresy arc, but fun.

I'm reading through The Ninja, the (mostly) non-fiction historical account of Japan's famous secretive and independent feudal warrior groups based in the Iga and Koga regions. It's kind of hit-or-miss for me, so far, with maybe a little too much about the philosophy of ninpo, or ninjutsu, but interesting, if probably, in some cases, apocryphal historical accounts of Daimyo such as Tokugawa Ieyasu employing the shinobi no mono.

Over the last few weeks I watched seasons 3 and 4 of HBO's Game of Thrones, and that made me want to go back and reread the books, since it has been a decade or more ago that I read the first four. I'm well into A Game of Thrones now, and I think I'll make it through this first book, at least. The meat that I really want to get to is a reread of books 4 and 5--the parts of the story where the HBO series has strayed, or at least not advanced far enough to cover, yet. There have been a time or two that I sat down with this first book and half-heartedly began a reread, making it perhaps a hundred pages in before setting it aside. I must be a good third of the way in, now, though. I think it's going to stick this time. It's been long enough, but at the same time I have my familarity with the TV show's material to check and compare versus the content of the books, which makes the reread pretty interesting. Seeing Littlefinger setting up Ned and Catelyn so early on in the first book, for instance. Seeing Tyrion and Jon's kinship. The early signs of what a monster Joffrey becomes. Not only getting all the ancient history characters talk about, but at the same time understanding how it underpins their actions thus far and the ones they will take in the future. It's good stuff.


I have been making some good progress through Mass Effect 3, but it is also true that my attention has been diverted in a number of different directions, in the meantime. I am planning on paring that back down some and continuing on Shepard's quest very soon.

The Steam summer sale happened recently, and with that my backlog swelled again to even greater volume. I have knocked a few off the pile, though. Quickly and dirty reviews:

Chivalry: Deadliest Warrior - fun and fairly unique melee-focused combat featuring a number of historical warrior types. Did I uninstall this? What was I thinking? I want to go play more right now. The downside is that there doesn't seem to be much balance. Samurai appear to be the best class overall, by historical rankings in the leaderboards. Pirates look to be bringing up the rear. Cool game, but I'm not sure how much potential there is for a serious competitive scene.

Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams - a great platformer with a gorgeous presentation, and quite difficult, too. There don't seem to be a huge amount of stages, but the ones I saw--up through the first boss fight--are large and feature a number of secrets. There is also the fact that each exists in two states, happy fairy land and dead Halloween land. You play as two girls, one at a time, shifting back and forth from girl and world to girl and world. Recommended for platformer fans.

Garry's Mod - I don't get it. I guess it's kind of a meta-Minecraft in which you can construct not only worlds, but game types, as well. I messed around a bit with dropping objects into the world, and I saw that there were a ton of people playing original game types on various servers, but I didn't join any. I tried to get onto something running some sort of Fallout: New Vegas roleplaying thing, but it was taking forever to connect, so I cancelled and quit out. This seems like a deep, deep hole, and I don't know that I want to jump down it.

Goat Simulator - Finally a game that Mia appreciates. She's three years old, today.

Wizorb - it's 8-bit-esque JRPG Arkanoid.

I also returned to a number of games for a bit more, and even finished off the Bioshock franchise, as it exists now, with the second part of Infinite's Burial at Sea expansion. It was good, and did a decent job of elaborating on the events of Infinite and connecting them to those of the original Bioshock. Not that that was really necessary, but it was a nice touch, I thought.

I let Mia check out some World of Goo, Peggle, and Hearthstone while sitting on my lap. She seems think they're variously OK for up to about 5 minutes before bombing off to do something else.

I made a tiny bit more progress through Half-Life 2. At this pace I'll finish itup sometime in 2016, making this one of the more extended contiguous (to my definition) playthroughs I've ever done. It's a great, great game, though. It feels great to play. Maybe I just don't want it to end.

I've kind of reached a multiplayer FPS crisis. That is, I don't know if there is a game for me in this genre. Battlefield has evolved to something I don't really care for. Call of Duty has never been my thing. Counter-Strike seems like the best game out there, but after about 15 or 20 minutes, I feel like I'm done for the day. Matches seem to last longer than that. Plus, Counter-Strike is extremely skill-intensive, and I'll never be that good. I need something more casual, I think. Maybe Borderlands or the upcoming Destiny or another co-op game, like the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer, is more my speed these days. I've tried the Left 4 Dead games, but they just don't seem to take, either. They're incredibly intense and repetitive, and like with CS, I want to bail out after just a short time. The aforementioned multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 is pretty good, maybe I'll stick with that for the time being, while I'm playing the campaign, anyway. I should also play the Payday series, which I do own.

Going forward, I guess I'll try to focus on ME3, though I am awaiting Diablo III's 2.1 patch and the Destiny beta. We'll see how that goes.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Final Leg of the Sheep Drive

Put a cap in Borderlands, is more like it. I went back to my years-old game save and finished up all the DLC, I care to, which equates to all the campaign-y stuff, General Knoxx, Dr. Ned, and Claptrap's add-ons. The Mad Moxxi thing is nothing more than an arena-based horde mode type of thing that is best played with friends. However, Borderlands no longer supports online play (thanks, GameSpy!), only LAN, so to hell with that. I have to admit that I had fun finishing this game off, even though I was rushing right through everything, seldom straying at all from the critical path. Look, I got shit to do.

I played a little bit of Half-Life 2 the other day, as I am wont to do every several months. That is a great game. That I can't seem to finish.

I also looked into Euro Truck Simulator 2 a little bit. It's pretty cool, but I'm a little disappointed by the lack of fidelity to the bits of Germany I am actually familiar with. It cuts out a lot of the anciliary countryside and urban areas to focus instead on the intersections--the interesting decisions, as it were. You'll seldom drive more than a few minutes down any one road before taking a ramp to another or turn off somewhere. Still, it's a neat idea, relaxing, and actually difficult in spots. Backing into a loading dock, especially. I'm not sure how much more I'll play, but I did enjoy myself with it for a couple of hours.

Summer is here, baby Juno is here, E3 is gone, and there is a bit of a lull before the busy all gaming season begins. It is time to play Mass Effect 3, finally. All the furor around its release is now water under the bridge, and I bought it for $5 or $10 at some point several months ago, and I am finally ready to guide Shepard to the end of her journey, for better or worse. The fixed ending is live, all DLC available on Origin (thank fuck, after the mess of ME2's DLC marketplace), some of which I may buy, and enough time has passed that neither is much of a sore spot anymore. If Shepard can make peace with the Alliance leadership for the greater good, so can I with EA/BioWare/Origin on these matters. We don't have to like it, but working together is the only way we'll get through this to the end.

That said, I imported my Caroline Shepard, created in ME1, continued through all of ME2, into ME3 last night, and got the ball rolling. Earth is being attacked by the Reapers, folks are dying, and Shepard has been reinstated as commander of the Normandy and sent to gain the aid of the Citadel. First stop are some Martian archives where it sounds like she may encounter long-time friend and comrade Liara, now a galactic shadow power broker. So far, so good. It feels like Mass Effect, and combat-wise maybe even the best of the bunch, though it is still early to really tell. I'm looking forward to more.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Shooting From the Hip

I still haven't put away Diablo III, not completely. I have slowed down on it, considerably. All my characters are now Torment II capable, and each with some pretty cool rare legendary items that offer unique effects. There's no game as good for playing while listening to a podcast.

I may segue that habit over into Borderlands, now, though. I'm getting a little more back into it in the last couple of days. I'd like to put a cap on this game once and for all, and maybe peek into the sequel some, too. On the shooter topic, I had a weird hankering to play some Doom the other day, so I jumped in and messed around with that a bit. I should probably stick with some of the more modern fare that I have untouched, though. It's tough to go back that far.

I was able to complete a couple of games recently, one a tiny, ponderous sci-fi adventure called Stranded, which finds the player crash-landed on an alien world and having to survive and figure out the mysteries of the surrounding alien ruins. I enjoyed that. I also finished off Assassin's Creed Liberation, which was pretty mediocre all the way through. I don't regret playing it, though. Aveline's story was interesting enough.

Monday, May 19, 2014

From the Visitation to the Violation

Reading, lately, I finished up the rather short Roadside Picnic, though it took me a month or more, such is my pathetic, contemptible reading volume these days. That was a really interesting read. What S.T.A.L.K.E.R. took from it in tone and inspiration far outweighs the superficial differences in the settings, which I suppose make it a fairly successful adaptation. Book to game; who would have thought?

For my next feat of literary dullness and sloth, I retreat back into the arcane lore of the Horus Heresy, with James Swallow's Nemesis. This seems to be a story of competing beureaus of assassins, one gunning for Horus Lupercal, and one for The Emperor of Man, or just The Emperor, for short.

I'm alternating Horus Heresy stuff with non-HH stuff in a wierd sort of literary palate cleansing. I'm defining where the Horus Heresy sits in terms of literature by figuring out where other things are in relation to it.

Putting Hell the Hell Away

I'm going to have to force myself to stop playing Diablo III. I got my Demon Hunter, Isam--after a similarly haunted Wheel of Time character--to 70, and then promptly switched back over to Orda--after the Khan--to gear him up a little more for Torment level Nephelam Rifts. I've been having fun wrecking stuff and finding game-changing legendary items with him, such as ground-melting boots, a monster-charming helmet, and a demon-summoning greatsword. This game is so good! It's even better now after the expansion and extensive patching than it was at launch--far, far better, as a matter of fact. It's high time to shelve it for a while, though, and when this 7-day period of increased Legendary Item drop rate and double Rift Fragment Bounties ends, I'll do just that. I have half of the classes at the level cap, now, and while it may not be the most efficient, each of them can get along in Torment mode with reasonable comfort. I want to play a Witch Doctor next, but I don't have it in me now. It makes more sense to wait until whenever Blizzard introduces Seasons to the game, where players will compete on leaderboards as to who can start with a new character and level up the fastsest, the most, with the best gear, or whatever it turns out to be. That will be fun. I will not be able to compete to much of any extent, but it will be fun.

I've also been playing some Assassin's Creed: Liberation. It really is pretty mediocre, which is a shame. Not that the even the greatest entries in the series stand up as shining examples of the form, but this is even lacking in their charms. You can tell that the developers were ambitious with their design; it mainly just feels like there was a shortfall of funding and time to make the game great. It probably also has to do with the constraints that attempting to shoeorn an AC game onto the Vita placed on the whole endeavor. I can see in Liberation the many things I like about this series, I just have to look harder. I wish the production values were higher--particularly the voice acting, which is pretty bad. I wish the plot was more coherent and had more connective tissue, because it's hard to decipher, as is. I wish the game just had a better feel to it--it's pretty janky. To be fair, jank is nothing new to AC. Maybe the frequency with which we see these come down the pike is finally starting to wear on me. Maybe I needed more time to put 80 hours of Black Flag and DLC behind me. I will soldier on through, this, though, and await with anticipation this fall's Assassin's Creed: Unity, and the rumored Comet, to a lesser extent. Maybe Liberation will pick up, who knows?

I felt like monkeying around with Dawn of War II: Retribution's The Last Stand mode last night, wondering if I could seque my routine from Diablo III into that, soon. I'm not so sure. Instead, maybe I'll go back (again) to Borderlands--the first--to try out all the DLC before finally, ultimately canning that game for real this time. I need to play Borderlands 2 sometime, after all. I'm undecided whether the Pre-Sequel (not developed by Gearbox) is something to be excited about. I'm leaning toward no, but again, who knows?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Still Slaying

I decided on a male Demon Hunter for my third Diablo III character. He's level 40, now. I've only slowed my roll on Diablo a little in the last month, after finishing up my Wizard's campaign (again), and putting a good couple of weeks into further gearing her up. I'm kind of in an effective holding pattern with gaming, stalling some before we're slated to be blessed with another beautiful baby girl to care for. It's easy to cling to this rather than try to invest too much into yet another game that I may or may not have the time and concentration to finish.

That hasn't stopped me though, from beginning Assassin's Creed Liberation HD, the redux of the ill-fated Vita series entry. It's alright, so far. It has a very AC III feel to it, much like the Aveline DLC that was a part of Black Flag did. It has probably been ported over to III's engine or something. It seems to use a lot of similar art assets. Aveline is cool; this is the series doing what it does, though, and lacking in the massive production values that proper entries get. It's a shame that the only entry with a woman as the player character (and both entries with a black person as the lead) are a kind of afterthought, though--Aveline in the Vita game and Adewale in the now standalone spin-off DLC from Black Flag. I'm only two sequences in. I really would like to finish this up before our baby is born. Side note--and this is completely coincidental and unintentional--we are giving her a name that is shared by a character in the AC series. I'll confirm any correct guesses on the matter.

Dawdling around here and there, and spurred on by the recent announcement of Firaxis' next game, I finally picked up and began messing with Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. Simply put, it's a Civ game on another planet, but with a more dour and pragmatic bent to the theme. It's Kim Stanley Robinson's Sci-Fi Civilization, perhaps. I need to give it more time, though. I am still in the bewildered-by-UI stage of the game.

I mentioned Toki Tori a while back, and how I did not like it. I gave Toki Tori 2+ a shot, owning it, as you do with PC games these days, and I find that it is a much more pleasant mobile port. Not so blatant about it's roots, in other words. It seems fine, but my daughter didn't seem too into it. Maybe it'll get a few more tries before being uninstalled.

I don't make a habit of talking about iOS games on this blog; probably because I don't make a habit of playing them. I do own a bunch, though, and I probably should give them a fair shot more often. Hearthstone was recently released on iOS, and you might remember me being fond of it during its beta testing. Well, I was--probably a little too fond of it. I think I burned myself out on the game, at least for a while. The iOS version seems to work, but performance was pretty bad even on my ipad 3. Hitman Go, though, is very nice. It's a pleasant surprise. I love the model/diorama look to the game, and the abstraction of the mechanics through making it look like a board game. It's the sort of thing that keeps me from completely dismissing mobile as a platform I don't care about (like I have consoles/handhelds at this point).

On the reading side of things, I recently went back and re-read the entirety of The Walking Dead comics from 1 to 126. Big things are apparently in play for issue 127 and the series' future, and I thought it was a good time to go back for a refresher. It look 2-3 weeks of nightly reading on the Comixology app on my ipad. Now, though, I am in the middle of Roadside Picnic, which is really interesting. It is very S.T.A.L.K.E.R., as it is, of course, the inspiration for that game series. I think I'll go back for more Horus Heresy after this.

Monday, April 7, 2014


I continue to thrash in the throes of Diablo III addiction again. Reaper of Souls has made it a far, far better game than it was at release, and I played it for months on end in it's original state. I've written before about the changes to existing content and systems, which are universally for the better.

The expansion has added another Act to the game, meaning a bunch of new areas, monster types, and bosses to enjoy. It has also added Adventure mode and a few new systems within it--bounties, blood shard gambling, and Nephelam rift raiding. The short of it is that you hunt down specific monsters or due certain events all around the game's world, waypoint by waypoint, and your rewards include blood shards and rift tokens. The shards can be traded to a new NPC for a random piece of gear for the slot of you choosing (I've already gotten a couple of upgrades via this). The rift tokens are consumed by an obelisk to open a portal to a completely randomly generated set of levels where you go to kill monsters until the rift boss drops in, and you kill him as well, for fabulous prizes.

Currently I am working on finishing up a campaign playthrough as my wizard, because before the expansion had come out, I decided to reset quests on that character in order to guarantee a legendary drop on the end boss of the game. I've also got her decked out like never before, with a lot of great new gear, including plenty of legendary and set pieces. I would love to get a complete set to trigger the associated bonuses--so far I have gotten two pair of the same set boots in the last two days. Once I finish up Acts IV and V, I will either concentrate on Adventure mode to further gear the Wizard and Barbarian or start up another character. I'm thinking Demon Hunter, next, to give me one character of each main attribute, Intelligence, Strength, and Dexterity. Why? Why not? Do I go male or female Demon Hunter?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


I finished up the Book of Tyrael tonight. I don't know if it was quite as nice a lore supplement as the Book of Cain, but taken together, I now feel like I know everything I need to know, indeed everything there is to know, about the lore and canon of Diablo. It's mildly interesting. The books have some cool art, at the very least.

Reading these Diablo books and my recent purchase of the Dark Souls Design Works art/development book, I feel like I should pick up something similar for the Assassin's Creed series. I know there is some sort of Encyclopedia of the franchise, though it may only go up through ACIII.

Anyway, that's another book burned for '14. Next up is the inspiration for the STALKER game series, Roadside Picnic.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Get in Gear to Gear

I've played almost nothing but Diablo III for the past three weeks, and it's been a blast. Loot 2.0, Paragon 2.0, the new difficulty modes, changes in monster density and affixes and other factors have revitalized this game in a big way, and Reaper of Souls isn't actually even out for a few more days, which will bring even more sweeping changes to the game, including a whole fifth act, a 10-level raise to the cap, new skills for all existing classes, a whole new separate class, tons of new gear to hunt for, a story-free adventure mode featuring randomized dungeons and boss hunts, et cetera. Diablo III, it's a Hell of a game, and it's in a really good spot, right now.

I finished up my Barbarian to 60, and have been playing enough with him and my Wizard to get them both pretty well kitted out and able to easily roll through Torment I difficulty. I've also gotten my Paragon level up from 3 before the patch to almost 33 as of this writing. There has been a 50% XP bonus all month, and that is up to 100% this weekend only, so I've got more playing to do, actually.

What prompted this post, though, was that tonight I finished reading the Book of Cain, a lore and art-centric companion book to Diablo III. It's just fluff for the Diablo universe, but it's kind of neat. I also have the Book of Tyrael, which I am about to start. I'm guessing that one is a lead-up to the expansion in the way that Cain was to D3 proper. Ok, back to killing, looting, and reading.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Localized Action

I finally finished off the last Tom Clancy novel I had not read, Red Storm Rising. I've mentioned it here before, but it's basically a "What if..." tale about a World War III set in the mid-'80s. The USSR is trying to neutralize NATO with a surprise attack so that they can then seize the oil of the Persian Gulf. The action begins in Iceland and Germany, and continues in Iceland and Germany and the North Atlantic, and finally concludes in Iceland and Germany and the North Atlantic.

It was a good read, and parts very interesting and tense (submarine warfare), but I was surprised at how small-scale the conflict seemed. I wonder if this particular scenario was one that was seriously thought about back in those days. Nuclear weapons almost did not feature into the story at all, which I also thought was interesting, and makes me wonder again how much of this scenario was based in reality. I know Clancy was pretty thorough in his research in a lot of areas, but I'm not sure if grand strategy was one of them. This book was pretty early in his career, and I'm not sure if he would have had the clout to talk with top military strategists like he probably did later on.

It was a fun read, and will really take you back to the Cold War era, if you wish to go. Now I need to figure out what I want to read next.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Only Constant

I outlined in my last post the upcoming handoff from Dark Souls to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, and that has happened, but with some other unexpected developments, as well.

I've missed my Spelunky daily run a number of times over the last week, either out of fatigue or forgetfulness. Once I was just too absorbed in Dark Souls, and played right up to my hard cut-off for the night. Another time I completely forgot about the run playing Castlevania, and finally last night I was just too beat by the time I could have played to actually go ahead and do so. Will I ever actually beat Spelunky? Despite how much I've played it, I have yet to ever get past 4-2, and to even finish it the easy way, I have to finish 4-4. Meanwhile, since I learned how the City of Gold is accessed, I've been trying to fulfill the reqs for that each game, and that more often than not spells an early death that might otherwise be avoided. It's a tough time for Spelunky runs, right now; I'm only scoring in the 40-thousands when I do a daily, and I don't really ever do anything else.

I was in the Titanfall beta for PC for a few days; it's a pretty fun game. It is definitely more of a giant kill-churn sort of game, with rapid respawns and highly lethal weaponry. I may pick it up for cheap at some point after release. I mention it because it also segued into playing some more Battlefield 4 over the last week. I do think BF is still my multi-player shooter of choice, but being an ultra-casual player, I am no good at it at all, and overwhelmed at the amount of stuff in the arsenal. I am just trying to stick with the most basic stuff in each kit until I figure out what any of it is good for, or until I nail down some sort of role I like to take on the battlefield. I think I like the vehicles more than anything, save for the jets. The maps are just too small to make flying a jet anything more than a bunch of turning and looping maneuvers, as far as my abilities go. Maybe I'll try to practice flying more, because on paper doing so should be a blast.

Another unforseen event in the last week was the appearance of the Diablo III pre-expansion patch with the Loot 2.0 and Paragon 2.0 updates. I hopped back into the game, now with a completely different difficulty mode assortment, and picked up my Barbarian again. Within just a couple of hours I have geared him out to a strength exponentially better than what I had before, and also withint a couple of hours I had found 3(!) legendary items, where before I had found the same amount in 200+ hours of playtime. And these new ones were even desireable! So, thus far I am thinking Loot 2.0 is a success, if what Blizzard is looking for is to drive people to gear up by actually playing the game as opposed to playing the auction house. Not that we will have any choice, soon, but that is another discussion.

With these new changes to the game, I am more excited to play it, and for Reaper of Souls to come out, than I have been in quite some time. At release, I think I may create a Crusader and jump right ahead to Act V to play through that once, since that should be completely doable with the way monsters now scale to your character's level, and difficulty levels have more to do with how well your character is kitted out than anything else. The progression idea seems to be to play Normal until you have some decent magical equipment, and then switch to Hard and gather some good rares, then switch to Expert when you are well gemmed-out, and so on and so forth, staying in a difficulty mode until you are so geared as to just steamroll over everything, and then moving up for more challenge, gold, experience, and possibly better drop rates in the later, higher difficulty modes.

A Dark Souls update on where I left off for Castlevania: after my last post, I proceeded to test out some of the ultra-greatsword class of weapons, and I have fallen in love with the Zweihander, a huge greatsword that, while it has a lower max damage than others, is faster to swing, and does incredible damage to the enemy's poise, staggering, and in some cases, knocking them down. Knocking a silver knight or darkwraith into a faceplant is an awesome feeling. I've also leveled up to the point where I can use it along with some of the heaviest armor in the game, in fact I have also leveled up a couple pieces of the Giant armor set to the maximum to replace Smough's set in some instances. I also ascended the Zweihander to +15, as well. The Souls games have some of the most satisfying character building of any games I can think of. Progression-wise, I fought through the Catacombs and Tomb of Giants and killed Gravelord Nito, and then went into the Painted World in Anor Londo, where my character now awaits my return.

This brings me to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, the long-awaited sequel to 2010's epic action-adventure series reboot with a twist. Without attempting to spurn the sequel, I wonder if maybe they should have just left off after that amazing epilogue to the first game. It was the type of thing to set the mind spinning with all sorts of grand ideas for the type of game that could follow, and what could conceivably live up to everything their hints might inspire hope for?

Well, for better or worse, they went ahead and actually made the game that logically follows on from said epliogue, and I'd like to just take a moment here to appreciate that they actually went ahead and did it--this absolutely mind-blowing thing--they actually went and tried to realize it. I think that took balls. Real balls. Just upending the confused morass of what Castlevania had been prior to Lords of Shadow, incurring the wrath of thousands of nostalgia-blinded and dependent fanboys took balls. But this--holy shit. I can't imagine Konami was on board with the idea right away--it's just not the sort of thing you see in large-scale AAA games, especially ones using an established franchise or brand. So, plaudits to Mercury Steam for that.

As for how the actual game has turned out; my overal impression so far is pretty good. It retains a good deal of what the first Lords of Shadow had, and adds some great combat moves with the new Void Sword and Chaos Claws that replace the light and shadow magics of the original. The combat is fun, the boss battles are cool, the graphics and art in the gothic areas are great. The modern areas are weaker, of course, probably due to the fact that modern environments are inherently less interesting than dark gothic fantasy ones, but there is also an embarrasingly amateur scaling issue in the modern areas. Dracula appears to be about 3 feet tall in the modern era, doorhandles towering above him. Trash cans and industrial liquid totes are neck-high on the Prince of Darkness. It's sloppy, and immersion-breaking, and ridiculous, but at least there is no functional detriment to the game, otherwise.

I have been ejoying the game so far, but I have to admit that my general ambivalence to this whole genre and its contrived puzzles, arena battles, and improbably designed spaces with inexplicably extant collectables grates on me. I kind of just wish all of my favorite parts (which, if I'm honest, are just the story-related bits and cool art and environments) could be presented to me without all the filler. I'll keep the combat, since that is fun, but I could easily lose much of the rest.

Monday, February 17, 2014

This Blighted and Forgotten Land

The land of Lordran in Dark Souls has fallen on tough times when the events of the game are set. The flame that drives the world is guttering, its denizens are mostly gone or hollowed to the extent that they are mad, zombie-like creatures, and it's infrastructure is crumbling. It needs to be burned, flooded, or otherwise demolished and allowed to be grown over.

In the meantime, though, there are adventure and loot to be had, friendships and enmities to be established, and many foul demons to be slain. This is where I have been spending the brunt of my free time over the last couple of weeks or so.

My character, Fridge, started off in the undead asylum as a knight, and I have mostly focused on building a mix of strength, vitality, and endurance, such that, at soul level 65, now, I am wearing the heaviest (and ugliest) of armors--Smough's set--and can still move and roll with at medium quickness. With Havel's ring, of course. This doesn't leave much unused equipment burden potential, but thus far I've been very happy with a longsword (now +15). A more experienced player and friend recommended I try some of the heavier weapons, since I have the strength for them, and just dial back the thickness of my armor to allow for that. I may give that a go, at least temporarily, while I continue to spec out my character for hard and heavy hits, both inbound and out.

Progression-wise, I am somewhere around halfway through the game now, I think, DLC included. I have rung the two bells, gotten the Lordvessel, gotten Artorias' Covenant, and re-visited the undead asylum. That leaves entering the painting in Anor Londo, going to the DLC areas, attaining the four Lord Souls, and defeating Lord Gwyn to end the game, along with many other miscellaneous optional goals I might like to take on.

I'm not sure what the time frame on actually doing all that is, though. It's not likely to happen in the next week, before the release of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, which I feel it is my solemn duty to play as soon as possible. I may sort of bookmark my current place in the overal grand structure of Dark Souls, and play the game farming souls and humanity and forging weapons and armor for the next week before some time away from the game. I might be able to knock out some smaller objectives, like the painting and the DLC in there, as well.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Where the Wind Takes Me

I've been kind of flitting from thing to thing for the past three weeks, not really committed to any one game, but dabbling in quite a few, some even for more extended periods.

Super Mario 3D Land saw a few minutes' play, as did my replay of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow on the PC.

I wanted to play a little more Morrowind, but the install was corrupted, so I ditched that once more, and instead started Skyrim. The fifth Elder Scrolls game feels a whole lot like the fourth, but with some quality of life improvements. This is my first time really focusing on a bow-wielding in this series, though, and together with stealth, it's working out pretty well, so far. I would guess Skyrim would see a lot of play time, but to be honest, that is scarce these days, so I'm not too sure about that.

I've spent a little time with Shogun 2, trying to crack that game, somewhat half-heartedly. I've got it in me to give it a few more honest tries, when the wind is right. It was right for Dota 2 last week. I played three or four matches, the first in quite a while. It's still great fun.

I caught a not-so-fresh whiff of Terraria, though. It just strikes me as a flat Minecraft. I don't care for the way it handles, and I feel no motivation to build or explore as a consequence of that. I know it has dissimilarities to Minecraft, but I can't help but feel like I'd rather play the latter, and spend that time in game with a world with more depth, if you will. Rather than play Terraria any more, maybe I'll check out Starbound sometime in the future. The space exploration angle has caught my eye.

The Spelunky daily challenge is still part of my routine, and doesn't show any signs of fading from it. I keep getting further and collecting more treasure; I think I might complete it at some point--through the temple, anyway. Another game I might complete at some point, because it really is very interesting, is Dark Souls. I've gotten back around to my quest there, and made some good progress in the last week or so. Namely, getting through the Depths and the Gaping Dragon, and on into Blighttown, on my way to wherever that second bell is. I doubt I'll be done with this game by the time the sequel is out, but I'm not too concerned with that.

Another very challenging and interesting game I've dipped into is La-Mulana. It's got a fun look and feel, and great music, too. Imagine if the combination of Metroid and Castlevania occurred on the SNES rather than the PSX, and now dress that in an Indiana-Jones-by-way-of-Japan style, that is about what you're looking at with La-Mulana. It is known for difficult bosses and even more difficult puzzles. I'm drawn to explore its ruins some more.

It would be remiss for me to not mention The Banner Saga here. I'm a few hours in, and have been really very impressed with all aspects of the game. It's a war story set in a frozen Nordic fantasy land where you play the leaders of two refugee caravans traveling the land in search of safety and salvation, and it's very well done. It makes an interesting companion piece to games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre. It shares many themes and motifs with those, though the execution is quite different.

On the book front, I'm about 365 pages into Red Storm Rising now; still under the half-way point, but it's pretty good, so far. It's wild seeing a presumably realistic take on how World War III might have played out in the mid-eighties.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

2014 Pick-Up

I've started the year off right, having tied up a number of loose ends, and dabbling in a nice array of games.

Putting the cherry on top of the AC IV sundae, I completed both the Adewale and Aveline DLC/bonus content. That about polishes off Blag Flag for me, though I might dip into the multi-player modes some. Liberation HD is coming out very soon, too. I'm very curious to get into that, but I'm not sure how much of an investment it will be, and I'm not sure how ready I am to hurl myself into another AC just yet. I'd hate to burn out; there's sure to be another on the say this fall.

Speaking of burnout, I have been perilously close with Hearthstone. Sometimes you just feel like nothing but a fool of the random number generator with this game. It's gotten to the point where I will play a match, maybe two, and probably be done with it for the day after one loss. I gave up on completing dailies weeks ago, and I question my reasons for playing it at all other than just to kill some time here and there. Mia likes to watch it, too, so there is that.

I thought it was time for another attempt to familiarize myself with Paradox grand strategy, but rather than try Crusader Kings II again or Europa Universalis IV, I thought I would give Sengoku another go. Anyone who knows me would naturally figure the Japanese history angle would make me bite, and they would be right, of course. I just find these games to be nigh on impenetrable, though. I can't say I've done much more than poke around at EU III, Sengoku, and CK II, but I just don't get it. I literally could not figure out how to go to war as Oda Nobunaga. I levied my armies, I recruited some ronin, I clicked the "Declare War" button, and I ordered my army over to the target province, and nothing seemed to happen. I even R'd TFM, albeit after uninstalling, and couldn't see what my war was lacking such that no one showed up. I'll give CK II another go next time.

I finished up Uncharted 3, but I don't really have anything to add on top of what I wrote last post. I'll say that I do enjoy the series, and I'll play the next, and I would especially be interested in it were it about Francis Drake as opposed to Nathan Drake, as one more out there rumor seems to suggest. While I'm on Naughty Dog, I began The Last of Us, thanks to Call Of Podcast listener volt1up, who game-shared me his PSN copy of the game. I've gotten Joel and Ellie out of Boston and just met up with Bill of Bill's Town. I'm going to call this a functional improvement on Uncharted's mix of story and play. It's a different type of story, of course, more gritty survival story than adventure romp. The addition of stealth, and thereby the making of combat avoidable, makes me happy. As does the addition of systems like skill evolution and tool crafting. I still feel like the game side of the equation is a little shallow, but these are steps in the right direction. Already I am amazed by the quality of the writing and characterization on display, too. Naughty Dog really are at the pinnacle of that stuff in games.

Chocolate Castle is a light little puzzle game by Lexaloffle, a small independent developer apparently made up of foreigners in Tokyo, I just learned. I picked it up in the Humble Voxatron Debut ages ago, and ran across it a few days ago as one of my non-Steam games on the Humble site, and decided to give it a go. It's a great little game that involves sliding blocks of colored chocolate around and then having the appropriate cartoon animal character eat all of the chocolate of one color at once, clearing space on the board. The level is complete when all the chocolate has been eaten. If that sounds like your cup of tea, look it up. This is another Mia favorite. There is a balloon festival at the end of each level, which she enjoys.

My attempt to do more reading has me pushing further into Clancy's Red Storm Rising, his tale of the Cold War going hot in the mid-'80s. It's fast-paced and enjoyable so far, which is good, because I've got almost 600 pages left to go.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year's Tidying

With the new year, as always, comes a period of reflection and resolution. I have an unbelievable backlog of games I want to address, and I'm beginning 2014 with an eye toward that. I'd like to polish off my library of PS3 games in the coming months. A few stragglers remain from the previous console generation. The first on that list is Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception.

I enjoyed the first two Uncharted games, though with a large crop of reservations as compared to most. I typically do not care for the play in these games--there is too much combat, and it goes on for far too long. Drake and his animations are weirdly out of synch with the environment as you run around. I am totally in agreement with the wide consensus on these games outside of those gripes, though. That is why I have elected to play through Uncharted 3 on easy. So far, so good. I played the first seven chapters in one session (with interruptions--I do have a toddler vying for my attention, too) yesterday. The characters and writing and setpieces and graphics are all very well done, of course. I still contend that I would rather watch a condensed movie version of all this, though. Maybe it's that it's too linear, maybe it's that there is no agency given to the player in the plot, maybe it's that the Dual Shock 3 is a terrible controller for first- and third-person shooting. Whatever the reason(s), I don't have this complaint with too many other games.

I wanted to quickly mention Toki Tori. I loaded it up on my PC last night with my daughter sitting on my lap just to entertain her for a few minutes. I wanted to mention it to warn people off what appears to be a slapdash port from iOS. Big, touch-friendly (not mouse-friendly) interface bits make it seem like a quick cash-in port job, and the game itself is bland cookie-cutter copy/paste-with-different-palletes-and-call-it-done puzzle pap. I hope Toki Tori 2+ actually comports itself like a proper desktop PC application, at the very least.

I ended up finishing off the much-ballyhooed suburbs hit in Hitman: Blood Money, but I think I'm done with the game, now. I adored Hitman: Silent Assassin, and have had good times with Contracts and Blood Money, playing about half of each, but I'm not sure I need much more of that formula. Not now, at least. I have plenty of other stealth games to catch up on, though, so no big deal. I even just recently bought Hitman: Absolution for about five bucks; a game which is apparently not much like the prior trilogy. I have the original Hitman, as well, which I should check out just for curiosity's sake.

I finished up Assassin's Creed IV, the story of Edward Kenway the pirate Assassin in the Caribbean. I liked that game a lot, and ended up doing almost everything you can do in the game; I only lack collecting the rest of the animus fragments and some miscellaneous community challenges. I killed a white whale and took down all of the legendary ships, fully upgraded the Jackdaw, and collected every outfit and set of swords and pistols available to me.

I am playing through the Freedom Cry DLC now, featuring Adewale, Edward's Trinidadian quartermaster, former slave, and devoted Assassin, now shipwrecked in Port Au Prince and fighting to liberate slaves from the huge slave trade there. It's like a miniature Black Flag, and I wonder why they couldn't just sell this as a stand-alone like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon or Call of Jaurez: Gunslinger. Wouldn't that make more sense, and wouldn't more people pick it up separately than as DLC? I can't imagine a lot of people buy DLC. It just doesn't seem to make much sense to present it this way, and its unfortunate because Adewale ends up being treated like a second-class protagonist because of it. Contrast this to Aveline, the female Assassin from Liberation, formerly a Vita game, about to be re-rereleased on PC and console digital platforms. People are always going on about diversity in gaming characters, and Ubisoft admittedly does a lot with this series to progress that front--why not give Adewale top billing in is own $10 or $15 stand-alone AC mini-episode?

I've done relatively little gaming over the last week or so, having been on a road trip. I did take my Vita and Spelunky with me, though. Daily challenges were attempted, and many fun runs were had. I made it to the temple for a second time. I still have yet to progress much further than the entrance to 4-1, however.