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!