Monday, December 21, 2015

RPG Bingo Bango Bongo

I'm not sure what it is about me and ricocheting between roleplaying games at the moment, but I'm having a good time.

I got to thinking about Morrowind for some reason, perhaps in reflection about the recent bouts of Skyrim and Arena I've played. It's always been the one that got away from me. I've taken multiple runs at it, but something always causes them to be aborted. Most recently, on a modded install, I got a good way down the Thieves' Guild quest line before something caused the install to be corrupted, which I guess took the save files with it.

This time, I'm playing vanilla, without even having hacked the resolution. There's something pure about doing so. I created a Redguard Knight, and I'm roleplaying appropriately chivalrously, so far down the main story path. I would love to complete the game at some point, but who knows if that will ever happen?

UnderRail, a post-apocalyptic roleplaying game--one heavily influenced by the first couple of Fallout games--just recently came out of Early Access on Steam. I bit, firstly out of genuine interest, and secondly as a gag to talk about it in place of another game with a similar sounding title on the Game Bytes podcast.

It feels like a not-that-distant cousin of Fallout. It has a very similar isometric point of view, combat uses the same turn-based action point system, and much of the game is presented in a similar fashion. I'm not far enough in to really speak for the writing, but the setup seems interesting thus far. That I'd describe as Metro 2033. So, Fallout 1/2 mechanics and play meet Metro's setting, though it's not apparent where on Earth (if it is Earth) the game is set, at least to this point.

The one very interesting innovation I've seen so far is in it's optional (you can choose a more traditional variant at the game's outset) experience system, called the oddity experience system. Under these rules, experience points are awarded not for combat, but for discovering odd artifacts and effects throughout the world. I only need 4 xp to level up to level 2, and I have three now, one from completing an early quest and two from finding interesting objects in seemingly random locations. Both objects were written documents providing further background on the world's factions, which is also an interesting choice. It seems like a cool idea with potential to heighten the roleplaying experience.

Monday, December 14, 2015

First Half of December 2015 in Play

Skyrim is on the list I made for 2016. Something about it drew me in very rapidly after having finished up Fallout 4. I think I was done with the latter for now, but not completely done with the way it plays, generally.

I thought I'd dip back in just to get a refresher on where my character was and what the game felt like, and I decided to stick around for a while. I'm currently playing it with a mind to explore the Skyrim civil war from both sides, and with a restriction on fast travel. I'm walking from place to place doing random side quests, trying to get a feel for the lay of the land. Previously, I had built my character to focus on archery, heavy armor, and sneaking. I'm mostly keeping to that, but subbed out the heavy armor for light. I also have a nice two-handed weapon and some light magic for added utility. As a Nord, and being fond of role playing, I'm thinking I may side with Ulfric Stormcloak to pull Skyrim out from under the thumb of the Imperials, but I do want to visit the Imperial stronghold to find out what they're all about before committing.

Curiosity got the better of me this weekend, and I also spent a good deal of time installing and making playable the first Elder Scrolls game, Arena. It's taken a lot of research and tweaking on DosBOX, but I've got it in a satisfactorily playable state now, and I'm getting a feel for the genesis of the series. It seems like a very, very large game, even greater in breadth than the later games, though much more shallow. Out in the overworld, I'm not clear whether it's possible to walk from city to city across all of Tamriel, or the fast travel system is required. I'm thinking it may be the latter, because I began the game on The Summerset Isle, and the first major plot quest has me headed to Hammerfell.

These are the major realms of the world of The Elder Scrolls, which later games are restricted to only one of: Morrowind (actually just the island of Vvardenfell within the greater province), Cyrodiil, and Skyrim. The second game in the series, Daggerfall, is, I believe, set across two of the provinces, Hammerfell and High Rock. It's interesting to me that this series has been so faithful to its initial world concept, created over 20 years ago, now. Many of the city names on the map of Skyrim in the game of the same name are the same as the cities on the map of the province of Skyrim in Arena. The shape of the geographic area is the same, and the cities are right where they were back in 1994. That is the sort of thing that I really appreciate, kind of like the Metal Gear series' long faithfulness to its own canon. I am probably not going to complete Arena or anything, but I do want to play around within it some more before I'm satisfied with having checked it out.

Elsewhere, I just barely popped back in on Mass Effect and STALKER: Clear Sky, so little it's barely worth mentioning them other than to say that they are on my mind.

The other thing I had been meaning to do and finally got around to was to check out Invisible, Inc. This is a very cool tactical stealth game. It's turn-based and plays kind of like an X-Com or Final Fantasy/Ogre Tactics game, but with the emphasis being on avoiding detection and combat as much as possible. I'm not sure combat is really even possible beyond using a taser to neutralize guards for a few turns. There is a strategic layer to the game as well, much more in line with X-Com than anything else I can think of. I really like what I've played so far, but I think I'll have to force myself into continuing, just like X-Com itself. I've just been in a different headspace lately, I guess. I'd like to orient myself more toward strategy games, though, as I've outlined, so I'll have to commit to giving it more time alongside continuing my roleplaying games.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

2016 Prospective Play

I want to compile a short list of games as high-priority to play in the coming year. There are a great number of games still on my backlog, and I want to check out as many of those as time allows, but there are a few key titles I especially need to play, and I will attempt to list those here.

I think it needs to be a short list, ten or fewer. I thought about twelve, one a month, but realistically I think the number actually addressed will be between five and ten. There are a couple of genres I specifically want to catch up on, so I may go heavy on the strategy and role playing in 2016.

Some of these will be games I have currently in progress, and some altogether new. Expansions are considered implicit in the base title.

Here's a first draft:
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Dawn of War II: Retribution
Warcraft III
StarCraft II
Company of Heroes
Company of Heroes II
X-Com: Enemy Unknown
The Walking Dead Season 2
Mass Effect 3
The Witcher 3
Wasteland 2
Baldur's Gate II
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II
Star Wars: The Old Republic
Dragon Age II
Dragon Age Origins

OK, I over shot 10 a little, but I don't think that's bad considering the overwhelming size of my backlog. Of course this is a list comprising potentially hundreds of hours of play, so who knows how viable it is. Right now it's more like a long-term road map than anything. Many of these would be mutually exclusive of any of the others, with the way I play games.

Here's a little more realistic take, with strikethrough representing games further down the priority/requisite chain:

Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Dawn of War II: Retribution
Warcraft III
StarCraft II
Company of Heroes
Company of Heroes II
X-Com: Enemy Unknown
The Walking Dead Season 2
Mass Effect 3
The Witcher 3
Wasteland 2
Baldur's Gate II
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II
Star Wars: The Old Republic
Dragon Age II
Dragon Age Origins

That brings me down to 13. I don't know that I can really refine it that much more, but considering how many of these are currently in progress or relatively short (Walking Dead), I consider this list workable. Mass Effect 3 and The Witcher 3 are already in my rotation and soon to be returning for GOTY consideration, too.

So here's what I'm left with at the moment for my 2016 Prospectus, ranked roughly by current desire to play:

Mass Effect 3
The Witcher 3
The Walking Dead Season 2
Dawn of War II: Retribution
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
X-Com: Enemy Unknown
Warcraft III
StarCraft II
Dragon Age II
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Wasteland 2
Baldur's Gate II

With luck, maybe I'll knock five of these off the list in the coming year. This is, of course, completely discounting any 2016 releases, though there's not much on the horizon I am that interested in. I'll have to update this little list at the beginning of January.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Enough of the Commonwealth

That was pretty quick, really. I blew through the main quest line of Fallout 4, in the end siding with the Institute, wiping out both the Railroad and Brotherhood of Steel to cement their control over the Commonwealth. I didn't really feel the need to roam around poking at the non-essential locations and things, having played a whole lot of 3D Fallout over the last couple of years. I did really enjoy the play of the game, and I think it is nicer overall to play than 3 or New Vegas in terms of feel, even though the differences are not huge. The one aspect I'm still not completely sure how I feel about, even after 50 hours, is the new skill point and perk system. It always felt like the perk points were too few and far between to merely increment a core attribute or the effectiveness of a perk I already possessed.

I'm putting it aside after my first play through, planning to come back to it at a later date for another go-round with a different character build and taking a different path through the main quest. The idea is to play this game more in the way I played Oblivion, using several different characters to go through each of the game's guilds and major quest lines. Yes, you never max anything out on any one character, but the game does always feel fresh that way, and you don't get any of that weirdness associated with being both the leader of these guys and the leader of these other guys, too.

I've also finished up Telltale's Game of Thrones game, which I felt really improved as the episodes went on. I wasn't completely sold on it at first, but by the end of the series I was really into it. There will be more coming, they've revealed, and I'm sure I'll partake.

I got a chance to play Rocket League at a friend's house over the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and just like everyone's been raving for the last several months, it's a lot of fun. I picked it up in the Steam sale, the only game I did buy, after selling a bunch of trading cards and TF2/Dota 2 items. I'll have to slot it into my non-RPG, non-Strategy slot, those being the two genres I really want to focus on playing more of in the near to mid- term.

Speaking of role playing, I have decided it is finally time to get back to Mass Effect 3 and wrap up the Reaper war and Shepard's saga. It's been long enough that the EA resentment has faded, and the desire to wrap up a loose end has been brought back to the fore. I feel like I am only about 30-40% into the game, at this point, so it may be a while yet.

I have also made it a point to check out Invisible, Inc. before the end of the year. I'll need to get that in soon.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Post Nukes, a Roleplaying Game

After a very extended time, I have finally moved on from MGSV: The Phantom Pain. In the end I completed all 50 missions, over 100 side ops, all of the dispatch missions, and 10 FOB invasions, as well as stole someone's nuke, developed my own, and decommissioned both.

Winding down MGSV not only took me to the release of Fallout 4, but even a couple of days into that game's period. Fallout is what I'm focusing on now. I'll have to go into more depth on it later, but my initial impressions are that it is more of the same as Fallout 3, with some nice improvements. It feels more like 3, the prior Bethesda Fallout, than New Vegas, which was very much an Obsidian game, clad though it was in Bethesda's clothing.

I'm alright with this duality in the series. These two halves also neatly exist on opposite sides of the former United States. There does seem to be a feel to the East and West Coast Fallout games, which makes good sense lore-wise, as well.

I've been progressing through Telltale's Game of Thrones adventure/roleplaying game, too, and liking it more with each episode. Parts 3 and 4 felt like the series hitting its stride, and I am excited to wrap up the final couple in the next two weeks. I've been playing one a week with Jeremy and LeGrande from the Game Bytes podcast.

I haven't been too concerned with the game backlog in a while. My only real projection into the future at this point is playing more Fallout 4 and finishing out GoT. After that I may go back to dipping into a backlog game weekly, or maybe I'll finally play The Walking Dead season 2, or maybe something completely different will happen. Who can say?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


I'm coming off my Metal Gear high, for one of the last times, probably. MGSV has been an incredible time. Every time I fly into or out of a mission area, I can't help but think about how much I love the game. I've done damn near everything there is to do in the game now, at least once, anyway. There are still a lot of Side Ops undone and even about 5 of the optionally difficult Main Ops, though, so there is still a lot of meat on the bone if I ever want to come back to it later on. The main thing I want to do before putting it aside is to build a nuclear weapon. I just need to wait on materials to be processed at my FOB and be transferred over to Mother Base to give the order. It also takes 30 hours real time for the development of the bomb, so I have a few more days' checking in and running of FOB missions to carry out.

The FOB invasions are the toughest part of the game, I think. You have no buddy to spot enemies on these missions, and you are in areas that are much more confined and difficult to sneak through as compared to the rest of the game, with nowhere to run when the shit hits the fan, and it will, thanks to the presence of security cameras, laser grids, drones, and the large numbers guards patrolling many rival FOBs. This is hardcore mode for MGSV. It wouldn't be so bad if you didn't lose your complete deployment cost and suffer a huge hit to your ranking every time you fail an invasion, but thems the breaks. I think I'm something like 7/16 as far as successes and attempts, as of now.

As I wind down The Phantom Pain, I find myself wanting to go back to Ground Zeroes to see how Camp Omega feels now that I am so much more familiar with the game. There's actually a lot more left to do in that game than I ever got around to, as well.

I began Telltale's Game of Thrones series kind of on a whim, kind of because it will slot in nicely before Fallout 4's release, and partly to talk about on the Game Bytes podcast. I'm toward the beginning of the second episode, and kind of lukewarm on it. Story wise, it's fine. I just really dislike the interactive bits of these games. QTEs and perfunctory pointing and clicking are the bottom of the barrel when it comes to game mechanics, and if it weren't for the licenses and stories of Telltale's games, I don't think I would ever touch them. I really liked The Walking Dead season one, but never because of how great it felt to play. It never did. Nevertheless, here I am.

Something made me go back to revisit, however briefly, Shin Megami Tensei IV recently. I may actually play it even more, since I have a peculiar turn-based JRPG combat itch, which I guess stems from the Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle mobile game I've (still) been playing.

Also on the DBZ front, I let curiosity get the better of me and bought Dragon Ball Z Extreme Butoden for the 3DS. It's a 2D fighter by Arc System Works with a lot of Dragon Ball characters in various canonical and non-canonical situations and battles. It's crap in terms of the connective tissue of the package (no production values, terse hackneyed storytelling), but the core fighting and animation is kind of neat and cool looking, I suppose. Mia seems to think it's OK, at least.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Becoming Legend

I've reached the end of the story content in The Phantom Pain, and now I know what it means to "Become Legend," perhaps not in the way Bungie's Destiny marketing suggests, but still. There is a final plot twist in TPP that is a dramatic re-framing of everything that has gone before since Venom Snake's awakening in the Cyprus hospital. It didn't sit right with me immediately, but after ruminating on it some, I think it's alright. Kojima was basically able to have his cake and eat it too in that he was able to show what Big Boss was up to and what was going through his head in the decade leading up to the first Outer Heaven uprising, and not do so at the same time. He was able to write himself out of a corner (when and how does Big Boss become the bad guy) by adding another dimension to the story. 'When you view it from this angle, there is no corner!'

If there's never another MGS game, I guess that will be fine by me. It's been an amazing series. TPP is a hell of a game. On its own merits it is one of the best games of the year, and an excellent send off for Kojima Productions and Metal Gear. Konami may produce more Metal Gear games, but I wouldn't count on them being as special as the Kojima-directed ones to date. There's substantial doubt that Konami will be producing much of anything beyond small-scale mobile type stuff from here on out, though.

I continue to play TPP. There are still a number of things I want to do in the single player portion of the game, then there is the pseudo-multiplayer FOB invasion stuff, and at some point Metal Gear Online will be released, as well. I'd like to 100% the game, but that may require S-ranks on all missions, and I'm not sure I'm down for that. I wonder if there are plans to support the game with DLC. I would certainly like to chase down one or two loose ends left dangling after the plot wrap-up.

I'm also still playing Destiny. Lately I've been mainly jumping in and playing a few matches of crucible. The Iron Banner is going on now, and I'm trying to get to the point where I can get a shader or emblem or something from that, in addition to random gear drops. It's something to do.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Whale

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The War Grind

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

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

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

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Phantom Pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exile's End

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

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

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Goodbye, Mojave Wasteland

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

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

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

Friday, August 7, 2015

Endless Detour

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

To The Finish

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 29, 2015

Old Favorites and New Hype

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Witchering Busily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 18, 2015

Clear The Deck!

It's been a full several weeks, and I've been doing some podcasting with the Game Bytes crew, Lawman, Killt, and Redeye, to use their noms de plume, as well as tidying up of the game docket. The Witcher 3 releases today, and heading into that maelstrom, here's what I've been playing, in no particular order, and just for the record:

The Witcher - I finished up Side Effects and then played through The Price of Neutrality, as well. These were both pretty good little miniature Witcher adventures using the first game's systems and settings. The former is more light-hearted and comedic, the latter more of the hard-bitten dark fantasy side of the series, complete with hard choices and unforeseen consequences. They were worth doing, but could have and probably should have been folded into the main game somehow. Perhaps in addition to being available stand-alone.

The Witcher 2 - I had last played before they updated the game to the Enhanced Edition, about 4 years ago, so it's hard to really pinpoint what was new, aside from the obvious new cutscenes at the beginning and end of the game, and the new arena battle mini-game and tutorial intro to the game. I saw all of those things, still having an end-game save, and access to the others readily available. What I did not see was a couple of quests added to the third chapter of the game, one available on Iorveth's path, and one on Roche's path. My save was from my latter playthrough, Roche's path, but past the point where the added quest was accessible. No big deal, I think I got the quick refresher I was looking for on the game. I'm ready for Wild Hunt.

Minecraft - My older daughter, soon to be 4, prompts me to play it sometimes. We don't do much but run around looking at animals and random digging, but it's still worth mentioning.

Titanfall - I bought this along with all the full season pass at a heavy discount to play the multiplayer one evening with the Game Bytes guys I mentioned, on a stream, it turns out. It was good fun, but I lack the kind of time it takes to devote to a game like this to really get the most out of it. Plus, it really takes up a lot of hard drive space, which is the one area where my PC is really deficient. I only have about 500 GB in total available after the OS and other stuff is accounted for.

Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China - I finished it in about 6 hours' play time. It turned out to be pretty cool, overall. The art and presentation was the best part, but the play was alright, as well. It didn't overstay its welcome, which is nice. I only hope one day we can have a full-size AC in this setting, and preferably with Shao Jun starring again. I'm looking forward to the India and Russia games to come in this series.

Diablo III - My Monk is sitting pretty at level 70, and now with a decent compliment of endgame gear, to boot. I've actually dipped into the endgame on this character for the first time since they added Greater Rifts and all that goes along with them--everything since the 2.0 patch, really. It really makes me want to revisit all of my characters to some degree, and I probably will, in time.

Elite: Dangerous - Not much to report here, I'm still in that nebula, still scanning stars, still far from home. I'm not sure when I'll return, but I may weave this game in and our with my witchering in the coming months.

A Virus Named Tom - Pure backlog duty, here. I'm taking a sort of alphabetic approach, now that I have a weekly podcasting outlet. This game turns out to be a riff on Pipe Dream, where the core centers around rotating grid pieces to allow for the flow of electros on a circuit. There are a few added elements, mostly things that make it more stressful, such as having to control a grid-bound character as a cursor for your rotations, and then having to deal with other enemies and obstacles also on the grid, as well as environmental effects that blind you to the condition of the board and the like. Not really my type of thing, but it's a nicely put together package nonetheless.

Blocks That Matter - More backlog duty. I haven't gotten in much time, just yet, but it seems like a kind of combination 2D puzzle-platformer and Minecraft-like. I'll have to give it another go or two, but this also is probably not really my type of thing.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Shut It Down, Shut It Down

Blizzard has been good to me in granting access to Beta versions of their upcoming games. Beginning with Diablo III, which I greatly appreciated, and also with Hearthstone, another great game, and most recently with their DOTA-like, Heroes of the Storm. Awful title, by the way.

I'd had access for a good long while, but never got around to loading it up until just last night, thinking I should at least make use of the privilege. After all, I want to stay in their good graces and hopefully get Overwatch access as well, in time.

I played through the 3 tutorial and training pieces at the outset of the game, and wound up buying the starter pack, which was on sale at something like a 77% discount. I'm not a huge fan of the model they're using, which is that of League of Legends where you buy each hero as opposed to that of Dota 2, where all heroes are available from the start and all you buy are cosmetics. I was given one hero free, Valla, the Diablo series' Demon Hunter, for owning Reaper of Souls, and the pack I bought included three more, Raynor, Malfurion, and a Dwarf I am unfamiliar with.

It was strange playing the tutorial and seeing Uther and thinking "oh, Omniknight," due to my familiarity with Dota 2. I think that sort of thing will happen a lot with this game, given the history of the genre.

I was very quickly having a good time with the starting parts of the game, and wanted to continue. I know where that path leads, though, and now is not the time. Maybe after The Witcher 3.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Three Weeks, Five Days, Twenty-Three Hours

That is the approximate time left until The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is released. I haven't thought of myself as excited for this game as I was for the second in the series, but the fact of the matter is that I do a quick calculation of how much time is remaining to allocate to gaming before this behemoth barges into my life and commandeers all of my time.

I've already waved off Pillars of Eternity for the time being, and between my steady engagements of Diablo III and Elite, I'm already unsure I'll have enough time to knock out the other couple of things I've picked up over the last week.

Diablo III Season 3 is under way, and I'm playing a Monk this time around. I've got her (Iskra) up to level 51, so far. I should be able to grind out the rest of the way to 70 before the Witcher 3 hits. I'm liking Monk a lot, so far. It's fast and powerful. It does seem heavy on the passive, healing focus, and aura type skills, though. I'm still not sure what I'll do in this game after I get one of each class to 70. On one hand, I'd like to further refine each of my characters in terms of gear, Torment levels, and Paragon points, but on the other I might like to have a go at Hardcore classes, or future seasonal rewards.

In Elite, I finally scraped up enough money to buy my Asp Explorer, a ship I had been wanting for a long time. I outfitted it as best I could for long-range exploring, and set out on an expedition to several points of interest within the galactic neighborhood. I'm currently still hanging out in the most interesting nebula I've seen so far, scanning loads of Type O stars and black holes. I'm thinking once I'm done here, rather than continuing on to the Bubble Nebula like I'd thought about, that I'll return to civilization to see how much I can get for my exploration data, and go from there. Before my next expedition, I want to be able to hop longer distances at once. Right now I can go about 20 LY at a time, but an Asp at it's full potential should get nearer to 35 LY. That will make traveling from place to place that much faster, and also make it possible to get to more and more remote stars and regions in the less densely populated areas between spiral arms and on the edges and outer regions of the galactic disc.
Elite is going to be my furthest back-burnered of games I consider a going concern, but I'll still be progressing in it, little by little.

As a sort of preparation for the upcoming big release, I'm going back and revisiting the first two Witcher games. I'd like to check out all the additional CDPR content available to both; two side adventures in the first game, and the material added to the second after I'd finished it at launch. So far, I've played through one of the side adventures in The Witcher, a fan-made module called Damn Those Swamps! which was of middling quality. I've begun the first of the CDPR ones, which I believe is called Side Effects, a fully voice acted side story that begins with Geralt trying to get his bard friend Dandelion out of debt to some shady characters in Vizima he owes money to. These are each probably a few hours long.

Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China came out yesterday, a mostly 2D take on the series, starring Shao Jun, a Chinese Assassin from the early 1500s, who first appeared in the short film Assassin's Creed Embers, where she made a pilgrimage to Tuscany to seek guidance from Assassin Mentor Ezio Auditore in his final days. It's kinda neat so far, with an emphasis on being stealthy, and a very nice art style. Some of the play from the 3D games is a natural fit for this game type, and some not, really. I'm only a couple of levels in so far, but looking to play more soon. Hopefully I can get through this before The Witcher 3 hits, as well. It shouldn't be too difficult. It seems built for replayability.

Kind of on a whim, I began Batman: Arkham City a couple of weeks ago. That game starts off very strong. It's got a very solid feel to it, and an interesting, if not at all believable, premise. Given ample time, I'd play more. We'll see if that should ever come to pass, though.

Monday, March 30, 2015


This is a post about pillars, in a way. Two major pillars of my pantheon of games, at least for the past few months, have been Diablo III and Elite: Dangerous. Also, Pillars of Eternity, Obsidian's Kickstarted modern successor to the Infinity Engine RPGs of old has been released, and I've played a bit of that.

A few other tidbits, first.

I finally uninstalled Borderlands 2, after giving it another go to see if the hook would set. It's not a bad game by any means, but it's not snagging me at the time being. I may have gotten my fill with the first game, but there's also the fact that I have umpteen other FPS to play, many of which I think I would get more out of for time spent. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, for instance.

I played a little SpaceChem recently, as well. That's a great game, but one that might be too difficult for its own good. I like that about it. I'm stuck on what might be one of the first really genuinely mind-bending puzzles, a level called "No Ordinary Headache." Indeed.

Rather than tool around in Assassin's Creed Rogue collecting miscellany, I jumped back into Shadow of Mordor for that Assassin-like feeling. It's a game that is way better than it has any right to be, as a licensed property. In fact, I think the license is pretty boring, and probably a major reason why I'm not head over heels for this game. It's very solid and fun in the moment, but there's pretty much nothing that actively draws me back to play it over one of my pillar games.

Speaking of which, I leveled up a Crusader to 70 and beyond for Season 2 of Diablo III play. I like it better than Witch Doctor, but maybe not as much as Barbarian or Wizard. Crusader seems designed around the concept an agro-grabbing tank, which I think has limited utility in a game like this to begin with, and then only in multi-player. I would like to try that way of playing sometime, but I wonder if it would be as efficient as going all-out offense. It might require having other damage dealing-centric party members rework their gear to disregard survivability and go 100% damage- focused. I'm not sure if I'll play any more of Season 2. I ran bounties all the way to 70 and then did one rift after that. I might like to run a few more and then try a greater rift, but then I might just wait until Season 3, when I plan to play a Monk to 70 to complete the full set of classes. After that may be when I focus on endgame stuff for each class, and when I finally delve into hardcore mode characters. There is still a lot of Diablo left to play.

Elite recently hit version 2.2, where two new ships were added, the Vulture (5M CR) and Fer-de-Lance (51M CR), both dedicated heavy fighters. I was able to afford a modestly outfitted Vulture with my earnings from exploration and trading, and set out to try 2.2's other big change to the game, buffed bounties. Simply put, the monetary rewards for destroying pirate ships got a big increase, so much so that to me it seems like easily the fastest and most enjoyable way to amass a small fortune. At some point, maybe in a Type-7 or larger, trade might edge it out in CR/hour, but without any of the thrill of combat. I earned over a million credits over the last day in about an hour altogether of hunting pirates at a RES (resource extraction site). That is quite an improvement over earning rates pre-patch, no matter the method. I'll probably crank out a few more million hunting bounties, hoping to raise my combat rating, before putting it all into an Asp for some real big-time exploration. That's going to be fun. I don't know where I'm going, only that it'll be a hell of a trip.

I mentioned Pillars of Eternity at the top of this post, but I really don't have much to say about it just yet. I've created a character, a sort of halfling woman who is a Chanter, which is a class that seems a lot like a Bard from FFXI, with buffs and debuffs. I've only made it through character creation and the first maybe 20 minutes of play thus far, but it does seem very faithful to the feel of games like Baldur's Gate and Planescape: Torment. I hope to dig deep into this one soon.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Rogue Assassin Shay Cormac

Assassin's Creed Rogue finally came to the PC, and I plowed straight through it over the last week. It's a very high quality port, and seems to run much smoother than Black Flag did.

It's also a very solid Assassin's Creed game, and the end of an era for the series, in more ways than one. Rogue wraps up the 18th century colonial North America sub-group of the series, along with the series' use of it's current engine tech, sailing mechanics, and hopefully some of its other tropes. Unity looks to break away from several of these mainstays.

Rogue is the second game to set the modern portion of the series at Abstergo Entertainment, taking place there a year after the events of Black Flag. In-animus, it is the story of one Shay Patrick Cormac, a young Assassin in Achilles' (of III, Connor's mentor) Colonial Brotherhood. Achilles and the Assassins (Adewale of Black Flag and Freedom Cry among them) are meddling in forces they do not understand, and a mission Shay is sent on to Lisbon involving a precursor site and relic goes awry in a really awful way resulting in a lot of potentially avoidable death and destruction. This leads to some major disillusionment with the cause of the brotherhood on Shay's part, and he breaks from them in a very final way.

Who should come along then, to pick up his spirits and further his goal of preventing more tragedy like that in Lisbon, than the Templars? Shay falls in with a Colonel Monro and several other Templars, but does not become one himself until further engagement with his former Assassin brotherhood cost him this new friend, as well. From there he is a close associate of the Colonial Templar Grand Master Haytham Kenway (off III, Connor's absentee father, rival, and showstealer, as well as the son of Edward Kenway, protagonist of Black Flag) as they focus on hunting down and destroying Shay's former brotherhood and recovering a precursor artifact (the same given to Shao Jun by Ezio Auditore in Embers, later stolen from Templar hands by Adewale and given to Bastienne in Freedom Cry, used in Haiti leading to a giant earthquake, stolen by Templar Lawrence Washington and taken to Virginia, investigated by the Templars, finally winding up in the hands of Samuel Smith, who Shay assassinates and recovers the box from, giving it to Achilles).

It's a good yarn for anyone familiar with the series, and a good trip down the path of the Templar, in that 'we're not so different, you and I' sense. I would like to see a game from the point of view of a Templar who began his career that way, since thus far the only ones we've been able to play as began their training as Assassins (Haytham and Shay). I wonder how much parkour is involved in the training of the average Templar, though.

I had a pretty good time with Rogue, but now that it's finished, I'm not too sure how much of the extraneous stuff I want to wrap up. I put in 70 or 80 hours with Black Flag, and Rogue is very similar to that game. Where it's not, it resembles III, which I also spent a good 70-80 hours with. I may be about done with this iteration of the franchise. Which makes it fortunate, then, that the next game, Unity, looks to change some things up. I'm hoping it's enough to make it fresh again, because there is already another game on deck for this fall, Victory.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Once Familiar

Once familiar is how I would describe The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. It reminds me quite a bit of A Link to the Past, but spruced up on more modern hardware with more modern design sensibilities. I like how it is analog and runs at a very smooth frame rate. Otherwise it seems fairly stock Zelda so far, save perhaps the item rental system, which if it pans out the way I'm hoping could lend the game an enhanced feeling of freedom over the usual. I haven't really liked a Zelda game in a very long time. I was wowed by Ocarina back when just like anyone, but looking back I can't help but feel it has been overblown, and I don't think I would ever want to replay it. I think my favorites in the series have always been the first and A Link to the Past. Zelda II holds a special place in my mind, but I wouldn't call it one of my favorite games by any stretch of the imagination.

The Homeworld Remastered collection came out recently, and I was given a copy as a gift by my good friend and podcasting buddy Esteban. This is a series I've seldom heard much about, but what I did hear was always very glowing. It's very well-regarded. So far I've played through the tutorial in both the remastered and original versions of the first game. It seems novel, an RTS that is relatively slower paced than most in a fully three-dimensional space setting. I'm planning to delve deeper into the remaster, as time goes on.

My Diablo III Season 2 Crusader is developing nicely. She's level 48 now, I think. This class makes a pretty satisfying brick house. It's neat to be able to just face down everything enemies try to throw at you and almost browbeat them into submission, albeit with a flail or some such. The shield-centric abilities are neat, too. You may trade off some loot-grind efficiency for the feeling of being untoppleable, but I don't mind.

I recently made a long exploring expedition in Elite, cut short somewhat by my desire to contribute to an exploration-themed community goal. I earned over 2 million credits with all my discovery data, and put that into a Lakon Type-6 trading ship, which allows for up to 112 tons of cargo. My Cobra would max out at 60. I've now flown everything up to a million credits in price, and my next ship is tentatively an Asp for more deep, deep space exploration. I may hop into a Viper for some combat play, though, or one of the new ships coming in the next update, if their sticker costs fall in under the 6+ mil required to fly an Asp. Right now my total net worth is probably around 5 mil, but I wouldn't be able to get much out of an Asp without about 8-10 mil for the ship itself and the additional modules needed to make the most of it. It's going to take some hours in trading to be able to afford that.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Long Game

I am playing the long game with both Diablo III and Elite: Dangerous as a matter of course, and with Warcraft III just because that is how I feel like handling it.

Warcraft first. I completed the first main campaign, leading the humans under Arthas to Northrend where he claimed the cursed sword Frostmourne and killed Mal-Ganis before returning home to slay his father, the king, and take the crown for himself. Not a very nice guy, Arthas. It looks like the next campaign is Arthas again, this time as the lich king leading the undead in their quest to... well, I don't actually have any idea. I guess that is my incentive to continue the game.

Season 2 of Diablo III competitive play has begun, and I'm leveling up my fifth character, a crusader. So far this class is more fun than the Witch Doctor I played in Season 1, and I may hit 70 faster this time around, leaving time to get more Paragon levels and gear up for rifts and greater rifts. Last time around I hit 70 and bailed, more or less. It probably helps that I started my crusader off in adventure mode from the jump, which is a lot less tedious than the campaign, which I have had my fill of for the time being.

Elite, then. I mentioned my plan in my last entry, and that's more or less what I did--find trade routes and focus on making money until I could afford the best scanning equipment for exploring. I did detour into bounty hunting a time or two, but now I'm off for some serious exploration. I think I might take a few days' trip into the unknown before returning to sell the data, upgrade ship components, and repeat, with the idea to eventually go to the extremes of the galaxy and to afford larger and larger ships. I'm still in a Cobra, which is a good all-arounder, but could already afford a Type 6 for trading if I really wanted. Maybe after this exploration stint I'll get one of those and work up to an Asp for some really uber-hardcore exploration.

Monday, February 2, 2015

At the End of One Journey, Middle of Another, and Beginning a Third

I played through most of Journey with my 3-year-old daughter Mia beside me, sometimes grabbing the controller and walking in circles. I don't have too much to say about it other than it is pretty, and empty. The perfect thing for a bunch of breathless impressionables to imprint upon themselves in a space otherwise fairly devoid of such. A lot was made of relatively little.

I thought I would dip back into Fallout: New Vegas for some of the DLC, and I even went so far as to cue up one, Lonesome Road, for my next session. Turns out that will probably be on hold for a while.

The brunt of my gaming time over the last several weeks has been with Elite: Dangerous. It's very addicting. I've gone through an exploring phase (Sidewinder, Adder), followed by a bounty-hunting phase (Eagle, Viper), a short detour into mining (Hauler), and now I'm concentrating on trading (Cobra) with the intent to return to exploring once I can afford the best scanning equipment. If I was a bit hesitant to pick it as my 2014 GOTY, any doubt in my mind has since been long forgotten. I may play it off and on for a very long time.

Now, though, I turn my focus back to the RTS genre, to a classic I've never played to date, Warcraft III. Can I hack it? Is it as hard as Brood War? Will I get into the story and then feel like I need to go play WoW more when I'm done? Will this be the game I spend most of the next couple of months on? Answers to all these questions and more to come.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sailing the Stars

Elite: Dangerous is still devouring most of my gaming time, these days. I've done a fair bit of exploring, ranking up to Surveyor. I headed down through Empire space to the very edge of the settled volume and making some decent cash in an Adder before deciding I wanted a piece of combat action. I then made my way back to civilization, bought an Eagle, outfitted it for combat to the extent I could afford, and started taking hunting contracts and looking or bounties. I think my plan for the next little while is to rank up my combat rating, make some money, and eventually get a Cobra Mk III, which should be good for a mix of activities.

I finished up my Seasonal Witch Doctor in Diablo III, getting him to level 70, as well as 10 Paragon levels. In the end I found a build I could rely on, and still hunted with a gargantuan, zombie dogs, and a bunch of fetishes. It's still not my favorite class, but it's alright. I'm planning to level up a Crusader, once season 2 begins. And eventually, I'll take all the shards and fragments I get while leveling in adventure mode and spend them on one of my level 70 characters.

I can't figure out what I'm getting wrong in Dungeon of the Endless. I've tried four times now, and I can't get past the first level of the dungeon, even on Very Easy. I need to do the tutorial again, because there must be something fundamental that I'm not understanding.

I briefly loaded up Fallout: New Vegas again, meaning to get on to the rest of the DLC for that game, but only made it as far as completing one unrelated side quest. So far.

I also revisited Space Marine for a fun session of killing Orks with chainsword and bolter.

Voxatron is a voxel-based game I had on my taskbar for ages without really trying out. As it turns out, it's a pretty simple Robotron-esque shooter with destructible environments. It's nice, but I kind of wish there was more to it.

I played some Minecraft with my older daughter on my knee, doing some cave spelunking and looking around for the pigs and horses and sheep she likes in the game. Our current world is the longest-lasting I've ever had. I think I'll make a go of it in this one. There's a really deep and complex cave network very near the starting position, as well as a stream and some mountains. It's a good place to settle, from a roleplaying perspective.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Discovery and the Seasons

Over the last week, I've been doing some seasonal maintenance in Hearthstone and Diablo. Hearthstone is easy. Once a month, I play enough games to reach rank 20 and earn a new card back, and then I'm done for the month, unless I care to play more here and there.

Diablo is a little more involved, but the seasons are also a lot longer. I believe this one began in about September of last year, and is slated to end at the beginning of February. Playing a season of Diablo, to me, means leveling a new character class (Witch Doctor, currently) all the way to level 70, and possibly beyond. I was just past level 30 when I decided I needed to finish up before time was up. I'm at 60, now, and I think I can probably earn a level or two each session I play.

I'm not really crazy about the Witch Doctor. It seems to me the distinctive thing about the class is the ability to use numerous pets do the heavy lifting while the player takes care of some limited crowd control, area of effect, and damage over time spell casting. This is fine, and gives it a unique niche among Diablo III classes, but I don't find it incredibly fun to play. It's perhaps a little too indirect for my tastes. The other classes I've played (Wizard, Warrior, Demon Hunter) are all very direct, at least how I play them. Wizard and Demon Hunter can lay traps and hazards of sorts, if the player is so inclined. Maybe I should ditch the zombie dogs and the gargantuan and try a Witch Doctor with a different focus, but I can't see how it would be anywhere near as effective, not to mention safe. The Witch Doctor himself has very little protection in the manner that I'm used to with my Wizard. Maybe I'll give it a shot, though.

The other game I've been playing, and where the majority of my game time is going, is Elite. I'm very much into exploring the incomprehensibly (realistically) large galaxy in the game, not doing any hunting, fighting, or trading, indeed not capable of doing any, with my ship kitted out for exploration over any other purpose. I just love exploring the unexplored, and it seems like a way to make a decent amount of money, though probably not as quick as trading or thrilling as combating your way to fortune and status.

Elite is not everything I want in a space game, but everything it is does fall into that category. As it hopefully fills out with deeper and more varied content and assets, I can see it eating up a lot of my time over a long period of time, something like a Minecraft or Diablo. I think it'll be a perennial favorite. I don't imagine Star Citizen or No Man's Sky will cover the same ground in the same way, though they definitely both have the potential to be something special.

I wonder how long it might take to gain Elite status as an explorer. I've already ranked from Aimless to Mostly Aimless to Scout, and I'm just getting started. I only just bought an entry level detailed surface scanner, and I'm still running on the base system scanner and in the starting Sidewinder ship. But after this theoretical rise to Elite as an explorer, maybe I'd try to do the same in trading or combat. We'll see. I really like this game, though. Maybe that was obvious, considering my Game of the Year post. It was a very late entrant to consideration, the latest, I think, but it certainly did click with me in a way that no other game did in 2014.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 In Games and Literature

Another year has drawn to a close, and it is time to take stock of what I played and read in 2014. First up, the awards:

My Game of the Year: Elite: Dangerous
Honorable Mention: The Banner Saga

Past years:
2013: Spelunky/Hearthstone
2012: Dota 2/Diablo III
2011: The Witcher 2/SpaceChem
2010: Mass Effect 2/Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
2009: Demon's Souls/Red Faction: Guerilla
2008: Metal Gear Solid 4/Gears of War 2
2007: BioShock/Halo 3

The games, DLC, et cetera that I finished in 2014, defined liberally, as always. It's a grand total of 32, which is nice, but this is a particularly apples and oranges comparison with previous years when I was stricter about what counted as a completion.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag: Aveline
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag: Freedom Cry
Assassin's Creed Liberation
Baldur's Gate
Baldur's Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast
Baldur's Gate: The Black Pits
Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Ep. 2
Borderlands: Claptrap's New Robot Revolution
Borderlands: The Secret Armory of General Knoxx
Borderlands: The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned
Chocolate Castle
Civilization: Beyond Earth (Transcendence)
Diablo III (Master) (Barbarian)
Diablo III (Normal) (Demon Hunter)
Diablo III (Torment) (Wizard)
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (Master) (Barbarian)
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (Normal) (Demon Hunter)
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (Torment) (Wizard)
Goat Simulator
Half-Life 2
Hearthstone: Naxxramas (class challenges)
Hearthstone: Naxxramas (Normal)
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
Street Fighter IV (Easiest) (Ryu)
Talisman: Digital Edition
Talisman: Prologue
The Banner Saga
Uncharted 3 : Drake's Deception
Vlad the Impaler

The game backlog has continued to expand well beyond control, but I'm not too worried about it. These days I practically only play PC games, so limiting myself to one platform will at least boost the probability that many of these will ever be touched. I like to hop into something new on occasion, anyway. There will be no shortage of that. I do feel like I've made fewer cavalier purchases over the last year, but I haven't done the validation part of that assumption.

On the book reading front, I think this was a pretty good year.

Book of the Year: A Song of Ice and Fire I - V
Honorable Mention: Roadside Picnic

Without a doubt my reading highlight of this year was taking GRRM's series back-to-back-to-back all the way through all of the currently released books. The Horus Heresy stuff I read was also a lot of fun, but no one individual title stuck out as much to me as did Roadside Picnic, the book that inspired the movie Stalker and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game series. That was a cool book, and not too long. I also had fun rereading James Clavell's Tai-Pan and with Andy Weir's The Martian, a hard science-based tale of a near-future NASA mission to Mars.

Books read in 2014:

A Game of Thrones
A Clash of Kings
A Storm of Swords
A Feast for Crows
A Dance with Dragons
Age of Darkness
Book of Cain
Book of Tyrael
Deliverance Lost
Red Storm Rising
Roadside Picnic
The Martian
The Outcast Dead
The Primarchs
The Walking Dead 1-125
Visions of Heresy

That was 18, which is not bad, and double my 2013 count.

Here's to much more great playing and reading in 2015!

Steam Winter Sale BONANZA Pt. 2

Capping off the Steam holiday sale this year, just a couple of games.

Might & Magic X: Legacy - I was pretty disappointed with how little the quality of the graphics in game resembled the promo screenshots on the Steam store page. Bullshots, indeed. Otherwise, it seems like a pretty standard turn-based RPG in the first-person, advance-upon-a-grid genre similar to, but not so interesting as Legend of Grimrock, which it should be mentioned, is not turn-based, and more focused on puzzles, whereas M&M seems to be more of a quest-based type. It might be worth revisiting, at some point. Probably not, if I'm completely honest. Lack of time, better offerings elsewhere, etc.

Might & Magic VI - this was a freebie with purchase of the above. I understand it was a very impressive game back when it came out, but it looks like one of the most absolutely terrible things I have ever encountered in gaming. Time has not been kind at all to mid-'90s digitization of photos into game assets. I shudder to recall those pained, disembodied visages.

Apart from those, I've been cozying up more to Endless Legend, Dungeon of the Endless, and Ground Zeroes. I have one other new game to report, and that is Elite: Dangerous.

Elite is one of the oldest, longest-running, and most revered game series out there, despite being only verging on active over the 30 years since the first game came out in 1984. I gather much of the acclaim and appreciation goes back to the first game, which no doubt was a huge influence on almost every other notable 3D space flight, combat, or trading game since. Dangerous is the newest, crowd-funded game in the series,

Elite: Dangerous is very interesting in that it uses procedural generation to turn out billions of stars across our galaxy, all anchoring their respective system of orbiting asteroid fields, planets, and space colonies. The galaxy is built on a 1:1 scale with our own, real galaxy, and all the actual data we have modeled accurately (as far as I know), with the rest being computer-generated.

The game itself is about being a space freelance. Haul goods, become a privateer, a pirate, a mercenary, hunt bounties, explore uncharted space, mine asteroids, and just generally do whatever it is you wish to do to make your fortune and ascend the ranks of space pilots in the areas of military action, trading, and exploration. So far, I've eschewed combat for the most part, and hauled some goods back and forth for credits, but have been spending most of my time visiting and gathering mapping data on unexplored star systems. This is by far where I've made the most of my meager earnings in game to date.

I started in a system I've forgotten the name of, probably less than 50 LY from Sol, and I've been heading in a direction I'd colloquially term "galactic down" which is perpendicular to the galaxy's plane of ecliptic, parallel to it's axis of rotation, and down in that the coordinate number for that direction is negative relative to Sol's 0:0:0 origin location. I'm around 300 LY from Sol, at present. I'm planning to continue my exploration, and maybe to hunt some bounties or take on some military contracts here and there along the way. I got rid of my cargo hold racking in order to make room for exploration tools and a shield generator (mainly for safety from pirates).

I've been very impressed with the game. Very impressed, as I'll outline in my next post.