Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Perfect Compliments, Shovel Knight

For the last few weeks I've been bouncing back and forth between Mass Effect Andromeda and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I'm finding that the two compliment each other very well, Mass Effect being mostly a game about talking to people, and Zelda a game mostly about wandering around doing things. Each has a bit of the other, of course, but my experiences in each have fit together like yin and yang.

In Andromeda, I'm mostly following the main path so far, having now been to Aya, the home planet of the Angara, and having rescued one of their leaders from the Kett and their "Exaltation" practice of converting other species into themselves. I have to say, this is trending a little close to what the Collectors were doing on behalf of the Reapers back in Mass Effect 2. Now I'm on to investigating the ties a colony of exiles, both of Milky Way and Andromeda species, have to... I forget. Either the Remnant vaults or the Kett, I guess. But also some potential sabotage of the Nexus' efforts? Tonight is tentatively Mass Effect night, so I should probably make sure I understand the mission before commencing with it.

In Zelda, and much more simply, I'm on my way from Kakariko village to Hateno village to learn a little more about my mission and Sheikah slate, finding towers and shrines along the way. This is a game that's much simpler to talk about. In fact, there's really little to say, other than that I really like it, so far. It's fun and interesting just in its world and mechanics. If anything, I feel like this game fits more in a series with the first two Zelda games than anything that came after.

Starting with A Link to the Past, and later with Ocarina of Time, there have been two paradigms for Zelda games, top-down and third-person, each cast in the mold of its first, some might say classic, example. Breath of the Wild certainly owes much to earlier games in the series, especially Ocarina (as do most games that use lock-on, or "Z-targeting"), but feels on the whole so far more evolved past it as to be itself a mold for future games. And I think it goes one better than either aLttP or OoT in creating something a little further afield of the original Legend of Zelda. Either of those can be seen as 'the original but look how we can do it now'. Breath of the Wild leaves behind so many conventions of the series that it seems to me one of only three mostly unique archetypes of the series: the original, the side-scroller, and the free-form adventure.

Since I only had one game on the Switch, and Shovel Knight was released on it, and I had been wanting to try that, I bought the collection, and began playing the core game. It's pretty cool, so far. I've been through 3-4 stages, having beat Black Knight, King Knight, and Spectre Knight, if I recall. It plays like a kind of amalgamation of NES side-scrolling action classics like Super Mario Bros. 3, Zelda II, Mega Man, and Castlevania. The art and music are vintage NES, as well, and very well done. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Switch and Zelda

The combination of immense hype, a separate enthusiasm on my own part, and a large tax return led me to pick up a Switch last week along with a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.


The Switch is still hard to come by, just a month after launch, but I happened on a small stack of about 7 in my local Best Buy, and eventually temptation won out. As the console itself goes, its nifty. I like the pretty seamless transitioning between handheld and TV modes, and I like the system interface and styling. I am a little reserved about the build quality and robustness of the console, though. For now I have applied a screen protector to the system and am not letting my kids know about the system. This is still feasible while they go to bed earlier than I, and I can keep the system put up somewhere. They have found the dock and joy-con grip, but don't know what they are or what they are for. Yet.


As far as Zelda goes, I like it. It has really been quite some time since I was into a new Zelda. The last was Ocarina of Time, actually, of which my impression has suffered over the years just due to the unwarranted amount of ludicrous worship the game has had in the years since it came out. I have played, briefly, subsequent games in the series, but not much cared for them on the whole, to the point where I had basically dismissed the series as uninteresting. To this day I would say my favorite Zelda game is the original, followed maybe by The Adventure of Link just because it is such a different thing, and I could take or leave the balance of the series. That might sound harsh, but I honestly never see myself playing A Link to the Past or Ocarina or any of the others through again in my lifetime.


All that in mind, Breath of the Wild seems like a real departure for the series in how it dispenses with all of the hand-holding some of the other games have opened with, and gets right to the adventure. Not a lot is explained to Link until several hours in, when the player has had the chance to get out and get some experience and have some fun in the world, and is ready for some plot and guidance. This is the point I'm to now, having just left the Great Plateau with the semblance of a mission to carry me through the rest of the adventure.


This Zelda is also really interesting in that it is a very open game with a lot of systems that intersect freely and in interesting ways, a lot like a Stalker or Far Cry or any number of other more modern games, even things like FROM Software's Souls series or the wave of survival games on the PC that are so big these days. It's interesting because Nintendo seems to be taking the game in a new direction, perhaps due to there being a new generation of folks working on the game, with newer influences and goals.


I'm not very far in, really, and from what I've heard this is an absolutely huge game, so I'm sure my overall impression will evolve as I continue to play, but I feel like it's pretty promising.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hello Galaxy

Mass Effect Andromeda is out now. I had been looking forward to it as a fresh start in a new galaxy with a new broad objective; 'establish a foothold' as opposed to 'prevent the eradication of intelligent life by an overzealous species of sentient machines that think they are gods'. So far, I think I have pretty much what I wanted.


I'm still in the early parts of the game, having established my character and his role as Pathfinder for the Andromeda Initiative. I've been with my crew down to the planet of Eos and successfully terraformed its atmosphere enough to establish a colony. Next will be to rendezvous back at the Nexus with the Director of the Initiative to plan my next move. It will likely be to the standout planet on the chart discovered in the Remnant vault on Eos. That one was different from the rest somehow.


One thing I appreciate about the game so far is just how little most people know about what is going on in Andromeda, and what they're doing there. Ryder and crew  pretty often are clearly spouting conjecture as to what things in the environments around them do or how they came to be where they are. This is the sort of exploratory, scientific approach you would hope people in this position would take. Probably the most interesting choice I have made in terms of roleplaying so far was to decide between founding a military or science-focused outpost to begin with. The game pretty clearly indicates this first founding is a landmark and the decision you make here will set a tone for the rest of the game.


In terms of playability, and with respect to the game's nature as a third-person cover-based shooter with super powers, this is probably the best Mass Effect to date. Ryder is much more mobile than Shepard ever was, and much more flexible in terms of skill paths and variable loadouts, as well as available equipment choices. This makes for more possibilities on the battlefield, as well. Ryder's enhanced mobility extends to the non-combat exploration of the worlds presented here, as well. I love the jump pack and dash/dodge abilities. These allow for enhanced verticality of terrain in the game, too, which is important in large, open environs like the game is serving up to this point. It feels good to play, for the most part.


I can't really judge the writing, plotting, or character development authoritatively yet, since I am still so early in, but it's been fine thus far; if not stellar, also mostly not terrible. There is one really poorly done character (Addison), but she stands out for it, making me wonder if somehow it wasn't a conscious move somehow to make her like that. Many characters have odd-looking facial features or animations, Ryder included, but I don't find it too distracting--yet. There was one obviously erratic instance of blocking in a cutscene that took me out of the moment, and there are some issues with audio samples overlapping each other or being cut off unexpectedly, but again I'm not too bothered by them.


All in all, I think the game is off to a fine start. My taste in Sci-Fi is probably a little more forgiving or allowing for the slow burn than some, of course. I am definitely looking forward to playing a lot more of Andromeda, though.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Twirl, Then Pivot

I've kind of been casting about lately in a holding pattern waiting to maybe or maybe not get Mass Effect Andromeda. I'm going to move on to either that or something else tonight, though.

I played some GRID, a G game to remove from my backlog. It seems pretty good, like Codemasters' racing games often are. This is an older one, from 2007, focused on city street track racing. You begin as a nobody, racing for various teams in order to earn cash to progress your career. It was fairly difficult when I started, I think owing to its more realistic handling model. One real problem here--GRID 2 is out, and in my library. It has apparently been obsoleted, as games so often are.

I played some Zelda: A Link Between Worlds last night, finding my way to the mountain palace "dungeon" and completing it. It was fun enough in the moment, but left me feeling kind of empty afterward. A curious feeling.

The other day was the 20th anniversary of the release of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and as one must do, I paid tribute (!?) by accessing one of my numerous copies of the game, and playing it for a while, appreciating the crisp movement, and clear tones of the soundtrack, and awful recorded dialog. It is, as ever, a masterpiece.

I have continued to play Shadow of Mordor, as well, determining that my character needs more experience for skills and abilities to be able to hold his own against the worst of Sauron's monsters. I'm told I need to stick with the game at least long enough to make it to the second large region. It's pretty fun, so I'll keep it around for now.

I also replayed the first 30 minutes perhaps of Resident Evil 4 today, years after having played that game back on the PS2. It's still pretty cool, though it's really aged.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Suspended in Limbo

I was looking for something to while away the time with before Mass Effect Andromeda arrives, and so I bounced between a return to Shadow of Mordor, Final Fantasy IV, and Skyrim this weekend.


It hit me as I was playing Skyrim that I didn't care all that much about the plot or even exploring the world, which I have already seem much of now. I could deal with those, but the real problem is how combat system is lacking. Combat in Oblivion and Skyrim has always felt like flailing wildly about with pool noodles, and it really detracts from the experience. I thought I should probably just not play the game any longer and move on. One thing I do appreciate about Skyrim, though, is the way your character gets better at doing things with experience. Use a two-handed weapon long enough, and you will be noticeably more proficient with that type. Same with magic skills, lockpicking, persuasion, et cetera.  This is a logical and believable way to evolve your character and account for the spin your own play style puts on the game.


FFIV continues to be FFIV. I only played maybe 20 minutes of it this weekend, but I'm now about to take Cecil up the mountain with Palom and Porom to realize his conversion from Dark Knight to Paladin.


Shadow of Mordor is just a very solid and enjoyable open world action game. I like that it's more centered around its play mechanic (combat) with its rewards for doing things in the world as compared to recent Assassin's Creed games, which are more about exploring and enjoying the world and the sights there. I'm not too interested in Mordor or the Lord of the Rings world, but it works as a good backdrop for the play featured here. It's nice that the effort that goes into working with and mastering the core of the game is rewarded in that same area. I may go forward more with Mordor instead of Skyrim for now.

Friday, March 17, 2017

MH 4 U

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. MH4U. 4 U. Not for me, as it turns out.


I've enjoyed Monster Hunter in the past, to a limited extent, and this latest one I've tried (not by any stretch the latest released) is more of the same. I have less time and patience than ever for the type of rigmarole this game foists upon its players, though.


One 'gather some eggs' mission, and I'm done. I wasn't going to stick with it long anyway, but ugh. This game needs to evolve, dearly.


There's a PC clone coming out called Dauntless that will probably mix up some of the elements, and could turn out to be really good. I heard some ex-Riot developers are working on it.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Pargon of Samurai Excellence

I collected the full set of Samurai Artifact armor in FFXI! It took some doing. I had to hunt for coffer keys and then the coffers themselves in three locations, as well as undertake quests to hop around the world fighting notorious monsters in order to earn the full set of Myochin gear.


Artifact gear has always been a mixed bag in terms of effectiveness. For Samurai, I'll probably only really use the legs full-time, and those only until I can wear something better, like the Shura Haidate or Barabarosa's Zerehs I have from my time playing Monk and Ninja. A lot of the Samurai gear overlaps with that of those other classes I had previously played, so that instead of the hands I'm using Ochiudo's Kote, and instead of the chest I'm wearing a Haubergeon. Instead of the AF feet, I have a race-specific pair of boots that is great for melee damage dealing. The head piece I'll use in a macro gear swap because it makes Meditate better, granting more TP per use. Still, you can't beat the armor's design for that iconic class style.


AF gear is also a character development milestone in that it indicates you've hit level 60 to be able to wear the full set. I'm at 63 on Samurai, currently. With AF done, I need to find some other guiding star, going forward. Other than wanting to hit 75 and roam Sky and Sea, I'm not sure what that should be. Most of the things I want to do are better at 75 (or above, now). I may take this opportunity, that of needing a ton of XP, to explore some of the expansion content from Aht Urghan and after.


Another thing that needs some thought is the end of my month coming up. I'm not sure exactly when that is, but I may need to cancel. I'm not sure I want to be paying while Mass Effect Andromeda is out and incomplete. Hmm...


I should very quickly mention that I knocked Full Mojo Rampage off my backlog last week. It's a voodoo-themed twin-stick shooter roguelike that was surprisingly cool. I was ready to dismiss it out of hand, but it probably warrants some real playtime. From someone, sometime. Probably not me, sadly. I have way too many other things to play.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Booklog Update

A couple of months into 2017, I've been reading a decent amount so far. I've finished a couple of Horus Heresy books, am working on a third, and also finally polished off a non-fiction work I'd been reading.


The Ninja was a historical look at these famous, secretive warriors of Japan. It wasn't quite what I was hoping for, though. It was more about the philosophy and martial arts aspects of Ninja than the straight historical dope. Maybe it was unfair to expect that, though, given the subject matter. Hearsay and tall tales and unverifiable accounts are more to be expected. There was some interesting information here, to be sure, but it was also written in such a way as to be less accessible. I think I'll have to look elsewhere for the history I want.


War Without End was a collection of short stories and novellas set in the Horus Heresy, and might broadly be considered to be loyalist legion focused, whereas Legacies of Betrayal was mostly about the traitor legions.


Pharos was a novel in the Heresy, telling of a Night Lords attack on the world of Sotha, where Mount Pharos and Imperium Secundus' stand-in for the Astronomican was. In the end, after a gigantic pulse of energy (which caught the attention of the Tyranids out in intergalactic space--oops), I'm not clear on whether the beacon is still operational, and whether the Ruinstorm is more navigable now or not, since Lorgar and Angron's Shadow Crusade appears to be waning or through.


Eye of Terra is another short story and novella collection of Horus Heresy writings. The Wolf of Ash and Fire and Aurelian are standout tales so far. Generally, though, the "present" of the Heresy seems to be moving more forward now, with most of these stories catching us up with various happenings of legions we have seen (or not) recently, in preparation for what is to come next in their stories.

Weeks in Vana'Diel

I haven't played anything but FFXI since my last post about returning to it. I've been having a lot of fun times revisiting the world and seeing what's new. I have yet to revisit all of the zones I remember, or any of the newer ones, or try much in the way of newer content, the exceptions being Records of Eminence (achievements that award items and experience points), Trust magic (AI party members), and Fields of Valor (experience training regimens with point reward bonuses).


I have, though, managed to level Samurai up to 50, along with bringing Warrior and Dragoon to 50 as well, from 43 and 47, respectively. These I did because they were near enough anyway, and to serve as support jobs for a theoretical level 99 Samurai. I'm not sure I'll level that far, but this is how the game is played. I have noticed a lot of top-level Samurai using Dancer as their support job, but the brief bits I've read about that choice make it seem more like a consideration for soloing. Warrior seems to be the best for damage dealing through conventional means, and Dragoon for enhanced TP gain. Both seem to have their pluses. I'll stick with Warrior, probably.


I'm currently leveling on demons in Xarcabard, taking advantage of the Samurai's innate Demon Killer and Warding Circle abilities, which together confer a decent edge over this particular class of enemy. Next on the agenda, up through level 60, will be the Samurai artifact armor quests for the Myochin set of job-themed gear. Getting artifact armor is always a major milestone in leveling a job in this game. Even though Samurai is my sixth job to 50, it'll only be my fourth with artifact armor, and should I progress that far, my first past 75, since that was the level cap back when I used to play.


A lot has changed, since then, though. I've had almost zero contact with other players since coming back to the game. I wonder if that's a sign of the game being near death, or just to be expected, since I'm playing through low-level content at the moment. If I'm going to be playing a decent amount, as I have been lately, it would be nice to have a chat channel and group of people to do events with. I don't know that I will, but still.



Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Return

I have very little progress to report on Yakuza 3 or XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but both have gotten attention over the last week. XCOM much more, but with very little to show for it. The alien base invasion mission continues to frustrate me. I think I have had 5-6 complete squad wipes there, now, two due to mind-control by the psionic Sectoid commander there.


A feeling some who don't know me might mistake for nostalgia has mounted recently, possibly in part due to my choice of musical accompaniment at work. I have become acutely wistful about my time previously spent playing Final Fantasy XI, which I ceased playing just about a decade ago, after devoting a heavy portion of the 3 years prior to. It also happens to be the game's 15th anniversary, and so I decided, after having gone through the PS2 to PC account migration procedures when the former version of the game was finally taken offline last year, that I would re-subscribe for a time, to the game which I may have to finally admit to myself is my favorite video game.


My longtime exclusive main character Nascia, formerly level capped (at 75) Black Mage, Monk, and Ninja, is now being trained as a Samurai in the wilds of Sarutabaruta. I have been away from the game for so long, and so much has changed, that I thought it made the most sense to effectively begin again, retaining of course, everything I had earned previously, as you can do with the character development system in FFXI. I could conceivably level up to 99 as SAM now, though at some point I would need to either level my Warrior (WAR) support job up to 49 from the 43 I believe it is at now.


Living alone in Japan with a less demanding job and mania for this game have in the past conspired to cause me to go too hard on it, so if I'm going to be playing it again, I think one defense I need to maintain a reasonable amount of playtime with it, is to clearly define a goal each time I sit down to play it, and to try not to deviate too much from that, and to try to end the session reasonably soon after attaining it, if possible. Otherwise, to find a sensible stopping point when it becomes clear the originally intended goal will not be achieved that session.


Last night, for instance, I sat down intending to explore the zones Sarutabaruta and Giddeus, and to level up from 5 to 10, approximately. That was exactly what I did, though in the end I still ended up playing a little too long. Thinking, planning, like this for game sessions requires a long-term vision for what I want to do in the game.


I don't know that I'll make it to the endgame, or even care all that much about progressing into the post-75 world. All of my love for this game is confined to the base game, and Zilart and Promathia expansions. I played during the Aht Urghan era, but that content didn't stick with me in the way the other did. Right now, I only know for sure I want to keep leveling up and revisiting old haunts. I was really struck by how enormous the zones were, upon revisiting. I thought perhaps they had inflated in my mind, but no, they are actually pretty huge.


I think my next foray in will be to the Auction House and weapon shops in Windurst to outfit myself with a coherent set of armor. I should probably also investigate Trusts to gather an adventuring group before setting out for much more serious leveling. I have no idea what getting those involves. I'd rather not have to go and do anything on my higher level jobs, but I will if I must.


Playing again after so long and on an unfamiliar version of the game (PC now, was PS2 previously), has me wondering how to recreate the routines and macros I used to rely so heavily on. This is one major reason I hesitate to jump back onto my higher level jobs--I'm not certain I remember exactly how to play them effectively. Beginning as a low-level, I am able to easy myself back into the swing of things, while enjoying the natural progression through the levels and geographic areas of the world of Vana'Diel  I love so much, even to this day.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Ain't Got Me

Mobile games are often trashy money sinks that mire you in infinite fiddly management to get a paid leg up in a weak core game. So seems to be the case with Fire Emblem Heroes. I gave it a shot for a couple of hours, but I felt like I pretty quickly saw through all the dressing to the lacking center. I have played a number of mobile games in this mold before, all ultimately unfulfilling despite how compulsive the character collecting and team building might be at first blush. The presentation is very stilted, full of idiotic plotting and dialogue, and I can't stand the tedium of endless optimization this type of game asks of you.


I only mention it because it is the second real attempt at a mobile game from Nintendo, after the qualified success of Super Mario Run, which I actually like, and am keeping around on my phone.
I have other, let's call them 'real', Fire Emblem games like Awakening and Fates that I am still interested in playing, actually more now, despite being let down by Heroes' nature as a F2P Gacha-centered borefest. Hearing from a few longtime fans of the series how this game differed from other recent entries has given me increased excitement to give those a go.


There is, at the moment, another tactical combat-centered game that is my focus--XCOM: Enemy Unknown has drawn me back to try to finish off my Ironman campaign. I am at a much better place than before, having teched up my squad to plasma rifles and working on titan armor. I have wiped a few times on the alien base invasion mission, so I am trying to level up a squad to take that on. I also finally managed to unlock the sixth squad member slot, which should help. I would like to successfully finish this campaign, but we'll see. Either way, I think I will play Enemy Within for my next campaign, and maybe until I finish one victorious. I haven't bought XCOM 2 just yet.


I haven't spent a heck of a lot of time gaming over the last week, partly due to returning to actively studying Japanese, after a decade or more of not. One thing I can do to combine these interests, neatly, is to play the Yakuza series. I've finished the first two on PS2, and once before sat down to begin the third, entirely in Japanese. That save file was lost, though, in troubleshooting some PS3 issues. I have restarted again, and will be continuing this time, both to brush up on my language skills, but also to progress through this series, of which I already own 2 further entries past this one, after which several others await. Even if I only played the mainline modern-era games, They're up to 6 now. Throw in Zero, remakes, and feudal-era entries, and that's a pretty hefty syllabus. Not to mention the odd zombie game or the portable entries, which I think I'll just ignore.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Where is the Line? You decide.

I fairly quickly plowed through Spec Ops: The Line this weekend.

I'd heard it was good, and had meant to give it a go. Talk of a new Apocalypse Now game in the works finally spurred me on. As it turns, out, the (somewhat muted) hype was warranted.

Underneath a pretty rote third person shooter is a game that is attempting, and mostly pulling off, some pretty bold things with its narrative. It is of course to some degree standing on the shoulders of giants, but what 2K and Yager created here is something pretty special in video gaming. It's a shooter that actually tries to make you wonder about what you are doing, both in character, and you yourself, sat at home, choosing to spend your leisure time in this manner.

You might think you're the hero, going in. Capt. Martin Walker (voiced by Nolan North), certainly believes he is. But it's his self-aggrandizement, and ignoring of orders, that precipitates much of the horror that happens in this apocalyptic, sand-drowned Dubai. That hubris that echoes the actions of the John Konrad, the man Walker is trying to find in the city under siege both by nature and a rogue force of the US Army. Konrad also took it upon himself to go into Dubai with grand intentions, and neither for him did they work out as intended.

The more I think about Spec Ops: The Line, the more I admire the story it's telling, and how thought provoking it is. And the action's not terrible, it's just not remarkable. The story is excellently paced, though, clocking in at about 6 hours, all in, and that's reloading the final save to see all of the four different endings, each one in its own way feeling like the true canonical ending to the whole tragic farce.

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Little Bit of Matsuno In My Life

I had planned to begin another 3DS game this week when the thought struck me that I still hadn't played to my satisfaction of Crimson Shroud. This was a relatively small game directed by one my personal favorite game directors, Yasumi Matsuno, the very talented developer behind the best games with names like Ogre Battle, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, and Final Fantasy XII, among others.

Crimson Shroud is interesting in that it is basically a table-top RPG campaign, complete with miniatures and dice rolls, encapsulated as a video game for the 3DS. Art and menu design, as well as the narrative flair, will be familiar to other admirers of Matsuno's work, but the way the game plays is obviously a little different.

For one thing, it's much more limited in scope, like a tabletop campaign would have to be, able to be completed in 6-8 hours, more if you go back for New Game+ and the alternate ending. It's also slower to unfold in terms of action, with how you have to make dice rolls for a lot of abilities, but interestingly, here the plot unfolds with little in the way of complication. It wouldn't make sense to tell an epic tale full of various factions and long-lived rivalries, but Matsuno goes ahead and gives it a shot anyway--artfully relying on world background to give relevance to the dungeon crawl at hand.

It's not an easy game, either. Like most Matsuno-directed games, you can find yourself kind of painted into a corner by some of the choices you've made with the system for character development, and in need of some grinding to sort things out. I do like what the team has done with that system, though. Rather than it be a straight experience points and skill tree sort of thing, All of your character evolving is done through your choices of what gear to loot and skills to take, given the chance. Additional loot or spell scrolls can be melded to what you have in a sort of craft-magical synthesis resulting in +1 bonuses to stats.

I find systems that get away from straight time-investiture to personalize your characters are more interesting. I would rather choose between a heavy, slower weapon, and a lighter, quicker one, and have that be the main thing that defines my fighting style, than to just carry a generic weapon and somehow get stronger as time goes on and more battles are fought. This is one area in which the Souls series from FROM Software really succeed in my book.

I got all the way through the base play through of Crimson Shroud, but not without some considerable difficulty in the last couple of boss encounters. Witch Kings are never a good sight, I'll tell you that. And leave those ancient, fell artefacts right where you find them. Trust me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Weekly Game Reporting

I made it my goal last week to report (on GameBytesShow) on Dungeon of the Endless. I have a quick update to that. I attempted to play through on "Easy" (hard) mode, a couple of times, and my progress was abruptly cut short at about floor 7. After having finished the game on "Too Easy" (normal), though, I feel pretty good about my experience with the game, and have elected to uninstall and move on.


This week, I'm reporting on Democracy 3, which I found to be pretty great! It's a series of interlocking menus that represent the levers of power in government, and the cause and effect relationships there. It's fairly simplistic and makes some dubious assumptions and gross simplifications, but it's not meant to be a completely accurate simulation or model (one hopes).
You are given the reins of power to one of several western democracies and are able to spend your political capital, replenished each quarter (turn), to implement new policies or tweak existing ones, trying to win or maintain the support of the citizenry, or to accomplish whatever goals you set for yourself. I've been playing as POTUS, and mostly trying to balance the budget while making various changes to US policy. I once tried to stamp out religion, and was assassinated by zealots. Another time I was assassinated by leftists(!) presumably because I put too tight of restrictions on alcohol consumption, and ramped up policing too much. I had attained the Crime Free Utopia status that game, though. In my current game, I am just focusing on the GDP, and trying to maximize that by driving education, productivity, and employment as hard as I can.


I finished off Titanfall 2 last night. I kept putting off playing more of the campaign, but in the end I really had a great time with it. I don't play FPS campaigns much anymore, but this one was a blast. Every level was nicely varied and paced very well. Even the titan vs titan boss encounters were fun. Just good stuff, all around. I recommend it.


A few other quick hits:


Super Mario World - made a few levels' progress yesterday. The Vanilla Dome castle is tough! I will complete this game again for my kids, though, and for myself. It is definitely my favorite Mario game.


Duelyst - I had a bunch of unopened card packs, so I went and opened those. I don't have any actual drive to continue playing, though. It does seen very well done, and has an insane amount of lore built into it. I can't imagine anyone really cares about it, but I applaud the effort. I wonder if they'll spin the out some other implementation of it. Another game type, I would hope, a la Amplitude Studios, and not a comic or novel or what have you.


Heroes of the Storm - The game that was too good. I can't let myself play this. It would be irresponsible. One quick round, and I was out, and uninstalled. All the other RTSs have to come first.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Gratifying Gaming in the New Year Twenty-Seventeen

The first 10 days or so of 2017 have been pretty good for my gaming regimen.

I kicked it off last week by progressing further into the Titanfall 2 campaign, through the much vaunted mission Effect and Cause with its time travel mechanic, and later through a very cool multiple titan battle toward the end of the campaign. There are two or three missions left at this point.

Soon thereafter, the Diablo 20th anniversary event in Diablo III went live--a recreation of the original game's 16-floor dungeon complete with boss encounters like the Butcher, King Leoric, Arch-Bishop Lazarus, and Diablo himself. The whole thing is framed as being from the memory of Adria, down to the graphical filter to make the game look more pixellated and grim like the first Diablo. There are also a couple of other conceits, such as only being able to move in eight directions and at a reasonably fast walk, and the vintage UI bar. It was fun to jump back into Diablo III for a bit. I ended up picking up my Crusader for this, and earned a few Paragon levels while I was at it. I'm more excited for the addition of the Necromancer class, which is supposed to see the light of day this year, I believe.

My favorite thing from the last several days has been finally clicking with Amplitude's rogue-like, tower defense incorporating dungeon crawler Dungeon of the Endless. When I first attempted to play it, it wasn't immediately apparent how to do so, or why I kept losing so quickly and so decisively. Somehow something drew me back to the game a few days ago, determined to figure it out, and I think I've done a fair job of it. I finished my first game of it tonight, getting through all twelve floors of the dungeon, unlocking a bunch of characters and starting ships (game modes) and achievements in the process. And it's been really fun, too. It's a pretty unique blending of genres, and it exists in the world of Endless Space and Endless Legend, and actually serves as a sort of narrative segue from one to the other, which is interesting.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 Wrap Up with G and B OTY

2016 has been a kind of off year. I've felt my enthusiasm for a lot of games seem to wane a bit, and so even with my top picks, I feel less than completely rapt. Without further ado, though:

My Game of the Year: World of Warcraft: Legion
Honorable Mention: Overwatch

Two Blizzard games, as it turns out. I went into the year unenthused by either, but it turns out I probably had the most unreserved fun with them throughout the year. There were a series of others games in 2016 I was more looking forward to, but for one reason or another just didn't stick, things like The Witness and Firewatch. Even stalwart series I enjoy like HITMAN and Dishonored didn't hook me the way I look for in a GOTY candidate. At least not in time for the end of the year. I still have hope for some of these.

In terms of backlog maintenance, it seems 2016 was another draw, if not a net add to the pile. I didn't exactly go crazy buying games, but at the same time I only knocked relatively few off the list, and most of those were just dabblings and dismissals. Here are the skulls I took this year, those achievements and milestones I felt notable. It's not as easy as rolling the credits on a game anymore; these days games try to be perennial, perpetual, and otherwise endless, so you have to be able to define your own goals more than ever:

Super Mario Run (Tour)
World of Warcraft (Death Knight 110)
World of Warcraft (Death Knight 100)
World of Warcraft (Death Knight 90)
No Man's Sky (Atlas)
Eisenhorn: Xenos
World of Warcraft (Death Knight 85)
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King (Dungeons)
World of Warcraft (Death Knight 80)
World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade (Dungeons)
World of Warcraft (Death Knight 70)
Warcraft III (Undead)
World of Warcraft (Death Knight intro)
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution (Space Marines)
Dark Souls
Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss
Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 3: Citadel
Mass Effect 3: Omega
Mass Effect 3: Leviathan
Talisman: The Horus Heresy
Firewatch
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

That's 23 recorded milestones this year, however charitable I am about the definition. About average with past years' totals:

2015:26
2014:32
2013:33
2012:23
2011:21
2010:23
2009:19
2008:26
2007:15

At this point I'm not going to try to put together a 2017 syllabus of any sort. I made some progress through the one for this year, but those always end up falling apart. It seems like a bit of a fool's errand. A few things I'd like to do, though, are finally crack Paradox strategy games, probably with Stellaris, which I am now familiarizing myself with, to get around to really playing The Witcher 3, and to play more real-time strategy.

2017 releases I'm looking forward to? Mass Effect Andromeda, Dawn of War III, and Nintendo's Switch and all that comes with that.

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Now on to the page-turning side of things. I read a decent amount this year:

Deathfire
Legacies of Betrayal
The Keeler Image
The Unburdened
The Honoured
Altered Carbon
Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 1
Origin (Wolverine)
Warcraft III and WoW Manuals (Lore)
Remember
The Damnation of Pythos
Vengeful Spirit
Scars
The Unremembered Empire
Vulkan Lives
Mark of Calth
Paradise Lost
Betrayer
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions
Angel Exterminatus

That's 20-some odd works, by my hackneyed accounting. Figure a few additional, based on all the single issue comics I've read (several large volumes' worth, easily). A pretty good sum from the few years I've been keeping track. Definitely better than 2015:

2016:20-some odd
2015:4ish
2014:18
2013:9

Book of the Year: The Unremembered Empire
Honorable Mention: Betrayer

Two Horus Heresy novels, which is patently unfair to other quality work, such as Altered Carbon, or mind-benders like Flatland or Paradise Lost, because of how much they draw from the surrounding Heresy universe, but there you have it. Both books were incredible, and you are missing out if you aren't reading The Horus Heresy.

I have a lot more reading queued up for 2017, including a lot more Heresy, among other things, so I'm pretty psyched about that.