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
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:


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.


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

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)
The Damnation of Pythos
Vengeful Spirit
The Unremembered Empire
Vulkan Lives
Mark of Calth
Paradise Lost
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

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.