Monday, June 18, 2018

Black Legion and Kharn

I've just come home from a week away on business, and I took the opportunity to dig deeper into Chaos Space Marines in 40K:

Black Legion - sequel to The Talon of Horus, and second book in the series of the same name. This one was all about the up and coming Black Legion breaking out of the Eye of Terror for the first time and starting their Long War on the Imperium. Rival traitor marine warbands in the Eye are a big threat, as are Sigismund and his Black Templars chapter keeping vigil over the Cadian Gate, awaiting the return of the traitor legions. Aaron Dembski-Bowden does not disappoint. And given the events of The Master of Mankind, I'm very much looking forward to the next book in this series, which it seems like will be about Abbadon claiming the demon blade Drach'nyen.

Kharn: Eater of Worlds - More than anything I was kind of shocked at how many beats this book shares with The Talon of Horus. In both books, the return of the legions former second in command is the centerpiece the whole thing swings around, in both the Emperor's Children are the main antagonists, in both a voidship is cast down as a projectile onto one of their cities, and both books are mostly focused on one warrior's point of view of the leader figure they are attempting to find or resurrect. From the looks of things both books must have been being written around the same time, as well, which is interesting. As for the Kharn book, it seems to have ended right at the climax. It's like it's missing a third of the book. What's here is pretty good, it just kind of ends, and there's no follow-up as far as I know. I would like to see what comes next at Skalathrax.

I didn't realize it until just now, but the short The Weakness of Others is from the POV of Kharn, and it is during the action on Skalathrax that earned him the moniker of Betrayer. It's just a short, though. A proper window into that event would have been nice, to see why it happened that way. It would still be possible, especially if told from the POV of the other characters in Kharn: Eater of Worlds.

One other short I read, Enyalius, In Memorium was about another onetime World Eater, dedicating the death of a massive Ultramarines voidship to a fallen brother Khorne berserker.

I still have a couple of Kharn/Chaos Space Marines books plotted out ahead of me, so I'll give an update on those when I finish them.

V Week, and Visitations

I wanted to check out Valkyria Chronicles for V week on the backlog. It made a really positive first impression. I'm definitely looking forward to playing more. I was a little surprised to find that the girl wearing the neckerchief in her hair is one of the military leaders at the outset of the game, Alicia. It seems to have a cool tactical battle system, though.

I played some of the newest single player content in Hearthstone, the Witchwood monster hunting stuff. In this mode you basically build a deck as you go, choosing passive abilities and cards to incorporate into your deck as you fight through a gauntlet of 8 bosses. I've made it as far as the seventh or either encounter, thus far, before hitting a seemingly totally insurmountable wall of a boss.

I have also spent some more time tooling around Skyrim in the past few days, not knowing what else to play so soon after coming home from a long business trip. I'm just checking things off the quest log in that game. I can't commit to any one storyline or character growth area for long, though I do like melee/ranged over anything at all magical.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Victory and a Ticker-tape Parade

I finally polished off my campaign of Final Fantasy Tactics using only generic soldiers and the job system. It wasn't easy, and I resorted to the use of save states sometimes, effectively creating my own version of the Chariot Tarot from Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. It was pretty satisfying, though, even if I did lock myself out of a lot of side content by removing Mustadio from my party early on. Turns out you need him to get half of the side quests and other special characters later on in the game.

Victory would have been much more difficult to achieve if not for one of my Orators having convinced a Tiamat hydra to join us in one of the final battles. That thing was invaluable in the fight against Ultima, the reborn high seraph. It was a lot of fun to revisit this old favorite of mine. I still feel like it's one of my favorite games of all time, even seeing some of its shortcomings in a fresh new light this time around.

For lack of knowing what to play next, I have spent the past few days frittering away free time in Skyrim, Hearthstone, and Heroes of the Storm.

I may have found a way to come to peace with Hearthstone. After having seen what a real Magic: The Gathering looks like in this format (hardcore and demanding of an attentive and dedicated player), Blizzard's dumb, bright, and capricious take might be more my speed after all.

I like playing Heroes of the Storm with and against a full load of bots. I don't want the pressure to perform or unwanted social interactions of opponents in... any game, really. I enjoy HotS and other games like it for the push and pull mechanics, comfortable in the knowledge that I have aged out of actually playing these against other people. I should probably just focus on single-player RTS games, but no one does progression and ongoing development like Blizzard.

There's not too much to say about my time in Skyrim over the weekend, other than that I decided to focus on some quests in a small area of the map, and decided to use fast travel sparingly on this character, to facilitate the completion of quests in a timely manner so the narratives aren't all hacked up, similar to how the medium of film uses jump cuts.

Talon of Horus, The

I've just finished Aaron Dembski-Bowden's 40K novel exploring the beginnings of the Black Legion, and the first in the series of the same name, entitled The Talon of Horus.

The book is set some indeterminate number of centuries after, but within a millennium of, the Horus Heresy. By this time the traitor legions defeated at Terra have all retreated into the Eye of Terror, and the Imperium has mostly forgotten about them and become accustomed to living under their undead god-emperor, now entombed on the Golden Throne.

It is told via the point of view of a onetime legionnaire of the Thousand Sons, Iskander Khayon, and has him laying out the story as a framing device to the Holy Inquisition on Terra, to whom he has willingly surrendured himself. Khayon begins the account with a short explanation of the state of the Nine Legions in the Eye, the ongoing Legion Wars, which pit them all against one another, for old grievances or for the glory of their respective Chaos gods, in some cases. We're introduced to Khayon's retinue, and before long he forms a loose band of other traitor space marines to go on a hunt for a weapon to foil the Emperor's Children and their plan to dominate the rest of the Nine Legions by cloning Horus, whose body has been kept by his former legion, until only recently having been taken in a raid by the Emperor's Children.

Over the course of the story, Khayon and crew come to meet Ezekyle Abbadon, former first captain of the Sons of Horus and right hand of the man himself, who goes on to be the main frontman of Chaos Space Marines in the 41st millennium, and the rest is fake history.

It was a pretty entertaining book for one somewhat versed in the overall lore of the setting, but I don't think I would recommend it as a place to begin for neophytes to 40K. Also, the Abbadon we see here is a wholly different person than the one present in the Horus Heresy series. Fair enough, it's eons later, and the man has been through some momentous things in the intervening years, but the only real explanation we have other than the obvious fact that time passes and things evolve and change is that at some point he went on a pilgrimage of worlds in the Eye, and through overcoming various trials basically reforged his personality, taking a lot of the edge off, while retaining and even bolstering his natural charisma and leadership abilities. He is able to compel loyalty and subordination here in a way not unlike how Horus and the other primarchs are described to so in their day.

Next up on my agenda is the next book in the series, simply called Black Legion.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Iron Hand, Medusa's Gorgon Explained

Well, perhaps not fully explained. The Primarchs novel Ferrus Manus: Gorgon of Medusa explores a little of Ferrus' mindset in the later stages of the Great Crusade, as the Emperor mulls over deciding on someone to take command when he wants to retire to Terra for his next grand project.

Ferrus of course thinks it should be him given the honor and responsibility. At least, going into the Gardinaal compliance campaign, he does. By the end you get the sense that he doesn't really want to bother with command of more than one legion, and all the coordination and patience that goes with that kind of role.

Despite being a book centered around the primarch, there are a ton of other characters present here, several of which are from other legions, with a lot being Emperor's Children legionaries. We even get the rare POV of the enemy force, in this instance a not-yet-compliant branch of recently rediscovered humanity that has mastered it's own local star system, but nothing further. They are recalcitrant to join the Imperium, and are in general a real trial of Ferrus' temper.

It was a pretty decent story, but perhaps the least focused on its title character of the bunch so far, or perhaps sharing that distinction with the Guilliman book. These two are as much about the character of the legions present or the events of the campaign they take place during.

Next up, having come completely current with all of the released full numbered volumes of both the Horus Heresy and Primarchs series, I'm going to take a diversion over to 40K to read the two books currently released in the Black Legion series by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, who is without a doubt a top-tier author in 30K. I'm excited for these.

Omnibus Sessions

I made good on getting Samurai to 75 in FFXI this year. I'm done with the game this time around, though I am set on trying out FFXIV soon.

I've also made some pretty good progress with my ongoing FFT campaign. I'm ready to begin the last several story battles, having trained up my crew of generics to a pretty high degree across their many classes.

I should briefly mention Mario Kart 8 Deluxe just because I loaded up my Switch for another purpose and found a race set in progress that I wanted to finish. May as well get all of the trophies in the 50 cc class, I figure.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a throwback to Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, and was created to fulfill a backer stretch goal for the Kickstarter of Bloodstaned: Ritual of the Night, which is a throwback to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Curse of the Moon seems very good, so far. It has multiple characters and pathways through the levels, looks and sounds like its inspiration, and has a friendly casual mode that grants infinite lives and removes knockback on enemy contact. I wasn't really aware this was coming, but it's been a pleasant surprise.

I've also been playing the beta versions of Magic: the Gathering: Arena, and Dauntless, though I think I'll put some more time into each before giving my thoughts on them.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Fantasies, Never Final

Final Fantasy XI is celebrating it's 16th anniversary, and so it is free to returning players during this period. I had such a good time revisiting the game last year that I thought I would check in again this time. It's nice to be able to visit that world that I used to spend so much meaningful time in. This time I do begin to feel like I am limited in being able to enjoy it by it's outdated interfaces and systems and paradigms, though.

I got a lot of revisiting the world out of my system last year in leveling up Samurai from 1-64. This time I've taken that further, up to 72 at the moment, and really only spent time revisiting the endgame Sky and Sea zones, as well as some of the Aht Urghan zones, in trying to do missions and gain XP.

Unfortunately I've hit a couple of mission progress blocks. In the Aht Urghan mission chain I have reached a burning circle notorious monster (BCNM) boss fight that I'm not quite strong enough for, being not yet at 75, and having only a party of 5, since I can only summon 4 Trust companions at the moment. In the Rhapsodies mission chain, which I am pursuing to unlock that final Trust slot, I have to kill a popped NM, Siren, that seems entirely out of my league for the time being.

I am now thinking the logical thing to do, especially in light of the fact that the free period is wrapping up in a few days, is to find a good hunting ground and focus on hitting level 75 on Samurai, and maybe call it good there, at least for this year. I'm really excited to play some FFXIV, if I'm honest. I'm planning to get into that soon.

In Final Fantasy Tactics campaigning, my progress has slowed, but I am well into the latter part of the game, now. I have finished Chapter III: The Valiant, and am working on Chapter IV: Someone to Love. I need to go and do all of the Errands around the world and level up some, since I want to tackle the optional dungeon in addition to finishing the story campaign. I have all of the character classes unlocked that I want now, I'm just trying to get the most out of them. I'm afraid the Arithmetician (Calculator) may be too slow to be of much use as things currently stand. Equipping him for speed might help with that.


Friday, May 18, 2018

Wolfsbane

I just finished Guy Haley's Wolfsbane, book 49 of The Horus Heresy.

The great galactic civil war is drawing toward a conclusion. This is the story of how, late in the war, Space Wolves Primarch Leman Russ takes his legion from the defense of Terra and strikes out on a doomed attempt to kill the archtraitor, the Warmaster Horus Lupercal himself, before he can lead his forces to an assault on the Sol system.

We know going in that he is not able to kill Horus of course, and that the attempt destroys a large portion of the Space Wolves legion. These are future historical facts, after all. The tale is in the telling, though, and Haley spins a fast-moving one covering a lot of ground and featuring a lot of important characters and momentous events in what felt like a pretty tightly wound novel.

Coming out of Wolfsbane, we know that the surviving Space Wolves are bound for Yarant, pursued by a joint-traitor legions force led by Horus' right hand, Ezekyle Abbadon, and that Horus himself is rounding up the rest of his forces to move on Beta-Garmon, which is a big and important strategic location on the way to Terra. I understand a major battle takes place there. That may be addressed in the next book to move the overall story forward, which should be book 51, Slaves to Darkness.

Book 50, titled Born of Flame, is an anthology of to this point uncollected novellas and short stories around the Salamanders. Also coming up on the release list are the Primarchs books for Jaghatai Khan and Vulkan. Up next for me is a Horus Heresy short story I have not yet read but own from a recent humble bundle, and the Primarchs book on Ferrus Manus. I haven't settled on what's after that one yet.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Introversion's Uplink

It was U week in the backlog bum's rush this week, so I thought I would check out the hacking roleplaying game Uplink.

It casts you in the role of a hacker mercenary taking jobs gathered up by the titular organization. The game is played through a Hollywood movie-esque PC GUI purpose built for hacking into remote systems and accessing the files there. If you can steal or destroy whatever it is the client needs you to without being traced or found out, then you are rewarded with credits you can use to upgrade your hacking hardware and software.

It's a clever take on an ancient formula of character progression, and it's done very well from a presentation standpoint. I liked it. I don't know how much more I might play of it, but I did enjoy testing it out.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Tale of a Genre Not For Me

It was T week in the backlog blitz, and I thought I'd try out Tales of Monkey Island, a Telltale adventure game. Monkey Island started out at Lucas Arts much earlier; this game was a revival of the series. 

I gather it was well regarded, but once again this genre just does nothing for me. I tend to dislike comedy in games anyway, and the play mechanics, if you can call them that, are so tedious that I can hardly bear to play these games. I end up forcing myself to stick it out for half an hour or forty-five minutes just to push past the intro and into the meat of what it's going to be. 

Boring, is what it's going to be. The stories are sometimes more interesting, and sometimes less. Blade Runner, or the Blackwood games, or Pendulo's Yesterday all had more interesting themes and narratives, but even those failed to keep me, through their obtuse, repetitive puzzles that only serve to stand in the way of those narratives.

Maybe that is the core problem of this and other some other genres--an imperfect union of story and mechanics. The two mesh together for me in a lot of other contexts, but not so much, here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Primarchs: The Second Batch

I'm finishing up the second trio of books I elected to read in the Horus Heresy: Primarchs series. These shorter length novels are pretty quick reads, and I get the sense they would be really adaptable to the screen, if anyone ever wanted to do such a thing, because of their generally smaller scope as compared to one of the Horus Heresy novels proper.

Roboute Guilliman: Lord of Ultramar - An interesting look into Guilliman's philosophy of war and legion building. We get to see the Ultramarines waging war against orks while trying to preserve the remnants of a long extinguished human civilization on the same planet. Some of the themes here are of the integration of the Terrans and Ultramarians in the legion, and when and where certain types of warfare are appropriate.

Magnus the Red: Master of Prospero - Magnus and Perturabo are sent to a compliant world in order to evacuate the population to save them from a natural disaster. All is not as it seems, of course, and the people may not be savable, after all. Magnus's thirst for knowledge and Perturabo's ends-justify-the-means pragmatism are both on display here.

Fulgrim: The Palatine Phoenix - It is early in the Great Crusade, and Fulgrim is just getting his legion up to its fighting strength, and getting out on his own with the 28th Expedition fleet. For his first compliance, he wants a quick, efficient, and bloodless settlement, if at all possible. To add a bit of flair to the challenge, he takes only a small handful of legionaries to the world, and sets himself a deadline of a single month to bring the world to heel. This book shows an interesting side of the Phoenician as he is yet to really fill out into his role as an arrogant perfectionist and aesthete.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Is Nothing Sacred 2?

Actually, many many many things are Sacred, or rather, Sacred is just like a million other games out there. A good portion of those do everything here better, as well.

It's almost a shame to get into a game and be kind of digging what its doing, only for that experience to be hampered by something like a cumbersome camera or the fact that the game is just plain old and many other things since have covered this ground with much more panache.

All these things and more are a drag on Sacred 2: Fallen Angel in 2018. It's my fault of course; I should have played this when it was new, probably nearing on a decade ago. However, all I can think playing it now is how much nicer it would be to be playing Path of Exile or Diablo III or Skyrim or Dark Souls 2 or...

I will say the UI isn't terrible, and the skill and character development systems seemed well thought out and allowing for a lot of crunchy customization.

Well, that's another off the backlog. I'm coming to realize it's better not to buy games if I'm not going to immediately sit down and play them.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Middle-campaign

I wanted to briefly mention that I did reinstall and pick up Shadow of Mordor once more. I have been kind of rewatching the Lord of the Rings trilogy lately, and wanted to play some in that world. Maybe I will eventually find what others have in that game.

In Final Fantasy Tactics, I have made it up to the beginning of Chapter III: The Valiant. I'm currently grinding out random battles to get my force to the jobs I want them to be going forward. I'm also roaming the land doing errands out of the various towns. I don't recall if anything important comes out of these, but they're fun to do all the same. I have Ramza as dragoon now. I'm not sure where he will end up. Maybe as a samurai, or perhaps even as a Mime. I have yet to unlock either samurai or ninja, or summoner or mediator on the magic track.

The campaigns continue.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Rocketbirds: What the Hell is This?

I wanted to knock something off the backlog, so I decided on Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken, which was a kind of uneven experience.

It's hard to really see what the developers were going for with this game due to how the themes of the plot, the art design, characters, and music all come together so disjointedly. It's not a great action-platformer to begin with, but the mixture of mid-aughts emo rock with cartoonish bird humanoid creatures and themes of total war versus an evil regime only serve to confuse. Were these supposed to be jokes?

On it's face, it's a bland 2D action game. There's shooting, and a little bit of navigation puzzling, but nothing even so complicated as in the original Metroid. A mechanic introduced a few levels in lets you mind-control enemies which is OK for setting up some slightly more interesting puzzles. One level I thought was kind of cool was set up as a jetpack dogfight in the sky outside the penguin regime's zeppelin. It played kind of like a twin-stick shooter but that you could only shoot in the direction you were flying in.

I got about halfway through the game, I am led to believe by the chapter count, but I don't think I'll ever be back to it. It's just not my kind of thing.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Lion War for Ivalice

I've played almost nothing but Final Fantasy Tactics in the last week. In that time, I have progressed through Chapter I: The Meagre to the early part of Chapter II: The Manipulator and the Subservient.

Chapter II begins with a bang, the first movement, back to the merchant city Dorter from Orbonne Monastery, results in the band of Ovelia's protectors (led by Agrias at this point) being ambushed by mercenaries and having to fend them off. An unknown malefactor from the princess's kidnappers has hired a crew to waylay Ramza et al to put them off the trail. Just who is behind Ovelia's kidnapping is unkown at this point. The band will move from here toward a meeting with Cardinal Delecroix of the Church of Glabados, though, in hopes he can somehow protect the kidnapped Ovelia.

For this playthrough, I decided to eschew the use of overpowered characters like Agrias and Mustadio and T.G. Cid where possible, to instead rely on training up generics through the job system. I'm not certain how to proceed at the moment, though. Do I keep knights and archers in those jobs, or level characters through those jobs on to more advanced ones? I am leaning toward the former, where in the past I think I mostly did the latter. I may only need a single party member as a given class, too, since the battle party size is only a max of 5 in this game.

At the moment, I have Ramza as knight, along with two generics in that class as well. I also have three squires in training along with two or three chemists, two archers, and combination black/white mage. I'm running the mage and a chemist in battles now, along with a mix of knights, squires, and archers as leveling dictates. Squire and chemist not only compliment each other perfectly, but are also the cornerstone of every good fighter- or mage-derived class available in the game. I think it's probably wise to go ahead and have every party member master one or the other (using the other as their sub-job) before taking another class as their main. To that end I should probably get my current chemists up to white and black mage status and then allow my current black mage to go back and master chemist. Chemists are always good to have around, especially later in the game when they get access to guns. Same goes for squires; they have a really good set of abilities and thus can always be useful.

So then, my new plan of development will be to always be rotating through the party of battle at least one squire and chemist, while also pulling from the other classes whatever is needed, be it knight, archer, dragoon, monk, or any various mage type. I'm looking forward to applying this new strategy already.

I'd like to progress through the story and into the 100-floor dungeon this time through the game, as well. We'll see how that goes.