Anthem Demo Impressions

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This morning I am going to talk for a bit about the Anthem Demo that a good number of us participated in this weekend.  If you did not have access to the demo or one of the many friend codes that were floating around…  the truth is what you missed more than anything is a lot of frustration.  However the game that was buried under that layer of frustration was apparently good enough to keep us engaged and trying to log in over and over.  I want to talk a bit about my expectations for the game before going into it.  First off this comes from the pedigree of Bioware, so I expected a great world  with good character development above pretty much everything else.  Mass Effect was not a series known for its amazing gun-play, but instead the interesting things you encountered along the way.  My ultimate hope was that Anthem could be a game that was fun to the Destiny players, The Division players and the Warframe players and act as a unifying vehicle that was “a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll” and create an experience that felt familiar and enjoyable to all of them.  Essentially my hope was that it could be the game that folks rallied around in my community rather than having a group of us split loving Destiny and another group split loving Warframe.

Connection Issues

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So lets get the bad stuff out of the way first.  This is a screen a saw a lot of this weekend… otherwise known as the 95% freeze.  The game would load fine into Fort Tarsus the social lobby, but as soon as I picked a mission and attempted to start it the screen would freeze with 5% of the loading bar to go and stay there indefinitely while consuming near 100% cpu and gpu.  Now the weird thing about this is…  I am used to these sorts of bugs happening on the PC version of games…  but it was apparently fairly ubiquitous across all three platforms the game is appearing on which leads me to think this is infrastructure related.  There are individuals however that seemed to be completely un-phased by it… so I am also wondering if there is a connection/location based component.  Whatever the case the only way to get past it was to go into Windows Task Manager and kill the Anthem process, and then upon loading back into the game you would be prompted to join the expedition already in progress…  at which point you could load into the mission.

Experience and Loot Issues

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Last night I started being hit by a different bug, where I could not return to base from a Free Play mission.  This was remedied by killing with Task Manager and then when prompted to rejoin the mission…  saying no.  The only problem with this however is that in doing so I sacrificed all of the experience that I had gained while doing the mission.  This is the second major problem with Anthem…  everything in the game is considered to be a “match” and nothing is rewarded until you successfully complete said match.  That means if you get disconnected and for some reason cannot rejoin that session… you are going to loose out on all of the achievements and experience that you gained from that mission.  The only consolation prize here is that loot that you picked up seems to be independent of this annoying cycle, that said…  it isn’t ACTUAL loot until you have been through the exiting a mission screen to turn those generic loot indicators into physical items.  So I knew I had a few blue items in my inventory but had no clue what they were until I had joined another freeplay session…  which again required me to kill the game, relaunch and join the abandoned session…  before finally exiting out of a free play session successfully so I could acquire the stuff that I had looted in the previous rather length session.  This is some horrible nonsense…  loot should not live in this transitory state until you have successfully jumped through the right hoops… and also the exp you have gained should not be held hostage by buggy connection code.

Flight and Movement

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Now we move to something that is both one of the biggest strengths of the game… and one of the biggest weaknesses if you happen to be playing with a Mouse and Keyboard.  Freedom of movement is a massive part of this game and it feels awesome to be running along and simply lift off into the skies flying towards your next objective.  I think the overheating mechanic does a good job of giving you a reason why you can’t simply fly around in GM mode like you effectively can as soon as you get a flying mount in an MMO.  It is cool that you can dive quickly down to cool yourself back off or fly through a waterfall to get the cooled buff to extend your flight time.  Those are all really great mechanics…  but the mouse and keyboard controls feel awful without a significant amount of tweaking.  Huge credit goes to my friend @_KateyLee for providing me a link to a post on the Mouse Sensitivity forums where they worked through a bunch of different configurations.  Ultimately just zeroing out all of the sliders related to flight and swim movement seemed to provide me a good baseline…  from there I will tweak things up when the real game launches until I reach the most comfortable setting for me personally.  However if you also felt like flying and swimming was a horrible experience…  you might just try dropping the sliders down to zero and seeing if that works for you too.

Gunplay

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Another big part of a game like this is how the moment to moment gun-play feels…  and to this I can give the game a resounding “okay”.  It feels passable and quite honestly this game as a whole feels like they took the Multiplayer components of Mass Effect 3/Andromeda and built a brand new game around them.  I never really thought that any of the weapons in a Mass Effect game were terribly inspired feeling, but they got the job done and I guess that same admonition carries forward to Anthem.  I liked Assault Rifles and Shotguns in Mass Effect, so it is zero shock that my default loadout so far for Anthem is an Assault Rifle and a Shotgun.  I am hoping as we get into the wider game that we will start to see a greater breakout of weapons… because right now we have a couple of different variants of the weapon types but there is a general sameness to the way they feel.  The bar that I hold a game up to is Destiny, and the gun-play in Anthem is nowhere near as fluid or tight as that.  It however feels better than I remember Mass Effect Andromeda feeling…  which in itself felt a lot better than Mass Effect 3…  so baby steps?

Exploration

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Where the game excels is in exploration…  the world while relatively small in the part we have actually seen…  feels massive because every inch of it seems to be peppered with things to explore.  While out in free play mode which is this games version of “patrol mode” I got a tip from my handler about activity happening in a certain area… that there was a shaper relic that needed silenced.  So I moved over to that area of the map and went through a sequence of fighting things and collecting orbs until I finally silenced the relic.  This awarded me a chest and a bunch of experience points, but also had the unexpected side effect of now opening up a new area of the world map which lead to the ruins that I am exploring in the above screenshot.  This eventually lead me to a boss fight where I took down an elemental titan, which again counted as a world event with its own rewards.  This is the sort of thing that happens in game is that one thing chains into another thing and another and means that the world feels extremely fluid and rewarding to explore.  Since I tend to spend most of my time in these games solo… this means I will have a rich experience that is unfettered by walling up anything interesting in the game behind group content.  Just in my short time playing I have encountered a ton of areas that would be thought of as Lost Sectors in Destiny terms, that are hidden behind a waterfall or at the bottom of a lake or quite honestly in plain sight as you happen to be zooming past it.  This game is exploration porn and the suit gives you enough tools to be able to get pretty much anywhere.

The Suits

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Another huge positive of the game is that the Javelins all feel different.  In Destiny for the most part it is all about gun-play with your supers and abilities adding flavor to the experience…  which quite honestly the jumps being the biggest differentiation between the classes.  In Anthem the Ranger is effectively your Destiny style class with grenades and a super and a weird weapon ability…  mixed in with a wide range of weapons.  As a result I really really love the Ranger because it is what I was looking for in a game.  However the other classes are playing totally different games…  with the Colossus being sort of a Reinhardt shield tank that happens to have the heaviest weapons but pays a penalty in movement because of it and completely loses the over-shield in favor of a physical barricade.  The storm is legitimately a caster and will spend most of its time in the air casting elemental attacks down on opponents rather than spending a ton of time shooting the weapons.  The interceptor feels like Zero from Borderlands… and is a literal Ninja and moves and has attacks that feel completely appropriate for that sort of game style…  but has a massive penalty to the amount of harm it can soak up.  When you are running with a balanced party the game feels extremely cool as each of the abilities feed off of each other, and in turn they all feel completely reasonable when moving around solo as well…  but also sort of dictate a different way of approaching problems.

Fort Tarsus

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Now we are going to loop back around to another negative.  While gorgeous as evidenced by this painting like screenshot from in game…  Fort Tarsus does not feel great to explore.  Now I realize a lot of the functionality was turned off completely during the demo… as we were constantly reminded any time we tried to interact with anything.  However shifting from third person suit mode to very slow first person human mode feels awkward and weird.  I mean I get what they were going for… they were trying to create a clear delineation between “mech mode” and “operator” mode.  The biggest problem that I tend to have is how freaking slow I move while running around without my suit.  The layout means that I am going to be traversing this location over and over as I do the functional things that are required to play the game…  which also means I am going to hear that same partial Bhangra synth loop over and over and over… side note if you stand there it doesn’t actually go anywhere and just keeps looping over the same little sample.  At a minimum I would like to see them give me a sprint option.

Characters and Story

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The demo does not really give you a lot to go on.  You are essentially sent on what feels like a side mission to recover a relic and then deal with the ramifications of using this weird tech.  However the brief amount of time that we got to spend with characters, makes me extremely hopeful for how this game is going to feel as a whole.  I already care about Zoe the mechanic who keeps my Javelin running and has a casual back and forth about how we are ALL her favorites.  Matthias my Arcanist also seems like someone I am going to be perfectly fine getting to know better through the course of the missions.  The dialog itself seems to be a simple A or B set of answers…  or in Mass Effect terms… Paragon or Renegade.  However so far in the most simple of interactions…  Zoe at the forge for example seems to remember what I have said before and use it in later dialog so there is some manner of branching already in place for the few instances it has come up.  NPCs that seem to remember our past interactions is going to go a long ways to making me feel more engaged with the game world as a whole.  This was something that would have helped Destiny quite a bit… if the NPCs remembered our past adventures.

In Summary

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As a whole I am really looking forward to playing Anthem legitimately, and I am booned that each of the AggroChat crew seemed to find some element or specific javelin that they really enjoyed.  I am hoping this very rough weekend helps them make the necessary tweaks for a successful launch.  Next weekend there is going to be another demo, but I think this time the floodgates are going to open a bit further.  I am going to hope that the various connection issues have been ironed out and that my tweaks to mouse settings continue to provide me a better than default experience.  If so…  I think Anthem is going to be a great experience.  That said I am preparing myself to weather the storm of a rough launch, and I have to give Bioware a lot of credit for taking to social media and Reddit early this weekend and trying to stay in constant communication as they were working through the issues.  This scores me a lot of points that they were being open about the struggles, and in the grand scheme the fact that they are listening is going to win them points with the community as a whole.  Ultimately this isn’t going to be the game for everyone… and if you already bounced off this style of game then it probably isn’t going to be the one that causes you to see the light.  However it does already appear to be welding the breach between the Destiny and Warframe factions of AggroChat, so I have hope that maybe it will be something we can all play together.

So if you took the time to play it this weekend, what were your thoughts?  I would love to hear them.

 

Fun Police

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Yesterday during the day I posted a list of Ravnica guilds in order of my likelihood to play them.  For the uninitiated the guilds themselves simply represent the various two color combinations that are available in Magic the Gathering.  So instead of saying you are playing Black and Green…  a lot of players simply say that they are playing Golgari as a not as short as saying GB sort of shorthand.  The truth is I think it goes deeper than that and is instead a sort of tribalism that allows players to indicate that they are in fact “in the know” and part of the community.  Whatever the case… they exist and I have certain proclivities.  Here is my ordered list of guilds in decreasing likelihood that I would play that color combination.

  1. Golgari – aka Green and Black
  2. Gruul – aka Green and Red
  3. Rakdos – aka Red and Black
  4. Orzhov – aka White and Black
  5. Selesnya – aka White and Green
  6. Boros – aka White and Red
  7. Simic – aka Blue and Green
  8. Dimir – aka Blue and Black
  9. Izzit – aka Blue and Red
  10. Azorius  – aka Blue and White

Later that night Kodra chimed in with a comment that I expected him to make at some point.

You notice that pretty much on my list every combination that includes the color blue is sorted to the very bottom as in general it is the color that I am least likely to play at any given time.  Also note that pretty much any combination of Black and Green gets sorted pretty high given that those are my favorite colors to play.  So why then do I hate one specific color of magic.  The truth is I hate what it stands for… which is control magic.  The challenge of the color pie is that in modern magic every color has specific themes that it excels at.  Black for example plays with dead things, and also things that are just as likely to backfire and harm the player as the opponent.  Green wants to go big and go fast and stomp stomp stomp stomp.  Red wants to burn you…  GIVE ME FUEL GIVE ME FIRE GIVE ME THAT WHICH I DESIRE!  White does a bunch of things… but mostly small creatures with tricks, flyers and ways to prevent damage from being dealt.  Blue on the other hand…  while it also has a bunch of flyers… it excels at the magic of denial.

Now I will admit that pretty much every color has some form of denial built into it.  Green is good at blowing up flyers and artifacts, Red can nuke stuff…  black has a lot of straight up death to a creature cards, and white can throw creatures into time out exceptionally well.  Blue however just has a lengthy library of ways to keep you from actually doing anything.  If a control player is doing what they are intending to do… they effectively shut you down from being able to cast anything.  This means that one player is having fun tormenting you… and the other player is frothing at the mouth and wanting to flip the damned table.  Blue players tend to couch this commentary as that they like doing tricky things, but those tricks are played at the expense of someone else’s fun.

Don’t get me wrong I have played control before and fiddled around constantly with my “Mill” deck for years.  For the uninitiated “Mill” is a deck style named after the card Millstone that forces the player to place the top two cards from their library into their graveyard.  One of the alternate win conditions in Magic the Gathering is that when one player cannot draw a card they lose the game.  So in Mill you are playing a constant stream of cards that force the player to discard over and over until they have nothing left.  Right now there is a card called Persistent Petitioners that if you have 4 of them in play…  can force the player to mill twelve cards at a time.  Sure it is weird and entertaining the first time you encounter it…  but if you keep encountering it the fun wears off for everyone but the person playing the deck.  Ultimately the reason why I do not enjoy Blue… is because too often the fun of a control player comes at the expense of everyone else.

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Of note this is also why I generally do not like broken combos like Krark-Clan Ironworks that if encountered you might as well just concede and move on with your life.  There was an unlimited combo in Amonkhet that involved players creating a bajillion cat token creatures.  The first time I encountered it…  I let it play out just to see how nonsense it could get.  Notice the opposing player has an army of token creatures…  and is at 183 life to my 15.  Once again this was entertaining the very first time I encountered it, but not at all from that point forward and if I even got the whiff on the wind of someone playing this combo…  I could concede out and move on to the next match hoping for something more manageable.  The players who love combos like this feel a sense of gratification for breaking the game…  and everyone else just feels like the game is dumb for allowing something like that.

The times I am happiest playing Magic the Gathering is when you have some random back and forth interactions, the type that you see often among brand new players.  I love two people sitting down with a bunch of random jank and hoping to succeed, and I guess that is why in general I prefer draft formats for the randomness.  I’m working on a pauper singleton league at work as I have said before, in part because those constraints do a lot of things to stamp down power combos.  If Arena had a format where they literally gave you a randomized deck that aligned to some basic color themes…  that would probably be my favorite format ever.  I think ultimately I am chasing the joy we felt first playing this game when we absolutely did not know any better and had six of us sitting around a table playing in a grand melee.

Giza and Memphis

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Today we return to my normal nonsense.  Yesterday felt really weird, but not as weird as I guess I expected it to feel?  I am still very much engaged in Assassin’s Creed Origins…  or in the way that I play it…  Egyptian Skyrim?  I’ve made it to Giza and can now die happy…  or actually at this point I have made it past Giza.  Climbing to the top of the pyramids was an interesting challenge as you effectively had to work your way from gap in the capping to the next gap all the way up to the top.  That is one of the bizarre things about this game…  in some ways it feels very much like Breath of the Wild where it seems like you can climb everything in your view…  until you suddenly can’t.  When the game wants to cut off a route it makes something un-climbable which just feels really odd considering the rest of the game you are pulling off crazy moves that would be impossible to actually do in real life.

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One of the mechanics that I both love and hate is the torch, because I am having to use it an awful lot here in Giza as I explore the depths of many tombs.  It feels cool because in theory the torch shows about as much as you would expect from an actual torch.  The negative however is the game knows this… and regularly presents you with rooms that have dimensions that do the torch no favors, and in those situations I find myself working around the edge in a vague attempted to not fall into some pit or something.  So far I have not actually encountered an actual pit, but by god my mind knows that the moment I stop being vigilant…  BAM A PIT.  Additionally I love that the game shows me actually equipping weapons…  but it really shows the nonsense of my inventory as I am equipping two different bows… a sword and shield…  and a giant freaking battle axe.

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Another thing we need to continue talking about is how freaking gorgeous this game is.  I’ve always been enthralled by Egyptian history… and roaming around all of these locations in virtual avatar form is amazing.  Memphis is pretty much how I imagined it…  a swampy mess.  I also love the fact that there is a dedicated croc hunter in a vague attempt to keep the waterways clear enough for the people to safely traverse.  I am not entirely sure why I am on this single player kick, but I am going to roll with it at least until Anthem starts going through its pre-release posturing early next month.  I will say… all of this is really making me want to pick back up Witcher 3, which is even less linear than Assassin’s Creed Origins… and quite literally something I could play for six months and never have seen everything.  The biggest thing about this game…. is I am always happy to return again the next night.

So readers… what are you up to that is interesting?  Playing anything great?

Friends through Food

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I know I have talked briefly about this in the past, but we have been adopted by two of the neighborhood cats.  First we had the cat that we refer to as “big boy” who comes running from several yards away when he sees us come out in the morning.  He does this thing where he rears back on his hind paws to reach up and headbutt our hands and it is adorable.  He wants food of course but I think he mostly wants attention, and I take a break from the coffee and blogging time to go give it to him when my wife shouts up that he is out there.  He isn’t out every single day… but comes close to it and we know which house he belongs at and they have a doggie door so he is sorta on free roam as he likes.  He apparently visits lots of houses during the day and ours is but one stop on his trip.

Over time we developed a second cat…  that admittedly we refer to as “Two” because we are unoriginal and also have no clue where she belongs.  This cat seems way more “permanently struggling” than big boy, and over time our relationship with her has improved.  At the beginning she would run the second we got near the door…  only returning once she was sure we were no longer around.  Each day she would run away a little less…  to this morning when she did not budge at all when we opened the door and only eased away as I walked out on the porch to set down some piles of food.  I set out two piles since I know that her and big boy have a sort of uneasy truce…  but cannot be expected to eat from the same pile.

From what I can tell she lives somewhere behind our house, as often times in the morning I will come into the kitchen and our backyard light has tripped.  We have it on a motion sensor and I have looked out a few times and seen her back there and even when I have not…  often times she shows up in the front of the house as soon as we turn the porch light on.  We’ve built a little box full of blankets on the front porch in hopes of enticing her to snuggle in since it has been fairly cold of late…  but so far no luck there.  We’ve seen her hanging out on the porch and using it as a windbreak…  but no actual snuggling.

I am sure however that at some point in the next few weeks/months we will reach a point where she is comfortable enough around us to stay while we feed…  or even let us pet her.  She has been super skittish but each day feels like a tiny victory as she becomes less so.  I mean it is not like we need more cats…  given that we have three indoor ones, but we are suckers for animals that look like they need taking care of.  So as a result we now have our indoor family and our outdoor family…  and someday maybe an amalgam of the two.  For the time being however I am just trying to teach “Two” that we are pretty okay human beings that are setting this food out just for her.

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On the gaming front, I am still engaged with Assassin’s Creed Origins, even though I had a bit of a fragmented night for reasons.  I didn’t get out of work until almost 6 pm which put me getting home way later than normal…  then I fixed dinner for myself and fixed dinner again for my wife when she got home around 8:30 pm.  So as a result I got a bunch of little things accomplished in the game, but didn’t move the story forward much past opening up the next sequence of targets.  I somehow doubt that those are actually the FINAL list of Targets however…  because I figure there will be a final batch after those that represent the end game.  These targets mostly seem like they serve a way to open up new areas of the game like Giza and Memphis for example.  Still having a blast, especially in the weird amalgam of Egyptian and Greek culture that are sort of mashing together.

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One thing the game does a good job of is what Pete mentioned yesterday in the comments…  of showing just how insanely long the Egypt was a major world player.  The period of Egyptian dominance that we think of in the history books started in roughly 3150 BC and concluded somewhere around 332 BC…  which is 2818 years…  so yeah no wonder we are exploring ancient ruins in a game that appears to be set towards the end of the Ptolemaic period of Egypt when it is effectively ruled by the Greeks.  There are so many interesting themes going on in this game that I just sorta want to wallow in the world instead of pushing the story forward.  I’ve helped out so many random people just as a diversion from moving the needle forward.  The moment to moment gameplay feels really good and as such I am super happy to be out exploring new areas.

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Last night I had to sneak my way up to the Lighthouse of Alexandria…  because I assumed there would be a leap of faith…  however it was a bit shorter than I was expecting.  I halfway expected to have one that would take me down the entire length of the tower, but instead it just deposited me at a hay pile a few stories down.  Maybe there is another post that I somehow missed on the climb up that would provide a more gratifying experience.  All in all I am still very much enjoying myself and look forward to playing it over the upcoming four day weekend.

Exploring Alexandria

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This morning I am talking about Assassin’s Creed and there might be minor spoilers here and there. Be warned.

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We’ve talked about this a bit in the past, of how in general Assassin’s Creed has not been my jam.  I tried playing the fourth game in the series on Playstation 4 and the second game on PC, and while I definitely enjoyed parts of it…  there were always missions that frustrated me… specifically the ones that involved racing awkwardly along the tops of buildings.  Assassin’s Creed Origins however I largely picked up on a whim because it looked so damned cool… and I caught it on a holiday sale a year ago.  I’ve always been a huge fan of Egypt mythology and I thought it would be cool to see what the world might have looked like at that time.  I know next to nothing about the Templar versus Assassin’s thing… other than apparently the Templar are bad guys…  which makes me a bit sad given my supposed Templar lineage.  Assassin’s being the good guys is also a bit hard to wrap my head around given that they are generally bad…  but I guess if you mostly kill evil doers you are okay.  I on the other hand have a proclivity for killing everything with a red bar and dumping the body in the bushes…  but that might just show deep character flaws in myself.

First off the game is freaking gorgeous… and of note I have been playing it exclusively through Parsec streaming off my upstairs gaming rig.  Because of that I am choosing to play at 1080p Ultra settings instead of 4k as I probably would sitting at the console upstairs, because pushing a 4k image and having it downsampled to the 1080p client causes some weirdness.  I know that it must be causing a lot more bandwidth because I end up with stutters on games that never have stutters on 1080p.  Additionally I am streaming to a laptop… and quite frankly the best it can produce is a 1080p image so there isn’t much point at all of overtaxing the machine upstairs.  All of those caveats aside it has been flawless, and playing in this manner has pretty much become my daily routine.  Granted I did go through some nonsense steps to make my connection more stable, so you have to take that into account as far as how smoothly my personal experience with Parsec has gone.

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I spent my evening running through quests in both Yamu and Alexandria…  and I have to say Alexandria specifically is impressive as hell.  It might be one of the cooler cities I have experienced in a game like this… in part because it feels accurate.  I am not entirely certain how accurate it actually is, but there is a truth to the layout that transports you back to what it must have been like to live in that area at this time.  I also never really thought about how deeply mingled the Greek and Egyptian cultures must have been at that time, and the game really underlines that point.  It actually makes me really interested in continuing this journey into Odyssey, since it effectively moves the story more into the main sphere of Greek influence.  I think more than anything that was what interested me in this game was because it was placed in a setting that I wanted to feel like I was experiencing.  Sure London or Paris or whatever other locations these games have taken place in are cool…  but I have been curious about all of these places the generated the Mythologies that I loved growing up and games like this are finally allowing me to explore them.

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I think more than anything the free roaming nature of the game and the ability to keep collecting interesting weapons… outfits… and mounts is going to keep me glued to it for awhile.  It really does feel like I am playing a single player MMORPG in some aspects…  but the world feels alive in spite of not actually having other players in it.  I think that is maybe something that these games have gotten better at doing, either that or I find myself craving being around other people significantly less than I used to.  I would always bounce from single player titles because they somehow felt “dead” and that I kept craving the intangible characteristic that playing a game constantly surrounded by others brought to the experience.  That said… right now I am having trouble sinking my teeth into MMORPGs at all…  so maybe that is accounting for my wanting to delve deeper into these games than I ever really did in the past.  The only negative is this does nothing to help out that New Years resolution of being more engaged socially in gaming…  but for the moment it is bringing me joy and I am just going to roll with it.

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I think you can pretty much consider me hooked at this point… and much like with Far Cry 5…  I am going to see this out to the end.  That said I think the end is going to be way less cut and dried with this experience as the path seems like it is going to be considerably longer.  Last night I just completed the initial main story quest of the game, and it is clear that I am now entering a much larger world with complex interweaving story-lines.  In fact the game just gave me an achievement to underline this point called “I’m Just Getting Started”.  It has been awhile since I have played anything that I craved getting home to play some more of…  and Far Cry 5 and Assassin’s Creed Origins have both given me that feeling.  While I wish I could re-engage with Final Fantasy XIV, I am just going to go with this feeling while it lasts.

Far Cry 5 Done

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I still appear to be having screenshot issues.  Likely a reboot will take care of it, but right now thing seems to be saving an image in games…  so as a result you are going to get some recycled images with this mornings post.  Last night I finished Far Cry 5…  and I have words about it.  The game as a whole is still something I consider to be really awesome.  The story and the forced nature of it however is not awesome.  After playing through it… I have this feeling that whoever designed the narrative wanted it to be some shocking and moving work of art that would make us feel something.  However it is hard to actually feel things about an interactive narrative that you have no control over.  This is a game that told me a story, and made my character do things that I would not have done…  and the payoff is more shit happening that I was not invested in.  The shocking reveal didn’t feel that shocking when the game kept forcibly pushing our noses in it as we played along.

I think this is the challenge with telling a traditional story…  in an open world game.  The open world nature means that the majority of the time we have complete freedom over our actions and can do whatever the hell suits us.  However when the narrative path is one that would better suit an on rails corridor shooter…  there is a cognitive disconnect between the freedom you normally experience and the super linear nature of the cutscenes.  By contrast if you take something like a Skyrim or a Fallout…  you arrive at a conclusion that was driven by your actions and your interactions in the freeroam world and as a result even if that conclusion isn’t exactly what you expected it still feels like yours.  For a game that has put so much emphasis on building big open world games…  you would think that by now they were a bit better at telling stories in them.

I am still curious to see what happens in Far Cry New Dawn…  but I have also lowered my expectations significantly.

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There was more game to be played in Far Cry 5 with the DLC… but quite honestly I needed a break from that world for a bit.  Originally it was my intend to pop into God of War, but I was too lazy to go upstairs and figure out why PS4 Remote Play was not working.  As a result instead I poked my head into Assassin’s Creed…  which admittedly is yet another Ubisoft open world game.  This one feels considerably different however, and I never actually left Siwa in my initial playing of it.  I have this problem when a game gives me a big open world to explore…  yet tells me that I should leave it to move on with the story.  I want to go out and explore everything, and as a result I spent way the hell too long roaming around the desert tracking down question mark icons on the horizon.  I had this same problem with Dragon Age Inquisition and the Hinterlands.

Last night I moved the story ahead a bit and probably will be playing this for the next few nights to see if I can get re-engaged.  I like the gameplay a lot, which is shocking considering that I never really clicked with Assassin’s Creed before this game.  However considering the number of series Stalwarts that didn’t really like this title…  I am guessing maybe there is a reason?  This feels more like an action combat MMO-lite sort of feel, and I am largely on board with that.  The bow gameplay could be better, but it is passable and serves its purpose.  I know I have a ton of game play ahead of me as I have only managed to track down two of the targets I am after.  I am sorta feeling like when I kill those targets… it is going to give me a world two sort of thing and I realize that my revenge plot is only the beginning.

Bad Luck and Breach

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This weekend was on the odd side of things.  First we had an issue at work that kept me there until after 7 pm on Friday night, so by the time I got home and found food…  it mostly felt like I didn’t get an evening.  Saturday things were going mostly smoothly until the Podcast when apparently my system started having technical difficulties.  During the last fifteen minute of the show the last word of pretty much every sentence was getting cut off.  A restart of the server seemed to solve it later, but it made for a frustrating experience for myself and I am sure our listeners.  Lastly Sunday morning I was going about my normal routine and wound up getting stranded after popping into QuikTrip for Drinks… and finding out my vehicle wouldn’t start.  So I had to wait in the 30 degree weather on AAA to come do service.

I mean in theory I could have probably convinced someone to give a jump start and I had cables…  but I mostly waited the hour or so in the cold in the off case that it was something other than the battery and I would need a tow to a shop.  What makes this doubly frustrating is that I had just replaced the battery on Labor Day weekend, and something similar prevented us from going to Dallas.  By all guesstimations…  we are just assuming that I got a lemon of a battery because the rest of the systems check out fine.  Thankfully it was still under warranty, but it also made for a very stressful and frustrating day.  This morning I am remembering that there was one more thing on the list from the grocery store that we did not pick up yesterday…  and am drinking my coffee without sugar (or splenda in my case).  I hope this trend does not continue into the new week.

I am however thankfully scheduled to be off Friday, so that I can at least feel like I am getting to participate in Pax South by hanging out at home and watching the streams.  For the last two years the timing has been off, with the show effectively happening one week too soon for me to be able to go to it.  I’ve largely resigned myself to this fact, but it still bums me out more than a little bit to miss it seeing as I went to the first three shows.  Instead I’ve decided to make a batch of Chilli that day and hang out and watch the stream and pretend to be part of it.  I’m also contemplating finally using it as an opportunity to start sorting my Magic the Gathering cards which are right now in no semblance of an order.  I always have a bunch of projects that I need to do… but regularly get distracted and take forever to actually get around to doing them.

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As far as gaming goes…  on a whim I decided to look into Breach as several of my friends have been talking about it.  I am not sure if there was some sort of a specific event going on, but I signed up on PlayBreach.com and immediately got access to the game.  This had not been a title I was following at all, but it appears that they will be entering Steam Early access on January 16th.  If you have read my blog for a long while you may know my opinions of Early Access…  which is that the game is launching next week no matter how hard they might claim otherwise.  The game that is there however is actually rather fun, and I spent some time playing a bunch of different classes.  Effectively the game is a weird love child of Overwatch, The Secret World and Heroes of the Storm…  with a bit of the Destiny Strikes mixed in for good measure.  I realize that is going to sound like an incoherent game, but in truth it works pretty well together.

From Overwatch it borrows the way the narrative of the world is being told through the settings and a general graphical feel and fluidity of motion.  From The Secret World it borrows the game setting and a fantasy meets technology universe where the barrier between worlds is failing (and a premise not that dissimilar from the novel I wrote several years back).  From Heroes of the Storm it borrows the way you level up throughout the match and choose new traits to help buff your gameplay each time you take an objective.  As far as Destiny Strikes…  the levels feel a bit like that mixed with some of the objectives like guard the payload that you have in Overwatch.

There is even a bit of Dungeon Keeper as the versus play is asymmetrical where you have a team of four heroes playing against a player that controls an incorporeal demon that can do various things to effect the flow of the game.  The demon can summon all sorts of trap and damaging dealing auras, while freely possessing individual “creeps” to use the League of Legends nomenclature and powering them up in the process as well as being able to direct their actions with their own hotbar combat.  I personally prefer to play Heroes, but almost every time I have queued for a Versus match I have wound up getting stuck playing the Demon, as it appears to be way less popular than just playing a single character.

Both sides of the equation are rather fun, and you can also opt to play against bot characters if you so choose.  It is well worth checking out if you can still get into the game, but I am trying to decide now if it is worth actually buying one of the starter kits that go off sale on the 16th.  It is a MOBA like game in its structure, but it appears to be one that is designed more or less for the way I would want to play the game.  I spent most of my time playing the Demon Hunter, that sets interesting traps and runs around with a shotgun.  They however have a slew of classes already available, and the payment model going forward seems to be much like Riot and that you can try classes for free but have to buy them to unlock permanently with a free assortment available at all times.

Definitely worth looking into if this sounds like your thing.  I am curious what my readers think about the game if they have played it as well.  My only frustration was that I could not seem to get the game to register with any of my screenshot options…  so I am having to go with a shot from the press kit this morning.

Bungie Divorce

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I had a totally different post planned for today, but since the news of the Activision and Bungie split was announced yesterday…  there really wasn’t another topic that I would be discussing today.  I also committed memery last night and cobbled together this…  since yeah it is sorta relevant.  So the details that we know…  in 2010 Bungie entered into a 10 year publishing deal with Activision.  Over the last few cycles Activision has been making a point of announcing that Destiny 2 as a franchise has been failing to live up to expectations.  Behind the scenes for quite some time Bungie devs have been leaking tidbits about them feeling constrained by that relationship.

So at this point we really don’t know how the split was started…  did Bungie buy out the remaining two years of the contract?  Did Activision decide that Destiny 2 looked bad on their balance sheet and kicked them to the curb?  Bungie learned the lesson with Microsoft and seemingly retained the rights to their intellectual property going into the arrangement with Activision, and as a result it appears that we have a newly liberated Bungie with all of the rights to keep making Destiny 2 and in theory Destiny 3…  but I will talk a bit more about that later.

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I think the question on a lot of minds is going to be…  who’s idea was Tess Everis and the Eververse store…  and will this change see the focus on this as a monetization vehicle lessen.  In truth I think this was a “both of them” sort of decision and not necessarily something we can really pin entirely on the Activision Evil Empire as it were.  Going into Destiny 2 I think Bungie knew they had to have some vehicle for long tailed sales… and this new version of Eververse was their answer to that.  Now the shop has vacillated back and forth between being grossly unfair at release…  to honestly having the deck stacked greatly in favor of the player in its current state.  I talked a bit about my thoughts there in the Bright Engrams Revisited post, but I think we have seen all of the tweaks we are going to see to Eververse.

The hard truth is… there will not be a major game release that lives in the MMO space that does not include some sort of pay for cosmetics or loot box scenario.  The fact that Destiny 2 hands those Bright Engrams out like Candy for playing through the content, and the fact that you can break down anything into Dust and pick items up as direct sales during the weekly resets…  means to me at least that the system is actually pretty reasonable already.  Sure people would prefer to simply cherry pick the items that they want each season…  but I am okay with the amount of friction that exists.  It gives us a reason to keep checking the store each Tuesday and to keep doing the weekly Eververse Bounties to stockpile bright dust and whatever the cores are called that unlock items from the list.

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The other burning question is…  who’s decision was it to move away from story driven content?  This is another one that I don’t really know the answer to either…  but I would tend to land that one more in the lap of Activision, given that they just pushed out a Call of Duty game with no single player story in it.  I would love to see them return to story beats each time we get a major update, rather than a purely activity driven focus.  I think ultimately we will have to see what Penumbra ends up being like to determine if everything is going to be like the Black Armory going forward or not.  With this change however I have a whole bunch of wish list items…  some of which are wildly speculative but would be amazing.

Shared Game Saves

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If I understand it correctly… the Playstation exclusivity deals were between Activision and Sony…  and Bungie was not necessarily a party to them but in turn constantly effected by them.  I think what this means in the short term is that soon all of the formerly Playstation exclusive content will trickle down to the other platforms as soon as everything is finalized.  What I hope this paves the way for however is a shared save state between all of the platforms.  Sure I would love it if all of the platforms could play together at the same time…  but as an easier hurdle…  I would love it if I could log into my PC characters on the Xbox or PS4 so I can keep playing with friends on those platforms.  At this point it would require an account merge system but I could see various ways where that might work.

Since the game largely uses an entitlement system now instead of actual items for everything but Forsaken forward…  you could do some sort of a system where you choose a primary account and every other account would simply just copy over the achievements and entitlements.  Of course at some point I want the ability to play with my PS4 friends while playing on the PC… and with the consoles moving further towards accepting keyboard and mouse as an input option (something both Xbox and PS4 support in limited ways currently) it might be a reasonable option.  At the very least it should be completely fine for any PVE activity… with PVP being the outlier where they might still have a segregated “Console” and “PC” play lists.  Look we are setting up a wish list here….  so even if it is unrealistic at this very moment…  it still definitely falls on it.

Bring Back Destiny 1

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It is as simple as it sounds…  I would love to see all of the patrol zones and activities from Destiny 1…  make an appearance in Destiny 2.  They have been cherry picking elements from the first game already, but a lot of us players from Destiny 1 felt a great sense of loss in losing all the places we loved from the first game.  It will take some work, but in theory they could start shimming in zones here and there as they release other content.  I would love to be able to do Prison of Elders again or take on Oryx.  You could even bring in some sort of a time walking like mechanic that lets you run older content without effecting the flow of the current storyline.  What if there was an ascendant realm that contained pockets of these old settings or something of that sort.  The Destiny story is kooky enough to be able to support it via space magic.

Table Destiny 3

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Along the lines of the last topic…  I would honestly love to see them completely table the discussion of a Destiny 3.  Hell at this point my preference would be for them to rebrand Destiny 2 to simply be “Destiny Franchise” or something of the sort and start treating the game like a more traditional MMORPG with semi-yearly expansions that keep adding new content without doing a nuke from orbit reset every few years.  Sure a new game gives players a chance to come back into the game on the same footing of every else…  but I legitimately do not thing we will be gaining a much larger audience than the game already has.  Destiny 2 was a big push and burned a lot of people…  and getting those players back won’t happen with a new numerical release.

Keep the Course

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I like the roadmaps that they are now doing… and I like that there are little trickles of new things flowing into the game every so often.  Ultimately my hope is that we will see more content without the thumb of Activision…  but quite honestly I am not sure that is realistic.  The company will be getting a larger share of the profits…  but those initial purchase profits are already a sunk cost.  They are going to have to prove to us that annual pass is worth it at this point, and I am not entirely certain that Black Armory did that.  Additionally they are going to have to give us other things to purchase to keep the cash flow incoming.  It will be interesting to see how things move forward as we clear the rest of this year.

If they straight up released Destiny 1 for PC as a stand alone game… I would probably throw money at the screen and buy it.  However if they released the content FROM Destiny 1 as an expansion to Destiny 2 that was not part of the Annual Pass content…  I would probably throw MORE money at the screen.  I do however think they might need to rework Eververse drastically however to give us more reasons to give them money.  That does not mean that I think they need to fuck with the math and make Bright Engrams stupid, but instead offer other avenues.  Like for example… if I could spend bright dust/silver to unlock shaders permanently…  I would probably do that.  SWTOR had that functionality of buying things as unlocked for your entire account, so in theory they could do something similar.

Additionally I would throw lots of money at the screen if they created an expansion that added better cosmetic options to the game, and allowed us to create outfits of our favorite gear appearances…  decoupling them from what we happened to be actually wearing.  Basically there are ways that they can keep improving the game, but also creating vehicles that get us to spend money with them.  There are folks that are predicting a switch to a free to play model like Fortnite, but I question if that would actually work.  Destiny 2 is not exactly a game that is great at onboarding new players, and they would have to think long and hard about how to address that problem.

At this point I have rambled at length… but these are some of my thoughts.  What are your thoughts about this announcement?

Another Seed Down

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This mornings post will probably have some minor plot point spoilers for Far Cry 5… so be warned.

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I am going to have a pretty short post this morning as I need to get into work earlier than normal… and I apparently did not have the foresight to pre-stage something last night.  I am finding myself still very much enthralled with Far Cry 5, and quite honestly this is a bit of a rare occasion with me.  I am not normally one of those players that has to finish something they have started.  My super power has for years been being able to wander away like a bored toddler from literally any game and pick up another shiny object in my field of view.  This is why I have not finished God of War for example, in spite of everything up to the moment I sat it down for a bit…  being a truly great experience.  Maybe 2019 will be the year that I actually start being games instead of just playing them for a really long time and never quite finishing them.

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At this point I have finished another chapter of the game, this one involving Faith Seed…  the “temptress” of the Seed family.  This played out so much differently than I was expecting based on the media I had ingested about this game.  I was sort of expecting her to seduce the player… and in some ways that is exactly what happened…  but not in the manner that games normally try and seduce players.  Instead of sexual gratification…  Faith trades in Bliss…  a drug induced state where everything is peaceful and joyous.  In this state of ecstasy you become the unwitting puppet for whatever she wills her followers called “Angels” to do.  The truth is… I thought the section of the game surrounding John Seed was disturbing…  but Faith cranked that sense of everything being fucked up and wrong to eleven.

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From there I have moved on to Jacob Seed…  the hunter that views that the only way to progress as a society is to constantly cull the weak.  While Faith was able to invoke a sense of Bliss…  Jacob seems to be able to pervert this into a sense of animistic rage.  So far however this appears to be the weakest of the chapters… because while I prefer playing games in Murder Hobo mode…  that doesn’t exactly make for a compelling character.  There are disturbing things about this chapter, but they seem to be largely centered around the stories that the survivors tell and not the actual actions you are having to go through.  You end up working a lot for a character that is essentially the living embodiment of Darryl from Walking Dead which is always cool.

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This chapter also seems to have my favorite companion…  Jess Black who looks like a jacked up Robin Hood.  I like her however because she stays the fuck out of the way…  as she focuses entirely on far ranged attacks with the bow.  Right now my party of choice is her and Boomer…  though as always Hurk is pretty entertaining and also arrives during this chapter.  For those who have played any other Far Cry games…  Hurk is a repeat character that links the worlds together.  He shows up in Far Cry 3 and 4…  and you find out he actually comes from Hope County as you meet his very cantankerous and very conservative nut of a father.

All in all I am still enjoying the hell out of this game, but the complaint made in the comments the other day still holds true…  the cut scenes that involve the various members of the Seed family always feel like they are interrupting the actual enjoyable part of the game.  The fun for me is running around and blowing stuff up.

Far Cry 5 Thoughts so Far

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Today is a bit of a struggle as it is the first day in a week that I am actually having to get up and around on a schedule.  Traditionally I take the full two weeks off surrounding Christmas and New Years, but this year since I am now the low manager in seniority…  I wound up having to work the weird and horrible partial week following Christmas.  However that meant I was going to take all of my time off for the holidays in the first week of the year.  I allowed myself to get way out of practice in the whole getting up at 5:30 in the morning thing…  most of those days I wound up rolling out of between somewhere closer to 7 or 8.  So as a result I am paying for it this morning.

Note I am going to be talking about Far Cry 5 this morning and there might be some minor spoilers.  Going to try and stay away from a lot of the specifics, but I have to say some things to explain the shape of the narrative.

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The Video Game Awards produced a shocking number of announcements that made me greatly interested in some of the games coming out.  One of those was Far Cry: New Dawn which is a post apocalyptic game set in the same setting as Far Cry 5.  This intrigued me greatly given that as far as I am aware…  the Far Cry series has never actually made a direct sequel to any of their games.  They’ve had several cases of the same game using the engine from the previous title…  aka Far Cry 3 and Far Cry Blood Dragon and Far Cry 4 and Far Cry Primal.  Far Cry 5 had been on the list of games that I wanted to play since I saw the initial trailers, but I never picked it up because I always had other things to play.  Over the break I caught a sale and wound up grabbing it and have been playing a silly amount of the game.  It’s weird that the thought of a sequel was what ultimately pushed me into gear to get going with playing it.

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The elevator pitch for Far Cry 5 is that it is set in Hope County Montana, and draws heavily on the history of various religious cults that we have had here in the United States.  The game centers around one such Cult that has a home base of operations in the Montana country side called Project Edens Gate.  Instead of worshiping the Bible, they worship something they call the Book of Joseph…  which was written by Joseph Seed the man the cultists refer to as The Father.  He has predicted a collapse of society, and when you are called upon to serve a warrant to arrest him on Kidnapping charges that signals the opening events of his prophecy.  You barely escape the compound and are now a hunted man…  as the Project Edens Gate…  or Peggies as the locals call them…  swarm out capturing everything in the Valley.

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You have the set up for a game that works pretty much like so many other games where you are the opposition to a larger force…  your job is now to destroy the foothold the cult has on the area and save as many locals as you can in the process.  The game is divided up into a bunch of sections, as each one of the “children” of Joseph Seed act as lieutenants over a different region of the valley.  I wound up going after John Seed, in part because it felt like the game was directing me there… and the person he was holding was the one I was most interested in saving.  As you take actions against the regional “boss” you raise a resistance meter, and every third of that bar there is a stopping point that triggers a specific event that plays out.  By the time I reached the conclusion of this “zone” of the game I had successfully worked up quite the hatred for John Seed, and wanted to see him die.

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Which admittedly plays in really nicely to the narrative of the game.  My sin is that of Wrath, and as you tear through wave after wave of brain washed cultists…  you start to think about that specifically.  I love killing baddies in games, but in truth…  I am the embodiment of Wrath each time that occurs.  The final fight unfortunately is one of the most frustrating I have ever encountered in a game, largely because it centers around a dog fight.  While I enjoy flying planes in Far Cry 5…  the controls themselves do not lend themselves to aerial combat.  There are a couple of options here…  you can hire one of the townsfolk to be your wing man and let them get the killing shot.  If you are far enough in the game you can buy a heat seeking rocket launcher and take him out that way…  or you can go the route I did and purchase the attack helicopter which is way the hell more maneuverable in the air for fighting.  Thankfully at that point in the game I had a lot of cash and had unlocked the Helicopter shop.

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The best part about the game however is that you get to run around…  if you choose…  with Boomer that dog.  He is so much better than any of the human options when it comes to your partners…  because firstly he alerts you to any trouble that might be ahead.  Secondly he retrieves stuff from the bodies that you kill along the way, meaning that other than cash you don’t have to be quite so concerned about making sure you loot every single body that drops.  You are going to be killing a lot of people in this game and as a result producing copious amounts of bodies that you have to painstakingly loot.  The dog short cuts a lot of that, and unlike some of the other companions he rarely gets in the way of what you are actually trying to accomplish.  The game has a photo mode and I used it in the above shot to focus in on the good boy that I am regularly running around with.

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I think the most interesting thing about the game so far is how familiar it feels to me.  I grew up in very humble and very rural roots.  I came from a town of 2000 and graduated in a class of 60…  while that was Oklahoma and this is Montana…  there is a shocking bit of detail that stays exactly the same no matter what rural environment you are traversing.  The people remind me so much of people that I knew growing up, so I have to give massive credit to Ubisoft for getting that feel completely dead on.  Even the cultist thing feels a little familiar as we had a local Want-To-Be-Megachurch Preacher that paid kids to attend church service in the form of scholarships.  The amount you got was a formula based upon how many services you attended and how many other kids you recruited to the fold.  So sure it wasn’t a dooms day cult, but it felt no less creepy.  Essentially I relate to this game and setting way more than I ever have in the Far Cry settings, and I am looking forward to getting home tonight and starting another area.

Great game so far, but unfortunately given the release window for Anthem of February 22nd…  I doubt I will be playing New Dawn the sequel when it releases on February 15th.  Tomorrow I am probably going to talk some about the games that are coming out in 2019 that I am looking forward to… but if you want a preview we talked about it at length during the podcast this weekend.