Boosts and Buffs

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I’ve officially reached the point in the Diablo 3 season where I can straight up wreck at least early torment content, which means…  I can boost my friends.  Last night I snagged Byx, Ammo and Sol and drug them through a few Nephilim rifts until they came out level 70s on the other side.  In truth I am rather horrible at boosting people…  I tend to overclear because my tank instincts kick in and I desperately want to protect my fledgling charges.  So that means that the individual Rifts probably take way longer than they should.  However it also means if you are being boosted by me…  you are not only walking away with levels but also with a sizable amount of cash and gems.  Sadly the loot is functionally meaningless until you hit 70.  However since Byx was way ahead of the rest of the crew I am pretty certain she walked with some decent loot as well.  The funny thing with writing about how much I was not feeling this season…  is that it actually made me really want to play.  The moment I posted the blog post I logged in and did a solo greater rift before heading into work that day, and each night since I have at least spent a little bit of time playing.  After the boostery, I connected with Grace and we did a couple of rounds of bounties since we were both in desperate need of the crafting materials.  I technically have everything that I need gear wise apart from one legendary gem, and a single ring….  but everything could be improved by getting some ancients which have been in short supply thus far.

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After playing some Diablo 3 on the laptop, I decided to go upstairs and check out the latest patch for Mass Effect Andromeda.  All in all there have been a lot of subtle improvements to the way that the character models look.  In truth I think there are a bunch of improvements to the game in general because the worlds just feel better looking.  This might of course be the placebo effect, and because they said they patched…. it is making my brain desperately want to see the improvements.  However at the very least my Ryder and all of the characters I am interacting with seem more normal looking.  The Botox face is largely gone… and the fully open surprise eyes seems to be gone as well.  I am pretty pleased with the results because this little bit of window dressing has fixed a lot of my gripes about the game.  On the other side of the equation on non-cosmetic changes… the general inventory increases are also amazing.  I feel like I am no longer needing to deconstruct items in the middle of a planet rather than waiting for me to be back on my ship.  Similarly the ability to tab out of the flight animations while in a solar system makes that just work better, and I am wondering if there is some option I can check in the settings to default to disabled so I don’t need to hit tab.

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I put a few hours in last night and in truth probably played about thirty minutes longer than I should have… for my sanity… and my sleep patterns.  I really like this game and It definitely is up in the game of the year territory for me.  The problem there is…  so is Zelda Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn…  and all of those were released in the first quarter of the year.  I guess in a way I am extremely thankful for all of these games, because with the way the real world is turning out…  this seems to be the golden age of escapism.  It is comforting to be able to lose yourself in a deep and rich game, and completely forget that the world is apparently on fire and someone replaced the fire extinguisher with a can of easy cheese.  There are just so damned many quests that I have picked up and that are littering my inventory that I need to spend one entire night trying to burn those down before I move forward.  I will probably always be grossly over-leveled for the content as a result… but whatever I have my trust Rank V Pioneer Gun.  I just gotta say that once I stumbled onto the weapons provided by the DLC…  or more so I stumbled onto how to GET the DLC items…  I fell in love with the Auto Rifle.  Yes I keep giving mine bizarre names because I’ve had to craft each after the first one…. but whatever it is a freaking awesome gun.  More importantly… Ashgar can be happy that I have finally moved on past the Avenger.

The Switch and Zelda

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I have officially now joined the cult of the switch.  For a brief period of time…  probably fifteen minutes if we are going to be honest about it…  Amazon had switch units in stock for prime members only.  Now that sounds like an exclusive club or something… but quite literally everyone I know that shops Amazon regularly….  is a prime member.  I had said for awhile that if I ever stumbled across one I would pick it up immediately, and I guess in my mind limited availability over Amazon was the same thing.  What is even more shocking however is that I ordered it at 2pm on a Thursday and by some quirk or time travel it was waiting for me when I got home Friday afternoon.  As a result I got to spend a good chunk of the weekend playing with it and fiddling with the various console modes.  So far the honestly most comfortable mode for me to play is with the joycons detached and the little bumper things that it comes with attached.  This allows me to just chill with each arm resting on whatever is comfortable be it leg, lap or the arm of a chair.  All in all I am really damned happy with the unit, and it feels extremely good especially in “handheld” mode.  I spent some time Saturday afternoon hanging out in the back yard playing Zelda Breath of the Wild and it was glorious.  The switch is essentially everything that I assumed the Wii U would be for me…  and probably was if not the for the fact that the gamepad has such an insanely short range from the base unit.

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The thing I want to talk about this morning however is Zelda itself.  There was a side conversation that happened over the weekend, of all places on facebook about switch ownership and the limited number of games.  One friend mentioned that if there was ever a game worth spending $400 to play that it was Breath of the Wild.  Then another friend chimed in that folks have said this a lot, but that no one has really been able to put into words why this game is special given the extremely stiff competition.

I keep hearing comments like this but still don’t understand what is so special about it. No one seems able to capture that in words. My skeptical self thinks it has a lot to do with Nintendo nostalgia, but that is just based on a lack of understanding of what is so compelling about it.

So as a result I think I am going to attempt this morning to put it into words why I feel this game is so special.  For me at least it is not really a nostalgia thing given that in truth I have never been that big of a fan of the 3D Zelda games.  I’ve beaten Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and Windwaker and while they were okay…  they were not even close to dethroning A Link to the Past as my favorite Zelda series game.  I never really could put my finger on it, but something always felt off about them.  For me a huge factor of what made Zelda fun was that I had this huge world to explore, and barring that I had the right items at the right time…  it felt like I could pretty much go anywhere.  Granted in the 2D era this meant a bunch of tiles stacked side by side… which in truth was pretty limited…  but in my mind it absolutely Felt open.  When it comes to the 3D Zeldas… they have always felt like I was much more limited on my range of motion and where I could actually go based on how far I had progressed in the game.

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With Breath of the Wild, the sense of exploration I felt in the original games is there in full.  While I am similarly limited by my stamina meter, or weather effects like cold or rain… the game feels completely open to me to go wherever I think I can survive.  There is a certain thrill of discovery when you find a new shrine and figure out the puzzle that exists within.  That was the part I liked of the 3D Zelda “temples” is the fact that each one of them had some gimmick that had to be learned in order to progress through them… and in Breath of the Wild this same idea is contained with 120 of them.  That is so much more of that element that I really enjoyed in past games, and is only improved by the fact that no one in games is going to explain to you where all of them are.  Sure there are easy ones to find, that are right off the path or that serve as the teleport for a given town.  However most of them involve getting out and roaming around, to try and find where they have been hidden into the landscape.

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Similarly there is the Korok Seed mini game, and from what I understand there are 900 of them scattered throughout the world.  Most of them involve noticing something going on in the landscape and then interacting with the elements in a certain way to reveal the Korok that is hiding.  For example one of the very early ones involves diving off of a cliff into a ring of lily pads that are sitting in the water below.  It is the sort of thing that as you walk by you notice…  “that looks odd” and then when you start to investigate you try different things until you ultimately reveal another Korok.  There is a challenge with Open World games to both allow open space to exist… but make that open space be meaningful and that is one of the things that Breath of the Wild really succeeds at.  Not to mention that the Korok mini game is charming as hell as you keep bringing more seeds to Hestu for his Maracas.  There are honestly an awful lot of elements of this game that just come across as charming.  Once you leave the “starter zone” for lack of a better term you find out that the world is not really as “post apoc” as it seems at the start.  Folks have learned how to survive and often times thrive in a world where destruction is looming over it, and each of the people scattered has a story to tell and hints to be given about other things happening in the world.

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It is extremely hard to put into words what it is about this game that is so damned appealing.  Even as I sit down with the purpose to do just that, I am finding myself lacking the necessary vocabulary to really make it make sense.  I have plenty of problems with the game, namely the way the weapon durability system worlds.  However that said I like it enough to have just purchased a second copy and completely restarted the game after getting a decent ways into it on the Wii U.  There really are not a lot of games that you could say the same for, with the big two that are standing out in my head that I own multiple copies of being Destiny and Castlevania Symphony of the Night.  There is an awful lot going on in the game… but I have this constant feeling that I have only barely scratched the surface of its complexity.  I think that more than anything is what keeps drawing me to it.  Its like this grand puzzle that, as I solve one little bit of it… keeps exposing new areas for me to explore and then ultimately solve as well.  Its not just that I need to go to a new land and vanquish a new evil… but as I wander across that land I am constantly finding myself needing to learn a brand new mechanical vocabulary to survive its trials.  In some ways the puzzles in this game remind me of the way the ones from Thomas Was Alone felt… where each time it increments on the information you already have but keeps pushing the boundary to incorporate new elements and challenges.

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Unfortunately I am not entirely certain I have even begun to scratch the surface of the job I set out to do.  Which of course was the put into words what made this game worth spending so much time and effort on playing.  There are so many great games out there right now like Horizon Zero Dawn and Mass Effect Andromeda…  both of which I am playing quite a bit of.  However I still find myself drawn to keep venturing into Hyrule on a regular basis and keep figuring out how the world ticks.  I can’t really say if this game is better than that game… because so far I have been enjoying all of them.  I also feel like my attention isn’t a zero sum game, and that all of these games are worthy of it.  I will say that Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild is doing something different.  It feels different from the previous 3D Zelda offerings, but at the same time very different from the traditional Open World model.  Some of these differences are frustrating, but at the same time the quirks are also what makes the game itself feel extremely fresh.  I will say having played it on both the Switch and Wii U now…  that there is just something about the Switch that makes it all feel better.  Its like playing a game on the platform it was designed for…. and playing it when it got ported to another system.  Some of the things that felt awkward on the Wii U just seem to work beautifully on the Switch.  So if you have not already ventured forth into Hyrule… I would probably suggest just waiting until you ultimately get your hands on a Switch.  Is this game worth buying a console for?  I obviously thought so, but in part I also bought the console knowing that there are always a high number of Nintendo games that I want to play on every platform they create.  I’ve thought my purchase of the Wii U was well worth it, in spite of the fact that it never quite worked the way I wanted it to.  All of that said… I don’t think the Switch is worth the markups or crazy “bundle” deals that places are trying to direct users towards.  Just wait for the base unit to come back in stock, and I am hoping with the release of Mario Kart in a few weeks that there are going to be a whole lot more units available.

Dangerous Water

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I am pretty sure I am coming down with something because I have felt fairly lousy since the weekend.  It is the sort of indiscriminate miserable that just makes doing anything a complete trudge.  It also feels like I have spent more time searching for something to play than actually playing anything.  Then things happen like the fact that for some reason I booted up Bioshock Remastered?  I got the game free for owning all of the other Bioshock content, and I installed it some time ago thinking it might be nice to play back through this game.  Then the election happened…  and the character of Andrew Ryan felt a little too on the nose for me personally.  So as a result it has sat unloved as a desktop icon…  waiting on someone to give it the time of day and click on it.  For whatever reason last night I did just that…  and apparently the game defaults to running at 4k.  Did you know that 4k PNG screenshots are almost 15 mb a piece?  I didn’t but now do…  I have lots of them that I will ultimately need to drop down if I ever hope to use them.  Something else that I did not know is that if you have a USB Controller connected to your system…  the game doesn’t seem to be willing to give you a mouse and keyboard option.  So as a result I played through on the Xbox 360 controller I leave hooked up to my gaming machine.  I didn’t get super far before the whim changed, but enough to remember how much I really love this game.  I do find it extremely odd that you can’t really sight any of the weapons though….  that is not something I remembered but I guess it makes sense given that your alternate fire is whatever plasmid you happen to have equipped.  Personally I still think the game looks gorgeous, and artistically it has some of the most memorable visual sequences and staging.

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When I bounced I ultimately did so in the direction of Mass Effect Andromeda, and opted to finish up Hvarl.  The weird part about this is that I thought I had not actually really scratched the surface of this planet.  However it seems like in the grand scheme of things is is maybe half the length of Voeld.  The weird part about this is it seems like the last thing that I waited to do was actually go vault hunting.  I am not exactly sure if you can do this early however since  the actual access to the vault and the second half of the map only work if you happen to be on specific quests.  So far this seems like the most “on rails” planet given that things need to happen in a specific sequence to end up leading to the end of it.  The planet itself reminds me an awful lot of Dromund Kaas from SWTOR, with a much more wild jungle area.  In the grand scheme I did not like this planet nearly as much as I did Voeld…  and also it doesn’t feel nearly as satisfying to move on past it either.  I think the biggest part of this for me is the complete and total lack of Nomad action, which makes sense given how dense the foliage is.  That said I did not really realize how much of my enjoyment planet side is related to driving my Nomad around until I hit this planet.  We talked about it on twitter yesterday… but want to buy a Nomad racing DLC for this game.

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Towards the end of the night I moved forward in the story and started the world of Kadara, which happens to be populated by a bunch of the Exiles off the Nexus.  Functionally you can think of it as Omega by any other name…  except instead of a slew of interesting Aliens…  you have a bunch of asshole humans instead.  After Desert World, Ice World and Night World…  I was happy to move on to something that looked relatively normal.  You know other than the whole acid water thing going on…  and toxic regions that damage your suit similar to the last few worlds we have been on.  Something tells me that I am ultimately going to work on terraforming the shit out of this world first thing so that I can enjoy the ride more freely.  I’ve barely just scratched the surface but I gotta say… fighting Nexus outlaws is way more enjoyable than any of the enemy types I have encountered to date in this game.  I mean I love the Remnant and it is always fun to kill Kett, but the outlaws here feel much more varied.  Especially when you factor in that apparently there is a turf war going on, and the two factions are gunning for each other as well as you.  I am sort of longing for a “kill everyone and settle the planet” option but I am not likely going to see that.

 

C is for Captain

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I thought I would start things off with a humorous glitch this morning that started happening last night.  Any time I would go into the bar and get a drink, the glass was missing and would instead get this goofy empty hand sequence.  Secondly I got chastised the other day for not saying that there would be potential spoilers in my blog post… so lets get that one out of the way.  I am not intentionally going into full on story mode, but I also am too sleepy to probably comb my post adequately for spoilers.  So there might be some, especially since I am realizing that my definition of a spoiler is vastly different than the definition of some folks.  For me a spoiler is generally a big plot point, or what happens when you make this or that decision.  Whereas I never would have thought the fact that you end up on an ice planet, or the fact that you wind up getting a new race that has been featured in pretty much every trailer for the last bit would be classified as spoilers.  So be forewarned, your mileage may vary.  To be truthful this is probably a blanket statement about every post that I make.  While I generally try not to spoiler larger plot points, the fact that I am writing a blog every morning and need constant fodder means that ultimately details about games will come out.  Hell the simple fact that I am posting a constant flood of screenshots is probably spoilery in itself.

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I spent a fair amount of Sunday playing Mass Effect Andromeda, and lets me honest…  I spent MOST of that time wandering around Not-Hoth.  The way the planets work in this game is a massive trap for someone like me who likes to roam around aimlessly and complete mini objectives.  I generally like ice zones and ice planets… and while there was a huge segment of Hoth in SWTOR that was sheer drudgery…  I still loved it.  So the fact that I am wandering around in a giant all terrain vehicle on gorgeous ice flows exploring nifty things I see off on the horizon…  that is definitely in my wheelhouse.  I did however take time out of my busy schedule of killing remnant and kett camps to move the story forward, and unlock the vault on Voeld.  This allowed me to set down my second colonial base, that was given a name there is no way in the hell I am ever going to remember.  I mean I realize that they couldn’t give me the ability to name these settlements because voiced dialog lines….  but at least make them easy to remember.  I mean they all have nifty lore nuggets when the colonial governor explains why they named the town whatever they named it…  but there is zero point zero chance I am going to remember any of it.  I may or may not have an issue with remembering the names of things…  and if you have ever listened to AggroChat there is a lot of me explaining what I am talking about… and then Tam or Ash coughing up the name of whatever it is.

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The biggest takeaway from the weekend… is just how much in general I like my crew.  I am even starting to like Liam, who I guess at the first I was sort of expecting to be the Corso Riggs of the crew.  There is something I like about each and every one of them, and I guess that is sort of the hallmark of a good Bioware game.  The biggest surprise for me however is how I have ended up playing with Jaal.  At face value he did not exactly seem like I character I would want to run around with, but did anyways because I kept exploring functionally his homeworlds.  However over time I have come to actually like the Cat Squid Whatever quite a lot.  I am however having weird flashbacks to the Selkath and Manaan  when interacting with Aya and the Angara.  In truth there is a lot of this game that feels thematically reminiscent of Knights of the Old Republic.  I mean functionally we are unlocking ancient tech similar to that of the content leading up to the Star Forge, and while not exactly the same it feels strangely similar to me.  I think in part I have spent so much time working on the two spin off Angara worlds because otherwise it would feel really freaking wrong when we started plunking colonies down on these planets.  If I had not done a bunch of things to fix core problems and to build a giant freaking bridge between the Angara and the species of the Milky Way… it would feel super invadery when I started setting up shop on their worlds.

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My growing take away however is that while this game is full of glitches and all sorts of strange shit going on…  that underneath the lack of polish is a really solid experience.  I struggled at length to get into Dragon Age Inquisition… because I just didn’t care about the story that was happening and in truth many of the characters that were part of it.  That has not been the case with Mass Effect Andromeda.  While the narrative feels a little ill fitting at time… and “Ryder” feels more forced at times…  I still very much feel like I am my own character.  I can tweak the dialog just enough to give my own spin on the conversation.  While it doesn’t seem to have some of the same lasting effects as going renegade used to…  there are still some of these moments scattered throughout the game play where a quick time event alters the course of the story.  I think what is missing is the asshole Ryder option, similar to asshole Shepard…  and that was something I never played.  I could never bring myself to go down those dialog options because I just don’t have that level of cruelty in me…  even if being enacted upon non-existent people.  All of that said… I am enjoying the hell out of this game.

Not-Hoth

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I don’t have a whole hell of a lot to talk about this morning, in part because I had a pretty rough night.  It was one of those evenings where I started to inexplicably run out of steam around 9 pm.  Then when I went to bed… instead of falling asleep peacefully as it seemed would be the case I wound up tossing and turning until 12:30.  The other futile thing that I attempted was running Mass Effect Andromeda on my laptop.  Granted my laptop is not that old nor is it that far behind the curve.  It is a 4000 series i7 mobile processor and contains GeForce 960M graphics…  which I thought would largely be sufficient to run the game at a reasonable resolution.  However that is very much not the case and in order to get a decent frame rate I have to functionally run everything on low settings.  A good chunk of the night I was attempting to run around on Havarl, which is a ground clutter dense world… and a relatively dark world…  making the less than optimal set up feel even more so.  Instead of roaming around like I actually wanted to….  I wound up going after the objective with a laser focus and getting the hell out of there.

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Which leads me to Voeld… aka “Not-Hoth” an icy world that legends tell didn’t used to be so.  That has such cold that it taxes my suits life support and forces me to ping pong around the map going between sheltered Daars and Forward Bases.  This also has me fighting way more Kett which is a good thing… because in truth I kinda felt bad killing the evil Angara.  Whatever the case I did not really feel like I made much progress last night.  Sure I landed on the homeworld on a new species and started running errands for them…  but the lo-fi version of the game kept me from enjoying it nearly as much as I would have liked.  For running on what seems to be a souped up version of the Dragon Age Inquisition engine… it certainly requires a lot more in the way of system resources.  That has been the weirdest part about this console generation…  it doesn’t seem like we have hit the plateau yet.  During the PS3/Xbox 360 era of console games there was a clear point where PC power definitely outstripped the games that were being built and ultimately ported from the consoles.  However with the PS4/Xbox One games… it feels like we have yet to hit that pint and these games are still rather taxing on hardware pending you want them to look reasonably decent.  I am sure the PS4 Pro/Scorpio machinations will only serve to increase the ceiling of this process as well.

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So the end result is that laptop gaming does not feel nearly as viable now as it once did.  Were this a Steam game I could simply stream it from my upstairs machine and life would be golden.  However given that it is marooned in Origin land, that seems less viable.  There are of course tricks that you can do to make this work under steam in home streaming, but I attempted most of these during my many attempts to get into Dragon Age Inquisition and it never really worked as well as I hoped it would.  Either I would get a black screen while streaming, or the game would simply get stranded and stay open forever on my gaming desktop.  I wish there was a viable platform agnostic streaming option, but none of the remote desktop applications are really designed for high frame rate/high resolution streaming.  I want to be able to play the game 1080p and as close to 60 fps as I can get…. over my AC band wireless connection and so far Steam in home streaming is the only thing optimized enough to pull that off.  Splashtop works fairly well for mobile device resolutions, but not for the desktop.  In any case Mass Effect may simply be an upstairs online game for me, and I will be limited to something else while chilling on the sofa.

Turning the Corner

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I think last night I reached the point where I have turned the corner on Mass Effect Andromeda.  By that I mean I think I have finally gotten used to the animations just enough to stop seeing them anymore.  I mean I still see them… but they just don’t really bother me anymore because I am not invested enough in the characters and the story to stop caring.  I’ve talked about why Mass Effect 2 was my favorite in the series, and how it allowed me to go on smaller away missions and largely avoid really moving the story forward when I did’t want to.  Andromeda gives me this in droves, and I spent most of the night last night working on minor story threads.  I tracked down a Saboteur, determined the guilt or innocence of a Turian on trial for the first murder on the station, and helped  determine if an official was “on the take”.  I like roaming around planetside and exploring, and I absolutely love the way the Nomad vehicle feels.  I was never really a huge fan of the hammerhead or the mako, but this time they seemed to flip all of the switches in the right direction and give me a vehicle that I actually want to use.

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When I play Mass Effect I almost exclusively use Assault Rifles and always have.  Traditionally I just stick to the M-8 Avenger until I get something grossly overpowered later in the game.  However I have already found something I like using better.  The M-37 Falcon I is something that I am not really sure how it can be classified as an Assault Rifle.  In truth it is a grenade launcher… and my god does it pack a punch.  So long as my aim is true, I can largely one shot all smaller “trash” enemies and two or three shot the bigger shielded ones.  The only issue however is that it has a very small magazine (which is going to annoy the shit out of Squirrel that they call a clip… its a thing of his) and has a pretty hefty wait time between shots.  All of this is something that I can forgive given just how hard it its and how cool it sounds when you fire it.  I ended up picking this up on the Nexus in pre-colonization state and I am absolutely loving it.  Another thing that I am digging about the game is how you can find deployment pylons scattered around the map that let you change weapons and crew members planet side.  I did not actually use this weapon for a bit, because I was not certain I would like it… and had no clue I could use the pylons if I changed my mind.

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I have a freaking pet Pyjack on the ship.  That in itself is enough to make me love the game, and it roams freely which is awesome…  because I was partially afraid it would end up in a cage in my quarters. Speaking of roaming…  I both love and hate the fact that the crew roams keeps moving around the ship.  One of the hallmarks of Mass Effect is the need to constantly keep checking in on your crew because they tell you story tidbits, or just have commentary about what you just did.  So each time I land back on the ship I have a habit of wanting to go around and check in on everyone to see if there are any new story options.  The fact that the crew roams aimlessly through the ship makes it extremely challenging to mentally make sure you have actually found everyone.  As far as crew members go… I honestly thought I would be annoyed by Peebee but have ended up loving her.  Similarly I was not sure what I would think of Cora but also similarly really like the character… and she has become one of my go to fighters for missions.  Vetra is awesome and I have only recently started taking her planet side (largely because I could not figure out how to drop Liam early on).  I like Drak as a character but have not really done much with him.  So far the only crew member that I have zero interest in is Liam.  He is a poor replacement for Garrus and will never be my best friend…  no matter how much the game really wants him to be.  As far as the other crew members…  they all seem way more hollow than the previous generation.  I actually liked going and talking to Joker or listening to Donnelly and Daniels banter back and forth.  As it stands now I just don’t care at all about Gil, Suvi, or Kallo.  That said however I do go talk to Dr Lexi at every opportunity because she is freaking awesome.  In any case… I feel like I have gotten acclimatized to the game and can now enjoy it properly.

Going to Space

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I did not in fact stay up last night and play Andromeda, but man was it hard not to.  Over the weekend I got to play some of the early access trial and to be honest this game at least in the early minutes of game play is exactly what I liked about the Mass Effect series.  However first let me talk about the trial a bit before I go into that.  You got the trial through being an Origin Access subscriber.  Being in Origin Access gives you a discount on game purchases… that is roughly about what a month of the subscription is so it was honestly a no brainer to do that given that the discount functionally paid for itself.  Through this it unlocked a 10 hour trial of the game… which seemed weird but I figured there was no way I would actually play all ten hours.  So I pre-loaded the Trial and the game and wandered off on my mini vacation.  Friday night when I got back into town, I sat down on the sofa and booted the game on my laptop, fiddling around with the character creator before my wife suggested it was bed time.  I agreed and exited the game, expecting to have 9.5 hours worth of game play waiting on me.  While the game exited completely and was missing from my hotbar…  it was apparently still resident in memory somehow and Origin sat there ticking away my trial time while I slept.  When I got up the next morning, ate breakfast and finally settled in to do some gaming… I was extremely disappointed to find out that according to Origin I had completed my trial time.

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At the suggestions of Ashgar I tried using Origin customer support, because apparently in the past he had good luck with it.  That was not really the case for me, because firstly the live chat feature did not appear to be working and instead of telling me that on screen while I was waiting for chat to load…  it sent me an email telling me that to resolve my issues I needed to call the support center.  That is a huge strike against any customer service, if I actually have to call and talk to someone….  especially given that I have a hard enough time explaining my problem without having to also attempt to decode a vastly different accent and speech pattern than that of my own.  They had the option to ask for the support to call you, whenever someone was available and I did this…  but knew immediately things were going to not go well when they asked me to get on the machine that had Origin installed.  They started pushing me through steps to verify that Origin was installed…  without actually listening to the issue that I was having.  After about thirty minutes of working through someones flip file of instructions I finally got them to listen to the real issue, which was that Mass Effect did not fully close… and it ate up every last bit of my trial time.  They gave me back 5 hours of trial time, which was frustrating given that I should have had 9.5 hours….  but after the frustrations I was ready to just settle for anything.  Side note… if you ever do an Origin trial… make sure the game exits completely and open task manager to kill anything that looks connected to it.  I even went so far as to kill origin itself and the memory resident helper program.  This isn’t just a me thing because apparently the exact same bug happened to Tam yesterday and cost him whatever remained of his trial.

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The next big bullet point is that the real fun for me with Mass Effect is leading a team and running missions.  As a result my favorite Mass Effect game to date is the second one, because it had the most “Star Trek Away Team” moment, where we landed on a planet to assess what was going on and end up stumbling into adventure.  The story of the series is excellent, but it isn’t necessarily the hook for me.  Similarly the romance elements are interesting enough, but definitely not why I play the game and feel more like a mini game within the game.  I feel all of this is important because lots of different people play Mass Effect for completely different reasons.  So far… the game is scratching all of my itches and giving me a significantly better combat system to improve the feeling of exploring the galaxy.  What I always wanted was a game that offered the same sort of tactical missions that the second game had…. with the ability to literally land on any world that the first game had…  and it seems like maybe Andromeda is at least heading in that direction.  Granted I have only just done the intro mission and am now exploring the first tutorial planet, but so far so good.

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Please note there are absolutely some detractors to this game.  Firstly even though it was the ammunition for some horrific bullshit…  and I do not want to have any part of that…  the animations are bad.  It is no so much that the animations are bad themselves… it just feels like the rigging that attaches animations to the models is somehow faulty.  Sometimes it is perfectly fine, and other times…..  it is inhuman and creepy as your character duck walk runs through an area.  The truth is though that this is nothing new and there have been countless other games with model and animation issues out of the gate… and I am hoping with additional patching this will go away.  If not… I am hoping that someone releases an unofficial patch or mod that fixes it since playing on the PC gives me access to a bunch of these…  I am looking at you play dough hair from Dragon Age Inquisition.  Given that the models and animations are not why I am playing the game,  I can look past them and get on with the fit bits of game play but they are most definitely immersion breaking.

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The other big issue I have is the new dialog system.  No I am not talking the lack of red and blue options but more the way that the game just zooms you into conversation without sending you to a secondary interface.  Situations like this happen where I am talking to someone but doing so in an extremely awkward fashion that occludes most of the character to character interactions.  A lot of the problems I have experienced with animation screw ups have happened while exiting the dialog system, so I am wondering if the two are connected.  In the above image I snapped the shot just after exiting dialog and there is some weird layer separation going on with the colors.  If you look at some of the edges you can really see it… but it is as though the RGB layers are askew.  It fixes itself with time but during the dialog itself it feels like my eyes are out of focus.  I don’t necessarily mourn the loss of Vanguard and Renegade the way most people seem to… considering I rarely if ever took the renegade option.  Like sure… if I was tracking down a bad guy I would sometimes take the renegade option and shoot them in the head, but in moment to moment character interaction I am at my core a hero type.  I find it damned near impossible to play a Sith or true dark sider in SWTOR… and that same thing spills over into Mass Effect.

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All in all I have enjoyed the game quite a bit, in spite of its faults and am looking forward to getting home tonight and roaming the Andromeda galaxy.  Ash, Tam and I are I think going to give the multiplayer a spin and in theory I got enough freebie packs that allow me to create something resembling a character load out that I like.  I did not go with the super extra deluxe version that included some boosters, largely because multiplayer was not near the thing for me as it was my friends.  However I am totally down for giving it a proper whirl.  What I want to see however is more of these worlds and what exactly I can do to fix them.  Mass Effect Andromeda already has me in its grip, and I don’t think it is going to really lose me any time soon.  While I acknowledge there are issues, I am just taking a low sodium approach to it and realizing that there is a lot of good there that happens to cater to my very specific interests.

Failed Intentions

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Last night I had every intention of playing the Mass Effect Andromeda trial, however that did not actually happen.  It of course needed to install, and one of the things about Final Fantasy XIV is that when something is thrashing the hard drive…  like a game download it becomes nigh unplayable.  I’ve seen many games that are cpu bound, and even more than a graphics card bound…  but FFXIV is the first game I have played ever that was truly hard drive bound.  In theory I am guessing this is a side effect of needing to run on systems like the PS3 where there are simply not that many system resources, so instead of loading a bunch of stuff in memory the game is constantly caching bite sized chunks of the world.  The end result works extremely well, and is probably why the game seems to be able to run on literally anything.  However it also means that last night while Mass Effect was installing I could not partake of my most common PC diversion…  chain running Palace of the Dead.  So instead I decided to filter off to the bedroom to “play a little Zelda while the game installed” and wound up playing until midnight.  I said this over twitter the other day and I will repeat it again…  that I feel like it is a testament to just how damned good this game is that I have very serious issues with certain aspects of it and still find myself constantly playing it.

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The thing that I find absolutely amazing about it is how well it supports my “oooh a piece of candy” approach to most games.  I am not following any semblance of a pattern in exploring this world and the game seems completely fine with that.  I feel like I have barely scratched the first three areas… and then found myself wandering into Zora’s Domain last night and following that chain of events.  A good chunk of the night was spent trying to unlock towers….  only to find out that several of them are at least theoretically blocked by Guardians.  As of yet I really do not have a good answer for them…  and they are sort of a dalek-esc death force as they try and EXTERMINATE!  There is nothing quite like the change in music when a Guardian has locked onto you, because you know that any minute you are going to see the target on your back and you are frantically looking for anything that could serve as cover.  The other thing I really don’t have an answer to is spike traps, because I found a shrine in my extremely sporadic travels that was completely blocked by spikes… and the earlier answer was to get up high enough and glide down.  The problem this time is there really was nothing to actually glide down from…  so I am guessing that is simply not a puzzle I can solve at the moment.  The core of my gaming focus seems to be on finding shrines, beating shrines… and then going to find more shrines.  I literally was caught in this loop until midnight when I realized I probably should get some sleep considering I am driving to Dallas today.

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Based on the results of last weekends podcast…  there really is no way I can put into words why this game works for me.  Any time I attempt to explain it I get bogged down in the grindy aspects of it, and the constant hunt for new weapons.  However there is a core game here that is really damned amazing.  Once you remove the durability problems and the wonky gyro puzzles…  you are left with the core Zelda game I always wanted.  I feel about this world the same way as I felt about the original Legend of Zelda on the Nintendo.  It was this big open space with all sorts of mysteries to unlock.  Its the little things… like when you lift up a boulder and see an insect or frog scurry out from under it… that you can then catch and use to make potions.  The world feels vast and empty at times… but it really isn’t.  Every copse of trees is placed there with purpose and reason… and many hold puzzles that unlock one of the around 900 korok seeds that are available.  This is if nothing else a game about exploration and trying things until you can figure out how to make something work.  The shrines are essentially the ultimate form of this expression, and as I have gotten deeper into the game… they are no longer the “use this one effect” style and more “chain everything you know how to do in different ways” effect.  There was a puzzle last night where I had to use ice blocks to get objects out of the water… and throw them into a metal basket that I could then lift in the air with my magnetic ability and use the wall to tip the basket over and dump them onto a target.  It took me quite a bit to realize that was my end goal and how to maneuver all of the elements into place to get it to work…  and I found it an overall awesome experience.  The part that I find interesting is how much I don’t mind the constant “Game Over” screen, because there is almost always a save just around the corner from wherever you happened to die… and you can get right back into the action almost immediately.

Functionally this month has not gone at all like planned… I expected to be spending all of my time in Horizon Zero Dawn… and instead I seem to be logging way more hours in Zelda at the moment.  I also did not expect to be feverishly searching for a switch… with the realization that if I find one I will ultimately start over from scratch again.  In any case I need to wrap this up and get on the road.  Just a heads up to my loyal readers, I will not be doing a morning post tomorrow and instead be doing some sort of an evening post when I finally get home.  Until then I would love to hear your thoughts on Zelda and if it is nearly as sticky for you as it seems to be for me.

Rotational Hell

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Apparently according to Storm I am still logged into Final Fantasy XIV downstairs on the laptop…  so that is something that I am going to have to take care of before I head to work.  I ended up in that state because I had probably the worst Palace of the Dead run I have ever experienced.  Before leaving floor 51 we had to use the rez shrine three times…  because for whatever reason people kept running in to aggro entire rooms worth of mobs at the same time.  Had I been the last one standing I would have just wiped and ended the run.  However I kept trying to pull things out, but since I shifted to being a monk to level that job…  it just wasn’t happening.  So instead I wound up leaving the party and eating the 30 minute debuff that keeps me from queuing for anything else.  At which point I THOUGHT I logged out… and wandered off into the bedroom to play some Zelda, never to actually return.  I am not entirely certain why I find this game so damned compelling.  It is like an unsolved puzzle that I keep going back and fiddling with…  and while I don’t make a lot of progress in any attempt…  I keep plugging along.

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I have however found the absolute bane of my existence.  Firstly the game has a ton of shrines like the one pictured above scattered throughout the country side.  Inside of each is a puzzle that requires you to do something to utilize the various skills and abilities that you have collected to that point.  However there is one shrine type that I am absolutely certain was not designed for Wii U players.  Every so often you encounter these gyroscope gadgets that force you to stop using the Pro Controller and pick up the Wii U Fisher Price Little Tykes Gamepad.  I may be bitter about the Gamepad and its over sold promise of being able to play the console remotely from within your house…  so long as that somewhere is within 5 feet of the base unit.  Anyways the puzzle requires you to rotate the gamepad to solve it…  but it also requires you to do some super contorted angles that make you feel like you are steering a garbage barge down an interstate.  The primary problem however is the fact that when you are playing with the GamePad…  the video feed is ALSO on the game pad.  If I could figure out how to get this to work while holding the tablet but staring at the television I would probably be okayish with this process.  However during these puzzles it seems to always want to put the video feed on the tablet, which means that when I have to flip the tablet upside down or something stupid like that… it also means I have to contort myself in all sorts of bizarre positions so that I can still see the tablet screen.  I’ve completed two of these at this point and hated every minute of it, but I am just assuming these were designed for the much higher fidelity rotational sensors of the switch joycons… and that the Wii U players simply get fucked by an outdated experience.

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The only other real problem that I still have with this game is the durability bullshit.  You have to understand… that I am one of those players that finishes a Final Fantasy game with 500 potions of various kinds because I feel like I need to hold onto them for a moment when I “really need them”.  So when that moment never comes and the final credits roll…  I think why the hell did I hold onto those potions.  That said it is an instinct that I just cannot root out of me, and it is severely effecting my enjoyment of Zelda because I feel like I cannot risk using any weapon that is not complete and total crap…  because I might need it at a later date.  So instead I am using various sticks and clubs while I have a Guardian Sword sitting in my bag just waiting there, begging me to use its awesomeness.  Instead I have that and another awesome looking sword flagged as “for a boss fight” but you can damned well be certain that when said boss fight comes along… I am going to try and defeat them with a bunch of expendable garbage first.  I think part of it is the simple fact that I never quite know exactly when I am going to get my next reasonable weapon.  If there were a swordsmith in one of the towns… then I could at least know that I could keep returning to them and stocking up on good weapons and shift my mindset to farming rupies to pay that upkeep.  So instead I am just stuck in this indecision hell of not knowing when I can and cannot use reasonable weapons for fear that I might be stuck in a bad situation with a bad chock full of worthless crap.

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For a game that causes me so much internal strife… I am constantly amazed that I keep returning to it.  Every time I see the game over screen…  I keep hitting the button and starting again trying to sort out what went wrong during the fight.  This is not a souls game, but I am sort of playing it as though it were.  I still think however this would be a much better experience on the Switch and I am constantly annoyed with myself for not pre-ordering.  I knew this would happen.  I knew that a combination of demand and Nintendo’s piss poor supply chain management would end up with no units available for purchase.  I’ve checked every place I can think to check and now am simply resigned to hope for one of a handful of places to restock, which is supposedly coming mid April.  The other level of hell that I have wandered into… is that I am now trying to collect the Zelda related Amiibos because you can get nifty shit in game for using them once a day.  Those also seem to be completely sold out, and each day at lunch I have been venturing to new places to see if they happen to have any left.  For a game that obviously frustrates me… I cannot put my finger on why I am finding it so damned sticky.  It reminds me of the feeling you have when you are watching a horror film and screaming at the person not to go into the closet…  but also at the same time wanting them to go in…  so you know what is inside the closet.  Zelda Breath of the Wild is a deeply conflicted experience…  but man do I at least on some level deeply love it.

Ballad of Cowboy Ninja

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This weekend largely belonged to Final Fantasy XIV and the brief appearance of the Cowboy Ninja.  One of the huge benefits of leveling through Palace of the Dead is the fact that you end up with a bunch of treasure tokens…  that often times reward awesome cosmetic gear.  Pretty early into my process of pushing the Ninja from 38 to 50 this weekend I stumbled across the above Cowboy hat and from that point out my path was set.  I gathered a bunch of appearance goodies that I had collected from running the dungeon over and over…  namely because my appropriate level gear was a subligar and harness.  The three main appearance items that all came from palace of the dead are of course the Boarskin Survival Hat, Survival Shirt, and the Wind Silk Bottoms which are these bizarro red plaid pants.  Through out the weekend I ran the dungeon wearing this outfit and gathered up a bunch of commendations… I largely believe in appearance alone.  I am still around 25 coms away from my golden magitek mount so… in truth anything I can do to rake them in is a bonus!

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I think another huge factor for getting coms is being talkative in dungeon runs.  While Final Fantasy XIV tends to be a much more friendly experience as a whole than World of Warcraft, it is still a largely quiet one… especially when it comes to grinding Palace of the Dead 51-60 over and over.  Everyone more or less knows their roles and falls silently in place doing them, and I try my best to break up this monotony with some comments here and there.  I always start the dungeon run with a “Hey Folks :)” and finish with some variant of “Thanks for the run. Have a good one!” and then I watch as the coms slowly trickle in.  Sure it is formulaic, but it seems to work…  and the truth is I usually get responses back from the other players which is part of my larger goal of breaking the silence and getting folks interacting.  I mean it is not so formulaic that I have a macro set up or anything…  so there is at least that.  Regardless I hit 50 during Talking Dead last night and started working my way through the Ninja quests.  I had forgotten that I had a full set of high quality level 115 gear sitting in my bank waiting on me, that I picked up while questing my way through Heavensward.  So I also now look like a proper ninja as well.

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The other thing that I spent a significant amount of time playing this weekend was Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  At this point I have made a proper foothold in the world beyond the plateau, and in my travels I met Hestu.  I am pretty sure he is my spirit animal… and all he really wants to do is shake his maracas for people.  Thankfully by the time I encountered him I already had a few seeds to throw his ways, which I got by uncovering the hiding places of some of the Korok.  I still have this very mixed relationship with this game.  On one hand there are a bunch of things that I would love to change…  and on the other hand I just can’t seem to stop playing it.  There are absolutely things that feel needlessly obtuse and arcane…  but by the same token you feel rewarded when you finally figure out how this or that system works.  In many ways it reminds me of when I first set foot into Minecraft and had no clue how to craft anything at all… and simply started throwing things into the crafting bench to see what I might be able to make with it.  Cooking works exactly this way, and while I have no clue how to duplicate some of my efforts…  every now and then I get something truly awesome in the process.

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Another thing that is needlessly arcane is the process of taking screenshots from the Wii U.  For awhile I have known that you can hit home… click Miiverse and save a screenshot through that method.  The problem there is that there is really no way of actually getting at that screenshot other than looking in your album in Miiverse.  I mean you can share it with other people using Miiverse… but is anyone actually using Nintendo’s pseudo social network?  As a blogger I of course want access to the screenshots for the purpose of posting them on this blog, and in order to do that… you have to follow a completely different process.  The process begins much the same as the Miiverse route, but instead after hitting home you bring up your browser and navigate to this address…  i.nintendo.net.  This process will bring you to a “Nintendo Image Share” page that will allow you to connect to Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr and post whatever happens to be on your screen at the moment you bring up the browser.  This in theory works on 3DS as well, but I have yet to test it out.  The images of me in Kakariko Village and of Hestu were snapped in this manor and it seems to work extremely well.  I mean like everything to do with Nintendo it is needlessly complicated… but it works.  As always I configured my Wii U to post to my screenshot twitter account that I have connected to the PS4 as well.  I highly suggest having a secondary account for screenshots… that way you can without feeling bad dump twenty screenshots in a single night.  I do however need to check this out on the 3DS and see if this will finally allow me to get proper screengrabs of the games I am playing there.  How was your weekend?