Wildlands

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It’s Monday morning and I am still struggling from whatever the hell I picked up at Pax South.  For a period of time last week I thought I had started to kick it… so I backed off the over the counter meds and apparently that was a massive fail.  For most of last week I was working on pure adrenaline as we careened headlong towards a super important demo that we had at work for Thursday afternoon.  After that happened… I largely started falling back apart and now even though I tried my best over the weekend to get back on the meds I am still struggling.  I am hoping that today at some point things start to chill out because we have an even more important demo this afternoon.  We are in crazy crunch mode with a big release looming on the all too near horizon, so I know that once I get back in the swing of things I won’t have time to fall apart any further.  So hopefully I can survive once again on adrenaline and caffeine to get me over that finish line when I can well and truly have time to fall apart and be sick.

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Ghost Recon Wildlands was one of those games that I had only been tangentially following.  I remember watching the video when it was announced and thinking that it looked pretty cool.  However I generally don’t really go in for “military fantasy” style games like Call of Duty, where I am an operator in a tangential reality to our own.  Ultimately this is the big reason why Destiny has continued to click for me… but Division fizzled out is because killing monsters will always feel better than killing people.  I knew there was a beta going on this weekend because another friend had been offering invites, which I largely turned down because I thought to myself “I have too many games to play”.  However next thing I know my friend Dallian emails me an invite to the beta on the PC so since I already had the key I figured that I might as well check it out.  I am largely over my frustrations with UPlay because I guess while playing The Division I learned to accept it.  I mean it is still a better interface than Origin…  so that is at least something.  Over the weekend I tried playing the game on both my i7 x99 980 gtx based gaming desktop and my i7 960m based gaming laptop.  In both cases the game performed fairly well…  with the laptop getting 30 fps on medium settings and the desktop getting a predictable 60 fps on high settings.  I will be trying to remember to caption the source of each screenshot, since I took some from both.

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As far as the game itself…  well to be truthful it plays a lot like most of these games do.  Once you take the setting into account and the fact that you are playing a third person game instead of a first person game…  I found it largely indistinguishable from Farcry.  You roam the world, taking on baddies while collecting resources for your faction of choice… so that you can then unlock upgrades.  The primary difference being that there seemed to be far less story… and way more open world sandbox than a Farcry game.  You are encouraged to go interrogate people.. but largely that just makes new blips show up on your map of where to find resources.  What I went into the game hoping I would find…  is The Division but in a single player fighting the drug cartels skin.  There are moments where it absolutely feels that way, especially considering that an awful lot of the sound effects when you secure something come straight from the sound effects we are used to hearing in Division.  Where the game excels however is in the use of the drone mechanic, that which it largely feels like a flying camera…  gives you a nice tactical advantage going into fights.  If you are fast and good at spotting targets you can mark all of the hostiles in an area ahead of a fight and take them one one by one in a semi-stealth manner.  I spent a lot of time sniping with my suppressed SMG, because ironically that allowed me to kill things without anyone noticing…  whereas my sniper rifle drew instant attention.

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The other odd thing about the game is the fact that for me personally… my squad existed for one purpose… to rez me when I got a little over zealous.  There was never a fight that I went into where I felt like they were an actual benefit and made the encounter easier.  They largely served as decoys to draw fire away from my position.  What I did find myself missing however is the cover mechanic from The Division.  There were so many places where I really needed to hug a wall and duck around a corner to get the shot… and I found that completely lacking.  Maybe I simply did not find the correct keybinds to hold to cover… but whatever the case it was something I was expecting to wound up missing.  The other complaint I had about the game is that it definitely feels like a console first/pc afterthought experience.  Now moment to moment gameplay and firefights are awesome on the PC, and I found it nice and easy to whittle my way through incoming hostiles.  Where it falls down however is that none of the vehicles felt like you could reasonably control them with a mouse and keyboard.  While driving something as simple as a jeep I found myself wildly veering from ditch to ditch as I tried desperately to wild around mountainside roads.  It is in fact another game about driving crappy vehicles on even crappier roads… and the shockingly even crappier keyboard and mouse controls make this an extremely frustrating experience.

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laptop screenshot

I am largely placing this game in the “it might be fun” bucket, but it is definitely not a preorder sort of situation for me.  The demo however really wants you to preorder, in fact it is constantly prompting you to do so.  The truth is like most open world games… you spend an awful lot of time wandering through fields full of absolutely nothing.  There are vast open spaces of nothing of any consequence that lay between the small bins of things that might be useful.  When you start running missions, rather than roaming aimlessly like I do… you spend an awful lot of time retracing areas that you have already been to as you operate out of specific hub locations.  Where the game excels however is in town-centric firefights, with the ability to duck inside of buildings and avoid guards… then pick them off at the most opportune time.  There is a larger village that you encounter pretty early that is really fun, especially if you allow the Blancos to call in reinforcements.  All of that said though, the game still doesn’t really feel like it gives me something unique that makes me extremely interested in its own brand of special ops fairy tale.  Especially when Horizon Zero Dawn is right around the corner… and will be a much more interesting world to explore.  Video games are largely about escapism for me…  and the Call of Duty style game just doesn’t feel escapist enough for me to ever really get hooked.

Advanced Spellcraft

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I’ve talked about quite a few things that I experienced at Pax South, and this mornings post is going to do some more of the same.  I feel like this year more than others I walked away with a treasure trove of things I wanted to talk about.  I guess in theory it is because I approached the convention significantly differently than I have in past years.  In the past I largely only stood in line to play the games that immediately seemed to be in my wheelhouse, and as a result I am sure I robbed myself of a whole slew of interesting things.  The game I want to talk about this morning is a prime example of not being able to rely on our instincts and tastes.  If you have read my blog for any length of time you will know that I do not handle “finger wigglers” that well… or to clarify my own personal slang…  spell casters.  So when I walked past a booth demonstrating a game where the main character is slinging spells left and right, my first instinct is to keep moving.  However as a group we stopped and listened to the intricate tale that CEO Louis-Félix Cauchon had to weave.  Admittedly what make this game so interesting is just how detailed the spell system is.  We got to watch a twenty minute demo covering nothing but how the spell system works, before even getting into the awesome pedigree of the storytelling.

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Functionally your character has four spells, which in itself doesn’t seem like a lot.  However each spell can be modified with what I have been generically calling “mutators” to change the way it responds.  So you might have a spell that at face value is a small point blank spark, however by equipping a a behavior you can make it fire out like a fireball…  or by equipping an augment you can make it veer to the right after firing it.  If you suddenly decide that you don’t want to throw fireballs… but instead iceballs, you can simply go in and change the base element of the attack.  Over the course of this demo of the system we got to see personal shields turn into charge attacks, and glorious cascades of rock from the ceiling in place of a traditional blizzard spell.  Now you might ask yourself why on each you would need this level of detail for a spell system apart from the simple “wouldn’t it be cool” aspect.  Functionally the magic not only serves as a weapon, but also as a complex puzzle system.  So there might be switches that you cannot reach unless you modify your fireball to arc in a certain way in order to hit the trigger.  The spellbook also allows you to save off several different configurations of a spell, and in the final version you will be able to give them unique names allowing you to quickly recognize which version of a given spell is your avalanche and which is your frost barrier.  The only immediate limit to building insane combination spells is your imagination, and of course your mana bar.  Each trait that you give a spell increases its cost, and while it was described that this matters less and less as you go through the game… it does limit your early tinkering.  Additionally as you play through the game you find modifiers along the way, meaning your palette of abilities starts small and grows as you progress.

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Up to this point we have literally just talked about the technical spell casting system, which in itself is a pretty amazing game.  On top of this however they have added what is sure to be a pretty great story.  Ed Greenwood of Forgotten Realms fame has penned the story for this game about epic spellcasters, which only makes sense given that he gave us the character of Elminster.  Functionally I heard the game described as Harry Potter meets Zelda and that seems fitting, with a huge alteration in that there seems to be a lot more physical puzzle solving with your spells.  I find it so bizarre though that I am looking forward to the release of a game about magic users, and that includes absolutely zero armor clad characters for me to bash baddies in the head with.  At face value this game is traditionally far out of my wheelhouse, but it was also quite possibly the freshest feeling game concept I saw on the Pax floor.  We’ve done so much for martial combat and making it feel interesting and nuanced, but have done so little to bring that same level of nuance to weaving complex spells.  Most games give us the option of push button throw fireball, or push button create bubble…  but this is the first that I have seen that lets you take that bubble and then project it outwards or trigger another spell after the bubble casts.  I have this feeling that in many ways it will have an almost metroidvania feel in that each time you unlock a new ability to give you spells it is also going to open up new ways to solve puzzles and allow you to move deeper into the content.

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The game right now is targetted for PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One and does not have a firm launch date… but we heard March or April mentioned which I largely translated into a “Spring” launch window that might be plus or minus a month.  They are doing something extremely interesting to get us into the world ahead of the launch by releasing a comic that updates Tuesdays and  Thursdays and explains the world and setting.  I love it when I experience a game like this, not necessarily because “woo spellcasters” or anything of the sort, but because this is clearly the love child of a bunch of folks who care deeply about it.  Talking to Louis-Félix Cauchon within second it was clear to see just how passionate he was about this game, and the work and imagination that went into creating it.  That in truth is what makes the convention experience special.  You get to meet the creators face to face and see just how much they love what they are doing.  In many ways it feels like Pax South recharges the spark inside of me each year, and gives me fuel to keep going throughout the year.  We spend so much time on the negatives, the little details that bother us about this game or that.  However seeing a game like Mages of Mystralia shows me instantly that there very much still is magic out there…  pun only slightly intended.  I would definitely add this to your watch list and check it out when it ultimately releases.  I find it so bizarre that of all of the games I have experienced, this one ranks insanely high on the list of “wish I had early access” titles, if for no reason other than to play with the spell crafting system.  This is the first release from Borealys Games, but if they can pour this much passion into every project they are going to be a studio we see lots of amazing things from in the future.

Them Apples

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What has been bizarre to me has been just how different the three years of Pax South have felt personally.  During year one I was completely overwhelmed and did my best to hit as many panels as I could while also making a bunch of media appointments.  During year two we had roughly sixteen people roaming around in groups of various sizes, so my focus was to spend as much time as possible with as many people as possible.  I was also overwhelmed but in a completely different way, with trying to juggle meeting up with folks while also hitting scheduled media appointments.  Year three I completely cut the whole parking debacle out of the loop which greatly relaxed the entire experience.  Additionally we went from having sixteen to roughly seven… with two pairs of those largely roaming together and leaving me with a semi regular group of three people.  This opened up so many doors because three is not an unreasonable amount of people to sit down and demo something together with, and as a result I played way more games during the course of the show.  So many that I never actually made it off the main floor or attended any panels.  In truth this felt like the best possible thing because it gave me lots of interesting experiences to come back and shamelessly milk for blog posts.  It also let me spend maximum time with my friends while attempting to extract the maximum enjoyment.  It did nothing for my longevity unfortunately with me making my way back to the hotel around 6 or 7 both nights to hang with my wife and decompress from the days event.

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Of the really awesome games that I played, I think the very first that I sat down to play as a group is a card game called Wicked Apples.  At first I watched a couple of my group play it together, and when they finished the first round got dealt in for round two.  The idea is simple and the card game itself extremely small… I have not counted but it seems like maybe the card deck as a whole is maybe around 35 cards.  What I like so much about the game however is just how quickly it can be played.  One of the big challenges with most modern tabletop games is that they take a fair bit of time to set up, play and break back down.  In most cases you need a dedicated hour or more to really feel like you have enjoyed the experience.  At work I have been kicking around the notion of doing some tabletop gaming at lunch, especially since I have a coworker that is way deeper into the weeds than I am in the board gaming community.  However the challenge that is what sorts of games can you realistically play in a 30-40 minute window and get enough hands in to make it feel like you actually accomplished something.  When I saw Wicked Apples I immediately thought that this game would be perfect for this scenario because each hand seemed to last around ten to fifteen minutes depending on how much stalling from the players.

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The game consists of barrel cards, wicked apple cards matching each barrel color, and an assortment of unique apple cards that each have specific effects on them.  The game starts by dealing out barrels to each of the players… or in our case simply choosing whatever color you wanted to play.  That player the is handed the wicked apple of a color matching their barrel, as well as three random apple cards dealt face down.  The goal is to take these four cards and arrange them in any order in front of you face down… but at the same time memorize the position of each card.  The goal of the game is not to eat a wicked apple, be it your own or another players.  After setup the turn order is determined by the number on the players bucket from lowest to highest, but later in the game this will be determined by the top apple in each players bucket.  Each player can take one of two actions:  Peak or Pass.  Peak essentially means that you can secretly check to verify what apple is sitting in a given slot in front of you, and Pass means that you can take any one of your apples and give it to any other player.  After all players have either chosen to Peak or Pass, everyone has to choose an apple that they are going to eat that round.  If you are doing this right then all players reveal their apple at exactly the same time…  however we were pretty awful at doing this and wound up being a slow staggered reveal.  The eating order is determined by the number in the top right corner of the card, and each player performs the actions on their card if possible taking turns in ascending order.  The “if possible” is in there because there are situations where for example you have no apples… and as a result cannot say pass an apple as directed by the card.

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The game carries on like this until one of two things happen… either only one player is left standing at the end of a round where in that case they are the winner.  There is also the possibility that ALL players are eliminated in the same round, and essentially everyone loses.  Whatever the case, once you know the rules of the game it goes extremely quickly and I could see playing a bunch of round rapid fire in a short period of time.  There is functionally a lot of strategy and bluffing involved in what is essentially a game of memory.  Do you pass a good apple to the player beside you and think that ultimately they are going to assume you gave them your wicked apple?  Are you going to pass your wicked apple and then follow up by lacing it with the Candy Apple that forces a player to eat that apple next?  I absolutely did that last move, while also passing the poison apple to another player that round functionally executing both of them.  It is absolutely a game where you know every other players is going to back stab you and do so constantly, so the ramifications of this realization become greatly blunted and just part of the fun.  The individual decks at Pax South were $15, and I went back and forth on Friday about picking one up.  However one of the first things I did Saturday morning was run back and purchase one, and I am super glad that I did.  It seems as though they sold their last deck sometime early Sunday morning, and apparently this was their entire current stock as there are zero available through the website either currently.  So yeah… I guess it is probably cruel to tell you about a game that you literally cannot get at this very moment, but I still enjoyed it enough that I wanted to talk about it.  Like I said before I personally plan on taking my deck with me to work and trying a few hands over lunch to see how well it works.  It is easy to pick up and fast paced enough that I can see this doing really well with a wide variety of players.  If you have the chance to check it out in any upcoming shows I highly suggest you do so.

 

Embracing Chaos

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There are games from my childhood that I will always have an odd amount of nostalgia about.  There are the obvious ones like Zelda and Mario… but then there are the ones where I latched onto with both hands and never quite understood why.  Chaos Engine is one of those games in the second column because by all rights… it was not really a popular game in the United States.  We never really had the massive Amiga Culture here that the UK did… and while I owned one… I didn’t get it until my college years for use with Digital Video production.  However I did own a Sega Genesis and we did get Chaos Engine released under the confusing re-branding of Soldiers of Fortune.  I played the hell out of the game but didn’t realize what I had been missing… because while a completely functional port it is in no way as good as the original.  I bought my Amiga 3000 second hand… and it came with a box of crudely labelled Amiga floppies.  One of which was called Chaos Engine, and when I fired it up… I felt immediately at home.  The original Amiga game was so much better in every way than the port I was familiar with, and most importantly was the music.  I’ve included a video I found of the game intro running on an A500.  The game was essentially an isometric shooter but a much more interesting one than say Commando or Ikari Warriors.  It allowed you to pick from a cast of characters…  the Brigand, the Gentleman, the Mercenary, the Navvie, the Preacher and The Thug.  Each with their own strengths and unique weapons, and also added a small bit of RPG style progression as you could use the money found in each level to purchase buffs to further customize the way the character played.  Even today I have purchased every copy of this game that has come out…  from a Windows 95 CD version that no longer functions to the more recent release on Steam.

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While roaming around the floor at Pax South I came across what I could only describe as the logical successor.  Tower 57 is a game that I didn’t even know existed before this convention.  It apparently was on Kickstarter during August of 2015 and managed to raise roughly 55k dollars.  Had I known about the game then I would have likely backed it, even though my track record with video game kickstarters is not that amazing.  The game website describes it as:

In a dystopian, dieselpunk world, where Megatowers are the only enclaves of civilization, a group of extraordinary individuals is sent to infiltrate the reclusive Tower 57. Their skills, clips’ capacity & the ability to cooperate will decide on their fate.

Tower 57 is a top-down twin stick shooter with 16-bit inspired pixel art, destructible environments and heavy focus on co-op. It is also a modern take on what made AMIGA games so great back in the days.

What it felt like was a sort of Shadowrun meets Chaos engine, with a similarly interesting cast of characters.  Unfortunately I didn’t actually get to start fresh when I gave the game I try… but it seems like I could largely pick  between a female detective wearing a trechcoat and using a shotgun, and the diplomat which is a guy that looks like Abraham Lincoln with a flame thrower.  The game has all the right quirky notes that Chaos Engine did, and a similarly Victorian Era meets Steampunk meets 1920s speakeasy feel to it.  The artwork is absolutely gorgeous and the movement of the characters felt fluid, with interesting and challenging monsters that you encountered.  In the Pax South demo it seemed to largely be locked to the sewer level, and I was amped to see the gameplay unfold very similarly to what I expected with Chaos Engine.  Essentially doing something in one area of the map might unlock a secret area in another corner of the map, but also spawned multiple waves of mobs that you then needed to clear.

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The game is functionally a twinstick shooter, and the demo was played with xbox one controllers.  After a short period of time though I adjusted and managed to play my way through the level and get up to the mini boss at the end of it.  Ashgar managed to beat it… I however managed to take out the main encounter… then got super careless and died to something stupid on my way out of the room.  There was a line of folks waiting to take the controllers, so I stopped playing… but I would have loved to have had another shot at the game and tried playing some of the other characters.  Reportedly on both the game website and the steam profile the final version will include seven different playable characters, each with their own weapons and traits.  Another thing that I thought was really fun was the fact that the majority of the world appeared to be destructible.  Sure this serves a purpose with explosive barrels, but even when it serves no real purpose it is glorious to see the entire screen erupt in a hail of debris without actually slowing down the frame rate.  Reportedly the game will support local and online multiplayer co-op gameplay, which is admittedly something I am looking forward to.  I am probably going to convince Ashgar to play through the game with me some weekend…  which usually means he carries me super hard as I fail miserably somewhere in the background while looking for loot.

If anything I have said sounds interesting, I highly suggest you check out the game.  I have a huge amount of nostalgia for Chaos Engine and this game is riding heavily on that fact.  However Ashgar seemed to enjoy it just as much as I did, and he had never even heard of that game.  Right now the game has an ambiguous “Spring 2017” release date…  which to me means “any time before May” but to Square Enix apparently meant June when they were talking about Heavensward.  Whatever the case… the game felt really polished and hopefully that means the game will be available shortly.  You can pre-order now on Humble for $9.99 but to be honest I am more than likely going to wait for the steam release since I believe right now… humble disqualifies you from giving proper feedback on steam because it is not an “official purchase”.  To be honest the whole “steam purchase” versus “key redemption” thing is a mess when it comes to reviews.  Whatever the case it is definitely a game I enjoyed and I am ready to get my Chaos Engine game play back on.

Tale of Dice Games

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It is bizarre to me how I went into Pax South thinking it would be largely about the Nintendo Switch for me… and it wound up becoming almost entirely about Tabletop gaming.  More so it was the tale of dice games… and my experiences trying three different ones.  There was King of Tokyo that I had never actually played, and while I found it enjoyable it wasn’t exactly the sort of game I was going to rush right out into the store and purchase.  Then there was Dragon Dice…  which sounded familiar at the time as a game that TSR once published… and it turns out that in fact it is the same game just self published by the creator now.  The problem is that I looked in the general direction of the booth and got sucked in by an extremely motivated salesperson in the form of what I can only guess was the thirteen year old daughter of the creator.  I sat down to play… and got Ashgar roped into doing the same.  So we played and tried our best to wriggle out of the booth as soon and as politely as possible.  It was bad…  and not just in a general sense of not fun… but bad in a sense of whoever attacked first essentially put the other player on the ropes for the rest of the game and since attack and defense is out of the same dice roll…  it made it extremely hard to ever recover.  As a result we avoided anything else that was dice related like the plague… that is until while waiting in the hour and a half long Dauntless line I ended up getting into a random conversation with the folks I was standing shoulder to shoulder with as is the way of PAX.  We started talking about our favorite games of the show so far, and one of these other folks mentioned Dice Throne.  So before the night was up we wound up making our way over to the Dice Throne booth in the PAX Rising area, where unfortunately no one was giving demos at that moment.  However they mentioned that in the tabletop area there was a completely different set up where folks had been playing nonstop.  Little did I know that essentially this would be the last thing I played during my time at PAX and would eat up my last few hours.

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c3tib3xumaajc_wI am of course swiping images left and right from the Dice Throne twitter and Kickstarter for the purpose of this post.  The game itself is a weird mix of dice battling, action RPG and Magic the Gathering starter deck duels.  Each player chooses a character to play from the current list of Barbarian, Moon Elf, Pyromancer and Shadow Thief…  with Paladin and Monk playable at the show but ultimately stretch goals in the kickstarter.  Each character comes with a unique play mat, card deck, five dice, and a sheet that describes their status effects that they can give to opponents and explains the chance of rolling a given symbol on the dice.  What made the game addictive to me was the aspect that as you move through the session you can play cards on top of your playmat and upgrade your base abilities.  Sometimes this is just a matter of making the abilities more efficient, or having a lower number of dice needed to trigger the effect.  In the case of the game where I played the Shadow Thief… some of the cards actually served as two completely different abilities that you could then choose from.  I personally only have experience with the Barbarian and Shadow Thief, but I think Ashgar and Paragon wound up playing Shadow Thief vs Paladin… in which I heard that the Paladin is completely brutal.

Regardless of the specific configuration the game is ultimately a game about duels… which admittedly is the part that makes me the most excited.  I love tabletop games… but I don’t exactly have a wide circle of people that I can play them with locally.  I mean I could branch out and just show up at a game shop and look for people to play… but that isn’t really my way.  I am way too introverted to ever make that work.  So instead I have limited opportunities usually one friend at a time to play things.  Dice Throne is absolutely perfect for this situation because it creates a completely meaningful experience with only two players.  In theory this game also works with any multiple of two, in that players can set up 2 vs 2 or 3 vs 3 scenarios and some of the cards would play perfectly into that situation.  The reason Magic the Gathering comes into play as a reference for this game is that it is set up in a number of phases:  Upkeep, Income and Draw, Main Phase 1, Offensive Roll Phase, Defensive Roll Phase, Main Phase 2, Discard Phase.

Players start out with 50 Health, 1 combat point or CP and 4 cards from their deck with the ultimate goal of reducing the other player down to 0 Health to win the match.  Each round the players gain 1 CP during the income phase and draw one card, with the CP being spent to play the various cards they have in their hand.  Each character plays a little different in that the Shadow Thief seemed to be all about hitting the 15 CP cap as soon as possible and then striking from the shadows with critical attacks that scale based on the current CP number. The Barbarian seemed to be about healing back lost health and avoiding taking damage by simply overhealing the incoming attack…  all the while smashing with big attacks that can easily become unblockable.  Barbarian absolutely was “my thing” but it also sounds like the super defensive Paladin might have been a good fit for me as well.  Each round of attacks you roll your 5 dice and then take the symbols and numbers and try and make something with them.  You are given two rounds of re-rolls as you attempt to hone in on the exact thing you need.  There are also cards that shift your abilities so that you can make certain dice wild, or with “samsies” swap any dice to match any other dice.  These however take the luck of the draw and the CP to play them when needed.

What I found most interesting is that essentially you are having to look at the symbols and the numbers to see what the best course of action is.  All of the characters have something interesting that happens when you roll a small straight (4 numbers in sequence), and something interesting that happens when you roll a large straight (5 numbers in sequence).  Then again there are other things that are super powerful that can play off of the other attacks.  For example 2 swords and 2 “pow” symbols on the Barbarian gives you an attack that deals less damage… but becomes undefendable which when upgraded serves as an amazing way to finish off your opponent.  The Shadow Thief allowed you to shift in and out of the shadows… allowing you to be essentially untargetable until you exit on the next round.  Attacking from the shadows allowed you to roll an extra dice as you exited to deal a little bonus damage.  Every hero has an ultimate attack that is essentially triggered by rolling five 6s, but in truth I found these pretty freaking hard to make work unless I had a wild card or two available in my hand.  There is a lot more nuance that I feel like I cannot adequately cover after literally having only played two games.  Suffice to say there is a lot of meat on these bones, and I am sure more than enough to start to develop even a bit of a meta game among players.  I was not well suited for the Shadow Thief because the whole poke from the shadows thing is not really my deal.  That said I know players that would absolutely excel at that game play style since essentially the Barbarian and the Shadow Thief are playing two completely different games.  From what I understand each of the characters plays this way essentially with the Moon Elf focusing on dealing damage while defending for example.

The long and short of this is that as soon as I got back home on Sunday night I went out to the Kickstarter and backed the game.  I was completely and thoroughly sold.  As of this morning even though the page has not updated they have already hit the Paladin stretch goal so it will be included in the Champion version of the game.  Next up is an upgrade to Linen Cards at $35k, Vacuum formed tray at $40k, Thicker Box at $45k and finally the inclusion of the Monk Hero at $65k.  With 24 days to go they are already sitting at 200% of the original goal, and I have to think that Pax South is going to give them a lot of good exposure going forward.  There was a pair of guys who had literally spent about twelve hours over the weekend playing the game… and wound up serving as surrogate coaches when we had so many people wanting to play the game in the Tabletop area.  The rules are pretty simple and easy to pick up, and the game play while actually taking awhile to resolve itself… feels like it moves forward instead of stalling out.  I have to say for something in prototype form… the game felt really damned polished.  The cards and artwork all felt great… with the only complaint being sticker dice.  However the first stretch goal was to upgrade to engraved dice so that will in theory no longer be a thing.  I went with the $39 Champion edition which seems to be the point that the majority of backers are entering at, which in theory should give you access to all six characters and slightly nicer multi-tone dice.  The base game will include four characters: Shadow Thief, Barbarian, Moon Elf and Pyromancer which sits at $29… so I felt that extra $10 was more than warranted even for the shot at two more characters.  Dice Throne was definitely my tabletop game of the show… but in truth I think probably it was my game of the show as a whole.  I highly suggest if you have the opportunity to check this out at any conventions between now and the projected November release date that you grab hold of it with both hands.

Kickstarter Link

 

Post Pax

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trionpupLast night I finally got back to the real world after a detour into Paxville.  What I mean by that is that Thursday through Sunday I was hanging out in San Antonio for Pax South.  This marked the third year of attending for myself and the third year of the South branch of Pax as a whole.  The only problem with this whole situation is that in my haste to pack I forgot to grab my laptop.  This mean I was largely disconnected from the world during the entire show.  I had every intent of getting up Friday morning and knocking out a blog post… and while I could have commandeered my wife’s laptop…  I simply opted to roll with the whole disconnected thing.  Sure I had my phone but the first rule of Pax is that internet rarely works at all from the vicinity of the convention.  The first day we were coordinating over a slack channel, but that died during the evening… and from there we had to fall back on text messages that while slow eventually did arrive at their intended target.

I failed miserably at the whole meeting up with folks aspect this year…  that is if you were not already in the group of people that I had the ability to text message.  I know that MidahHiker was there, but it is sheer madness trying to find anyone in the crowd.  I also know WallSavvy from Tequila Mockingbird my Destiny Clan was around… but he spent most of his time hanging out at the Overwatch tournament which was this giant ball of humanity… that ended up so packed that they made folks give up their seating to cram more people into the giant mosh pit that was the audience.  I spent most of my time roaming around with Ashgar and Paragon… with occasional visits from Rae when she wasn’t off doing stuff with her brother or watching the Overwatch tourney herself.  I also managed to connect with the Cosplay duo of Maovis and Exale… who brought his wife and super chill baby to meet me while I was standing in the hour and a half long line for Dauntless.

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Speaking of lines…  lets talk about what I didn’t get to play.  The Nintendo Switch was the announcement that probably sold more tickets to Pax South than just about anything.  However quite literally… if you were standing in line to play Zelda Breath of the Wild…  then that was probably just about all you were going to do that day.  When I first got to the convention I managed to enter in a trajectory that took me past the Nintendo Booth and it was this swirling quagmire of humanity that I got stuck in for about fifteen minutes until I could chart a course through it.  Even on Friday the line reached out of the booth, around the corner and down two other booths lengths along a sheltered corner of the exhibition floor.  I mocked up an image from the convention floor layout to attempt to show the line…  it was double length next to the Nintendo Booth and then stretched along the entire length of the Nexon booth and was capped somewhere around the Rooster Teeth booth.  There was supposedly a shorter line for Mario Kart and ARMS but I did not even attempt it… because time slowed to a standstill anytime you were near the Nintendo area.  There were simply too many people for me to handle.

The show as a whole was significantly larger than the previous two years, with it moving into an entirely brand new area of the convention center.  The only negative there is that I could no longer get up above the floor and take cool aerial shots.  The weirdest part about this PAX experience is that the show as a whole consumes three floors of the convention center, with a fourth floor down at riverwalk level taken up usually by press appointment suites.  I never actually left the main floor, because there was more than enough there for me to do both Friday and Saturday.  I also spent a significant more time playing in the tabletop area this year than I had in past years.  The other new thing that happened this year is that I gave up on parking and took Lyft into the convention both days.  This made the whole experience so much more enjoyable because instead of getting up super early and trying to fight traffic in order to get one of the limited parking spots downtown… I chilled out in the hotel, ate a peaceful breakfast, and then hailed a rideshare.  There was never a point where I waited more than five minutes, and the ride in itself was no more than 10 minutes…. so within 15 minutes I could be on the show floor pretty reliably.  Three of the four trips were amazing… the final trip however the guy got lost a few times and wound up with a much bigger bill than I should have.  I talked to Lyft however and they almost instantly sent me a refund for part of the cost, which was pretty damned cool.  I am absolutely going this route in the future because it gives me the best of both worlds… easy access to the convention but a hotel with access to the various shopping areas for my wife to hang out in.

As far as the hotel goes… these images do not do it justice.  I am used to having a bedroom of sorts with a sitting room attached, but largely in one big open floorplan.  Instead of that we had literally three separate rooms.  The living room was way deeper than the photo shows and had recliner, sofa with pull out bed, television, extra dressers, and a relatively comfy desk with a ton of plugins available from the top.  The “kitchen” area was a full wet bar with cabinets below, sink, and microwave with a fully enclosed roomy bathroom to the left side of it.  The bedroom had your normal fare but what I noticed is… my wife could be listening to the television in the livingroom area and I could be watching something completely different without any bleedover.  They served a huge breakfast each morning where I largely chose sausage, eggs, breakfast potatos with country gravy.  My wife however had a wider mix of things.  They also served dinner each night so one night they had Taco fixings, and another night they apparently had something pasta oriented but I was not around for that one.  All in all it was a great trip… and the icing on the cake is that we realized the massive Half Priced Books Dallas flagship store is less than a block off the route that we take home making it super easy to stop in and hit that during the trip.  Over the next few days I plan on talking about individual games I played so I reserved today mostly as a sort of overview post.

Odd Remembrances

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I am taking a break from packing and cleaning to knock out a blog post while eating dinner.  I will of course embargo this so that it seems like I actually released it in the morning.  However we all know what is happening… that I am making my way to Pax South.  I have a whole bunch of anxiety about going to the convention once again, but in the grand scheme of things I think this will be a really good year.  For the last couple years there has been the stress of having to make press appointments and attempt to be the surrogate of a publication at the convention.  This time around I represent no one but myself… and of course the blog and podcast.  I will also once again have my good friend Ashgar to roam around with, which should be awesome as well.  I’ve made a pact to just go do things… rather than spend the entire convention walking around in circles looking for something to do like we managed to do last year.  Tomorrow will of course be spent driving, and I am hoping I can remember to pack everything that needs to be packed.  I made myself a Trello board in a vague attempt to keep track of things… and I already failed to get away from work with something so I am off to a grand start.

This is going to be a bit of an odd post, but earlier on twitter I happened to read a tweet from Matticus, to which a friend replied that he was “THEE Matticus”.  Instantly the above clip went through my head, and it is something that I have found myself mimicking throughout the years.  The problem being…  no one has a damned clue what I am referencing.  This is the point where I realize that the movies that were seemingly important to me growing up include some oddities.  There is of course Star Wars and Indiana Jones… but also a lot of movies that have not really stood up to the test of time.  Why they are special to me… is for an equally odd reason.  I grew up without cable television, in fact the first time I had cable was in 1996 when I moved away from home and got an apartment at college.  While I lived on the outskirts of my town… the cable refused to run down my driveway because it would have taken them just outside of the city limits.  As a result I largely existed with over the air television…  often watching excessive amounts of UHF stations because they seemed to have far more interesting broadcasting than the major networks.  The other salvation however was the VHS tape…  of which I had plenty both legitimate and with crudely scrawled labels on their spines.

One of my dads work buddies took it upon himself to help my predicament and it became a regular thing for us to send home a package of blank tapes, and at some point in the future receive a bundle of some of the most random movies.  These all consisted of whatever happened to be currently playing on HBO during the block of time when he was recording something, and as such there are weird streaks of movies that all came out in the same one or two year period that stick out in my mind.  The first of these is of course Romancing the Stone… which while an action flick probably would not have even made it on my radar were it not for the fact that it was one of the few action films we had, prior to the local video store closing the liquidating all of their movies.  Of note this is the point where I picked up Alien, Aliens, and Predator.  The truth is while I remember the plot well…  the only line that sticks out of the whole movie is the “zee joan wilder?”, and even then largely because my cousin and I thought it was hilarious to quote it.

Another one of these movies that holds a special place in my heart is My Science Project, which is admittedly a pretty forgettable 80s science fiction film.  It is this weird mix of a bunch of themes at the time crudely cemented together with a bad time travel plot line.  In truth it was the time travel aspect that I liked the most, and even to this day I have an silly enjoyment of anything Fisher Stevens is in.  Once again… this is not even a movie I probably would have rented but the fact that it mysteriously showed up on one of these recorded tapes meant that I watched it way more often than I probably should have.  Rental movies were sort of a special occasion type thing, at least until I got into the middle school era.  The first video rental place we had in town had a sort of shopping club buy in aspect to it, and the rentals were like $5 a piece…  which was madness for 1984.  I think the membership cost something silly like $100… but we had one even though we didn’t use it that often.  I had a bad habit of renting the same movies over and over…  like Ultraforce… which I was simply enamored with because of the flying motorcycle scene.  The 80s really were a strange time.

 

Heavy Crowns

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I’ve admittedly been pretty sporadic in my gameplay of Final Fantasy XIV since just shortly after the launch of Heavensward.  For whatever reason the story this time never quite clicked in the same way that it did during A Realm Reborn.  Additionally Alex never felt nearly as interesting as Coil…  so it just felt like I was grasping at things to tie me to the game but struggling to find them.  More than all of these I think the two dungeons per cycle business hurt the most, because it turned something that I used to love…  Expert Roulette into a grind because there was always the dungeon you enjoyed…  and the dungeon you disliked in every patch cycle.  All of this said I have been poking my head in periodically and was at least aware of the mentor program.  The idea being that Square would create a way to identify players who know lots about the game…  which was an interesting theory.  In practice it largely just means you have a Tank, DPS and Healer at the level cap.  Also as I found out last night it apparently makes you feel like you need to run around barking orders and throwing shade on how bad you feel the rest of the party was doing.  Even though I was attuned for it… I never actually ran the second of the 25 player raids called the Weeping City of Mhach.  Collectively folks just call it the “Wiping City” and for good reason… because we died an awful lot but given that it was the first time myself or Grace had been in there… I thought we did largely okay.

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The funniest part of the night was the Forgall fight… which involves becoming zombie but not going full zombie and avoiding some things while absolutely standing in others.  In short it is the traditional insane dungeon fight that simply requires constant execution… and has mechanics that will straight wipe entire parties.  It is a rarity that there are fights where you need to use the healer level three limit break…  but during the course of this fight we used it at least twice…  and there might have been a third time I didn’t realize.  We were at a point where we had no tank and maybe three people total still up, and a bunch of us assumed we were wiping it out and running back.  We were wrong… as the “Mentor” continued barking orders and telling people to rez this person or that person… during a contorted fight that felt like it took 20 minutes to finally beat.  The truth is I had no clue what I was doing, but I finally got finished off by an actual fight mechanic as one of the attacks takes you to 1 hit point…  and requires chain healing to keep the tank from instantly dying afterwards.  We had maybe a single healer up at the time and I fell down hard… but just in time for another tank to get rezzed and pick it up.  I feel like this was the sort of fight where we needed to play Yakety Sax …  but slowed down to the point where it almost sounds like a funeral dirge.

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The fight that I got the most enjoyment from however had to be Ozma… an encounter that I had heard about for awhile now.  Largely I had heard about it being the group killer, in that it required a lot of moving parts that rarely got coordinated properly among the alliances.  Thankfully I was on voice chat with my Free Company and they were able to give me enough of a heads up about what I should be doing.  It also helps that early into the fight we lose the entire B alliance, giving me a run seeing the mechanics the first time and then allowing me to take that experience into the second smoother attempt.  All in all we nailed it pretty well on the second go, and for the most part by the end of the encounter I learned everything that I needed to do to appropriately tank the fight.  The reason we were running Wiping City however was to get me some gear…  and unfortunately not a single tanky piece dropped.  However I do feel confident enough to probably solo queue tank for the place and start soaking up more gear that way.  The risk of playing FFXIV irregularly is that the game moves on without you… and I hit yet another wall with the latest patch.  I was sitting at 220 from my last attempt to catch up… and this time around the first dungeon requires 230.  There are of course a lot of more grindy ways to catch me up… but we were trying to take as many short cuts as possible.

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Before disappearing and flaking out last time I had managed to put in some progress on the 235 weapon from Palace of the Dead and as I talked about yesterday our little run pushed me pretty far… but not quite over the tipping point.  So last night once finishing the Wiping City, we broke up into a smaller group and did some Palace of the Dead and over the course of a few runs managed to get me to 39 weapon 32 armor.  During all of the stuff I managed to accumulate enough Lore tombstones to upgrade my earrings to 230, and at some point during the evening Tam hooked me up with a set of 250 legs to replace my then lowest slot.  I had enough cash accumulated to manage picking up the 250 ring as well since my next lowest slot was that.  All together those four pieces of gear pushed me up to exactly 230 item level, and thus makes me viable for a lot more content including the dungeon that is blocking my quest progress.  Unfortunately however I have had this patch cycle spoiled for me, because before I remembered to turn off player titles…  I actually happened to be running Deep Dungeon with someone that was showing their new title off.  Now I am not sure exactly how it is going to go down… but I know something is going to go down.  Ultimately that is not necessarily going to ruin the impact, just a bit of a bummer to have it spoiled in a way that really should not have even been a thing.  While I wouldn’t necessarily count myself as “caught up”, I am at least in a much better place than I was.  I need to do a lot more palace of the dead so that I can pick up the next weapon…  but that one requires 60 weapon/armor which is still a very very long ways away.  My only revision of that content would be to make the end of sequence mini-boss drop one of whatever your lowest rank happens to be armor or weapon.  Also of note… you can see that thanks to the new weapon I did some glamouring and am once more the Bunny Samurai.

Derpest Dungeon

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Last night did not exactly go as intended, but it was a pretty great night nonetheless.  Originally I had hopes of getting a Mythic+ group together so that I could use my +5 Maw of Souls keystone.  That said I didn’t really exert a whole lot of effort in finding it either, and when I finally got settled in for the night after a bunch of idling there were only a handful of us on.  Instead I opted to work on my time walking dungeons in the hopes that I might get more of that tasty tasty Essence of Aman’Thul from the weekly quest.  When we got a group together it consisted of Rylacus and his son Tinoke who both still needed 2 dungeons… myself who needed 4 and then Bled and Phy just because they are awesome and love me enough to do a bunch of time walking dungeons.  In truth I had completely pug tanked one of the dungeons so I could have suffered through it if I had to, but I enjoy tanking for my friends way more than I enjoy tanking for strangers.  In any case we got to chit chat back and forth on Discord while doing the dungeons and that made the four go much faster.  I had hoped by the time we finished there might be more people around, so we could pull together that Mythic+ but alas that was not the case.  In truth I am guessing it was a good thing since a crisis arose while we were doing the Time Walking heroics.

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I hate printers, probably more than any piece of equipment ever.  They never seem to work as intended and always require an inordinate amount of fiddling.  One of the things you have to know is that many nights my wife can print as much as an entire ream of paper for her class.  When I am upstairs I am also at least in part the warden of the printer, and get yelled up at to fix issues when they arrise.  Now earlier in the evening she was printing perfectly fine… and then all of the sudden things stopped spooling entirely.  I tried my best to correctly diagnose the problem, but none of the rampant googling actually provided anything that was useful.  Of note… we have a massive workgroup printer that weighs about 200 lbs and is precariously connected to a machine that acts as a print server via parallel to usb cable.  It works 99% of the time but is just brittle enough to make me constantly uncertain of what might be causing the problem.  We tried a sequence of rebooting the laptop and rebooting the “server” to no luck.  She was able to hit file shares on the “server” without issue, but any time she tried to access the printer it said that it did not exist.  However I could print to that printer from any other computer on the network so the connection was still there and active.  Finally in my destination I started fiddling with home group settings, and changed her share settings because I was literally trying everything I could reasonably think of.  Instantly it was like something refreshed her machines permissions and she could suddenly see the printer and life was once again good.  Once again… let me express my undying hatred for printers.

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Apparently Tam had been trying to get a hold of me while deep in printer diagnosis hell.  Over the weekend I made a vague attempt to catch up on the Final Fantasy XIV content, but hit a both literal and figurative wall…  in the form of the Baelsar’s Wall instance.  I was not about to pug tank it… and it turns out apparently I couldn’t anyways because my item level is too low.  I am currently sitting at 220 but apparently need 230 to get there.  When I finally got patched up and logged in, Ash was needing to go to bed which left us with Tam and Kodra and seeing as I had not actually run any of the second half of the derpest dungeon, we opted to form a group for that.  I have to say… while I have struggled in the past to get in and have fun…  the deepest dungeon really hit the spot.  The deepest dungeon serves the purpose of being quite possibly the easiest way to get weapon upgrades, with a mini game system that I have talked about in the past that involves collecting “gear” and leveling both your weapon and armor to 30.  When you have collected 30 you can turn that in for a very solid 235 weapon which would be a sizable upgrade for me.  Now when I entered last night I was sitting at the point where I stopped playing last time… which was somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 weapon and 14 armor.  By the end of the night if I remember correctly I was sitting at 30 weapon and 28 armor… so pretty close to being able to collect my first weapon.  It seems like the 51-100 floors move your item levels considerably faster… either that or we simply got lucky.  To be honest, I had more fun in FFXIV last night than I have in a long time…  and the above screenshot is there to simply serve as a reminder to just how insane Cactuar is as a server.

[Edit] – I can’t re-title the post without breaking every link that I syndicated this morning.  That said I am finding out that “Derp” has some problematic roots and is a word that makes a lot of folks uncomfortable.  It’s not really a word that is of any importance to me so going to attempt to jettison it from my vocabulary.

Restless Weekend

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This weekend was a bit of an odd one, because at least for me it centered around recording our “Games of the Year” show on AggroChat.  This is generally speaking a huge ordeal given that our show is made up of six very different minded people.  Back during the days when we had four regular hosts it was less of a proceeding but now that we essentially have six people each picking three games a piece… that means we wind up talking about 18 games, which as it turns out divides neatly into two 9 image panels.  The above image is the first of these and serves as the backdrop for our normal show card of sorts, however with the text over it you can’t necessarily make out all of the images involved so I decided to post it here.  You can as always find the show on AggroChat or my method of choice for sheer simplicity of listening…  YouTube.  The reason why this largely dominated my weekend is because we ultimately recorded two podcasts that were both two hours long before I set down to edit them.  Post edits they both clock in around an hour and twenty minutes, which really is shocking given that I did not actually time anything out in an attempt to make them work as relative set pieces.  I guess however if you set out to record nine games per show… the end result comes out fairly evenly.  I did make an attempt to shuffle the deck in such a way as to put the games I thought we would most likely talk the longest about divided evenly among the shows.

So we recorded from 8 pm CST until just after midnight, and then I got up around 7:30 Sunday morning and edited until 12:30…  and as a result every other element of the weekend felt like it was shoved to one side or the other.  Of course all of this madness has a purpose since the double episode is timed perfectly to cover the absence of myself and Ashgar as we go to Pax South.  Now in theory Grace, Kodra, Tam and Thalen could record without me… but that would mean I had the forethought to have the mess that is our show in a state that I could easily hand over the reigns to an understudy.  I have not planned ahead that far, and while I do have a series of Audacity and Photoshop projects to speed up the process…  I am not sure if I could even properly explain what exactly I do each week.  It is my hope however that I managed to not only publish yesterday, but also schedule everything else to publish next Sunday while I am driving home from San Antonio.  Staging a publish to happen without me is always a fraught thing for me… because so rarely does it actually work as intended.  Even if it does… I am literally stressed beyond reason until I see the tweets show up in my timeline from the publish process actually doing its thing appropriately.  In the grand scheme of things however…  it is not the most important thing in the world… but it is important to me.

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As far as gaming went this weekend that was equally scattered.  I patched up Final Fantasy XIV and made it far enough to hit the first instance gate, before ultimately walking away.  Similarly I patched up Wildstar, created a Chua Warrior and played to around level seven before once again walking away like a bored child.  As far as gaming that managed to last for more than an hour…  we had World of Warcraft where I finally hit 35 points on my Protection Artifact and started pushing up Fury instead.  I have gotten back in the habit of logging in each day to do my Emissary quest because now there is also a potential legendary upgrade waiting at the end of the grind.  I started doing my Time Walking dungeons… but only managed to make it through the first one tanking it before once again wandering away.  The game that seemed to stick the hardest was Elder Scrolls Online where I completed a good chunk of Malabal Tor, a zone where I am already completely enthralled by the storyline…  even though it involves largely nothing but elves and their internal politics.  I’ve decided that the Bosmer are what it takes to make me really enjoy Elves.  I am really enjoying the whole lore regarding the Green Lady and the Silvenar, and I guess in truth that was an aspect of the lore that I had either forgotten or ignored in playing other Elder Scrolls games.  I even managed to have a few emotional gut punches last night, when I lost characters that I actually really liked during one quest chain.  In truth all I want to do right now is hide in my blanket cocoon on the couch and play more ESO, but that said I do want to at some point get a Mythic+ in for the week since I have a +5 Maw of Souls key.