Praise Jick

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Another game that I have been playing a more than significant amount of is West of Loathing.  The attraction of this stick figure graphics clad game won’t make a whole lot of sense unless you too played an awful lot of Kingdom of Loathing.  For those not already indoctrinated… “KoL” was one of the early browser based role-playing games launching in February of 2003.  I am not entirely certain when I first discovered it but I believe it was sometime within that first year.  I would love to say that I have access to my original account…  but that is tied to an email address I no longer have access to.  What set Kingdom of Loathing apart other than the unapologetic programmer art…  was a sense of humor and a general aura of fun around the game.   You chose from classes such as Sauceror, Pastamancer, Turtle Tamer, Disco Bandit, Accordion Thief or Seal Clubber…  all with their largely goofy and nonsensical abilities.  Now you might exact the game to play like a parody of an RPG, but in truth it had a significant amount of depth and was fun in its own right once the gags became a little stale.  This was one of the first times I had encountered the “energy” mechanic that limits how many turns per day you could take, and in truth without Kingdom of Loathing I question of anything like a Fallen London would have ever gained traction considering it uses much the same format.

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What West of Loathing does, is combine all of the elements that I loved about the point and click adventure style RPG that was Kingdom of Loathing and bring it into the real time interactive gaming world.  Instead of navigating through a series of mouse clicks and menu items, you actually go out and explore the world with WASD and keys to interact with objects.  It has been awesome to see all of these scenes that are extremely reminiscent to that of KoL animated and moving on my screen…  with just as many physical gags worked in as I would have expected.  One of the early things you notice is that various objects in the world will add items to your configuration menu.  For example you unlock a check box that is labelled “Stupid Walking” which causes your character to cycle through a series of bizarre walking moves from the dog “butt scoot” animation to something similar to the Monty Python Ministry of Silly Walks gag.  Another option is “Best Font Mode” that shifts everything from a Serif font to something resembling Arial…  none of these really have any major effect on the game they just do goofy things because the game is goofy.

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Much like Kingdom of Loathing you are absolutely flooded with items that vary from the completely useless vendor fodder to things that you probably should hold onto just in case there might be a use for it later.  The game will gleefully allow you to consume or destroy a major plot device that will keep you from unlocking segments of the game.  As a result there were several things I failed to do in the introductory area…  that you can apparently never go back to.  The game will also gleefully push you in front of mobs that you have zero hope of actually beating.  It turns out at least in one of these cases I was supposed to allow it to beat me to unlock something I needed for another quest.  However I muscled through and used up my stock of dynamite to be able to succeed.  One of the best parts of the game so far is the fact that it is fairly forgiving of your mistakes when it comes to taking deaths… and will functionally respawn you in a save space as though you simply got beat up and had to retreat.  As far as classes go in West of Loathing you have a much more limited set to choose from.  I went with the Cow Puncher which serves as the Muscle stat class for the game, but you can also choose from Beanslinger the Mysticality class or Snake Oiler the Moxie class.  Pretty early in the game I started down a bit of a secondary path of Necromancy and can now summon all manner of skeletal creatures to help fight for me.

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At this point I have played around five hours of the game and have unlocked a decent chunk of the map so far.  The game itself feels like this weird mix of a Maniac Mansion style adventure game blended with the original Fallout.  As you move between objectives on the world map you encounter random events, and if you just want to partake of the random events…  there is the Wander button that makes your character literally roam around in a circle around your current objective.  In Kingdom of Loathing there were a number of endless combat areas that allows you to level up specific stats or farm for specific items, and this game keeps that concept with several locations including something that allows you to keep jumping into combat as often as you like.  One example of this is a fountain that is spitting out snakes… and you can walk up to it and grab a snake to fight as many times as you like if that sounds like something you actually want to be doing.  There is a bone pit that I go to rather often to find the components I need to summon skeletons.  The absolute best part about West of Loathing is the fact there is no energy mechanic.  That is ultimately my frustration with the original Kingdom of Loathing or Fallen London…  is that I play them in spurts.  I might want to play for a few hours and then will go for a month without playing it again…  and that goes specifically against their model.  West of Loathing on the other hand is something I can roam around at my pace without worry about encountering any hidden barriers.  Ultimately if you ever played Kingdom of Loathing I highly suggest you check out this game, and at only $10 I have gotten more than my enjoyment out of it thus far…  and feel like I have only barely scratched the surface.

Horizon Impressions

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Yesterday morning I warned my friends that there was a 99.9% chance that I would end up hunting Zoids all night long, and not to expect me for anything else.  This was a completely accurate sentiment.  Sure I popped into Final Fantasy XIV long enough to do my Ixal crafting dailies…  which admittedly take way longer than any other set of quests…  but after that I had a date with Aloy.  Now Monday night I got in for about an hour as soon as the game unlocked, and spent at least a little bit of time getting myself adjusted to the world.  My goal this morning is to give you my spoiler free impressions… or at least as spoiler free as I possibly can while still talking about the game and showing things off.  When I logged in last night I descended into the valley for the first time on zip line to start my first off rails questing, and I have to say…  I was instantly hooked on the game.  Granted from the moment I booted it up and played through the first little bit… the hook was already setting pretty strongly.  One of the things we do as gamers is try and compare every game that comes along to something else that already exists.  The problem with doing this in regards to Horizon Zero Dawn is there is just a lot of things this game is drawing from.  In theory if you took Skyrim and blended it with Fallout…  then mixed in a huge dose of the modern Tomb Raider games with a little Mad Max and in truth a touch of Farcry…  and you end up with a pretty good explanation of this game.  More importantly than that… this game is what I wanted Turok Dinosaur hunter to always be…. stalking awesomely augmented dinosaurs with only my bow and my wits.

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What is most impressive about this melange of different genres is just how damned good it feels.  Not only does the world have a high coolness factor but it also feels like it makes sense.  Things exist for a reason, and as the player and observer… it feels like you understand the whys of the world better than the characters that participate in it because you can theorize about what each and every little Easter Egg laid before you might mean.  In many ways you get the impression that this is an alternate version of Fallout… where instead of returning to the surface and finding the world a barren wasteland…  the first survivors found a world reclaimed by nature and populated by the machines they created run amok and self replicating.  Granted none of this is stuff that I know, just things that I have started turning around in my head.  What is absolutely true is you are existing in a world where the machine and the wildlife are equally at home on the grassy plains, and you as a hunter need components from both to survive.  So with your bow and your spear you set out to scavenge what you need from the landscape.  You play the role of an outcast, someone shunned by the tribe from birth…  and the key driving force of your actions is more than anything to find out why.  The shunning aspect feels a little odd, especially given how many of the tribe you end up helping out along your way as optional side missions.  I was originally wondering if these wound up effecting the flow of the story at all.. but so far having played through the first little segment it really doesn’t seem to other than offering items and leveling opportunites.

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One of my problems with games that put a bow in my hands is generally that bows have extremely limited ammunition.  I love bow weapons, but have always hated either trying to make sure I purchased enough arrows before I left town… or making a trip back to do so in the middle of doing something else.  Given that the world of Horizon is a world of scavengers…  they fix this issue with giving you the ability to craft most of your needs on the fly.  So at any point… even in the middle of a battle which seems a little awkward…  I can crack open my crafting pane and knock out a few arrows so that I can continue the fight.  The same is true with traps when you eventually get the ability to use those, and upgraded ammunition like fire arrows.  Similarly your gear can be modified to improve its stats and tweak its abilities…  but I question if this is going to be a key mechanic or if its just the equivalent of enchanting something and you will keep shifting bows and spears as you travel through the world and get exposure to better armor and weapons.  I wound up getting the digital deluxe edition and on top of the pre-order bonus… I wound up with a bunch of different options for gear that you would not normally start out with.  The only negative here is that there is a moment in the story where someone makes what is probably intended to be a significant upgrade for you…  and it ends up not being an upgrade at all.

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At this point I have finished playing through what could ultimately be referred to as the “starter zone”.  So many times in video games there is a closed off and protected area that you start the game in… and through a sequence of events you are pushed out into the much wider world.  I stopped playing at roughly 11 pm last night and I had just literally crossed this barrier, and figured that I really should call it a night otherwise I would literally be up for another two hours.  That means to complete this “intro” section it took me roughly five hours… one hour the first night and four hours last night, which all things considered seems to be like a fair amount of game play.  Granted I always stop and smell the roses and I attempted to do all of the side quests I could possibly do, as well as spending some time gathering resources to upgrade my quiver and various other inventory elements.  What I like the most about this game is that it feels like I truly am self sufficient.  I can live off of the things that I scavenge from the land… be it herbs to fill my medicine pouch, or upgrading my various pouches to be more effective at gathering.

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The only thing that I don’t really like is that it feels like maybe the game sets you up a little bit to fail.  There are some items that you scavenge off of the bodies of the machines that are clearly marked as “crafting” materials.  So those make complete sense to hold into for long term use.  However there is another category that is marked as “trade to vendors, sell for shards” given that metal shards are the universal currency as well as a crafting material.  So my immediate thought was that these would be vendor trash and I could simply sell them with impunity.  That is absolutely not the case and as I found out from later vendors… certain items require certain scavenged components as well as shards to purchase.  So right now there is a set of armor that I would love to have…  but it requires me to collect two watcher eyes…  something that I have had plenty of in my inventory but had been selling them to vendors for shards up until that point.  Basically…  what I am telling you is to hold onto the various materials that you pick up off the machines unless you find out for certain that you are not going to need them.  The game at least in theory tries to teach you this… but the lesson was not as clearly outlined as it should have been when you trade a part you scavenge for an item.  I am used to bringing all sorts of random crap to NPCs for the sake of a quest… and did not realize that the game was attempting to teach me that this is a thing that could and does happen.

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Up until this point I have really only talked about the game play, which is generally a safe spoiler free den of information to dwell on.  Now I am going to attempt to talk about the story, which is a section where I am going to get a lot more vague and general.  For lack of better phrasing… as good as the game feels when you are fighting robotic dinosaurs… it also feels equally good when you are dealing with story elements.  The game has created a world that I instantly want to know more about, and populated it with a bunch of interesting characters that I have feelings about be they good feelings… or bad feelings.  I already care far more about this game than I do many others that I simply go through the paces because they are mechanically enjoyable.  I really like that the game allows me to tailor the Aloy I want to play through giving me a series of dialog choices that are reminiscent of the Bioware games.  There will generally be an option marked with a fist, an option marked with a heart, and an option marked with a brain.  So far I have not really chosen the fist that often, but I tend to alternate between the heart and the brain depending on how I feel about a given character.  These choices do at least somewhat effect how later interactions are going to work out…  based at least in one small part on how I interacted with someone when I was a tiny babby Aloy.  I chose to use the brain option… and sure enough the game remembered it and brought it up at a later time.  The game does a great job of giving you characters that you are going to hate… and other characters that you are either going to genuinely like… or at least begrudgingly respect.

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All in all this game has lived up to every expectation I had for it.  I wanted an awesome post-apoc game where I roamed around on an awesome bow lady and took down robotic dinosaurs.  This game has paid that off in spades, but also given me a really interesting world that I already deeply care about, as well as giving me just enough call to action to make me want to move forward in the quest chain.  This is where so many games fail for me when it comes to open world adventures.  In Fallout 4… I simply did not give a single fuck about the main story arc.  All I wanted to do was explore the world surrounding me and build up the settlement of Sanctuary.  I didn’t care about my baby being stolen, and I most certainly didn’t care about trying to track it down.  The game completely failed at giving me enough motivation to keep moving forward…  however already in Horizon I care… I want to know more about why this world is the way it is and how exactly all of these different pieces that it keeps exposing me to fits together.  Guerrilla games has somehow managed to create an open world with an infused sense of purpose behind everything you are doing…  and I like it… I like it a lot.  I am sure there will be some slow spots… as happens with literally every game but I feel both the desire to keep moving…  but also at the same time the freedom to wander about and explore whenever I want to.  At this point I am super hooked, and am fighting every desire to boot the game up and play some this morning because it would without a doubt make me super late to work.

Far Cry 3

Steampowered Sunday #3

I guess at this point Steampowered Sunday is a real thing now.  I have friends nudging me in certain directions towards games I have in my steam list that I have yet to play.  Today I intended to play one game, but wound up playing another as I didn’t really plan ahead and pre-emptively install it.  So instead I decided to choose a game I did install over the Christmas break but never got around to playing.  One of my good friends snagged Far Cry 3 from my Steam wish list and gifted it to me during the insane Christmas sale.  I had always heard really amazing things about the game, so it sounded like something I would enjoy.

Already Installed DirectX Checkbox

farcry3_d3d11 2014-01-26 11-22-38-48 Be warned today’s post is going to be far more about the frustrations of trying to play a game… than actually playing one.  I had installed Far Cry 3 beforehand, but never actually fired it up.  So of course when I went to launch the game I had to suffer through the usual steam bullshit that involves installing every driver and redistributable known to man.  You would think that by now steam would have figured out a way to set a machine level flag that says “we’ve made this sucker install directx over 10 times, surely we can take it easy on him now”.  On top of the normal bullshit… I had to deal with something I had never seen before  called UPlay.

I guess this means that I have never actually played a Ubisoft game on the PC, since this seems to be required to play any of them.  For starters it took a truly silly amount of time to download and install, and then it prompted me for a login.  Since I didn’t think I had an account, I stubbed out the normal “Belghast” login, only to be told that it already existed.  At this point I scratch my head because maybe at some point in the past I did in fact set up UPlay.  I notice there is a handy reset password option, so I went through the steps to reset it to my email address.

At no point did it say “dumbass you don’t have an account”, it just said it would be sending an email to reset my password.  I waited a truly silly amount of time, refreshing the email window, and apparently locked my account out in the process.  However no emails actually arrived even after scanning the bowels of my gmail account, and sifting through half a dozen broken english versions of “your battle.net account is being banned” phishing attempts.  Turns out I am guessing I really do not have a UPlay account, either that or it was somehow set up on the PS3 and seemingly irrelevant to my PC.  So either this happened or there really are more Belghasts out in the world, as a result I had to set up my account on an old username that used for years.

Gameplaying Time?

farcry3_d3d11 2014-01-26 11-05-32-65 So finally I am able to log into the game and launch it.  I am greeted by the usual cinematic that I ignore and keep pressing the escape key trying to skip out of as soon as possible.  It appears that I am a rich d-bag, and have equally rich and d-bag friends that are amped about spending my trust fund on an island vacation.   Apparently also at some point we think it is a great idea to skydive onto a pirate held island… because you know the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney never harmed us… so surely the real thing will just give us candy or something.  Color me surprised when we manage to get kidnapped and held for ransom so our equally rich and d-bag parents to pay.

At this point after spending the first hour of the morning trying to get into the game due to the frustration that is UPlay… I am wanting to slaughter everything in sight.  Just give me a gun, point me in the direction of a slaver and I will go Rambo on their asses and save the day.  Conveniently for me, every single bad guy in the game seems to be wearing the same red shirt and red hat… making it super handy for drawing crosshairs down on them.  I love it when bad guys shop at the same place, because I can’t be bothered to think before blowing them away.

But Wait… Stealth Time

farcry3_d3d11 2014-01-26 11-12-13-85 There are few things I hate more in the world, than having to sneak around and be stealthy in video games.  So when I finally get control of my character what do I get to do? Sneak around and avoid being seen as I play through a super on-rails cinematic.  This is one of the things that frustrates me the most about modern games… namely those that started their life originally as a console game.  They seem to relish the concept of making you play through a bunch of shit before actually letting you play the game.  If I have to follow a predetermined path, while doing a sequence of events that are unchangeable… it is a cinematic.  Letting me control my character as I go through the cinematic just makes it all the more unhinging.

For me the ideal intro to a game like this is the Elder Scrolls style…  you arrive as a prisoner, someone breaks out out and then bam you are on your merry way causing mayhem.  I guess the more I think about it…  Oblivion and Skyrim both had some pretty frustrating “follow the dumbass npc” sequences early on… but they felt brief enough and in both cases you got to diverge from the script heavily if you desired.  This on the other hand was sneaking about following a path set aside by your macho army brother… all the while you have nothing that you can really do other than throwing some rocks.  Man I am a badass at throwing rocks… let me tell you.

Can It Be Fun Time?

farcry3_d3d11 2014-01-26 11-15-15-67 So despite your best attempts at avoiding being seen… your dumbass brother runs right into the pistol of the big baddy that you met earlier in the cage.  So you get to play a fun game of trying to mash your space bar hard enough to keep your brother from bleeding out.  Guess what… he bleeds out regardless of how hard you play whack a mole with your keyboard.  In a strange turn of events… instead of just shooting you in the back like you would think the big ultimate bad guy would do….  he decides to release you out into the jungle.  So once again I am thinking to myself… man can I finally have control of my character?  Can I finally play this game and do shit at my own pace?  NOPE!!!

What you get to do now is have a weird sequence as you run through the jungle avoiding bears and helicopters flying over, flashing the tree line with spotlights and trying to shoot you.  During this odd sequence you are once again following a predetermined path, and you seem to be able to take damage but never actually die.  At one point it told me to bandage myself, which I did… but it really did not seem to have much to do with success or fail.  Eventually I followed the path, went out onto a rope bridge… I lost a fight with a helicopter and just like baby Moses got tossed into a river only to get found by a seemingly friendly stranger.

Thanks Three Dog

farcry3 2014-01-26 11-43-01-40 While he sounds absolutely nothing like him… this dude for some reason reminds me of Three Dog from Fallout 3.  So I completely missed his name, because in my head he will forever be Three Dog.  Basically he saved you because you have the heart of a warrior… which if funny because up until this point all your character has done is whine constantly about being in the jungle.  I seriously expected him to break out the Dante from Clerks “I’m not even supposed to be here today”.  Essentially he sets up the premise of the story.  The pirate slavers are taking over the island and these mystical tattoo warriors are fighting back.  Since you escaped the camp alive, you are going to be their great white hope to save the day.  You will learn powers that somehow show up on your tattoo because… magic reasons.

So at this point… I am finally starting to wonder if I get to play the game yet or not.  Three Dog gives you some cash and lets you go shopping for a weapon… which basically means you get to buy a pistol… because all you can afford is a pistol.  Now he sends you out into the jungle on a few missions… the first of them is to destroy a jammer on a near by radio tower.  All in all this goes pretty safely other than the fact there is a static spawn snake that just sits there are the base of the tower.  A bullet to the head and you are up the tower and mapping the world.  It seems that as you open up the towers you allow the vendors to get new and spiffier stuff.

Capture Objectives

farcry3 2014-01-26 12-08-27-41 Once the actual game started after wading through what felt like three hours of bullshit… it was pretty fun.  Essentially the game play is a lot like Just Cause 2, where you move around the map weakening the presence of the enemy forces in your area.  Unlike Just Cause however you actually capture the elements for your blue team.  Unlocking new stuff gives you new power-ups in the form of magical tattoo powers, and unlocks new weapons.  Additionally in each outpost you capture there is a mission board that gives you hunting and kill missions.  Hunting seems extremely important in the game as it allows you to upgrade your backpack… allowing you to carry more weapons and equipment.

The kill missions however seem extremely frustrating.  I took the first one, and like always I paid little attention to the mission introduction.  Look I am a big dumb monkey, give me a gun and point me in the direction of the enemies and I will destroy them.  I however rapidly failed the mission because guess what they wanted me to do…  that’s right sneak around and do some ninja stuff, using the nifty new takedown move that Three Dog just taught me.  I have a feeling that if this is the case… I will likely avoid these entirely because like I said before… stealth is not a thing that Belghasts do best.

Will It Blend?

farcry3 2014-01-26 12-10-21-89 All in all the game really is pretty fun, once they actually let you play it.  This game would have been so much better had they just created a simple reason for you to escape and let you pick up from the moment you get rescued by Three Dog without having to suffer through the horrible on-rails pseudo game play.  Hell I feel like it would have been better had your parachute just landed you in the middle of the native camp, and they simply told you that your family was captured.  Bam instant call to action, and instant adventure time.  If you can suffer through two hours of crap, then the game is pretty fun, or maybe you don’t dislike the modern on-rails psuedo-cinematic as much as I do.

In either case it is worth a play through, so long as you don’t end up paying much for the game.  This is definitely not going to be in the same league for me as Skyrim, Bioshock, Dishonored or even Just Cause 2.  However it is still pretty fun and I like the map control aspect of the gameplay.  I just wish there was more direct action early on that let me run amok and cause mayhem.  Granted you have to understand that I have not played Far Cry 2 either, I have only actually played the first one.  In that game you pretty much dropped straight into the action, and I was expecting the same from Far Cry 3.  I figured sooner or later I would give a review that I didn’t just absolutely gush over the game like I did about Hammerwatch and to a lesser extent Steamworld Dig.  I give Far Cry 3… 3 Mehs out of Meh.