Megafauna Rider

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I spent most of my weekend playing Horizon Zero Dawn instead of Destiny 2 for a change.  On Saturday night we recorded our September game club show and as a result I pushed myself to beat the main story quest in HZD.  Firstly…  this is really a foreign mode of play for me and in many ways it takes a lot of fun for me out of the game to focus fire on the main story.  I remember bowing out of the FFXV show in part because I didn’t want to ruin the game by forcing myself to ignore all of the side stuff.  With Horizon Zero Dawn I am sorta glad that I forced myself past this hump and buckled down on finishing.  This might be some of the best science fiction that I have experienced regardless of form factor be it book, movie or game.  The problem is it takes a really long time into the game before the hooks are set and you get enough of an inkling of what might be happening just beneath the surface.  There is this place that a lot of people seem to stall out, where you exit the sacred lands of the Nora and before you are handed the reins to the real story of the game.  I personally stalled out here as did Void and I have a sneaking suspicion SquirrelPope did as well based on some comments last night.  Once you get past this hump however it is an amazing roller coaster of a ride all the way to the finish.

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Since I was forced to play in a manner that is really not my style, I spent some time Sunday going back and meandering my way through the world.  The game does the whole hand wavy “the final events have yet to happen” thing after you finish the credit roll.  I feel this obligation to sit through the credits as a sort of homage to all of the people and work that went into making the game.  This one however tested my resolve because it is quite possibly the longest credit roll I have seen, but it just shows how much effort goes into making a modern AAA blockbuster.  I do however highly suggest you wade through because there is a massive payoff at the end that explains one of the weird little things that happens in the world as you explore it.  I think more than anything that is what I love the most about this game… it is constantly planting seeds that do in fact grow into something cool by the end of the game.  There seems to be nothing placed in this world that does not at least eventually lend its way to a larger purpose.  The secrets of the game are revealed to you at the same time as they are to your character Aloy, and as a result the experience is really interesting.  There were several times I thought I had guessed how this was all going to play out in the end, but the game kept throwing me curve balls.  The end result is a mythos as rich as any of the big tenets of geekdom, and I am absolutely rabidly looking forward to the expansion that is coming in November.

 

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.

Empires Fall

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This is going to be one of those “Bel is very late to the party” sort of posts but bear with me.  Additional upfront warnings…  I am entering a territory with this post that might have some minor spoilers.  For a long while I have avoided Knights of the Fallen Empire because I knew it made some significant changes that you simply could not step back.  As a result in my best Mass Effect fashion… I attempted to wring as much joy from the “old world” as I could and made sure that I saw all of the story content before moving forward.  Last night however I finally reached that point where I was at least reasonably comfortable taking the plunge and moving forward into the modern era of SWTOR.  Having said that…  there are a bunch of things I am extremely glad that I completed before doing so.  Firstly I am happy that I managed to see the main story arc for each of the classes.  Secondly I am happy that I took the time to progress every single companion and see all of their personal story before moving forward.  Additionally as far as I am concerned it is extremely important to do both Shadows of Revan and Rise of the Emperor (Ziost) before starting the Fallen Empire content.  I mean in theory you can just jump ahead to the modern era at any point you like, but if you want to have completed all of your story elements…  you need to do class story to completion, Revan and Ziost.

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Functionally Shadows of Revan and Rise of the Emperor are the unlabeled opening acts of the Fallen Empire campaign, and as a result I am extremely glad that I completed both of them.  Now the other big piece of warning that I had been given was that anything you want to do with your companions… you need to do before entering “chapters” mode.  This is because in truth you may or may not ever see them again.  I personally don’t have a list of which companions are findable in the game, and which are just gone indefinitely… but I have heard that some fan favorites are absolutely missing in action.  Once you enter Chapters the game is functionally changed, and you are sort of along for the ride.  It was that point that really concerned me and kept me from taking the leap for a very long time.  I had built up this comfortable stable of characters that I liked using, and enjoyed my jetting around the galaxy life style.  Once I started Chapter 1… literally all of that changed and I began playing a very different game.  That said…  I think it might be a better game.

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If Star Wars the Old Republic was functionally World of Warcraft in space…  then Fallen Empire is Knights of the Old Republic 3.  The game feels like it shifts from being a traditional check all of the boxes MMORPG… to being a much more story focused RPG that just happens to have other people playing it at the same time.  At this point I am still wrapping things up in Chapter VI and hope to keep moving forward tonight, but I’ve found myself in a situation that feels very familiar to anyone who has played KOTOR 1 or 2.  In that fashion I think its best to think of Fallen Empire and I assumed Eternal Throne as a sequel to Star Wars the Old Republic.  You are playing the same character, and you have all of the items you have built up along your first journey, but you are functionally playing a completely different game.  Maybe it is more of a new game plus mode than anything, as you shift your focus from the traditional tropes of an MMO, to starting over again.  It feels much the same as Mass Effect 2 did after the original, where you are set down in a world that is familiar, but the cast of characters has changed slightly… and you have to rebuild your legacy.

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I will likely continue to report in as I travel through the new content, but so far I have to say I am hooked.  There are a lot of events that happen in rapid succession, but functionally when you regain full control of your character five years have passed and the future is uncertain.  You are presented with a new cast of characters… some of which are familiar and others brand new.  That said the cast of characters are interesting and I immediately felt right at home…  in spite of no longer having my original team of companions.  I can see the potential for setting forth in a matter that cuts across the various class stories and potentially introduces me to characters from them all.  The other weird thing about this setting is that I am finding myself turning from pure Jedi…  to more of a balanced user.  I am giving myself permission to take more dark side choices when I feel like it suits my purpose better.  I am going to save the people that need saving… and I am absolutely going to take a lightsaber to the folks who deserve killing.  I am no longer the Jedi Battlemaster and am now instead known as the Outlander, and with that comes a change in focus.  Belghast is going to be a lot darker than before… and that is going to be okay.  I feel like this character is the vanguard of all of the characters I have played, and as a result sort of adopting my favorite traits from each of the class storylines.  In wild space, Sith and Jedi don’t matter anymore… but instead what matters is freeing the galaxy of this new threat.

Docks and Bellowbacks

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I believe I have talked about one of my side projects before, but for those who are un-indoctrinated…  I have been charged with setting up a gaming space at work.  For the first pass we decided to go with a Wii U given that it is sort of a universal middle ground between folks who self identify as gamers… and those who do not.  Everyone has played at least one round of Wii Bowling, and already since installing folks I never thought would sit down for a game of Mario Kart have done so.  Part of the build out involved picking out controller docks because we did not want a bunch of wayward cables.  For the Wii U pro controllers I chose the above dock by Nyko…  admittedly more on price than anything.  However after getting it and setting everything up… I am absolutely in love with the design.  Each controller has a boot of sorts that you plug into the USB port, and it fits relatively snugly.  Then on the backside is a magnet that holds the controller in place on the dock itself.  It just works amazingly well and the magnet is strong enough to not only hold the controller but also serve as a guiding mechanism to make sure that the controller gets docked successfully.  Which made me start to wonder…  does Nyko make these docks for any other console system?  My challenge is that in my office I have a PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and am contemplating moving my Wii U back upstairs.  That is five different styles of controllers that need to be charged and cradled in a reasonable manner to keep from getting a whole slew of cords tangled.

The tragedy however is that while Nyko makes controller docks for pretty much every system available…  none of them work like this one.  In a perfect world you could simply buy one base dock tree and then a bunch of connectors for the various controller types that you have.  After a few hours of frantic googling… it seems like no one really has a system that works like this.  There was however one apparently for the previous console generation that had support for the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360…  but for whatever reason never carried forth into this generation.  What I would love is for Nyko to simply just release versions of this docking system for all of the platforms, or in truth…  just sell me docks and then controller boots individually and allow me to mix and match my own system.  In part I am writing about this problem today, because often times as soon as I complain about an issue… one of my readers comes out of the woodwork to present a solution.  So if you have any ideas…  that does not involve access to a 3D printer because I am already thinking along those lines…  I would love to hear it.  It is honestly the magnets that make this system work so amazingly well and quite honestly…  I don’t have the electrical chops to make a magnetic USB connection work.  I think part of the problem is that the Wii U pro controller uses the USB connector that the previous generation used…  so mini instead of micro.  That said… this feels like money left on the table because I know a lot of people like me with multiple console systems all with controllers that need charging.

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Last night I returned to the cursed lands and continued my process of roaming around aimlessly.  I went a completely different direction than the one I had been heading in… and encountered the Fire Bellowback…  or as I think of them Fire Beetles.  I ran into a trio roaming around some ruins… and after scanning them a few times to sort out how I was going to attack I went after them with gusto.  The thing I didn’t expect was the fact that they essentially throw napalm at you, and have an insane range.  I was well into the fields on the far side of the river and they were still lobbing fireballs at me.  Essentially I got damned good at dodging while fighting them, and eventually whittled them down using my bow kitted out with extra tear damage.  As you can see in the above screenshot they each rewarded an insane 1050 experience, but also provided a hefty amount of salvage.  Other than that I actually started working on quests… namely the “Revenge of the Nora” story line.  I have been playing this game in short spurts, and prior to last night it largely meant just roaming around and taking down machines.  I cannot underline just how much fun that is… and how perfect the game play feels as you bulls-eye a watcher in the eye and watch it explode.

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I really like that Horizon seems to reward you equally for aimless roaming and focused gameplay.  I essentially had looked at the direction that the game was suggesting I go… and went in the opposite direction and largely…  that was a completely fine decision.  It was not really until last night that I finally sat down and started following the quests… and that too was a perfect fine decision.  I am broke once more however because I bought a purple set of armor, and decided to go with the version that has balanced resistances since… more often than not I end up in melee range before fights are finished.  Probably a lot of my success with the fire beetles is due to the fact that I had fairly decent resists going on.  What I really want now is some upgraded weapons, because I am still using the Carja bow that you get from either collectors edition or the pre-order bonus.  I got a whole slew of items and I am not completely sure which ones came from which thing.  I’ve heard that the hunter trials reward items, so in theory I need to focus on doing some of those now.  Regardless this game is still freaking amazing… and it serves as part of the reason why I have struggled to get into Breath of the Wild.  In many ways the newest Zelda game just feels awkward and cludgy…  whereas Horizon absolutely nails smooth and flawless gameplay.

Cars and Wielding Garbage

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I said this over the weekend and I feel like I need to reiterate it this morning.  For a little over a month my wife has been passively looking for a new vehicle.  When she hit 120,000 miles on her Pontiac Torrent all sorts of little things started failing.  The latest is a check engine light being caused by something in the engine emission filters… which in itself isn’t a huge deal apart from the fact that it disables remote start while the engine is in an error code.  So for a month now I have been receiving links to vehicles from my wife, and we’ve made a few ventures out to car lots to see what we think of various models.  There is an auto lot within a mile of the house that leaves all of the vehicles unlocked so that it is sort of a tradition to go there on Sunday when you to check out various vehicles unmolested by sales people.  There are a lot of vehicles that got marked off of the list simply because my knees would not fit underneath the dash, and some others the first time my wife test drove them.  We had narrowed things down to a half dozen different models, and one lot about an hour from where we live seemed to have all of them.  The irony is  that when we ultimately bought a vehicle…  it wasn’t even one that was on the short list.  The whole car buying experience thought feels foreign to me, and grossly outdated.  During this whole sequence of events we found out that no car lot has anything even resembling updated inventory on their website.  Its like this entire process is stuck somewhere back in the 1960s and never quite graduated to modernity.

My wife and I are both very data-centric people…  and actively reject the “personal touch” that car salesmen try and put on the deal.  Fortunately we maybe found the perfect sales person for us, who literally just handed us the keys to the vehicles we wanted to check out and left us completely alone to wander around the small town.  Over the course of the day we drove I think five different vehicles, and spent a ton of time on our phones researching each of them while sitting in said vehicle.  The problem is… a vehicle seems to permanent.  We are not the type to trade them off frequently and instead tend to buy a vehicle and drive it until past the point it is paid off.  Finally it came down to a dance of “funny math” which is frustrating as shit.  Ultimately the dance involved the monthly payment rate, and a thin line in the sand that we were not willing to budge off of, which meant that in order to seal the deal given that we were not trading in a vehicle…  that the dealership had to come down off the price a bit.  There was a funny sequence of events where the dealer and my wife were both on their phones using the exact same financing calculator app trying to reach a consensus of numbers.  Whatever the case we wound up buying, after an  entire day of looking at this one lot…  and made it home just in time for the AggroChat podcast.

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The other big happening of the weekend is that I now have Zelda Breath of the Wild in my grubby little hands.  No that does not mean I have a switch, but instead have been playing it on the Wii U.  The screenshots I will be posting are not mine, but instead ones I have scavenged from the internet, because I do not have my Wii U set up so that it can go through a capture card… and I have never quite figured out how the hell to take a screenshot on the console itself.  Even more so I have no clue how to POST a screenshot someplace I can actually snag it if I did take a screenshot.  I have to say I have really mixed emotions about this game, and in truth I have barely just scratched the surface.  I’ve cleared two of the early plateau shrines and have been trying to figure out how to get to a third one that is in a snowy region.  Any time I get close to it, I start taking ticks of damage from the cold…  and this is the point where I realized that there was a temperature gauge in the UI.  The first hurdle that I have been trying to get past is the controls themselves.  The default mapping of buttons is not that great to use… with jump being assigned to X at the top of the button layout… where I am much more used to it being B at the bottom of the button layout.  This however apparently is something you can fix, but the other problem is I am so used to using triggers as weapon attacks in modern games and keep accidentally throwing whatever weapon I have equipped when I accidentally hit the right bumper.

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The other big problem I have been having is that so far the game has the “Halo problem” for me.  What I mean by that is that in Halo you have to constantly keep switching off weapons and wind up using some absolutely trash to try and progress through levels.  The same thing is happening here… where a given weapon seems to last maybe one or two combat sequences before it breaks and I have to hurriedly swap to some other random piece of junk I picked up along the way.  I’ve killed plenty of things by beating it down with a skeleton arm and I am not super proud of it.  This is a Zelda game… I want to use a sword and a shield and until the game gives me some sort of permanent option for this I am not going to be terribly happy.  It gave me a foresters axe early on… and I loved that weapon…  right up until the point that it broke and now I feel like I am constantly robbed of the amount of fun I had using it.  My fear is that I am going to bounce pretty soon if the game does not end up giving me some unlimited durability weapons that I can just use as often as I like.  As far as the goods however… once I got used to the clunky controls it does in fact feel like an open world Zelda.  I like that I can choose my own battles and that I see enemy camps usually well ahead of them actually attacking me.  There was a cool sequence where there were a bunch of bow wielding characters up in a tower with no visible way to get up.  However there was a draw bridge and I was able to sever the ropes holding it up with arrows causing it to fall down below and giving me access.  This is a primary example of the sort of visual puzzle solving that seems to be going on in this game, and the early shrines I believe are teaching you a toolbox that can then be used later in the game to solve more complex puzzles.  I do however absolutely want to stab the “Old Man” or at least push him off the tower, because I find him really annoying.

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.

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

 

Scattered Gaming

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This weekend was an odd one.  After a string of relatively nice weekends, we ended up getting one that was either cold and windy… or cold and rainy, both of which drove my instinct to stay inside and hibernate.  The only problem is… with all this play time I largely squandered it and spent more time staring without purpose at games… than actually playing them.  It feels like I am starting to go through another one of my “funks” because nothing seemed to fit “just right” as far as games go.  I flitted between lots of different titles, playing them for a bit before shifting to something else…  often times ending right back up in the game I started in.  For a good chunk of the weekend I had the desire to play Destiny…  but wanted to instead be hanging out downstairs which only left me the unofficial remote play app as a solution.  Then there were games that I felt like I needed to make progress in like Division where I am still not at the level cap.  Friday was largely devoted to Undertale, and I think after forcing myself to play that game… it maybe soured the rest of my weekend.  So this morning I thought I would run down some of the progress I made in various games.

Undertale

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I wrote about this at length but after hanging up my controller as it were… I opted to instead watch several of the different endings.  I still feel fine in my decision to just abandon this game in an undefeated state.  I guess I don’t have a primal urge to finish games, and more often than not I get to the ending and just don’t finish.  I reach this point where I have gotten out of the game what I wanted, and I don’t see the point in expending that effort to push it across the finish line.  In the case of Undertale the thing that was driving me forward was to understand the story, and now between the podcast and the various youtube ending videos… I feel like I do.  Once that carrot was gone, the game play itself doesn’t make me want to ever touch this game again.  On the podcast folks talked about ways to lower the impact of the mechanics, like the Temmie armor…  but that isn’t even really an interesting option to me.

Destiny

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I really did not do much in Destiny other than a little bit of Crucible.  I am constantly amazed at how much I actually enjoy player versus player content in this game, when traditionally that is just not my thing.  I think a lot of it is that in this game it feels like there is zero negative impact on the rest of the game.  It is just another option I have to play, and gives me the same sort of PVE rewards that I expect to receive elsewhere.  Other than specialty modes like Trials of Osiris it feels like I am rewarded equally for just doing whatever I happen to want to do at the time.  I started down the path of the crucible simply as a way to get more Legendary marks, and then recently when I was grinding out sword kills I came to realize…  I was actually legitimately enjoying myself.  What is great about the crucible is that I get the central game play loop that I enjoy of shooting awesome weapons and charging around… without zero downtime.  It seems like it is easier to get Three of Coins to proc on Crucible than it is while doing strikes… or it might simply be that Crucible itself is just about the perfect amount of time per coin use.  While I have not actually gotten any of the really cool PVP drops…  I do get a fair amount of strange coins, motes and random pieces of armor that end up getting deconstructed.  Tonight I will hopefully be finishing up the rest of the Kings Fall raid that we had to abandon on Oryx last Tuesday, and beforehand it is my goal to hang out upstairs and run some more Crucible.

The Division

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This weekend I managed to push Division a little harder than the rest of the games and caught up with my friend Tamrielo at least.  At the start of the weekend I was sitting at roughly level 20, and as of this morning I am just about a third into 22.  While I absolutely could play this and only give it partial attention at lower levels, as I have gotten into the twenties this is not really the case.  As a result this weekend I managed to die probably more than I actually managed to accomplish anything.  There are two missions that I know I attempted at least a half dozen times before finally giving it my full attention and pushing through.  My standard operating procedure while hanging out with my wife downstairs is that I essentially have one eye on the game and one eye on whatever we happen to be watching…  not literally but you know what I mean.  The problem with this is that in doing so I am not exactly paying attention to the best possible tactical spot that I could be in while shooting incoming mobs.  The addition of snipers really changed how the game works, and now that I have guys that rush me with shotguns as well..  I am having to be way more careful about how I take on content.  That said I feel like I made some decent progress, but most of it was in short bursts of me playing for thirty minutes to an hour… and then logging out and doing something else.  Thankfully much like Destiny… short batches of play time feel just as rewarding to me as multiple hour long sessions.

World of Warcraft

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The other major happening of the weekend was me poking around on my Forsaken Hunter in World of Warcraft.  Recently Blizzard added an achievement that you could unlock by leveling a character in WoW to 20, aka the free mode level cap.  For doing this you end up getting Lady Liadrin as an alternate Paladin hero in Hearthstone.  Not that I really play Hearthstone… and even more so… not that I really like playing Paladins in Hearthstone…  I have this drive to get the achievement and unlock the extra shiny bits.  The negative of this achievement is that it only counts if you have recently leveled to twenty after the launch of the achievement, that means my army of level 100s are doing me zero good for this goal.  As a result I opted to level something on The Scryers Horde side since that is where the bulk of my lower leveled characters are these days.  I largely played during the podcast on Saturday night, and as a result managed to get to I believe 18 before giving it up for the night.  The goal is to spend some time this week pushing it over the line, so that I at least can feel like I got this out of the way.  I honestly think this whole promotion is a brilliant idea to try and cross pollinate some of the players actively playing Hearthstone and get them to try World of Warcraft.  I know Hearthstone is a major nostalgia bomb for me… but I wonder if it is the same for a player who has ONLY played Hearthstone, now being able to see where those cards they love are actually from.

 

 

Done with Undertale

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Making My Own Finish

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Last night I finished Undertale… and what I mean by that is that I reached a point where I am just finished caring about the game.  I have so many conflicted feelings about this title.  On one hand I really do enjoy the story that is being told, and I made my best attempt to go pacifist.  The problem I have however is that there is a whole lot about the “game” that I simply hate.  For me it feels like I am very much playing two vastly different games.  One of which is this awesome console RPG where I wander around and talk to interesting people and do the occasional puzzle.  Then there is a completely different game that is the often times bullet hell shooter that is the combat system.  The combat system is the game that I hate, and the loner I had to play it the more I loathed its existence.  The strange part about it is that I love JRPGs and I love Bullet Hell shooters… they are awesome separate genres but there is something about the hybridization of this game that offends my sensibilities.

When I play a bullet hell shooter, it feels like there is nothing on the line.  Sure I might lose a ship or I might have to start back at the beginning of the game, but there is nothing that I deeply care about on the game.  When it comes to an RPG… adding that bullet hell aspect feels too punishing for me.  If I fucked and forgot to save, a single screw-up might cost me hours of retracing my steps to try and reach the point where I have to try that fight all over again.  In a bullet hell title you often get some avenue for rapid trial and error as you figure things out on the fly.  I am very much a learn by doing person, and no amount of prep work ahead of time is going to get me through a fight until I reach my own internal click moment where I grok the mechanics at a purely muscle memory level.

Un-fun Experience

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If I somehow could have turned off the combat system and wound up with a game where I just walk around and talk to interesting people I would unabashedly sing this games praises.  Tonight we are recording the AggroChat Game Club show where we talk about Undertale and right now I feel like I am probably going to be the lone voice that did not really enjoy this game.  From the moment I first encountered the combat system I felt like I was “taking my medicine” and forcing myself through an experience that I simply was not enjoying.  So in many ways it felt like doing homework, and I found myself trying to rush through as fast as I could so I had something to talk about.  I don’t want to give too many spoilers in my blog post, and will likely save those for the podcast.  However I managed to get to the bullet hell-iest of all bullet hell glitch endings, which apparently means that I did not make enough friends along the way?  I did a bunch of research and watched several of the other ending options on YouTube and I have to say…  the ending I was heading for feels like a massive slap in the face.

I realize it is a central conceit in a lot of Japanese games that you get a shitty ending the first time… and that is supposed to drive you to play the game again to get a better ending.  I’ve always kinda thought this practice was bullshit, and instead of lighting a fire under me to get the better ending… I just tend to chuck that game in the dustbin as a thoroughly disappointing experience.  The primary problem with me and this game is that I don’t enjoy the central game mechanics… which are avoid stuff on screen as a a replacement for standard menu driven RPG combat.  I can absolutely play a game indefinitely that has a shitty story, but has mechanics that I really enjoy.  This is why I mesh so well with skinner box and grindy games… because I am enjoying that core loop enough to keep playing for the promise of something cool in the future.  That said I have never been able to struggle through a sub par mechanical experience just because I know there is a good story there somewhere.  When I reach a point when I think I would much rather watch a YouTube video of someone else playing…  then it is time for me to hang up my controller and cut my losses.

 

How to Survive 2 Impressions

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Sandbox/Mission Hybrid

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Roughly a month ago a friend of mine hooked me up with a copy of How to Survive 2, because she knew I was a fan of the whole zombie apocalypse genre and it was a game she was enjoying.  I had all of these plans to write up a proper impressions piece, but got sidetracked by all things The Division.  This game was a whole lot of the reason why I survived the lead up to the launch of that title, because it gave me something fresh to piddle around with.  The basics of the game are that you are a survivor in a world long after everything went to shit thanks to the zombie outbreak.  Since I did not play the first title, I feel like there is probably some background story there that I am missing.  What I do know however is that this title is set in the coastal region of Louisiana.  There are no real recognizable landmarks however, but instead the world simply borrows a swampy feeling Tileset.  The game has both single player and multiplayer game modes, but I have largely spent my time playing single player.

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Within moments of starting a new game you are introduced to the character of Kovac, a man that at first you only know as a voice coming through some sort of a speaker system.  He serves as your guide as he attempts to teach you the basics of surviving in this world.  The game itself is divided into two basic chunks, the large open world area that allows you to freely roam and explore, and very tight and controlled missions with specific objectives.  The missions themselves are repeatable and you can crank up the difficulty to give you better rewards and experience.  One thing of note, and why I am doing an impressions piece is that the game is in early access, and there are a lot of things that are simply not in the game yet.  Much of the tutorial that walks the players through how the world works is simply missing, so I had to rely on my friend and what I could google to figure out a few things.

Level Your Camp

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One of the big things that I was missing was how one actually levels up.  The game has two parallel systems that are designed to level up together, that is your “camp” that you are building in the open world and your character itself.  Both of these have levels associated with them that are purchased through the spending of experience gained through doing activities.  The fastest way to gain this experience for me at least, seemed to be to repeat one of the early missions with the difficulty slider cranked up as far as I was allowed to.  The reason the whole camp leveling thing was a bit confusing at first, was that the character level is locked to the camp level.  So in order to level up your character you have to first level the camp, and you will continue to stair step the two progressions from that point on.  In addition to raw level however there are numerous perks that you can unlock… some of which are absolutely must haves like the ability to open lock picks.  Others are improve the efficiency of using weapons or items, and I assume are also really important once you get a good idea for how you want to build out your character.

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The thing I have noticed is that the difficulty of encounters ramps up pretty quickly, especially in the open world.  For quite a while all I encountered were the generic slow zombies, however once I got to around level three or four the game started to throw in those “track star” zombies that have become popular in the more modern and edgy zombie films.  Around level five I encountered this games version of the boomer… the fat bloated corpse that explodes when you get it low on health.  I am sure as the levels continue to ramp up I will keep encountering other mixes of bad guys each one with their own way of dealing with it.  The only real problem is that in the bit I have been playing my only ranged option so far is a crafted bow.  I am wondering when exactly I will encounter guns, because while I have found a small bit of ammunition.. I have yet to find anything to use it with.

Fallout-Esc

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There is a certain nostalgic feeling to playing this game that I have a hard time really putting into words.  In many ways the game reminds me of the original Fallout games, in that much of your interaction is happening in smaller closed maps that are tightly designed around a single mission.  There is a big of fog of war going on as well as you explore because you can only actually see a small section of the screen at a time.  This is magnified as you go into buildings because there is a forced zoom that happens allowing you to see finer detail inside.  This also makes it much easier for a zombie to sneak up on you and there have been a few moments especially on the night missions where I genuinely jumped when something lumbered out of a corner that I had not been looking yet.  Wandering a cityscape with only your flashlight to see with…  is unexpectedly tense given that this is a top down isometric game.  I definitely had moments of trying really hard to bait everything out of buildings before actually going in to explore them for the fear of getting overrun especially on higher difficulties.

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The game is very much not finished, but what is there was really enjoyable to play and helped to get me through those Division withdrawals.  I would really like to play this game with friends because I think it would be extremely awesome to explore larger cities together.  The game is targeting PC, PS4, and Xbox One, and I could absolutely see this being an enjoyable console co-op experience because the movement feels like it would translate well to a twin-stick controller setup.  The big thing to remember about this game is that it comes with the same early access concerns as always.  The game is not finished, but they seem to be updating pretty regularly.  They have a beta branch that has more frequent updates, but also likely is in a less polished state… and then the normal branch is largely stable.  I had quite a bit of fun playing the game, and I intend to pick it back up again.  It is the perfect thing to pop into do a mission, and then exit feeling like you accomplished something or at least moved the experience bar forward.  While going through all of my recent home renovations there were many occasions where I simply did not have the time to get into something terribly detailed.  Instead I booted up How To Survive 2, and poked around for a bit and got my quick gaming fix before returning to the fray.  I liked it and look forward to seeing how this evolves.  At some point I feel like I really need to poke my head into the original game since this one doesn’t really provide much backstory.