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.

Deep Roads

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It’s Over

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At this point I don’t know for certain if my character is weeping tears of frustration or joy.  Which ever the case I am just really happy that as of today and by the time I get home from work… the Love is in the Air event will be finished.  I felt so damned conflicted this year when it came to this event, largely because I don’t even know why I was participating.  I really really do not enjoy World of Warcraft holiday events, because they somehow manage to make something that should feel fun an exciting… into an obligation.  Then on top of that… I don’t even like the Love Rocket mount.  However because it is the rarest mount in the game, and I do not already have one… I feel somehow obligated to try for it every year.  I wish I could understand why I do it… and to the extent of pushing aside other games that I would enjoy more just so I can haplessly farm for a chase mount.  Sure it only takes a few minutes to do an attempt at the mount… but I felt obligated to run six different level 100 characters through it. Which by the time you check your garrison and shipyard on each, and queue for a dungeon…  you are talking about roughly an hour of your night gone…  chasing a mount I didn’t even really care that much about.

We talked at length about this phenomena over the weekend on the podcast, and largely why this works… and why it also frustrates us.  Tam suggested that it was because it feels like the game is not respecting our time…  and that is absolutely part of it.  I think for me personally a good deal of my frustration is that this madness is actually working.  This game knows my triggers so well, and it feels as though I have no control in the process.  There is a certain measure of excitement in the chase, and were this something I could normally farm on my own… it would fall into the same category as my attempts to get rare mounts from raid bosses.  However the fact that it is only available for a limited time…  triggers the “fear of missing out” that if we don’t become mindless drones we might miss that one opportunity to get something cool.  Even when in this case the something cool is not something we actually wanted in the first place.  It is just frustrating to see a company working so effectively against my nature and getting me to follow along in their scheme each year in trying for “the thing”.  Now granted I know without a doubt that come Halloween I will once again be chasing like mad in trying to get the Headless Horseman mount.  At least I can rest comfortable in the knowledge that it “could be worse”.  I mean it could be something as heinous as the Rift cash box chase mounts 🙂

Dwarf in the Deep Roads

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I don’t have a whole lot to say here, because I didn’t get terribly far into it…  however I did manage to start a quest chain leading me into the Deep Roads.  The Deep Roads are my happy place in the Dragon Age universe because if it were really possible…. I would absolutely live completely underground.  If you venture into any of my Minecraft settlements, you will see a pretty simple structure above ground… that leads to a massive snaking catacombs underneath.  I just feel safe underground, and I have loved being down in every cave I have been able to.  I still think having a structure that was mostly buried in a mountain would be my ultimate situation.  I wonder if some of my reaction of safety to being underground… comes from the fact that I live in a state where the wind comes sweeping down the plains…. and takes out an entire city every now and then.  In any case… we also got into a lengthy discussion about the Deep Roads on the podcast…. and I was shocked to find out that pretty much everyone other than me… unanimously hated them.  They just seem like a badass concept… here are these roads and warrens deep underground that you have to fight the Dark Spawn which natively live down there.  That pretty much sounds amazing…  constantly having a fresh flow of Dark Spawn to fight.  Then again…. I might not be normal when it comes to combat in video games.  The Deep Roads are like the most metal part of Dragon Age, and I am hoping together to get time to venture forth again down there.

 

 

 

Man With the Hand

The Man with the Hand

The Struggle

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The Man with the Hand

For over a year now I have desperately tried to get into Dragon Age Inquisition.  The game starts really slow and throws your character in the middle of a conflict that I did not really care for.  Be warned that there are going to be a few minor early game spoilers here, but I am going to try really hard not to say anything super spoilery.  During Dragon Age II, you are constantly getting vignettes of Varric being in essence tortured and questioned by a figure that is identified as “The Inquisitor”.  In Dragon Age Inquisition (and the anime if you had chance to watch it) you are introduced to Cassandra Penteghast…. the same Inquisitor who you learned to kinda hate during Dragon Age II.  The thing is…  in truth I actually rather like Cassandra, but the initial set up of the game places me squarely on the side of some epic side-eye when interacting with her.  Not to mention that my character is apparently being blamed for some catastrophe as a result.  Then with a huge amount of narrative whiplash I go from being the pariah and prisoner….  to quite literally the chosen one of Andraste.  At no point did I want ANY of this…  in past games I have only feigned interest in Andraste to get Leliana to like me.  I am generally fairly anti-religion in games… and in this case especially since my preferred method of playing Dragon Age games is to play a Dwarf that believes we all spontaneously came from the stone and will return back there again someday.

Then on top of that… we basically find out that there is a war breaking out between the Mages and the Templar, and I am not terribly fond of either side.  The entire game seemed to focus on my least favorite aspects of the Dragon Age world… and somehow got rid of the parts that I loved.  I absolutely love the concept of the Grey Wardens.  I was all about drinking demon blood and fighting dark spawn, and I would have been completely happy if we just had more games where I fought lots of bad things to save kingdoms.  With Dragon Age II…. it took a big detour, but even then I got to fight self righteous asshole red lyrium Templar…. and was mostly okay with it.  The thing that carried me through that game were the characters that I got interested in…. but the problem thus far with Dragon Age Inquisition…. were the fact that I simply was not really feeling the characters at all.  I like Cassandra just fine, and Dorian and Solas were both growing on me.  Varric felt like a caricature of Varric from Dragon Age II…. which bothered me from the start.  Leliana changed for the worst, and was not the character that I came to adore….  lost all of the soft spots and became this battle hardened zealot.  Blackwall is cool enough but I already had Cassandra to tank so quite literally had zero use for him.  The only character I completely and wholeheartedly loved…. was Sera, but that didn’t really feel like enough.  Mostly the grouping did not feel like “my team” in the same way as the other Bioware outings did, and more so felt like a bunch of characters that I just happened to get thrown in the same room with.

The Turning Point

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A Better Horizon

As I said at the beginning of my post… this has been a struggle for over a year now.  I will sit down… play for a few hours….  not get drawn into the game and then log out once more.  With the new laptop I have been in the process of trying to play games that I for one reason or another struggled with.  At the top of that list was Dragon Age Inquisition, and last night I finally realized that I was sitting at a pretty major turning point in the story.  I had been putting off the assault on the breech, thinking that it might lead me down a path that would ultimately lock me into the “end game” in a same way as attacking the collector ship does in Mass Effect 2.  Sure I was only 20-30 hours into the game, but Dragon Age II was really short… so far all I knew the base game here was short as well if you simply steamrolled your way through the story.  Last night Dragon Age pulled a “Link to the Past” on me…  and bam all of the sudden I saw everything that everyone was talking about this game.  Essentially I now view everything that I did up to this point as largely “the tutorial level” and now it feels like the real game is finally beginning.  I have to tell you I am really excited to be “into” this game.

The game manages to pull together a sequence of events that not only cements your motivation and why you care about the events of the world…. but also serves to cement your team.  I went from feeling this was just a group of people that I was stuck with….  to being a group of MY people.  I am also completely bought into the Inquisition as an organization, because after last night I realized that I am the person shaping the fate of this organization.  I can make the Inquisition be this brutal force similar to its namesake…. or I can make it into an organization that cares about people and tries to save them in the process.  Bioware I am sold…. and I am ready to get started playing this game. What is frustrating about all of this is… Dragon Age: Origins had an AMAZING introduction… or at least it did if you played a Dwarf.  By the time I completed that opening sequence I was completely sold on the setting and the characters and ready to go out into the world and carve my niche.  Dragon Age II had a much rougher start, but even though it felt more forced and pushed down a single hallway… I eventually reached a point where it felt I was changing the world.  Inquisition though… feels like the worst of those two options…. where you have only the most vestigial of control over your own character as you are forced down a path.  Thankfully it seems that the skies are clearing…. and I am ready to step forth into the new world.

Week in Gaming 1/17/2016

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weekingamingIt has been awhile since I have done one of these, and of the various failed columns that I have tried over the years…. I think this one is the best for me personally.  Sunday is a rough day in general, in part because I wake up and have to finish up AggroChat and get it out to the various locations.  As a result it helps to have a fairly formulaic option I can lean on when I am not feeling super inspired.  As a result I am leaning once again on the Week in Gaming series just to talk about a bunch of stuff I played this week.

Pax South Hype!

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I am starting to get super excited for Pax South.  Last year I had various companies ask me for a business card, and I was somewhat kicking myself for not having any.  I mean I guess part of me never really thought that having a business card for a blog and podcast was a good idea.  This year however I have gotten my ass in order and if everything works as intended the cards will arrive at the beginning of next week.  I only ordered 250 because I could not in any circumstance think of a reason why I would need that many.  The design was done by Rae and was originally intended to be our Pax Prime cards, but since we were denied media access to that convention they never actually got made.  I resurrected the idea because I thought it was pretty slick.  In the original design each of the hosts has their own color, and given that I love green I latched onto that one.  As far as a back design I went with something simple because I felt like it needed something on the back….  and in truth that is the crux of our thing…  daily posts, weekly cast.  If you are also going to be at Pax South let me know, I would love to meet up with everyone that I can while I am there.

Undertale

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I have some mixed feelings about Undertale so far.  On one level I really like the game and it feels like something that is going to be an interesting experience.  The negative is I absolutely HATE the combat system.  I hate mini-games, and while I was corrected last night on the podcast…. I am sorry but that isn’t a real combat system.  Part of me just wants to run away from every single fight so that I don’t have to do it.  I mean granted I was using arrow keys and maybe that makes it worse than it actually is, but I just hate the concept of breaking out of an otherwise fun old school RPG style game….  and having to deal with move the heart to avoid shit.  For now I have essentially abandoned the game, in the hopes that some distance will in fact make the heart grow fond.  Essentially I love everything else about the game… other than the combat system.  This might be one of those games that is more enjoyable to watch.

Victor Vran

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I’ve already talked about this game quite a bit throughout the week but I feel like it still deserves additional mention.  The only negative about this game is that I started playing it essentially the week before a bunch of other things that I wanted to play happened.  My hope is that once the recent infatuation with Warframe and Diablo 3 Season 5 have calmed down, I can return to this and play my way through the main story some more.  I really want to see what multiplayer feels like in the end game experience.  Playing it was fine for me… but essentially locked the other players that I was dragging along with me… out of some of the experience of interacting with the voice floating around in your head.  If you are not partaking of the Diablo 3 Season 5 madness…. and still want a ARPG fix… I highly suggest you check it out.

Warframe

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This game….  is so good and I am kinda kicking myself for never really giving it a proper attempt at playing.  I have downloaded this game numerous times in the past on the PC, PS3 and PS4 when I saw other folks in my various social media timelines talking about it… but never actually tried it.  I guess in my head I had this absolutely misrepresented as to what sort of game it was.  With a super generic name like Warframe… I kept getting it jumbled up with the other game Warface.  Warface being a super generic Call of Duty/Counterstrike style PVP shooter.  So in my head I equated Warframe to a PVP experience… not this deeply nuanced cooperative PVE experience.  There are so many aspects of this game that remind me of an MMO, but not necessarily in the traditional sense.  The game as a whole feels like this amalgam of Destiny, Phantasy Star Online and Tribes.  If that combination sounds like something you would be interesting, I highly suggest you check it out.  I think I was largely luckier than most in that one of the freebie mechs, the Excalibur is right down my alley.  I am slashing everything with my space ninja ways, and really enjoying myself.  For those curious, I have pretty much set down roots on the PC, and while I might give it a shot later on the PS4, I have no real intention of moving at the moment as the AggroChat crew seem to all be playing it.

Diablo 3

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The floodgates for Diablo 3 Season 5 opened on Friday at 7pm and from that point until 10:30 or so my time I was running around in a group leveling like mad.  At this point I have managed to get to 68, which puts me behind the curve of folks like Grace that are 70 with over 150 paragon levels.  That however is fine by me, because I am just happy I am almost to the cap with at least one character.  I am going to be interested in seeing what the various challenges are that unlock the various seasonal rewards.  What makes the season play so addictive to me is the fact that it mimics a MMO launch.  Everyone on your friends list for a period of time is playing Diablo 3 and excited about it, as though they were playing a brand new game.  So you have a few weeks of focused play, and then don’t feel guilty at all when you shift back to playing other games until the launch of the next season.  This focused excitement is really fun to experience, and this is technically my third season so far.  There is part of me that wishes I had gotten on board with the concept earlier.  My goal today is to finish up my Crusader and then probably focus on some more Warframe.  Hopefully all of you readers out there have had an equally fun week, and Pax South seriously could not get here soon enough.

Victor Vran Review

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Secrets Abound

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One of the hardest parts about getting steam gifts for folks… is trying to pick a game that you think they will really like.  I know in one case every single game I thought “man that is perfect” for a friend of mine, it turned he had… and had already beaten.  Every now and then someone completely nails it though, and I think this year my friend Ashgar did just that.  As a kid I envisioned this game that I wanted to create, that was a lot like Castlevania in setting, but while adventuring you might see something in the background of a level.  Then through doing a specific ability sequence you would be able to enter the background and find secret areas.  The concept was pretty straight forward, and I’ve mentally conformed it to lots of different genres.  The game I have been playing however… Victor Vran… does this thing and does it extremely well.  You cannot imagine how exited I was the first time I played the game and saw it doing pretty much that thing I had always wanted to do.  The game has old school secret areas, that are accessed by blowing up walls, jumping over seemingly impassable objects… or sometimes wall jumping your way up to a higher game field that you didn’t notice at first.

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The gameplay itself is this strange amalgam of Diablo, with a setting that feels like the love child of Witcher and Castlevania.  The monkey wrench into the traditional Diablo model is that the Z axis exists… you can jump and even deliver jump attacks.  In many ways there are aspects of the game that remind me of Guild Wars 2, where there are several different types of weapons you can pick up and wield:  sword, rapier, hammer, lightning gun, shotgun, spellbook, scythe, and mortar.  There might be other weapons available but these are the ones that I have seen so far, and each of them comes with a specific main attack… as well as two special attacks that are bound to Q and E if you are using the keyboard and mouse controls.  In addition to this you have two demonic power slots, which serve as spells that you pick up while playing the game.  These are extremely varied and do everything from hurling down fireballs at the opponent, to shielding the player… to throwing you into a frenzied rage increasing your melee damage…. but also causing you to take more damage yourself at the time.

Your Destiny

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Finally you have a series of Destiny cards that tweak your character in certain ways.   At level 18 I have 11 Destiny points worth of cards that I can use at any given time… and as I open chests, kill monsters, and complete quests I often times have the chance of picking up additional cards.  These vary greatly in their effect… so for example The Sun that I have equipped gives me a chance of proccing a huge explosion anytime I “overkill” a mob… meaning deal more damage than is needed to kill them in a single hit.  Others like Hope simply increases your hitpoint pool directly, and others still add additional combat traits like The Vampire which causes all of your attacks to life steal.  The game feels like it has just enough customization to let you feel like you have some measure of control on how your character feels, but not so much as to cause a quagmire of possible build options.  Diablo almost suffers from this at times, and it feels like in order to really play your character efficiently you need to do a lot more planning than I really want to do while playing a game.  In this game I often fiddle with my equipped items in the middle of levels just to see how it feels differently, and the ability to hot swap between two different weapons comes in extremely handy when dealing with different monster types.

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The aspect of the game that most endeared me, was that every single area of the game feels like it is part of the larger game as a whole.  What I mean by that is that there is one big play field for an area, and then linked off of that are a bunch of smaller sub dungeons.  Then those dungeons often times are cross linked to other dungeons as well, giving the progression of play field an almost MMO like quality.  Sure this exists in Diablo, but it feels almost accidental rather than “these are the building blocks of this zone”.  What I like quite a bit is the fact that you can get a preview of a zone before you actually enter it.  The above screen is an example of that, it shows what the new zone is, some examples of what kind of critters might be found in it… as well as a listing of all of the challenges.  So in the above example I know that I probably want to have a scythe at the ready, so I can swap to it in order to kill a certain type of mob in the zone known as the “Volkavs”.  I know the area has three secrets to find, and that I want to try really hard to power up my demon abilities so that I can kill lots of mobs with them.  Then while going through the level each time you trigger one of those objectives it spawns in some sort of a reward.  Finding all of the secrets will reward lots of gold, or slaying the champions will spawn a banner that starts to spit out experience globes for example.  Each of the symbols out beside the objective means something different.

Not Perfect, But Fun

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When I initially looked at this game, there was a lot that made me interested…. but the big turnoff was that you seemed to be playing a single character named Victor Vran that almost felt like this generic demon hunter character.  Now that I have gotten into the game, the setting itself is way cooler than I gave it credit, but at the same time… it does feel a bit like a heavy metal video.  You are a lone demon hunter entering a city that has fallen to the demons…  one that has been a death trap for so many other hunters.  As you go through the zones you are constantly seeing reminders of other hunters fallen and dead, and as the plot unfolds you get an understanding of why exactly this one city has been so besieged.  There are so many common tropes here that the story itself could be a bit of a turn off for many players.  The gameplay and moment to moment fun of the game however is amazing.  You end up picking up a “Bob the Skull” like companion that serves as a voice in your head… and a running narration of your actions.  There is a moment when if you don’t head towards the clear objective… but instead wander around trying to make sure you have cleared everything out… he accuses you of going in the wrong direction…. and then begins to sing the “Brave Sir Robin” song from Monty Python.  So at times this ever present narrator feels like it does in say Thomas Was Alone or Bastion.

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The other negative is… you are stuck being Victor.  You don’t get to create your own demon slayer, but instead are dumped into the role of this existing one.  So much like playing Uncharted where you are always going to be Nathan Drake…  you are always going to be Victor Vran.  I mean I get why they are doing what they are doing, because it makes a much cleaner and more simple narrative path for the game.  That said you encounter other cool characters, that I had hoped maybe you would be able to take them out adventuring instead.  You meet another Demon Hunter pretty early on named Irene, who eventually serves the role of selling advanced gear back in the castle.  It would have been really cool if when you met her… you could have chosen to take her out adventuring instead with Victor guarding the hunter stores.  Similarly you bump into a royal guard, that I could see taking out for a spin, or a grumpy old military adviser or priest.  The feeling that you are adventuring with a team and rather than just one dude with a sword would have been welcome.  I guess they are still adding content and planning on releasing expansions, so here is hoping at some point they will flesh out some of that.

Team Play

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Last night my focus was less of working through my own story, and more on hanging out with Grace and Thalen who now also have the game.  At first it felt like there was not much challenge at all, but I think maybe the game has trouble scaling up content the moment a new player joins.  As we started moving around more the challenge level seemed to increase to something of an average of our levels.  So for Grace and Thalen the mobs probably felt really rough, and for me… since I was as eight levels over the next closest player in the above example…  it felt something on the easy side.  What I enjoyed the most about group play, was that even though I had already completed the objectives… I was still able to get rewards from helping Grace and Thalen complete them.  Additionally “Kill X” type tasks… count for the entire group so every hammer kill counted for a hammer kill objective… regardless of who got the final blow.  The game seems to use Diablo style personal loot, and the exploration aspect was really cool when one of us would figure out how to get up to some secret… then have to show the others how to get there as well.  My only real complaint about grouping was that there is no trade system.  I would have happily dropped some decent weapons on my friend when we first started, because I personally have ended up favoring a specific set of weapons that is different from what they ultimately ended up enjoying.  All of this said…  the game works well, is gorgeous to play through… and controls better that I would expect.  If you are looking for a fun dungeon crawler with some unique twists on the Diablo model… I highly suggest you check it out.

 

 

The Institute

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Riding the RF

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This coming Saturday it is the intention to record the Fallout 4 show for AggroChat since we ultimately put it off until after the Holidays.  As a result I am back on the mission of trying to finish up the main storyline so that I can discuss it.  I have to tell you…  focusing on the storyline has killed a lot of my enjoyment of this game, and even then I find myself having a hard time of not following my instincts and letting myself get lost in the rabbit holes that are the weird side events going on around the commonwealth.  However I really really need to focus so I can finish up and be read to discuss the path I took.  Tam, Kodra and probably a few others will have likely beaten the game multiple times by the show happens…  but so much of my enjoyment has nothing to do with the storyline that I am going to be hard pressed to finish this game once.  I’ve logged hundreds upon hundreds of hours in the other Fallout and Elder Scrolls games…  and started playing each of them numerous times…  and to be honest… I think I have maybe beat the main story exactly once per game.  Beating them is just not part of what I find crucial to the enjoyment, but instead roaming around and inhabiting the world is what makes them special.  That said I am going to talk a bit about the storyline so if you don’t want to have any plot details spoiled…  please just skip the rest of this post.

Firstly…  I love the Railroad.  I’ve loved everything about the quest sequence so far, from the having to follow the freedom trail to find their base, to the extracting and guarding of runaway synths.  One of my favorite missions was when I had to pick up a synth and guard him while waiting on someone else to help ferry him along to his new home.  I realized by following the path of the Railroad I would ultimately come into conflict with both the Brotherhood of Steel and the Institute, and more or less I am perfectly fine with both of these choices.  The Minutemen however, I am hoping I can retain my position with them, because I really like the concept of them as the unsung heroes of the commonwealth.  The only frustration so far has been that working on the main story, and also the railroad story… has forced me to follow at least to a point the institute story.  Everything about the institute creeps me the fuck out.  They keep trying to tell me that they are no where near the bogeymen that they are acclaimed to be….  but then they want me to go abduct a scientist, and act like they weren’t going to give him a choice in the matter.  They also really wanted me to create a radio broadcast threatening the commonwealth that if they messed with the institute they would destroy them.  Again there is the whole Synth thing as well…  if you create life you have to respect it… and they very much seem to treat synths the same way we would treat a toaster.

Double Agent

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You would think that by working with the Institute I would come to respect and understand them, but instead it has only served to make me more creeped out by their actions.  The only real positive of the institute is the fact that the Courser outfit looks amazing, and I am more than happy to wear it around everywhere.  Basically the Institute reminds me of the Vault, magnified to the extreme.  Everything is cold and sterile, and I believe you are supposed to sympathize with your son….  aka “Father” but he seems just as twisted and misguided as the Overseers from the various vaults.  There is a point where you have this conversation with him, where he basically writes off everything that is happening in the commonwealth as nothing worth salvaging, but instead I feel like I’ve seen so much good already in the people of the commonwealth.  What is killing me is how long it is taking for me to get to the point where I can stop playing nice… and help the synths escape from the Institute.  There are a few of the scientists that I like, but it feels very much like running around in a creepy 1980s police state science fiction film.  Having every single item in the Institute look like 1970s era “high tech” concepts isn’t helping either.  I keep having flashbacks in my mind to movies like Logan’s Run or books like Brave New World.  Basically the whole experience with the Institute is a whole lot of nope.

So much of me wants to just open fire and take out everyone down there….  then give the tech they have to people who will actually put it to use for the benefit of everyone.  They claim that they are the last hope of humanity…. but they seem to be doing nothing at all to benefit anyone other than themselves.  They are a bunch of scientists high on the act of doing science…. and seem go give zero shits about the practical application of the tech they are building when it comes to actually improving the world for anyone other than their cloistered society.  Basically the Institute is against everything that makes me really love Fallout 4, the feeling of honestly saving the world a little bit at a time.  Both the Insititute and The Brotherhood of Steel are these paternal forces, trying to gather power and resources for themselves at the cost of the common folk.  So all of that said… I am going to be damned happy when I can finally open fire and leave the Institute behind me.  Tam kept alluding to the Railroad not being what they seem…. but I just have not seen it yet.  I don’t see the Institute as the noble force worth committing myself to… instead I see a group that causes a lot of harm and ends up thinking of it as “minor collateral damage”.  The hubris is strong with them…  and I am really hoping I am getting close to ending the story arc and leaving them behind.

 

 

 

Launch Hype Cycle

The Perfect Amount

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One of the subjects I have thinking about quite a bit this week is the video game hype cycle… namely the time from when a video game is announced to the time you can have it in your grubby little hands.  There are a lot of times that a game is announced with great fanfare and then when it actually releases two years later… the excitement has died down to a point where I rarely realize it has launched.  This is especially true with games that have an early access system, because quite literally in my mind they have been “out” from the moment they started taking money for the game.  I’ve come to a line of thinking that Fallout 4 pretty much represents the perfect amount of hype leading into a game launch.  While all manner of information was leaked about this game for a few years… there was no official acknowledgement of the game, nor any media floating around about it until June 2015 at E3.  At which point they announced that the game would be available in November of that same year.  This gave the game a focused four months to hype it up and get people read for it.

The truth is that most of the hype was fan created.  Bethesda themselves continued to release a slow trickle of information and trailers… large parts of which were simply recompiled from the demos given at E3.  But this constant trickle served to keep the fires ignited long enough that by the time the game actually launched a few months later… folks were still very much at the peak of excitement, rushing out into the store and buying damned near anything even vaguely related to the game.  As an example of this fever pitch I give to you exhibit A… the fact that the extremely limited edition Nuka Cola Quantum cases are going for over $1200 on Ebay.  They announced a game with lots of new features, and then delivered it a short period of time later as promised.  This sort of brevity is refreshing when it comes to video games, because we are simply used to it dragging on over the course of several years including extended alpha and beta phases which only serve to get the players bored with the title before they even lay their hands on it.

Beta is Not Beta

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Another huge problem that plagues the industry is the fact that Beta testing really doesn’t mean what it says it means.  What is ultimately spurring on this post is the launch of the World of Warcraft Legion Alpha yesterday to the press, streamers and a few fan sites.  While Fallout 4 had this nice clean short cycle, Legion is already setting up to have a considerably longer one.  We first got the official announcement of the rumored expansion at Gamescom in August, and post Blizzcon in early November we received our potential launch window of September 2016.  Now that we have an alpha circulating, we will now have plenty of hype inducing articles and videos circulating…  with ten months to go until the potential launch window.  While this is awesome to stoke the fires, the flames will have died down significantly by the time the game actually releases.  Right now I myself am riding this nostalgia buzz that has lead me to resubscribe to the game, but there is likely no way that the game can sustain my excitement until next year to keep the love going.

What I meant by the Beta not meaning what it used to, is the fact that we no longer have these cloistered NDA protected testing environments.  So in essence Beta becomes this time to allow streamers and the press to hype up the game for Blizzard, rather than the period of deeply focused testing.  Sure it is frustrating to be in something that is under NDA, and not be able to talk about it…  but games need an incubation period before the world gets to see them.  When I was testing Elder Scrolls Online I was quite literally in the closed testing process for a little bit over a year before the launch of that game.  I tested the hell out of it, and myself and Ashgar apparently developed a reputation for our prolific bug noting.  There were lots of things that I saw that would have freaked the hell out of the press and public if they saw them, but I simply calmly noted it and described as many details as I could and moved on.  As the builds changed we saw many of those bugs disappear… and often times other ones arise that we continued to note.  For me at least it was not about getting to play the game free or having something to fill my site with articles…  but instead about trying extremely hard to make sure the best possible game launched.

A Challenge

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So now is the point where I present a challenge to anyone with access to the World of Warcraft Legion alpha client.  Test the hell out of that game and submit bug notes for anything that even seems vaguely out of place.  I want each of you to be so prolific in your bug notes… that the developers behind the scenes know you by name and immediately start predicting what you might say.  The Warlords of Draenor testing process was not taken seriously by the developers or by the players… and most of us just used it as a way of showcasing what was coming out from the game.  What we ended up with was an expansion that did not quite feel right on so many levels, all of which were things that could have been addressed during the Alpha testing process.  By the time a game makes it into Beta… it is essentially in a polish phase, where the content gets the spelling errors ironed out, and cosmetic blemishes are fixed.  Alpha is the time when you can actually effect the way a game will play like at launch, and now that you have access to this client I expect each of you to do your job.  After all testing is a job, not a perk… or something that elevates you above other players.

Quite literally if Legion is not the best expansion that World of Warcraft has ever seen… we are in a lot of trouble.  You can have a single bad expansion and still turn around…  namely I am looking at Dark Age of Camelot and the horrible Trials of Atlantis expansion here.  They continued on to do a lot of really interesting things, but they absolutely had a misstep.  I feel like Warlords was without a doubt Blizzard’s misstep when it comes to the Warcraft franchise, and Legion is their chance to redeem themselves.  The problem being they need you the players to give honest and sometimes brutal feedback on what is working and what is not working.  There is a huge difference between the live client and the alpha client… and the alpha forums are this magical place where people actually talk about the serious issues of the game without resorting to hyperbole.  I expect each and every one of you that have access to this alpha to put that time to good use, and find every single bug in the game.  Sure you only have access to the Demon Hunter starting experience, but I expect you to help make that starting experience the best “newbie zone” in the game.  Now what are you doing reading my post… get to making bug notes people!

Week in Gaming 11/22/2015

Missing Breakers

During this segment I generally run down the gaming I have done during the previous week, however this week I am going to regale you with a story from last night.  As I have talked about a bit on my blog we are currently going through some minor home renovations.  We seem to be nearing the end however, and other than a few minor problems that they are working on…  things seem to largely be done.  During part of this process we had a big extension cord coming out through the garage door so they could do work on the front of the house, and as part of their wrapping things up they asked me to go inside and raise the garage door so they could unplug it.  When I got out to the garage however…  the door would not open, and around about this same time I noticed that our freezer was off.  Thus began the mission to try and sort out what breaker was flipped.

The breakers are in a horrible location in our house, which is on the garage wall…  but someone in their infinite wisdom decided to build a table and attach it to the wall in front of the breaker box.  When I say table… I mean it is a 4 foot deep and 8 foot across shelving unit made out of full sheets of plywood.  Sure it is sturdy as hell but it is super awkward and fiddling with the breakers means I have to essentially crawl up onto the table.  The problem being… none of the breakers were flipped which began a hunt through the house because the contractors were convinced that this could not be the ONLY breaker box on the house.  Please note that at this point we have lived in the house going on eighteen years….  we were absolutely certain this was the only breaker box.  Finally after running around and flipping the damned house main in the back yard…  someone noticed that the outlet in the garage that the opener was plugged into… had a ground fault switch.  We flipped that and magically everything started working again.  So yeah…  that was a fun way to spend a good chunk of my night.

Final Fantasy XIV

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This week finally saw my return to Final Fantasy XIV as it also announced the release of the 3.1 content.  I talked about this a bit during the week, but it feels a little bittersweet.  The content was really good, but also really really short.  Usually we have some big boss fight as the pinnacle of the content patches, and this time around….  nothing.  Sure there was a big fight but it wasn’t on the same level as a new Primal or an encounter like Gilgamesh.  Also there is the fact that we still don’t have a new segment in the Hildebrand chain…  or nothing to really replace the hole it has created in the content.  I feel like they spent a lot of time on the Lords of Verminion minigame and as a result a bunch of other stuff slipped to the 3.15 patch later.  I still have yet to do any of the dungeons, but hopefully I can get that going soonish.

The bulk of my final fantasy time consists of me logging in, and doing my Beast Tribe dailies for the new Vanu Vanu tribe along with some of the old world quests.  What makes this pretty great is the fact that at the current level cap… all of the old world quests are super easy to do.  So essentially my daily pecking order is… Vanu Vanu > Slyphs > Sahagin.  Mostly I just want to be a tiny lalafell riding along on a giant goobue.  Last night we also revived the tradition of doing stuff on Saturday nights as we ran bits of First and Second coil with the guild.  I was not there for Turn 5 but I got pulled in on the second coil fun.  We managed to get all the way up to turn 9, and put in a few attempts before Ashgar and I had to leave to prep for the podcast.  My hope is we can get people in the habit of showing up on Saturday nights to do stuff like this and pony farming.  That would go a long way towards revitalizing the Final Fantasy experience for me.

Destiny

I am continuing to play Destiny but a significantly reduced pace.  Each Sunday afternoon we do a Star Wars pen and paper game, and right now Destiny seems to be my game of choice to play while doing that.  It is something I can play on a machine that is not my main computer, and still be able to pay attention to what is going on in the roleplaying.  Destiny is for the most part muscle reflexes at this point, so I am spending the time doing bounties and missions and such.  I did however play quite a bit on Wednesday, or at least long enough to do my various weapon missions.  I still very much love this game, but Fallout 4 has largely taken the place it held of the game I am spending most of my time playing.  There are still a lot of things I want, but more than likely I am going to mostly do the Armsday/Xursday thing each week and then focus if there are objectives and goals that I really want to accomplish.  There are a few interesting looking weapons this week that I am hoping turn out to be pretty awesome from the Gunsmith.

Fallout 4

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I am still slowly wandering my way through the commonwealth.  I am roughly sixty hours into the game and have yet to go to Diamond City.  That said I have done a whole slew of side quests, but more often than not when I get one… I have already been to that location and cleared it out.  When I went to help the Brotherhood of Steel for example… I had already completely cleared that location other than the areas that the Brotherhood ends up unlocking for you to go explore.  As far as the Minutemen, I am tasked with taking back the castle, but the castle is a long ways off from where I am.  Right now I am largely exploring the Cambridge area and delving into the ruined buildings that you find there.  The hospital at Cambridge was one of the more interesting areas, so if you have not been there I highly suggest checking it out.  There has been some crazy shit happening there… but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.  At this point I am still largely using my crappy pipe gun, that has been upgraded as much as possible…. but that is largely because I have a truly silly amount of ammunition for it.

World of Warcraft

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I am weak…. and nostalgia is strong.  Over the last few weeks I knew deep down inside that I was fighting a losing battle.  Finally yesterday I gave in and started playing my sub level 20 horde characters since I could do that for free.  When Scryers and Argent Dawn merged, I ended up creating an entire accounts worth of Horde alts with the thought of playing with some of my Horde friends on the Argent Dawn server.  I tried to create one of every race and class… and some of them I am probably going to simply re-roll.  For my Warrior… I ended up going  Blood Elf because I remember at launch Warrior was not an option for them.  Also I have gotten kinda sick of playing Orcs, and my Deathknight is an Orc, and my Paladin is a Tauren.  Maybe I am mellowing in my old age, but the whole “elf” thing is annoying me far less right now.  Maybe it is the nostalgia of him wearing what is essentially a set of Wrath armor from Molten Core.  In any case I am poking my head around World of Warcraft, and we will see how well that takes.

Be Nice to the People

Bad Luck

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This looks totally legit right?

Traditionally I do this Friday thing where I talk about one of the many “MMOs Worth Playing” but honestly…. today I am just not feeling it.  I am feeling more annoyed and frustrated about MMOs than I am feeling the love right now, and in this current mindset it is probably best that I simply don’t talk about a game.  The purpose of the column is to highlight a game and talk about the things I love about it, in the hopes that it might nudge people into giving it a try.  In order to really do that I have to be feeling happy and enjoying the world around me… and right now I am kinda grumpy.  Granted I am grumpy over a stupid reason.  Right now I feel like I am one of a handful of people who didn’t get into the Overwatch beta weekend.  I am largely annoyed by this, because I am in fact one of the people who went ahead and pre-ordered the game knowing eventually that I would want to play it.  You would think… that if you have a bit single weekend only stress test that you might want to include the people who are already signed up to spend money on your game.

Maybe that is screwed up in my logic, but it seems to me that they should have pulled from the pool of sign ups first for this one in particular.  I am not saying that about the normal always on Beta process… that one is completely luck of the draw.  This one however… when you are testing a game for a short period of time… it might be cool to thank the folks who have already pressed that button and said “Yes, I want your game”.  Frustrations aside, I am hoping all of my friends who are going to be playing it this weekend will enjoy themselves and have lots of things to talk about.  Honestly this test will give me a better feeling of how I am going to like the game, since a lot of the AggroChat folks seemed to have gotten in.  This is the hardest part about Betas is standing on the outside watching your friends have fun…  and then trying really damned hard to be happy for them… and not sad that you got left out.

People Behind The Thing

So even though I am frustrated, I am directing my frustrations at an entity…  the game Overwatch and or the company Blizzard behind it.  I realize that that company is made up of people, and it has to be super tiring to hear people raging at them constantly.  I realize over the years I have said some pretty caustic and even pyroclastic things about video games and or the companies behind them.  At no point however did I aim that criticism at the people themselves.  I never joined the chorus of “I Hate Ghostcrawler” nor will I join any other personally targeted witch hunt in the future.  I can dislike a thing… but still have the utmost respect for the people for whom it is their job.  Much of this week has felt like I have been attempting to give lessons in how to treat people with simple human dignity… and yesterday continued that trend.  These companies have people working there, that go to work every single day hoping to do something cool… and often times get met with this constant wall of negativity.  It is no wonder when someone reads one too many “fuck you” posts targeted at them that occasionally community staff snaps.  Ultimately how good of a job, and how much satisfaction in it… would you have if someone stood over your desk heckling you the entire day?

Now you can take the path of “they willfully accepted the job”, but that too is utter bullshit.  They probably took the job for the same reason that any one of us who are gaming addicts would jump at the chance to do the same thing.  The folks that work at games companies do so because they love games with every fiber of their being, so much so that they are willing to sacrifice basic things like stability, and normal working hours…  for the chance of being part of something they at least once felt was awesome.  So if this week I happen to be complaining about Overwatch… I know that behind the scenes there is a crew of people who are working insane hours right now, and trying their damnedest to please as many people as they can… while at the same time desperately fighting to roll out the best possible product that they can make.  I’ve been lucky to know enough people that work at enough companies to know that all of these fine people are grinding themselves into the ground all in the hopes of making each of us happy.  So the next time you level an attack at a thing… please make sure it is targeted at the thing… and not the voice of the person hanging out in front of it for whom it is their job to represent said thing.  I most definitely don’t believe that games should be above criticism… but I do believe that we shouldn’t be targeting our bile at a human being.

Hoping For a Great Friday

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My hope is that I can go into this Friday and not see anything else that makes me sad about humanity.  For those of you in the Overwatch beta weekend…  have a blast, take lots of screenshots, record lots of video… because I expect some really amazing content as a result.    For those of us watching from the sidelines… there are dozens of other things we should be doing.  I personally am now 55 hours into Fallout 4… and have yet to make it to Diamond City.  I’m also in a strange place when it comes to Final Fantasy XIV where I am logging in each day to do Beast Tribe dailies, but not finding much drive to do anything else.  I am in that strange place where I took a long enough break from the game to where I am completely out of touch with what I was doing before I left, but have not been away long enough to make me super nostalgic enough to dive back in with vigor.  I am also still fighting the urge to play World of Warcraft, and I am scared that sooner or later I will be giving into it… if for no reason other than to get it out of my system again.  I am in a place where I want into the Legion beta more than any other beta in a long while, mostly because I hope beyond hope that Deathknights are fun again.  The fact that I had to switch back to my warrior during Warlords honestly was a bit of bummer, and I would love to be a Worgen DK once more.  Anyways…  that was a long “outro” but hopefully you have a great weekend, and stay safe and happy and warm.

 

 

Joys of Exploration

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Hole in the Bedroom

Yesterday was a strange day, largely because it felt like I was having to be part of something that I had no control over.  Wednesday was of course Veterans Day, and as is usually the case I get it off work.  Which I immediately thought would be amazing… since I had Fallout 4 to keep me company.  The problem being that they did not in fact install the door in the bedroom Saturday like we thought they would.  As a result they needed a new target date, and since I was going to be home anyways… we ended up with Wednesday.  So I spent most of the day trying to play Fallout 4, without allowing myself to get too engaged in the game play as to miss the extremely subtle knocks that they needed my help with something.  The problem is… when there is constant hammering… it is impossible to get a knock from just more hammering.  We gave them my text for this reason… or at least for the reason of contacting me directly, but alas that didn’t actually do much.

The scariest moment of the day was when I went down to check on progress and there was a huge gaping hole in the side of our house.  It looked like they had to take a lot more than they originally planned and I am sitting there trying to sort out how it is all going to go back together.  However by evening they had a door installed and we had moved all of our stuff back in place around it.  The awesome thing is it works beautifully and we had this cabinet next to the door that we were concerned might impede it.  However it seems to swing open just fine with the cabinet in place, which means…  we are going to now have to do something major to our back yard to also make it more inhabitable.  I have a feeling that my wife at least is going to want to build some sort of a proper patio just outside the bedroom for sipping coffee in her rocking chair or similar activities.  We are hoping there will be enough of a gap between them finishing their project and the waste company picking up the dumpster that we can maybe throw a bunch of crap away from the back yard.  At the very least I can almost see the end in this project in sight… and maybe just maybe there will be a point on the near horizon where I can park in my own damned driveway.

Meandering

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According to Steam I am now 18 hours into the game… and at this point I have done next to nothing.  My quest driven friends are talking about this thing they did or that thing they did…  but me…  I am building a town.  I’ve always played Fallout with a base builder mentality even though it was never really terribly supported.  Being the horrific pack rat that I am, I largely played in a pretty predictable manner.  I would roam around the wastes until something caught my eye, and then go explore it.  During the course of exploring it… I would end up filling up my own inventory and that of my companion…  in this case Dogmeat.  Then I would fast travel back to base… dump the items I found into a series of containers that I used for sorting such things, rest up if I was low on hit points… and then venture out again.  For the Walking Dead fans…  I play the game much like Morgan was living his life…  making sure to clear everything before moving on.  There is a sense of accomplishment at knowing that you took down every raider in a camp, or got every drop of good out of a complex you just explored.

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What makes this all so much better this time around is that for the very first time…  it feels like I am making the wasteland a better place.  In the past becoming the “Savior of the Wasteland” largely involved killing everyone that did not believe like you did.  Which I am sure helped the fledgling towns, but it didn’t feel like I was doing more than being a gun for hire.  This time around I can build up settlements, and recruit new settlers giving them a nice place to live and the safety of decent protections.  I feel like town by town I am actually fixing the problems that were there, and setting up a better way of life as I blaze through the map.  “Blaze” might be the wrong word… because realistically at this point I have seen next to nothing.  I am largely just fiddling in the same corner of the map that I started in.  There are still a bunch of things that I have quite yet to figure out…  like how magazines and bobbleheads work this time.  So far I have found a single bobblehead, and a handful of magazines.  I am also not 100% sure how much I like the talent system which seems a bit more arcane than simply slotting points in skills.  Regardless… I am hooked beyond reason and look forward to little else than coming back home tonight after work and exploring some more.  This game so far… is exactly what I hoped it would be and more.