Monday, April 7, 2014

Demonology

I continue to thrash in the throes of Diablo III addiction again. Reaper of Souls has made it a far, far better game than it was at release, and I played it for months on end in it's original state. I've written before about the changes to existing content and systems, which are universally for the better.

The expansion has added another Act to the game, meaning a bunch of new areas, monster types, and bosses to enjoy. It has also added Adventure mode and a few new systems within it--bounties, blood shard gambling, and Nephelam rift raiding. The short of it is that you hunt down specific monsters or due certain events all around the game's world, waypoint by waypoint, and your rewards include blood shards and rift tokens. The shards can be traded to a new NPC for a random piece of gear for the slot of you choosing (I've already gotten a couple of upgrades via this). The rift tokens are consumed by an obelisk to open a portal to a completely randomly generated set of levels where you go to kill monsters until the rift boss drops in, and you kill him as well, for fabulous prizes.

Currently I am working on finishing up a campaign playthrough as my wizard, because before the expansion had come out, I decided to reset quests on that character in order to guarantee a legendary drop on the end boss of the game. I've also got her decked out like never before, with a lot of great new gear, including plenty of legendary and set pieces. I would love to get a complete set to trigger the associated bonuses--so far I have gotten two pair of the same set boots in the last two days. Once I finish up Acts IV and V, I will either concentrate on Adventure mode to further gear the Wizard and Barbarian or start up another character. I'm thinking Demon Hunter, next, to give me one character of each main attribute, Intelligence, Strength, and Dexterity. Why? Why not? Do I go male or female Demon Hunter?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Diabliography

I finished up the Book of Tyrael tonight. I don't know if it was quite as nice a lore supplement as the Book of Cain, but taken together, I now feel like I know everything I need to know, indeed everything there is to know, about the lore and canon of Diablo. It's mildly interesting. The books have some cool art, at the very least.

Reading these Diablo books and my recent purchase of the Dark Souls Design Works art/development book, I feel like I should pick up something similar for the Assassin's Creed series. I know there is some sort of Encyclopedia of the franchise, though it may only go up through ACIII.

Anyway, that's another book burned for '14. Next up is the inspiration for the STALKER game series, Roadside Picnic.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Get in Gear to Gear

I've played almost nothing but Diablo III for the past three weeks, and it's been a blast. Loot 2.0, Paragon 2.0, the new difficulty modes, changes in monster density and affixes and other factors have revitalized this game in a big way, and Reaper of Souls isn't actually even out for a few more days, which will bring even more sweeping changes to the game, including a whole fifth act, a 10-level raise to the cap, new skills for all existing classes, a whole new separate class, tons of new gear to hunt for, a story-free adventure mode featuring randomized dungeons and boss hunts, et cetera. Diablo III, it's a Hell of a game, and it's in a really good spot, right now.

I finished up my Barbarian to 60, and have been playing enough with him and my Wizard to get them both pretty well kitted out and able to easily roll through Torment I difficulty. I've also gotten my Paragon level up from 3 before the patch to almost 33 as of this writing. There has been a 50% XP bonus all month, and that is up to 100% this weekend only, so I've got more playing to do, actually.

What prompted this post, though, was that tonight I finished reading the Book of Cain, a lore and art-centric companion book to Diablo III. It's just fluff for the Diablo universe, but it's kind of neat. I also have the Book of Tyrael, which I am about to start. I'm guessing that one is a lead-up to the expansion in the way that Cain was to D3 proper. Ok, back to killing, looting, and reading.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Localized Action

I finally finished off the last Tom Clancy novel I had not read, Red Storm Rising. I've mentioned it here before, but it's basically a "What if..." tale about a World War III set in the mid-'80s. The USSR is trying to neutralize NATO with a surprise attack so that they can then seize the oil of the Persian Gulf. The action begins in Iceland and Germany, and continues in Iceland and Germany and the North Atlantic, and finally concludes in Iceland and Germany and the North Atlantic.

It was a good read, and parts very interesting and tense (submarine warfare), but I was surprised at how small-scale the conflict seemed. I wonder if this particular scenario was one that was seriously thought about back in those days. Nuclear weapons almost did not feature into the story at all, which I also thought was interesting, and makes me wonder again how much of this scenario was based in reality. I know Clancy was pretty thorough in his research in a lot of areas, but I'm not sure if grand strategy was one of them. This book was pretty early in his career, and I'm not sure if he would have had the clout to talk with top military strategists like he probably did later on.

It was a fun read, and will really take you back to the Cold War era, if you wish to go. Now I need to figure out what I want to read next.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Only Constant

I outlined in my last post the upcoming handoff from Dark Souls to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, and that has happened, but with some other unexpected developments, as well.

I've missed my Spelunky daily run a number of times over the last week, either out of fatigue or forgetfulness. Once I was just too absorbed in Dark Souls, and played right up to my hard cut-off for the night. Another time I completely forgot about the run playing Castlevania, and finally last night I was just too beat by the time I could have played to actually go ahead and do so. Will I ever actually beat Spelunky? Despite how much I've played it, I have yet to ever get past 4-2, and to even finish it the easy way, I have to finish 4-4. Meanwhile, since I learned how the City of Gold is accessed, I've been trying to fulfill the reqs for that each game, and that more often than not spells an early death that might otherwise be avoided. It's a tough time for Spelunky runs, right now; I'm only scoring in the 40-thousands when I do a daily, and I don't really ever do anything else.

I was in the Titanfall beta for PC for a few days; it's a pretty fun game. It is definitely more of a giant kill-churn sort of game, with rapid respawns and highly lethal weaponry. I may pick it up for cheap at some point after release. I mention it because it also segued into playing some more Battlefield 4 over the last week. I do think BF is still my multi-player shooter of choice, but being an ultra-casual player, I am no good at it at all, and overwhelmed at the amount of stuff in the arsenal. I am just trying to stick with the most basic stuff in each kit until I figure out what any of it is good for, or until I nail down some sort of role I like to take on the battlefield. I think I like the vehicles more than anything, save for the jets. The maps are just too small to make flying a jet anything more than a bunch of turning and looping maneuvers, as far as my abilities go. Maybe I'll try to practice flying more, because on paper doing so should be a blast.

Another unforseen event in the last week was the appearance of the Diablo III pre-expansion patch with the Loot 2.0 and Paragon 2.0 updates. I hopped back into the game, now with a completely different difficulty mode assortment, and picked up my Barbarian again. Within just a couple of hours I have geared him out to a strength exponentially better than what I had before, and also withint a couple of hours I had found 3(!) legendary items, where before I had found the same amount in 200+ hours of playtime. And these new ones were even desireable! So, thus far I am thinking Loot 2.0 is a success, if what Blizzard is looking for is to drive people to gear up by actually playing the game as opposed to playing the auction house. Not that we will have any choice, soon, but that is another discussion.

With these new changes to the game, I am more excited to play it, and for Reaper of Souls to come out, than I have been in quite some time. At release, I think I may create a Crusader and jump right ahead to Act V to play through that once, since that should be completely doable with the way monsters now scale to your character's level, and difficulty levels have more to do with how well your character is kitted out than anything else. The progression idea seems to be to play Normal until you have some decent magical equipment, and then switch to Hard and gather some good rares, then switch to Expert when you are well gemmed-out, and so on and so forth, staying in a difficulty mode until you are so geared as to just steamroll over everything, and then moving up for more challenge, gold, experience, and possibly better drop rates in the later, higher difficulty modes.

A Dark Souls update on where I left off for Castlevania: after my last post, I proceeded to test out some of the ultra-greatsword class of weapons, and I have fallen in love with the Zweihander, a huge greatsword that, while it has a lower max damage than others, is faster to swing, and does incredible damage to the enemy's poise, staggering, and in some cases, knocking them down. Knocking a silver knight or darkwraith into a faceplant is an awesome feeling. I've also leveled up to the point where I can use it along with some of the heaviest armor in the game, in fact I have also leveled up a couple pieces of the Giant armor set to the maximum to replace Smough's set in some instances. I also ascended the Zweihander to +15, as well. The Souls games have some of the most satisfying character building of any games I can think of. Progression-wise, I fought through the Catacombs and Tomb of Giants and killed Gravelord Nito, and then went into the Painted World in Anor Londo, where my character now awaits my return.

This brings me to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, the long-awaited sequel to 2010's epic action-adventure series reboot with a twist. Without attempting to spurn the sequel, I wonder if maybe they should have just left off after that amazing epilogue to the first game. It was the type of thing to set the mind spinning with all sorts of grand ideas for the type of game that could follow, and what could conceivably live up to everything their hints might inspire hope for?

Well, for better or worse, they went ahead and actually made the game that logically follows on from said epliogue, and I'd like to just take a moment here to appreciate that they actually went ahead and did it--this absolutely mind-blowing thing--they actually went and tried to realize it. I think that took balls. Real balls. Just upending the confused morass of what Castlevania had been prior to Lords of Shadow, incurring the wrath of thousands of nostalgia-blinded and dependent fanboys took balls. But this--holy shit. I can't imagine Konami was on board with the idea right away--it's just not the sort of thing you see in large-scale AAA games, especially ones using an established franchise or brand. So, plaudits to Mercury Steam for that.

As for how the actual game has turned out; my overal impression so far is pretty good. It retains a good deal of what the first Lords of Shadow had, and adds some great combat moves with the new Void Sword and Chaos Claws that replace the light and shadow magics of the original. The combat is fun, the boss battles are cool, the graphics and art in the gothic areas are great. The modern areas are weaker, of course, probably due to the fact that modern environments are inherently less interesting than dark gothic fantasy ones, but there is also an embarrasingly amateur scaling issue in the modern areas. Dracula appears to be about 3 feet tall in the modern era, doorhandles towering above him. Trash cans and industrial liquid totes are neck-high on the Prince of Darkness. It's sloppy, and immersion-breaking, and ridiculous, but at least there is no functional detriment to the game, otherwise.

I have been ejoying the game so far, but I have to admit that my general ambivalence to this whole genre and its contrived puzzles, arena battles, and improbably designed spaces with inexplicably extant collectables grates on me. I kind of just wish all of my favorite parts (which, if I'm honest, are just the story-related bits and cool art and environments) could be presented to me without all the filler. I'll keep the combat, since that is fun, but I could easily lose much of the rest.

Monday, February 17, 2014

This Blighted and Forgotten Land

The land of Lordran in Dark Souls has fallen on tough times when the events of the game are set. The flame that drives the world is guttering, its denizens are mostly gone or hollowed to the extent that they are mad, zombie-like creatures, and it's infrastructure is crumbling. It needs to be burned, flooded, or otherwise demolished and allowed to be grown over.

In the meantime, though, there are adventure and loot to be had, friendships and enmities to be established, and many foul demons to be slain. This is where I have been spending the brunt of my free time over the last couple of weeks or so.

My character, Fridge, started off in the undead asylum as a knight, and I have mostly focused on building a mix of strength, vitality, and endurance, such that, at soul level 65, now, I am wearing the heaviest (and ugliest) of armors--Smough's set--and can still move and roll with at medium quickness. With Havel's ring, of course. This doesn't leave much unused equipment burden potential, but thus far I've been very happy with a longsword (now +15). A more experienced player and friend recommended I try some of the heavier weapons, since I have the strength for them, and just dial back the thickness of my armor to allow for that. I may give that a go, at least temporarily, while I continue to spec out my character for hard and heavy hits, both inbound and out.

Progression-wise, I am somewhere around halfway through the game now, I think, DLC included. I have rung the two bells, gotten the Lordvessel, gotten Artorias' Covenant, and re-visited the undead asylum. That leaves entering the painting in Anor Londo, going to the DLC areas, attaining the four Lord Souls, and defeating Lord Gwyn to end the game, along with many other miscellaneous optional goals I might like to take on.

I'm not sure what the time frame on actually doing all that is, though. It's not likely to happen in the next week, before the release of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, which I feel it is my solemn duty to play as soon as possible. I may sort of bookmark my current place in the overal grand structure of Dark Souls, and play the game farming souls and humanity and forging weapons and armor for the next week before some time away from the game. I might be able to knock out some smaller objectives, like the painting and the DLC in there, as well.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Where the Wind Takes Me

I've been kind of flitting from thing to thing for the past three weeks, not really committed to any one game, but dabbling in quite a few, some even for more extended periods.

Super Mario 3D Land saw a few minutes' play, as did my replay of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow on the PC.

I wanted to play a little more Morrowind, but the install was corrupted, so I ditched that once more, and instead started Skyrim. The fifth Elder Scrolls game feels a whole lot like the fourth, but with some quality of life improvements. This is my first time really focusing on a bow-wielding in this series, though, and together with stealth, it's working out pretty well, so far. I would guess Skyrim would see a lot of play time, but to be honest, that is scarce these days, so I'm not too sure about that.

I've spent a little time with Shogun 2, trying to crack that game, somewhat half-heartedly. I've got it in me to give it a few more honest tries, when the wind is right. It was right for Dota 2 last week. I played three or four matches, the first in quite a while. It's still great fun.

I caught a not-so-fresh whiff of Terraria, though. It just strikes me as a flat Minecraft. I don't care for the way it handles, and I feel no motivation to build or explore as a consequence of that. I know it has dissimilarities to Minecraft, but I can't help but feel like I'd rather play the latter, and spend that time in game with a world with more depth, if you will. Rather than play Terraria any more, maybe I'll check out Starbound sometime in the future. The space exploration angle has caught my eye.

The Spelunky daily challenge is still part of my routine, and doesn't show any signs of fading from it. I keep getting further and collecting more treasure; I think I might complete it at some point--through the temple, anyway. Another game I might complete at some point, because it really is very interesting, is Dark Souls. I've gotten back around to my quest there, and made some good progress in the last week or so. Namely, getting through the Depths and the Gaping Dragon, and on into Blighttown, on my way to wherever that second bell is. I doubt I'll be done with this game by the time the sequel is out, but I'm not too concerned with that.

Another very challenging and interesting game I've dipped into is La-Mulana. It's got a fun look and feel, and great music, too. Imagine if the combination of Metroid and Castlevania occurred on the SNES rather than the PSX, and now dress that in an Indiana-Jones-by-way-of-Japan style, that is about what you're looking at with La-Mulana. It is known for difficult bosses and even more difficult puzzles. I'm drawn to explore its ruins some more.

It would be remiss for me to not mention The Banner Saga here. I'm a few hours in, and have been really very impressed with all aspects of the game. It's a war story set in a frozen Nordic fantasy land where you play the leaders of two refugee caravans traveling the land in search of safety and salvation, and it's very well done. It makes an interesting companion piece to games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre. It shares many themes and motifs with those, though the execution is quite different.

On the book front, I'm about 365 pages into Red Storm Rising now; still under the half-way point, but it's pretty good, so far. It's wild seeing a presumably realistic take on how World War III might have played out in the mid-eighties.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

2014 Pick-Up

I've started the year off right, having tied up a number of loose ends, and dabbling in a nice array of games.

Putting the cherry on top of the AC IV sundae, I completed both the Adewale and Aveline DLC/bonus content. That about polishes off Blag Flag for me, though I might dip into the multi-player modes some. Liberation HD is coming out very soon, too. I'm very curious to get into that, but I'm not sure how much of an investment it will be, and I'm not sure how ready I am to hurl myself into another AC just yet. I'd hate to burn out; there's sure to be another on the say this fall.

Speaking of burnout, I have been perilously close with Hearthstone. Sometimes you just feel like nothing but a fool of the random number generator with this game. It's gotten to the point where I will play a match, maybe two, and probably be done with it for the day after one loss. I gave up on completing dailies weeks ago, and I question my reasons for playing it at all other than just to kill some time here and there. Mia likes to watch it, too, so there is that.

I thought it was time for another attempt to familiarize myself with Paradox grand strategy, but rather than try Crusader Kings II again or Europa Universalis IV, I thought I would give Sengoku another go. Anyone who knows me would naturally figure the Japanese history angle would make me bite, and they would be right, of course. I just find these games to be nigh on impenetrable, though. I can't say I've done much more than poke around at EU III, Sengoku, and CK II, but I just don't get it. I literally could not figure out how to go to war as Oda Nobunaga. I levied my armies, I recruited some ronin, I clicked the "Declare War" button, and I ordered my army over to the target province, and nothing seemed to happen. I even R'd TFM, albeit after uninstalling, and couldn't see what my war was lacking such that no one showed up. I'll give CK II another go next time.

I finished up Uncharted 3, but I don't really have anything to add on top of what I wrote last post. I'll say that I do enjoy the series, and I'll play the next, and I would especially be interested in it were it about Francis Drake as opposed to Nathan Drake, as one more out there rumor seems to suggest. While I'm on Naughty Dog, I began The Last of Us, thanks to Call Of Podcast listener volt1up, who game-shared me his PSN copy of the game. I've gotten Joel and Ellie out of Boston and just met up with Bill of Bill's Town. I'm going to call this a functional improvement on Uncharted's mix of story and play. It's a different type of story, of course, more gritty survival story than adventure romp. The addition of stealth, and thereby the making of combat avoidable, makes me happy. As does the addition of systems like skill evolution and tool crafting. I still feel like the game side of the equation is a little shallow, but these are steps in the right direction. Already I am amazed by the quality of the writing and characterization on display, too. Naughty Dog really are at the pinnacle of that stuff in games.

Chocolate Castle is a light little puzzle game by Lexaloffle, a small independent developer apparently made up of foreigners in Tokyo, I just learned. I picked it up in the Humble Voxatron Debut ages ago, and ran across it a few days ago as one of my non-Steam games on the Humble site, and decided to give it a go. It's a great little game that involves sliding blocks of colored chocolate around and then having the appropriate cartoon animal character eat all of the chocolate of one color at once, clearing space on the board. The level is complete when all the chocolate has been eaten. If that sounds like your cup of tea, look it up. This is another Mia favorite. There is a balloon festival at the end of each level, which she enjoys.

My attempt to do more reading has me pushing further into Clancy's Red Storm Rising, his tale of the Cold War going hot in the mid-'80s. It's fast-paced and enjoyable so far, which is good, because I've got almost 600 pages left to go.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year's Tidying

With the new year, as always, comes a period of reflection and resolution. I have an unbelievable backlog of games I want to address, and I'm beginning 2014 with an eye toward that. I'd like to polish off my library of PS3 games in the coming months. A few stragglers remain from the previous console generation. The first on that list is Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception.

I enjoyed the first two Uncharted games, though with a large crop of reservations as compared to most. I typically do not care for the play in these games--there is too much combat, and it goes on for far too long. Drake and his animations are weirdly out of synch with the environment as you run around. I am totally in agreement with the wide consensus on these games outside of those gripes, though. That is why I have elected to play through Uncharted 3 on easy. So far, so good. I played the first seven chapters in one session (with interruptions--I do have a toddler vying for my attention, too) yesterday. The characters and writing and setpieces and graphics are all very well done, of course. I still contend that I would rather watch a condensed movie version of all this, though. Maybe it's that it's too linear, maybe it's that there is no agency given to the player in the plot, maybe it's that the Dual Shock 3 is a terrible controller for first- and third-person shooting. Whatever the reason(s), I don't have this complaint with too many other games.

I wanted to quickly mention Toki Tori. I loaded it up on my PC last night with my daughter sitting on my lap just to entertain her for a few minutes. I wanted to mention it to warn people off what appears to be a slapdash port from iOS. Big, touch-friendly (not mouse-friendly) interface bits make it seem like a quick cash-in port job, and the game itself is bland cookie-cutter copy/paste-with-different-palletes-and-call-it-done puzzle pap. I hope Toki Tori 2+ actually comports itself like a proper desktop PC application, at the very least.

I ended up finishing off the much-ballyhooed suburbs hit in Hitman: Blood Money, but I think I'm done with the game, now. I adored Hitman: Silent Assassin, and have had good times with Contracts and Blood Money, playing about half of each, but I'm not sure I need much more of that formula. Not now, at least. I have plenty of other stealth games to catch up on, though, so no big deal. I even just recently bought Hitman: Absolution for about five bucks; a game which is apparently not much like the prior trilogy. I have the original Hitman, as well, which I should check out just for curiosity's sake.

I finished up Assassin's Creed IV, the story of Edward Kenway the pirate Assassin in the Caribbean. I liked that game a lot, and ended up doing almost everything you can do in the game; I only lack collecting the rest of the animus fragments and some miscellaneous community challenges. I killed a white whale and took down all of the legendary ships, fully upgraded the Jackdaw, and collected every outfit and set of swords and pistols available to me.

I am playing through the Freedom Cry DLC now, featuring Adewale, Edward's Trinidadian quartermaster, former slave, and devoted Assassin, now shipwrecked in Port Au Prince and fighting to liberate slaves from the huge slave trade there. It's like a miniature Black Flag, and I wonder why they couldn't just sell this as a stand-alone like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon or Call of Jaurez: Gunslinger. Wouldn't that make more sense, and wouldn't more people pick it up separately than as DLC? I can't imagine a lot of people buy DLC. It just doesn't seem to make much sense to present it this way, and its unfortunate because Adewale ends up being treated like a second-class protagonist because of it. Contrast this to Aveline, the female Assassin from Liberation, formerly a Vita game, about to be re-rereleased on PC and console digital platforms. People are always going on about diversity in gaming characters, and Ubisoft admittedly does a lot with this series to progress that front--why not give Adewale top billing in is own $10 or $15 stand-alone AC mini-episode?

I've done relatively little gaming over the last week or so, having been on a road trip. I did take my Vita and Spelunky with me, though. Daily challenges were attempted, and many fun runs were had. I made it to the temple for a second time. I still have yet to progress much further than the entrance to 4-1, however.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

2013 Gs (and Bs) OTY

The time has come, once again, to look back on the year that has befallen us and to call to account the games that have presented themselves for our consideration.

My Game of the Year: Spelunky
Runner-up: Hearthstone

Past years' picks, for reference:
2012: Dota 2/Diablo III
2011: The Witcher 2/SpaceChem
2010: Mass Effect 2/Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
2009: Demon's Souls/Red Faction: Guerilla
2008: Metal Gear Solid 4/Gears of War 2
2007: BioShock/Halo 3

Here, alphabetically, since I lost track of the chronology, are all the games I've finished in 2013. 33, liberally counted. That's pretty good, I think.

Anno 2070
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Bioshock Infinite
Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Ep. 1
Dear Esther
Diablo III (Inferno)
Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches
Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall
Fallout
Fallout 3: Broken Steel
Fallout 3: Mothership Zeta
Fallout 3: Operation: Anchorage
Fallout 3: Point Lookout
Fallout 3: The Pitt
Fallout: New Vegas
Fallout: New Vegas: Honest Hearts
Gone Home
Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony
Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned
Gravity Bone
Mass Effect 2: Arrival
Mass Effect 2: Firewalker
Mass Effect 2: Kasumi - Stolen Memory
Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker
Mass Effect 2: Overlord
Proteus
Shadowrun Returns
Starcraft: Brood War (Protoss)
Starcraft: Brood War (Terran)
Starcraft: Brood War (Zerg)
The Stanley Parable
The Walking Dead: 400 Days
Tomb Raider

Past years' totals:
2012:23
2011:21
2010:23
2009:19
2008:26
2007:15

I've taken to counting DLC or anything that feels like a completion as just that. I cast aside my tokens and in/out policies, though, and have begun a more laissez-faire approach to the backlog, which is immense. I just buy whatever and play it whenever, if ever. It's working well, so far.

The Booklog, began this year, has seen only middling activity. I wish I had/would make more time to read, I really do. Maybe that'll be a good New Year's resolution for 2014, along with all the usual stuff. I've never picked a BOTY, or even really ever thought in those terms, but let's give it a shot.

Book of the Year: A Memory of Light
Runner-up: The Martians

Books read this year, a pitiful 9 in all:

Neuromancer
Fallen Angels
Descent of Angels
Tales of Heresy
The Martians
Telegraph Avenue
A Memory of Light
Pariah
Mechanicum

Monday, December 16, 2013

Wrapping Up 2013

We're nearing the end of the year, and it's time to start thinking about Game Of The Year proceedings here at 9 Parsecs, and on Call Of Podcast. In light of that fact, I have been making a slight effort to look into 2013 games to try to cover as many bases as possible. Here are the meager fruits of this half-hearted effort:

Poker Night 2 -- OK, this wasn't really for GOTY consideration at all, it was just installed and I had a few minutes to kill with something. I played a handful of short Texas Hold 'Em tournaments and got a sampling of the mildly entertaining presentation of the game. I think maybe the assortment of characters in the first game resonated more. But then, maybe not. These are not poker games for serious poker enthusiasts. I'm not sure who they're for, but since they're never more than $5 and are a novel distraction and feature a base level poker functionality, I keep buying them.

Teleglitch -- It's Doom meets Hotline Miami meets Rogue, but with Quake's decor. It didn't really do much for me, despite the lauding I've seen it get elsewhere.

Monaco -- Designed as a co-op, top-down heist game with a trippy aesthetic, I expected to immediately vomit and uninstall, but to be honest I enjoyed the hour(ish) I spent playing this. About half of that time was spent co-op with a couple of randoms. It was sort of fun, and had nice music. I wouldn't go out of my way to play more, though.

Battlefield 4 -- I guess this is a 2013 game. I have only played one round so far, but it seems like a Battlefield game. I think 2014 might be this game's year to shine.

Apart from trying to tick boxes next to 2013 games, I've also done some quick hits on:

Wasteland -- The original, rereleased leading up to Wasteland 2's release, which I find to be a little too archaic or my tastes. This is like going back to play the first Dragon Warrior or something, but Westernized. I would like to really give it a shot, though.

Company of Heroes 2 -- The first game I ever streamed myself playing! It was a short lived disaster. I only ducked in long enough to see how the streaming worked and have the first person on my team in a 4 on 4 match go "WTF dude?," at my immediately apparent ineptitude before I quit out. Not sure what I was thinking, here.

Diablo III -- Esteban finally saw the light and has gotten into the game. I jumped in with my Barbarian as he was finishing up Normal to skip a few beats ahead in the game, and then later went back and killed Diablo on Normal with my now level 28 guy, and will probably move him on to Nightmare next time I play. Or should I go back and complete the parts of the game I skipped? I'm torn.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown -- I aborted my problematic Normal/Ironman game and began a new one, which so far is coming along very well. I'm starting to get into the game more, and wish I had more time to play it.

Hearthstone -- The game was recently updated with some changes to a few problematic cards and a new ranking system for constructed deck play. I continue to jump in and do the daily quests, though I sometimes wonder why. I think Blizzard needs to add more of a reason to keep playing the game, especially outside of Arena. Constructed play is nothing but a ladder grind, and luck has such a heavy hand in any game of Hearthstone that it's hard not to chalk up wins and losses just to luck of the draw rather than any skill surplus or deficit.

Spelunky -- I keep hitting the daily challenge every day, now on Vita/PS3 as well as on the PC version. I have a hard time wanting to play outside of the daily, though. Usually one or two runs will do it for me, especially if one happens to go on to the Jungle or beyond.

Assassin's Creed -- I've put some unholy amount of time into IV so far, and have not yet finished up the story stuff. I want to do that soon. I'm curious what happens with Kenway in the end, and whether Haytham figures into the end of the game at all. I re-installed AC III this weekend, too, just to play through the opening stuff again. The Kenway line is pretty interesting, which is why I'm curious where Edward ends up in the whole Assassin/Templar conflict. So far he's been killing a bunch of Templars, but for his own reasons; he's not explicity with the Assassins. Not yet, anyway.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Flying the Black Flag

I have just begun to consummate the yearly Assassin's Creed affair, this time with the pirate Edward Kenway. I only put in abut 90 minutes so far, but the broad strokes are of course, very familiar. I'm looking forward to seeing how Edward's story plays out, and exploring what appears to be the goofy extra-Animus conceit of the series, going forward. General impressions of this year's game, the sixth fully-fledged adventure in the series, are much more positive than they were for last year's AC3, which I enjoyed a great deal, constant readers might remember. One black mark that game had, though, was that the primary protagonist, Connor "Ratonhnhaké:ton" Kenway, was always so serious, and just not much fun. He was no Ezio Auditore, that is for sure. Edward, Connor's grandfather, appears to be much more of swashbuckling rogue out to make a fortune and have a good time doing it.

Beyond that, I've just been playing the Spelunky and Hearthstone circuit, for the most part, while advancing my way through Dragon Age II.

I did duck into a couple more DLC modules, 400 Days for The Walking Dead, and Burial at Sea Episode 1 for Bioshock Infinite. Both were enjoyable, featuring interesting new content with the familiar mechanics of the parent game.

I also played, and subsequently decided to be done with (for now), Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Battlefield 3. CS:GO is fun, but man, I am bad, and I don't care to put in the time to get any better at it. I'd play more BF3, sometime, but BF4 is already out, and I'd just as soon pick that up and start on it. Which I will, at some point, no doubt.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Playlog: First Week of November, 2013

Most of what I’ve been playing over the last week is the same as the week before. I managed to get in a good, solid 4 hours of game time on Halloween, being alone at home periodically answering the door to hand out candy. Most nights I can play for around 2 hours or so beginning at about 9pm, if I’m willing to give up doing anything else with that free time. Often enough, I am.

I did make some time this week to check out a couple of 2013’s smaller independent releases, namely The Stanley Parable and Proteus. I want to be suitably informed when it comes time to talk Game of the Year. The Stanley Parable is a very clever subversive deconstruction of the typical modern AAA video game, and at times chuckle-inducing. Anyone reading this blog would probably enjoy it. Proteus, though, I’m not too sure about. It’s less a game even than Stanley or Gone Home; it is more of a ponderous exploration of a small, randomly-generated island through a day of each of the four seasons, with soothing music. There is nothing to do but wander around and take in the sights, and once per night cycle find your way to the proper location to trigger procession to the next season. At the end of winter, the whole thing ends, and you are free to play it again. Or not, as I elected.

Dragon Age II is coming along well enough. About 10 hours in, I have noticed repeating environments, and MMO-style light, almost throwaway quest design, but the world and political circumstance as well as the interactions between Hawke and crew are enough of a draw to keep me playing. The combat is either too easy or too complex, seemingly, depending on how you play the game. I have just been focusing on pointing Hawke at who she needs to stab, leaving my part mates to be handled by the AI. This works out well enough, until Hawke gets knocked out, and I’m forced to take over control of one of the other characters, none of whose abilities I am familiar with, since I’ve been letting the game auto-level them up and altogether unconcerned with what they do in battle or how they are doing it. I should probably take a little more of a hands-on approach, assuming control of the mage or fighter types here and there. I’ve had one fight versus a dragon that I might call a boss fight, at this point, and it went down pretty easily, though.

I’ve gotten to a point with Spelunky where I can more consistently get into the jungle levels and accrue around $50,000 worth of treasure before dying. I still have never made it past the jungle, though. I still need a lot more practice.

I have been hitting Hearthstone in a big way since getting access to the beta. I now have almost all of the basic card set unlocked, with 7 of 9 classes leveled to 10 or higher, and I have been doing the daily quests every day to earn more gold so that I can do more Arena draft runs. This is a really good game. The limited card variety and tighter focus on creature fights mean that games are over a lot quicker than in Magic, and while I haven’t done any scientific testing on the matter, it feels kind of like you are more dependent on lucky draws for success at the game. Then again, the removal of mana from the deck means the risk of a completely fruitless once-per-turn card draw are dramatically reduced. Either way, I am having a great time with Hearthstone.

I’ve spent a few hours playing more Battlefield 3 since re-installing it last week, and I’m still kind of ambivalent on the game. I think Bad Company 2 might have been a better game, or at least had better maps. I don’t actually feel like the jets are much fun in BF3—the maps are entirely too small to support them, even the big ones. You spend more time banking and looping trying to line up a strafing run on tightly clustered targets than you do actually having fun with them. The helicopters are a lot more fun to play with, I think. I still don’t feel like I’ve played enough BF3 to warrant the $60 I spent on it when it came out, and thus I am very wary of buying BF4 anytime soon. I need to either get more out of 3, or find 4 for like $30 for that to happen.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A New Daily Rotation

I've established a solid routine over the last few weeks of Spelunky daily challenges (and sometimes normal Spelunky runs). I continue to get better at the game bit by bit, and my average score and leaderboard position are still climbing bit by bit, but if I don't really focus on delving further and gaining more experience, I'll never be able to finish the game or approach the highest ranks of players on the leaderboard. So, I need to practice more during my daily sessions.

I've also gotten really into Hearthstone, and into doing the daily challenges it gives, which usually mean playing 3 to 5 matches to accomplish whatever quest they dole out. This game is just a lot of fun, and you win enough gold quickly enough to make your next turn in the arena, and your next chance at bragging rights and fabulous card-related prizes perpetually just around the corner. I am still in the process of playing long enough with every character to unlock all of the cards in the basic set. Once I'm done with that, I guess I'll pick one or two to build decks around and set about the business of disenchanting and crafting to build out my card collection to feed those. CCGs!

I am still playing Dragon Age II, but it's been a few days since I jumped in. I've been busy in the evenings to the point where I don't have much more time and energy than it takes to play some Spelunky and Hearthstone. I am still at an early stage of the game, trying to earn a total of 50 gold so I can buy Hawke and crew's way onto an treasure-hunting expedition into the dwarven "Deep Roads."  I now have Merril, Fenris, Varric, Aveline, and Bethany in my circle of adventurer friends.

I had a hankering to play some Battlefield yesterday, so I re-installed BF3 last night, and spent as much or more time futzing around with Punkbuster as actually in game. Punkbuster sucks; I can't believe modern releases are still using that trash. BF3 requires Origin--why can't EA come up with a better anti-cheat solution? I almost decided to go back and play more Bad Company 2, instead, but that's neither here nor there. It's a bummer not having access to around half of the maps in BF3, and EA is still charging $30 for Battlefield Premium to complete the set, even though BF4 is out, now. Legacy product support--EA is the absolute worst about this kind of thing. I still can't believe the hoops required to be jumped through for DLC for Mass Effect 2. Ridiculous.

On the reading front, I recently finished the Horus Heresy novel Mechanicum, and after queueing up my next 4 books on that series, I actually started two new books. The first is a non-fiction book about the ninja in Japanese history, and the second is Red Storm Rising, the only Tom Clancy novel I have not read. I thought I would check it out since I've owned it for ages and ages, and the man recently died. I'm not very far in just yet, but it already seems like a real page-turner, like I remember most of his others being. Those were a lot of fun, if a little jingoistic. I'm not sure how well they would hold up to the scrutiny of recent political and intelligence-related revelations, but hey, they were from a differenet era. The one Clancy book I read and that he wrote in a post 9/11 world was not really what he had become known for, as well. Those Jack Ryan books, and Red Storm Rising, certainly--being a tale of the Cold War going hot--are products of their time.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Wild Hare

I'm trying to be a little more impulsive in choosing which games I play, and when. I figure that is a much quicker way of whittling down the pile and winnowing out games from it that I can immediately discard, at least initially.

Along this train of thought, I decided to check out a few games over the past week:

SteamWorld Dig - I felt that it made sense to play this, having free money on Nintendo's eShop, and having recently played La Mulana, Cave Story+, and Spelunky, other 2D-platformer cave-centered adventure games. It seems pretty well done, but to be lacking in depth. It feels like it would have been a really great SNES game. There are Metroid-like mobility and ability upgrades, and a petty easiliy identifiable core loop of dig > collect valuables > return to town to sell them > purchase upgrades > tackle more areas to dig in. It just feels a little too pat next to those other three games.

Persona 2: Innocent Sin - The PSP version of this was on sale for $10 on PSN last week, so I picked it up to play on my Vita. I purchased Eternal Punishment way back in, I think, 2001, but never played much of it. I won't be playing much of this, either, unfortunately. It's not that I didn't like what I played--an hour or so--it's just that way too much of that time was spent in repetitive random battles. The game is not compatible with my limited amount of time, as a grown-ass man and father. At least not at this stage of those roles. I did find the premise kind of interesting, though, I have to admit, if a little anime-cliche heavy.

Deus Ex: Invisible War - I bet this game would have made a real impression, had I played it on the PS2. It was apparently designed around that system. Next to modern entries in the "immersive sim" genre, or I should say PC entries in said genre, including the original Deus Ex, this is Deus Ex Duplo. Everything is big and simplistic, with all the edges rounded off. And the voices are atrocious; not that those of the original were any good. What a shame? What a shame.

Dragon Age II - I think my approach may have paid off, here. I've put in a couple of hours with it so far, and I'm intrigued. I haven't played Dragon Age: Origins, and that may be for the better, in this case. Dragon Age II, by all accounts, is not much like that game, and suffers for the comparison. No, Dragon Age II seems to me so far more like a Swords and Sorcery skin on the Mass Effect formula, with a few tweaks. No doubt a huge let-down for fans of DA:O, but as a Mass Effect player, I am OK with taking it for what it is, at least this far. It also starts out well with a cast of strong female characters, particularly with a female Hawke. She's very cool, so far. I'm planning to play more of this one.

On the more traditional backlog slog, I'm still trying to get through Half-Life 2. I don't know why its taking so long; I like this genre, and I like this game, I just always seem to want to play something else. The last section I played through was pretty awesome, though--leading a bunch of antlions on an assault of the Combine-controlled prison Nova Prospekt. I wonder what comes next; I have pretty much no idea where this game goes or what happens on down the line in the series, aside from spoilers about how Episode 2 wraps up. It might be a subconscious thing. I may be protecting myself from getting wrapped up in the story, knowing that there is no conclusion in sight.

I began Soul Sacrifice recently, though I didn't do much but begin it. It seems like it might be good. I need to play more, whenever I can make the time, but I wasn't put off of it for any reason. It could be fun, with some time invested in getting to the up-and-running phase.

I am still playing the Spelunky daily challenge every day, and I think I am actually getting better at the game. That is no protection from stupid deaths, of course, but I do feel like I am regularly getting farther in than I was before. Maybe it's that I am being more cautious with my precious one-time daily plays.

Finally, Blizzard sent me a beta invitation to Hearthstone, their free-to-play digital collectible card game, and I really like it. As a onetime uber-hardcore Magic: The Gathering player, Hearthstone is very simplistic, but also very quick to play, and a lot of fun. It's actually a lot like Magic, just with most everything stripped out and boiled down to the creature combat mechanic, with a couple of interesting tweaks. In Hearthstone, you can choose whether you attack other creatures, which ones, or whether you bypass them and attack the other player directly. In Magic, it is of course up to the defending player to assign blockers or absorb the damage themselves. Hearthstone also lacks land dependency for mana and "instant" speed spells that can be played at any time during combat or the opponent's turn. There don't appear to be any "permanents" aside from creatures, either. Decks are limited to 30 cards, and there doesn't appear to be any graveyard. It seems that cards, once cast, go back into the deck to be reused later. There doesn't seem to be a mechanic for running out of cards, and so the only way to win is to actually kill the enemy through damage. All this leads to a much faster and more streamlined game, but at the cost of a lot of the depth of Magic. It's a valid approach, and it does make for a game that is a lot of fun. I am looking forward to playing a lot more of it; the arena (sealed draft) mode especially.