Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tied Up A Loose End

I went back over the last few days and finished up The Banner Saga, which I began playing back in January. That was a really great game.

It's set in a very interesting non-standard fantasy world and tells a pretty desperate story of refugees on the move fleeing before a deadly and merciless invading force. The ending of the game does not really wrap  up anything at all, so there is much more of the story left to tell. I understand there will be another game or two--they're calling it a trilogy at this point, but there's no word yet on when a sequel will arrive. I am definitely interested in continuing the story though, and learning more about this world and the forces behind what seems like a forced migration caused by another forced migration caused by an unknown "darkness".

The art and presentation of the game are peerless in many respects, and the tactical battle system is novel, forcing you to break habits ingrained by other tactical roleplaying games. It is overall a very nice little package, lasting about 12 hours for a once-through. It's definitely on my shortlist for 2014 GsOTY.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Beyond Beyond Earth

The other night I finished up my fourth game of Civ in a row, 2 of Beyond Earth, one of V, and then another of Beyond Earth.

I managed to actually win the last one, going down the Harmony affinity path to the Transcendence victory. I noticed fairly early on that I shared a continent with only two other factions, one with only two cities, and the other a little bigger, with four. By this point I probably had nine, and a healthy military, so without much trouble at all, and very few losses, I dominated both other factions and brought the whole continent under my control. From there it was just a matter of expansion and being on the lookout for any border incursions while I exploited (or rather... harmonized) the land's resources and rushed to build the Mind Flower for the win.

After four full games and about 50 hours of Civ, I think it's time to move on to play other things. I'm not certain yet just what I'll focus on, but I did flirt a little with Diablo III and XCOM: Enemy Unknown last night.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Anything Less Would Be... Uncivilized

I'm a couple of games into Beyond Earth, now. My first game I played as Kavitha Thukar, which I think is the faction whose cities expand to new tiles at twice the usual rate. I was going for Supremacy, and still figuring things out when the victory was snatched out from under me by the African faction. In my second game, I was playing as the Franco-Iberians, focused on Purity and culture, basically building The Imperium of Man pre-Heresy. Everything was rolling along real well until out of nowhere ARC (the American analogue) runs off with the Contact victory. No one else stood a chance.

Beyond Earth is very cool. It is a whole lot like Civ V, but there are some interesting differences aside from just in the theme. The win conditions are different, depending on your affinity (Purity, Supremacy, or Harmony), The tech progression is also interestingly different in that it is a web rather than a tree, which makes sense since this is about civilizations branching out from a common start rather than making the same progression in parallel, just with paces staggered.

Speaking of Civ V, I just kind of wanted to check it out again after finishing a couple of games of the new one, and I got back in and am getting toward the end of a game as Venice, with which you are limited to a single city, and fumbling toward a culture victory. It probably won't work, at this point, but I'm still having a great time messing around with it. This is the first I've really played much with the expansions active, and the religion/culture and endgame stuff they added to the game is pretty substantial, not to mention all of the factions now part of the game that weren't in there, before.

I think it's great that Civ V and Beyond Earth can exist at once and both be unique while still sharing 90% of the same DNA. Neither makes the other feel obsolete or pointless.

Not much to report, outside of Civilization games. I played another short session of Shadow of Mordor. It's cool, but I'll need more time to get into it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Filling Out Twenty-Fourteen

The end of the year is rapidly approaching, and I like to come to some kind of annual conclusion on what my game of the year is, so I am now trying to revisit or look into some of the more notable releases of the year, to my sensibilities, anyway.

I also jumped sooner on at least one game, Shadow of Mordor, after hearing a lot of talk about its interesting Nemesis system. I've only played it for about an hour so far, but it seems pretty slick, with solid (Batman) combat, Assassin's Creed climbing, and multiple systems of unlocks for new abilities. It's a pretty good looking game, as well, especially powered by my new 970 GTX.

Civilization: Beyond Earth has also just come out, and I am most itching to get in and play it some more. I also have only spent about an hour with this one, so far, but I've spent 70+ with Civ V. While I am far, far from anything approaching good or expert at the game, I do really like it, and I see a lot, at least on the surface, of Civ V in Beyond Earth. I think I prefer the exoplanet colonization theme, too, as great as the historical cultures of the world theme, is. Both are very cool.

Legend of Grimrock II is out! I haven't had much time to put into this one yet, either, but so far so good. I really loved the first game, and this seems like more, and more robust, and nice outdoor environments, too.

The Banner Saga is on my short list of GOTY contenders, but it had been several long months since I last played (and never completed) it, so I'm trying to pick it up again. I played for about half an hour last night, and was given a healthy reminder on what is so grand about the game. The art is stellar, the writing is also great, and it even has a cool tactical combat system, though this may be its Achilles' heel, so to speak. It seems easy to play yourself into an untenable state. That may just be it's razor's edge balance speaking, but often the battles in this game have me feeling really stretched thin. I'll have to see how it further pans out. I don't really have any sense as to how deep into the game I am, other than an hour count (6).

Elsewhere, I've dipped into both Borderlands 2 and Diablo III for a bit of click and loot, I'm continuing playing Baldur's Gate (on ipad now) as a solo sorcerer, and I even played the first hour of Final Fantasy VII the other day just in the interest of refreshing my memories (and opinions) on what it seems is finally no longer the undisputed masterpiece of everything ever. While far from my favorite of the series, it is also far from my least favorite, and I think I would like to revisit it, in limited chunks, here and there.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Martian

I just finished Andy Weir's hard sci-fi story about an astronaut stranded alone on Mars after a freak accident and extenuating circumstances. It's very good and goes into a hellacious amount of detail in relating how a man could possibly survive such a situation. The research that must have gone into writing this book is staggering to think about, and seeing just how the main character MacGuyvers through each and every problem he's presented with is really interesting.

The problem with the book is mainly in the dialog between others back on Earth or the Hermes crew (on their way back to Earth after evacuating Mars and leaving behind our protagonist). It's terrible. It reads like awful sitcom-esque TV dreck. It's so bad it is distracting from the rest of the well-written parts of the book. It's not a huge part of the book, and far from the most important part of it, thankfully.

Overall, I did enjoy The Martian, and would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in the nitty gritty of spacefaring in the present and very near-term future. Almost nothing at all in here is beyond our current capabilities.

Blazed Based Baldur's Gate

I went and finished off Baldur's Gate, including all of the Tales of the Sword Coast content. There is some very challenging content in there, moreso than with the base game. The Greater Wolfwere, the Demon Knight, and Aec'Letec were all very tricky fights, and each more difficult than the final story confrontation with Sarevok.

I've had a blast with Baldur's Gate, and am definitely looking forward to more not only with the sequel, but the additional content in the Enhanced Editions as well as the upcoming Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition and numerous other D&D computer RPGs I already own.

For now, though, I'm going to play a number of things, starting with Legend of Grimrock II. It looks to be a refined, expanded, and enhanced sequel to the excellent first Grimrock, and I'm excited to delve in. So far I've created a group and explored a little of the beach you are washed up on after being shipwrecked.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

There Can Be Only One

I'm almost done with Baldur's Gate, I think. I actually finished the game completely unawares the other night. It turns out that Sarevok in the Undercity's Temple of Bhaal is the final encounter. I guess I should have realized that before killing him and seeing the message that my savegame was ready for export to Baldur's Gate II.

I re-loaded to a save just outside that fight and now I'm going around cleaning up all the sidequests and doing the expansion content. I would guess I have another 5-10 hours left with the game. The only things remaining to be done that I am aware of are a quest to get some sea charts and then find the shipwreck of Balduran, the founder of the city of Baldur's Gate, and then to delve into Durlag's Tower, which I think is the hardest dungeon in the game. I guess I could be surprised by a huge new quest chain that pops out of either of those, who can tell.

I've done every other major sidequest, as far as I know. I even have a few maguffins in my inventory whose proper owners I don't know where to find. I'll get through all of the aforementioned real content and then consult a wiki on these few odds and ends before going back to kill Sarevok--on the record, this time.

I'm not sure what I'll play after Baldur's Gate. I think I'll need a bit of a palate cleanser before moving on to the sequel. I did just get a new GTX 970 video card, as well, and I'll want to put it through its paces.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Done With Destiny (1.0.2)

I'm finished with Destiny for the time being. I completed the story missions, ran all of the matchmade strike missions, and got to level 21 out of curiosity for how the light leveling system works. It's a neat idea, but to play much more right now is just a waste of time. There is no way I'd be able to fit the raid into my life right now, especially not having to make it an appointment.

I'll wait for the next big patch or expansion that makes the game more friendly to solo play and interesting--more content, above all else. In the mean time, I'll concentrate on Baldur's Gate, which I am still enjoying immensely. I haven't played anything else on Steam in over a month.

Monday, October 6, 2014


I today polished off a reread of James Clavell's Tai-Pan, one of his best novels. I'd recommend it, Shogun, and Noble House to just about anyone, and the rest of his books, Gai-Jin, King Rat, and Whirlwind to those interested in reading more of his after that seminal trio. All but Shogun and King Rat pretty prominently feature the company Struan's, born out of Tai-Pan protagonist Dirk Struan's trading proclivities that (in the fiction) culminated in the establishment of the British colony of Hong Kong.

Struan's is actually based on a real company that is still around, called Jardine Matheson Holdings, a fact I've only just learned about today.

I love this book. I love the Tai-Pan, and how he deftly and competently handles every matter that pops up, how he is the consumate seaman, trader, and natural born leader of men, and possesed of a singular acceptance and understanding of the native culture of China, where he has been building an empire for twenty-odd years. He is very much an aspirational sort of character, if not wholly believable. Shogun's John Blackthorne is much the same, though a little more human. Struan, is, if you believe the talk, half-devil.

It's a hell of a tale, and has a great ending, but don't read any farther along in Clavell's Asian Saga timeline unless you want to be disappointed in how things turn out for Dirk's immediate successor as Tai-Pan. Joss, as the man would say.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bite-Sized Chunks

That has been my modus operandi the past three weeks, as I've been playing almost nothing but Baldur's Gate and Destiny. I did sneak in a little bit of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on my Vita yesterday, sating an acute yearning to play one of my all time classics for the first time in a long while after reading a recently translated interview with some of the Japanese production staff from back in 1997. That is one of the absolute best, most satisfying games to sit down and play in all my experience.

I'm closing in on 50 hours with Baldur's Gate, now. I'm in the titular city investigating the activities of the Iron Throne trade consortium. They're up to no good in one way or another. They are definitely behind all the assassination attempts aimed at my player character, and I will make them pay. Apparently I am one of the children or otherwise inheritors of Bhaal, the sort of god of death in the D&D setting of Faerun. I'm not really supposed to know that just yet, only that I have some mysterious history in my blood, but this game is 16 years old now, and had leeched into the well that is gaming lore, some of which I have drunk. I get the feeling there will be blood in my character's future.

Destiny is growing on me a little more day by day. Now that I've basically discarded the possibility of caring about the theme, focusing on the mechanics is a mostly pretty positive experience. That said, I only now have reached level 15 and unlocked my Warlock subclass, Sunsinger. That seems to mean having to gain a bunch of XP to relearn things like how to throw a grenade, how to glide through the air, how to use a special ability, et cetera. Still, the game is petty fun to play, and even when it's humdrum, it's the sort of thing you can just do and accomplish just the slightest little thing and listen to a podcast with. I find that a valuable sort of activity.

I've basically committed myself to finishing both Baldur's Gate and Destiny before moving on to anything else on the PC or PS3. Destiny I'll never actually finish, of course, just the story missions. I'll level up to 20 and see just how feasible it is to get much further than that. On the PC side, I don't have just a whole hell of a lot of options but to see out Baldur's Gate, since my 560 ti is on the fritz, and the replacement 970 I've ordered is out of stock everywhere, for the time being. Perhaps I'll confine my roaming dalliances to the Vita and 3DS in the meantime. I've got a few games relatively if not absolutely untouched between the two.

Monday, September 22, 2014

In With The Old, No Matter What You're Told

I've got over 30 hours on Baldur's Gate now. I'm getting more familiar and accustomed to the D&D 2nd edition rules. I had some more experienced players explain a few things like dual- and multi-classing, read up on a few game systems such as party alignment and reputation, and have learned a few other things just by experience, such as the situational utility of spells that do things like boost resistance to petrification and abilities like Find Traps or Turn Undead. Learn by doing works, to some degree.

I've more or less settled on a party setup I like, with three melee fighters, my PC who is a Wizard Slayer (fighter kit), Minsc the Ranger dual-wielding maces, Dorn the Blackguard with a 2-handed sword, and three ranged characters, Imoen the Thief on Bow, Dynaheir the Invoker with offensive magic, and Viconia the Cleric handling crowd control, buffs and debuffs, healing, and slinging bullets. As long as I keep my party's reputation in the mid-range, 9 to 12, everyone seems happy enough.

I haven't made a huge amount of progress through the story just yet. I'm hunting down a base of operations for the raiders that have been terrorizing trade routes from Amn (which I gather is to the south) to the city of Baldur's Gate at the north end of the Sword Coast. It's somewhere in the Cloakwood, but I don't have the foggiest idea where the Cloakwood is. It's not marked on my map, which is odd. I really feel like one of my 6-person party should know where it is. Oh well, the hunt for it has taken me on a few interesting adventures already, and every bit of experience helps. My party members are all 5th level now. I don't just go online and look up the location of the Cloakwood because I'm sure I'll find it eventually, and the roleplaying is interesting. I keep expecting it to appear on my map once I get near. We'll see.

Destiny. Well, I've been playing it most days since release, but never for more than about 45 minutes. I'm still on the Moon missions, only level 11 with my Warlock. It's good, and fun, but I get worn out on it pretty quickly each session. I don't think the campaign is all that interesting so far. The locations have none of the spectacle of Halo's levels, and there are no characters to speak of. I think this game was trying to go immediately from first to fifth gear, starting off in a mode that makes it lend itself to play like you would with Diablo III on your fourth character solely in adventure mode. I think that's fine in some respects, but it can also just put you that much closer to feeling like you've exhausted the worthwhile content if you are not completely head-over-heels in love with the game.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Baldur's Gate and Destiny

I've put about 8 hours into Baldur's Gate so far, and I'm really enjoying it, so far. I've recruited up to a full 6-man party, and we're venturing into some mines to root out whatever foul presence is despoiling them and their ore. I created my character as Neutral Good, since that's generally how I tend to come down on things, I think, but a couple of my favorite and most useful members to this point are Neutral Evil, and I'm wondering how long this can last. Will I be forced to deviate from my alignment so much that it causes problems? Can that happen? I don't know.

As far as my level of comfort with D&D systems and mechanics, I think I'm doing ok grasping the high level stuff, but so far combat has been a pretty simple affair of auto-attacking and deploying one or two abilities here and there. I'm guessing things will get more complex and difficult as the game progresses. I just wonder how situational a lot of the spells and abilities are, and whether I should ready something like Detect Evil, or how often I should have my thief looking for traps. All the time? Again, I don't know. But I'm hoping to learn.

I was able to get Destiny on day one from Game Trader, the local independent shop, but so far I've only played about half an hour every night. Which is fine by me; I'm in no rush to cap out or complete the story, which seems completely generic and uninteresting. I do like the game for what it is, and can even respect it for holding back emphasis on plot and lore, which are obviously not Bungie's strong suits. I'll be playing this one for a while, like a Blizzard game, I think.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Green-Eyed Devil Barbarian

Booklog be damned, I'm proceeding onto my sixth book in a row that is a re-read.

I've finished up all the Song of Ice and Fire material available, finishing off A Dance with Dragons last week. How long until book 6 is out? Too long. And even then there will still be the wait for book 7, and maybe even 8? Who knows.

In the meantime, I was reminded of a Tai-Pan reread I'd begun about a year and a half ago (how does the time fly so fast?). It was suitably long ago, and only about an hour's work, so I just restarted fresh again. I love James Clavell's work. Some are better than others, and even the best are beyond cheesey, but all of is Asian Saga of historical fiction novels are worth a read, and respectful of the cultures he explores.

I reread Shogun a few years ago, as well, these two probably being Clavell's best, though Noble House is also a real page-turner, and Whirlwind is interesting. Gai-Jin I thought was not so great, and I didn't really like King Rat all that much, either.

There's no one like Dirk Struan, though, save for perhaps John Blackthorne when he's not having to be schooled on proper etiquette. The Tai-Pan is real man's man.

RPGs, the 3DS, and a Couple of Other Things

We stand here on the eve of one of the most momentous days in all of our collective history. Tomorrow, Destiny is releaased, and with it the new order of science fiction first-person shooting and loot collecting for the new generation of game console systems. After tomorrow, everything will be different. Now is the time to take stock of recent events, before all is washed away in the coming deluge.

I have Destiny on pre-order at my local independent game store, but they're pretty slow about getting new games, so I'm not sure when I'll be able to pick it up. Hopefully this week, sometime. I am looking forward to playing it. Not wildly and with total abandon, but maybe like I have been Diablo III since patch 2.1, a little bit here and there--no rush.

I played all the way through and finished a game in two days last week--Evoland, which is something of an homage and deconstruction and examination of the RPG and adventure genre beginning with the NES era all the way up through Diablo III, though it mostly seems to focus on the Final Fantasy and Zelda series. It begins with very rudimentary, almost Game Boy-esque graphics and no sound to speak of. As you go along, you open chests that do things like supply sound and music, enhance the graphics, unlock new features and systems such as Active Time Battle, 3D polygonal overworld graphics, Pre-rendered backgrounds, etc. It was a decent stroll down memory lane for me, and just the right length. The only part I thought dragged a bit was during the 32-bit/FFVII homage areas. And the end came pretty abruptly, as well. I might have moved one of the dungeons from the former bit to the part leading up to the final battle. The whole thing took less than three hours, well spent, on the whole, I think.

I dug out my S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky save and progressed that some, following on from finishing Half-Life 2. I find the open world shooter to be so much more of an interesting and compelling experience than the linear, corridor-confined variety. Stalker, as I'll call it, is such a rich experience. It's one of my favorite PC-exclusive series, and without a doubt justifies maintaining the platform, even if that is all you ever play on it. I'm so glad I've still got half of this game and then Call of Pripyat to play through, as well. At the rate I go, they'll keep me in dour Russian post-apocalyptic free-form shooting adventure for a while.

I can't quit playing Hearthstone, even though I'm not "progressing" toward anything when I play it, other than perhaps a full collection of every card. It's just too easy to jump into for a few minutes here and there, and somehow remains fun even when it certain games are rage-inducing. I need to stop playing it, at least beyond the minimum each month to unlock more card backs. I have better uses of my time.

Psychonauts is one of those games whose reputation preceeds it. It's known to be a mechanically frustrating and well-written comedic 3D platformer, and I'd say that's about accurate from the hour or so I put into it. I see what they were going for, but I've never liked 3D platforming, or its garish Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic. The writing seemed good, I'll give it that. Otherwise, no sir, I don't like it.

Something made me pick up my 3DS a few days ago, and I've been playing a bit of my library for that system:

Crimson Shroud - Definitely a Yasumi Matsuno game (writing, art, presentation). This one is sort of board game like, in that you move from space to space on a map and roll dice a lot, and characters are little statue pieces (maquettes, they might be called). Seems cool, but I wish it had a better UI for equipping items and skills and stuff. This is the same one as Tactics Ogre, and it's cumbersome, I find. Still, there is a lot to like, here.

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures - I believe this was free at one point or another on the eshop. I messed around with it for a bit, single-player. Yawn. All the tedium I remember of the 16-bit era, and none of the real fun. Maybe that je ne sais quoi is impossible to catch now that I'm not allowed in Narnia anymore.

Steel Diver: Sub Wars - More fun than a boring game has any right to be. I'm mystified as to how this came out of Nintendo as a first-party release. There must be one rogue designer who is a big submarine warfare nerd. Fine, Takeda, we'll do your stupid submarine game, not like we have anything else for the 3DS Launch.

Super Mario 3D Land - My daughter knows who Mario is, and wants to see this game everytime she sees the 3DS. I finished a level because I was sick of looking at it.

To wrap things up, I am beginning Baldur's Gate, the recent Enhanced Edition by Beamdog. I've never played Baldur's Gate, though I have played Planescape: Torment, and some small amount of The Temple of Elemental Evil and miniscule amount of Icewind Dale. I fumbled my way through Planescape because it was magical experience, but I'm going to have to really master D&D 2nd edition to play this. I'm in that kind of mood now, and I've learned to strike while the iron is hot. Here goes!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Finally Done With City 17

I've had this campaign run through of Half-Life 2 going for probably two and a half years, but now, at long last, it is done. It is just such a long game, and I could never really play it for more than maybe an hour at a time before I'd had my fill for the time being. The thing is, it's a really great game, in the playing. I just think it has some length and pacing issues, perhaps. The ending sections, inside the Citadel, with the super gravity gun, are a riot. That was a nice way to cap off the whole thing, to be sure.

The plot, though, really leaves a lot to the imagination. On one hand, I like that. Being a part of the world, being shown rather than told, is great for a sense of place. On the other, it does very little to pull you forward to the game's conclusion, which might be why it has taken me so long to reach it.

Time has probably worn off the sheen of awe many saw on the game, but it's underlying quality does still show through. I'm curious what the episodes will bring; the way the game closed felt like that was probably it for City 17 and Alyx and that whole crew, but plainly it is not. We'll just have to see where the G Man brings us out next.

No promises on when I'll play any other other entries, though.