Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book 2

I tore through A Game of Thrones in just over a week, and now I'm well into A Clash of Kings, as well. I see no reason not to continue right on through all five books, while the notion has taken hold of me so tightly. It helps that I can read on my breaks at work or while waiting at the DMV or such places, using the kindle app on my phone. I am still reading every day, but not at quite the breakneck speed I had for the first book. Books 2 and 3 are quite long, so I'm trying to maintain a good pace, but not overdo it. There's not much else I'd rather be reading than this series, right now.

Words Are Wind

Despite my best intentions, I never get around to playing what I think I'll play. Zero minutes of Mass Effect 3 played since last I wrote here. I have dabbled in several things, but committed to nothing. To recount:

Dota 2 - The International 4 happened over the past couple of weeks. I thought I might watch some, and play some, turns out I had only time for one game in either category. I want to play more, because Dota is a ton of fun. It's discouraging, though, to know that I'll never be better than more than about 3 in 10 players. I feel this way about most multi-player games, these days. Kids and the childless and the underemployed have it so nice, with ample time to get good.

Vlad the Impaler - A cool text adventure game with a gothic horror motif, set in Istanbul during the time of Vlad Tepes. It's like someone made this just for me. There are different choices to make in character creation and in your investigations that drive the narrative forward, and different outcomes to the whole thing. It's good.

A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda - very obviously heavily derivative of Mega Man games, but with some new twists, including analog 360-degree firing and the ability to construct consumables and upgrades from scrap dropped by enemies. It seemed cool if that's the type of thing you were looking for, games which are in short supply in this day and age, and native to the PC. This was part of my knock-em-off-the-backlog initiative.

Wolfenstein 3D and Spear of Destiny - I'd played Wolf 3D before, but not a hell of a lot of it. I picked it up the other day in the Quake-Con related Steam sale, along with the expansion and Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Boy, are these games tough to return to. Having to hold down a key in order to strafe is a deal-breaker. This and the older Doom games both are better in retrospect than to actually sit down and try to play with a modern control scheme. Unmodded, their mouse implementations are so foreign to modern conventions that it is debilitating. Quake fares much better, with a little tweaking of the options--and Quake is a better game, as well, much as I love the Dooms.

Goat Simulator - I guess we broke this out again, not too long ago. It's fun to fly around with the controllable jetpack mutator installed. I wish there were more areas to the game, but it is just a dumb toy, after all.

Hearthstone - I'm not sure what happened here, but apparently I am back to grinding out daily quests in order to collect more cards to build a good Shaman deck. I think that's my favorite class, for now at least. The Naxxramus expansions comes out today, or the first part of it does, at least. That will be interesting to check out.

Minecraft - Because there's just nothing like it for getting into a world and going exploring. Cube World is cool, too, but I kind of felt more like wandering and less like fighting.

Destiny beta - On the PS3, even. I like it. It's Halo crossed with Diablo but without Borderlands' questionable sensibilities. I wonder how much actual content there is, here. Every mission I've been on save the multi-player modes have been on the same big map. It is fun, though maybe only just engaging enough. How the story stuff plays out and how much of the rest of the solar system we get to see and how varied the play can be with only three character classes and limited amounts of enemies all remains to be seen. I'm keeping my PS3 pre-order, content with how it performs (freely online, I might add), though I am still hoping for a PC version.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Revisiting an Old Favorite

On reading, I've really upped my intensity, lately. I've been reading every day, I'm proud to say.

I finished Nemesis, the latest novel of the Horus Heresy I was reading. It was a pretty cool story of two star-crossed and doomed assassination missions targeting Horus Lupercal and The Emperor himself. Pulpy, and none too consequential to the overall Heresy arc, but fun.

I'm reading through The Ninja, the (mostly) non-fiction historical account of Japan's famous secretive and independent feudal warrior groups based in the Iga and Koga regions. It's kind of hit-or-miss for me, so far, with maybe a little too much about the philosophy of ninpo, or ninjutsu, but interesting, if probably, in some cases, apocryphal historical accounts of Daimyo such as Tokugawa Ieyasu employing the shinobi no mono.

Over the last few weeks I watched seasons 3 and 4 of HBO's Game of Thrones, and that made me want to go back and reread the books, since it has been a decade or more ago that I read the first four. I'm well into A Game of Thrones now, and I think I'll make it through this first book, at least. The meat that I really want to get to is a reread of books 4 and 5--the parts of the story where the HBO series has strayed, or at least not advanced far enough to cover, yet. There have been a time or two that I sat down with this first book and half-heartedly began a reread, making it perhaps a hundred pages in before setting it aside. I must be a good third of the way in, now, though. I think it's going to stick this time. It's been long enough, but at the same time I have my familarity with the TV show's material to check and compare versus the content of the books, which makes the reread pretty interesting. Seeing Littlefinger setting up Ned and Catelyn so early on in the first book, for instance. Seeing Tyrion and Jon's kinship. The early signs of what a monster Joffrey becomes. Not only getting all the ancient history characters talk about, but at the same time understanding how it underpins their actions thus far and the ones they will take in the future. It's good stuff.

Detours

I have been making some good progress through Mass Effect 3, but it is also true that my attention has been diverted in a number of different directions, in the meantime. I am planning on paring that back down some and continuing on Shepard's quest very soon.

The Steam summer sale happened recently, and with that my backlog swelled again to even greater volume. I have knocked a few off the pile, though. Quickly and dirty reviews:

Chivalry: Deadliest Warrior - fun and fairly unique melee-focused combat featuring a number of historical warrior types. Did I uninstall this? What was I thinking? I want to go play more right now. The downside is that there doesn't seem to be much balance. Samurai appear to be the best class overall, by historical rankings in the leaderboards. Pirates look to be bringing up the rear. Cool game, but I'm not sure how much potential there is for a serious competitive scene.

Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams - a great platformer with a gorgeous presentation, and quite difficult, too. There don't seem to be a huge amount of stages, but the ones I saw--up through the first boss fight--are large and feature a number of secrets. There is also the fact that each exists in two states, happy fairy land and dead Halloween land. You play as two girls, one at a time, shifting back and forth from girl and world to girl and world. Recommended for platformer fans.

Garry's Mod - I don't get it. I guess it's kind of a meta-Minecraft in which you can construct not only worlds, but game types, as well. I messed around a bit with dropping objects into the world, and I saw that there were a ton of people playing original game types on various servers, but I didn't join any. I tried to get onto something running some sort of Fallout: New Vegas roleplaying thing, but it was taking forever to connect, so I cancelled and quit out. This seems like a deep, deep hole, and I don't know that I want to jump down it.

Goat Simulator - Finally a game that Mia appreciates. She's three years old, today.

Wizorb - it's 8-bit-esque JRPG Arkanoid.

I also returned to a number of games for a bit more, and even finished off the Bioshock franchise, as it exists now, with the second part of Infinite's Burial at Sea expansion. It was good, and did a decent job of elaborating on the events of Infinite and connecting them to those of the original Bioshock. Not that that was really necessary, but it was a nice touch, I thought.

I let Mia check out some World of Goo, Peggle, and Hearthstone while sitting on my lap. She seems think they're variously OK for up to about 5 minutes before bombing off to do something else.

I made a tiny bit more progress through Half-Life 2. At this pace I'll finish itup sometime in 2016, making this one of the more extended contiguous (to my definition) playthroughs I've ever done. It's a great, great game, though. It feels great to play. Maybe I just don't want it to end.

I've kind of reached a multiplayer FPS crisis. That is, I don't know if there is a game for me in this genre. Battlefield has evolved to something I don't really care for. Call of Duty has never been my thing. Counter-Strike seems like the best game out there, but after about 15 or 20 minutes, I feel like I'm done for the day. Matches seem to last longer than that. Plus, Counter-Strike is extremely skill-intensive, and I'll never be that good. I need something more casual, I think. Maybe Borderlands or the upcoming Destiny or another co-op game, like the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer, is more my speed these days. I've tried the Left 4 Dead games, but they just don't seem to take, either. They're incredibly intense and repetitive, and like with CS, I want to bail out after just a short time. The aforementioned multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 is pretty good, maybe I'll stick with that for the time being, while I'm playing the campaign, anyway. I should also play the Payday series, which I do own.

Going forward, I guess I'll try to focus on ME3, though I am awaiting Diablo III's 2.1 patch and the Destiny beta. We'll see how that goes.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Final Leg of the Sheep Drive

Put a cap in Borderlands, is more like it. I went back to my years-old game save and finished up all the DLC, I care to, which equates to all the campaign-y stuff, General Knoxx, Dr. Ned, and Claptrap's add-ons. The Mad Moxxi thing is nothing more than an arena-based horde mode type of thing that is best played with friends. However, Borderlands no longer supports online play (thanks, GameSpy!), only LAN, so to hell with that. I have to admit that I had fun finishing this game off, even though I was rushing right through everything, seldom straying at all from the critical path. Look, I got shit to do.

I played a little bit of Half-Life 2 the other day, as I am wont to do every several months. That is a great game. That I can't seem to finish.

I also looked into Euro Truck Simulator 2 a little bit. It's pretty cool, but I'm a little disappointed by the lack of fidelity to the bits of Germany I am actually familiar with. It cuts out a lot of the anciliary countryside and urban areas to focus instead on the intersections--the interesting decisions, as it were. You'll seldom drive more than a few minutes down any one road before taking a ramp to another or turn off somewhere. Still, it's a neat idea, relaxing, and actually difficult in spots. Backing into a loading dock, especially. I'm not sure how much more I'll play, but I did enjoy myself with it for a couple of hours.

Summer is here, baby Juno is here, E3 is gone, and there is a bit of a lull before the busy all gaming season begins. It is time to play Mass Effect 3, finally. All the furor around its release is now water under the bridge, and I bought it for $5 or $10 at some point several months ago, and I am finally ready to guide Shepard to the end of her journey, for better or worse. The fixed ending is live, all DLC available on Origin (thank fuck, after the mess of ME2's DLC marketplace), some of which I may buy, and enough time has passed that neither is much of a sore spot anymore. If Shepard can make peace with the Alliance leadership for the greater good, so can I with EA/BioWare/Origin on these matters. We don't have to like it, but working together is the only way we'll get through this to the end.

That said, I imported my Caroline Shepard, created in ME1, continued through all of ME2, into ME3 last night, and got the ball rolling. Earth is being attacked by the Reapers, folks are dying, and Shepard has been reinstated as commander of the Normandy and sent to gain the aid of the Citadel. First stop are some Martian archives where it sounds like she may encounter long-time friend and comrade Liara, now a galactic shadow power broker. So far, so good. It feels like Mass Effect, and combat-wise maybe even the best of the bunch, though it is still early to really tell. I'm looking forward to more.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Shooting From the Hip

I still haven't put away Diablo III, not completely. I have slowed down on it, considerably. All my characters are now Torment II capable, and each with some pretty cool rare legendary items that offer unique effects. There's no game as good for playing while listening to a podcast.

I may segue that habit over into Borderlands, now, though. I'm getting a little more back into it in the last couple of days. I'd like to put a cap on this game once and for all, and maybe peek into the sequel some, too. On the shooter topic, I had a weird hankering to play some Doom the other day, so I jumped in and messed around with that a bit. I should probably stick with some of the more modern fare that I have untouched, though. It's tough to go back that far.

I was able to complete a couple of games recently, one a tiny, ponderous sci-fi adventure called Stranded, which finds the player crash-landed on an alien world and having to survive and figure out the mysteries of the surrounding alien ruins. I enjoyed that. I also finished off Assassin's Creed Liberation, which was pretty mediocre all the way through. I don't regret playing it, though. Aveline's story was interesting enough.

Monday, May 19, 2014

From the Visitation to the Violation

Reading, lately, I finished up the rather short Roadside Picnic, though it took me a month or more, such is my pathetic, contemptible reading volume these days. That was a really interesting read. What S.T.A.L.K.E.R. took from it in tone and inspiration far outweighs the superficial differences in the settings, which I suppose make it a fairly successful adaptation. Book to game; who would have thought?

For my next feat of literary dullness and sloth, I retreat back into the arcane lore of the Horus Heresy, with James Swallow's Nemesis. This seems to be a story of competing beureaus of assassins, one gunning for Horus Lupercal, and one for The Emperor of Man, or just The Emperor, for short.

I'm alternating Horus Heresy stuff with non-HH stuff in a wierd sort of literary palate cleansing. I'm defining where the Horus Heresy sits in terms of literature by figuring out where other things are in relation to it.

Putting Hell the Hell Away

I'm going to have to force myself to stop playing Diablo III. I got my Demon Hunter, Isam--after a similarly haunted Wheel of Time character--to 70, and then promptly switched back over to Orda--after the Khan--to gear him up a little more for Torment level Nephelam Rifts. I've been having fun wrecking stuff and finding game-changing legendary items with him, such as ground-melting boots, a monster-charming helmet, and a demon-summoning greatsword. This game is so good! It's even better now after the expansion and extensive patching than it was at launch--far, far better, as a matter of fact. It's high time to shelve it for a while, though, and when this 7-day period of increased Legendary Item drop rate and double Rift Fragment Bounties ends, I'll do just that. I have half of the classes at the level cap, now, and while it may not be the most efficient, each of them can get along in Torment mode with reasonable comfort. I want to play a Witch Doctor next, but I don't have it in me now. It makes more sense to wait until whenever Blizzard introduces Seasons to the game, where players will compete on leaderboards as to who can start with a new character and level up the fastsest, the most, with the best gear, or whatever it turns out to be. That will be fun. I will not be able to compete to much of any extent, but it will be fun.

I've also been playing some Assassin's Creed: Liberation. It really is pretty mediocre, which is a shame. Not that the even the greatest entries in the series stand up as shining examples of the form, but this is even lacking in their charms. You can tell that the developers were ambitious with their design; it mainly just feels like there was a shortfall of funding and time to make the game great. It probably also has to do with the constraints that attempting to shoeorn an AC game onto the Vita placed on the whole endeavor. I can see in Liberation the many things I like about this series, I just have to look harder. I wish the production values were higher--particularly the voice acting, which is pretty bad. I wish the plot was more coherent and had more connective tissue, because it's hard to decipher, as is. I wish the game just had a better feel to it--it's pretty janky. To be fair, jank is nothing new to AC. Maybe the frequency with which we see these come down the pike is finally starting to wear on me. Maybe I needed more time to put 80 hours of Black Flag and DLC behind me. I will soldier on through, this, though, and await with anticipation this fall's Assassin's Creed: Unity, and the rumored Comet, to a lesser extent. Maybe Liberation will pick up, who knows?

I felt like monkeying around with Dawn of War II: Retribution's The Last Stand mode last night, wondering if I could seque my routine from Diablo III into that, soon. I'm not so sure. Instead, maybe I'll go back (again) to Borderlands--the first--to try out all the DLC before finally, ultimately canning that game for real this time. I need to play Borderlands 2 sometime, after all. I'm undecided whether the Pre-Sequel (not developed by Gearbox) is something to be excited about. I'm leaning toward no, but again, who knows?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Still Slaying

I decided on a male Demon Hunter for my third Diablo III character. He's level 40, now. I've only slowed my roll on Diablo a little in the last month, after finishing up my Wizard's campaign (again), and putting a good couple of weeks into further gearing her up. I'm kind of in an effective holding pattern with gaming, stalling some before we're slated to be blessed with another beautiful baby girl to care for. It's easy to cling to this rather than try to invest too much into yet another game that I may or may not have the time and concentration to finish.

That hasn't stopped me though, from beginning Assassin's Creed Liberation HD, the redux of the ill-fated Vita series entry. It's alright, so far. It has a very AC III feel to it, much like the Aveline DLC that was a part of Black Flag did. It has probably been ported over to III's engine or something. It seems to use a lot of similar art assets. Aveline is cool; this is the series doing what it does, though, and lacking in the massive production values that proper entries get. It's a shame that the only entry with a woman as the player character (and both entries with a black person as the lead) are a kind of afterthought, though--Aveline in the Vita game and Adewale in the now standalone spin-off DLC from Black Flag. I'm only two sequences in. I really would like to finish this up before our baby is born. Side note--and this is completely coincidental and unintentional--we are giving her a name that is shared by a character in the AC series. I'll confirm any correct guesses on the matter.

Dawdling around here and there, and spurred on by the recent announcement of Firaxis' next game, I finally picked up and began messing with Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. Simply put, it's a Civ game on another planet, but with a more dour and pragmatic bent to the theme. It's Kim Stanley Robinson's Sci-Fi Civilization, perhaps. I need to give it more time, though. I am still in the bewildered-by-UI stage of the game.

I mentioned Toki Tori a while back, and how I did not like it. I gave Toki Tori 2+ a shot, owning it, as you do with PC games these days, and I find that it is a much more pleasant mobile port. Not so blatant about it's roots, in other words. It seems fine, but my daughter didn't seem too into it. Maybe it'll get a few more tries before being uninstalled.

I don't make a habit of talking about iOS games on this blog; probably because I don't make a habit of playing them. I do own a bunch, though, and I probably should give them a fair shot more often. Hearthstone was recently released on iOS, and you might remember me being fond of it during its beta testing. Well, I was--probably a little too fond of it. I think I burned myself out on the game, at least for a while. The iOS version seems to work, but performance was pretty bad even on my ipad 3. Hitman Go, though, is very nice. It's a pleasant surprise. I love the model/diorama look to the game, and the abstraction of the mechanics through making it look like a board game. It's the sort of thing that keeps me from completely dismissing mobile as a platform I don't care about (like I have consoles/handhelds at this point).

On the reading side of things, I recently went back and re-read the entirety of The Walking Dead comics from 1 to 126. Big things are apparently in play for issue 127 and the series' future, and I thought it was a good time to go back for a refresher. It look 2-3 weeks of nightly reading on the Comixology app on my ipad. Now, though, I am in the middle of Roadside Picnic, which is really interesting. It is very S.T.A.L.K.E.R., as it is, of course, the inspiration for that game series. I think I'll go back for more Horus Heresy after this.

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.