Monday, April 19, 2021

On the Eve of Freedom

There is a meta-achievement in World of Warcraft for completing all of the season-recurring holiday events in the game. I finally finished it in 2019, after about 8 years of being stuck on it. I had all the requirements done but one, the associated sub-achievements for Brewfest, the Oktoberfest proxy in the game.

It's when I realized that when the leaves turn brown and the air gets crisp, I'm rarely in the mood to stay indoors and play video games. The spring is a similar time for me; the weather is just too good.

This year has been different. Most of last year too. The obvious reason. Not only am I playing more video games this spring, I'm currently playing 5 of them:
 

  • Persona 5 Royale
    • My "main" game at this time. It's a JRPG with some strong dungeon crawling. Sorta. You spend most of your time working part time jobs , reading library books, and chatting with your friends to increase your stats. I just leveled up my Knowledge stat from Oblivious to Learned. I'm hopeful to do the same in real life one day.

  • Among Us 
    • Our weekly game with friends has been cancelled the last two weeks as our social group becomes more bold at socializing in real life again. No idea why America is getting another surge in COVID cases. Must be coincidence.
  •  Dungeons & Dragons campaign
    • I multitasked finishing my taxes during our last session. I found both experiences strangely similar.
  • Demon Soul's
    • It's ... fine. The lack of pause button makes playing a hassle. So does starting over from the very beginning of a level every time you die. Demon Soul's isn't grabbing me enough to become my "main" game, which means it'll be thrown to the wayside soon enough. It requires your full focus and attention, but I'm not convinced it's earned it.
  •  Outriders
    • I had to power level another character after my previous one was wiped out by the developer's incompetence. The game is fine. It's Diablo 3 as a third-person shooter with broken movement abilities. Mostly, it's something to do with my hands while chatting with friends. It's good at that.

(It seems I'm not alone in this matter; Bhagpuss just posted his own lengthy digital agenda [https://bhagpuss.blogspot.com/2021/04/who-invented-these-lists.html].)

But I suspect all 5 games to come grinding to a halt soon enough. Tomorrow is my last day of quarantine, or at least half-day if we want to follow the two-week period after my second dose down to the minute. My schedule for the week is packed with doctor's appointments, hair cut, dentist visit, etc. that have been put off for the past year. I also have dinner reservations with the wife for the fanciest place in town. A celebration of what was a difficult year for me but near hell-on Earth for her.

I'm curious to how my gaming will be affected by this. I suspect I'll still get a couple hours of Persona in here and there. We are close to the end of our D&D campaign so that will likely persist for another couple of weeks. But everything else gets shunted to the side as I learn how to use my feet again like an astronaut returning from space.

Maybe the Switch sees use again. It's been several months. I have the 'newest' re-release of a Mario title rented. That might get pulled out during a rest break of a long hike.

I also wonder, and am slightly concerned, that nothing will change. I'll use my newfound freedom to do what I've been doing for a lot longer than the pandemic's been on, and simply stay inside all day. I hope not, but it wouldn't be the end of the world. Being a shut-in is a bit different when it's by choice. 

Either way I think this blog might change focus a bit, as it often does. I might try to capture some of my real life wanderings instead of just my digital ones. I don't have much desire lately to offer my opinion on the latest bit of gaming news. Others do a fine job of it and I'm tired of talking at people. I think my favorite posts on this blog are me mostly just talking about my day. Whether it happens digitally or not.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Outriders - Ooof

 

I'm not a big fan of looter shooters. I like looting well enough. I've done quite a bit of shooting in my gaming career. But I find when games combine the two it often ends up being less than the sum of its parts.

But Outriders was actually doing okay in my book. It is, like all of these games, a very slow start. But a couple of hours in and my "Trickster" was humming right along and playing somewhat fluidly. It also helps that the class is really just a combination of "Spin-to-Win" Barbarian from Diablo 3 and Subtlety Rogue from World of Warcraft. Two things that I like! It also helped that I was playing with friends I haven't seen in over a year. I like them as well!

 



In fact the game is really just Diablo 3 with guns and a third-person perspective. The boss abilities are literally the same. The Torment system is the same. I mean if your going to steal, by all means steal from the best but maybe change a few things here and there, just to throw the people off the tracks.

Outriders doesn't have a lot of original thoughts. There are a lot of visuals that seem ripped straight from Destiny or Anthem. The snark versus snark grimdark dialogue could be verbatim from any AAA game in the past ten years. The shooting is a bit reminiscent of The Division, but the gameplay loop in general is much more aggressive and shines for it.

Unfortunately, Outriders is dedicated to following all the trappings of the looter shooter genres. It's broken at launch. I don't mean broken as in one spec is way more powerful than the others (although it has that), or glitches have been found that allow for insanely fast leveling and gearing (it also has that). I'm talking about being broke-broke.

I read the rumors on Reddit. At random times your character can be disconnected from the game, and when logging in again you find all of your gear missing. Even worse, you won't be able to log in to that character without getting immediately disconnected. The developers confirmed there was a problem but I didn't think a whole lot about it. Gaming forums have a tendency to ...amplify... the negative. I presumed actual data loss was a relatively rare phenomenon.

Obviously you know where this is going. Here is my character in his space underwear.

 


 

Even better, the developers have chimed in to let us know that not only is it likely weeks before we get characters playable again, but they will only be replacing epic and legendary gear. And by replace I mean with random gear. Not the gear you had. So when my dude emerges from purgatory, he will be doing so mostly naked and completely ineffective. Neat.

 



The looter shooter genre is very crowded. The action RPG genre even more so. Outriders had an uphill battle before all of this. We've seen games outlast their meme status before like No Man's Sky. But we've also seen them just die on impact like Anthem. It'd be nice if they can salvage this game and turn into something worth people's time. But I'm not holding my breath.



Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Assassin's Creed: Valhalla - The Singleplayer MMORPG

 

130 hours or so later and I've finished Assassin's Creed: Valhalla. It's a good, but not quite great game that contains too much padding and some inexplicable bugs. It contains a fair amount of character customization; of both the cosmetic and gameplay type. It has a bunch of gear choices that don't matter overly much. The open-world map is split into different zones with their own quest line. Each zone is gated by a gear score of dubious effectiveness. It's a gorgeous game with beautiful zones, a nice soundtrack, and a serviceable enough story line. There's some minor crafting. Technically, there are raids, albeit the pillaging kind and not the wasting your Wednesday because people can't stop standing in the fire kind.

I think I just played a single player MMORPG.

Which is how I play MMOs nowadays anyhow. Questing around without forced grouping for the inevitable dungeon quest feels great. Not worrying about competing for spawns, bad behavior in general chat, or inevitable server maintenance feels liberating.

I get that "single player RPGs" aren't some sudden innovation in the gaming industry. But I've never played a single player game that is so derivative of the modern MMO experience. Just about every game under the sun has stolen something from World of Warcraft. But AC: Valhalla is more brazen about it than most.

I suspect the appeal of AC: Valhalla is improved in an environment where it's basically illegal to leave my house. Where dealing with strangers feels more overwhelming when I don't have my own actual friends to fall back to. But I've been a lot about the idea of the right game at the right time. AC: Valhalla has a lot of flaws and the reviews around it's release cut into it dearly for that.

But, a big expansive, beautiful world begging to be explored. Clear objectives. Problems that can be overcome directly and with force? 

I'm in the mood for that right now.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Assassin's Creed: Valhalla - Pretty Pictures


For the past two weeks I've been playing Assassin's Creed: Valhalla. This was mostly spurred on by purchasing a Xbox Series X and then deciding what I was going to play on it. So I looked at the titles it had on launch day and sorted alphabetically. And frankly it worked out.

Admittedly, Valhalla isn't a revelation of a game. It's a bog standard late 2010s/early 2020s open world RPG. But I think it's quite competent at it and it's kept me entertain as I wait for the Minnesota winter to break.

I've nearly completed a 100% playthrough. Once I finish that up I'll write up more of my thoughts on the game. But I wanted to do something I often don't and make a screenshot post. I haven't been able to travel during the pandemic and I've needed virtual worlds to fill in that void for me. Valhalla's 873 AD England and Norway have scratched that itch for me; the game is beautiful.

 

The game is multiplatform and has been out for a couple of months now. It wasn't strictly necessary to play this on the Xbox versus my PC. At this point I'm not sure which is more powerful: my gaming PC with a RTX 2080 or my Xbox Series X. I suspect things are pretty close right now. But I figured this would be a nice game to get a feel for the graphics I can expect from the new consoles.

 


You can choose between some preset graphical options on the XSX version of AC: Valhalla. I run the performance mode which tries to keep things as close 4K and 60fps as possible. The other mode focuses on graphical fidelity and allows some framerate dips here or there. Smoother FPS always looks better to my eye.

 


The draw distance really impresses me. I suspect there is some graphical trickery happening at certain points to add in some environmental details that you can't actually get to the in game, but it's not really noticeable.

 


As with most Ubisoft games I play, the actual animations tend to be a step behind the environment. Not a huge deal graphically, but it does break the immersion.

Other graphic aspects are also lacking. In the picture below, the main character's hair would have looked bad in the original Toy Story. Let alone a AAA title in 2020. 



But I've sunk nearly 110 hours into the game thus far. I'm clearly enjoying myself. I look forward to talking about it more in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Bless Unleashed - Closed Beta Impressions

You know when you keep running into someone you kinda sorta know? You're generally aware of each other but not acquaintances and certainly not friends. And then you keep running into them over and over again, at the grocery store, out walking the dog, etc. That's Bless Unleashed for me.

I think I've played in a beta or launch of a Bless game about four times now. The original PC beta, the original PC release, the reboot Xbox One beta, and just this weekend, the reboot PC closed beta.

This game launches a lot.

At this point I think I've developed an affinity for the series out of sheer name repetition. You can certainly drum up articles about your game on MassivelyOP if you're re-releasing your game every 3 months. But Bless kinda gets mixed in my head with a host of other action RPGs from Korea. Combo based combat, threadbare story, good but generic looking graphics. Gun to my head I could tell the difference between Bless, Blade & Soul, and Black Desert Online from screenshots, but I'd have to think about it. That's not fair to any of those games, but it's where I'm at.

The ever generous Belghast gave me a game code for the Bless Unleashed closed beta test last weekend. This is the PC version of the reboot. A couple of months ago I had participated in the the Xbox One beta and found it to be perfectly fine. But something in my mind resists playing MMOs on consoles. Anymore, I resist long play sessions on consoles at all. So I was eager to give the mouse and keyboard version a shot.


 

And it's...still fine. I played a mage this time to get a feel for the ranged combat. The bulk of attacking happens with the mouse buttons. The number keys have a small number of important abilities. The 1 key had a powerful AOE attack and the 2 key had a ranged instant nuke. But the "filler" abilities are all on the mouse. 

You start off attacking by lining up your mouse cursor on an enemy, and then pressing the left or right mouse button to start off the combo of your choice. Right-click on a mage starts a fire-based string of attacks, left-click offers attacks with a bit more versatility. A popup shows the available options to you after every button press, again, left or right click. You can interrupt and end your combo at any time with the hotbar abilities.

You get more options on your combos as you level up. You start with basic nukes but eventually get more utility. For example, Blinkstrike unlocks around level 5ish and acts as a decently damaging AOE attack. But it also teleports you in front of the enemy, which is normally not where you want to be as a mage. But additionally it also acts as a push back and returns your mana. I used it a lot when the enemy was already on top of me. There's a decent amount of decision making baked into the system. You can mindlessly grind and play well enough, or be more attentive and grind more efficiently. I have room in my life for a system like that. That said, it's not an overly complicated system. Most button presses are just different names for a generic missile-like nuke.

I would prefer this to all to be on the keyboard but it works well enough on the mouse. As the picture shows you have an evade button on your spacebar you'll use often to dodge enemy attacks. It feels fairly responsive, but once you enter combat your character slows to an absolute crawl. The mage gets a blink spell in addition to the evade button so you can certainly maneuver around enemy characters. But the slow speed in addition to how long it can take in between fights to get your movement back make the game feel sluggish when grinding. I think other games in this space like Black Desert Online feel a lot better moment to moment because of this.

 There are talent trees but they are mostly perfunctory from what I can tell. You'll be able to unlock everything eventually and a lot of the abilities add little to your character. I'm unclear on how exactly you customize your character, of if much of that is in the game at all. 

It's definitely a console oriented MMO and the controls are a bit clunky because of that. But not overly so. It could use some fine tuning here and there. Picking out teleport spots on the map is sometimes difficult because icons overlap each other. The text speed on NPCs is slow and the skip dialogue button often doesn't work. Mob audio seems to stack on each other without any blending, meaning that busy parts of the zone were so loud I had to turn down my speakers. But I can't recall any graphical glitches and nothing was particularly game breaking. 

Would I return to it? I very well may. New MMOs (or at least, re-released MMOs) are rare enough and its always fun to be in on the ground floor of a launch. I'm not sure if anything from Bless really stands out, but it's seems fun enough to give it a try when it eventually launches for real. The devs on their Discord were throwing a March release out as a tentative goal, but nothing was formally announced. The console release had a two week head start package and I suspect that's the direction they will go in for the PC release. We will have to see how much that costs. If it's less than $35 or so I'll consider it. But jumping in for the free-to-play release seems more likely.



Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Among Us in 2020

Typically, the peak of my gaming happens in early winter as I avoid the cold real world for the warmth and coziness of the digital one. But this year, obviously, has been different in so many ways. The inside of my house's walls have become a bit too familiar this year, and I think that's messed with my normal routine.

I also had to deal with a kidney stone last week: painful enough to send me to the emergency room and large enough that I needed surgery to remove it as it began affecting my kidney function. Thankfully, the matter has been resolved and I've seen to have avoided contracting coronavirus from the hospital environment.

But there is one bit of gaming that marched on resolutely, our weekly Among Us session on Saturdays.

Part of my friend group from college got in to the Among Us craze a couple of months back. We've been playing diligently since, accusing and screaming and murdering one another in deep space. 

The game scratches a couple of itches for me all at once. 

Firstly, it's social at a time when I'm unusually desperate for such a thing. 

Secondly, it's strategic in a way I've personally never encountered in a video game before. We played a few games of Mafia back in the college days, but the whole 'social deduction' gameplay style has been a wonderfully refreshing twist for me. It still asks for some of my old skills, particularly being mindful of spacing and keep track of multiple player's pathing that remind me of my old Counter-Strike 1.6 and World of Warcraft Arena days.

And lastly, the game isn't mechanically complex like Counter-Strike and WoW are. I was still able to play and contribute even when zonked out on industrial-strength pain-killers. People in our group who have never played a video game before are able play using their iPads.

The meta our group is forming has been genuinely interesting to watch unfold. I'm one of, if not the strongest players. But when one of our causal members playing on their smart phone is able to outwit me you can feel their genuine happiness and I feel genuinely happy for them. The game gives people a chance to spotlight their cleverness in a way that feels organic. The 'good game's at the end of the night aren't polite and perfunctory, you mean it.

2020 has forced me to approach gaming in a way I normally don't. I've played Stepmania on a dance pad, Gran Turismo on a full racing rig, exercised with Ring Fit, and so on. I've rediscovered the fun in online gaming; a matter I thought I had tossed away more than a decade ago. 

It's a weird year that's given me a bit of a new perspective.

 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Destiny 2: Beyond Light

My first experience with the Destiny series was the original game; a rental of the PS3 version from the local Redbox. After the first 8 hours I returned the game back. I found it to be a generic shooter, with too many enemies, bosses with too much health, too much fussing about in menus, and writing that was too overwrought.

It was pretty though.

My experience with the second game didn't go much better. A extended free trial offered during 2018's Blizzcon, I suffered through an opening sequence that was so cringey in tone and dialogue I had to call my wife in to see it. The gameplay was much the same. Enemies seemed to be a bit more interesting to fight as they varied in their attack and defensive movements. The bosses were not better though. I almost lost the first boss fight as my morale was sapped from a bullet sponge boss fight that bored me to near tears. I gave it a couple of more hours as the game heaped system upon system on me. Eventually I hopped in my spaceship and Alt-F4 out of there. The game sat on my hard drive ever since.

So what compelled me to jump in for the latest expansion, Beyond Light? For one, the game and all of its expansions come with Xbox Game Pass. Secondly, I needed something relatively mindless to play on the upstairs TV. Thirdly, my therapist says I engage in too much all or nothing thinking. Taking a game I'm critical of and just enjoying it for what it is feels like a good test.