XCOM2 – Return

I can still clearly remember playing the original XCOM back in high school.  I was completely fascinated by it.  The computer I had at the time didn’t have a working mouse driver, so I had to make one.  I was a little nutso for it, and still get chills thinking about Cydonia and losing nearly every member of my squad.

Terror from the Deep was the original on steroids.  Apocalypse was a try at real time battles, with an interesting take on city-scape management.  I skipped Interceptor, and Enforcer, and I was looking forward to a future entry – but they were all cancelled.  The XCOM reboot in 2012 happened 17 years later. It had some flaws but overall was a solid game.  The Long War mod addressed a lot of them, and brought back the strategic play from the first game in the series.  I never had a chance to finish it though.

XCOM 2 was a significant step forward.  It used the same engine, sure, but the tactical combat was much improved.  Melee was viable, as was stealth.  Ship combat was finally gone.  Maps were better designed.  More mission types, motivation to move out of the Overwatch syndrome, and generally improved chances to hit enemies and be missed.  It felt harder as well.  The psionic portion was a little too weak/late for my tastes, though the steam workshop (amazing mods!) fixed that pretty quick.  I played through twice and had a pile of fun.

The DLC never really took my attention.  Alien Hunters lacked balance, and Shen’s Last Gift added Mechs, which couldn’t take cover.  Long War 2 was released but since I never finished the first one, I didn’t really see the need.

War of the Chosen recently came out and that’s a heck of an expansion.  New enemies, new classes, new maps, new objectives, new weapons, new mechanics.  There are negative traits for characters (like Darkest Dungeon).  There are rebel factions to join with, zombie hordes, as well as bonds between characters that increase their skills.  I’ve seen sequels with less content.

So far, I’m a few intro missions into the game, trying to remember what I did last time.  Grenades are still your best friend for low levels, given that they 1 shot weak enemies, and break cover.  There’s nothing worse than an entire squad missing an enemy 4 spaces away.  I’m quite excited for this playthrough!

Dishonored 2

I picked it up during the summer sale.  Haven’t really put a lot into it yet, or at least it doesn’t feel like I have.  I picked Corvo and I’m up to mission 4 – the clockwork tower.

I really liked the first one.  There was a lot of freedom of movement, and you could approach nearly every mission from multiple angles.  There were only a few “hard walls” that required you to take a different path, and after about half of the game you had all the tools you really needed to move forward.  I played relatively safe, with only a few kills.  Plus the art/style was neat.

Dishonored 2 is different.  The skills are similar enough, two for movement, the rest for attacks.  The teleport/pull skill works well enough, making some portions easier to move through.  The shadow walk skill is less fun, since it changes your view point, slows you down, and enemy suspicion seems inconsistent.  It does allow passing through grates, bypassing some sections, but rarely to any benefit.  The art is still really solid, and the story/characters are better than the first.  Atmosphere-wise, it hits all the right notes.

I am not a fan of the map layouts.  Rather than have multiple paths that meet at certain points, this one feels more like a maze of dead ends.  There are generally less enemies, but there are more locked doors/paths, forcing your hand at specific puzzles.  I would rather entirely avoid the 3 guards than try to distract/stun the bunch and run through in shadow form.  There’s one part in the clockwork mansion where you slip between floors then are given 5 paths to take.  Two were locked, 2 were dead ends, and one was the way forward.  I must have missed something there.  I also seem to spending a very large amount of time in buildings, rather than outside of them.

I also dislike the clockwork robots, since you can’t take them out with stealth moves and they hit like a truck.

Exploratory/stealth games are measured by player failures.  Your ability to recover from a mistake.  I may just be worse at it, but I find myself reloading a lot more here than I ever did in the first game.  I really like trying out new ideas/paths and seeing what happens.  I just find that the timing is off and some places are designed for a single (or minimal) solutions.  It feels as this is a rogue-like game more than an exploration game.

I don’t necessarily regret the purchase, it’s just not what I had envisioned.  I’m sure I’ll end up completing it at some point, but over a larger span of time.

 

How Long is Too Long a Grind?

My answer in 2017 is much different than it was 20 years ago.

Diablo 3 is the simplest example of a skinner box at hand and I am playing it in spurts.  Pretty much every game today has some form of “grind” within in order to artificially extent the end of the game.  Most are built on the concept of logarithmic power curves – that is, progress at the start is much more pronounced than at the end.

D3 has this in spades.  It takes relatively little effort to be able to clear T6 content.  A fresh player may take 4-5 hours.  An established player can get someone from 0 to T6 in about 20 minutes.  Getting to T10 can vary, depending on rolls for gear and some luck.  Let’s say another 10 hours or so.  T13 is another ball game, as it required near optimum pieces of gear and rolls.  Not only do you need the proper item, you need it with the proper stats.

For example, for one build I am trying, I need to equip a Ring of Nailuj Evol.  This ring has never dropped for me, and I’ve seen hundreds of legendary/set rings by now.  I had to craft around 500 to get 1.  And rings can roll pretty much any and all stats, whereas I need 3 core – crit hit chance (1-10), crit damage (10-50), and a socket.  I can make due with 2 of the 3, since I can enchant another part.  If I don’t have those 2, then I need to actually re-roll the item entirely.  That requires Bounties (clearing 5 quests per act, for a total of 25).  Each Bounty clear allows me to reroll twice (at T10).  It was about 30 runs before I had the 2 minimum stats, and each run is 15-20 minutes.

That was for 1 piece of gear.  I have another ring, an amulet, gloves, and a weapon that are hyper dependent on stats, all pulling from a large pool.  I’m drawing the line at 30 hours here.  I may hop in here and there, but I think my D3 time is done for this season.  Can’t really complain for 30 “free” hours of gaming!

I’m finding that diversity of grind has an impact on me.  Seeing the same stuff non-stop, pressing the same keys again and again, that’s not much fun.  WoW’s legion invasions and activities kept me going a whole lot longer than I had expected. I stopped WoW not for the grind but because I had done all the content I cared to do, and maxed all that I thought useful.

I am not against that grind.  I understand why it exists – content locusts are all over the place.  Heck, I spent weeks camping the boots in EQ, and I raided in WoW for extremely marginal gains for a long time.  I’m certainly not asking the game to change, more than I am realizing that my threshold for the grind is so much lower than where it was before.

I am trying to keep up to date on the Destiny 2 news.  I know what’s involved, I’ve seen enough streams.  I’ve read numerous places that the end-game activities are lacking, which is the main reason I’ll be looking at the PC version rather than PS4.  I’m somewhat hopeful that the staggered released approach will be mostly completed a month from here.

 

Gaming is Learning

My eldest (and youngest to some extent) is bitten with Pokemon.  For kids that age (7), cards are relatively cheap, and there are plenty of books with neat pictures and stories.  There’s the obvious Pokemon Go, but there’s also the TCG mobile game.  And of course, what seems like 20 years of animated shows with Ash & co.  What is fairly interesting is that due to Nintendo’s all-gamers approach, the entry level for these games belies a more complex system.

TCG games as whole are predicated on the concept of deck building.  Either you play a preset deck, or you actually build one by hand.  For now, the kids are happy with just a random deck that I throw together.  I mean, no sense in having Fire Pokemon in a Psychic deck… Once drawn, the card plays are fairly straightforward.  Add energy, run an attack, draw a card.  It is hard to make a mistake, even with semi-random choices.

But then you start paying a bit more attention to the cards.  Some have resistances, or skills that work better on other types.  You start adding and removing some from the deck, piece by piece.  Eventually you realize that some cards are just not fun for you, or that they interrupt your play.  You realize that more cards means more chances, but it also means giving up other items.  Now you’re talking probabilities.

I’ve experienced this myself, when I had my first set way back when.  I thought Magic was way too complicated/expensive for my tastes (still think so) but wanted some sort of TCG experience.  It was fun learning the inner workings of the game.

Now I get to see that again in a kid’s eyes.  It’s small at first, tiny little lights going on.  Then it starts snowballing.  They become comfortable with the concepts.  Then they start sharing them with others.  Then they start looking for similar tactics in other games.  It’s really quite amazing to watch curiosity at play.

Back to School

I guess it’s rather official.  I am way too busy with life during the summer to make even moderate attempts at a blog entry.  With a cottage about an hour’s drive, I’d much rather be on the lake, with a fishing rod in one hand, and a beer in the other.

Still, life does go on, and the squirts have both started school today.  We’ve put them into a few sports programs to keep them as active as possible. Getting all that sorted out is it’s own mess of fun, but will pay off in the end. My own winter hockey starts up next week, so that should be fun to get back out with the guys.  All told, I think we’re in a good enough spot for the fall rush.

Final Fantasy 12 TSA

I picked this up in the summer sometime and put in a few spots here and there. 12 has been a go-to version for me for some time, as I find that both the mechanics and story work.  Zodiac Age is a bit harder since it’s based on the earlier re-release.  You can’t all be super-human, instead you need to pick 2 of 12 jobs per character.  I would guess that it would be hard to mess that up unless you were willingly handicapping yourself (say, everyone white mage) but there are optimum spreads.  The rest of the game (gambits, loots, gear, bazaar) all seem intact.  There are a few minor tweaks and balances, but it seems mostly intact.

There are 2 massive quality of life boosts though.  First is the auto-save feature whenever you zone.  There are some parts of FF12 that are absolute death if you’re not paying attention, and then can string together.  This is compounded by the best feature – double and quad time.  With quad time enabled, everything goes 4x as fast.  Everything.  That makes for some interesting battles where you really should be paying more attention to the minutia rather than just watching it happen.  It works great for most level grinding spots, or farming a specific item.  It is near death on bosses and hunts.

Diablo 3

Fits and spurts.  It didn’t take too long to get my DH up to snuff and clearing T10 with ease, and T13 with effort.  Multishot has a cap it seems, and I need to move into impale to go farther.  So.

Necro is ok geared, clearing T10 but barely stepping foot into T12.  Where a DH is a glass cannon, a Necro is a wet tissue/nuclear bomb.  Either you one-shot everything, or you die.  It’s a weird class compared to others, as at top levels it’s much more about the mechanics than it is about movement and target placement.  Where some classes get by with passive boosts that increase overall damage, the necro needs what seems like every piece to work with another, and a specific skill setting to get the best results.  It reminds me a bit of the EP monk way back, where math was very important.

That said, he looks neat, the skills are interesting, and there’s a nostalgic bit thrown in as well.  I can fit in bits of game here and there, but the concept of eternal grind is not at all appealing.

Summer + Season 11

Back from the dead.  Or rather, back from the cottage.

I was lucky this year, in that I was able to spend a long time working remotely from the cottage, with the odd trip back to down to meet some VPs.  It meant that I woke up, took 5 minutes to make a coffee and then I was off to the races.   When work was done, I was 2 minutes away from the boat in order to de-stress.  During the working hours, I stared at the water; a different type of clock watching I suppose.  All of that with the family around me.  It was a good month.  The downside is that I won’t get any summer vacation, and I’m truly feeling it.  Without the ability to fully wind down, it feels a bit like treading water some days.  But the big project date is at the end of September and I’ll take some time after that.

I should also mention that my beer diet went well.  There is something magical about having a cold one on a boat, or around a fire.  Now to shed that excess!

Diablo 3 – Season 11

I usually go back at the start of every season, run a few folks up to 70 and get to T10 or so.  I’ve been playing a monk since the start, and they are always a solid go-to each season.

This season is different, as a necromancer is available to play.  I am not a big fan of pet builds, and from 1-70, I don’t think any of type of build is actually viable.  Anyhow, I took one from 1-70, all natural (no paragon, or gems) to get a feel for it.  It feels a whole lot like a Witch Doctor, but with Corpse Explosion.  I am just not far enough in the gearing to try out other types of builds, to get a proper feel for the interactions between skills.  It’s certainly nostalgic, I’ll grant that.

In the meantime, I got a DH up to 70 and T4.  He’ll farm what needs to be farmed in order to kit out the necro.  Usually I set up a monk for farming, but a DH is a decent alternative due to their clear speed and sheer ease of use.  I’m thinking another 10 hours or so and that should be more than enough to get back to the necro.

Related, there’s a good article from Jason Shreirer on how D3 was saved by Blizzard on Kotaku. Now, I’m not going to outright say that getting rid of Jay Wilson was what really saved the game, but it’s pretty clear that the majority of the game design decisions for the first iteration were approved by him, and subsequently thrown out when he left.  It almost makes one forget Error 37.  Almost.

Anthem – The Heck?

If I were to say that EA was developing a Destiny clone, most people would consider that reasonable.  EA and Activision have been cloning each other’s games for years.  They are big for a reason, and that means breadth of choice.  They each have  game of pretty much every type.

Now, if I were to ask which dev shop within EA would develop a Destiny clone, who would you pick?

  • Criterion
    • Racing games, Battlefield and Star Wars Battlefront 2
  • DICE
    • Every FPS from EA for the past 15 years
  • Ghost Games
    • Need for Speed
  • Visceral
    • DeadSpace, Army of Two
  • BioWare
    • Mass Effect, Dragon Age, SWTOR
  • Motive
    • Brand new, working on new IP

Pretty much anyone but Ghost and BioWare, right?  This Forbes article (I know) covers a lot of points.

  • Anthem looks like a neat idea, and great visuals
  • A 3rd person shooter could work…Gears has shown that
  • The multiplayer aspects sound a little too good to be true after.  We’ve been burned on a lot of those promises over the years (Division, I’m looking at you).
  • Story could work… but not for repetition.  SWTOR has shown that to an extremely large audience.

But most importantly, BioWare?  The studio that prides itself on story-first games?  The one where actual combat mechanics and fighting have always had rough edges?  It’s sort of like if Bethesda decided to enter the MOBA market, just a whole bunch of “what?”

On the good side however, EA uses a single engine (Frostbite) for all their games now, and they have a whole pile of shooters to leverage.  Dead Space was a 3rd person game, so there’s certainly something to use from there.  Maybe this is just a continuation on the Shadow Realms IP – there is certainly a whole pile of overlap.  Maybe this game ends up being good, and reverses the trend of BioWare overreaching for the past 5 years.  I would certainly hope for that, given the history of that developer.

That said, I think it pretty much means that BioWare is out of the true RPG business. Which really stinks, since it was BioWare that really established what RPGs meant for the west for the past near-20 years.

Fingers crossed.