Westworld Season 2: Penultimate

I’m an odd one in that I like to judge a series based on everything but the final episode.  Goes for seasons as well.  I find that often the final episode is either a set up (season) or a feel-good closure (series) and is a reflection of the story – not an actual part of it.  They are a reward for the viewer.  Cheers, MASH, Lost, Friends, Star Trek… all of them seem to fit that mold.

I like to look back after the penultimate (before-last) episode has aired and take a peek at what worked and what didn’t.

Spoilers likely!

Westworld Season 2 has been fairly uneven.  There have been some really strong stories (Kiksuya) and others that were mostly padding (Akane no Mai).  But such is the fact of building a series of 20 episodes based on a movie that lasted 90 minutes.  There’s going to be padding.  It is really hard to write a riddle, and even harder to write one that lasts for hours.

The gist of this season is that the hosts (robots) are waking up and rebelling.  There are at least 4 different timelines to follow that I caught onto, so you’re often getting answers before seeing the questions… which in turn makes them questions.  It honestly feels like a very abstract puzzle and the pieces are slowly put together, until a the rest sort of falls into place.  It is a serial and requires every episode to be watched, digested, and remembered for future items.  A solid example of an obscure clue is one scene that was filmed in a different aspect ratio, which indicated a different setting.  The show asks a lot of the viewer.

Still, the joy of unraveling a puzzle is as much on the storyteller as it is on us, and the actors do a serviceable job with their material.

The hosts are fractured.  I still have no real idea what Dolores is supposed to be doing, other than managing to have everyone she cares about killed along the way.  She is the pure embodiment of death… a sort of dark mirror of the human Delos employees.  Mave went all Deux Ex Machina and then gave herself up to die… which from a story perspective makes sense to prolong tension… but from a character perspective is a little odd.  She is a dark mirror version of Ford, the park’s creator.  Then we have Akecheta, who has a spiritual link to the world, wants freedom from slavery but also balance from the pure death of all the other parties.  Finally, Bernard is the viewer’s proxy to the mess… present in all timeframes as a more neutral party.  The one who unveils quite a few of the steps, and acts more of a catalyst.  Very against violence, but more lost than anything.  4 different factions, all aiming for freedom, with much different paths.

The humans are split into two parties.  The pure Delos folks who are all about collecting the human experiences found in host.  It is quite difficult to empathize at all with this faction as they are purely motivated by greed, and treat anything/everyone as a threat to that goal.  The other faction are the park managers (Stubbs/Elsie/Lee) which have no stake other than survival.  There’s grey here, but their goals are very short sighted and selfish.  I guess you can count the Man in Black as it’s own faction.  He’s delusional, driven, and without morals.  The penultimate episode focuses on his hiding from good human to pure devil.  He ends up killing his daughter in his mania, and questioning if he’s a host.

Looking at both factions, it’s somewhat clear that the human faction (aside from MiB) is the least developed and least interesting.  They are just backdrop for the hosts to move forward.  Even the conflicts between the hosts are artificial, and truly within themselves.  There’s the fundamental question of how much impact Ford has on each host’s behavior as well… since it’s clear that he intended for Maeve to stay on the train at the end of Season 1.

I have a good idea what will happen in the season ender.  It wouldn’t make sense for the door to actually lead to freedom with the outside world.  The series so far has done a very poor job building a relatable human.  My guess is something more akin to the 13th Floor, where reality itself is questioned.  I further struggle to see how the series can actually evolve past another season.  The majority of hosts have “evolved”, the humans are nearly all dead, and the MiB’s arc is about ready to complete.  I don’t see how there are mysteries left in this story, unless there’s some sort of insane reveal that’s worth exploring.


Aside from 2 filler episodes, the 2nd season has been very good.  Enough mix of mystery and reveal to keep you guessing what’s next.  It is very helpful that the actors themselves are all top notch.  With a larger societal push towards sci-fi / mystery (check out Netflix’ recent launches), it’s a good thing that cable can still compete.  And I must say that I prefer the weekly breaks, allowing for discussions over what happened and the ability to digest the developments.  Binging is all fine and dandy, but with less cerebral matter.  We all need time to think.



WoW Apathy

In the same vein as Tobold on this one.

I think there’s a ying/yang effect with WoW expansions.  I am under the thought that Vanilla/BC are the baseline, then each expansion past is solid, with the next being ugh.  WotLK was good, Cataclysm was meh, Pandaria was good, Warlords was meh, Legion was good, BfA…?

Of important note, the devs have been pretty clear that there are no items left before launch… all that’s left is number tweaking.  If a skill is broken, it will be fixed “later”.


Let’s face it, the story in Legion was impressive.  The whole ant vs. god trope was in full effect and you took down the largest threat to the universe.  BfA is back to the Horde vs. Alliance model.  You know, that conflict that Pandaria showed was useless?  In both Warlords and Legion the factions worked together against a common foe.  I don’t quite get how time passes in WoW, but in the real world we’re around 4 years of being chummy.

It’s hard to argue with the logic in a game with dragons and tentacle demons…I concede that point.  That said, the best stories are the ones where character behaviors are consistent across multiple events.  It would appear no one learned any lessons.


Legion added a bunch of neat ideas to the game, and most worked out fairly well.   Order halls, artifact weapons (the concept, not the grind), leveling, open world questing…even Argus was a neat approach.  Most of that is out the window.

Normal with expansions, out with the old, in with the new.  But the new has to at least be attractive.  Feral, Shadow and Shamans are basically a bit broken from a fun perspective at launch, with numbers being boosted to make them competitive.  Which is odd.

Stat squish doesn’t bug me.  The GCD changes are a bit odd, which will certainly slow down the game.  A lot of those were rolled back, which is good. Curious as to how that plays out.

Raid sets are also gone, replaced with generic role-based armor.  Paladins and DKs will look the same.


What’s new aside from levels, zones, and dungeons/raids?  Artifacts/legendaries are being replaced by a new neck piece.  This works a lot like the Netherlight Crucible, were after certain power levels, you get a passive boost.  Lots of PvP options.

There aren’t any new classes or races.  Scratch that, there are new skins on existing races.  Not to the same scale of Goblins/Worgen, or even close to Pandaria itself.


Perhaps this just means that WoW has hit its apogee.  Legion did some amazing things to the overall game.  Mythic dungeons were a great way forward.  Leveling was much better than in previous expansions.  Broken Shore / Argus were great improvements on the Timeless Isle mechanics.  The pacing of patches was solid.  The storyline made sense.

What Legion made difficult was alts (heck, even alternate specs).  Sure, leveling them was easy enough.  But tradeskills and power levels were taken behind the barn.  Artifact Knowledge / Power, random drop quests for crafting, horrible RNG for legendaries, Titanforging…all of that seems to be changed in a positive way.

Could simply be that this feels less like an expansion of mechanics compared to previous expansions, and more of a large patch instead.  There’s a lot of tweaking, but no large sweeping changes, or shiny new carrots to keep people going.

Must Be Getting Old

When I was a wee(er) lad, I can recall E3 being a time of amazement.  Most years were giant reveals, amazing gameplay, and neat ideas.  I’d buy gaming magazines and surf what was the dredges of internet 1.0.  It was like entering a candy store of new things.

As time has worn on, E3 has lost it luster.  The breaking point for me was the XBONE / PS4 presentations.  One was of head scratching boneheaded moves, followed by another that was just continual *mic drop* moments.  Maybe I was just naive but until that time I truly thought E3 was about the gaming culture and way forward.

Now, not so much.  E3 is full of bullshots.  Not exactly new to the world, but in today’s market of “good looking games” it’s annoying to see something gorgeous at E3 and then comes out looking like a potato.  Or to see gameplay mechanics that in no way resemble the actual game.  Or to announce a game, then never release it.

That’s not even talking about the tone-deaf presentations.  The FIFA presentation is a good example, where you could download a demo of the game right now! and that fell to complete silence.  Or the headshaking in the crowd on the EA presentations.  Not that every game has to have people yelling at the top of their lungs, but it really seems like there’s a growing disconnect between the companies and the gamers supporting them.

The days of new ideas and IP are long gone.  Most of E3 is sequels or bandwagon hoping.  The sense of wonder and amazement is just drained when you’re seeing Gears5, SSB:U, or Battlefield5.  Some of the mechanics may be tweaked, but I know what to expect otherwise.

Side note – hats off to Microsoft for realizing that games sell consoles, and focusing on cross-play.  They have a heck of a hill to climb, and some of the stuff there looked interesting.

I think as I get older, the less I care about what happens in a year from now in the gaming world.  I have much less time to game, so it’s not like I am at a loss of quality games to play today.  Not to mention the fact that I’ve played all these games before.  I’m not disappointing, or even looking forward to it.  Just apathy really.

Until the game gets closer to actual release, and people I trust (odd term for the internet) have sunk their teeth, I choose to dwell on other items.  And given today’s gaming mantra of “day 1 patch to fix everything”, in most cases I’m better off waiting a few weeks after release to actually play it.

Pillars of Eternity 2 – Quick Thoughts

I played the original, and Tyranny as well.  I’m a few hours in, and PoE2 is good with a few hiccups.  I have not reached Nekataka because I like exploring too much.

I mentioned the bit about character creation in a previous post.  There’s a wide gap between that and Tyranny’s more open-ended character builder.  PoE2 is a throwback to more traditional D&D games, and the mechanics within.  It feels more restrictive here, and the choices matter more.  It works.

  • Combat is faster and more open ended that previous.  You’re not as limited with attacks/spells between rests.  It also feels smoother and more meaty than previous games.
  • Itemization and crafting is still not fun.  I’ve yet to find any RPG where crafting was fun, so it’s 99% me in this case.
  • Multi-classing is great for the main character.
  • Less so for companions as you don’t get to pick their “best” 2nd class, you don’t get specialization options, and you get they at a specific character level with existing skills.
  • The companion AI is good enough for most combat.  They won’t fireball your party.
  • The new AI companions I’ve met so far are all interesting. Xoti, and Serafen.  They fit the setting well.
  • The boat I’m 50/50 on.  I think the concept of exploring islands is neat, and mini locations to explore.  It’s a bit of “choose your own adventure” which works well.  The minutia of managing the boat is much less fun.  At the start when money is a bit tight, you are restricted in food/water.  Eventually, it becomes so cheap that it’s nothing but busy work.
  • I have yet to experience true ship combat.
  • I like the overhead map for travel.  It gives you something to look at.
  • I do not enjoy the concept of movement in this game.  At least 80% of the game so far is just walking.  I am heavily spoiled on fast travel.  It is just annoying having to wait minutes of travel to talk from one NPC to the next in a chain.  Boat travel seems longer still, with a very large map.
  • The overall setting feels like a Knight in King Arthur’s Court compared to the previous game. The main character and setting do not appear to fit well – like they’ve traveled in time.
  • I like the individual story lines and quests.  Nearly all have multiple options that are skill dependent, great voice work and a lot of grey responses.  In nearly all cases I had the necessary skill to pass a given test… with 1 exception where I was clearly 10 levels below.  I am chalking that up to bad design as the game leads you to this place very early.
  • I am a fan of the ant vs the god story trope, where you are the ant.  Blizzard has made mint off this, GoW is entirely about that struggle, Horizon hits that out of the park.  That wasn’t dug into in the first game until the very end.  It is core of this story and I think it works really well.
  • No bugs so far!

You start in the SW Ruins.  It takes 2-3 minutes of real time to travel straight to Neketaka.

I’d guess I’m only about 10% of the way in.  Level 5/20, and the majority of these games have a very long tail end with side quests and whatnot.  First impressions are good, just not stellar.  I enjoyed Tyranny quite a bit more, and thinking about why really contrasts PoE2.  The choices in Tyranny were much more interesting, the pace was frantic, and the character development options were wider.

Maybe PoE2 is just a slow burn until that part opens.  I’m certainly enjoying the game, which is the entire point of this adventure.  I’ll keep focus on that.

Fallout 76

Online Survival Game.  Who’d have thunk it?

Given my previous low expectations, this met them brilliantly.  May have even exceeded with the line of “coop/solo” mode too.  Maybe that’s more in the line of EQ: Landmark.

  • Online-only likely means no mods
  • Focus on building, which was my least fun part of Fallout 4.
  • PvP, though as mentioned it appears optional
  • Fire nukes at others…which seems beyond stupid given the context of the game.  Maybe launching Death Claw attacks would be a better way
  • Set in West Virginia, 4x the size of Fallout 4
  • It’s due in November, which is much faster than I would have thought
  • If it gets more people playing the Fallout franchise, maybe it will fund the next core game

The 4 Lone Wanderers.

In the end, it sounds more like they took the generic survival game and slapped on the Fallout IP.  Doesn’t mean the IP doesn’t fit, it is about survival after all.  It’s the core mechanics and what came before that makes this seem so odd.

A bit like that C&C re-imagining on mobile devices.  It’s so different that core players feel disillusioned, and potential new ones (from that genre) don’t quite get it. Then again, not sure what EA was expecting after the Dungeon Keeper fiasco.

I was certainly interested last week.  Now, not so much.  It’s not the game that I wanted, but it’s probably the game that someone else did.  I’ll keep it on the calendar for launch and see what happens.



Age and Time

Kids have a way of making time seem ephemeral.  I’ve had pets, I’ve been single, I’ve been in relationships.  There is nothing in my day that makes time fly by more quickly than kids.  DINKs, that’s the way to go!  I have a few friends that are in that boat.  They can put in as many hours as they want at work, spend time with their S/O, travel, relax.  Have a lot more money.

And this isn’t about fulfillment.  I know quite a lot of people who are happy and feel fulfilled without kids.   Just like I know people with or without kids who are depressed.  It’s just another piece of life.

In my case (as I can’t write about yours), my kids are a window into a different way of thinking and being.  I have a passion for learning, and they are nothing but sponges.  Mundane items are spectacular to them.  They have zero concept of time – “are we there yet”, “is it lunch time?”, “bed time already?”  they just flit from one thing to the next, with no cares and a focus on just being happy.

The heck is wrong with us adults?

What with work, eating, mandatory chores (washing, groceries) I am down to about 6 hours a day to work with.  That gets filled by time with the kids, a workout, a guitar lesson, optional chores (garden), hockey, fishing… and at some point games and sleep.  And the older I get, and the older my kids get, the less overall free “me-time” is there.

But it’s not a bad thing.  Spending more time with the family, and the kids, means that more stuff is shared.  Simple example is just having dinner together and listening to the banana reactions from the kids.  Or asking my eldest what happened on Trollhunters.  She lit up and explained everything over 15 minutes.  I get to play hockey / basketball with the kids.  We go fishing as a family.  We play really interesting zombie boardgames.

I’m rather enjoying this phase of life.  It’s a thousand times hectic than before, and I always feel like I could use a nap, but that’s a fair trade.  I’ve passed on things that make only me happy and now can do things that make me and other happy.

As I grow older, I find myself more content with the general chaos.  Or perhaps just growing used to it.  And as long as I go to sleep and wake up with a smile, things are working out just fine.

Now for some nice weekend weather!

The RPG Creativity Curse

I love me some good RPG.  That feeling you get when the dice roll your way, the story is working, and your character is built the way you want to play… like ice cream on a hot day.

Only few console games allow you the freedom to truly build a character.  You may customize a character, in how they look and a few of their skills.  Actually building one is something usually reserved for PC games in the D&D vein.

Open world games like Elder Scrolls/Fallout do have some building, but aside from what you look like and a few initial perks, you aren’t painted into a corner down the road.  You can eventually unlock the majority of the character skills.  You can, with time, become a master of all.

This post is focusing on the more traditional RPGs, where your initial decisions reduce the options of your character – in terms of power, skills, and story.  A solid game provides a lot of options, where poor decisions can be negative but not painfully so.  I would argue that Divinity: Original Sin has “correct” builds, and if you do not select one of those you are unduly punished for it.  Other games simply have builds that aren’t optimal – but are still playable and fun.

A long time ago, I wrote a guide for Dragon Age: Origins (still on gamefaqs if I recall) about character builds.  I spend a stupid amount of time crunching numbers and seeing what I could make out of the various characters.  I replayed that game half dozen times from start to finish, to unlock every secret and every advantage.  My blood mage tank was a wrecking ball, with near full immunity.  But if it wasn’t built just-so, it would break under the first sneeze.  And this was a game with only 3 classes.

Compare that to something like Baldur’s Gate… and you may have spent more time at the stat rolling screen than the combat.  And I know way too many RPGs where I reached 10-12 hours and realized I made a mistake at the start… usually because I didn’t even know what the choice actually meant.

Enter Pillars of Eternity 2.


All the classes and subclasses

Without a lie, I spent 2 hours going over this list and the various previewed skills to get an idea of the character I wanted.  I played the original a few times through and preferred both the Monk and Cipher roles.  They had interesting mechanics, and good damage potential if played smartly.  If played poorly, then you face tanked the ground.

With multi-classing, it was then about picking 2 classes that complemented each other.  I started looking at the Cipher and then it’s lovely 3 lovely sub classes.  One was a spell battery, where it took time to charge but then entered god mode.  Another was increased damage on targets vulnerable to stealth (paired well with Rogue).  The last was a glass cannon that blew all its spell points on a massive attack.  My focus was on that last one, and shoring up the weakness of not being useful before that shot was available.

There are therefore two modes to be used here… one is to generate Focus (points to use the cannon shot) and then a strong weapon for that shot to be based upon (two-handed weapon).  Focus is generated based on hits that connect with targets, so Perception (accuracy) is key.  That means that I need a sub-class that excels in two-handed weapons (fighter/barb/paladin) and that have a decent chance to hit.  Interestingly, the Paladin has a subclass that has a single strike attack with +10 chance to hit – a perfect fit.  That meant an Inquisitor.

All that time was spent looking at the skill preview trees and trying to see if the pieces fit together.  Call me crazy, but I found this process a lot of fun.  PoE does a solid job of presenting a lot of data early on, so that while you may spend lots of time thinking, it doesn’t feel like you’re picking in the dark.

Which is a tad ironic given that in the traditional pen & paper RPGs, you had a dozen books to refer to nearly 50 years ago.  It’s taken this long for the PCs versions to catch up (ignoring wikis that are not part of the game).  Progress.  Fun progress.