A thoughtful and personal exploration of games


Another Update for Diablo III

Instead of the myriad of hotfixes and the like we used to get in the many moons prior to the Reaper of Souls expansion, Blizzard’s Diablo III is apparently getting another significant update. Let’s walk through it, because I’m interested and because, why not?

First up is something called Seasons. According to Blizzard, they’re similar to the ladders from Diablo II in that you’re climbing the leaderboards and there’s a start and end to each season that denotes the term of the leaderboard. Apparently at the start of each season, a list of “Conquests” will become available and the first 1000 to complete each conquest in a season gets put on the regional leaderboard. These conquests act like achievements and are planned to exist in groups of 10-15 per season. They’re also capable of piling on the achievement points for your profile. Further, if you don’t want to participate in the Seasons, there’s not much of a down-side since the special “Seasonal Legendaries” will be added to the regular loot tables once the season is over. I don’t think I’ll do this initially, but I’ll keep my eye on it just in case I feel like participating one day.

The next thing that’s being added are Greater Rifts. Apparently what you do is you complete a regular rift and the Rift Guardian at the end may drop a Greater Rift Key. Then, you go to where you’d normally go to start up a rift and use the key. I think everyone has to have a Greater Rift Key in order to access a greater rift. The differences between the Greater Rift and the standard one are many, so here’s a list:

  • You race against a clock to finish the rift
  • Most monsters don’t drop loot (it’s all shifted to the Rift Guardian)
  • The tougher the monster, the more it adds to your percent completed bar
  • You can’t resurrect at your corpse or in town, just at the last checkpoint
  • You cannot use banners or teleport to someone who’s in a Greater Rift
  • Greater Rifts have an internal leveling mechanism separate from the existing difficulty levels

On that last point, Blizzard states that, “If you complete a Greater Rift before time expires you’ll advance to the next difficulty level. Should your time be exceptionally good, you might even skip a few levels! If time instead expires, you’ll have reached the end of your current Greater Rift journey and your best results will be posted to the appropriate Leaderboards.” I think this means that you can get pretty far (possibly) with just one rift key. In regards to the standard rift, they’re implementing that “monster toughness affects your completion bar” bullet. Also, the standard rift will require all rift participants to contribute one rift fragment instead of one person contributing five. I think this is going to be quite exciting!

The next item is a no-brainer: they’re adding leaderboards. Greater Rift leaderboards will be split between Hardcore and Normal and are further broken down into categories by class and party size. Obviously some leaderboards will be Season-only.

Next, there are two mechanical changes coming to the game. The first deals with the dexterity stat for Monks and Demon Hunters. They’re making it so that instead of adding a percent of Dodge Chance, each point of Dexterity adds 1 point of Armor. Not only is Dodge not necessarily as reliable as Armor, but it can also keep you from doing what you want to do while your character Dodges everything under the sun. As a result of this change, some passives for the Monk and Demon Hunter will change as well. According to a friend of mine who has a high level Monk, he’s excited for this change and looks forward to not being interrupted as often by dodging. As someone who has a Wizard as my main, I hope it does what they hope it will.

The second mechanical change coming to the game is regarding Health Globes. Apparently due to testing of Greater Rifts, they discovered that there was too much dependency on the healing provided by Health Globes and not enough quality of healing from the gear stats such as Life on Hit and Life Regeneration. As a result, they’re going to reduce the healing that the Health Globes provide and increase the impact of the healing from the aforementioned gear stats. The goal Blizzard hopes for is a more consistent experience when the difficulty kicks up. Color me intrigued.

Lastly, they’re adding a new map to the rift: The Cesspools. Blizzard calls it a “festering, dank underworld” that was originally designed as the sewers of Westmarch that didn’t quite make it into the final release. I’m a fan of new scenery, so bring it on!

All in all, I have to say that Blizzard has really kicked things up a notch with regards to support for Diablo III. Two massive updates in one year? Someone’s paying attention at Blizzard HQ. I’m looking forward to this next update and for whatever they have coming down the development pipeline. 2014 has definitely been a good year for Diablo III with everything that came with the Reaper of Souls expansion and the Loot 2.0 update and it’s only getting better.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. I don’t remember if he says it in this game, but I’ll never forget Deckard Cain going “Stay awhile and listen”.

The Flow of Gaming

This past week I’ve gone from Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, to Dragon Age 2, to Lord of the Rings Online. I basically went from an intense, 3rd person perspective, free-running, roof leaping, high seas sailing, cannon firing game to a high fantasy, tactical RPG, with a strong narrative that’s quite heavy at times, to a character that’s only leveling by farming and cooking and tailoring.

That last one is part joke and part vacation, with a dash of whimsey and spiced up by being able to catch up on podcasts.

First thing’s first: I finished AC4 and WOW was it good. The story was compelling, the meta/modern story tied it to the other games in the series, the gameplay was satisfying with a minimum of frustrations (I dropped the F-bomb only occasionally and it was typically when Edward decided to grab onto something I didn’t want him to grab… still way less common than with Altair or Ezio), and I finished with 95% completion (or something like it). I might go back some day to polish the game off properly, but right now, I’m stuffed. The ending left me rather proud of the man Edward had turned into and I only wished there was more of him. Tragically, if you look him up, there isn’t too much more to his story after he returns to England. I wrapped up AC4 in just under 70 hours of play.

In the “I’ve finished this great book, now what?” glow, I noticed that Origin was having a 70% off sale and, being me, I couldn’t resist poking around. I found that Dragon Age 2 was going for 6 bucks and snapped it up. It would’ve been a mistake to turn that down, especially after enjoying Dragon Age: Origins SO MUCH back in January. I banged through Dragon Age 2 in less time than it took me to play AC4 (approximately 24 hours of play). In fact, it was another proverbial page-turner of a book. I couldn’t put it down.

The gameplay of DA2 is definitely more streamlined from DA:O, but it’s not bad at all. The interface is simpler, you don’t have to worry about equipping armor to your companions and, as a result, you have more discretionary funds because you’re not stockpiling equipment. I found myself never hurting for money in the game and swimming in equipment I couldn’t use (I first played through as a Rogue and my current playthrough is as a Mage). I loved all the tie-ins to the previous installment and genuinely enjoyed the story. It was heavy in just the right places, shocking me in some parts, making me laugh in others. All told, a wonderful experience that I’m glad I had.

So, coming down from THAT “I’ve finished another great book, now what” glow, I was chatting with a friend on the weekend who talked about his silly idea in Lord of the Rings Online where he’s leveling only by crafting. That’s right, he got out of the intro and was level 26 through only cooking and farming after about 4 months of just dabbling in it. I latched onto the idea and immediately made a new character and set about the Yeoman vocation with gusto. As of yesterday night/very early this morning, I’m about 65% of the way through level 30, I’ve made inroads on Westfold cooking and farming and Journeyman tailor. It’s actually rather enjoyable and I find myself laughing a bit every time I ding a new level. It’s certainly allowed me to catch up on podcasts I’ve been missing out on lately.

There appears to be this ebb and flow of gaming intensity. Intense gaming to slightly-less-intense gaming to extremely-not-intense gaming. Almost like AC4 was the first part of the bell curve, sloping upward and taking half the peak, DA2 was on the other half of the peak and the downslope, and LOTRO is at the bottom (at least for what I’m doing in LOTRO right now, although it’s normally a pretty mellow experience for me). I’m left wondering now… what’s next? I’m certainly looking forward to getting back into Star Wars: The Old Republic (I’m waiting mainly for Galactic Strongholds to drop) and in the meantime I’m poking tentatively at the Arena Commander module for Star Citizen and hoping I can become a better pilot in my plucky little Aurora (and wishing I had more cash to throw at them so I could get more ships to try).

For now, I’m kind of into the whole farming/cooking thing. I’m looking at doing some Blackberry Ale producing today with some valuation scribbling going on so I know if it’s profitable or not. Regardless, the whole thing gives steady experience, so it’s a win-win.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. I remembered this video today. It’s from Babylon 5, Season 1, and it highlights how my thought process works sometimes. Garibaldi gets some of the best lines in the show.

Sailing the Deep Blue Sea – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

I know I’m slow on the uptake with regards to triple-A titles, but I recently acquired a copy of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag on Steam and I’ve been playing it essentially non-stop (to the detriment of my sleep schedule) since I installed it late Wednesday night.

I’ve played a significant portion of the Assassin’s Creed series, however, I’ve only beaten two of the games: Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. I remember playing the first one and being incredibly bored with how slow it was, how difficult the fighting was, how drab the scenery was. Then AC2 dropped and WOW, the color, the combat, the scenery! Also, Ezio was a much more sympathetic character than Altair. I skipped playing Revelations because I never finished Brotherhood (but I know they’re both spectacular parts to the series). I watched a friend play AC3 and found myself feeling rather frustrated with the main character. I thought the story was spectacular and the naval combat in particular was something there needed to be more of somehow, but Connor was just permanently cranky and had (I felt) no sense of humor (much like Altair).

I was interested in getting Black Flag maybe a little while ago when I was poking through Steam and saw that it had open world sailing. I’m something of a fan of naval warfare (being a descendant of two career navy men will do that to you) and being able to sail and upgrade (and possibly customize) my own ship has always appealed to me. It wasn’t until Wednesday night where my desire to get the game overcame my grip on my wallet.

AC4 is a beautiful game. Some of the things I’ve noticed since I started playing have been the quality of the water (considering there’s so much of it, it has to look great), the weather in the game, the fact that if it’s raining, the rain will pool on flat surfaces and there will be rain drops, waterspouts, basically anything having to do with water. The characters look like a logical progression from the earlier games in the series, although there’s the occasional and forgivable clipping issue related to costumes (I got the Mayan outfit last night and there was a clipping issue with one of the arm panels when someone else came into contact with Edward during a cutscene). The environments are top notch. Gone are the extremely obvious grab points from the original games and now here are the perfectly natural looking grasping spots that look like they belong there. There’s still the recycled scenery (viewpoints made of driftwood are basically cookie cutter), but again, forgivable given the quality of everything else.

I find the growth of Edward Kenway during the game to be fascinating. He starts out wanting to make a fortune and eventually winds up… becoming something more grown up. I suppose losing your drinking buddies over time has that effect on a guy. He’s neither Templar nor Assassin at the beginning and, in fact, for most of the game. He’s just another person thrown into this eternal conflict between the two factions and I like the perspective.

I’m very close to the end of the game. Right now I’m feeling like I want to sprint to the end, to just get to the free roaming portion after the story’s all wrapped up so I can do whatever, like taking on the Legendary Ships or finishing out the Assassin Contracts. I hear the Pistol Swords you get for finishing that last one are pretty awesome.

There are some portions I’m iffy on. I’ve never been great at combat in the AC series. It has a timing nature to its flow that I’ve never been especially adept with. Further, I’m terrified of Man O’ War ships and I can’t seem to stay in their aft arc like people recommend doing in order to take out the big ships efficiently. It’s possible I’m doing something wrong there, but I just know that my poor Jackdaw can’t take sustained broadsides from anything larger than a schooner (and that’s with all but one of the hull upgrades). I find myself thanking the developers from keeping escort missions to a minimum, especially escorts where the health of the escorted party is important. I appreciate the stealth elements of the game as being stealthy helps compensate for my shoddy combat skills, but I’m not the best at stealth by any means.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and I highly recommend it. It mixes the fun of Assassin’s Creed with open world sailing and piracy. If they don’t make some sort of MMO based on the sailing portion, I think they’re missing out. Seriously, there’s maybe one game like that and it’s Uncharted Waters Online (which I’m not especially fond of since it changed hands not too long ago and the gameplay is rather unintuitive).

It’s definitely scratched that itch I had regarding sailing the deep blue sea. I was seriously craving that.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. Come for the Assassin’s Creed, stay for the sea shanties!

Supergiant Games’ Transistor

Some games defy explanation to third parties. You just have to play them. It’s easy enough to describe Assassin’s Creed (free running, stabbing, and blending into the public with a pretty straight-forward storyline wrapped in a confusing-esque Templar v. Assassin environment) or Diablo III (point and click hack and slash with plenty of randomness to keep it fresh), but some games like Bastion and Transistor kind of elude me. I guess they could be defined as narrative action adventure games, but that’s not as specific as I normally like to be.

I got Bastion a while ago on Steam and it’s certainly fun. The graphics are exceptional, the music is quite good, and the game play is pretty straight-forward. The story comes out as you play in such a way that you don’t necessarily put all the pieces together until the very end.

So too is it with Transistor, which came out last Tuesday on Steam. The graphics are pretty great and remind me of Shadowrun Returns (just with more character), the music is stellar (I have the soundtrack and We All Become is incredible), and the game play really appeals to the turn-based strategy guy in me. Let me explain that last bit. The combat mechanism in this game allows you to hit a button and you can queue up moves to perform that take up sections of a meter. You can plan everything out for a little bit. Then hit the button and your character plays everything out for you and you need to keep her alive until the meter fills up again. Simple. Well, not simple, but it’s really great for sitting back, examining the battlefield, and setting things up. There’s also a wide variety of abilities and they all are extremely effective. You can mix and match programs to compliment your play style or you can go completely crazy and have what feel sometimes to be strange combinations.

If you’ve played Bastion or Portal or similar narrative action-adventure games, you’ll be familiar with the story exposition in Transistor. Something’s happened and you’re out trying to figure out 1) what happened, 2) how can I survive this, and 3) who’s responsible so I can smack them upside the head.

You can play through the game in just a few hours, but there’s a new game plus mode and a challenge area that can extend your game time into double digits pretty easily.

All told, when I beat the game (probably the first of many times), well, let’s just say the ending had an impact on me that left me sitting there kind of stunned for a bit. It’s not bad, just unexpected and different.

I recommend you check it out.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. “Look, whatever you’re thinking, don’t let me go.” – The Transistor

Simming a City

I’ve been playing EA’s latest iteration of SimCity for a couple of weeks now and I’ve really been enjoying it.

I’m a veteran of the SimCity franchise. I own an original box copy of the first SimCity (red copy protection sheet and all) and I’ve played SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, SimCity 4, The Sims, The Sims 2, and SimCity Societies. Oh, and I’ve played The Sims Carnival: Snap City, SimAnt, SimTower, and probably a couple of others I’ve forgotten in the intervening years. I’ve got a little bit of experience with these kinds of games. That said, I am by no means an expert or the best at playing them.

When I first installed the 2013 installment into the franchise (at the behest of a friend), I was initially concerned. When I was at PAX East 2013, SimCity was the joke of the convention. A traditionally single player game made into a multiplayer only game? The city zones were only 4km square? Why do I always have to be online? Thankfully, the year I waited to get the game allowed for the developers to address the concerns of the community (which were quite loudly proclaimed at PAX East) and the game has matured since its controversial launch.

I started playing a few weeks after the launch of the single player component (I think it doesn’t require an online connection for that part). Yes, the city plots are small, HOWEVER, you are but one city in a region of cities and you can develop each one to address issues in the region. Technically, you could have a single city be entirely residential, another be entirely commercial, and another be entirely industrial. That’s because they’re all basically right next door to each other and if you’re capable of juggling three cities with independent budgets all at once, more power to you. It’s an idea that’s been bouncing around in my head, but I’m not particularly keen on bouncing between cities too much.

There are some significant improvements over the predecessors and I’d like to touch on them:

– No more laying down pipes and power lines: they all follow your roads. That said, you can’t zone or place any buildings without roads already placed. If you bulldoze a road, you remove the buildings and zoning reliant on that road for their connection.

– Zoning Residential/Commercial/Industrial no longer costs money.

– Bulldozing no longer costs money.

– Buildings can be improved with additions, if you have the room for them. I especially like this part.

– You can now specialize your cities to focus on a particular thing such as tourism, mining, or they could just be providing services.

– Speaking of providing services, you can farm out your power, water, sewage, garbage collection, police, fire, medical, etc. services to the other cities in your region. If you want, you could probably develop a huge amount of services and make that your source of revenue.

These days I’ve just been focused on figuring out how best to go about getting a city that won’t implode under massive amounts of red budget. It turns out, thus far, the key is to going slow and staying at low/medium density as long as possible. Further, don’t kick up your industry to high density unless you have a fire department with a hazmat truck (which requires research at a university in the region). Pay attention to not only the purchase price for what you’re doing, but the maintenance cost per game hour because you could be able to afford that new school or water pumping station, but the fees might sink you shortly thereafter.

I’m definitely enjoying the game though. This version of SimCity has a bright color pallet, simple to understand tools, and a versatile array of maps that allow for many questions to be answered about your city with a few clicks of the mouse.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get back to my current city. It’s running on tourism, kind of.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. Check out my original SimCity street cred.

Aveline Assassin – Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD

Yesterday I picked up Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD on Steam and it’s incredibly fun.

I want to start out saying that the primary thing that attracted me to this game over AC3 or 4 is that the main character is a French-African woman, born of a slave, but saved from that life by a good father. Her mother vanishes one day and leaves a mystery that spans the game. Aveline is a wonderful character and is completely awesome.

Mechanically speaking, it plays just like I’d expect a modern AC game to play. It’s a significant improvement over the first couple of AC games as free running and combat are much more fluid and dynamic. It even has a nifty built in mini-game where you send trade ships with goods to varying ports and you can make quite a bit of money. I’ve only had a couple of issues playing, one being that the game locked up once and the other where the cursor vanishes if I try to do the trading thing using any of the shops I’ve purchased instead of the primary desk at my headquarters. I especially like the persona mechanic where you essentially change how your character is played and perceived in the world by switching between the Lady Persona, Assassin Persona, and Slave Persona. You generate and reduce notoriety differently depending on which persona you currently are wearing and it adds an incredible level of depth to the game (also satisfying my personal love for swapping costumes based on my mood).

Graphically, the game is beautiful and definitely holds up to its triple-A family members. I have all the settings maxed out and it’s just lovely. The draw distances are a little short, but I’m okay with that. I spend most of my time on the streets amongst the people anyway.

I have quite a bit of experience with the Assassin’s Creed series and I’m particularly thrilled to finally have a game where the main character is female. This is one of those games where the female protagonist really carries the story. She’s never portrayed as frail, weak willed, or any of those stereotypical feminine things that TV or some games likes to force feed us. She’s independent, headstrong, and she really knows what she wants from life. In the Lady persona, she uses men just like she uses the environment, as a stepping stone to another location or goal. In the Slave persona, she manipulates the public perception that a slave wouldn’t be smart or capable enough to slip in anywhere. She’s never attired in a way that would reveal too much of her form and she’s always dressed practically. I absolutely adore the character of Aveline. She’s quickly outshone Connor and Altair and she’s on par with Ezio for me (I really loved being Ezio).

Well done Ubisoft. Thanks for a quality story with a quality female protagonist. I can’t wait to get back to the game.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. “I stand with those who stand with me. I lure my prey through the guise of a lady. I escape unnoticed through the veil of a slave. And though I may conceal my identity, one thing is certain: commit injustice in this world, and I’ll send you to the next. I am Aveline de Grandpré, I am an Assassin, and I fight for liberation.” – Aveline de Grandpré

Chilling Out with Games

With the end of the semester right around the corner (finals are next week for me), I’ve been looking all over to find games that help me just chill out. This past week has been Borderlands (the first one) and Civilization V (with a couple of honorable showings from a few other games that I’ll mention).

Aside from the initial PhysX issues Borderlands was having, it’s been running pretty flawlessly. I’ve made my way through the first zone of quests and I’m in the Dahl Headlands (I think that’s what it’s called). I’m having fun, but comparatively speaking to Borderlands 2, the game feels way emptier than I expected. I think this is a side effect of Borderlands 2 having fully voice acted quests. I wish I was kidding, but Borderlands is a much quieter game as a result of less chatter resulting from quests.

I never thought I’d admit it, but I miss Claptrap and his wub wub dubstep.


Anyway, Civilization V! I beat a game as Venice the other day through pure tourism. It was a marathon style game, I was on Settler difficulty (hey, I’m here to have fun, not get smeared against the wall), and it took me until around 2004 to beat the game. I’m looking forward to trying other civs (I’ve got several different multiplayer games with friends going on so I can do that) but right now my favorite game changers are Venice and the Shoshone. I have yet to get to the end of the tech tree these days, but I’m hoping to push through with a game as the Babylonians.

Now, the other games I’ve dabbled in.

Awesomenauts. They just introduced the new character Penny Fox. Normally (for deeply personal reasons) I despise foxes, but this one’s perfectly fine with me (maybe I’m moving on). Penny is extremely fun to play and is remarkably potent on the battlefield. I think she may supplant Ayla as my favorite, but it’s hard to say at this point since I’ve only played her on Practice mode with two bars of AI difficulty (it goes from 0 to 5). Yesterday I played through the entire list of characters, reinforcing my perspectives on several of them and surprising myself with how easy some of them are to play (Leon is definitely fun to play, Froggy G not so much, Voltar and Genji are equally irritating to me but I can win, Ted McPain is so cool). Further, the addition of the new announcer SUSI (Specialized Universal Secretary Interface) adds another level of humor to the game that I really enjoy. When swapping announcers, I noticed that there’s four, but three of them appear to sound the same. I wonder what’s up with that.

Redshirt. I tried this out for a few hours last night. Apparently developed by a single person, Redshirt is a Star Trek parody displayed through a Facebook parody called “Spacebook”. You manipulate social media and events to move through the careers available on the station, ultimately culminating in becoming the Commander’s personal assistant (or something). There’s two modes, Story and Endless, where Story seems to end after about 155 days or so. It’s not a bad game and it’s charming in its deceptively simple approach. I especially enjoy the away missions where people get murdered (often my entire team but me because I sacrificed someone on the other team) and as a result a lot of job openings pop up. One thing that happened last night was I accidentally got someone to ask for a relationship with me, but because I was seeking a relationship with another character (one of the little bonus things you can do) I turned him down. Ever since I turned him down, I worked to get him to like me again and then he asked me for a relationship again. Well, rather than deal with that, an away mission popped up and I had to choose someone to die instead of me. I chose him and didn’t feel an ounce of remorse. UNWANTED AFFECTION DEALT WITH IN A PROFESSIONAL MANNER!

Also, side thing: I JUST figured out what was causing the power issues on my computer. Turns out there’s this thing called “Desktop Mode” on my battery icon and I have it on. It takes about 2 weeks to kick in and then it causes the system to ignore the charger while it depletes down to 50% and then it automatically charges back up. This is how it extends the life of the battery. Tragically, as a guy who does a lot of gaming, this can be perceived as an actual issue (two video cards suck up a lot of juice and the computer goes into some sort of panic mode). Whenever I reset the power, it treated it as resetting the Desktop Mode, so every two weeks it would kick in again and ignore the power supply. I have a choice now: cut off the desktop mode and just accept that my battery won’t last that long, or leave it in and just understand this will happen every now and again. I’ll figure it out.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. Enjoy this video showcasing Penny Fox from Awesomenauts!