A thoughtful and personal exploration of games


Laughing While Gaming

This weekend I was playing Mass Effect 3 multiplayer and decided to tap the Krogan Warlord Sentinel for play. It’s a predominantly melee based character, so never having really played him before, I poked around online and found some build advice for the skillset.

What I discovered was sheer joy.

Seriously. I spent every match running all over every map, “slapping” enemies out of the way, headbutting, and swinging my giant hammer imbued with biotic energy to one-hit-kill Brutes and more.

Built properly, the Krogan Warlord is a nigh-unstoppable juggernaut. That said, he’s only “nigh-unstoppable” because he can get synch-killed by Banshee’s and others if he’s not careful. I ran headlong into an insta-death at the pointy ends of a Praetorian and it wasn’t fun.

Now, the laughing part… whenever the Krogan Warlord starts his rage, he laughs. After some kills he laughs. With this preponderance of laughing, first you smile, then you start to laugh a little bit, then you’re cheering and laughing with abandon. He’s running, smacking enemies, laughing, and it’s so much fun!

Anyway, I thought I’d share that today. Games that make us laugh are difficult to make and this little thing here was a total surprise. I don’t think I’ll play him all the time, but he’s certainly a favorite.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. “Now we can get back to doing what Krogan do best: saving everyone else from giant monsters.” – Urdnot Wrex

My New Pride and Joy

This past week or so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Star Citizen. Mainly, my original contribution from two years ago.

You see, I invested in the Scout package which netted me a nice Aurora MR and lifetime insurance for it. This past week, I was playing Arena Commander (formerly the dogfight demo) and felt that the Aurora wasn’t really for me. It just didn’t have the maneuverability that I like in a ship, let alone a fighter. So I started looking at my options.

Option 1: Shell out some cash for a cross-chassis upgrade to the Origin Jumpworks 300i. This lets me transfer my lifetime insurance to the new ship.

Option 2: Shell out some cash for a cross-chassis upgrade to the Anvil Aerospace F7C Hornet. This also lets me transfer my lifetime insurance to the new ship.

Option 3: Purchase another ship entirely and just cope with the fact that its free insurance will run out in 4-6 months.

At the time I was making my decision, the Hornet was available to try out in Arena Commander and I took it for a spin around the block. It was fun, more so than the Aurora, but I felt it was missing something else. I then knuckled under and did some research on the forums and on YouTube on the 300 series (as it was the only one I couldn’t try out). I finally decided (after a day or so of thinking) that I’d do Option 1 above.

Now, that decision made, was I happy with the baseline 300i model or did I want a different version? New options!

Option A: Stay with the Origin Jumpworks 300i.

Option B: Shell out some cash for a ship upgrade to the Origin Jumpworks 315p.

Option C: Shell out some cash for a ship upgrade to the Origin Jumpworks 325a.

Option D: Wish that the Origin Jumpworks 350r package was available for purchase.

Well, I exercised option D right away, but after even more research into the differences, I finally settled on the 315p upgrade. Here’s why I chose it:

– The 315p comes with a jump engine (the other variants don’t specify having one)

– The 315p comes with a tractor beam (while I could always use another gun, I appreciate the potential for the tractor beam)

The ship brochure said that it had more powerful engines and a better power plant because it was the exploration variant

– The 315p comes with a special scanner package (I think it’s to help identify new jump points or something)

– The 315p has more cargo space

Now that I’ve had some time with the 300i trainer (it’s pretty darn maneuverable and I enjoy flying it) I have a couple of things to say. First, I hope that when Star Citizen finally shows up that my ship is far less squishy than it is right now. As it is, it feels like it’s made of paper, shields and all. Second, I really hope that the racing engines that the 350r comes with will be able to mount on my 315p (I love twin engines). Third, I hope that I become much better at flying because there’s a bit of a learning curve to the mechanics.

I really like my 315p. It looks like a combination between a Scimitar and a Hellcat. I changed my desktop wallpaper for the first time since October to this lovely image of it (click to make it worth your time).

315pIf you’re interested in seeing more, here’s a floor show video of it.

I’m really proud of my purchase and I’m looking forward to flying it for real in the actual game. I’ll be okay flying the trainer in the meantime, but Star Citizen can’t come soon enough.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. Here’s the director’s cut advertisement for the 300 series. See if you can spot the Wing Commander III scenes.

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”.

Crafting My Way Through Middle Earth

In a little over a week I went from level 1 to level 40 by primarily farming and cooking with some tailoring on the side and a handful of non-combat quests and activities in Lord of the Rings Online.

I’ve discovered several things during this experiment:

– There’s no money in grinding tailor or cooking or farming

– There’s money in making a ton of Blackberry Ale and a few other recipes

– Seed money from friends is a great thing

– Explaining what you’re doing to a random stranger can occasionally net some gold (in this case, I got 4 gold from someone who thought crafting my way through the levels was rather funny)

– Several recipes have an issue where they’re made of really inexpensive components until the final stage where one of the things you need is going to cost a lot more than the final product (case in point: coffee sells for about 3 or 4 silver per cup and one of the components is a large clay pot worth something around 7 silver… and you need 1 large clay pot PER cup of coffee made)

– As a result of the prior point, stopping production and selling what you have created can not only save you money, but can generate a significant quantity of money at the same time (stopping at roasting the coffee beans and NOT making the cups of coffee will actually turn a profit)

– I finally beat out my frequent misspelling of “recepie”

– Taking a break every now and again isn’t a bad idea… when I hit level 33, I went and got all the exploration deeds in Ered Luin, The Shire, and Bree-Land, as well as all the stable masters (especially the ones just inside the adjacent areas at Trestlebridge, Oatbarton, and The Forsaken Inn)

– Having a friend who is an alt-aholic and who has every crafting profession AND a massive stockpile of materials to support fledgling crafters is SO HELPFUL

– Yeoman is THE BEST vocation to do this with as Farming and Cooking are essentially self-reliant and Tailor can be ignored or supplemented by friends or the auction hall (if you’re lucky)

– My choice to make a hunter was BRILLIANT as the Return to Camp and Guide skills are invaluable for getting to everywhere I want to go

Now that I’m a Master Westemnet Farmer and a Master Westemnet Cook, I’m grinding Westemnet coffee for experience and money. It’s not bad and if I really want a lot of money I can always make Blackberry Ale (serious profits there). In the meantime, I’m enjoying relaxing, catching up on some podcasts and listening to game soundtracks.

I highly recommend giving the crafting only approach a shot if you’re up for it. It’s pretty nice.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. Blackberry Ale gets you seriously knackered in one use. BE CAREFUL WHEN IMBIBING IT!

P.P.S. “I drink when I have occasion, and sometimes when I have no occasion.” – Miguel de Cervantes

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