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Dogging Dragons

Halfway through January and I’ve finally wrapped up Dragon’s Dogma. One of my favorite things about Dragon’s Dogma is that it’s a departure from the standard JRPG in a lot of ways: open world maps, romance options, an open-ended post-game. There’s a lot of stuff here that I’m familiar with seeing in games like Skyrim, but with wonderful and varied combat system on top. If (or rather, when) there’s a Dragon’s Dogma 2, I really hope the team at Capcom takes whatever feedback they’ve gotten and refines all the very rough edges that are present, because hoo boy- is Dragon’s Dogma rough.

Rough Spot #1: Fast travel

Fast travelling in games like Skyrim means the player might miss out on finding caves and shrines and lairs and the occasional random quest. But Dragon’s Dogma world is so static, and there are so few area shortcuts between major zones, and the Pawns’ dialogue is so repetitive, that traveling overland becomes very tedious and can kill momentum.

Rough Spot #2: The Affinity System

I really wish I had known the Affinity System was also basically the romance system of Dragon’s Dogma. It was a little disconcerting to see my character jump into bed with whoever I had done the most quests for (in my case, that douchebag Duchess). Hopefully in the next iteration, not only will the Affinity system be more revamped, but it will be more transparent as to what it actually does so the player isn’t suddenly surprised by who their Arisen finds attractive.

Rough Spot #3: Pawn Dialogue

It seems all roads lead to Gran Soren. Tis weak to fire! THE TAIL IS SEVERED!

Okay, I never actually got tired of hearing my pawn belt out that the tail is severed, but I’m sure a lot of people did. I don’t know how many people knew you could decrease your Pawn’s chatter by a visit to the Knowledge Chair, but I do know that the Knowledge Chair seemed to present me with the same things to adjust without ever letting me choose what I wanted to change. Why must I sit at the chair repeatedly to gradually change my Pawn’s personality? Why can’t I get a list of options upfront and adjust them to my liking in one go? Hopefully Pawn customization is more stream-lined in the future.

But I had a good time with Dragon’s Dogma. Definitely one of my highlight games of 2012, which probably isn’t that surprising given the name of this blog.  Up next is the stand-alone expansion (remember when extra content for a game was called an expansion and not DLC?) to Alan Wake, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare.  Shooting shadow zombie creatures and collecting pages for the good of mankind! Or whatever the plot thinks it’s about.

Resolutions and Backlogs

Oh my goodness, it’s a post!

It’s 2013 and I made two resolutions for the New Year: 1) Clear my horrendous backlog of unfinished and untouched games and 2) actually use this blog for its intended purpose of writing about the games as I play them. It’s not called a travelogue for nothing!

Yesterday, I sat down and wrote out a list of all the games I have either started and not finished or just plain haven’t touched. I alphabetized them, as I figured alphabetical order’s the way to go. And then I realized I was looking at a stack of forty-one games and darn near gave up right there.

But no! I am resolved to clear my backlog! With that mindset I looked through the games, chose a few that were already close to being completed, and settled in for the night with the only Vita title on my list:

Sine Mora

Lemme make this clear: I’m not a shooter person. Twitch reflexes, precision movements, enemy memorization, most of those things that the Youtube videos of bullet hell games show off are not my strong point. My shtick is to fling myself around until I lose, and through losing, learn how to win (which should explain my love of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls). And boy howdy, did I lose often in Sine Mora!

So I’ll admit that Sine Mora- Suda 51’s side-scrolling shooter, bullet hell, shmup, whatever you want to call- is not my type of game.  I’m not really qualified to talk about it because I quite literally don’t know what I’m doing most of the time. I played through it anyway, but I can’t really seem to think of much to say about it other than that it’s very pretty, the plot is confusing, and mostly I just held down the Fire button and dodged as best as I could- usually into  a wall and exploded but, again- not a shooter person.

Now, as far as the hardware aspects… Sine Mora is a game that perfectly shows off how responsive the Vita thumbstick can be. Once I learned that I didn’t have to slalom my ship all over the screen like a drunk driver in a speed boat, I was impressed at the small, subtle adjustments to my ship that I could make. I mean, my ship still exploded constantly, but hey, I was able to dodge when I wanted to, usually into a wall. And the crispness of the screen- everything was beautiful, vibrant, and detailed, all the more to distract me with subtle details which got me blown up again.

If you’ve got a Vita and are looking for some quick action on the go, give it a whirl. It’s shiny and there are explosions and I’m really, really bad at it, but I still thought it was very well done.

Sine Mora is the first game in my backlog cleared in 2013. Just forty more games to go! Next up: Finishing Dragon’s Dogma’s post-game content.

Amalur Vs

It was the power of adorkableness that convinced me to buy Kingdoms of Amalur. Seriously. I tried the demo and was resoundingly apathetic towards it, but when Day9 streamed it with Felicia Day at his house, and with the ridiculous hilarity that resulted by their combined dorkiness, I was dazzled by the geekiness and shelled out a full sixty bones for the PC version.

Which then proceeded to sit on my HDD because, again, I’m fairly apathetic towards the game.

So there Amalur sat, gathering digital dust, as I hemmed and hawed about in some other equally tepid-to-bad console games (Armored Core V: tepid, Deadliest Warrior: bad, Tales of Graces f: lukewarm), and as I piddled and poked about on my usual PC fare (Minecraft, Minecraft, Minecraft, going /afk in Rift).

And then something curious happened. At PAX East I witnessed an upcoming MMO (Tera) that looked like it had some actually interesting combat mechanics. And I was craving an MMO with some good combat, as Rift’s combat is strictly traditional fare. So I prepared myself mentally to go poke about in Tera.

And then something even more curious happened: I realized that I already had a game with a better combat system and MMO trappings, downloaded to my HDD and waiting for me to double-click its icon.

And that is how my affair with Kingdom of Amalur started.

That’s not to say it’s somehow an amazingly good game. Amalur’s story still hovers between “meh” and “slight chuckle;” the world is still somewhat hollow despite the large number of NPCs; there’s no horse or other mounts, which in a gameworld of Amalur’s size somehow seems criminal; and the voice acting… sounds like the voice director told everyone to be as needlessly hammy as possible (Cam Clarke is in it; that should say everything right there).

But that combat. Oh, that combat.

Whenever I visit the GameFAQS boards for a new game, many of the new threads will be “I”ve played X, will I like this game?” Which always makes me want to tell people to rent it and see for themselves, despite how the former Gamestop manager in me already knows that people won’t rent it for themselves and will just ask other people. That’s the whole basis of “word of mouth” after all. So with that in mind, here are the comparisons I actually managed to come up with in the event you ever go “I played X, will I like Amalur?”.*

Amalur vs Skyrim – Skyrim is a slower, more methodical action RPG, more focused on giving the player a country and a story hook (if they want one), and then turning them loose to do whatever the heck they want without feeling the need to be constrained to the story at all. There’s more things to do in Skyrim as opposed to Amalur, and more ways to go about doing it. Amalur, meanwhile, is fairly linear in it’s expected playstyle: outside of completing quests and exploring zones, there is nothing else to do, no player houses to personalize with decorations (though there are player houses), no friends to make or spouses to marry, nothing. There is you, the quest, and the combat. Amalur has less quests and random caves than Skyrim, but to compensate each of those quests and side areas feel more unique than Skyrim’s. Even if Amalur reuses art assets, none of its areas feel exactly cookie-cutterish.

Amalur vs Dark Souls – Amalur, and I realize that this might sound silly, has the more comprehensible story, if by that I mean only that the story is explicitly spelled out in Amalur while in Dark Souls the story is fed to the player in bits and pieces, and even then some of those pieces don’t seem to make sense, and the story overall is heavily on the cynical side. Dark Souls, of course, has the more unique environmental settings, and a far more difficult and punishing combat that feels more rewarding once mastered. Amalur is far more expansive in size of the world and content, but the extra areas start to feel like padding after a while.

Amalur vs Diablo – The longevity of Diablo and its clones comes from the ability to take your character into progressively harder difficulties for progressively better gear to make your guy progressively more super-powered so you can repeat the entire process until you get bored and tap out. Amalur throws loot at you wildly, lets you craft your own gear, lets you chose the hardest difficulty upfront, and once the game ends, that’s pretty much it for that character unless you have some sidequests you need to finish or buy some DLC. Amalur is finite with more more side content to compensate; Diablo is designed to be repeatable and encourages you to replay to experience randomly selected quests.

Amalur vs Fable – This is, by far, the closest comparisons one could make between two like-minded games (at least on this list). They have similar combat, similar world layouts, similar quest schemes… the major differences occur with story presentation (I can hate all I want on Fable’s stories, but I have to admit that the stories are generally entertaining up until the point I get disappointed/annoyed with them) and the character’s interaction with the world. There’s no morality system in Amalur, and again no spouses. No property mini-game to buy and/or manage. Amalur has the greater setting diversity as it takes place throughout a continent as opposed to Fable’s kingdom (with a few exceptions in Fable). Amalur has the tighter combat with more depth, but Fable 2 and 3 give you a dog and has the NPCs in the world react more to your presence and your choices. It’s a difference of degrees.

Amalur vs The Witcher – I’ve played all of ten hours of Witcher 1 and one hour of Witcher 2 and I have to say that I have absolutely no opinion either way because 1) W1 was made using the Neverwinter Nights 2 engine, so the combat is suboptimal due to system mechanics, and 2) I don’t actually recall much about the Witcher games except that Geralt gets laid a lot and there’s some decapitations and a lot of bad stuff happens to various people. So I guess, um, the Witcher series is a lot more adult-oriented in terms of tone, setting, and gameplay while Amalur, despite the blood, is a more light-hearted, arcade-style affair.

Amalur vs MMORPGs – Obviously Amalur is strictly single-player and MMOs are multi-player, so that’s an apples to oranges comparison I won’t make. So to compare it to things that are applicable: the MMOs I’ve played were boring and repetitive when it comes to their gameplay elements. We all know about the “press 1 to attack, wait for cooldown” style that WoW, Rift, Champions, et al have been using for years. Combat in MMOs are generally static affairs with individual skill boiling down to how well a player can do the same repetitive actions against the same monster in the same fight day in and day out, week after week, while waiting for a particular piece of equipment to drop that will make their same-old rotation generate a slightly larger number once those buttons are pressed (with the occasional move slightly to avoid environmental hazard throw in for variety). It’s a Diablo-clone taken up to 11 and filled with arbitrary gimmicks to stretch out how long it takes a person to accomplish anything. Amalur may not have fishing, or zones that require minutes to cross, or mounts, or raids, but it is more dynamic in its gameplay, and that can carry me for a long time, because dynamic means “challenge” and challenge means I’m not in any danger of falling asleep in the middle of a raid again. Perhaps the upcoming Amalur MMO will be a different story, once a social component is thrown in.

So I’m almost 40 hours into Kingdom of Amalur and I’m digging it. It reminds me of those few times in WoW when I took my character through every zone, completing each and every single quest they came across, for no other reason than I get some sort of amusement out of completing every single possible quest a zone has to offer. The fast travel system is a large boon to this type of gameplay as, in the absence of a mount, I can just pop back to a town, turn in a quest, pop back to the nearest place I was, and continue to blaze a trail across the entire country. The only real time I’ve backtracked for a length of time longer than a quest-turn in was when I hit max Detect Hidden and I went around hitting all the lorestones I had missed (each set completed gives a small stat boost in some way). Amalur makes me feel like I’m always progressing, and I do so enjoy the quest for progression.

*Subject to my own opinion and observations, blah blah blah, not an endorsement of this or that, I love puppies.

Dark Souls vs Skyrim

I read what had to be one of the weirdest articles I’ve come across in a while. Yes, I know it’s IGN, and IGN is some sort of joke in the game journalism universe, but it’s still about Dark Souls, and I wanted to see where they were going with the article.

It didn’t go very far.

The points of the article irk me.  It’s one thing to compare two relatively similar games, but this is almost going beyond apples and oranges into a whole other realm of incompatibility. View full article »

Post PAX Prime Pontification!

Oh my!

Here we are, post-PAX. I’ve got a can of Pepsi and Poets of the Fall playing in the background, so let’s gossip.

PAX Prime was pretty frickin’ awesome. On a scale from 1 to SuperJam, PAX Prime scored a grand total of Bloody Good Times All Around. There were games to see, and panels to attend, and developer parties to crash, and swag to get.

Let’s start with I got hands on time with: Minecraft 1.8. View full article »

Catherine

Lucid dreaming is a bizarre phenomenon that I’ve experienced a few times. Like one time the Power Rangers were attempting to murder me, a situation that I found so ludicrous even asleep that I realized I was dreaming, realized therefore that I could control my own dream, and then proceeded to fight off every single one of the Rangers with my sudden awesome karate skills.

Vincent Brooks doesn’t have to worry about the Power Rangers busting down his apartment door. He’s got more realistic problems: the uncertainty of a new job, no cash, a stable girlfriend that wants to talk commitment… the general things that cause anxiety in a long-time stereotypical bachelor.

The giant towers that he’s forced to climb that can kill him if he falls, well, okay, that’s unusual. View full article »

inFAMOUS 2

I really want to love inFamous 2, and indeed a part of me does love this game. I have long been enamoured with superheros, especially those with electricity-based powers, and so the purchase and play of the two games starring bike courier Cole McGrath was no-brainer for me. And for the most part, the games delivered exactly what I hoped for: an open-ended environment with which I leap across digital rooftops and shock the mess out of bad guys to my heart’s content.

But somewhere around the halfway point, the shiny polish of Cole’s new powers begin to wear off, and I started to realize I was playing a slightly re-arranged, slightly more polished copy of inFamous. I stopped doing side-missions. I stopped hunting for blast shards to increase Cole’s energy supply. I just started plowing through story missions in an attempt to see the ending. I’d go back later, I told myself, to work on those trophies and the Evil ending.

As of this writing I have yet to touch inFamous 2 again.

Why did I fall out of love with inFamous 2? What happened? View full article »

July

Oh what a month-

It’s July! Actually it’s almost August but I haven’t had anything to talk about just yet.

July used to mean the summer slump, when nothing would show up and everybody just laid around and waited until Madden came in August to signify the fall season.

Once I discovered Harvest Moon, July started to mean a new Harvest Moon game every year. That lasted right up until I got tired of Harvest Moon.

Now July means Catherine! I used to think this upcoming puzzle/platformer was just another quirky Atlus title, and then I discovered that Michelle Ruff (Rita Mordio from Tales of Vesperia) played the part of Katherine McBride, and as a fan of Michelle Ruff, I immediatly went out and pre-ordered the collector’s edition of the game. So next week, I’ll have a new pair of boxers! And a very uncomfortable pillow case.

So beyond inFAMOUS 2, I haven’t been doing much game-wise. Just sitting back, playing Minecraft and Tactics Ogre, and relaxing. I picked up a couple of pen & paper RPG books (Paranoia: Troubleshooters and Unknown Armies). P:T looks like it will be a vast blast to play. UA, meanwhile, seems ridiculously over-complicated.

Oh, and there’s Terraria:

 

.

I’m starting to love Terraria. Muahahaha.

 

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

It was a bright and sunny day when I bought Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

It was a dark and stormy night when I finally launched Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

“Put on headphones,” the game whispered to me.  “Play with the gamma turned down.  Yeah, we know it’s one in the morning and you’re short on sleep and the lights are off and you’re all alone in a big scary house while a storm rages outside, but this is just a video game.

“You play video games all the time.

“Trust us. You’re safe. This is nothing more than a systemic arrangement of 1’s and 0’s. You can do it.”

Successfully lulled into a false sense of security, I proceeded to play one hour of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. And then I shut it off and, despite repeated attempts, never managed to play it again.

I’m not sure what to think of a game that scared me so badly that I literally never wanted to play it again for fear of soiling myself. I hunt monsters. I destroy monsters. By rote and by choice I am a weekend Space Marine, armed to teeth against the ever-present horde of the Zerg or the Orks or whatever game I’m playing. I stood toe-to-tooth against a giant, flying, saber-toothed cat with a scorpion tail and wore it’s fur as a battle bikini. I am a frickin’ superhero, and superheros aren’t afraid of some drafty corridors and uneven lighting.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent does not care what power fantasies I entertain in other video games. Amnesia cares only that I be scared out of my mind in the shortest amount of time possible in the greatest way possible.

And that is why I’m never playing it again.

YAY!

Hunted: The Demon’s Forge

For a while, after I had beaten the game, I didn’t know what to think about Hunted: The Demon’s Forge.

I had fun with it. I was amused by it. I had frustrations with it. I finished it, or at least I finished the adventure for the single player. And then, by some stroke of ill luck, I deleted my clear game file, thus rendering fourteen hours of progress extinct in a puff of digital smoke. And even then, as I stared at the pristine spot where my upgraded Caddoc had once been, I didn’t feel anger. Instead, I just started to laugh softly.

Accidentally wiping my save file and having to start over for all the unlockables seemed like an unexpected yet elegant end to this game.

In my last post I mentioned that the game was a fantasy version of Gears of War, but I don’t think that’s accurate. Gears of War is a third-person shooter; at least one character in Hunted is very much melee, and having him hang back, taking cover behind a chest-high wall while he waits for his opponents to pop out so he can shoot them with his crossbow feels wrong. Except for two puzzle segments where I played E’lara, I went through the entire single-player adventure as Caddoc, and it was there, as Caddoc and I rushed towards enemies and beat them all to death with his giant glowing axe, that I realized that the melee experience is nothing less than Dungeons & Dragons: The Tower of Doom. You can’t get much more old school, hack-and-slash than that.

Hunted: The Demon’s Forge feels like a great re-imagining of what an old school arcade game should be like today: short, steady bursts of progression with swift combat and a level designed to funnel you towards the end, and the appropriate set-piece boss fight that closes out the chapter. Each character has three “lives” before you’re kicked back to the last checkpoint. Comparing weapons is a simple matter of checking which has the larger number. The story doesn’t seem to try and rise above its “Here’s why you’re killing stuff” premise. Rinse and repeat until the credits roll. There’s even an entire mode (the Cruicible and its level editor) that whole-heartedly embraces its arcade roots. The only things the game seems to be missing is a giant glowing arrow that flashes and beeps brightly, urging you towards your next destination when you hang around a completed combat area for to long, and a poorly-translated “CONGRURATIONS A WINNER IS YOU” screen featuring the protagonists posing after the credits rolled.


A WINNER IS YOU – THANKS FOR PLAYING

 

The arcade nostalgia that Hunted engendered within me does mean that I took an issue with, of all things, the side quests. Do I explore or do I keep going? If I explore I’ll get new weapons, but as the enchantments are temporary then they may not be worth it, and to spend half an hour solving a puzzle for a weapon that will have twenty-five or so charges before becoming weaker than a regular dropped weapon was starting to lose it’s appeal. By the end of Chapter 4, I found myself actually growing a little tired of the exploration side-game. And it seems inXile understood the side-quest fatigue because by Chapter 5 the sidequests and riddles are mostly gone, the chapters are shorter, and the game feels like it’s picking up speed and barreling towards the ending as soon as possible before the fatigue makes you quit entirely. I appreciate a game that starts to realize its wearing out its welcome and just gets on with it.

I also appreciate the AI. While no substitute for an actual person, the computer’s control of E’lara was servicable. Only on occasion did I become annoyed with the AI, usually when E’lara’s pathfinding took her out of the combat (and once, when a door glitched and she actually was trapped in the room behind me, leaving me to complete an entire section solo- thankfully not a puzzle section requiring her flaming arrows), and the rare moment where I, as E’lara, was dropped repeatedly to my death by an AI Caddoc that would move off a switch holding my bridge up over a spiked pit. These would be wholly unremarkable AI comments if AI E’lara, perhaps in the developer’s acknowledgement that a human partner would be a massive jerk at least once, scripted E’lara to almost kill me with a trap while coyly joking about doing so, and endeared the AI to me just a bit more than the normal robot pal. After that, I made sure to keep an eye on her.

Hunted feels rough and not quite refined in almost every aspect of the game, but honestly if I hadn’t deleted my clear file I would be re-playing it again, as E’lara, on the hardest unlocked difficulty (appropriately named “Old School”). It’s a good, solid fun romp that doesn’t take itself seriously, which makes it a great game when you just want to play something for a few hours at a time. Perhaps that’s why I don’t feel to bad that I wiped my save file: you always have to start from scratch in arcade games after you’ve won.