Monday, November 30, 2015

Not different enough

I tried, really, really tried, to finish Assassin's Creed Syndicate over the long holiday weekend. I would have, too, if I had not been distracted one evening by Roger Waters The Wall. It is a mostly good concert video with some attempted heart wrenching vignettes that proves that The Wall is still awesome and that Roger Waters' voice is not at all what it used to be. There was not rental option so I bought it and watched it sober. Not by choice, mind you, I just had nothing to drink.


...

Having two main characters in Syndicate has been entirely wasted. For starters the two characters, Jacob and Evie, do not play differently enough for one another. Supposedly Jacob is more combat centered and Evie is more stealthy, which befits their personalities and there are a few token skills that are specific to each of them, but in practice they play exactly the same. All it meant for me was that I had to grind for more money after gaining a level because I had twice as much equipment to purchase.

Second, Jacob is clearly the main character. He is skilled, brash and lacks forethought, just like Ezio in his first game. Evie is much more thoughtful, spending her few missions cleaning up after Jacob and searching for a piece of Eden. She actually behaves like an assassin while Jacob is a thug with a hidden blade. This difference should have been played up much more than it was. For most of the game Evie shrugs her shoulders at Jacob's antics, antics that include murdering a member of Parliament, destabilizing the economy and a temporary alliance with the most interesting character in the game, Roth, the mob boss. Only in the final chapter does she call him out on his bullshit.

I have yet to see how it turns out but I do hope for a messy conclusion.

Plot missteps are forgivable when everything else is enjoyable. Syndicate delivers to that end quite well, not quite eclipsing Black Flag but making me forget about the banality of Unity. Every once in a while a 'traditional' screw you fail mission pops up but for the most part if the player makes a mess of things he or she is left to deal with the outcome. I have more fun fleeing from a botched assassination than playing the same mission over and over, trying to not be seen.

Of course the final chapter (?) strips both heroes of their weapons and armor, then forces Evie to sneak around in a fucking ball gown. I failed once last night and went to bed. It had been a good evening and I did not want it soured by one of those missions.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Muscle for Marx

I have picked on Black Friday before. The following 'trailer' does it for me this year:

(video removed because I could not keep it from auto-playing)

Heh. Why do I not own Fury Road yet? Maybe it will be on sale later this week. On Amazon, where civilized people go for deals.

...

Aside from the magic broom I posted yesterday and another cut scene that loaded no character models (damn, those assassins are good, I can't seem them at all!) Syndicate has been a stable, enjoyable game so far. More side missions unlocked last night: pit fights for money, which is fun if a bit easy due to the further simplified combat, and carriage races, which are not easy are not fun. I will play just enough of the carriage races to farm an easy achievement and then never touch them again.

I am concerned that I am going to run out of skills and things to buy before I run out of side missions. I have been ignoring most of the gang upgrades in favor of better equipment for my two assassins. They are running around with the finest weapons and clothing money can but while the rest of the Rooks wander the streets in whatever rags they can find. This makes me no better than the previous district king pin which I should not find as amusing as I do.

Didn't we find out that the assassins were actually the bad guys a few games ago, right around the time that Desmond sacrificed himself to prevent the end of the world? The back story to the series is an impossibly tangled mess and I have given up on trying to make any sense of it. Instead I will focus on being hired muscle for Karl Marx and testing nausea inducing grenades whipped up by Bell.

...

The ease of YouTube uploads and the editing ability on the Xbox One is tempting me to jump into the realm of *shudder* videos. If nothing else it would mean less typos.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

That funny video...


Not quite as good as I remember but I did find out that uploading clips directly to YouTube works quite well.

Monday, November 23, 2015

No accounting for taste

Shoehorning historical personalities into the assassin vs templar war is one my favorite bits of silliness in the recent Assassin's Creed games. It was wonderfully absurd to be sent on questionable errands by the Marquis de Sade. Blackbeard was one of the best parts of Black Flag, which is saying something, because Black Flag was the best game in the series in a long, long time. Syndicate does not disappoint.

Alexander Graham Bell is quite happy to make weapons for the assassins. He also has a crush on Evie, something that he tries unsuccessfully to hide. Charles Dickens has me running around London debunking ghost stories. Charles Darwin is a cranky old man action hero.

History can be fun!

I was wrong about there being less to do than in previous games. There is just as much, if not more, crap to collect, it was just not all visible from the outset. For the completionsist I can see this triggering all sorts of fits as areas that were previously cleaned out are sporadically refilled with more to do. Back tracking is just not a thing that I do, once I am done with an area I rarely go back, usually satisfied at cleaning out all of the chests and taking over the 'protection fees' from the gang I kick out/murder. Certain things get skipped and that's okay. I will still be humorously over leveled for the story missions.

I shouldn't have to apologize for liking a game but I feel that throwing in with one of the big, AAA titles that receives yearly updates is just not something that any of the cool people are doing. Fuck 'em, I was never cool anyway. So far, Syndicate makes up for Unity being as mediocre as it was, it's a pretty good game and a pleasant return to form for the series.

Friday, November 20, 2015

That old familiar feeling

I don't feel like complaining any more about Game of Thrones. It is done, there was no resolution, much less any kind of happy ending. In fact just about everyone was dead by the end and I don't think it was my fault. They were destined to be run  through, stabbed in the back or beheaded. I am a fan of bittersweet or even depressing finales but there still needs to be closure, not just a tease for the next season.

For all I know this is exactly how the show and books work.

...

It's that time of year again! The holidays? I have no idea what you are talking about. It's the time of year that I play a new Assassin's Creed game! In spite of several lackluster, bug ridden entries I am still a fan of the series, always hoping it recaptures the magic of Black Flag. Truth be told, my experience with Unity was better than most because I played it months after it release when most of the issues had been fixed. I was able to ignore the parts I didn't like (the multiplayer missions) and instead wander around stabbing people in the back and collecting treasure chests.

Good times were had and I never fell through the world.

Syndicate is being played almost at launch, so it should be interesting to see what bugs I run into already, if any...

(this is where a funny clip is supposed to go but the embedding from TrueAchievements is not working)

Hm.

Syndicate offers two playable characters, a first for the series, but it does it in a fairly lazy way. Yes, the two characters have different 'end of tree' skills but up to that point they are the same. One is supposed to be more direct and the other more stealthy but it is just flavor text. Their adventures are also the same as they are always working together with whoever the player is not controlling at the time showing up at important story beats.

A step in the correct direction but little more than a costume change.

The game does feel a bit more streamlined than previous entries. This may mean that there is less to do or it may be that the game is smart enough to hide activities that cannot currently be done instead of teasing the player with hour upon hours of side missions that they don't have the correct equipment to complete. There have been a few collectibles that I have stumbled across that appear to be unreachable but I haven't fought the first boss yet so I assume he has something that I need.

It's still fun and will still devour several weeks of my time. The series just works for me and I feel no need to apologize for it. The only way Syndicate could ruin itself for me would be for Desmond to come back from the dead to whine about something.

...if that happens I will be pissed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

There's the cranky guy we all know

Tales of Graces f, my favorite of the series, has a wonderful epilogue in which the main character goes on a tour of the world after he saved it. I no longer remember the particulars, as it was a long time ago and the facts have been muddled with hundreds of other games, but I do recall it bringing everything in the game to resolution. It provided closure beyond the credits and a few still shots of what happened after.

Zestiria, my least favorite of the series, also has an epilogue of sorts. This epilogue does not feature the main character (he's busy), is centered in one overly long, overly difficult, incredibly boring dungeon and provides no closure beyond the post credits scene on the main game. Worse, it serves as a teaser for either future DLC or a sequel.

It was a unwelcome ending to what had been a middling game.

The holiday season is rife with RPGs this year. Fallout 4 and Divinity: Original Sin loom large in my queue, but both of those are of the western style. They are less linear, or more work, depending on how you look at it. Sometimes I just want to be lead through a story and not have to put much effort into getting to the end.

Yes, this is lazy, but I play a lot of games. JRPGs can be an extended break from the grind, assuming one is not obsessed with finding every little thing or maxing out the characters. Zestiria was a break, but it was plain, boring, and forgettable,

...

Gems of War, the freemium spiritual follow up to the exceptional Puzzle Quest (and not so exceptional Puzzle Quest Galactrix) is equal parts just as fun as it used to be and despicable in what it is trying to accomplish. It is still Puzzle Quest - match three game play with RPGs tropes like experience and equipment tacked on. This time around the player builds a party with card based units instead of equipping weapons. In itself this is not bad but the way these cards are obtained is where the evil sets in.

Cards are distributed randomly in chests that require a key to open, Keys can either be won (rarely) or purchased with in game gold. This same gold is used to unlock area to explore. Please keep in mind that this is all done in menus and confusing ones at that. There are also enemy souls that are used level up units. These souls can either be won in battle or purchased with a different in game currency: gems. And how does one get gems?

Credit card.

Mother fuckers.

In addition, there is an online mode whose ranking is cribbed directly from Hearthstone. You can invade other people cities but you do not actually fight the other player, just the units he has set to defend. This also means that your cities can be invaded when you are not playing. I am not sure what losing these invasions does, if anything, but the intentional obfuscation of what does what and the not so subtle offering of DLC currency is a huge turn off.

Free to download and, thankfully, free to delete.

Monday, November 16, 2015

It had big ideas

As predicted, I finished up Zestiria over the weekend. It could have happened on Saturday but when I looked at the tangled mess of a map that was the final area I simply couldn't muster the energy to make my way through it. Instead I saved it, watched a few YouTube videos and fell asleep on the couch.

There may have been other reasons for this fatigue.

*cough*Young's Double Chocolate Stout*cough*

The next evening it ended just when it should have assuming you ignore the excellent false ending boss fight that was better than anything else the game could muster. For a story about one man and his angelic friends trying to bring about the end of the age of chaos by killing the Lord of Calamity, everything felt very small. There was some political intrigue between two nations but Sorey managed to get along with both sides. He was above the nonsense.

Sorey was quite powerful, at least compared with other humans, and he was constantly struggling with how much he should use that power to help. He was actively dissuaded from being the all power errand boy, instead encouraged to let humans deal with human issues and to use his power to deal with what they can't. This meant less fetch quests and more killing evil monsters than no one else can see, which was fine with me.

Tales games have always been a bit boilerplate. Zesteria tries to fight this with additions to combat and equipment mechanics that I either didn't like or never needed to use. Instead it felt and looked just like the previous games, a definite problem as its generation (really, this was a PS3 game, save for very short load times) gets longer in the tooth.

Zestiria was a small game filled with big empty hallways. It was serviceable, at best. I will play though its DLC epilogue but only because I got it for free and I am not quite ready to dive into the new Assassin's Creed.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Just below

A few days ago Zestiria tried to be all edgy by killing off one of the party members. He was dead for all of five minutes before being replaced by an almost identical character. There was a big story moment and its result was nothing more than a costume change. If I still gave out effort points it would garner a few but I am far to old and jaded to be interested in anything more than the final result.

Following this character swap I was tasked with rounding up six or so maguffins scattered around the world. Once more I was given no direction on where to find them only this time instead of getting frustrated and complaining I looked at the map. Low and behold, big purple stars marking the general area of each item. Zestiria may not be beating the player overt the head with the next objective but figuring out what to is usually only a menu or two away.

Or you could talk to Rose, the other human in the party, as she serves as the side mission tracker. Wish I knew about that thirty hours ago.

I just might finish up the main game this weekend and start on the free side story, depending on how tired I am of the combat. Having forgotten to change the difficulty level back to normal and ran through half a dungeon on easy again, being tired of the combat soon is a distinct possibility.

...I miss only needing five hours of sleep a night. At least then I could get more done.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Butt why?

I have been waffling on if I want to talk about the Street Fighter V 'censorship' nonsense or not. On one had, I really try to stay out of issues regarding the presentation of women in video games because I do not believe that my opinion, that is, the opinion of a white, middle aged, middle class male (otherwise known as the problem) holds any weight whatsoever, regardless of who I agree with. There is nothing I am fighting for or against so I keep quiet.

On the other hand, YouTube commenters, FGC stream monsters and many other examples of terrible people on the internet are misusing a word and in turn misinterpreting what Capcom has done. That, my pedantic friends, will not stand.

Street Fighter V has not been censored. No one told Capcom to do what they did. The change was made in a brightly lit board room in the name of sales. It is neither a victory for one group nor a defeat for another, it is just Capcom tweaking their flagship property to keep it on the straight and narrow, that is, keep it paying the bills.

In case you were not aware of what was done, R Mika's super and Cammy's intro were both tweaked slightly. In both examples the camera was moved up to cover a butt slap and a rather uncomfortable looking leotard riding up where the sun don't shine.

That's it. That is what people are complaining about.

In my opinion both examples were just a bit over the line. Nothing terrible, I was not offended, others were, most people got over it. Capcom licked its finger, put it up into the winds of opinion, and decided that just a bit too far would not do and moved the camera up about a foot.

Not censorship. No outside organization told them to do this. It was their panty shot party and they shut it down. Even if this was done to avoid an M rating (which is their business) it still would not be censorship because the option was still there to just leave it as is and release it as an M game. Capcom would never do that as it would put them in the same space as MKX, a comparison that they desperately what to avoid.

But again, their choice. Capcom is doing what it can to make the most money. Sure, call them greedy, but there is no other cause, noble or ignoble, behind it.

Now can we get back to complaining that the Street Fighter V roster is missing one very important character?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Almost sorry

I just may have, okay, I did jump the gun when I started complaining about Zesteria not telling be where to go next. It did, I just missed it because the instruction came in the final five minutes of playing before going to bed when all I wanted to do was find a save point before losing consciousness. I was supposed to return to a mural that would tell me what areas to look in. Instead I wandered the map, followed a few side quests, and got to where I needed to go anyway.

That is as close to an apology from me as a game is going to get.

Many of my issues with the game have fallen away. The combat is more complex than it needs to be but the game allows the player to drop the difficulty at any time. I admit to doing this every time I come across a single character dungeon that puts me in control of a character whose moves I have never looked at. I'll do it but I am not going to put any effort into it. Last night I forgot to bump it back up to normal until half way through the next dungeon. I thought that I finally figured things out. Nope, the enemies were attacking less and not doing any damage.

The characters are all stock RPG tropes: the Christ character, his best friend, the ditsy but smart female, the sassy female, the gruff but still a nice guy older male. They could be cut out of this game and dropped into any other and no one would notice. Still, the writing is pretty good. The interaction between characters is both funny and believable. I find myself actually listening to the cut scenes instead of mashing X to get through them as fast as possible.

But there is no Teepo. Minus one million points for that.

Come at me, bro.
Being almost two years into the current generation does prevent me from forgiving at least one thing: how plain the game looks. I understand that this is just a PS3 game at the the Tales games have always had a simpler art style. But Zestiria just looks empty most of the time. Dungeons are plain hallways leading to larger plain rooms with a monster or two in them. The over world is a gigantic waste of space. If fast traveling wasn't so damn expensive I would use it all the time just to avoid walking around any more than I have to. The game is a step backwards from the two Xillia games and I do not understand why.

Twenty seven hours in. An undetermined number of hours to go.
  

Friday, November 6, 2015

Perhaps it is time to remove the gloves

The lack of Zestiria talk over the last few days does not mean that I have stopped playing it, only that there has not been much to talk about. JRPGs follow a pattern. Sorey accepted the call to be the hero, met and got his ass kicked by the main bad guy and is now in the process of building up both his power and that of his team of invisible angels (literally). The stereotype go deeper as I need to go to four elemental temples to boost each of my four elementally aligned party members.

It is never that simple; I am prepared for a double switch of bad guys and barely coherent political intrigue. What I am not prepared for is to be cast out into the world with the instructions 'go and find the other three temples' without a single clue on where to go. At least give me a direction.

Part of the point of Sorey's journey is to 'find himself' and by doing so he will figure out what it means to be the shepherd. This also means that the player gets to wander around the wilderness with no direction for hours at a time trying to find the next temple.

Why yes, I am a little annoyed. Can you tell? I was annoyed enough last night to visit GameFaqs and then even more annoyed when the only FAQ there is terrible. There is of course the strategy guide option. Prima has an online version for $10, which is not bad, but the only other game I have ever used a strategy guide for was Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne and Zestiria does not deserve to be in such lofty company.

So I will wander with only the game exceptional localization and very good voice acting to keep me company. The game has personality, lots and lots of personality, and that goes a long way.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

V

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder treason and plot.
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.


I just watched V for Vendetta a few days ago. Not a great movie, per say, but one that does bring the feels in the final moments. The crowds of unarmed civilians overwhelming soldiers with guns has the same effect as the giant flag on the barricade in Les Miserables. If it doesn't make your heart swell just a little bit and create a desire to defy 'the establishment' then you aren't human.

Please note that 'the establishment' can mean just about any group you don't like and that I am well aware that Guy Fawkes was little more than a terrorist. Sometimes we rebel just to rebel.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

An odd, polite, interaction

Kind of an off topic post today.

I got a message from a total stranger over Xbox Live a few days ago asking me about my name. 'Chamberlain?' he said, 'like the basketball player?'

Normally I would ignore a random message over Xbox Live but seeing as how this one had no profanity and said nothing mean about my mother I felt it should be treasured for the rarity it was. I gave a polite, if cryptic, response

'No. Have you seen The Dark Crystal?'

and expected that to be it. A day later he responded.

'Is that a book or a movie?'

Again, no talk of placing his balls on my face and no disparaging remarks towards my nationality, race, cultural heritage or sexual orientation. How could I not respond.

'Movie'

...this may be why I don't have very many friends. A final response from Its Rugs (actual name).

'k ill watch it'

I do not understand what just happened. If nothing else the person will watch a movie that I treasure from my childhood. Polite conversations with strangers over Xbox Live do not occur on a regular basis, if ever. And yet, there it is.

So why Chamberlain?


Momentum. Tradition. It is better than any of my old names. I have used it for so long now that I would answer to it if I heard the name at a party.

...he makes a funny noise.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Something old and something old

I played more of Forza 6 than I had planned. Not because it was good, which it was, but because the game provided an arbitrary end point at which I could call it 'complete.' Forza 5 didn't really do this so I played it until I got bored. This didn't take long because there was precious little track variety. Forza 6 has much more and it also has an 'end' to career mode. Good enough for me, I have other things to play.

The main Forza series is falling behind other racing games in the parts of the game that have nothing to do with racing. The act of driving cars is still hitting the arcade side of the arcade/sim continuum, that is to say it is just as good as it has ever been, but everything around it is getting boring. Forza 6 is a car porn museum and what fun is that.

Forza Horizon, the superior off shoot, offers up both an open world and just enough narrative to keep me interested. Other racing titles like the DiRT series and WRC (which is not available to rent from GameFly for some reason) do this as well and it covers a multitude of other sins. Racing games are, by their very nature, repetitive. Adding a touch of story for progression makes running more laps on the same track a little less boring. Forza 6 has more then enough cars and tracks but that is all it is and that limits how much time I will spend with it. Racing online would extend my interest if people weren't such douchebags.

If you are going to pass me, pass me, don't spin me out in the process. Take you tea bagging to games that I don't care about. Trackmania solved this years ago by turning off collision detection when racing online allowing people who don't want to use the breaks to do so without affecting anyone else.

...

Describing a game as a linear epic JRPG will either cause someone to drop like its hot or snuggle into it like a mug of hot chocolate that never cools. There is no more subdued reaction. For me, the almost regular Tales releases have superseded any lingering affection I have had for Final Fantasy games. Square's offering are too few and far between and of unreliable quality so I just don't look forward to them the way I anticipate a Tales game. Zestiria was the sole reason I was holding on to my PS3. I happen to be playing it on the PS4, which is good, but it is still a PS3 game, which is not so good.

To be less polite, the game doesn't look bad, is just looks boring.

Tales game all have a similar active battle system, tweaked each time with some new mechanic or wrinkle. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. Zestiria relies heavily on the protagonist melding with different companions to change the element of his attacks. This works until you realize that not ever meld has healing available and that the other NPCs cannot be trusted to keep you alive. I have not run into a battle in which this has been a real issue yet, but i know that I will. Dropping the difficulty down when the jump occurs is always an option.

The near miss changes do not end there. Combat takes place in the world itself, not an instance based on the current environment. This means that areas feel bigger than they need to be and the camera still struggles to keep up with the action while not getting hung up in a wall or up the main character's ass. When I can't see what is going on I start to mash which is a good way to get killed.

Equipment has skills attached it to that can be moved from item to item by fusing them. The skills themselves are laid out in to a grid that conveys bonuses when skills align or are doubled up. It is just another layer of complexity, one too many if you ask me. Which item is better is not always clear. This may be the point but if I wanted to worry that much about what to equip I would play a game that actually modified the character models when their armor was upgraded.

It's still a Tales game so I will forgive quite a bit. The game tries to not feel too old by layering on new mechanics, not all of which work. There is nothing wrong with feeling old. If a person is still playing the game after the first three hours of tutorials then they expect it to feel old. Zestiria is trying to compete with modern, western style RPGs like Dragon Age and that is the last thing it should be doing. Nostalgia is fine. I like my hot chocolate plain, thank you very much.