Thursday, August 30, 2018

At least part of me is safe

I started We Happy Few last night expecting it to be aggressively terrible, a kick in the fellas in video game form. This may or may not make your day, but We Happy Few is, after a big ass patch, not nearly as bad as any of us have heard. It is a functional game that has more in the negative column than the positive column. In the three hours I have played so far it did not crash, there were no broken quests and it did not do me any bodily harm.

It's still a bad game but I can use the word 'game' and mean it. This is a sad tragedy, not an angry one, because the premise of a town that did something so terrible that it mandated drugging all residents to forget the past is a good one, it just needs a better home.

There is at least one thing that I can call honestly good: the way crafting materials are handled. Some small portion of We Happy Few still tries to be a survival game (even though skipping out on eating, drinking and sleeping will never actually kill the player, only make it more difficult) which means that picking up and hoarding everything not nailed down is to be expected. There is a limit on how much can be carried, most of which is taken up by weapons and food. Here is where it gets better: each fast travel location has a storage box. These boxes are all connected and crafting materials placed in the box can be used to craft things even when away from the fast travel area.

Need a lockpick and don't have any bobby pins? No problem, the hundred bobby pins in the storage box count. Also, if you try to pick a lock and don't have a pick a pick is automatically crafted, assuming that the materials are available. It is a fine quality of life concession that makes part of a game that I often find boring more or less acceptable.

On the other hand...

In every other open world game fucking ever icons on the map disappear when the task is completed. In We Happy Few there are dig points scattered around. It was on the map so I had to go there and clear the icon, only the icon does no go away when the dig point is empty. The same is true for quest markers. The map only updates on death. This is profoundly stupid.

Death is not near as bad as one would expect from a survival (not really) based game. Death is not bad at all. In fact the total lack of death penalty is right on par with BioShock in that enemies that were dead and items that were collection prior to death remain dead and collected.

We Happy Few is confused. It does not know what it is. It kind of knows where it started, a darkly humorous rogue like with a bit or survival thrown in, but almost all of that is gone. What is left is bloated and janky, a jumble of almost interesting environments filled with refugees from bad Morrowind mods. It has a stiff upper lip but is limp just about everywhere else.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Monday, August 27, 2018

An honest endorsement

Holy shit, my contributions to this digital space have been sparse this month. I could make excuses but the truth is I was feeling creatively tapped out. I have been updated this blog almost every other day for over seven years. The blogosphere has come and gone in importance and my custom URL and stolen header image remain, a testament to stubborn laziness.

The same can be said for the podcast. Audio podcasts about video games are less than a dime a dozen, and while I like to think that Chance, Alex and I bring a little something different the truth is we don't. You can get gaming news anywhere and our opinions mean more to each other than to anyone else. So I took a few weeks off.

Then I came back, freed from my delusions of grandeur, because I wanted to talk about video games with friends, record it, and then maybe listen to it again later. I know full well that to gain any real traction I would need to edit the shit out of the episodes, add video and then throw them up on YouTube but I do not have that kind of time.

Scratch that. I do not have that kind of time to give away. Putting together a product of any quality would see me spending more time editing than playing video games and that is not going to happen. Selfish? Of course, but I am old and I need to get all of the play time I can before either my hands or my eyes give out. Or both.

...

Guacamelee 2 was an absolute delight to play. I have finished the main game, found the five magic macguffins and opened the giant, important door of ludicrously difficult optional content. I am talking Super Meat Boy, pixel perfect bull shit. Not the controller throwing, actually salty bull shit, just the 'you expect me to do that while controlling a chicken?' kind of almost humorous, finger torture bull shit. So it gets a few more attempts.

It brings nothing new to the table that the first game did not do, in fact I am not sure if there were even any new moves, and I didn't care. The combat was still free form and impactful, hitting the sweet sport between too easy and too hard every time. The required platforming is precise but not impossible and the optional bits put Celeste to shame.

And the humor lands each and every time. Guacamelee 2 is an honestly funny game with riffs of Street Fighter, Jet Li's 'The One' (a terrible movie) and an entire dimension dedicated to making fun of itself. Chickens fast travel through oversized plumbing. Dozens of donkey men fight over teaching Juan new moves. Another entire dimension dedicated to upgrades that serve no purpose. Everything works.

Go buy Guacamelee 2. Lucha!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Lucha!

Forgot to post my own podcast. For shame.

Chamberlain and Chance - Unwanted changes

Guacamelee 2 is very, very good. The platforming and combat are just as tight if not better than they were the first time around. There are a few balls hard sections that I have come across, worse than anything in the first game, but I never played the DLC, so maybe I missed something. Speaking of the DLC, I feel as though I am missing several important plot points and not much is being explained.

Not that it matters. Knocking a skeleton into the air, hitting him a few time then grabbing and pile driving him into his buddies will never get old. I am looking forward to playing this game than anything I have played for months. It was not difficult to put Octopath Traveler aside for this and it may be difficult to go back.

Monday, August 20, 2018

I am the anti-hype man

I hate Dead Cells.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been here for more than a few days or who has taken the time out to listen to the podcast (and if you haven't, you should, Chance has a damn sexy voice and Alex knows more about movies and voice actors than is healthy. And I am there too. Sometimes.) My personal vendetta against From Software and the contemptible miasma of 'Souls-likes' is as honest as it is hopeless.

Dead Cells hurts a little more because, with just a few tweaks, I could have loved this game. I will put this out there as plain as I can: Dead Cells is not as good as Rogue Legacy. The few concessions that Rogue Legacy made, and they were slight, took it from an exercise in frustration to a fun few days.

First, when a boss has been defeated it should stay dead. Rogue Legacy was divided up into four sections and when a section was completed it need not be revisited. This kept each 'run' shorter, wasting much less time. Dead Cells covers quite a bit more ground, which is fine, but resetting everything, including bosses, means a run can be twenty or thirty minutes instead of five or ten.

Second, and even more damning, is how items and abilities are handed out. The player's success is more dependant on RNGesus being kind than on skill. On my very first run in Dead Cells I made it to the first boss. The game teased me with weapons good enough to get there but not good enough to actually kill him. The next two runs gave me absolute shit. On the fourth run I was blessed with God's own crossbow and wiped out the boss in under a minute.

It was in no way satisfying because I had nothing to do with the success. Dead Cells is no better than a slot machine.

So how do you fix it? When a zone is complete there is a checkpoint and unlocked weapons are available for purchase from the start of a run, not assigned randomly. Oh, and lower the price of unlocks by about 90%, the cell grind is insane. That's it. Is Dead Cells hard? Yes, but only because it refuses to consistently give the player the tools required to succeed. I could have loved this game. Instead it is added to the growing pile of titles that I will never touch again.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Where are my rose colored glasses?

I am still up in the air about Octopath Traveler. The combat is simple but satisfying but the characters are thin and not at all engaging. I did not know that the character I started with is stuck in the party until his quest is complete. At least I picked the warrior who hits like a truck. Other characters are getting cycled in and out, because I am trying to keep everyone else's levels somewhere similar, but there is only one mage (so far) and only one healer (so far). Living without the mage works, barely, but not having the healer in the party would eat through my funds faster than I could replenish them.

Money is always at a premium. There is a character that help earn more but she is currently on the bench. It really feels that the 'correct' party is fighter - black mage - white mage - merchant, very traditional, save for the merchant. At the moment it is fighter - white mage - thief (who is not bad) - another warrior who doesn't hit as hard as the first one but that can summon a few monsters. Not ideal.

There is no hook in Octopath Traveler. Tales of Berseria had the player guessing if the party was the good guys or the bad guys. The last Ys game had a wonderful sense of exploration and adventure. Hell, even Shining Resonance Refrain, a below average JRPG, had dragons and the main character constantly fighting for control of his own body. The only real hook in Octopath Traveler is its sense of nostalgia and that is not enough to sustain be through a long ass game.

At least I am in no rush to start the next game on the pile: We Happy Few. That game needs a patch or three to even be playable. I may sample and summarily discard Dead Cells this weekend and then Guacamelee 2 comes out next week, a game that demands to be played as soon as it is available.

...

The Walking Dead: The Final Season is good. Not season one good but better than anything since. It looks good, it runs well, and Clementine is once again the focus, along with AJ, the baby from Season Two. I will not spoil anything, suffice it to say that being born into a world filled with walkers is a great way to end up as a really, really fucked up kid.

AJ makes Clem look normal.

...

Last week I mentioned losing my cushy job. That did happen, or will happen, at the end of the month. I have managed to secure another job that will allow me to work entirely from home. This is both a good and a bad thing. No driving is good. Eating lunch at home should save money. I may forget how to deal with people face to face.

Monday, August 13, 2018

How old school?

How old school is Octopath Traveler?

It looks like a Super Nintendo game on steroids, or they lashed together several dozen of the old machines and forced them to act as one Super-Duper Nintendo. The characters are paper thin extensions of their classes and while they can be obtained in any order they definitely all need to be in the party before continuing.

NPCs have a '...' over their heads and only say one thing. Each player character has an ability that can be used on the NPCs but they are all different and you can only switch up your party at the bar. Enemies hit hard and save points do not replenish hit points or magic points.

Still not old school enough?

There are near constant unavoidable random battles.

Boom.

But is it actually any good? I am not sure yet. I have only put it about two hours so the combat has not gotten stale yet. It may not because, even though new characters always start at level one, the combat around them scales to the other characters in the party. I am digging the pixelated, strangely out of focus look more on my TV than in handheld mode, but that, too, may not last forever. It is better than Shining Resonance Refrain but that isn't saying much.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Tired hands

New games have not yet arrived and recent events dictate that money not be spent as freely as normal (thank goodness Red Dead Redemption 2 is already paid for) so I dove back into my long list of games that were purchased and never actually played. I started and ended the evening with Enter the Gungeon. This is as surprising to me as it is to you.

It had been several weeks since my last run and for some reason for the first hour I was godlike. I still did not make it past the third area but the first two went down easy. I was dodging shit like you wouldn't believe and landing shots with the starting pea shooter that had to be seen to be believed. I even finally opened up the level skip to start in the second level. Then something happened and I am not sure what.

In hour three I could not do anything right. I was walking into bullets that an hour earlier I was running circles around and looking good doing it. I couldn't get past the first area and it made me so mad. Enter the Gungeon is good but it cannot be played for any significant length of time. Be in physical or mental there is a fatigue that sets in and makes it unplayable.

I have no idea what I am going to play tonight and it is making me uncomfortable.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Piling on, aye?

Finally finished with Shining Resonance Refrain. It stopped being fun about ten hours ago but I was too stubborn, and the pile of unplayed games was too small, to actually stop playing. If nothing else it took an established bad guy from the beginning of the game right up to the end without any last minute swerves or double switches. Fighting the final boss meant something because I knew who he was and what he was trying to do.

Difficulty was an issue, or more specifically balance. I dropped it down to Casual from Normal and have no regrets, however the difficulty of random encounters and the difficulty of bosses still had nothing to do with each other. One of the final areas split the team in half and one group had no healers. It then threw them at enemies that could kill them in a few hits. I made it through at the expense of most of my inventory only to have the rest of the team pitted up against more of the same enemies with no break.

No shop, no place to save. It was bad. On top of that the difference between my levels and the enemies levels did not square with the amount of experience I was getting. On would assume that killing enemies ten to fifteen levels higher than the highest character would help them level up. Nope.

This was not a very good JRPG and I hope that Octopath Traveler washes memories of it away quickly.

...

Also, guess who loses his cushy job at the end of the month. Looking for work sucks. Writing a resume sucks. Interviewing is not bad but I enjoy talking about myself.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Closer

I spent the weekend in a reasonably nice cabin without an internet connection of cell signal. The original plan was to binge on Slay the Spire while the rest of the people there slept. Slay the Spire doesn't work offline. The Switch also made the trip but there was nothing that I really wanted to play on that, unless...

It was with great trepidation that I booted up Hollow Knight again. I deleted my old save, attempting to start fresh and remember what I learned and had been told. More progress was made this time, in fact I saved up enough money to buy the buy and pencil, surpassing my old record, and managed to acquire the first special power before calling it a night. I returned to it the next night, started the next area, poked around for a bit, and then shut it off.

Why can I not get invested in this game? I stand by my original complaint about forcing the player to purchase what is normally a given in a metroidvania: the fucking map. If I had died even once before buying it on the most recent attempt I would have never played the game again. No, it is the game's directionless nature and its portable venue that are now keeping me from playing.

I really need a direction when I am playing a game. I need a goal, or a plot, or some reason to keep doing what I am doing. Think about the game's ancestors: in Symphony of the Night you are trying to kill Dracula. In Super Metroid you are trying to kill Mother Brain. In Guacamelee you are, um, something to do with hell and chickens, and lucha libre? Honestly, I don't remember, but I know there was some thread of plot pulling my forward.

Hollow Knight, at its outset, has no goal. No story. It has absolutely nothing outside of exploration and exploration along does not hold my interest. Why? Because how am I supposed to know when exploration is done? I know when a story is done or a boss has been killed or a task has been completed but how can I possible know when I am done exploring? Two hours in and Hollow Knight still had not offered up any narrative and it was getting hard to keep going.

Secondly, it is a rare game indeed that I can play on the Switch in handheld mode for any length of time. There has been one, Shovel Knight, and that was more out of necessity than desire. I just can't stare at the screen for any length of time.

Will I go back to Hollow Knight? Doubtful. It's window of interest has come and gone. Trying a third time would be almost as bad as replaying a game and that never happens.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

But I won't do that

Still paying Shining Resonance Refrain.

Meh.

I enjoy RPGs that, when side quests are completed, do not require grinding. Dumping massive amounts of time into optional content should alleviate the need to kill several hundred mobs for the simple sake of killing mobs. I have no problem killing everything in a zone as long as I occasionally change zones and run into new enemies. Shining Resonance Refrain has a limited number of areas and even more limited menagerie of monsters and it expects that the player to kill lots and lots of them to level up.

The grind is so built into the game that there is a mechanic for it: the grimoire. There is a character the town (and there is only one town) that can teleport you to instances filled with monsters. Monsters in the real world drop tokens that can be used in the grimoire, basically allowing the player to customize their own area in which to grind for XP.

It's still boring as hell. There are tons of side quests but they are all simple fetch quests, many of which are repeated, and they rarely have rewards of consequence. So yeah, I am ready for the game to be done. It also threw and insane difficulty spike at me last night. I had used up most of my inventory on one fight and it decided that I needed to fight a big fucking dragon without a save or a chance to refill my inventory.

So I died. Badly. But the game has one conceit that saved it: dying to a boss does not automatically send the player back to a save point. Instead it returns the pause menu right before the fight. From there you cannot change characters but you can use items, change spells and, most importantly, change the difficulty.

I beat the big fucking dragon by dropping down to Casual from Normal and I have no regrets.