Sunday, October 11, 2020

Anachronox #15 - The End?

I thought I knew this game by now, I thought it couldn't throw me any curve balls anymore. I thought wrong. The end of Anachronox offers up some exhausting material and now that I feel like I've closed it down for the final time I don't even know how to wrap up my thoughts. What did I even experience? What did I just go through?

It's a roller coaster for sure and while the end is probably the games' weakest point it doesn't leave me unfulfilled. No wait, that is not entirely true. In many ways it does exactly that. I can't explain it without going in to major spoiler territory, but I guess we've already passed that in all my previous posts.

Detta's castle/fortress/home base is another maze. But I've got to hand it to them, even though almost every place I have gone to in this game has been some sort of maze, at least they've been pretty inventive with the areas. I still don't feel like it's repeating itself, too much. 

PAL works alone.

For Detta's the schtick is that we've got the entire team with us for once, which means we split up in three teams that you can easily swap between. Sly heads one and Stiletto heads one and PAL is on his own. The teams need to solve different puzzles in order to open up paths for each other and it's a fun experience. 

I think overall they've done a good job with keeping the same concept interesting, because as I've probably mentioned a couple of times the general idea is that you go through some sort of maze like structure, solve puzzles and fight some enemies. But the variety, both in settings, enemies and puzzles is good and it doesn't bore me.

And dark. Don't forget dark.

Of course the characters and the story is the real highlight of the game and there is a lot of potential here. I wish there was more of it, even after almost 40 hours of playtime. By more I mean more world building, it's a really interesting place that we get to explore here and I would love to see more of it.

Once we get towards the end of the game they've made several choices that give me reason to be frustrated though. First of all, the difficulty ramps up significantly. I guess when my team mates told me they needed better weapons they weren't lying. The final bosses, because spoiler there are two, are silly difficult compared to what I have been fighting so far. And honestly I really don't like it when games does this. I played another game recently, though I can't remember which, which was quite easy on regular enemies and extremely difficult on bosses. Anachronox has been fairly easy throughout though, and throws me off a cliff right at the end. Not cool.

You're not a true mob boss without an indoor pool.

The boss fight with Detta sees my team dead except for Sly (unfortunately I am forced to bring Stiletto with me for this fight and she is easily my worst team mate). Detta does an attack that just about halves my hp, so every other turn I need to throw a full heal and every other turn I can do an attack. But only my special attack does damage to Detta, my regular one always misses. This means I can only do damage to Detta every four turns (because the special attack needs recharging). And Detta himself does an attack that literally takes 30 seconds of cut scene every. single. time.

I have no happy memories of this room.

After Detta is defeated it seems like we're about to win the game. But then... it turns out Grumpos had been on the side of the bad guys all along. No I am not talking about Detta, but the actual BIG BAD that has been threatening to destroy the universe. Thanks a lot Grumpos!

I never understood how these people could get henchmen anyway, doesn't Grumpos realize that he is part of this universe too? He is kind of putting himself in the same danger. But apparently Grumpos still thinks he's better off helping the bad guy than trying to stand against him. Coward.

So instead of throwing the Key Stone into the energy well like he is supposed to, to destroy it, he activates it and summons the bad guy on our confused and shocked asses. And then it is time for another, even worse, boss fight.

Ok ok, this fight maybe actually isn't so bad. It's just that I haven't been allowed to save at any point since I beat Detta and the fight is confusing as heck. This time we get to fight with all six of our remaining characters (Grumpos not being with us for obvious reasons, traitor). Mr Evil as I will call him since I can't recall his actual name (though it is bound to be along those lines) fights on a platform with six colorful orbs around him. Ok, I think. I probably need to destroy those orbs first in order to do damage to him. This turns out to be only partially correct. And the bit I got wrong is pretty dang important.


For some reason I can only attack him with three of my six characters, though this also means only these three characters take damage. Again unfortunately Stiletto is on my team and again unfortunately she is still useless. Each turn every single one of the six orbs do an attack on one of my characters, while they don't do much damage it is extremely tedious to have to sit through. And as soon as I destroy one and start to focus on the others it respawns again. Ok, I think. So I have to destroy them all at the same time?

Again, only almost correct. After I manage to do that, which also is extremely tedious and time consuming I realize that that isn't doing what I was hoping it would do at all. I don't do more damage to the boss and the orbs almost instantly reappear. At that point my play session has been going on for way too long and I actually need to go to bed. Should I leave the game on for 24 hours and continue the day after? I choose not to do this but simply close it down, mostly out of nerd rage reasons to be honest.

So how am I supposed to beat that sucker then? Oh, apparently you need to move your characters into position whenever you destroy an orb, so that they can't respawn. Of course... I wish I had looked that up before my annoyance got the better off me and now I probably have to do the really frustrating fight with Detta all over again too.

They look as disappointed as I feel.

Nah.

Especially since I now also know the game doesn't even end, even after you manage to beat that guy. It's intentionally open-ended because the creators wanted to make a sequel. But we know that is never going to happen. And if they ever do announce one I will go back and do those fights again, maybe. Because dang, they were some horrible fights.

Everything up until that point was really good though, and I think that is the reason I am so disappointed with the ending. I guess I could live with the non-ending if the difficulty didn't karate chop me so hard over the neck though. That's just not cool, it's like they didn't actually want me to see the end once I got there.

It's so unfortunate because I have had ~35 hours of great fun with this game and then the lasting feeling with me ends up being some of disappointment, frustration and pure "oh come on!". Like that one time I went to a birthday party at a restaurant and we had an amazing time but one of my shrimp must've been a bit off because I got really sick and all I can think of now is how unwell I got, not how much fun I had beforehand.

But those last couple of boss fights were definitely some sort of bad shrimp and I still can't shake how frustrated they made me feel, unlike anything else in the game.

I'll get over it, I hope. And I hope I will remember the game for what it really is. An extremely underrated, funny as hell, well written and well played out little gem that I definitely recommend anyone to play through. And I wish there would be a sequel, that would be amazing. Because I actually think this world and these people have a lot more to tell before I get bored.

Monday, September 21, 2020

The Classic Dungeon Experience

 So far Classic WoW has been pretty much exactly the way I remember it, i.e amazing. There has been one notable difference though, at least to me, and that is the dungeon experience.

While I do recall having fun with dungeoning back in the day, I struggle to remember why or how that was possible, because most of my memories are of it taking way too long and people both playing and behaving very badly. The playing badly part I don't mind so much as long as there is a level of effort put in, and I know for a fact I was far from great myself. And to be fair, it was to be expected. Back then the game was completely new to all of us and even those with previous MMO experience (unlike me) still didn't know anything about tactics, best gear or best talents.

Unrelated picture of a scared priest.

This time around though I rarely find a player who seems to be completely new to the game. Either they have played a lot of retail, Vanilla or both. And in either case they mostly know what needs to be done and I've had a blast going through dungeons so far. I don't need people to play perfectly and I don't need people to be social geniuses, as long as everything is done in good effort and politeness.

So I managed to play a year of Classic and umpteen low and mid-level instances before I ended up having one of those experiences. One of those that took me right back to all the memories I have of everything taking just too long and nothing ever really clicking. Like, I can't even point at any one person and say "this failed because of you" but the group effort failed all together.

Ok, in this particular case there were definitely some warning signs early on. The fact that it takes almost an hour to assemble a group is not one of them though. A lot of instances are literally half an hour of running away and without Dungeon Finder Tool you're left to having to wait for the right person to show up at the right time, that's just the way Classic works and I'm fine with that.

I found a group for SM Graveyard and Library on my alliance priest (whom I have a lot to say about by the way, but that is matters for another post) and had to run myself from Wetlands, through Arathi, Hillsbrad and Tirisfal to get to the instance. I was the last one there and everyone had patiently waited for me without complaining. Off to a good start. 

Unrelated picture of a priest in Darnassus.

Except that when we were going to start our hunter wasn't present. Well, that's fine. He had probably gone afk without telling us while waiting, that's understandable. We cleared the first boss in SM GY before the hunter finally shows back up, at this point we had waited at least 15 minutes for him so that's a pretty long afk, but ok, we had done fine without him.

It was going to turn out there was a reason for that as he was ending up to be more of a hassle than gain for the group. He would stand around just not doing anything for minutes at a time, often not going in to action until prompted by someone asking for his attention in party chat. "Bad lag" he says. With lag that bad it's a wonder you can play this game at all, I think. But then again, he was playing a hunter.

Fortunately SM GY is not a difficult instance and we get through it without trouble. Off to SM Library, and the first half is fine, except for the hunter still being mostly afk. He runs around with Aspect of the Cheetah until I tell him and has full mana after every fight he actually does engage in... but I choose to keep my mouth mostly shut, and so does everyone else. We're still doing fine, after all.

After the first boss problem starts to arise though. The hunter starts "lagging" in to extra mobs, pulling more than the tank can comfortably handle. We have our first wipe. No one is complaining, but we're telling each other to be careful not to pull extras. The warrior turns out to be one of those who doesn't bother corpse running but just waits for someone to res him instead. The mobs in SM Lib are fairly tricky actually, with a mana burn I try to hide from as much as possible and a nasty kick that will silence you if you're not careful.

Unrelated picture of a priest running.

That kick will be the cause of our next wipe, just before the final boss. No one is to blame really, it is one of those breakdowns of team effort I described earlier. Or maybe rather an accumulation of mistakes that breaks the camels back. Even though I use Fade I get aggro from mobs throughout the instance, and getting my spells silenced means the tank dies. The first problem might be that the tank doesn't pull the mobs in to a safe spot, but forces us to fight them where they can more easily aggro more mobs. This also means the hunter often stands in places where he more easily aggros more mobs. The paladin or warrior don't use their cooldowns to save us when shit hits the fan and I forget not to cast a heal when I have aggro from one of the kickers. So we wipe.

We all made mistakes, any one of them miniscule but all together too many to keep the group alive.

The second time we wipe we come back to the instance fully respawned. We had literally been about three mobs away from finishing it, and now we have to clear it all over again. But we decide to do it. And through everything we manage to somehow keep our calm and not start yelling things. I just get mildly annoyed when the tank druid starts needing on cloth caster gear. I mean come on dude, that's just not cool. But I also remind myself that this mid-level gear is a drop in the ocean and it doesn't matter. It really doesn't.

But in the end everything took way longer than it needed to and some have been very much carried by the efforts of others. While it didn't leave me angry, sad or even particularly frustrated it definitely left me extremely mentally drained. And I don't know, was it even fun? In the end I probably feel like I could've been without that experience and that is probably a first in Wow Classic for me.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Anachronox #14 - The Battle of Limbus

Limbus is Fifty Shades of Brown. It might be understandable though since it has apparently been the battleground between what can essentially be coined as "good and evil" (in this game it's "chaos" and "order" though) for a long, long time. We're just in time for another round it seems.

It looks like someone had a bad curry in here.

But first we mess up the front guard of the people who are safeguarding the Universe, woopsie. This is actually one of the more difficult fights I've done in this game and I have to use several of my resurrects before they finally go down. The boss, of which there are in fact six, have a clever system where only three of them fight at any one time, and three are in the back row (behind a force field and untargetable) healing. Then they constantly swap back and forth meaning you have to focus your fire if you want to ever get them down.

They're not as stupid as they look.

Killing the guard means I can get into the town of the people who guard the galaxy, you might even call them the Guardians of the Galaxy, I guess. They are surprisingly un-furious considering what I just did, though they do chew me out a bit for it. It doesn't help that the probe that the space-flower just sent down turns out to be another wave of bad guys trying to achieve something that will allow them to destroy the Universe. I get to replace the front guard with one of my own (Rho) and also the back door (Democratus) in case they choose to come that way (they do). The people give each character some cannon fodder of their own to help out as well and that's going to come in handy because the enemies pack a punch.

Their thing is unpronouncable names.

Boots on the other hand gets the honorable duty of manning the massive planetary defense gun with which I get to shoot down enemy landing parties. Why they would leave such an incredibly important task in the hands of someone who has clearly already done a huge mistake is curious, though I guess it helps that it seems Boots is the Chosen One fabled in some wall paintings.

The prophets even knew what I was going to wear.

The fighting starts and we start kicking ass. I was picturing something along the lines of the little tactical event in FFVII where you get to place troops on a map, but it's nothing like that. Rho and Democratus get attacked in turn and it's just regular battles. Not overly difficult either, fortunately, though I feel like it's a lot down to my little aides who take pretty much all my fire. I don't want the Universe to be destroyed.

We are victorious, of course. But it's only temporary. We still have to prevent the bad guys from entering our universe and tear it up (what we have been fighting has been some sort of front force). The main guy of the Limbus people tells me to go talk to some special agent named Roweidekhalicon (yeah I had to look up the spelling on that) who happens to be in South Anachronox (which is where we started the game). In fact he turns out to be Rowdy who owns the bar from which Boots did his work before we got caught up in this whole "save the universe" business.

So many casualties.

Rowdy tells us that to close the portal that would allow Chaos to enter our universe we need the keystone. The keystone is somewhere in the Mystech Tunnels. Remember when we went down there and found some sort of weird stone that the mob boss took from us? Yeah, that thing.

That means it is time to settle the score with the mob boss, named Detta. He pretty much runs Anachronox and has had Boots under his thumb for a long time. If I understood it correctly he is also the indirect cause to Fatima's untimely death. We have many reasons to go after him.

On the way to deal with him though we run in to Rukh, the cool looking detective that we have been lending a hand a couple of times throughout the game. He asks us to meet up at the hotel in South Anachronox to help out with one more thing. When we get there though it turns out someone got there first. Nooo, not Rukh! He was the coolest, especially considering he was barely even in the game. He should have his own spin-off.

Destroy the universe, fine. But don't mess with my Rukh.

Our only lead is a picture of the attacker that Rukh managed to take just before he was attacked. You'd think that's a pretty good lead, but I have no idea who it is. I happened to have Rho in my party and she mentions she saw the guy somewhere on Sender Station Station. But on SSS it's still night so practically everyone is gone.

Instead of going off on a wild goose chase I decide to deal with Detta first. As much as I want to get vengeance for Rukh I feel like saving the universe has some sort of precedence, I am sure he would understand. The closer I get to Detta though, the more it feels like this is going to be some sort of final conflict. Especially when the game straight up tells me "are you ready for this because there is no turning back?". Uh, I guess Rukh will have to be revenged in some other playthrough then, I am sorry Rukh. 

Every character has also told me they need better weapons. Do they mean need them or do they sort of just want to imply that there is a better weapon? How dire is this need? How difficult is Detta going to be? It's not like anyone gives me any kind of hint on where their best weapon could be either. Your best option is to revisit all old areas with all your characters (though you can only bring three at a time) and talk to everyone you meet, again. While this sounds like so much fun I just... don't want to do that. 

The game is very good at getting a balance between us lazy people and the people who might find that completionist business fun though. If you do happen to put in the man hours and run around to find better weapons you'll have access to them earlier, but as a lazy person I can also wait to a little bit later in the game and most of the weapons will be accessible in the shop. I am ok with that. Unfortunately there is no such system for finding more skills, but I hope I've got the most important ones already.

Detta, I am coming for you.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

WoW Classic - One Year On

It's now been almost a year since I first logged on to WoW Classic. Back then I was immediately in love - again! 

Though some things were exactly as tedious as I lovingly remembered them, like the endless travel times between quest objects and never being able to afford anything even remotely useful, some things weren't anything like I remembered them, like instancing. My memories of instances are just full of waiting, waiting, waiting, dying and running and probably not getting to the end anyway. It's almost a miracle I even enjoyed doing them at all, if my memories are anything to go by.

Good thing then that for some reason that hasn't turned out to be a problem at all. While instances can still take a lot of time (I spent about 2 hours doing a Deadmines the other day) they usually run very smoothly. I rarely have anyone leave mid instance, ninjaing loot they can't even equip and just standing around like they're pretending to be a tree. This time around it seems clear that the vast majority of players have at least some experience of playing WoW. That could also be because I haven't actually even gotten to the really tricky end-game content yet.

Yup, it's true. I have been playing for a year now and my highest level character isn't even level 50 yet (in fact, he's 49). The explanation really just comes down to one thing: even though I still enjoy the game immensely, I just don't put nowhere near the time in to it like I used to. This means I am actually playing the game like I always wanted to - being able to combine it with all my other interests rather than letting it steamroll all over them.

WoW Classic is just one of many things I can choose to do in an evening, and my evenings are very short anyway. At best I have some good three hours to put in to it on a Friday or Saturday evening and if I am lucky I can get an instance done.

Old school blood elf.

I don't need to though, I am really enjoying the questing. Not all of it mind you, I am reminded of why I used to have a set course through the map back in the day and steered clear of certain areas. Giving them another chance in WoW Classic I just realize that I still don't find them fun. Stonetalon Mountains is such an area, Arathi Highlands is another. 

The vast majority of areas I still love though, Tirisfal Glades, Duskwood, Stranglethorn Vale, Hillsbrad Foothills, Tanaris and so on. I have so much nostalgia connected to almost every inch of this game I can't go anywhere without thinking "oh yeah this is where I spoke to that person" or "this is where we did this quest", "this is where I found that thing".

There is no denying that Blizzard improved on a lot of things in later expansions however and that some classes fare better in Classic than others. Warlock and Hunter are what you would call faceroll, especially compared to a class like Warrior who I find struggles immensely at pretty much everything. 

Other than a bit of class balance though (which of course Blizzard never gets perfect because it is probably impossible) I find few things to improve. There are quality of life things, like the long Hearthstone cd (which doesn't bother me really). The fact that you can't see what an object is worth until you vendor it and find out you've been carrying around a 5c item for an hour. I miss having any sort of decent timers for my spells. The summon stone would be quite handy of course. The list can be made long, but none of them are game breakingly necessary in my opinion.

For some of these there are addons to ease your pain (the vendor problem being one I needed to fix for instance). For others it's just suck it up and deal with it (like it literally taking more than 30 minutes to get everyone to an instance).

That I only have very limited time to put in to the game seems to also have caused another behavior in me. It's a fact that the game is the most rewarding, in the sense that you actually get stuff done, the lower level you are. Quests are shorter and levels are quicker. The higher the level, the more time you need to put in to a session to find that you've actually achieved something, I find.

This means I seem to get into a bit of a hump around level 35ish (might also be content that's a bit dry there but I haven't reflected on that) where I often roll an alt instead of moving on with the character I am currently playing. This means I have about 3-4 characters between 30-40. The warlock made it all the way to 49 simply because everything is so easy on him.

But I don't care. My only goal with the game is to enjoy playing it, however that may be. If it means playing characters from 1-20 hundred times over, so be it. I don't need to see any raid content and frankly I probably won't (though yet again it seems very much more accessible than it was in the original). While I am looking forward to experiencing some end game content again I am definitely in no hurry. 

I am still so damn happy that WoW Classic is a thing and I enjoy every second with it. But I also don't feel the need to play it all the time. I am glad I've been able to find a good balance between it and all the other things I want to do. I've managed to fit WoW Classic perfectly into the little niche I wanted it to be in.

I also have a lot of thoughts about Burning Crusade, but that is probably best saved for another post.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Anachronox #13 - All Across Democratus

Where do I begin? Maybe where we left Sly. Some kids had been disappearing and the Burgomeister of Whitendon is more than happy to have us find out what happened to them. This involved running around town and finding clues and finally I get some use for my camera again since I take pictures of the clues I find and take them back to the mayor. How the game decides that I have taken the right picture I don't know, maybe any picture would work, but either way it works well.

The Burgomeister just happens to look like Putin.

It seems like some sort of "feral child" from a cave in the vicinity has been sneaking in to town through the fences and climbing around the trees and been snatching children from their bedrooms. One of the children seems to have seen the "monster" before it was snatched because it's left a drawing of it in its room and it definitely looks nothing like a human child.

The Burgomeister suggests that I go explore the caverns and find the culprit, on my own. But first we go have a nap in the local inn, and it seems like Sly is dreaming about some backstory.

We get a cutscene of what happened between Stiletto, Fatima (that's the assistant that was computerized when she died) and Sly and how Fatima died. I don't know why we get it and how it is relevant to the immediate story but I don't care, it's interesting.

After the cut scene though it doesn't cut back to Sly, but instead we are now playing as Paco Estrella, also known as "The Fist". He's ended up in an army camp but to get help he needs to talk to the boss and to talk to the boss he needs to find the secret code of the day (which is different for every one in charge). It seems like the army people are camping out here because the defense systems in their army base kicked them out. There is more to it than this but really, just play the game, it's hilarious. 

Hitting things is hard.

Paco's skill is to hit things really hard. To do this you need to charge is fist by keeping a fist icon within a circle while it wiggles more and more. It's actually quite tricky and one of the better mini-games, though I enjoy them all. They're very varied and witty and except Sly's lockpicking they're not used nearly as much as I would wish.

We find out that a stray child has ventured in to the army base where it is sure to be swiftly killed if no one saves it. How fortunate that Paco happens to be a hero. I thought at first that maybe Sly's "feral child" and Paco's lost child would be one and the same but I was wrong. In any case, Paco has to get through an army base full of lasers and spiky robots patrolling, while it's not particularly difficult and there is nothing to fight it is yet another massive maze to navigate through. At the end we need to run to the elevator while on a timer and it is one of the tightest timers I have ever experienced in gaming. I make it, but only barely.

And waterfalls.

Next up is Rho. It seems Democratus is inhabited by several different sentient species. Sly and Paco end up with humans and Rho ends up with some monkey-looking people, who of course worship nature, leaves and berries above all else. 

After finding some precious berries and leaves I am allowed to enter their temple of worship where I can solve some puzzles and get an item that the Chieftain needs before he is going to help me. The puzzles in the temple are actually really fun and interesting. As someone who is basically illiterate when it comes to puzzle solving, this is a really big thing. Big creds to them for succeeding with creating some great puzzles.

There are also ghosts. Friendly ghosts though.

Back to Sly then. We go in to the cave and at the end of it is no feral child but a little yeti. Who turns to be a huge yeti and also a boss. I guess the piles of dead people should've been a giveaway. We also don't find any of the snatched kids so I guess... yeah let's not think any further on that.

Once we beat the Yeti, who is actually trickier than the bosses have been so far, we get some more backstory. It seems Fatima was in love with Sly who was in love with Stiletto. Like Fatima voice overs in the cut scene, they were both in love with someone who didn't reciprocate. Fatima was just about to leave Sly's employment when he talked her into one more mission, to chase down Stiletto (then still known as Sarah). In the ensuing hover car chase Fatima is killed when Sly looses control of the vehicle. Man, that is depressing!

It's so cute now.

The people who run Democratus manage to track down all of us and get us back up to the ring. The group is reunited again and we can finally go to Limbus as we originally intended way back when. 

There are side quests you can do but the game doesn't always track them. There is no good way of knowing if you've succeeded except by trial and error because the game gives you little feedback on this. It's a big difference from how the main quest is being treated where every little step of the way is carefully being tracked and explained in the menu hub.

Another thing you get even less information on is how to improve your skills. Every character has one skill he can use out of combat (like Sly's lockpicking and Paco's punching) and several skills that are unique to them in combat (like Rho's aoe damage and Grumpos aoe heal). There are few hints on where and how you can improve them, so far I seem to have just been lucky and stumbled upon them here and there.

Don't look into the light.

After running around for a bit trying to solve some side quests and improving some skills (and failing on most of that) I decide to finally go to Limbus to see what it is all about. While I am about to land this huge space flower shows up and launches some sort of probe on to the surface. Let's go check this thing out? Sure, what could go wrong.