Thursday, June 17, 2021

Field Report #28 - I Finally Made It Out

Yeah, I finally made it to Outlands. I am sure you've all been wondering, crying yourself to sleep every time you realized there wasn't a new post from me. Ok maybe a bit too much hyperbole.

Let's just say I panicked a little when TBC Classic was announced. I didn't feel anywhere near done with Classic WoW and I hadn't even gotten a character up to level 60 yet at that point. I had been taking my sweet time and that meant missing out on all the end game content of Classic WoW all over again (because that was pretty much what happened the first time around). 

I know I could've stayed around. I was also pretty sure few others would, regardless of what gaming news articles were trying to tell me. The ones who would were probably some really dedicated people that would demand more of me than I could offer. I required the general public to be around, and the general public were going to move on. And so I needed to as well, sheeple that I am.

It did help that I absolutely love TBC of course. I am hyped about it, I was always looking forward to it. Just not yet. But it's ok, here it is and I couldn't stop it. Now I needed to get a character to level 58 to enjoy it.

I did get my warlock to level 60 some week or so before the launch, but for some reason I really wasn't feeling it. I remembered TBC being where my love for tanking first started and I felt an urge to get back to that again. Too bad my warrior was only level 46 or so. I realized waiting for and tanking groups probably wasn't the fastest way to go at it, so I decided to respec. Again. It is getting costly now. 

But now I am a fury warrior and I started to hit questing, hard. I mean as hard as anyone could when you've got some 1,5-2 hours game time in the evening at best. It took me about two weeks but now I finally made level 58 and got to Outlands. For the time I am going to stick with fury so that I can quest somewhat decently, and hopefully tank decently enough as well. I tanked a few Zul'Farraks for which I was quite overleveled at the time, and other than that I've never actually tanked in dps spec before. It'll be an interesting experience.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption - Review

Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption is not a good game, really. The characters are boring, the dialogue laughable. The story is cliché and the controls... oh sweet Vukodlak, the controls are way beyond redemption, if you pardon my pun.

I guess VTMR, as I am going to call it, has got to live in the shadow of its, supposedly, better sibling VTM: Bloodlines. I haven't played that one yet so I can't say, but I know the bar is pretty low. Before playing Redemption I had heard very little about it, whereas I seem to come across some Bloodlines reference every here and there. 

You actually start out as a human, Christof. It's the middle ages of Europe and you're a knight of the crusade battling evil. I knew my character was going to become a vampire before long because, A: I was playing a vampire game and B: you can see the character as a vampire on the cover art. You get hurt in battle and nursed back to health by a nun called Anezka at the local monastery. You immediately fall madly in love with this nun, though you are both vowed to celibacy, and this serves as the foundation for the entire story of VTMR. After the first dungeon which serves as a sort of learning experience you get turned into a vampire by one of the many clans in VTM - the brujah. I can't say I am well versed in VTM lore, but I know the clans differ quite a lot. In VTMR you don't get to choose which clan you belong to but you get to fight several of them.

Christof, who only speaks with "thy" and "thee" throughout the entire game, learns that his "beloved Anezka" has been turned into a ghoul by another faction of vampires. They also aim to raise some sort of mega-demon from hell to allow vampires to rule the earth once more. For some reason some vampires are against this. There is quite a lot of dialogue explaining all this in the game but things move around so quickly and the dialogue is quite tiresome it left my brain about as soon as I had read it. I realized it was all really just an excuse to get to slaughter some vampires and demons.

The quest log is ok but the map is absolutely useless.

Through events you will eventually get transported from the middle ages to "modern" times, i.e when the game was made around 2000. The end goal is of course to find and free your Anezka though it is unclear whether she actually wants to, and also to prevent the coming of the Vukodlak. The way to do this is by going through different dungeon-settings and whacking the heck out of the enemies. Even though the settings differ and give some nice variety, very little else does - they all play out exactly the same. Enter, go through a few levels, kill boss at the end. 

Between dungeons you will get the opportunity to sell your loot to buy new loot. There are swords, halberds, shotguns, rocket launchers and everything in-between. They're all pretty much equally bad, you end up either flailing your swords or flailing your pistols. That is if you can even get in position to attack in the first place, but more about that soon. You collect a "coterie" of fellow vampires who decide to join you for one reason or other, most extremely vague and along the lines of "because I feel like it". Some will swap out, and always without any warning and taking every piece of item they had in their inventory with them. I always reloaded at these points to strip them down naked, I've fought hard for those items!

There is a lot of dialogue, little of it interesting.

You also get the chance to skill up your characters. There are plenty of stats to choose from, and even more spells. It's hard to notice that up-ing my stats makes any difference in combat, other than that it allows me to cast new spells. What does having 20 more perception even do? Do I hit harder with 30 more strength? If that is the case I really can't tell. There is a plethora of magic schools to play around with and each school has a handful of different spells. Some seem to be absolutely useless, like subduing animals. There hardly are any animals in the game and they're all bad at fighting anyway. Other spells seemed absolutely mandatory, like having fire spells. Some enemies died from two fire spells or 25 flailings of my sword. I am sure I couldn't have beaten the game at all if I hadn't at least one character with fire spells. 

You gain new schools by leveling up or by finding books around the dungeons. Tough luck if you taught a character a school who then leaves your coterie. After the first time that happened I just ended up teaching my main character every book I came across, unless he knew it already. Spells are cast by using your "blood pool" and when you reach 0 you die. There are many ways to enhance your blood pool though, and many enemies to refill your blood pool from. Overall I think this system is interesting and works, or at least would work if it wasn't for other parts of the combat being broken (more about that soon).

You'll get items like poison and disease antidotes but I never ended up needing them.

The game is extremely linear, but so is Super Mario. It doesn't have to be a problem if other aspects of the game are either built around it or at least fun in their own respect. I often prefer games that offer some linearity since I like the sense of clear progression they often offer. And the dungeons aren't too bad. Like I said they're actually fairly varied, going through sewers, monasteries, caves, the secret Setite temple underneath a night club... Enemies are varied too, within the lore. You'll fight different kinds of vampires who throw a bunch of different skills your way, some way more annoying and devastating than others.

While a lot of aspects about VTMR are weak, they at least work decently. The main issue with VTMR however are the controls, and they are a pretty big issue. You'll spend more time fighting the controls when you enter combat than you will fighting the enemies. The main issue is probably that everything is controlled by clicking. You click where you walk and where you attack. This meant some times accidentally clicking innocent bystanders because I was actually trying to walk past them. That instantly had my entire coterie attack them which in turn had all the guards attack me and... reload. 

I can't even count the times this happened, leading me to target the wrong enemy or executing the wrong attack or just plain running to the wrong place. I can't count the times my coterie members stood in my way or thought I was standing in the way or decided to unload their bullets into a wall because an enemy was slightly obstructed. Sometimes I'd notice one of them was missing and find them way back just standing staring into a wall. I often decided to give my comrades ranged weapons just so they wouldn't get stuck somewhere or stand in my way. Trying to suck blood from an enemy I often accidentally clicked one of my friends standing in the way, leaving us both useless and exposed in the combat until I could cancel the skill. My character often struggled to walk through doorways if I didn't carefully click him around the door. It's a horrible mix of abysmal path-finding and terrible AI.

Even though you get many interesting skills, you can only equip six of them at any given time. I tried going into my spellbook mid-combat for some fights but targeting enemies was difficult enough without a huge inventory screen in the way. 

You can swap between characters at any time, and as soon as you let one of them go back to their AI they go full on stupid-mode again. It often felt like herding a bunch of crazy toddlers and the only reason I kept them around was to not feel so lonely... and also for cannon fodder.

The subject matter means spending a lot of time in the dark. I constantly had trouble seeing what was going on or where I was going.

All this meant I was save-scumming my way through this game and I feel zero shame. I had to reload so many times because my entire party died from standing in a poison cloud in some corner or run straight into sunlight like they've forgotten what they are. Or waste their blood pool on skills that are basically useless. It's fortunate then that it seems like my version was updated with the possibility to save at any time. I saw what seemed to be save spots in the game, hinting at a version where you could only save at certain areas in the game and honestly - the game would've been unplayable that way. You just die to unfair stuff way too often.

So how do I explain that I still spent over 20 hours with this game? I tortured myself all the way to the end after all, so it can't have been all bad, right? I guess even though there are a lot of unnecessary deaths and combat controls are about as smooth as a drunk refrigerator, with the help of save-scumming the game at least manages to have some sort of forward momentum that kept my interest throughout. Even with the horrible controls I can't really say that it's a difficult game and it would've been extremely easy with good combat controls so maybe that's one way to look at it. 

Yet I can't recommend anyone to play Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption. It won't offer you anything that another game doesn't do better, so unless you have an affinity for the VTM lore or a fetish for vampires I'd say it's better to go get some sunlight.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Cyberpunk 2077 - PS4 Review

I've been ambivalent towards Cyberpunk 2077 since the first couple of hours of playing it. My expectations were just about as high as anyone else's, maybe especially since I had just played through the absolutely amazing The Witcher 3. And the more I played Cyberpunk the more I felt there was a lot of good things to be said about it, but also many things that just felt off. Around the 25 hour mark I still wasn't entirely sure if I was having fun or not, which of course isn't the best of grades.

Having finished it though I think I can put the finger on one of the main issues of Cyberpunk 2077 - and no I am actually not talking about the now infamous bugs and glitches, but I'll get to them too. The game suffers from a serious case of fluff-itis, or something I also call the Skyrim-syndrome. I spent over 60 hours in Skyrim before I realized it wasn't going to offer me much more than the same stupid enemies in the same boring locations. Fortunately it only took me about 25 hours to realize I was making the same mistake in Cyberpunk 2077. There is a big difference though, Cyberpunk actually also has a lot of really interesting bits buried within all that fluff. The important thing is to dig those bits out and not be lured off the road by enticing map markers that are just going to end up wasting your time doing the same repetitive stuff.

You can customize your character a lot, but rarely do you get to look at it.

In Cyberpunk 2077 you play as V, a character I had little love for. V isn't a silent protagonist, but also not a fleshed out character like Geralt, but rather something in-between that'll end up mostly annoying you with their own dialogue. While you have some control of what V will say in some situations, I too often ended up not agreeing with their style of saying it. Maybe the dialogue was just badly written, because V is definitely not the only character I felt was way more corny than cool. It's fortunate then that the other main character, Johnny Silverhand famously played by Keanu Reeves, ended up really working for me.

Maybe it was the concept of body-snatching more than Keanu Reeves himself. I don't actually think Reeves is a particularly good actor and I don't think he is in this game either. But he has a certain je ne sais quoi, a unique charm that worked perfectly for this character. The main plot starts a bit meandering, probably mostly because the only people around you are V and Jackie, a guy who although endearing doesn't get fleshed out enough to become interesting. But as Jackie leaves the scene, Johnny enters. Your brain. Literally.

It manages to be atmospheric and lifeless at the same time.

This is where I find Cyberpunk 2077 has one of its strengths. The main story, and many of the bigger side-quests, do some very interesting explorations of cyberpunk and sci-fi themes. It's so frustrating then when they're often only skin-deep and leave you wanting for more. One quest has you looking for the run-away subconscious of a taxi company run by a massive AI. After having rounded up all the different taxi cabs and having to listen to their different reasons for having left, I expected a lot more than the plain "thank you" I got. One side quest with a super popstar who has completely covered herself in chrome and going a bit bonkers also didn't really go anywhere. Or maybe they do, maybe I didn't do many enough of the side quests and these elements pop up again elsewhere?

Either way you're going to play Cyberpunk 2077, side quests or focusing on the main story, there is going to be a lot of combat. And it has potential. You are theoretically given the possibility to stealth, hack, punch or shoot your way through most combat situations. In reality though, the enemies are so boring I didn't want to spend more brainpower thinking about what to do than necessary. In the first half of the game I sprayed and prayed, in the second half of the game I quickhacked everything to death. Even though I could technically hack turrets, cameras and drones to do my bidding or stealth my way around, silently picking enemies off one by one and hiding them - none of these elements were well enough designed for me to want to use any of those paths. 

Finding the stealthy path, or staying out of enemy sight in any meaningful way, was way more hassle than it was fun. I also rarely found it neither necessary nor practical to use any other way than just rushing to get through an area. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, combat was almost never any challenge and thus felt more like a necessary evil to get to the more interesting story points. There were some fights that had me breathing heavy though and that I might remember for a while - a samurai boss somewhere in the middle of story mode and the final boss did prove a bit of a challenge and variety to an otherwise rather stale ordeal.

The game also has an obsession with cars. Anywhere you'll go, some random person will ring you up and offer some car or motorbike for what I considered a ridiculous price. I had no interest in this part of the game, and I have also never had any fondness for games like GTA - cruising around is just not my kind of thing. And maybe that is for the best since it seemed a lot of bugs happened while using vehicles. I almost always chose running from A to B, but some times it would turn out to be too far away. Getting in to a vehicle the first time I notice that the radio station play some absolutely banging tunes. How unfortunate that these are not available outside of vehicles! I would occasionally get into a car just so I could listen to some nice music, but quickly realized internet could serve me better. I do really recommend you check out the radio station music from Cyberpunk if you have an opportunity, because I almost didn't hear a single song I didn't enjoy.

Speaking of getting around - while Night City often feels completely lifeless, in other ways it was absolutely amazing. Often when I had to wait for something to trigger in the game, I chose to just walk around and slowly take in the surroundings. The city itself is meticulously built up, and it many ways it felt real. The people in it not so much. I still loved to just look around, peek in to nooks and walk up and down stairs to see where it would take me. Night City is like a postcard of a real city, it looks real when you look at it but you know you're not really there.

Filling these nooks and alleys are people that some times didn't load in with their faces on or cars that would get stuck in walls if I stood in their way. I won't be too mean about the bugginess though, in fact after 45 hours of game time I didn't encounter any game breaking ones and only a few weird ones. There were a few corpses that died in places where I couldn't loot them properly, and towards the end I had to backtrack a few corridors to shoot off a lost enemy because an item wouldn't trigger otherwise. There were items floating in the air here and there or people interacting with things that weren't there. Quite often audio tracks would play on top of each other, when I was having a conversation with someone and my phone rang for instance. But this was in no way a part of the game that bothered me or ruined my fun at any point.

The game wants to do so much and I wish they would've just focused on half of the stuff and made them really good instead. It's like they started out with a solid idea but just kept adding on top of it until all the good bits where all but buried. As it is now, most of it comes off as either half-baked or just not thought through. There are cars to collect, gangs to murder, psychos to find, fixers to help and a billion other things that scream for your attention. The main story is actually quite good, and worth playing through if you ask me. I probably would've had more fun with combat if it had been more focused and less of it. Now I definitely burned myself out on it in the first 20 hours of the game, and had little interest left for it when it bloomed out a bit towards the end. When you try to cater to everyone, you often end up catering to no one and the developers should've had the guts to stick to one vision or two instead of trying to include so many. Cyberpunk 2077 is proof yet again that most often, less is more.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Primordia - Review

Point and click adventure games have always been proof of my inner masochist. Why else would I keep trying these games when I know beforehand that I have little chance of getting through them "legitimately"? Nostalgia is probably the best answer. Watching my mom play games like The Dig, Myst, Riven and puzzler Safecracker as a kid are some of my best video game memories.

So paradoxically to me P&C games have simultaneously always been a sure way to failure and a sure way to comfort. I love them, but I honestly suck at them. I tell you this because in all fairness I am the last person who should ever review a P&C game. I probably can't give you much guidance on whether the core mechanic of the game, the puzzling, is well designed or not. I am bad at them either way! But maybe there are some things I can tell you about Primordia, I am definitely going to give it a try nonetheless.

It all starts out when you, playing as the robot Horatio Nullbuilt, gets robbed of your ships power core by some seemingly random robot-brute who shoots you and leaves you to rust. Fortunately you're fine, and with your trusty sidekick Crispin in tow you set off to get back what is yours. Starting the game my first thought was "omg I love that voice. Who is that voice? Do I know that voice? I need to know who does that voice!". Horatio is voiced by Logan Cunningham, famous for doing a lot of voicework for Supergiant Games, like Bastion and Transistor (and more recently the very well received Hades). It's great, I love it and I could listen to Logan/Horatio all day long. Horatio has a master/buddy relationship with Crispin that reminded me a lot of the one between the Nameless One and Morte (also voiced by great voice actors!) in Planescape Torment. Crispin is sarcastic and witty and Horatio is always almost done with his sh*t. It works and it's funny. The part with a finger and a nostril had me giggle, I'm sorry but that is just my kind of humour.

Horatio has a broken ship. Is it his ship? Who knows.

Game mechanics in P&C games have come a long way from the Monkey Islands and Maniac Mansions of 30 years ago. Gone is the verb wall, now you just either look at something or act on it. This isn't something new so I won't delve too deep in to it, let's just say I am very happy for it as I feel it allows for a lot more focus on the puzzles themselves.

So to the puzzles then, let's give it a shot. Of course I had to use a walkthrough for some parts of the game, but surprisingly few for being me. Primordia does a great job at putting puzzles in front of you that will make you feel smart when you get them, but never angry because you fail. Reading a walkthrough when playing P&C games I some times think "ah I would've never gotten that one anyway". Never with Primordia, every time I realized my problem was that I had forgotten about some information I had received earlier in the game or a location I had visited earlier in the game. I wish I had written stuff down sooner! No puzzle was annoying and I really enjoyed cracking the 16 digit code towards the end. There is a surprising amount of what seems like Red Herrings too, having me try to break codes with the help of a random shopping list for instance and spending way too much time with the Sad Robot. Either that or I just missed a lot of content. I didn't mind this either, the solution to a puzzle always ended up feeling clear, and my problem was paying attention.

Robots don't mind waiting for Godot.

The story of course escalates quickly from "trying to get my thing back" to something like "trying to find out what actually happened with humankind and saving robotkind". The post-apocalyptic sci-fi setting is right up my alley and you get just enough tidbits of information about the world around you to get a comprehensive idea and yet know absolutely nothing about anything. What happened to the humans? Who is Horatio really? Why did they take his power core?! Funny thing is, I again see similarities to Planescape Torment, where people you meet some times seem to know more about you than you do and you have in fact existed in several versions before this one (which is information you get from the start but don't think about until later). The game sort of sets up for plot twists without particularly delivering any, but I like that. This time we don't get to peek behind the curtain but we're left with questions and curiosity for more. That way the characters manage to stay in my mind for longer after I turn off the game.

The game might be fifty shades of brown but the pixels have a lot of charm. The environments do their job at conveying dereliction without getting me lost or confused. I only once had trouble locating something important in a screen and that one was definitely on me. The character designs are as varied as their personalities. You'll meet robots in dispute over guardianship, robots who rhyme, robots who wait for buses... The background music is suitably ambient and also apparently impossible to find on Youtube unfortunately. You can get it on composer Nathaniel Chambers Bandcamp though.

I still want a drink at that bar.

It's not a long game. With some help from my internet friends I finished it at just over 6 hours. I can't decide if I wish there was more or think that actually, that just means it doesn't outstay its welcome. I am definitely more curious about the world and the characters, but the game keeps the puzzling tight with rare need to run all over clicking everything and trying to combine anything with something, which I think is where a lot of P&C games bloat their game time, at least when I play them. Getting around the map is super quick and easy, the game helps you keep notes on some essential information and the puzzling is as logical as it is going to get in these kind of games. If you like P&C games there is really no reason not to try this out - come for the puzzles, stay for the story and characters. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Axiom Verge - Review

What makes a good metroidvania? Axiom Verge sure makes a very good stab at it and gets almost all the way for me.

Axiom Verge starts off promising. Your character handles well and the surroundings are great. It is clear that the Metroid series must've been a huge influence on AV not just in gameplay, but also in aesthetics. You'll run through similar off-world looking spacey half-creature-esque corridors and rooms with similar feeling and looking enemies. 

It doesn't shy away from being colorful.

The gameplay is pretty text-book metroidvania, the map even looks like something taken straight from the handheld Castlevanias. Not a problem for me, those games - like Circle of the Moon - are some of my absolute favorites and I am always on the lookout for something that can scratch the same itch since Konami doesn't seem interested in my money lately.

There is a huge arsenal of different weapons, some definitely more useful than others but there is some impressive inventiveness that's gone in to them. Your character also gains new skills along the way in true metroidvania fashion and I really have to give credit to these skills not always being what you expect. Running around the map you'll find areas where you think you need something like a high jump or flight ability, but in fact you get completely different and very fun to use skills, like a little drone. A lot of these skills also get built upon, where it does one thing when you first acquire it, it does several more things further into the game. 

The game also does an amazing job at blending the game world with your skills in an original way. When you start the game you see areas that look glitched. At first I wasn't sure if I had a wonky copy or if it was supposed to look like that, but I soon found it was part of the level design. Your character gets a world altering gun that doesn't just change the feature of certain areas of the game, but also how most enemies behave. Using the gun to alter the world around you becomes key to getting around and it's used in a way I would love to see further explored in other games.

Acquiring new skills and discovering new things on the map goes at a fairly well balanced pace for most of the game. For the first 80% of the game I am having a blast getting through areas and trying out new skills on places I've had to leave behind before, just as it should be in this genre. There is a point however when I had discovered what I assume is the majority of the map and I start looking for those few points here and there where I might've missed something. While the map isn't huge, getting from one area to the other side of the map still requires a fair time of just running through places you've passed many times before. It is fortunate that there are few enemies that are really annoying or hold you up, but this time sink still puts a massive wet cloth on the enjoyment of exploration. When you die you get teleported back to the last place you saved, and I some times used that as a sort of "fake" teleportation to quickly get me back to an area if it turned out I had gone down a dead end.

Though the bosses are quite easy they are fun and a nice change of pace as you run around. I definitely wish there were more of them and maybe also more to them. While they generally have several phases, most of it is "hit the sweet spot until it dies". These bosses just look like they hold more potential. On the other hand, they're used as story telling devices and not just put in there for the sake of it.

You'll meet things to talk to, but they don't make much sense.

While the story about you being a scientist who, in an experiment gone wrong, gets sent to an alternate reality/dimension/world to kill some mysterious enemy is a bit confusing and almost trying to be unnecessarily deep, it is still interesting and at least doesn't detract from the fun. The aesthetics with pulsating blobs and dead bodies lying around also add to the atmosphere, as does the music which is absolutely amazing. I never once tired of the tracks playing and the entire OST is definitely going into my "Great VGM" playlist.

The reward feedback loop teeters out significantly towards the end for me. This is a balance that all metroidvanias struggle with - what will entice the player to continue when there is little left to discover and a lot more time has to be invested to find it? This is especially true when I have very limited time to play in the first place, and I don't want to spend my precious evening game time on just running around looking for things. Maybe the early game spoils me too much, giving the endgame a hard time to keep the steam going?

The vast majority of the game is really fun though and well worth checking out if you're on the lookout for a metroidvania that manages to blend a classical style with some fresh ideas.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Tales of Symphonia #3 - Everyone Is An Angel

It's been a while since I last mentioned Tales of Symphonia but yes, I am still playing it. What were you expecting? It's an 80 hour JRPG and I have no time to play, this game is going to take me years to complete!

Actually, I thought I was getting close to the end. Story-wise it sort of gave me that feeling, but then I looked at my time played and saw I hadn't even crossed the 40 hour line. Guess I am only about half-way, though it feels crazy that I could expect more than double what I've already been through.

Then I watched a video of the place I am in because one of the puzzles was doing my head in (how unexpected). And in that video they had over 70 hours of game time, though the characters were the same level roughly as mine. How is that even possible? My first thought was that I must've missed a huge chunk of the game. Like is there a hidden continent of content somewhere that just flew under my radar? But how would you then explain the fact that our levels are the same?

I am thinking, hoping, that this particular let's player has just played it extremely slowly. I can't imagine how slow, because I have definitely not been rushing through content. Or at least not been trying to, since it's my first playthrough I have been playing things as they come and as I solve them, which is not very quickly usually. I also don't shy away from combat encounters as they are quite fun and I hate being under-leveled. 

I also don't want to check any other let's player or a walkthrough to see how far I am actually through the game yet. I want to go through this as un-spoiled as possible and have only been watching guides to get me through specific puzzles in the game. The dungeons have started becoming increasingly harsh in this department with some proper tedious puzzle segments. The kind where you go "heh, that was pretty cool. Now I never want to do that again".

I wasn't wrong about the twists and turns though. In true JRPG fashion the story just gets weirder and more convoluted as you go and at some point you start to wonder if they had even thought everything out from the start or just started to make things up half way. I can almost see the pitch meeting where the creators suggest a game with this and that story and the head boss goes "yeah but it needs 80 hours of content". Creator - "But the story is about 20 hours of content". Boss - "Yeah so make something up." Creator - "ok...".

I love the characters though and I also love how they're all well balanced and fun to use in combat (except Sheena, not too keen on her). You also definitely want Raine, the best healer, to be part of any group fighting a boss. There is love and loss and some deep themes but I sometimes feel like they could've been a much bigger part of the story in their own right rather than almost being glossed over or mentioned in the passing. There is a whole thing with Persea and Regal and you don't get to know enough about that at all. Sheena caused a catastrophe at her village of Mizuho which still haunts her and that isn't fully developed either. Maybe there are so many characters and trying to build depth to them all means none of them get enough. But also maybe this is where the other 40 hours of gameplay I presumably haven't gone through yet will come in and sort it.

In my previous post I made some story predictions, so let's see how right or wrong I was;

"Colette is turning less and less human with each seal that we destroy."
Not so much a prediction as an observation, but it turns out Colette was actually slowly turning in to an angel. Not only that, but into a lifeless body-vessel for the goddess Martel who was actually also a regular human (or half-elf turned angel?) at some point. Yeah I don't know either. But we've saved Colette from that fate, for now. Instead Colette has been struck with some sort of cruxis crystal poisoning, slowly turning into a crystal.

"Genis and Raine seem to be hiding the fact that they aren't real elves, for whatever reason."
Turns out they are actually half-elves. I guess they had to hide it because half-elves are the evil ones at the beginning of the game.

"Sheena, the character who started out by attacking us but has now joined forces with us, seems to be hinting that she is actually from another dimension (?)."
Sheena is in fact from Tethe'alla, the sister planet to Sylvarant where Lloyd and Colette come from. We later find out that Genis and Raine are also from Tethe'alla, and so are Zelos, Regal and Presea.

"Kratos the mercenary says he is only in it for the money, but is he really?"
Heh, no. Kratos is a half-elf angel who ventured with Mithos the summoner 4000 years ago and for reasons unknown or just not understood by me he was part of splitting the world in to their two current forms.

"it seems like both my birth parents were something special. I don't know what but I am sure to find out soon."
Nope, still don't have a clue. I know Lloyds father killed his mother because she was possessed by a Cruxis Crystal, but that's about it.

The story isn't a masterpiece that will stick with me forever, but the characters are very endearing. There is just no way not to love Zelos and his caricature womanizing (to the point where he can get items just from talking to random women in towns, very useful skill!). Kratos who is your on-again-off-again frenemy throughout the game and keeps you guessing as to his motivations. I also keep guessing who is my actual enemy in this game because first it was the Desians but then some of them were off-shoot Renegades and they were sort of on our side but then everyone turned out to be angels but they're also half-elves which is nothing like elves and... yeah, it gets really confusing really fast. There is no way I could write a synopsis that doesn't also take 80 hours to read.

The game is fun in all the right places though and I wouldn't mind spending another 40 hours with it. I can't imagine where they could possible take this story in another 40 hours but that just makes it more fun.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

You're right Illidan, I am not prepared

Hold up a minute. Burning Crusade is a thing? I guess we all saw this coming the moment they announced they were going to release Classic. I am sure we all went "ok then, I wonder if that means...?". Of course that is what was going to happen. Classic and TBC were very popular and there is no way they're not also releasing Wrath of the Lich King once they've started down this path.

Problem is, I am so not prepared. They only released Classic 1,5 years-ish ago! I don't even have a level 60 yet!

I was always hype about the possibility of TBC coming back, just like I was mad hype about them re-releasing Classic. And I have loved every second of Classic so far, which is half the reason it has taken me forever to get anywhere (that and unlike last time I played WoW I am making sure to divide my time to other games as well). I love the leveling experience and have multiple alts between 20-50. I am not in a rush to get to end game, at all.

Except now maybe. Because there is no way I will be able to stay away from TBC once it is released. And there is no way I am going to have time for Classic and TBC. And if they will be asking us for a separate fee for both there is also a very tiny chance I will even want to have two subscriptions, I just don't see that happening. 

So here I am, kinda feeling forced to move on to TBC. Which I am not, of course. I could just lounge around in Classic some more if I want to, but I wonder if anyone else will stick around with me? Or will finding groups be even harder? It's not overly difficult at the moment, but there are evenings when I just don't find a group I want and that might happen even more as players move over to TBC. 

Classic is fun because I find great people to do content with. I also enjoy questing on my own, but that is only because I am not really on my own. I can talk to people in guild chat or run across people questing in the same area. Maybe you group up for some harder quests and then you say your goodbyes. This is where Classic WoW has always excelled I find. If I knew I was in fact one of only very few people left on a server, that would definitely take a lot of the fun out of it for me because the only thing that is really left for me to explore and that makes the game still new and fresh is other people. I've already done the content a hundred times (literally). I've done every area, every dungeon, every quest, leveled every class at the very least once.

And yet I just don't feel anywhere near done enjoying Classic yet. I still want to get to end-game, there are still several instances and every raid that I haven't done (this time around). Most raids I didn't even get around to experience current-content the first time around, because I wasn't in a raiding guild and I don't recall PUG raids being anywhere near as common back then as they seem to be now. While I did do MC and ZG a handful of times before TBC was released, I never saw UBRS, BWL or Onyxia until after that. 

But I know most people probably
have been in end-content for a year now and maybe they are feeling done with it. I've heard it's difficult to find groups for PvP which might've otherwise bolstered end game. I heard that Blizzard intend to keep dedicated Classic servers running but I wonder how long they will do that if most people leave them. I don't know, maybe it is a good thing that I am sort of being ushered along since I seem to just loiter around and not even get to end game, but I can't help but feeling this will only mean I am going to miss Classic all over again (until they re-re-release it in another 15 years).

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Cyberpunk 2077 - 25 hour mark

Spoilers ahead! (Played on PS4)

At mid- December last year me, and a lot of other people, started playing the extremely highly anticipated game Cyberpunk 2077. I wrote down some thoughts on it after a few hours of gameplay; I thought Night City was fun to check out but didn't really feel "alive". I was unsure about the main quest and mostly stuck to doing side business. I hadn't really encountered any bugs or game breaking glitches. I felt combat lacked something that made it really interesting, but hoped more skills for my character and knowledge from my part would change that. I was worried I would find the game repetitive if that didn't happen.

So, some 20 hours down the line, have I changed my mind about anything regarding the game? Mostly no, but there are some things that have been positive surprises.

I am still a bit torn, or should I maybe say worried, about how I feel towards the game. When I am not playing it, I don't really have any feelings drawing me in to play it. It's not like how I felt about The Witcher 3, where I constantly wanted to play more to discover more adventure. So far I feel the main story is fairly meh and almost every character I have met is too. While I still think Night City is gorgeous and I actually really just walking around and taking in the scenery because there are fun little things to see and marvel at everywhere, all the people in it sort of break my immersion. Or maybe it is something about how the bad guys and side quests are all gathered up in little chunks around the map for you to deal with that makes it feel so planned out rather than natural and dynamic. 

An unwelcome sight

Over the 120+ hours I had on the Witcher 3 I never once thought "urgh, this kind of quest again" and the only enemy I got bored of were the dogs. I already feel like I've done only the same quest over and over in Cyberpunk 2077 and that's not even true, it just feels like it. Every enemy in Cyberpunk 2077 feels exactly the same because they are. In The Witcher 3 I fought everything from Drowners to Katakans to Alps to Giant Centipedes and even plants! In Cyberpunk the enemy is always yet another street thug (I guess I've seen a handful of drones as well).

In fact it reminds me so much of how I ended up feeling about Skyrim. After having played it for 65+ hours I realized I felt cheated by the game and all its little icons beckoning me to check what was around the corner. There was always the same thing around the corner! The same dungeon, the same enemies, the same loot. I fell for the urge to explore and continued to harbour the hope of something new and interesting continuously until I was almost angry at the game for having tricked me. 

The main story of Skyrim didn't interest me in the slightest either, and Cyberpunk has at least the upper hand in that regard. While I don't find the main story particularly compelling, I didn't really in The Witcher 3 either - it's adequate enough and has me mildly curious. My main drawing point so far is by far Johnny Silverhand, whom I really didn't believe I was going to like as much as I did. 

At least Cyberpunk 2077 doesn't have a really annoying companion ruining your life. Oh wait.

When Keanu Reeves first showed up on screen and I got to know who Johnny Silverhand is and how he is implemented in the game I was actually not too keen on the idea. But he quickly grew on me and now I miss him every time he's not on screen. It's kind of unfortunate because since he never shows up during any of the generic side quests, that's just another reason for me to avoid them.

I've got to hand it to them though, to me the whole concept of Johnny Silverhand is genius. A long dead terrorist-rebel who's stuck as a data-avatar in your brain? He's too cool for school and while I don't consider myself part of the Keanu Reeves fan-club I will acknowledge that he is probably the only one who could've pulled this off. I usually actually detest when they use actual actors in games, but this is one instance where the casting was absolutely perfect, nothing else would've had the same effect.

Combat has some fun points, but it still hasn't evolved much from me just being able to run in wild and crazy and just hold a shoot-out. I don't actually need to plan ahead or need to use a different tactic. I guess you could blame the fact that I've only ever tackled quests labeled "moderate" or lower, but "moderate" shouldn't be easy right? Maybe I should try some "high" threat quests and get back to you on whether combat required some more thinking or not. Right now I will occasionally essentially Nuzlocke myself to get some thrill out of the fights, because while there are a lot of interesting skills to be had, when you don't feel like you need to use them they lose a lot of their fun.

Game designers should ask themselves, what would Pokémon do?

You get completely drowned in loot like this is Diablo 4. I stopped caring about what I was picking up about 15 hours ago. I still pick up everything because the game tricks you into thinking that some of those things might be really useful. They almost never are, the only time you'll notice any major upgrades or differences are within the first five hours of gaming or if you do some certain quests that reward you with good legendaries. After every fight I've got about 20-30 inventory items to sort through, ranging from sunglasses, y-fronts and yet another assault rifle. I think there must be a better way to handle loot from how I am doing it now though... I will figure it out.

I've put most points into Quickhacking, Breach Control and Crafting, in that order. So I am what you could basically call a mage in this game. And it is quite powerful. I can take out entire squads of enemies by getting them to puke their guts out while being on fire, while I am hiding behind some trash can giggling. It's a fun concept and I know there are a dozen other ways you could handle a fight, but like I said you never feel like it's necessary anyway. I would've liked to be better at sneaking, but have yet to feel like the game is actually well designed towards this game style. Often I find some interesting alternate route after I've murdered everyone in a building already, and that is not for lacking of trying beforehand. 

Combat in some ways epitomizes what I might think is the main issue with Cyberpunk 2077, it is trying to bite off so very much that only some very core concepts work ok and when they try to come together they just don't. The world aesthetics are great, but characters are not. Combat skills are great, but combat is not. For everything cool about it there is still something empty and tedious in every smile I see and every gun shot I fire.

And yet there are a lot of things to like about Cyberpunk 2077. It's not a bad game, and yet it is. I really can't wrap my brain around exactly what my problem with it is, it's like a nice looking pair of trousers that are slightly uncomfortable. I still intend and want to see the story through, so I don't feel like I am done with it yet. But I really doubt this game will manage to get 120+ hours out of me like The Witcher 3 did, with ease. But you never know.

And also I still really can't stand the voice acting for female V.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Welcome, Tank Shaman!

There was no reason to hesitate and I don't know why I ever did, but now it is here - my very own tank shaman.

If you read my previous post on the subject, I debated whether to reroll an entirely new shaman or just respec the one I had. In the end I opted for the latter, because the prospect of having to redo the totem quests really didn't entice me, also it would've taken a lot longer to get into the real action of tanking with a new character anyway.

Things get trickier if your enemy is resistant to nature damage though.

Respecing my resto shaman into enhancement and gearing her, as much as I could, cost me about 15g. It might sound as little, but it's really not. It's worth every penny though. I wasn't lucky enough to find decent, or decently priced, gear at the Auction House for every gear slot immediately though and had to run with some caster gear. I figured it wasn't too bad since the intellect and stamina on those gear pieces would be handy on a tank as well. Fortunately I ran with few spirit items, for some reason.

My first ever dungeon as a tank shaman was a real trial by fire too - Gnomeregan. Definitely not a good starting dungeon for someone who has never tanked before, but I have, just never as a shaman. How hard can it be, I thought?

Not overly, it turns out. Tank shaman is pretty much exactly what I expected it to be. Really fun! So to elaborate on that thought, how is it going?

As always you need be smart with your totem placements.

Well firstly I really expected there to be a lot more questions, or should I say hesitations, about being tanked by a shaman. But after having tanked 5-6 dungeons I have not heard one peep of doubt as to whether I can pull it off. I guess it helps that I am in my mid-30s, and dungeons still allow you to get away with most things. It probably also helps that tanks are damn scarce, and "tanking" means less of "being the one who takes all the damage" and more of "being the one who takes charge". In fact I always find it interesting when people will ask for a tank for an hour and then still do all the pulling (dps warriors, I am looking at you).

As a tank there are a couple of scenarios you need to handle in an instance, stuff that requires you to keep aggro on one or more targets, interrupt, get ranged threat and of course take a lot of damage. Warrior tanks are usually the prototype around which the other tank-able classes have been designed, or so I like to think, and a tank warrior in Classic has no ranged or aoe threat (I don't really count Demo Shout). What it does have is good single target aggro and damage reduction skills. Tanking 1-3 mobs is usually still not an issue as a warrior as long as you keep retargeting and dishing out your threat fairly evenly. So how does the tank shaman differ?

Well the tank shaman has excellent ranged threat and decent aoe threat. With Chain Lighting you can do a ranged-aoe threat pull which is so handy in low level instances. Earth Shock not only works as a high threat skill, but also as an interrupt with only 6 sec cd. As a shaman you don't have a taunt, but that is very rarely an issue in low level dungeons (I can't say for higher dungeons yet). It only actually becomes problematic if you lose aggro on a boss and that probably only happens if you're unlucky with some resists and misses. 

I can't say for sure if my shaman takes more damage than a "regular" tank.

The tank shaman also lacks any kind of decent damage reduction skills. Improved Stoneskin totem should only really be considered as making up for the lack in armor, but the warrior has both Last Stand (talent) or Shield Wall (skill), which can make a huge difference when shit hits the fan and you overpull. While I've never heard a healer complain, I do find that I miss these skills on my shaman (paladins have things like Lay on Hands. As far as I know druids also lack tanking cooldowns which for some time was considered one of their greatest weaknesses if I recall correctly). 

Totems are also definitely a lot less convenient than shouts or auras. An aura goes along with you, doesn't have to be recast and can't be targeted and destroyed by enemies. On the other hand a paladin/warrior only has the one buff, whereas the shaman can use four different ones at once. As a shaman you have a huge arsenal of really useful totems i.e buffs to drop in very varying situations, things like Tremor Totem, Earthbind Totem or Stoneclaw Totem (which I often use to aid me in multi-pulls). In the end I think the trade-off is pretty balanced, though Stoneskin Totem usually is the only one I use for every fight for mana preserving reasons. And on that note...

Just as with paladins, tanking shamans have one feature that is both one of the best things and the worst things about it - the mana pool. It is easy to burn through in one fight, requiring you to drink often, but I find that you get a feeling for how many Earth Shocks you need to use on an enemy to have it securely at your side. While you could burn five into its face, it's probably enough with two. And maybe not every group-pull needs to be done with a Chain Lightning, just because it is handy. If there are only two targets, a regular pull will probably work just as well and save you a lot of mana. I almost never use Lightning Shield, because it's too expensive. With some mana management I find I don't have to drink more than between every 4-5 pulls, but that is still a lot of drinking. Whether you prefer to have all your threat skills available up-front or have to work it up like warriors and druids do is probably a matter of taste. I do find though that with a good group I can do one long continuous pull through an instance as a warrior, and that would never be possible as a shaman.

Earth Shock is very handy as a tanking skill.

Throughout the handful of instance I've had time to do so far on my shaman it has been a delight though. I have definitely not struggled more than I have with other tank classes, just with different things. And I think that's a great thing. Shaman tanking and warrior tanking are different enough to be quite their own experience. While the essence of pulling and handling mobs is the same, the way you can go about it differs a lot. Which one is easier? I would definitely have to say shaman. Rage management is not for the faint of hearted, and the fact of having all your threat skills available on pull, with good interruptability and ranged threat just makes a lot of the things I think a newbie tank would struggle with a lot easier. Which is more fun? Right now I am enjoying both equally because they are different enough. I've personally always had a soft heart for warrior tanking though, so I doubt shaman tanking will knock it down, but as a kind of odd alternative it is great.

At level 40 I get Stormstrike and I am really looking forward to see how that is going to change my tanking experience, the same way I feel Shield Slam has improved my tanking experience on my warrior. It will change the way I go about it though, since now I pull with an Earth Shock, but with Stormstrike I will want to get that in first (for the damage bonus), meaning my pulls will presumably become more like on my warrior. Changing gear to mail and getting to some more challenging instances will also be interesting, though I did have a shaman tank me in Sunken Temple the other day without any trouble. I am sure it'll be fine.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Rise of the Tank Shaman?

Shaman tanking in WoW is something I have been pondering many times over the years. I wrote about it in my post on "Top 5 Class Roles That Nearly Existed" 9,5 years ago and even wrote a guide on how to play one 11 years ago. For whatever reason though I never got around to, you know, actually play one myself. Was I too chicken? Did I not believe in the concept myself? I'm not sure, but I think the simple answer is that I didn't actually play any tank class back in Vanilla, let alone a half-viable one, and once I got around to loving tanking, shaman tanking wasn't actually a thing anymore. I just missed the window of opportunity the last time around.

If you need any convincing or proof that Blizzard actually thought about this as a possibility, just read any or both of the above posts. Too lazy? Well to quote myself (hey I can be lazy too);

"Shamans actually have a taunt. They have a totem that does nothing but tank. Enhancement shamans prefer two one handers, but can wield shields if they want to, and enhancement shamans used to have a talent that gave them parry and a talent called Shield Specialization which increased their block chance by up to 5%. They have a skill that reduces damage done to them by 30%. And they have a weapon buff that increases their threat by 30% and reduces their damage taken by 5%. Need more proof?"

I have been playing WoW Classic for 1,5 year now though and still no tanking shaman in my roster, what gives! I know, this time I can only blame good old faulty memory. I had completely forgotten these were a thing! Until I stumbled across one, which in fact I have never done in the wild before.

Maybe something like this?

I saw someone looking for a group to some low-level instance, calling themselves a tank. I noticed that their name alluded to being a shaman and a flickering light of an old memory shone up in my brain. It couldn't be? But it was, a real, in the flesh (well not really, but you know what I mean) tanking shaman. I immediately whispered them, asking for details on usefulness and especially how skeptical potential group members were about having a shaman tanking them. According to them, there wasn't really an issue.

This shaman was in their mid-20s, so hadn't really been at it long. Back in the day I mused that tanking as a shaman was only really viable up until level 40. But with how Classic WoW has turned out to be more lenient and easier than Vanilla WoW, and even "real" tanks can play as dps-specs and with dps gear up until 60 without any issues, I think shaman tanking could actually work all the way til end game. Maybe Blizzard wanted it to be an option to sort of bolster out the mid-level availability of tanks? Who knows, either way my fire was re-kindled.

I immediately started making plans for actually creating a tank shaman. Time is dire though, rumour has it that BC is on its way and while I am intensely hype for it, it would also kill my beloved tank shaman once again, just like it did all those years ago. EDIT: I was actually thinking of Wotlk so guess I still have some time.

The only thing keeping me from rolling a tank shaman this time around is having to do those pesky totem quests again. Some are not so bad, but some are horrendous. Thing is, I already have a shaman at level 35 who has done all the annoying totem quests, but she is resto specced. But I mean, all that is required is throwing some money at her and she would be set, right? I haven't decided just yet but I am very tempted... Maybe soon I can finally play my beloved tank shaman.