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Practical ArmorLately I’ve been on a real roller-coaster ride when it comes to Skyforge. I went from not having any idea what it was, to trying it and loving it, to hating it. That took about a week, so my typical timeline!

Tonight I started loving it again. Let’s take a closer look at this affection curve and see what else was going on.

When I was initially loving Skyforge, I had no real idea what I was doing. I was learning the systems (it can be a confusing game) and sharing with my friends as we all figured things out. Everything was good.

Then the game hit a kind of critical mass in my social circles. Everyone was playing it, including my more hardcore friends. They started commenting on how easy Skyforge was (missions are ranked from Very Easy to Impossible and people were saying even the Impossible missions were quite easy), and how quickly you can rise in Prestige (the closest thing the game has to levels) and that got me to examining my own progress. And I wasn’t going very fast. So I started pushing myself. Instead of doing what seemed fun, I was doing what seemed like the most efficient way to gain Prestige. That included taking on Impossible missions, and failing miserably. Then trying Very Hard missions and still failing miserably. And Hard missions? Yup, managed to fail some of those as well.

Now here’s the thing with Skyforge. The combat is action-based. Playing a class well is going to take both know-how of how the class works, and good dexterity when it comes to dodging and stringing together combos. Enemies don’t have a level and neither do you. If you were playing World of Warcraft and you were level 20 and you tried to take on a level 25 named mob and failed, you’d say “Well, it IS 5 levels higher than me…maybe I should level up more before I try it again.” But in Skyforge when you die you don’t have that concrete indicator of your level vs the mob’s level. So you have to figure out what’s wrong. Is the mob just too hard for your character, or do you need to play your character better?

Since it’s not always clear which case you’re dealing with, you fight a boss, die, and try again. And die again. And try a third time, and die a third time. Depending on the kind of gamer you are, this might be really fun, or really frustrating. For me its really frustrating and I’ve rage-quit Skyforge a couple times in the last few days. (It doesn’t help that some of these boss fights can go on for a long time before you die and have to start all over again.)

I was about ready to quit Skyforge, but I’d spent $20 on a month of Premium Time and a sackful of RMT currency. Plus when the game was fun it was REALLY fun.

Today I said “To hell with it.” and abandoned the class I’d been working on (you only get 1 character in Skyforge but you can change classes at will) and start up a different class. I knew this would slow my advancing way down but whatever…I needed a change. Since I didn’t know how to play this class I took on really easy missions. Like “1 shot groups of mobs” easy. But y’know it was kindof fun. I learned a little bit about the class and moved to a higher difficulty area, and it was still fun. I decided to not worry about the “Story Quests” that push your progress forward the quickest, and instead do what was fun.

And I had a ball tonight. I stopped doing the single player missions (which get dead tedious after a few run-throughs) and revisited the “Regions” which are the parts of Skyforge where you’ll encounter other players in open field PvE battles. You don’t need to group to play with other players in Skyforge (though you can). Everyone that gets a hit on a mob gets credit, so groups organically form and disperse around mini-boss mobs and other more difficult content. (Hey that sounds a bit like Destiny!) This is RIGHT in my wheelhouse and my new class has the ability to buff and protect friendlies so I found myself doing some of that as well as fighting. It was a real fun night in-game tonight.

All of which is a long-winded way of me reminding myself, and maybe you, that we shouldn’t let other players dictate how we play a game. If trying to keep up with, or match the accomplishments of, friends makes the game less fun, just let them go and do their thing. If you want to get better then yes, certainly work at it, but give yourself time to build skills and don’t push yourself to where you’re starting to hate a game that you used to enjoy.

I’m glad I remembered this obvious truth before I’d given up on Skyforge altogether. Also, the game is pretty good and F2P. You should check it out! :)

After a certain point, your followers will erect a statue in your likeness.

After a certain points, your followers will erect a statue in your likeness.

results_cardOK I’m going to ask you to take quite a leap with me today.

I read Bhagpuss’ excellent post, Alone Together Or this morning. I don’t know Bhagpuss beyond brushing shoulders in the odd comment thread now and again, but man did this post resonate with me. The basic premise is that multiplayer gaming has changed since the days when it was something new and fresh. That’s the thinnest scratch of the surface of the post because you should really go read the whole thing. But the point is it got me thinking about multiplayer and social and how I never reach out to other players any more.

Read on and I may be able to tie this all together.

So I played a lot of Destiny when it first came out then one day I stopped in that way I do. On Tuesday a game is consuming my every waking thought then Wednesday I find myself totally uninterested in playing it. Lately I’ve gone back to Destiny for a variety of reasons that are of no consequence.

What is of consequence is that I’m really enjoying myself again. There are a LOT of Destiny haters out there and y’know, many of their points are totally valid. It is grindy and repetitive and what lore there is tends to be found on the bungie.net website instead of in the game. My biggest beef was the leveling structure past 20 where instead of gaining experience you had to level via loot, which involved (at the time anyway) typical loot slot machine dances with the RNG.

Anyway what does Destiny have to do with Bhagpuss’s post? The post made me think of playing together alone. One thing I like about Destiny is that it has ‘grouping’ (not in a game mechanics sense, though it has that too, but today I’m talking about grouping via circumstances) with basically no communication possibilities. A lot of people HATE it for that, but y’know I’m a grouchy old fuck who generally doesn’t like talking to people. In Destiny I can’t talk to them (at least not without jumping through some hoops), but I can and do work with them.

Last night I was puttering around in the Cosmodrome. I was on a level 15 character. There were a few single-digit level guys running around, and 1 or 2 level 30+ types. At times this felt a little frustrating because it was hard to get kills, but then (via happy coincidence or the game’s “Director” system kicking in) we were swarmed with bad guys. Suddenly we were all working together to cut down these invaders. The single digit guys got overwhelmed and died, and I did my part to swoop in and revive them. The level 30’s were kind enough to make themselves targets and they soaked up a lot of incoming damage. We all worked together (apart) and got the job done and it was so much damned fun. One of those ‘magic moments’ we all chase.

In my mind, these 4 or 5 people were my temporary friends. They were all reasonable, decent people who were having as much fun as I was. But in truth? Who knows? One of them might’ve been hurling insults at the rest of us. He or she might’ve been a racist or a homophobe or just a huge epeen cursing everytime someone else did something that was wrong in his or her eyes. In fact my experience suggests that in any group of 5 or 6 random people at least one of them is a complete dick.

But not last night. Last night, in my game of Destiny, there were all awesome human beings and I had a ton of fun playing with them.

And that’s why I love Destiny. This week.

Mon_Jul_6_23-02-34_EDT_2015

I’ve been poking at Call of Duty: Ghosts lately. It’s way outside of my ‘normal’ genre but a while back I took advantage of a $20 deal on it (back when it was still generally going for full price), installed it but hardly played. Y’know, so typical me.

With E3 going on I was looking for something I could jump into and get a quick gaming fix between events so I semi-randomly picked COD:Ghosts.

I’m enjoying the experience. And I chose the word ‘experience’ very deliberately because I’m playing on such an easy difficulty level that it’s not really much of a game. But the spectacle that they put together for the single player campaign is just stupid fun. It’s kind of like an interactive blockbuster action movie I guess.

I’m at a part now where I’m Logan and I’m part of a team (I can’t even remember how the game began… I played the start months ago) but I’m not in charge. So I kind of follow my team around and when team leader says “Logan, do blah blah blah” I look for whatever I can interact with and interact with it. If it wasn’t for the other team members I’d normally have no clue what I’m supposed to be doing, so thanks AI pals!

I had one neat moment today though. We were supposed to be taking out everyone at a checkpoint. “Logan, take the guy in the tower.” says the boss. I aim my gun at the tower but there are 3 dudes. I’m trying to figure out which one I’m supposed to shoot when bossman says “No, the other tower. The tall one to your right.” I pan over and there’s a much taller tower with a lone lookout. I take him out.

And I find myself wondering why we can’t have more experiences like that in games. I mean clearly this was scripted but whomever did the scripting anticipated that I might aim at the wrong tower and put in code to cover that possibility. And maybe that’s why we don’t see more of it, I suppose: a) the conditions have to be right for you to make an obvious, correctable mistake and b) it’s a lot of expense in terms of scripting time to cover the possibility of a mistake.

But in the old days when devs didn’t focus primarily on multiplayer and/or single character single player games, we use to daydream about AI improving and this moment was the kind of thing I hoped to see some day. I mean back then having NPC buddies was the norm, not the exception. And back then computer scientists were a lot more optimistic about how quickly AI would advance.

Anyway, tangent.

The point of this post is to tell you non-shooter fans that if you want some over the top fun and can get a copy of Call of Duty Ghosts cheap, pick it up, set the difficulty all the way down and enjoy the explosions and the spectacle. Our last mission ended when our evac arrived in the form of a submarine breaking through the ice we were driving across in a Jeep. The driver (not me) put the jeep into a powerslide and it went up a broken sheet of ice and came to a stop teetering on the deck of the sub.

Stupid fun stuff.

A few weeks ago I saw a post on the Playstation blog about Wander, a new MMO coming to the PS4 and PC. It’s hook was that it had no combat, which sounded interesting. I decided to give it a try on the PS4 when it came out last Thursday.

HUGE MISTAKE.

TL;DR version of this post: Wander DOES NOT WORK. It is not glitchy or rough. It does not function. DO NOT BUY THIS GAME.

Longer version.

The first time I started Wander I stared at a loading screen for about a minute, then the game world appeared, I heard a voice-over start, and the game crashed. I’d estimate it ran for 8-10 seconds (past the loading screen) before crashing the first time.

I started it up again and found myself in a new location with no voice over and no idea what I was supposed to be doing. I later found out that when you crash and reload, the game apparently assigns you some other player’s game state! The voice-over I’d heard was a sort of introduction/tutorial telling me what I was supposed to be doing but due to the crash I skipped that. And since it was an MMO I couldn’t restart.

An MMO where there’s no way to communicate with other players or customize your avatar in any way, but that’s the least of its problems.

Over the next 40 minutes or so the game crashed 5 times.

When it wasn’t crashing I found these runestones that prompted me to draw a glyph and then speak a word. It seemed like I was supposed to draw the glyph on the PS4 controller’s touchpad, then do a 2-finger tap to ‘speak’ but I never got it to work. Or maybe I did once. One time I did something and then this random word was spoken over and over (with no input from me) until the next crash.

There were other runestones that played an audio clip and those, at least, worked.

And that was the grand totality of interactions in the game.

When the game wasn’t crashing, my character was running into invisible walls, or clipping through walls, or floating above the ground, or moonwalking, or any of a number of other wonky behaviors. Meanwhile there was crazy pop-in of textures and objects.

But here’s the thing with Wander. Say the devs put out a miracle patch and fix all these issues.

It’s still crap because there is no game here.

Imagine starting with an MMO like WoW. Then remove the combat, the crafting, the mobs, all ways of communicating with other players, and all character customization. Then homogenize the world so it all looks like Stranglethorn and remove any of the interesting set-pieces that you sometimes find in WoW. That’s Wander.

But the music in it is pretty good, so there’s that.

When they said it was a non-combat MMO I assumed, stupidly, that they would add something as an alternate to combat. But they didn’t. Well there are these non-functioning runestones that might do something but I don’t know what it could be. The purpose of Wander seems to be to, well, wander and look at terrain that quickly becomes repetitive.

Wander is a horribly broken game that, if fixed, will just be a horrible game. Avoid at all costs.

And SHAME on Sony for making this available in the Playstation Store. Talk about a loss of trust. From here on out I’ll have to assume that every game is horribly broken until I see confirmation from other players that it is not. Sony’s certification process is clearly pointless and useless.

If you think I’m just whining about Wander, here’re some links to show it isn’t just me:
http://www.destructoid.com/wander-on-ps4-and-pc-is-horribly-broken-293418.phtml
http://kotaku.com/ps4-mmo-is-so-glitchy-it-has-a-special-command-for-whe-1709363208
http://www.gamefaqs.com/boards/891987-wander

Here’re a few clips I made. I didn’t get many because the game was always crashing on me. In these clips you’ll see my character run, slowdown, stop, walk, run… you have to understand that I am not doing that. I’m trying to run the whole time. I assume she walks because there’s a hidden stamina feature but I don’t know why she stops. When I’m staring at a rune stone it’s because I’m trying to interact with it. The 5 minute clip is boring because there is no game to show. What you see is that the game is. The shorter clips just show off some glitches. They were both captured after the one time I got a runestone to work and you’ll hear a voice saying something like “ahn-may” over and over again. I’m not doing anything to cause that… it happened until the game crashed again.

Fun fact: I have never quit Wander voluntarily. Every ‘session’ has ended with a crash.

This has probably always been true but I just really noticed it for the first time.

A couple months back there was a Star Wars Celebration weekend, where they showed off trailers for the new movie and teased the upcoming game. That put us in a Star Wars mood and over the next month or so Angela and I watched all six Star Wars movies, and I started reading Star Wars comics via Marvel Unlimited. It only made sense that I should go back to playing Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I couldn’t have been happier logging in every night and enjoying the pew-pew of blaster fire and that seductive electronic hum of lightsabers clashing.

Then we ran out of movies to watch, I got tired of the comics and something distracted me (I find inertia is a huge motivator for me in MMOs; when I play regularly I keep playing but if something causes me to take a break it’s easy to drift away) and now I don’t find myself too inclined to log into SWTOR.

At about the same time the new season of Game of Thrones hit HBO and, having set aside comic reading, I went back to working my way slowly through the novels. So instead of a galaxy far, far away I was spending my media time in a pseudo-medieval world. And as it happened, circumstances caused me to log into The Elder Scrolls Online. I wasn’t intending to really play it, but I’d taken advantage of a $20 pre-order of the upcoming PS4 version, and I knew they were going to ‘clone’ our PC accounts onto the console accounts, so I logged in to do some housekeeping and get things orderly for when that happened. (I deleted some lowbie alts, cleared out my bank a bit, and things like that.)

But now I find myself logging in almost every night. I don’t even really do a lot (I’m kind of trying to keep the game ‘fresh’ for the console launch). I’ve been working on crafting writs and slowly working an alt through Betnikh. I do some fishing. Read books and talk to NPCs. But I just find it fun to kind of be in a world that is somewhat similar to that of Game of Thrones.

One of the things I’ve always really liked about The Elder Scrolls Online is that, like me, it doesn’t have much of a sense of humor. Or at least, it isn’t silly. It’s a fairly somber world in a lot of ways. And I think it’s safe to say the same about the Westeros. Not a lot of silly things going on there. I think that’s why out of all the pseudo-medieval MMOs out there, ESO is scratching this Game of Thrones-induced itch of mine.

I’m guessing next fall when the new Star Wars movie comes out, I’ll find myself back in SWTOR, though.

White Orchard
I was looking forward to The Witcher III for a long time, but I’ve learned my lesson, or so I thought. I refused to pre-order the game until reviews hit. When they did they were almost universally positive so I opted to pre-order the digital version so that I could get started early and save 10%.

It took me all of 10 minutes of playing before I noticed a terrible problem with the console version of the game: the text was too small. I thought at first it was just me because my eyes are old and tired and poor (just like the rest of me) but I quickly saw the same complaint from many places on the Internet. (It might not seem too small from these screenshots unless you’re reading this blog on your TV screen 10′ away from where you’re sitting.)

Main MenuNot a single review that I read mentioned issues with text size, though a few did (rightfully) criticize the clunkiness of the UI. And that is the last time I rely on reviews from gaming sites.

There’s a patch coming to the PS4; I guess it’s already out in Europe. It increases the size of the loot pop-up windows which were certainly the place where the ‘small text’ issue was felt most and I’m hoping it helps, but I still am waiting for a more general way to increase text size.

I love so much about the game but every time I play I get an eye-strain headache after 30 minutes or so. It’s just not worth the cost to try to play. At least on the PS4 there’s a built-in screen zoom and that helps but it’s really tedious. Open Inventory, pick an item, Screen Zoom and pan around to check it’s stats, exit screen zoom, pick the next item, Screen Zoom and pan to check stats, etc, etc.

Mind you there are other issues too. The UI in general isn’t very well thought out. For example your gear wears down and has to be repaired. But when you visit a vendor to do those repairs, the UI lists all your gear with no indication of the pieces you’ve actually got equipped. So if you have 6 longswords in your inventory with similar names and stats, but one has stats a tad better so you’re using that one, when you go to get repairs done you have to first examine your character sheet, make a note of the name and stats of the sword you’re wielding, then talk to the vendor and open his repair panel and find that sword and repair it.

And as things stand now, each bit of this process might require a screen zoom.

Main MenuSadly I’ve set The Witcher III aside for now and I fear that by the time they patch out these issues I’ll be involved in something new. I’m kind of disappointed in CD Projekt RED (particularly after I learned that they had the same issue in The Witcher II) but I’m really mad at every reviewer that covered the console version of the game and didn’t make note of the text size issue (and many of these same sites have since run posts about the issue).

It just seems like such a trivial thing to let slip through and mar an otherwise amazing game. It’s a damned shame.

May 13th, 2015 is the 13th anniversary of me starting this blog. Very meta, no? While for the past few years this has been a blog devoted to videogames, you can probably tell from my lack of posts that my enthusiasm for talking about games is waning.

In ye olden days I talked about all kinds of random stuff. TV, books, eating healthy…whatever random thing crossed my mind. And I think it’s time to go back to that. The alternative I guess is just closing down the blog but it seems unlucky to shut it down in its 13th year.

The fact is I just think the gaming community has worn me down. I still like to play games, but too often talking about them leads to arguing about them and that just leaves me feeling bitter and tired. For years now I’ve self-identified as a Gamer who blogged about games and filled his social media friends lists with other people who self identify as Gamers.

But man it’s getting ugly out there.

For the last few months I’ve been removing more and more “gamers” from my social media lists and replacing them with scientists, programmers or in some cases even brands I’m interested in. This has made social media a more passive activity for me, but more enlightening and less frustrating overall. And less time consuming. The other day I got into an argument on social media over the tag line on a can of beer, for god’s sake. Life is too short for that kind of nonsense. I just felt so stupid afterwards; I’d wasted my time and the time of the other people involved in the ‘discussion.’ On the other hand, the next day a cosmologist favorited a tweet of mine and I felt oddly proud of that. LOL.

And while I just said I still like to play games, I don’t think I’m satisfied with just playing games. I’ve been working two jobs for years now and that doesn’t leave a lot of free time, but what time I have I’ve devoted to gaming and just gaming and I’m starting to feel very static because of that. I don’t spend time learning new things anymore and I feel like that is making me stupid.

So my resolution now is to balance gaming with other interests and try to expand my horizons. I’m not even sure what that means in practical terms. I just know I really feel the urge to use my brain for a change. If I come up with any interesting projects maybe I’ll write about them here. And I hope eventually my enthusiasm for games comes back enough that I come up with a post or two about them, too. I’m pinning a lot of my gaming hopes on The Witcher III right now.

But if you have Dragonchasers in a blogroll or have this blog in your RSS reader (hey, I thought I was the last one using an RSS reader!) under the category ‘games’ it might be time to cut me loose and replace me with someone who is more focused on gaming. Life is change and change is life, right? Time to try something new.

paragon_achievementNeverwinter launched on the Xbox One on March 31st and I’ve been playing it ever since, at my usual casual pace. My character is level 31 at the moment, and I’ve generally been enjoying myself except for one thing: the constant exposure to gambling systems.

Neverwinter is free to play and the company takes every opportunity to try to squeeze a few more bucks out of you. And I get it, to a certain extent. They need to keep the cash rolling in. But even once you get past that it’s all about gambling for things you need or want.

For example, in my 2 weeks and 31 levels of playing I’ve accumulated about 60 of the Enchanted LockBox things. To open these requires a key that sells for 125 Zen. A Zen is worth a penny if you buy normal quantities (when you start buying in chunks of $50 and above you get some bonus Zen). So $1.25/lockbox. It’d cost me $75 to buy Zen to open these boxes. And that’s from a mere two weeks worth of playing. I did open 3 or 4 of them and never got anything the least bit exciting so at this point they just feel like a ‘nag’ from the developers. And you get them ALL the time. Last night I played for like 20 minutes before dinner and picked up half a dozen more. Three in a single trash-mob battle!

But OK let’s just agree to ignore these things. Then there’re the loot chests that you buy with coins you earn from ‘praying’ every day. I’ve opened three of these so far. (I have a 2nd character who is just high enough level to ‘pray’.) Every time I got “junk” (not my description, the game actually said I had rewards of junk quality). So that’s frustrating too. I make a point to log in every day even if I’m not going to have time to play and my reward is literally junk. So let’s ignore those too.

Then there’s enchanting. As you play your character will be standing in a virtual rain of little enchantment gems. In an hour your inventory will be full of enchantment baubles (unless you spent Zen on upgrading your inventory space, of course!) You’ll want to combine these to make an enchantment worth using. As you smoosh them together they get to a point where they’re ready to be upgraded. In order to upgrade you need a reagant that can (as far as I can find) only be purchased with Astral Diamonds. Astral Diamonds are the quasi-real-money currency in Neverwinter. There’s a brokerage where you can exchange Astral Diamonds for Zen and vice versa.

Now admittedly an Astral Diamond isn’t worth much. Currently on the Xbox 150 Astral Diamonds will buy you 1 Zen, and we’ve established that 1 Zen = 1 cent so… But anyway back to enchanting. So you buy these Reagants to upgrade your enchantment and you then have a CHANCE for the upgrade to work. If it fails you lose your reagants and have to buy more. There are ‘wards’ you can use to preserve your reagants but I’m not sure where they come from. Suffice to say I have none. So spend 1000 Astral Diamonds (about 6.66 cents at current exchange rates) and you try to upgrade and it fails. So you buy more reagants and it fails again. And you try a third dime and success! But it’s cost you 13 cents to upgrade this one enchantment. Every piece of armor you own has an enchantment slot and your companions have several. It adds up… I mean it’s never going to be an onerous amount of money (and you can earn Astral Diamonds by doing daily chores pretty easily) but it’s just one more way you feel like you’re literally being nickel-ed and dime-ed by the game. Can we afford to ignore enchanting?

But the last straw for me was a limited time event that went live yesterday. It’s called the Challenge of the Gods and the way it works is that just about every mob will drop a little challenge icon if you’re not already in the midst of a challenge. Challenges are all short term 3-5 minutes tasks (the one exception is a 20 minute crafting challenge) and you have to do things like kill enemies without using a sub-set of your skills, or kill 5 “powerful” enemies in 5 minutes. Stuff like that. If you succeed what do you get? A Gift From the Gods which is another slot-machine item. You might get something good, you might get crap. And surprise, all I’ve gotten is crap. Though you do get enchantments and stuff that bring you closer to spending more Astral Diamonds on reagants.

A side effect of these challenges is the game now feels completely frantic. As soon as you finish one, the next mob you kill will drop another so you’re always doing a challenge. If you stop to read quest text or check out some lore you uncovered you’re going to fail the challenge by running out of time. Of course we don’t HAVE to undertake these challenges, so let’s ignore them along with enchanting, daily login rewards and enchanted lockboxes.

So listen, if you’re a laid back player who is good at just dipping in and taking what is interesting to you and ignoring the rest, none of this is going to bother you much. But if you have the slightest hint of OCD or the completionist gene (which I do), having all this stuff pop up in your face and choosing to ignore it starts to really wear you down. And choosing to not ignore it and then being disappointed when the RNG gods don’t favor you (and let’s face it, Neverwinter is a casino and the house always wins) isn’t a good feeling either.

I’d be so much happier to just pay Perfect World $15/month and be able to play a game without all these gambling systems being thrust in my face all the time. (I do like a little gambling here and there, but I also like knowing that working hard towards a goal will get you closer to that goal, not a random chance of obtaining that goal.) I love playing an MMO on the console so I’ll probably keep poking at Neverwinter while grinding my teeth at these systems, but I’m really hoping The Elder Scrolls Online feels more like a game and less like a casino when it hits console. If it does, I’ll be leaving Neverwinter behind and heading for Tamriel. (If FF XIV didn’t mix PC and console players together I might go back to that, but knowing I’m playing with a controller in a group where everyone else is using a keyboard and mouse makes me feel like the weak link, unfortunately.)

charthraxis

If you’re reading this blog I’m sure you know everything that’s been going on with SOE, but just in case, here’s a recap.

Sony, SOE’s parent company, has been losing money in a big way. As it struggles to recover it’s been spinning off and selling parts of itself. Last May as part of its annual financial report, Sony shared that its gaming division lost $78 million in the prior year. $60 million of that loss was a write-off due to poor sales at SOE. While we don’t have the figures from this year, it’s hard to imagine things have changed much since SOE launched no new titles (unless you count Early Access to H1Z1) since then.

A few weeks ago SOE was sold off to investment firm Columbus Nova and was renamed Daybreak Games. There was a lot of noise about this. I wasn’t as concerned as some; it seemed to me like being sold was better than being shut down, which seemed (from the outside anyway) like a distinct possibility given what SOE was costing Sony. Of course the marketing/PR chatter was about how great this was because it freed up Daybreak to explore more options; for instance they could port their games to the Xbox One.

It only took a week or so for the other shoe to drop. Daybreak announced a major round of layoffs including some very high profile individuals like Dave “Smokejumper” Georgeson and Linda “Brasse” Carlson as well as a bunch of others that I felt like I ‘knew’ from interacting with them on Twitter and other places.

That’s when I flipped the table. How could “they” do this? Dave Georgeson was the heart and soul (in my mind) of the Everquest franchise and dammit I was looking forward to EverQuest Next. And I’ve been dabbling in Landmark for a year now. And now both games are ruined. RUINED I TELL YOU!

I swore never to give Daybreak another nickle. I’d show them that they can’t get away with firing my friends (friends who have no clue who I am).

With many others, I started speculating on what games would be shut down and what games would never see the light of day. Daybreak’s PR department, meanwhile, said nothing was being canceled and everything was business as usual. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I still don’t see how you get rid of a big chunk of staff without also divesting yourself of some of your work, but I guess we’ll see.

Last week Daybreak hosted an episode of Landmark Live, their at-one-time weekly Twitch stream where they talk about what’s going on in the game. I didn’t bother watching because I was FINISHED with Daybreak! But then yesterday I got curious and I watched the archived YouTube version.

My first thought was that it was incredibly sad to see Colette Murphy & Terry Michaels alone on-stage. The ghost of Dave hovered in the background. Colette and Terry kept talking to Emily “Pentapod” Taylor who was off-screen, which we haven’t really seen happen before. You could read a lot into this (and maybe have some or all of it wrong). Murphy had been promoted (I assume?) out of the EverQuest team, and Tiffany “Amnerys” Spence had taken over as Community Manager for Landmark and had been doing Landmark Live, but Spence was one of those let go and now Murphy was back. So she’d escaped the cuts on the condition she accept a demotion, it seems. Taylor, I assume, was taking on the duties of whomever used to be behind the camera and who now was gone. (I’m totally guessing here, but let’s face it pretty much everyone not a part of the company has been speculating like crazy about Daybreak.)

I really wanted to see how they dealt with everything that happened, and at first they really didn’t. Michaels talked about the acquisition but kind of glossed over the layoffs. But later in the stream they came back to what was going on and Murphy, in particular, opened up a bit, talking about how the layoffs impacted existing staff, but how they’re all still determined to create great games (Skip to around the 28:30 minute mark if you’re in a hurry.)

And somewhere in the process of watching this discussion I was finally able to let go of my anger. There are still people working at Daybreak (and they are people that I like, in as much as you can like someone based on their social media comments and such) and I’m going to assume these people still care deeply about the games they’re working on (because I don’t think any sane person would work in the games industry unless they really loved their work). Games are still being worked on. I’m still certain there will be changes. (In fact one big change that we know about is that they’re no longer working with StoryBricks, which seems like a real shame.) Heck who knows what is going to happen in the long run.

But one thing I do know. If I make a deliberate attempt to ‘boycott’ Daybreak’s games, it’s not going to help anything. If it sends a message at all, that message will be “There’s no profit in these games, let’s shut the company down.” and I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that no one who has put a lot of effort into these titles, whether they’re still with the company or not, wants to see all their effort come to naught.

I’m not going all Pollyanna on you. I’m keeping some emotional distance between myself and these games. But I’m back to playing Landmark. I’m going to keep dabbling around in DCUO and I still can’t wait for Planetside 2 to launch on PS4. I’m going to keep playing these games as long as I’m enjoying them and they’re around for me to play. Not playing them just to spite Columbus Nova is going to hurt the remaining staff as much as, if not more than, it hurts CN. Not playing them because I’m not convinced they’re going to stay around is just going to hasten their departure.

I really hope Daybreak is around for a long time to come. And of course I really hope all those impacted by the cuts wind up with new positions that they love (and I’ll be watching their new projects, too). As for me, I’m ready to say farewell to SOE, and give the new, trimmer Daybreak a chance.

I have a soft place in my heart for 1998’s Thief: The Dark Project. It was such a different experience from all the other games we were playing back then. I mean, the idea was to AVOID combat! Remarkable! So when we heard the franchise was being rebooted I got pretty excited, but last winter when the new game arrived I didn’t hear much good about it, so I never played it.

This month Sony gave Playstation Plus subscribers the PS3 version of Thief as a freebie so I finally got my chance to play. And y’know what? I liked it. Last night I finished it (my save game said it took about 20 hours but I’d estimate it was more like 25 given how frequently I died and lost a bit of progress).

Thief is broken up into two basic gameplay areas. First there is an open world (a single city) with side missions to do and random apartments and homes to break into for loot. You’ll be riffling through drawers, picking locks, disabling (or springing if you’re not careful) traps and looking for secret switches hidden on picture frames. Anything to get that loot! There’re a few merchants here and there to sell you the tools of your trade. You can buy different kinds of arrows as well as items that (for example) make you more resilient in combat or totally silent while firing a your bow.

You can play around in the open world as much or as little as you like, but to move the narrative forward you have to do Chapters. Each chapter takes place in a self-contained area, and this is what makes Thief so exciting. Since you can only carry a very limited amount of supplies you have to be judicious in how you use them. There were several times where I beat an encounter (basically I messed up, alerted the guards and had to fight them) but used up so many of my supplies that I reloaded because I was worried I wouldn’t have enough stuff to get through the chapter. You only have a single save slot to use in these chapters so you really have to be careful. While you can scrounge some supplies by searching the environment in chapters, these found resources are few and far between. Some of the longer chapters do have a vendor tucked away, as well.

Garret, the character you play, has a pseudo-magic ability called Focus that gives him special vision that highlights hidden items, and makes him more bad-ass in combat. You can also buy or earn Focus Points that let you beef up abilities like lockpicking or combat skills. Focus depletes as you use it but eating poppies (!?) replenishes it. Health goes down as well and you’ve got food to bring that level back up

So what’s good about Thief? Well the minute-to-minute gameplay still feels like a different experience from most of the games we play. Since you’re playing the titular thief, your strengths lie in sneaking around, not in combat. Each chapter is kind of like a giant puzzle or maze. You know where you have to go (the game always gives you an indicator) but not exactly how to get there. You need to figure out a route based on both architecture and guards. Architecturally there’s lots of climbing over walls and crawling through vents and tunnels. You can deal with the guards either by taking them out of avoiding them.

It’s pretty easy to kill an unsuspecting guard with an arrow through the head, but there are a lot more guards than you have arrows in any given chapter. You can sneak up behind them and take them out with a blackjack too, which is probably how you’ll deal with most of the guards, unless you’re patient and stealthy enough to avoid them altogether. Guards often travel in pairs or remain in the line of sight of other guards, and if a guard sees one of his comrades taken out he’ll immediately come after you, calling for anyone else in the area to come help. If you’re feeling really cocky you can pickpocket the guards and then sneak away.

The environment is awfully good too. The city sits on the precipice of modern times; some houses have electric lights but many places are still lit by torches and candles. You can pinch out candles and quench torches with water arrows to create the darkness you need to get your work done. The city is is bad shape; a disease called The Gloom is taking its toll and you get the feeling the infrastructure is collapsing. The city is ruled by The Baron and angry mobs are starting to form at the start of the game. And there is fog and mist everywhere. You should play Thief in a dark room because it’s very atmospheric.

I have to admit I’d get really pulled into this game when I was downstairs playing alone. Even though it’s not really a horror game I was really scared or creeped out a few times. If I was playing while Angela was in the room chatting with me it didn’t have quite the same hold on me. So yeah, turn out the lights, send the family to bed and let it draw you in. I’d also suggest avoiding marathon Thief sessions since it can start to feel kind of oppressive if you play for too long.

So what’s bad about Thief? Well it feels like it isn’t quite finished. There’re a lot of rough spots. For instance NPCs that roam the city are often heard talking or muttering something, but there’s not nearly enough lines of dialog for them, so you hear them say the same stuff over and over and over again. Sometimes a few of them will be reciting the same complaint about the same thing in chorus. There are non-interactive cut scenes that feel like they replaced some kind of interactive sequence at the last moment. They tend to feel very thrown-together and on the PS3 at least, stutter a lot. (There are other cut-scenes that are much more polished and that seem like they belong.) The sound doesn’t work very well. You should be able to locate someone by listening to their voice but sound seems to travel through walls just as easily as it travels through air.

But the worst thing about Thief is the ending, which I couldn’t make heads or tales of. The background lore of the city is pretty amazing but the actual story being told kind of unravels towards the end and after the closing credits rolled I just scratched my head in bewilderment. There are also big questions that are never answered. For instance near the start of the game Garret loses a year of his life. Where was he? It’s never really explained though there are clues if you search certain areas enough.

There’s also not enough game to support all the character development opportunities. For instance I mentioned you can purchase focus points. I never bothered with that and never felt a need to. Few of the upgrades felt like they were needed, in fact.

And on controversial point. I remember reading a lot of complaints about the behavior of the guards. If they spot you they’ll chase you, but if you find a hiding place they’ll give up and go back to patrolling, telling themselves they must have run you off. They’ll even do this if you just put an arrow through the head of one of their comrades. This certainly isn’t realistic but honestly I thought it was OK since this IS a game after all. If the guards were too determined in finding you most gamers would just load up a saved game when they were spotted. I find it’s actually more fun to find a cabinet or hidey-hole to duck into.

Bottom line, I thought Thief was a good, but certainly not a great, game. I’m glad I played through it. After you complete the story you can continue to play in the open world part, or even replay chapters to try to beat challenges the game sets out for you. I didn’t like it enough to do any of that. Definitely a one and done game for me. But I liked it enough that if they ever do a sequel I’ll give it a chance.

You can get Thief pretty cheap now. If we were back in the launch window and it was $60 I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you can catch it on sale for $20 or so I think it’s worth playing. And if you still have your PS3 and a PS+ subscription it’s DEFINITELY worth downloading and playing for free.