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My Assassin’s Creed obsession continues; I finally finished AC3. This is the Revolutionary War game that most folks didn’t seem to like very much. I played the Xbox 360 version via backwards compatibility on the Xbox One and it was a little glitchy. I’m not sure if that was due to the game itself or the backwards compatibility factor.

Still, I enjoyed it. You might hear people complain about the game having a 5 hour tutorial or some such madness. It’s not true but it does have an odd structure. The main character is Conner in this one (outside the animus it’s still Desmond) but for the first few hours you play as another character. It’s not tutorial but nor is it as open as most AC games. Still I thought it set things up nicely and I didn’t mind it at all.

Assassin’s Creed III

Conner ends up being a Forrest Gump-like character for the middle of the game. He’s defending the colonists as they dump tea in Boston Harbor, he’s riding through the night with Paul Revere, he’s at Bunker Hill. I loved these bits. In fact I loved the setting of this game. I have to admit I didn’t love Conner himself. He’s kind of a tragic figure; he’s been raised as Native American (his mother was Native American, his father was British) and he’s trying to protect his people, but he’s also helping the colonists drive out the British. We of course know that things won’t end well for his people but even now I’m not sure he was fighting on the right side. My issue with him was that he always seemed naive and/or pig-headed. He never stopped to question the motives of the colonists, and he’d barge into ridiculous situations and get himself captured.

Conner and George Washington chewing the fat (AC3)

Gamewise my only real gripe was the progression thing I was talking about when discussing Breath of the Wild the other day. It’s an AC game so your character doesn’t level up or anything, but he never really geared up either. There’re some interesting side-systems like producing goods and selling them via convoys, and there are naval missions and missions to improve your “Homestead” but in the end the income you made from all of this was kind of pointless since there wasn’t much to buy. I upgraded Conner’s sword once, and crafted a 2nd pistol holster and that was about it.

Assassin’s Creed III

Outside the animus, this is the end of an arc. The assassins have been trying to stop the calamity that was going to purge the earth for the second time (in December 2012…remember when that was a thing) and they succeeded, but not without paying a heavy price. We actually learn a lot about Those Who Came Before in this game, or at least a lot about what happened to them.

You might think after playing 4 Assassin’s Creed games in a row (AC2, AC Brotherhood, AC Revelations, AC III) I might have had enough. I thought I’d had enough. Every time I get close to the end of one of these games I think “Whew, finally done with AC for a while.” but then the endings always hook me. Same thing here. I rolled right into Assassin’s Creed Rogue.

Assassin’s Creed Rogue

And OMG I’m glad I did. So far Rogue is VERY similar to Black Flag in a lot of ways, and I loved Black Flag. Rather than playing a pirate you’re in the North Atlantic, prior to the Revolutionary War. In fact AC3, AC Black Flag and AC Rogue weave together really nicely. Your home base (at least early on) is the Davenport Homestead…which was the Homestead you had to rebuild in AC 3. Achilles, the old man who is your mentor in AC 3, is your mentor here too, but he’s a young man and his wife and son are still alive at the start of the game. Early on Adéwalé, who was Kenway’s quartermaster in Black Flag, comes to visit. He’s older; this takes place after AC 4 and after the Adéwalé side-story game.

So putting the pieces togeher, Rogue ties together Black Flag and AC III chronologically. Oh and it also tells us what we heavily suspected: that Conner in AC 3 is Edward Kenway’s (main character of AC Black Flag) grandson!

The more I play these games, the more sad I am that this fall’s AC Origins looks like it might be a kind of reboot. At the very least it won’t have historical events that we’re familiar with, given that it takes place in ancient Egypt. Leave it to me to get hooked on a game series just as it pivots. Though I’m going to take my time with Rogue and savor it, and then I have Unity and Syndicate still waiting (Unity got a bad wrap for being really buggy but I’m told it was patched eventually and that the PS4 Pro’s “Boost Mode” helps with framerate issues so I’m hoping it’ll be OK to play).

Assassin’s Creed Rogue

When Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild came out a few months ago, it got rave reviews from both the critical press and from my friends. Everyone seems to LOVE Breath of the Wild and people are still talking about it. By any objective measure I can think of, it is a great game. I couldn’t wait to finally try it.

But a week after it arrived on my doorstep, I’m still not hooked. I’m not saying it’s a bad game for me. It’s certainly pleasant to play, but after an hour or so I’m happy to put it away and move on to something else and it can be days before I pick it up again. I haven’t played very far into it because of this and maybe I just haven’t given it enough time yet.

Still being so much ‘the odd man out’ on this topic has led me to do a lot of introspection on why it isn’t hooking me, and I think it boils down to one thing: in my heart I’m an RPG guy. I crave a sense of progression and so far BotW isn’t giving me that; it’s very much an action-adventure rather than an action-rpg. Now to be fair Link does progress in some ways: you can increase his pool of hit points and stamina by solving the 120 Shrines that litter the landscape. For every 4 of these you can bump up either HP or Stamina by a unit.

But (so far) that’s the extent of the character’s progression. I had to find some runes very early on but I feel like I have all of those that there are (but maybe not…I hope not). It’s not the kind of game where killing monsters earns you exp or helps you unlock skills in a skill tree. Link is Link.

You can improve his armor and his weapons, but weapons in this game are completely temporary. It feels like spinning my wheels to attack a monster camp, break a weapon in the fight, and my reward is a chest that just replaces the weapon I broke. The idea is that you fight the monsters because it’s fun to do so, but so far I don’t find the combat system that compelling. Again, the combat is fine but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of depth to it. Often I just kite things while dropping the (unlimited) bombs I can conjure up.

But what about the world? The world is beautiful, yes. But Link is an ideal citizen (in real-life terms) in that he leaves nothing behind. He doesn’t impact the world he passes through. If he was a camper on the Appalachian Trail this would be a good thing. In video game terms I’m not so sure. He passes through an area, maybe takes out some mobs which will respawn at the next blood moon but otherwise once he’s gone, he’s gone. There is no sense of taming an area or unlocking stuff or making a difference, at least not locally. (Globally he’s going to save the world, of course.)

In my brief time of playing I’ve explored the plateau, then headed to a stables (kind of a truck stop for a world without trucks) and from there headed to a village where I was told to head to another village. I’ve talked to a bunch of NPCs and met a handful who needed my help but so far the side quests have been literally forgettable. The only one that I remember is a quest where a woman asked me to light 5 torches that stood in a pond. I used fire arrows to light them. My quest reward was 20 Rupees which I used to purchase fire arrows to replace the ones I used…from the woman who gave me the quest. Yeah that worked out pretty well for her, not so much for me. In another game I could think “Well at least I gained some exp or increased faction or…something.” Here it was a zero-sum activity.

I don’t like adventure games. Never have. For example the Telltale games that everyone loves? I can’t abide them. No progression. I need numbers to go up to make me happy. I think that’s the core of my issue with Breath of the Wild. Not enough numbers going up. And I’m NOT saying that’s a bad thing. Clearly it doesn’t matter to the majority of people who’re loving this game. But for me personally, yeah it’s not ideal. I’m also not really a sight-seer.

In contrast, the game I have been playing is Assassin’s Creed III which is not one of the better loved games in the franchise, nor do the AC games have levels or skill trees. Plus I’m playing via Backwards Compatibility which introduces some wonkiness (or the game was wonky on 360). It is a MUCH worse game than BotW and a game that is sometimes really frustrating, so why do I keep picking it up instead?

I think it’s because even though Conner (the assassin in this game) doesn’t have levels or anything, he does have an impact on the world. He works to wrest control of Boston and New York from the Templars. He builds up his homestead which leads to simple but memorable side-quests: helping a couple find love and eventually marriage. Helping a woman and her child get away from an abusive husband. Helping another couple to put down roots and finally have the child they’ve always wanted. I can look around the game world and think “I did that.” and it makes me smile. Conner can train assassins and he can amass wealth by sending out convoys. I’m constantly unlocking/changing something in the world and that makes up for the fact that Conner himself doesn’t ‘level up’ and even his gear is fairly static. (And when I’m not unlocking things I’m Forrest Gump-ing my way through the American Revolution. Protecting the rebels while they dump tea in Boston Harbor. Riding along with Paul Revere as he lets everyone know the Regulars are coming. Chilling with George Washington. None of these things have to do with progression but I guess they just prove the some ‘adventure-ish’ things can grab my attention because these did.)

I’m going to keep poking out Breath of the Wild and I hope eventually I get swept up in the current of events and feel more engaged with the world. I KNOW it is a great game. I’m just having trouble finding that greatness hidden within.

Yesterday I landed on an article at Polygon, What Zelda: Breath of the Wild gets so right, explained in 20 minutes. It was basically promoting a video on why Zelda: Breath of the Wild is “The Best Game Ever” (though apparently that’s the name of a series of videos so it isn’t meant literally). Ben Kuchera, who wrote the post, said:

The game gets a lot of mileage out of having its own map be an item that’s part of the world itself. This helps Breath of the Wild neatly avoid that open-world trope of maps that are filled with noisy icons, which make the game feel more like a homework assignment than something people play for fun.

(Emphasis mine.)

I’ll embed the video below but it boils down to the assertion that BotW is a better game than all other open world games because there aren’t as many icons on the map. Further the creator of the video (who admits to not having played BotW all that much) illustrates his point by comparing an early-game version of the map with late game maps from Horizon Zero Dawn and Far Cry 4, which seems pretty shady to me. I mean the longer you play the more things you uncover, right? He also says mini-maps are bad (but BotW has one) and waypoints that show up in the gameworld are bad too.

Anyway, the whole video comes across to me as someone who first came up with a topic (“Why BotW is better than other open world games.”) and then carefully cherry-picked data points to support it. For example he never mentions the huge amount of time you spend screwing with your inventory in BotW.

But this post isn’t really about the video, it’s about Kuchera’s homework assignment comment. I’ve been hearing that a lot from gaming journalists and “influencers.” That the open world systems that they used to love are now the devil because there is too much to do.

Think about that. These people are complaining that the developers are giving you too many choices of how to have fun in their games. It’s a ridiculous argument.

I have a counter-hypothesis. Kids who grew up on video games forget that they have free will. My first ‘gamer’ years were spent with paper and cardboard. If I didn’t like a rule, I changed it. If part of a game wasn’t fun, I eliminated it. If I thought something was missing, I added it. If you were raised on video games you never got the chance to change the rules. You just did what the game told you to do. It may never have dawned on you that you have free will and can do whatever the heck you want!

In other words when I’m playing an open world game that has 10 different kinds of side-quests or collectibles and I find that some of them aren’t fun for me, I simply don’t do them. It’s a crazy idea, right? YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO ALL THE THINGS! You are in control of your video game experience! I firmly believe that the developers never expect every player to do every activity, but I also imagine they realize what is fun for player A is a drag for player B, and vice versa. So they offer a selection of things to do and let the player choose. PLAYER CHOICE IS A GOOD THING.

I’ve been playing and finishing a lot of open world games recently and never have I been prevented from getting to the end credits because I opted out of a side-quest or side-activity that I didn’t enjoy. If you go back far enough there may be games that behave differently but all the relatively modern open world games I’ve played don’t force you to do everything. You may have to do something to earn cash or level up or something, but they give you a menu of options and you can pick the one(s) you enjoy.

Anyway I think we can test my hypothesis because there are still plenty of gamers who play board games and do pen & paper RPGing. So I’m asking them, do you feel compelled to do every side-task in an open world game just because there’s an icon on the map for it?

Complaining about open world games having too many activities is like saying you don’t want to go to a bookstore because you don’t have time to read every book in it, or not going to a restaurant because the menu has too many choices. Exercise your free will. Play games to have fun, not to remove icons on a map.

Anyway, here’s this dude’s video. I find it all pretty sketchy and biased. For example he says in BotW there is no urgency to get to the end, you can do whatever you want. But literally one of the first things you learn is that Zelda has been fighting Ganon alone for 100 years and needs your help. If that doesn’t instill a sense of urgency, what will? I mean no open world game I’ve played has a literal timer ticking down. You can take your time in all of them, the only urgency comes from the narrative and BotW is no better or worse than any other open world game in those terms. But once again, the dude couldn’t let unbiased facts get in the way of his point.

I bought Wolfenstein: The New Order a long time ago but didn’t play it much because it made me motion sick. That was before I upgraded the TV and the PS4. I’m not sure if it’s the lower input lag on the new TV or the ‘boost mode’ of the PS4 Pro but for whatever reason motion sickness isn’t the issue for me that it used to be, so a few weeks ago I gave Wolfenstein another try and found I could play it without any discomfort.

And what a treat it was. If you’re as unfamiliar as I, the story starts towards the end of World War 2. During an operation William “BJ” Blazkowicz takes a piece of shrapnel in the head and is left for dead. He is found by civilians who either don’t realize he’s an American soldier or don’t care, and is treated, but the shrapnel can’t be removed and it leaves him in a vegetative state. He is cared for in an asylum for 16 years before he finally wakes up in 1960.

While he was away, the Nazis won the war and basically conquered the world, and their technology is way ahead of where it was for us in 1960. They’ve got a moon base already! It doesn’t take long for Blazkowicz to join up with the resistance to try to overthrow the Nazi regime via a series of ever more outrageous missions.

Wolfenstein has 5 difficulty levels and I played at #3 for about half the game. My FPS skills aren’t what they used to be and there was some difficult passages but I was having fun and didn’t mind re-playing chunks of the game over and over. But somewhere along the way, the story and characters really got their hooks in me.

Yeah, Wolfenstein: The New Order has a for-real story. I mean it’s not very realistic (as is typical of shooter stories, one man basically replaces an army), but it’s a kind of Saturday matinee plot with lots of spectacle, and I came to care about the characters that Blazkowicz encountered. It’s not always a happy story, either.

Anyway I got so engrossed in the story that I turned the difficulty down to 2, and eventually to 1, just because I wanted to see what happened next. And oddly I think I had MORE fun playing that way. Truth is, I like feeling like a bad-ass and mowing down enemies. I think I prefer the fun of being super-powerful to the satisfaction of beating a difficult section of the game. /shrug

Anyway, it was a great ride and I’m really glad I gave it a second chance. I expected this to be a bro-dude romp, and at times it was, but Blazkowicz had a love interest and he lost people he cared about along the way and he didn’t just shrug that off. I mean yeah he still has the jarhead tough-guy exterior but there’s more nuance here. And hell, he got to trip with Jimi Hendrix. How often do you get to do that in a game? There’s also a ton of “alternate history” lore strewn about in the form of newspaper clippings and such, and I love alternate history stories so I was really in my element.

Good times. Now I’m really looking forward to the new game coming out this fall.

I just this morning realized that a recent update to the blog caused comments to stop working.

If you’ve tried to comment recently and your comment didn’t show up, I apologize. It wasn’t intentional, and it should be fixed now.

Quick post this morning before work.

Last night I decided to head upstairs early, taking the Switch with me to play in ‘handheld mode.’ As a handheld, the Switch is awesome. It feels really good in the hands and all my concerns with the graphics quality vanish on the small screen. If I had to pick one thing to complain about, it’s that the tiny – and + buttons are hard to see/find in a dark room, but that’s just a muscle memory thing that will be cured via familiarity.

It is also a pretty cool feeling to be playing on the TV, then slip the Switch out of the dock and pick up right where you left off. I’ve done the ‘cross-play’ thing between the Playstation and the Vita and that was neat but it always required some kind of manual syncing. Since with the Switch it’s the same hardware, the transition is of course instant.

One last thing before I go. The Switch has a capture button like the PS4. For now it only captures screenshots (though if I remember correctly the intent is for it to eventually capture clips) and the only way to get them off the Switch is to share them to Twitter, Facebook, or save them on a MicroSD card on the Switch and then remove that card and pop it into a PC. Be nice if there was an easier way but what can you do.

What I didn’t discover until last night is that you can quickly add text to a screenshot. It’s super easy to do. You type your message, then you can scale it, color it, position it and rotate it. The only thing missing, I guess, is being able to choose a font. Still, I thought it was a really neat little bonus feature. Here’s an example (the shot is through Link’s “scope,” just for context. That’s why the colors are kind of muted — that is NOT a result of adding the text).

After playing around with the Switch Friday evening, the thing sat dormant for all of Saturday and it was then that I realized I’d need either a Joycon Charging Stand or a Pro Controller. The heights of my laziness are such that if I’m sitting on the couch and have the choice of grabbing an Xbox controller, grabbing a PS4 controller, or getting up, walking over to the TV, detaching the Joycons from the Switch (they need to be attached to charge), then attaching their caps or attaching them to that holder gizmo, I was almost ALWAYS going to play something on the Xbox or Playstation. I’m all about the path of least resistance!

That led to my second Switch revelation. The Switch is a portable console that happens to be able to attach to a TV and that’s how you need to think about it. I used to have a cable that let me attach my PSP to the TV, and the Switch is a modern interpretation of that idea. That’s important to keep in mind if you’re thinking about a Switch. Do you do a lot of handheld gaming? Do you often have to ‘fight for’ TV time? Then the Switch might be ideal for you. If you’re mostly going to use it as a handheld, the fact that the Joycons are always attached to it for charging is a non-issue.

I don’t do much portable gaming. I have a Vita and a 3DS, neither of which gets used much. I don’t travel often and don’t commute. When I do travel I’m generally driving. I’ve taken my handhelds with me when I do travel but rarely get around to using them. Usually I pack them before I leave and unpack them, untouched, when I get home.

I also don’t fight for TV time. Angela and I watch a couple hours of TV together during dinner, but otherwise the TV is “hers” during the day and “mine” at night. She’s more apt to watch the TV in the office (we have 3 TVs) while she does something on her computer rather than sitting in the living room and focusing exclusively on the TV anyway. So every evening the 60″ 4K TV in the living room is there for me to use.

One of the biggest Switch advocates I know responded (on Facebook) to my last Switch post with “I love mine. I just played it for the last four hours on a flight from St. Louis to Las Vegas. I can’t do that on my PlayStation Pro.” Clearly this person was in the market for a handheld gaming device so for him the Switch is ideal. For me, the portable-ness is a more or less a non-feature. It’s unlikely our Switch will ever leave our house. I might take it and play in bed once in a great while; we’ll see. It seemed odd to me to compare the Switch to the PS4 Pro, but hey if we’re going to go that route, I’d take the PS4 Pro any day.

Which brings me to Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It got delivered Sunday afternoon and I guess I put 3-4 hours into it. I just got off the starting plateau, though I puttered around some before getting to that point.

Gameplay-wise. Zelda is fine so far. I like a lot of the systems in it, but so far combat is pretty simple and it’s missing some obvious quality of life features. For instance one of the first things you’re taught is how to cook stuff. Combining stuff to make a tasty dish is fun once, and trial & error-ing your way to discovering new recipes is fun too. But cooking a stack of 10 things, one batch at a time? Not fun.

Then there’s eating food (which heals you). OMG what were they thinking? To eat food you open your main menu, then your inventory, then you scroll over to the Food category, then you scroll to the food you want to eat, then you open the context menu for that food item and finally choose EAT. Seriously? Thank goodness time stops while you do this but I sure wish there was some kind of quick menu to access food.

But having other things kind of just work was cool. You can chop down trees to cross chasms, you can shoot ropes to lower bridges (and the ropes don’t have a big sparkly “SHOOT ME” effect, you just have to think “Well logically I should be able to shoot them” and you can). You can roll bombs into enemy camps to blow them up. You can quickly kill sleeping enemies. All this stuff kind of ‘just works’ and even the illogical stuff, like powering a raft by waving a palm frond to create a breeze to push the sails…well that kind of thing works the way you WISH it would in real life.

I’m hoping, though, that once I get off this plateau the world feels a little more alive. So far it’s been me, some old dude, and small camps of cannon fodder enemies to practice combat on. And Link himself is a blank slate so the world feels very quiet.

But my one big issue is the graphics. The art-style of the game is very nice and was chosen, I think, to cast the Switch in its best light. I’m sure the game looks great on the Switch’s small 720P screen. But blown up to 60″ I can’t help but think how much nicer the game would look if the Switch had more horsepower. I’m not even talking about pushing it past 1080P, but if there were more processing cycles to enhance the anti-aliasing it would be very welcome.

As you move through the game world there’s a lot of noticeable ‘movement’ along edges. Shimmering or creeping as the jaggies migrate along a line as the world draws in. Here’s a still image of what I’m taling about. It’s hard to see in the small embedded image, but click for full size to see what I mean, then imagine that image at 60″.

There are also a lot of textures, particularly bare earth and rock faces, that look very flat. Again, you probably don’t notice on the small screen but they actually made the game feel incomplete on the big screen, like something hadn’t drawn in properly and I was still seeing the lower resolution “distance” textures.

Anyway, point being it’s clear the target experience is playing on the Switch screen, so keep that in mind. Luckily I’ve been playing some old 360 and PS3 games so I’m in a mood to forgive low-res textures and jaggies.

By Sunday night I had purchased a Pro Controller for the Switch and OMG what a difference that made. Playing Zelda went from being this kind of awkward “why am I running in a circle when I’m trying to turn?” experience to controlling like a dream (aside from the fact that Nintendo and Sony use reversed “Action” and “Back” buttons so I keep hitting Back and I mean to be hitting the “Do it” button, but that’s on me). I do suggest turning off the motion controls and I switched jump to be on the B (I think?) button. The one at 6 o’clock. The Pro just feels much more familiar, if you’re a Playstation or Xbox gamer and in my experience it’s an integral part of the “Switch on the TV” experience; it’s just a shame that it adds $70 to the price of the console. I’d give a lot to be able to reverse the Action and Back buttons, though.

Regrets? Maybe a little bit. In a way I’m asking the impossible of Zelda: I’m asking it to be a game that’s worth spending $430 to play (Switch = $300, Zelda = $60, Pro Controller = $70). What game is worth that much!? But I AM looking forward to playing more, and I’m looking forward to some other Switch exclusives coming down the pike, so I don’t have the kind of regrets I have for the Wii U. That was a BAD decision. Switch is never going to be my main gaming platform but I think it’s popular enough that it’ll get the support it needs to be an auxiliary device. Heck I downloaded a demo-thingie for Splatoon 2 and I might end up getting that!

I’m a Playstation fanboy, and a bit of an Xbox fanboy. I am most definitely not a Nintendo fanboy, so when the company first announced the Switch I was pretty dismissive of the device. Didn’t pre-order, didn’t care. Then it came out and everyone I knew who did get one, loved it. Soon enough I was coveting my neighbor’s console, but by then it was too late. Nintendo, being Nintendo, couldn’t seem to keep the Switch in-stock.

I still think this is a marketing ploy because I acted immediately when I saw this tweet from the Amazon Games account:

I figured the only reason they’d be promoting ARMS was if they had the Switch to sell, given that ARMS had been out for a bit. I was right, but even after I saw the Switch was in stock I didn’t really trust it. I put it in my shopping cart and checked out immediately, half-thinking I’d get a “no longer available” error somewhere along the way. But nope, I was now a Switch owner.

Thanks to the magic of modern online shopping, the Switch was delivered the same evening. Right now I only have ARMS to play on it. ARMS is fun but not a system selling. Zelda, the game everyone raves about, is due to be delivered tomorrow, so for now I’m kind of in a holding pattern when it comes to “Did I make the right decision buying this thing?”

One thing that surprised me (though it shouldn’t have) is that the Switch is pretty big for a small device. There’re a couple reasons for that. First, in ‘console mode’ it sits vertically in it’s docking station. This makes it the tallest console I own (by a large margin). My TV sits on a table flanked by the PS4 Pro on one side, the Xbox One on the other (gotta keep the squabbling kids separated!). I had thought to put the Switch in front of the TV (I was swapping out the never-used Wii U and that’s where it was) but it’s too tall for that. Even though my TV is on legs the Switch in its dock blocked part of the screen.

Another possibility was in one of the 4 storage spaces under the TV. These are roomy enough (and open in the back) that airflow isn’t generally a problem, but again the Switch was too tall. The dock would fit in there but you need vertical space above the dock to lift the Switch out of it since the dock is nearly as tall as the Switch itself.

In the end I wound up perching it on top of the PS4 Pro. The Pro runs pretty cool and it vents out the sides so it should be OK (the Xbox One runs pretty hot and has cooling vents on the top surface), but it’s a little ugly sitting there. From the front it isn’t too bad (though apparently it’s a dust magnet given that it’s been there for less than 24 hours, but Angela WAS dusting during setup…I guess I’ll be dusting again today now that everything is settled):

But I’m not a fan of the cable routing when seen from the side. I might try sliding it back. I have it towards the front just for wireless connectivity and accessibility reasons. (The other box on the PS4 Pro is the Pro’s external hard drive, in case you’re wondering.)

The ‘size’ of the Switch doesn’t stop with the console itself. There’s also a lot of parts associated with the Joycons. The big thing is meant to convert the Joycons into something like a traditional controller, the thin bits slide on the ‘connection’ side of the Joycons when used on their own. So I’ll need to find a place to store these when they’re not in use.

The good news is that once I came to terms with all the stuff I had to find locations for, everything else went well. I ran into one glitch where the setup process asks you if you want to link the device with a Nintendo Account, but that won’t actually work until you do a system update. It wouldn’t complete and I couldn’t back out of it. Had to reset the Switch and doing so was accomplished the way I assumed it would be: by holding down the power button for a bit. Nice that I didn’t have to look that up.

Once I’d updated the system software (the d/l timed out once but took up where it had left off after I restarted it) linking the Nintendo Account was pretty fast. It’s nice that you can take the Switch out of the dock and use the touch screen for pecking in usernames and passwords. The Switch feels really good in handheld mode and I may find I use it more as a handheld than as a TV-based console.

I knew I had money in my Nintendo account but it wasn’t initially showing up. For some reason you have a separate step of “merging” your 3DS/Wii U wallet with your Nintendo Switch wallet. Weird, but no big deal as it was a 1-time thing.

Oh, and I bought a microSD card for storage. Happily I knew from reading reviews that the slot for the memory card is hidden behind the ‘kickstand’ for the Switch. I don’t know how long it would have taken me to find it otherwise.

My last concern is that Switch feels really loose in its dock. There’s a lot of wiggle room in there and it just kind of sits on the connector at the bottom. It doesn’t feel locked in. I guess it’s not a huge deal since once it is in the dock there’s no real reason to touch it much, but I still worry about the long-term life of that connector at the bottom of the unit. I worry a little about the Joycons constantly sliding in and out of things too, but I guess you can replace those. The little thin parts in particular seem pretty hard to put on and pull off.

So finally I had the thing set up. Now what? Now…not much. Without games the Switch doesn’t do much. There’s a “news” service that you can use to view some Nintendo videos from the Treehouse and stuff, but that’s about it. There’s no YouTube or Twitch to kill time with. No Mii Plaza to dork around on. Time to unwrap ARMS.

And ARMS, as mentioned above, is pretty fun. I was playing it using the motion controls, one Joycon in each hand, and it felt pretty good. Not as precise as a Playstation Move controller, but way better than the old Wii controls or the Xbox Kinect controls. Was it worth spending $300 for a Switch to play ARMS? No. But Zelda will be here tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and that Mario & Rabbids strategy game coming from Ubisoft: both of those are due in fall. I didn’t get the Switch in anticipation of owning a HUGE library of games for it. I got it to play games I can’t play elsewhere, and I’m looking forward to the experience of playing on the TV, then undocking and continuing to play in bed or (when the weather is cooler) out on the back porch or something.

I have to admit I almost walked away from Assassin’s Creed Revelations a few times. I found the gameplay super frustrating a lot of the time. But I stuck with it long enough to get through the main storyline and I’m glad I did.

My biggest issue with the game was the city it takes place in: Constantinople. This place is a maze of narrow streets and buildings constructed on top of each other, and the streets teem with people. For the first hour it’s an amazing place to explore. Then it starts to get annoying since the quests have you having to cross and re-cross the city. Normally in an AC game you’d take to the rooftops to make your way around quickly, but in Revelations the ‘roof guards’ are both much more numerous than in earlier games, they’re much faster to react and call for help too. As often as not heading up to the roof led to either a battle or a long escape sequence that wound up with me farther from my goal than when I started.

There are “fast travel” tunnels but they’re pretty spread out and so not as helpful as they might be. Having to travel around the city was not fun, and since it’s a huge part of the gameplay, it made the whole game not fun.

The ‘raising a guild of assassins’ gameplay returns in Revelations but the towers you have to use to send your assassins on missions are so few and far between that again, it all feels more like a chore than fun.

Then there is notoriety, which works differently than in earlier AC games. In Revelations there are two opposing forces that Ezio has to deal with. The city guard and the Templars. Notoriety only impacts the Templars. The city guards will leave you alone unless you set foot on a rooftop for 2 seconds, or you get into a fight on the streets. But if your notoriety goes up, the Templars will attack one of your “assassin dens” which you will have to defend via a truly awful tower defense mini-game.

What compounds the problem is how notoriety increases. If you renovate a building or buy gear, your notoriety goes up. It takes 3-4 actions to max it out and open you up to having to play the mini-game. To lower it you can bribe a herald or kill a Templar official if you can find one. (No more tearing down posters.) That led to a pattern of renovating two shops, then finding a herald to bribe to bring down notoriety. Repeat. Over and over. Very tedious system.

They added a crafting system for crafting all kinds of bombs. All the little treasure boxes you find hidden around the city contain components for building bombs. I’ve never done much with the smoke bombs in earlier AC games and wasn’t interested in this bomb system in Revelations either.

Lastly, I guess this reflects the values of the people of Constantinople, but after a fight if you loot the bodies of your victims people around you start hurling insults about what a vile piece of human filth you are. That got old really fast. I stopped bothering to loot soldiers or to loot treasure chests. I never upgraded my gear much and didn’t really have to. What money I needed I got via real estate or completing quests.

Look I could go on and on. I really didn’t enjoy the gameplay in Revelations.

Let’s take a break from the constant murdering to have a nice picnic!

As for the story. I spent next to no time outside the animus (you can collect items that let you do Desmond missions but I hate Desmond so I didn’t bother). Ezio, now a grey-beard, is in Constantinople looking for the 5 keys to Altair’s library in Maysaf. Each key he finds leads him into a memory of Altair’s. So we’re playing as Desmond reliving Ezio’s memories of reliving Altair’s memories. So meta. I didn’t play AC 1 so didn’t have a strong connection to Altair, but if you did you’d probably enjoy these bits. In each one Altair is older. We meet his wife, and his son, and eventually see his death.

Ezio meanwhile meets a woman named Sofia and falls for her. He also pals around with Suleiman the Magnificent back when he was just Suleiman, son of the sultan. And he fights the Templars. His story is kind of dull, though I liked Sofia quite a bit.

The game wraps up both Altair and Ezio’s storylines (I’m presuming that is the case for Ezio though he is still alive when the story ends) and we get another glimpse into these people who came before, but not until the very end of the game.

Really, the last “memory sequence” was what saved the game for me. And now I can say I’ve played all the Ezio AC games, I guess.

One who came before decides to explain it all to Desmond.

It took me like 3 weeks to play through Assassin’s Creed II and two days to finish Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. Part of the reason is that ACB is somewhat shorter, but mostly it was because I was hooked on the story and skipped a lot of the side missions. Plus it being a long, lazy 4th of July weekend didn’t hurt, either.

I liked AC Brotherhood a lot. I liked how it continued the story of both Ezio and Desmond in a very “chapter 2” kind of way. This time around Ezio stays in one city, Rome, but it was large enough that I didn’t find that to be a problem. They also greatly expanded the system of upgrading your infrastructure. In AC 2 you spent money to improve your villa. In ACB you’re improving all of Rome. At the start of the game the Borgias have Rome in a vice-grip but Ezio and his fellow assassins can take back control by killing the Borgia Captain who controls a district, then putting a tower to the torch. Once that is done you can spend money to renovate stables, blacksmith shops, tailors, art dealers and the like.

The more shops you renovate the more income you earn and the larger the discounts you get. It was a fun system but I would’ve liked to see it taken even further. Aside from income there didn’t seem to be any gameplay benefit to renovating the districts. Fortunately my OCD just enjoyed improving districts for the satisfaction of doing it.

Another cool system was being in control of the assassin’s guild. You run around and save citizens from the Borgia, after which they join the guild. You then send them out on missions to level up and bring back goods and gold. If you’ve playing Black Flag it was like the system that let you send ships out on missions. The better part of the assassin’s guild was being able to call on them to help you. Target an enemy and hit L1 and suddenly from out of nowhere your assassins appear to take out that target. That NEVER got old.

I really enjoyed Ezio’s part of the story. Desmond’s was just so-so. I’m having trouble relating to Desmond (he’s the guy in present day who sits in the animus to relive Ezio’s memories). Part of the problem is that he’s voiced by Nolan North who uses the same voice he used for Nathan Drake. In fact there’s a section of the game where Desmond and Lucy (voice by Kristen Bell) are climbing through a ruin that felt very reminiscent of Drake and Elena (voice by Emily Rose) moving through Uncharted. It felt kind of unsettling to me.

Yussef is the guild master in Constantinople

Anyway, glad I played it. I have a lot of side content I can (and may) go back to still, but once the credits rolled I jumped right into Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. And honestly, so far I’m not feeling it. ACB felt like the end of Ezio’s story and so far Revelations kind of feels like an extended epilogue. Ezio is in Constantinople so we’re dealing with a fresh cast of friends and enemies. They’ve also changed a lot of the controls just enough to drive me crazy. L3 is now used where Triangle used to be, for instance.

They’ve also added bombs to the game. Ezio and craft and toss bombs, and at least early on there is a huge emphasis on this. Bleh. I played through most of ACB with a big-ass 2-handed weapon, cleaving my way through swarms of enemies. Now I’m supposed to hide and lob bombs? I say again, bleh.

Worst of all, they’ve managed to wedge a tower-defend mini-game into Assassin’s Creed. Ugh ugh and UGH. If I wanted to play a crappy Tower Defense game there are plenty to choose from. Hopefully I don’t have to do that too often.

We’ll see though. I’ve only got a few hours into it so far. Maybe it’ll get better.

Of couse Ezio has to find at least Western woman to romance