Jaded's Pub

Tonight I finished the main story of Assassin’s Creed Unity. All in all, it was pretty good. Not my favorite AC game but still worth playing.

That said, it could have been REALLY good if the team had had more time for polish. Even with all the patching that they did post-launch, there were still more than the usual AC frustrations related to traversal. My favorite example was when I was chasing someone through the streets of Paris and got to close to a fountain and the game decided that what I really wanted to do was jump up on the lip of the fountain (maybe 2 feet high) and run in a circle around that while I frantically tried to get my character to jump off it.

This weird “sticking to random surfaces” thing is an issue in all AC games but it was really bad this time out. There were also more glitches than I like to see. Sometimes quests would get stuck and have to be restarted, and sometimes this kind of thing happened:

When a romantic moment is ruined by your big collar clipping through your face. SO EMBARRASSING!

Otherwise my only real complaint was a personal one: the setting. I’m not a Francophile and the French Revolution isn’t really a time period that interests me very much. Oh! Almost forgot to mention the voice acting. I have no idea why but a lot of the denizens of Paris sounded very British. But not all of them. It was like they recycled canned ‘British background conversations’ or something.

Not that they didn’t do a great job with the design of Paris. It was pretty damned fabulous. The streets were packed with people going about their business (and there’s a day/night cycle that changes the kinds of things you see), buildings could be entered and rummaged around in and there was a TON of stuff to do. So much that, well, forget about ‘clearing’ the game. No one has time for that. But as I’ve discussed before, I like that. The types of side jobs I didn’t like, I ignored.

There’s also a much stronger RPG vibe in this game. You earn Skill Points by doing story missions and co-op missions and spend those to unlock your skills. I wish I could’ve unlocked them doing side missions too. I only did 2 co-op missions, one actually in co-op and the other solo, and I still had enough skills that I was a bad-ass by the end of the game, so I guess the system works. But if I could’ve earned more doing side missions I might have bought some skills that I skipped over, just to play around with them. For instance I never bothered to buy skills related to heavy weapons and instead specialized in 1-handed weapons, because I was worried about running out of skill points.

If you’re brave you can turn off the hud and play like this. I wasn’t that brave

Additionally there were a lot of gear slots to upgrade. Arno (the protagonist) wears a hood, chest piece, leggings, belt and bracers, all of which can be upgraded. You buy new gear with gold and then can upgrade that gear via “Creed Points” that you earn by doing things like execution moves or eluding enemies.

I’ve talked a lot recently about how I enjoy progression so Unity scratched that itch pretty well.

Oddly your hidden blades are only used in automatic assassinations, and in general things like air assassinations seemed harder than they’ve been in early AC games; way too many times I dropped down onto enemies and just knocked them over. They’d get up and start fighting me and calling in friends.

There were no “out of the animus” bits here. In fact technically you’re not in an animus, you’re in a Helix which is the consumer version. You do get spoken to by “Bishop and Deacon” who are pretty definitely Rebecca Crane and Shawn Whatzit from the earlier games, but the whole ‘meta’ story is so flimsy I’ve already forgotten it and the credits are still rolling.

In fact in general the story was pretty meh. Arno, whose father was killed at the end of AC Rogue, is raised by a Templar who is murdered and basically the whole game is Arno and the Templar’s daughter Elise, (also your love interest, sortof) trying to get revenge. Along the way many people are killed, often then revealing that maybe they weren’t as bad as Arno had imagined.

As far as history, we meet the Marquis de Sade, Robespierre and Napolean Bonaparte who is really wedged in there in a way that makes no sense, but I’m pretty sure he nabbed a piece of eden at one point, the scoundrel.

So yeah, it was good. I’m not going to stick around for trophy hunting or anything, and I DO from time to time still fire up AC Rogue to whittle away at those Achievements, so I guess I have to say I preferred AC Rogue and Black Flag to this one. But I’m glad I played it.

And this is twice now I’ve been able to complete a post on an AC game while the credits were still rolling. SO MANY CREDITS.

A couple of times you have to go through rifts to briefly visit other eras

One of the things I enjoy about this game is how alive the streets feel. Sometimes I just take a leisurely stroll around the town.

Assassin’s Creed® Unity

The only thing I remember hearing about Assassin’s Creed Unity when it first launched was that it was a buggy mess best avoided. So I avoided it, at least for a year or two at which point it hit a super sale and was offered for $10 or $15. I polled my social circles and was told that Ubi had patched a lot of the issues and it was OK to play, so I bought it, then heard there were still framerate problems on consoles. That got solved (again, according to the hive mind) when Sony introduced Boost Mode for the PS4 Pro.

So with AC Freedom Cry in the books I turned my attention to Unity and oh my goodness does this game make a TERRIBLE first impression. The first thing you see is a menu offering you like 15 different “experiences” to choose from, all but one of them locked. It took me a minute to realize I was playing a game withing a game. Remember how in AC Rogue and AC Black Flag you were working for Abstergo to create historical entertainment products? Well in Unity you start off as a customer, using the Helix, which is the consumer model of the Animus. Your one unlocked experience takes you back to 1307 where you see the Templar Grandmaster Jacques de Molay entrusting a sword and book to one of his underlings before he is arrested and executed (you play the underling). The others experiences listed are just decoration, you don’t get to play all of them as far as I can tell. Tease!

At that point your experience is interrupted by “Bishop,” an assassin who has hacked into your Helix and who sends you off to France in 1776. Remember that last epilogue in AC Rogue where Shay kills an assassin who is looking for his son. There was no real explanation of that mission. Well when you get to France you’re playing the son in that same scene. He’s like 6 or 7 I guess. You’ve been lured away by a little girl who dares you to steal an apple so of course you do (this is the ‘stealth tutorial’) at which point you run away with the apple floating about 2 feet in front of your hand. Nice glitch. Then there’s a cut scene where the boy didn’t render at all so the little girl was talking to empty air.

It’s a short sequence that ends with your father being killed by Shay and you going to live with the little girl’s father as his ward. Flash forward to you as an adult and kind of a troublemaker. I won’t go into the whole story but pretty soon you end up falling in with the assassins (remember your father was one of them) and that’s the next story mission which also glitched out for me. I was supposed to follow an NPC but he was climbing a wall and fell and then he just stood there. Since he needed to open a door I hate to restart the mission to advance. So that’s 3 glitches in the first 2 missions/first 30 minutes or so of play.

At this point you’re just a French citizen with a flimsy rapier and some smoke bombs. You have no assassin skills to speak of. Unity gives both you and missions a star rating. At this point I was 1 star and the next story mission was 2 stars. When I went to do it the game warned me that it would be very difficult and that I should buy skills or improve my gear before attempting it. Problem was I had no currency to buy skills and the shops weren’t selling better gear.

So I decided to do a 1 star side mission that involved recovering 3 severed heads (!) for a woman who was supposed to be making death masks of the victims. I failed that mission HARD about 6 times. One of the heads was in a square surrounded by guards. I couldn’t figure out how to sneak past them and I couldn’t defeat them in combat. Between the glitches and the stupidly hard 1-star quest, I was super frustrated and on the cusp of doing the “Rage Quit flowing into Uninstall Angry Dance” when Angela suggested I look online to see if there were any tips. I did that and no one seemed to be having an issue with this mission BUT all the screenshots and videos I saw showed the player decked out in assassin’s robes. I was wearing a puffy shirt and old breeches.

So I said screw it and went back to 2-star story quest, ignoring the stern warning of the game about its difficulty. And it was a complete cakewalk. At the end of it I became an Assassin, or at least enough of one that I could buy a decent weapon and some armor, as well as unlock some skills. I went back to the severed heads mission and now it too was a cakewalk. I just killed everyone who opposed me out of spite for all those early de-synchs!

And at that point Unity opened up like a flower blooming. I’ve been really enjoying it since then. Yes it still is glitchy and I’ve had to ‘restart from checkpoint’ in a few missions. But when it isn’t being glitchy it is a beauty of a game. Paris is amazing just to roam around. There is so much happening on the streets and in shops. As my reputation grows I go from ignored to feared to cheered (there are little quick street-level events like saving someone being bullied or catching a cutpurse that seems to get the people liking you). The combat is different in a way I can’t quite articulate but once I got used to it I’m really enjoying it. The architecture is super fun to climb around.

The other night I was in my theater (yes my character runs a theater) when a pixelated ghost appeared and beckoned to me. It took me a moment to realize I was being invited into a co-op mission. Me being me I at first ignored it, then said “Oh ‘eck” and gave it a try. I found myself running through Paris with three other assassins. When everything was working it was really cool — I might go so far as to say breath-taking — though in other moments the lag would get so bad I’d be getting hit by enemies I couldn’t see (no dedicated servers). Overall it was cool though and I would do it again. I was by far the weakest member of the team, having just started, but I could circle the outskirts of battles and assassinate enemies so could still pull my weight.

I’ve been so busy exploring and doing side quests that I can’t really comment on the story yet, but overall I’ve gone from “Screw this game I’m going to uninstall it and I wish I had a disk so I could snap it in half.” to “Holy heck this is AMAZING.”

I share this just in case you decide to try AC Unity. Don’t judge it by it’s first hour or so, and don’t let the game decide what is and isn’t too hard for you. There’s a flawed gem to be found if you can get past those two issues.

They (I don’t actually know who ‘they’ are) always say that learning a second language is supposed to be a good brain training exercise and a few times over the years I’ve made a half-hearted attempt to learn Japanese. Mostly it was because I wanted to play imported games and/or watch anime in the original language, but I never got very far. Japanese is HARD (for me at least). First of all they have 3 (maybe more?) written languages: hiragana, katakana (??) and kanji. So before you learn what the words mean, you need to learn the ‘alphabets’ so to speak.

Disclaimer: I am not a linguist so it’s almost 100% certain I will get some/all terms wrong in this post.

About a month ago Duolingo added Japanese to its Android app and kind of on a lark I downloaded it and started ‘learning Japanese’ and I put that in quotes because a month later I know some of the hiragana and if a Japanese teacher said to me — very slowly and with perfect enunciation — “Nice to meet you” I would probably understand. Or maybe I’d just think “I know that phrase but can’t recall what it means.” More likely the latter.

Still though, I’m actually enjoying the process. My latest project is figuring out the Japanese eShop on the Switch. Next week there’s a demo of Monster Hunter XX hitting the Japanese eShop so I set up a Japanese Nintendo account so I’ll be able to download it. Of course the store is mostly in Japanese. I’m sure I could stumble through it but just for grins I decided to try to translate some of the words.

The first word on the left menu was “NEW” and I translated that one pretty easily.

The next word was ランキング

I knew I’d learned some of these characters but couldn’t bring them to the front of my brain so I went looking at hiragana charts and couldn’t find any of them. Y’know why? Those are katakana symbols. In fact that was when I learned that katakana was different from hiragana. So once I knew that, it was pretty easy since katakana is used for ‘borrowed’ words from other languages. The characters in order are pronounced RA N KI N GU. It means exactly what it sounds like: ranking. So basically this is a listing of games my ranking, or most popular. (What helps a lot is I know pretty much what to expect because this is an e-shop for games.) I was pretty proud of that.

The next one was harder: もうすぐ発売

So the first thing is, I’m copying and pasting these characters from other websites. Different websites in this case which is why they’re kind of mis-matched. The characters on the Switch aren’t exactly the same. I guess fonts are a thing no matter the alphabet you’re using. So this one is a combination of hiragana and kanji. The hiragana part was pretty easy for me. Translated into romanji (Japanese sounds spelled out in the Roman alphabet) it says mo u su gu. Then I put mousugu into a romanji to english translator and I get “soon.” Given that this is the eShop it’s pretty obvious this is the “Coming Soon” list already but I want to do the full translation.

Looking up the kanji characters is HARD. I mean it isn’t hard if you look them up from this blog post because you can cut and paste them, but I was looking at them on the Switch, which may as well have been a piece of paper. I found Jisho.org which is super cool. It lets you look up kanji characters by ‘radicals’ which are the parts of a kanji character.

So for the first character, I first selected the “legs” from the bottom half, then the crossbars. That narrowed the selection of potential kanji characters down enough that I could find the one I wanted. Here’s a pic (click it to make it big enough to see):

You can see that those two ‘radicals’ were enough to help me find the character, labeled #3 above.

But here was a curious thing. Once I found it I looked it up and translation was “departure; departing (from …); departing (at time …)​” [Definitions are coming from Jisho too.]

Was I wrong about this being a Coming Soon section? Was it a “Leaving Soon” section? I pushed on!

I used Jisho again for the last character and it means “to sell” which made sense in the context.

But here is where it all got trippy. So literally this string is saying Soon Departing Sell. But why would Nintendo be removing games from their store, that doesn’t make too much sense so early in the Switch’s life. So I dug a little further, and it turns out those two kanji characters together have a different meaning. 発売 = “sale; offering for sale; release (for sale); launch (product)​” If you think about “departing” and “releasing” you can kind of wrap your head around how these could be so similar. If you release something it departs from you, right?

Anyway so now we have confirmed what I initially suspected, that this says “Coming Soon” or I guess more technically “Releasing Soon.”

What I don’t know, though, is how I would have figured this out without the context of this being the Switch e-shop. If I’d just read it on a wall somewhere I would have translated it as something like “Won’t be on sale for much longer” which is pretty much the opposite of what it says.

I just find this all super fascinating. Will I ~ever~ be able to read/understand Japanese (I don’t even dream of being able to actually speak it)? Probably not. But just translating words is turning out to be one of the most interesting ‘puzzles’ I’ve encountered lately.

The Assassin’s Creed fates aligned when I finished Assassin’s Creed Rogue on Monday, just in time to roll into Assassin’s Creed Freedom Cry when it dropped as a “free” Playstation Plus game yesterday. Unfortunately so far I’m not enjoying it that much.

I was excited to play as Adwal, who was Edward Kenway’s quartermaster in Assassin’s Creed Black Flag. Adwal is a full member of the Assassin’s Guild now, and he is off on his own (this takes place between Black Flag and Rogue). Early on he becomes shipwrecked which is a way for the developers to kind of ‘reset’ him so he needs to upgrade gear and so forth. This was initially a DLC for Black Flag but at some point Ubi spun it out as a short stand-alone title.

Adwal’s mission in this game is to liberate slaves and to help establish the Maroons (recall that Adwal is himself a former slave) ; there isn’t so much of the Assassin’s vs Templars battle and so far at least, you never come out of the animus.

As noble as the task-at-hand is, it feels a little ick at times. A lot of content (both missions and upgrades) is locked behind numbers of slaves freed. Liberate 100 slaves and get this gear upgrade, liberate 150 and that mission unlocks. It kind of turns slaves into a currency which felt a little uncomfortable to me. I mean you don’t “spend” slaves. If you’ve freed 105 slaves and get the 100 slave gear upgrade, you still have 105 freed slaves, so it isn’t terrible (if you ‘spent’ them, that would be horrible!) but it still feels weird to me.

My bigger issue with the game is that it can be repetitive. You’re always trying to free slaves to unlock the next main story quest or earn a reward for doing so. You can free slaves by attacking ships carrying slaves, you can save them by killing “overseers” on plantations, and you can free smaller numbers by disrupting slave auctions (via applying your machete to the auctioneer’s throat) or rescuing slaves being mistreated.

All of these systems are fine but they repeat frequently. You liberate a plantation (by killing 20 non-slaves) and a while later a “new owner” takes over and you have to go liberate it again. The slave auctions and ‘free the mistreated slave’ events respawn so fast that I killed the same guys half a dozen times in my first night of playing. It got to where I’d anticipate the reinforcements showing up and kill them before they even got settled…the respawns are all exactly the same.

Going after the ships is probably the most fun of the ‘free some slaves’ events since by the nature of the sea battles they play out a little differently each time.

But speaking of sea battles…pretty early in the game you get a new ship, manned by Maroons. These guys don’t sing shanties which oddly changes the feel of the game by quite a bit. I mean it’s a sober game all around, as you’d expect by the subject matter. But I still miss the crew singing (I think they don’t sing for practical reasons…they couldn’t very well recycle the ‘British seamen’ shanties and recording all new ones was probably outside the budget.)

As for the missions themselves, well the French are up to something and Adwal is trying to discover what it is via eavesdropping and intercepting missives and such. Typical Assassin’s Creed missions.

It’s not a BAD game, like I said it’s just kind of repetitive. Combat is still fun, both ship combat and the brutal sword play (Adwal has a machete and a blunderbuss as well as his hidden blades and various darts and so forth). I just wish there was more variety. Also Adwal is just slaughtering enemies in the town of Port-au-Prince and the game doesn’t really react to that. This is a less subtle game than most AC titles. Adwal walks up to a slave auction and in full view of a crowd of bystanders he cuts down the scum running the auction. 5 minutes later a new auction is taking place in the same spot and he comes back and does it again. You’d think someone in charge would beef up security or put a price on his head but nope, once he escapes the immediate area his notoriety goes back to zero and he can roam the town pretty much at will. Weird.

I might be somewhat biased because I have played so many Assassin’s Creed games lately. If Freedom Cry is your first AC experience you might like it more than I do. I will probably finish it; after one night of playing I’m 56% “synced” already (for AC Rogue after 18 hours I was only 50% synced) so it isn’t a very long game and I do want to know what the French are up to! If you do try it though, please understand ‘full’ AC games are a lot more varied in terms of the things you get to do in them.

I’ve been awfully negative on the blog lately, so thought I’d better talk about things I AM enjoying, Assassin’s Creed Rogue being one of those things.

But first I have to eat some crow. When Microsoft announced backwards compatibility for the Xbox One I kind of scoffed. Everyone was losing their shit over the ability to play Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One and I didn’t get why it was a big deal. Who wants to play old games when there are so many great new games!?

And now I’m really happy to be playing Assassin’s Creed Rogue via backwards compatibility on the Xbox One. So yeah, I was wrong. BC is a great feature. You might not need it often, but when you really want to play an older title it’s a heck of a lot easier than dragging out an old console and hooking it up. It also helps that AC Rogue seems to play flawlessly via BC (when the feature rolled out I tried a few games and they were all glitchy as heck. Not so here.).

So anyway back to the game.

I am LOVING Assassin’s Creed Rogue so far. I feel like it’s a game that was kind of lost when it came out. If I’m remembering right it came out the same year as Assassin’s Creed Black Flag did, but Rogue came out on PS3 and Xbox 360 while Black Flag came out on PS4 and Xbox One. Since these were the hot new consoles at the time, Black Flag got all the attention but I’d argue Rogue is just as good.

Actually in gameplay terms it is very similar to Black Flag. Once again you spend a lot of time at sea, attacking enemy ships and building up a fleet that you send off to do missions (via a sort of mini-game). The big difference is setting. Rogue takes place during the French and Indian War. Instead of tropical beaches you’ll be dealing with snow and ice.

Warning: some early game spoilers incoming.

This time you play as Shay Cormac who, with his brother Liam, start the game as up and comers in the Assassin’s Brotherhood. Then Shay is sent to recover an artifact in Lisbon, but it turns out to be some kind of trap. When Shay picks up the artifact it causes the Great Lisbon Earthquake, an actual historical event. In real life the Lisbon earthquake, according to Wikipedia, killed anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 people. The entire city is destroyed.

Shay is horrified by what he has done, but the Brotherhood’s leadership is undaunted and plans to continue trying to collect artifacts. This causes Shay to turn his back on the assassins, resulting in a battle that leaves him near death, only to be rescued by the Templars (of course!). So Shay becomes a templar operating under Haytham Kenway, son of Edward Kenway from AC: Black Flag and the character you play as at the start of AC3. I love how these games intertwine! As is typical of the series Shay winds up rubbing shoulders with historical figures like James Cook, George Monro and Benjamin Franklin.

There are two ocean areas in the game. One is the frigid North Atlantic which feels like Black Flag’s ocean area (aside from the icebergs). The other is the river valley which is a series of much narrower passages that make sea battles a lot more hectic as it’s easy to find yourself running out of room to maneuver in the narrow waters.

When you’re not at sea or at one of the smaller outposts that you can dock at and explore, you’ll be in New York City, helping the Templars chase off the Assassins and taking over the city, district by district. As you do so you can spend money and resources to renovate buildings which, besides making you a good guy (the buildings all tend to be public works) increases your income.

Basically everything you could want from an AC game is here. If you enjoyed Black Flag and didn’t play Rogue, you need to remedy that. I will admit there’s not a whole lot new in terms of game systems. You are hunted by assassins…you have to use eagle vision to find them before they find you when one is near. That’s new. Also there are firecracker darts (used to spook said assassins) and grenades that I believe are new in this one. Maybe I just didn’t use them in Black Flag. Honestly the games are starting to run together in my head these days.

Outside the Animus you’re as Abstergo Entertainment, same as with Black Flag. Your ‘handler’ there only refers to you as “numb skull” so I’m not sure you you’re playing as in ‘real life.’ When not in the animus you can roam around and hack computers via a neat mini-game and get caught up on the back story of who is doing what and why.

I’m still not finished. My save says I’m like 43% ‘synced’ but the sync level doesn’t really indicate how far into the story I am. I think I’m getting close to the end because missions are sending me to areas labeled as “hard.” My ship, the Morrigan, is pretty beefed up and I have nearly the best swords and pistols money can buy. At 17 hours in I feel like I’m nearing the end.

Just in time to play Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry on PS4 when it becomes free via Playstation Plus in August. You play as Adwal in that one. He was a ‘good guy’ in AC Black Flag and is a ‘bad guy’ in Rogue (it all depends on what side you’re on, doesn’t it?) so it’ll be fun playing AS him in Freedom Cry.

I’ve been thinking this for a while but haven’t had the intestinal fortitude to say it out loud since it’s like saying I hate puppies or kittens or something.

I regret purchasing the Nintendo Switch.

I’ll credit Scopique at Levelcapped for giving me the courage to say it out loud! He’s in danger of feeling the same thing.

I’m not faulting the hardware or the software. I’m not saying the Switch sucks or the games suck. They’re just not a good fit for me personally.

Reason 1: I didn’t buy the Switch to use it as a handheld and really that’s what it is. When you connect it to a TV it just doesn’t stack up to the PS4 Pro or even the Xbox One, in terms of horsepower or features. That’s OK though since it is primarily a handheld system and it crushes other handheld systems. I just don’t do much handheld gaming.

Reason 2: I can’t find a game I like. I bought Arms and played it once. I guess I need to give it another chance. It was fun to play until I hit a chokepoint I couldn’t get past even on the easiest level. I had a Skillshot challenge I just couldn’t beat. Still I haven’t written Arms off completely yet.

Then there is Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Before I bought the Switch it seemed like EVERYONE loved this game. I mean like “best game of all time” levels of love. I was skeptical initially but all the good will finally converted me and I was really curious to see what this game was all about.

So really, I bought the Switch to play Zelda.

And I don’t like Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’m not saying it’s a bad game: clearly many many people LOVE it. It just doesn’t do very much for me. Whenever I play it, I roam around aimlessly, don’t feel like I’ve progressed much when I’m done, and set the game aside feeling bad that I’ve wasted my time playing it for no reward. Progression is the key word here and I’ve already talked about it at length on this blog. People who love Zelda seem to love exploring and finding the next vista over the hill is reward enough for them. For me it isn’t, at least in a game.

And the rewards SUCK.

Here’s an example. Someone told me to always use my Magnet Rune to check lakes for chests. So I opened the game one day and I was near a lake and did that and low and behold there was a chest at the bottom! But my rune’s ‘magnet-ray’ couldn’t reach it. However there was a raft nearby. I got on the raft. You power rafts by waving a palm frond at their sails, and fortunately I did have a palm frond. So, saying FU to physics, I propelled myself out into the lake until I was over the chest. Now I could “grab” it with my Magnet rune. I lifted it out of the water but couldn’t seem to place it on the raft..I couldn’t target the ground so close to me it seemed. And I couldn’t reach the shore with it. So I pushed it out as near to the shore as I could and dropped it. Then I blew myself and the raft over to it, this time fighting a current/cross wind. Repeated the process and almost got it to shore. Got it close enough that I could get off the raft and stand on shore and ‘Magnet-levitate’ the chest to the sand. Woohoo!

And I open the chest and… there are 5 arrows in it. FIVE FUCKING ARROWS! I know that the way I am SUPPOSED to feel is “How cool was it that I could use that raft and that palm frond and my magnet rune together to get that chest off the bottom of the lake! Emergent gameplay YAY!” but that’s not the way my brain works. My brain is all about compensation. I am a material boy. I did this work and my ‘pay’ was 5 stupid arrows. I shut off the Switch in disgust.

And that’s not a unique example. That happens ALL the time. See a camp of baddies guarding a chest? Let’s go slaughter them even though they’re not bothering anyone (monsters in BotW seem to exist just to be slaughtered). So I kill them all, open the chest and voila! A rusty claymore just like the one laying in the grass a quarter mile down the road that I didn’t even bother picking up. I guess I can collect the bones, guts and horns of the poor monsters I killed to get this piece of junk. Some psycho-villager will pay good money for monster guts.

Anyway I’m ranting about Zelda. Sorry.

The funny thing is, after I admitted on Twitter that it wasn’t grabbing me, there were a good few folks who admitted it hadn’t grabbed them either. I wish they’d said so before I bought the Switch!! LOL

Reason 3 I regret the Switch: The games are expensive since the system is still in such demand. There’s no reason to discount anything I guess. For instance I thought about picking up Disgaea 5 for the Switch since a turn-based tactical game seems like something I might play in handheld mode, but it’s $60 on the Switch and $40 on the PS4. Eventually this will change (I hope) and games will start getting discounted, the system is just too new/in-demand for that to happen yet, I guess.

So yeah, wish I’d held off on the Switch. I’ve considered selling it but I still hold out hope for 2 games. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a turn-based tactical game coming in August from Ubisoft and it looks good. Looks like Xcom if Xcom was Mario characters vs Rabbids. And Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is coming this holiday and it looks really good too.

So hopefully by the end of the year my buyer’s remorse will be gone and I’ll be digging my Switch as much as the Zelda-fans love theirs. But for now I can’t help thinking the $400+ I spent on Switch, Pro Controller and Zelda could have been better spent elsewhere.

Today Epic Games announced new quests coming to Fortnite, but there’s a catch. In order to get these quests you have to watch someone streaming the game on Twitch. OK technically you have to be logged into a device that has Fortnite streaming…no one is forcing you to stare at it.

This is a little irritating to me. The Fortnite devs have been replying to MANY criticisms of the game with some variation on the theme of “This is Early Access, there are a lot of things we need to improve or build but it’s going to take time.” So they don’t have time to add proper tutorials or overhaul the clunky UI, but they do have time to develop quests for Twitch users. Their priorities are a little irritating.

But what has me seeing red is a nuance of these Twitch quests. There are two tiers of these “Viewer Quests.” The first one, anyone can get as long as they’ve linked their Twitch account to their Epic account. But the quests with better rewards are limited to people who subscribe to a Twitch streamer. This pisses me off.

Here’s why. First, there’s a lot of noise, now that people have been playing for a few days, about how Fortnite is Pay-To-Win. See there’re two kinds of loot in Fortnite. You can jump into a mission and open chests and find traps and guns. That’s great and all but traps are one use and guns wear out (pretty quickly). The better loot is Schematics that let you craft as many traps and guns as you like.

With me so far?

You only get schematics from Loot Boxes (called Llamas in Fortnite). You can earn some “mini-Llamas” by doing Shield Defense Quests, but for the most part you have to buy Llamas, either with V-Coins (which you can purchase with real money) or Founders Coins, which you generally get from Llamas. Early in your Fortnite career you can earn V-Coins by doing “Challenges” but those cap out early enough that plenty of people have now done them all. Once they’re finished, the only way you can get Llamas, and from Llamas better schematics (you hope…it’s all a gambling system), is through purchasing V-Coins with real money or somehow getting Founders Coins.

And there’s 1 way to earn Founder’s Coins that I know of. By doing the Twitch Subscriber quests.

So here’s Epic’s gameplan for you. Spend $40 to get into Early Access of the game. Play for a while and earn V-Coins to buy your first full llamas. Then when you’ve exhausted that system, pay some streamer $5/month to subscribe to his/her channel, leave your account sitting on the channel and hope that you are randomly selected to get the quest that you can do in-game to earn Founder’s Coin.

THAT is the system they’re working on while you’re sitting there frustrated that you can’t even view your inventory without starting up a mission.

Really screwed up priorities and a big middle finger directed at early supporters who don’t choose to spend money to watch some stranger play a game on Twitch. (Oh and if you prefer to stream on YouTube or Mixer or somewhere else? You too are getting the middle finger.)

I’m not rage-quitting Fortnite over this; I’ve already spent $60 on the game. But I won’t be spending any more money until they demonstrate that they value all their customers equally. If I get to where I can’t progress without spending money I’ll just play something else.

I’m done supporting the game, though, and won’t be blogging about it any more. And I suggest that if you’re interested in it, you wait a while to see what kind of company Epic is going to be, because right now that whole Free-To-Play model (which of course isn’t even free yet) is looking pretty ugly, and the company doesn’t care about you as a customer unless you’re promoting their game by streaming it.

Fortnite throws some terms around that can get confusing. Survivors and Squads both seem to have multiple meanings and initially I’d get kind of lost in all the survivor types and squad types.

Today I want to talk about Survivor Squads. Since Fortnite is down I’m going to try to do this without visual aids and from memory!

[Update: Added some images at the bottom!]

When I say Survivor Squads, I’m talking about Squads like the EMT Squad. In the Squads page, the left most pane leads you to these Squads.

The best analogy I could come up with is that these squads are to Fortnite what Runes are to a fantasy RPG. You know you’re playing a game and you get a weapon that has 2 rune slots so you put in a +Attack Rune and a +Speed Rune, or something like that? These squads do the same thing.

Every time you slot a survivor into these squads you’ll get an increase to one of a number of stats like Fortitude or Tech. The better the survivors (runes) you slot, the better the stats. These stats apply to whatever hero you’re running as. The “Squads” never leave this menu screen. They’re just buffs. These buffs also contribute to your overall power level (the number by the lightning bolt at the top left corner of the screen).

To maximize the buffs you get, you can in theory pick the ideal survivors (in your early days you’ll probably have to pick whatever you have). Each Survivor has a Job, a Personality and some Effects. Matching the Job to the Squad type enhances the buff. So slotting a Doctor into the EMT Squad, for example.

Also if your survivors have matching personalities it’ll increase the potency of the squad. Personality will be something like “Aggressive” for example. And then each Survivor will have 1 or more effects like +1 Trap Damage. If you slot in a few survivors with the same effect you’ll get a bonus to that effect.

I hope this at least gives you enough that you can figure out the rest in-game. You can slot, unslot and re-slot survivors at no cost so you should feel free to experiment. Also you can level up survivors which of course also increases the buff.

You unlock more of these squads, and more slots in these squads, via the skill tree.

There are also Defender Squads and Expedition Squads, but those are a completely different system.

Visual Aids!

Here is a low level Tank Penny with nothing slotted in Squads. You can see my overall Commander/Power Rating is pretty low with her like this. I should only go out on low level missions like this. My F.O.R.T. stats are 15-15-6-6 and those are all coming from the skill tree.

Penny with all Squads Empty

Here is Sidewinder Ramirez with no Squad. Even though she’s much higher level than Penny, my overall power score is still only 4. Ramirez has a higher Health & Shield values, partly due to her class (she’s a soldier) and partly due to her being level 21.

Ramirez with no squad

OK let’s slot some squads, starting with EMT which is the first squad you unlock. I had a Doctor to slot in here which is a job match. That circle with a cross in it was a little misleading to me because it just looked like a generic “add” button. But the icon inside the circle is indicating the job required for a job match, the cross meaning Doctor. Fortitude has jumped 10 points to 25 and Health has jump 54 points to 681 (hard to see in that green font). I haven’t sussed out the exact math here; I believe it is based on percentage and I’m not sure exactly how much of a boost the Job Ability Match gives. [Update: Matching the job doubles the FORT value increase.]

First Slot

Here’s Penny again, just showing that the Health, Shield and F.O.R.T. stats are the same on the Hero page as on the Squad page.

Penny with the Doctor Slotted into the EMT Squad

OK I’ve given the Doctor some help. These two cowboys brought Fortitude up to 54 and Health up to 839 (EMT Squad is all about Fortitude). These guys also Personality Match with the Doctor; everyone in this squad so far is Adventurous. And look, my overall power level crept up to 6. Again, I don’t know the exact math going on here. One of the new minions comes with Trap Durability and one comes with Shield Regeneration. I’m not sure that Personality or the two abilities do any good without being full. [Update: The abilities, at least, do not. I finally got a 3/3 for ranged damage increase and it gave me a 15% buff. Nothing until it was completed.
I’m going to guess 5% per point, so if I were to complete a 2/2 ability it would be a 10% buff. Not confirmed though.] In other words does having a personality match of 2/7 help or does it not kick in until you get 7/7. Same for the Trap and Shield abilities. Always more questions!

Filling up the EMT Squad

OK and now I’m jumping to where I’ve filled out all the squad slots that are unlocked. All the F.O.R.T. stats are improved and her Shield has been buffed up (Health goes up from Fortitude, Shield goes up from Resistance, I believe) and now my Commander Power Level is 11. So I’ve gone from Level 4 to Level 11 just based on slotting Survivor Squads. Same Penny hero, almost 3 times as powerful. And I can’t say for sure I have optimized my squads. I have a lot of survivors and optimizing squads is almost a game in itself. It’s a little like Deck Building in a CCG I guess.

All my Squad Slots (so far) full

Anyway, hope this helps!

See Epic, I can do punny titles too!

So I’m going to try not to write a wall of text here but instead break my Fortnite thoughts into a series of posts. Let’s see how I do.

Fortnite is a co-operative harvesting/building/tower-defense game from Epic. It’s about fighting what are essentially zombies but rather that go gritty and grotesque, Fortnite has a whimsical, funny aesthetic. It is in a paid Early Access phase now and is expected to go free-to-play in 2018. Cheapest buy-in right now is $40 which I thought was a bit steep for an Early Access title, but then I liked it so much I spent another $20 to upgrade to the next tier and get more stuff.

I bought in on the PS4 and was delighted to find that by linking my PS4 account to my Epic account, I could play on PC too. I’m not sure if the reverse is true or if the same applies to Xbox and PC. My data is cross-platform for the most part so I can work on my fort on PC or PS4. Swanky.

So what do you do in Fortnite? The basic game loop is that you go out and smash things to gather resources, then you build a fort around some focus point, and finally you trigger the husks (we don’t use the Z-word in Fortnite) to attack and you fend them off. Rinse and repeat.

This sounds simple but there are a lot of systems within systems going on.

You play as the Commander, an unseen uber-boss of your little outpost of people. When you run a mission you pick from one of your Heroes to play as. Heroes come in the form of Hero cards that vary in class, rarity and abilities. There’s a strong CCG current running under the surface of Fortnite.

My current collection of heroes

My current ‘main’ hero

The downside of Hero cards is that you can’t customize them. I would be very surprised if that doesn’t change. Offering ‘skins’ for Heroes seems like an obvious money-maker somewhere down the road. Sidewinder Ramirez up there is wearing a special Playstation skin so the system already exists in some form.

You can play solo, with friends or match-make into a random group. I spent the weekend doing about 50-50 solo/random missions.

There are two kinds of building missions I’ve discovered so far: first there are homebase missions. These take place in your persistent homebase. You can pop into here whenever you want and tweak your defenses and eventually you’ll get a mission to expand. When you do this the horde comes and you (and possibly some friends) hold them off. The other kind of build mission happens on a randomly generated map. Your team enters, first has to find the whatzit that needs to be activated, then you spend some time building defenses around it, and finally you turn on the whatzit and the horde comes.

Home fort, core area

Home fort, first expansion. Not yet tested against the horde

There’s also at least one kind of non-building mission: one where you have to rescue survivors before time runs out. In all these random maps you’ll find hidden treasures and little events like survivors: people who’re trapped or under attack and need your help.

There’s also one little icon on your map for a “Help others” mission. If you enter this one you’ll be matchmade with someone else who needs some extra firepower. Often these end up being homebase support missions though not always. I really enjoyed doing these because I knew someone had gotten in over their heads and needed help. Sometimes I like to be the good guy helping others.

At the end of a mission you get both experience for your commander (every time you level up you get a skill point to use in a skill tree that I won’t go into today) as well as different kinds of experience that can be used to level up heroes, schematics and survivors. Also things I’ll go into in more depth another day.

So would you like Fortnite? Here’s the thing: you spend a LOT of time scavenging resources. I think over the weekend probably 60-70% of my time playing was running around destroying things to get materials. I actually find that kind of soothing; I’m not sure what that says about me. But running through a building searching cabinets and smashing TVs to get nuts and bolts is kind of a zen thing, and the game does reward exploration in several ways. My favorite example was when I came upon a graveyard with a mausoleum that was built over an old catacomb. I gleefully searched and smashed each crypt I found, and at the end there was a hidden treasure. Grave robbing! Always a good time.

Anyway for some people all this scavenging is going to feel REALLY tedious and there’s no good way to get around it. If you play Minecraft and sometimes level a hilltop just for the fun of leveling a hilltop, you’ll probably enjoy scavenging in Fortnite.

I think both the building and fighting the husks aspects of Fortnite are going to be a much easier sell than the scavenging phases. There’re a bunch of weapons (guns & melee) plus heroes get special abilities to help smoosh husks. That’s all good fun.

What I tended to do over the weekend is enter a mission solo, scavenge like crazy and craft plenty of ammo (ammo is the reason why you need to scavenge so much) and then I’d just leave the mission; you get to keep everything you found. Then, now that I had plenty of ammo, I’d join a multiplayer mission to actually try to complete the mission.