Jaded's Pub

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.)


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.

Last spring TitanFall launched after a TON of hype. I snagged a copy for PC (at a steep discount, thankfully) and played it twice before deciding the game wasn’t for me. More recently both Evolve and Battlefield Hardline have run beta events. I dutifully downloaded both of them, and played them both once before deleting them. Not for me.

Now before I offend anyone, I’m not saying these aren’t good games. I’m saying they’re a bad fit for me because they’re competitive multiplayer games (the full Battlefield Hardline will have a single player campaign, and Evolve will let you play with bots, but the betas of both games are just the MP modes). When it comes to gaming I’m just not very competitive. Competitive games get me really tense and get my adrenaline pumping like mad, and I am just not an adrenaline junkie. I mostly play games to relax, I guess.

And yet I really enjoy Planetside 2, which is a purely competitive multiplayer game. So last night after I’d ragequit the Battlefield Hardline beta 5 minutes after I’d booted it up, I went into self-analyze mode to try to figure out what made it different.

And the only thing I could come up with was the scale and the pacing. When I first start playing a game I like to take my time. Figure out the controls, figure out the game’s system, get a feel for how my character moves and what I’m supposed to be doing. Most MP PvP games don’t give you a chance to do that. You spawn in and everyone tears off in some direction that you have to assume is significant and you run along behind them trying to figure out what button is for melee and what button throws a grenade and what do all those icons on the field mean and BAM! you just got shot. Time to respawn.

Hell even respawning is stressful because you have a bunch of classes, loadouts, and spawnpoints to choose from, but every minute you’re looking at the UI to decide what to pick, your team is down a man. So you just pick whatever and spawn back in and get stabbed by the enemy dude that’s camping the spawn location, or, because you haven’t learned the map yet, you run out into a spot where 6 different sniping points have clear line of sight to. And dead again, and you’re team is losing because you suck.

In Planetside 2 you spawn into a world where potentially hundreds of other players are on your side and many battles might be happening. If you take 5, or even 50, minutes to get your bearings no one is going to care since it’s not a tightly scripted 5v5 battlefield. Same thing with the spawn-in UI. You can take your time. You can play on your own terms. Follow the crowd to a big battle and fight like mad but if you need a bit of a breather, fall back. Maybe go and spawn in a vehicle and run a taxi service for a bit. Maybe just fly around seeing the sights, or spend time as a healer or engineer fixing people and machines up. There are a lot of choices beyond “RUN SHOOT SHOOT RUN RUN SHOOT DIE SPAWN BUNNYHOP RUN SHOOT” constantly for the entire time you’re playing.

I just realized this translates to my competitive MMO playing, too. Games that have 5v5 (or whatever) battlefields are a real turn off to me, but games with open world PvP are much more appealing.

I guess it all comes down to pacing. But I wish there were more games like Planetside 2 out there…

2015-01-31 10.05.02If you’re playing Dying Light, you should check out the free companion app. You can get it for Android or iOS. Sorry, Windows Phone and Fire OS users. Screenshots in this post are from the Android version, running on a Nexus 7 tablet.

They call it an app, I call it a simple game. You’re in charge of a group of scouts in the fictional city of Harran (where Dying Light takes place) and your job is to assign these scouts to various missions. And that’s pretty much it. It reminds me a lot of Star Trek Online’s Duty Officer System.

Scouts have levels and two stats: agility and power. Missions come in two varieties: scavenge and hunt. Agility is useful on scavenging missions, power is useful on hunt missions. You can assign 1-3 scouts to a mission, and there’s a mission difficulty rating that compares the cumulative strength of your scouts to the mission, giving you an idea of your chance of success.

Once you send scouts on a mission its all in the hands of the software. Missions run in real time, so you set up the missions, close down the app and go about your day.

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When missions are completed you get money and items as a reward. Your scouts take damage, earn experience and can level up (I haven’t had one killed yet but I’ve been pretty careful…it may be possible to get them killed). You may also get new recruits. You’ll use the money healing your scouts (as far as I can tell they won’t heal naturally). The items are either used to unlock more difficult missions or they can be packed into a crate and sent to the quartermaster in the Dying Light console game. Next time you play, you go see the quartermaster and your other self has sent you a care package of items!

2015-01-31 10.05.22This is a pretty fun and ‘low impact’ way to stay connected to Dying Light while you’re at work or something. You can send up to 20 items in a crate (and items don’t stack) and can only send one crate at a time. There doesn’t seem to be a time limit to this so I think you can send a crate, log into the console/pc game and collect it, then jump back into the companion app and send another crate. I haven’t actually tested this yet, though.

Obviously your PC or console will have to be connected to the Internet for this to work, and you’ll have to link the companion app to your console account (I’m honestly not sure what you link to for the PC version). But you don’t have to play online to take advantage of it. My game was in Solo Mode when I collected my first crate of goods from the quartermaster.

One tip I found out the hard way. Initially I was sending 3 scouts on every mission so they’d be wildly over-powered. I hoped this would prevent injuries, but it didn’t seem to. So I had 3 scouts taking damage and 1 monetary reward for doing the mission…and often the reward wasn’t enough to cover medical expenses. I was always broke.

What I do now is send just enough scouts to be safe. I’ll mix up higher level missions with a bunch of 1 scout/mission low level missions. The low level missions generate the $$ to heal the scouts getting busted up in the higher level missions. Since I started doing this money hasn’t been a problem.

[Update: Oh, and because my very first comment on this post was a joke about it making the game pay-to-win (a reference to the hullabaloo around the Evolve companion app), I should point out that there are no in-app purchases for this game!!]

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It’s been a busy week and I haven’t had as much time for zombie bashing as I would have liked, but last night I got in a quick session. I wanted to share this gameplay snippet and then talk about it:

So at this point in the game I’ve been tasked with taking out a gang of thugs who are holed up in a safe zone. In my first (not shown) attempt, I jumped in and tried to fight them all at once and quickly died.

When I got back to their compound after re-spawning, one of them was outside. I fought him and beat him, though at the cost of a good chunk of my health. Since I’m still miserly with supplies I actually headed back to the safe zone with the intention of sleeping, hoping that would cure my wounds. That’s when I learned the game won’t let you sleep during the day. Or at least not during this particular day. So I guess you can’t cheese your way through the game.

Headed back, got on the roof of their compound and tried to find a way to ‘pull’ a single enemy. The only ranged weapon I had handy were some throwing stars, and that’s about where this video begins. You can see the bad dude was having none of it. When I get knocked off the stairs and run back up them you can see a few other bad guys around the corner. I run up and get myself backed into a corner expecting them to all come at me.

I was a little disappointed that they didn’t follow me up the stairs. I’m conflicted on this. It seems ‘bad’ that the AI didn’t follow me, but if they did I probably would’ve died or had to run away.

Anyway at that point I could see throwing stars weren’t going to do the job since I only had a few, and I remembered seeing molotov cocktails in my blueprint list. Turns out they were really effective, as the video shows. In fact the ‘boss’ of this gang is inside (you can hear him constantly yelling at me to fight like a man or something) and past the end of this video I had to go 1 on 1 with him, and in the end I used a molotov cocktail on him, too.

Another discovery from last night (also not on the video) is that zombies pretty much insta-die if they touch spikes. At one point I killed 4 in a row by standing just past a spikey defensive barrier and kicking them into it. Yeah it’s a little cheap but these are the dumb day zombies. I’ll take cheap when I can get it.

Hopefully this weekend I’ll get a lot more time to play. Last night’s session really left me wanting more zombie smoohsing action!

Dying Light_20150127222408Dying Light, the zombie-ridden first person parkour survival (well, sort-of) horror game from Techland, launched today. By the time I got it downloaded (onto my PS4, the video and pics in this post are from the PS4’s share features) I didn’t have a huge amount of time to play, but I did squeeze in about two hours, which was just long enough to get through the fairly linear prologue and get to the meat of the game, unlocking side quests and co-op mode, neither of which I had time to sample.

But that still gave me enough time to bash some zombies and get a feel for the parkour aspect of the gameplay. The zombie bits are pretty familiar; this game came from the same folks who did Dead Island after all. And like that game, this one is really violent, at least towards the zombies. You’re going to be bashing them to bits with pipes and clubs for the first couple hours of the game and it is very much not a game for the kids! It’s a real splatter-fest.

There’s also a crafting system which is also fairly familiar. You find alcohol and gauze and combine them to make a med patch. You can craft lockpicks out of scraps of metal. And so on. You can craft anywhere, at least in these early parts of the game where your blueprints are pretty simple. You can also use bits of metal to repair weapons (which take damage with use). Loot, in the form of basic weapons and components for crafting, comes from searching the environment (a ‘survival sense’ ability takes the tedium out of this), or searching the corpses of the zombies you kill. There’s plenty of it, too.

You’ll also find locked chests that you can pick via a mini-game where you rotate the lockpick with one analog stick and turn the key with the other. If you don’t have things lined up right the controller will vibrate and if you don’t back off when it does, the lockpick breaks. This mini-game also felt really familiar.

The part of the game I was most concerned with was the parkour stuff, as I at times suffer from motion sickness in games. So far that hasn’t been a problem and the parkour stuff works pretty well and adds a new dimension (in some ways literally…you’ll do a lot of climbing) to the gameplay.

Here’s some parkour gameplay in action. In this clip I’ve completed a mission but darkness is falling and you don’t want to be outside in the dark!

So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Dying Light. The first person aspect makes for plenty of good scares, or at least startles, as you run around the corner and into a pack of zombies. The early-game zombies aren’t very fast but they’re everywhere and the sound of battle attracts them. They WILL creep up behind you and take you by surprise! As mentioned, the parkour system works well and combat is pretty fun. L1 will kick a zombie away from you while R2 swings your weapon. L2 throws items, like packs of firecrackers to distract the horde. R1 is your jump button.

Dying Light_20150127222226Your character (and you can’t create one, you have to play as Kyle Crane) has 3 proficiencies (Survivor, Agility and Power) that you level up as you play, and as you get skill points in these proficiencies you spend them in skills trees to unlock skills. You seem to have to ‘bank’ points every so often. I died once and was told I’d lost 200 survivor points. I’m not sure if that was experience or something else…I’m still learning the game. But I did level each of my proficiencies a few times in my two hours of play.

Now a word of warning: the game starts with a big old wad of exposition and during it, while you don’t have control of your camera, your view point will be swinging back and forth like mad. The exposition felt endless and that view point swaying was the one time I felt a little ill. The good news is this only happens at the very start of the game and then things start moving along nicely.

I think my attitude went from snark (I was snarky at first from all the exposition) to joy when I was sent to a fenced-in courtyard to see an NPC. I ran past it at first and came back at it from the wrong direction. I couldn’t find a door but eventually I found a way up onto something and leapt to the top of the fence and dropped inside. I thought it was cool that I could ‘solve’ this puzzle in a way other than coming in through the door (which turned out to be spot in the fence the was bend inward a bit). That feeling persisted as I kept switching between fighting through zombies to opting to out-maneuver or distract them, and back again. Whatever worked best for the immediate task at hand. It feels like the kind of game that is going to reward a certain amount of flexibility in how you play.

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As mentioned, the prologue is pretty linear and maybe a little longer than it needs to be, but honestly it was fun and there were some challenging moments where I really had to plan how to get from point A to point B without getting eaten. Still, when I got back to “The Tower” (the central base at the start of the game) and I saw a bunch of side-quest indicators light up I was delighted. Even when you’re on a quest it seems like you can take the time to explore and search for loot.

It’s really early…as I said, I only played for two hours. But so far I’m really enjoying Dying Light even if a lot of the systems are ones we’ve played with before. It gave me a few scares, there was a good feeling of satisfaction when I made some epic jumps, zombie combat is gross but satisfying…so far so good. I hope I enjoy the rest of the game as much as I enjoyed the prologue!

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Disclosure: This First Look was based on a copy of the retail version of Dying Light provided by the company handling Techland’s marketing.

After getting hyped about the Guild Wars 2 expansion (see previous post) I jumped into the game anew. Well almost anew. I had a level 8 ranger that I decided to play.

A LOT has changed since the last time I played Guild Wars 2; many systems seem to be either level-gated or maybe just level-teased. As I gained levels I was told about things like gathering and crafting and vistas…I’m not sure if low level characters now can’t do these things or if this is just kind of a tutorial system. Since my character pre-dated the changes (I’d rolled him years ago) he could do all of them. Daily quests have changed a lot too. They used to be very generic, like harvest 30 items or kill 50 monsters. Now there are a lot more of them to choose from but they’re pretty specific: do event X or gather wood from area Y. This probably helps to ‘funnel’ players into the same place to aid in keeping things populated.

I don’t know if it was the expansion announcement and everyone had the same idea that I did, or if the game is just still doing well, but the world felt very populated to me:


There was also a double exp buff for everyone this weekend and I went from level 8 to level 23 pretty quickly. Yesterday I thought to do an /age check and he was 8 hours old and level 17. This morning at level 23 he’s 11 hours. Six levels in 3 hours seems plenty fast, particularly since his map is still largely unexplored so he’s doing a lot of hoofing it back and forth.

I’m still struggling a little bit with scratching that progression itch since you learn all your skills for a given weapon very early and from then on out it’s about earning and spending skill points for utility spells which still don’t feel super impactful to me, but as I unlocked more of those and got into higher levels and needed to rely on them more, it was all feeling better. So I’m not done with Guild Wars 2 yet. We’ll see how long it sticks this time.

When I wasn’t playing that, I was playing Drive Club on the PS4. If you’re a PS4 owner you know that Drive Club had a horrendous launch, and if you’re waiting on the free PS+ version as far as you’re concerned it’s still having a horrendous launch. I bought the game and found it very pretty but also both frustrating and a little boring at first.

But Evolution Studios has been updating it regularly. They’ve added weather (which looks amazing) and some new tracks, circuits and cars for free. The servers are finally stable so your club and driver’s progress can be saved (and you can play online but honestly I haven’t bothered yet).

The core game, of course, hasn’t changed. It’s still very much a racing game, which to me is a little weird for a game called Drive Club. Prior to launch I assumed there’d be an open world where you and your crew could just kind of go cruising around. But nope, this is track-based gameplay. They still haven’t added any kind of replay mode, which seems odd given how pretty the game is, though they did add a photo mode for stills if you want to stop a race to take some shots.

They say this isn’t a simulation and though I’m not going to argue, it doesn’t feel like an arcade racer either. For one thing, there’s no racing line; you have to learn the tracks (there are green/yellow/red flags on corners to give you hints as to how tough they are). There’s no rewind either (something the Forza series has spoiled me with) so if your concentration lapses 90% of the way through a race and you hit something, you’re probably coming in last.

I had a devil of a time playing this game at first, if I’m to be honest. Eventually in an attempt to ‘find the fun’ I started driving from in-cockpit and using a manual transmission. Somehow the manual transmission flipped a switch in my brain and I stopped mashing down on the accelerator all the time and started driving like a sane person actually drives. I eventually went back to a behind the car camera just to get back some peripheral vision, but I stuck with the standard transmission for now.

And suddenly the game felt fun again. I still suck at it but now I’m getting better. Evolution has tweaked the AI so it no longer gleefully smashes into you quite so often, and between that change and me learning a touch of finesse Drive Club is now a game I’m really enjoying. I need to be in the right mood for it; I have to really concentrate to do well. But if fills a niche on the PS4, at least for now. I got so enthused about it that last night I sprang for the season pass (it’s dangerous having a balance in your PSN wallet…its so easy to spend it).

Of course, me being the knucklehead I am, I have no recent photos or videos from the game. Here’s a clip I recorded back in December (right after weather was put in) when I was still playing with automatic transmission and treating both brake and accelerator as if they were binary switches. You can see how poorly I did, and this is in VW Golf, not some super-car:

For some reasoning I’m feeling optimistic and upbeat today, so I wanted to talk about hype and how I think we (ok mostly I, but there’s some of you like me out there too) need to learn to embrace it.

Full stop: I’m not talking about PR hype that’s coming from some marketing department about a game that’s not even finished yet. I’m talking about hype from our friends. Seeing the people we hang out with on social media get really jazzed about something. Maybe “buzz” is a better word?

Anyway… I feel like we can react to hype 3 ways. We can embrace it, we can ignore it, or we can demean it.

I find it’s often REALLY tempting to demean it, and I’m not sure why. Maybe I’m just an asshole. But if so I’m not the only asshole around. I’m trying to be better. Like when Warlords of Draenor came out a lot of my friends were SUPER-pumped. I personally am not a fan of WoW but as far as I know I managed not to jeer about the expansion or try to demean anyone’s hype for the game.

A more passive-aggressive way of demeaning hype is with “flavor of the month” comments. Not everyone says “flavor of the month” in a derogatory way, but some do. Y’know the kind of thing: “Oh, so WoW is the FOTM now? I give it less than a month and you’ll all be playing something else.” (With the implication being this is a bad thing.) I’m really guilty of this, too. I get irrationally annoyed when a friend finds some new game and starts talking about how much fun he or she is having and that causes a bunch of other friends to try that game. I’m not sure why this bothers me…it has something to do with knowing that while these people are saying this is THE GAME TO PLAY today, I know they’ll be playing something else in a few weeks or months. But why THAT bothers me…I just can’t figure out. And if I can’t figure it out, it must not be very important and it’s just a bad habit I need to rid myself of.

I’m thinking about all this because of the Guild Wars 2 expansion announcement this morning. I don’t like Guild Wars 2…for whatever reason I just can’t get into it. But today instead of getting snarky I paddled hard to catch up and then dropped into the wave of hype and enthusiasm and rode it for all it was worth (yes apparently today is the day for surf analogies) and y’know what? It was FUN. I watched the twitch stream from the event with one eye and the buzz on Twitter with the other and it was really cool seeing all my friends so excited for this new expansion, and the next thing you know I was updating my Guild Wars 2 client.

So Guild Wars 2 is the flavor of the month, or week, or day, or year. And y’know what? That’s awesome. I’ll give it another go. Maybe it’ll stick this time, probably it won’t. But at least for the time I’m playing I can share in the discussion with my friends. And that’s a lot more fun than standing on the sidelines making snarky comments about the game.

fat_chocoboFinal Fantasy XIV is unusual in that it is an online game where PC, PS3 & PS4 players all play together on the same server. If you have a FF XIV (and have purchased clients for multiple platforms) you can be playing on your PC, log out, go to the living room, turn on the Playstation and log in with that same character and keep on going.

In a lot of ways this is pretty awesome. At long last you can play on your preferred PC platform but still go adventuring with your friend who’s a devoted console player. Or if you’re like me you can just bounce back and forth between playing on the couch and in the office, depending on your mood.

But there’s a negative side to this as well. I actually prefer playing on the console but I have to confess I feel a little bit uptight about it, at least when it comes to group content. I LOVE doing solo quests on the Playstation but I’m just not as efficient with a controller as I am with mouse and keyboard, particularly when it comes to quickly targeting things. Partially this is a matter of practice but it’s hard to argue that anything is easier than just pointing and clicking with a mouse when you need to target a specific mob.

Then there’s communicating. If everyone in my group is on teamspeak then I’d have to drag out a laptop or something to log in. I can use a keyboard, of course, but that means setting the controller down when I want to say something. Perfectly acceptable while soloing but in a boss fight in a dungeon those lost seconds could be crucial.

If I was on a server that only had PS4 players everyone else (well most everyone else, it certainly IS possible to connect mouse and keyboard to the PS4 and play that way) would have the same disadvantage when it came to controls. Ideally the game would have native voice chat for parties so everyone could communicate that way, but if not we could use the Playstation’s Party Chat to communicate.

But I’m playing with PC players, and I suspect primarily PC players, and I’m really sensitive about screwing up other people’s enjoyment of a game. So when it comes time to do group content (and FF XIV forces you to do group content if you want to advance the story and unlock things like using mounts) my enthusiasm for the game wanes. I don’t want to be fumbling around trying to target the right mob while the rest of my group is doing all the work, and I don’t want to be that guy who never speaks because I can’t fight with the controller and use the keyboard at the same time.

I’m really looking forward to Planetside 2 on the PS4 and Neverwinter on the Xbox One, because both are games I’ve enjoyed and (as far as I know) both intend to silo players so that everyone you’re playing with will be on console. Hopefully both will also come with native voice chat support.

In the meanwhile, back in FF XIV, I’d love for Square Enix to add some kind of ‘solo mode’ for the required storyline dungeons so that players like me can at least get through them and unlock chocobos and such. This weekend I started leveling my 8th or 9th character. I always get to It’s Probably Pirates (the first required dungeon) and quit playing. And oddly even though this is my 8th or 9th time through low level content I still really enjoy my time in that world.

I guess I should bite the bullet and play through that content on the PC and just get it over with, because I want to ride my chubby chocobo!