Jaded's Pub

Lately I’ve noticed that I’m approaching games in a different way. It wasn’t a conscious thing and maybe it’s just temporary. In spite of my name-checking 2015 in the title of this post, it certainly wasn’t a resolution.

I’m still playing and enjoying games but I’m not talking about them as much. I’ve for the most part withdrawn from “the community” and gone back to a time where games were purely a solitary refuge from the stresses of life. I think I’m just tired of all the baggage that comes with dealing with other people. I just want to love what I love and not have to defend my decisions. Couple that with having stopped playing MMOs and there’s not a lot of benefit to talking to other people about games. I’m sick of me saying, or seeing someone else say, “I’m really enjoying GameX” and immediately getting a “Oh GameX totally sucked” as a response from some random mouth-breather.

(My one exception is forge.gg — it’s new enough and the membership is still positive enough that I feel like people still celebrate the fun they find in the games they play and just ignore games they’re not interested in, rather than trying to ‘correct’ people who enjoy different games.)

What’s interesting about this, to me at least, is that it’s been kind of freeing. Instead of playing the latest and greatest I’ve been sorting through my game collection and playing things I always meant to finish or even always meant to start. I finally finished a port of a mobile game that is so generic I always forget the name. Dungeon Hunter: Alliance? Dungeon Explorer: Alliance? Something like that. I played it on the PS3. I bought it for $10 or $12 in I think 2012 and finally finished it a few days ago. Or at least finished my first play-through. It’s not a game I’d recommend to anyone, but I really enjoyed it. In fact I might play it again.

After that I started Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light which is the isometric co-op game that came out a few years ago. I’m playing it solo which I suspect takes something away from the experience, but I’m enjoying playing it a bit at a time. Gameplay doesn’t stand up to long play sessions, IMO. I limit myself to 1 level/night. I also finally started Papo & Yo, but its unforgiving save system combined with glitches caused me to set it aside. I’ve no patience for replaying content because save points are so far apart and I had to quit to go to bed, or worse because a character in the game got stuck and I had to restart. Some day I might give it another try on PC.

I’ve also been enjoying some tablet games; something that is completely taboo in “the community.” REAL gamers don’t play games on tablets, amiright? No, I’m not right but there’s the small but loud subset of gamers who think so and will tell you so. I played through all of Monument Valley (though not the expansion) and Quell Reflect. Now I’m playing ZenGrams. All three have been quite good and kind of relaxing. All three were free apps on the Amazon App Store, too (I’m playing them on my Fire HDX which I still LOVE). Yup, Amazon still does its free app of the day!

Along with social media, I’ve also more or less given up on gaming sites. I still have Joystiq, Polygon, Game Informer and Gamasutra in my RSS reader but fewer and fewer headlines grab my attention. It all feels like rehash, or clickbait, or someone trying to stir people up. Oh, Bungie gave us free gifts and some players are angry about it. Does that really warrant a news story? Maybe it does, but reading about people being disgruntled because they didn’t like the free stuff they got doesn’t improve or enhance my life in any way, so from now on I’m not reading stories like that.

I don’t need the hype either. Every game gets huge hype but most of them don’t live up to it. If I have a resolution this year (and really I’m not much for resolutions) it is “Wait to buy.” I have literally hundreds of games in my collection; I don’t need to pay full price for GameX on the day it comes out. It’ll be half price in a few months AND all the glitches will be ironed out (or they won’t be and I’ll know to skip it completely).

So that’s where I’m at. Kind of a pointless blog post but the take away from all of this is that I’m enjoying games a lot more than I was before I fell in love with Dragon Age Inquisition. After DAI I spent a couple hundred bucks buying the other ‘hot new games’ looking for my next love affair but none of them really stuck in spite of them being hyped and well-thought of by the community. For now at least, I’ll play the games that speak to me and not worry about what’s popular.

I finished South Park: The Stick of Truth this evening. If you read my last post you’ll know I was pretty conflicted. I liked the mechanics and some of the jokes, but there were sections that really went beyond my limits in terms of gross humor. There’s a point where I find gross humor just becomes gross and not at all funny or entertaining.

The 2nd half of The Stick of Truth was a lot worse than the first half in these terms. It got really bad; bad enough to the point where I’m kind of embarrassed to have played it, to be honest. I knew it wasn’t a long game (took me just under 13 hours in total) and I just wanted to finish it to say I finished it. As soon as I did, I deleted it. It’s not a game I’d ever play again, nor did I have the slightest interest in going back to finish up side quests.

Also, even at 13 hours it felt a little drawn out in places. Lots of that style of quest where you need someone to do 1 thing and they send you on several trivial side missions before they’ll agree, and it just feels like busy work.

I still think most of the game mechanics were pretty solid (though the button mashing stuff got pretty bad towards the end in places) and if you’re a fan of really raunchy toilet humor then you’ll probably enjoy the game. For me though, it went beyond my comfort level. Not recommended for people who aren’t really into the nasty, gross stuff.

It took most of my on-again, off-again holiday vacation but I finally found a game that grabbed me and helped me get over my Dragon Age depression. I’d heard over and over again that South Park: The Stick of Truth was a good game and back around Thanksgiving Sony had put it on sale for $10 or so and I’d grabbed it for the collection.

I’m really new to South Park. For years I refused to watch it because I thought it starred talking feces and was nothing but dick and fart jokes. When I finally gave it a chance it turned out I liked it when I wasn’t hating it. There IS talking feces and a lot of dick and fart jokes that I don’t really appreciate, but there’s a lot of other stuff that makes me laugh, too.

And I’m finding the same holds true of the Stick Of Truth. The overall theme is that a bunch of kids who live in South Park are playing a giant LARP. So yes, I’m a rogue but I’m also ‘the new kid’ since I just moved into the neighborhood. And if I spend too much time exploring and poking around instead of following quests my companions will say something like “Can we get back to the game now?” In combat if you take too long an opponent will say “Wait, is it my turn?” or the less friendly “What the fuck is taking so long?” or even a simple “I could be home watching TV.”

This constant breaking of the 4th wall (well, sort of) amuses me for reasons I can’t explain.

But what I’m really enjoying are the RPG mechanics. You might think, as I did, that the Stick of Truth is a quickie way to cash-in on the popularity of South Park and that the actual game would be quite shallow, but it’s not. Take combat, for instance.

Combat is turn-based, with some timed button-mashing thrown in. So you take your turn and then to max out your attack you have to press buttons at the right time. For melee attacks you can do a light multi-attack or a single powerful attack. Enemies have a variety of stances and defenses they can use. In Riposte defense any melee attack launched against them is reflected back on you, so you’ll need to use a magic or ranged attack. In Reflect, the opposite is true. Ranged attacks will bounce back at the attacker and you’ll need to use Melee. Then they can have Shields, which absorb 100% of X attacks, meaning you’ll want to use light attacks to break the Shields quickly. Or they can have Armor which absorbs X points of every attack. Against an armored opponent you want to use Power attacks since the Armor will absorb all the damage a light attack inflicts.

And so on; that’s one small aspect that I’m using as an example. There are also special movies that use Power Points, and magic that uses mana. Gear is both customizable (via stickers and ‘strap-ons’) and amusing. Right now I think my character is wearing Druid Robes and a Tin-Foil Hat. There’s also a bunch of ‘flare’ that you can use to continually change what your character looks like, which for some reason also amuses me.

But then there’s the gross stuff. For instance Mana has a pretty interesting mechanic in that a character can only ‘hold’ so much mana. This means if you’re low on mana and want to quaff a potion you can, but you want to make sure you don’t drink too big a potion or you’ll wind up with too much mana, which results in a debuff. In fact some enemies will actually inflict mana on you to try to force this debuff.

It’s an interesting mechanic, BUT then there’s the fact that the whole magic system is based on farting. And your “mana” is gas. And if you get too much of it, you shit your pants…that’s the debuff I mentioned. Which is really gross and to me, not funny.

So that’s my issue. It’s got some neat game mechanics, but some seriously disgusting aesthetics. Though at other times I find the aesthetics really amusing. I got to one point yesterday where I almost put the game aside becaused it really crossed a line (sodomy) for me, but in the end I pushed on and things got funny again. And this is exactly how I feel about South Park the show. Sometimes I turn it on and am just horrified by it, and other times I find it hysterical.

If, unlike me, you don’t mind (or even enjoy) jokes about flatulence, incontinence and sodomy, give The Stick of Truth a try. It’s a really solid RPG..at least the first 6 or so hours are (that’s as far as I’ve played it). And even if you do mind these things, if you’re willing to just clench your jaw and push past the gross bits, I’d still recommend it. I’m really surprised by how much I’m loving this game, when I’m not hating it.

It’s been a long time since I blogged. During most of that time I’ve been playing Dragon Age: Inquisition. I resisted the urge to talk much about it because I was enjoying myself so much that I didn’t want to taint the experience by inviting spoilers or even spending a lot of time discussing the game’s faults. I was just reveling in the fun I was having rather than playing with a critical eye, if that makes sense.

I finished the storyline about a week ago after spending over 100 hours exploring the world. And there is still at least 1 place I haven’t visited and several I barely touched. Inquisition is a HUGE game.

The weekend before Christmas I was traveling for a few days, meaning I took a break from gaming. When I came back I found that Inquisition’s annoyances (and it certainly has some; it’s certainly not a perfect game) had started to bug me more, so I decided to finish up the storyline before I lost interest. (This event isn’t unique to DA:I; I find taking a break from a game often will break its ‘spell’ over me. I almost always quit MMOs after some outside influence forces me to stop playing for a few days.) My plan was that I would keep playing past the end of the storyline just to hunt Trophies and see more of the world.

But a warning to anyone with the same plan. Post-credits, the game changes in some subtle ways. Mostly your companions feel like they’ve all ‘reset’ to their default states or something. No longer can I visit Cassandra and have her tell me that it warms her heart to see me (I chose her as the character to romance). Instead she just gives me a default “Inquisitor?” reply when I talk to her. I haven’t noticed any party banter that acknowledges my choices since I finished either, though maybe that’s just bad luck. In general there felt like a lot less banter than in previous Dragon Age games.

My other problem is that I’m too high level and too well-geared for most of the gameworld. I remember how exciting it was to kill my first dragon, but now it feels like there is little risk in slaying the beasts. In fact I feel like giants give me more of a problem but I’ve out-leveled even them. There’s a trophy to kill 10 dragons in a single play-through that I keep saying I’m going to complete but I just can’t be bothered.

So I’ve pretty much stopped playing, but the problem is there’s nothing else like Dragon Age: Inquisition to fill that void. I’ve been bouncing between games hoping something grabs me, but so far no luck. Bioware absolutely left ‘hooks’ to hang DLC/expansion packs off of but I haven’t heard any news about them. Instead the company seems to be pushing multiplayer.

It astounds me that I put over 100 hours into a game and can still feel depressed that it is over. Usually I get bored with games at somewhere around 20 hours. Heck I haven’t played many MMOs for more than 100 hours. Inquisition is the Bioware game that finally ‘clicked’ with me and now I want more, darnit! I’m not even sure what it was that hooked me. Combat wasn’t all that astounding (I played on Normal difficulty and only used the tactical view to examine enemies. Nor did I ever feel a huge need to craft epic gear or think hard about what accessories to wear. After a break I’ll have to play again on a harder difficulty level.) The addition of a Jump button meant that terrain was often really annoying as I tried over and over to jump up a ledge that was no higher than a different ledge that I had just jumped up onto. The story was fine but not really vastly unique or anything. I guess it comes down to the characters and the interactions between them. I really did have favorite companions, and companions that I barely tolerated. They came to feel like real people, at least while I was actually playing. I even grew fond on non-companion NPCs, like Scout Harding. I also liked that each ‘zone’ could feel almost like a stand-alone story. And I’m very glad that I played the first two Dragon Age games just prior to Inquisition because the new game references events in the older ones; events that were still fairly fresh in my mind.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is without a doubt my personal game of the year. I’d sure feel better if Bioware would announce some additional content for it!

Dragon Age™: Inquisition_20141201150748

mageSaturday I wrote about how I wouldn’t be playing Dragon Age Inquisition at launch because I was in the midst of Dragon Age II and wanted to finish it before starting DA:I. And then madness happened.

It was a chilly weekend here so Lola and I didn’t do a lot of walking, and my Dragon Age fever was running high. I spent every free moment playing and by Sunday night I’d hit the 50 hour mark (I said Saturday morning I was a little over 30 hours but I think I must’ve been underestimating and was actually at 35 or even more) and I was deep into Act 3. And it turned out Act 3 was pretty short. Monday night I fired up the game and an hour later I was watching the closing credits!

Sunday I had felt like the end was drawing near (NPCs started foreshadowing the ending by basically saying their goodbyes) so I went ahead and pre-ordered Dragon Age: Inquisition for PS4. I wanted to get the bonus items and I wanted to have the game pre-loaded, just in case.

Monday after the credits I logged onto the Dragon Age Keep website and set up my ‘world state’ for DA:I. Got that done (had to fudge some things where I couldn’t really recall what I had done) and uploaded. Then I went downstairs and fired up the PS4 to make sure the pre-load for DA:I had happened and saw that the game unlocked at midnight my time. That was an unexpected surprise because so often on the PS4 things have unlocked at midnight Pacific time.

It was about 11:30 when I made this discovery so at midnight I went downstairs and starting playing Dragon Age: Inquisition.

So yeah, I finished Dragon Age II with just enough time for me to set up my Keep and then transition right into DA:I. I couldn’t have planned it this well if I’d tried, and I’m so excited to continue to experience the world of Dragon Age and to be playing the new game while all my friends are.

As anyone interested enough in gaming to be reading this blog knows, Dragon Age: Inquisition releases in a few days. A lot of my friends are excited and apparently for good reason. EA didn’t embargo reviews so we’ve seen plenty of those and they’ve all (at least all the ones I’ve seen) been favorable. On the Xbone EA runs a service called EA Access that let members start playing DA:I a few days early, and reports from those players is also positive. So as much as we can ever be sure of anything, DA:I seems like it should be a solid game.

I won’t be playing at release. In fact I’m an EA Access member and could be playing right now, but I’m not. And man is it ever tempting but I’m holding out.

I only finished Dragon Age: Origins at the end of this summer. I wound up playing it on the PS3, which was a mixed decision. It was bad because OMG what a crummy port DA:O is on the PS3. Angela joked that from her observations I spent more time looking at loading screens than I did playing the game and she wasn’t far off the mark. The graphics are poor and the gameplay got kind of butchered because of the limited controls available on a gamepad (a lot of encounters got trimmed down for the PS3 version). But it was a good decision because I finished it. I’ve started playing DA:O on PC half a dozen times but never stuck with it.

For whatever reason I never finish games on the PC. I think the platform just offers too many distractions. I need to check twitter and G+ and see what’s on the RSS feed before I play and again every 10 minutes during my gaming time. If I get the least bit stuck it’s super easy to jump to a browser and look up a hint and then I see a link to get into the beta of Super Awesome Amazeballs Game so I follow that link and sign up for an account and fill out the form and what IS Super Awesome Amazeballs Game anyway, maybe I should watch a YouTube video of it. Hey look in the related videos is a teaser for some other game and also boobs! So let’s watch a few more videos and OMG is it midnight already? Time for bed. What was I meaning to do tonight? Oh yeah, play Dragon Age. Well maybe I can do that tomorrow.

So whenever some self-righteous “PC Master Race” blowhard starts spouting off I just hit the mute button. Different platforms work for different players. I have plenty of friends that have a lot of trouble getting “TV time” from their families and for them PC is the perfect platform because it’s all theirs all the time. Yes, the PC version almost always looks better and has all the mods and stuff, but it doesn’t matter how good a game is if you don’t play it. I play and finish games on consoles; on the PC I kind of dabble and leap from game to game and never get deep into anything.

Ahem, OK tangential tirade done.

So I liked DA:O but I didn’t love it as much as many people did. I felt the pacing was pretty bad and some sections just dragged on for way too long. I’d always heard that Dragon Age II was terrible but at some point I’d bought it for $10 or $15, so I figured what the heck, I’ll give it a go. And I liked it, but I didn’t get far before Destiny launched and when that happened DA 2 was forgotten.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago when I got an invite to Dragon Age Keep, the web-tool that lets you set up a ‘history’ for yourself for Dragon Age: Inquisition. I started working through that and during the process you get a recap of the events of the earlier games. Before the major DA2 spoilers came up, I just stopped. I realized I wasn’t ready to give up on DA2. I asked my Twitter peeps whether I should push forward or just skip it and response was about 50-50.

So I booted up DA2 and started playing again; it took a little while to pick up all the threads but before very long I was having a blast. I’m not sure why everyone says the game is terrible; I’m really enjoying it. I find the pacing is way better that it was in DA:O and most ‘sections’ are easily consumed in one sitting. I will admit the combat feels pretty button-mashy but I don’t really play these games for the combat so much as I play them for the story. Maybe that’s why folks didn’t like it. If I wanted really challenging combat I guess I could bump the difficulty up.

Dealing with inventory is nicely streamlined as well. I pick all the bits for my main character but companions come with their own armor so I just give them a weapon and trinkets. This means I switch up companions all the time, sometimes just to watch them interact, which is super entertaining to me. There’s a TON of lore here in the form of the codex. I tend to save those entries up and read them in batches, usually at the end of an evening while I’m stretched out on the couch with a puppy snoring beside me. It becomes my ‘before bed’ reading material.

At this point I’m a bit over 30 hours in, somewhere in Act II, and I’ve played through the Legacy DLC (which a friend recommended I play and I’m glad she did). There’s no way I’ll be finished by Tuesday when DA:I comes out, but that’s OK. I was going to rush through DA2 in order to get it out of the way, so to speak, but I’m enjoying it too much to rush. My one fear is avoiding DA:I spoilers since I know so many friends will be playing.

What’s odd is I looked around online and plenty of people have beaten DA 2 in 30 hours and I’m about half-way through at this point. I am doing all the side quests and as mentioned I read all the lore. Maybe I’m just a slow player. /shrug

I’m still really excited about Dragon Age: Inquisition and I think playing DA2 first is just ramping up that excitement. I know, in general terms, what DA:I is about and I can see how it is getting set up in DA2; that also adds to the fun.

If you’ve never played DA 2 because you heard it sucked, I’d suggest you snag a cheap copy and try it. Depending on what you look for in Bioware games you might be pleasantly surprised. I sure have been.

2014-10-24_00003Last night I got to put a few hours into Sproggiwood, a new rogue-like from Freehold Games. You know the drill with me; this is my ‘gut reaction’ post rather than in in-depth review.

I’ve been playing a lot of ArcheAge and some Dragon Age 2 lately; games that are relatively complex. Sproggiwood was a breath of fresh air because it’s an ‘easy’ game to play. I don’t mean it isn’t challenging, I just mean you won’t have to spend much time figuring out the controls or reading tips online. You can play it completely with a mouse if you want to, or you can just use the keyboard (I’m guessing it would be an excellent laptop game and I’ll be surprised if they don’t port it to tablets at some point).

The core gameplay of Sproggiwood is fairly typical rogue-like stuff. You head into a grid-based dungeon and explore it 1 step at a time. Everything is turn based. Enemies move at the same time you do. All movement is orthogonal making it easy to play with WSAD keys. There are a lot of different items to collect and figuring out how they work, and how they work together, is part of the fun.

Your gear consists of three slots: armor, weapon and accessory. Additionally you can carry 1 consumable item. If you find a different consumable you can use it right away, replace the consumable you’re carrying (the old one goes poof), or convert it into gold.

You have two stats: health and stamina. Stamina is used to power skills and it replenishes as you fight. Unlike many rogue-likes, in Sproggiwood health doesn’t replenish with time, nor is there a concept of food.

At least in the early stages of the game dungeons are pretty short. You jump in, fight your way down, leveling up as you go. Each time you level you get a skill point to use in one of 4 skills (each class has a different set of skills). You get to the bottom of the dungeon, fight a boss and then a doorway pops open and you head back to town.

So let’s talk about town. When you first start you play a Farmer. After you clear the first dungeon you get to add a building to your town; the building you choose determines the next class that’ll be unlocked. In my three or so hours of playing I’ve unlocked Warrior, Archer and Thief; there are 6 classes altogether (Wizard and Vampire are the two I haven’t gotten to yet). You can arrange the buildings in your town and build roads and things but as far as I can tell that’s all just decoration.

While in town you can also shop for three classes of products:

First are the three types of town upgrades. Upgrading aspects of your town will help you gain experience faster, start with more health, and get reduced prices in the shops.

Second is gear. You can buy gear for your adventurers so when they head into the dungeon they don’t start with the basic free gear.

Third is consumables that allow your adventurer to start a dungeon with a health potion or a teleport scroll or any of a number of other consumables.

Now here’s the catch: for gear and consumables you can only choose from items you’ve already discovered via opening chests in the dungeon.

2014-10-24_00001Every time you enter a dungeon you’re reset to level 1 (and the dungeon is randomized). Obviously as the game progresses (and there’s a light-hearted storyline to drive you forward) the dungeons get tougher. So here’s your main game-loop. You go into an easy dungeon and fight a boss and discover cool weapons, armor and consumables in the process (discovering them makes them available in the store). You can use these while in the dungeon but they vanish when you teleport out. You also collect a bunch of gold that you then spend back in town on higher quality starter gear to make your adventurer tough enough to take on the next dungeon even though s/he has to start at level 1 again. When you buy gear from the store it’s persistent. Buy a nice sword once and you can choose it every time you enter a dungeon (though all gear is class specific). Even consumables are persistent. If you buy a healing potion once, every time you enter a dungeon you can choose to start with a healing potion.

Now let’s talk about death. Here’s where Sproggiwood is a lot gentler than most rogue-likes. When you die in a dungeon you have to restart it and you’re back to being level 1, but you keep any gold you’ve acquired. There’s one catch: the bulk of your gold (at least at low levels) comes from a 1000 gold bonus you get for clearing a dungeon for the first time with any given class. Still, dying and having a few hundred gold pieces to show for your trouble is better than dying and having nothing to show!

So those are the basics but let’s get to the subjective stuff: Is Sproggiwood any fun?

Yes, assuming your brain is wired in a way that lets you enjoy colorful, turn-based rogue-likes, Sproggiwood is a lot of fun. What I like about it is that it’s accessible. You always read about how awesome rogue-likes are because you die horribly over and over and over but each time you learn some tiny little bit of knowledge that makes you better. That may be true but honestly I don’t often have that much patience. Sproggiwood isn’t as punishing (yet anyway) as most rogue-likes but it still teaches you how to play in ways that are not immediately obvious at first (plus even if you die you get some gold out of the attempt which takes away that ‘wasted time’ feeling of coming out empty handed).

As an example, there are a lot of slimes early on. They come in different colors and when you kill them they leave a blotch on the ground. You’ll quickly learn that green slimes (first encountered in dungeon #2) leave a blotch of poison that causes a few hit points worth of damage if you move over it. So the first ‘tier of knowledge’ is realizing you should lure green slimes out of corridors before you kill them so you’ll be able to walk around their poison blotch. The next tier of knowledge is realizing that other monsters are also poisoned when they walk over a green slime death blotch, and in walking over it they eliminate it. So then you start trying to maneuver the enemies so that you can kill a green slime and the giant behind it will step in that puddle of poison trying to get to you, taking some damage and cleaning up the blotch at the same time. Stuff like that.

Another example. Scattered around the dungeons are pots that you can break to earn coins. Fair enough, I need gold. But then I found armor that gives you 5 health every time you break a pot. That seemed OK but maybe not as good as the +25 HP armor I was wearing since there aren’t THAT many pots laying around. But THEN I found a scroll that turns all monsters in the area into pots! OK now we have an effective combo! Wear that +5 HP/pot armor and carry a ‘turn monsters into pots’ scroll and you have a really effective way of both clearing out monsters and regaining health (and some gold too).

I don’t want to spoil any more of this kind of thing, but for me that’s where the real joy of Sproggiwood comes from. Finding an item or a skill that seems kind of strange and then realizing that combining it with something else makes it pretty potent. Or learning how monsters behave and turning that behavior against them.

I’m enjoying Sproggiwood a lot; more than I expected to in fact. My only disappointment is that the town screen looks like it’s going to have some kind of function, but really it’s just for looks. You keep adding buildings to it, and citizens move in (and say random things) but it’s all just for ambiance, at least in the first few hours. If that changes I’ll update this post.

Sproggiwood is available on Steam or the Humble Store for $14.99.

Disclosure: This post is based on a copy of Sproggiwood provided by Freehold Games.

Forza Horizon 2 didn’t make a great first impression on me. I think I just got too caught up in the hype and the product delivered felt a little…trivial maybe. Mostly it was the off-road stuff that bugged me; I felt like it made it too easy to just cut across a corner instead of following pavement. I also didn’t like that you got a really good car early on and I saw no need to switch, at least at first. And then there was the in-game radio stations, which I didn’t care for.

In fact my first impression was that Forza Horizon 2 was that it was a bit of a train car wreck.

But I kept playing and the more I played, the more I enjoyed it. I unlocked the classical music station (I’d still prefer a classic rock station but oh well). I was prompted to buy new cars so I could compete in different kinds of events. I was introduced to systems like “Barn Finds” (where you have to search out an abandoned barn that has some old car inside that you’ll get for free) and collecting photos of different cars. I joined a Club (the one that AGE runs) and started competing against both club members and friends to see who could bust the most billboards or discover the most roads.

All the while the racing grew on me. I embraced cutting across corners (or even across fields) and just ignored the fact that most of these cars would have no chance of transversing a plowed field, given their clearance. I’d choose to drive a VW Microbus instead of a Ferrari just for the silly joy of driving an old classic. Basically I re-learned how to play a game for fun instead of playing in the most expedientway in order to finish as quickly as possible.

And now I love Forza Horizon 2. I think my turning point came when I got a chance to race a train.

But there’s more to the story and it has to do with the Xbox One itself, and how it enabled me to come to love FH2 (and how the system is starting to really grow on me). In order to explain I have to tell you a little bit about my routine.

Every day after work I take the dog for a walk and then come home and have a variable amount of ‘down time’ before dinner. Angela is the cook in this house and this is my lazy time when I crack open a beer and flop down on the couch. I never know if I’m going to have 5 minutes or 50, so in the pre-Xbox One days I’d just watch TV because it wasn’t worth firing up a game if I was going to have to quit before I really got started.

But now I turn on the Xbox One and start playing a game. The amount of time I have doesn’t really matter because of the XB1’s suspend feature. When dinner is ready it’s a matter of saying “Xbox watch TV” and the game I’m playing suspends and TV starts playing (yes we’re bad people who eat dinner in front of the TV). So we’ll eat and watch something on the DVR. After dinner Angela usually grabs her iPad to check Twitter or Pinterest or whatever, and I grab the controller and switch back to my suspended game and pick up right where I left off. When I’ve had my fill (or if I have more work to do) I put the whole Xbox into standby mode. The next day I can wake it up and again pick up that game right where I left off.

This sounds minor but in fact it is making the XB1 my go-to console since I don’t have to load up a game, then load up a save, and then start playing. I just say “Xbox On,” grab a controller and start playing the game I had been playing the previous evening.

Overall I still prefer the Playstation ecosystem and when I know I have a couple hours to play it’s the PS3 or PS4 that gets turned on. But on busy days when I just have a few minutes to sneak in some gaming before or after dinner, the Xbox One can provide that fix quickly and effortlessly. And Forza Horizon 2 is the kind of game that rewards playing for 10 minutes; maybe I can get a photo of a rare car, or maybe I’ll go in search of signs to drive through for bonus points. The game offers a plethora of both short and long term goals and makes even the shortest gaming sessions feel really fun.

I’ve been enjoying the heck out of ArcheAge and found myself looking at all the goodies in the Starter Pages and finding myself tempted to buy one, which is crazy since I already spent stupid money on a Founders Pack. Still the itch was there.

Today I decided to do some math and figure out if they’re actually a good value. And guess what? They’re fair but not a deal.

First step was to determine how much a credit costs. At the smallest denomination $5 gets you 750 credits. So a credit is worth .6667 cents. (Technically .666666666… on and on but I figured 4 digits was enough.)

Using that number, here’re the values I came up with:
$149.99 Archeum Starter Pack = $188.41
$99.99 Gold Starter Pack = $122.27
$49.99 Silver Starter Pack = $52.80

This looks good but there’s a catch, but before I go into that there are some caveats.

The Archeum Starter Pack includes “Purestar Ball Attire” which isn’t available in the store and I didn’t factor it into the cost at all since I had no idea what the value would be. It also includes the Mirage Elk, which again isn’t available in the store but I valued it at 600 credits since that’s the cost of the highest price mounts in the store. It also includes 6 Skybound Housewarming Gifts. Again, not available in the store, but you can buy Clawbound Housewarming Gifts for 420 credits so I used that figure.

The Gold Pack & Silver Packs have 3 & 1 Skybound Housewarming gifts, respectively and there again I used that 420 credit figure.

So if you really want these unique items then buying a Starter Pack is the way to go.

Now let’s talk about that catch. A credit is worth .6667 cents only if you buy at the lowest available denomination. If you buy more than the minimum you get bonus credits.

If you buy $100 worth of credits you get 15,000+3,500 bonus, for a total of 18,500 credits. Now you’re paying .5405 cents for a credit.

If we plug that figure into our spreadsheet then the Starter Packs are pretty much break-even:

$149.99 Archeum Starter Pack = $152.75
$99.99 Gold Starter Pack = $99.13
$49.99 Silver Starter Pack = $42.81

Now for the sake of completeness it’s weird to figure the value of a $50 starter pack based on spending $100 on credits.
If you buy $50 of credits you get 7,500 + 1,000 bonus for a total of 8,500 credits. At this level a credit is worth .5882

The figures then become:

$149.99 Archeum Starter Pack = $166.23
$99.99 Gold Starter Pack = $107.88
$49.99 Silver Starter Pack = $46.59

And there’s one more thing to factor in. Are you going to actually use everything in these Starter Packs? For instance Vocation Tonics let you level up extra trade skills temporarily buff up your trade skills. If you’re not big into crafting you may never use those, or by the time you need them you may be awash in in-game gold that you can use to buy Apex to turn into credits to buy a Vocation Tonic. Personally I haven’t felt the need for XP Tonics; experience rolls in pretty quickly naturally. And I don’t even know what a Crest Brainstorm Reagant is for, do you?

So my advice, unless you really want the Elk, Ball Attire or Skybound Housewarming Gifts, is to instead just purchase credits in bulk so you get the bonus amount, and then spend them on the items you actually need. In my opinion that’s a smarter way to go.

Here’s a link to the Google Spreadsheet I created to figure all this out:

PS If you think I’ve made any errors in these calculations (I transcribed all the items by hand) please let me know and I’ll update.

rowboarIt seems like the ArcheAge anger is dying down in the blogosphere (or I’ve started tuning it out) as either the queues fade or people just give up and go away mad. Personally I’ve had good luck since re-rolling on one of the first ‘expansion servers.’ As a Patron my queue has never been more than a few minutes and often I get in almost instantly. In-game the initial crush has died down and there’s not as much fighting over mobs.

Not that I fight much. Let’s face it, there are a metric butt-ton (that’s a scientific measurement) of games chock-full of kill 10 rats quests and if you’re struggling to play ArcheAge to do those I can only wonder why. But hey, as long as you’re having fun. I’m playing ArcheAge for the sandbox yumminess, and that means I spend a lot of time growing stuff, crafting items, and exploring the world. I do accept every quest I come across and one of these days I’ll have to think about finishing them.

questsThe last time I wrote I talked about my first Tradepack quest and it took until last night for me to get around to doing it. This is a quest that will drive the impatient away in droves, but I enjoyed it. First you have to make the trade pack and that took me a few days of farming (in-game farming, as in growing crops…not farming as in “killing the same mob over in over hoping for drops”) then you have to carry it from one place to another, which took me… I dunno… 15 minutes of walking? Many will dismiss this as ‘busy work’ and it is, but it was also a neat opportunity to slow down and really look at the world. I made note of some housing areas that had lots of open room, plus I gathered some wild herbs and did some mining along the way. It’s not something I’d want to do every day but there are ways to mitigate your travel time. Mounts and ‘mass transit’ and things of that nature.

My way of enjoying ArcheAge is to really treat it like a virtual world rather than a game, I guess. Sadly my fellow players don’t see it the same way and my attempts to banter with passersby have so far been met with stony silence. Killjoys.

ArcheAge isn’t my new home. I don’t really do ‘new homes’ in MMOs. I flit from one to the other. The real-time aspects will eventually go from fun to annoying (I log in every morning before work to tend my garden) but for right now, I’m finding it all charming and addictive. I actually find myself looking forward to more players drifting away and leaving me with an emptier world, which I know isn’t something that Trion is looking forward to, but I think we all can agree will happen. Packed farming land and housing areas look dumb but the ones I saw in my walk last night actually are quite pretty and make me want to ‘live’ there for a while. Plus competition for mining nodes is fierce right now; everyone is looking for stone.

I’m really glad I rolled on the new server rather than fight the queue and the crowds on Naima. I have plenty of Patron time on my account (since I was a Founder) but if I didn’t, I’d definitely be throwing down my $15 to subscribe, at least for now. ArcheAge is a great game if you’re looking for a sandbox experience, but it definitely isn’t for everyone. There’s lots of down and ‘quiet’ time unless you’re just trying to play it like a themepark, and if you’re doing that I think there are better alternatives out there.