Bravely Default: 45 hours in, sh*t got real

I’m still playing Bravely Default on the 3DS. Way back in May I reported hitting 19 hours. I’m at 45 hours now. It’s my ‘before bed’ game so I only play a bit each night, but I do play it almost every night.

So I’ve been tooling along, grinding a little. I was feeling pretty OP. Early on there were some tough boss fights but I used the “Summon a Friend” system to call in the character of some Nintendo-Friendo who was much further along than I was. That usually was enough to 1-shot the boss.

Difficulty spike!

Last night, things changed. I came up against a boss that just wipes the floor with me. My friends are no longer so high level (I assume they stopped playing LONG ago) that I can lean on them. I gotta figure this one out on my own.

Not going to lie, first thing I did was look online thinking I was missing something. I assumed there was a ‘trick’ to it since nothing had been remotely hard up until this point. Nope. I did read lots of discussions about how different people beat this boss, and those gave me ideas, so I’m glad I looked them up.

FINALLY the job system makes sense. Bravely Default has 24 jobs (basically, classes) and characters can switch between them at will. I still don’t have them all unlocked, but I have to figure out, based on what I have available and how far I’ve leveled them, how to combine jobs & characters to defeat this boss. Up to now I’ve been using whatever seemed cool (Pirate? YES! Salve-Maker? NO!).

Think, think, think….

So I have to *gasp* think about what I’m going to do. I may have to grind to level up some jobs I’ve ignored. That’s fine, I could use the gold that comes along with grinding anyway. Honestly I’m pretty excited that I finally have to come off auto-pilot and figure this out.

Of course the job that, according to the Internet, makes this fight pretty easy is, you guessed it, Salve-Maker.

The Last of Us 2 has a pacing problem [Spoiler Free]

Last night I finished The Last of Us 2; it took me about 35 hours. Granted I tend to be a slow gamer, but still it felt way too long even accounting for my methodical gaming style. This post is Spoiler Free, beyond just talking very generally about the game’s structure.

TLOU2 is part interactive movie, part adventure game, with a healthy dash of survival horror mixed in. The big issue for me is the movie part didn’t flow well since there were such long stretches between story beats. So you get some story (often via in-engine cut scenes) and then you play for a long time, then you get a little more story. This formula has worked nicely for prior Naughty Dog games like the first The Last of Us and the Uncharted series, all of which were some of my favorite games ever.

What bogs this one down is the scavenging. There are several categories of items you need to scavenge for:

Materials: This is stuff like rags, alcohol and bottles. You use this stuff to make health kits, Molotov cocktails and the like. I’ll lump bullets in this category too. Inventory space is quite limited so you never feel over-stocked, but since it is so limited you’ll often want to make sure you’re at capacity. Still once you are full you COULD stop scavenging except for the other categories.

Supplements and Field Manuals: These items are the focus of the skill system. You have to find Field Manuals to unlock skill lines, and supplements (jars of pills) are your currency to buy skills. You want as many of these as you can get, and if you miss a Field Manual it could really hamper you later. I didn’t max my skills by the time the game is finished.

Parts: Parts are the currency you use to upgrade weapons. Again, you want as many as you can get and I didn’t fully upgrade my weapons by end of game.

Collectibles: These are mostly for Trophy hunters.

The gameplay loop is basically move into an area, fight the baddies and/or solve some traversal puzzle, then spend a LOT of time exploring every nook and cranny of that area. You’ll want to replenish supplies you used in the battle, of course. More importantly you’ll want to make sure you haven’t missed any supplements, manuals, parts and (if you’re a trophy hunter) collectibles that may be there.

For me the action:searching ratio was probably like 1:4. In other words for every 5 minutes I spent fighting, I spent 20 minutes scrounging for supplies. It got really tedious.

Not only is it tedious but it impacts how you play the game. In theory you could stealth/sneak through an area, which would mean you don’t use up supplies (and keep your body count down). You’ll still want to scavenge the area for supplements and parts though. This is extremely hard to do while enemies are still alive, so effectively needing to scavenge takes stealth off the table. Generally I killed everything, then searched.

I don’t remember this being as much of a problem in the first game. Maybe the areas were smaller or the supplies more generous? There’s nothing like climbing through a building because you see a ‘glint’ the indicates something is there, and when you get there it is 1 bullet or 1 supplement (when you need 40 for your next upgrade).

One trick I did learn was to go into the Accessibility Options, pick the Navigation & Traversal option, and turn on Enhanced Listen Mode. This will let you send out a sonar-like ‘ping’ that will indicate the location of items that you can grab. It’s ‘smart’ too. If you can’t carry any more rags, it won’t ping rags, for example. I set it to maximum range and minimum time and used it a lot. I still missed stuff, though, based on the Trophies I didn’t earn.

I have a lot more thoughts on the game overall, but I’ll hold off until more people have played it, or I’ll just do a spoilerific post. I’m glad I played it, though I was also happy to have finished it so I can move on to other things.

Playstation 5 Showcase reaction

I feel kind of compelled to write something about the Playstation 5 Showcase that Sony streamed on June 6th, 2020, but the fact of the matter is, I didn’t come away with any strong feelings one way or the other about the system in general.

When I watch something like this (or Microsoft’s first game reveal a while back) what is going through my mind is this: am I seeing games that make it worth buying a $500 console to play. (No official prices have been shared yet, I’m assuming $500.)

The Games

I saw a lot of games that, on the surface at least, seemed like they’d work fine on the PS4 or Xbox One, or on a mid-tier gaming PC. So that was a bit of a disappointment. On the other hand, Ratchet & Clank seemed designed to show off what the PS5 can do thanks to its SSD setup. Watch in this trailer as the duo portal between vastly different tilesets really quickly. There’s an intermediate ‘realm’ that they’re in for maybe a second before heading into a new biome.

Now maybe that’s all pre-rendered in which case, no big deal. But if this was captured “live” then it’s pretty impressive.

Of course the feather in Sony’s hat is always exclusives, and the one game shown that made the PS5 a must-have for me was Horizon: Forbidden West. Horizon Zero Dawn is one of my all-time favorite games so I HAVE to play the sequel!

As far as I know we don’t have a release date for Horizon Forbidden West. I would assume if it was a 2020 title — a launch title — then Sony would’ve promoted that fact pretty heavily. So yeah I need a PS5 to play HFW, but that’s not for launch (probably).

In fact it isn’t yet clear what the launch lineup is going to look like; it seems like maybe the new Spiderman game is Sony’s big 1st party launch title. Thing is, I never bothered finishing Spiderman on PS4; I just didn’t like it that much.

One issue both Sony and Microsoft are struggling with is that the new consoles are about more than just graphics. Both companies are talking about fast loading times and higher frame rates than we’ve seen on the current generation. Sony is talking about the haptic feedback of the new controller, too. But you can’t really experience any of these features without actually playing the games

The Competition

Sony is going the classic console generation route. While some (many? most?) PS4 games will run on the PS5, the only ones we can be SURE will work are games coming out between about now and launch. Will there be enough to justify a purchase for me at launch? I’m still up in the air. And what about cross-generation games? If I buy The Last of Us Part 2 this summer, will Sony ask me to buy the PS5 version of The Last of Us Part 2 as a separate SKU? They did that during the PS3 – PS4 transition. Microsoft is NOT doing that. For their 1st party games, the same license covers Xbox One and Xbox Series X versions of the game.

Continuing with the Microsoft comparison, Microsoft is bringing games from 4 generations to the Series X. My understanding is (don’t take my word for it tho, I still need to confirm) that I can unplug the external drive from my Xbox One, plug it in to the Xbox Series X, and keep playing all those games, only they’ll run better. For example Destiny 2 will run at 60 FPS on Series X while it runs at 30 FPS on Xbox One X. That makes the Series X something I will buy on Day 1 since I’ll have a huge library to play while waiting for Series X games to arrive.

So for me the Sony showcase gets a “B” grade. I want the equivalent of an Uncharted or a Horizon to play on Day 1, if I can’t bring my old library with me. Hopefully before launch we’ll have a better idea of how many PS4 games will run on PS5. If it turns out MOST will, then PS5 becomes a more likely 2020 purchase for me.

The Hardware

I’d like to know more about the hardware, too. Will it be quiet? I rarely use my PS4 Pro because it is astonishingly loud. Even with headphones on, the sound is annoying: that high-pitched whine like a dentist’s drill. It’s awful.

I’d also like to see how many ports are on the back. PS5 is supposed to support PSVR, which means a port for the camera and a port for the PSVR breakout box. You probably want a port for an external drive as well. So I’m hoping there’s a good number of ports on the back. (The front has 1 USB-C and 1 USB-A.)

The PS5 comes with a TB of SSD space, and I’m reading that about 825 GB of that is available which for a game-grazer like me, isn’t a ton of space. You can add a second SSD drive, but not just any SSD drive; it has to meet certain specs we don’t have yet, and I’m guessing it won’t be cheap SSD drives. PS4 games can still be run off an external USB drive, though it isn’t clear if this will require a special format or if you can just plug in your PS4 drive and start playing.

So yeah, still lots of questions. I’ll be getting a PS5 to play Horizon Forbidden West whenever it launches, but I might make the unusual (for me) choice to skip the new console at launch. We’ll see what other info Sony shares with us over the coming months.

List of ‘Back to WoW’ posts

Just for grins and because I don’t mind making fun of myself, I decided to see how many “back to WoW” posts I’ve written over the years. It actually wasn’t as many as I thought, but here we go.

Back to WoW? Maybe You CAN Go Home Again (5/25/2020)
I just wrote this one, so we’ll see how long it ‘sticks’ this time.

WoW Classic: Why I won’t go home again (8/27/2019)
Including this one because it is a lie. I DID break down and subscribe to WoW Classic and logged in maybe 2-3 times before giving it up again.

Back to WoW?! WTF? (8/09/2015)
Beer was involved with this decision and it initially didn’t end well, but I guess I gave it a 2nd chance since a week later I blogged about having completed 3 zones and reached level 20 but I was about ready to set it aside.

Back to WoW again! (11/27/2010)
Looks like it had only been a few months since my last return so not sure why I jumped back in, but I did. I blogged about it for about a month, ranting about how it was too easy and I guess doing some cross-blog arguing with another WoW blogger.

Back to WoW? (09/06/2010)
This post pairs with the one below. Between July and Sept I logged in once. This “back to WoW” reads more like “farewell to WoW”. Which lasted 2 months. LOL

When I played WoW… (07/23/2010)
This is not technically a ‘back to WoW’ post but I do mention at the end that I’d purchased Wrath of the Lich King so presumably I played at some point soon after.

Willpower saving throw: Failed (11/24/2008)
FOMO got me and I was damned grumpy about it, but soon after I joined Casualties of War (anyone remember that guild) and had some fun for a week or two.

World of Warcraft (3/23/2004)
Not “a back to WoW” but a ‘there’s this new game World Of Warcraft” post. It appears to be my earliest WoW post. I was playing in Beta at the time and having a ball.

Gillain’s Journal – Day 1 (3/24/2004)
And just for grins, an in-character journal of my character’s time in the beta.

Back to WoW? Maybe You CAN Go Home Again

I was a very early adopter of World of Warcraft. Thanks to a friend I played in the Friends & Family alpha and I kept playing pretty heavily until Burning Crusade came out. Then I quit, for reasons I don’t recall.

In the years since I’ve gone back a few times but it always felt…lonely, I guess. When I was hardcore in WoW I was in an active guild and we would play and chat for hours and hours. One of the few times in my life I’ve found a gaming group I really fit into.

Going back and them not being around was like going back to your hometown and visiting your old hang-outs, but your friends were no longer there.

With enough adds even Elywnn Forest can be dangerous

Every so often my Twitter timeline has a surge of folks who’ve gone back to WoW and I generally ignore them. For some reason, this time my FOMO overcame my reticence and I logged back in.

It’s a much different game

A LOT has changed in the 13-ish years since I played seriously. I DO remember going back after Cataclysm and HATING it. I zoomed through zones so fast and leveled so quickly it just felt frantic and bland. I’m that (apparently) rare player who enjoys reading the quest text and enjoys the leveling process and just exploring.

This time back, I started a level 1 character, human, in Elwynn Forest, same as I’ve done a dozen or more times. Difference is, this time I’m really enjoying myself. Maybe its just been long enough that I don’t feel lonely any more. Or maybe its the system itself.

The biggest change is that zones now scale. I can putter around Elwynn as long as I like and the mobs scale to my level, which keeps the gameplay really fun. I much prefer this to having a bunch of ‘gray’ quests to kill trivial enemies, and I like that I don’t feel pressured to move to the next zone. There’s a 100% experience buff so I am leveling like mad but Elwynn remains a place where I can and do die if I’m not careful (bloody murloc swarms).

No quest giver will lead you to this big spider, but it drops decent newbie loot

Questing quietly

It is also really quiet in the low level zones. I DID try to return when WoW Classic launched and the newbie zones were packed. Chat was so toxic I immediately turned it off, but I couldn’t turn off competing for spawns and being annoyed at knuckleheads cavorting around like a bunch of 8 years olds that just came home from an ice-cream eating contest where absolutely nothing was sugar-free.

I have nothing really earth shattering to reveal about a game this old that has been extensively covered my just about anyone who writes about games. But if like me you’ve been away for a LONG time, well…it just might be worth it to take another look. You can play to level 20 for free, so it won’t cost you anything to try. You might find there’s some fun to be had.

Fallout 76 Do-Over

I bought Fallout 76 for the Xbox One X when it first came out. BIG mistake. But you know that drama. The game was janky as heck, and the design had some major flaws, the biggest one being no NPCs. There’s nothing more depressing than doing a bunch of quests to track down people when you (the player) already know you’re just going to find their desiccated corpses.

Bethesda got the message, and it took them a year and a half but recently they rolled out the big Wastelanders update that adds NPCs, more quests and more things to do. It has improved the game a ton (though the jank, while better, certainly hasn’t been eliminated).

My little camp near a river.

A Fresh Start

I started playing again and I was liking it OK over in Xbox-land. This past weekend Bethesda had a free trial weekend, though, and on a whim I decided to download it on PC. I generally prefer gaming on console to PC (that’s a whole other post) but this time, wow, is Fallout 76 ever better on PC. The graphics are way better and using a mouse & keyboard, particularly when building your CAMP, is so much less frustrating. I know, I know, most of you PC gamers are saying “Well duh” but I generally use a controller even on PC. I find them much more comfortable.

Anyway, I decided to fully commit to the PC version, and snagged a copy while it was on sale for $30. It was a good time to make the switch since along with the free-trial weekend was a double-experience event, so I’m already higher level (all of 14, so still very low) than I was on Xbox where I’d started a new character for Wastelanders. I’m not as far along in the quest lines, but I’m higher level.

There’s some bad stuff happening in West Virginia

In fact I’m liking Fallout 76 so much I may go over to the dark side and buy a month of Fallout 1st, their much reviled “pay-to-win” (I guess?) system. I was thinking about buying some “Atoms” (their RMT currency) anyway and you get more with a month of Fallout 1st than you’d get buying the Atoms directly, plus you get some other nice perks including Private Servers and a Stash Box that sounds a lot life the Crafting Bags you get with ESO Plus for The Elder Scrolls Online. I don’t fret much about whether something is “pay-to-win” since I play solo anyway. Mostly I just want to make my CAMP look prettier by buying some cosmetics from the cash shop.

Polly the Robot is always trying to get ahead of herself /cringe

Stumbled onto Battle Chasers: Nightwar

I’m a subscriber to Microsoft’s Game Pass Ultimate. This is a “Netflix of games” kind of service that gives you access to a ton of games on Xbox and Windows. It also, kind of incidentally, also has something called Game Pass Quests.

These are (usually) simple tasks that earn you Microsoft Rewards points. There are daily, weekly and monthly quests and they all involve Game Pass titles in some way. One of the weekly quests this week was to earn 15,000 EXP in Battle Chasers: Nightwar. I had no idea what that was, but I installed it just to get those points.

I’m really digging the character designs

What’s it all about?

Turns out it’s a turn-based RPG and so far I’m really digging it. Now take that with a little grain of salt as I’ve only put an hour or so into it, but it has everything I love: a gorgeous art style, gear to chase, characters that seem interesting (I love that the beefy war golem is the first character you get who can heal), crafting, and it seems, the ability to grind if you enjoy that (I do).

The game takes place on (at least) 3 ‘maps’. There’s a world map where you have to follow roads and often have quick encounters that you can’t avoid. There are ‘exploration areas’ that look like an ARPG, though you don’t actually battle in them (but do explore for hidden loot), and then there’s the battle screen which is a side-view layout for the turn-based combat. There are also dungeons but I haven’t seen one of those yet.

Exploration area where you can find loot, lore & crafting materials

I don’t want to go too crazy talking about it until I get a little further in but did want to mention one little nuance I’m really enjoying and that’s mana management.

Actions, Abilities and Overcharge

Each character has actions and abilities. Abilities do more damage but use mana. Mana doesn’t replenish unless you quaff a potion or rest at an Inn and you don’t seem to have a ton of it. Normally you’d run out pretty quickly, but characters also have actions. These do less damage (or none, some are defensive) but build “Overcharge” which is a surplus pool of mana that only lasts for the duration of the battle. The idea is, you do a couple of light attacks (actions), each of which generates (for example) +10 Overcharge, and then you can use an ability that would normally consume 20 mana, but instead it’ll consume your Overcharge and you can save your mana for later battles.

It’s not an earth-shaking idea but it does add another layer of strategy to the battles since Overcharge is a ‘use it or lose it’ resource.

So early days, but I’m liking it a lot so far. If it sounds interesting, you can probably play it since its available for PC, Xbox, PS4, Switch, iOS and Android. You probably have hardware you can run this game on. It’s not a new game (first release was PC in 2017) so you should be able to find it on sale somewhere. Or if you have Game Pass, play it for free on Xbox or Windows!

19 Hours into Bravely Default & Still Lost

A few weeks back I got it into my head to have another go at Bravely Default on the Nintendo 3DS (the release of a demo for Bravely Default 2 on Switch had a lot to do with this). I’d played the game at launch and had put 19 hours or so into it before drifting away. With no clue what I was doing, I decided to start over.

Now, as it so happens, I’m back at 19 hours and I still have no clue what I’m doing. The game has a huge ‘job’ system. So far I’ve unlocked nine of the twenty-four jobs. Why so many? No idea. I only have four characters, but they can swap jobs at any time. Question is, should they?

The Right Way to Play?

I’m not sure what the “right” way to play is. Should I pick one or two jobs for each character and just level those, or should each character take on (eventually) six different jobs so I have each one maxed? Are there jobs that every character should learn? Does any of this even matter? Is it just preference? At any time a character can be leveling one job and using the abilities of a second job, so at the least each character should know two jobs for maximum performance. Beyond that…just not sure.

So far I barely use the “Abilities” of melee-focused jobs like Knight or Monk. My characters seem to do more damage with basic attacks than they do with abilities. Magic-focused jobs (White/Black Mage) are different of course. I need someone to act as Healer and someone to be able to do elemental/magic damage against monsters resistant to physical attacks. Should that be one person (that’s how I have it now… a Black Mage with White Mage support abilities) or two?

Geez this all sounds like I’m griping but the thing is, I’m not. I’m really enjoying trying to figure this all out. My first instinct was to go online and look up optimal strategies or what not. I started doing a little of that but took someone’s advice to just play the way I wanted to and see how things work out. Turns out actually playing the game myself is more fun than following some expert’s instructions. Go figure!

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

Of course talk is cheap when you have as much backup as I do. Bravely Default has an asymmetric multiplayer system where you can “Summon” the character of a friend to help out in battle. Since the game is so old I have plenty of friends who are much higher level than me and for now they act as a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card when a fight gets tricky.

There’s also a system where you rebuild a town after which the town’s denizens will gift you items. Town building takes real-time, but I’m playing the game so slowly that my town is already maxed out and I get gifted items that are way over-powered for the baddies I’m fighting.

Eventually I’ll presumably ‘catch up’ with both these systems and have to earn my progress the old-fashioned way. Hopefully by then I will have figured out a system.

It’s been a long time since I really got hooked on a turn-based JRPG like this one. I’m really enjoying myself. I just wish I was playing on a slightly larger screen. I really have to peer at the 3DS screen and I can only play for 30-40 minutes before it becomes uncomfortable. Of course the sequel will be on the Switch so I’ll play that on the TV.

Star Trek recaps: The Corbomite Maneuver

I’ve started another re-watch of Star Trek, the original series. This time around I’m watching them in the order they were made, rather than the order they were aired. There was the pilot (“The Cage” featuring Captain Pike rather than Kirk) then the 2nd pilot (“Where No Man Has Gone Before” which has most of the crew in place except for McCoy) and then the first regular episode made was “The Corbomite Maneuver.”

This is the one where the Enterprise encounters the scary alien shown above, but eventually they discover it is just a puppet and the actual alien is played by a VERY young Clint Howard.

Howard would’ve been about 7 in this role, though he didn’t voice the part. He was already an established actor, though. IMDB lists his first role in “The Courtship of Eddy’s Father” in 1963 — that would be the movie version, not the Bill Bixby led TV show. He was also on the Andy Griffith show with big brother Ron. His most recent listing is in 2020’s “American Pie Presents: Girls’ Rules” (whatever that is). That’s quite a long career in the business. Even more random trivia: he played an Orion in an episode of Star Trek Discovery.

Anyway back to Star Trek. I was always really creeped out by Balok; hearing the adult voice coming out of this creepy little kid’s body just gave me the icks. But the episode did introduce Tranya, so that’s something I guess. And more importantly it established the Star Trek theme of taking the moral high ground. After Balok threatens to destroy the Enterprise, and then to incarcerate the crew, his ship is apparently disabled and Kirk sends aid to help him out. The rest of the bridge crew thinks this is pretty cray-cray but Kirk is Doing The Right Thing which is what the original series was generally all about.

The title of the episode refers to Kirk’s bluffing Balok, saying the Enterprise is equipped with a Corbomite device that would reflect any damage done to it back on the attacker. I guess Star Trek invented the damage shield.

I also watched Mudd’s Women tonight, but I re-capped that back in 2016 so I won’t repeat myself now.

I’m really going to miss E3 2020

The first Electronic Entertainment Exposition was held in 1995, and I was there. (Prior to E3, gaming was relegated to a small section of CES.) I went to the first couple of E3s and had an absolute ball. When I left the gaming industry E3 was one of the things I really missed.

Over the years I’ve attended ‘virtually’ as best I could. In days or yore that meant tuning into TV coverage on G4 TV or Spike TV but of course in recent years so much is streamed that you can’t really watch it all. Every year I take at least a few days off of work so I can see as much as possible. At the least, I’d watch all the press conferences which are always my favorite part of E3 (even if they’re technically not really part of E3).

I know there’s been a lot of push back against the show recently. Pundits say it no longer serves a purpose and is too expensive. Sony pulled out last year and had done so this year even before the show was canceled. Nintendo still had a booth but a few years back they axed their big press conference in favor of a pre-recorded video.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen pushback. After years of expansion, in 2007 E3 was rebranded as the “E3 Media and Business Summit” in response to complaints the show had become too consumer-focused, too big & flashy (and expensive). While E3 was supposed to be for industry professionals, it’s never been hard to get a ticket, particularly in the Internet era. Throw up a website (like this one) and say you’re part of the industry and you’d get in.

If you don’t remember the E3 Media and Business Summit, I wouldn’t be surprised. The format was a flop (at least for the at-home audience) and by 2009 E3 was a big flashy spectacle again.

With E3 gone this year, I think next year (assuming we’ve come to grips with COVID-19 by then) there will be a lot less griping about the format. I don’t think I’ll be the only one who misses E3 this year.

I know companies are going to do their best to recreate the buzz of E3 with online-only events, but early signs (Microsoft’s event last week, for example) show how hard that is going to be. The important thing about the actual E3 show is that it was massive, and with mass comes a gravitational pull. Even companies that weren’t technically attending E3 held their events during E3 week. That got both the at-home audience and the mainstream media’s attention, and that attention just fed the beast and made the show even bigger and more entertaining for those of us ‘on the outside.’

I know in theory E3 is still supposed to be about making B-to-B business deals and such, but the amount of hype generated among consumers by the event is, I think, even more significant. With no E3, no Gamescom and no Tokyo Games Show I suspect companies are going to have to spend even more on marketing than they normally do.

Maybe I’m talking nonsense, I dunno. I’m not an industry insider. I just know I’m really going to miss the spectacle of the show. The anti-E3 contingent gets its way this year. We’ll see if by next year they still think having no E3 is a good thing. My prediction is that at least some of them will have changed their tune by then and I won’t be the only one glued to YouTube watching the show next year.