December 2023

Hmm, I just realized that I maybe should be doing an “end of the year” recap but geez that sounds like a lot of work. I did do that ‘year in review‘ post which is more or less the same thing, at least for my gaming, so I’ll just leave it at that and do a regular old monthly recap. Outside of gaming nothing of consequence happened in my life this year, which at my age is a good thing because most consequential changes are bad ones!

Oh, I guess it might be worth noting that I started exercising in VR back in April and though I’ve had some ups and downs I’ve basically stuck with it. Lost some weight but more importantly just feel strongers and more limber. Those old-person groans when getting up off a chair are now a thing of the past. So that’s one good change from this year.

Anyway, Happy New Year to all who happen upon this post! Now on to the December recap!

Playing

I came in hot this month, finishing both Persona 4 (loved it) and Final Fantasy XVI (hated it) in a single weekend. The plan was to then jump back into The Witcher 3 and Starfield but… I didn’t. I just wasn’t ready to hop back into more 100+ hour games. Well, maybe they’re that long. I haven’t finished either so I don’t really know. So I started game grazing…

First, I jumped into playing Weird West on the PS5 because it was a game I was interested in that HAD been on XBox Game Pass but left that service, and then subsequently was added to Playstation Plus Extra. I figured before it left there, too, I should play it.Β  I really WANT to like this game but I just don’t. I lasted about 8 hours before uninstalling it.

My biggest issue is the difficulty variability. The set up is that you’re a bounty hunter in a version of the old west that is just rotten with supernatural baddies. You have a quest line, side quests, semi-random bounties to pursue, random treasures to find. All of which sounds good. But when you accept one of these activities there’s no way to determine how difficult it is going to be, and many of them have time limits. Frequently I’d take on a side quest only to find I was completely unprepared to finish it, leaving me with the choice to either fail it (when time ran out) or reload an earlier save. If the designer had just given some kind of difficulty rating to activities it would’ve helped an awful lot.

Screenshot from Weird West showing (well, really NOT showing) my character hiding in a bush in an enemy camp

The other issue is on me: the game relies heavily on stealth and as much as I tell myself I enjoy stealth games, in practice I never have the patience for them. I sneaky-sneak into a camp and stealthily take out one, two, three baddies, then I slip up, alert that camp and get gunned down. Reload and try again. Fail. Reload and try again. Ugh. You’re supposed to be able to Quick Save, and sometimes you can which makes things tolerable, but a few hours in both the Save and Quick Save stopped working unless I was in a safe area. I am not sure if that was a bug or a feature, to be honest, but it was super frustrating.

Anyway I gave it 8 hours at which point I decided I have SO many games I really want to play, and I didn’t purchase this one so… I decided to drop it. If there’s a Weird West 2 I’d definitely still give it a try because I loved the setting and the world; I just didn’t have the patience for all the trial and error it required.

I went back to having a blast in Snowrunner (itself now a 100+ hours and counting game for me) but also kind of exploded all over the place onto PC gaming.

Y’see, I’d been having issues with my dual monitors where my PC would stop recognizing one of them and it would take me all kinds of hoop jumping like uninstalling/reinstalling video drivers to get them both back. I finally got fed up and used this as an excuse to get an ultra wide screen while Black Friday deals were still running. I got the Dell S3422DWG, which I cost me about $350 (regularly $500). It isn’t a super fancy model but it was a big upgrade from 24″ 1920 x 1080 to 34″ 3440 x 1440.

Of course I then discovered that one 34″ monitor does NOT have the same real estate as two 24″ monitors (of course) so I STILL have two monitors, with the better of the older 24″ units sitting in a very tall portrait mode off to one side, but happily the old issue hasn’t returned. {knock on wood}

Anyway I’m digressing all over the place. The end result of all of this is oh my goodness this monitor is a beauty and it makes me want to play PC games! Now my problem is… which PC game to play? I had a run at Astroneer, a game I’d once played a good bit of on the Xbox until I got frustrated with the wonky controls while playing with a gamepad. I had it in my Steam library so fired it up and played it for a few days but even with mouse & keyboard the controls still felt wonky to me, and it was just a little tooΒ  sandboxy. I’m not sure what my goal even is. So it was fun for a couple evenings but I moved on.

Example of a Train Valley 2 map

Christmas always triggers an interest in trains for me, as when I was a kid model trains and Christmas trees just went hand-in-hand. So I was delighted when I saw that Krikket was giving away a Steam key for Train Valley 2. This is basically a puzzle game with a transport theme. You have a small-ish map with a several hubs and you have to connect them with tracks and then trigger trains to run from one to the other. Each hub either produces a resource, or converts one (or more) resources into something else, or requires one or several finished products. So for example you connect a log-generating resource to a lumber mill to get boards.

It’s a fairly charming little game that can be played pretty casually (at least the early levels). For more challenge, each map offers a variety of goals, some of which get tricky. My only gripe is I found actually laying the track (which is basically the crux of the game) was kind of finicky, particularly when it came to intersecting two sections of track. Too often just as I released the ‘draw a track’ button things would snap into the wrong spot and I’d have to spend $$ to destroy and rebuild it. In the Steam reviews there are lots of calls for an “Undo” button which I think would improve the game a good bit. Still, it is a fun diversion.

View of the ship I'm breaking down. Full wide-screen image

I guess Krikket is my gaming mentor this month because another game I’ve been playing, Hardspace: Shipbreaker is inspired by her posts. Once again I’m not yet very far into it and honestly I haven’t committed myself to finishing it, but what I’ve played so far is quite entertaining. Krikket’s post will give you a fuller understanding of what the game entails, but basically it’s about cutting up and re-cycling space ships (reminds me of the start of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order), and trying to make a profit while doing so. It’s been a while since I played a game that has you maneuvering around in 3D space, which is definitely fun when it isn’t frustrating. Bonus points for this one as it is on Game Pass, both PC and Xbox, and is cross-play so I can work on the same campaign on both PC and Xbox, depending on my mood.

Screenshot of the ship as I'm about to pass through the open hatch into the interior

And this isn’t all! I dabbled in a few other PC games, and started a few more console games, but this recap is becoming boring to write so it MUST be getting boring to read. If I stick with any of these games (many of which I started just in the past couple days) I’ll include them in the January recap. But the header image gives a clue as to one of them!

Watching

Lots of hold-overs from last month. Monarch: Legacy of Monsters and For All Mankind are still running (or if they’re not, we haven’t caught up to their ends yet) and we’re still enjoying both.

New this month is Lessons in Chemistry, a show very different from our normal viewing. It’s about a brilliant chemist (Brie Larson) who, mostly due to the patriarchal snobbery of her time (it takes place in the 50s) leaves her lab coat behind and becomes the star of a cooking show. It’s really good, and it feels like a ‘one season and done’ show that tells a complete story (it’s based on a novel). Very sweet story.

As for my ‘me time’ viewing, I’m still grinding through Attack on Titan but I’ve been watching a LOT of year end and Steam sale gaming recaps, primarily concerning strategy games that I’ll probably never play but think I would enjoy playing if I’d just devote the time to them. It’s always that lack of time that trips me up… maybe if I didn’t watch hour long ‘year in gaming’ YouTube recaps I’d have more time to spend playing, eh? I don’t know what it is about these videos I find so compelling but they are something I look forward to at the end of the year.

Reading

A Christmas Carol because I read it every year at Christmas. πŸ™‚

So I guess it’s time to say farewell to 2023 and brace ourselves for whatever new disaster 2024 has in store for us. Expect the worst and hope for the best, right?

2023 Year in Review: Xbox and PlayStation

Both PlayStation and Xbox sent out links to “Your year on {insert platform name here}” this week. Maybe Nintendo did as well but I can’t even remember the last time I turned on my Switch.

Initially I was just going to paste a couple images into a blog post and call it a day but they’re kind of big and cumbersome so I thought maybe I’d list some of the figures as well. These aren’t like-for-like as each company reports different things.

Playstation

Clip from my Playstation Year End recap showing my top 5 games as listed in the text

My top 5 PlayStation games in terms of hours played:

1) Genshin Impact, 253 hours played
2) Snowrunner, 93 hours played (so far!)
3) Final Fantasy XVI, 49 hours (felt like more)
4) No Man’s Sky, 33 hours (on Playstation, I also played on both Xbox and PC, at least a little)
5) The Walking Dead Saints and Sinners, 21 hours (that’s a PSVR title)

In total I played 36 different games on PlayStation, and played for 495 hours. Sheesh. I earned 163 Trophies but no Platinums. They also claim I spent 6 hours playing “with my squad” but I can’t remember spending a moment in MP unless they’re counting dipping into FF XIV or Elder Scrolls Online or something. Lastly, my gaming style was “Thrill Seeker” whatever that means: “You spent 59% of your game time on the edge of your seat, following your goal no matter the odds.”

Xbox

Clip from my year end recap of Xbox gaming showing my top 3 games as listed in the text

Microsoft only reports my top 3 games:

1) Persona 4 Golden, 126 hours
2) Starfield, 72 hours
3) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, 50 hours

True Achievements also does something similar, though they list Achievements rather than hours. But based on that I’m going to hazard a guess for what would be #4 on the list:
4) Ghostwire Tokyo, 39 Achievements

After that, I’m just not sure what #5 would be.

In total I played 149 different games, but that figure is bloated by chasing Microsoft Rewards points. Every week there’re 2 games that give points and one of them is generally “Just start the game” so if we knock 98 games (104 – 6 still to come) we get 51 different games I played by choice. I spent 486 hours gaming on Xbox. Pretty close to the PlayStation number. I earned 242 Achievements. For a filthy casual I didn’t do too bad. MS says I’m in the top 10% of gamers for hours played and the top 5% by number of Achievemnts earned and Gamerscore, though that last isn’t clear. Do they meant total Gamerscore or Gamerscore this year? Who knows? I’m guessing this year because my total Gamerscore is pretty low (67,722).

Summary

So there ya go, my year of gaming. Sure I played a bit on Steam but not enough as is worth tracking. I did play some Xbox PC games but those, I assume, are counted under the Xbox year in review. Now share your recaps!

Header image generated by https://imagine.meta.com/ using the prompt “Picture of a couple walking hand in hand down a beach at sunset. One of them has an X on their back, as in the Xbox logo, the other the letters PS5, as in the Playstation logo. They are walking away from us.” The logos aren’t perfect but I think I was fighting copyright issues so… I’ll take what I can get.

Final Fantasy XVI Finished

Look at me, finishing two games in a single weekend. Woot! Woot!

So this was such a strange situation. Way back last summer, maybe even late spring, I played the Final Fantasy XVI demo and loved it. I loved it so much I pre-ordered the game at full price, something I very rarely do these days. And when the game launched I… found I didn’t like it. And the more I played, the less I liked it. By the time the credits rolled, I really hated it.

I’m not saying it’s a bad game, just that it was a bad game for me. MOST people seemed to really enjoy it. I’ll get to what I didn’t like, but let’s look at the positive stuff first.

Combat example from Final Fantasy XVI showing how hard it is to see your character.

The Good

1) It is a gorgeous game. The world, the characters, the effects…just amazing to look at.

2) The voice talent did a great job, given what they had to work with.

3) I think the story was pretty good, but I’m not 100% on that. There were definitely some great characters and the lore was really interesting.

4) The skill system was nice once you got the hang of it, and you could refund all your points to try new builds without any cost. I appreciated that.

5) You have a wolf companion throughout almost the entire game. He was my favorite character!

Combat example from Final Fantasy XVI showing how hard it is to see your character.

The Bad

How long ya got? πŸ™‚

The word that springs to mind over and over again is overwrought, in the sense of this definition:

(of a piece of writing or a work of art) too elaborate or complicated in design or construction

It you took the story and boiled it down to a 2 hour movie I think it’d be great. But FFXIV has 20 hours of cut scenes that it uses to tell this story and my god did it ever get SLOW. Twice I literally fell asleep during lengthy cut scenes when some villain slowly enunciated every word of some pretentious monologue (with no way to speed it up other than skipping it completely). Not only was the dialog delivered at a very sedate and deliberate pace, we got constant scenes of someone slowly stepping into frame (the intent, I suppose, was to generate a sense of drama), tons and tons of slow camera pans and dramatic pauses, and it was like I was living in some kind of distorted time pocket. I was constantly muttering “Let’s GO” at the screen. It frustrated the HELL out of me when I wanted to get back to PLAYING THE GAME. Sitting there for half an hour without touching the controller was common. (With the in-game cutscenes you could tap a button to skip to the next line, but not with completely hands-off scenes.) I don’t mind games with a lot of cut scenes but only if they’re interesting. This one made me think the art staff was getting paid by the minute of completed footage or something.

Combat example from Final Fantasy XVI showing how hard it is to see your character.

And the dialogue was so pretentious and ponderous. I don’t mind the style of it (similar to that in Final Fantasy XIV) but every time the villains spoke the prose got so purple; I’d get a headache from doing so much eye-rolling.

Then there was the combat, which I just didn’t enjoy. Fighting ‘trash mobs’ was fine and even fun but the boss battles tended to be extremely tough for me to ‘read.’ Maybe it’s just that my eyes are old and tired but frequently I couldn’t see either my character or the mob I was fighting for all the spell effects. Keep in mind that you’re supposed to be parrying and timing your attacks based on what the baddies are doing. Tough when you can’t actually see the baddies. I’ll scatter some screenshots throughout the post.

Other issues with the combat: a) Breaking it up for mini cut-scenes just as you had a flow going. b) Crazy-assed kaiju battles (actually eidolons or ichons or something) that the rest of the gaming community seemed to think very cool, but that I found infuriating and again, very hard to read. c) Characters having a discussion about something while I’m trying to focus on the combat. d) Melee weapons that did terrible damage unless you used a skill. d) Skills that require holding down a button (ie they take a second or two to fire) in a game where bosses frequently teleport away.

Again, fighting ordinary enemies was pretty fun; it was in the boss and mini-boss fights where most of the above sucked the enjoyment out of combat for me.

I didn’t like the way the world was structured in that it was very segmented so you had to fast travel from place to place. Conversely running back and forth through your base got super tedious. And there is no sprint button. The game decides when you should start running based on you holding down the walk button for a while. As soon as you let up, you’re back to a slow jog until the game decides it’ll let you run again.

Combat example from Final Fantasy XVI showing how hard it is to see your character.

As for the loot system… if they tried they couldn’t come up with a more boring loot system. Finding gear was very rare and most of your loot was “3 pinches of magic ash” or “5 bloody hides”. This would be fine if there was a robust crafting system but there wasn’t. There is a crafting system but it’s very basic and I ended the game with tons of crafting materials that I had no use for. Ditto money rewards. I was walking around will over 100,000 gil and being rewarded with “5 gil”. Thanks!

Anyway, like I said, I could go on and on. But this was one of the least fun gaming experiences I’ve had since back when I reviewed games for a living and had to play stuff I hated. I’m not sure why I forced myself to finish it. Just to say I did, I guess. Now I’m deleting it from my hard drive and will enjoy knowing I’ll never have to play it again!

Sorry if this seems extra-ranty. Ok, let’s rephrase that: sorry this IS extra-ranty. I’ve had this bottled up inside me since summer but I wanted to finish the game before I posted about it, just in case I had an epiphany. There was no epiphany; I just did not like Final Fantasy XVI.

Just because I hate being so negative (honest, I do) here’s what I’d love to see. Take this world and the lore and the art assets and a bunch of the side characters, and make an open world game or an MMO out of them. Give us an enhanced crafting system so all the bits and bobs we collect from monster fights can actually be useful, and make the world one big connected place so we can roam around and explore it. I think THAT would be a first rate title.

Person 4 Golden, Fini!

Well I finally went and finished Persona 4 Golden. Why’d I go and do a thing like that? I’ve started various Persona games (including this one) at least half a dozen times, but this is the first time I’ve ever completed one, and goodness gracious did I ever enjoy it.

What’s odd is that all the times I’ve bounced off a Persona game it was because of all the ‘social stuff.’ If you’re completely unaware of the series, it takes place in a contemporary setting where you, as a student, have to balance things like school work and part time jobs with hanging out with friends to improve “Social Links.” Then there’s another whole facet of the game where you’re doing dungeon crawling. You are staying with an uncle and your young cousin in a small town for a year. When the year is up, the game ends, so there’s a certain amount of time pressure. Each day is broken up into day and night sections and you have to pick, generally, one activity per section. Do you go home and study in order to get your Knowledge attribute up so you can do well on an upcoming test, or do you go hang out with one of your friends to increase your Social Link?

Higher Social Links let you create more powerful Personas. Personas are like facets of your personality that you can draw on while in the dungeons to use skills. You can collect a lot of Personas and fuse them to make even more Personas. While this is fun I found the UI for doing this to be pretty clumsy; one of my few gripes with the game.

Previous to this time playing, I’ve never given the social stuff a chance and found it boring and that’s why I bounced off the games. This time I stuck around and it didn’t take long for things to completely flip. I started LOVING the social stuff and when I had to go do a dungeon and fight I found it almost annoying. I wanted to get back to hanging out with my friends!

I found the main plot in Persona (basically a murder mystery) quite engaging, with some ‘twists’ that I saw coming a mile away, and others that legit surprised me. Even more endearing was the messaging; there’s a lot about facing and accepting the different facets of one’s personality and it was a real ‘feel good’ experience over all. The characters are all very well written and I grew quite fond of them. I played with the English voices and the actors did a superb job. When the game finally ended I had that melancholy feeling you get when you have to say goodbye to an ensemble cast that has become quite real to you. I’ll miss these Persona kids!

The Tzitzimitl Persona. Basically a medusa only with arms instead of snakes coming out of her head.

I’d guessed that I’d finish at 100 hours and I think it was 107. My main team of characters (you can take 3 of your friends with you into a dungeon) were all in their low 90s (with a cap of 99) and I was playing on Normal difficulty. I did pretty well with the Social Links and maxed 11 or 12 of them. I think there were a few I never even touched, and one (Ai Ebihara) which I wanted to max but ran out of time.

There are a few possible endings you can get and thanks to consulting a guide I got the best one, meaning I fought through every dungeon and beat all the bosses. I’d spent a lot of time in dungeons grinding during mid-game and that really cut the difficulty down for me. The Internet says you should be around level 70 to beat the final boss and I was 20 levels past that so… I was grinding not just for levels but to farm Personas because I had this idea of catching them all, but eventually I gave up on that. (The Persona designs are delightfully weird.)

Anyway, that’s it. It’s an old game and most everyone has played a Persona before so I don’t have any great insight to share. But this will NOT be my last Persona game. I’m a little sad, though, that each game stands alone. I’d like to see Yukiko, Yosuke, Naoto and Nannako one more time.

Shot from an in-game dialog segment showing Rise.

Persona 4 Golden: Hollow Forest after action report

Another goal accomplished in my Persona 4 Golden play-through: the Hollow Forest has been cleared. After all my worry about how hard it was going to be and whether I should even do it, it turned out to be fairly easy. It did take me two evenings but that’s more to do with real life getting in the way of the important business of gaming, rather than any difficulties with the dungeon.

Factors that mitigated the difficulty? Well the big one is, I read a guide first. πŸ™‚ Knowing what to expect helped a lot. And just being high level and in particular having Rise high level and with a maxed Social Link. The big issue, you’ll recall, is that your Spell Points are halved after every battle, which seems like a huge hardship. Turns out it really wasn’t since between Invigorate, Rise’s Vigor Song (which replenishes 10% of the party’s SP after each battle) and the various SP restoring accessories that drop in the Hollow Forest (they give some SP back after each turn), each character will have enough SP for a spell or two each battle. That was more than enough to wipe out the enemies throughout most of Hollow Forest.

When it wasn’t, my party was high level enough to take some hits while Guarding for a couple of rounds to build SP back up. My superstar wound up being Yukiko, who was supposed to be my healer but her Burning Petals skill with Fire Amp was just devastating.

Once Hollow Forest was cleared, time moved quickly. It’s like Lord of the Rings after the ring is destroyed (oops, SPOILER WARNING). There is one more semi-hidden dungeon after Hollow Forest and in fact I initially missed it and hit the ending animation and credits. Had to reload an earlier save to rectify that. I’m now a level or two into the last dungeon. Not sure I’ll get back to Persona before the weekend, but I’m pretty confident I’ll have the game wrapped up by Monday. My last save was at 103 hours or so.

While I’m quite ready to enjoy all the other games I’ve been wanting to play, I’m going to miss these Persona kids. I’ve come to be very fond of them all.

Kanji and Naoto doing their special move in Persona 4

Persona 4 Golden: The Hollow Forest

OK here’s something new. Let’s write a blog post about a part of a game I haven’t actually played yet!

I’ve been really focused on Persona 4 Golden since writing the November recap post. At the time I had about 70 hours into the game and estimated I’d be finished with it at around 100 hours and I hoped I could do that by the end of December. Since then (I actually wrote the post a few days before it published) I’ve been playing P4 whenever I had a free moment (thank you, Xbox Quick Resume) and thanks to a dreary, rainy weekend I’m already at 90 hours. I’ll definitely hit 100 hours well before the end of the month; however I’m no longer confident I will have finished the game by the 100 hour mark!

My next challenge is The Hollow Forest. I won’t spoil any story elements but this is a unique dungeon with some added challenges. (When P4 warned me that my choices would start having large consequences I started glancing at guides since I didn’t want to miss anything; I can’t see myself re-playing a 100+ hour game.) When you enter the Hollow Forest, all your gear is lost and you are given starter gear. While you can find better gear in chests to aid you, it remains to be seen how much better. I have pretty epic gear on most of my characters so losing access to it is going to hurt, and my physical attacks are going to be pretty weak.

But what is more concerning is that after every battle, your mana is reduced by half. This is huge. After just a couple of fights against trash mobs you’ll be basically out of mana and with physical attacks nerfed by losing your good gear, I am just really curious how this is going to go. Once again, there are items you can find that will restore mana that can help but still…after basically one-shotting enemies with powerful magic spells in the previous dungeon, this seems really scary.

I’m only on the 2nd level and look at my mana (bottom bar under character portraits)

A few other bits and bobs: you stumble into the Hollow Forest after a fairly long sequence of story events where there’s no opportunity to save, and once you get in there you can’t really leave. So if you are under-leveled I think you’d have a hard time. You CAN save in there but you can’t go back to earlier dungeons to level up. And you only have 1 (in-game) day to beat the dungeon. If you don’t beat it you won’t get to experience certain parts of the game. I’m not too worried about my levels. I have my party member social links maxxed out and my active party is all in the high 80s (99 is cap). If I need to draw on my second stringers, though, they’re much lower level and could struggle. Hopefully I won’t need them.

Anyway I arrived at this point pretty late in the evening and only did a couple of levels of the dungeon. So far the mobs aren’t too tough but the fights can take a while once your mana is gone which, of course, happens very quickly. I guess the trick is to avoid fights, open chests for better gear, and once you find a boss, warp out of the dungeon, get the fox to replenish your mana, then jump back in and do your best to avoid any fights until you find the boss again. The Invigorate skill which replenishes a bit of mana after every turn is going to be super useful, and if you have Rise leveled up and her Social Link maxed she has skills that will help, too. Thankfully I pushed hard to get her social link to max over the winter.

I initially considered just blowing off this dungeon since I’m kind of eager to move on to other games, but after sleeping on it, I’m kind of excited for this challenge.

Looking forward to seeing how it goes tonight!

I’m REALLY glad I finally made the effort to “get into” a Persona game for the first time. It did take a little while to get its hooks in me but now I am LOVING this game and I’m glad to know there are several others waiting to be played!

November 2023

It is time to bid a fond farewell to November. I LOVE November, it is one of my favorite months. The weather finally gets cooler, we eat lots of delicious things (left over Halloween candy, then baked goods and feasting for Thanksgiving), and along with that I get a 4 day break from work without using vacation time. In gaming terms some of the YouTubers I follow start doing these long videos on upcoming games for the next year or two, and I tend to enjoy those. All in all, just a fine month and I will miss it. I’m counting down the days to Nov 1, 2024!

On to the recap, which I could really just sum up as “more of the same.”

I’ve set a few games in my ‘rotation list’ aside so that I can maybe finish something. I’ve been leaning heavily into Persona 4 Golden this month, a game that first appeared in the recaps in August! I picked it out of my list because I’m playing it on Game Pass, which used to have Personas 3, 4 & 5 on it, but Persona 5 left the service so I was concerned that Persona 4 might as well, so I’d best finish it.

HowLongToBeat says the main story should take around 68 hours, story + extras should take 84 and completionists should be done with the game at around 136 hours. I’m at about 70 hours but don’t feel anywhere near finished. The story of the game follows our protagonist over the course of a year beginning in mid-April. I’m currently in October which makes me think I’m at the half-way point, though time kind of moves in fits and starts. I still don’t think it’ll take me 140 hours to complete since I’ve spent a considerable amount of time grinding and I’m currently somewhat ‘over-leveled’ for the content I’m doing, but it still may take me 100 hours. I would like to finish it before the end of the year but not sure I can squeeze in 30 hours in a month; at least not without abandoning other projects.

Another game from my rotation that I dabbled lightly with is Final Fantasy XVI. This one entered rotation in June and I don’t even like it very much. At this point I’ve turned the difficulty down to the easiest setting because I just want to follow the story, but even with that there are so many aspects of this game that just waste the player’s time that it grates on my nerves to play. So I pop in, do a side quest or a chunk of a main quest, then set it aside for another week. I’ll finish it eventually though!

The big disruption in my gaming life continues to be Snowrunner, which I started playing on a whim since it hit Playstation Plus Extra, and it has just stuck. In fact during Sony’s Black Friday sale I bought a bundle with the base game and 3 years worth of seasons (expansions). I’m closing in on 100 hours with the game and have primarily played on the 4 maps of the first region, and I now have in total something like 37 maps. That should last me a while.

Snowrunner is a hard game to describe. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say it is hard to describe what is enjoyable about it. The basic premise is that you’re hauling cargo from Point A to Point B, but always in places where the terrain is really rough. The first region is Michigan which has been devastated by a flood and you’re helping to rebuild the infrastructure. That’s the 10,000 foot view. But the minute to minute gameplay is mapping out a route that seems like it would be most efficient and then coaxing your trucks through mud and snow and over rocks, often by using a winch to pull yourself through tough spots. Trucks can tip over, which means driving out with another truck to do a rescue (again, using the winch). Cargo can spill, gas is a constant concern, as is wear and tear on the trucks themselves.

It is generally accepted to be a hard game, even on “Regular” mode (there is a “Hard” mode that I haven’t touched) and there are ways you can choose to make it more difficult for yourself. For example there is a “Recover” option that will teleport your truck to the nearest garage. You can use that if a truck tips, breaks down or runs out of fuel, but I try not to use it because to me this is one of those games where some of the most interesting things happen when trying to recover from a disaster. I guess kind of think of it like recovering from a party wipe in an MMO where you need to do corpse recovery to get your stuff back, and doing it without using fast travel. I read one review of Snowrunner that said it was a hard game but that it tests your patience rather than your skill, and I guess that is fair. Though there is definitely some skill involved, just in the sense of learning what a truck is capable of (each has its own strengths and weaknesses and there are a lot to unlock) and learning some tricks to keep yourself on the move.

Screenshots don’t really convey the pace of the game, so I’m sharing a couple of clips of me doing dumb things with bad results. In both these clips you’ll see I’m moving pretty slowly, and what you see are typical speeds in the game. These trucks do NOT do well at high speeds, if they can reach such speeds at all.

Anyway this is a recap, not a Snowrunner review, so I’ll leave it at that. If you decide to try it, know the first hours are pretty painful as you have crummy trucks and no upgrades and nothing to do but drive around. As you unlock stuff and get to where you can drive around in a truck with fat offroad tires that has a loading crane and can easily pull a big trailer, things get more fun and more interesting. Still, I would say it is an acquired taste, but you can try it for ‘free’ on Xbox Game Pass or Playstation Plus Extra. If you want to get a leg up, here’s a great YouTube playlist from zOrShix who is much better at the game than I am!

Over in VR land, PartPurple got hooked on PowerWash Simulator VR and now she’s got me into it. I have objectively better VR games I could be playing (Assassin’s Creed Nexus, for one) but she finished PWS VR so now I feel compelled to finish it as well! Family rivalry in action!

Watching

I feel like we’ve been all over the place this month. We went back and finished Invasion (thumbs up) and The Changeling (thumbs down) on Apple TV+ and now we’re into Monarch: Legacy of Monsters and For All Mankind Season 4. Both have been good so far.

On Amazon Prime we finished Wheel of Time Season 2, and we watched Upload Season 4 (I think?). We really love Upload and want to get everyone to give it a try. It’s about a young dude (Robbie Ammell) who is in an accident and about to die, and is uploaded into an exclusive but micro-transaction heavy virtual world by his control-freak (and very rich) girlfriend. It pokes a lot of fun at our current culture while telling an amusing story using characters that we’ve come to love. Hoping we get more of this.

On Netflix we watched Life on Our Planet which is a documentary about… you guessed it. Life on our planet, from the beginnings up to now. If you like nature documentaries you’ll probably enjoy this one. We did.

For my ‘me time’ viewing, I’m watching Attack on Titan (Crunchyroll) now that the series has come, or is about to come, to an end. I struggle with it a bit as it has a lot of that Shonen-style eye-bulging screaming going on. I hate that. Better was Blue Eye Samurai (Netflix) which was an anime-style show about a half-Western warrior in Edo Japan when xenophobia reigned. The warrior’s blue (and somewhat round) eyes mark them as a monster to many people they encounter. Really good show but it does have a lot of explicit violence and sex (though the sex serves the story and isn’t, y’know, ‘fan service’ stuff).

Reading

Virtually nothing. Duolingo Japanese study has taken the place of my reading lately. 60 days in, I can now say “rice and green tea, please” fluently in Japan. Another few months and maybe I’ll learn how to preface that with “May I have…” Crazy!

And that’s the recap! Lots going on in December. More games, the apparently now controversial The Game Awards, the winter holiday(s) of your choosing, and watching people who live in places where there are proper seasons having fun skating and skiing. See you next month!

October 2023

The end of October kind of snuck up on me and I haven’t been taking notes during the month, so I guess this is going to be a short recap. Particularly since things haven’t changed all that much since last month.

For the first half of October I stuck to my new “system” and kept playing the same 4 games I’d been playing in September:

  1. Starfield
  2. The Witcher 3
  3. Final Fantasy XVI
  4. Persona 4 Golden

But cracks started showing in my system because even though three of these are great games (sorry FF XVI, I’m just not that into you) I was still starting to get bored playing the same stuff for what was approaching 3 months at that point. I think I’ve learned that I need fewer games in my rotation so I actually make progress, or at least mix in a couple of shorter games.

Anyway for some reason about halfway through the month I started playing Snowrunner. This is a game I own on Xbox but when it hit Playstation Plus Extra I decided to do a fresh start. Turns out I like it more on Playstation for a strange reason: the speaker in the controller. In Snowrunner you drive around in beefy but not-very-elegant trucks and when the gears shift, you get a nice metallic clanking from the speaker in the controller. And since generally the controller is down below your head, it sounds right: it sounds like these clanks are coming from the transmission. I know I’m being really strange here but that was enough to make the game more enjoyable for me.

I’m super addicted to Snowrunner but it isn’t something I’d generally recommend as it can be very slow-moving. Once, I got a truck stuck in some water and it took me 2 nights of playing to retrieve it. The basic idea is you have to drive around in very rough terrain (in the starter areas there’s been a flood and you’re trying to help with recovery) doing tasks that earn you experience and cash that you use to upgrade your trucks in order to do more difficult tasks. I guess it falls into the ‘simulation game’ genre which generally isn’t well represented on consoles.

I of course forget to take screenshots but here’s a video clip. This isn’t actually typical gameplay. I was tasked with ‘rescuing’ the red truck but the mud was too deep for me to reach it AND get enough traction to tow it out. So I kind of did this daisy chain maneuver. If this looks fun you might like Snowrunner. If this looks tedious, well let’s just say that PartPurple sees me playing this game and just shakes her head sadly and tries to figure out what is wrong with me that I find this to be entertaining. πŸ™‚

Anyway, I’m having fun. Also been doing a bit more VR gaming. Drums Rock on the PSVR got a little expansion pack of songs so I’ve been playing a bit of that, and dabbling in Asgard’s Wrath on PCVR. November is a big month for VR though. Looking forward to Power Wash Simulator in VR, as well as the VR Assassin’s Creed game.

Watching:

We drifted away from both Invasion and The Changeling on Apple TV+, mostly because we ‘caught up’ on them both. We’re not great about watching shows week by week. We always switch to something where all the episodes are available.

The exception this month being Star Trek: The Lower Decks which continues to delight us. Thursday is the season finale though, and I’m sad about that.

We also watched both seasons of The Wheel of Time on Amazon Prime. I’m sure fans of the books hate this show, because I am NOT a fan of the books and I kind of like the show. It isn’t my favorite but hey, one can’t be TOO picky about finding live action fantasy series these days.

For my late night solo viewing, I finally got around to 1923 (a Yellowstone prequel starring Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren — I watched on Paramount+) which was GREAT aside from having not one, not two, but THREE cliffhanger endings, and Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End (Crunchyroll), an anime about an elf who was part of a party who defeated the Big Bad but now faces life alone as her human companions grow old and die. It’s kind of melancholy but I’m finding it quite compelling. It’s still airing so not sure how it’ll turn out. Oh, and I also watched Summer Time Rendering (Hulu) which had both time travel and body snatching in it, so what’s not to like?

Reading:

Not much reading going on. I’ve picked up Duolingo to try to learn a bit of Japanese and I’ve been focusing on that during the times I usually read. Like when Lola is laying in a sunny patch of grass and has decided we’re not going anywhere for a while. I’ve just hit the 30 day mark and boy can I ever ask for rice and water like a champ!

And that’s it. Here comes November and probably a lot more of the same!! πŸ™‚

A Snowrunner Disaster Story

So there I was, trying to lug a trailer up a steep trail, when I came upon a broke-down truck (Item #1 in the picture above) in the way. I don’t know who the fool was that abandoned this thing half-way up a steep trail like this (OK, it was me) but I couldn’t get around it.

I figured I could just tow it down the hill and that should be the end of the problem. So I attached a cable to it and started hauling with the winch. It took a bit of effort but the broke-down truck started to roll. I let off the winch but the beast kept rolling. I threw my truck into reverse but the trailer (Item #3) jammed on something and jack-knifed. The wreck kept rolling, hit me and drove me backwards. I tried to get out of the way but got wedged between the wreck and a tree. At least that stopped the wreck from rolling.

I couldn’t back out of the fix so figured maybe I could winch myself forward. Lashed the cable to a tree and started winching and… my truck flopped over on its side (Item #2) and the engine stalled (and with it, the winch gave out). I was dead in the water.

So I called a buddy from another map (OK it wasn’t actually a buddy, it was me… I can teleport y’know) to drive ALL the way over to the scene of the mess and start clearing it up. And I did, eventually. First I hauled the trailer off the trail, then pulled the wreck further down the hill (first being sure I was clear to back out of the way) then using the winch to get the first truck back on its wheels and from there we had it made. But it was a long, long night.

I love Snowrunner the most when everything goes terribly… πŸ™‚

Oh and sorry the picture is so dark. Everything bad seems to happen at night!

September 2023

September has been a pretty good month for me, once we got past the stupid heat of the first half. We’ve had days where we were able to keep the doors and windows open for a few hours in the mornings and evenings and having some fresh air has been lovely. October should be better. I love October and November.

Gaming wise, I kept to my plan of choosing a selection of games and sticking with them. I dabbled a bit outside of this group, mostly to earn Microsoft Rewards Points, but overall here’re the games I played in September:

  1. Starfield
  2. The Witcher 3
  3. Final Fantasy XVI
  4. Persona 4 Golden

The first two weeks of September were pretty much 100% devoted to Starfield which I almost instantly fell in love with. I racked up 25 hours in the first week (thanks in large part to the long Labor Day weekend) which, for me, is a huge number of hours to spend gaming in a single week. About mid-month it became clear that this was a game that I was going to stick with for the long term, so I started mixing in the other 3 titles.

Persona 4 Golden was in second place, I reckon. I don’t actually track my play time but I had a couple of weekend days that were 100% Persona so I assume it comes in second after Starfield. I think a Persona game finally got its hooks into me, though I have to admit I find the actual dungeon diving pretty dull (well, aside from discovering the truly bizarre enemies we have to fight). It’s the social stuff and story and I’m invested in.

The Witcher 3 continues to be a slow and enjoyable burn. I play it almost like it’s an MMO. There’s something about it that just feels comfy to me, even though old Geralt is slicing off heads and cutting foes in half. A lot of times when I play I just run around exploring. “Oh, I’ve never been to that section of the map….let’s run over there.” Over the years the devs have added a LOT of fast travel markers but I just trot past them. Heck I don’t even call Roach. I just love to stroll around killing monsters and bandits.

Final Fantasy XVI is in rotation but I still am not enjoying it that much. I’m not sure why I’m forcing myself to finish it. I guess because I bought it at full price. I keep thinking I should do a post about the things that bother me about it but then I think maybe there’s enough negativity on the Internet. Perhaps someday when I’m feeling cranky.

Watching:

We’ve become big fans of Apple TV+ lately. Three of our shows this month have been on Apple TV+

Invasion season 2 is still airing. We’re liking it though we’re a little sad about how Aneesha’s character is written. She was so fierce in Season 1 and now she mostly yells “LUUUKKKEE” to her kid. And I don’t like her kid at all. But all the other threads keep us tuning in.

Foundation season 2 is over and I think we’ll do a 2nd watch; this is a dense show that rewards re-watching. Or at least season 1 did.Β  And we’ll watch anything with Jared Harris in it.

The Changling is a horror show that we’re still in the middle of. It has this way of being a little dull for like half the episode and then totally hooking me in the 2nd half, forcing me to come back for more.

From other services, we’ve been watching Star Trek: The Lower Decks which we just love. It’s on Paramount+

We’ve pretty much lost interest in the Disney+ shows, particularly since we’ll be cancelling soon due to the stupidly large price hike. But even before that happened we both just drifted away from Ahsoka and I can’t get too excited about any of the Marvel stuff anymore either. That’s OK… looking forward to having that $$ in my pocket instead of Disney’s.

I’ve also been solo watching some anime: The Faraway Paladin & Ascendency of a Bookworm. Neither was mind blowing but both were enjoyable with a minimum amount of screaming. I bounce off a lot of anime because of the constant screaming. Also worth noting that I know nothing about anime. I’ve been told all the screaming is a hallmark of ‘shonen’ but I dunno how to tell if something is shonen or not before I start watching. I need an anime sensei. πŸ™‚

Reading:

Finished The Last Wish & started Sword of Destiny; a nice pairing with my time roaming around in The Witcher 3. πŸ™‚

And that’s September done. October should be great. The Quest 3 comes out and it just so happens (it was legit a coincidence) that I have a week’s vacation booked starting the Monday after launch. Also looking forward to Honkai Star Rail hitting the Playstation. Plus, y’know, spooky stuff all month! Woohoo!