Next Gen Consoles, 9 Months Later

I was fortunate enough to get both an Xbox Series X and a Playstation 5 at launch, and as I’ve mentioned I’m primarily a console gamer. I thought I’d recap my feelings on the two machines. I’ve been meaning to do this since I hit the 6-month point with them but, y’know, procrastination.

I’m coming at this from the point of view of the average user. I haven’t counted pixels or connected meters and flux capacitors to the machines to measure anything. This is all my opinion and based on ‘natural’ observation.

Speed – I believe on paper the Xbox Series X is supposed to be capable of generating more speed, but in practical terms both machines feel similar to me. If a game comes out on both platforms I might wait to see what the pixel-counters at Digital Foundry have to say and then get the game on the machine that runs it best. That or wait for it to be on sale somewhere. Neither seems to dominate here so I’m calling it a wash.

Reliability – Most new hardware as complex as a game console comes with some minor issues. The Xbox Series X has been extremely reliable. Once or twice some sub-system would start to feel a little wonky, but a reboot has always cleared it up. I’ve had more issues with the Playstation 5, particularly right around launch. Most of these involved issues with external storage and for a long while I stopped using “Rest Mode” because when I woke the machine I’d be met with stern warnings about not shutting down properly and I’d need to rebuild databases and repair drives. This was happening when I was using an external SSD powered via USB port. I switched to an old HDD with its own power supply and the issue cleared up. I haven’t tested the SSD lately but overall, the Xbox wins in reliability. All that said, it’s not a huge win because both systems have been generally reliable and we haven’t seen reports of widespread issues with either platform.

Noise – I REALLY hate fan noise, and both these machines are essentially silent. This one is a toss up but both are FAR superior to the PS4, PS4 Pro, and Xbox One. (I did have an Xbox One X which was also very quiet.) I love how quiet these machines are.

Innovation – Giving this one to Playstation 5 because of the cool haptics they’ve added to the controller. Those can really change how a game feels, though I’m sure some gamers disable them because in many cases they make the game more immersive but more difficult. Both systems of course have fast SSDs and the difference in load times compared to the older consoles is astounding. Xbox has “Quick Resume” which is pretty handy; it allows you to basically ‘sleep’ a game without saving or shutting it down, and you can switch between slept games quickly. That’s a cool feature but not, in my opinion, as cool as the Dual Sense haptics on the PS5. PS5 controller also has a speaker and microphone in the controller, which is kind of neat.

Storage – Xbox wins. The Xbox Series X launched with a port for a ‘next gen’ 1 TB memory card. The PS5 has a slot for a 2nd SSD but they’ve just now rolled out a beta of the operating system that supports it; those of us not in the beta continue to wait to put this slot to use. You have to open up the PS5 to install this, which isn’t a huge deal but it’s a lot more work then inserting a ‘card’ into a slot on the back of the Series X. If you’re wealthy enough (right now a 1 TB expansion for either system is going to cost in the $200-$220 range since they use cutting edge SSD technology) you could even have a few expansion cards for the Xbox and switch between them.

Both consoles support external storage for ‘last gen’ games but again the Xbox wins. It supports multiple external storage devices. I have a 1 TB SSD for Xbox One games I’m playing, and a jumbo 8 TB HDD for long term storage. The PS5 only supports one external drive at a time.

Game Library – This is a tough one. The Playstation ecosystem has more flashy exclusives, though honesty not too many for PS5 yet. The Xbox has great backwards compatibility so you can play games from the Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S libraries all on this hardware and in many cases older generation games run better than they ever have due to framerate boosts and features like “Auto HDR” which adds HDR to games that never supported it.

The big thing is most Xbox games are also available on PC, so if you’re a PC gamer looking for a console to expand your gaming collection, Playstation makes the most sense for its exclusives. If you don’t have a gaming PC and want access to a large variety of games go with the Xbox because of the huge libary and because….

Game Pass – There’s no real comparison here. Only Xbox has Game Pass. Game Pass is a great value. For $10/month you can download and play 200+ games (including all first party Xbox games, which now includes upcoming Bethesda titles like Starfield), with new titles being added every week (though titles do leave eventually too). If you go up to $15/month for Game Pass Ultimate you can also play the games streaming on mobile devices and on computers via Xcloud, and you then get access to Game Pass for PC & get some PC titles as well. The prices I list are full retail prices and if you shop around or wait a bit, there are frequently sales and special offers. I usually pad out my subscription during Black Friday sales.

Sony does have PS Now, which is $10 month and is technically similar to Game Pass, but it features mostly back catalog titles. I have to admit I’m watching from the outside, but I do think PS Now is getting better. However at the time of this writing it can’t really compare to Game Pass.

Summary – OK that feels like a lot of words and I could keep on going, but I won’t try your patience. So if I had to choose one which would I go with? Probably the Xbox just because Game Pass is such a great value. There’s always something new to play. I’d really miss the PS5 though; it feels more ‘next gen’ than the Xbox Series X does (looks it too, for better or for worse…the thing makes a statement in your living room. It is HUGE.). Put it this way, if either of these consoles was stolen or destroyed somehow, I’d replace it. I really like having both. I do think for folks who are primarily PC gamers, Playstation 5 makes the most sense since you’ll get those exclusives that aren’t available on PC.

Old-School MMO Fun in a Single Player Game?

As I’ve mentioned a few times, I used to play a lot of MMOs before I drifted back towards solo gameplay. I do miss MMOs from time to time, and I’ve found a game that (sort of) let’s me scratch that retro MMO itch.

This isn’t something new, the game itself might be considered retro at this point. It’s Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment (available on Steam or Playstation). Sword Art Online, of course, is an IP about gamers trapped in an MMO; one where death in the game results in death in real life.

SAO: Hollow Fragment originally came out on the Playstation Vita, I believe, and it definitely shows its age. It posits an alternate timeline that forks from the anime (sorry, I’m only familiar with the anime) at the end of season 1. When the game starts you & your guild are working on level 76 of Aincrad & still need to get to level 100 to be able to log out and return to your lives. You play as Kirito who has discovered a secret “Hollow Area” of the game where you meet some new characters and fight more difficult enemies.

I would not call this a game of precision and finesse

I started playing this game probably half a dozen times before it finally ‘stuck.’ The biggest obstacle was that starting up is just like returning to an actual MMO after a long while. Kirito starts at level 90 with a bunch of skills and of course you, the player, don’t know how to use any of them. Sound familiar? That happens to me every time I return to an actual MMO after a long break.

Honestly the gameplay can feel pretty one-dimensional. You’re constantly fighting, often what we’d call ‘trash mobs’ in a real MMO. You get into a routine (or dare I say, a rotation) that repeats every time you encounter a new group of enemies. It’s not a game I can spend hours and hours playing because it gets a little dull. So I dabble in it and I’m slowly making progress.

But there are times when it SAO:HF reminds me of playing Everquest or something. The other day I was trying to get to a treasure chest but it was locked behind a door that would only open when the room was cleared of enemies. The enemies CON’d red and there were a bunch of them. The adjacent room had more level appropriate enemies so Kirito and Asuna (you generally play as a team of two) cleared that room first. Then (using a skill intended for just this task) Kirito started pulling the high level mobs, one at a time, into the now empty room so the duo could take them down. The fights were manageable even though the mobs were 20-30 levels higher than we were.

Not the fight I’m describing. In all the fuss I forgot to take screenies of that battle

This was going pretty well until mobs started respawning in the empty room we were using as our fighting space, so “we” moved into a corner of the room with the high level mobs. Then I screwed up, hit the wrong command and Kirito charged INTO the enemies instead of pulling one towards us. Oh shit. Again, this brought back so many memories of someone accidentally aggroing a bunch of mobs in an actual MMO.

I spent the next 10-15 minutes in a white-knuckle battle where Kirito and Asuna kept dropping to maybe 1/10th of their health pool while I frantically tried to defend until my healing skill cooled down. Just when I thought we had it under control, the mobs started respawning.

Death in Hollow Fragment isn’t quite as harsh as it is in the anime, but it does reset you to the last time you entered a zone which meant dying would lose me a good bit of progress. We battled on, and eventually we cleared the room but only because I was using a skill that shunted all Kirito’s experience to Asuna (he was much higher level than she was) and just about every kill earned her a level so she was more powerful by the end of the fight than she was at the beginning. Got some decent weapons from the chest behind the magically locked door, then made a beeline out of that zone to trigger an autosave. Whew!

I don’t know that I’d really recommend SAO: Hollow Fragment unless you’re a fan of the anime and enjoy grindy games. I like it though, and that encounter just made me feel nostalgic for the old days of roaming around with my guild, getting ourselves into, and eventually out of, trouble. If you do want to give the game a try wait for a sale. It’s $20 on Steam but regularly goes on sale for $5-$10.

Here’s some random gameplay (against low level enemies), mostly I was seeing if I could let Medal.TV grab clips from Twitter then embed them here. 🙂

PC Gamer to Console Gamer: Why Would I Do That?

I feel like I exist in a fairly small gaming demographic: the old console gamer. It’s probably not really the case, but it is how I feel. A lot of my ‘social media’ contacts were established back when I was an MMO player on PC & most of those folks are still on PC of course. I struggle to make new connections so I remain, at least within my bubble, one of the few console gamers in my general age group. [Dear anyone under 50: You are NOT “an older gamer.” 🙂 ]

I started as a PC gamer. Maybe I should say computer gamer. The first device I owned to play games on was an Atari 400 that I bought in 1979 or 1980. From there it was Atari 800XL, Commodore 64, Atari ST (I am a veteran of the Atari ST vs Commodore Amiga flame wars!) and then finally jumped to a 386-SX PC. From that point on I kept myself perpetually broke by upgrading every couple of years. PC gaming was expensive back then since the tech was advancing so quickly and OF COURSE I wanted to play the latest games in all their glory.

The first console I bought was a TurboGrafx-16 and that would’ve been 1987-ish? A string of consoles followed but they were always a side-thing, in much the way many of my PC gaming peers today have a console that they fire up every once in a while just for a change of pace.

I still own an “OK” gaming PC. In fact I just bought a new one last winter when the gaming laptop I was using imploded. I keep one around because frankly it felt WEIRD not to have a gaming PC, even though I really don’t use it for gaming very often.

So why’d I make the change to console? It wasn’t a deliberate decision and there were a few reasons.

The first was that I started having RSI issues in my wrist. I’d spend all day working with a mouse and keyboard and then spending my evenings and weekends PC gaming meant just a LOT of mouse use. Particularly during my Diablo addiction. That game killed my wrist and the pain started to get really bad.

I couldn’t stop working, so I had to stop gaming. This happened kind of between when PC gaming joysticks had died off (remember when your PC had a joystick port!?) and when controller support for PC games became common. Plus I had a console so why not just use that. I could game with a controller without any discomfort and it gave my wrist time to rest/recover.

At this point I was kind of a hybrid gamer. I played on the PC when I could (mostly MMOs) but used the consoles for single player stuff.

Then, about eight years ago, I started working from home full time. This drove the nail into my PC gaming coffin. We live in a smallish apartment and I was doing my WFH stuff on the same PC I gamed on. I was actually working 2 jobs at the time, so I’d put in 8 hours for job #1, a couple hours for job #2, all sitting at that computer. By the time I was done for the day I just HAD to get out of that room, so when it was time to game I’d head to the living room and the consoles. (I wonder if the pandemic caused any of my readers to have this “must get away from computer!!” reaction?)

And that was pretty much it. Console gamer from that point on. I did try PC gaming on the couch in a variety of ways, from physically hooking a PC to the TV, to streaming solutions like Steam Big Picture and Nvidia Gamestream. They all worked, but all were a little fiddly. I felt like I needed a keyboard & mouse handy just in case a game expected you to have one, which led to the living room being cluttered with PC peripherals. That bugged me.

I also grew old and lazy. I really like that I can just flip on a console and not have to futz with anything. Every game fully supports the controller. There are no driver conflicts. The things update themselves, and a console stays viable for a long time. Bonus points for the dog being up on the couch with me, keeping me company.

Of course there are a lot of downsides to console gaming. The lack of mods is a big one, for sure. A few games support mods on console but it’s still quite rare. Consoles get a lot of PC ports with poor replacements for mouse & keyboard control. You have to wait for the manufacturer to decide it’s time for you to get better graphics.

Worst is probably the lack of a “tribe” on console. I watch these groups of PC gamers I know form around the latest hotness, and I’ve yet to find that kind of group on console. Just saying “on console” isn’t even accurate because you have to find a group on Xbox, or on Playstation, depending on your preference. Of course there ARE lots of those groups on the console platforms but they’re generally composed of people decades younger than I am. If there’s a group of 60+ liberal console gamers out there, someone point me at them!

Since I DID buy a new gamming PC not too long ago, and I have carved out a second spot in the apartment to put it (who needs a dining room, right?) I keep thinking I’ll get back into PC gaming. I buy the games, I install the games…and then I go play something on one of the consoles. I’m not sure why I can’t get back to PC gaming, tho it might just be laziness. Again, it’s just so easy and relaxing to crack open a beer, flounce down on the couch and put my feet up, and start adventuring.

In Praise of Vast Open World Games

This post is a few years too late, really. There was a time not so long ago when gamers as a hive-mind (in other words, some subset of gamers who managed to make enough noise to be noticed) were really down on open world games, and specifically Ubisoft open world games.

I wasn’t one of those gamers; I love a giant open world to roam around in.

Back in the dim days of the 1990s I used to play MMOs with a group of friends. We’d have terrific adventures exploring new worlds. OK mostly one new world: Britannia. Ultima Online was the big news back then. (My first actual “MMO” was MegaWars III on Compuserve, but Ultima Online felt like a breakthrough.)

Over time, friends drifted away and I forgot to make new ones. I kept playing MMOs but mostly by myself. I was still drawn to exploring and seeing what I’d find over the next mountain. Eventually though, I started getting frustrated at not being able to see all the content in instances and other groups-required places. Yadda yadda yadda/whine whine whine.

Then I just pretty much stopped playing PC games and moved over to consoles and that more or less put an end to my MMO days. (I mean, I still dabble here and there but never anything serious.) Why I switched to consoles is maybe good post fodder for later in the month.

Anyway enter big-ass open world games. Once again I had a world to explore, only now I could see it all if I wanted to. I was pretty happy about that. Granted eventually I’d see everything and unlike MMOs, open world games don’t get long term support. A year or two of DLC/expansions is about the best you can hope for. [This would be a good time for a PC gamer to point at all the mods available for Skyrim that continue to expand that game years and years after release.]

Hey, we play the hand we’re dealt. Anyway, I just wanted to share my love of one of my favorite types of games, and maybe convince someone to give one a try.

To that end, here’re a few tips to help you appreciate open world games as much as I do.

1) Pick one that has a protagonist that you enjoy. I’m speaking specifically of their personality and how they react to others. One of my favorite protagonists in recent years has been Kassandra in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. I spent over 200 hours in her company and was bummed when we finally hit the point where we’d done pretty much everything. If the character you’re playing as doesn’t bring you joy, you probably won’t last very long in an open world game.

2) If you start to get bored, let go of your inner completionist. Don’t fixate on clearing every point of interest on the map. Do enough stuff to keep you comfortably leveled and focus on the story. Alternately, do the content (most of these games have a variety of ‘quest types’) that you enjoy and skip the stuff that doesn’t interest you. Virtually every open world game gives you the opportunity to continue playing past the ending credits and if you get to the end and want more, that’s the time to go map clearing. (The image at the top of this posts shows the POIs in just a small area of AC Valhalla and it was taken 140 hours into the game & well past when the credits rolled.)

3) Take breaks. These are generally long games, some of them with 100+ hours of content. I find taking breaks to play other, shorter games helps to keep the open world title feeling fresh and full of wonder.

4) Tweak the difficulty as you play. If the game is too easy you’ll get bored, and if it is too hard you’ll probably get fatigued. A lot of these games seem to get easier the farther in you get (you unlock new skills, better weapons and get too strong for the content). If that happens bump up the difficulty. Conversely of course, if you’re finding it exhausting to constantly struggle with encounters, lower the difficulty down.

5) Immerse yourself. This one is hard to explain but I find that these games are most fun if I try to forget they’re a game. I do that mental role-play thing where I just try to become the character. When I’m REALLY into a game I may stop availing myself of quality-of-life features like fast travel. Instead I enjoy traversing the world and taking in the sites.

I realize none of these tips are revelatory but who knows, they may help someone. The biggest complaint I hear is that there are just too many points of interest on the map and things get overwhelming and tedious. I used to try to complete them all too. Letting go of that was hard for me, but doing so made the games so much more enjoyable.

Darksiders Genesis Isn’t Great on Console

Doing actual reviews of games isn’t really my thing anymore, but sometimes you just gotta share what you’ve learned.

I’d been meaning to play Darksiders Genesis for a while but never got around to it. It was on GamePass on the Xbox so I had access to it but you know the drill. So many games, so little time. I got the kick in the butt I needed when I learned it was leaving GamePass on August 12th so I figured I’d better check it out while it was available.

Darksiders Genesis is an ARPG played from an isometric point of view. Y’know, like Diablo or Path of Exiles. I generally enjoy this kind of game and I might have enjoyed this one if not for some poor (in my opinion) technical design decisions. Keep in mind I only played for a few hours so again, I’m not going to touch on the story or character progression or anything like that.

My first issue is that the characters are really small on-screen. If you’re playing on PC or you have a console hooked up to a monitor that you sit right in front of this might not be a big issue, but from 10 feet away I kept losing track of my character in crowds of enemies, or even in the certain terrain (lava/fire areas in particular).

The second issue was that your viewpoint is fixed. There’s no way to rotate the map/level like you can in some ARPGs and often my character was behind some obstruction. You do get a character outline showing through the obstruction but it still wasn’t ideal, particularly if you were in a fight. I know this ‘fixed view’ is found in a lot of ARPGs but the level design here, with lots of verticality, made it a real issue for me in DG.

Last, there’s a lot of jumping/gliding over bottomless pits. I lost far more health to plummeting to my death (if you fall into the abyss you respawn with some of your health gone) than I did to fighting. Again it’s about the isometric view and not being able to spin the level. I just kept missing; there weren’t enough depth cues or something. I’d think I was jumping onto a climbable column but instead my character would pass ‘in front of’ the column from the player’s point of view.

Three strikes was enough & after a few sessions of feeling like I was fighting the controls I uninstalled. I don’t mind a game being difficult, but I do mind game systems being difficult, if that makes any sense. I really think if the developers had given us some kind of camera zoom and the ability to rotate the map (I realize that isn’t a trivial ask) it would’ve made the game much more enjoyable for me.

On to the next game!

Encouraging Variety in Far Cry New Dawn

With Dragon Quest Builders 2 finally put to bed I was looking for a new game to fill its slot. Far Cry 6 is coming this Autumn and I realized at some point I’d picked up Far Cry New Dawn for cheap so figured it’d make a good candidate.

New Dawn is the sequel-of-sorts to Far Cry 5, which I played so long ago that at this point I’ve forgotten many of the details beyond Greg Byrk’s portrayal of violent cult leader Joseph Seed. Well that and lots of psychedelics (in the game, not in me…at least not this time).

Anyway New Dawn has an interesting game system I wanted to talk about today. I’m not claiming New Dawn invented the idea but it was new to me. It has to do with the Perk System.

New Dawn is basically an open world first person shooter, but there is some character progression via Perks. Perks are generally passive skills like the ability to move faster when in stealth, or the ability to carry more weapons or ammo. Since they are passive they seem at least technically optional, which may become important later in our discussion.

You unlock Perks via spending [surprise!] Perk Points. So far, this is all bog standard stuff. But what is a little different here is that you earn Perk Points via completing Challenges rather than (for example) gaining experience or spending currency.

OK so what are Challenges? Challenges feel a little like Achievements. You’ll complete a lot of Challenges organically. For instance I completed a challenge to defeat 3 bears because the bears in this game are mutated psychopaths that aggro on you for no apparent reason. “Jeez Mr Bear I was just walking down the road minding my own business, and now thanks to your anger-management issues you are dead and half my ammo is gone.”

I promise, I’m getting to the point.

Now let’s talk quickly about weapons. You can craft weapons in New Dawn, and weapons come in various quality tiers. At the start of the game you can only craft Tier 1 weapons, then you spend scavenged resources to upgrade your workbench and now you can craft Tier 2 weapons, and so on. (Crafting weapons also costs scavenged resources, and I should point out that you can also loot weapons from enemies.)

Back to Challenges. There are quite a few Challenges having to do with defeating X enemies with weapon Y. “Kill 5 Highwaymen with a Level 1 Melee Weapon” (Highwaymen being one of the main baddie factions in the game.) There seems to be one of these Challenges for each tier of each weapon type.

This means if you’re a completionist that wants to check off every Challenge (and earn all the Perk points) you need to craft (or find) one of each weapon type, at each quality tier, and use it to kill some enemies.

I chose my words carefully when I said this was an “interesting” system because I’m not sure that I actually like it. Maybe I do. Maybe you will and maybe you won’t. I tend to gravitate toward certain weapon types in games like this. I rarely choose to use a shotgun, for example. If a game offers a bow I will absolutely use it. But New Dawn is pushing me out of my comfort zone and I think that’s a good thing. It’s worth noting that I haven’t noticed any Challenges that require a large number of kills. They seem more aimed at getting you to at least try different weapons for a brief amount of time, not about forcing you to use a gun type you don’t like for hours and hours.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve tried to be more open-minded about games. When a new game throws something new at me and my gut immediately says “Oh hell no!’ I try to stop, take a breath, and give this new thing a chance. That’s definitely the case here, and after that initial resistance (“Shotguns stink! Rocket launchers are crass!”) I think I do like this system.

I also think it is important that (I’m fairly sure) you could beat the game without Perks, or certainly without ALL the Perks, and you’ll earn a certain number of Perk Points organically as you play. So if this “use all the weapons” system truly bothers you I think you could just ignore it. I wouldn’t let it prevent you from trying the game if Far Cry is your kind of thing.

Viking Synergy

Late last year I was sitting around at the end of the day, looking for something to watch on Netflix. I picked The Last Kingdom. Turns out it was about the Danes invading what we now call England. Or to put it in pop culture terms, it was about Vikings!

Through a happy coincidence I’d just started playing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, a game where you play a Viking invading what we now call England!

I only watched a couple of episodes of The Last Kingdom before I noticed it was based on a book series by Bernard Cornwell, an author I knew from his Sharpe series. I really enjoyed the Sharpe books (they’re historical fiction that take place during the Napoleonic Wars) so based on the generally safe assumption that the books would be better than the TV series, I stopped watching The Last Kingdom and started reading Cornwell’s Saxon Stories series. (I just noticed he now refers to this series as “The Last Kingdom” series…the man knows marketing!)

I’m not a very fast reader. I generally read when I go to bed and I generally stay up much too late, so I often only get through a dozen pages before my eyes are drooping. Because of this, 6 or 7 months later I’m only on book #6 and there are 13 books (to date, anyway) in Saxon Tales.

I’m also not a very fast gamer and I’m not really sure why this is other than I tend to be methodical and deliberate when I game. So I’m still playing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, too.

Over the months I’ve taken breaks from both the game and the books, but invariably when I pick one back up, I soon pick up the other. It’s been really fun to read about some location and then go there in the game, or vice versa. Both the book and the game use the names of locations from the time period. (They are not always exactly the same. For example York is called Eoferwic in the books and Eurvic in the game; I’m not enough of a historian to tell you why. Danish vs Saxon name, maybe?)

The point is, the early books and the game cover the same period. Alfred is King of Wessex but wants to unite all English speaking lands into one country. The Danes and Norse are in the north, Mercia is kind of stuck between the two. You encounter the same individuals, at least in some cases. For me it’s been really enjoyable to learn (in a casual sense) about this period of history from two angles and two different forms of media at the same time. (I came into both game and books more or less uneducated when it comes to this era.)

If you played and enjoyed Valhalla I think you’d really like the Saxon Stories sage (or the Netflix series). And if you’ve read the books, you’d probably get a kick out of the game. And if you’ve not been exposed to either, it might be fun to start both at the same time.

Too Much of an OK Thing?

The other day Naithin over at Time To Loot wrote about finishing, or not finishing, games. It’s something I’ve struggled with over the years and I mean that in two ways. Struggle #1 is “Do I care if I finish games?” and Struggle #2 is “If I do care, how do I get better at it?”

It’s actually a rather big topic (for me at least) but today I just wanted to share one anecdote. I mentioned in a comment at Time To Loot:

Sometimes I just get it stuck in my craw that I WILL finish some particular game. Right now that game is Dragon Quest Builders 2, which I feel like I’ve been playing for approximately 36 years.

Well as luck (or persistence) would have it, I DID finish Dragon Quest Builders 2 [DQB2] over the weekend. (Finished in that I got the “The End” screen…I didn’t go for 100% achievements or anything.) The feeling I had when I finished was pretty much pure relief. There was a whiff of ‘satisfaction’ mixed in but mostly it was “Thank gawd that is over with.” And if I were planning to review DQB2 I’d spend a lot of words on the terrible pacing in the game and how frustrating that was. My overall review would be negative.

However, if I’d just stopped playing half-way through and had someone at that point asked me if I liked the game, I would’ve said yes. For a good half the game I really was enjoying myself, but then small flaws started to feel like bigger flaws, gameplay started to feel really repetitive, and I lost interest in what little story there was. I don’t have a good way to tell how long I spent with the game. How Long To Beat says its a 75 hour game for “Main & Extras” and I am almost always slower than that site reports, so I’m going to guess I spent around 90-100 hours playing.

So why did I force myself to finish? I’m really not sure. Like I said on Naithin’s blog, sometimes these things just get stuck in my craw. I do have a bad habit of not completing projects so maybe I just need to prove something to myself now and then. I’d have to spend some solid time in introspection to tease that one apart.

At the end of the day, though, I kind of wish I hadn’t forced myself to keep going because now I have what are essentially bad feelings about the game, rather than good ones. I mean, even better would be if the developers hadn’t gone for quantity over quality, but I have no control over that.

I think in future if I decide I really need a “win” on finishing projects, I’ll make sure it is an actual project and not completing a game. Life is short. There are a lot of games I would like to play. Spending ~50 hours forcing my way through one that has stopped being enjoyable just feels dumb. (Of course I didn’t know it was going to be 50 more hours…I kept thinking “This has to end soon” but oh, how wrong I was!)

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla patch 1.3 is a game-changer

Earlier this week Ubi rolled out patch 1.3 for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.

The bad news: with it came a really annoying bug where your character would go into an infinite sleep cycle if you happened to be in Dublin. They seem to have addressed this so I won’t dwell on it. Life is too short to carry around angst about video game bugs.

The good news is, they added a Scaling Option to the difficulty settings. Prior to the patch, if you went to an area with lower level enemies, those enemies would scale but only to a power level of 50 below your current power level. This made a lot of content feel really trivial.

The new patch lets you change this (if you want to). There’s an option to scale enemies to your current power level, to your level+30, or to your level+60. I dipped my toe in by changing the setting so enemies were the same level as I am.

Immediately the game became so much more interesting. In fact I am essentially having to re-learn how to play. Prior to the patch my Eivor would stroll into an enemy camp dual-wielding 2 giant axes and just lay waste to every enemy via me button mashing. It was a fun Viking power fantasy for a while, then it started getting dull.

Now I have to remember how to block, dodge and parry again. I have to use skills. I have to think about the battle, sometimes skulking around and assassinating some enemies to thin them out. I had to upgrade my gear! It’s great fun and has really re-invigorated my interest in the game.

Just wanted to throw this out there in case anyone else had grown bored with Valhalla. The Wrath of The Druids expansion has been out for a while, and The Seige of Paris expansion is coming soon. If you have the Season Pass (or are willing to throw a few more bucks at the game) there’s still a lot of enjoyment to be had. There’s some free content as well (the River Raid system) and they’re constantly adding new skills to play around with.

ESO: Companions & Solo Dungeons

I play The Elder Scrolls Online on Xbox, primarily, and I play it like a solo game. Sure I’ll jump in with strangers to help take down a world boss or something, but I never communicate with other players beyond a /cheer at the end of those fights.

There are plenty of good ESO players that can solo dungeons. I am not one of them. My build isn’t ideal, my gear is just whatever I’ve had drop, and I only recently hit 160 Champion Points (before then it seemed silly to focus much on gear since I was replacing it so often).

The recent Blackwood expansion added Companions — NPCs that will fight beside you. I just finally got around to unlocking them the other day. My Companion is using mostly default equipment and doesn’t have all her skills or skill slots unlocked. In other words she is a noob Companion for now.

Thing about ESO is that the ‘overland’ content is really easy, even for my half-assed character. Add the Companion and we just slice through overland stuff like butter. (I’m not counting World Bosses.) While this is kind of fun in its own way, it left me wondering why I even needed the Companion. Delves are not much harder than overland content so I didn’t really need a Companion for those, either.

I decided to try a World Boss with my Companion at my side and she literally yelled out “I think we’re going to need some help” before we were both smushed. We’re both essentially DPS builds right now, and even with two of us we don’t have enough healing output to handle the damage we were taking.

Then I decided to try to solo a dungeon. I failed, but we did make it about half-way through an early-zone dungeon, Spindleclutch. (I know with “One Tamriel” everything is supposed to be the same level of challenge but in practice the zones that used to be low level are still easier.) I made it further solo than I ever have before, by a lot.

Now in ye olde days I have done Spindleclutch in a group, back when I knew other people playing. We blazed through it so fast that I mostly was frantically looting and throwing out some DPS and it was all a blur of spiders.

Going (part-way) through Spindleclutch alone was a completely difference experience. I was reading the notes scattered around. I was listening to what the NPCs were talking about. I was poking into corners looking to see what I could find. It was really enjoyable and pretty much a completely different experience from doing it in a group.

Now I’m really excited to kit out my character and my Companion, and to work on my character’s build. I really want to be able to do more of the dungeons solo. (I know that some literally can’t be completed solo because they require people to stand on pressure plates and so forth.) Being powerful enough to finish them while playing at my pace and drinking in all the sights and lore hidden within them is going to be a blast!

Suddenly I’m really jazzed to play Elder Scrolls Online again…just in time for the New World Beta to start. LOL