Bloodborne & Me

I’m still playing Bloodborne every night. This is only of any interest because I’ve spent the last few years telling everyone who would listen about how much I hate really difficult games and “Souls-Like” games in particular. Apparently I have no idea WHAT I like.

So, I was pondering that, in the way that we reclusive individuals ponder with only ourselves to talk to. Why am I enjoying Bloodborne now?

The reason boils down to a simple one: prior to this attempt at the game, I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about!

What makes this all even more amusing (to me anyway) and embarrassing is that I used to know better. Look at this post about Demon’s Souls from 2009: Demon’s Souls & its brutal(?) difficulty (PS3)

Mind you, I never finished Demon’s Souls on the PS3 but at least at the time I understood how Souls games worked. Sometime between then and now, I forgot.

Yes, Bloodborne is often challenging but you have tools to help you manage the challenge. Key things to keep in mind are that bosses do not scale to your level, and there is no hard level cap. You level your character via killing enemies and collecting the Echoes they drop. Since enemies respawn there’s an infinite supply of Echoes. Additionally you can upgrade weapons to make them more powerful, though there seems to be ‘hard stops’ where you no longer get the upgrade materials you need until you advance into a more difficult section of the game. (Early in the game you get materials that can take a weapon to +3, then the next area gives you different materials that can take weapons to +6, etc, etc.)

When you die, the only thing you lose are Echoes, which drop on the ground or are picked up by a monster. You can go back and recover those, though if you die a 2nd time before you’ve picked up your first batch of dropped Echoes, that first dropped batch poofs for good.

This can be frustrating for sure, but again there are infinite Echoes in the game. If you do lose a big wad of Echoes (and I definitely have, a few times) it’s a setback, but not a roadblock.

What I had to learn to do is mitigate risk. As you level up it costs more and more Echoes to ‘purchase’ the next level. If I’m getting close to being able to level up, I’ll start playing conservatively for a bit. I’ll often revisit an earlier area where enemies are now relatively easy to kill. This is a good way to get your Echo pool high enough to be able to spend them on a new level while also farming consumable items from enemies. And honestly it kind of feels good to go back and just burn through these baddies that used to give you so much trouble.

So after I spend my Echoes and have an inconsequential number left over, now it’s time to get really bold with exploring because if I encounter an enemy that I can’t handle, I’m risking almost nothing.

So that’s the way I’ve been playing and I’m still making slow but steady progress. And it would be unfair not to acknowledge I’m also following a guide, which helps a great deal.

I’m still really amped for some new games coming very soon and I still don’t think I’ll finish Bloodborne any time soon. Maybe I’ll come back to it, who knows? I did add Elden Ring to my “Playing Soon” list and I’m looking forward to having to figure stuff out at the same time the rest of the community is learning the game, too.

Point being, though, that I now think that I COULD finish Bloodborne if I was willing to devote the time. That realization opens up a whole genre of titles I now feel like I can play. Maybe not beat, but at least play enough to make them worth trying.

I had a point I was trying to make when I started this post but I’ve kind of lost it now. 🙂

I guess the take-away is that yes, Bloodborne can be difficult, but with some patience you can tame it and beat it, even if you do that by leveling up to the point where you’re super powerful.

Back to Bloodborne

It all started shortly after Christmas when I was looking for something mindless to watch on YouTube and happened on Playstation Access’s “Christmas Maze” series. In this series one of the team members acts the villain, forcing the other 3 to try to beat various video game challenges. It’s pretty silly stuff, and clearly something they did before the holiday so the team could take some time off over the actual Christmas break.

One of the challenges tasked a team member with beating the first boss in Demon’s Souls. The catch was, every time she healed she had to put on another sweater. (Like I said, pretty silly stuff.) By the end she was wearing 9 sweaters over top of each other. I watched it because it was ridiculous but soon got interested in the gameplay since, with the help of the rest of the team giving advice, she made it through and it was (I think?) her first time playing Demon’s Souls.

It looked fun, and Demon’s Souls was on sale at the time, but I have an issue with difficult games and even on-sale I didn’t want to buy a game that I figured I’d play for 30 minutes then rage-quit from. Which led me back to Bloodborne since I already owned it. In fact I played it not too long ago (last August), though when all this started I’d completely forgotten that fact. Even curiousier, in that post I wrote about having finally killed the Cleric Beast for the first time. That is not correct, because I was looking at the trophies I’d earned for Bloodborne and one of them was for beating the Cleric Beast and I earned it in 2015.

So I was ready to play Bloodborne but I wanted a ‘team’ to coach me. It just so happens that Playstation Access has a playlist called “Helping a Noob Play Bloodborne” (for some reason the videos are in reverse-order in that playlist) in which someone who, like me, had been stuck since 2015 gets help from his friends. I jumped in, but quickly realized it wasn’t going to help me much for two reasons. First, it starts where Rob (the noob in question) got stuck in 2015 and that was well past where I’d gotten. Second, he actually had 2 players by his side, in-game. He basically just followed them along getting carried. Since I didn’t have 2 high-level players handy, I wasn’t learning too much from the stream.

But YouTube is a big place.

I was happy to find FightingCowboy’s “Bloodborne 100% Walkthrough” playlist and it has been tremendous help. For the first few segments I followed along meticulously, first watching a video, then basically doing exactly what he did. Often I’d stop the game and re-watch parts of the video to make sure I was doing everything correctly. I started a new character and increased the same stats he increased, opened shortcuts in the same order he did, and so on. That got me on my feet and this time when I encountered the Cleric Beast I beat it first try.

As I got more comfortable I started being a little less structured in my following Cowboy. I was feeling like not doing *any* of the exploring on my own was detracting from the experience. I tried completely cutting the cord but quickly got lost and started getting frustrated again. It’s really easy to stray into an area that you are NOT prepared for in Bloodborne (and maybe all Souls games).

Now I’ve settled into a routine where I explore a bit on my own, try to figure out where I think I should go, then I watch Cowboy’s video to see if I was right or not. Then I go back to the game and adjust so I end up at the same place his video ends. Then I start exploring on my own again. Rinse and repeat. It’s working for me. I have nothing but respect for the people who played this game blind and just figured out all the tricks and shortcuts through this maze of a game.

I’m not pledging to finish Bloodborne or anything like that, but I am enjoying a Souls game more than I ever thought I would. I’m on video 5 now (the series has 29 vids) and I’ve killed 3 bosses so far. I’m level 32-ish and just unlocked Ludwig’s Holy Blade, which Cowboy says will be my weapon for most of the rest of the game. In order to purchase that I had to find a hidden area that had some loot that sold for a ton of Echoes. And when I say hidden I mean I had to blind jump down into a dark area to land on a platform I couldn’t see when I jumped. How anyone found that area initially is beyond me.

One side effect of this experience is now I’m buying into the Elden Ring hype, too. It turns out my 60+ year old gamer brain/reflexes can actually make progress in these games, given a little help from the Internet. But I’ll probably wait for strong young gamers to figure out Elden Ring’s mysteries before I take it on myself. Plus between now and the Elden Ring launch both Dying Light 2 and Horizon Forbidden West are coming out and I gotta play both of those.

A Loss of Gaming Focus

Here we are, January 17th and not a single blog post in 2022. I was feeling a little bad about that, but I felt like the silence was justified because I haven’t been doing anything worth blogging about.

I spent the first couple weeks of the year leaning into my ‘resolution’ of not forcing myself to stay with any one game if I’m not having fun. That was all well and good but it meant I was flitting from title to title like a butterfly in a field of wildflowers moving from blossom to blossom. While it was pretty enjoyable to do that, I didn’t stay with any one game long enough to really have anything relevant to blog about. I should add, these were all old games that most of my readers would already be familiar with, so ‘First Look’ content wouldn’t bring much value.

I’ve also been watching a lot more TV than usual. With the new season of Yellowstone drawing to a close I went back and watched that whole series over again, then jumped right into the spin-off 1883. I’ve been watching a bunch of pseudo-educational titles on PBS, like This Old House and a local program called Sci NC (I live in NC). Also watching some old, old Westerns from the 1950s and 60s. I really like TV but I grew up in an era where watching TV was considered slacking and was something to be almost ashamed of, and I kind of carry that baggage around still, so I don’t talk much about it. Plus I like a lot of shows that (at least based on my Twitter feed) most people don’t enjoy. I generally don’t want to get into a debate over the merits of a series so I try to avoid anything that comes close to a review of TV shows. Long way of saying, TV isn’t great blog fodder for me, either.

Getting back to games, I think I’m just kind of waiting for February when we’ll get both Horizon Forbidden West and Dying Light 2. Those are games I REALLY want to play and somehow I’m going to squeeze the budget enough to get them both Day 1. Horizon because I just can’t wait to play it (Horizon Forbidden Dawn is in my top 3 all-time favorite games), and Dying Light 2 because it has a multiplayer aspect and I’d like, for once, to be able to co-op with friends and not be carried because I’m so far behind. Hate that.

Of all the things to finally hook me, gaming wise, it was Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning. It was a freebie on Playstation Plus a couple months ago. I played the game back when it originally came out but that was a decade ago. Still, it’s funny how much I remember about it.

I miss games like this. I can’t even articulate what “this” means, though. I guess I mean single player RPGs with big worlds and lots of the kinds of systems that these days you generally find in MMOs. Of course Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was supposed to be a warm-up for the Amalur MMO so maybe that’s why we get systems for crafting weapons, potions and magic items, I don’t know. But I roam the world of Amalur filling up my quest journal (everyone needs my help!), soaking in the lore (there’s a lot of it), gathering resources and fighting anything that moves because the combat is so damned enjoyable. Yeah, it has a certain amount of “rushed to market” jank still, and the graphics are definitely dated. But damn is it ever fun.

I really like melee combat in my video games. There’re plenty of modern melee-focused games these days but they generally now lean towards the “souls-like” genre; games that punish failure too much for me to find them enjoyable. The whole ‘replay this section over and over, memorize where the enemies are and git gud until you can finally make it to the next checkpoint’ just isn’t my vibe. KoA has a save (almost) anywhere mechanic so I only ever lose as much progress as I’m comfortable losing.

KoA is also not grim. I mean yeah, there’s a war on and all that. But the aesthetic is lots of color, and enemies are not grotesque nightmare fuel (thanks for that trend too, Souls-games). They are also not cartoon beings that look like they’ve escaped from a Nickelodeon show. Game devs: there’s a whole spectrum between cute and horrific: consider exploring it now and then.

Anyway, so that’s what I’m playing mostly now. It’s a little bittersweet because I can’t think of a modern game similar to this that is out now or coming out any time soon. Elder Scrolls 6 maybe, but that is years away yet. The new Fable? Again, not coming any time soon. The world has moved on and most gamers are looking forward to Elden Ring which appears to be another punishing souls-like with grotesque enemies that just seem to be a bit too gooey for me.

Yeah, the graphics haven’t aged well…

Gaming Resolutions for 2022

Man it feels weird to type “2022” — that’s the kind of date that the sci fi novels I read as a kid would use.

Anyway, I’m not usually one for resolutions or gaming goals but I decided I’d make an exception this year since I’ve been thinking about how I needed to change my gaming habits anyway, and it just so happens to be the end of the year. Bam! Resolution. More accurately I should say I need to revert to some old “bad” habits.

Historically I have been really bad about finishing games. Back in the day I made more money than I do now and had fewer expenses so I could pretty much afford to buy any and every game that interested me. The pattern in those days was buy a new game, start playing it, be enjoying it, but then some other new game would come out that interested me. So I’d buy that and start it up, solemnly promising myself I’d get back to the first game, but of course I never would. For games that are not “finishable” (MMOs, live-service games) you can substitute “reach the end game” for “finishing a game.”

Fairly recently (heck maybe it was a resolution from last year!) I’ve tried hard to change that pattern. I’ve been making a concerted effort to finish the games I start, or just accept that I wasn’t enjoying them enough to ever finish them. Our financial situation is such that I have to think hard about spending $60 for a game and then only playing half of it. That was part of the reason for the change. The other part was that I was missing the satisfaction of completing something. Anything! In my life, both at home and at work, I seem to rarely take on (or be assigned) a project that has a satisfying conclusion. I build web sites and a web site is never really done, right?

Anyway so that was the plan and I’ve executed on it reasonably well, and when I finish a game it IS very satisfying. But the flip side is I keep playing games long past where they’re really enjoyable. I just push on and try to power through and while that has worked, it hasn’t been very much fun, apart from the satisfaction of finishing. I walk away from a game thinking “Thank god that is over, I never want to see that game again” even if it was a title that I initially really enjoyed.

So my resolution this year is to try to find a middle ground between never finishing games and being so bullheaded about finishing them that they become a chore.

One “tool” that I think I need to work on is being able to re-engage with a game when I come back to it, picking up where I left off. I’m really bad at remembering the subtleties of a game’s systems, so when I go back and pick up an old game I start over. If I could get better at re-learning a game without re-starting it then I feel like I’d have the ability to both finish games and be able to step away from them when a new shiny catches my eye or the current title is starting to feel repetitious. Go back to an old game enough times, always picking up where you left off, and eventually you’ll finish it, right? Of course I say this after having re-started Death Stranding from the beginning for the 3rd time (nope, I’ve never finished it).

I think basically this is a matter of patience. When I return to a partially completed game I get impatient with myself if it is difficult or confusing, but in this day and age there are tools, right? I could find a let’s play on YouTube and watch the first couple hours of a playthrough. I could read the start of a walk-through. For most games there’s a Reddit or a Discord where I can ask questions and in my experience visiting these places when a game is a little older is fairly pleasant. Most of the toxic people have moved on to the communities of newer games where there are more targets. The people still hanging around generally love the game and want more people to play and enjoy it.

Or of course I could start a new game but save my old one, re-play the first few hours then switch, though I’ve had limited success with this since I so quickly engage with my current character/decisions.

Anyway so that’s my New Year’s Resolution. Basically stop making gaming a chore or an obligation. Gaming is supposed to bring me joy, and it generally does but lately it’s started to feel more like an obligation than a hobby. Just a few days ago I threw in the towel on Metal Gear Solid 5 because I couldn’t face playing nothing but it for what appeared to be 5-6 more weeks in order to finish it. That was kind of an extreme decision and if I’d just let myself set it aside and play something else before I got tired of Metal Gear, it might still be on my hard drive waiting to be played.

So last night I set aside Death Stranding (which I’m once again enjoying very much) and fired up Ghost Recon Wildlands, a game I haven’t played in years. Instead of starting from scratch I’m just being patient with myself and re-learning the systems from where I left off, and it didn’t take very long at all before I was having fun.

2022 has a LOT of potentially amazing games on the way. All those titles that slipped from 2021 due to the pandemic are going to start arriving. Horizon Forbidden West is my next “Day 1 Purchase” game for me, and it’ll be here in February. I can’t wait!

I hope you have a year full of great gaming, and thanks for reading Dragonchasers!

Tapping Out of Metal Gear Solid 5

Over the past 5 days (4 of which were vacation days) I’ve been focused on playing Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain. And I think I’m done. I’ve gone from “Hey, this is actually pretty fun” to “Let’s see how much more I have to go before I finish this.” The answer to that last question is: 89%. After 5 days I’m at 11% complete. Extrapolating from that, I’ve got 45 more days of playing and I’m already getting tired of it so… yeah time to throw in the towel. Or at least put it in the “games I play every once in a while” pile rather than my “games I’m trying to finish” pile.

It’s not that it’s a bad game so much as that it’s a stealth game and I always forget that while I THINK I like stealth games, in practice I just don’t have the patience for them. Early on I play them the right way, sneaking around, hiding in corners, waiting for patrols to pass and so on. But damn is that time consuming and I’m so often cognizant of how much time I have to play and how much progress I’ve made. I get impatient and do something that I know has a small chance of success just because I want to do SOMETHING. Then I fail and it is back to square one. I spent 2 hours this morning trying to complete a trivial side mission and have nothing to show for it.

Which is a weird thing to say, isn’t it? I was playing a game so presumably having fun. When I spend 2 hours watching a movie what do I have to show for it? Somehow I’ve programmed my brain to expect some kind of progress for every hour I put into gaming. I wish my brain wouldn’t work that way. Though I suppose if I was really having fun for those 2 hours I wouldn’t care that I hadn’t made any progress.

While writing this post I did a bit of Googling and I guess you CAN attack the game full-on combat style but there are something called “Demon Points” that you accrue. For some reason Snake isn’t supposed to kill anyone in this war he is in. If I could go in and incapacitate dudes one by one I would. And you can do that, to a point. You can tranq them or knock them out. But they wake up eventually and then set off an alarm. I wish the game had a way I could zip-tie dudes and put duct tape over their mouth and basically take them out of the fight for the duration of the mission. (I hope that sentence is never taken out of context.)

I spent a lot of time watching this screen, waiting.

I’m not sure what Demon Points do beyond alter your appearance but I seem to have accrued a bunch of them because my Snake is constantly covered in blood. I send him to the showers (yes, you can really do that) and within minutes he is a smear of red. It’s ridiculous.

Also ridiculous is that every enemy base is playing either A-Ha’s “Take on Me” or the Kim Wilde’s “Kids of America.” EVERY SINGLE BASE. I guess Kojima could only afford to license 2 songs.

There’s a lot of interesting aspects besides going on missions. There’s a whole base-building aspect, there’s staff management, R&D, a bit of economic game. This stuff all takes a while to open up and I still don’t have everything unlocked, but I like having something to focus on beyond the immediate mission objectives. While you’re out in the field you can capture enemies (who magically switch to your side) and gather resources used to enhance your weapons and your base. You can even steal things like gun emplacements which are used to defend your base (which presumably gets attacked later in the game) or which can be sold for cash.

You can capture sheep and other wildlife because why not?

So I’m in this weird place where I enjoy kind of the sides, but I’m not enjoying the main course very much (sorry for the weird analogy but lunch is on the table and it smells so good and my stomach is rumbling). It really might be because I’m playing to finish rather than playing to enjoy. Or it might be that Afghanistan is so drab. I’m not at the “Rage Quit/Uninstall” stage yet, but I’m going to find something else to play for a few days/weeks and maybe come back to this later.

And y’know, if I wanted to spend hours just running around a bleak world, I could go play Death Stranding.

Game Grazing Lately

Over on Time to Loot Nathin asked readers what their personal Game of the Year was and… I couldn’t remember what I’d played in 2021. LOL And since I hadn’t been blogging for the first half of the year, I didn’t have any way of reminding myself.

That alone feels like a reason to keep blogging; at least then I could remember what I’ve played. Old age man…it stinks. Ask me about how bad my night vision has become!

Anyway since finishing Guardians of the Galaxy I’ve kind of been flathering around, not sticking with any one game. I keep waiting to settle into something to blog about it but it isn’t happening. So here’s what I’ve been bouncing around between lately.

On the Xbox I started Final Fantasy XII but so far I’m only about 5 hours in. I’ve played this before back when it came out on the Playstation 2, but never finished it and obviously can’t use that save, so I’m starting fresh. At some point FF XII was refreshed or remastered or something (it is now “Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age”), but the faces of the player characters still look like lumps of clay with features drawn on them. I find it really distracting. Oddly NPCs seem to look better, and the cut scenes look fine.

FF XII does come closer to scratching the FF XIV itch than the other Final Fantasy games, so that’s something. What I REALLY want to be playing is a single-player version of Final Fantasy XIV. If I were king of the world I’d command Square Enix to create such a thing.

Also on the Xbox, I finally started Halo Infinite but so far I’m not really feeling it. To be fair I’ve done all of one mission. I just think my tastes have moved past first person shooters, maybe.

Lastly, a week or so ago Ubisoft released some new content for Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which is one of my favorite games of the past few years. I love that game so much I’ve been playing the new content slowly to make it last. Kassandra is such a bad-ass and one of the best video game characters since Aloy in Horizon Zero Dawn.

On the Playstation 5 I’ve been beating on my backlog. I’m back into Sword Art Online: Re: Hollow Fragment (these names…oof). This time I did NOT start over and I’m focusing on the Hollow Area and sticking with just partnering with one character. My goal is to finish the storyline and not to worry about stuff like trying to date all the girls. I’m vaguely proud of myself for being able to come back to this game and still know how to play it given how chaotic the combat system is.

I like it well enough but it isn’t something I can play for hours on end as it starts to feel pretty repetitious. It’s a nice game to boot up when I’m feeling kind of low energy and just want to grind through a bunch of enemies and stuff.

The other old game I’ve fired up is Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain. I almost bounced off this one due to the on-boarding process. I had to agree to 3 different Eula/Privacy things, then the game asked me what country and state I lived in, as well as my birthday (obviously I lied on all of this). Then early in the Prologue it asked me to customize my avatar which I spent a bunch of time doing only to not have the avatar used at all: I’m still Solid Snake in-game.

Then you start playing and you have to sit through credits for every mission. It’s like they actively are discouraging you from playing. If I took a shot every time Kojima’s name came up on screen I’d be passed out before Snake took his first step forward.

Once you DO get past all that nonsense, the actual game play is pretty darned good so far. And for a last gen game it looks really good. It’s an open world game; you can go in and do missions or just free-roam and find supplies and stuff. It’s supposed to take place in 1984 Afghanistan but a lot of the tech you have is pretty advanced. Lots of scouting and sneaking and placing C4 charges and things like that. Serious business then broken up by silly things like using a cardboard box to hide in, or air-lifting sheep back to base via balloons. This is the game I’m closest to settling into but it does play best when you have a solid chunk of time and can focus on it.

Lastly, just this morning I splashed out $60 for Rider’s Republic and the Year 1 Season Pass on PS5. It’s on sale for 40% off and it wasn’t a super responsible decision to make but hey, let me have this one bit of mad spending for the season. I bought the whole thing just for this:

I’m feeling kind of desperate for something festive and upbeat and this looks just like that. Hopefully it’s fun. I played a beta of it and the actual gameplay was pretty fun but cut-scenes and interacting with NPCs was super-cringey. My plan is to skip all that stuff.

Finished Guardians of the Galaxy

I finished Guardians of the Galaxy late last night. Too late, honestly. By the time I was done I had a headache and my eyes were protesting about too much screen time.

I finished late because GotG is one of those games that seems like it is going to end well before it actually ends. I spent all of Sunday thinking “OK we’re about at the end” but nope. One of the few things I dislike about games is the uncertainty of their length; this is a problem (more or less) unique to gaming. If you’re reading a book you can look and see how many pages are left. Even if you do ebooks, you get a page number and/or a percentage finished. Heck my Kindle even estimates how much time you’ll spend reading what is left. With movies…, well first movies are generally a certain length. I suppose you would be surprised if you went to a cinema and a movie turned out to be 5 hours long, but such things are so unusual that something as simple as a glance at show times would tell you that this movie was a special case. At home, just hit Pause and you know exactly how much time you need to finish.

But not games. If you start a game that you know absolutely nothing about, you don’t know if it’s going to take you 3 hours or 100 hours to play through it. It makes it hard to budget time for particular games. The Internet can aid you (or, I guess, friends if you have any of those). I often visit HowLongToBeat before I start a game. That gives you a ballpark at least.

HowLongToBeat told me Guardians of the Galaxy should take anywhere from 17-23.5 hours to complete. However I am terrible at mentally tracking how much time I spend on something and GotG doesn’t have an “hours played” feature that I’ve noticed. Ergo I had more than enough game to last me another two days but thought I was almost finished so played past my session comfort zone, if that makes any sense. I finally finished around midnight.

I have three opinions about Guardians of the Galaxy:

Opinion 1: I didn’t really like the combat very much. I never felt like I got good at it or like I was in control. I muddled through and fights got easier over time but it all felt pretty random. You directly control Peter Quill aka Star Lord. His basic guns are like pea shooters that don’t seem to do much damage, and he can die if a baddie looks at him wrong. You control the other team members by holding down the L1 button, then selecting one of the face buttons to pick the team member, then selecting one of the face buttons again to pick the skill you want them to use. All the while enemies are bashing your face in which led me to generally just spam random skills in the hopes of taking down a bad guy. Usually by the time you get that skill selected your “target” has jumped from the baddie you WANT your teammate to attack to some rando cannon fodder. (I had a terrible time with losing my target lock.)

I don’t want to drone on about the combat too much. I mean I finished the game on the normal difficulty setting so it can’t be THAT bad, but it was the aspect of the game I liked the least.

Opinion 2: The exploration/travel parts of the game were decent. This isn’t an open world; instead you’re traveling down a fixed path with lots of side-corridors filled with loot (when I say loot I mean cosmetics or the ‘currency’ you use to purchase upgrades). You will frequently encounter some kind of obstacle which serves as a mini-puzzle. These often are solved with the help of the other Guardians: at various times you’ll be bashing through obstacles, crossing chasms, climbing over walls, or squirming through holes. Each Guardian has a number of ways to accomplish these tasks but each puzzle only has one solution. None of them are very hard but they added interest and felt satisfying.

Opinion 3: The story and characters were amazing. The story itself was easily good enough and complex enough to base a movie on. It had its funny parts and its sad parts and its heartwarming parts. The story alone was worth the cost of entry. Then, this being Guardians of the Galaxy, there was all the banter and interpersonal goings on which were very much on-brand and very well executed. The actors were all top notch. I particularly enjoyed Jason Cavalier as Drax, Kimberly-Sue Murray as Gamora and (though a secondary character), Emmanuelle Lussier Martinez as Mantis. In fact I kind of felt like Mantis stole the show every time she turned up. She was wonderful.

Also, meaning no disrespect to the Troy Bakers and Laura Baileys out there (love ’em both), it was nice to play a game voiced by actors you haven’t heard as characters in half a dozen other games in the past year.

So, credits roll and what’s next? While there is a New Game+ I unlocked all the abilities the first time through. I did miss some cosmetics but if I really wanted to hunt for those I could just reload chapters; I’m not sure they’re that important to me though. I could replay it just to see what happens if I make different decisions along the way, and I may do that sometime in the future, but for now I think I’m done. I would be really happy to hear about a story-based DLC or a sequel, though.

Started Guardians of the Galaxy

Been waiting a long time for Halo Infinite to launch. It has been years since I’ve played a good Halo campaign. (Halo 5 did NOT have a good campaign, in my opinion.) Finally on Wednesday it unlocked.

And I spent the evening playing Guardians of the Galaxy. I really fail at planning. You see, after I finished FF XIII I needed something to play, and since I’d been on the Xbox for that game, I looked to my library on the PS5. Back during Black Friday I’d had a moment of weakness and purchased Guardians of the Galaxy. I knew if I didn’t get to it soon the regular price would drop below what I paid for it on-sale, or it would arrive on GamePass over on the Xbox. In either case I’d be kicking myself for succumbing to the allure of the sale.

This was all on Tuesday. The plan was to play both games at the same time. So Tuesday I started Guardians but I didn’t get super-far into it. When Wednesday rolled around and it was time for Halo I wavered. Why? Because tonight, Thursday, is The Game Awards so I’m not sure I’ll play anything tonight.

Knowing myself, I knew that if I played a game briefly on a Tuesday then didn’t come back to it for a number of days (say until Friday) then I might not come back to it at all. Does anyone else have this issue? I hadn’t played enough on Tuesday for the controls and systems of GotG (which I find a little odd), to carve grooves into my muscle memory. I’d come back, feel kind of lost and like I should start over, which I wouldn’t want to do. So I’d play something else. My brain is weird.

So anyway, I’ll get to Halo Infinite soon-ish. One of the nice things about ditching social media is that I don’t feel any pressure to rush into HI for fear of spoilers or anything. Waiting is often the right move anyway because games get patched/improved. For instance GotG now has a Ray-Tracing option in the settings. That wasn’t there at launch so had I played it when it first came out I wouldn’t have had the option.

As for Guardians of the Galaxy, I know a lot of people LOVED this game, but I’m not quite as on-board…at least not yet. As I mentioned, I find some of the controls a little wonky. I’m so used to Left Trigger being ‘look down scope/zoom’ and in GotG it kind of is but it is also some kind of lock-on? My brain hasn’t really parsed what it does yet, but I know I often feel like I’m fighting the reticle as it keeps jumping from the enemy I want to aim at to another enemy.

As an interactive movie it is working, though. 100 percent. I do wish there was a cleaner way to handle “side conversations.” In other words a character will start talking about something random and I’ll accidently trigger a scripted bit which causes the random conversation to shut off so the scripted conversation can take place instead. Because of this I’m constantly standing still while I let the random conversations play out. And there’s a lot of them, so I spend a lot of time standing still listening to the team chat with each other.

That says a lot about the quality of the conversations. Last one I interrupted was Gamora asking the others what the weirdest monster they ever fought was. I still don’t know what their answers were and I’m still curious about it. 🙂

One clever ‘4th wall wink & nod’ bit was when I (Star Lord) was a prisoner & was supposed to be following a guard but of course there’s loot tucked away in corners everywhere, so instead of following I was exploring, and the guard kept commenting on the fact that I was wandering off in random directions for no reason. I don’t want to get too specific because it was a fun moment, and a clever way to merge “OK this is the storyline” with “OK this is a game and players want to ferret out loot.”

I’m still not very far in. I’m about at the point where the demo footage we’ve all seen takes place. The gang is headed to some fortress to sell either Groot or Rocket as a monster but of course we keep getting waylaid, often because Starlord and I are too nosey for our own good.

I’m hoping (and anticipating) that with a bit more time the controls will start feeling better and I’ll start enjoying the actual gameplay as much as I enjoy the story and the characters. If I had to score the game right now (again, just a few hours in) I’d give the story/characters/lore an A+ and the actual gameplay a B. And let’s face it, that isn’t too shabby even if I never start feeling more comfortable.

[Note: I need to remember to turn off HDR in my PS5 screenshots. With HDR on the shots look great on the PS5 but when I bring them to PC they’re super dark. I lightened the ones in this post but they still don’t look as good as they should. This is a gorgeous game when actually being played on the console.]

Final Fantasy XIII Finished

Well that’s done. I think my last save was around 55 hours. I think 55 hours is about 20 hours too many for the game’s systems. At least for me. Some spoilers in this post, not around story but around challenges and pacing.

Initially I really enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII. Even in the super-linear part I found being the ‘coach’ of the team was pretty enjoyable. I was at 26 hours when I got to where the game ‘opened up’ and the change of pace helped me stay interested, but not enough to be doing the same fights over and over again for so many more hours.

A lot of RPGs have grinding and I generally don’t hate it, but in FFXIII the fights take a few minutes each. Not all of them, but later in the game, a lot of them. When you fight a baddie and it takes you 5 minutes to beat him, then fight another baddie just like him again, and then do it 30 more times, it gets to feel really repetitive. You get to the point where you know you’re going to win. That makes the fights start to feel slow, dull and repetitive. Character progression slows too and of course Final Fantasy is known for having relatively few skills. You know how it is: first you learn Fire then you learn Fira then your learn Firaga. They’re the same spell just with more potency.

Early on there’s a lot of story bits to break up the monotony, but the farther in you get, the longer the stretches of just fighting, fighting, fighting get. Early on there are other characters around your party that you interact with, at least a little. Later on, you’re the only sentient beings for long stretches of a time. They only dialog you’ll hear is your party saying the same old things during battle. I bet I heard Fang yell “Eat this!” at least 5,000 times.

Honestly I almost didn’t finish. I kept asking myself why I was still playing. This came to a head at the very end. There are 3 “final boss” battles in a row, with no Save Points between them. You can Retry a battle, but Save Points also double as shops and crafting stations. There’s also no way to use a buff item between these fights. (These can be a huge help and I’d been hoarding them for end game, of course.) Final Boss #1 was pretty hard. Final Boss #2 was fucking ridiculously hard for me. It casts a spell that would insta-kill 2 of my party, leaving me frantically scrambling to Raise them and heal the last warrior standing at the same time. I failed that one after a 15-20 minute battle and the idea of doing it again, and then doing a third boss… I actually exited to the Xbox Dashboard on the way to just rage-quit/uninstalling.

But instead I jumped online and read some strategies and decided to try it again and I beat it by the skin of my teeth. All my party was blinking that particular shade of red that means “Death imminent” but the second boss finally fell. Final Boss #3 is a timed battle and gosh do I hate timed anything. I expected it would break me but I figured may as well try it one more time and…it turned out to be really easy. And that was it: Game Over.

For “Post-Game” content you just load back at the save point right before the final 3 bosses and can go do whatever you want. There’s no context to it that I can see; it’s purely grinding to max out your characters. No thanks, I’d rather go clean a toilet or something.

And yet…there is a sense of satisfaction that comes with sticking through adversity and finishing the game. I’m glad I did it, now that it is done. I can’t imagine ever wanting to replay Final Fantasy XIII, but in spite of all my struggles I am kind of curious about Final Fantasy XIII-2. For one thing it’s much shorter. HowLongToBeat lists FFXIII at 48.5 hours and FFXIII-2 at 28 hours. For another thing, I’ve heard the battle system is improved. And lastly, it’s on Game Pass so why not.

But not right now. I need a Final Fantasy break. Halo Infinite is out in 2 days and I have a bunch of stuff on the PS5 I want to get into. Plus that big Caves & Caverns update for Minecraft is out and I wanted to check that out. So I’ll put off the next Gran Pulse Grind Fest, at least for a little while.

A Final Fantasy X-III Warning

Progress in FFXIII has slowed somewhat, mostly due to a very sick dog. Lola was at the emergency vet twice in the past week. Lots of late nights trying to make her comfortable, lots of time standing around outside while she worked through stuff. She’s a little better now, but ~$2000 later we really don’t know what is wrong with her and I’m not convinced the meds she is on are doing more than treating the symptoms. She goes in for another battery of tests on Tuesday and I’m hoping we finally find out the root of her problem.

Being ANOTHER $2000+ in the hole will be good for my gaming backlog though, right?

Anyway, in spite of all that I did finally make it to the end of Chapter 11! Chapter 12 started with a battle that forces you to use a pre-determined party and it comes in hot right after a cut scene: this was a problem for me because one of the characters (Snow) I hadn’t touched in probably 30 hours of playing. I hadn’t unlocked any Crystarium nodes or updated his gear in all that time. Fortunately, the other two party members (Lightning and Vanille) were totally up to date so they carried him and eventually we were victorious, but it took a LONG time.

Immediately following this fight, I decided I’d better get my ‘unused’ team members prepped in case there are more pre-set battles in the future, and that’s when I learned I’ve gimped myself. Snow, Sazh and Hope all had 999,999 Crystarium Points. In other words, there’s a cap on how many CP a character can store (after every battle all characters gain CP even if they weren’t in the battle party) and I’d hit that point sometime in the past, after which additional CP was being lost. After spending all their points they are still pretty far behind the three characters I’ve been leveling up as I went.

So moral of the story is, spend CP even for characters you aren’t actively playing. Don’t be like me! Now I’m worried there’s going to be some grinding sessions in my future.

And while I’m handing out advice, I’d suggest not trying to convert a character into a role they aren’t “born” with. I decided to make Fang a Synergist (her ‘native’ roles are Sentinel/Saboteur/Commando) since my main party (Lightning/Vanille/Fang) didn’t have a Synergist. Turns out leveling up a new role takes huge amounts of CP (a lot more than ‘native’ roles) and the attribute bonuses you get are puny compared to sticking to the roles given to you in the early game. Ergo my Fang is a bit gimped, too.

Oh well. I think the game is designed so that you don’t have to make all the right decisions to be able to finish. Honestly the story-dictated boss fights haven’t been as hard as some side-quest bosses I’ve tried to take on. There seems to be quite a bit of ‘post-story’ content out there designed to challenge the min-maxers. Or maybe this is all wishful thinking on my part.

I guess we’ll see! I don’t expect to be sticking around for post-story stuff, what with Halo Infinite coming next week, not to mention the fact that Final Fantasy XIII-2 is now on Game Pass. So is Final Fantasy 12 which is another game I’ve never finished. I don’t think I have much need to squeeze every minute of playtime out of these games! Life is too short!