Well we finally got August out of the way. Another month or so of heat and life outdoors can start again. Mind you we had a week in August where it was hot but not completely oppressively hot, so that was nice. A couple times I took the dog out around midnight and it was actually pleasant out there.
Yeah kids, it’s true. The older you get, the more you prattle on about the weather. So let’s get into the recap because it is stupid-long this month.
Mafia Definitive Edition got its own post. Spoiler: I really enjoyed it.
Mafia 2 Definitive Edition also got its own post. Spoiler: wasn’t too much of a fan.
Ni No Kuni II is in the recap for the third month. Unless I give up on it, it’ll probably be in next month, too. I don’t know why I DON’T give up on it. I started it in June and here it is, end of August and it still hasn’t really grabbed me. There’s no reason to think it ever will. So why am I still playing? FOMO I guess? This series gets so much praise and I’m trying to figure out why, beyond that it has a lovely art style.
I just find it pretty boring. Maybe I should be playing on a higher difficulty level or something. I’m also not really a fan of the tone which is that kind of breathless child enthusiasm as seen on shows like “Leave It To Beaver.” (Am I dating myself?) But mostly it’s the boredom. The other day I spent over an hour in a session where all I did was solve “quests” that involved fast travelling/running to a waypoint on the map where some random character tells me “Gee whiz, yes I’d LOVE to join your kingdom!”
Well for now I’ll keep plodding along. There was a really dark moment at the very start of the game and I’m interested to see what happens in the story, with regard to this moment. Which I won’t spoil even though it happens at the very start of the game.
Every month a handful of games leave Xbox Game Pass. You generally get at least a few weeks warning, so whenever a new list comes out I scan it and if anything looks remotely interesting I’ll at least boot it up once to see if it appeals to me. That’s how I found Spiritfarer. Spiritfarer bills itself as a “cozy management game.” I’m not really sure what that means, but I like Spiritfarer quite a bit. In it you play Stella who has taken over for Charon. The river Styx feels more like a harbor or even an ocean. Stella sails around in her boat (which is also her base — you can see my version at the top of this post) visiting islands where she finds souls that need her help to pass on to… presumably a better place.
In order to help these lost souls Stella will have to gather resources to both improve her boat and provide for her spirit guests. She also spends a lot of time talking to the spirits to find out what they need, and I find their stories intriguing. It’s a pretty low stress game; I don’t think you can die or fail, though I’m not 100% sure. The spirits I have aboard seem pretty patient. For example, if you don’t prepare meals for them they’ll get unhappy because they’re hungry, but they won’t die (they’re already dead!), and I don’t think they’ll leave. I haven’t had anyone leave anyway.
It’s the kind of gameplay we’ve seen before but the spirits’ stories and the aesthetics are what make it special. It’s all hand-drawn, seemingly hand-animated art full of clever touches. For instance, Stella has a cat companion named Daffodil (you can have a friend join your game and they’ll play as Daffodil). Daffodil follows Stella everywhere, but when Stella goes swimming Daffodil follows her by balancing on a tiny ball of light which floats on the water because, y’know, cats and water. It’s cute as heck. Stella can give the spirits a hug to lift their…erm… spirits, and every time she does this I swear I feel it in my heart, these moments are animated so well.
I like Spiritfarer so much I bought it so I won’t lose access when it leaves Game Pass, so more to come on this one.
I’ve always heard great things about the Yakuza games but never made much headway in any of them. After being in the US mob in the Mafia games I decided to join the Japanese mob by playing Yakuza 0. So far, I have to say, it’s not really grabbing me. Running around the streets of the city (which you do a lot) feels really clunky in that old-school Resident Evil way. Other than that you mostly brawl. I’ve heard there’s a ton to do in these games so maybe they just start slowly. There’re a lot of very long cut scenes (my Xbox goes into idle mode during them, they’re so long). I don’t really mind these since the story is actually kind of interesting, but I mention it as a warning for folks who aren’t a fan of extended cut scenes. I’m on the fence with this one. Someone whose opinion I trust really loves these games which makes me lean towards keeping on with it for now.
When I first heard about Tribes of Midgard I was pretty excited because, hey it’s about Vikings! I also really dug the art style. Then I learned it was best played with others and I sadly crossed it off my list. At some point I got a copy for free (Playstation Plus, I think) so gave it a try and yeah, it was terrible solo. Well, terrible for me because you had to really rush around and maximize your actions in order to do what a team would normally be doing. The idea is that during the day you gather resources to improve the defenses of your village before night falls. There’s also some fighting to be done. Then when it gets dark your village gets attacked and you have to defend the village. All the while a giant boss creature is slowly moving towards your village and you have to defeat it before it arrives. I just found it really challenging to fight and gather and build during the daylight hours while keeping to a time table that would get me strong enough to defeat the boss before it crushed me and my village. Anyway, I deleted Tribes of Midgard and moved on.
This month a new update to Survival Mode came out. (I’m not sure I even tried Survival Mode before this.) No longer do you have a village to defend, unless you choose to make one. Instead it plays a little like Valheim. You gather, you craft, you find enemies to fight when you want to fight. When it gets dark harder enemies appear but you can fight them or avoid them: your choice. Eventually you’re supposed to take down some boss enemies but you do this on your own timetable. I do not like being rushed so this lack of a timetable made a HUGE difference for me, and now I’m enjoying Tribes of Midgard, Survival Mode (the other mode is Saga Mode which still operates as described above and is still much too frantic for me). It isn’t going to become my main game or anything but it did totally suck me in for a few nights. I killed 3 of the big boss critters before I got distracted by another game, but it’s still in my rotation.
Over on Twitter a bunch of folks I follow were talking about a new game called Tower of Fantasy which was being compared to Genshin Impact. Since Tower of Fantasy isn’t on console and Genshin Impact is, I decided to join in the fun one step removed and finally play Genshin and I have to say, it’s a lot of fun this time around. I have played it, some, in the past and bounced off it. It might have been Paimon, the little creature that follows you around yammering at you in that “adult voice actor doing a screechy child’ voice and referring to their self in the third person. Or it might have been my belief that it was an MMO, or my concern over the gacha mechanics. I just can’t remember.
Whatever the reason this time I came into it somewhat more educated. I’m still in the very early game but so far the vibe I’m getting is that this is a single player game with some of an MMO’s benefits in that it is constantly changing/being updated. I love the anime-inspired aesthetics and in the course of playing you get enough characters that you don’t have to enter into the gacha stuff if you don’t want to. Gameplay is a mix of action combat and some environmental puzzle solving, mostly involving how to get up high enough to get some item floating in the air.
Like I said, I am still VERY early in the game so maybe there’s a big ugly ‘gotcha’ (as opposed to gacha) waiting when I hit some point but for now I’m really enjoying it.
Last up, and I almost left it out because I just started playing last weekend, is The Ascent. Folks in my Twitter timeline were talking about a new season in Path of Exile and it put me in the mood for an ARPG, but PoE has never resonated well with me. I actually fired up Diablo 3 a time or two but, y’know, it’s still Diablo 3. Then I remembered The Ascent which is on Gamepass and which I thought was an ARPG. Turns out it isn’t; it’s a twin-stick shooter. Granted the difference is fairly subtle but I was getting my butt handed to me until my brain re-aligned itself.
The Ascent, which takes place in a cyberpunk-infused alien world, doesn’t make a great 1st impression. You start off in the bowels of some gigantic city fixing a sewage issue. You’re an indentured servant and life ain’t great. The titular Ascent is a mega-corporation that you work for. Soon after you get the toilets working, Ascent announces it is bankrupt and basically pulls out of the city leaving a power vacuum that plenty of gangs are looking to fill. You end up working as muscle for your unsavory boss, who, to his credit, is trying to get the gang leaders together so that some semblance of order can be maintained. And that’s about as far as I’ve gotten, but after that first mission the game gets pretty fun. You shoot a lot of baddies, scavenge and/or buy better gear, including implants and upgrades to your cyberdeck and fun stuff like that.
If I’m being vague it’s because I’ve barely gotten started, but here’s a combat demo for you:
And a super last-minute addition is Destiny 2, which I’ve come back to have a few years away. That one I will save for a separate post, though.
For All Mankind S3 (Apple TV) was really good. We’ve enjoyed this alternate history of the space program quite a bit. Wondering if we’ll get a 4th season.
Sandman (Netflix) was also really good. We had only the vaguest notion of the comics so the first couple eps we were a bit lost but by episode 3 or so we were well and truly hooked. A couple weeks after release they dropped a ‘bonus episode’ which consists of two short stories that take place in the Sandman universe but that basically stand alone. This episode is worth watching even if the main series wasn’t for you.
Westworld (HBO Max) is such a fun, nerdy, confusing show and Season 4 didn’t disappoint. I’m going to have to rewatch it. The series always twists and turns and rewards a second viewing. Heck I’ve watched the first season 3 times now and am looking forward to a 4th time. I always pick up on something new. All that said if you enjoy your narratives nice and neat and tidy, Westworld probably won’t be for you.
The Old Man (Hulu) was a pretty great spy series with a strange ending that to me felt rushed and disjointed. A second season is planned and I’m hoping it’ll ‘backfill’ some of the “WTF?” moments from the ending of Season 1. In fact I might suggest waiting for Season 2 before you dive into this one.
We finished our re-watch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Well it was a re-watch for me anyway. I remember not being thrilled with DS9 when it first aired and having watched it again, I haven’t changed my mind. Still I was somehow sad when it was over. I do remember really not liking Quark or Odo back in the day and this time they were my favorite characters, at least in the early seasons when Quark was always running schemes and Odo was always foiling them. Perfect set of frenemies, those two. And then the weird friendship between Bashir and O’brien. But most of the command crew: Cisko and Kira and Dax… meh, I never felt very connected to any of them. General Motag (?? the Klingon) stole every scene he was in. I’d watch a show based on him!
With Deep Space Nine behind us we rolled right into Star Trek: Voyager (another rewatch for me) which I am enjoying much more than I did DS9.
The Wilds (Prime Video) – The synopsis said this was a show about some young women stranded on a desert island after a plane crash. I was thinking “Lord of the Flies” but nope. The show opens with the women being interviewed after their rescue, which immediately drains a lot of the tension from things. Then over time you learn that there is something strange happening. I started thinking “Lost” but nope. Turns out [spoilers tho you learn this in the first couple of episodes] that there wasn’t actually a crash and these women were put there deliberately (though they still think they crashed). I wasn’t really enjoying the individual episodes but I did want to know how the ‘arc’ resolved. Unfortunately by the end of Season 1 it didn’t completely resolve. There’s a Season 2 but I decided I didn’t care enough to sit through 10 more episodes of angst. This might be more interesting for younger people, I’m not sure.
And still more TV, but in the ‘too early to say’ bin: She-Hulk (Disney+), Star Trek: The Lower Decks S3 (Paramount+) and House of the Dragon (HBO+). Of these, we love The Lower Decks seasons 1 & 2 so we feel pretty confident about that one, but the other two the jury is still out on.
Still on the classic comics, where I learned of a villain named Paste Pot Pete and now I wonder why he doesn’t have his own movie franchise. Basically he is armed with a gun that shoots paste. Terrifying!
The scary part about these classic comics is that there are SO many of them. I’ve only made it through a year or 2 of issues. Stuff I’m reading right now came out in 1963! I might have to start skipping around.
And that’s it for the overly verbose recap. I should’ve split a couple of those games out into their own posts, I guess. Hope your September is cool and crisp and dry in a way that I know mine won’t be!!