Friday, September 22, 2017

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor - 20/20 hours

If Shadow of Mordor were a generic fantasy game, its plot would be perfectly serviceable. However, it's so at odds, thematically, with The Lord of the Rings that it feels like it's set in a different universe.

The backstory to the game is a little complicated (there's this ranger guy who, due to unfortunate legal circumstances, had to take his family to the border of Mordor, where they were killed as part of a blood sacrifice, and as he lay dying of his own sacrifice wound, he met up with the wraith of an ancient elf who somehow spiritually bonded with him and keeps bringing him back from the dead), but the plot is pretty simple - get revenge on the high-ranking officers in Sauron's army for all the bad shit they did, both to the ranger Talion, and in the past, generally.

However, the way they go about this is through a campaign of terror that leads to them wielding the weapons of the enemy in an effort to bring him down, which is kind of the opposite of what The Lord of the Rings said they should do. I suppose it's possible that this will all go horribly sideways in the last two story missions and we'll learn that the plan was flawed from the start, but the game is going to get a sequel soon, and so . . .

Although, I actually think the most fundamental flaw in the game's plot is that it's a revenge story. Talion's wife and son were killed, as were the wraith's, all those thousands of years ago. And while that kind of loss is understandably very motivating, it kind of stifles any sort of robust characterization. The pain of losing a loved one is something everyone can relate too, so having it as the driving force behind your main character says basically nothing about them. At the very least, it would be nice if the grizzled male main character lost a friend, or a father, or a cheerful next-door neighbor as the inciting incident for their vigilantism. Those sorts of relationships are uncommon enough in revenge fiction that they'd almost have to be rooted in specificity by default.

Even with the bland protagonist, I'm tempted to keep playing Shadow of Mordor, just to see how it ends, but I think I'll have to pass for now. The mission I'm currently on involves brainwashing the five orc warchiefs in order to raise an army to attack Sauron's loyalists. And it's nice that it is presented as a freeform exercise in tinkering with the Nemesis system, but the flipside of that is that it requires a lot of effort to plan and execute the dozen or so assassinations/stronghold invasions (when I'm in control, there's not much of a difference) that are required to climb the ranks. It could easily be another 5-10 hours before I even touch another main story mission.

I'm definitely coming back, though. I enjoyed how dynamic the open world felt, and while I could do without the stealth, having it as an option did make me feel like I was making a significant choice in how to approach the game. And it may not have been the Tolkien nerdfest I was hoping for, it was clearly made with a love for, if not especially great understanding of, the source material.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor - 10/20 hours

I had a pretty amazing moment while playing this game. I was fighting a large gang of orcs when suddenly control cut away and there was a brief cutscene introducing an orc captain, and my first thought upon seeing this was, "oh great, not you again." It was an orc who had previously killed me, got promoted to captain, killed me again when I tried to get revenge, and got a power boost, and who I eventually tracked down and assassinated - only he survived the attempt, got a metal plate in his head, and then showed up randomly at an otherwise unremarkable brawl. And I recognized him by his name and appearance.

In that instant, I had a genuine emotional reaction to the game. Not like with Star Wars Starfighter, where I was frustrated with the game itself, and not like in any number of other games, where the prearranged story layer does all of the emotional heavy lifting, but rather I was engaging with an actual game mechanic. The system for generating recurring adversaries caused me to have an authentic and spontaneous feeling that mirrored what my game character was currently going through. The nemesis system is, like, 75% of the reason I bought the game, and I still wasn't expecting it to hit me like that. That single moment was probably worth the four dollars all by itself.

The only thing that is even remotely comparable is the last scene in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, but I almost think that shouldn't count, because the whole game as clearly building up to that moment. This was incidental and part of the general fabric of the game. It didn't pack quite the emotional punch, but it does make the game world seem that much more alive.

Unfortunately, I've gotten a lot more efficient at killing orcs in the last 8 hours, so there's only been a couple of times where I've had that same sense of recognition, but it's been great every time.

I've only advanced something like two missions into the story, having gotten distracted by collectibles, side missions, and all that other open-world rigamarole, so I'm not ready to talk about it just yet. A couple of observations, though - Gollum is here, which fits the timeline (I think), but kind of makes the story feel a little fan-fictiony, and both of the story missions I've played so far have been semi-tutorials, which have explained and unlocked new mechanics, so maybe I shouldn't have waited so long to play them. Oops.

But I am officially out of side-quests for now. I'm pretty sure there's a second area that contains precisely as many as I've played so far (because in my progress screen, all the different collectible types and major side missions are sitting at 50%), but I won't know for sure until I complete more main missions. I'm also looking forward to unlocking the rest of the mechanics. I've gathered that it will be possible, later, to mind control some of the orcs and pit them against each other for some ill-defined profit. That ought to be fun.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor - 2/20 hours

I think I started worrying prematurely. In Shadow of Mordor, you can run while in stealth, and you can sneak attack orcs in the face. Never mind how that's supposed to work, I can deal with it.

So far, the worst consequence of failing at stealth has been getting forced into a battle against unfavorable odds, leading, eventually, to my death. Which I'm okay with for two reasons - first, death in this game is pretty cheap. You respawn at the nearest tower and can go again right away. And second, the fight, despite the odds, was winnable. What it boils down to is that I can use stealth opportunistically and sporadically, and even then like a reckless idiot, so I'm fine.

Although, I haven't actually played any of the story missions yet. It's possible there's at least one where you have to crawl through at a snail's pace, worrying about lines of sight and the noise of your footsteps, where one wrong move will force you to start over (and, indeed, in the rpg.net forum thread, someone confirmed that there is), but since there are a lot of open world activities to get distracted by, I should have plenty to do, even if I hit a roadblock.

Overall, my first impressions are favorable. I like fighting orcs, leveling up my weapons, and finding collectibles, and while I've had only brief contact with the Nemesis system, hunting down the orc that killed me was pretty fun. I can definitely see how it could become an enjoyable mini-game on its own, provided it gets a little more complexity down the line.

The only real flaw that I've noticed so far is that it doesn't really feel like a Tolkien story. I won't go into more detail just yet, because I'll probably want to write a whole post about the plot later on, but there have been moments where I'd look at the screen and say, "wait, am I a wraith?"

I don't think continuing this game is going to be a problem for me. So long as there isn't a sudden difficulty spike down the line, I can continue with the way things have been going indefinitely.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

Fight through Mordor and uncover the truth of the spirit that compels you, discover the origins of the Rings of Power, build your legend and ultimately confront the evil of Sauron in this new chronicle of Middle-earth.

Previous Playtime

18 minutes

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This 

Well, it was on sale for silly cheap, like four dollars for the game plus all the DLC. Now, that alone is enough to get me to buy a game (hell, I'll buy just about anything for 80 percent off), but by that time in my life, I'd been through enough Steam sales to know that the same four dollars could have bought me any number of excellent games. So why Shadow of Mordor, specifically?

It really came down to a combination of things. I heard that it had a really neat system where it procedurally generates recurring enemies that you will grow to know by name. Also, I've long been both intrigued and intimidated by Tolkein's expanded universe, and while I have no idea if this game is based off stuff like The Silmarillion, the idea of a professionally crafted story set in Middle Earth was pretty appealing.

Expectations and Prior Experience

First things first - this is a stealth game, at least in part, and that worries me. I don't care for stealth in video games, and every time I've tried it, I've always been like, "ach, why can't I just kill these guys and sneak past their corpses?" On the bright side, I've been assured that the stealth in this game is fairly optional, and I'll usually be able to brawl with orcs as a fall-back position.

Basically, my line is Assassin's Creed 2. If this game has less stealth than that, I'll be fine. If it has more, I may have a problem.

I'm optimistic, though. When I first got the game, I fired it up to see if it would even run on my computer, and I have to say, nothing in the first 18 minutes made me think I was in any danger of having to creep around like a jackass rather than fight. That may change as enemies get tougher, but at least I know this an action/stealth game, and thus I can hold out hope that there will be a lot more action than stealth.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Galactic Civilizations III - 20/20 hours

In the course of finishing Galactic Civilizations III, I was forced to do something I didn't want to do - I won the game.

Oh, I didn't object to it in principle, it just snuck up on me, though. I was tottering along, micromanaging my planets when all of a sudden - defeat! It took me awhile to figure out what happened. I'd been exploring the galaxy, looking through the mostly-empty map to find the NPC empires, for trading purposes mostly. I'd long since had contact with the Altarians, and we'd been allies for about 100 turns, but the Iconians were tucked away in a distant cluster with a lot of dark space between them and me. My persistence paid off, though. After settling a forward base to extend the range of my ships, I was finally able to get a purpose-built exploratory vessel through.

And then ten turns later, I lost. It turns out that the disadvantage to stacking your AI opponents with all the benevolent factions is that they can go from strangers to allies in less than a year. The Altarians wound up winning a diplomatic victory. Which wouldn't bug me so much, except that you can't keep playing afterwards, and I was having too much fun upgrading my planets. So I loaded an old autosave, bribed the Altarians into hitting the Iconians with a Trade Embargo, then went and allied with the Iconians myself, a couple of turns later. Because you can keep playing after you win the game.

I'd go into more detail about why these machinations were worth it to me, but I'm sure they would be impossibly tedious. I like clicking buttons and seeing numbers go up.

Overall, I would not say that Galactic Civilizations III won me over to the series. It's a fine game, but it didn't actually solve any of the problems I had with its predecessor. Still too much warfare and expansion, and it still isn't as slick as its contemporary competition. That said, I had fun for almost the entire time I was playing it, and were something to happen to make me unable to play the rest of my 4X games, I would find this one to be a worthy consolation prize.

I know that sounds kind of back-handed, and I don't really mean it like that. It's just that the problem I have with the Galactic Civilizations series, and it's not really a problem, per se, more like an "issue," is that it's a game that confuses "size" with "scope." Progress is usually in the form of bigger numbers - more planets, longer ship ranges, higher credit and research totals. There's nothing that really comes along and changes the way you approach the game. It's not like the Space Empires games, where the end of the tech tree brings you radical new powers. What you're doing at the end of the game is a lot like what you're doing at the beginning.

Which is fine. I like most of the stuff you have to do. And except for contesting territory, I like it more the more of it you have to do. It's just that as your empire expands, it feels less like you are growing in power and more like you are growing in the number of repetitive chores you have to do.

I'm actually pretty sure that's the case for all 4Xs, though. It's just GalCiv doesn't even pretend to balance small empires against big ones. So for a guy like me who always plays "tall," even when I'm forced to go "wide," it just seems like work shoveled upon work. Not something I object to in principle, but just enough to put this game at the middle of my list, rather than the top.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Galactic Civilizations III - 11/20 hours

I finally found the correct map settings to get the AI to leave me alone. It doesn't feel entirely fair, because they really can't seem to deal with the isolated star clusters, but that's what they get for crossing me on a more economically balanced map.

If I'm being completely honest, this is not a new "strategy" from me. I first started doing it back in my Alpha Centauri days when I realized that the AI was completely unequipped for "Arid and Rocky" map settings. It was a handicap applied to all the factions equally, but only I, the human player, had the mental flexibility to adjust my strategy accordingly. I eventually grew out of needing that boost, but a large part of the reason I was able to outgrow it is because I was able to use the peace it bought me to learn the game's tech tree inside and out.

I feel that starting to happen with Galactic Civilizations III, though the process now, like then, is slow. I'm pretty sure I won't even finish my current game by the end of the 20 hours, and it will probably take me a dozen at least to get an effective early game worked out. It's exactly the sort of challenge that I used to love back when I was playing games like a normal human being.

My plan for the short-term is to stay the course. I love playing the degenerate version of the game as a type of tile-filling solitaire, and I could probably do that indefinitely. Nine more hours will be nothing.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Galactic Civilizations III - 5/20 hours

BORDER GORE!!!

Whew, I had to get that off my chest. I really do like Galactic Civilizations III. It's a lot like Galactic Civilizations II, but it's got a few new interesting features, like improvement adjacency bonuses, strategic resources, and research specializations, that, while they don't dramatically change the feel of the game. do at least add some more engaging choices around the edges.

However, the initial colony rush and the AI's tendency to treat your borders as suggestions are still around, and they are just as exhausting as they were before. I know this is a weakness on my part, but I don't actually care all that much for the expansion part of the 4X genre (or, for that matter, the exterminate part. But I really like the explore and exploit parts . . . maybe I've been looking for a 2X game this whole time).

I don't know what it is, but I like to scope out the geography of my territory and find its natural limits - the whole of an island, the quarter of a continent that lies behind a bottleneck, the cluster of stars surrounding my homeworld. Then, I'll rush to the edges of that limit and try to back-fill the interior. But that strategy won't work here (and, to be fair, it barely works in other games), because the AI sees an uncolonized planet and thinks "hey, I could put a colony there right now and there's no downside." And the pathetic thing is, aside from annoying me, it's right.

Which, I don't know where I'm going with this. The GalCiv series has a very particular early game. You've got to balance early construction with rapid expansion with steady population growth and it's not so much a strategy as it is a formula. You're racing in the early game to build the foundation for a mid-game empire, and if you screw up, your opponents will walk all over you.

There was a time when I knew how to handle this. I played so many games of Galactic Civilizations II in a row that the thing where you've got to throttle your early tax income to afford explosive population growth that you channeled into a massive number of colony ships came as second nature to me, but I keep forgetting. I'd rather play around with micromanaging my planets' production queues than actually play the real game in front of me.

I don't think I'll ever change. I'm going to try here, at least a little, because there's a lot about Galactic Civilizations III that I enjoy and if I can be just enough of a non-pushover to be able to focus on it as much as possible, than I'll be pretty happy.

Galactic Civilizations III - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

The human race has finally mastered faster-than-light travel opening up the stars for exploration and colonization. As the leader of the newly formed Terran Alliance, you will guide humanity's expansion into becoming a space-based civilization. Soon, you will discover that we are not alone. Alien civilizations with their own histories and motivations are expanding as well. Research new technology, design starships, negotiate trade and treaties, wage wars, colonize new worlds, construct starbases in the largest 4X strategy game ever made. And when you've finished that, play again as one of the many included alien civilizations each with its own history, technology tree, ship components and more.

Previous Playtime

0 hours

Expectations and Prior Experience

I first want to say a word of thanks to reader PAS for sending me this game. I've been looking forward to playing it for quite awhile.

I've played the previous game in the series quite a bit, and while in my latest go-round, I found the relentless need for expansion to be a bit of an annoyance, it was still a planet-settling, tech-researching, ship-customizing, menu-browsing sort of game, and thus one I could easily and happily play for hours at a stretch.

My big hope for Galactic Civilizations III is that it brings a bit of modern polish to the GalCivII formula. If the menus are slightly easier to navigate, the opposition a bit more respectful of my borders, and the ships a bit more balanced against each other, I expect I will be perfectly happy.

Star Wars Starfighter - 20/20 hours

I tried to beat the canyon level a few more times, but I couldn't do it. I got almost to the end a couple of times, but the ship I was escorting would fly into that last open area and get blown up. I'm sure it's possible, but I don't have the reflexes for it.

So I went with my backup plan. I enabled invincibility and got gold medals on all the levels . . . in easy mode. Since many of the medals required strict time limits, this wasn't exactly a gimme, but it was pretty easy. Even the canyon level wasn't too bad, given all the practice I had on medium mode. This killed a couple of hours. Then I was left with all the ships and bonus levels unlocked, so I went to get gold on all but one of the bonus levels, using the cool "Sith Infiltrator" bonus ship. That was fine, but I still had about an hour left to go. So I decided to try the canyon level on medium difficulty, while invincible.

I couldn't get through it. Whenever I flew more aggressively, the screen-shake from taking fire made me completely ineffectual. And the Sith Infiltrator's extremely powerful gun was useless if I couldn't aim. Even cheating, that level still managed to beat me. I don't know if that makes me feel better or worse, but I do know that I removed this game from my hard drive with a great deal of satisfaction.

It mostly wasn't that bad. I may be getting a little old to keep up with it, physically, but I still understand the appeal of whizzing around in a spaceship, blasting stuff with lasers. It's light and sound and spectacle and split-second decisions, and it's been a long time since I played a game that was so adept at coaxing out both the good and the bad type of adrenaline. But it's not my thing. Not any more.

Still, I managed to finally complete the last game in my Star Wars bundle. I really feel like the end of the blog is something that's actually going to happen. Once I get Age of Wonders III, the Stronghold games, and the Divinity series out of the way, that will be the last of my big bundles. It's only a matter of time now!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Star Wars Starfighter - 15/20 hours

Well, this game made me cry. Literally. I've been trying to beat the game on Medium difficulty and I was doing well right up until I got to that canyon mission that thwarted me at around hour 3. I played it for about 2 hours, and I just felt this bone-deep exhaustion. Why does the ship I'm escorting keep flying into lasers? I try to clear out the tanks as quickly as possible, but if I stray too far ahead, out of cover, they hit me from all sides, shaking my ship, making it impossible to control, and costing me more time in the long run. If I play with anything less than perfect precision, my ward will die, or I will.

The thought of having to go back and play that level again fills me with dread. I suppose I could avoid it. Maybe try some of the earlier levels on Hard. Or maybe activate invincibility mode and just dick around for the next five hours.

All I have to do is get past my desire to do literally anything else. Prior to playing that damned canyon level, I felt a kind of bland indifference to the game. I was tempted by other, more rewarding activities (and, admittedly, succumbed to those temptations for a day or two), but continuing to play was in the back of my mind as something I would not be averse to when I finally mustered the will.

Now, those distractions are calling to me with a thunderous voice. Why not indulge in a strategy game, or a crafting game, or a writing project or binging a television show, instead of just punching a brick wall over and over again, until your hand is bloody and raw? You know, metaphorically speaking.

I guess it's a real challenge now. Before, I could reframe allowing myself to become distracted as a mere wandering interest. There are so many amazing entertainments available to me (as the past three years of the blog have proven) that it's only natural my head would be turned, especially when I already beat the game. Now, my pride is on the line. Tears were shed. If I give in now, I will be admitting the pain was stronger than my spirit.

Which is not something I object to generally. If we were talking about a broken heart, an injury, or a traumatic personal experience, I would say that the idea that one must be stronger than the pain is toxic. It is inappropriate and destructive to demand that people "prove themselves" by putting an abstract notion of strength above their personal happiness. But this is a video game. It is literally the least consequential problem imaginable. I'm not ashamed that I let it make me cry, but I'm not exactly going to let that be the final word, either.

I'm not yet sure what victory over the game will look like, whether it will come in the form of determinedly trying to beat the level that thwarted me, regardless of my personal frustration, or if it will be in finding ways to enjoy the game that sidestep its creators' punishing idea of "challenge." Either way, I'm making it to 20 hours by this time tomorrow. Then I'll delete Star Wars Starfighter and never look back.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Star Wars Starfighter - 10/20 hours

The very next time I played the final level, the exact same thing happened to me - flew through the Trade Federation starship, defeated the overpowered mercenary, blew up the shield generator, and then died in the process of flying out. It was really frustrating. But I stuck with it, failed a few times, and then got through the whole level again . . . and it happened again.

At this point, rather than give up, I watched the walkthrough again. It turns out I wasn't quite paying attention the first time I watched it. I thought I remembered everything I needed to know. But watching it again revealed to me exactly what I was doing wrong - the place I kept flying into was not a window, it was an alcove. I kept dying because I kept flying into walls.

I wouldn't say that I dislike this game, exactly, but I definitely have trouble playing it for more than a half hour at a time. It's too stimulating. Too many things are going on at once. The need to focus both focus my attention on my immediate peril and split my attention to keep an eye out for upcoming peril is aggravating to me. I've been known to enjoy an action game from time to time, but the ones I tend to like don't excessively punish me for having tunnel vision.

Now that I've finished the main story and unlocked and beat all the bonus missions, I'm not sure how I'm going to approach the last 10 hours. This would be a really sensible place to stop and move on, but let's not think about that.

I think what I've got to try and do is beat this game on Medium, and then Hard. That should easily carry me through my deadline. The trick is to do it without my eyes melting out of my head. What I'm going to have to do is play it steadily, but in bursts. A half hour of the game, then a half hour for me to cool down and relax. Then another half hour of the game. If I keep it up and be consistent, it shouldn't be much slower than just sitting down with a couple of marathon sessions.

We'll see how well that plan survives contact with reality.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Star Wars Starfighter - 7/20 hours

I was going to wait until I beat the game to write this post, but I'm so infuriated, I knew I had to capture this feeling for posterity.

The last level of the game has you flying into a Trade Federation droid control ship, you know, as one does. The level is so confined that my first few times I tried it, I wound up getting shot at by enemies from all sides before crashing into the walls and dying. So I looked up a video that showed how to navigate through the various stages of the level.

And then I tried it again. And again. And again. And finally I did it. I beat the boss character in his ludicrously powerful ship with the fast regenerating shields and the missiles that both homed in on me and exploded in a near-unavoidable AoE damage field when I managed to shoot them down early. I navigated through the crumbling ship and blew up the shield generator. And then I ran into a piece of debris and died, literally one second before the very end of the game.

Sigh. This is bringing back memories. When I was 19, my console of choice was the Gamecube. And one of my most played games was Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader. It's been a long time since I played it, but I remember two main things about it - being awed by its gorgeous sci-fi environments and being angry nearly every second I played it.

And anger was just my baseline state of being. There were moments when I was furious. When I yelled and swore at the game, and the ground my teeth and hit reload. And, while Star Wars Starfighter is not as interesting, diverse, or polished an experience as Rogue Leader, it nonetheless handles similarly, and is bringing up old feelings long since forgotten.

Maybe it's maturity, but I wonder why I ever subjected myself to that, all those years ago. I know why I'm doing it now - because I'm stubbornly clinging to an ill-considered goal that only allows for the slightest nuance and flexibility. But back then, why did I spend so much of my leisure time on activities that enraged me.

I suppose there might be such a thing as constructive rage. Anger that drives you to improve and excel, overcome obstacles and finish jobs that aren't always pleasant. But we're talking about games here. So what's my angle? Why do I care about missing the end by 1 second?

I think I get invested in the narrative. Not the game's actual plot (which in this case is a serviceable, but forgettable number about 3 ace pilots from very different backgrounds getting caught up in the Trade Federation invasion of Naboo), but the logic of its world. The progression of cause and effect. I didn't just fail to experience 1 extra second with no significant challenges or insights. I died. I got so close to beating the mission, and I failed. I snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and now I have to start the level all over again. Even though this is 2017 and I could easily just look up the final cinematic, were I especially curious about what happens to the three people whose names I've already forgotten.

It's ridiculous to be frustrated by something like this, but maybe that's central to the appeal of video games as a whole. It's not just a fantasy world where things like space ships and robots exist, it's also a simulation of significance. Within the context of the game, my actions, my choices, and even my failures matter. I mean, obviously these things matter in real life too, but in real life I have too much to lose and not enough to gain. I'll never save a planet from invasion, I'll never get in a dogfight with the mercenary who killed my mentor, I'll never help pirates escape an army of robots. But if I do too badly checking people into hotel rooms, if I accidentally let a drug dealer be my roommate, if I fail to notice a suspicious mole, I may well end up homeless, in jail, or dead. And that's not a lot of fun to contemplate.

Which I guess means that in order to have the sort of simulated triumph that's earned with a harmless sort of simulated risk, I have to open myself up to simulated anger. Unfortunately, it doesn't always feel simulated at the time.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Star Wars Starfighter: 3/20 hours

I skipped my 2 hour post because at that time, I was already on mission 9, and I saw on a guide that there were only 14 missions in the game. So I naturally assumed that by hour 3, or shortly thereafter, I would have at least completed the main story. And yet, here I am, an hour and a half later, and I'm still only on mission 11. On easy mode.

It all comes down to escort missions. I don't get it. Why would I want my success or failure at a particular mission to hinge on whether or not an NPC is smart enough to stay out of the line of fire? Like in mission 11. I have to escort an ally through a canyon. Which is fine, in theory, because that means that enemies cannot come from the sides and are unlikely to come from behind, so if you were carrying volatile ammunition and had to rely on the protection of your fighter escort, all you would have to do is move slowly enough that your escort can clear out the enemies in front of you. Seems simple, really. So why on earth would you just charge ahead and fly into a clearing full of tanks when, if you waited 2 goddamned minutes, the fighter could wipe them all out from the safety of the canyon's protected cover. My only guess here is that the game itself wants me to fly around like an idiot, exposed to fire from all directions, instead of taking the boring and sensible precaution of not engaging more enemies at one time than I can handle.

I'm wracking my brain trying to remember if I've ever experienced this from the other side. Is there a game where you have to play the defenseless cargo ship and work your way through a gauntlet of enemies by relying on the protection of a more powerful attack ship? Or, at least, its genre-appropriate equivalent, like maybe you're a young child and you have to stay near your bodyguard. I can't think of any examples at the moment (except for tongue-in-cheek ones like Bioshock Infinite), and I'm guessing the reason they're so rare is that they're the sort of thing any human being could do with a minimum of prompting.

Despite my frustration, I do understand the appeal of an escort mission from a design perspective. Theoretically (they are rarely executed well enough to justify the downsides). They disrupt the player. Force you out of your old habits, optimized as they are for keeping yourself safe. They force you to have a broader situational awareness. It's no longer enough to know where the enemies are in relation to you, you also have to expand your mental map to include a second focal point. It's an order of magnitude more complex strategically. And thus could be immensely satisfying . . . if you had a partner capable of coordinating with you.

It doesn't help that Star Wars Starfighter is not an especially polished game. Don't get me wrong, it's fine by 2002 standards, and you actual ship controls pretty well. It's just that way games present information to help you navigate in 3D has advanced quite a bit since then. There is a targeting reticle that helps you track enemies, but it auto-places itself in a somewhat . . . whimsical manner. It's gotten better since I changed my controller configuration to map the manual targeting to a button the game actually recognizes, but even then, I have to be directly looking at my next target to do so, and that's not always easy (especially in a canyon).

I'm still expecting this game to be disappointingly short, but it would not surprise me if it takes me another hour to get past mission 11.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Star Wars Starfighter - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From The Steam Store Page) 

Join three heroic starfighter pilots in harrowing deep space and planetary missions to save the planet of Naboo. Rookie Naboo pilot Rhys Dallows, mercenary Vana Sage and alien pirate Nym form an unlikely alliance as they join together against an unexpected assault on the peaceful planet.

Pilot three unique starfighters: the sleek Naboo starfighter, nimble Guardian Mantis and lethal Havoc.

Engage in over 14 challenging missions to save Naboo: deep space dogfights, attack runs, escort missions, and more.

Vast environments take you deep into Star Wars worlds: from enormous open plains of Naboo to the furthest reaches of space to the interior corridors of the Droid Control Ship.

Previous Playtime

0 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

This game was part of the huge Star Wars bundle I bought awhile back, but my owning it is purely incidental. I had no idea this game existed and it played no role in my decision to purchase the bundle.

Expectations and Prior Experience

Honestly, I don't even know. I've played a couple of Star Wars-based flying sims before - Rogue Squadron and its sequel Rogue Leader and I found them alternately enchanting (when I got to look at cool ships flying through awesome Star Wars environments) and frustrating (when I had to protect that goddamned "medical frigate" or take down AT-ATs on Hoth for the hundredth time in my life.) So I'm guessing that my worst case scenario is that this game is unforgiving and I crash into cliffs and get lasered into oblivion a bunch of times. Best case scenario is that it's a fast-paced and lively action game where my reasonably developed quick twitch skills are rewarded with a bunch of gratuitous explosions.

Seeing as how I've never heard of this game until now, I'm willing to bet that its closer to the former than the latter. However, it is also the last game of my Star Wars bundle, and thus beating it feels a bit like a milestone. For that reason alone, I expect to get through it easily enough.

Star Wars Empire At War: Gold Pack - 20/20 hours

I spent most of my last few hours playing the Imperial campaign. I thought it would be fun to command the awesome power of the Death Star, but it actually just turned out to be grim and unpleasant. I mean, you've got these planets and they produce resources and have space for garrisons, and then you blow them up and they become these near-worthless asteroid fields. It doesn't feel worth it, especially when you still have to win a massive space battle to get in position to use the Death Star's laser. Since I had the resources of 90% of the galaxy at my disposal, I wound up just crushing the Rebellion with my conventional forces.

I'm not sure why Star Wars games keep making you play as the Empire, though. The movies are known for their straightforward (some might say simplistic) depiction of good vs evil. The heroes, even scoundrels like Han Solo, are unambiguously on the side of light. And the villains revel in the darkness. I suppose there is some potential pleasure in being a scenery-chewing bad guys, but I've never really felt they've done it well. Darth Vader choking minions just feels petty and counterproductive. The Emperor is overly smug. And the rest of the Imperials, from the storm troopers to the officers, barely have any personality at all.

But I think the biggest problem with playing the Empire in a game is that their signature weapon is the Death Star. Even leaving aside the fact that it blew up the first time they moved it out, it's not a very good villain weapon. Sure, it's big and imposing, and could theoretically chew through entire fleets, but its main thing is that it blows up planets.

And if you saw it coming up over the horizon, blotting out the sun, churning the sea with its massive tidal forces, you would cower in its shadow, certain of the doom that was to come. But you never see the Death Star from that angle. You always see it from above, a grey dot, floating in space, that uses green light to blow up a rock. The Empire's violence is rarely presented in a victim-centered fashion. Snuffing out a billion lives is spectacle, and even when we're given the viewpoint of people who are intimately involved with the dead, their state of mind is not the focus. Luke mourned more for Obi-Wan Kenobi than Leia did for Alderaan. I don't think this is because Leia was cold and uncaring, but rather because Star Wars was more interested in pulp sci-fi action and less in realistic character work.

The bloodless and impersonal nature of the Empire's crimes makes them tempting video game protagonists, because they don't seem "that bad" and yet also makes them awful villains because you can't humanize them too much without whitewashing their atrocities. For example, Darth Vader's "redemption" in Return of the Jedi, where he doesn't confront and answer for his many, many crimes, and just kills a guy he hates to save his son. It's a plot that makes sense if the dichotomy is between "pure evil" and "some good," but for redemption to make any sense as a concept, it has to be the beginning of a process of healing, and that is not possible if you don't acknowledge the wound.

Bringing it back to Empire At War, the upside to playing as the Empire is that they have more strikingly designed units and messing around with Star Destroyers and AT-ATs is pretty darned cool. The downside is that they have terrible, unsympathetic motives, and no psychological nuance to make them more compelling (or, failing that, over-the-top humor like the Saints Row crew).

Overall, though, I enjoyed the game. I downplayed its RTS elements as much as possible, but it is a high mark in my book that I was able to do that. I enjoyed playing the Rebels, though I wish I could have had a real Death Star battle (provided it wasn't a tedious escort mission). I merely tolerated playing the Empire, but I did enjoy the look and feel of their units. I didn't get enough of a chance with the Forces of Corruption expansion to have a strong opinion of it one way or the other, though playing as a ruthless criminal syndicate did seem like a step up in the villain protagonist department.

I don't think I'll ever play this game again, simply because I have about 50 others that outrank it in my order of preference, but if I was ever in a situation where I had no other choice, I would play it again. It would not strike me as a trial I had to endure. Real-time strategy games are not my favorite in general, but this particular RTS managed to strike a positive balance for me. And, of course, I love the Star Wars franchise quite a bit. When taken together, I dub this game "perfectly adequate."

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Star Wars Empire At War: Gold Pack - 15/20 hours

I finished the Rebel campaign and it was fine. There were too many escort missions. And I question the wisdom of making me play a stealth mission in an RTS. Still, it was fine. I could list a couple of quibbles with the plot - like, I never got the impression from the movies that Han Solo worked with the Rebellion prior to meeting up with Luke Skywalker, and the final battle had you attempting to beat the Death Star, but it was really just an escort mission where you protect the NPCs who do it off-screen, but you know what, you don't play RTS games for the plot. You play them for the small-unit tactics.

Now, I'm no aficionado, but so far they seem pretty good. I could probably squeeze more efficiency out of my units by developing my micromanagement skills and deploying my units' special abilities more frequently, but even without that, the strengths and weaknesses of the different unit types make force composition an interesting puzzle. And the separation of economy and unit deployment into two different phases of the game does make battles less frantic and more driven by positioning and forward-thinking. The only problem I've been having with it so far is in the various campaign chapter breaks, where a whole new bunch of planets is brought into play and the enemy suddenly has a disproportionately large fleet capable of threatening multiple planets at once. But even then, after the first wave dies down and I'm able to proceed more deliberately, it proves to be pretty enjoyable.

That being said, I've been avoiding a lot of potential RTS battles by selecting "auto-resolve" whenever possible. This is an objectively terrible idea, because I lose between 5-10 times as many units to the game's battle-resolution algorithm as I would if I just played the battles out manually, but since it only takes a second to get through, and since I always build up to my unit cap between battles, it works out as a lot easier in practice.

It's probably a bad idea in the long run, though. I have a feeling I'll get through the Imperial campaign far too quickly, and have to find something else to do for 3 or 4 hours. Luckily, I still have the DLC campaign to try, and if that proves to be too short, I can always attempt a randomized Galactic Conquest.

I wouldn't rank Empire At War among my favorite games, but I'm pretty sure I have this one in the bag.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Star Wars Empire At War: Gold Pack - 9/20 hours

I know it goes without saying, but I hate to lose RTS games. Even more than any other genre, it bugs me. And I always assumed it was because I was, on some level, an emotionally frail person who would rather be coddled than develop the skills necessary to win. And while I won't say that's untrue, I've recently had an insight that puts my love-hate relationship with the genre in a new perspective.

It's not so much that I hate to lose, as it is that I hate playing defense. I think the confusion comes from the fact that whenever I wind up playing defensively, it's usually a prelude to a loss. Maybe that's because playing defensively is strategically inferior. Or maybe it's because my lack of interest in that style of play leads me to execute it poorly. Either way, it's a habit that carries across genres (for example, in an rpg, I will always prioritize offense over defense, unless a particular defensive skill proves unusually good).

Which is weird, because when pacifism is an option, like in your typical 4X game, I will almost always go for it. Which you'd think would mean that I'd learn to focus on defense, just as a practical survival skill, but it's always been a huge blind-spot for me. I'll often rage-quit if I'm not able to fight my defensive wars in enemy territory.

I think it's because I resent defense. I mean, the necessity of it. I never bought into the idea that my lacking an army meant I was asking to get attacked. Yes, from a strategic standpoint, it's ridiculous, but there it is. In fact, my usual defensive doctrine is to build up my infrastructure at the expense of my military, rapidly retool to a military footing in the hopes of outproducing my enemy, and then launch a massive counterattack. This doesn't always work, but even when it does, it bugs the hell out of me. I'd rather not deal with it all.

Star Wars Empire At War is a pure war game, so there's no real choice about fighting. You've got to do it. So even though I wound up having to defend a few of my colonies, the attacks were not a surprise. And yet, even though I handily won all my battles, I was still pretty annoyed.

It's not my proudest character trait, but what the hell, it's not like I'm getting points for consistency here. I'll just continue attacking the Empire in the hopes of mercilessly crushing their tyranny once and for all. And then, if I still have time, I'll switch sides and do it again.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Star Wars Empire At War: Gold Pack - 2/20 hours

Half my time so far has just been with the tutorial. It was a tutorial. It was fine. Which isn't nothing. I've played games with broken tutorials, or tutorials that were so difficult I could barely get through them. AI Wars had a six hour tutorial. So, you know, a tutorial that gets in, explains the game, and then gets out is just fine by me.

The other half of my time has been spent trying out the Rebel campaign. I'm glad to be playing the good guys for a change (I suppose Starkiller was technically on the right side, but he never felt particularly "good" to me). I look forward to defeating the Empire and restoring freedom to the galaxy.

Unfortunately, I have a bad feeling about the campaign as a whole. I'm only four missions in so far and three of those have been straight up escort missions (actually, even the fourth required you to keep a certain character alive, but since he was your toughest unit, I'm not counting it). First, you have to bring R2-D2 and C-3PO to a certain location to decode an Imperial signal, then you have to bring some pilots through a gantlet of enemies in order to steal some X-wings. And then you have to rescue some prisoners from space transports while keeping your own transports intact.

I can only speculate as to why they made that choice, but it's one that makes even easy mode a pain in the ass to complete. I suppose my only option is to get better at the game, but I'll have you know, it's under duress.

Star Wars Empire At War: Gold Pack - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

Command or corrupt an entire galaxy in the definitive Star Wars strategy collection. It is a time of galactic civil war. Will you take up the reins of the Rebellion, assume control of the Empire, or rule the Star Wars Underworld?

Star Wars Empire at War:
From the lives of soldiers to the deaths of planets, you are the supreme galactic commander. It is a time of galactic civil war. Take up the reins of the Rebellion or assume control for the Empire. Whichever you choose, it will be up to YOU to steer your side to ultimate victory. Command everything from individual troops to starships and even the mighty Death Star as you execute campaigns on the ground, in space and across the galaxy. Forget tedious resource gathering – just jump straight into the heart of the action. You can even change Star Wars history! Every decision affects your next battle and every battle helps shape the fate of the galaxy.

Previous Playtime

0 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

It was part of that giant Star Wars bundle I bought a couple of years back. However it wasn't entirely incidental. I'd seen this game being played before, and I thought it looked kind of cool, so it was a factor (albeit a minor one) in my deciding to get the bundle at all.

Expectations and Prior Experience

I'll admit, I'm not thrilled that the store page describes resource gathering as "tedious." Building a base economy is one of the main things I enjoy about RTS games (as contrasting with the things I don't enjoy about them - their "real time" and "strategy" aspects). On the other hand, if I really do get to control a Death Star, that might be pretty cool.

I won't bore you with yet another recounting of my ambivalence towards the RTS genre, but needless to say, it's a factor. If the game turns out to be easy, I'll probably like it. If it turns out to be difficult, I probably won't. What I want most of all is to feel like I'm playing with miniature Star Wars figurines in make-believe wars. That's what interests me about the game. The cool screenshots of AT-ATs and Star Destroyers, as things I can manipulate and command. I'm willing to pay the price of having to deal with military tactics in order to play with these things . . . provided the price isn't too high.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II - 20/20 hours

Playing The Force Unleashed II for the fourth time in a row got me thinking about the value of novelty. I got into the bottomless gaming hole that inspired my blog because I kept buying more and different video games, but what is a video game, really. They're just a series of images, presented to you one after another, in response to which, you press buttons, and the buttons you press influence which images are presented next. In a story-driven action game like The Force Unleashed II, there is a larger sequence of images and pressing the buttons in the right way advances the sequence, whereas pressing the buttons in the wrong way makes you repeat certain sections of the sequence you've already seen.

And that's when it struck me - upon breaking it down to such a fundamental level, beating The Force Unleashed II a third or fourth time is really only a variant of failing to beat it for the first time. If I'm fighting the Gorog and it crushes me with its massive fists, I have to start the fight over, and attempt to beat the Gorog from the very beginning. And, now, I've fought the Gorog four times. . .

If I'd fought the Gorog four times, and three of those times, I'd gotten 99% of the way through, and only gotten 100% on the fourth try, how would that be different? Does that 3 percent really matter?

What makes the images matter is meaning. I play the game and understand that the Gorog is a monster and that defeating it is different than failing to defeat it, and this meaning is largely imposed by signs, but I do have to bring something to it. Especially when doing it four times in a row, I have to bring something to it.

I think this is a little credited gaming skill in general. It's the same basic problem that some people have with Minecraft - gathering and crafting and stacking blocks seems pointless without a concrete goal.

So what meaning do I usually bring to games? I once played the original Mass Effect four times in a row, and only stopped because I'd gotten all the achievements but one (and the one remaining would have taken an entire 5th playthrough just for itself). I had no problem, then, with finding meaning in repetition.

As near as I can tell, the secret for me is transformation and discovery - if each iteration builds on the last, or if each iteration is different from last, even in subtle ways, I can always find an appetite for another go round. It's why I could easily fire up and enjoy another round of Alpha Centauri, despite playing it almost every day for two years and getting so good I could beat its highest difficulty - I may know nearly everything there is to know about the game, and I would certainly cleave very closely to the optimal strategy I'd developed over hundreds of hours of practice, but my initial map position would never repeat, my enemies would not necessarily react in exactly the same way, the random events would never trigger at exactly the same time. Familiarity only increases my appreciation for nuance. It was when I knew the game less well that I was more inclined to say that each match was the same.

I don't feel that way about The Force Unleashed II. The more I played it, the more homogeneous my experience started to feel. It's possible that I plateaued in skill, and that if I kept at it for a half-dozen more times through the main plot, that I would come to appreciate the subtle variations more and more. It seems likely, actually. I still had a half-dozen platinum challenge medals to earn. However, I never reached the stage of playing meaningfully. The only meaning I found in repeating the game four times was in sticking with my self-imposed and rather arbitrary blog mission.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I did it, but I'm not eager to do it again.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II - 15/20 hours

I've beaten hard mode, got a few more gold challenge medals, and have basically reached a point where I have nothing more I want to accomplish in this game . . . and I still have five hours to go. It's not really a problem, per se, but I will admit to feeling a certain malaise at the prospect of tackling this game a fourth time.

It's not so much that I expect it to be unpleasant. It's just that unless I want to grind away on the challenges, there's not much more to learn. It's just going to be more and more lightsaber/lightning/telekinesis hack and slash. The strange thing is that I played the first game for longer and didn't have much of a problem, and other action games for more than 35 hours while still craving more.

I think the issue here is that The Force Unleashed II is really, really short. It's not filled with secrets or alternate paths or complex character builds. It's just a series of straightforward enemy tubes. You march through the tubes and attack the enemies.

It's the sort of thing that can be nice for a break, but starts to feel like work after awhile. The main challenge I face is resisting the temptation to do something else.

I can do it, though! When I'm done, I'll have only 35 games to go!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed - 10/20 hours

Replaying the game on hard mode, I noticed a curious thing about The Force Unleashed II - for a five hour game, it's awfully inconsistent. At the end of the second level, you fight this massive, multi-stage setpiece boss, a gigantic creature that makes a rancor look like a womprat . . . and it's the only thing remotely like it in the bulk of the game. Even the final fight against Darth Vader is tame by comparison. Most of the other levels don't even try. Like, there's a second major boss battle, but it's just a single mech, not much different than the elite enemies of later levels, but with a shield disarming gimmick, that still nonetheless has only one health bar.

It gets especially bad when you throw Dagobah into the mix - a brief platforming level with no enemies, no chance of death, and little to no plot significance. It makes me wonder if they ran out of money and/or time while making the game. Because while one could certainly make an argument in favor of tighter, more streamlined games that you don't need double-digit playtimes to get through, presumably, the advantage of such games is that they would have absolutely no fat on them. The wild inconsistency of The Force Unleashed II leads me to believe that its short length was unintentional.

Though it does have a few things that could pad out its running time to 20 hours. I spent a couple hours trying my hand at the "challenges," a series of mini-levels that you unlock over the course of the main story. Each one has a central conceit - survive for X minutes, get passed some moving platforms in X amount of time, etc - that requires a great deal of skill and precision. The better you do at the challenges, the more valuable the medal you win, and the cooler the stuff you unlock. I've got at least Bronze on all of them now, but I'm guessing that if I went for Platinums, that could easily take me my remaining 10 hours.

The only problem is, I'm not sure I want to. There's something uniquely frustrating about trying to shave seconds off a task you've already completed. Sure, there's the ladder of mastery, and learning to enjoy the sensory pleasure of perfection for its own sake, but there comes a time in every second-tier workhorse of an action game where you just want to coast.

I don't have to make an all or nothing decision, though. I'm about a third of the way through hard mode, and will probably finish it in another couple hours. Perhaps the greater demands of the higher difficulty will acclimate me to the game enough that I can grind out a few more medals.

Or maybe I'll just switch to easy mode and tear up the Empire like I'm a living god. . . I could go either way.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II - 5/20 hours

The Force Unleashed II makes the curious choice of depicting the dark side of the Force as more powerful than the light. It's something that has been an issue for the entire series, but it's especially pronounced here. The Starkiller clone is impulsive, overly attached, and driven by anger. He kills constantly and without remorse, and as near as I can tell, gives into his hate almost all the time. He also defeats Darth Vader handily.

I think maybe the game is unclear on the difference between a Jedi and a Sith. It seems like when it says "Jedi," it means "force user who is on the side of the rebels" and when it says "Sith" it means "force user who is on the side of the Empire." Other than that, they have no visible difference in methods, ideology, or goals - except at the very end of the game, where General Kota goes out of his way to persuade you to not kill the main villain.

I really don't get this guy. He did it in the first game, and that was a disaster, and then at the end of the second game, he's put in a near-identical position, and he does it again. I know that, on a narrative level, it's just that thing that stories sometimes do, where I can cut through hundreds of storm troopers and dozens of my brother-clones, and that doesn't mean anything, but put me up against a named character, and suddenly I'm supposed to care about the sanctity of life.

This game puts a strange spin on it, though. If you go with the light side ending, General Kota talks you into taking Darth Vader prisoner and putting him on trial, which is . . . how is that even supposed to work? Vader is canonically one of the most powerful Force users in history. Keeping him prisoner is likely impossible, and very dangerous, even if you could. And what exactly would a trial of Darth Vader look like? Does the Rebel Alliance maintain a court system? Who is going to be Darth Vader's defense lawyer?  I mean, they captured him in the middle of a cloning laboratory where he was creating an army of dark Jedi, and, of course, he's the Emperor's right hand man, so it's kind of an open and shut case. And then you're going to execute him anyway? How does that have any sort of legitimacy?

Yes, it's important to get the Empire's crimes out in the open, so that the galaxy can begin to heal, but that's not going to mean a damned thing if the Rebels can't win the war, and winning the war seems pretty unlikely if they're going to keep interrupting their military missions to spare the lives of the enemy's most powerful space wizards.

But that's just the plot of the game, and seeing as how I finished it in five hours, that's probably going to be the least important aspect of the game. What's more important is how it plays, and that's been perfectly serviceable. You walk through corridors and brawl with Star Wars-style enemies and shoot lightning and such. If the levels were all different, I could easily do this indefinitely. So having them all be the same and play them four or five times each doesn't seem like that much of a burden.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II - 2/20 hours

I really don't like this Starkiller guy. He's like if someone wanted to design Luke Skywalker, but hated his innocence, enthusiasm, and earnestness. I guess the Starkiller in this game is a clone of the original, but because both of them are so strong in the Force, the new Starkiller is picking up the old one's memories and personality, which kind of makes sense in that goofy, sci-fi way where the space magic has never done anything like this before, but the sort of things it has done before are similar enough that it doesn't feel entirely like a cheat. If young Anakin Skywalker can come back as a ghost (or, for that matter, old Anakin Skywalker can appear as a ghost in a purely hypothetical, non-cybernetic form) then a clone being possessed by the memories of the dead original is not so much a stretch.

It does raise all sorts of ethical questions that I'm not sure the game is going to go into, though. Like, what sort of culpability does new-Starkiller have for old-Starkiller's many crimes. The original Starkiller was an unrepentant murderer. It's one of the things that frustrated me about the first game.

He was kidnapped and brainwashed by Darth Vader at a very young age, so him becoming a Sith assassin doesn't necessarily make him irredeemable. He too, was a victim of the Dark Side. And yet, at every point in the story where it would have made sense for him to come to terms with his past, it's completely elided, as if the game itself didn't realize that there were some unresolved issues that needed to be addressed.

He just sort of conscripts ex-General Kota and insinuates himself into his life, and never once do we see anything remotely resembling a "hey, sorry about blinding you and throwing you out of a space station." Which is important, because it leaves me completely at sea when it comes to interpreting the cutscene at the end of level 2, where they have a tense argument in which Kota dresses Starkiller down for wanting to meditate and recover his memories instead of immediately joining the rebellion. Which, you know, is a pretty intense conversation to have with the clone of the guy who maimed you. What if new-Starkiller randomly gets back the part of old-Starkiller that was a heartless killing machine, hunting down Jedi with a single-minded obsession?

I should probably give it some time, though. The Force Unleashed II does seem more interested in exploring new-Starkiller's inner state, and thus is more likely to deliver a nuanced interpretation of the character. I'm not hopeful, however, because even in this incarnation, the game doesn't seem to realize that there is something problematic about him, and if I'm being perfectly honest, I'm expecting a half-baked romance plot with Juno Eclipse to take up most of the game's running time.

On the gameplay front, The Force Unleashed II is a worthy successor to the first game. The levels are prettier, but with less scope for exploration (not that the first game was great about this), and there are fewer Force powers, but the missing ones were mostly cruft and the controls are all-around smoother. I have no real complaints on that score.

I do, however, expect to finish the game in less than 10 hours, which makes me wonder if this is another case where I should have bundled a game with its sequel.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

The Star Wars® Saga continues with Star Wars®: The Force Unleashed™ II, the highly anticipated sequel to the fastest-selling Star Wars game ever created. In Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, the world was introduced to Darth Vader’s now fugitive apprentice, Starkiller—the unlikely hero who would ignite the flames of rebellion in a galaxy so desperately in need of a champion.

In the sequel, Starkiller returns with over-the-top Force powers and embarks on a journey to discover his own identity and to reunite with his one true love, Juno Eclipse. In Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, Starkiller is once again the pawn of Darth Vader—but instead of training his protégé as a ruthless assassin, the dark lord is attempting to clone his former apprentice in an attempt to create the Ultimate Sith warrior. The chase is on – Starkiller is in pursuit of Juno and Darth Vader is hunting for Starkiller.

With all-new devastating Force powers and the ability to dual-wield lightsabers, Starkiller cuts a swath through deadly new enemies across exciting worlds from the Star Wars films - all in his desperate search for answers to his past.

Previous Playtime

0 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

It was a slick-looking action game that cost me about $1.50 when part of a massive bundle. I had a vague memory of liking the first game (though I must not have paid too much attention to the plot the first time around) and I will confess - I love buying whole series of games all at once.

Expectations and Prior Experience

I've only played The Force Unleashed, so all of my expectations are going to be informed by that. I think it will probably be a competently executed action game that will be diverting enough that my 20 hours will be relatively painless (provided I can pull myself away from No Man's Sky long enough to give it a chance).

However, the fact that a sequel exists at all is kind of baffling to me. Starkiller died at the end of the first game. How the hell is he running around in the second? According to the store page, it involves cloning somehow, but that's not really how cloning works. Not even in the Star Wars universe, where the mechanics of cloning are actually pretty well established - for example, the clone troopers have always been portrayed as being separate individuals from both each other and Jango Fett.

Of course, the store page also describes Juno Eclipse as Starkiller's "true love," which is . . . not well supported by the text. I imagine I'll be rolling my eyes at the story quite a bit before this is all over.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Ultimate Sith Edition - 20/20 hours

I almost had 100% completion. I just needed to get all the holcrons from the final level. I probably would have gone past 20 hours just for the sake of the last few collectibles, but the game kept crashing. In the end, I decided it wasn't worth the frustration. I'm just going to remove it from my hard drive anyway.

Overall, I'd say I liked the parts of the game that were not plot. Even the boss battles got less frustrating when I had all my Force Powers pumped up to maximum level. Tossing around Storm Troopers like ragdolls never got old, and even when that tactic didn't quite work (several enemies were immune to being picked up by the Force), the game was fast-paced enough that it never really dragged.

In fact, I would have had this game completely in the bag three days ago, if I hadn't gotten sucked into playing No Man's Sky again.

I don't think I'll ever play this game again, though. I don't think I've ever played a game with more satisfying telekinesis, but that's not really enough of a reason to go out of my way to play it, and the goofy and off-putting story is something I actively want to avoid (at one point, he was ruminating about a Jedi falling to the dark side, when she was the apprentice of a woman he murdered in cold blood . . . and if I get into this again, I'm not going to get out.)

I still have the second game to play, and I'm sure I'll enjoy it well enough. And hey, the story couldn't possibly be any worse . . .

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Ultimate Sith Edition - 9/20 hours

I've said before that story is not strictly necessary to video games, but nonetheless enhances the experience, making it richer and more satisfying. I think I've found the exception.

Aside from the occasional bullshit boss fight, the numerous QTEs, and the inexplicable sequence where you have to use the Force to pull a Star Destroyer out of orbit, The Force Unleashed is a pretty fun game. You run around throwing enemies hither and yon, blasting them with lightning, and then using your light saber to chop up any that still survive. It's a fast-paced action game that occasionally rewards strategic thinking as well as frantic button mashing.

And it works fine, until you stop to think about what all that action means. The main character is Darth Vader's apprentice, who goes by the name of "Starkiller." Already, we are off to a bad start. Goofy name aside, the idea of a game as starring Darth Vader's apprentice is extremely problematic. I suppose it could be done, but you'd either have to make it a nuanced psychological thriller, or a gleefully amoral and over-the-top comedy. The Force Unleashed's approach of making the main character a sullen and unlikable asshole who doesn't seem to register anything going on around him is an unworkable compromise.

I don't want to get too scathing here, because I know the game's script is the product of someone who really cared about Star Wars and who probably put a lot of love into it (and it apparently won the 2008 Writer's Guild of America award for best video game writing, which, um, okay). However, there were times where I'd be watching a cutscene and literally groaning out loud.

Look, in order to have a character arc, your character has to make decisions, or at least express emotions. And it doesn't count as a romance just because two characters of the opposite sex are in close proximity to one another and then kiss right before the final mission - Starkiller had better chemistry with the robot for crying out loud! And you don't set up established characters to job for the new guy, especially if the new guy is a black hole of charisma and the established characters include one of cinema's most iconic villains!

But I get ahead of myself. Starkiller starts the game out as a flat-out murderer. Darth Vader tells him to murder people and he does, without hesitation or complaint. Why he does this is hard to say, but it appears that he just doesn't care about human life and is in the habit of doing what he's told. The closest he has to a motivation is assisting in Darth Vader's plan to kill the Emperor. Since he was taken from his home as an infant, he might be in it for revenge, but if so, it never comes up.

Then, after killing a few Jedi, Vader takes him to meet the Emperor, but instead of going ahead with the assassination plan, Vader stabs him in the back (literally) and tosses him out an window into the vacuum of space. But he's not dead! Instead, he revives in a hidden medical facility and Vader tells him that he faked his death in order to surprise the Emperor, and that his new mission is gather the Emperor's enemies and form some kind of "rebel alliance" (aghh!).

And then he does that, but only after defying orders and rescuing his lady pilot friend, so they can proceed to barely talk to each other and share no kind of personal connection or sexual tension. I guess in the second half of the game he's some kind of double agent, doing exactly as he's instructed by Vader and gathering the rebels as a distraction, but also secretly hoping that by following his orders to the letter (love interest rescue aside) the fake rebellion will become real. Or maybe he just doesn't have any agency whatsoever and that's why he never informed any of his allies about his secret communications with their deadliest enemy. Though that doesn't explain why, when he was discovered by his lady friend, who had apparently bought into the whole "rebel alliance" (arghh!) thing on account of being unjustly imprisoned for ferrying his ass around on the orders of Darth Vader, they didn't have any sort of serious heart-to-heart where he's forced to explain his apparent betrayal.

Anyway, Starkiller winds up founding the rebel alliance, because why not have the most pivotal moment in the franchise's history be orchestrated by an emotionless dork with no connection to anyone or anything we've previously given two shits about, and then seconds later Darth Vader arrives in order to arrest the rebels. Starkiller feels betrayed because the mission he was pretending(?) to do was not the one he was pretending(?) to accept, but rather Vader was pretending the whole time, and I don't know, there was clearly some goal he had, which was thwarted here, but they never say what it was.

At this point, Starkiller has no choice but to storm the still under construction Death Star and stage a daring rescue of the rebel leaders (because what the hell does "canon" even mean any more). He does so, defeating both Darth Vader and the Emperor in the process (arghh!), and then when he has the Emperor at his mercy, his Jedi mentor warns him not to strike him down in anger . . . despite the fact that the whole goddamned point of the fucking Rebel Alliance that you just formed is to overthrow this exact guy, and what the hell were you even planning on doing with and evil space wizard anyway, and fuck you Starkiller, you cannot steal Luke Skywalker's best scene without ever struggling with your murderous past in any way or doing anything to redeem yourself, and no, feeling "love" for the sexy lady pilot with no discernible personality doesn't count because even sociopaths get boners!

GRRRRR!!!!!

And then the Emperor uses this moment of moral confusion to regain his powers and temporarily incapacitate Starkiller so Darth Vader can kill him, the Rebels somehow escape, and that's the end of the game.

Okay, it looks like I wound up being pretty scathing after all. I guess I liked the shapeshifting robot that was always humorously threatening to kill the main character. It was cool seeing Shaak-ti, one of the distinctive looking background Jedi from the prequels, in action, though some asshole killed her before she could do anything really interesting.

Despite my grumbling here, playing the game was not a non-stop ragefest, however. Mostly I just tuned the story out and focused on the gameplay. In truth, it was more like a groan-worthy fanfiction than anything really upsetting. I still have 11 hours to go with this game, and I'm not terribly worried about having to play it again. Who knows, maybe after seeing the plot a second time, it will come to grow on me.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Ultimate Sith Edition - 2/20 hours

I was surprised when I saw the copyright date for this game. 2008. Nearly 10 years ago. On the one hand, that explains why my memories of The Force Unleashed are so dim. On the other, damn, I'm getting old. 

It really does seem like recent history to me, though I'd somehow forgotten the comedy-relief assassin/training droid and the sexy female shuttle pilot in the undoubtedly non-regulation uniform. I'd somehow gotten it into my head that The Force Unleashed was a grimmer, more self-serious story than your usual Star Wars fare. I guess I remembered that the main plot involved hunting down and murdering Jedi and just assumed that the main character was a brooding loner.

The game itself is all right, for the most part. The best way to describe it is that it does that thing that games do when they're designed for a brand new console, where it goes overboard with the console's novel capabilities, but then neglects the basics of game design, and graphically, it somehow manages to look uglier than a late release from the previous generation while still being unambiguously more sophisticated, graphically.

The gimmick for the Wii version of the game was motion controls (which I do miss, by the way), but for this version it's physics. No Star Wars game before or since has made the Force such an active presence in the world. You can lift a crate with the Force, hurl it at an enemy, send your target flying into another enemy, and then possibly that enemy will crash into a stack of crates (there are a lot of crates in this game) and knock it over, crushing anyone who happened to take shelter behind it.

It can get pretty wild, and the parts of the levels where you have to face a horde of enemies armed with nothing but your lightsaber, the Force, and your wits are pretty fun. What is not fun are the boss battles. Those are some serious bullshit, mostly because the saber dueling is sloppy and the Force controls lack precision (which is fine for mooks, but a total pain when you're facing an equal and every move counts). It's not enough to ruin my enjoyment of the game, but it is something I expect I'll come to dread.

I'm optimistic, though. The boss battles will likely never get better, but it is fun to romp through these Star Wars locations (despite what I said about the graphics, there are a few visually striking moments scattered throughout), and cutting loose with the Force is a hell of a lot of fun. I expect the rest of this game to go quickly.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Ultimate Sith Edition - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

The story and action of Star Wars®: The Force Unleashed™ expands with the release of Star Wars The Force Unleashed: Ultimate Sith Edition, a special new version of the game that will show gamers the deepest, darkest side of the Force in a story that puts them on a collision course with Luke Skywalker himself. The Ultimate Sith Edition includes all of the original missions found in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed as well as content previously only available via download and an all-new exclusive bonus level.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed completely re-imagines the scope and scale of the Force and casts players as Darth Vader’s "Secret Apprentice," unveiling new revelations about the Star Wars galaxy seen through the eyes of a mysterious new character armed with unprecedented powers. 

Previous Playtime

0 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

This game was part of the now-infamous Star Wars bundle I bought a couple of years back. However, rather than being an afterthought, this was one of the games that sold me on the bundle as a whole. I'd played the original game back on the Wii, and so the PC port, with DLC, bundled with the sequel, was a pretty tempting proposition.

Expectations and Prior Experience

Something that hasn't come up on the blog, and would probably get me shamed out of "real" gamer circles, is the fact that I love motion controls. To me, the loss of precision is absolutely worth it for the sheer physical joy of moving my arms and my body in time with the game (although, ironically, as much as I love crafting games, I would not want to play them with motion controls, because it is possible to have too much of a good thing).

So when I heard news of a Star Wars game coming out for the Wii, I knew I at least had to try it. Motion controlled Jedi was too beautiful a dream. Although, when The Force Unleashed finally came out, it garnered middling reviews, and thus I did the sensible, cautious thing and rented it.

I have a vague recollection of enjoying the game, though the only part that really sticks in my memory is the opening mission where you get to play a badass version of Darth Vader. Considering that I only paid about $1.50 for this game, that will be worth the price of admission on its own, I'm sure.

My real worry is that I've heard some negative things about the PC port of the game. It's already going to be a blow to lose the motion controls I previously enjoyed so much, to also have to deal with bugs and crashes is discouraging.

Nonetheless, I have high hopes for this game. I just want to wander through Star Wars-themed corridors,  slicing through fools with my lightsaber and flinging around Force powers like no one's business. If it gives me that in even a moderately functional way, I'll be good.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Fractured Space - 20/20 hours

At times this game felt like a test of endurance. Playing the same, not-too-interesting mission over and over again tasked me more than I'd care to admit. At times, grinding was the only thing keeping me going. Getting credits for new ships, earning drop pods for daily rewards, and upgrading my crew with new implants were my favorite parts of the game. I probably spread my play time out over more days than was strictly necessary, just to reset the limited daily rewards.

A lot of the time, though, I was playing this game with an emotional detachment, going through the motions of directing my ship, but not being entirely present, mentally. I feel bad for my human teammates in these matches, because I was definitely not bringing my 100%, but not too bad because at my skill level, the difference between full and 75% efficiency was probably not enough to change the course of a match. Still, I feel like I was at least marginally more useful than a bot, and thus a net benefit to my team, regardless of my lack of personal investment in the outcome of the match. I probably shouldn't have been playing multiplayer, but I don't think I was bad enough for it to count as a crime.

At least that's what I'm telling myself. Truthfully, I'm relieved to be done with this game. It's not that it was bad. In fact, after I got a couple of ships in my hangar, I came to appreciate its free-to-play model. You can unlock all of the game's content through grinding, but it doesn't really matter since it is best to simply pick two or three ships and master those, rather than dabbling in a dozen or more (in fact, it's likely that no small part of my multiplayer suckiness is down to me playing each of my new ships as soon as I unlocked them). So what you've got is a game that is about developing skill in a kind of abstract way. The narrative context of your battles doesn't matter, because it's all about learning to use your selected ships' abilities to optimal effect.

If that's your sort of thing, Fractured Space gives you a slick looking arena, responsive controls, and a surprising amount of tactical depth.

It's the sort of thing that is startling to get for free, because it has a lot of polish to it, and, if you want a game that just gets right to the space combat without any sort of narrative pretext, then it's pretty great. It's easily worth 5-10 dollars, depending on how many ships a paid version would unlock at the start. So, you know, zero dollars feels like a great deal . . .

Except that I don't think that I, personally, would be willing to pay anything for it. Nothing against the game, it's just that what I love about space games is their sense of scope and scale. I like flying my space ships through a seemingly endless void, worrying about fuel and oxygen and power, all for the reward of landing on a potentially barren planet and getting nothing more than a pretty view for all my trouble. To put my opinion in perspective, I've complained about this game being too repetitive . . . by throwing me into one exciting action set piece after another and not forcing me to experience long stretches of tedium in between.

That's just the way it is, though. Final Fractured Space verdict - it's great for people who like thrilling space battles and poor for people who like banal space logistics.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fractured Space - 12/20 hours

Finished my goal of playing through a single skirmish with each of the various ships. It may be that I only played them once each and thus didn't get much of a handle on their nuances, but none of them really seemed all that better than the basic three. That speaks well for the game's balance, though I'm not sure how I'm supposed to decide which one to unlock next. Chance, maybe? Or perhaps I'm supposed to play a lot of single-player games with some of the more obscure support ships in order to get used to their peculiar play styles. In all likelihood, simply buying the ships with real money is the most efficient way to do it.

I'm not really at the point where I'm tempted, though. There's a delicate negotiation when it comes to free-to-play games. Even with Fractured Space's serious limitations, it's the sort of thing that I can receive for free and feel like I'm better off than I was before. I guess that means it has some positive value, but I don't know what exact price I'd pay for it. What's especially frustrating is that, while the whole thing may have value, I wouldn't actually want to buy any of the particular things it charges money for. As weird as it sounds, I've come to terms with the idea of spending real money to buy a digital game that exists only as a file on the internet, but to spend money on an imaginary object that is only a few lines of code within that file feels weird to me.

Although it's likely that Fractured Space itself is the problem. I once bought a virtual hat for Path of Exile, and while I felt a little silly doing so, I have no regrets because Path of Exile felt like I was getting a full game for free. As fun as it is to smash spaceships with lasers, Fractured Space does not feel like a full game. It feels like ten minutes of a game looped around itself in the hopes that the players find their own motivation.  I've noticed that there are technically multiple maps, but they're simply reskins of the same basic asteroid field.

It's not really a problem, though. I've gotten into the rhythms of this game, at least enough to pass the hours without trouble. All I've got to do is keep blowing up space ships, ten minutes at a time.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Fractured Space - 5/20 hours

I've been dragging my feet with this game, mostly because I was under the mistaken impression that you could only use the three starter ships in single-player mode. It was an easy mistake to make, however, seeing as how the icons to select the ships had a tiny, closed padlock in the corner, which is the universal symbol for "you cannot use this thing yet." I had real mixed feelings when I found that one out - yes, there was relief that I wouldn't have to play with the same three ships for 20 hours (possibly getting a fourth or fifth ship with my earned credits), but also annoyance that it had taken me so long to figure that out.

It's not that piloting the starter ships is unpleasant, exactly. It's just that, at least when it came to facing off against the AI bots, I knew everything I need to know about them by the end of my first two hours. Obviously, there's still a lot of skill involved in knowing when to use my abilities and how to track targets while still avoiding fire, and so on, but I have a 100% win percentage against the AI, and I've become confident that nothing would ever disturb that.

And while I don't mind grinding towards some particular purpose, the thought of playing 37 matches to be able to unlock a single new ship, without having any clear idea about whether the new ship would be fun or powerful or offer a novel tactical challenge, was one that did not thrill me. I more or less wrote off my potential future unlocks as a non-issue.

Fortunately, I don't have to do that anymore. I can try all of the ships over the course of the next few hours. At about ten minutes per match, with 34 possible ships means that I have about 6 hours of pure experimentation, before I have to decide on another course of action. That will take me to about the halfway point on the blog. Then, I'll probably have no choice but to try . . . multiplayer!

That's in the future, though. In the meantime, I'll be playing around with a wide variety of fancy spaceship designs, which is really the best part of playing a science-fiction game that his been stripped of all exploration and plot.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Fractured Space - 2/20 hours

There are times when I feel like cursing whoever invented the MOBA. I mean, I don't hate the genre or anything, but I must admit, my opinion on a game has never been improved upon discovering it's a MOBA. It's irrational, I know, but I feel like no one ever deliberately sets out to design a new MOBA. Instead, one just sort of emerges when video game designers find themselves with a diverse cast of colorful characters (or in this case space ships) and no ideas about what to do with them.

Which is unfair, of course. MOBAs are, in fact, the closest video games can get to a team sport. They are territory-control games that reward both tactics and strategy and have a very high skill ceiling. If you're interested in games as an abstract experience, a perpetual test of cunning and skill where your only benchmark for skill is the quality of your opponents. There have been times when I've been tempted by this idea, but honestly, it's a lot of work, and I'd rather spend my energies on other things.

The practical upshot of this is that there is not much "game" to Fractured Space. MOBAs are already a genre that's short on interesting level design, and when you set a MOBA in the vacuum of space, that problem is exacerbated. As near as I can tell, there's only one map - an asteroid field in which you have two opposing starbases and three mines that you can ineffectually try and claim for brief periods of time before they are inevitably taken back by the opposing team.

And since the bot AI is pretty bad, even for a MOBA, I feel like I've already exhausted the possibilities for single player. There aren't even any difficulty settings on the bot matches. You just sort of get thrown into a brawl that you will almost certainly win, because the enemy has no sense of strategy, and win inelegantly, because your allies have no sense of strategy.

I suppose I should try and play online multiplayer. Just really throw myself into the competitive scene. But that is a surefire path to heartbreak.

Then again, just because something has never worked in the past, that doesn't mean it won't work in the future!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Fractured Space - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

Fractured Space is an award winning free-to-play space combat game. Fight solo in PvE, in co-op Quick Play or 5-v-5 PvP. Brought to life in the stunning Unreal Engine 4, giants of interstellar conflict fight in spectacular close quarter battles for dominance.

Pick a manufacturer, choose a class and customize your weapon loadouts. Through experience you gain the right to command more ships while earning credits to add them to your fleet. Tailor your craft to your combat preferences with crew and weapon loadout options then take on your specialized role when your interstellar juggernaut warps into battle.

You captain a vessel of unmatched combat authority choosing from an ever increasing number of specialised galactic warships. Understand your own capabilities and that of your team before taking the fight to the enemy. Experience will expand your ability to choose which victories to chase and how to then leverage them. Mastery of a single ship is your first step, dominance in the war for space coming as your knowledge increases.

The composition of your team's fleet is vital to your success. Battles may be fought with firepower but they are won with wits. Your team of five will face an equally prepared, equally skilled, equally ambitious opponent in a ceaselessly transforming fight for control. Your plans will evolve, tactics will shift but as a team you will emerge triumphant. Your individual prowess may be significant but it insignificant next to well organised communication, support and teamwork.

Join us as we throw open our doors on development of a groundbreaking space combat experience. The discussion on strategy is endless; share your war stories, learn from others and become a part of the Fractured Space universe.

Previous Playtime

9 minutes

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

Fractured Space is now a free-to-play game, but it wasn't when I first acquired it. Strangely enough, though, I got it for free. They were doing one of those "our game is free for the next 48 hours" that people sometimes do.

It's kind of funny. I didn't pay anything for this game, but I still feel a little miffed that it went from paid to free. It's like, I used to have something of measurable value that I didn't pay for, and now I have something of no measurable value that I didn't pay for. I mean, I didn't technically lose anything, but it kind of feels like I did. . .

Anyway, I snatched this game up solely because it was free, because back then I thought getting something for free was a benefit.

Expectations and Prior Experience

I played this game for about nine minutes back when it was in beta. I didn't think very much of it. There weren't very many ships and the only thing you could do with them was online multiplayer battles.

Which, okay, I like spaceships, and I like flying them, but fighting space battles has always felt like a massive chore. The three-dimensional dodging and targeting can be dizzying at its worst, and even at its best, space combat tends to devolve into a long-range slugfest. It's like they made an entire game out of my least favorite part of X3 and Eve: Online.

Then again, I just received a very powerful lesson on going into a game with a bunch of negative assumptions. Maybe I'll wind up really like it. There's always hope.

Hero Siege - 20/20 hours

Once I got my little equipment issue out of the way, Hero Siege proved to be a fun, but mindless twin-stick shooter. I wound up beating the game after a couple more hours, and then spent the rest of my time grinding my character up to maximum level.

I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't necessarily call it "good." The game has basically no plot (there are monsters attacking people, I guess) and while the randomly generated levels have a decent variety to them, none were particularly memorable. But compounding the game's basic blandness is the fact that once you play through on normal difficulty, you need only repeat the pre-boss levels on the higher difficulties.

But you know what, it's all right. Throwing hundreds of fireballs at massive hordes of enemies is oddly relaxing, once you get to the point where you don't have to worry about dying. Even if I didn't understand the late-game mechanics (like, what the intended level range for "hell" versus "inferno" is supposed to be, or why every damned piece of Legendary or Mythic equipment had a level 150 minimum, or literally anything about how the wormholes work), I still got the satisfaction of seeing numbers going up, and that's all that I really care about.

Overall, I'd say that Hero Siege is a game I would gladly play again, and mostly that is thanks to the strengths of its genre -  a loot-driven action-rpg with complex character customization is the sort of game I've played many times before and will doubtlessly play many times again. It has its unique quirks, namely a fast-paced twin-stick shooter style and a class list with a couple of eccentric additions like "pirate" and "redneck," but I'm not sure those quirks are a specific draw. It is the variable schedule of rewards combined with a steady sense of forward progress that really makes games like this appealing.

Still, I got through it in just three days, which is amazing for a game that I was convinced I was going to hate. So let that be a lesson to anyone reading this - don't let your misconceptions hold you back, especially if those misconceptions are based on you being a huge idiot and missing, like, one-third of whatever it is you're judging. Maybe it's narrow advice, and maybe it's only useful in retrospect, but that's what I'm taking away from this experience.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Hero Siege - 9/20 hours

I think I owe Hero Siege an apology. I profoundly misjudged it.

Now, you might be looking at the title of this post, seeing that it is my first post on the game, only one day after I started it, and be thinking "ah, he played the game a little bit more and discovered that he really liked it after all." But no, that's not it. When I say "profound," I mean profound.

See, I decided to try a little experiment. I would play each of the eight classes to the end of the first act, just to see if maybe the problems I had before were due to a poor choice of class. And at first, the results of this experiment seemed to confirm my earlier observations - enemies were unusually tank-y and my damage output was low enough that I had to spend a lot of time backpedaling while I kited a whole line of targets.

But then I gained a few levels and started equipping "superior" and "rare" quality weapons and I discovered something remarkable - I was actually able to advance on enemy hordes. Especially with the melee classes, I could cut through these monsters with only a token resistance.

After seeing this pattern repeat a half dozen times, I revised my theory about the game. I suspect that the trouble I was having with my first character was an unfortunate combination of multiplayer level scaling and simple bad luck in finding powerful equipment. And so, out of curiosity, I created a multiplayer game to check out my previous character's load out . . .

I had absolutely nothing equipped, in any of my equipment slots. Which is odd, because I clearly remembered finding equipment, examining and comparing its statistics, and selling off my spares to the merchant guy. But apparently, I did all of this without ever equipping any of it!

So here I am, a complete jackass, thinking this game has some kind of incredibly brutal difficulty, where monsters take forever to kill, but they only need one or two lucky shots to wipe out the player, and all the while I was trying to beat level 35 content with level 0 equipment.

And I have no idea how this could possibly have happened. I didn't have any particular difficulty in figuring out the menus on my local game. Yet I went 7 hours without even noticing on multiplayer. It's true, I had my friend carrying me that whole time. I actually just thought that he was amazingly good at the game. We'd each be fighting separate hordes and I'd kite mine away from him and subsequently die after only taking out three or four enemies and then I'd call for a revive and he'd tell me to wait a minute and I thought "oh yes, these monsters are really tough, especially with the multiplayer scaling, considering he has to fight my enemies as well." And then, when he did finally come riding to my rescue, I thought, "wow, he handled those monsters like a pro, I sure do wish I was good enough at this game to be more help."

Which isn't to take anything away from my friend or downplay his skill. He got to act 4 of the game with a completely dead-weight teammate. It's just, I played my multiplayer character by myself for all of 10 minutes before I found a level appropriate "mythic" weapon, and once I had it, I started chewing through enemies like they weren't even there. I'd barely have time to register their presence before my ranged attacks reduced them to a fine mist. If I'd been playing at full capacity, we probably would have beaten the game by now.

So there you have it - I goofed up this game as much as it is humanly possible to goof up anything. Keep this anecdote in mind when evaluating my opinions about other games that gave me difficulty.