Happy New Year! On Reading Break…

Hope everyone had great holidays over the Xmas and New Year season.

Quick updates on my end:

Guild Wars 2 – My activity level has dropped off in accordance with the Living Story pause and Wintersday break. This is not a BAD thing. There are times for obsession, times to stop and smell the roses and times for taking a break. I’ve mostly been popping in for long enough to finish dailies.

My silk surplus has finally dried up, putting my daily bolt of damask sale on partial hold, but it’s funded a decent amount of miniatures in the meantime. My PvP grind lasted a faithful week before I started getting bored and have missed 2-3 days in a row now. Might continue, might not, depends how I feel and if I have time to spare. Somewhat like my relationship with Teq, I pop in one day and then miss two or three days and back again.

Dark Souls – With attention falling off one major MMO, I have time to focus on singleplayer games. I’m still not sure what to make of this game. It kind of strikes me as a shared puzzle game, in the sense that it seems to have been built on purpose to have a difficulty that is soulcrushing alone, but it also seems to expect that people will discuss tactics online, write wikis and share guides and walkthroughs. There is also the repetition of each ‘stage’ of getting from bonfire to the end boss with enemies that are always in the same place and tend to pwn you UNLESS you hit upon and repeat certain strategies that counter them, in which case things become fairly simple.

I’m also somewhat confused in how to deal with the variable difficulty levels of the game. In that there are certain known ‘cheats’/’exploits’/’strats’ that can make fights a cakewalk, or you could choose to tackle the fights the hard way via your reaction times and ability to dodge. But then, is it really a cheat or just smart use of known weaknesses and part of the game, given that Dark Souls is all about finding the optimum solutions to puzzle fights?

Take the Abyss Demon. If you fight it the first time, you get a dinky sword hilt that does like 2 damage. Apparently your best bet for “legit” defeating it is to strip down nekkid for best mobility and use your fists, that also do 2 damage and hit faster. Goal: get behind the demon and wail away on its backside and/or dodge its telegraphed attacks and just jump in and jump out. OR you could back down and fight it the second time, in which case you get better weaponry and the ability to do a plunge attack on it to take off more of its hp. OR you could start with a class that does ranged magic damage OR even take advantage of its fire damage weakness and choose to start with black firebombs. That last one feels patently unfair, to the the demon. One hit takes off a good quarter of its hp or so.

But then, its presence at the very beginning of the game was patently unfair to the player to begin with, right?

I got smacked around by the Taurus Demon too many times to count, but patiently repeated over and over the attempt of using plunging attacks to kill it until it finally worked. The Bell Gargoyles utterly worked me over, until I finally gave up, became human and summoned Knight Solaire, where upon the nice NPC tanked them for me and I just smacked them from behind.

The Capra Demon necessitated numerous restarts, while I alternately pondered if I should grind for more bleed resist, grind for something to augment my weapon, grind for more levels, put on or take off more armor, or just keep -trying- to dodge it and its dogs’ attacks while making it up the stairs, trying to kill the dogs while evade it and plunge it, and mostly getting smooshed from the front while staggered by flanking dogs. It was not lost on me that this was theoretically an optional fight too. Finally, I decided that if I was willing to grind to defeat it, then I may as well just do the simplest grind possible – enough souls for a bunch of firebombs, which were then faithfully lobbed in following a guide video from -outside- the boss room, turning it deep fried from utter safety.

It’s stuff like that that utterly confuses me about this game. The game REWARDS this sort of behavior. Or rather, accepts it as a valid solution. Often, you get the same reward regardless of whatever strategy you used (though sometimes there are bonus rewards for doing something the game decides is worth giving a bonus for.)

The current boss that I was at, the Moss Butterfly, smacked my melee character around repeatedly from range before it even got to the stage where it moved within melee reach. Then I learned via reading up that a) I was using the wrong shield to block its primarily magic attacks, b) I was keeping the wrong distance and thus couldn’t dodge its attacks with enough predictability and c) since I was going to alter my strategy regardless the next time, I may as well go whole hog, go human, and summon the NPC that did RANGED damage so that she could smack it around while I just concentrated on not dying. Man, she barely gave me a chance to get a hit in.

Then there’s the potential of co-op multiplayer. Obviously not as popular now, but in theory, in its heyday, you could summon help to defeat some of these bosses, and dealing with them would be naturally A LOT easier if one person is tanking while another is striking from behind, rather than trying to solo tank / survive / run around behind it with dodgy camera and controls / sneak a hit in / get out of the way of the bosses’ return hit, etc.

So is Dark Souls hard or not?! I dunno!

Player deaths-wise, yes, you’ll go through a lot of them. But I play roguelikes where dying is half the fun and you’re expected to die to learn your way through encounters. Except Dark Souls isn’t a roguelike in the sense that you have a lot of variation from playthrough to playthrough (unless you choose to change it up.) The closest thing I can think of is that it’s a brutal puzzle game that you can choose to cheapen by reading a lot of walkthroughs and guides, or you’ll just repeatedly die and die until you devise a working ‘correct’ solution – sort of similar to a Sierra adventure game on steroids where you have to guess the exact word phrase to use or notice that one special out of place pixel or die and reload.

DarklandsJoseph Skyrim’s coverage of the game spurred me to dabble around with the classic for a night. Half of it was spent struggling with the manual and cluebook trying to figure out how to create a character, create a -functional- character and actually select a female image for my female characters and colorize them distinctively rather than have everything default to an identical confusing male knight in battle.

The other half was spent in a repeated grind cycle of sneaking around at night, fighting thieves in alleyways while trying not to die, saving and reloading, getting poorer and poorer while becoming more famous (figures, huh), alternating between making an innkeeper very rich and running out of the city to squat free-of-charge on some lord’s land while waiting -weeks- for wounds to heal.

Getting bored of this, I got a local quest to take on the local robber knight, went through a dozen saves of getting beat up by his men because one was too inexperienced and ill-equipped to handle them, finally hit upon a sequence that let me surround him alone with four very new adventurers and got lucky.

Now suddenly rich beyond my wildest newbie dreams, I went on a shopping spree. A test skirmish in the docks at night shows that I may have overdone it, because everybody is now encumbered and fighting worse than before. *sigh* Inventory management ahead for the next gameplay session.

Other Games – Picked up quite a haul with the Steam sales and Humble Bundles. Not sure when I’ll have time to get around to them, but on the to-try list: Gone Home, Gnomoria, Droid Assault, Anomaly 2, Tower Wars, Dust: AET, Deadlight, Pixeljunk Eden, Brothers, and Sang-Froid. Among others.

I’m staring at XCOM very hungrily and Witcher 2 always going on sale keeps reminding me that I’ve never made it through Witcher 1. *sigh* They’ll keep. I’m sure they’ll go on sale again at SOME point this new year.

A good deal of my game playing time has evaporated too because I’ve lost a week to reading a very intense and well-plotted web fiction serial.

Worm is a story about a teenage girl who gained bug powers and wanted to be a superhero. Except things go wrong, and she has to decide if she’s willing to do wrong things for the right reasons. It’s a setting where every character, hero or villain, is protagonist of their own personal story. Everyone is justified, in their own eyes, and conflict happens when motivations clash. People who loved City of Heroes should give this a shot. It’s darker in tone, but very well-written.

(This series was introduced to me via Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality fanfiction page, another good if lengthy read. A far more interesting, scientific and logical Harry Potter, perplexing all of Hogwarts. Don’t blame me if you end up losing hours to these links.)

Each chapter I go through, I’m in utter awe at how solid the writing craft is. Scenes force change. There’s cause and effect. Characters are compelling and have individual wants. Conflict, tension and suspense bleed through every page. Have trouble with plotting? Not this author, they keep coming up with the most compelling litany of things that could keep going wrong for the protagonist.

It’s bloody inspiring, that’s what it is, and I end up trying to devote some time to my own personal writing and solo roleplaying too.

Gaming and blogging time curtailed as a result. Will see you guys as and when there’s more stuff to talk about.

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