March in Review

UltrViolet from Endgame Viable planted a whimsical seed when he shared his February Progression Report using a timetracking software called ManicTime.

Hmm… sounds kinda fun, I thought, and decided to give the program a spin for March as well.

The graphs are a little hard to see unless you click and expand ’em, but I’ll try to summarize in text too.

week1

In Week 1, I was all about Minecraft, spending 16.7h that week. A hefty chunk of that was played on the weekend, with around 2-3 hours each weekday, dipping as my interest waned.

The cause of that waning interest? I started playing Grim Fandango (2.6h), having treated myself to the remastered edition as one of my anticipated games of 2015.

On replaying it, I realized that Grim Fandango’s greatest strength is in its audio – the voice actors nail their lines with perfect emotion and the music, while understated enough not to be annoying as you revisit each scene, conveys the mood to that ideal point where your imagination takes over and starts imagining what is left unsaid – the backstory, the sidelong quips that one ends up filling in.

Tim Schafer’s writing, of course, is spot on, with conversational lines speckled with humorous wordplay, but in my opinion, if the voice actors didn’t get it right, one wouldn’t want to select every option and sit through the delivery, grinning gleefully like the skulls in the game.

The remastered edition brings in mouse controls and a radial menu for commands that works decently, to the point where you don’t really notice the controls too much – which is far better than fighting the controls with every step, certainly.

You have the option of ‘tank controls’ too, aka ye olde keyboard operated style, and can even get an achievement for doing that the whole game, but I wussed out of that – it did occur to me that keyboard controls felt a little more immersive though, in that you feel like you’re moving Manny, as opposed to mouse controls where you’re clicking on the screen at one step removed and telling Manny where to go. Perhaps another time.

Guild Wars 2 stayed at a constant 6.5h on essentially standby mode, a half-hour for dailies most days with 1-2h longer spurts when I felt like Triple Trouble Wurm, or caught guild missions on Fridays.

week2

In week 2, Grim Fandango obsession had set in.

Finished it with a further 8.8h, which kinda surprised me at how long it took, I hadn’t realized that it contained so much criss-crossing from scene to scene, looking for one item or another. Guess one blanks out the tedium in one’s memories and only remembers the stories.

Guild Wars 2 had slightly more hours of play (11.1h) this week, mostly via attending a dungeon event on Saturday, iirc, making me stay online for longer.

I started casting around for another game to play, dabbling with the Steam free weekend of X1, X2, X3, X:Rebirth type games (a spaceship trade simulator with fairly non-intuitive controls, though it gets better with the latest Rebirth edition), a bit more Minecraft and the Talos Principle (a puzzle-story game in the vein of Portal with some interesting philosophical themes about God and AI – I’d like to play it more later but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for that week.)

week3

In Week 3, Endgame Viable again showed me the way with a casual post about how he’s started to appreciate Path of Exile as a low-energy game that can be played one-handed.

You know, I said to myself, you haven’t played PoE for a very long time and I can’t really remember why either, maybe GW2 came up with an update that tore my attention away and maybe it was my old computer blowing up and I forgot to reinstall everything that was on it.

Turns out that they were starting a new one-month league quite soon, in a few days, when I visited the website to redownload the game.

Gee, one month sounds like an interesting time period, short enough to focus on (as opposed to the usual three month leagues, which to me is like the normal game, an end point too far away to imagine, I’d probably lose interest in the game first), but long enough that it isn’t a race either (of which I would fail miserably at even being competitive.)

And they were offering cosmetic skins as prizes! That looked actually quite pretty! For tasks that almost seemed achievable by normal people as opposed to only achievable by PoE experts!

Well, ok, when your highest character ever is level 66, level 80 is a bit of a stretch. Killing a unique boss like Atziri is definitely a stretch goal, but hey, people speak of farming her as an endgame task. But 40 of 46 encounters with Tormented Spirits and Bloodlines mod magic creatures sound like one of those ‘play enough in the month to encounter them’ participation prize, ditto 18 of 21 Forsaken Masters missions.

Maybe, just maybe, I might be able to qualify for one or two shiny skins, with a super stretch goal of three or four.

Since the league hadn’t started yet, I thought I might as well get some practice in and try something I hadn’t done before (my old characters had one of those skill points completely reset things, which kinda stalled me on going further with ’em – who wants to screw up one’s build permanently when one can’t even remember much of the game, right?)

Conversation on Reddit was all about safe, easy builds for noobs who wanted to get some of the prizes. Flameblast and arc witch were some of the stuff that was mentioned, neither of which I had tried, but y’know, I had a low level witch I had been intending to make into a lightning throwing character.

Playing with Arc, it was.

She was in Standard league, so what the heck, just have fun, deck her out in some lowbie twink gear and run around. Hrm, this Lightning Tendrils gem seems new (It was. 1.3 update or some such.) DAMN, it hits 4 times and attacks super fast, with almost the same cone area as ground slam. But so so fast, look at my DPS climb.

Suffice to say that was one of the fastest characters I ever leveled, eventually slotting in Arc mid way. She was about level 55-ish when the new one-month league finally started.

10.8h of Path of Exile playtime, with an almost exponential climb in the above graph, except for Friday, which is GW2 Teq-Wurm-guild mission day. 8.7h for Guild Wars 2.

I dabbled with Assassin’s Creed (yes, I am still stuck on 1) too for 2.7h, before getting bored of the repetition for now.

week4

In week 4, I am officially in the throes of Path of Exile obsession with 20.9h.

There are a few weekdays where I’m busy and can’t play a thing, but when I can, it’s full steam ahead in the Bloodlines/Torment league.

Having cleverly outsmarted myself by playing a lightning thrower in Standard, I want to do something else for the actual league.

I decide on another build that looks fairly noob-safe and not really reliant on much traded-for gear (since I really loathe old fashioned whisper trading – talking with people is hard, and I don’t wanna get scammed or have to deal with the potential to be scammed – and would rather play self-found if not given any kind of automation or auction house.)

The dual flame totem blood magic marauder.

I’ve always been wanting to try totems. The description of blood magic has always scared me (spend life instead of mana for skills? wouldn’t I just kill myself spamming skills?) so it seemed safer to follow a tried-and-tested build that can cope with taking that node. Marauder is a comfortable tanky class that I’ve played before with molten strike and ground slam, so I know how to level it.

The build even helpfully provides leveling skill-tree setups, so that there isn’t too much guesswork in which path to go up first.

Best laid plans and all that.

Try as I might, I just can’t get a Greater Multiple Projectiles gem to drop yet, and the only quest rewarded one is via a Merciless difficulty quest. This makes my Flame Totems somewhat wimpier, though I did manage to get my hands on Added Chaos Damage, Fire Penetration and Faster Projectiles.

Instead, I end up leveling with a Searing Bond totem as well, whose Increased Burning Damage support gem helpfully dropped for me. The scaling on this particular skill is quite nuts, being super-forgivable and packing a hefty punch with only that support gem slotted. It does around 2-3x the DPS of my as yet not yet fully upgraded flame totem.

However, I’m not quite in a fully Searing Bond build (which I peeked at and it looks quite different, utilizing Elemental Equilibrium and an ice skill to inflict more flame vulnerability) so I’m still working towards getting the Flame Totems more scary.

Dual flame totems are interesting mobile flamethrowers, but because they don’t pack too much of a punch right now, they take a while to kill mobs.

Dual searing bond totems are amusing. In the words of a Youtube PoE streamer, it is sort of like Spiderman webslinging, where you build up a web of fiery lasers that melt things, and then move yourself around pulling a line of fire across foes. It’s a little more active than flame totems in that you need to be constantly repositioning, but it’s also annoying when mobs ignore your totems because they haven’t been hurt by them yet.

poe_creativity

I end up ad-libbing a curious mixture of the two for imo, the best of both worlds currently. I throw a flame totem down, whose flamethrower projectiles piss off any nearby mobs and encourages them to approach and kill the flame totem. Then I block the path with a searing bond totem to the side of the flame totem.

Now anything that approaches either totem ignites and gets set alight by the searing bond totem, getting constantly dps’ed. The flamethrower from the flame totem is also picking on at least one mob for extra dps.

The best part, anything that approaches me, crosses the last beam and also gets set on fire – which is something you don’t get with dual flame totems.

And if I feel like being active, I can pull the searing bond beam across anything this setup misses. If not, I just stand around and chill for a bit while the totems do the work and replace the totems as they die.

Leveling this character went a lot slower than the arc witch, but I think it’s finally coming into its own. I crossed level 55 the other day (where the arc witch was at) and am now level 60 in Act 3 Merciless, working my way towards the final Dominus.

Playing in softcore for now, since I’m an idiot that tends to die a bunch and I personally like blue over red anyway. Easier goal to possibly strive towards too.

6.4h for Guild Wars 2 that week, a pretty standard ‘waiting around’ sort of pace.

week5

The last week of March is more like a couple of days.

I was off on Monday, which is why Path of Exile playtime resembles that of Sunday, aka insanely obsessed. 18.6 hours and rising.

I also dabbled a little with Alien: Isolation (1.7h) , which was on Steam sale last weekend. Haven’t got very far into it, but it feels a lot like a first-person survival horror rather than a first-person shooter, which has fairly faithful nods back to the original Alien. A lot of sneaking around, dark places and shadows, barely seeing an Alien (except for one part where I was too slow and it came out to kill me for taking my time. Bah.)

GW2 over two days has been 0.5h – super quick dailies and then full steam ahead into Path of Exile.

I expect that it should slow down over the next few weeks, as I’m approaching the area where leveling begins to plateau off somewhat, leaving me trying to figure out the PoE map endgame once more.

This Summer’s Steam Sale Haul and Quick Reviews/Impressions

Whee!

The whole of last week has been a singleplayer Steam sale extravaganza indulgence.

This time, as some other bloggers have also resolved, I don’t intend to just buy and then promptly forget about them and never play them.

I’ve been buying a little more consciously, asking the question “Will I play and install this now, or at least sometime between now and December?”

(Considering my hard disk has only 10GB space left after installing a bunch of the latest haul, this does actually make a difference. I decided to put off Dishonored, fer instance, until the GOTY edition hits 75% off, probably during Winter sale or a daily deal, since it’s 9GB and hasn’t gone down as far as it could go.)

Then as Aywren in the link above mentioned, I proceed to install and at least play for long enough to give the game a fair shake. I’m a little less concerned about cleaving strictly to at least an hour and so on, probably because I don’t really dismiss games I choose to buy. -Something- about the game interested me to begin with, so I’m already motivated to give it a shot.

Should something start to turn me off from the game, I can usually put a finger on the specifics of why quite quickly and then make a decision to play on or “leave for another time.” That’s me. I have the opposite problem of not being able to throw away games.

Here’s the haul so far:

Monaco – Played 51 minutes – $1.49

A cute colorful top-down game with a unique style and flair, one takes on the roles of various crooks and criminals (such as a locksmith who picks locks, a mole-like digger of tunnels) and runs around interacting with objects related to the heist theme (locks to be picked, computers to be hacked, terminals to turn off laser motion detectors, bushes to hide and take cover in, etc.) There are guards to be evaded or slaughtered, depending on your preference and availability of any handy weapons, and generally some rather varied ‘flavor’ objectives (eg. one mission will have you escape a prison, another rescue someone, yet another retrieve a valuable object, etc.)

One couldn’t help but get the feeling that one was losing a distinct element of the fun by only playing it single-player. There does look to be a moderately intriguing overlapping storyline of some kind where various crooks tell their side of the story/heist, and also the possibility of beating your own time by accomplishing speed runs, but I just can’t shake the impression that this would be a lot richer played co-op. Dungeon Defenders is another game that felt like that, and to a lesser extent, Magicka also. This sort of deflated me from attempting the game further, because a) I can never seem to find people on at the right time to play these things with, and b) if I played it singleplayer now, wouldn’t I be spoiling my multiplayer experience on the off chance that I do?

Oh well. Filed for “Perhaps another day, with friends or when I finally get bored enough to see what the story is about by myself.”

State of Decay – Played 2 hours – $4.99

A purported zombie sandbox game I’d been keeping an eye on for a while, it popped up on consoles first, before finally making its way over to the PC.

I wanted to like it, but my first overwhelming impression was “OH GOD SO ORANGE.”

Someone made a stylistic choice of overwhelming the aesthetic with an orange tint, and for whatever reason, it doesn’t sit very well with me. It makes everything much harder to see, and I confess I almost look forward to night time when it just gets dark and shadowy and cooler in color temperature. I even Googled to see if there was a way to mod the awful orange out, and unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a simple fix, though it may be possible to manually edit some of the engine’s configuration settings or something like that.

Not willing to delve into the innards of the xml files just yet, I gritted my teeth through the orange to be dismayed yet again by the poorly animated models. I think I’ve gotten spoiled animation-wise after playing a sequence of games which, regardless of whatever faults one may think they have, are undeniably polished animation-wise: GW2, Dark Souls, Wildstar, XCOM, A Wolf Among Us and so on.

In State of Decay, one swings hopefully at the air with a melee weapon, assuming that one is doing damage to the zombies very near to you and seeing them recoil somewhat, despite never actually making contact.  Conversely, they come up near you and take swings at the air, which you -think- they’ve missed, but it turns out in the next second that the game will show you a lovingly animated sequence of the zombies grabbing and immobilizing you. *sigh*

Or I guess you shoot guns, which at least seem to work like how all FPSes work, but then there’s the worry of limited ammo supplies and all the noise you’re making. Or I guess you can creep slowly in slow motion everywhere, and we’ll see how long your patience lasts with doing that.

If one can get past these annoyances, there’s -some- potential in State of Decay. You get to gather a group of survivors, apparently characterised by an assortment of traits like “Team Mom” and “Cop” and “Liked Gardening” and so on. You can apparently work on befriending them enough to switch into their point of view and play them as your current protagonist. They have sufficient AI to accompany you and do a decent job defending you (and it’s a lot safer to let AI attack AI, given the cruddy animations.)

Much of the gameplay involves sneaking around and going to various houses and structures to search for supplies to fortify up your home base (wherever you’ve chosen to set it up) – a very standard zombie trope, and doing your best to make the surrounding areas safer by clearing out zombie infestations, etc.

I can’t help but get the impression that there are a lot of potential building blocks for someone to pick up and generate a decent emergent narrative out of, but that it’s still lacking a little something to make it happen more organically. One has to work at it quite a bit to craft some semblance of narrative.

So far, I got my survivors out of the tutorial area and to the initial home base of a church, meeting other survivors and am working to retrieve sufficient food, medicine and building materials to expand. We found other survivors and added them to our number, which was helpful for getting more hands and runners to take supplies back to home base without me having to haul each one back. I got a less melee-adept NPC killed by having her wander out alone at night looking for supplies when my more combat-oriented one was taking a break to rest off his fatigue. Oops? I wish I could say this was some kind of tragedy but honestly, I had no connection with her beyond being a controllable avatar/tool I could use to do what I wanted to do, and my only worry is that I’m down to two controllable characters from three.

Maybe if I got adept enough at the game that I could actually roleplay them differently, but frankly, survival needs all force them to behave the same anyway. I need supplies to expand, so -everyone’s- got to go out and search for them and bring them back. I only have so many guns and ammo, I can’t just keep shooting willy nilly so everybody better get used to sprinting a lot and meleeing to level up your fighting/survival skills. Who knows, maybe it’s different later on. Maybe not.

The last aspect of State of Decay that was intriguing was that the game supposedly goes on without you and your input. Your survivors will continue to do things or whatever. So far, the second time I logged in after 12 hours, there wasn’t much change. So I’m leaving it for a longer period and seeing what happens after a week or so. We’ll call it a mourning period for the NPC I managed to run into a roomful of zombies. (Well, duh, one has to open doors and walk into rooms to look for supplies, right?) If they all end up starving to death, I can’t say I’d be terribly crushed, or further motivated to keep playing.

“One more try, then possibly shelved until further notice.”

Shadowrun: Dragonfall DLC & Don’t Starve: Reign of Giants DLC – Played: Not yet – $9.98

I’m intending to get around to Shadowrun soon.

I’ve been putting off Don’t Starve because I’m kind of scared of the increased seasonal difficulty, to be honest. My last Don’t Starve game has me relatively set-up aboveground, but I still haven’t mastered safe cave exploration by any means (Depth Worm attacks past Day 100 are something I’m still struggling to solve) and have never ever gotten to the Ruins level yet. The thought of making aboveground not-safe-anymore with the Reign of Giants DLC is frightening. I just picked it up now because I’m sure within these six months between now and winter sale, I’d want to be playing Don’t Starve again and might eventually progress to the point of being able to take on the DLC.

XCOM: Complete – Played 27 hours – $16.49

In my book of 75% off deals, I paid for it too soon because $16.50 does not, by any means, resemble $7.49 or $10.19 type of sale prices.

I also don’t give a shit about sticking to my miserly ways after playing the demo and LOVING this game. It’s a miracle I managed to wait as long as I did, I think.

I missed the XCOM classics during their original era, but gave them a try during a Steam sale or other. I remember being utterly bamboozled by the arcane interface and lack of any explanation whatsoever (Ah, those good old DOS days when you just get thrown into the deep end and/or have to read manuals as thick as a flight simulator’s to play ’em), struggled to do anything, struggled with DOS/Windows incompatibilities and crashes, and got half of my squad or more massacred in the first fight because one had very little clue on how and where to even begin playing.

The updated XCOM does away with all that, providing a touch more modern graphics, a slicker (if console-like) interface, a lot more handy in-the-moment tutorials and pop-up tooltips and explanations. It also provides a relatively interesting beginning, middle, end narrative to overlay over the actual gameplay of mission to mission randomized map turn-based combat.

I enjoyed this game so much I managed to complete an entire campaign (just the base game, on the easiest setting, since I’m a beginner to XCOM and a wuss after the ‘classic’ experience) this week, and have just started a new one with the expansion options and a more normal difficulty setting. I intend to cover this more in a separate post, so I’ll stop here.

Conclusion: “So worth it. Playing the shit out of it. XCOM adds a ton more rep to Firaxis’ awesomeness, as befits the company that made Alpha Centauri.”

Epic Battle Fantasy 4 – Played: Not yet on Steam, Probably a couple hours on Kongregate – $2.99

Here’s an interesting one. It’s a free flash game that I tried for the hell of it when I was bored waiting for a boss to spawn in Guild Wars 2 and needed something on the side to keep me going. It’s not going to win any super-professional graphics awards, but it’s not ugly and has a relatively consistent anime-ish look to it.

It follows a lot of the standard JRPG tropes. You move an avatar around, fight a bunch of monsters, leveling up in experience, items and gold with each encounter. Combat is turn-based Final Fantasy-eseque, you have your skills and spells that you select to do damage to monsters, they do the same to you, there are elemental resistances and susceptibilities and so on to keep in mind and exploit.

If you presented it to me right off and asked me to pay for it sight unseen, I probably wouldn’t. But because I had nothing else to do and wanted some nostalgic but quick-firing spurts of JRPG style action, I ended up playing it and getting sucked into its basic storyline (retrieve magical plot devices of some kind, meet a host of characters to join up with you along the way, etc.) and rather habitually cranking it up every time I had to wait for Teq or Wurm to spawn and enjoying the wait time where I otherwise wouldn’t have.

I unfortunately fell out of the habit after losing interest chasing Teq/Wurm daily (plus the wait times got more streamlined and the TTS leaders started to demand more un-AFK attention for shorter periods of time, so there was less opportunity to play a JRPG in the other screen uninterrupted)  and stopped playing Epic Battle Fantasy 4 as a result. It left me with a favorable impression though, and when it got to an affordable amount on sale, I decided to pick it up to show my support and thanks to the developer for entertaining me when I needed it.

“I may get around to playing it later, maybe figure out to transfer my Kongregate save to Steam, or not. But not at this moment. Still, it’s definitely worth trying out for free.”

Sleeping Dogs DLC Collection – Played: Not yet – $6.99

As mentioned in an earlier sequence of posts, I did quite enjoy Sleeping Dogs and was intending to get the DLC.

I’m not entirely sure when I’ll find the time to play it, but I’m sure an opportunity will crop up between now and the winter sale. At 80% off, it was a steal anyway, and worth feeding back a little money into the developer’s pockets (minus Steam’s cut, of course) for some hope of a sequel.

The Wolf Among Us – Played: 9 hours – $8.49

Another slightly overpriced from 75% off game that I don’t bloody care about sticking to my rules because it’s SO BLOODY GOOD.

It -says- I played it for 9 hours, but it feels like a lifetime. It’s THAT rich and atmospheric and densely packed with story. I played it in one continuous marathon sequence because it was impossible to put down.

It’s a Telltale Game. You know how they go by now. A mix of the adventure-ish and their own unique dialogue/meaningful choice genres that add up to some kind of self-constructed self-tailored narrative assembled out of a couple of branching storyline possibilities.

Personally, I liked it a TON more than the Walking Dead that catapulted Telltale Games to fame. The Walking Dead was *sigh* zombies, mixed with a dose of ordinary people in a hopeless setting. Bleak, apocalyptic, full of no-win scenarios that posit the despairing theme of all the ways people will sacrifice their humanity in order to survive in the new dog-eat-dog nihilistic world, or die. How one doesn’t end up feeling depressed, is beyond me.

The Wolf Among Us very faithfully recreates the Vertigo Comics brand – a name which is synonymous to me with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Mike Carey’s Lucifer, and of course, Bill Willingham’s Fables, which it draws from. Vertigo Comics, to me, is about adult/mature (but not necessarily pornographic) themes. They veer a little or a lot darker than what you might expect from the word ‘comics’ in a superhero sense, and tend to mix in a dose of fantasy or the supernatural, but they’re not necessarily depressing. A number of them follow a more epic heroic or superheroic story arc structure too.

It mixes in a dose of the very noir Sin City, with its stylish graphical flair and dark urban underworld, but gives it color and brings to life a series I’d previously never followed. (Which I’m now correcting by going through a bunch of Fables comics and enjoying them too.)

You play Bigby Wolf, otherwise known as the Big Bad Wolf of fabled fame, and end up quickly embroiled in a murder mystery that has ramifications for all of Fabletown (the tiny community where the Fables reside in our mundane world.) The game does a good job introducing its settings and characters in an understandable fashion to anyone unfamiliar with the Fables universe, and serves as a rather intriguing prequel to the Fables comics series. (On reading the comics, there are a number of significantly more poignant echoes regarding certain happenings, due to having played the game.)

I really enjoyed the whole thing because it felt like the protagonist The Wolf Among Us had a lot more character than Walking Dead’s protagonist. Maybe it’s just me projecting because I have this thing about wolves *cough* but I do think Bigby Wolf feels more capable and a man of action, with more freedom to go dark and “be bad” as befits the story. In the Walking Dead, the protagonist feels like more of a blank slate, where one is gingerly stepping around trying not to be politically incorrect or racist, and applying one’s own social mores and morals onto a tabula rasa cardboard character to act as an extension of the self. In the Walking Dead, Lee is the everyman, it’s up to you to shape him however you like. In The Wolf Among Us, Bigby Wolf is larger than life, he’s a Fable, and he’ll never let you forget that he’s the Big B. Wolf.

I found choices much easier to make as a result, and was never stuck agonizing over “what is the right decision” as I did in the Walking Dead. After all, you never knew what kind of a horrible unexpected effect and nasty plot twist your trying to be good in Walking Dead would do to you later. In The Wolf Among Us, the right decision was always the one that Bigby Wolf (as -I -conceived him) would do, and damn the consequences, Bigby would be up to dealing with whatever it was that happened after.

The story also flowed a lot more naturally and followed narrative logic and conventions – reflecting a more cause-and-effect style fairy tale – rather than Walking Dead’s unending litany of “hey I just thought of a great moral dilemma to dump these characters into next! Let’s figure out how to join these together with the bare minimum of story, probably by just saying they walk/drive to the next place where this happens!”

My naturally played save game is ready and waiting for Episode 5 with bated breath. In the meantime, plans are underway to re-enjoy the story at a more leisurely pace, probably at least twice more, to see the roads not taken.

Is there any conceivable reason why you shouldn’t get this game? Only if you really don’t like dark, noir, urban fantasy themes and think they’re Satanic or something.

“If you don’t buy this game, I’ll huff-and-puff and blow the money out of your wallet to help you get it.”

Magicka: Dungeons and Gargoyles DLC – Played: Not Yet – $0.99

Continuing in my theme of buying super-micro-sized transactions to support a game I really enjoyed once upon a time and hope to get around to playing again, preferably with other people, but I’ll solo it otherwise.

“SoonTM

 Space Hulk – Played: Not Yet – $2.50

It’s a Warhammer 40k game. It’s SPACE HULK.

Yeah, I understand it’s probably a buggy horrific mess of a WH40K Space Hulk game, which is probably why the price has collapsed so quickly, but for a couple of bucks, it’s worth trying out because it’s SPACE HULK where you get to shoot tyranids in Terminator armor.

“Will share first impressions soon, when I get around to trying it.”

Civilization V: Brave New World DLC – Played: Not Yet – $7.49

Well, Civ V’s a good game. It’s the expansion I don’t yet own, and maybe need to give me a kick in the pants to have another go someday soon.

I’m sure sometime between now and Winter, I’ll have the urge for a game that can create a decent enough emergent narrative, and I’ve found Civ V to be not half-bad at producing these sorts of alternate history stories.

“Be on the lookout for a grand tale of warring nations, maybe sometime this Fall?”

So, in total: $62.40 for 6 games and a lot of DLC for 6 games, some of which are expansions in their own right.

This or a full-retail-price box on launch day?

I’ll take this any day.

*swims around happily in games like Scrooge McDuck swims in coins* (Yes, DuckTales is also on the wishlist. But not this Summer.)

Path of Exile: First Impressions

Shiny! Such shiny! As shiny as it gets in shadowy Path of Exile...

I’m finding it nigh impossible to blog about Path of Exile.

Every time, I start the game going “Ok, today is the day I will take some screenshots and, during gameplay, try to formulate some coherent thoughts with which to begin a blog post…”

…I end up surfacing nearly three hours later with nary a thought in my head beyond having played inventory tetris, trying to figure out the complex barter/vendor system currency to determine if I should identify items before selling or sell them unidentified, plotting the next target skill I want for my character after having explored the next tiny offshoot of PoE’s crazy skill tree, desperately trying to stop myself from the “just one more map, one more quest, one more waypoint” compulsion because it’s way past midnight already.

And barely any screenshots either, because there was just too much action going on.

Really now, be honest, would you stop to screenshot, or would the first thing on your mind be to check out all that shiny loot?
Really now, be honest, would you stop to screenshot, or would the first thing on your mind be to check out all that shiny loot?

Also, Path of Exile is dark.

As in, the aesthetic is grim n’ gritty, grimdark, shadowy dark, and downright gloomy.

It is as filled with black and mud brown and shades of putrescent green and grey as Wildstar explodes with cartoon rainbow laser light show effects.

This is a stated preference by the devs, so it is what it is.

Neither aesthetic is a problem for me, but it might be for you.

And it certainly doesn’t make the game very screenshot friendly.

It sort of reminds me of the period where I played a Dark/Dark defender in City of Heroes
It sort of reminds me of the period where I primarily played a Dark/Dark defender in City of Heroes and through all my spell effects, became a connoisseur of all things dark: darkity dark, dark tinged with green, dark tinged with purple, black tinged with purple, dark lightened with grey, absolute black, and abyss.

My very first few battle encounters in Path of Exile were mostly of the “I can’t see shit, or what I’m hitting, or IF I’m hitting at all” variety.

During my graphics tweaking for performance, I turned off shadows and think it’s a much better visual improvement to not have even more monster-shaped patches of black moving about obscuring the action.

Your field of vision also drops as you lose health, so things can get claustrophobic in a hurry.
Your field of vision also drops as you lose health, so things can get claustrophobic in a hurry.

Despite the lack of photogenic appeal, Path of Exile has a powerful draw in other ways.

Its Diablo roots, for one.

The general gameplay of these types of games involves lots of clicking, lots of mobs that die in a few hits per encounter to make you feel powerful, and waterfalls of loot.

Which you then sift through, learning to ignore the lower tier items and leave them on the ground in short order, and being thrilled to make out like a bandit when you get a lucky desirable rare drop from RNG.

Growing steadily more powerful from leveling, picking up skills and loot with better stats, so you can go to harder areas and kill bosses, which usually have a much higher reservoir of health and more interesting attacks and patterns to learn and overcome.

Plus, the ‘trash’ mobs start their own ramp ups in power, skills used and start using various sorts of movement tactics, etc.

Unsoweiter, challenge and difficulty rising to unimaginable levels, and you eventually finding your way to a comfortable, profitable level of challenge and trying to push  it a little higher when you think you can.

Path of Exile does this very well.

I earlier criticized Neverwinter for being simplistic in its combat, because it mostly involved clicking (or clicking and holding) and waiting for mobs to die.

In Neverwinter, there was very little discernable difference in the pattern while killing kobolds, orcs, magical zombies, or human bandits. There were always little groups of minion health mobs which could be cleaved through using autoattacks or a wide aoe sweep skill.

Periodically one or two medium health melee mobs that would use a three-quarter AoE attack hitting front and sides (solution: dash through mob to get to its back, turn around, continue hitting.)

Periodically one or two medium health caster mobs that would use a targeted AoE attack, centered either around the player or itself (solution: dash out of the AoE field, continue hitting mob when safe to do so.)

Periodically a large slow attacking big telegraph ogre-like mob that would take eons to swing (solution: treat much like melee mob, dash around to its back and whack while it is stuck in a slow frontal attack animation.

The most complex thing I encountered in Neverwinter was attempting to solo the starting five-man dungeon The Cloak Tower with just a cleric hireling and me. This mostly enforced understanding of the above tactics as each mob had larger health bars and so took longer to whittle down.

The trickiest and main cause of initial repeated death was the first boss, who was a caster type who would summon two medium melee types when it got down to 3/4 health, creating overlapping zones of serious damage that became tricky to avoid.

Eventually, I powered through one melee mob using healing potions to get rid of the overlapping kill zone, and proceeded to learn in depth how to best avoid the caster boss – swing three times, completing one attack animation chain, start moving one quarter of a circle clockwise or anticlockwise to move out of the way of the AoE it would cast, swing three times, move again.

In Neverwinter, the skill tree mostly involves increasing percentage damage, or percentage defences. Lateral viable options are lacking, reducing depth.

I have an AoE skill? Well, use it when I have multiple mobs, and just keep spamming it for extra damage because it doesn’t cost me anything to use it regardless.

I have a skill that does damage and heals me for a bit of the damage done? Spam whenever off cooldown.

I have a skill that knocks an enemy prone? Oh. For once, I actually have to think about timing. Let’s use it on vulnerable mobs (aka non-bosses) when they’re starting their aoe telegraph attack so that I have more freecast attack time then! Still spammed whenever off cooldown.

In Path of Exile, you do click, or click and hold, and wait for mobs to die…

…but you probably would have done well to think about exactly how you were planing on getting them to die in the first place.

poe_skilltree

It begins with the crazy looking skill tree – of which this is only a partial shot.

On character creation, you get to pick one of six different classes. (The seventh class, the Scion, unlocks after you’ve nearly played through the standard game once, I believe.)

Three classes are aligned with the major attributes Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence as pure representatives of that attribute. The Marauder is the Strength brute, bringing to mind something hard-hitting and very tanky and armor/resistance based. The Ranger is your Dexterity rep, conjuring images of something fast-hitting, nimble and evasive, possibly using bows or dual-wielding weapons. The Witch is the Intelligence based spellcaster.

Then you have the hybrid classes. A Strength-Intelligence hybrid, the Templar. A Strength-Dexerity hybrid, the duelist. And finally, the Dexterity-Intelligence Shadow.

Each class begins at a different position on the crazy skill tree, so they have easier access to certain traits over others for cheaper skill point cost.

The Scion, of course, sits at the very center, open to all possibilities, inviting massive theory-crafting for those who have finished the initial game and want something even more complex but flexible and high potential.

It’s a little insane to try and grok it all the moment you begin, so I decided not to make the attempt and just settle on focusing on learning about the tiny area my character started out at, and had more immediate access to.

poe_shadow

I picked The Shadow, which is something a little uncharacteristic of me. I tend to like the tanky melee Strength type classes, but thought it might be interesting to see how the other two attributes would fare, as a hybrid.

Turns out, bloody well.

Even in the immediate area, there are options. You could choose to go the intelligence path and bump up stats, or the intelligence route and increase spellcasting attack speed or elemental damage percentage (implying you’re a more caster type of Shadow), or you could go the dexterity route and increase projectile damage (implying shooty Shadow) or one-handed melee weapons (the more up-close-and-personal type) or straight dexterity increases.

From there again, casters could branch into lightning, cold or fire type of improvements to their spells. Melee folk could choose increased one-handed melee weapon physical damage (which also  applies if you’re dual-wielding two one-handed weapons) or dual wielding bonuses.

And nothing whatsoever stops you from going up or downward the tree to pick up some life and mana bonuses, and grab that caster or melee portion, even if you started on the other path to begin with.

On and on, making stuff very complex indeed.

Since I was just beginning and playing on the easiest normal difficulty, I opted to bother less with learning most optimal theorycrafting and just went the “pick what sounds fun” route. The first character can always be ruined in the name of learning the system, after all.

I generally just looked for the nearest big circles and decided what I wanted more of, and aimed to plot the best course towards those desirables.

In this case, I went a stabby style rogue dual-wielding weapons, attacking fast and trying to crit a lot.

I initially left it open in case I wanted to switch from daggers to swords or claws or whatnot, but as luck would have it, I got some rather decent dagger drops and I’m seriously considering specializing now and leaving the other weapons for another character on another playthrough.

poe_reave

Adding to the delightful case of options are the skills.

You pick them up via gems, they’re not automatically given to you when choosing a class or going down the skill tree.

Socketing them into your gear allows them to be used and assigned to various buttons, and again, there appears to be a limit for the number of skills you can have in play at one time – similar to nearly all newer MMOs of the TSW, GW2, Wildstar ilk so that you pick and choose those that best synergize and work for your desired playstyle.

There are additional support gems that can be connected to the skill gems, to give things like increased critical damage or more projectiles, and so on.

Each requires things like having the correct color socket, or connecting sockets, so a whole minigame of using orbs to alter sockets (and stats) as desired is formed to complement inventory tetris.

In this case, Reave became my bread-and-butter mind-blowing attack skill.

As a dual-wielding dagger rogue-alike, I can crit ordinary minion-type mobs for a heavy amount. This skill turns my single target attack into an AoE. That increases in size with  each hit.

A good chain with an onrush of hordes of small mobs becomes a delicious spectacle of mobs exploding in unison.

poe_reaveaoe

Some, pretty far away from where I was standing, even. (My reave has stacked up to 8 times, as indicated in the upper left corner.)

Naturally, I need mana to feed these, so it was natural to start exploring up the skill tree for stuff that gave back mana on kill.

And I started looking for gear that gave back life on hit or kill, because I’m lazy to quaff potions on a regular basis and would rather save them for PANIC situations.

Did I just ruin the game? Did I turn it into a mess of simple clicking to kill things?

Hell, no.

The next couple maps I went through started introducing mobs that leap onto you (necessitating evasive movement through clicking to avoid the leap)

…mobs that shot arrows and moved back when you tried to melee them (separating themselves from aoe attack damage)

…mobs that fired magical projectiles at you (kinda hard to melee kill things if you’ve just caught 10 frost bolts to the face trying to get close)

…mobs that raised a ton of minions (necessitating search and destroy, though the minions were easy enough to carve through with reave) and my favorite…

poe_explode

Exploding mobs.

I highlight this one because it neatly countered the strategies I had developed.

I’d taken to raising minions like zombies and skeletons, because I found it fun and they were handy temporary tanks to shift aggro to, while I ran about and amok in their midst stabbing and killing stuff. (I hear minions are much less viable in the late game, or at higher difficulties, but eh, I’m a ways from that yet.)

Well, exploding mobs blow up minions.

If I go and attack them by myself, they explode, and their explosion takes out other mobs that explode, or my AoE reave explodes them all at once, and guess what… surprise surprise, -I- explode.

This one totally forced a strategy change by learning to -not- attack on sight and let them run close, triggering their explosion animation, which one then quickly ran away from and let them explode by themselves, hopefully taking out all nearby exploders as well.

Boss fight strategies are also different, due to the amount of health they have.

I usually end up stacking a DoT poison-like venom strike, along with ordinary attacking, and running around evasively and quaffing potions like there’s no tomorrow.

I’ve also tried an animate weapon strategy, where I bring in my zombie minions, raise skeletons, and prepare in advance weapons which get thrown onto the ground and turned into animated minions to add damage and deflect aggro.

(Animate weapon is an interesting skill as it sort of makes all the white throwaway loot on the ground relevant again. If it’s a melee weapon, and under the level of your gem, you can sacrifice it and turn it into a minion instead – but you lose the loot drop.)

I have also been dying to try my new situational skill out on a proper boss.

poe_vaalskeleton

This is a Vaal version of Summon Skeletons.

Vaal gems are corrupted forms of a skill gem, that are quite a bit more powerful than the normal version. They’re obtained via little side maps that have additional conditions (eg. increased size of mob spawns, shocking or frost patches on the ground, etc.) to make encounters harder.

For example, the normal Summon Skeletons conjures two skeleton warriors at a time, and limits me to 4 of them in play at once.

The Vaal version conjures an ARMY.

A whole bunch of warriors, a few archers and mages and a general that gives them buffs.

The catch is that Vaal gems require souls to work.

So essentially, you run around killing stuff on the map, building up soul power for your Vaal gem, charging it up for one glorious unveiling – hopefully at a good time.

Sort of like a situational elite.

On a big and populous enough map, you can do it more than once, of course. Just depends on souls… Death death murder kill nom more souls.

And the beauty of it is, not all Shadows need to play how I play.

If I chose differently, I could have been a bowcaster. Lots of shooty, maybe some AoE cold spells to help slow things down for more pewpew. Maybe I would still throw in minions as mobile tank pets.

Or I could have jumped down a sword and shield route and visited the strength and armor side a little more (though perhaps ignoring the intelligence portion may be less effective than beginning a str/dex class indeed, but I -could- do it if I chose.)

Or maybe a dual claw evasive life regen Shadow channeling Wolverine for all he’s worth.

Needless to say, this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the other five classes that I still haven’t played nor seen much of their skill gems or tree yet.

Frankly, the only negative thing I can think to say about Path of Exile is its connectivity issues.

On starting the launcher, it occasionally pops up with a “Connection Failure: Unable to connect to patching server message.” One has to repeatedly launch the game and -hope- that one will eventually contact the patching server at some point.

Strangely enough, I don’t really face disconnection issues once on a map (though some do, according to forum reports, and I’ve had it happen once in a blue moon), but more often face problems during the transition from one map to another.

Sometimes, the server(s) just seem to lose hold of my client and go, “Nope, not talking to you anymore” and I get dropped back to the login screen while changing zones.

This happens on both American and Australian server gateways, so I dunno… Seems like the game just gets temperamental sometimes.

Other times, I play with nary a hitch at all.

Your mileage may vary.

The good news is that the instance states save.

For around 8-15 minutes, even if you leave via portal to go to a town, or unexpectedly fall off the map via disconnecting, what you’ve already cleared stays cleared, so you can run around, travel and make progress with exploration without having to wade through unending hordes.

If you WANT the unending hordes, then ctrl+clicking and zoning in will renew the instance on demand.

Best of both worlds, really.

Payment model-wise, the damn thing is free.

Really. Honest. And the devs hold to what they call “ethical microtransactions” in their store.

Which generally means costuming and visual and vanity perks… like shiny wings and shiny armor.

They do also sell character slots and bank/stash space, but imo, this has been an acceptable ‘convenience’ microtransaction in play for a long time now in assorted games.

You are apparently also allowed to make multiple free accounts to ‘mule’ if you’re unwilling to drop any cash on the game, but I suspect by the time you find the need for that many characters and stash space, you’re committed enough to the game to give them $5-$15 for the peace of mind and convenience of not needing to juggle multiple accounts.

(Still, if you’re a broke and starving student or artist or unemployed, the option is there!)

Conclusion?

I will be playing Path of Exile.

I will be playing it a lot.

Sneaking in time between all the other games on my plate.

It will have a place enshrined in my list of games to play along with Torchlight (and if I ever got around to it, Torchlight 2) where Diablo III did not even get me to buy a copy.

And I suspect a couple months down the road or sooner, alt-holic me will be paying Grinding Gear Games for more character slots because two is never enough, and everyone will be happy…

…living happily ever after in the grimdark land of Wraeclast.

Neverwinter: First Impressions

First Impressions

If Dungeons and Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online had a baby, that baby would be Neverwinter…

And when I say “baby,” I mean exactly that.

As in, it seems to be the much more simplistic version of either game named above.

The default UI is remarkably reminiscent of LOTRO with its text font and tiny size with elaborate button graphics on the skills you can barely make out at the default size.

nw_miniui

I mean… really? Can’t see nuthing.

It joins LOTRO as being the second game where I felt the need to bring up the UI beyond 100% and magnify it to like 1.3x.

nw_largerui

I may have overcompensated a little, but at least I can see some of the icons now.

(Somewhere out there, the dev that spent their time coloring in the icon graphics and backgrounds is celebrating.)

Quest gameplay-wise, it feels like a version of DDO where you talk to NPCs, get quests, then run to ye olde dungeon or adventure instance where you then get your own personal dungeon crawl.

nw_sewercrawl

Or sewer crawl.

The good news is that these personal instances are great on FPS.

Even on my ailing computer, I can hit 40-60FPS in these places.

The bad news is that I managed to pick the day some new update dropped to try the game, so the central city of Protector’s Enclave – where the game first drops you right after completing the tutorial (kinda neat in that you don’t have to go through numerous starter zones to get there) – was an utter rubberbanding lagfest of epic proportions.

I'm sure it's a nice city... if the textures loaded in, and if I could actually move...
I’m sure it’s a nice city… if the textures loaded in, and if I could actually move…

Framerates alternated between 9-1o FPS if I was lucky, and this is probably the first MMO I’ve encountered whose FPS indicator bothered to show FPS below 1 in decimal points. (Yeah, 0.3FPS, such awesome!)

One pretty neat thing that Neverwinter has is the ability to adjust graphics card-dependent and CPU-dependent graphics separately.

Landmark’s FPS indicator taught me that my CPU tended to be the weaker of my pair, so I cranked it down to near minimal, giving up view and draw distance, and was able to get my GPU settings  up to a nice looking medium. This at least gives broader options for people to adjust what they can or can’t give up for smoother gameplay. (I generally don’t need shadows or a gazillion physics particles flying around just to make things look ‘better’ and more busy, for example.)

Tradespam was running rampant in the big city, being spammed faster than I could move, along with cryptic LFGs of strange abbreviations for content I assume was for super max leveled elder game players.

Welcome to gibberish edition.
Welcome to gibberish edition. Let’s see: goldseller spam, high-end microtransaction trades and holy trinity/need correct class and gear for group problems of some sort or other…

One generally ignores those and lets them scroll by as stuff I won’t understand as a newbie vacationer anyway, but everyone’s personal mileage for tolerating those is different.

Along with the ubiquitous lockboxes, whose drop rate is fairly insane.

It's all rainbow colors, it must be neat stuff, I guess!
It’s all rainbow colors and much blue and purple, it must be neat stuff, I guess!

Fortunately, I have no idea what any of those words mean, so it’s eminently ignorable for my vacationing purposes.

(I did manage to sell off 8 of them on the auction house, so -someone- out there is buying them…)

Others may find it more difficult to ignore, similar to how I personally have trouble ignoring the existence of raids in traditional MMOs being heralded as the pinnacle of existence and all the good gear being available only there.

The difference to me is that I’m paying $15 a month in those games, same as everyone, and would rather not have my preferred playstyles treated like second class citizens.

Here, I’m paying a big fat $0, so little inconveniences are to be expected. (The trick is to have the inconveniences not be game-breaking and encouraging quitting out of frustration over maybe sometime converting into a paying customer.)

I guess it may boil down to essentially a difference of philosophy. Traditional sub-based raid games say, “We start at an egalitarian playing field of $15/month, and it’s what you choose to do with your time that determines how far up you go. Take the game rules for what they are and put up with any inconveniences and annoyances to get there, no two ways around this.”

Free to play games say, “You can come try out our game with no obligations whatsoever, though you may have to put up with some inconveniences and annoyances along the way.”

Bad ones continue, “If you want to get rid of all the nuisances and get far up in the elder game, you’re going to have to spend X sum of money, no two ways around this.” Where X is a substantially larger sum than $15/month.

Good ones say, “You can do it with money, or you can do it with time, up to you, the choice is yours.” And usually the average X is ballparked around $15/month.

(I’d talk about buy to play too, but that usually just means “Kindly pay us the sum of a normal single-player game up front for the work we’ve already put in, and you can enjoy the basic game more or less feature complete.”)

I tend to prefer “the choice is yours” games over the “no two ways around this” games.

Back to Neverwinter and the baby analogy.

Said baby appeared to have been stolen from its crib by Cryptic Studios, who really wanted a kid of their own and tried to do nice things for it, but seemed generally confused about bringing up a child, and who eventually threw up their hands and gave it to foster parents Perfect World International, who are at least giving food to the kid and keeping it alive, but only insofar as it can work for them in their sweatshop.

The hand of Cryptic Studios can be seen in three things: the character creator, the combat system and the foundry system.

Character Creation

nw_charactercreator

While not as expansive as City of Heroes, the character creator affords a very decent range of options while still keeping to an immersive thematic feeling that keeps half-orcs looking different in skin tone and bulk from elves, and so on.

Hair, faces, eyes, scarring and tattoos, numerous sliders for tweaking face and body shapes, Neverwinter’s got it.

There’s even a flavor option to choose your place of origin, a la LOTRO’s characters hailing from various regions, and to take your pick from a number of Forgotten Realms deities to follow. Plus an optional biography space to add your character’s bio that will be visible to other players, similar to City of Heroes.

It did really help to bring out the lore aspect, aided by my personal familiarity and love for the Forgotten Realms setting (if a generation or two before the stupid Spellplague – repeated apocalypses conveniently timed to coincide with new editions get old fast) and utilized that prior IP knowledge to garner a bit of quick buy-in with the game.

Quest writing-wise, it also reminds me of City of Heroes. Decent enough, very wordy, recreating some of that tabletop or singleplayer RPG feeling in talking to NPCs and getting a long story about why you need to go here and there, kill ten kobolds, pick up ten crates or play through one instance or another.

A considerable amount of the text appears to be voiced, for the main storyline anyway, which adds an interesting touch – though I must admit to rather rapidly running out of patience hearing a voice read the text to me and quickly clicking through to continue.

Combat

The combat system feels very simplistic.

Even more basic than City of Heroes started with, if that can be believed, as if they ran out of game designers that could manage spreadsheets… or were maybe setting themselves up for a console MMO.

Left click for basic quick attack, right click for harder hitting drawn out attack, maybe a handful of extra skills more to be earned slowly as you go up in levels. Six classes or so. with some of the most awkward sounding names I’ve ever heard – Control Wizard, Great Weapon Fighter, Hunter Ranger and three others I barely recall, a rogue, a tank and a cleric type, I think.

It’s like they had to specify, oh no no, you can’t actually play a full out wizard… you only get a wizard stuck in the role of cc.

Or guess what, not only can you pay an extortionate amount to become Drizzt Do’Urden, ride a giant spider and have a cool panther, you get to be a ranger and a hunter all rolled into one! Because WoW hunter is cool. LOTRO and Forgotten Realms Ranger is cooler. And naturally Neverwinter HUNTER RANGER must be the coolest!

(Struggling not to die from laughing here…)

Having just come from games like Guild Wars 2 and Wildstar, the active dodging they tried to implement in Neverwinter feels decidedly sluggish in comparison.

It’s not as responsive as either game, for one. You have to hold down shift+direction a lot longer to maybe dash somewhere, if your keypress registered at all.

There didn’t seem to be any way to quickly move out of range of regular melee attacks, nor was circle strafing a very good strategy to avoid getting it, because your attack animations rooted you in place for a couple seconds (an old City of Heroes thing that seemed to be have been carried over in the engine.)

Dashing or dodging out of the way seemed to be only mostly useful for the super slow and very obviously telegraphed attacks – either big red AoE circles or large bulky giant types moving a big club in freeze frame slow motion in an attempt to hit you.

While this seemed rather retardedly obvious to avoid, I learned why they couldn’t make the animations any faster… because the dashing doesn’t respond any quicker than that.

It might be latency at work again, but I had a 5o-75% chance of getting out of the way in time of any of these very blatantly obvious telegraphs – either because the dash key wasn’t responding the instant I pressed it, or because I was locked in a basic attack animation (well, I have to try and do -some- damage to it, right?)

Neverwinter uses an always on mouselook style, which I suppose is a change from having to hold down the right mouse button all the time, and targeting consists of moving your reticle over the mob you want to hit.

The process of doing damage mostly felt like one button click spam, with some extra odd attacks on cooldown later as you gain levels and skills.

Damage mitigation as a Great Weapon Fighter mostly appeared to consist of kill things fast, try not to soak too much damage and quaff healing potions when necessary. There are presumably some gear stats to help and a blocking mechanism for the tankier Guardian Fighter (was that the name?) and Cleric people probably can stand in as mobile free healing potions for your health bar (hey, some weirdoes like that kind of ‘support’ role.)

It did raise some questions in my mind of how necessary or costly it would be to buy healing potions later on in levels if I didn’t own a cleric in my back pocket, but for now, difficult fights do seem to drop them, so it ended up more or less evening out. Use one, kill things, get another.

The overall feel is still very slow, and rather turn-based, in comparison to GW2 or Wildstar. If either of those MMOs feel too fast, confusing and chaotic, Neverwinter may be the more sedately paced combat you’re looking for.

May. Because it’s still really awfully simplistic.

And seemingly based a lot on vertically progressing gear stats. My basic broadsword damage jumped from 32 to 86, for example, moving from one piece of quest reward to another.

Which personally, doesn’t bode very well for its PvP being on any semblance of an even playing field.

I’ve heard rumors that Neverwinter’s PvP is pretty pay-to-win, so I’ve not even bothered trying that part of the game yet. That might be a breaking point for anyone who enjoys PvP and is thinking about the long term prospects of Neverwinter, but I’ve never been that kind of competitive sort and it doesn’t bother me from enjoying the rest of the game if it’s segregated off in some private arenas.

Questing – Dev and Player Created

The foundry system looks promising, and seems to be Neverwinter’s saving grace.

For a free game, the design respects immersion a lot, even if overall player behavior doesn’t.

Starting players are led in an extended tutorial via a whole sequence of quests given story flavoring. Here, after a sequence of your main story quests chasing some miscreants, you’ve found some intriguing treasure with writing on it that looks culturally interesting to a kobold. Go talk to the kobold in the main city who also happens to be an auctioneer and see if he’ll take it off your hands. (Voila, we find the Auction House – even if we haven’t already figured it out via the UI buttons on top.)

The auctioneer doesn’t want it, but recommends you take the curio to a lady who deals in wondrous goods and you’re shown yet another Bazaar / shop / trading thing. Maybe it was the gem store. I sorta blanked it out because trying to survive in the main city at 3 FPS and lower means you’re sitting in the graphics options menu tweaking that far more than paying attention to any other bit of UI popping up and you just press whatever keys necessary to get the quest done, your reward collected and your next quest picked up that preferably ain’t in that lag ridden city.

I haven’t tried a Foundry quest yet, but they introduce it in a very similar fashion. Some NPCs that are part of the world will actually point out Foundry quests that occur near the area you are in. Talking to them brings up that portion of the UI, so you get just that subset of foundry quests to choose from.

Innovations

Quest-wise, I’m also rather impressed by how smartly and smoothly the quest tracker shifts quests up and down based on the NPCs and regions you’re closest to, with optional glowy sparks that lead you directly to where you’re supposed to go. This is something that I’ve seen from a WoW add-on, but never by default in any MMO before Neverwinter.

I do like the whole guided beginner experience they’ve set up for Neverwinter.

Similar to Runes of Magic, you get a gift box that you open at certain levels for free stuff.

With every level, your UI will tell you just what else is new and has changed, so that you can go and upgrade the thing or check out this new feature.

Even the auction house NPC will recommend some gear for you (though I’m sure veterans will laugh at it for being inaccurate or whatever, but newbies are content with basic handholding, thanks) and this is pretty much the first time I’ve seen an auction house actually tell you that you can get the gear via doing a quest instead.

Nope, I didn't know!
Nope, I didn’t know! I’ll get around to it after this sequence of quests, I guess!

Everything that threatens to be overwhelming when you take it all in at once, is staggered and parceled out slowly so that you can take in each feature on its own. The quests introduced me to Skirmishes – some kind of quick cooperative group experience fighting off waves of enemies, PvP – which I chickened out of trying, and presumably will get around to Dungeons at some point.

Crafting, or Neverwinter Professions, amuse me to no end.

They’re different from most bog-standard MMOs, for one, and a bit more like SWTOR in style, if I’m not mistaken. Instead of gathering all the materials, clicking a button and  stand around waiting for a progress bar, they take a page from the mobile or facebook game genre in terms of more long-term time management.

You set up some task in queue, walk away while the timer ticks down, and come back after 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 2 hours, 4 hours, a day, or whatever, to collect your goodies and start the next task. At least you can be playing the game or offline while it does its thing.

Playerbase

Well, the good news is that the game looks exceedingly busy. And lively.

That’s the beauty of a free to play game. The barrier for entry is notoriously low, so folks jump in and begin any time, and there’s that constant influx milling around with the veterans.

However, the barrier for entry IS notoriously low, so you have bots, AFK accounts of various sorts taking up room in queues, players who may as well be bots for all the interaction they do, people speaking assorted languages in a Tower of Babel style chat that gives me new sympathy for what the GW2 EU servers had to deal with under megaserver rule, tradespam worthy of GW1 Spamadan and so on, mixing in with people looking for others who might actually chat intelligibly in English and join groups, amidst the rampant stubborn soloist types (guiilty!)

If you’re looking to play Neverwinter as an MMO in a social setting, you’re in for sifting through a bit of crud to find some treasure. Though the treasure does seem to be out there – there were some comprehensible guild messages, and a few veterans answering newbie questions and seemingly willing to help out – probably because it’s so rare to find like-minded similar-playstyle players.

Conclusions

Will I keep playing it?

Well, I might.

For the moment, it’s free. There’s a lot of new systems I’m curious about, which always draws me like a magnet, and I really like the newbie guidance system so far.

The big minus to Neverwinter is its ridiculously boring combat. Click click click swing sword click swing again, oh the big attack reservoir has filled up, hit big attack button to do lots of damage, click click keep swinging.

Alternate with dodging forward and backward through mobs as needed for telegraphs, and seeing how many swings you can get in before the AI figures out it needs to turn around.

The story wrapper is a decent plus.

If you’re just looking for an hour or two to wind down after work, with no necessity to turn brain on too much, getting a few quests done in Neverwinter ain’t bad in terms of mild entertainment experience.

Long term-wise, I dunno. It looks like it’s setting itself up to be a vertically progressing, massively grindy token buy game for good gear, with the option of spending real money to speed one’s way through the grind. I might be wrong, but that’s my lowbie perspective looking upwards at the moment.

Worth playing up until the point it gets tedious or demands cash, I suppose, which is a far sight more than you can say for other games that demand regular payments of money up front for you to eventually learn the same way down the road that the long term elder game isn’t for you.

Steam Sale Recommendation: Don’t Starve

I almost hesitate to recommend this one.

For a variety of reasons.

The biggest one is that this game eats your time. I’m not sure where the weekend went.

It’s also not the cheapest it could go, at only 40% off, but it won’t hit any longer during the summer sale. (It will probably have a daily deal after the sale at 50% though.)

Miserly me has also been sitting back on this one as it’s barely reached 50% off once, and I thought I would wait until it got cheaper.

But now I regret hesitating to pick it up then, as the thought of being able to play a good modern survival game kept preying on the back of my mind like a hallucinatory spider until I decided I would just get it, at whatever price it was being offered at the summer sale.

The last reason to hold back on the purchase would be what people typically say about Don’t Starve, it’s a hard and challenging game in the survival genre and thus may not be to everyone’s taste.

But ehhh, those words don’t describe it very well at all.

Don’t Starve is part of an as yet rare breed in the PC world, a true survival style game in the vein of games like Lost in Blue (Nintendo DS) and Unreal World (PC ascii rogue-like.)

The key is the hunger meter, a ticking time bomb that steadily drops as the hours and days pass, and your goal is to strive to maintain it for long enough to accomplish other goals like exploration and crafting and possibly story progress, depending on the game.

Entropy relentlessly wears away at it. Mistakes are costly to recover from. Many game turns or days are spent running back and forth involved with repetitive action while one strives to maintain a happy medium between progress and bar maintenance.

This repetition is sometimes criticized, but really, if people can mine endless tunnels in Minecraft looking for diamonds or play farming games like Harvest Moon, there’s really no difference except whether the player has accepted it as part of the goal and gameplay.

What Don’t Starve has going for it is, first of all, a very unique aesthetic.

It’s a Tim Burton-esque style of dark, quirky, macabre and comedic and it works very very well. The game universe has a bizarre logic to it, even when you run into the strangest of oddities and are expecting an unpleasant surprise.

Your first days and first games, will, in a rogue-like vein, be mostly a learning experience as you run headlong into all manners of horrible ways to die.

Totalbiscuit, in his WTF of it, has commented that Don’t Starve is very much a wiki game, in that reading the wiki and all manners of guides are pretty much accepted and expected – the game does not handhold you.

Then again, Minecraft and Terraria are also very much wiki games after the first few discovery and exploration attempts (did anyone really try to figure out redstone circuits from scratch?) and Don’t Starve is no different. You may choose to play the first few games unknowing and enjoy the process of learning through repeated deaths, but eventually, I think most players reach a point where they reach the limit of their own resources and start to type things into google to find out how others are handling the same thing.

And from that wiki understanding, your next games will be deeper and richer and so on.

I started a new game to take screenshots, as I didn’t want to jinx my existing game. The following will describe various occurrences and mention in brief some strategies of play, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, please look away now and just buy the game already.

I took the opportunity to play a completely new to me to character, Wolfgang the Strongman, described as being “stronger with a full belly” and “is afraid of the dark and monsters,” which didn’t tell me very much.

Day 1: Wolfgang wakes and runs around.

thenightmareneverends

Exploring one’s surroundings is critical to getting an idea of where all the various resources are, and where best to place one’s camp.

Totalbiscuit’s other criticism of Don’t Starve is that the starting layouts can be rather arbitrary. Some may place you in a good position, and others may stack the deck against you from the very beginning. On this, I think he’s spot on, though I think there can be some mitigation once a player understands the game well enough to hunt around for a good base camp site.

I immediately realize that this is a much better arrangement of resources than my last two games.

firstdaysmap

I find a rocks biome to the north, which will provide rocks, flint and gold. There’s even a tallbird nest or two.

I run into a cobblestone road, something I’ve never seen before prior to this, only encountering dirt paths in my previous plays. It’s an excellent speedy highway, which reveals lightly forested land to the northeast (which will have twigs and berry bushes), deepening to denser forest (more trees) and expose a spider den, which I give a wide berth for now (good silk and monster meat for later farming.)

There’s a pond that will produce frogs near my original start location, and south of that is savannah, filled with grass and rabbit holes.

This is the spot, I decide, as the day is evaporating fast. Camping out near an accessible road and near rabbits for a constant source of food, a decent amount of various resources nearby.

Having learned the hard way in the first few playthroughs, I have been grabbing every last tuft of grass and twigs to create traps as I explore the map. It isn’t until the day is nearly gone that I realize that I’ve almost forgotten to get wood to start a fire. I hastily assemble an axe and make a mad dash for a tree or two for logs.

The controls are not obvious. I’d previously ended up clicking a lot trying to find an ideal rhythm for woodcutting and stopping and starting. I’ll tell you now that one has to hold down the left mouse button or spacebar, and that seems to chop the easiest.

I’m fast enough that there’s enough light left and I decide to go for broke and race to mine some boulders for rocks and get an efficient firepit going since I’d decided on my base camp spot, rather than the dinky little temporary campfire that one normally starts off with.

I have not done much of anything about food, having not encountered any berries or carrots yet. Wolfgang’s gnawing stomach and plummeting meter makes itself known, and to my surprise, he physically shrinks and becomes wimpy.

allaloneinthenight

The first night, with only a small supply of logs to hold back the encircling darkness.

Tomorrow, food is a big priority. I need to forage urgently. I need to find a biome and a promising direction to go in. Nighttime is a good time to decide on the next day’s goals and open the map to make plans.

In Don’t Starve, one has to constantly think ahead and plan how best to spend the few precious hours (really, minutes) of light.

forestberries

Day 2: Wolfgang strips the bush of anything edible.

I hurtle southward along the road, hoping to find a more hospitable forest with berry bushes and carrots, while collecting the world’s biggest collection of twigs and grasses.

I forage it bare, as I might not have done on an earlier, more cautious game with Wilson, as Wolfgang appears to have a cavernous stomach and an enormous hunger meter to fill, and my main plan to sustain his hunger is really to set up a whole bunch of rabbit traps near my savannah base.

Except he better not starve before that gets going.

day2

Daylight is running out again and more importantly his hunger meter needed to be filled. I rush back to “base camp” or the one lonely firepit with a handful of berries and some carrots, and cook them all, then scarf them down. It’s not much, but it’s something.

I realize to my annoyance that I can’t make beams from logs to burn yet. I forgot a Science Machine. (Or rather, hunger came first.)

Another lonely night is spent, slowly feeding in logs every 90ish seconds or so before the fire goes out. I weave some more rabbit traps in the meantime.

They will be dumped on top of the rabbit holes first thing tomorrow morning.

(Which seems to be the most efficient way to catch rabbits. My initial game wasted a lot of resources trying to bait the trap with carrots, and placing it a distance from the rabbit holes.)

Day 3: The Quest for the Science Machine

rocksandaringwut

I run up to the rocky area with a pickaxe to mine for gold for the science machine. I also find a strange ring surrounded by evil flowers. (Dear gods, this is a dense layout I’ve gotten. I have no clue what it does and don’t want to wiki it up yet. I leave it well alone.)

chasedbytallbird

Mining is interrupted by a tallbird, who seems to think I’ve gotten too close to its nest, and aggressively attacks. Brave Sir Wolfgang gallantly runs away.

Cowardice seems to be the better part of valour in this game. There’s a lot of kiting involved, even when one is equipped with a spear and log coat armor for combat. I haven’t as yet tech’ed up to the ranged weapons, so I don’t know how that goes. And most times, leading monsters into traps or other monsters to let them fight it out seems to be the best way to profit without being hurt.

I get back at around dusk to check on and reset my traps. Dinner is served.

roastrabbit

Oh, that terrible squeal when you murder them. I don’t suppose cooking them alive is any better.

The brilliant blaze courtesy of the new science machine, which helped to prototype the technology of “beam” – ie. a plank from 4 logs, which according to the wiki, burns for 360 seconds and can generally last the night. It’s a lot easier than trying to feed in 4 logs without risking the fire going out.

day4map

Day 4’s map is more developed. South of my basecamp is a beehive, and a patch of swampland that has a ring of Tentacle monsters (never saw those before either) surrounding a skeleton, a beefalo hat, and some hound’s teeth. While a scary sight and a big shock when I first ran into them (runaway runaway!) these will turn out to be be my most favorite saviors later on, as hound attacks are easily dealt with by getting them to fight each other.

day5bats

Day 5: Wolfgang is chased by very angry, very toothy bats.

I unplug a sinkhole (that leads into experimental caves that I have not DARED to venture in yet.) I do this for the guano they leave behind, which is apparently good fertilizer later on if I ever get around to making farms. They also burn as fuel in a pinch.

day6charcoal

Day 6: Wolfgang lights himself on fire.

While burning up trees to make charcoal. Which we need for drying racks. I’m already worrying about winter, which I was under the mistaken impression arrives on day 15. (It’s really day 21, as I found out later.) It lasts for 15 days, which is probably where the confusion came in. This guy’s stomach is insatiable and I was already having trouble keeping up with the original Wilson.

Day 7: Wolfgang stuffs his face. He does that a lot.

day7homesweethome

This is a good place to end off the post before it gets too long. Base camp is beginning to look more set up. The first of a few drying racks are placed. I rushed an alchemy machine for lightning rods, because I lost my entire berry bush farm in my last game to a lightning strike (oh.. the flames…) Some collected saplings are laying on the ground to be put up in a twig farm once I got another lightning rod in place.

Hunger is still a constant companion that I didn’t quite begin to crack until the middle of winter and the beginnings of spring – around day 31-35. And there’s still a ways to go on that.

Don’t Starve is a great game. Full of things to discover. The next update is apparently due in nine days, which should have even more nasty surprises.

Is it worth $9? Hell, yeah.

Just make sure you don’t have anything scheduled for the next eight hours when you play it.