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Let’s Play – Dragon Age: Origins

dnuk-ryvqae_y_fIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

It’s been a while since the last Stream Recap. You know why? Because Dragon Age: Origins is a freaking long game, without any DLC or Awakening expansions. I can’t remember the man I was before I started playing this game.

This game is up there with The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky as one of the longest games I’ve streamed. And I didn’t even love it! I liked it, for sure. I wouldn’t have kept coming back to it if I didn’t like it. Well, maybe I would have. That’s what streaming games does to me! I have to finish games, even if I don’t love them. I can’t let people think I’m a quitter!

Actually, unrelated to the game, but I’m not sure how much gaming I’d do these days if I wasn’t streaming them on Twitch. I played plenty of games offline but it was less consistent and I would be off and on with it. Now, I stream because it helps me sleep better at night afterwards and because I get to be “on” and scratch some creative itches.

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It definitely helps with a game like Dragon Age: Origins. Games this long can get monotonous if not for the regular AND random visitors who stop by and liven up the room. When I was making my through the Deep Roads in Orzammar, their length and repetitiveness were starting to melt my brain but then someone would start talking to me just at the right time. They saved my life!

And, as Murphy’s Law would have it, I received my first raid! While turning in quests! And leveling up! Nothing like reading over skills and checking my journal as the viewers come pouring in from another streamer!

Back to game.

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I wasn’t absorbed into the world of Dragon Age: Origins like I had been in other Bioware games. This wasn’t like Baldur’s Gate, which I was obsessed with  while at and away from the computer. I found the art design to be rather ugly and not in a purposeful way. Sure, it’s a beat up world, but I was never interested in the aesthetics. It was nice to get to the forest with the elves and werewolves, because it added some much needed color to the experience, but even the designs in that area left me wanting.

The story didn’t do it for me either, not like Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect. I liked the characters and they ended up being my favorite part of the game. I liked just spending time in camp and talking to them, trying to get Sten to like me or woo the witchy Morrigan. I don’t know if that makes for exciting streaming, but it was when I was having a more pleasant time. I didn’t find myself attached to my character the way I have before in these types of games. I chose to play as a Noble Dwarf Warrior and my origin was entertaining for a while. But, outside in the wild, I never connected with him. I don’t know if it was the choices presented, or how much of the story was focused on the NPCS, but it never felt like my story.

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I need to do a separate Bioware post sometime, because their older games really have affect me as a gamer. That might be why I was disappointed with Dragon Age: Origins. I had originally thought it looked like a bland version of Baldur’s Gate and, after playing I felt justified in that fear. A lack of loot, a world that felt small and art style I found unappealing kept me mostly liking the game but never falling in love with it.

I doubt I’ll check out the Awakening expansion or the sequels. Once again, Bioware had strong world building on display, but I didn’t care much for the world itself. The history and ways of the Grey Wardens were intriguing, but, of course, the main character ends up being the last of them, so that doesn’t go very far. I enjoyed streaming this game, but I don’t know how much fun I had playing the game.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Let’s Play – SOMA

soma___official_cover_art_by_sethnemo-d93l45jIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Frictional’s SOMA depressed me and I found it hard to play for long stretches because of that. The tension of the horror elements, the grime of  the world and the hopelessness of the story left me having little initiative to keep going. Add in the fact that I’m worried I’m developing some sort of motion-sickness, first noticed while playing Dishonored, and it wasn’t a pleasant time.

Limbo was a depressing game but it had platforming elements to keep my brain occupied on something besides it’s oppressiveness. SOMA, like other so-called “walking simulators” has little in the way of actual “game. It’s immersive but that comes at a price. Like the main character, trapped at the bottom of the ocean, I felt like there was no escape. A tough sell for someone looking for escapism.

previewscreen_08-0Luckily, the story is well told and the voice acting is strong. But, the tension is raised by the monsters roaming around with you in this ruined science faculty. It’s not that I found the designs of these creatures to be incredibly upsetting, but the jump-scares that were set upon me made me feel anxious, which isn’t a state of being I love to be in. Sweaty hands from intense wall climbing and combat is one thing, but a queasy stomach because something is going to scream and chase me is another, less desirable thing.

I suppose that’s what makes for a fun stream. I don’t know how many other games have elicited a reaction so broad from me before. I’ve yelled and screamed before, but not in pure terror like I did in SOMA. I don’t know how much fun the monsters make a stream in the long run, since, after the initial scares, I had to spend most of my time just hiding and not looking at them.

maintenance-0The other problem, and this might be a technical issue on my end, is that the game is very dark, graphically speaking. Most of the tension, I would assume, would come from dark hallways and intense lighting. But, to get the game to be even visible on my Twitch, I had to raise the brightness all the way up, eliminating much of the atmosphere. Again, maybe I could have done something else to fix the problem, mess around with OBS a little more, but my days of being a technical problem-solver are coming to a close.

Either way, I’m glad I played SOMA and experienced it’s rich, sci-fi story first-hand. This is definitely the kind of tale I would have enjoyed in a movie or book. In game form, I still appreciated it, but it left me with a pit in my stomach. I doubt I’m going to go back and play-through Frictional’s Amnesia games, because I don’t think I could handle the tension. But, I’ll definitely be paying attention to what they do next.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Book Review – The Book of Joe

1623232The Book of Joe, by author Jonathan Tropper, has killer premise that should make all inspiring writers jealous. Joe, an author made famous by writing a book that tears apart his hometown, must return to be with his sick father. He must now contend with the truths he wrote about head on. What a hook!

This is where the jealousy ends. The Book of Joe is letdown by Tropper’s amateurish writing, careless pacing and unlikable characters. What was a concept that might have rivaled The Silver Linings Playbook is, quiet frankly, a mess.

The idea of this story is that Joe was wrong to write about his town the way he did, exaggerating the truth and making people look bad. Except, when we meet the people in his town, they all come across as jerks and losers. That makes sense in terms of how they would act to Joe but there’s never the other side of the coin. Everyone comes across as very one dimensional and I never believed they had much cause to be offended by how they were portrayed in Joe’s novel. Maybe that’s my natural disdain for small town drama, but I couldn’t care for any of these people, and I was never given reason to otherwise.

Joe’s realization of his wrong doing, the wrong doing I wasn’t invested in, comes way to quickly for a book like this. He states how much he hates the town and never looked back for the first couple of chapters but as soon as he enters city limits, his whole character changes. Suddenly, without much prodding or reason, Joe is navel gazing about how important his time here actually was, leaving very little room for growth.

There’s quite a bit of flashbacks, showing us the one summer that changed everything for Joe. The problem with these is that they actually revolve around Joe’s friends and the main character becomes a spectator. When Joe goes on and on about how that summer effected him, it’s weakened by the events we’re presented with. In fact, very little in the book actually needs Joe around. He’s a witness to important events but not a key component to them. Yes, he has girlfriend in his teen years, but I never understood what she saw in Joe.

Joe’s whinny, navel gazing attitude is rewarded with wisdom, closure and sex by those he left behind all those years ago. Everyone, including Joe’s ex-girlfriend Carly, gives this unlikable character the attention he craves but doesn’t deserve. There’s no challenges Joe has to overcome to grow and become a better person, everyone does it for him. Joe’s brother concedes, the high school coach apologizes, Carly kisses him, all of these things fix Joe but he doesn’t have to put in any of the work.

Every character, especially Joe, has an in-depth and analytical view of their psychological well-being and can express it at the drop of a hat. Subtlety is a non-resident of this town. Joe’s emotional journeys last all of a page and he moves quickly onto the next. In the end, very little closure is given. Joe’s book isn’t forgiven, Carly is willing to give him another shot, his family might be falling apart, but it doesn’t matter because he’s writing again. And the view on writing is the most flowery kind. It’s the type where everything simply “flows” and characters are “discovered” along the way. How books are written this way is beyond me, but maybe that’s how we end up with something like The Book of Joe.

It fails at being poetic, at being deep, it’s not funny or insightful and has nothing to say about small town living or guilt from past mistakes. What a waste of a great idea.

Let’s Play – Alan Wake

61yl1rjcxsl-_sy679_In which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Alan Wake was an interesting game, and one that felt like it was meant for the Playstation 2. Back on that console, a lot of games had one concept, sometimes two, and that was their main selling point. Prince of Persia had great combat and climbing mechanics, but it was sold on the concept of time manipulation. Final Fantasy X was a Final Fantasy game but it made a big deal about its voice acting. And Alan Wake is a third person action game with flashlight-based combat.

The core mechanics and concept would have fit right at home on the PS2 and I think the game might be looked upon more fondly if that was the case. But, the lighting and environmental effects needed the graphics of the Playstation 3 (or, in my case, a PC) to do it right. So, Alan Wake comes across as being part of two different generations. The PS2 qualities feel dated on newer machines, but it needs newer machines to work it’s mechanics.

alan_wake_f_01Playing the game today, I was able to sit back and enjoy the ride. I found the simple flashlight-based combat to be a fun variation on shooting a bad guy til he’s dead. I liked throwing flares around like grenades and blasting shadow monsters with shotguns. It wasn’t complicated but it was exciting.

I didn’t come across the public’s negative feelings about Alan Wake until after I played the game, so I was surprised to see how many complaints people had. While it sounds like the majority found the story to be a disappointing failure, I thought it was a silly roller coaster ride, just throwing twists and turns around for the fun of it. None of it made a tons of sense, but, in the moment, it was intriguing. The game never took me out of the story.

alan_wake_2Maybe that’s because it’s told in an episodic format. I’ve read how that bothered people back when it was first released, as a full game with recaps and end-of-episode breaks. Today, the concept of episodic gaming, and owning full seasons of Telltale’s series, is commonplace and didn’t bother me at all. In fact, it helped with streaming the game, because it gave me a great stopping place and, then, a fantastic recap to get me jazzed for another session.

I chose Alan Wake because I wanted to stream a spooky game for October and, while it wasn’t scary, it brought that Halloween vibe. It’s not survival horror, not really, but the setting and style help create an atmosphere that’s creepy without being scary, that’s off without being Silent Hill 2. I jumped but I didn’t hide under my bed. It’s got shadow monsters, Stephen King references and crows that want Alan’s eyeballs for dinner. I wouldn’t play it again, but I would happily buy a sequel.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

 

Let’s Play – Dishonored

dishonored-coverIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Dishonored wasn’t even on my radar until the sequel was released. That game got so much press and high review scores, it was hard to ignore. Considering, I’ve yet to find something to scratch that Bioshock itch, I made sure to pick up the first Dishonored when it went on sale.

Now, I chose Dishonored as the game to follow up The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky because, holy cow, that game was a long one. Being a JRPG without any voice acting, there was lots of reading aloud, diving into combat systems and stretches of story where I sat and watched with the controller on the pillow next to me. I needed a game that would provide a little bit more of an adrenaline rush. I wanted ACTION, I wanted ADVENTURE!

Okay, technically, I wanted to play a Tomb Raider game but I didn’t own the next title in my run. So, Dishonored it was! Did the game provide the kick that I was looking for? The ADVENTURE?

boyle_2First, I’ll admit, I didn’t realize how much of a stealth game it was going to be and that set off some warning signs. I’m no good at stealth games. I lose patience with Hitman, fail at Splinter Cell and often fell off the sides of walls during Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. But, Dishonored handled stealth in a way that matched my type of play style. Heck, the game  even referred to it as the High Chaos it was. Yes, you can play the game as a ghost and never be seen, and never use your blade in combat. Or, you can play like me and kill anyone blocking your path, turning them into dust and feeding them to rats.

Now, doing such a chaotic run made for some disappointed looks and judgemental remarks from NPCS. But, the way I saw it, I was role playing the character Corvo was, not who people wanted him to be. I was an assassin who was framed for the murder of his queen and lover, who’s goal was rescuing and protecting the heir to the throne (not to mention, my daughter, probably). I wasn’t looking to play nice. Nice went out the window when I went to prison for a crime I didn’t commit. So, when people shook their heads in shame because I eliminated a threat with my knives and not my words, I just smiled and pitied them for not understanding how the world really works.

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I liked that Dishonored is a stealth game that knows that some people don’t like or are no good at stealth. I could choose to go through each level however I pleased, and it was entertaining in way that the Hitman games have never been for me. And, like Bioshock, I could dig into the world as much I wanted, choosing to read the lore through books or just picking up tidbits as I went about my merry way.

It didn’t necessarily satisfy the craving for action I had, but it was a rather brisk romp through a cool looking world as a teleporting back stabber. In reality, I probably only played it so I could get to the much hyped sequel. But, Dishonored 2 still costs pretty penny so it might be a while. I wouldn’t say it was the most absorbing game in the world, and Corvo had to make some pretty dumb decisions for the plot twists to work, but it was a fun game and got me through the rest of September. Now, it’s time for something spooky.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

 

Let’s Play – The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky

288560-the-legend-of-heroes-trails-in-the-sky-windows-front-coverIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

How long has it been since I played a JRPG? If I can stretch the genre definition, it might have been Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, and that would be 2007. If not that, I guess it would be the first Kingdom Hearts game? I’ve played the first ten Final Fantasy games, Xenosaga, Dark Cloud 2 and few others, but I haven’t picked up the genre in a long time. It used to be one of my favorites, one that was a defining feature of my gaming and that I found very cozy.

The point is that I haven’t played a legitimate JRPG in over ten years. Obviously, I had to get back into the genre with one of the most critically acclaimed titles. The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is a full-blown Japanese Role Playing Game. Long play time, tons of world building and novel-length levels of text. It was a deep dive back into the genre.

I prefer these recaps to be more experience related than technical reviews, which is why I’m going to start with a negative comment, because it effects my full enjoyment of the game. When it comes to JRPGs, I prefer the “epic” quality that comes with a Final Fantasy game. I like fighting against the end of the world, against empires and gods. I like intense back stories that make the X-Men jealous.

the-legend-of-heroes-trails-in-the-sky-pc-screenshot-1-www-ovagames-comTrails of the Sky is much more…pleasant. The gist of the story is that the two main characters are traveling to see the world and get promoted to full time protectors of the nation. The world isn’t ending, many problems are local and deal with mayors and sewer adventures. Near the last few hours of the game, Trails in the Sky becomes something more akin to what I like in the genre. The stakes feel bigger, the dungeon is grander and there’s an epic atmosphere about the whole thing.

Now, a pleasant game isn’t bad at all. Pokemon Sun and Stardew Valley are pleasant games. But there’s so much reading involved with Trails in the Sky that it felt exhausting to move forward, especially since the story wasn’t really tugging at my interest. Since I was streaming the game, I was reading all the dialogue out loud and that got tiring as well. There’s a lot of repetitive dialogue, a lot of stating the obvious that becomes clear when your actually saying it. There were times where I was craving action, even the ability to just move around. Compared to Final Fantasy VIII or Xenosaga, where I was compelled to follow the story, Trails in the Sky could feel like a chore.

159009-legend_of_heroes_-_trails_in_the_sky_the_usa-5I also learned that if you’re going to give a gravely voice to a character, make sure they’re not going to be in the game for thirty hours. I think my voice is finally recovered from that mistake.

For the most part, the game was fun. I liked the battle system, the retro graphics and plenty of the characters. The music was hit or miss but when it hit, it packed a punch. I hated the monster designs but loved the avatar expressions. It also stuck the ending. Even with the issues I had while playing, I still want to get to the sequel someday, if only on the strength of the first game’s climax. However, I won’t be starting it anytime soon. I need more action at the moment, whether that’s a platformer or shooter. October is on it’s way, so I’ll have some Halloween games planned as well. The next JRPG I play will probably be Valkyria Chronicles, and Final Fantasy XV is on it’s way to the PC…

I think what Trails in the Sky did for me was get me back into and interested in JRPGs. It’s a classical take on the genre and reminded me of what I like about those type of games. If it’s the launching pad for my renewed interest, then that’s a pretty great legacy.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Let’s Play – Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

middle-earth-shadow-of-mordorIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was just what the elven doctor ordered. I’ve been playing games like Far Cry  and Return to Castle Wolfenstein looking for some satisfying action and leaving unhappy. But Shadow of Mordor knew what I needed and delivered in spades.

What I needed was a game that made me feel like I was good at what I did. I needed a game that rubbed my shoulders and said, “You’re doing great, buddy.” I would play Shadow of Mordor and feel bad for the orcs I would happen upon, because I was death and they were not ready to die.

The action in the game is so beautifully fluid that I rarely ever saw pixels splash against each other. Every attack or block I commanded seemed like it was planned by the programmers and myself from the start. I actually found the combat to be better implemented than Batman: Arkham Asylum. Which explains why I never got tired of it.

shadow-of-mordor-3The highly praised Nemesis system held up to it’s reputation. However, I couldn’t get myself to exploit it like some people. The idea that I could let myself die and then get stronger orcs to fight, thus granting me better rewards, seemed to go against everything I believed in as a gamer. So, I didn’t have many returning foes. I fought to the death, but not to die. When I did die, I was happy to see the orc get promoted, but I couldn’t willing lose to them. Luckily, more often, the orcs I was fighting would retreat and that’s how my relationship with them grew. I liked seeing an old face who had escaped my wrath more than that of one who had killed me.

The story, however, did not impress me. Talion isn’t much of a charismatic lead. Ratbag, the orc you team up with, was such a fun character that when he was replaced with a boring hunter halfway through the game, I was almost angry. There was melodrama, but never compelling drama. The music sounded like the Lord of the Rings films, but never as memorable. But, that’s fine, because it was the combat and stealth that made the game such a joy to play and I’d rather it that way than reversed.

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I think I lost steam during the second half, when the new map was introduced. By that point, I had already cleared all the artifacts and glyphs and outcast missions from the first map and seeing them all over again, albeit in a new area, left me feeling exhausted. Plus, I was too strong to die often enough for the orcs to leave an impression and that second half felt lonelier. Even with branding, I wasn’t experiencing the personality the game had during the first half. And the less said about the end is still more than was put into the game.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was a great time that ran out of steam near the end. If I were to ever replay it, I can’t imagine I would chase the collectibles again, nor tackle the second map. But, my first playthrough was a great time and fully recharged me in a way other games haven’t in a while. I was excited to start each session and shoot beehives on unsuspecting orcs. I was excited to free slaves and unlocked new abilities. It’s a great game and I’m glad to have tackled it.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!