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    Frostpunk (PC)    by   dkirschner       (May 29th, 2020 at 17:30:39)

    Finished this (okay, almost almost finished this) in a mega-session last night. I usually don't care much for city builders or 4x games, but this one is special. It straddles the line between those and various "difficult choices weighing resources and humanity" type games like the studio's previous effort, This War of Mine. It also reminded me of Banner Saga (probably the snow helped), Prison Architect (damn Londoners!), FTL (fires everywhere), Sunless Seas/Skies (the writing and tone of the game), and other such games where everything goes horribly wrong.

    The premise is that some global climate catastrophe is sweeping the world, freezing it and burying civilization in ice and snow. Survivors fight among each other, flee large cities, and head for the wilderness to try and eke out a living in the warm shadows of huge generators. You are the leader of one such band of survivors and must guide them in building a settlement. Gather and manage natural resources, manage your populations' hope (good) and discontent (bad), quell rebellions, keep people fed and healthy, and most importantly, keep people warm. The weather is your biggest enemy.

    You can see a 5-day forecast and know when the temperature will rise or fall. The temperature has 6 different levels, from comfortable to freezing. The colder it is, the more likely your people are to get sick and require medical attention. If it's really, really cold, they will either die or get frostbite and need amputations, which makes them unable to work. The weather in a video game has never induced such dread.

    As I said, the game is at its core about surviving through cold snaps. You want your population inside warm buildings. Some buildings can't even operate if it gets too cold. So, you will need to research insulation and heating technologies. The central generator can provide a lot of this warmth. It warms more space hotter with upgrades, but guzzles coal. The colder it is, the more dangerous it is to send people to work. So how will you get all the coal you need? Tough question.

    I bungled my first playthrough. We arrived at the generator, and I spent time learning the basics. Meanwhile, the clock ticked away and night fell. I had done almost nothing. No one had any houses and 24 of my 80 people died in the night. Woops. This made completing one of the early game objectives nearly impossible and I never did it, which means subsequent objectives never triggered. I had no guidance! I was eventually exiled for poor leadership.

    In my second playthrough, I dutifully built housing and lost not a soul for days. The mistake I made though was to center my entire settlement around the main generator for heat. I never even researched power substations, which are smaller sources of heat you can build elsewhere. By the time the temperature dropped to 100 below 0, I realized I had made a grave error. I had the generator running as high as I'd upgraded it and I was just burning through my coal reserves. I actually managed to hold out until sooo close to the end of the game! I mean, I had about 15 real-time seconds before I would have won, but alas, I was ejected again from town. Better city planning is required.

    Frostpunk has so many cool elements to it and is absolutely worth a look. I've never played anything quite like it. It hooked me in a marathon session and I stayed up way too late. As soon as it was over, I wanted to start again to survive the storm at the end. I immediately know like 20 things I would do differently. The game also comes with several additional scenarios, and, in the main scenario at least, there are two "paths" for the kinds of laws you can enact (another neat feature). I chose Discipline and Order this time, but there is also Faith and Spiritual Strength. So, I may give this another shot with the other path and best the storm, but I'm going to keep trying to burn through these Microsoft Game Pass games first. This is the longest a dollar has ever gone to fund my gaming. Once I get done with all the ones I want, if I still have time, I'll return to this, or maybe buy it on sale on Steam.

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    Gears 5 (PC)    by   dkirschner       (May 28th, 2020 at 15:44:33)

    Aside from the luscious visuals and superbly detailed environments (that hid its many collectibles), Gears 5 didn't wow me as much as Gears of War 4. The game is less cohesive overall both in narrative and pacing. Half the game is about Kait and the COG's secrets, and the other half is about assembling the Hammer of Dawn to...to...destroy a hive? I was never quite sure until the end and I don't think the characters were either. The AI is worse and it had more technical issues. There is a "choice" at the end that has no impact on the game's outcome and probably required a few extra lines of dialogue, though I wonder which choice will be canon. The main new enemy type is a swarm (appropriate) of leeches that flies through the air. These are very easy to deal with though. You also get some new Juvies that sprout explosives and are fun to blow up. There are some new mega bosses, which were all spectacles to fight. I particularly liked the Matriarch fight (and the whole secret laboratory chapters). There weren't any new weapons of note, just some variations on lancers, and I was sad there were no giant mechs to control this time around. Thankfully, The Coalition did away with the glorified Horde mode in the campaign. Those were the only parts of Gears of War 4 I didn't like, and I must not have been alone.

    There are two main things that Gears 5 adds that made it feel unique in the series (but not at all to the genre): the skiff and Jack. The skiff is the means by which you traverse the new open-ish world environments in the ice and desert levels. The ice parts are stunning with huge looming crags in the distance and shining icicles always threatening to drop on your head. The desert, unfortunately, is basically a re-skin of the ice levels that makes Sera look like Mars. But the skiff! It's kind of like parasailing and waterskiing. You use the sails to catch the wind and skim along the ground's surface. Ride it around to explore and find and complete secondary missions (a series first?). You'll help Outsiders secure their water source, investigate downed Condors, and through the few secondary missions you'll find items that upgrade Jack...

    ...Jack is a cute drone that is, well, a jack-of-all-trades. He's with you the whole game and has a handful of useful active and passive abilities that you can deploy. Often, you have to use one to get past an environmental hazard (Stim) or power a generator (Shock). The more "components" you find, the more you can level up his abilities. By the end of the game, Jack can give you invisibility, shield you, freeze enemies, mind control enemies, set traps, and more. He's fun to use and nice to have around. Your crew isn't nearly as chatty or funny as in Gears of War 4, so Jack's beeps and blips helped make up for some of the missing charm.

    I left unexplored the myriad options for online play, customization, account leveling, and microtransactions. One could play these newer Gears of War games for ages and never unlock everything. Campaign and done! It sets up for a Gears 6, so I'm sure we'll see that roll out right on schedule. In another couple years, I'm sure it'll be as enjoyable as these games always are.

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    Ori and the Will of the Wisps (PC)    by   dkirschner       (May 24th, 2020 at 10:44:03)

    Another breathtaking game. This takes everything from the previous one and adds layers. The levels are bigger and more distinct, there are more enemy types, more abilities, more upgrades, they added quests, tons more characters, etc., etc. It's Ori turned up to 11.

    All that is to say that bigger is not necessarily better, as the game feels a bit bloated. An example: quests. The game has a heavier story focus, adds a handful of named characters whom you encounter, and adds quests to tell you about the characters. Quests are nearly all of the "fetch an item and return it" variety. You'll complete most of them just in the course of playing, but it necessitates looking in all the nooks and crannies (I generally did that anyway for pickups). For one, you find seeds and return them to a gardener so he can plant things. For another, someone asks you to find a hat for him.

    One big quest is to help a character build a village. To do this, he needs ore, which is hidden throughout the world. In total, there are probably 50 pieces of the stuff, and I'm pretty sure that you need to find every piece to complete every building project (I completed all but one). Finding and returning ore to complete building projects generally yields light conversation with another character, some spirit orbs (experience), and maybe a life or mana fragment. These interactions and quests are all kind of cute--the characters and creatures are very likable--but they're very shallow too.

    One huge improvement over the first game that I didn't know I wanted is 3D backgrounds. Stop and look as you play, or look at a screenshot. Every frame looks like concept art. It's beautiful. Sometimes, especially early in the game, the 3D backgrounds can be a little distracting or obfuscate what you are looking for (I used a walkthrough at the very beginning of the game because a movable stone blended so well with the environment that I couldn't see it), but you get used to it after a while.

    Another neat improvement is varied environments. In the previous game, the environments looked differently, but generally played the same. In this one, there are new movement abilities that make sense for each environment (e.g., a drill to travel through sand in the desert level; a fireball to warm braziers in the ice level). This means that, to some extent, each level forces you to think a bit differently. This could be annoying, but I think that's only my "I just want to use what I already learned!" brain talking. Really, it makes you figure out new abilities and ways of progressing through a level. At the very end of the game, you can go in an extra area or two, which I declined to explore, but my guess is that it (is really hard and) forces you to use all the abilities you have learned to master tough challenges. At least that's what I hope it was.

    So, if you're like me, you loved the first game and are happy for more. Most of the additions are welcome (I've talked to other people who disliked the combat addition, but, although combat was generally easy, I enjoyed it), but some are unnecessary and make the game feel overly packed with things. To that point, it took me 50% longer to finish this than the original. Maybe in another 5 years there will be a third!

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    Max Gentlemen Sexy Business! (PC)    by   jp       (May 20th, 2020 at 22:51:18)

    I started up a new game and interestingly your relationship with each of your colleagues/employees/business partners remains. So, you can essentially grind them all up to the maximum, which is nice for completion. I'm guessing there are rewards for repeated playthroughs and you can probably unlock new characters and make them available for hire and such.

    The beginning is similar, but your nemesis turns out to be working for your REAL nemesis and on it goes. I'm also guessing there's more story stuff to see and so on, but - I'm not really all that compelled to suss it out.

    I have enjoyed the writing and the humor and the game does have a neat little feature - a dictionary of sorts you can use to look up the meaning of certain words and phrases. It's quite funny, actually - and I'm guessing the writing team had a good time looking up old english slang and such.

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    Dragon Age: Origins (PS3)    by   jp       (May 19th, 2020 at 23:37:57)

    I thought I was closer to the end. :-(

    I had forgotten that I needed to go talk to the mages to get them to side with me. Since my character is a recently graduated mage, I figured I'd do this one last because I'd show up as "levelled up" (more impressive?). Anyways, so. I start doing the "go to the mages" and, as expected, something terrible has happened and so on. Interesting/fun story bits but what really knocked my socks off was a completely interesting gameplay twist!

    So, it turns out that demons and blood mages have taken over and a particular demon "traps" you in the fade, which is like another dimension. You wander around and eventually learn to transform into other "characters"! Each character has a bunch of special abilities and a key ability you need to use to solve navigation puzzles (e.g. walk through fire, bash open heavy doors).

    I really enjoyed this part since I had to figure out how to solve the puzzle - e.g. get to the monster in the middle. But, I also appreciated the "refresh" in terms of gameplay - I could play around with some new abilities and was also, at least for the moment, granted a respite from all the inventory management/optimization I'd been getting tired of (picking up treasure, not having enough space, trashing stuff, etc.). The entire "in the fade" portion of the game has no loot/treasure to pick up! (you get get stat boosts).

    So, a nice change of pace that really refreshed the gameplay.

    Ok, so then finished the mages and off to the last task before the final (supposedly). Perhaps one of the more interesting things is realizing that a lot of the story hooks/goals are political in nature. It's not about fight big monster move on to the next one, rather help this leader get this support so that they'll then do something else and so on. Really neat.

    Anyways, I spent some time wandering around the city and then went to rescue the queen(?) but - IT WAS ALL A TRAP!

    Whoah! Another nice surprise - again, with gameplay variations. I didn't play "after the trap", but it looks like I'll have lost my party/companions as well as all my equipment (a common trope), but it's interesting because it's happening so far/late into the game.

    Needless to say, I've been really impressed and enjoying the game!

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    GameLog hopes to be a site where gamers such as yourself keep track of the games that they are currently playing. A GameLog is basically a record of a game you started playing. If it's open, you still consider yourself to be playing the game. If it's closed, you finished playing the game. (it doesn't matter if you got bored, frustrated,etc.) You can also attach short comments to each of your games or even maintain a diary (with more detailed entries) for that game. Call it a weblog of game playing activity if you will.

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    1 : dkirschner's Frostpunk (PC)
    2 : dkirschner's Gears 5 (PC)
    3 : jp's Max Gentlemen Sexy Business! (PC)
    4 : dkirschner's Dishonored 2 (PC)
    5 : dkirschner's Ori and the Will of the Wisps (PC)
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    1 : Oliverqinhao at 2020-01-23 05:11:59
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    Call of Juarez (PC)    by   jp

    I just noticed I started playing this game on the 2nd anniversary of its release. Weird, huh?
    most recent entry:   Monday 23 August, 2010
    Finished!

    After a few incredible firefights, I was stumped by the game's final scene (until I looked it up online, to be honest). After "killing" the main villain (Juarez) for the 2nd time (more on that later), Reverend Ray wishes he could do one more thing to atone for all his sins. He is granted that opportunity as, from the floor (he's mortally wounded at this stage), he sees Juarez slowly get up with a knife clearly aimed at Billy's back. It's shown in "cut-scene" mode, but near the end it transitions to the regular gameplay mode and you have a few (1 or 2?) seconds to take out Juarez. I couldn't figure out HOW! None of the keyboard keys worked (couldn't shoot, couldn't "execture action", kicking didn't work, etc.). This was a bit annoying since you couldn't skip the cut-scene and I ended up watching it 3-4 times. It turns out you have to assume the final scene is like a duel, which means you have to move the mouse down (and then quickly up) in order to shoot Juarez. This may have been more obvious than I thought, but I guess I was tripped up by the fact that duels display a counter on screen. When it reaches zero, the duel starts and you can then act. So, an inconsistency in the interface sort of spoiled the emotional impact of the ending.

    This inconsistency surprised me since earlier I had noticed an interface element that was remarkably well-used. The end of the game features 4 distinct encounters with Juarez. The 2nd is a standard duel between Billy and Juarez each with identical pistols and only three bullets. Billy shoots Juarez only to find, later on, as Juarez ambushes the Reverend, that Juarez was wearing a piece of steel armor beneath his shirt. So, Billy and Juarez go hand to hand (3rd encounter, actually Juarez is out of bullets so he's forced into melee) and you take him out after depleting his energy bar. I've already mentioned the 4th encounter, so let me recount the 1st. The 1st encounter takes place in an underground (Aztec?) structure where the infamous gold of Juarez is found. You're playing as the reverend and after taking out all the goons protecting Juarez to have a traditional shootout. Juarez has an energy bar and every time you hit him, it's depleted a little. Juarez' energy bar was depleted to perhaps a little less than half when I shot him once more and a cut-scene came in. Juarez says something or other about Molly (a hostage) and then leaves!

    I didn't have to deplete the energy bar completely! Most games would have had the boss leave after the bar is depleted, but this game indicated that the bar really was representing Juarez' health, so when it was reduced too far, he took off!

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