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    Assassin's Creed Origins (PS4)    by   dkirschner       (Feb 28th, 2020 at 08:01:01)

    I'm done with the main game. All side quests are completed, I've killed 3/4 war elephants, explored every tomb I could find, completed about half of the treasure hunt riddles, found every view point I could, found every constellation I could, and spent a long time just admiring the scenery. It took right around 50 hours. The game is bloated, and I hear Odyssey is even worse. Side quests and "stuff" to do could have been halved and it would still be a lot. But, I'm going to plunge ahead into Origins's DLC soon, and I'll get in to Odyssey at some point because I am impressed with the slightly new direction of Assassin's Creed, despite its liberal borrowing from The Witcher 3 and Dark Souls. It still retains its own identity, and for all the questions I had about the game, the end resolves many of them.

    So, here are some thoughts on how the series has changed and how I ruined my playthrough.

    1. Change - As I noted previously, Origins borrows from The Witcher 3. Geralt, the titular Witcher, solves monster-related mysteries. Our new assassin, Bayek, solves assassin-related mysteries in exactly the same way. You enter an "exploration area" and pixel hunt for an little icon (never figured out what it was) or look for something out of the ordinary. I am surprised at how similar this feels!

    These genre shifts are part of why Origins often doesn't feel like an Assassin's Creed game. The setting is right, but the gameplay is more generic. I noticed that there are no "crowd assassinations," and really no assassinations at all! Yes, you can assassinate people according to the UI, but this refers to stealth kills. There are no true assassinations of politicians, generals, and so on, built up in the main story. Yes, you kill big baddies, but these more often take the form of melee boss fights. Rampaging through forts is easier than sneaking around. In fact, the crowd mechanics built up across previous AC games are not here. You don't trail enemies, you don't learn their paths, you don't eavesdrop on conversations. I cannot emphasize how the lack of these unique systems makes the game feel generic and (gameplay-wise) bland at times.

    There is, oddly enough, a compelling narrative reason for this, which is revealed at the very end of the game. (The hint is in the title.) I loved how the story concluded, but making me play as a half-ass(assin) for 50 hours first was a little overkill. I fully expect the DLCs, and especially Odyssey, to bring back more of the older AC games. I want to feel like an assassin.

    2. How I Ruined My Playthrough (Almost) - Origins is a ridiculously easy game. I played a lot after work because it was so chill. Why? Welllll...I might have realized halfway through that I wasn't supposed to have all legendary equipment from the start. I purchased a complete edition and it came with all sorts of fancy items. I didn't think it odd and assumed that the nice things I started with were normal to start with--a couple legendary swords, shields, and mounts. I never buy special editions so I don't know these things!

    You can upgrade your equipment in Origins, so if you really like the stats, you can keep boosting it to your character level. So The Fang (fast sword, huge critical hit bonus damage, poison on hit) just kept getting better with age! I contend it is the best weapon in the game except the one I just found (which apparently is a Final Fantasy XV tie-in--weird). Its stats may not be objectively better, but I used The Fang for the entire game and this FFXV sword sparkles. I upgraded my equipment every 10 levels or so to offset using legendary items, which means I was constantly underpowered. Still, I rarely died.

    I previously predicted that given the Dark Souls controls and new combat style, the challenge would ramp up; it never did until the last boss that Bayek fights. All of a sudden, the game introduces the supernatural. He was the only boss that felt like a boss, with the exception of the optional war elephants. Here's how much the game's ease lulled me into successfully spamming R1 for its duration: after attempting the boss a few times, I remembered that...I could use my shield to block. How novel! Yeah, I never used my shield the whole game! I beat him on the first try after that, but after I beat him, I realized that there were extra arrows in the room to restock during the fight. There are two phases where arrows are really useful, and I kept running out then. But I had never run out of arrows in the entire game before; therefore, I had never needed to pay attention to extra quivers laying around!

    The game throws another difficulty spike your way in the very last segment, but I won't spoil that here. Just get ready for some tedium and frustration before it's all over because the game forces you into a different play style with different weapon types than you might have been playing with. Also, speaking of tedium, the ship battles get old real fast. If I never have to sail another ship in this game, I'll be happy. Black Flag, this is not.

    The narrative is slow, but worth it, especially if you've played a bunch of these games. I really enjoyed the main characters. Bayek and Aya are more complex than I originally thought. There is some good foreshadowing (Bayek losing his ring finger is symbolic for different reasons that I initially thought!). You even learn where the Assassins symbol comes from! The Egyptian setting is phenomenal, and it's cool how it transitions to Roman toward the end of the game. I really felt like I was experiencing political and cultural change over the course of the game. There are a billion things to do. Side quests in particular add a lot of time to the game. They are never worth it for rewards, but I enjoyed the little stories. They do get repetitive in their objectives (rescue this person, eradicate this base, steal this thing), which is my argument for just reducing their number by half. The side quests are immeasurably better than side quests in previous Assassin's Creed games, but they don't touch The Witcher's. Hopefully Odyssey's will improve further.

    All in all, I'm glad I played this to see how the series is changing. I'll continue with the DLC because the first moves this story along and the second I have read is excellent for other reasons. I hope that Odyssey essentially picks up where Origins leaves off. But since it's even longer than this one, I am dreading the time sink. I suppose I could just...not play it...or just play the main quest. I would sort of like to wait until another entry comes out that gets overwhelmingly positive reviews before committing, but I do always enjoy these games, even for their faults.

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    Slay the Spire (PC)    by   jp       (Feb 8th, 2020 at 23:35:25)

    I've really, really been enjoying this. Perhaps what I like the most is the feeling of discovery you get when you figure out/realize some new combo or strategy. It's a bit of a shame you can't always plan/execute them (since a lot of it depends on the cards you get/are offered), but, it definitely scratches the same itch I have with magic.

    I guess the difference is that in MtG, it seems like everyone else has already figured out all the combos and so I always play against these stacked decks (when online). Here, since it's a single-player game, I guess it's all me all the time.

    I think I've been able to slay the spire at least once with all the characters - but I haven't unlocked all the cards. So, need to play some more!

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    Mutazione (PS4)    by   jp       (Feb 8th, 2020 at 18:33:09)

    So, I finished it. And uh... it gets more interesting, but not substantially so. I think it's mostly a matter of taste for me - the game is "fine", I just wasn't that interested or intrigued by the story and characters.

    Yes, it was interesting to learn more about the world's backstory and such...and yes, it was interesting to know more about the characters and see their relationships evolve. But, I guess I'm not that drawn to soap operas?

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    Watchdogs (PS4)    by   jp       (Feb 8th, 2020 at 16:10:43)

    The longer I play, the less I like the protagonist - mostly because he's acts all righteous but then (when I control him) he does terrible things. Actually, he does terrible things in the cut-scenes as well.

    Still, I have enjoyed the game immensely, but I've decided I won't finish the campaign. I'm 2/3 through the 2nd act and I've realized I don't like the shooty bits THAT much - mostly because I often die because I'm stuck "crouching/in cover" and can't run/move to another place fast enough. I'm blaming myself for that for the most part - it's a way to do combat that emphasizes patience and stealth (I think?) and...I sometimes don't have that much patience.

    I think what I've enjoyed and appreciated the most about the game is:

    a. How large and interesting so much of the world is - there's all kinds of little details in the things you intercept as well as the places you can go. Having lived in Chicago is a real treat - since you recognize places and also recognize the differences. And then, a lot of the fun really comes from trying to figure out what certain places are meant to be - if anything. Sure, I lived in Chicago - but I'm no expert on the there's lots of doubt in my mind about what some of the places really are. I guess this is why I decided to get the "visit all the special locations" trophy.

    b. The hacking was fun and I enjoyed it as an alternative to busting in to places guns blazing and all that.

    c. While I had a hard time shaking cops when I got into trouble, in some of the later missions I really enjoyed being able to "hack" stuff in the street to help me get away and so on. It felt pretty cool.

    d. I also did all the "Privacy Invasion" missions - those were REALLY interesting. Not so much the doing them, but watching all those little vignettes of life. In my view, it's one of the best things about the game - especially in the sense of them (often) being a place for social commentary on the challenges of daily life. They're kind of all over the place and some of them are REALLY serious, touching, moving, thoughtful, and thought provoking. There's one that still sticks with's basically an empty house, and you see a body on the floor and the phone you hack has a message from someone the owner's son talking about how he wants to see him, he's not a bother, etc. The homeowner, an older man, is dead. Did he kill himself? Have a heart attack? So many questions! ...and so many privacy invasions were like this.

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    Assassin's Creed Origins (PS4)    by   dkirschner       (Feb 5th, 2020 at 08:10:45)

    Whoa, new Assassin's Creed! It's been a few years. I thoroughly enjoyed Black Flag (4), the last one I played. I miss my crew and the sea shanties and firing cannonballs at other ships. But my how the series has changed. My, how it looks and feels more like The Witcher 3 and Soulsborne games! Someone's aping trends.

    What's Witcher about it? Well, it's got the old Ubisoft map bloat with a million icons on it, but I notice question marks all over the place now. These points of interest encourage exploration, and when you arrive you will find a beast den, a stargazing area, a guarded fort, a treasure hunt, and so on, with little objectives (kill this, steal that) to complete for a small amount of XP and some treasure. Cool, but already those question marks feel like bloat. I remember the question marks in The Witcher revealing lots of really cool things, possibly because of the fantasy setting you never knew what kind of awesome thing you'd discover. Here, trekking across the map to shoot a ram with a bow-and-arrow just doesn't seem as appealing. My favorite are the constellation ones where you get some mythology and play with stars. I've pretty much started ignoring the question marks though. There are also more refined skill trees, and the gadgets tree feels very much like the Witcher's potions tree. Side quests are more fleshed out, which is certainly an improvement over previous AC games.

    What's Soulsborne about it? After just finishing Bloodborne, I was surprised that the controls and combat were so similar, as AC's combat before felt unique (even though it could sometimes be frustrating). R3 locks on to enemies, just like Soulsbornes. R1 is light attack, R2 is heavy attack, hold R2 for charged heavy attack. Press circle to dodge. I suspect that some later fights may be more challenging like in Bloodborne. So far, I'm kind of shocked at how much melee combat there is (this was always a weak point in AC games), though I did just get the hidden blade, so more stealth and assassinating is in my future.

    I'm certainly enjoying the game. Egypt is stunning, and thanks to my new PS4 Pro, I am playing a game for the first time in 4K. I see a future where I just walk around in a video game to marvel at the environments to relax after work. Sometimes when I climb up to a view point, I'll sit up there for 5 minutes just looking out over the landscape below. I mean, it's utterly beautiful. I would love to watch an Egyptologist play the game. I'm sure there's a YouTube video for that with a clickbait title.

    My only real gripe is the intrusion of Ubisoft into what I wish was a single-player experience. I mean, thanks for the amazing recreation of ancient Egypt, but would you just let me enjoy it in peace? The game constantly reminds me to check out the store, it forces other players' screenshots onto my minimap which clutters it even further, and it thinks I give a shit about avenging VapeMan69's death at the hands of a hyena. Look, I don't know VapeMan69 and I don't care what he was doing or why he was killed by a hyena, but can you kindly STOP CLUTTERING THE MINIMAP UBISOFT or give me more refined filters please and thank you.

    I look forward to playing more and continuing with the story, which has me oddly intrigued as far as AC goes (even the Abstergo part is neat!). I look forward to uncomfortably watching Bayek and Aya make out and have sex in weird places, and I'm already sad because there's no way they would show this much making out and steamy romance if they weren't going to kill Aya. Bayek has already lost his son and he lost is ring finger (symbolic for severing of the marriage??) and he's going to need some more motivation to keep assassinating for 30 more hours. WHAT IF the twist is that Bayek gets killed and you switch to playing as Aya?! That would be awesome.

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    Dungeons and Dragons, 3.5 edition (Other)    by   rnc53

    No comment, yet.
    most recent entry:   Tuesday 5 February, 2013
    My experience playing DnD 3.5 was very educational, as I've never played a tabletop rpg before this. We played a campaign created by our GM with game pieces found from small objects around the apartment (pen caps) and maps drawn onto blank printer paper.

    DnD players have a fairly extensive character creation process. As my entire party was made of first time players, the GM handled character creation for us by asking us simple questions about the general personality and functionality of characters we would like to play. It is almost difficult to create some reference for sake of example because DnD is THE traditional rpg. Orcs, humans, dwarves, warrions, clerics, rogues -- they are all here.

    =The Board=
    Our board was a piece of paper with features drawn onto it. I thought this was a very interesting thing to do, and I imagine this low barrier to "modding" encouraged the early gaming community to mod video games.

    =Game Play=
    The game was broken into 2 principal phases.

    There was a phase where we moved about relatively freely and had different rules applied to us than in the second phase (combat). The focus of this phase was exploration and advancing the plot.

    The second phase was a combat phase. In this phase we were bound to turn based actions. I don't know if there were really limitations on what abilities we could use, or if we just naturally used different abilities for this situation.

    The default phase was the exploration phase, and as soon as an enemy engages us the party would enter the combat phase.


    There is far more to say about DnD than I can possible fathom from playing only 2 sessions, but there are some very strong features of DnD that seem to manifest itself in modern gaming.

    The first and most obvious feature is game design influence. Almost every rpg seems like it could be a mod of DnD on a fundamental level. It almost reminds of proving that machines are of equivalent power in FL. I feel like you could 'play DnD' in most of these games and vice versa.

    The second feature is artistic influence. The general personality of modern rpgs heavily resemble DnD. Of course, this is not entirely DnD's doing. Tolkien can take quite a bit of credit, but I would be interested to see how many rpg gamers played Dnd, read Tolkien, or both.

    My final observation was on the mod-ability of DnD compared to the mod-ability of video games. Modding DnD barely takes any effort at all at its basic level. In fact, if you want to consider "casually modifying rules to your taste" a mod, it can almost happen by accident. I would bet that the low barriers to modding DnD allowed a lot of creative expression for its fan base. It would be significantly more difficult to express creativity in a video game, especially during the early days. I imagine some would be discouraged and ignore video games, but I also imagine some would take on the challenge of learning new technical skills to express their creativity on the new medium.

    To summarize, I think DnD is tremendously deep and rewarding game that any video gamer owes a significant debt to.

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