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    Dragon Age: Origins (PS3)    by   jp       (May 31st, 2020 at 16:31:36)

    Oooh, I finished the game last night! I'm definitely glad I played it, and the game was surprisingly deeper (mechanically) than I expected and surprisingly richer thematically (in terms of where the story went, what sorts of things were explored, etc.) than I imagined. I can see why so many people love the game - and there is definitely a lot I'll be missing out by not starting over with a new character.

    Once I had sorted out the Landsmeet (elves are being sold as slaves! This should really convince everyone that Loghain is evil - it didn't), and once I'd killed Loghain (I'm guessing there are other ways to resolve this - somehow my path was the violent one) it was just a matter of heading to a few locations before the final battle (several battles, actually). It was all signposted pretty well - but since I really wanted to wrap it up I left a bunch of things pending I could have resolved.

    The final battle is clearly meant to be epic - large in scale and scope. It doesn't quite work out that way, mostly because the PS3/game engine can't handle that many things going on. In fact, I had technical issues with all of the final battles (you can go to different parts of the city to kill some generals - presumably this makes the final battle against the dragon easier, so I did them all). In my case my characters abilities glitched out a lot, I was often stuck without being able to attack, and I was also able the cheese the dragon fight (thankfully). This is not a complaint, but perhaps more of an observation that (due what what I know of the game's development), the team was clearly running out of time and resources and uh...stuff didn't come out quite as polished as they would have liked.

    I enjoyed the epilogue as well - a bunch of reading describing what happened in the different areas of the game (based on your decisions) and so on.

    My ending?

    Alistair died.
    I refused Morrigan's deal (seemed too shady), so she left.
    Elina is Queen.
    Loghain was killed.

    I didn't have any romantic relationships occur between the characters (got really close for one of them) mostly because I didn't bother spending much time talking to the characters in camp and that sort of thing. Alistair and my character did kiss at the end - so maybe that counts?

    Oh, another surprise at the end was the introduction of a new system/mechanic (not that complicated to use, really - but still neat!). You can call/summon allies to help you in the different battles in the city. The dwarves, templars, elves, and Arl Eamon's men. There is some "strategy" in terms of picking the right ones (elves have ranged, but bad at melee - everyone else is melee). And, they definitely make a difference in terms of making things easier. Neat, and I'm surprised they threw that in...I guess it was part of trying to make things feel really epic?

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    Dead Cells (PC)    by   dkirschner       (May 31st, 2020 at 09:28:38)

    Pretty neat roguelike that I nonetheless quickly tired of playing. It's very repetitive and difficult. While I've come to appreciate this genre, I enjoy a steady sense of progression. This one seems to require you to grind out upgrades before progressing. I would like to experience more of the story because the setting is interesting and the few characters I've met, including the main character, are intriguing. There's some sort of disease called "the malaise" that's infecting people, and I gather that you can be infected too, but I didn't make it that far.

    Right, so the pixel art is great, the combat is smooth and responsive. One problem I have is that the screen quickly becomes an utter mess of status effects. I can't differentiate between what are my fire/poison/ice effects on the ground and what are the enemies'. You'll also quickly (by the second or third area) have upwards of 10 enemies right up on you. It quickly becomes chaotic and too much for me to track.

    There seems to be a good variety of weapons with all sorts of modifiers, from bleeds to freezing to dropping grenades on attack. You can equip two "normal" weapons (ranged or melee), two "special" weapons (like traps or grenades), and an amulet (passive effect). So you have four attacks too, which can be wildly different, and since you're changing weapons throughout a run and from run to run (because weapons are all random), keeping track of which button uses which attack, and which attacks you even have, can be a bit daunting.

    One thing I liked about the game was the merging of genres. It's not a standard roguelike, but incorporates elements of metroidvanias and soulslikes. You collect "cells" from enemies and use them to purchase upgrades. When you die, you lose all of your souls--I mean cells--and restart from the beginning of the game (yes, the beginning of the WHOLE GAME). It makes upgrades feel like you've really earned them and makes death meaningful (even though it often feels cheap). But, minus points for the title of this game, a clear aping of Dark Souls. Dark Souls, Dead Cells. Dank Seals, Doom Sails...The D--- S/C--- formula is gold.

    All in all, neat game, some cool ideas, definitely fun for a while and chaotic combat. Worth a shot, especially if you like roguelikes, and you'll probably come away with something memorable even if you don't stick it out.

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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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    Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (N64)    by   jtl144

    most recent entry:   Wednesday 5 March, 2014
    The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is the direct sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The controls are roughly the same: B to swing your sword / A to roll & side jump or other action, the C buttons for assignable items (Bow, Magical items, Hookshot, deku seed, Masks, etc..), but there are major changes to certain aspects that govern gameplay.

    The first notable difference is the addition of the transformation masks. During the first few minutes of the game, the main antagonist steals your horse and ocarina, and transforms you into a deku scrub and you follow him to Clock Town.

    Once you’re there, you have 3 in game days (1 game hour = 45 real life seconds) where you play as a deku scrub to you compete a series of events. The successful completion of these events ends with Link retrieving the ocarina and playing the song of time to time-travel 3 days in the past. If you’re able to do that, then with your ocarina in hand you make your way back to the happy mask salesman who teaches you a song to turn yourself back to normal. After the song finishes, a deku scrub mask falls off your face.

    In addition to this deku scrub mask, four other transformation masks are obtainable, though two of them (Fierce Deity’s Mask, and Giant’s Mask) are only use able in temple boss fights. These transformations (Deku Scrub, Goron, & Zora) allow Link to do new things and travel in new ways he was previously unable to do as normal Link. This allows for the player to progress through the puzzles with different tools sets. A large number of other masks are also obtainable by interacting with the clock town inhabitants. Many of the other non-transformation masks are not necessary to finish the game, but they help. For example, the bomb mask’s ability causes a bomb explosion that will not harm Link if you are using his shield.

    During your time as the deku scrub you learn that the antagonist has started using magic to pull the moon towards clock town, which will collide with the clock tower on midnight of the 3rd day. Link makes it his mission to stop this from happening.

    Progress is made by unlocking teleportation statues, learning songs, and obtaining masks & significant items. Before midnight on the third day, you must play the song of time and travel back to dawn of the first day. At this point, the status of the game world is reset, but the status of Link is not. You keep all of your status upgrades and items, except for all of your ammo, money, bombs, sticks, and other “replenish-able” items. There is a bank however, that is exempt from the reset of time; the money you deposit in the bank will stay there even after the time travel.

    One of the things I found most interesting about Majora’s Mask is that any one part of the game can be completed within the 3 day time limit after playing the inverted song of time to slow down the flow of game time, and the most difficult of the mask missions require almost all of the 3 day time limit. To me, it feels as if the game was designed to be challenging in this aspect. However some parts do feel repetitive. Especially if you forget to do one little thing before playing the song of time and resetting the game world. Then you might need to go back, and maybe beat a temple boss to change the world’s status before you’re able to do what needed to be done.

    The game world is split into 5 areas: Clock Town and the 4 cardinal directions. In each cardinal direction there is a different ecosystem / climate (Jungle, Mountains, Ocean, and Desert), that contains a player friendly zone (such as a smaller town), a temple, and non-temple dungeon-esque area. Once the dungeon is completed, the area undergoes a significant change. For example, when you finish the jungle temple, the water is no longer diluted with poison, and you’re able to swim in it without taking damage.

    I have played this game more times than I can remember, but for the purpose of this assignment I recently played it two more times. During my first play session I made it through the jungle temple. During my second play session, I spent most of time doing side quests (upgrading ammo storage, obtaining the optional masks, etc..).

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