Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition is an amazing game. The story is solid, the fights are fun, the abilities are varied enough to enjoy, but not so much that they fade to obscurity (like in DA:O). BioWare excelled again at writing characters that are believable, interesting, and intelligent. They set the bar for that in video games.

I thoroughly enjoyed the game, but spent the better part of a year completing it. Below is not a well-written review, but a hodge podge of thoughts, notes, and other things I wrote over the span of a year while I played it. Hope it is at least partly coherent



The fade rift in Hinterlands, is not killable with a party at level 3. Feels very out of place. Came back to that damn rift in the Hinterlands at level 6. Still not doable. The mobs are level 12 (thanks tac cam!), and brutal. Why did they put this so close to a spot I cross all the time?!

As for the party members. Solas seems even enough at the start, but then the snooty-ness comes out. And not in a good way.

Sera is a mischief maker, to no end. She's fun enough, but not deep. She doesn't want to be, and pushing it frustrates her.

Varric is the same as Varric from DA2. Sneaky, charismatic, fun-loving, and an all around awesome bro.

Cassandra starts out as you remember her from DA2. Very severe, very focused. As you get to know her, you chip away some of her armor. The story points between her and Varric are good. It makes her feel more human.

Cole is scary. Not horror scary, mysterious scary. Something is sad and dark in there and I want to know more. I love that people just don't notice him.

Blackwall has yet to join my party - TODO.

Iron Bull is smart, much smarter than I thought. I haven't bantered with him much because I've always needed a tanky character and Cassandra fit the romance-able tank role (*shakes fist at Avaline*). His conversations are good though - he's smart. It makes sense why and how he runs the mercenaries he does.

Vivienne is the personification of snooty-ness, in a shell of unbreakable mage will. She's awesome. I also loved that using the direct romance options are immediately shut down in an air of pity, like "No dear, I don't think so."

For the war table people, Cullen is the typical brilliant strategist, without going too overboard with the whole if-I-hit-it-with-my-sword-maybe-it-will-die schtick.

Lelianna comes back from DA:O, with more mystery than before. She's a powerful ally, and you quickly see that having her on your side is a really good thing.

I couldn't save Maneave in the fires, so Helisma replaced her. Hmm...



Starting Jaws of Hakkon at level 11 (it recommended around level 20). Any enemies would one shot me, so I had to be sneaky/careful/abuse the game. First scripted encounter at a boat man's place was un-winnable, but stealthing up to the group then running into a house somehow despawned them. Talking to the boat man and turning in a quest in the main hub boosted my group to level 13. A few more quests later, I'm level 15 and able to kill things. Also the mod I could buy for Bianca helped a ton with the DPS problem.

Carrying a veilfire torch into a cinematic is kinda neat. No one questioned why I was holding it, it was just there. Does that count as player choice? If so, I don't think they intended it...

Unique enemy mobs were a great addition. It feels like I've accomplished something when I kill them.

Just lost 2 hours of game progress because I tried to beat Jaws of Hakkon with a level 17 group. Unfortunately that's one level shy of getting a decent gear upgrade. Most of my DPS is just from Varric, with his no-level-requirements upgrades to Bianca. Dang it. No, I did not want to switch to casual -- I can finish this game on normal!

So I flipped back the main story line. Finishing up the quests from Adamant on. It didn't take too long. I short-cut it quite a bit by just buying my power from the scrolls merchant in Skyhold. I would have loved to spend more time on sidequests, and playing more content, but I don't have the time.

I finished up the remainder crit path, and finally beat the last boss. It was enjoyable, the fights were tough enough, but not overly. My party was quite overpowered with their Jaws of Hakkon level ~20 equipment.


I want to go back and play more side quests, but there are other things in the game queue to be beaten. Until then, it has been a pleasure old friend. I'll still be debugging you at work, so we'll have that for a while longer...

Transistor

Picked this up because it's from the team that did Bastion.

The art is gorgeous, and frames the story/combat/background perfectly.

The controls and gameplay are fluid. The combat seamlessly blends into your normal exploration, while still having small hints of RPG throwbacks. For instance, an area seals off around you, your action bar become available, etc.

The main character walks a bit slow, but it's the right pace for the fights. It's still slow for exploration, but the game is quite linear overall.

The voice over carries the story in a well paced manner -- giving you a bit of exposition as you need it, but never overwhelming you. Very well done. The OVC terminals are also a neat way to show her thoughts and emotions without having her speak. It's clever, also well-paced, and immersive.

The function system is solid. It almost requires a bit of time to make sure you know how they work, and how to optimize them. They give you a testing room to test out combinations, which is nice. There's also a testing ground in the same area that challenges you in a puzzle to kill enemies under a certain time, kill enemies in one turn, or survive. I loved this, but it was tough at times.

Functions can be equipped to sockets in the Transistor (A, B, X, Y slots). Functions can be equipped directly to a slot, as an active command, or they can be equipped into an upgrade slot of an active command. They can also be equipped to a passive slot, so with just a few functions, you already have a lot of combinations to choose from! Each function costs between 1 and 4 memory to equip, so you'll have to make a choice on what to keep pretty early on.

When you level up, you get to pick a new function from a choice of 2. Then you choose more memory, an additional upgrade slot, or an additional passive slot. Finally you choose a new limiter, which you can activate to make the game more challenging, but also give you more experience per fight. I played the majority of the game with most limiters on, but I avoided getting any limiters that reduced my total memory.

Dying doesn't end the game, it breaks one of your functions. You get to continue the fight after that, but you're going to be in much worse shape. On top of that, if you manage to beat the fight, you have to get to 2 more checkpoints before the function is restored. I think it was their intention to force you to try out new abilities. The challenge rooms were a good way to help me try out new abilities and see new combinations -- this was just frustrating.

On a minor positive note, I've learned from experience it never removes your last damaging function. If you happen to have an off-hitting function though, it will almost always destroy the main one... with the 2 upgrades... that was doing 99% of the damage for you...

Things I loved:
* When you boot the game, it immediately continues your game. No title menu, no choice selectoin, just GO.
* The art, controls, dialogue are awesome
*  The functions are well thought out, and fun to toy around with combinations
* There is new game plus

Things I "did not love"
* The above notes about the consequences of dying. I basically just restarted from checkpoint when something broke
* Walking around was a bit slow
* Could use a few more boss fights


If you haven't played it yet, it's well worth it.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Defense Grid 2

I picked this up on the kick starter campaign, because the first one was the best tower defense game I'd played.

The voice acting is quite good, despite what they're saying being a very thinly stretched plot. The amount of audio exposition that happens after the level is beaten, messes with the pacing. I understand why they did it -- it gives you something to listen to, while checking your scores against other people, but it makes the level that you finally beat with a gold medal require you to wait a few more minutes before moving on. I only played the game on the Hard difficulty, so by the time I finished the level, I was kinda done with it. There is also a lot of text that is given to you at the start of each level, which will not make sense for over half the game.

They added three new features to the game, and removed flying units -- which helped focus the game to a ground based defense model. The first is boost towers, which allow you to cheaply route the enemies without having to build a lot of unnecessary gun towers, and they also allow buying a boost to the tower that you build on top of it (more damage, more score for enemies killed around it, or stealth detection). It was a nice touch.

The second thing they added was upgrades that you have a chance of getting at the end of beating a level. The upgrades affect a specific tower, and you can choose which upgrade to put on each of your towers before starting a level. My personal favorite upgrade was the tachyon ones, which slow down enemies when you hit them. Second to that was the one that changes the targeting to hit the strongest unit, which was great for cannons or missile towers.

The last thing they added was the ability to purchase extensions to the map, so you have more places to build, or more paths to route the aliens. It's not always clear how it's modifying the map, but after a few quick purchases and rewinds, it all makes sense.

I'd highly recommend picking it up. It was an improvement to the first.

Also, if you're confused on the new scoring system you should check this discussion. Defense Grid 1 used a rating system of remaining currency + X per core you still have + sell value = total score. Defense Grid 2 is similar, but not as transparent. It makes sense when you think about it. You score better if you can build a more efficient defense.

The typical graph for scoring in any level.

My strategy for the last level. Surprisingly it took only 2 rewinds to get to this setup.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Dishonored

Picked up the GOTY version on Steam, but I likely won't have time to play the DLCs.

I was interested in playing another stealth game, since the last one I played was Deux Ex: Human Revolution, but it can get quite tedious, and I'm hoping to finish more than one game a month.

The controls are very fluid, the graphics well done and nicely stylized, the story is good although slightly predictable, and the voice acting is superb.

I started out going with stealth, then switched to murdering everyone to speed up the game. In a level load screen, I see a tip that says that killing people makes the world more chaotic and more rats and ghouls will exist in the new levels as a result. Hmm, must try to avoid killing people unless necessary. Also, I should avoid knocking people out near a swarm of rats, which will then eat the unconscious person...

The runes and bone charms upgrade system they have is pretty neat. You can pick up to 10 bone charms to be active, which give small perks (move faster in stealth, breaking glass is quieter, mana potions give you more mana, etc.). For the rune powers, I went with the blink ability early, and it was very useful. Also, getting the sight power has been amazing -- I can find all of the money and interactables much more quickly, so I can buy more upgrades and get through the game faster. It's almost like the Batman vision. After that I got faster movement, time dilation, possession, and shadow kills. Okay, possession is really sweet. For the levels with dogs, you can possess the dog, run through most of the level, then leave the dog and finish it up quick. Very good for getting through this quickly. Blink and the vision allow you to regen the mana spent on them naturally, but possession and slow time take more mana than you regen, so you have to keep drinking elixirs.

Also, I remapped the keys very early so that the heart, blink, and vision were 1, 2, 3. The rest of the hotkeys map to items that kill things which is less of a priority. I can also mouse wheel to them. Or just straight up kill them with my sword, which is by-far the easiest thing to do.

I started this game in April 2014, played a bit in August and just now finished it up in January. It took just a bit under 20 hours to complete the game. I'd highly recommend it for anyone that likes a good stealth game, where you don't have to play stealth. I think they force you into stealth much less than in Deux Ex: Human Revolution.





Tuesday, January 6, 2015

SteamWorld Dig

This is a quick review because I have a baby on my lap, and don't want to forget to post this.

I picked up for free via PSPlus on PS4.

I beat this game in 5:11, every minute was enjoyable.

The story is simple, the controls are smooth as butter, the graphics are beautiful, and the progression is extremely well paced.

I highly recommend playing it.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Legend of Grimrock 2

So this is one of the few games that I actually pre-ordered. I usually don't do that. I usually wait for a Steam sale, or at least a 50% off discount. This game I couldn't wait for. I occupied a bit of time by playing the ORRR2 mod for the first game.

The gameplay is just what I loved from the first one. Grid based movement and tactics. The enemies are extremely difficult if you play on hard. I was unable to get past the first boss after 10+ attempts. I switched to normal and that felt like enough of a challenge.

If you find a gold key, make sure you don't waste it. If you don't mind some spoilers, you can at least choose what to spend it on by checking this Steam community page

Same for potions. You can spend your ingredients early, or check what they can become by checking this Steam community page

The puzzles are a very good improvement, which is amazing because the first game's puzzles were so good. One of the nice differences, is that you are usually given a glimmer of something that you just need to find a way to get to. A chest hidden behind trees, or in a location you'd have to drop down to, or find a secret door to reach. I really like this because it narrows down the amount of tedious wall checking that was involved in the first one. You'll still check walls, but usually with a purpose.

The graphics and very well done. All of the animations and monster variation from the first were quite enjoyable. They also added a new angle of tactical combat, with some enemies attacking while turning, and others doing a fast side-step and then attacking, or even enemies that can jump and flank you. Lots to learn and enjoy.

The bosses in the game were nice, but one of the bosses in particular I considered to be a bit of a test of patience. The poison gas boss was really annoying if you did not have poison resistance. It also summoned minions if you didn't take out the key points, so you have to prioritize that as soon as possible. I spend easily 30 minutes figuring out a pattern, then another 20 getting it right and getting out before being overrun.

The last boss of the game felt like a huge improvement from the first. Minor spoilers continuing here... Make sure you're geared for lots of normal damage, stock up on potions and healing crystals, and be prepared to dish out lots of damage quickly. Anti-venom potions and speed potions would also be good. He does tons of damage, and spawns minions the entire fight. Beat him down as quickly as possible without being too risky. He tends to hit you back pretty quick. I found the cannon worked decently well for good hits from across the field, but hitting him up close with heavy weapons works really well too. I'm not sure if anything comes after mummies, but I killed him before the mummies...

Overall I would highly recommend this game to anyone that played and enjoyed the first. It's fabulous.

And now for some pictures. Sadly almost all pictures of the game contain spoilers because you can see the gear images.








November 24, 2014

I went back into the game a while back, and kept digging for secrets. I apparently missed a few large areas of the game somehow... I found the last of the shards, an extra few boss fights, and the real ending. It was well worth the effort, and I'm glad they gave us so much with this game. Thanks Almost Human Games!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Anodyne

Anodyne looked really appealing in the pictures, good art style and Zelda like.

The puzzles are good, but if felt a bit lacking in that you don't get that many items, so you end up reusing the same trick quite a few times per dungeon. Also, the same layouts/tricks seem to come up quite often. If you see a lock, and have a key, but there is another path, you have to go down the other path first, because there is a second lock a few rooms past the first lock.

Some of the puzzles were much more abusive than Zelda's puzzles, but you do get checkpoints that you can spawn back at if you die. And you'll die a lot... You also get warp gates quite often, so you don't have to spend a lot of time manually backtracking. This was an awesome feature.

The boss fights were almost usually trivial, because I could just swap hits with the boss until I won because I had more hitpoints. I think only one or two fights I had to actually use tactics. The last fight was one of these.

The characters and dialogue in the game are anywhere from simple and random, to amazingly creepy. Like, wow that's creepy. The ambient sounds usually helped with the creepy factor.

The controls are pretty good if you use a controller, but the Android on screen controls were almost impossible for some of the fighting you have to do in the game.

You will have to collect cards to finish the game. All of them. So don't skip any if you see them. The warp gates light up when you have found all the cards in that particular area.

As far as length, it took about 4.5 hours to beat completely. Some of that was a bit tedious, but overall it was enjoyable.

The good:
Good blend of puzzles and exploration keep you entertained throughout
The visuals are really good when they're good

The bad
The visuals can be really bad in some areas, and this is done on purpose.
It gets very creepy at parts, maybe just from a dark sense of humor?
The twitch jumping and bullet hell rooms were not even remotely enjoyable. They were probably the weakest point of the game. For this alone, I am extremely glad I switched to a controller on Steam instead of attempting to finish this on my Android.

These kinds of screens happen too often...

You find red bugs that give you an extra hit point.


This pretty well sums up how often you'll die. By the end I think I died over 30 times. Sometimes just to get back to a checkpoint faster though...