I’ve been quietly – and sometimes not so quietly – enjoying the sheer indulgence of Assassins Creed Valhalla during this holiday period. In particular I’ve been checking off various myth and history references, along with different slants on plays. There are also some decidedly tongue in cheek pop culture references that have made me sit up, especially as to my eyes they come from a place of cheekiness and joy.
Some sample references have included a version of the story of Grendel and his mother where you refuse to take credit and so the character of Beowulf is created by the writer as a stand-in. There’s also an extended set of interrelated missions about a deposed lord and his three daughters that I’m pretty sure is a King Lear reference. For me though there’s two sets of references that have really stood out.
The first of these is set in the Weald and features a boy alone in the wood next to a big tree, trying to secure some honey for his friend who has been looking after him. Its a quiet little mission that does indeed have a bear (called Winifred) appear, eat the honey, and then amble off into the woods to play. The tree is a pretty good facsimile of the classic illustration of the tree from Winnie the Pooh, and you can carry it.
The second is in Essex, on the edges of Epping Forest, where a band is being harrassed by a priest who objects to their music. The lead singer, both in dialogue and visual appearance, is called Keith – and the whole thing is a very silly easter egg reference to The Prodigy. It is irredeemably daft and I love it for its sheer indulgence.
I’m a sucker for deep lore dives in games, let alone pointers to places and history I’m familiar with. I’ve been smiling with the memory of these moments, and that’s no bad thing.
Like an awful lot of people I played the original Neverwinter games as they emerged from the series of strong Dungeons & Dragons PC games developed by Black Isle and Bioware, so the news that a new title was coming out certainly made my ears prick up. I don’t play very much on the PC any more, mostly because I don’t have the budget, time, or desk space to dedicate to a gaming rig, and mostly play on consoles these days. That’s mostly why I didn’t pick up on Neverwinter when it launched on PC as a MMORPG – that and the fact that I was still playing EVE regularly and didn’t want to stretch either my wallet or time any further.
Fast forward a bit and the free release on the XBox One reminded me that it existed so I downloaded it and rather tentatively gave it a go. I’m glad I did, and it’s not just for nostalgia’s sake.
Neverwinter is a firmly traditional fantasy game with a rich tradition in games that have been published in the setting over the years. That history can be seen everywhere, from flavour decisions in character making, building and character design and naming conventions and in the lore liberally scattered around the place. There are enough players and NPCs around to feel that the city is a living and thriving location, matched by opponents that respawn fast enough to make their faction’s threats feel credible.
Considering how steep some games make their learning curve (I’m looking at you EVE), I was pleasantly surprised at the way the narrative was employed to peel aside the layers of complexity available to you as a player without feeling restrictive. In some ways that comes from the levelling system that (appropriately) feels entirely helpful and natural here – at least to this grizzled tabletop campaigner.
I’ve played through to level fifteen so far, and this morning spent some time unpicking the complicated process of talking someone through joining for a multiplayer group session. This took a bit of perseverence and I’m not sure if that was down to the XBox Friends/Party system or the Neverwinter shards/instance implementation. I suspect a little from column A and a little from column B – or at least the interface between the two. That said, when we’d managed to get into the right shard and team up it felt very smooth and the only disruption we had came from a technical issue with the other person’s XBox rather than any network or server-side problem.
Graphically, it feels a little last generation – but not unbearably so, and the sheer amount of things going on at once and the speed and ease of doing things make these part of the charm of the game. There’s a quietly retro feel to the game that I think is entirely appropriate. We’re not talking blocky Minecraft-style graphics or horrible glitches, but don’t expect to be parkouring around the neighbourhood.
I really like it – and I think I’ll be wandering around making myself a nuisance there for a while. There’s a huge amount of material and options that I’ve only just started to look at – including the professions minigame, crafting and making sense of the daily dungeons and alternate monetary systems at play. There’s a lot here that I suspect would make more sense if I’d ever played World of Warcraft – but beyond a ten minute demo a number of years ago that’s not been on my radar either so I’m learning a lot of this wholesale.
I’ll post more (spoiler-free) as I go along – there’s quite a lot to play with, which is always fun with a free-to-play game.
I’m still playing Sunless Sea and Fallen London a lot, with the campaign world inspiring all sorts of ideas for my D&D campaign. I might even do a little homebrew campaign based off it at some point.
I’m also still alternating between Rogue and Unity from the Assassins Creed stable of games, enjoying the story unfolding in each like an intricate series of flashbacks and flash forwards.
My go-to game for killing a few minutes is still Peggle2, while I really do need to get back into Destiny. Halo is also demanding more play, but the sandbox games are just exerting a greater pull at the moment.
The weekly D&D game continues to be a highlight of my week. This week, the bard learned the hard way not to stand in the breach when an angry dire ape wants to clamber through. I’ll do the proper writeup over the next few days.
Overall, the bleakness seems to be retreating, so the distractions must be working 🙂
Both Lady M and myself are on leave from our respective workplaces for the next couple of weeks – with a new job on her horizon and general chaos seemingly on mine. So we’re intending to carry on making the best of what life throws at us and grinning in adversity’s face.
Normally, this would be a weekend where the Charleesi would be staying with us, but with it being Christmas week, we’re instead having her arrival delayed a day. We’ll have her with us all week, so this is hardly a disaster. Instead of taking her riding this morning, as would be the normal part of our weekend routine, we had a lie-in (luxury) and while Jo sneaked a little last minute paperwork in, I fired up the Halo5 Multiplayer Beta.
Access for most people to the Beta is due to start next week, but I’ve joined a sneaky (relative) few by being part of the XBox One Preview testers. As a perk of taking part in testing out new features on the dashboard we’ve been given an extra weekend ahead of everyone else.
My first impressions? It’s a lot of fun. The first game or so felt a little odd in comparison to the more fluid run and gun play of games like Destiny and Titanfall, and I felt initially like I was moving a little more slowly than I would like. Then I stopped and checked the button mapping settings so that I wasn’t trying to double guess what I was doing. Once I’d remapped to the old Halo4 settings, it all felt a lot more natural.
There are four things that are new, and that to my mind are great improvements. Each of them is largely to do with movement:
Aiming down the barrel has been introduced, for all weapons, and it doesn’t break the game. I found movement still smooth, and getting hit by anything shifted me back out of it into the more traditional Halo viewpoint
Sprinting is available for everyone, as opposed to being an armour loadout as introduced in Halo4. This allows you to move in bursts, and overcomes the initial feeling of moving through molasses that I first noted. When you are sprinting, your shields do not regenerate, so there are real tactical advantages to both modes of movement when under fire.
Thrusters – the new suits include thrusters – also introduced as an armour loadout in Halo4 – for all players, to provide short bursts of speed. I could never get the hang of them in the previous game, but in this incarnation they’ve proved useful in both offense and defense. In addition they can be used to provide a brief hover time in a high jump and a Destiny Titan-like ground-pound attack that can be devastating.
Mantling – If you don’t quite make a jump and are near an edge, you can tap your jump button again and clamber on to the ledge you were aiming for. Familiar from Titanfall as an essential part of parkour-like vertical movement, I’ve been enjoying having this added to the new game.
It’s been really easy to string these various modes of movement together to perform rapid map traversals, especially on the more human industrial map called Empire. With a series of sprints, jumps, thrusters in mid-jump and mantle at the end, it’s possible to shift rapidly from one side of the map to the other and surprise opponents engaged with other members of your team in another direction.
At the moment there are only two maps available, and not all the classic weapons are in use yet, but everything has felt in balance.
The Assault Rifle benefits from the new scope abilities, becoming a short burst weapon when in use, or fully automatic when in normal mode. It’s a good all round weapon and I’m using it more than I thought.
The Pistol is more like the Halo2 pistol than the mighty Halo CE tool of destruction, but I’ve got more than a few head shots at range with the scoped mode and it’s a good semi-auto weapon that will keep up with trigger pulls with a minimum of spread.
The SMG is a good short range weapon that deals a lot of damage but that tapers off quite rapidly at medium range and above.
The Sniper Rifle continues to be an excellent power weapon, and the Empire map contains two of them. If you already like the sniper, you’ve nothing to complain about here.
The Battle Rifle is still the weapon of choice for my money – a great balance of fire and precision.
The DMR is a great compromise between the Battle Rifle and the Sniper Rifle, but I’ve yet to fall back in love with it. I suspect on bigger maps it will come into its own.
The Energy Sword continues to be a lethal tool, but is balanced by just how bright it is – I’ve run the risk of running right past people when I’ve had it equipped because I’ve not seen them through the glare. A better tactic is to run around with your rifle and quickly switch to the Sword when in close quarters.
Competitive Ranking is back – I’ve just qualified as Bronze II, so I’ve a long way to go as I get used to the game. I’m not too worried about that – I’m well aware that I’m an average gamer at best, but I’m competitive enough to want to hone my performance. Matchmaking so far has been pretty good at providing even matches – to the point where even if the final score has looked unbalanced at 50-28, it’s never felt like a walk-over. Every point has felt hard-won.
So – guess what I’ll be carrying on doing in between delivering presents, doing last minute grocery shopping and partaking of the occasional tipple..?
I’ve just finished running through the single-player campaign of Halo CE as presented in the recent Master Chief Collection, and I’d forgotten how tough and unforgiving it was. I was only playing on Normal difficulty, and found myself alternating between nostalgic joy at the classic run and gun play and wanting to rage quit as invisible Elites insta-killed me, Sentinels set me on fire, or Flood kept getting back up as fast as I could shotgun them down.
Have I enjoyed it? Oh hell yes, and at the same time I’m glad I’ve got through the campaign. Now I can move on to Halo 2, to see what the remastered graphics look like. I still need to go back and get a couple of the terminals and skulls – and I’ll try to play through levels at higher levels. Maybe I’ll try to speed run and beat the par times and scores too – there’s a lot of challenges buried in this remix that have me hooked enough to keep coming back, even if the multiplayer is only now starting to be reliable.
EVE is a beautiful game, and only getting prettier, with new shiny bits and bobs getting added all the time in the free expansions. What’s even more impressive is how low the hardware and connection specifications have needed to be over the years.
Even with less reliable connections, unless you’ve been in high traffic systems or engaged in huge fleet actions, you can usually have a reliable experience. This isn’t always going to be the case, but if today’s announcement of a new minimum client hardware specification is anything to go by, we’re not about to get priced out of the game just yet. Just as well – I love being able to play this game as a slow burn on a spare monitor while I write, or while catching up on TV with my laptop beside me. I may not be making Empires quake in their boots, but the quiet satisfaction of finding new corners of this rich game universe does it for me.
So here’s some snapshots from EVE as pretty eye-candy to keep us all going while I take a few days away from the coalface – or at least the paying work – to write, spring clean, chill out and fly the occasional internet spaceship…
Last week saw the latest expansion to EVE and a whole host of changes to the way that the in-game universe is explored, along with some polishing of graphics and the way that inter-system transfers are depicted. The biggest visual difference that many people notice when undocking is a sweeping overlay scan of their current system that highlights a number of anomalies in the area.
The general idea is that this encourages people to search these odd blips out and discover a range of things to make their lives more interesting/richer. The anomalous readings may correspond to pirate lairs, hidden resources for miners or wormholes that can be used to either shortcut across known space or that lead to unstable but profitable areas out in unexplored pockets in the universe.
Using probes (essentially small drones with sensor packages, a familiar enough concept from many scifi shows and games over the years), it has always been possible to track down sites or hidden players, but one of the changes this time round has been to simplify the system. I’d tried half-heartedly to use probes before but found it too fiddly for the sort of game I was playing at the time, so it was always on the back-burner as something to consider doing on a rainy day that was always just being put off a bit more.
Not really having that excuse any more, I therefore had to see what all the fuss was about. To that end therefore I broke out my Zephyr – a specialist probe ship that was given away as a freebie by CCP a while ago to subscribers and took it out for a spin in the local system.
Just to make it more difficult for myself, I didn’t read any instructions. I wanted to see if the process was as instinctive as claimed in the press releases, and to be fair I only had a couple of moments where I had to retrace my steps. Effectively a mini-game within a map of the system, the ship launches a spread of probes with their effective scanning ranges overlapping. Through a series of radar-like triangulations you essentially move the centre point of the formation within a spherical and then circular area as you get nearer to pinning down the anomalous location.
My delight at being able to pin it down fairly quickly was then tested by needing to poke my head through the wormhole I’d discovered, and find out where it went.
As the Zephyr is an unarmed ship largely made of what looks like cardboard and the insulating blankets handed out at the end of marathons (not to mention being comparatively rare these days), I decided to explore in something a little more robust, so I quickly fitted out an Algos destroyer with some basic equipment held in stock in the system and went to have a look. The appearance in-game is both lovely and a little uneasy, with visual distortions that get more severe the nearer you approach, so I took a big gulp of coffee and dived in…
… and found a beautiful if desolate space scape on the other side. Mindful of tales told in forums and the help channel in-game I quickly bookmarked the wormhole’s location on this side and ran a quick directional scan. There didn’t appear to be anyone around, but that was fine by me as the fear of what could be out there, from killer AI to players protecting their claim prompted me to bug back out the way I’d come. It was unnerving, but fun – and there’s nothing quite like successfully doing something in a game that you’ve never managed before so I didn’t feel too bad about chickening out at that point.
The discussion on G+ where I shared these photos initially continues to put a smile on my face, and I think has encouraged me to refine my probing skills (oo-er, missus!) and start exploring these new vistas. It’s daunting as an essentially solo player to undertake, but that’s just how I’ve chosen to play given my time constraints, so we’ll see where it leads.
If any of this has piqued your interest, there’s a 21 day free trial available and (being transparent) if you sign up on an ongoing basis, I get bonuses and freebies in-game which would be rather cool 😉
T’other half is out somewhere in London, presumably having a good time at a colleague’s leaving do. As half expected, the “I’ll be there a couple of hours and come home for supper” hasn’t happened, so I’m deciding whether to make something light or order some take-out. Hopefully I’ll get a text message back soon to confirm either way what the plans are, otherwise I’ll make a random choice to push back the grumpiness that comes with being a diabetic with low blood sugar.
Today hasn’t really gone entirely to plan, which is a bit of a pain. With it being pay day I’ve been sorting out bills, sending invoices and doing several trips to the supermarket to stock up the freezer and get some basic supplies in. I’ve almost certainly not got everything, as my brain has been somewhat scatty today and I’ve had to keep going back to get odds and ends. I’ve also ended up picking up parcels that should have been delivered yesterday, put out the washing, done a small mountain of washing up and hoovered the bedroom and bathroom because, well, it just needed doing.
I’ve popped on to EVE and updated skill training and done a bit of mining while chatting to a few people, and then on to Dust514 for some random Skirmish and Domination matches. There’s even been a bit of writing, but not as much as I’d hoped.
Now I’m just trying to get back into playing Skyrim after a year and a bit break. I’ve decided that rather than dive back into my original character I’ll start up a new one and play differently to get back up to speed – then I can go back to the main to finish that one’s storyline. Well, it’s something to do, isn’t it?
Am I annoyed with my day so far? Yes – but I’m not going to dwell on it. Time to eat and get back to transcribing from notebooks. This evening’s section of novel concerns a battle with a banshee in a greasy spoon cafe…