Grumpy

Just one of those days – its a bit quiet, emails were few and far between, work planned for tomorrow is tomorrow, and a minor storm in a teacup incident is eating away at me far out of proportion to what it actually is – especially as its something that is generally solving itself.

My jumping up and down therefore seems unhelpful, so I’ve been killing aliens on the XBox instead, using the new controller that Lady M bought me as a lockdown “just because” present.

A thing of beauty

Its made up in the red/purple/pinks of the bi flag, and has a lovely solidity to its grip and play. She had it custom made through the Microsoft website and it arrived this morning.

So thats a good thing.

Gaming Chez M

Last month I was locked in to Skyrim as game of choice. I haven’t completed the game by any stretch when talking about the DLC options, but I think I reached saturation levels recently.

That’s why I took advantage of a recent sale and bought Mass Effect: Andromeda. I have to admit I didn’t buy it when it came out for two reasons. Firstly it was bloody expensive. Secondly my news feeds were full of muttering about animation glitches and lackluster reviews.

This sale brought it down to half price for one of the digital deluxe editions, so I thought it would be rude not to now, especially when there had been ample opportunities for patching updates. 

We also found a gift card that Lady M had got from work, so we picked out a couple of games for her – one of which was Steep (and it’s Season Pass) – a snow sports game with more than few nods towards her favourite game series: SSX.

As I am currently working a bit closer to home this month, I’m often back before she is, so I’m grabbing an hour or so of Andromeda a day. Then after we’ve eaten and caught up on some shows, it’s Lady M’s turn to create some virtual havoc of her own.

So – Mass Effect is… Rather appealing actually. I’ve described it to a couple of people as space opera with heart – not just for the usual Bioware diverse dating options for characters – but for its themes of family, loyalty, and building a future. This (so far) is in stark contrast to the original stories with had an almost Lovecraftian horrors to the struggles of the characters against literally monolithic and uncaring alien entities intent on consuming whole species without care for the individual.

In this iteration there’s more of a Wild West feel of building from the rubble of shattered dreams and the formation of new chances. Yes there are uncaring lyrics aggressive alien machines and a mystery of godlike technologies to unravel, and all new alien races adjusting to your arrival on the scene. At every turn you are reminded that humanity is the invader here and it’s your choice as to how you take things from there.

And that appeals to me – along with the hugely open world maps that are, frankly, gorgeous and full of things to discover.

Yes, there are elements that bug me: not all scene animations are skippable, but enough are to not be too much of an issue. In addition, unlike many games, it’s not possible to boost past dialogue to get tot the decision points. I read a lot faster than the characters talk, and so while it’s a minor gripe it has got me sometimes tapping my fingers and willing the characters to just hurry up – oh and some of the idling animations while characters talk are a bit limited and don’t seem always suited to where they are and what they’re doing. It’s small things that generally I can handwave, except when I can’t. 

No biggie.

Steep, by contrast, caters to Lady M’s adrenaline junkie side with snowboarding, skiing, wingsuits, sleds, and more all available for her to use to throw herself down virtual mountain tops. It’s an unforgiving game with some truly unpleasant sound effects and ragdoll animations when her avatar hits the ground/snow/rocks/trees/buildings at speed, awkward angles, or both.

But visually it’s a feast, and when she overcomes the urge to rage-quit the skill challenge has her gripped and determined to win.

Which frees me up to write more. Because I’m not too proud to distract her when a story is rattling in my skull…

So yay, gaming wins all round at our place.

Games etc

Games continue to be an essential stress relief mechanism for me, as well as being the more traditional amusement and distraction. For the most part recently I seem to have been largely enjoying old favourites rather than trying anything as a new release.

In part that’s down to the sheer expense of new AAA titles, but there’s also a bit that is just enjoying the familiarity of old favourites like Skyrim, Overwatch, and Halo5. 

For Skyrim (I’m playing the XBox One Remaster), it’s knowing that I can casually drop in, do a bit, and then pause at any point to cook/serve up food, or respond to Lady M’s deliberations over restaurant reservations for the upcoming Disney trip.

The other titles are more twitch-based online play. I enjoy different elements of each, with Halo Warzone games being a very different experience to playing Mercy in Overwatch as a favourite. 

The latter feels somehow more strategic even though it’s on smaller maps with a more cartoon kinetic energy, while Halo even at its scrappiest still has an epic feel and scope.

They all keep me happy in various ways. I suspect no one who knows me will be even remotely surprised by that sentiment.

The backward compatibility rolling programme is also encouraging me to go back and finish games I never got round to putting effort into first time around – and with so many appearing as download options recently I have the added incentive of not having to swap out discs to dip into them. This evening, on a whim, I’ve left the first Injustice game and Deus Ex installing quietly, and I’m quietly looking forward to rediscovering them.

Now if I wasn’t so brain-dead from work at the moment.

Christmas part four or five

I don’t know what it is about this year’s Christmas but its proving rather extended. Between our journeys North and Back Again, we seem to be distributing presents on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun and appeals to that part of me that likes putting smiles on people’s faces. It just doesn’t seem to stop right now.

Today was the turn of the Charleesi and her mother, the ex-Lady M. While handing out presents from us, friends, and family we chatted about those friends and family – and how it is now less than a year until we all go away together to Disney. The ex-Lady M continues to pretend not to be excited yet, while the Charleesi and Lady M are just… plotting…

The big gift for the Charleesi this year was one a whole bunch of us contributed to: an XBox. Being her father’s daughter she joined in our conversations while systematically unpacking the various cables and components. I watched her lay them out, strip off packaging and then quietly wire it all up and into the existing AV equipment before squeeing and clapping her hands as it powered up and started its setup process.

Its moments like that which make me so proud, and which make the extended present deliveries so worthwhile, because I get to share the excitement. And in the case of the Charleesi, as she put it, I can now co-op play Halo5 with her. So there’s a bonus 🙂

Just One More Go

wpid-wp-1441220252426.jpegI don’t know. Have any of you ever had that experience of trying to play a game and just running out of time because the real world has other ideas? I’ve got one of those situations at the moment in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.

Most of the time when I play open world games like this, I’m able to just dip in and out – and I often get so distracted by the sheer wealth of options that I never end up actually finishing anything. With this game I’ve been actively pushing through the story instead. Admittedly, this is because I’ve completed pretty much every side quest and found every collectible item so there’s admittedly not much else to do on the map. More pressingly it’s also because I have Fallout 4 and FarCry Primal sitting next to my console, glinting prettily and waving to my jackdaw instincts.

acsyndThis week’s irritation has been trying to complete the finale of a series of missions that bring you to Buckingham Palace during a grand ball – having run through a series of challenges to obtain disguises, a carriage, invitations and the location of building plans. Normally I’ve been able to rampage through missions within ten to twenty minutes or so, depending on the complexity of the victory conditions and how interested in all the pretty graphics I’m feeling. The missions typically require you to play one or the other of the twin protagonists, but this one that vexes me is telling the story of a joint mission where each sibling is doing alternating parts of the sequence.

So, it’s already more complicated in structure – but it’s also proving to take longer than expected – and life keeps intruding. If it’s not meal cooking times, it’s people phoning halfway through. If it’s not guests arriving, it’s the need to head out to work. I know, I know – first world problems. Compared to the crises and problems we’ve been dealing with this year though, it’s moderately luxurious to be only worrying about completing a section of a game.

Oh well. I’ll have another crack at it tomorrow. At least I know how to crack the early parts of the mission with maximum style and minimum surprise now…

Gaming Recovery

wpid-wp-1427066913510.jpegOne of the ways that I deal with my depression and assorted mental glitches is to play games – on the PC, on consoles, or round the table. The distraction of concentrating on these activities is extremely useful, and Lady M has got used to my dealing with tough times by diving into games where I shoot waves of aliens, wander post-apocalyptic wastelands, or parkour across the rooftops of various historical cityscapes.

This last couple of weeks, I’ve been diving into Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, and having a great time – not just because it is set in my home town and the views are spectacular but because it’s rather cathartic to be immersing myself myself in something other than the crap that’s currently taken over our lives. I was discussing this in therapy just the other night, and was moderately relieved not to have this dismissed as an unhealthy escape. This is largely because one of the joys of my recovery has been finding and putting in place better coping mechanisms than the awful ones I’ve been able to put aside. Even though it has been nearly eight years since I last did anything consciously harmful to myself, I still count myself as still being in recovery. Healthy alternative coping mechanisms and boundary setting are as important now as they have ever been.

But back to the games: before Syndicate, I was playing Fallout 4, but I’ve put it to one side for now as it’s so open ended. Syndicate has a specific storyline despite the open world elements, that is a lot tighter/linear than Fallout’s. The plan is to return to Fallout once I’ve completed Syndicate, then break from that to another of the many games that I still haven’t quite completed. Admittedly, this list is rather long. With a very quick glance over at what’s stacked next to the console I can see:

  • The Witcher 3
  • Lego Marvel Super Heroes
  • Sunset Overdrive
  • Shadows of Mordor
  • Disney Infinity 3
  • Forza 6
  • Lego Batman 3
  • Assassin’s Creed Unity (I know, I know, but I should at least finish the story)
  • Assassin’s Creed Rogue (last-gen but again, I haven’t quite finished it)
  • Forza Horizons 2 (should really complete those last few championships and challenges)
  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
  • Metal Gear Solid V

Ah well, plenty of distractions to keep me occupied. Of course, the best distraction is my Monday night D&D group, which continues to bemuse, aggravate and pleasantly uplift me on a regular basis – largely because of the social element, even with (or because of) it being through a screen rather than round the table. I’ve upgraded my Roll20 membership to Pro level over the last few months, and really must devote some time to perfecting some of the more obscure toys in that sandbox.

Something to look forward to then. I, and Lady M, definitely need that right now.

 

Disney Infinity 3.0

I splashed out a bit on Lady M’s Christmas presents this year, and bought her the new version of Disney Infinity. I’d resisted the previous versions despite the sleek appearance of the toys, but having seen her eyes lingering over the new Star Wars-themed sets that came out late last year I thought it was as good a time as any. Besides, the adverts have looked fun and some other friends who are Disney geeks have been quietly raving about them in positive terms.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of the game, it allows you to use a range of classic Disney characters, along with Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar characters to play a variety of professionally and community-created scenarios. The tools to create and share your own content are included within the hub software, and a particularly bright feature is that the game allows split-screen play so that you can sit on the couch side by side. Characters can be mixed and matched between franchises smoothly and easily – but here’s what for me was the catch:

To get new playable characters, you have to buy a corresponding model. There’s an element of collectable mania that you risk if you want to get your hands on a good selection.

The relatively good news is that the statues are not particularly expensive at around the £10 mark each, depending on where you look – and they do look good. We already collect Funko Pops and other statuettes related to our various geeky interests, so the prospect of having more character figures around the place – let alone ones that also have another game-related function – is not a particularly daunting one.

A lot of the usual Disney attention to detail is in evidence here – the account each of us was prompted to make to use the online features picked up that we already had Disney accounts from our recent holidays and tied into those rather than creating duplicates. Background graphics and features refer to various famous Disney landmarks park and film features, and the likenesses of a huge number of characters appear. The immersion in the huge portfolio of Disney worlds is both impressive and, if you are a fan, kind of reassuring. Your mileage, of course, may vary…

So – is it fun? Absolutely – the game is aimed at a young audience, but is a delight full of Disney trivia. The games are typically platform-based and adopt a stylised 3D style that reminds me of the more recent Star Wars cartoon series. Even though I bought the game for Lady M, we’ve both been enjoying playing and learning about the system together and we’re losing a lot of time to it. It’s just as well neither of us are working this week!

 

More Halo 5 Thoughts

I hadn’t finished the campaign when I last wrote about Halo 5, and I hadn’t even touched the multiplayer side of things. Now I have done both, so it’s time for a few more relatively spoiler-free musings.

The single-player campaign is surprisingly brief, despite being fifteen levels in length. Three of those levels are not combat orientated, and are basically an excuse to hide exposition and collectible items. The traditional Skulls denoting different game modifiers are hidden in each level, and there are also varying numbers of audio files that provide extra background information to find as well.

The level design is pretty much a traditional linear progression from point A to point B, with wide open spaces for large numbers of set piece encounters. It’s very Halo, and there’s a comfort in that. What is very different is the AI of your team.

In previous Halo games, the player has typically been a lone wolf figure, battling through seemingly insurmountable odds. Any additional computer-controlled characters have tended to just be cannon fodder, useful only for the weapons and ammo they drop when killed by the opposing forces.

In this game your team is actually pretty helpful. They provide covering fire, can be ordered to concentrate fire on designated targets and pick up weapons if you tell them to. Most importantly, they can revive you and others for a short period after incapacitation, which makes a huge difference in avoiding restarting levels and checkpoints.

The team support is so good in fact, that it’s only really at the Legendary level of difficulty that I started to find them less helpful. There isn’t a huge difference between difficulty in playing Normal and Heroic, but the step from Heroic to Legendary actually made it feel a challenge because it was so noticeably harder.

This is a good thing, though maybe playing co-op will make it easier. I haven’t done that yet as no one in my usual gamer circle has yet bought the game, and without split screen I can’t play on the couch with anyone (yep, sorry, raising this one again).

That said, I enjoyed the story, even if it suffered from the curse of setting up the sequel rather than resolving anything. The new big bad is suitably worrying, even if their reasons for acting feel out of character and petty. I’m not sold on their motivations (how’s that for vague spoiler-light fare?) even if I’m more sold on their allies’s reasons for joining.

The multiplayer side of things is slick, there is no doubt, and I’ve enjoyed it far more than I did Destiny’s Crucible games, if only because the skill matching seems generally more even. The current PvP modes seem balanced, and I’ve rarely experienced lag. On my connection, that’s pretty impressive.

I had worried that the new Halo would prove to be a bit of a one trick pony, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by its replay value and the online carnage. I’m actually looking forward to the new content landing next week, including Big Team Battles in Arena, which has always been a favourite.

Why I Won’t Be Buying The Taken King

I’ve been deliberating over whether to buy into the latest expansion for Destiny: The Taken King for a while now, and on reflection, barring a major price drop, I’ve decided that I won’t.

There are two factors that swung it for me. The first was the price, which was only just short of buying the original game again. Even worse was the fact that there is no way to buy the expansion without also re-purchasing the original game and the two previous expansions.

These are items of content that I have already bought, and that are already installed. For there to be no option to patch to upgrade feels like blatant gouging, and I have many other games to experience without this burden on my time, wallet, or integrity.

The second consideration is that the expansion has inflicted a bit of a first in gaming history. It has actually removed content from players who have not upgraded. The types of matchmaking and game types have been slashed, only to reappear as options for people who have bought the game again.

This is not an expansion, this is extortion. I’m not playing.

Games Round-Up

I’m dividing my time between too many games at the moment – I’ve been playing Destiny (I was curious to see the changes served up before the Taken King expansion), Forza Horizons 2, the Forza 6 Demo, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Rise of Berk (on the tablet), Fallout Shelter (on the tablet), StarWars Uprising (also on the tablet), Minecraft XBox One, and Deer God. There have probably been more, especially with the Free with Gold games on the XBox, but it has largely been Destiny of late.

So, I’ve decided to hold off on getting Taken King until after pay day at least, and focus on Dragon Age Inquisition now that I’ve got past a bit that had been stymying me a while. If nothing else, playing a game that isn’t multiplayer (mostly), gives me the option to pause and attend to other things as needed. There’s little quite as irritating as being called to from another room while playing a game that you can’t pause. It’s why I generally try to avoid buying games that have sacrificed their single player campaigns these days. I enjoy playing online, but I’m horribly antisocial and so tend to both dip in and out and rarely use voice chat – if only because it feels rude to anyone else who might be in the room with me.

And if I focus on just the one game, there’s half a chance I’ll actually finish it. If I can slog through Dragon Age 2, I can slog through this and get my money’s worth – and it is a very pretty game.