Preacher Episode 1, Quadroplis, Punch Club, Bravely Default, and Total War Warhammer

So, the first episode of AMC’s adaptation of Garth Ennis’ Preacher series (I’ve read some of the comics, so there may be spoilers here if you want to skip that) has come and gone and I’m interested in hearing what everyone thought of it. For me, a person that has read a couple of the trades but was never really grabbed by the series (always on the backburner to revisit another time), I thought it was somewhere between ‘good’ and ‘quite good’, but not really up to ‘great’. Still, it’s a series with a lot to set up. AMC can’t presume that everyone has even a passing familiarity with (spoilers, presumably, from the comics) the story of a Texan preacher possessed by a half-angel-half-demon called Genesis, so they have to ease the audience into things. It was and, I expect, will largely continue to be a very exposition heavy episode that was intent on making sure we knew who the main characters (Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy) were and that the Preacher was and would be a bad man mixed with some pretty visceral violence. And, man, compound fractures sure get me every time. Honestly, after the first episode we don’t know much. Someone is hunting down Genesis (assuming that is still what it is and what it is called), they eat tea bags, and that is going to bring them squarely to the doorstep of the possessed Preacher and his friends. It’s a good set up and I’ll keep watching, but that’s all we have for now.

I’ve gotten to play Days of Wonders’ (Ticket to Ride, Five Tribes) new boardgame Quadropolis a couple of times (all with two players) and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s a really nice looking game where you use numbered tiles (called architects) that let you buy a city tile in that space on a central grid corresponding to that number (so if you use a ‘3’ architect on a column, you take the third tile down) and then you place it in your city over the course of four (or five if you are playing with the advanced rules) rounds. The first couple of turns can take a little while because you have basically the whole grid to the choose from, while the last couple of turns (there are four turns each round, except for in the advanced game) tend to move pretty fast because of more limited options. The scaling for two players seems to work pretty well, with randomly placed tiles being left face down to limit your choices. Each tile is scored differently and there is definitely an art to maximizing your spaces, as different tiles score based on being near other types of tiles and the architect you used controls where you can put it on your own city board, as well. The game teaches fast, but a more experienced player seems to me to be very likely to beat a less experienced player. Like I said, I’ve played it a couple of times and it plays (with two) in under an hour with lots of swearing as your opponent as they take the tile you wanted (or block you from taking it), forcing you to readjust your strategy on the fly. It seems that the game would become more chaotic as you add additional players (with three tiles being taken before you go again instead of one), but there are also more tiles available, so it may all come out in the wash. In any case, it’s definitely staying in my collection and will come out in the rotation of light-medium family games like Five Tribes or Takenoko.

I continue to try to work through my videogame backlog and have recently completed the first Bravely Default, including getting the ‘true ending’ (a term not used in the game, but that seems to be the accepted term on the Webz), an idea that I hate. I also finished a play through of Punch Club, I felt it best to reconfigure my strength-based fighter into a high-strength Dexterity-based fighter. Perhaps I am just not very good at the game (although by the end it felt like a lot was happening very, very quickly), but it felt like it alternated between far too much grinding and no progress and huge leaps in story that bordered on the sublime. I like the nonsense of it all, and I may revisit it to see if I can optimize a fighter (I think I can), but I also wonder about a genre where so much of what you do is watch a sprite animate while bars fill.

As for true endings, as mentioned above, I guess I don’t mind so much where a game branches and different results are possible (The Witcher, Dragon Age, Mass Effect), but something really bugs me about a game being like ‘yeah, you can beat this now, but it doesn’t really count’. In any case, I did make it through the game, although I completely cheesed my way through the bosses, the first of which I found entirely unpleasant. Sometimes it feels like games can create difficulty for its own sake, a tradition that seems especially proud in the JRPG context. After playing through Bravely Default, something that took me some 40+ hours, I wonder if my appetite for massive, epic games has diminished so much in adulthood/parenthood that I should leave them behind forever. JRPGs and CRPGs, such as those terms are, were once my genres of choice, but there are very few narrative games that I want to play for forty hours. It is one thing, I think, to devote that amount of time in small bursts to something like Overwatch, where each round creates a discrete win/loss condition, but it is another to feel like you are slogging through a world after about 25 hours seeking only release from the purgatory, but too far invested in the game to quit it completely. I still have Xenochronicles X and Bravely Second unopened and I think I may move on from them entirely. I think both games have interesting things to say and I would enjoy them on some level, but I have moved to wanting more discrete game experiences. Still, I do not regret my time with Bravely Default, even if it was more grinding than game by the end. The ending of the story, at least, was an interesting conceit, but I do not believe that it paid off the amount of investment I have in the game and the world itself is rarely interesting to explore. Speaking of which, I now am in possession of Total War Warhammer (which is not called Total Warhammer despite my desire to the contrary) and do not have well-formed opinions of it yet, but I am interested to see what it offers. I am not a professional at either Warhammer (having never played the figure-y variety, although I have played other, similar games) nor at Total War (although I played a goodly amount of Shogun 2 and really thought it was swell), so I’m curious to see what this one has to offer. My first impressions (to be followed by at least one and maybe more After Action Reports) are very positive, but we shall see what it offers from here. It does seem to be much of the same, albeit with a great deal more Dwarves and Orks and whatnot. I suppose whether or not that is an improvement depends on your personal tastes, but it is certainly to my liking.

So, what have you been playing? Did you grab Overwatch or Total War Warhammer? Are you still playing something on your backlog? Let me know and we’ll talk.

Currently playing: Total War Warhammer, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3DS, The Witcher 3
Next Up: Yo-Kai Watch, Hitman (?), Overwatch (?)

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24. May 2016 by Michael
Categories: Board Games, Miscellaneous, Video Games | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Updated My Journal: Bravely Default, Punch Club and Dark Souls 3

Man, I stopped playing Bravely Default a long way back (when I totally misplaced my 3DS), but it sure feels like a game that doesn’t want me to finish it. So, I feel like I should be at the end of the game. Each of my characters is basically a minor deity, level 85 with a bunch of maxed out Jobs and as cheesy as anything. So, if you don’t know, (spoilers ahead, obvs) as you play through Bravely Default you find yourself beating these four elemental bosses over and over again. They get a little tougher each time (I guess if you aren’t powerful enough you have to go grind) but, otherwise, nothing of note happens. And I know it’s a part of the story. But I’m not really sure I care. I have like 40 hours in this game, and I really want to close it out. To complete that mental circuit in my mind, but that’s all it feels like I’m doing at this point. I have Bravely Second in my queue right now and I hope that it rectifies this stuff. The interesting part of the game is min-maxing your characters and I’m done with that. Maybe I should just leave it behind, but it won’t take me that long to demolish these same four stupid bosses again. Still, I can’t help but feeling I’ve caught myself in some sort of weird mental feedback loop.

Speaking of which, I’ve also been playing Punch Club. I’ve not played that many games in the sort of simulation genre that it finds itself in. I played quite a bit of Game Dev Story (a complete playthrough anyway), but Punch Club has some issues broadcasting how players should be using their time. Like, you have a million different places you can go and a bunch of different stats to manage and none of them rise very quickly. I think I’ve got to a point where I realize that the skills are actually more important than the stats, but I don’t think that’s a very natural inclination. I do think, overall, I quite like it despite the grindy nature of the genre and the feeling that progression is a little unsatisfying. Like, in Game Dev Story I felt like I was always moving forward, making better games. Here, the fights at the end (despite having different skills) feel a great deal like the fights early in the game. It’s not just the kinda-brutal-feeling skills degradation, but the feeling that my character doesn’t feel more powerful. It’s kinda cool to look at and there are some fun references, but there’s something that doesn’t quite click.

And, finally, Dark Souls 3 (more spoilers ahead for Dark Souls 2 and 3). I’ve beaten the first ‘real’ boss (The Boreal of Vordt or something similarly nonsensical – Okay, I just looked and it’s the ‘Vordt of Boreal Valley’ so… Close enough). Anyway, it’s a pretty stunning game and it feels like a pretty marked improvement over Dark Souls 2, which I have officially finished (although I didn’t visit any of the DLC, although I did beat the Scholar of the First Sin and leave the throne). Dark Souls 3 feels like the great refinement of a game series that it feels like I have been playing forever, but in the best way. I haven’t gotten much into the Undead Settlement, but everything feels really well-paced and I love the feeling that the game feels so unfair until you figure it out and then it all becomes rather trivial.

Upcoming, there’s Total War: Warhammer and Overwatch that I am really interested in and I would like to have a go at the new, episodic Hitman after hearing the folks over at Crate and Crowbar discuss it. I haven’t played a Hitman game since Hitman 2 (which is fourteen years old, so it totally came out about the time a lot of kids that are playing this one were born, which doesn’t make me feel awful at all) so I’d like to have another go at the series, although it’s another one that only could get played after the kids are in bed, which is a tough list already. I may well end up getting Overwatch now, but I will probably hold off on Total War: Warhammer since I have no interest in playing Total War games online and so can probably get it later. That said, it does look rather sharp. Speaking of which, I am also somewhat interested in Uncharted 4, although I will say that I have mixed feelings about the earlier games in the series and would like to know if it feels a little less ‘on rails’ than its predecessors. Even so, it sure is gorgeous and is one of the few game series with what can actually be called great voice acting.

So, what’s cosign out that you’re interested in?  What are you playing? Any of the above or is there something completely different?

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19. May 2016 by Michael
Categories: Video Games | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: SKALD Vol. 1: The One True King of Men by Aubrey Sitterson

Disclosure: This is a review of SKALD Vol. 1: The One True Volume of Kings by Aubrey Sitterson. Sitterson offered me a review copy, but I declined, opting instead to purchase it myself.

I was, initially, familiar with Aubrey Sitterson as a wrestling podcaster. I mean, I am still familiar with him as a wrestling podcaster/Youtuber (I’ve never actually watched it on Youtube, but Sitterson’s Straight Shoot is one of my favorite podcasts), but I learned (chiefly through that podcast) that he also wrote a weekly, serialized fantasy story called SKALD that he then podcasts. I’ve never listened to it. Instead, after the first 16 chapters were released Sitterson released an eBook version (available on Amazon), although the weekly podcast version has continued and has now amassed enough episodes that a second text volume is incoming soon.

SKALD works with many tropes that will be familiar to those who have read Tolkien and the fantasy genre that he spawned. High elves and wood elves, Halflings, and tinker gnomes all make appearances. I have found this sort of thing to be somewhat divisive. Many people (myself included) love when people play within the tropes. There is something interesting to someone trying to bring their own spin to a world that has grown into a weird multiverse over generations of Tolkien readers and Dungeons and Dragons players. SKALD, though, also shares DNA with classic sword & sorcery stories, like Howard’s Conan. It is brutal in spots. Gritty. Some spoilers: The story follows a man named Maul that was captured and tied to a magic tree by elves and escapes after befriending a giant cat monster. He views himself as the rightful ruler of men, although he has obviously not seen his perceived kingdom in many years. Maul is single-minded. He is a violent tornado that has made a pact and subsequently broken it with something ancient. His motivations are clear and consistent as he makes his way through the world, overcoming obstacles that stand in his way. Sitterson’s writing is compelling, moving you forward. The action is well written and frantic. There are a few typos that stood out to me, as well as a few instances where the repetition for emphasis made me wonder if it might have come across better when read, but nothing that hurt the overall flow of the story or my enjoyment of it.

The story. So, that’s an interesting thing. Maul is, to this point, a pretty straightforward character. He wants one thing: His throne and is not necessarily interested in being likable. That’s appropriate, though, for the sword and sorcery genre, where the protagonists are rarely true heroes. It also helps that Maul meets a slew of interesting characters along the way and their motivations appear to be consistent and, unlike Maul’s, obfuscated in secrets. Everyone wants something, and many of them want to handle the incredibly powerful Maul to their own ends, even if they are not clear yet. In this way, Maul makes an interesting contrast against the rest of the world that is also just looking out for itself, but – unlike Maul – feels it necessary to hide their true intentions. As mentioned above, the story is compelling, but it is also not clear that the story has a particular arc, although that may be in part a necessity since – as mentioned above – the story is written and recorded on a weekly, ongoing basis. That is also not to say that the story does not move forward or things do not progress, it simply does not move in a smooth arc the way one might expect if they picked it up looking for a novel. Instead, Maul’s is an adventure that crashes from one fantastic place to another, with a new obstacle standing in his way at each turn, much to Maul’s dismay. There is, then, a good chance that Maul will smash it. It’s a lot of fun.

I enjoy SKALD quite a lot. Sitterson’s imagery is evocative and reads smoothly. I also found that the volume, for the price ($2.99 on Amazon for, according to Amazon 151 pages) covered a lot of ground. Honestly, perhaps because it is serialized, it covers more ground in Maul’s world than many fantasy series do in whole series. It’s neat to see what sort of madness awaits Maul around each corner, and SKALD rarely sits still for long. It is not really a reservation, but the serialized nature of the story means that those looking for a novel, a self-contained story with a beginning, middle and end, may not find what they are looking for here. Those looking for a serialized, gritty fantasy world built on classic tropes, though, should find a lot to like with SKALD. Even though it is built on those parts, I never felt like it was terribly derivative, and Sitterson’s world is compelling and well built. SKALD Vol. 1: The One True King of Men is available now, with the second volume available in eBook version, too. The podcast version, published weekly is available for no money, in its entirety, as well, through iTunes and PodOMatic. Sitterson also operates a Patreon to support his production of the story.

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29. October 2015 by Michael
Categories: Reviews | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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