Ramblings about Dark Souls and other wonderful uses of time and money

Because talking about this game always leads to level-headed rational debate. Oh, and feel free to recommend some PS3 exclusives if you want.

Whoops. Accidentally bought a PS3 for $150 and a handful of games to go along with it. Don’t know how that happened. Finally, I can play exclusive installments of series I already enjoyed on other consoles, with hot recent games like Demon’s Souls, Valkyria Chronicles, Metal Gear Solid 4, and… Final Fantasy XIII? (Okay, I actually got the 360 version of that last one.) Anyways, I figure those games, a handful of other notable exclusives, maybe some HD compilations of PS2 games I never bothered to buy for my PS2 and some weirdo niche JRPGs are likely in my future (but maybe not my immediate future), given that there aren’t a ton of “big” games this year that have really grabbed my attention, a fact compounded by the part where I don’t plan on getting a Xbox One or PS4 (for the record, leaning towards PS4) for a bit. What I do have to look forward to are the myriad kickstarter games I backed like two years ago that are actually coming out, but you’ve heard my talk about that before. What you haven’t heard is my attempt to talk about Dark Souls II. Which is what I will do herein.

In which I talk about one game pretty much exclusively in the context of the game it is a sequel to, thus making this blog of questionable use for someone who hasn't played any souls games.

As always, Japan gets the superior box art

Dark Souls II is probably not as good as the first Dark Souls, the same way The Wind Waker is probably not as good as Ocarina of Time*. For all of its improvements, smart changes and success at establishing its own identity, Dark Souls II has the misfortune of being the sequel to one of the greatest games of this console generation (Demon’s Souls? I guess I’ll find out where that fits in soon enough), so that comparison was always bound to be a bit of an uphill one. On its own merits, it’s a great game, well worth playing if one liked those other Souls games. But after my 40 hour playthrough concluded, I couldn’t help but think that some of the “magic” from its predecessor was missing for as much as I enjoyed my time with it. Obviously some of that is just the part where it’s a sequel and thus my second time with “one of these games”, but to continue the Wind Waker comparison, I also think there are distinct design problems with the second game that overshadow some of its superior aspects.

Before I stumbled upon the Bell Keepers I was part of the rat covenant. Different look, same great flavor (far more difficult to murder someone). PVP in general was something I actually enjoyed rather than shunned.

But I shouldn’t really dwell on the negative, otherwise this might sound like I somehow disliked this game. On the contrary, I think a lot of the changes made to Dark Souls II are good ones. While I played a similar kind of character to the one I played in Dark Souls (big swords and pyromancy, though no Lightning Zweihander this time), I mostly ditched the shield and the idea of poise-tanking for the last half of my playthrough in favor of dual-wielding two (2) greatswords and dodging around (though I was also probably motivated by the part where blocking was seemingly nerfed to bits in this game with one’s much smaller stamina bar) to surprisingly deadly effect, with pyromancy and that 3-shot burst crossbow as secondaries, both of those pulling their weight as well (spellcasting seems improved in general and crossbows are actually useful) That worked out pretty well, and I am seriously considering doing another run with a hexer character because hexes seem brokenly powerful and I wouldn’t mind playing a spellcaster for once. I also engaged a lot more with PVP as a member of the Bell Keeper covenant, where I learned that you can totally critical riposte someone if you break their guard while they have their shield up and toxic mist is ridiculously effective in cramped environments. In this multiplayer aspect, Dark Souls II has succeeded far more for me than its predecessor ever could have. By the time I got that first game, the only multiplayer interactions that mattered were summoning dudes for help when fighting a small handful of bosses and inevitably getting invaded by some PVP dirtbag who would inevitably lag teleport behind me and get the insta-kill backstab, thus ensuring that I never wanted to stay human for very long. Being that I got this game fresh, I never had problems summoning help (or finding an unfortunate rube entering the bell towers). I might’ve actually used summoned help as a crutch, in some cases clearly recognizing that I didn’t need much help at all. If I had advice for someone who hadn’t yet played this game, it would be to maybe exercise some self-restraint when summoning help? I’ll give you that some bosses seem designed to make life miserable for certain character builds without summoned help, but there are also bosses that will crumble against other character builds. Please, use human effigies responsibly.

Apparently this lady has some sort of achievement associated with summoning her for a bunch of bosses? Totally missed that one.

Actually to get into one of my gripes, a lot of bosses in Dark Souls II weren’t much fun (especially in comparison to that first game), and thinking about it for a bit I think I realized why: There are too many bosses, and too many of those bosses are pretty same-y in their design. I feel like a good chunk of the bosses I fought were big dudes with big weapons and wide, sweeping attacks that one could dodge with the proper timing. I’m not really sure why that is. Maybe they looked at the Artorias battle from DS1 and figured “People liked that fight, so we should clearly have a bunch of fights that are sort of like that!” When I think about the bosses in Dark Souls 1, they’re all iconic, unique fights, whereas I feel like The Pursuer, Dragonrider(s), Mirror Knight, Smelter Demon, Flexile Sentry, and Ruin Sentinels (to get into a mere handful) are, to some extent, variations on the same boss battle. There are still good ones, mind you (that Giant Spider is pretty terrifying), but I still found it a marked step down from Dark Souls the first.

And that theme really bleeds into some of my other criticisms of Dark Souls 2 (which I will once again remind you is a game I enjoyed playing). It’s a more consistent game in terms of difficulty, in terms of quality and in terms of design, but it’s less cohesive than the first game, if that makes any sense. Each area is sort of isolated from any other given area (whereas they were all interconnected in Dark Souls 1) and because of this consistency it’s a bit harder for any given area to stand out. That sometimes works out, as with the area that seems like a cross between Blighttown and Tomb of the Giants not being nearly as shitty as that sounds, but in some way that actually seems like a downside, as if there has to be a grueling terrible place to make the rest of the experience that much sweeter. Maybe this sounds like Stockholm syndrome at some point. Maybe I’m asking too much by demanding an experience as unique as the original Dark Souls. Maybe none of what I’m writing actually makes any sense? If I sound harsh or nitpicky with this game, it’s because I might want it to be something it can’t be. Not sure. In summary, I should probably go to bed, before I lose my train of thought entirely. Sure I could go to sleep and try to collect my thoughts tomorrow, but... eh. I've already re-written some of these paragraphs like a half-dozen times at this point.

*: Let’s be real: even if you’re one of those weirdos who likes Majora’s Mask, that is very much a non-traditional Zelda game that goes for the weird. Wind Waker makes more sense for the analogy I was trying to make.

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A significant number of words about Thief (and other wonderful uses of time and money)

Sup my young parsons. I finished school for winter semester (I did alright, much to my own relief) and am now bumming around with a part time job and a semi-broken computer. What do I mean by “semi-broken”? I mean that this thing probably doesn’t have much time left, given its propensity for crashing under weirdly specific circumstances and the part where I had to wipe it to get even that far. It’s been 2 ½ years, so I’m not surprised that this hulking behemoth of a “gaming laptop” is starting to falter. Guess it’s a good thing I have this “job” thing, from which I can now derive income from (assuming I don’t blow my next paycheck on a PS3 so I can play all the hot exclusives I missed or anything). Now that I’ve invested in the PC as a platform for modern games and not just RPGs from the late 90s, I can’t very well go back to just consoles if this thing were to break (actually I could, It’d just be a bummer no longer having access to a good chunk of my steam library). But first things first. Video games

Dark Souls II

Me, every time an intruder shows up.

After around 12 hours of play, I can confirm that Dark Souls II is indeed more Dark Souls. Is it better than the first? Probably not, given that Dark Souls the first is one of my favorite games of the last console generation and recapturing the magic of that was always going to be difficult. Am I still enjoying it? Hells yes. It’s fun to go into a game like this with minimal spoilerizing for once. Thus far I’ve played my character a similar way to how I did in the first game (using large-ish swords and mostly avoiding magic) and have achieved moderate success. I also joined the Rat Covenant and have done alright there by ganging up on whoever comes in with all mah rat friendz… mostly because I don’t think I could win most 1 on 1s otherwise. What can I say? That Bastard Sword doesn’t swing as fast as whatever nightmarish lightning sword they other guy has can, and I was never good at PVP in the first place. This game at least deserves kudos for theoretically laying the groundwork for more PVP a lot better, though I have yet to be invaded.

Regardless, you can expect some sort of full thoughts whenever I finish this game (let’s pretend before the end of the month), and since I plan on playing Demon’s Souls as well this summer , we can have some sort of weird 3-way comparison blog that will probably end with people being incredibly snobby about the Souls series. Because there certainly isn’t enough of that on the forums already.

Thief

You can tell he is a thief because he is about to steal the title of the game from the front of the box art

Reboots are a tricky thing. Maybe a little less tricky for Video Games, but taking an established property and re-gearing it towards a new audience without alienating old fans (assuming that’s the goal in the first place) is the kind of balancing act that is hard to get right. If it goes well, it’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution or XCOM: Enemy Unknown. If it goes poorly, failing to reach both old fans and new converts, you end up with gems like that fake-edgy Bionic Commando game that no one played and Sonic 2006. And somewhere between of those two extremes (well, leaning more towards good than bad), is Thief. As a fan of the old games, but not someone who will rabidly foam at the mouth at the mere mention of them, I think that this Thief reboot deserves more credit than it has been given. Don’t confuse that with me saying it’s the most revelatory stealth game in the history of stealth games, or that it wins a lot of comparisons against the original trilogy, but for something I bought with the expectation of disappointment I think Thi4f holds up pretty well on its own merits as a stealth game that came out in 2014. That being the key phrase.

And indeed, Thief is a stealth game. Sorry to blow your mind or something, but what I mean when I say that is that it’s not some sort of Deus Ex-style hybrid where you can still ostensibly fight your way through conflict or otherwise find different solutions to any given situation. Sure, pure stealth is my favorite way to play through Dishonored and its ilk, but the fact remains that I could succeed entirely with violence if I removed any of my self-imposed restrictions and the game is designed to accommodate that. For that reason, I think comparing Thief’s gameplay directly to Dishonored, as some Games Journalists have done, is a bit disingenuous. Certainly, it’s clear that some parts of this game were tweaked as a response to said Dishonored (leading to a horrible “snake eating its own tail” scenario when you realize that Dishonored borrows a lot of aspects from the original Thief games), but it’s a much more restrictive, contained game that relies a bit more on raw sneakiness over teleporting your way through levels sight-unseen. That’s fine with me. I like stealth games, I like playing the sneaky character in games that allow it and I have very little problem with hitting the F9 key whenever I get detected.

One of the weird little things I appreciate about this game is the deliberately tactile way Garrett interacts with the environment. Like grabbing "A FORK" for example.

I’d describe most of the gameplay flow of Thief as a connected series of sneaking puzzles, though there were still a decent handful of moments that actively reminded me of the sprawling, open-ended levels of the original games (which I would also describe as “the best moments”). Enemies have their routes and positions, and you have your tools to get around them, which is to say that at least they got Garrett’s arsenal right. Regular Arrows to shoot dudes in the face! Water Arrows to put out torches! Flash Bombs that you’ll never use! Rope Arrows that don’t attach to everything because it’s not a video game from 1998 and doing something like that would be a lot more complicated now! Sometimes that might involve hitting them in the back of the head with your blackjack, deftly staying in the shadows and avoiding their line of sight, or in some cases just finding a vent, because it’s a video game. Similar to Splinter Cell Blacklist, the game grades you based on 3 different playstyles (Ghost, Predator and Opportunist, which I got for every single level without fail, assuming I'm really good at interacting with the environment) and I’d say the design is such where a no kill/no detection playthrough would be totally possible for normal people. Hell, I threw bottles to distract guards. I never do that in games. I either shoot them in the head with my bow/tranquilizer pistol, or I find another way around them. This game? I totally used that to positive effect. That’s as much a statement of your limited options as it is praise for making me want to stay undetected. No Typhoon spamming for you.

Because it wouldn't be fake victorian england without a skeezy brothel level.

In some ways though, Thief seems torn between two different styles of gameplay. You have a “highlight everything of interest/slow down time/free knockout/archery zoom/fast pickpocketing” super mode, which seems to exist mostly because this is a modern video game and has to tell you where everything is and where to go, you don’t have a dedicated jump key but instead have a context-sensitive movement button, there’s an open world-ish hub that alternates between entertaining filler and pointless filler depending on how tired one is of breaking into random houses and stripping the place clean as per the Basso jobs you can get every now and again (there are also actual sidequests that play like smaller, even more contained heists and I think these tighter affairs might actually be more consistently interesting than a lot of the actual missions. That pre-order/DLC bank heist mission might not be worth a full $5, but you’re going to buy this game on sale anyways and in that context it’s well worth picking up). On the other hand Thief is also a raw, straightforward stealth game, which means getting caught isn’t a great idea. While you can fight back (probably by shooting them in the head with an arrow, because engaging in melee is for suckers), like yon olden Thief, fighting more than one or two guys at a time will end in your death. This dichotomy makes Thief feel a tad schizophrenic, torn between the master of focus-tested wide-audience game design and its classical stealth roots. It didn’t bother me so much, but I can’t say the same for you, prospective reader.

To its credit though, the developers recognized this and included the ability to add custom difficulty restrictions to make the game both harder and more “old school”. I played the game with no custom difficulty modifiers (assuming that I should play the game “the way the developers intended” the first time), but after doing so I’d suggest playing with some of the more modern touches turned off. You probably don’t need loot glinting in your face, you don’t need an objective marker telling you exactly where to go (though maybe don’t turn off the minimap, that city hub is sort of confusing to navigate without it), and focus mode is more of a crutch than anything vital. While these difficulty options can’t fully compensate for a game designed around modernized mechanics, they do a decent job of creating a simulacrum of an old stealth game and in this day and age I consider that an impressive feat.

Oh right. There are monsters sometimes. They sort of suck, but they're also not in the game for a whole lot of the time. There's also a creepy asylum level that seems to exist entirely because Thief Deadly Shadows had that creepy asylum level.

Still, don’t confuse all of this for gushing praise. Thief, unsurprisingly, has problems. With this reboot (and it’s a reboot, not a sequel), they changed the interesting world of The City, the medieval/steampunkish place with hammerites, pagans and keepers into generic steampunkish fake Victorian England (which should not be confused with the non-generic whale-powered steampunkish fake Victorian England setting of Dishonored) You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned the story once yet either. That’s because it’s nonsensical, poorly written and ends with an anticlimactic cliffhanger that may or may not ever be resolved assuming they make a sequel. While this new guy does an alright job of conveying Garrett’s dry snark, he’s not the guy who did his voice in the old games. The AI is dumb as a brick. The game also takes the wrong page out of Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s playbook by having the last two levels end with what are essentially crappy boss battles. Getting around The City is tedious and could’ve benefited from either fast travel or more shortcuts. Aside from aforementioned boss battles, there are a few sequences that I could have done without. If I were to assign this game a numerical rating, perhaps out of 5, it would be a strong 3 or a weak 4. It doesn’t do anything revelatory, nor is it as smoothly competent as Splinter Cell Blacklist, the other stealth game I’ve played recently, but I think it does alright with what it has. There are hints here and there that Thief was going to be a more ambitious game, but given the stories about its development history I guess I’m just glad it ended up as alright as it did. If you like stealth games (and that is important), I may suggest picking this one up on sale. It’s not half-bad. It’s not the old games, it can’t be the old games because those are definitive classics. But hey, I still mostly enjoyed it (which is more than can be said for the last 4 chapters of Bravely Default). That has to count for something, right?

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Strategy Games, Dracula, Thievery, and other wonderful uses of time and money

Oh hey, what's up? As promised, I've been busy with school and junk, and since finals are right around the corner, I figured I should probably write something about the things I've been playing in sporadic chunks before things get really crazy. Unsurprisingly, video games are still dumb. Know what else are still dumb? Lengthy research essays.

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

Anime Spacewhipping action!

Guys, I have an apology to make. It has been months since the last blog about video games that weren't either bleeding-edge recent or only one or two years old. That has to be rectified. Thus, I will regale you with tales of another old-ish game, hearkening back to the far flung year of 2005. I was like 12 or 13. The newest console I owned was the hot commodity known as the Nintendo DS, though at that point in 2005 the best game for it was Advance Wars Dual Strike, probably the best Advance Wars game. It would be a few more years before Nintendo's fledgling handheld acquired a library rivaling that of its predecessor, the GBA, so people took what they could get. I imagine Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (a hilariously nonsensical subtitle, given that it's a sequel to Aria of Sorrow and not the dawn of anything. But hey, I guess the temptation to have a “DS” acronym was too strong) was one of those games. I actually borrowed this game from a friend when I was like 12, but I couldn't tell you a thing about my experience other than that I didn't finish it. Now, I have finished it. Actually I finished it a couple of weeks ago.

I could have inserted one of the many bizarre fan-art drawings that seem to be stinking up this page's image gallery, but I'll let you discover people's amateurish attempts at drawing plant lady monsters with barely-covered breasts for yourself! This is one of those magic seal things that are dumb.

It's a... well-made Metroidvania Spacewhipper (to steal a term from @mento) that took me somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 hours. Nothing more, nothing less. The story is barely there, something about it being in the future, you being the reincarnation of Dracula and much like Symphony of the Night it's really easy to get the bad ending. It follows a formula that had already been done 3 times before, and would be done twice again, and being a direct sequel it seems to take even fewer risks than the average Igarashi Castlevania. The tactical soul system, the defining characteristic of both Aria and Dawn of Sorrow has a neat, pokemon-esque “collect 'em all” mentality that will most certainly drive completionists up the wall. Every enemy in the game has a power associated with them, be it throwing some variety of projectile, summoning familiars to clean up for you or just passively increasing your stats. Getting said souls is usually accomplished with MMO-style farming tactics, killing the same enemies over and over again until you get the drop, made more aggravating when the drop has a 3-star rarity. Get over that hump and the game does just fine for itself. There's plenty of hidden stuff to discover, but like all of these kinds of games, hidden stuff usually just makes you ridiculously powerful and turns the rest of the game into a breeze, which is sort of what happened to me. There isn't an inverted castle (there is an equivalent to Richter mode), so it's not nearly as massive as a SotN If there are any real grievances I have with Dawn of Sorrow, it's the sloppily implemented touch-screen garbage, forcing you to grab your stylus (or finger) and draw a symbol during the middle of a boss fight. Other than that unfortunate bit, it's a game that I enjoyed but wasn't blown away by.

Thief

Apparently nothing says "sneaking" like a sleazy brothel level.

I have not yet completed Eidos Montreal's ill-received reboot to those stealth games I really like, but I'm actually sort of enjoying myself thus far. If it were not for the other games on this list distracting me, this blog would probably be entirely about Thief, but as it stands I clearly wasn't compelled enough to not put it down for a bit. Thief is... a very conflicted, borderline schizophrenic game. On one hand, it clearly borrows a lot of cues from Dishonored (which in turn took its share of cues from the old Thief games, which makes this a “snake eating its own tail” sort of situation) and otherwise tries to be a modern-ass video game by throwing in a multitude of systems aimed at assisting (or perhaps coddling) the player, and on the other hand it's very much a straightforward, pure stealth game that would not be out of place in the early 2000s, where getting caught isn't a very good thing and you don't have a ton of options to fight back. I don't think it fills either role as well as other games have done in the past, but I've found it... surprisingly decent? It's not blowing my mind or anything, but it deserves more credit than some reviews have given it. The story deserves zero credit, for turning the neat little world of Thief into gritty Victorian England (did I mention gritty? It's soooooooo edgy maaaaaan.) and using the word “Fuck” instead of the word “Taffer”. That is all. Expect my full thoughts eventually.

Divinity Original Sin Beta

Since there aren't any good or recent Divinity Original Sin screenshots on the wiki, I guess I can indulge you with an example of the high quality fan-art you can expect in the Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow image gallery. Someone had to have uploaded these, and to them I ask: "why?" I can't imagine what that gallery must've looked like before the great porn purge of 2010

I've been rather clear about my pervasive dislike of Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga. I found it to dull action-RPG that tried too hard to punch above its weight with underwhelming results. That didn't stop me from backing Divinity Original Sin, which seems like a classically-inspired CRPG created for the sole purpose of encouraging the player to break it at any possible opportunity. I didn't get very far in my play of the Beta (I messed around with it a bit when it was in alpha, but not that much), but when I did, I did it cooperatively with a friend. That seems like a recipe for chaos, so when our team of Source-Hunting ladies weren't squabbling with one another about freeing chickens, we were constantly blowing things up, accidentally killing innocent people or otherwise making nuisances of ourselves. I'm not sure if that's the optimal way to play the game (like the idea of playing through Baldur's Gate cooperatively), but I'm glad that it exists. Like Wasteland 2, I've mostly had my fill of the beta and will probably only mess around with it a bit more before the full release.

Etrian Odyssey IV

It's still an Etrian Odyssey game. I like the tweaks they made to the skill system and the presence of multiple dungeons, the soundtrack is quite good, the some of the character designs are still sort of creepy and sometimes my party will get wiped out by enemies I had no business fighting. Sold.

Age of Wonders III

Age of Wonders III is a fantasy turn-based strategy game. So obviously I bought it. The series doesn't so much owe a lot to Heroes of Might and Magic (especially when compared to King's Bounty) as it does owe a lot to Master of Magic, an old DOS 4X game that you might have heard me wax eloquently about once or twice. You build up an empire of your particular race, research new spells, control territory, get war declared on you for no reason and then engage in tactical combat. You'll probably cast magic to mess other people up, and at one point my Elf Dreadnought (technology man) besieged an enemy town with a bunch of cannons and musketeers (that's right, Elf Musketeers). Unlike say... Heroes VI (which I thought was okay) or Disciples III (which I thought was very much not okay), it's a safe, iterative sequel, which I guess makes sense when you remember that the last one came out 10 years ago. I didn't play nearly enough Age of Wonders 1 or Shadow Magic to be able to make any sort of comparative qualitative judgments, but I will continue playing it because it's pretty great and it has also been a while since a game like this has grabbed my attention (that last time being Eador Genesis). It's a pity that online multiplayer seems to have some sort of issue with my college internet firewall, because I've always thought that Age of Wonders' simultaneous turns function made it a lot more attractive for playing with others and not devouring dozens of hours in the process.

FTL Advanced Edition

The end of many a run starts here.

The new expansion for FTL is an expansion that revolves around adding more stuff, and it just so happens that more stuff is exactly what I wanted out of a FTL expansion. While I will still decry the game as occasionally being a little too luck-based, I've still had fun trying to unlock all of the new ship variants while silently cursing the fact that getting the Mantis and Slug cruisers is up to the whims of fate (or me beating the rebel flagship, which has happened all of 3 times. Somehow I have the crystal cruiser). I will continue to play more of this game, since it works well in hour-long bursts in-between me freaking out about whatever the heck this essay is going to be about. Speaking of that... I'm going to do some of that now. Bye!

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Bloggily Default: Frustrated Fan (and other wonderful uses of time and money)

Hey guys. How's it going? It's going okay, thanks for asking. I'm just a little bummed right now. You see, there's this game called “Dark Souls 2” that everyone is talking about, and I can't play it until April 25th, which might as well be a trillion years away with all of the school junk that I will have to inflict upon myself until then. Oh well, if it's any solace, I have these other video games to play, and thanks to these games I was able to focus long enough to actually get some school work done, thus ensuring my continued survival and sense of self-esteem. What does it say about these games in question? I'm glad you asked. Let me tell you. With words.

Wasteland 2 Beta

They aren't lying. It's totes a beta

Those of you who have followed me over the years know that I like me some classical computer role-playing games, which is why I backed Wasteland 2 like two whole years ago during the magical ti. However, since the most recent update hinted that the game in question was still more than 3 months away, I took it upon myself to take advantage of the beta by plunking down another $10. That... was not a mistake. Now I have a pretty clear idea of what Wasteland 2 is, and what I see is a game that is like those other games that I hold so dearly. Is it on the level of such classics as Fallout? 8 hours or so in, I'm not sure if I can answer that. And not just because the game crashes or locks up every now and again.

You radio in to home base to level up. A neat, semi-meaningless mechanic that only makes sense when you remember that the original game did that too.

I clearly was playing a beta. That much is evidenced by the part where the game is unoptimized, crashes frequently, and still has its fair share of unimplemented content, placeholder interface design, and straight up jank. So while I'm hesitant to make any sort of broad qualitative judgments right now, what I can say is that I've enjoyed my time with it thus far. It's a RPG very much in the style of something that would've been released in the late 90s or early 2000s, which just so happens to be my jam. Despite Fallout comparisons being very much warranted, it should be mentioned that this is not the second coming of old-school Fallout. Unsurprisingly for a game called Wasteland 2, it seems to take a lot of its cues from the 1988 game it is ostensibly a sequel to. Skills that would be paired together in more modern games are separated into different parts. You use Lockpicking for picking locks and Safecracking for opening safes and of course you need 3 different persuasion skills. Simple, really. Throw in such specific gems as “Animal Whisperer” and “Toaster Repair” (because I'm sure some hilariously overpowered weapon will be hidden in a toaster and you can only get it if you max out the skill) and one gets the impression that InXile is trying to make sure that you can't and won't be able to cover everything in one playthrough, even with 4 party members and a handful of NPCs. That's fine. I like motivation to replay a game. For my part, I think the combat is coming along pretty nicely (turn-based, not dissimilar to Shadowrun Returns or XCOM) and the game has done pretty well in regards to reacting to my choices (though that seems sort of broken right now). Good enough I'll say. Though I'll also be real here and say that Pillars of Eternity is still my number one kickstarter backed thing.

Diablo 3 is throwing legendary items at me like crazy, so let's just say that I approve of Loot 2.0 and may even play the expansion. Also Demon Hunters are still a fun class.

Self explanatory. But seriously, I also played some Path of Exile and that game seemed totally okay. But it wasn't dropping ridiculous amounts of loot at me, nor am I much into using skill points to increase numbers in a passive and incremental fashion (nor am I into having my active skills limited by what appear to be quest rewards and random drops) But hey, it's free. Not even Torchlight 2 can brag about that (Torchlight 2 is also totally okay, but it never grabbed my interest for very long). I guess my problem with most of these loot games is that they try too hard to chase the long shadow of Diablo II, and if I wanted to play Diablo II I would play Diablo II. Also, mindless clicking etc etc. Remember Diablo 1? Remember how surprisingly brutal that game was? They should make a modern rendition of that. Less loot, more dungeon crawl.

Bravely Default is a terrible name for a video game. Even if it makes sense in the context of the plot, it's still an engrishy misuse of words on the same level as "Donkey Kong"

Pictured: Good art, boring characters

I should love Bravely Default more than I do. Its gameplay can essentially be described as “Final Fantasy V dialed up to eleven”, and if you know anything about my taste in Japanese Role-Playing games, I think Final Fantasy V is the shiznit. Unfortunately, like the game it draws a large amount of influence from, its story is clichéd beyond redemption and its characters are about as interesting as an ensemble of cardboard cutouts. It tries more than FFV ever did, and it's clear that there was an earnest localization effort in the writing (not the voice acting. The English voice acting was bad enough that I switched it to Japanese and never looked back), but no amount of polishing can salvage what is ultimately a mish-mash of half a dozen JRPG tropes. There are crystals! There are comically over-the-top villains. There is a really obvious twist near the end (Spoilers: the protagonists are idiots). There are Tales style character interaction skits where the game really drives in how one-note everyone is. Tiz is a naïve bumpkin who stalks Anges, Anges is a naïve priestess who says “Unacceptable!” a lot (because catch-phrases), Ringabel is an amnesiac ladies man and Edea is his foil (also MRGRGR). I'll give them some credit though, when the game is beating you over the head that Airy Lies, our merry band of gullible idiots clearly recognize something isn't right, even if getting the true ending requires getting duped over and over again.

I hope you like reading this part FIVE TIMES.

But for me none of that matters too much, because the gameplay is so good. Unlike the job-system Final Fantasy games where it draws most of its influence from, all of the jobs in Bravely Default are useful to some extent. No "bard" equivalent, basically. Like Final Fantasy V, you mix and match skills from different jobs, though unlike that game you can't make everyone in your party a Jack-of-all-trades steamroller by the end. Offensive magic seems a bit underpowered (summons especially), but having a dedicated healer is incredibly important. Time Magic? What's that. Then you throw in the Brave/Default system and things start to get crazy. Being able to take four turns at a time allows you to break the game in some interesting ways, especially later on when you've mastered enough jobs to have some weird skill synergies going on. Like the passive skill that doubles your max HP at the beginning of battle, combined with the “damage equal to missing health” skill of the Dark Knight and the “Do your HP as damage, leaving you with 1 HP” skill of the monk. If the damage wasn't capped out at 9999 that would be even better, but as it stood, doing that sort of damage 4 times in a row with one character does tend to wipe out bosses rather quickly. I played the entire game on hard, and I'd say the most that does is make the beginning a lot more grindy in a RPG that is already plenty grindy on its own (though you can trivialize it later on). Still, for that first 40 or so hours, I was convinced that Bravely Default was a game seemingly aimed specifically at me.

Let's hope that Bravely Second avoids falling into this hole.

Then I reached chapter 5 and... yeah. Let's just say that the game takes a notable dip in quality from that point forward. For those who don't know, chapters 5 through 8 are essentially nothing more than glorified boss rushes. The encounters with these bosses are usually re-framed in a story context (and by chapter 7 they start to get a little goofy, giving silly justifications for pairing different enemies together), but it's not just gruelingly repetitive, it's also soul-crushingly lazy. If they did it once before moving forward, I would've been fine with that. If they did it twice, I would tolerate it. But as it stands, you have to fight the same handful of bosses 4 more times in order to progress in the story and also have the opportunity to fight the 23 bosses representing each of the jobs (except freelancer) 4 more times. It's as if the developers ran out of money at the halfway point and decided the best way to continue with the game was to fill it up with recycled fluff. Is there a story justification for this? Yes. Do I totally not care? You bet I don't. If the game wasn't so earnest, I'd think it was a commentary on the repetitive nature of JRPGs, but since it isn't deliberate it verges into self-parody territory instead. Is the combat and character development still fun to mess around with? Certainly. But much like how no one was convinced that slightly altering the level geometry made the levels in Dragon Age 2 not recycled, so too do these last four chapters of the game reek of lazy padding for the sake of padding. The finale is actually pretty great, given that you finally get to beat the hell out of Airy and also Not-Galactus while incorporating the social aspects in a clever way, but at that point the damage was already done. If you want a decent reflection of my emotional state playing through the last chunk of this game, feel free to check out @fluxwavez write up about it. He and I seem to be on the same page here. And it's a shame. It's a damn shame that it had to be this way. If it weren't for this shoddy back end, I'd recommend Bravely Default unilaterally to anyone with fond memories of old Final Fantasy or anyone who likes crazy battle systems. As it stands, I still think its first 2/3rds is worth the price of admission, just don't be surprised when the game starts feeling like a chore by the end. The soundtrack is pretty good though. Just thought I'd throw that in there.

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"Old RPGs that you've probably heard I like" and other wonderful uses of time and money

One must be quite BRAVE to fight the same 27 bosses you just spent the last 30 hours of the game fighting

Yay Video Games. I have a rough draft of an essay that I should be doing right now, but while I have that half-page of writing in another window I should try to warm my writing brains up by doing this super hot exciting blog. It was going to be a competition between this and Bravely Default for which would be finished and get written about first, but Bravely Default hit a snag once I ran into Chapter 5 and realized that the rest of the game was going to be a glorified, repetitive boss-rush which I will admit dampened my enthusiasm for it quite a bit. Still, you can expect something about it maybe at some point soon. I also bought Thief, because I'm an idiot and I figured that I had to know for myself and also it was only $33. The first hour wasn't terrible so... here's hoping? I reinstalled the original three as a contingency plan should my expedition end in sorrow, and if I get sort of depressed by the labyrinthine level design of those old Thief games... I'll just play Dishonored again. Done. Crisis averted.

A Video Game that you may have expected me to have already written about

To get perspective about how nuts I am about Might and Magic, a third of my wiki points is from the page for this game

Even today I am still mildly surprised that Might and Magic X: Legacy is a video game that exists and that I have played it. It's a throwback to a series that traces its roots to the beginnings of Computer Role-Playing Games, comfortably sitting alongside Wizardry and Ultima in the pantheon of long-running RPGs that started in the 80s and died around the turn of the century. Wizardry lives on in the weird Japanese-developed dungeon crawlers that show up from time to time, Ultima in a bunch of EA's F2P nonsense and Richard Garriot's continual use of the name “Lord British” as a way to swindle people out of their money so he can go to space, and Might and Magic in the occasional Heroes game that Ubisoft puts out every few years in-between surprisingly decent puzzle games... so really they got the best deal of the three all things considered. And yet, here we are. Does this revival do the series name proud? Yes, absolutely. But that isn't as high a bar as one would think, given that the Might and Magic name has also been bestowed upon such high quality works as Might and Magic IX and Crusaders of Might and Magic, the former being a half-finished mess and the latter being just plain bad.

Pictured: Heart

Okay, that's a bit mean, and this game is much better than its predecessor that killed the series off in the first place. Might and Magic X is a rough little game, one clearly not made for very much money. It borrows art assets from previous Ubisoft M&M games like nobody's business (Heroes VI mostly, but there are models I recognized from Heroes V and Dark Messiah as well), has its share of weird technical jankiness and bugs (less so after the most recent patch, but still) and it still has the rather unfortunate handicap of being tied to Ubisoft's incredibly generic fantasy world of Ashan. But it also has Heart damn it, and it might just be the best realistic outcome for a modern game of this type, given that there might as well be zero attempt at a mass market audience in favor of aiming for the fans. I'm not sure how it will succeed in that regard, give the rather... touchy nature of the Might and Magic fanbase, but I've beaten 5 of the 9 previous RPGs and I think it's pretty dope. It's clear from the multitude of weirdly specific references to old Might and Magic games that MMX was made by a bunch of people who know what they're dealing with. You make a party of 4 dudes/ladies of various generic fantasy races and classes, explore a big world on a grid with a bunch of dungeons containing the occasional puzzle and then have to look up a list of all the skill trainers in the game so you don't have to wander around the 4 different cities based on half-remembered locations. Really, the one big series staple that didn't make the transition is the part where you had to pay money at training centers to level up... which I won't cry about. It's a small-scale experiment on the level of something like Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon and I think its $25 price tag ($30 if you want a free copy of Might and Magic VI, the soundtrack and an additional dungeon) reflects that.

It's not quite a crossword, but minesweeper is a pretty neat way to set up a puzzle room.

Still, it should be worth noting that the bulk of the influence comes from Might and Magic III-V trio rather than the better known VI-VIII, which is to say that it's turn-based and on a grid instead of real time free roaming. That might be a sticking point for some, but having finished World of Xeen last year and having gotten pretty deep into Etrian Odyssey this year I have no problem with this sort of movement style in a RPG, but I also fully accept that I am a crazy person. It also helps that the mechanics are solid and easy to understand. The turn-based combat works well, demanding more from the player than most of the older games did (inasmuch as mashing A and occasionally S was concerned) and I found it to be decently challenging on the normal “Adventurer” difficulty for most of the game. It starts off with some pretty nasty old-school RPG brutality, but kind of takes a dive about halfway through act 3, when your party starts reaching Grandmaster level skills and has obtained a bunch of relics (powerful unique items found in puzzle rooms or guarded by mini-bosses that essentially “level up” to become even more powerful. Generally I did not found a piece of random loot that eclipsed any of my relics, both in raw stats and in additional benefits) essentially turning the endgame into a massacre... a statement that makes even more sense once you realize that Act IV is basically just one long 3-hour dungeon crawl, which I will admit I found tiresome. Might and Magic is best when it's about exploration, and I could probably have done with a little less climax. It actually reminded me of some of Might and Magic VI's end-game dungeons. You know which ones I'm talking about. I'm looking at you Tomb of VARN.

Some of the collectable items are poems none too subtly recounting the events of previous Might and Magic games.

There's some decently clever puzzle solving thrown in as well. Not quite turning a dungeon floor into a crossword puzzle like World of Xeen, but there are more than a few riddle chests and pressure-plate puzzles that stumped me for a bit before figuring out the solution, which I would say is the mark of a good puzzle. There's a story in the game but in grand series tradition its a bit of a non-entity. Fine with me. Anyone who would be upset by a lack of story probably isn't going to play this game anyways. The world of Ashan is pretty dull and generic, but the game doesn't take itself super seriously, either with the “cynical” voice option for your characters (sort of grating after a while), the goofy out-of-place pop-culture references (another series staple) and as previously mentioned a bucketload of specific references to the old games.

It took me a bit to realize that the Uplay and Steam had the same screenshot button. Also hey a riddle chest.

But yes, I have complaints. Besides the aforementioned low-budgetness, which gives the game a cobbled-together look, it's not all that well-optimized on the technical front and I have to run it on lower settings than I think I should have to given that it's not much of a looker. I also ran into my fair share of minor bugs along the way, nothing gamebreaking, but enough weird janky stuff that reminded me of when I played the early access version in August. Gameplay wise, I'm not entirely sure if it's very well balanced. Dark Magic doesn't seem all that exciting for being exclusive to only one class (Air magic on the other hand...) and while there are some abilities that allow your fighter-types to attempt to tank damage for your other characters, you should not mistake that for a sustainable strategy. At some point I just threw my hands up and started pumping vitality for my mage to avoid one-hit-ko situations. The game doesn't give you enough high level loot until the end (and even then most of it is still inferior to the 20 or so relics you probably accrued before then) and there are only three tiers of rareness anyways.

It's no World of Xeen, but this game is alright by me.

Still, these are rather forgivable thanks to the simple fact that they made a game called Might and Magic the Tenth and it was good. I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 36 hours doing most of the side quests and I'm already half-tempted to start the game over with an entirely different party. I'll admit: I'm not sure what someone who has never been exposed to the franchise would think. You definitely have to like these kinds of games already before giving MMX a go, because it doesn't hold your hand or condescend in any manner. Instead, it grabs you by the hand and says “Hey there, I hear you like old hack-n-slashy RPGs”, to which I reply “Yes Please”. Might and Magic X is a comfort food video game, one that doesn't entirely survive scrutiny when compared to its larger, more ambitious precursors. But it's an earnest effort and on its own merits a damn solid RPG. I highly recommend it.

Other things:

For some reason I played a lot of Defender's Quest recently. It's a Tower Defense-ass Tower Defense game, but... you level up and that apparently makes it okay? It's a decent time waster and I'll end up accidentally finishing it at some point.

Meanwhile, Long Live the Queen is a neat little trifle of a game, essentially a visual novel with stats and a Dark Souls-esque mean streak. I've heard it described as a “Anime Sansa Stark simulator” and that seems pretty apt. It started falling apart for me once I realized that it was very much an issue of trial and error, and it seems like there are a handful of optimal paths among the many, many wrong ones.

I bought beta access to Wasteland 2 for $10 (a special deal for kickstarter backers). Why? That's a great question, given that I've expressed a rather strict “No Early Access” policy in the past, but I figure with Brian Fargo straight up saying that the game is more than 3 months away I can afford to give it a spin and make guesses as to how many of the bugs I encounter and complain about are going to be fixed.

In celebration of this blog... I don't have any copies of Might and Magic 6-Pack or whatever to give away. Instead, I have these random other GOG codes, and since we were talking about Thief for a bit I think that what I have sort of fits that particular glove. The games I am giving away are as follows: Thief II: The Metal Age, Master of Magic, System Shock 2, and Dungeon Keeper, all fine games by my reckoning, and even if they've all aged a bit I'd say they all deserve to be called “classic”. So, to be eligible to win said video games... hell, I dunno. Write a haiku, like so:

Might and Magic ten,

Wizardry 8 is better,

but it is still good

And I'm done. If notifications are still broken... whatever.

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"Turn-based strategy games that look like old disney movies" and other wonderful uses of time and money

This blog has been sitting around on my hard drive for a while, so I figure I should post it now and leave what was to be the other half for another time. School is going okay, I guess. Thanks for asking. I wasn't lying when I said that things would slow down (when compared to the last 6 months when I was living in my parents' basement and had a lot of discretionary time to play a lot of bad video games) but reports of my demise have been exaggerated. I'm still here, and I'll still be doing these dumb internet blogs for the time being.

I was also told by a certain community-spotlight creating moderator that I should express in no uncertain terms that I think Kill la Kill is sort of a mess even if I think the action is pretty good for the most part. It's dumb in all of the wrong ways (as opposed to Gurenn Lagaan being dumb in all of the right ways), but unlike aforementioned moderator, I'm not quite ready to say the series has become irredeemable... but I'm starting to get there. And that's it from Arbitrary Anime corner this week! Tune in next week when I finally tell y'all what I really thought about the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist series (not really).

The Banner Saga

Pictured: A Saga

I really should have written something a while ago, when I actually finished the game. But here we are. I backed The Banner Saga on Kickstarter back during the post-Double Fine hype train, and it seems fitting that it has joined Broken Age as part of the vanguard for the wave of crowdfunded games that will ostensibly come out at some point this year hopefully maybe (and no, having your Alpha/Beta on Steam Early Access does not count). But how is it actually? It's good. Yes, crushing as it is to know, not every game that earns widespread Kickstarter success is going to set our collective anuses on fire with how great or revolutionary it is... and that's fine. Maybe it's because my personal stake is so low (I have always done the minimum pledge to just get the game in regards to everything that I've backed), but I have not yet had my expectations crushed. Of course, that could very well change. What has come out thus far has been rather small-scale. FTL is fantastic and Paper Sorcerer seems pretty good, but they're both quite limited in what they aim to accomplish (this game likewise). The big guns, the multi-million dollar landmarks like Wasteland 2 and Pillars of Eternity, those are the ones that will really test Kickstarter for me (As for Divinity: Original Sin, I'm totally fine with that game being bad as long as I can replicate some of the goofy nonsense I have seen in some videos of the alpha version) If nothing else, The Banner Saga is a great foundation for what could be a great series of games, even if this first installment only comes close to greatness.

Just look at that art design. No seriously, look at it. It's the most striking and unique part of the game and well-worth looking at.

Essentially, The Crushing Candy Saga of Banners has two very separate, very distinct gameplay styles. There's the traversal stuff, which is basically a lite version of King of Dragon Pass (a game I think you should take a look at if only because it's such an unique, crazy thing), which is to say that it's sort of a “Choose your own adventure” book with numbers that are kept track of. While I'm unsure of how dynamic certain events can play out, it's clear that certain choices I made early on had actual repercussions as the story continued, and I can appreciate that. Where it falters for me is that you're sort of choosing blindly for the most part, and in situations where every outcome is a different degree of bad that's totally fine... but more often than not there is an optimal outcome to many situations, especially when it comes to keeping your characters alive. There's a reason why keeping a minor character intact for the entire game is an achievement: there are no less than 3 opportunities for him to kick the bucket throughout the course of the story and I guarantee you will run into at least one of them playing the game without any foreknowledge of what will come of it. That's the extreme example, but it illustrates my point that the game is occasionally randomly punishing for the sake of being random. There's also the issue of managing your caravan of dudes... but as far as I can tell there's no penalty to screwing that up, which I realized only at the end of the game when I could have leveled up more of my guys instead of spending it on supplies that were promptly stolen via random events. Sure, everyone starved to death, but I still beat the game.

I'd put more screenshots of this game out there if the screenshot function wasn't half-broken right now.

Then there's the combat, a turn-based tactical affair not dissimilar to Fire Emblem or Advance Wars, but still very much its own thing. The dynamic between strength and armor, the way the various special abilities can be used to control the field, all of these are great ideas that work well in practice and demand a certain amount of tactical thinking. Unfortunately, it's also a combat system that could simply use more stuff (which is to say both depth and complexity). It's not just that you're fighting different variations of the same enemies for the game's 9-10 hour runtime, it's that your own army could do with more than a few variations of the same 4 classes and a handful of unique guys here and there. I did alright for myself on Normal difficulty, all except for the last encounter, essentially a boss battle that is exponentially harder than anything else in the game up to that point, though it didn't sour me as much as the ending. The ending? Oh right. The ending is a terrible cliffhanger, which is a pity because I was enjoying the story quite a bit up to that point. It does a fantastic job of world-building without the usual exposition dumps that you expect from most video games (i.e. asking about lore or concepts in any given Bioware game that your character SHOULD know about if they had half a brain) and the game itself has such a rough, relentlessly bleak tone that I really appreciated.

In short, The Banner Saga is well-worth the 8-10 hour investment it asks for. I can't claim it's the hottest thing out on the interwebs, but I enjoyed my time with it and am looking forward to a sequel where they bother to explain all the deliberately cryptic junk they set up in this first one. I'm 3 for 3 on Kickstarter games I backed being good thus far, don't let me down now.

Other things:

Might and Magic X

will get its own write-up soon enough, once I get around to finishing it. I like it quite a bit. Despite being a little rough around the edges thanks to some technical problems and an obviously low budget, it's a worthy enough game to bear the Might and Magic name, which to be fair is also not exactly the highest hurdle to overcome. It's better than Might and Magic IX (which, to be fair, I also enjoyed more than it deserved. Oh right, did I mention that I got that game to work again? That's right. Now I can finish it!). How does it stack up to the games in the series that aren't half-finished messes? You'll find out... soon enough.

Bravely Default

Finally, a class that revolves entirely around throwing money at things, like the FF V Samurai on acid!

I've reached Chapter 3, and thus far Bravely Default (the worst/best name for a game since Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII) is probably the sequel to Final Fantasy V that I've always wanted, but with the crazy brave/default system of turn management. Unfortunately, also like Final Fantasy V, I've found the story utterly forgettable thus far and the characters one-note archetypes, and guessing by the reviews I've read that doesn't seem like it will change all that much. Oh well. I'll take what I can get, even if that leads to me doing dumb stuff like leaving my DS in sleep mode overnight so I can rebuild the village and get overpowered items too early in the game (hot tip: upgrade the weapons shop so you can get the Angel Bow, give it to someone who is a Thief and prepare to steamroll). I'm going to guess that you can probably expect something on this game too at some point maybe.

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate

So I bought (because it was on sale) and played some Monster Hunter when I was home two weekends ago instead of trying to finish Splinter Cell, which is what I originally was intending to do that weekend. I'll put it this way: It's probably a good thing that I can't bring the Wii U down to school with me (or rather, it's a good thing that I didn't buy the 3DS version for the same price), or else I'd be dead right now, given that I sunk something like 14 hours into it over the course of 3 days. Currently alternating between Longsword and Switch Axe, and I honestly have no idea how anyone could use the Greatsword, where the recovery animation isn't so much measured in frames as it is measured in seconds. That's all, I guess.

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"Third Person Shooters featuring Aliens" and other wonderful uses of time and money

2014 is here. Well, it's actually been here for 2 weeks, but between dealing with some personal junk and going back to school, my time with the vidja games has been here and there. I was going to write something up about Splinter Cell Blacklist, but because my brother uses the Xbox pretty much exclusively as a FIFA machine I was unable to finish it over the holidays or bring it down with me (spoilers: It would've ended up on the GOTY list had I played it earlier). Same goes for that Wii U box thing (Spoilers: My brother actually has almost beaten Wind Waker HD and I'm pretty proud of him for playing a video game that isn't FIFA). Instead, I just have this increasingly precarious laptop and my 3DS. So be it. I'll probably do a lot better this semester if I have less ways to distract myself (but of course the part where I'm writing this is in and of itself is probably a distraction from reading about Art History or some equally dire class that I've taken). But hey, it's okay. Because I certainly spent my limited video games time in great ways thus far!

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

A striking cover, if nothing else.

I told myself I was going to do better this year, that I wasn't going to deliberately go out of my way to play questionable and bad video games to feel alive, at least not to the same extent last year where I was buying that Sonic RPG and willingly playing through Grabbed by the Ghoulies among other things. I've clearly screwed that up already. While not outright bad, I'd say that The Bureau definitely falls into the “questionable” end of the spectrum, in that it doesn't actively make me want to stab myself with a rusty nail, but there's probably no reason for any of you to ever play it. “Competently mediocre” is the word I will use.

Remember back in like... 2010, when 2K announced the game then only known as “XCOM” and we all flipped the hell out because it was yet another beloved PC game being rebooted as what appeared to be a shooter? Yeah. It's funny to think back on that, given the way things turned out. Firaxis made Enemy Unknown, about as good as one would realistically expect a modern incarnation of that game to be, and the shooter thing known as XCOM went through a bunch of development problems before becoming the game that I played this week. It shows. The Bureau feels very much like a game made up of the pieces of a more ambitious title. The idea of G-Men running around Main Street USA and fighting secret aliens while covering things up is a great premise for a video game. It's a pity then, that the story of The Bureau is so... bleh. There are characters who you never really are given a reason to care about, there is dialogue that won't set your world on fire, there are plot twists that are amazingly dumb, and a protagonist who might as well be named McGruff, if not for the part where that name is already taken by a crime-fighting cartoon dog who tells you to take a bite out of crime. I'm not going to go into the specifics of how stupid things get, but I'd suggest looking up the last mission if you're really interested. It even comes with a really half-assed tie in to the good modern XCOM game!

Your agents CAN be useful, but you really do have to baby them to make that happen

But the Bureau is also a squad-based 3rd person shooter, and on that front it's... fine, actually. Remember Mass Effect? It's sort of like that, but not as good. It's a little more tactically demanding, but that's mostly because your AI squadmates aren't very bright on their own and require constant micromanagement to be especially effective. You can set up some sort of grand strategy involving the various tools at your disposal, and that's actually pretty cool. Flush dudes out of cover so they can walk into a mine, use a decoy to draw their fire and then hit them behind for more damage, have your commando taunt an enemy and have your support throw a bubble shield on him, throw down a turret to mow dudes who get too close down, etc. I didn't really have to do much of that on normal though. Spamming abilities for the purpose of doing things worked pretty well most of the time. I'd imagine that the game asks a lot more of that on the higher difficulties, but given the already squishy nature of you and your buddies along with the absurdly quick bleed-out time, I'd rather not deal with the exercise in pain that would turn into. There's also the part where you walk around your base talking to people like it was The Normandy, which would be great except for the part where: A. No one in this game is as interesting as any character on the Normandy, and B. There's not much reward for solving everyone's petty problems. There are also side missions you can go on and “deployments” you can send your agents on (like it was all the guild stuff in any given Assassin's Creed game), all for the benefit of backpacks with super circumstantial bonuses that ensure that you'll never use them. Same goes for weapons, actually. Sniper Rifles simply don't have enough ammunition to compete with the AR equivalents, and the Blaster Launcher is disappointingly tame for a weapon bearing that moniker. The shooting feels decent, if unspectacular.

Congratulations 2K Marin: You salvaged this mess enough to ship a game that wasn't constantly on fire.

All of this comes together to form a game that “entertained” me in a superficial sense, but probably won't leave much of a lasting impact. The Bureau is not an affront to nature like some of the things I played last year, nor is it a disappointing waste of great ideas. It just... is. I only paid $10 for it, which was an acceptable price, but in the end my time (and probably your time as well) is more valuable than that. If it was a better game or more of a trainwreck I could justify the 10 hours I spent on it, but I'm sort of having trouble doing so at the moment. This all being said, time-management is one of my personal weaknesses, it only makes sense that I would make the mistake of spending time with an utterly unremarkable game like The Bureau. I knew I should've bought Brothers instead. If there were 10 games better than it, the Bureau would likely not be one of them.

Dead Space the first

Unlike the above game, Dead Space 1 is still great. Just thought I'd let you all know. Maybe I'll go for the crazy and play Dead Space 2 while I'm here.

The Banner Saga

Lemme tell you guys: This game looks really good, and it probably works in its favor that it reminds me a bit of King of Dragon Pass

Seems really good and I feel pretty okay about giving those guys $10 like two years ago. More to come later. Actually, speaking of alien games, those jerks making Xenonauts sure are taking their sweet time. I've had that game in my steam library for months and it's still in some sort of half-broken alpha state. You're literally just making X-COM again, it can't be that hard. (note: I know it can be that hard, I was being sarcastic. But seriously guys.) Oh, and since we're on the topic of things I backed on kickstarter, Wasteland 2 and Divinity: Original Sin should be coming out pretty soon. I have high hopes for one and realistic hopes for the other (if nothing else, Original Sin will be an interesting mess, something that I couldn't really say for Divinity 2). And then there's Pillars of Eternity and that will hopefully be awesome as well. Basically, 2014 is the year that makes or breaks Kickstarter, and I'm excited to see the final results of me giving $15 to strangers on the internet in the spring of 2012.

Japanese Dungeon Crawlers?

Anime lolis be damned. These games are pretty good.

Yeah, I'm on the 5th stratum in Etrian Odyssey III, and I've learned some important lessons along the way. While that game is definitely hard, with proper party building it becomes a lot more manageable, and the game itself is flexible enough to allow for more unorthodox compositions of dudes. Now I just need to slog my way through the last 4 floors, no doubt grind to fight an absurdly powerful final boss and then I can move on to the much better looking Etrian Odyssey IV (as opposed to the “Remake of the first game, but with a set party and an actual story” known as Etrian Odyssey Untold, which I also bought for badly thought-out reasons). Consider me a fan. As a contingency, I also have Shin Megami Tensei IV, and I played enough of that game to know that it admirably succeeds in its goal of being extremely difficult and sort of unfair at the start and also making sure that I don't like any of the obvious characters who are obvious (Hmmm... I wonder which guy represents order and which guy represents chaos...?) But I also never finished Nocturne (I did get further over the break, so don't pretend that I'm not making progress... now I just need to bring my PS2 down to school), so any attempts at the new one will be tempered by the fact that I'd really rather play the old one anyways. So expect my blog of SMT IV in the summer of 2017, where I talk all about satan, or whatever.

And that's it for now. You can expect things to be more sporadic from here on out, and actually if I'm being consistent with my blogging that probably means there's something wrong with my academic performance... so expect my Might and Magic X blog in two weeks.

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ArbitraryWater's best games of 2013 that didn't actually come out in 2013

2013 is over, and so are my Game of the Year lists. It's been a pretty good year for video games, and a pretty terrible year for everything else. Actually, it decided to give me one last punch in the gut this week and I've had to re-plan my immediate future quite extensively (including such fun tasks as: Registering for classes and trying to find housing two weeks before the semester starts). So my personal life is sort of in the toilet, yet I feel remarkably calm about the whole thing. But you aren't here to read vague references to my life in human space. You aren't even here for games that came out in 2013. In previous years I've occasionally said that this list is a better indication of how I actually play games, and that might not be true this year. If you want the most honest look, you might just want to take a glance at that “Worst of 2013” list again, because that's where most of my old-game playing energy was spent.

ALSO OH MAN WHY IS LIST FORMATTING SO BROKEN. Just follow the numbers and you'll be ok.

Best games of 2013 (that didn't come out in 2013)

1. Might and Magic: World of XeenI'm sort of cheating on this one, given that World of Xeen is actually composed of Might and Magic IV and V, both separate and distinct halves of a game that interconnects them in a way that I don't think I've seen again. *
5. Valkyria Chronicles III'll give Valkyria Chronicles II credit: Given how much better the first game supposedly is, I'll probably enjoy the hell out of it. Its PSP sequel has what might be the single most intolerably annoying cast of anime stereotypes this side of a Tales game... aaannnd I still enjoyed it. Weird.*
2. Super Mario 3D LandWhile I couldn't tell you if this game or Super Mario 3D World is the superior of the two, the second half of 3D Land is exactly the kind of thing that makes Mario games a force to be reckoned with in the first place.
8. King's Bounty: Warriors of the NorthDon't let the Vikings fool you, Warriors of the North is more King's Bounty with some slight tweaks here and there. And... that's good enough, given that as a fan of Heroes of Might and Magic, this entire series is basically just comfort food.
6. BayonettaBayonetta crosses my line of tolerance for batshit Japanese insanity with its unrelenting torrent of flashing lights, nonsensical plot, sexual imagery and references to other video games. It's also one of the finest character action games I've played.
3. Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the BetrayerMask of the Betrayer may have managed to usurp Fallout: New Vegas as my favorite Obsidian title, depending on the day of the week you ask me. *
7. Sonic & All-Stars Racing TransformedI was actually really surprised how much I enjoyed this game, given that I think Mario Kart is sort of dumb now. *
9. Far Cry 3Far Cry 3 is the big dumb sandbox I wish Far Cry 2 was all along. The only reason it isn't higher is because I think it wears out its welcome by the time you reach the second island, to not even get into my issues with the story and its continually squandered potential in favor of making me openly hate the protagonist. I might like Blood Dragon more, actually. Still a blast.
10. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of SeasonsWhile I didn't get around to Oracle of Ages this year, Oracle of Seasons is a solid Zelda game hamstrung by the limits of what the Gameboy Color was actually capable of. *
4. Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned CityThe question "Am I a bad enough dude to play these deliberately cruel dungeon crawlers with anime lolis?" was one I struggled with for quite some time. I'm not sure what made this one click, but consider me a fan of Etrian Odyssey. *

I could put images into this blog, but whatever. Who cares?

Nebulous Old Game of the Year: Might and Magic World of Xeen.

I say “Nebulous”, because it doesn't really matter what position a lot of these games are in, and really it's my mistake for numbering it at all this year. For a game that I basically played on and off over the course of four years and two computers, I can say with some confidence that World of Xeen is a fantastic old RPG that holds up surprisingly well. It's a goofy, lengthy dungeon crawl-y experience with some really clever, really crazy environmental puzzles. I don't think I've encountered a game that has a crossword puzzle as part of one of its dungeons. It should be mentioned that a lot of this praise is directed at the Might and Magic V half of World of Xeen, the stronger half and also the one I finished this year. It's not perfect (thus the use of the word “nebulous”), a little too obscure in spots, even when I was referencing a guide, but as far as something I can put a 1 next to on a list, I guess this works. (Really though, the first 3 items on this list are pretty interchangeable and if you want you can pretend that Mario or Neverwinter Nights is actually my old game of the year)

Best Mario Game that isn't that other Best Mario Game on my other list: Super Mario 3D Land

I dunno man. The second half of this game is pretty great. World still is probably better though.

Game most like Planescape Torment – Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer

Oh Obsidian. You may have all of Black Isle's talent, but you have the misfortune of living in an unfair world, where publisher after publisher after publisher treats your requests for additional funds or time like an annoyance, and your games as products that need to be shipped, regardless of how buggy they end up being. You have the best writers in the business, ones that Bioware no doubt envies with their increasing need to shove corny romantic interactions into every orfice of their increasingly mainstream “RPGs”, but you're stuck making smarter, buggier sequels to everyone else's IP. I've said my piece about KotOR 2 elsewhere, but I still think that game has very little business being called a sequel to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, or really Star Wars in general, lack of ending and weird deconstructionist themes aside. I've also said my piece about Fallout: New Vegas, which I think in general is a better game than Fallout 3 all around. And... well, I've also said my piece about this next game, namely that it's pretty awesome.

It should be noted that this award is exclusively aimed at the campaign contained in the Mask of the Betrayer Expansion. While the original campaign for Neverwinter Nights 2 is a perfectly decent D&D romp around the Sword Coast (see: Honorable Mentions) and Storm of Zehir is an admirable but questionable effort to recreate an Icewind Dale-like experience in an engine that doesn't really support tactical combat, Mask of the Betrayer sometimes feels like it's the sequel to Planescape Torment, or maybe an alternate universe version of KotOR 2 that I don't sort of hate. It's a game that consists entirely of things that Obsidian does well, with an interesting, low-key plot and some great supporting characters all surrounded by philosophical quandaries . I still think the combat in Neverwinter Nights is pretty mediocre and imprecise, I still think that the camera for this game is straight up awful and I also think that the Soul Hunger mechanic is really, really annoying. I've been tip-toeing around the story and individual events because I think they're really what make the game and it'd be a shame to spoil them. I'll just say that the evil ending, the really evil ending is... pretty great.

The Temple of Elemental Evil award for most sadistic video game: Etrian Odyssey III

I've had this game in my possession for almost two years at this point, so I couldn't tell you what made this one finally click for me after a long while. But here I am, telling you that this deliberately old-school, deliberately sadistic dungeon crawler with an art style that I think is pretty dumb is one of my favorite games of this year, old or no. While I think the term “Grind Treadmill” certainly applies here (except for the part where grinding is pretty trivial for the most part), being overleveled isn't going to do you a whole lot of good against some of the enemies in this game unless you also play it smart. Part of that is me playing with a rather unorthodox party (I always appreciate bum utility/support classes in my dumb RPGs, which is why I had to have a Farmer in my party for the first half before replacing her with a robot that shoots rocket fists) that doesn't contain a dedicated healer, but the fact that I've gotten as far as I have speaks to this game's flexibility (though to be totally blunt: I can't see how you could get very far in this game without a Hoplite, the “tank” class) and that flexibility also extends to character development. There are a lot of viable ways to skill your dudes, be it specialization or broad coverage, compounded by the ability to subclass once you reach the 3rd area. Maybe I've just become more patient, but this was a game that has impressed me enough to get the two 3DS ones as well.

Most Apologetically Present Game: Valkyria Chronicles II.

Know what? I'll buy that this game might not be on my list if I owned a PS3 and played the first one. Certainly, Valkyria Chronicles II has a lot of the things I associate with Japanese SRPGs that aren't Fire Emblem, namely the part where it's sort of grindy, repetitive and easily exploitable, and as far as I can tell it's generally considered worse than the first game by a decent margin. Still, in those dark first few months of the year, when I was probably failing some of my classes and suffering disastrous side-effects from the medication I was taking then, something about this game really appealed to me. Oh, its characters and plot are the worst. THE WORST, but the tactical gameplay is there in spades, even if the solution to most of your problems quickly becomes “Bum rush the bastards with fencers and maybe a couple of gunners or the tank for support”. But that's the great part! You could theoretically play this game and not in the super-cheesy way that I did to acquire victory. Still, even thinking about that, I think the presence of this game, this high up on the list is proof that most of the old games I played this year weren't quite of the same caliber as the new games I played around with.

Best Kart Racer of the last decade: Sonic and Sega All-Star Racing Transformed

I'm not even joking here. The last time I enjoyed a Kart Racer this much was Mario Kart DS, and this is a way better game than that. This game is really good. The way the cars handle, the way powerslides work, the crazy track designs full of Sega nostalgia for people who owned Dreamcasts (i.e. not me) and can remember when Sega did things.... it all works together quite well, and I'm just talking about playing against the AI. I've had limited experience against humanfolk, but that seems to work pretty great as well! Now if only I had other USB controllers to hook into my computer. That seems like a way I could have fun with others.

Second Best Zelda game I played this year, being that I only played two of them: Oracle of Seasons

Oracle of Seasons and its time-based counterpart Oracle of Ages (which I did not get around to this year) are most notable to me because they're Zelda games that aren't actually developed by Nintendo (Capcom did most of the work). On its own merits, Seasons holds up pretty well, though it probably didn't help that I forced myself to finish it right before I got A Link Between Worlds. However, a couple of things irk me: The ring system is pretty half-baked for items ostensibly capable of helping you, there are only a real handful of useful ones. I feel like there are one or two bum dungeons that drag on longer than they need to or focus too much on stuff like say... platforming with the Roc's Feather/Cape, and finally I think there are certain aspects of the game's scope that are limited by the GBC's hardware and the reliance on connecting the two games together to get the full treatment. Either way, its position on this list is rather dubious, even in the face of...

Honorable Mentions: Quest for Glory 1, Neverwinter Nights 2 vanilla, Syndicate and probably some other things I'll only remember when I post this blog

Quest For Glory was actually number 10 on the original version of this list. As someone who was born after the fall of Communism, I cannot for the life of me understand the appeal of Sierra's brand of old-school Adventure Game. When you tell me that you could accidentally make it impossible to finish King's Quest V hours before it became readily apparent, or that Leisure Suit Larry was a thing that people found funny, or that Police Quest was not supposed to be a hilarious joke, I will shrug and look at you like you are a crazy old man, because you are. As I found out this year, that ire does not quite extend to Quest For Glory, which throws RPG elements (and thus multiple solutions to any given problem) into the usual adventure game mold with mostly positive results. It's still full of accidental death and bad puns, but I might seriously consider playing my character through the rest of the series if only to see that goodwill burn out on some ridiculous, obscure puzzle that no one would ever have gotten without buying a hint book of some sort.

The Original Campaign for Neverwinter Nights 2 is the most straightforward, Bioware-y thing Obsidian has ever done, and for the most part that's fine. It's a pretty archetypical romp around the sword coast, a lot more linear than you'd expect with a plot that you definitely would expect. Part of what redeems it for me is the way that your party members interact, inasmuch as they totally hate each other and would probably strangle the rest in their sleep if not for your presence. It's worth a look at... once, but in the grand pantheon of CRPGs it's really nothing special. It's clear that like the first Neverwinter Nights, the focus is still mostly on the player-created modules, none of which I'll actually play because, despite being the most complete incarnation of D&D 3.5 in a video game I don't think the combat in these games is actually all that fun. You have camera issues and AI scripting issues up the wazoo, which makes party-based combat less fun than it should be. Still, for something that leads up to Mask of the Betrayer, it's alright by me.

It is completely insane that Jeff forced Syndicate onto last year's GOTY list, but on its own merits it was a pretty fun 5 hour first person shooter campaign that I'll never feel the need to play again. The way hacking dudes interacts with shooting makes for a fun time, but if I didn't get it for $5 I think my standards would've been a bit higher. Also, I can barely remember what happened in that game.

And... that's it. I'm done. I was thinking about writing about things that aren't video games, but let's be real, you don't really want to read me ranting about Fullmetal Alchemist, do you? I guess I could rant about Giant Bomb's GOTY choices, but I'll leave that to the rest of you. Happy New Year, or whatever.

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ArbitraryWater's best games of 2013 that actually came out in 2013

Now that people are all up in their GOTY business, I figure it's time to finally unveil my list after last week's pile of misfortune and sorrow. My other usual list (Games of X that did not come out in X) is still in flux, so that probably won't be for a bit. As you might expect, I probably missed some of the biggest and “most important” games of the year, either because I didn't have the console in question (The Last of Us) or didn't really care (Gone Home). That's clearly my problem, but I might as well tell you now in case you had any questions later.

EDIT: Holy crap list formatting is broken as hell. Oh well. the numbers are right, so at least you have that.

GOTY 2013

1. Fire Emblem: AwakeningI am unapologetic in my love of Fire Emblem, and Awakening happens to be a Fire Emblem game that came out this year. Certainly helps that it's the best the series has been in a long while.*
3. BioShock InfiniteEven now, it's difficult to decide where I want Bioshock Infinite to be on this list, but I'll go with my gut feeling when I completed it and give it this high end spot. *
5. Dragon's Dogma: Dark ArisenI think I might like Dragon's Dogma MORE than when I played it a year ago. Sure, the small gameplay enhancements offered by Dark Arisen are nice, as is the brutal punch in the face known as Bitterblack Isle, but... screw it. I just wanted another excuse to put Dragon's Dogma on this list.
2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between WorldsMy only complaint about A Link Between Worlds is that I wish it was longer and maybe a little more difficult. Other than those minor quibbles... it might be almost perfect. *
4. Super Mario 3D WorldMuch like Zelda, Super Mario 3D World is proof that when Nintendo brings their A-Game, they BRING IT. *
9. Saints Row IVSaints Row IV maybe takes a bit too much from its prior incarnations (specifically, it literally reuses the world of Saints Row the Third), but it's still the king of insane, self-aware video games. *
7. Assassin's Creed IV: Black FlagAssassin's Creed is skirting dangerously close to burning out with its yearly release schedule, but ACIV succeeds at fulfilling the promise that ACIII squandered as far as gameplay is concerned. Pirates!*
8. XCOM: Enemy WithinEnemy Within doesn't fix some of the fundamental problems I have with Enemy Unknown, but it did mix enough up to where I willingly played it again and enjoyed doing so. It's a pity that for all the fantastic enhancements to the mid-game, the end-game is still flaccid and dull.
6. DmC Devil May CryThis is one of those times when I will gleefully proclaim "Screw the haters", even as I sort of mourn the part where this game's complete lack of success means that the series isn't going anywhere for the next few years. It's no DMC3, but what is?
10. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual DestiniesCapcom's series of Anime Courtroom Antics returns in fine form after the rather underwhelming Apollo Justice (which you can tell was underwhelming because they didn't make a direct sequel for 6 years and instead focused on Edgeworth and Professor Layton related spinoffs). It also might have the best DLC of this year, involving a case where you defend a Killer Whale of murder.

Aaaaand that's that. Now, as per usual, some elaboration for those who care. I'm tired, so I'm not going to post any screenshots until tomorrow.

Preemptive game of the year 2013: Fire Emblem Awakening

I'm just going to throw this out there: As a long time fan of the series and as someone insane enough to do things like “download translation patches so I can play the SNES ones in English”, I don't think Fire Emblem: Awakening is the best game in the series. It's pretty damn close though, and after the two rather bland DS titles that followed Radiant Dawn (not that Radiant Dawn is all that hot either, but I've already said words about that game before) it's good to know that Nintendo's flagship SRPG series is back on track. (still waiting on that Advance Wars sequel that will knock my socks off) Part of that just comes from throwing almost every notable feature from previous games out there.You've got the world map and alternate promotions from Sacred Stones, the class changing features of the DS games and A marriage/support system similar to that of Seisen no Keifu. Another is simply the presentation, which shows that Intelligent Systems finally got a budget for once, and when combined with 8-4's fantastic localization (the story is kind of ehhhhh but the writing is super well done) it stands out.

But then of course there's the part where it's still a Fire Emblem game, and I've proven to stick my neck out for some of the more mediocre installments. Awakening is far from that, and if you own a 3DS and don't hate yourself (because seriously, the normal difficulty is a joke, especially with all of the grinding available) I would fully and unequivocally recommend it. But of course I would, because I'm the second most vocal Fire Emblem fan on these forums after the guy who thinks he's the king of the moon. Let's be honest: You're far more interested in my number 2 choice.

My Number 2 Choice – The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Despite Ocarina of Time easily being one of my favorite games (because it's an easy, uncontroversial answer that anyone who isn't a hipster bastard would nod their head in agreement with) I wouldn't call myself a unilateral fan of Zelda. I loathed what I played of Majora's Mask, never finished Twilight Princess despite it being the game we got with our Wii, and did not even purchase Skyward Sword (but given me buying myself Mario Galaxy 2 for my birthday last month and having recently “obtained” Xenoblade, Muramasa and The Last Story, I think one last Wii game is not out of the question), so you could say that I haven't been fully on board since The Wind Waker (or maybe Four Swords Adventures if that counts). This is the Zelda game that makes me excited about Zelda again after long being on the internet snark train.

One could be dismissive about that, (rightfully) claiming that it goes out of its way to push at the nostalgia buttons of anyone who ever loved A Link to the Past, but here's the thing: I never finished A Link to the Past. I have a pretty solid memory of those first three light world dungeons from when I owned it on GBA but I was probably too young and dumb to get much further. I recognize enough to know where they're coming from, but not enough to know how far they skirt the line between “Loving Homage” and “Blatant Cash-In”. In the end, it doesn't matter as much as you'd think. While the zero filler, zero condescension, zero bullshit approach is certainly welcome and reminiscent of a SNES game, the non-linear nature of tackling the dungeons and the way items are handled is the most experimental thing the series has done in a long while. It certainly helps that the act of just running around the overworld, looking for Baby Malamai and Heart Pieces is genuinely fun, but the dungeons themselves are universally fantastic and use the items (as well as the merge ability) to great effect.

As I said above, my one problem is that I wish it was a bit longer and a bit harder, because I died around a grand total of 6 times (most of them early on, like twice to the final boss) and was never super stumped when it came to puzzles. So basically, I'm saying that I'd kill for a Master Quest equivalent to this game, but even without that I'd once again universally recommend it to anyone who has a 3DS and doesn't hate themselves.

Most Bioshock Infinite: Bioshock Infinite

Infinite might be my most personally contentious game on this list, if only because I've found myself agreeing with some of the criticism leveled at it in the months after its release. I still think the backlash is (unsurprisingly) overblown, a lot of it the product of sniveling pseudo-intellectuals who write a lot of words on their tumblr (because “Game Journalism” is broken and they're the ones to fix it from their ivory towers) without actually saying a whole lot. But still, 9 months after release I can certainly take a step back and say “Yeah, that ending is sort of pretentious and self-important in its craziness”.

But even when Bioshock Infinite revealed its hand; that it wasn't actually about Race, Religion and Nationalism and instead about multidimensional insanity, I still really enjoyed where most of that story went. A lot of that has to do with the dynamic between Booker and Elizabeth, which holds up even as the plot goes in weird directions and the shooting gets increasingly tiresome when you realize that despite being able to only hold two guns, you'll never have enough ammo to avoid constant switching out, especially when dealing with some of the tougher bullet sponges. I couldn't tell you if this is better than the original Bioshock or not. I'll lean towards “yes”, if only because OG Bioshock blatantly steals a lot of its cues from System Shock 2 (aka: the game that Bioshock was ostensibly the spiritual successor to). Either way, consider this position a rather shaky one at best.

Best self-justification for now owning a Wii U: Super Mario 3D World.

In order to avoid having to write something up later, you can count this as my blog for the next handful of games. Super Mario 3D World is... pretty much Super Mario 3D Land with the added benefit of 5 different selectable characters. It's a little too easy at first, but at a certain point the game decides to tell you “It's on” and then you start losing lives by the truckload. The level design is fantastic, and I can only think of one specifically that I will loathe playing again in order to get all of the stamps, green stars and golden flagpoles. It also uses one-off gimmicks really well, and aside from some of those levels getting harder, faster, more challenging remixes in the later worlds, there are a lot of ideas that are used exactly once to great effect, be it that level that is like Mario Kart, the one that's a single screen, etc etc. While I desperately hope that Nintendo will avoid the temptation to whore this particular formula out the same way New Super Mario Bros was, this is a great follow-up to a great game.

Best game featuring pirates since Sid Meier's Pirates!: Assassin's Creed IV

I'll admit, this one is a little tentative, because much like Dragon's Dogma last year, I have not quite finished AC4 as of this writing. That being said, I think it's a much, much better game than AC3 for a myriad of reasons. It makes side content both fun and worthwhile again, lightens up the tone by including a protagonist who isn't a complete wet blanket and treats the modern day stuff as ancillary, which it should have been all along. It's the best the series has been in... like 4 years, so I'm pretty stoked to play more after some of my open world fatigue has subsided (see below).

Most ridiculous open world game: Saints Row IV

Saints Row IV is a video game, and it's not ashamed of being so. After playing Saints Row: The Third last year and understanding why it was almost Giant Bomb's Game of the Year 2011 (and, by the way, Skyrim still deserved to win if Dark Souls wasn't even being considered), it makes sense that I'd enjoy this new one almost as much. It's still surprisingly clever and occasionally laugh-out-loud hilarious, having superpowers allows for you to feel appropriately overpowered and trivializes a lot of the tedium I expect from games like these, and the supporting cast is still super great. If I have a problem with it, it's with the fact that it takes a lot of its joke cues from SR3, and while having super powers is pretty great, it also means the game is easy in an almost broken way. But if you want proof that I enjoyed it, consider the fact that I did all of the side stuff after pretty much ignoring all of it in the last one. It's a pity that the Enter the Dominatrix DLC was a total waste of time, but maybe the Christmas one is a different story

Game number 11: Pokemon X

The fact that I am here, even acknowledging a Pokemon game says something about the direction my life has taken. Pokemon X/Y does not reinvent the wheel. It's insultingly easy at times, and Klefki is still the single dumbest looking Pocket Monster since Luvdisc or maybe Trubbish, but it is a massive step-up presentation-wise and also serves to make the meta-game aspects a lot easier and more transparent to their own benefit. For the period of a few weeks, I was actively doing stuff like EV training and breeding for nature, something that I never thought I'd sink into. But then the realization that I still wasn't that dedicated sunk in, and I was left with the rather dull postgame stuff as a result. Still, something I thoroughly enjoyed.

Honorable Mentions: Shadowrun Returns, Resident Evil: Revelations HD and Civ V: Brave New World

While I don't think the basic campaign included with Shadowrun Returns is necessarily all that great (in fact, I'd go as far as to say it was middling enough to provoke me into writing a formal review instead of just a blog), its potential is already paying off in the form of fan-made modules in the style of the original Neverwinter Nights, not to mention the Berlin expansion next year that will hopefully be something resembling an actual RPG instead of a linear series of missions that Patrick Klepek would mistake for a strategy game. Now that it will probably be a daily deal on the Steam sale, I highly endorse picking it up, if only to sate your appetite until Wasteland 2 finally comes out.

Resident Evil Revelations is a better game than Resident Evil 6, but I don't think I like it as much as Resident Evil 6, for as paradoxical as that seems. While RE6 is flashy, sort of a mess and occasionally aggravating, Revelations is undeniably decent, even if its roots as a portable game show more than it would like (such as the part where you're constantly followed around by an AI partner, but there is no actual co-op in the campaign). The story is complete nonsense, even by Resident Evil standards, and the enemy design is a bit bland, but I quite enjoyed the 10 or so hours it took to finish the game. That's not even mentioning the several hours I spent playing Raid mode, which I feel like is neat enough that it could be split off into its own thing. It's not quite “putting the series back on track” or anything, but as a hybrid approach resembling the old and the new it does fine for itself.

Much like when Gods and Kings came out last year, I thought that Brave New World would facilitate a lot more poor life choices when it came to spending a lot of time with a 4X game. That... hasn't really happened. The changes are all super smart, making the end game less of a drag, making a culture victory more fun to play towards, throwing in some really neat civilizations like Venice... but still, I have yet to put my hour count for Civ V over the 100 hour mark. It's still somehow my most played game on Steam, but I still have to be in a specific mood for 4X stuff to grab me, I guess.

And with that, I only have one last list to go. You'll possibly see that one next week, but that all depends on if and when I finish some stuff that's been sitting on the back burner for a while. Who knows? Maybe I'll finally beat Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne like I've been threatening to do for the last 3 years. Also I somehow got my hands on Xenoblade, Muramasa and The Last Story, and while the chances of me finishing any one of those games this year is nil, they may make for great material early next year. Until then, keep on windjamming.

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ArbitraryWater's Worst and Most Questionable Games of 2013 that may or may not have come out in 2013

It's December now. Time to start thinking about Game of the Year junk and all that. While Giant Bomb will no doubt grace us with some amazing, overproduced video magic nonsense and 4 hour podcasts involving grown men arguing about the quality of games that involve the word “Brothers” in the title, I'll be over here, making my two usual holiday lists and accompanying write-ups. But I'll be taking a break from video games (and thus this website) for a while sometime early next year, so I figure there's no better time than now then to discuss the true stars of 2013. No, not Bioshock, not Grand Theft Auto the Fifth. The Last of Us? What is that? No. We're talking about the baddest and most questionable video games I played this year. You may recall the list I made, or perhaps the blogs. But I think it a bit crude to rate them in a top 10 list. No, all of these gems are bad or questionable in their own special way and I think it's time everyone gets a trophy. Thus, special achievement awards.

Most Disappointing 3rd person shooter with a vaguely horror-ish theme: Dead Space 3.

Original Blog Here

Dead Space 3 is a game that dies the death of a thousand corporate mandates. Most of the things that make that game bad can be traced to poorly-advised attempts to make it mass-market viable. Like the naked suggestion that you should pay them real money to make your probes come back faster, the shift to universal ammo (ensuring that you'll never run out) or the entirely unnecessary addition of co-op.

A couple of years from now, when we discuss how great Dead Space 1 and 2 were, this will be the unfortunate footnote

But even without those things, Dead Space 3 would still be inferior to its forebears. It starts out promising enough (, the first 1/3rd or so of the game on that flotilla of long-abandoned ships is pretty alright, nothing special but certainly still enjoyable. But then you touch down on the Ice Planet... and everything suddenly becomes progressively lazier and progressively worse the further down you go. Any sort of tension evaporates as you realize that Necromorphs will always appear out of the places you expect (a vent, probably behind you), when you expect them to (usually when you press a switch or something) in environments that look oddly similar to the environments you passed through an hour ago (dilapidated old military buildings). It certainly doesn't hurt that you've got ammo for days. Resorting to the plasma cutter because you're out of everything else? Pish posh. Now that ammunition is universal, who is going to stop you from blowing shit up with a grenade launcher/chain lightning gun at all times? (answer: NO ONE) Actually, I will give it this: the weapon customization system is really neat and I'd like it in a better designed game please and thank you. I haven't even mentioned the story, which reaches a level of colossally dumb that most other games can only dream of. I'll just leave it at that. NECROMORPH MOON.

Least Disappointing 3rd Person Shooter with a vaguely horror-ish theme: Resident Evil 6

Original Blawg

How can you be disappointed in a game you expected to be bad from the onset?

Now let me be entirely blunt: Resident Evil 6 is only the least disappointing because I had very low expectations going in, given the pretty widespread condemnation that title received when it came out last year. I was pleasantly surprised, and by pleasantly surprised I mean that I didn't entirely hate it. Oh, it's a bad game; endemic of everything wrong with “AAA” and Japanese game development today, but in some ways I applaud its deluded ambitions. Resident Evil Revelations, which I also played this year, is a much better game, but this is a far more honest indicator of where the series is now, maybe for the better, certainly for the worse. The story is the usual brand of nonsense you'd expect from the series but much like Resident Evil 5 I feel that the raw amount of money thrown in its general direction makes something that would otherwise be super cheesy and lame quite watchable. I willingly played through parts of it again cooperatively with a friend on his copy (which I gave to him, because I'm a bad person). I even think the basic shooting mechanics are alright, overly-close camera notwithstanding.

It's everywhere else that RE6 falters, though at least you can say its failures come in different flavors. Leon's Campaign is the most playable and reminiscent of the older games in the series; RE4 specifically. Chris' is a questionable attempt at something resembling Gears of War, Jake's consists of a lot of really bad scripted set-pieces and Ada's... well Ada probably has the worst of the lot with what might be one of the single worst stealth sequences I've seen in a video game. All of them contain moments that make you go “Was any of this playtested?” (every single boss fight comes to mind) and a generous barrage of insta-death QTEs for good measure. But still, I think I'd voluntarily replay the entirety of this game than have to slog through the mediocrity of Dead Space 3, because at least Resident Evil 6 tries. Oh sure, It's the effort of a Japanese company trying to make a game that appeals to Western audiences without understanding what makes something like Gears of War good, but it's a far more interesting failure because of it. Or maybe my love for previous Resident Evil games has subconsciously blinded me and I'm simply crazy.

Best game that I still fully acknowledge as being not-great/guilty pleasure award: Dark Messiah of Might and Magic.

Original Write up thingy

FEAR THE BOOT OF JUSTICE

After almost giving Dishonored my Game of the Year last year (and some days I'll tell you that it is my GOTY 2012 and XCOM is in the #1 spot by accident), I figured I had to know what Arkane had been up to previously. While my eventual playthrough of Arx Fatalis hasn't happened yet, I did play this little “gem” earlier in the year. I'm not going to tell you that Dark Messiah is a game of considerable quality, but I had fun playing it. While its RPG, stealth and exploration aspects are a bit half-baked, as a first person action game where you kick things into other things it cannot be beaten. All the ancient weapons and magicks of Ashan are no match for your mighty foot. Enemy is near conveniently placed spikes? Kick them into the spikes! Enemy is near a ledge? KICK THEM OFF THE LEDGE. It's a clear indication of when that game was released, since physics were all the rage in 2006 instead of just being something you passively acknowledged and continued onward. The story is also dumb, but of course it is.

Worst game that I'm surprised didn't kill the franchise then and there: Devil May Cry 2

Original Blog

The internet has apparently been right these past 10 years; this game is REALLY bad.

While I question if the first Devil May Cry necessarily holds up all that well with its Resident Evil-esque camera angles and comparatively stiff controls, it's clear that it is at least an important, influential title that has laid the groundwork for many of the character action games that have come after it. It's sequel, on the other hand... might be the worst game I played to completion this year. It's as shallow and bland as Devil May Cry 3 is nuanced and flashy. You don't get any new moves, and all of your melee weapons handle the same with slightly different stats. Guns are absurdly overpowered and you'll need that because of how poorly designed a lot of the bosses are. The game is around 5-6 hours long, and that was playing through both characters' stories. There is an egregiously bad underwater segment at one point. Capcom barely acknowledges its existence, and that's probably for the best, given how it all feels like a second-rate imitation of Devil May Cry rather than any sort of sequel. Still, this is the team that went on to make 3 and 4, so I'll at least give them credit for learning from their mistakes.

Worst halloween-type game from a developer I otherwise respect: Grabbed by the Ghoulies

Blog, the Original

At least with Devil May Cry 2 I had people who could sympathize with my plight. As Nuts and Bolts was so keen to remind us, NO ONE played this game. Thus, I was left to complain about it all alone.

I guess I could have put Costume Quest for this category as well, but Costume Quest is a $15 downloadable title clearly aimed at actual children (because I can't see how any adult in their right mind would find Costume Quest's repetitive brand of ultra-shallow “My first RPG” enjoyable past the first 30 minutes of its 4 hour playtime) made by Double Fine, a developer not exactly known for making stuff with great gameplay; Brad Muir's tower defense/shooter/copyright infringement machine aside. Grabbed by the Ghoulies was a $50 retail title made by Rareware, also known as the people responsible for like half of my favorite childhood games, and it's also openly aggravating at times instead of just mind-numbingly boring. Ghoulies is... I guess a brawler type game where you have no moves and instead just point the right stick in the general direction of your enemies. It's also basically a series of challenge rooms with conditions like “Kill X Enemy” and “Don't Kill X Enemy”, with difficulty varying wildly from one room to the next (because your health also varies from room to room, naturally). There's very little nuance to the combat in a game that is all combat, and if the repetition doesn't get you the random, frustrating difficulty spikes will. Along with Kameo (Another game I played this year, the highest level of praise for which I can muster being: “It's alright”), it's clear that Rare didn't become a soulless husk of a company that only puts out kinect games by accident. And, as always, that's a shame because Banjo-Kazooie Nuts and Bolts was the shit.

Worst game that I didn't finish because of how bored I was by the time I gave up: Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning

BLOG YO

No seriously, it becomes progressively easier and more boring the longer you play.

The best thing I can say about both Devil May Cry 2 and Grabbed by the Ghoulies is that they're over quickly. Kingdoms of Amalur is a Single Player MMO that runs out of steam long before you get anywhere near the finishing line, as I found out around the 25 hour mark. It's a title with a lot of really interesting ideas and systems that aren't capitalized upon well enough to last its entire running length. Part of that simply has to do with a bad power curve: it becomes incredibly easy to cheese the various gameplay systems at work, be it through maxing out sagecrafting in order to socket health regeneration gems into every single piece of armor or simply spamming the handful of powerful attack skills at your disposal. But even then, it doesn't have enough content to justify its length. Stuff starts repeating heavily around the halfway mark, and the writing isn't good enough to justify the usual “Kill X” or “Go to X” quests that populate the world. It's a pity there will never be another one, because I could have seen a sequel really delivering on the promise shown in Reckoning.

Worst Bioware Game that isn't that Sonic RPG/Most controversial item on this list: Jade Empire

Blog thing

So hey, Baldur's Gate 2 was pretty great.

I wanted to like Jade Empire, and in some ways I feel like I would've loved it had I played it when it came out in 2005. It was Bioware's first attempt at original IP, a mish mash of Asian culture and mythology with a different twist on the usual Good/Evil axis. It has a pretty great supporting cast, some really good individual vignettes...and a really abysmal combat system compounded by shallow, imbalanced character progression. If you've noticed a theme running throughout these awards, “monotonous combat” is one of them. Still, Jade Empire isn't bad. It has its moments (one featuring John Cleese as a stereotypical European imperialist being a particular highlight) and I can see how someone could have liked this game had they played it when it was new and relevant. As it stands I didn't, and I think it's outclassed by everything Bioware has made before and after. Though, if this is their low point then I'd say they still have a pretty good track record as a developer... well, besides this next game.

Worst Bioware Game that is that Sonic RPG -- Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood

There is no blog because I found this game un-entertaining enough that I have yet to finish it. Don't worry, that will change one day, probably when I need to feel bummed out about life again.

The Alpha Protocol Award for “Game that I liked until it fell apart at the seams”: Assassin's Creed III

Thing Blog

Tomahawking Redcoats? I don't see how that could go wrong.

I probably liked Assassin's Creed III more than some of you, given that I did continue playing after the protagonist switch and the 6-hour long tutorial, but that doesn't mean I don't think it's sort of a mess. As I mentioned in my blog, it throws a ton of side activities at you but disconnects them all in such a way to not really give the player any motivation to do them, leaving me to just barrel through the main story, far too much of which consists of eavesdropping, forced stealth and chase sequences, all of which were sort of bad when Assassin's Creed 1 did them 5 years prior and somehow worse now. The final chase of the game is one of the worst things I've seen in a long time. It's good that Ubisoft seems to have found their footing again with Black Flag, but they should probably slow down and take a long, hard look at where they want this series to go.

Best Blog about the nature of Time Travel in Chrono Trigger/Game my Computer hates the most: Might and Magic IX

Original thing

No seriously, just play Wizardry 8. Everyone with a vague appreciation for RPGs should play Wizardry 8.

That first award is there mostly as a reminder that 90% of my blogs don't reach more than 20ish comments. My most commented on blog this year was the one about Might and Magic IX (and King's Bounty: Crossworlds, but that game is actually good so it won't get a mention here), but unfortunately due to some offhand thing that @video_game_king probably said, it somehow became dominated with a discussion about Chrono Trigger, which is also a good old game and that reminds me: I should get back to Chrono Cross. My second award is a reference to the fact that my computer now refuses to run Might and Magic IX, despite being able to do so previously. I'm guessing I played more than half of it, so I can say with certainty that regular human beings should not play Might and Magic IX, a game that is staggeringly competent despite the fact that it was shipped in a very broken, very unfinished state. As a fan of the series I needed to play it (and I'll need to complete it) for my own sake. For the rest of you: Just play Might and Magic VI or VII. Or Wizardry 8. Wizardry 8 is still great.

And that's it, at least for now! I'll probably have my more legitimate awards lists done next week or so, so if you found this lengthy bitch-fest a bit too dour, you have nothing but positivity to expect moving forward! I'm pretty close to finishing Saints Row IV, and that game is pretty great, though I may play something else as a palette cleanser before going back to Assassin's Creed. Like.. I dunno... Arcanum or Fallout 2? You know, my CRPG white whales. Speaking of Fallout, it and its sequels are free on GOG until like... saturday Catch that hot old school RPG action and get some old games on sale while you're there.

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