Kindle Owner's Lending Library is poop from my butt

I like reading, and I like reading books for free, although I rarely get to the library anymore. That's why the Kindle Owner's Lending Library is so poopy. In theory, it's a grand idea; as part of your Amazon Prime yearly membership, you get to check out a book a month for free, read it as much as you like, then return it and get another one after a few weeks. Great! But even though there's like 300,000 books in there, well, it doesn't take much browsing to see that most of them are of this level of quality:

Even disregarding the woeful amalgamation of science fiction and fantasy (I'm sure there are plenty of people who like to read both, but I'm not one of them), it's pretty clear from even a cursory examination of any of the categories that Amazon's been scraping from the bottom of the self-publishing barrel to populate their lending library. Even if you find a curated listing of the best books in the library (something Amazon should really be doing, considering the thousands of spam or crap titles in the library), they're usually dominated by the stuff that Amazon clearly laid down a little money to throw in there as a loss leader: the Hunger Games books, the Harry Potter books, an assortment of Kurt Vonnegut...and really not that much else. Take a look at what they've added in the last 30 days if you want to see a lot of books that describe themselves as the second installment in some vaguely-defined (and assuredly open-ended) saga or are some half-hearted 50 Shades of Grey knockoff.

This doesn't feel like it's all that insoluble of a problem. Netflix faced and faces much the same dilemma: you can populate your library with nothing but crap, but people are going to notice and complain. People still complain about Netflix' selection, sure, but their ability to create some pretty great original shows and license a few popular mainstream movies every month (World War Z, uh, The Avengers, uhhhh, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, uhhhh....well, whatever, as long as I can watch any 30 Rock episode at any time, they're all right by me) keeps me paying them the $whatever a month that they demand of me. Someday I'll catch up on Luther, I swear.

I suppose the issue with the Lending Library is that it's a very small part of the Amazon Prime program and everyone's focus over there is attempting to remain competitive with Netflix. Honestly, they're doing a good job of that; the libraries are fairly similar on a movie basis, and Amazon's willingness to shell out what was very likely hundreds of millions of dollars to get the HBO back library is a sign that they're pretty serious about staying in the streaming race. Still, I love my Kindle, and I love reading, and I'd love to having something decent and free to read from the Lending Library. Pay a little money to get some Stephen King books from the 80s; pay someone to make a really killer Kindle version of the collected Shakespeare; do a reader's version of an out-of-copyright translation of War and Peace and do a book club around it. Do something. Just don't keep making me scroll through endless pages of shit like My Cursed Lover's Skeletal Curse...In The Scottish Highlands or The Xeembots Attack: Part Five of the Quadronian Saga to get to something worth reading. I don't believe I would like to spend my time doing that.

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Scattered Thoughts: FFX HD Remaster

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA

I did a quick scan through my Steam and game collection just now, trying to find games that I thought were above average but which featured superbly annoying lead characters, and didn’t come up with much. I enjoyed Assassin’s Creed III more than most people, but even I found Connor Kenway to be channeling a bit too much of angry teen Anakin Skywalker for comfort. Dante in the Devil May Cry games can be somewhat egregiously overbearing, but for the most part his excessive YOLOSWAG fits into the universe of those games. I’m sure there are other examples that I’ll remember as soon as I post this, but for the most part, developers with enough talent to make exceptional games generally manage to create lead characters that are at least bearable if not downright likable.

Which is why it's weird how Tidus is a poorly-executed character in almost every way. His character design is ridiculous to look at, his voicework is annoying at best and grating at its worst, and his dialogue is often eye-rollingly boring. The modern iterations of the Final Fantasy series are, of course, no stranger to having bland lead characters surrounded by a vastly more colorful/interesting supporting cast. (At a glance, I’d place FF7, 8, and 12 in this category; I hated pretty much everyone in 9 and thought the cast of 13 were all pretty snoozy.) But Tidus is a particular sore point for me in that he’s both more annoying than Cloud/Squall/Vaan while appearing in the game that I enjoy more than probably any other game in the Final Fantasy series. And hey, I get it: he’s a cocky kid that’s grown up in the shadow of his father and is tremendously confused by his passage to another, unfamiliar world. You can make that character interesting and relatable, but I don’t think Square did a great job with that here.

All of which is an incredible shame, because FFX is a pretty fantastic game that could’ve been made immeasurably better with a somewhat less flippant lead character. It’s obvious that the nearly mute performances of Squall and Cloud didn’t particularly work very well in their respective games, but Tidus flips that switch in the opposite direction, and by the thousandth unskippable internal monologue that you sit through here (“Wow. This situation really made me think...a lot...about Zanarkand...and what we’ll find there. And my old man. My old man...thinking about him really makes you think, doesn’t it.” REPEAT TIMES A BILLION), it’s difficult to resist the urge to reach through your screen and throw a Silentstrike blitzball at him.

the baddest party members

Luckily, his supporting cast is unique and varied and almost universally likable. Yuna’s probably the weakest link among the rest of the crew, with her halting vocal delivery and unconvincing crush on Tidus (a shame this couldn’t have been made more believable in the 40 hours it takes to complete the main story, but then, he is Tidus), but she’s endearing in her own way. The rest of the crew is altogether more interesting than the leads (even if they did try to double up on the mysterious laconic warrior type with Khimari and Auron; Khimari probably could’ve been written out of the story without too much of an impact), but even they don’t get the kind of full unraveling of their personal stories that they seem to deserve.

But those stories, and the game’s plot, are at least moving and interesting. It’s an interesting approach to a narrative: the world of Spira is not in danger of ending, but is trapped in an epic cycle of destruction that leaves everyone in almost constant terror of an attack by Sin. (That name is a bit on the nose, but at least it’s accurate of what he represents to the Yevonites.) That broad stroke is married well to the fairly intimate stories of each of the characters, almost all of which rely on familial issues. Tidus’ and Yuna’s fathers are both a large part of the reason that they’re fighting Sin, Seymour’s parents were both part of the reason that he became a villain, Wakka mourns his dead sibling, Rikku fights with Cid and Brother, etc. It’s all nicely subdued compared to the Extreme Yelling Olympics that JRPGs sometimes indulge in, and to date it’s still one of the only game endings that has actually managed to make my room suddenly get a little dusty.

Beyond the story, though, the sheer amount of content in the game is kind of astonishing, especially in the realm of optional content. I managed to beat Yunalesca in around 40 hours of playtime, skipping all but the mandatory blitzball matches, but there’s still dozens of hours of other content to explore, whether it’s the monster hunting, optional bosses, the Omega Ruins, hunting down the Celestial Weapons, etc. Right now I’ve been working on that stuff for around 15 hours or so, and it’s a testament to the core fighting mechanics that I’m not bored of running around the Omega Ruins to level up my characters, even after I’m well past the point of being able to kill everything in there in one hit.

but...but i thought i got that destruction sphere

Those fighting mechanics are a bit of an oddity in FF terms, in that FFX has a purely turn-based combat system, which isn’t exactly a common choice for RPGs nowadays or Final Fantasy games historically (most of them had ATB systems after the SNES generation, if I recall correctly); even FFX-2 quickly switched back to an active combat system. It’s curious to see the ways the designers had to fiddle around as the game progresses to make the difficulty still relevant as your characters become overweeningly powerful; anyone who’s lost a group to a Great Malboro’s ambush-breath knows that the difficulty spikes aren’t always necessarily. Pure turn-based systems that don’t involve any scaling of enemies seem like they need to incorporate a fair amount of randomness to ensure that challenges are still challenging after your characters are super-powered, but randomness itself can be immensely frustrating.

At any rate, I managed to beat the storyline’s end boss in just a couple of hits, so it’ll be interesting to go back through the monster arena to see how to deal with some of the super-challenges that are tucked away there; I never bothered much with it on the PS2. I have a feeling that getting all of the necessary gear to seriously compete in there will require a bunch of item farming, but c’est la vie. I don’t know if I’ll necessarily have the stamina to sit through all the way to Penance or Nemesis, but it’s fun to finally have the option to go after the dark Aeons and the rest of the superbosses that weren’t in the original American release of the game.

(Unfortunately I made a major mistake early on in not getting the destruction sphere from Besaid Temple before making it to the end game; learn from my mistake if you haven’t played this yet. There’s now a Dark Valefor in front of the temple that’s greatly frustrating my ability to get in there, which I need to do to unlock Anima, which in turn I need to get the Magus Sisters, which in turn I need to get to unlock Yuna’s Nirvana weapon, which would otherwise be one of the easiest weapons to obtain. Tidus and Rikku are both hitting for around 70k damage a pop, though, and Auron’s got his weapon too, so hopefully I’ll be able to bring him down sometime soon.)

But, yeah, I like FFX a lot, and this new HD Remaster has been a great way to re-experience the game. No one’s going to confuse this for Uncharted or anything, but the graphical upgrade is pretty nice (especially if you go back and compare it to YouTube videos of the PS2 version). And having it on my Vita has been wonderful; it’s fun to have nearly instant access to the game to run a few fights or a blitzball match without having to worry about booting up a system. There are some framerate issues here and there, but nothing significant or pervasive. I don’t know if I’ll dive into FFX-2 after I get done here, but FFX is worth the price of admission all on its own.

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Hey, we'll be doing a charity stream this Saturday!

This Saturday and Sunday Giant Bomb and GameSpot will be taking part in an (almost) 24-hour marathon to benefit Operation Supply Drop. You can find more information on the charity here and our team page is here if you want to donate early. Big thanks to Kurt Meyers, Matt Pascual, and Nathan Hawkins for giving so far, and a big big thanks for the $200 coming from an anonymous donor!

lazy saturday well join me and play some games

We’ll be streaming starting Saturday morning at 9 AM PST and continuing through Sunday morning at 9 AM. I’ll be anchoring the morning shift from 9 AM to 8 PM Saturday, so come by and sit a spell; we’ll be broadcasting through my personal twitch channel into giantbomb.com/chat. I’m still trying to work though what we’ll be doing, but I’ve been installing some games on the streaming machine here at the office. One of my bright ideas is to try and do a bit of a choose-our-own-adventure in NWN2: Mask Of The Betrayer and let people in chat vote on major plot moments. Team up with everyone we meet, or eat their souls? I have a feeling we all know what the answer will be.

Other options include lookin’ at some pup videos, scouring my Steam library for games I’m close to the end of, hopping into some free-to-play randomness, buying a bunch of Hearthstone card packs and seeing what we get before playing some games, and anything else we feel like doing for 11 straight hours. It’ll be a glorifying hour of witness.

Also, I’ll be giving some stuff away! Some of it will be pretty random: old games that I no longer want or know that I’ll never finish, premium membership extensions, and so on. But one thing to note is that I’m pretty sure we have some of those signed Nighthawks posters around, so I’ll definitely try to give away a few of those during the stream. And maybe if I feel stupid I’ll give away my old HDTV! It’s been sitting in the corner of my room for like a year now without any clear purpose to it.

i approve of this stream from my prison of wood

I’ll sign off around 8 PM, but Danny O’Dwyer will start everything back up at 9 PM. I hear that he’ll have a few friends joining him (Alexis for sure and I forget who else!), and they’ll keep the insanity going all night long in the chatroom. So tune in for him and give him a bunch of your money! Or give it to me! Or give it to our charity page! I mean heck, these guys even give stuff to pups!

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Box Office Winner's League: Amazing Spider-Man 2

It's that time again!

an epic romance

If any of you were around for the old days at Screened, you'll recall that we used to run a contest called Box Office Winners League when we got the feeling to do so. It's a simple premise: guess how much money a movie is going to make in a given weekend, and if you're the closest guess, you win! There's a bit of skill in it, since box office is roughly predictable, and there are tracking companies that are paid quite a bit to do so, but there's also a lot of luck, since almost no one is able to consistently guess a box office weekend with any degree of accuracy or precision.

The rules are pretty simple.

1. Guess how much money Amazing Spider-Man 2 will make in its opening weekend in the U.S. We'll count all the money it makes between Thursday night and Sunday night. Just throw it in as a reply to this post, e.g.: $56.79 million (be as specific as you like.).

For reference's sake, you can check the grosses for previous Spider-Man movies right over here.

2. Make your guesses as a reply to this thread, and make sure that they're in by Thursday 5/1 at 3 PM PST/6 PM EST/whatever crazy clock time you have in your crazy timezone. I won't count anything after that. I'm going to take screenshots of the replies at that point, so don't bother editing your post or deleting a post and trying again later.

but is there another man in her life

3. The winners will be determined next Monday or Tuesday, when actual box office figures are released at boxofficemojo.com. Weekend estimates are often released on Sunday afternoon, but we'll wait for the real numbers to determine a winner. I'll compare that number to see who's closest; over or under doesn't matter. In case of any ties, I'll decide between the entries with either a coin flip or some other randomized method.

4. There'll be two winners. The closest Premium member will win a copy of Dark Souls II for the PS3. The closest non-Premium member will get a year of Premium access. This is a gently used copy of Dark Souls II, so it's not brand new!

That's pretty much it! Go forth and prosper, or something. I'll reserve the right to change any of these rules as I see fit before the deadline, but I doubt that'll be necessary. (Don't be a dick and make it necessary, in other words.)

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Winners! Of my contests!

HARUMPH CONTESTS ARE FOR THE POORS

Hey, I finally had a chance to figure out the winners of the last couple of blogs. By random choice, @counterclockwork87 gets a free copy of Ni No Kuni! And with the BOWL, @meaninoflife42 gets a free year of Premium Access thanks to a guess of $93.7 million when the actual opening weekend was $95,023,721. And the premium winner of that contest is @dukest3, who was awfully close at a guess of an even $95 million.

Congrats to the winners! Counterclockwork and DukesT3, please PM your addresses. I'll hook up meaninoflife when I get a chance to do so.

Hopefully I'll have more time to do some more stupid contests this summer. I'll try to have another B.O.W.L. for when X-Men comes about. And yes, we've been meaning to do another movie podcast; hopefully we'll get time to do one this weekend.

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BOWL: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Wow, it's been a long time since we did one of these!

"Oh..you know...just hanging out in a dark room and stuff."

If any of you were around for the old days at Screened, you'll recall that we used to run a contest called Box Office Winners League when we got the feeling to do so. It's a simple premise: guess how much money a movie is going to make in a given weekend, and if you're the closest guess, you win! There's a bit of skill in it, since box office is roughly predictable, and there are tracking companies that are paid quite a bit to do so, but there's also a lot of luck, since almost no one is able to consistently guess a box office weekend with any degree of accuracy or precision.

Let's get it started again in 2014! The rules this week are pretty simple.

1. Guess how much money Captain America: The Winter Soldier will make in its opening weekend in the U.S. We'll count all the money it makes between Thursday night and Sunday night. Just throw it in as a reply to this post, e.g.: $55.5 million (we'll count tens of a million, but be as specific as you like.)

2. Make your guesses as a reply to this thread, and make sure that they're in by Thursday 4/2 at 3 PM PST/6 PM EST/whatever crazy clock time you have in your crazy timezone. I won't count anything after that. I'm going to take screenshots of the replies at that point, so don't bother editing your post or deleting a post and trying again later.

The Winter Soldier is Loki! You heard it here first!

3. The winners will be determined next Monday or Tuesday, when actual box office figures are released at boxofficemojo.com. Weekend estimates are often released on Sunday afternoon, but we'll wait for the real numbers to determine a winner. I'll compare that number to see who's closest; over or under doesn't matter. In case of any ties, I'll decide between the entries with either a coin flip or some other randomized method.

4. There'll be two winners. The closest Premium member will win a copy of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch for the PS3. The closest non-Premium member will get a year of Premium access. This is a brand-new copy of Ni No Kuni, mind you: it hasn't even been opened!

That's pretty much it! Go forth and prosper, or something. I'll reserve the right to change any of these rules as I see fit before the deadline, but I doubt that'll be necessary. (Don't be a dick and make it necessary, in other words.)

Actual number: $95,023,721

300 Comments

Ni No Kuni? It's More Likely Than You Think!

Neato!

I would’ve loved to be a fly on the wall when it came time to translate the title of Ni No Kuni for the American market, or, rather, not do so at all. I don’t disagree with the choice to leave the title untranslated; I’m just really curious about it. It’d be one thing if it was a character’s name, but it seems like the phrase has a number of serviceable options for an English translation, whether you believe it’s Second Country or Another World or what have you. I gather that perhaps a bunch of people sat down at a conference table, fought over the precise way to get all the nuance out of the phrase, had to be separated after duking it out, and then they all just decided to leave it alone. And then they were all paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for their services.

Whatever the case may be, Ni No Kuni’s a pretty good game. It definitely comes across as a Level 5 game, which I was a bit dubious about, having never been terrifically huge fans of their RPGs in the past. It was never as sloggy as, say, Dragon Quest VIII was (but then I recall few RPGs more interminable than DQVIII), even if there was a bit of grinding here and there to get me past the tougher bosses. But in the end it was Pretty Alright.

The combat system might’ve been the game’s weakest aspect, but even so, it rarely reached a level of true frustration. Most of the fights were passable simply by bringing out my Mitey familiar and tapping the X button incessantly, and that’s without even getting any of the familiars that I had to maximum friendliness. So it’s difficult to really say there was a lot of strategy involved, but then that’s probably always the case when you’re talking about a team of AI party members. I would’ve loved to see some kind of deeper AI settings like you had in Final Fantasy XII, where you could control what actions your teammates do based on the context of what’s happening in battle, but those options are pretty slim here.

Even so, your teammates are smart enough to not feel like they got in the way, even though I barely ever actively controlled them. Part of that is just functional AI algorithms (if char A is <75% health, cast a heal, etc.) that worked even without a lot of massaging; part of that is an avoidance of the enemy attacks that make AI teammates often so frustrating to deal with. Only one boss drops down fire that you have to move out of, for instance (which of course wound up killing my teammates multiple times); most of the rest of the enemies have attacks that are either big damage to one party member or manageable damage to all of them, both of which are pretty easy to adjust to so long as you have good healing options in your familiars. For a lot of the last section of the game, I just used Oliver, running away from bad guys and spamming Evenstar or Astra to wipe out entire groups of enemies or using heals while my teammates plinked away at bosses. Not thrilling, but fun enough.

I guess that would sum up the storyline as well. It’s not as well-told as most of Miyazaki’s best films which, even when dealing with children, are often startlingly mature and subtle in the way they deal with the interior emotions of their characters. Things are a bit more overt here, which is fine in its own way, but it did get a little tiring to see every Ultimate Bad Guy go through a lengthy exposition to explain that they were Really Not That Bad At All, to the point where the end boss, who’s killed probably millions of people during her reign, simply becomes good again after you fight her, says “now it’s time for me to help people,” and is turned loose to the world. An odd idea of justice, that.

I dunno! Ni No Kuni’s good, but it seems a bit inconsequential, too; I wouldn’t have cried if someone had made me stop playing after five hours, or anything. Finishing it made me realize that it’s been a very long time since I actually completed a JRPG (unless you count stuff like Dark Souls or Dragon’s Dogma; I personally don’t); I got pretty close to finishing Tales of Vesperia a couple of years ago, but not much has really caught my eye in the interim. I gave up on FFXIII-2 after a couple of hours, and barely made it through Lightning Returns’ demo before deciding not to buy it. I guess the FFX Remaster stuff is a week away or so, so there’s that to look forward to, at least. Let’s all buy a couple copies so they do the same thing to FFXII.

Hey, I have a couple extra copies of Ni No Kuni to give away! I'll give one away in the comments here and one sometime later. Just leave a comment and I'll select someone at random in a few days.

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About those posters!

the most chompable pup

Hey, we recently put a bunch of Nighthawks posters on the store. We originally printed 1,000 of them thinking that they'd take a while to sell out, but you guys are crazy, and we actually sold out of them within a matter of maybe eight hours of them being on sale? They sold so fast that we actually had a bit of a snafu on the store and we sold around 1,120 of them, which is obviously more than we printed. Unfortunately that means that we're going to have to cancel 120 orders.

congrats on the gold medal, mr pup

Ha, ha, no: we're not dicks. Well, we are, but not in this particular instance. Instead of canceling orders, we went ahead and ordered another 500 copies of the poster to account for the excess orders that we received. So, everyone who got an order in will get a poster. Plus, we'll be able to sell another 300 of the posters or so at some point in the future. (Gonna save the rest to bring to PAX and for site giveaways and the like.) Many of our UK/Europe friends were not happy that the posters were only for sale in California's afternoon time, so when I'm sure we're OK to sell the rest of these posters, I'll very likely throw them on the store at something like 2 AM Pacific time, which is...what, like 8 PM in the UK? Or noon? I don't know what the math is on that, sorry. I'm not Godel or anything. I will announce this sale a few days ahead of time, so keep an eye on the general forum, where I'll probably sticky the announcement.

We won't be restricting these sales to European addresses or anything, so if you're an American, you can still get an order in; you'll just have to stay up late to do so. To prevent any more inventory problems, we'll probably only offer these posters with signatures; attempting to track both non-signature and signed versions of the poster is what got us in the inventory mess in the first place, and the number of people who explicitly don't want signatures on their posters is pretty small.

Also, if you ordered a Bombduders shirt, I believe they're coming into stock now and trickling out of the warehouse, so enjoy that!

If you have any questions about an order (or shipping costs, etc.), please email orders@socialimprints.com. If they don't get back to you within a couple of business days, re-send the email and cc me in at support@giantbomb.com so I can escalate it if need be.

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Scattered Thoughts: Dead Space 3

Dead Space 3 was nominated on our "most disappointing games of the year" list, so I thought I might take a moment to think back on a game that I actually found shockingly solid, despite my initial trepidation about it. I personally would venture that DS3 was one of my favorite surprises of the year, especially coming after my largely negative experience with Dead Space 2 (which threw game-breakingly powerful items at you at the start of the game, for free, if you got the game of the year edition on Steam) and the fairly worrying announcements that were made about Dead Space 3 leading up to its release.

JUMP SCARE

The biggest, reddest flag for me about Dead Space 3 was the announcement that the whole game could be played in both co-op or singleplayer modes. I was very prepared to simply write off the game entirely at that point, as most games that feature combined co-op and single-player campaigns do so very poorly, with the possible exception of action RPGs like the Diablo games. I've never particularly been all that interested in playing co-op games, so my experiences with stuff like Borderlands have largely come via playing their single-player campaigns.

Action games like Borderlands or Diablo can scale themselves up for multiple players fairly easily, of course, so creating something that works in both modes has never been particularly tough for them. Dead Space has never leant itself well to that style of run-and-gun gameplay. It's a horror game, set in tight corridors, focusing on slow exploration, picking up audio logs, reading journals, and occasional bursts of intense action rather than running and gunning. I didn't see how they could make it work as a co-op game.

necromorphs want to eat me

EA made a lot of promises to skeptics like me before the game came out, claiming that the co-op integration was going to be seamless and that its development wouldn't affect the single-player campaign, and so on. I loved Resident Evil 4 more than anything else on the GameCube, and got only a couple of hours into Resident Evil 5 before my AI teammate frustrated me so much that I simply gave up, so naturally I was less than ready to believe everything they said. There was plenty of forum chatter going around about their open desire to appeal to new players, the inclusion of an action-roll button that was straight out of Gears of War, having more characters appear, having Isaac speak more than he ever had before, and so on.

When I'm skeptical about something, usually this industry does its best to realize my worst fears, so kudos to EA: virtually none of my worries were actually borne out in the game.

The biggest of these was, as mentioned, the influence of co-op play on the single-player game. I played through the entire game in single-player mode, and was almost never struck with the idea that it was intended or even designed for co-op play. There were some small exceptions, of course; some of the door-unlocking puzzles seemed likely to have been designed for two players, and near the end of the game you start running across the co-op character more often, but it largely felt unchanged from the series' roots in a "one dude exploring creepy places" kind of vibe.

Maybe that meant the co-op felt tacked-on; I played about an hour of it and it felt acceptable. Either way, I'd much prefer to have co-op feel bad than have single-player suck, and most of my experiences in the past have either come with the latter experiences or strictly separate co-op/SP experiences (e.g. Portal 2) than with games that have tried to convert themselves from a single-player franchise to one that includes a bolted-on co-op option. Dead Space 3 threaded the needle in a way that was basically undetectable to me as a primarily single-player person, and Visceral deserves a lot of credit for that.

HE'S COMING RIGHT FOR ME

A lot of the other complaints wound up being relatively minor. I don't remember ever using the combat roll thing, so that wasn't a big deal. I was never harassed by any kind of microtransaction or DLC prompt that I can recall, so those never bothered me at all, either. (Nothing seemed unbalanced about the game without spending extra cash on it, in other words.) The pacing and progression of the gun creation stuff felt fine, and the crafting system wound up leading to some interesting (if overpowered) gun possibilities.

Even the notion of Isaac Clarke and his Merry Gang wound up not affecting the ebb and flow of the creepiness too much. Yes, it was a little weird seeing Isaac interact with real humans in the flesh as often as he did, especially for someone who began the series as a silent protagonist, but you still spent the vast bulk of your time crawling through corridors alone, and it allowed for some great setpieces like the shuttle crash. And they avoided throwing in any escort missions, which alone forces me to give the developers some kudos.

I can't speak as to anyone else's experience with the game; maybe it was a massive letdown for people who care enough about the series to have read the novels and watched the anime, etc. Speaking as someone who liked Dead Space 1 and was let down by the GOTY edition of Dead Space 2 just because of balance issues, though, DS3 was a fine capper to the series and a heck of a good time even as an isolated experience. Having not read any reviews of it (and having not listened to the podcast discussion about it), I don't know why it would be in the running for our most disappointing game of the year, but hey: for what it's worth I really enjoyed it. It'd be a shame if there won't be any more of them.

The end.

61 Comments

Scattered Thoughts: Dragon's Dogma

I haven't written much here lately! Mostly I've been busy being sick over the last six weeks or so. I've never been sick for this long before! Probably the wasting disease or consumption or maybe just a general sense of malaise. Getting better now, but still coughing more than I should be. We'll see how things go.

i like games

Anyway, I've been meaning to write more in this blog, but I generally tend to set out to write something short, and then it balloons to some crazy-long thing that I have to have saved in Google Drive because I'm afraid of losing it all. I somehow have 1,500 words on GTA V's sense of humor that hasn't cohered into anything worth reading, for example. But maybe if I just type stuff directly into the field I can post more often with less stress. We'll see.

A lot of my gaming time lately has been spent in Dragon's Dogma, which I was told in no uncertain terms that I had to play by various people. I got it for "free" from PS+, and that's my kind of price when it comes to buying a game! I had tried it a while back on the Xbox, but was playing Dark Souls at the time and had a hard time shifting back and forth between the control schemes - the lack of a lock-on feature made it a bit difficult to shift between games, although that was mitigated somewhat when I found out about Blink Strike. I mostly played through the game as either a fighter, mystic knight, or assassin, which was fine, since Blink Strike and Tusk Toss were by far my most-used abilities.

Once I got the hang of it, the combat quickly became second nature, and refreshingly enough your AI teammates aren't complete idiots. They're not great, of course, and you spend a lot of time reviving them in tougher boss fights, but hey: at least the game lets you revive them for free. One thing that I noticed, though, is that a significant number of players have no idea what to do with their pawns. Browsing the online lists, there are more than a few people that never assign their pawns any skills (like, at all), have starter-level equipment on them, or otherwise just seem unable to grasp the idea of there being a party member you should be paying attention to. It's not an uncomplicated system, to be fair, but it's still odd to see people unable to grasp such a core concept in a game. They probably should've offered some kind of auto-pawn system that would assign your main pawn a selection of skills to complement your own, or even giving you a one-button solution to make your party a healer/mage/bow/warrior setup. Like everyone else who's ever played a D&D PC game, I wouldn't touch such a system, but these days it probably would've made it a bit more accessible to a more general audience (like, e.g., the people who randomly downloaded it because it was free).

hellhounds!

There's definitely a weird difficulty curve, though; wandering off the main roads into a pack of bandits early in the game feels like a real challenge, but since there's no enemy scaling, by the time you hit level 40 or so, you mostly wander around steamrolling everything you come across. Come to think of it, I died fairly rarely; I didn't realize that I didn't have to fight the ogre in Lure of the Abyss, who stomped me a couple of times, and an archer in the Bluemoon Tower managed to hit me with a knockback arrow that sent me down a big flight of stairs. And there was a room full of Hellhounds in the Everfall that was complete bullshit.

I suppose there's a sense of satisfaction to murdering ogres and gryphons that were almost impossible earlier in the game, but I can't help but feel that just a leeeetle bit of scaling, even if only on the huge enemies, would've made the combat later in the game more threatening. (Please hold your death threats.) Perhaps I should've just bumped it up to hard difficulty, assuming that's even possible. But for the most part combat's really fun and probably worth the price of admission alone.

That story...well, it feels like the kind of thing where a team was given a mandate to make a game about killing a big old dragon, then smoked a bunch of pot and decided to write a super-weird epilogue about the nature of existence and tack it on. It's weird, and not entirely satisfying as a conclusion to the story, but I give these guys a lot of credit for boldness, at least. I would've liked to see more Dark Souls-ish implied backstory, but it didn't feel like there was much of that, leading to some weird unanswered questions. What's the deal with pawns? What was up with the Duke's wife? What exactly is the Everfall? Etc. Maybe the unanswered questions are meant to reflect your status as a woefully underinformed Arisen, but still.

what is death i do not know

I haven't felt all that compelled to delve into the DLC all that much, although it's nice to know that there are some challenges waiting for me if I choose to do so. I got thoroughly rolled by Death on my first visit, and then I later ran into a room with a Gorechimera and a Chimera, so that...was fun. Maybe I'll try to tackle it a bit over the holidays.

A few caveats: the crafting and item system seems a bit...overdesigned. I picked up pretty much everything I came across, but outside of pure curative items, you mostly seem capable of making a bunch of random, weird junk that you don't really need. (And having random quests suddenly deliver 60 skulls or seven-pound armor sets into your inventory and weigh you down was also a bit silly.) Is there really a point to carrying around blindness or sleep cures when you can simply have a healer with high-priority Halidom in the party?

The stat growth system also seems pretty silly, in that different classes get different skill allotments at level-up, requiring min-maxers to plan far ahead to get the best skill levels at max level. Granted, that's a bit of a silly goal, considering that I really doubt there's much in the game that can even scratch you when you hit level 200, but at the same time, level-up systems that require you to jump through hoops to obtain maximum efficiency are a bit of a bête noire for me (FFXIII-2 had a similar issue). An incredibly minor thing, to be sure.

All in all, I like this game. It's good and fun to play. More than anything, though, it makes me really excited to see what's going to be happening with the next generation of open-world games. Graphics aren't the only thing to worry about, but I'm hoping that a game like this is going to be truly jaw-dropping when the sequel rolls out for the PS4 and XBONE.

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