The Surge is Dead Space and Dark Souls rolled into one and I'm all in

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It's the gaming drought and I've been looking for things to play. A lot of advertisements had recently sprung up about The Surge 2 showcasing some gameplay videos and a cinematic trailer - even our very own Giant Bomb gave it a shot on a UPF or something a while back. So I checked and it was on Game Pass - man I love Game Pass - so why not?

Turns out I really liked The Surge.

Prelude

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Many years ago I remember getting a fairly bad game from GameStop and I knew someone working there so they told me they can exchange it for something else they had on hand at the moment. Anything was better than what I had (title of the game escapes me) and when I saw him the next day he handed me Dead Space which had just released at the time. Now I wasn't all that enthused - I don't like scary games and I enjoy survival horror even less. I vaguely recalled the advertising campaigns for Dead Space touting it had amazing sound design and was incredibly scary. The game sat on my shelf for a while until a friend came over that wanted to play it. I let him go at it and sat back watching - when he left that day after getting a few hours into it I knew that a) it looked amazing and b) I had to play it for myself. The amazing design and clever innovations in the already established survival horror genre were able to help me play this title that I would never give the time of day otherwise. Sure I still cringed at all the monster closets, but no longer was I repelled by having 2 bullets and slowly walking around, turning in place using tank controls and clumsily dispatching slow zombies. A great game is just a great game, no matter what genre it occupies.

Dead Souls

The Surge reminds me a lot of that time. A big difference is that I am already a fan of the Souls games, and Bloodborne is probably my favorite one-of-those, so I didn't need to force myself outside of my comfort zone. What the Surge does is take this existing formula and much like Dead Space did with survival horror all those years ago, it adds new systems and evolves some of the already established mechanics. More importantly it brought the Souls experience to a sci-fi setting which is very much my jam. Being in the future means that a lot of the things that were typically just fantasy magic mumbo jumbo all of a sudden have more or less logical explanations which actually goes a long way in increasing the immersion factor. Ironically it helps to ground the experience in some sort of reality which in a way helps you relate to whats going on around you. You're not walking through ruined castles or bogs, you're in the R&D department of a corporation where gross experiments were taking place. You're using a welding device attached to your exo-rig which increases your strength and speed so that you can work at an assembly line better. Your abilities are implants that draw power from your suit.. it's all very industrial and very cool. I even enjoyed the corporate PR you constantly encounter throughout the game, with a future Mark Zuckerberg letting you know how great Creo (the fictional corporation you work for) is both for you and for the world around you - without getting into spoilers you do get to meet this man and it's a really interesting encounter.

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Then of course there is the dismemberment. This system where you cut off the limbs of your enemies in order to get the gear they are wearing is extremely fun. Not only does it look cool, but it helps the combat not get stale. Very rarely was I ever just mashing my pneumatic drill at an enemy. Each encounter is a little different because enemies will have different weak spots and depending on the situation you might want to go for a faster kill or you might want to prolong the fight a bit to gain energy so you can engage a heal. The energy meter you gain through consecutive attacks adds that one extra layer of strategy to combat encounters in addition to simply managing your stamina which makes a world of difference.

Similarly I love the skills system in the form of implants that you can slot in and out at will. Everyone knows the pain of playing through a Dark Souls game, increasing a stat for 15 hours only to find the perfect sword.. that uses a completely different stat. You can use items to re-roll but it's kind of a pain. The Surge presents you with implants that have either passive or active buffs, and you can mix and match them at will as long as you have the energy to power them. You're never locked into one "build" because you can always switch things up. You can even stack a bunch of the same implant that gives you bonus experience for each kill and go farming for a while, then switch in all your implants for exploring an area and keep on truckin. A boss too difficult? Slap on a bunch of extra heals so that you can use a "flask" 12 times. The freedom to play as you wish and the many choices you have at your disposal is a wonderful change of pace from the typically enigmatic and static way the Souls games handle this. The Surge doesn't really obfuscate anything - there aren't any items that "might bring a wanderer luck" or something equally vague. It still manages to be interesting and a lot of fun while being absolutely transparent with it's systems and options. There are some fun things to discover on your own, like for instance there is an entire combo system that executes different moves depending on the sequence of attacks you choose. There is a special way to kill every boss that will reward you a better version of the boss weapon afterwards. It's just enough to be interesting but not too much to be a nuisance.

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Which is not to say that everything is great. The worst thing about the Surge is hands down their level design, which is a little drab and at times incredibly confusing. For all the cool innovation and awesome looking bosses and tech, the areas you traverse are quite boring, often looking very similar from zone to zone, always using the exact same maintenance corridors that twist and turn, going up and down until you no longer know where you are. While games like Bloodborne or Dark Souls were typically excellent about showing you the places that you're going to go to, so that once you get there you could kind of marvel how they cleverly tied everything together, in the Surge you go into these dark corridors that spit you out the other side and you have zero context for where you went or where you ended up. It's a real shame because it's the one element that really drags the entire experience down a whole notch.

If you have Game Pass, and are looking to kill some time until the next big thing comes out (this would be CONTROL next week) annnd you like the Souls games.. then hey check this out. At the time of release it got a somewhat lukewarm reception but I do think it's really doing a lot of interesting things with this new genre we got on our hands.

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I've joined the brave and the few (Upgraded my PC)

Classic.
Classic.

Upgrading PC's is something I generally dislike doing. I've been building computers for years ever since my older brother got me into it. To this day I cringe when thinking of putting together those boxes in 1999 or so, with all the different compatibility errors and incredulous solutions like moving something a dimm slot over to get your whole setup to finally stop spitting out those ear mangling error codes. Those who bemoan Windows 10 should spend a week being forced to build anything under ME or 2000, what a nightmare.

As a child I wasn't a big console gamer because my parents despised video games professing them to be a huge waste of time (and they weren't wrong!), so naturally we never really had any in the house. This is partly why I have absolutely no fondness for Zelda, or Mario or a number of other classics held in high regard that I simply didn't get a chance to sit down with for any serious amount of time. Sure I played some console games in my youth - Contra quite literally changed my life and blew my mind the first time I saw it in action - but it was the PC that opened the doors to gaming for me under the thinly disguised veil of being an educational companion for schoolwork.

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When people talk about their childhood gaming moments in terms of Metroid or Link to the Past, I think of Stunts or Hexen. Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, Rise of the Triad. Adventure titles like Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max Hit the Road or the more esoteric Bureau 13. Playing Prince of Persia at my friends house or collecting jewels in Commander Keen. I recall running a 25 ft long ethernet cable with my brother between our rooms so we could cooperatively stomp out the AI in StarCraft. Those were the golden days of gaming for me. That is when I fell in love with Fallout and Fallout 2, thinking I must be a huge fan of RPG's only to later painfully discover those games to be very unique gems in a vast pool of fantasy driven adventures with Dungeons and Dragons rulesets that confused and irritated me. It's where I spent hours crafting hospitals and dungeons, rollercoasters and flying fortresses in Stratosphere: Conquest of the Skies. Basically, great times that shaped how I think about games today. They were my Gerstmann callbacks, the titles that I think of when I mention "classic" gaming.

Alas with the love of PC Gaming came a price - keeping afloat on the ever changing tides of the hardware curve required capital. You had to steadily dump money into your machine or the tide was going to pull you away from the golden shores of high performance and into the sad, open waters of minimal specs where similar individuals paddled in place, watching those beautiful games back on shore get further and further from your reach. Back then it was a lot more dire to get left behind as many titles didn't just perform poorly, they would quite often refuse to run at all unless you met their lofty requirements. I'm not even sure how I did it as a young kid, but somehow I stayed afloat and continued to enjoy awesome graphics, nuanced gameplay and smooth performance, oftentimes looking down at console offerings with a bewildered ignorance: how could people play that stuff?

Just would not stop crashing..
Just would not stop crashing..

As the years went on a few things came together to form the perfect storm that changed my stance completely. First of all my patience in keeping up with the rat race started waning as college and two jobs began eating away every free moment I had and having to pay for the roof over my head as well as the food I ate cut drastically into my gaming budget. Second, PC games entered the blightful phase of shoddy ports that weren't optimized, had a ton of issues and continued to rob me of my free hours as I spent more time troubleshooting various crashes on Lycos than actually playing the games themselves (damn you Slave Zero!). The third nail in the coffin was that as PC game quality dwindled and innovation came to a standstill, console games started getting pretty darn good. The first console I bought after my Pegasus from the early 90's was a Playstation 1. One of the first games I played on it was Metal Gear Solid. Here was a game that felt every bit as nuanced as the PC titles I was used to, but on it's own terms. Let me show you the power of my mind, snarled Psycho Mantis and proceeded to make me burst out laughing. You know, these consoles are alright..

Fast forward to the 360 and I had all but completely abandoned the PC. The ease of buying a disc and simply playing the game was something I was able to sacrifice a lot of inherent computer fidelity for that I'd grown accustomed to over the years. My first FPS played with a controller instead of a mouse and keyboard - and over the years I had cut my teeth on Counter Strike and Battlefield 1942 with the trusty carpal tunnel inducing WASD setup - was BioShock, possibly the worst choice for such a drastic transition seeing as Rapture might be an incredibly atmospheric world, but the shooting was never the highlight of that franchise. Then came later games that continued to fuel my gaming needs and helping me become a proper console player. Dead Space, one of my favorite franchises to date showed me how great third person shooters could be. Modern Warfare showed me that console shooters had the potential to be fast and frantic. GRID and Dirt games showed me how fun a driving game could be with analog sticks instead of the tried and true clickity clackety turning on a keyboard.

Still pretty good?
Still pretty good?

I've always kept my PC moderately up to date so that when some exclusive came along I'd be able to give it a shot. Lately though, both pricing and ease of play has been shifting back towards computer games. One of the final straws was Hitman for me, a game I've grown to enjoy quite a bit. The load times and performance on the PS4 where I initially bought the Intro Pack played an incredibly detrimental role in my enjoyment of the product. Here is a game where I want to experiment, I want to test the boundaries, and in order to do that I need to load a save quite often - a painfully slow process on my base PS4. Dishonored 2, my favorite game of 2016, ran incredibly poorly at times with a chugging framerate that made me question how the game made it to market at times. The argument that "these games are optimized for the hardware so you have consistent performance" started to really ring hollow. More and more titles started coming out ridden with bugs, with poor performance, and overall issues that sometimes - like in the case of Skyrim on PS3 - simply never got resolved. My whole reason for switching to the console ecosystem started to fall apart, and now with the release of the PS4 PRO it has basically shattered to pieces. A better version of the same generation of consoles? Games that run better on one than the other? And these games have been already performing quite poorly as of late.. so am I to buy for another whole console simply to get back to that baseline performance? I just didn't know anymore.

So here we are!

It was time for another update, and when updating your PC why take half steps - you should always go full Gerstmann.

The Parts.
The Parts.

I combed through some forums, got up to speed on some new-aged terminology, and set out to build a whole new PC from the ground up.

Noise was one of my major complaints as my previous computer would sound like a jet engine when playing any game, thanks to the wonderful Radeon R9 card I had in there. The Noctua fan was overkill for my needs as I wasn't going to overclock to CPU just yet, but it ensures longevity for the time when I would want to crank up those cores. If I had an i6700 the processor choice would be a huge waste of money as the i7 line did little to innovate on their predecessor, but coming from an AMD based bulldozer cpu this was a great leap forward, and one of the best chips out on the market right now (as far as I could tell anyway!) I wanted to get G.Skill Tridents but there was a good deal on the Hyper X so I took the hit and got the slightly slower ram.

The videocard was obviously the most expensive but a good investment for years to come.

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I had no idea Power Supplies came in swanky pouches like this these days and it really made me laugh when I opened it up. It seemed like something a pimp might carry in the backseat of his cadillac for some reason. I was going to go with a Corsair power supply but Seasonic has a pretty great reputation and it offered both modular cable design and no-fan-spinning when working under load. Sadly it doesn't have the platinum rating as the original Corsair iHX I had chosen out, but Gold will do just as well in a pinch.

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The Noctua fan is a NH 14 model, and is quite big! Thankfully the chatter online was true in that installation of Austria's finest is incredibly simple, even for someone who hasn't touched modern coolers in years. (My previous build had the cooler already set on the CPU and the motherboard for which I was incredibly thankful)

Not this time though! This time I had to place the CPU into the socket myself and then attach this hunk of metal on top. In all honesty my hands got a little shaky as I fumbled to place the small square into the ASUS easy-snap-on-thing and then heard a rather unhealthy cracking noise as I closed the game firmly shut and bolted it down. If I messed things up it would be quite apparent later on..

I then proceeded to check out the latest and greatest techniques for applying thermal paste, a topic on which there is an endless amount of discussion raging on as we speak. Ultimately I settled on the tried and true 4-5mm bead in the very center. Should work just fine and a lot of people, including the fine folk at Noctua, recommend this method.

Ugh.
Ugh.

What I absolutely did not miss is the mess that comes along with building a PC, and how things can spiral out of control if you don't keep them in check. It's good form to cleanup as you go along, but having been out of the game for quite a while I let the habit slide and ended up with a mountain of parts, screws, boxes and plastic packets strewn all over the place. Also not being the young man I once was, despite taking precautions to work at a desk instead of hunched over the components on the ground, my back was still killing me after all was said and done.

It works!
It works!

But finish I did, and to my overwhelming joy Windows 10 handled the whole process smooth as butter. A quick verification of my installation that simply required me to log into my account and indicate that I had a "serious hardware change" recently and my Digital License smoothly transferred over. I know! I know! You should do a clean install upon changing hardware.. but listen, I'm tired and this works, so hey I'll cut some corners. Also this installation of windows is actually quite fresh, with nary a program on it apart from Steam and Photoshop. If driver conflicts arise I'll deal with them using the good ol' wipe method, but until then, I'm happy to just have things working.

PC is running smooth as silk and I can barely tell it's on when I'm simply surfing the web. Playing Hitman on all things Ultra wasn't honestly the life defining experience I thought it might be, but it's nice to not have to worry about detail settings for the foreseeable future.

Either way thanks for reading. I'm happy to have a fully upgraded and up to date computer once more. I'm ready to join the ranks of the worst PC snobs out there, being disgusted at games running under anything less than 120FPS and loudly proclaiming how I don't even know what a console is much less that I would actually own such a thing. (Of course secretly I'll be continuing to play Titanfall 2 on my PS4 and anticipating Horizon Zero Dawn in a month, because no matter how awesome it is to boast about your killer frames, it's a lot more awesome to simply play great games no matter where they appear..)

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From First Light to Second Son - InFamous is surprisingly awesome

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As some of you may know, this month PS Plus offered First Light up for grabs, the stand alone DLC to InFamous: Second Son. Being a PS4 owner that had never played the base game I decided to give it a go; why not right? I ended up really disliking First Light for a variety of reasons. I didn’t think it looked great, the city felt drab and lifeless, the missions were boring and I disliked the character, her story and powers. Yet, something at the end of that DLC grabbed my attention. Suddenly the game became a little more set-piece story driven and a little less open world meandering. I had watched the first 15-20 minutes of Second Son online at some point and it reminded me of that. So I took a chance and bought Second Son on the cheap, and it’s a good thing I did because I absolutely loved it.

Second Son is a game that I think just went on it’s way after release. People said it looked great but I didn’t hear a lot of talk about how well it played. Some folk mentioned how the developers probably never even looked at what the map of Seattle actually looks like but that was about it. Well I’m here to tell you fellow bombers, the game is great.

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Just to get it out of the way, yes, Second Son looks absolutely gorgeous and is probably one of the best looking next gen games I’ve played on the PS4. The very opening of the game has you jumping around a beachside with beautiful sun rays streaming in, great water effects and detailed textures that are all a joy to behold. The particle effects on the different powers you use look spectacular and everything just seems crisp and clean like how ‘next gen’ games should all feel. Second Son also utilizes all the strengths of the new console. It is colorful, vibrant and makes use of the PS4’s bag of tricks including the touchpad and motion controls. In my personal opinion it is the game for showcasing the strengths and unique capabilities of the console.

But looks aren’t everything of course. One of the very first things that Second Son does extremely well is the way it loads up. When you launch the game from the XMB it loads directly into gameplay - a small thing but it’s literally mind blowing. You don’t have to X way your past 3 different title screens, logos or menus - you launch it and the first thing that loads up is your character in the gameworld, ready to go. More games should do this. In fact all games should do this.

But why am I so in love with Second Son when I absolutely disliked everything about First Light? Well it’s probably because Second Son did everything for me that First Light simply didn’t. In a recent thread about the DLC my main complaint was the Fetch, the protagonist of First Light, had a traversal power that completely trivialized the environment as it let you run around, up and down walls, without any challenge. All you did was hold a button and went. The city felt extremely barren as well and you mainly faced off against lookalike Dan Ryckert gang members that weren’t very exciting to fight. I realize that in large part my problems stemmed from the fact that I was playing a story filler DLC that is probably meant to be experienced after you beat the main game - after all the fanfare of exploring your powers and the the city is well over with. I didn’t get to experience the well paced exploration and as such was about the write the entire game off.

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Second Son does a great boy of steadily introducing you to not only all the powers but also the city itself. Throughout my entire playthrough I probably enjoyed the original smoke abilities the most. Not only do they look amazing but they offer just enough mobility to make traversal fun, without it being a completely mindless act of holding down the ‘go’ button. You have to look for vents, judge your jumps and double dash effectively to get around. It makes you feel powerful, but not omnipotent. There is mission early on that has you climbing the space needle which scratched the exact sort of itch I had. There you are, climbing this incredibly tall structure, aided by your powers but still presented with a challenge. Hanging on with one hand I look down and get a little nervous, the controller gets a little sweatier in my grip because I know one wrong move and I’m falling to my doom. It doesn’t matter that the game will just start me back up at a checkpoint, it’s the thrill of conquering this object that I get the most fun from.

The city also seems a lot more vibrant in the main game as well. There is a decent amount of activities that Delsin can engage in that feel more fleshed out than what was offered in First Light - which seemed tacked on at best. These are all typical side missions that help you take down each district by painting graffiti or destroying security cameras, but they all make sense within Delsins story while they felt weirdly superficial in Fetches.

Listen, I could go on but obviously it doesn’t take a genius to realize that a full game is going to offer a lot more diversity than a short piece of story DLC. I guess what I’m getting at here is that it’s January and not a lot of game are coming out. Some of you might be looking for something fun to play and enjoy open world experiences. I cannot recommend Second Son enough. It is probably the most fun I’ve had out of all these “next gen” games that promised us the moon and barely got off the ground. I think Second Son delivers everything with reasonable expectations - it looks great, it runs well, there are very short loading times, the story is pretty decent and the gameplay is fun, engaging and for the most part varied as you continue unlocking new abilities up to the very end boss battle. You can probably get this game on the cheap right now, so if you want, go ahead and give it a shot. Personally I think it really deserves a lot of praise for being a launch title that delivered way more than games that have had more time with the hardware.

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Playing Assassins Creed 3 directly after Black Flag

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After finishing Black Flag, the thought of another Assassins Creed game, any AC game really, seemed like a prospect best left untouched for at least a few years. While the latest entry in the long running assassin series was a great game and a ton of fun, the repetitive nature of the inherent Creed game design wore me out completely by the conclusion of this swashbuckling themed adventure. As it stands though, new games were still months away and I had a copy of the much maligned Assassins Creed 3 sitting in my Uplay account, courtesy of a new Samsung SSD I had purchased several months prior. With much trepidation I finally caved in and decided to give the game a try, how bad could it be really?

The most interesting aspect of Assassins Creed 3 is how it’s a complete polar opposite to everything in Black Flag. Having played both in short succession it’s fascinating to observe how two very similar games play completely differently thanks to several key distinctions - and it’s this dichotomy observed within AC3 that ultimately drove me onward through a campaign I mostly didn’t care about and characters I felt no affection for.

Learning to crawl before you walk, again and again.

Right away the first major difference you notice is the pacing of these two games. Assassins Creed 3 takes a staggering 2-3 hours before you’re actually wearing assassin robes and are able to roam the land freely. The leadup intertwined with story exposition and basic tutorials is excruciatingly slow as you’re once again taught the very fundamental basics of the franchise. Understandably some people might choose this 5th game in the series as a perfect place to jump into the franchise, and naturally you can’t leave them in the dark about the inner workings of Assassins Creed - but to force everyone else who has played this series many times before to undergo the same slow paced and methodical tutorial on how to free run or do a leap of faith is tragic. More tragic still is that AC3 is a game that is drowning in systems and subsystems that aren’t even explained all that well, despite this entirely too long introductory phase. Many times over I desperately wanted to quit as I was forced to play hide and go seek, hunting mini games and an assortment of other side activities that could have been relegated until the world fully opens up.

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In stark contrast, Black Flag handles this wonderfully. There is a small intro cinematic and you’re in it, you’re chasing a Templar and the game casually mentions that to chase him you have to free run without holding your hand too tightly. After the quick tutorial island that manages to distill the principles of free-running, synchronizing, leaps of faith, sneaking, foliage and the nuance of combat you’re off to explore the world. Black Flag does gate content through story progression, and you’re going to head directly to Havana in order to continue tutorializing, yet somehow this doesn’t feel as constrained and forced as it does in AC3. The game has fun with it, and you still retain a large degree of freedom in how you approach the subsequent missions up until you unlock your ship and the game really begins. In large part this is all made a lot more bearable because Edward is a lot more jovial than Connor, making your shared adventure that much more enjoyable.

Story beats

Assassins Creed 3 is incredibly serious. There is very little charm here that was so often found in the wacky side characters of games past. The stage is set against a backdrop of the Revolutionary War, liberty and freedom of the people taking center stage to relentlessly assault you in every cutscene: a theme that simultaneously reflects upon the struggle between colonists and the British empire in the foreground, as well as the ongoing struggle between assassins and templars in the background. Similarly Connor is an intense individual, lacking any sort of charm or charisma, mindlessly pursuing a singular goal with all the intensity and grace of a rabid dog. Worse yet for all the time spent on cementing Connors heritage as a native American, it hardly plays into the game at all, as he manages to ostracize himself from society all on his own with a complete lack of humor and confrontational attitude towards enemies and allies alike. In short it’s hard to like him as a protagonist, and in turn to care about his plight. Connor is similarly clueless as all previous assassins we’ve played before him, but it’s his childlike naivette that perseveres throughout the entire game which really hammers home the image of someone completely removed from the world around him.

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Once again Edward is the complete opposite: cheerful, charming, at once likeable and motivated rather than obsessed. You’re not out for revenge, you’re not saving the world, Edward simply wants to get rich and as far as he’s concerned the templars and assassins can do as they please. Unlike Connor who quite literally befriends no one throughout the entire game apart from the old man, Edward meets and befriends a lot of people who ultimately end up coming to his aid in a time of need.

Systems

As mentioned earlier, Assassins Creed 3 drowns in it’s own systems that the game glosses over. Every activity, collectible and challenge from past entries and the proverbial kitchen sink had ended up on a design document and for better or worse all was dutifully implemented for Connors benefit. Surprisingly the only thing omitted were the animus fragments, which true to my theory of opposites make a return in Black Flag. AC3 is thick with side activities. From various “clubs” that act as fronts for classic challenges, to Liberation missions in cities, Forts, Naval combat, bar games, letter delivery, fact gathering - the whole nine yards. They are all held firmly back by the utterly terrible map which does little in helping you find anything you might be interested in finding even if it’s something as banal as a General Store. At the heart of it all is the completely baffling homestead that continues the tradition set by Assassins Creed 2 of owning a home base which you can progressively upgrade. While in all prior iterations this was simply done by throwing money at it, AC3 goes the distance by instead relegating all upgrades with dozens of missions which appear all over the world for you to seek out. Tied into the homestead are other known quantities like sending out caravans and crafting, all made needlessly complex and tied into having done the proper missions.

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Black Flag takes a traditional approach to all of this. You have money? Buy upgrades. The menu’s were clear, the systems simple. In AC3 you wanted an upgrade? Well you had to explore the entire world hoping to stumble upon a chest with a recipe, then you had to make sure you did enough side missions for the homestead in order for your workers to be skilled enough to produce the parts you needed. Then you had to acquire additional parts by hunting, but the game didn’t tell you where you could find the animals you needed.. In Black Flag everything is very black and white: you want a bigger pouch, well you need 2 monkey skins, you can find monkeys on this island, go. It was easy, it wasn’t a hassle.

A world worth the trouble to explore

Assassins Creed 3 obviously was very centered around exploration. Almost nothing was marked on your map and oftentimes if you wanted anything extra you had to go into the frontier and run around looking for it. Fast Travel points were limited in cities and had to be found first to be used, and apart from conquered Forts I never found Fast Travel locations within the vast frontier to which I could warp to. The problem was that the world of AC3 just wasn’t fun to explore. I’ll admit that it was the first time I felt a forest was properly represented in a video game with tree’s growing thick and criss crossing to form various pathways for Connor to traverse - but all the areas were simply so large and often devoid of anything but the trees that running in this dense vegetation from mission to mission quickly became a chore. You’re able to summon a horse at any time but the less said about these magnificently idiotic creatures the better; you were usually better off on foot unless the road was a flat, paved, highway..

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Sailing in Black Flag was fun. The open sea would appear an awfully boring place to traverse but something about the physics, the shanties and the occasional sea battle along the way to your destination made it really entertaining. When you tired of sailing, you had a plethora of Fast Travel locations to choose from in order to quicken your journey. Likewise islands were just the right size - big enough to have something to explore, but not so large as to test your patience when getting from one end to the other. It was the Frontier from AC3 delivered in bite size chunks.

Is Assassins Creed 3 a truly terrible game? Well yes and no. There were plenty of times when it simply bored me, where I was tempted to skip cutscenes with stiff dialog, where I would sigh with exaggeration seeing that I’d have to once again traverse half the map through thick snow that added zero gameplay opportunities and only served to slow my movement. Yet, somewhere near the home stretch, for a brief moment I did feel something akin to enjoyment and even a small stab of regret seeing all the side activities I left untouched. The very first real world mission that tasked Desmond with climbing a skyscraper under construction was actually really fun as I experienced an epiphany in that these steel girders and trusses I’m running through are quite literally a modern day concrete jungle.

It’s not an awful game, but it’s poorly paced, overburdened with poorly explained fluff and based on a story that fails to hold interest unless you’re a history buff happy to laugh at clever ways the game-plot was interwoven into actual history - like Charles Lee ordering a retreat at the Battle of Monmouth because he was a Templar opposed to Washington’s success.

Assassins Creed 3 is not a game I could honestly recommend to any fan of the series unless as a novelty. For those curious about the fate of Desmond, his story could be experienced through YouTube and one would be better off for it as it’s a long buildup to an abrupt finish. I can only hope that the changes in Black Flag were a direct result of fan complaints and a lucky coincidence as that gives me hope that whatever Assassins Creed 4 turns out to be, it will be a game worth playing.

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Dragons Dogma and why you should really play it (Now on PC!)

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Jan 15, 2016 EDIT: This is my old blog but considering the game is now available on PC it's as relevant as ever. Go buy it, buy a copy for your friends, buy one for your mother, heck buy one for Pompidou!

One of the most underrated titles I have seen in a long time, and arguably one of the best RPG experiences of this generation - Dragons Dogma is a game that everyone should play. In my opinion it is a perfect blend of Skyrim and Dark Souls rolled into an action packed hybrid. The combat has weight to it like Dark Souls, but not as animation priority heavy which I thought made DS sluggish past a certain point. From the Skyrim side, it has a pretty large world to explore with unique locations and various quests, but I think it’s the exact opposite of what Patrick claimed - unlike Skyrim, the world of Dragons Dogma is filled with loot chests that reward exploration with worthwhile treasure. How many times did you explore a cave in Skyrim only to find a chest with 14 gold in it or the same exact sword with a pathetically weak elemental buff on it? Dragons Dogma has no generic loot. Every piece of equipment is unique. You won’t find 12 different versions of the same sword with different stats. Almost every single time I strayed from my quest to explore a nook or a side path I was rewarded with a chest that had something interesting in it. For the first time in ages I was fully engaged in exploring the world and not using any sort of fast travel.

Reasons why you should play Dragons Dogma:

Versatile class system

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Dragons Dogma has a very unique vocation (class) system. You earn regular levels that increase your stats like health, stamina, attack defense etc..but you also take on a role, or vocation, that ranks up independently and unlocks new skills and attacks for that particular vocation. You can switch vocations as often as you like - it is even encouraged as class specific passive buffs carry over. For instance, in the warrior vocation you can unlock a passive buff which greatly increases your strength, which will still be available for you to use when you switch over to the Assassin vocation. This allows for great versatility when creating your character and encourages experimentation within the many classes available.

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You are presented with a plethora of vocations to choose from, each specializing in distinctly unique forms of combat. There are three primary classes: fighter, strider and mage, which offshoot into hybrids and specializations. Fighters are your typical melee class with shield and sword, but you can also become a powerful Warrior or the magic wielding Mystic Knight - both of which use completely different weapons and attacks. Do you want to engage in melee combat, getting in up close and personal? The Fighter is an agile class that has numerous sword skills like dynamic home-in lunges, shield bashing or concentrated strikes. Feel like you want more power? The Warrior wields gigantic two handed weapons that send small enemies literally flying into the air and can stagger even larger foes. Want cool armor and melee combat but also a bit of magic? The Mystic Knight makes use of a magic shield and runes that both offer unique buffs and enchantments to you and your party as well as provide offensive magical attacks. Mage, Sorcerer, Assassin, Ranger, Strider, Magick Archer.. there is literally a vocation for every playstyle and you’re not locked into one for the entire game which is great in case you want to try something else down the road.

Engaging combat

Hang on tight
Hang on tight

The combat is simply amazing. Much like Dark Souls or Skyrim it relies on stamina but unlike either of those games it is fast paced and engaging. The skills you unlock are grandiose in animation and fun to execute. Melee classes have varied forms of lunges, spins, and focused attacks that let you dominate the battlefield. Mages possess spectacular offensive spells, one of my favorites being a literal meteor shower that rains down over the battlefield decimating anything standing in your path - double so impressive when two or more mages cast it simultaneously. When fighting human sized opponents there is great feedback for all your attacks. When a foe is armored or blocking, your weapon will bounce off with a loud clank leaving you open for attack. When your blade makes contact with flesh the opponent will stagger and enter stunlock as you rain down hit after hit on their hapless soon to be corpses. Slashing away at a helpless bandit never gets old.

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The real fun begins when you face larger enemies. If you thought fighting giants or even dragons was “epic” in Skyrim then just wait till you face those very same foes in Dragons Dogma. There is a very interesting grappling mechanic in place highly reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus. While not always necessary to fell larger beast, it is advantageous to climb up and over them in order to get into position allowing you to strike at their weak spots for massive damage - like a cyclops eye for example. It is both exhilarating and plain fun to grab onto a raging manticore, trying to crawl up to it’s weak points as it thrashes about trying to shake you loose. In addition all of these creatures have different attack patterns and states. A cyclops can become enraged, swinging their giant club wildly about and will fall over stunned if you shoot at their feet or eyeball. Likewise a drake will circle you from above unless you shoot their wings to bring them crashing down. Just remember to not make the rookie mistake of clinging onto one of these flying beasts too long - unless you have enough stamina to cling on and force them to land, you'll fall a really long way down.

The companions

Playing Dragons Dogma you will never be alone. Joining you on this journey will be your very own Pawn, a special companion shaped and named as you see fit. You will get to choose their vocation and outfit them with equipment. They will learn alongside you and even offer hints along the way. In addition to your own companion, you can hire 2 more player created pawns from a special area called the Rift which allows you to browse player created pawns by level, Gamertag, vocation and so forth. Just like your own pawn, these are companions from other players games’ complete with their own equipment and behavior patterns. As you can hire out other pawns so can others hire out yours, a process through which they gain invaluable knowledge about quests and enemies you haven’t faced yet. You might employ the service of some pawns that completed quests that you haven’t which will prompt them to offer helpful advice along the way such as telling you which way to go when reaching a fork in the road, or giving you helpful hints when exploring dungeons.

The Rift
The Rift

The most exciting part is that these AI companions are not incredibly stupid. In fact I dare to say they are the most helpful computer controlled players I have ever encountered in a videogame. Support mages will buff your weapons with appropriate enemy debilitating magic and heal you in the middle of combat. Melee characters will draw aggro and hold down adversaries for you to deliver the final deadly blow. Sorcerers will rain down destructive spells that can bring down even the mightiest beasts in mere seconds. The pawns will also shout out enemy weaknesses, gather loot that you’ve missed, give you directions, or even bring fallen allies for you to revive. I was never frustrated or angry with my pawns and in fact owe them my life and a great many victories. Unlike other games, the brunt of the combat won’t always rest solely on your shoulders with these AI companions running around. Quite often I’d be busy trying to scale some large beast to hack at their weak point, when my mages would annihilate them with spells before I had a chance to even get in position. The entire pawn system is quite ingenious and something I've never seen anywhere before.

I could go on and on about how great this game is but in truth my reasons for wanting you to play it are rather selfish. I want everyone to get Dragons Dogma and play it because I want them to make another one. Because this game is so incredibly detailed and unique that it’s a crime that no one is talking about it.

As a final tease I’ll just say that while the story is largely enjoyable if not a little straightforward throughout the majority of the game, the final two hours go completely off the rails in this glorious way that only a Japanese developed title could - just when you think you’re done, there is literally two more hours of gameplay that just make your jaw drop.

Dragons Dogma, catch it!

Taken from Google the Dragons Dogma -> Dark Arisen change log:

Player

-Various attacks and skills for all weapons have been rebalanced for all weapons.

Enemies

-Made the Ur-Dragon corpse's collision boundary smaller so players can now pick up drop items more easily

-Undead enemies will now come out of the ground with higher defense stats (super armor mode)

-When Saurians die after being knocked down, they will now use a special death animation for when they are on the ground.

-Goblin Shamans will appear in the Witchwood.

-Eliminators will appear on the Tainted Mountain.

-Pyre Saurians will appear on the Tainted Mountain.

-Golden Knights and Silver Knights will appear in the Everfall (before the destruction of Gran Soren).

-Gorecyclopes (condemned type) will appear in the Shadow Fort.

-Living Armor will appear in the Catacombs.

-Wyverns (strong type) will appear at Bluemoon Tower.

-Wyrms (strong type) will appear at the Watergod's Altar.

-Drakes (strong type) will appear in the Everfall after the destruction of Gran Soren.

Pawns

-Adjusted how often pawns will talk by spacing out less important lines; in effect, making them seem to talk less.

-Adjusted and balanced the equipment and skills of all of the high-level pawns that are available to a player when they're playing offline.

-Adjusted how much it costs to hire a pawn that is higher-leveled than yourself down to a more realistic scale.

-Added a Monthly ranking to the pawn's Top Ranked section.

NPCs

-You will not gain Affinity with Assalam simply by talking to him anymore.

Items & Equipment

-Adjusted how much Ferrystones cost and how much they sell for. (Purchase price: 20000 >5000 | Sell price: 3500>1250)

-Adjusted how much Premium Rings and Premium Earrings cost. (Purchase price: 1,500,000>150,000 Rift Crystals | Purchase price 3,000,000>300,000 Rift Crystals)

-Tweaked stat increases for weapon upgrades (increases weaker upgrades, decreases ones that were too strong). Tweaks affect 68 different weapons.

-Dramatically increased base stats for 12 weapons obtainable by defeating the Dragon.

-Improved base stats for 10 Magick Bows

World

-A Portcrystal that allows players to return to Cassardis has been added just outside Cassardis's gate

-A character/warp point that allows players to travel between Bitterblack Isle and Cassardis has been added to Cassardis's pier.

-Added a removable Portcrystal to the following areas: The Gran Soren Everfall (before a certain plot point. . . .), The Shadow Fort, The Witchwood, Hillfigure Knoll.

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Games are serious business, apparently.

I've been playing games for a quite a while now. I remember my family's first computer around 1994 and all those amazing games I was introduced to back then but was way too young to appreciate. The Legend of Kyrandia: Malcolm's Revenge, Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle, Crusader: No Remorse, Descent and so many more! Since then I've been playing on all sorts of different systems including the PS3 and 360 as well as some PC gaming here and there. To me games have always been about having fun and enjoying yourself first and foremost.

So it has really bummed me out to see people, game reviewers included, take these cynical and harsh tone with a lot of games these days. It almost seems like a lot of people have lost focus about what this is all about - you know, having fun. While I disagree with Jeff on a lot of things, I really appreciate his no-nonsense approach to enjoying himself on a very basic and "raw" level. He played that new Syndicate reboot, had a ton of fun and gave it a high score. There wasn't a lot of hands wringing and whining about how the story is barely fleshed out and theres no character development or hows theres dubstep music in literally two spots - because the gameplay introduces a lot of fresh concepts and is highly enjoyable. Yet I keep reading stories or hearing comments that will nitpick at a lot of titles without giving them a proper chance. A lot of people wrote off Dead Space 3 completely before having even played it. If you decided that you've had enough of the franchise I can completely understand that. On the other hand if you denied yourself the conclusion to this series which you've enjoyed in the past because of the newly added micro transactions then that seems absurd. I enjoyed both Dead Space 1 and 2 and consider it one of my favorite new IP's of this generation. I wasn't about to say no to the third game just because of some business model out of my control. But you're part of the problem! - you might say, because I help fund the product that propagates this vile business practice. I don't know, I just remember a time when there wasn't a problem to begin with - companies made games, people bought them and there wasn't some holy war of fighting off these asshole publishers with my wallet because they keep trying to earn a profit from the multi million dollar titles they develop for gamers to play.

Video games pretty much
Video games pretty much

More recently it's this whole Tomb Raider conversation about narrative disconnect between story and gameplay that had me scratching my head. The idea of a "narrative dissonance" ruining gameplay seems strange to me. The developer advertised Lara as your typical female who is thrust into the belly of the beast and must learn to cope with a lot of terrible situations, growing along the way as a person. Yet a lot of people seem to be dismayed by the fact that, while that is a great story angle, at some point this thing will have to turn into a videogame which means killing a whole lot of things in a fun and mechanically enjoyable way. Most big name titles are centered around mass slaughter of baddies. Games like Uncharted, Gears of War, Assassin's Creed, inFamous, Saints Row and many others are basically big killing simulators, some which go to great lengths with their robust kill animations. Thats how games have been for ages. Sure in Uncharted you would climb something and flip an ancient stone lever from time to time but a lot of the gameplay was focused on killing literally hordes of people. In the latest Bombcast Brad and Patrick both bemoan the absence of a believable thread between the story and the gameplay aspects of Tomb Raider. Instead of touting the extremely fun and fluid game mechanics, they instead concentrate on the completely insignificat fact that Lara is sad at having killed someone and then the cutscene ends and you kill 15 more people. Granted they both, almost begrudgingly, agreed that it's a good game - but it's this laser focus on small details that really "held the game back" for them which seems so baffling and makes them appear like cynical, grumpy old guys instead of the fun and playful doods I know them to be. At the end of the day, that narrative dissonance is not going to make the game any more fun to play. It may be just me, but 9 out of 10 times I will take gameplay over narrative because I buy these things to play them, and if I get a great story coupled with awesome gameplay I consider that a huge bonus.

After meeting a creep like this you'd want to kill a thousand doods too
After meeting a creep like this you'd want to kill a thousand doods too

Back in the day no one cared how this Mario plumber went down a green tube or what that meant on a grander scale of the Super Mario Bros Timeline. Times have gone forward and expectations have changed obviously, but I think what has remained the same is that it's the fun that matters most. If you're going to have fun actually playing a title, everything else shouldn't really affect it. This is why a lot of the time you'll have people say "oh that happened? I totally forgot.." yet they'll remember that they had a lot of fun playing the game. Where has all the fun gone for most people? Why do they get so bogged down with the details that they can't see the bigger picture of just enjoying themselves. I read a person write that if the new Tomb Raider was an original IP without any association to the existing Tomb Raider franchise they'd be a lot more interested but as it stands they doesn't really care about it, because it's Tomb Raider. How insane is that? What difference does a name on the box make? When The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim came out, a game with gigantic narrative dissonance, no one cared because they just had fun playing it, even despite the fact that many agreed the combat wasn't that great. Jumping on top of a tablet and knocking off all the dishes in someones house didn't destroy any gameplay fun for me!

In closing I think a lot of people need to lighten up. These are videogames, it's not especially serious business. For the most part Jeff has the right idea - just have fun with it. I bought DmC Devil May Cry, Dead Space 3, Syndicate and the new Tomb Raider. Guess what? They were all a lot of fun in their own ways. Did Dead Space 3 have an amazing story? No but it wasn't hot garbage as many claim it to be - it was video game adequate and the act of shooting necromorphs was still fun. Was DmC crass as hell? Heck yes and it was awesome from beginning to end! So what I'm trying to say is, if people want to keep picking these games apart for insignificant details then I guess thats their gosh given right, in the meantime I'll be playing them and having a blast.

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The dark tail-end of Dark Souls

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Seeing all the increased Dark Souls activity from all my friends I decided to get back in the game and complete my sacred vow of never leaving a game I paid full retail price unfinished. Having left the game hanging towards the very end, I was ready to once again dive deep into the world of Lordran. I had beaten Demons Souls on a brand new character just prior to the Dark Souls release just to get myself ready and was stoked when the game came out. In the beginning I was just as engrossed as with the original(Demons Souls), clumsily making my way through the Undead Burg and trying to find that mythical bell tower. Despite small technical hiccups, I was ready, willing and able to tackle another Souls game head on.

What struck me even back then was how much worse the game looked than Demons Souls and at first thought it might be due to me playing the XBOX 360 version. Soon enough I realized that both versions looked somewhat strange, but this didn't diminish the fun I was having with the brutal pinpoint precision needed to get through most areas. Performance hiccups and constant failed summonings were also a midly irritating issues but still I was not deterred. At the time of release another fun fact was that no one knew anything about this game. We all stumbled forward and discoveries by players such as the famed Drake Sword were huge events that happened on a weekly basis. There was a genuine feel of community driven exploration. At a certain point I hit a wall though, and not of skill mind you but rather of perseverance. Strangely enough I found myself losing steam, despite all this anticipation that had been brewing in me up until release. I had defeated Smough and Ornstein, the hardest boss fight yet, and wrapped up a few other lose ends with covenants. I had only a few boss fights remaining before facing down Gwyn, but no motivation to get to any of them. The areas simply screamed frustration rather than challenging fun.

He's about to be your cameras worst nightmare
He's about to be your cameras worst nightmare

At this point I had stopped playing, literally for a year. As I mentioned earlier the increased activity surrounding Dark Souls coerced me to jump back in and finish it so I can honestly compare it the previous game which I loved so much. At this point I can honestly say I enjoyed the Demons Souls experience a lot more. The entire tail end of the game was very frustrating. The Centipede Demon fight must have been one of the worst boss fights I can recall in recent times. Having to fight on a tiny bit of land, surrounded by lava, with a lock on point that was beyond the reach of my weapon and caused the already struggling camera to explode in clipping induced seizures was the worst Dark Souls experience thus far. It's not even the fact that the boss was hard, because at my current level and gear status it wasn't too challenging but from a technical standpoint it was a nightmare. Bed of Chaos was another poorly designed fight. Instant death if you don't know whats coming makes for a poor fight when you're forced to keep coming back to learn from your two second long mistakes. The designers themselves must have known this wasn't orchestrated too well as uncharacteristically for a Souls game you don't have to start the fight from scratch each time you enter. After these two fights I had to go to Tomb of the Giants next which was just as awful as imagined. The part where the dogs begin is probably the worst and even with the newly acquired Sun Maggot hat, navigating those depth was thoroughly unpleasant. Once again, the boss fight with Nito himself wasn't especially difficult, but getting to him was a nightmare of it's own. Out of all the possible bosses I had to get out of the way, Seath was the most painless to get to. The Dukes Archives were actually an interesting location although nowhere near as atmospheric as the Tower of Latria. The boss fight was easy and I died only due to my own stupidity.

Gwyn the Lord of Cinder
Gwyn the Lord of Cinder

All my troubles finally led me to face off with Gwyn. The Last Kiln area was by far the best looking set piece of the entire game. The scorched earth with a crumbling mausoleum off in the distance was a sight to behold. I feel as if all the Black Knights along the way are actually there as practice for parrying, which I had not used once during the entire game. When I finally faced the Lord of Cinder I already knew that you just had to parry all his attacks and with 20 flasks this was going to be a breeze. For the most part it was, during my very first attempt I had gotten Gwyn down to a sliver of life left, effortlessly parrying most of his attacks. It's at this point that as he was getting up and I was ready to deliver the final blow, I clicked in the stick and the auto targeting completely spazzed out turning me away from Gwyn and getting slashed to pieces. I suppose this annoyed me so much that it completely threw me off balance and it was on my 6th or so attempt that I was finally able to beat him.

Dark Souls is a wonderfully unique game. I had a ton of fun initially playing it but I think in the grand scheme of things the latter sections of the game were simply not designed that well. The Undead Burg, Sens Forthress, those were still areas I was enjoying a lot. Even the fabled Blighttown was not as horrendous as most people made it out to be. Lost Izalith and the Tomb of Giants were horrible areas filled with annoying enemies and terrible boss fights which sucked most of the fun out of the challenge. I sincerely hope they make another Souls game, and will happily play it on next gen hardware, but I also wish they learn and build on the concept. For goodness sake From Software, update the targetting system! While Demons Souls to me was a great experience with areas ranging from amazing to maybe slightly less enjoyable - Dark Souls was a complete hit or miss and when it missed I feel it did so pretty hard. Despite that I am happy to have completed it and anxiously await Darker Souls in 2014 - and for those who might be curious and still actually reading, I decided to plunge the world into darkness.

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Voicing Your Opinions

There is always a rift on the forums between people who react to news in the extreme negative and the extreme positive. I just wanted to address the fact that neither extreme is favorable. You shouldn't damn anything right from the outset, but the unwavering almost-worship that happens from time to time is just as disturbing. Once in a while I'll read a comment along the lines of "these guys put all their heart into this and sacrifice and you should be thankful they're making it!" and it's ok to be thankful, but to elevate any of the crew to these messiah levels is just wrong to me. I love Jeff and all and enjoy the content they create greatly. I think most of us look on some of these quicklooks and office shenanigans and think thats like a dream job. I certainly would love to work at Giant Bomb and get paid to review games, even if you get a stinker once in a while. The fundamental issue is that it IS a job for them and you can't just brush peoples complaints aside with "they work really hard!" Not everything Jeff or Ryan say is holy and should be defended irrefutably - it's ok for members of this site to have their own opinion. If Patrick doesn't cover some stuff it's fine for people to complain about it - if this is your one stop for gaming info you'd want him to report on as much as possible especially since news are still sort of weak on the site. As much as I love the crew, sometimes I get all hot and bothered because they say stuff on the Bombcast that make me think they're fucking crazy. Thats a testament to what a wonderful community they've amassed where you get emotionally rattled by something they might say because you feel as if you personally know these guys.

So I'm just saying next time someone writes "hey there hasn't been a lot of content lately" or what is more popular these days "everything is the same I told you CBS wouldn't change them you!" let' not go jumping at each others throats. I'm sure Jeff wouldn't want an army of sycophants nodding their heads saying how great everything is even when it's not - just as much as he doesn't care for people that cry sellouts and the end of the world because of this new office move. As long as someone has an educated opinion about something, let him speak it and back it up.

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