Welcome yet again to the backlog alphabet. I decided to post the above screenshot to show my remaining games. In a way it is nice to see them all fit so nicely, but I realized that I am in a bad spot coming up - I had Darksiders, Fallout, Skyrim, and EDF to take care of before I can get into some quick games, so jumping around is going to be a thing that happens! Fortunately, I am pretty far in to Fallout, and I already have 1 DLC for Skryim completed, so they won't be forever, but will probably still rank as some of the more time consuming games on the list (as of right now). As for Dark Souls, well, I have already beaten that game thoroughly, but it gets to stay installed because of my deep, dark, love for it. As for the mystery game in the top left corner? Mostly the same situation. Ill leave that one up for wild speculation for the moment. With that, lets get into the recent accomplishments!
D is for Dear Esther
81 minutes (a little bit less, actually, as I restarted a few times)
You know, you come into games with certain expectations, and this was totally one of those for me. Call of Duty gives you racists 12 year olds, DOTA gets you flamed for playing the game wrong, and if you enjoy Dear Esther you sniff your own farts out of a hand blown Italian campaign flute. From the language to the presentation to the price of admission, it is the most pretentious, indie, self indulgent thing ever….was what I thought. Most of that is actually true, but I enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would when I finally….completed it. I guess you don’t “beat” Dear Esther. It isn’t even really a game. It’s a ‘hold W walking simulator’. Interactive experience would be the term I guess, but even the ‘interactive’ in there is a bit dubious.
First of all, the game is pretty much a desktop generator: every scene, every set piece, everything just looks good. The picture that is included above (memo:self, include that picture...you know the one) was fairly breathtaking when I saw it. So much of the presentation just feels kind of real. It actually reminded me of walking on a beach, or wandering through a cave. There were many points where I stopped just to admire the view. One time specifically, I was blasted by a gust of air that was natural enough where part of me expected to feel it. The end of the game (no spoilers) gave me a little bit of a knot in my gut, and successfully evoked a mix of sadness, but also closure. The music is also pretty well done - although it could also be seen as ‘our music guy found minor chords, guys’, but it did fit the theme. The final big piece from a presentation side of things is that it offers a completely clean UI so that you can focus entirely on the striking visuals.
So this is a really personal side of my talking about the game, but it really reminded me of trips to House on the Rock, which I think is in Wisconsin somewhere? I dunno. They both have very clever designs in how some spectacles are set up - you walk in one way, go all the way through or around something, then come back the way you came only to notice a new path you didn’t see before. It was something that kind of drew me back to childhood, and after I recognized that the game liked to do that, I was able to navigate my way through much better.
I said last week that I liked Bastion and Nier for their vague narrative, and Dear Esther follows this as well. The story is fairly hard to piece together, partially because of the language used, but also because they trust that you will be smart enough to pay attention and put the pieces together. I am not. I would space out in mid narration as I focused on biblical texts scrawled on walls, or on a candle shrine next to a portrait, or a single plum floating in perfume served in a man’s hat. With all that said though, they repeat themes constantly enough where you have to put together pieces. Am I dead? Am I dying? Did I crash while driving a car drunk? Who have I injured? Is this heaven? Hell? An illusion? The first thing I did when I finished the game was go to sites to read about fan theories and explanations, and I loved it. It brought back memories of movies like Memento. I admit that I still don’t “get it”. More playthroughs would probably help me piece it all together, but it feels complete after one.
All in all, it just felt good. You can beat it in one sitting, and I recommend that you do. Don’t treat this as a game with a win state, but treat it as a movie instead. Helps for the price tag, too. I probably wouldn’t have been overly happy with the cost of ten dollars to experience this one, but it was still good. It is also interesting to think of how gaming can be used to tell a story without focusing on gameplay. It is an incredible experiment, and I would like to see more like it (like, say, To The Moon, but that will come once I hit the T’s.)
The game sniffs its own farts. Hard. Most of the language in the game is what I like to call ‘smart for smarts sake’. Throwing around words that haven’t been part of the vernacular for several fortnights to make it seem smart. This often made me think back to my SAT days to try and figure out what was being said to me, and in that time he had already moved two sentences forward. It almost annoyed me as much as people who use a big word or term, then define it in a parenthetical (the space between two parentheses) only to never use the term again, thus saving absolutely no time at all, just flaunting that ‘hey, I know them there smart words’. Because of this I had to turn on subtitles, which, while handy, took the immersion level down one notch. Now, similarly to ‘maybe you just suck at the game’ comments, maybe I just suck at English, but take this as a precaution at least.
Navigating the game kind of sucks, especially in the first level. You get used to the design at first, but a path often gets suggested by the design only to be a dead end. The first level I thought I was missing where forward was, because it was actually a path that I missed because of the aforementioned design. This problem is only made worse by the fact that your movement speed is a snail’s pace. Now, how would ‘modern’ design fix this? A glowing forward path? Double movement speed? A narrow corridor? Unfortunately, none of these would fit the theme. The game just has to be kind of vague about the path, and take a while to get you there. It was actually frustrating enough where I quit the first time I played it only to look up a guide on YouTube. Huh. I had to use a guide on Dear Esther. Maybe I do suck at gaming.
I saw several places where the game cheated on the visuals, but not more than any other games do. The bushes are a collection of cross sections to try and form something vaguely bush like. It is used by pretty much all games now, but I wish we could move past it. It looks fine in motion, but when you stop to smell the flowers, the flowers kind of look like crap. I was actually impressed by some florescent mushrooms in a cave until I realized that they used the old DOOM sprite trick - the mushroom was always a flat 2d image that just faced you. It looks really good if you don’t pay attention to it, but I spent a minute or two just standing on top of one to confirm that it was doing that. All that said, this was initially a Half Life mod, I think, and then was rebuilt in a...better Half Life engine? I don’t really know. The fact is, they had limitations and they really did wonders with them.
Overall, anything negative I have to say on the game is mostly nitpicks, which really surprises me. If what I said here makes you intrigued, I would say go ahead and get it. I don’t think it will be for everyone, and your mileage may vary, but I usually hate stuff like this and I actually got a decent amount out of it.
B is for Borderlands 2 (DLC!)
Ok, so I had turbo beaten Borderlands 2 at this point - about 200 hours on Xbox made it my most played game until Dark Souls took that throne. I played mostly with my brother while on Skype, rotating through different classes and builds, but we never went through the DLC. Seeing how much I liked the game, I decided to play through the DLC once it all went on sale for PC. Unfortunately, all my playing through was done painstakingly in single player, as my favorite character: Zero the Sniper. If you like the game (and you should! Its fun!) and think I am being harsh, remember that this game was designed to have at least one other player at all times. Otherwise...well, you're gonna have a bad time. Final qualifier to all of this….this has been a work in progress for a while. Like, since I bought it until now. As such, I don’t remember as much from Scarlet and Torgue.
This was my first DLC started up, so I was curious to see how they handled it. Having gone through some of the Borderlands 1 DLC, I knew that they had a lot of room to be creative, and I had heard some of the stranger things, but this is one of the more ‘safe’ DLCs. There is a new vehicle, new weapons, somewhat new enemies (pirates! Totally not bandits!), and the introduction to cursed weapons - super powerful, but usually at some kind of horrible cost.
This DLC introduced one of my favorite characters - the sarcastic rich descendant of a once famous pirate, who has some of the best voice acting in the game. She always made me laugh. There were some decent moments in humour through the campaign, but not a lot. Most of it focused on a guy who watched all his friends die and pretends they are all alive and still his friends, which really didn’t do it for me.
So I guess the big appeal of a pirate themed DLC would be the booty right? Well spoiler alert: There is a ton. After beating the last boss you are introduced to a room that has in the realm of what felt like 20 treasure chests, some only containing rare loot. This is one of the few times where playing alone didn’t screw me over, as I got so much good loot. There is also a quest that lets you repeat the boss fight and resets the treasure, meaning you get to loot it all over again. It was awesome. Those items, rather unfortunately, carried me well into the 2nd piece of DLC, rendering all weapons between practically worthless.
And, you know, I'll throw this out here in the good: this one was actually playable as the sniper! You are going to see me throw this out there a lot, but the critical spots actually work in this one, and there are no frustrating to deal with only as a sniper annoying enemies! Hooray! Foreshadowing!
Like I said, some of the narrative beats are a little more on the nervous laughter side of things than others. Like the guy who is stalking Scarlett, but seriously it is supposed to be funny, get it? Other than that, everything was...good? Yeah. Cool!
Mr Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage
So I know I could catch a lot of flak for this, but I really, really loved the dialogue in this one. It is mostly yelling, censored swearing, and being badass, but at the core, South Park, Beevis and Butthead level, it is really really entertaining. Mr Torgue as a character is one of my favorite additions to the game, even outside of this DLC. Of all the DLC’s, this one had the most moments that genuinely made me laugh out loud.
The boss fights reminded me a lot of No More Heroes, which is always a good thing. They let you know who’s next, everyone has a theme, and you generally walk in somewhat prepared.
They introduce a new vending machine that only accepts Torgue currency that you can get by being badass, or killing badasses, which is a neat concept, but in execution I never used them. It felt like I could save up for something really nice (always an orange weapon), but by the end of the DLC I didn’t have enough tokens, so I just….held on to them. Seemed like a nice idea though!
Hitboxes. Let me tell you about hitboxes. Let me tell you about the sniper, ok? The sniper rifles in this game rely on you getting crits in order to be super effective, but usually one or two crits can take down an enemy. The game trains you that headshots kill humans, and you can shoot the joints off robots. Now, if you don’t know an enemy’s critical spot, you can use Zero’s ability to locate it! Super nifty! Well guess what? They just don’t work sometimes. You can line up a shot perfectly with the crit spot, and have it not proc. Oh, and the robots in this campaign? They took away the limb crits. So only teeny tiny head lights count for a crit, and some robots can actively block it with a shield. Now, consider the fact that I didn’t have a corrosive weapon during this DLC, and you realize I had a hell of a time. There were a few sections where I just tried to book it past robots, play the objective, then leave, but there is an entire section devoted to just robots. I had to go back to the main storyline and find a decent corrosive weapon...which would be great if the main quests leveled with me. Nope! I had done a DLC and a half at this point, so I was between 5 and 10 levels overleveled for the main quest. So I had to kill chumps for probably four hours just to get to a point where I could find a weapon that was still three levels below me, but had decent corrosive damage. It. Sucked. That part of the experience highlighted that the DLC is not balanced to be played with the main storyline, which is fine for the ones that start at 30, but sucks for the level 15 DLCs. Balls!
Next up are the boss fights. Remember how I said I had overpowered weapon from Scarlett? I had a fully automatic electric sniper rifle with 10 bullets in the clip that made the first few bosses laughable. After dealing with the corrosive weapon issue, I was ready to take on the last few bosses, and well...they are designed kind of dumb. One is against a blimp, but as a sniper you can sit in the starting area and take invincible shots against its weak point. So I did. Then there is the 2nd to last boss….and this is where that co op warning comes in. It fires a slow moving rocket at you, so clearly you are supposed to shoot it before it hits you. Easy peasy. If you miss, however, it takes out all of your shield, and leaves you with 50 health (your mileage may vary). Ok, so he can one shot me. Thats fine, the missile has an audio cue, and moves super slow. So I shoot it out of midair 30 feet away from me...and it still kills me. No enemies in the arena, so I die. Cool! Great! Then you respawn, and realize you get to fight this guy from behind a concrete wall, almost impervious to every attack. So I guess I’ll just do that. See, the way it should go is that the missile flies, and you split up from your group, and only one person dies, and someone revives them, and you keep fighting the boss. Even if someone dies, they just run back in for the action. But if you die alone? You are just screwed and the boss gets a full heal. Awesome. Really well designed for single player. They could have toned down those 1 shot attacks if you don’t have a party or something, because it just feels unfair. Frustratingly, annoyingly, unfair.
Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep
Uh, so, this is kind of awkward. After beating the main story line, I can now say that Borderlands 2 had a deep, emotionally moving scene. The game that coined the term bonerfart (google spell check accepted word!) actually made me feel rather sad. It was really unexpected. For those who don’t care about spoilers, read below. Otherwise, see you next paragraph (summary - they made Tiny Tina likable for ten seconds, a true accomplishment):
The whole story is told by Tina in the style of a D&D game, so you get the usual cast and crew appearing - Jack plays the villain, the old Vault Hunters play as the New Vault Hunters, Butt Stallion makes an appearance, Moxi is there, etc. Throughout the game, she keeps asking where Roland and Bloodwing are, and even introduces Roland as a playable character. Each Vault Hunter tries to tell her that he has died (which actually didn’t happen in my story yet, but whatever), but is interrupted as the story continues. Then, at the very end, after killing the sorcerer version of Handsome Jack, she has Roland show up yet again. At this point, someone finally snaps and tells her that Roland is dead, and she has to deal with it. Her response is actually a somewhat moving line that comes down to ‘but he’s alive in my story’. There is a moment where the screen cuts to black with just Tina, dejected, on her knees, pondering the consequences of his death. She changes the story so that Jack fires a deadly spell at him in the last second. The other characters let her know that he doesn’t have to die in her story if she doesn’t want him to. She says that only a miracle can save him...and that miracle is Bloodwing, who swoops in and stops the spell. The cycle through denial and acceptance is an incredibly well done story arc for any game, much less for this one specifically. In the last scene of the credits, we see Tina hugging a statue of Roland, sadly closing her eyes, and whispering ‘goodbye’. It was an intensely emotional scene...until claptrap said something and ruined everything. Like seriously, just typing this out made me kind of sad. I do have the NieR soundtrack playing though, so there’s that.
Ok, so with that out the way, the humor in this one is pretty well done as well, but not as laugh out loud as Torgue. It is more a ‘I understood that reference’. There are references to Dark Souls, MMO’s, ‘nerd girls’, and generic fantasy tropes. There is a quest where you have to get armor for Ellie, and you have to decide between a bikini and full plate armor. One of the best things by far about the DLC are the mimics. I knew they were in there beforehand, so I was always cautious to approach a given chest, but for a while I didn’t see them. Even knowing that they did exist, I may have scared my cat with my reaction on first seeing one. You just cannot prepare for them mentally - you can’t check a chest by attacking it, as far as I can tell they look exactly like a normal chest, and they transform instantly. Every time I jumped a bit. It was great.
They introduce a ton of new enemies - Skeletons, Treants, Orcs, Wizards, Necromancers, Knights, Paladins, Dwarves, Archers...some of them clearly have analogues in the main quest (skeletons are kind of like bandits, as they have suicide and midget versions), but at the end of the day, everything feels new. Add in a pretty great soundtrack, and you have a wonderful add on. They also make use of Eridium by letting you spend it in new ways - there are random loot treasures where you have to roll a D20 to determine the quality of loot, and you can spend 5 bricks to roll 2 dice and take the highest, you can activate ammo or damage shrines for a single brick, or you can throw it all away on the slot machine. Seeing as I was already slotted out from the black market, it was nice to have the option to use it on something else. That being said, the DLC gives you a ton to work with, so if you want more for more bullets, go for it.
Overall, the atmosphere, the enemies, the story, the humor, everything comes together to be one of the better pieces of DLC in this game, in this series, and probably in general. If you had to pick one pack from the lot, it would definitely be this one.
There are some situations that are played up for laughs where something is impossible, just so that you can get the VO of someone going ‘hey thats impossible’ then Tina goes ‘oh sorry’, then makes it possible. The thing is, I was approaching this 2 levels underleveled to start (ended up gaining 6 during the course of it!), so I didn’t know that I ‘had’ to fail these sections. It was mildly annoying.
This DLC also gave one of the worst enemies to ever be added in a videogame: skeleton seers. First off, they rapid shoot electrical damage, eating away at your shield at an uncomfortable pace. Next, they can turn invisible, but more than the stalkers can...they are literally gone. You can only harm them when they are visible, and even then sometimes you can’t touch them. They have no consistency for how long they stay in the world, so you can’t plan on setting up a single line of play. Finally, they occasionally travel in packs, making them horrendous to deal with. Crazy annoying.
Speaking of which, I was playing as a sniper! My life is to get crits! And every single enemy in the game doesn’t allow it. Almost all the skeletons wear a helmet which has to be shot off first, so you have to get two hits. The orcs charge into melee range and have teeny tiny heads, so they are just as bad to kill. Archers are hit or miss if you crit them or not. Some bosses have crits on their face, but if you are off by a pixel it will instead deal 0 damage. A good deal of enemies carry shields or other such armor that negates all your damage as well. Some enemies have to be killed in a very specific way, and if you don’t know about it, then they will respawn at full health and kill you harder. Knights only have a crit spot in their ass cheeks or something. Treants have insane health (but an easy crit spot!). I found myself frequently low on ammo, and by the end of the main story I was skipping side quests so I wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore. Again, if you are playing as another class, or playing with friends, you may not notice, but a lot of it was a pain in the butt going solo.
Again, this DLC was fantastic. Buy it, play it, love it!
Hammerlock will be coming later, as I just started it. Progress!
D is for DoTA 2
I got to play as wut Doom the other day, and man do I not get that guy. He is 10 feet tall, flaming sword and hooves, but sucks terrible at actually fighting anyone - he just spends his time in the jungle doing his thing, and occasionally curses someone. Weird. I did get to play a match as Visage, and set my new kill record (16!). He is a really cool hero to use, but my micro on the birds was absolutely terrible. I dont think I ever effectively stunned someone, which is basically a crime with that hero. The item build also said to go AC and Mjolnir, which seems….bad. Yeah, bad is the word for that. I felt like I was playing him as a carry when he should be more of a support. In the end, had I gotten sheepstick over Mjolnir we may have been able to take out the SD who had grown to scary rates, and BoT over to their fountain for game, but as it was, we were just outcarried. The match went an hour and was fantastic the whole way through. One of my favorite games so far! I played one as a Clockwerk. I was terrible, but we had a 30-1 Witch Doctor, so it all worked out. Dude was insane! Finally, I got to play Leshrac and I found myself really liking him. I went with my new favorite item, the Bloodstone, and just left the Ulti on as I walked around looking majestic. I frequently called attention to my shinyness when I had the ult on, which was fun. Again though, we had a superstar in the form of a Bloodseeker who shut down their entire team. One guy didn’t make it past level 9! Still not sure if I am any closer to beating DoTA, but someday I’ll get there, I promise!