Total War WARHAMMER 2: 60 Turns of High Elven Intrigue!

One thing has become painfully clear in the 8 hours I spent fooling around in Total Warhammer 2 — High Elves…are wankers.

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The world around them is going through a cataclysm; the Great Vortex, a nexus of arcane magic created to siphon off Chaos energies, is assaulted on all sides; Dark Elves, or Druchii, are sprawling towards Ulthuan like brooding ants over honey; the Gods only know what Skaven and Lizardmen are up to; and what do your fellow High Elven princes do?

They go straight back to backstabbing you, without a care in the world. Not even when an army of Chaos pops up in the middle of a ritual to stabilize the Vortex does anyone lift a finger to stop them! What gives, fellow High Elven rulers?!

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The backstabbing nature of my fellow High Elves aside, I can’t describe how pleased I am with the work put into this sequel; nevertheless, I will make an ill-fated attempt to do just so.

Warhammer 2 manages to create a world that feels far larger than that of the first game, partially because of the sheer size of the four new continents and partially because of the supporting part that all of the original game’s races play. Sixty turns, and I’ve already had my closest ally attacked by Norsca tribesmen and human pirates(who use the Empire’s faction presets), I’ve made contact with several other human factions, and I’ve even met a particularly nasty triad of undead specimen, quite unwilling to grab a chat. All of that, and more, in such a short span of time; if I wanted to compare this to the last time I played a campaign in Total Warhammer…I recall bashing ork skulls with dwarven hammers not for sixty, but for a hundred and twenty turns!

With the Vortex now a joint objective for all four newly minted races, there’s an active push towards a much more tightly focused experience; where domination nearly always ends up a bore with a clear victor going through the motions near game’s end, the Vortex adds a level of tension that, I suspect, will keep you on your toes until the very end. Gathering artefacts to perform large-scale magical rituals comes with the need for greater structure in terms of objective-led thinking, as well as timing; you can’t let yourself waste sixty turns jostling with the neighbor over the state of grass; else you might just end up like me!

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I can’t speak for the other factions’ unique racial traits — although I plan to — but I applaud the Intrigue mechanic, which is unique to those cleanly shaven chaps. It doesn’t just involve manipulating different factions’ relationships behind the scenes; no, Intrigue goes one step further, allowing you to recruit better Lords and Heroes, to solve the myriad events that pop up every few turns, and more…perhaps. Sixty turns will only give you so much.

Diplomacy is the same as in the first game, however; I found it wanting there and I am sad to report, Creative Assembly hasn’t done anything to improve this static bit of design; there are a dozen different commodities you can gain through trade, for examples, but other than increasing your gold per turn in terms of trade agreements, they do absolutely nothing. Wine should give a bonus to public order; salt should offer some additional bonus to the towns/province in which it’s produced; just so with all the other resources.

You could make the case that Intrigue adds to diplomatic relations, but it’s difficult to praise something that only affects one race as a positive for the entire game.

But enough! Eight hours can only offer so much, and I do not wish to misrepresent a game that has brought me sixty turns of exciting experiences in a brand new world, and some would say — with good reason — a better one.

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Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this quick run-down of my experiences with Total War: Warhammer 2, let me know; there’s more to come! 

 

Saturday Night Gaming: Dishonored 2

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Before you decide how to play Dishonored 2, you have a choice to make: The carrot, or the stick?

Will you choose to play as a deadly assassin, unnoticed and quick with his blade, or a merciful ghost that always moves in the shadows, unseen by any? Perhaps you’d like, rather, to strut into a room, take your blade out and cut guard after guard down with excellent swordwork and dark magic. It’s a choice you make every time you begin another level; hell, every time you enter into a new room.

Sure, it’s best to decide what your playstyle is going to be early on, and build your character’s skill set to best complement your style. I say ‘your character,’ since, as you probably know, you are free to choose between Dishonored 1 protagonist Corvo Atano, and his daughter, Empress Emily Kaldwin.

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Both characters bring unique powers to the mixture, allowing for a lot of replayability in terms of tools used to achieve the objective of taking back the throne. Yeah, you lose your throne to Delilah, Empress Jessamine’s sister, at the very beginning of the game. What a shocker.

That was a bit of a lore tangent–I have to be careful about those, since I always lean towards talking about lore, when I am trying to pay attention to mechanics, and how they allow you to craft your own story.

The Emily you play as a cold, almost bloodthirsty killer is a world away from the one that is ghosting through the levels without ending anyone’s life. Still more different is my Emily, who, try as she might not to kill, occasionally ends up pressed against the wall and will find herself forced to put someone down in the heat of the moment. The dialogue, the flavor texts and the cinematics don’t account for the difference between the ‘ghost’ style of playing, and my own–they’re both dubbed ‘low chaos’ — but they are different, none the less.

That’s what Arkane Studios, the game developer, has managed to do so well–it has recreated the freedom of choice that it brought on the table with Dishonored, and has gone one step further. The choice in characters certainly helps add another dimension to the fun, murder-y business that this little sandbox offers.

The powers at Emily’s fingertips are a great addition — she can summon a rift to the Void that hypnotizes a number of enemies, and can either continue on her way, cut a few throats, or let her opponents have a little nap. She can also link enemies, forcing the faith of one upon them all; as well as pull objects and bodies–living or dead; depending on how much Runes you decide to invest into your ability tree, you can get some pretty awesome upgrades to the base abilities.

Exploration will take you hours, which you will not regret spending…most of the time. Some bonecharms are rather…underwhelming. With the bonecharm crafting mechanics in place, though, that’s not all that worrisome; all you need do is ‘disenchant’ them for their special properties and build anew. The more you invest into that skill, the better the charms; and you can actually help along your play style by making relics which enhance your speed, endurance and so on.

The technical issues I’ve faced are still annoying, despite the game coming out a year ago. Performance has been much improved, certainly but there’s a lot to be desired in that particular aspect. I wish more could be done, but it is what it is, and with that much time having passed since release, I doubt that we’ll see another fix.

I have every intention of putting a video of a bunch more of my thoughts in a couple of weeks. And after…perhaps I’ll tackle Death of the Outsider, the expansion that just came out, on September 15th.

 

 

 

 

Saturday Night Gaming: Life is Strange Before the Storm – Episode 01: Anger, Pain and

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Minor Spoilers ahead!

The original Life is Strange was my favorite game for 2015, a year that was decisively NOT lacking in strong titles. Novice time-traveler Max and her best friend  Chloe’s story touched me in a way few games had before and few games have since. It was a narrative rich with humor, feelings, personal tragedy and a friendship that was very well worth the ultimate sacrifice. If you haven’t played it, I won’t spoil said sacrifice but, needless to say, you really should.

Before the Storm is not a sequel of Max’s story. It’s a prequel, centered on the (arguable) protagonist of Life is Strange, Chloe Price; the game takes place three years before Dontnod Entertainment’s narrative masterpiece, during one of Chloe’s lowest points. Alone, friendless, unable to move past her father’s death, Chloe gets into some pretty serious trouble for, of all things, spilling a beer.

Who’s to help her out but Rachel Amber, major character/mystery in the original Life is Strange, and Chloe’s best friend, after Max moved to Seattle. In the simplest terms, Before the Storm is about how these two characters meet, and the relationship between them.

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This new entry into the franchise is not developed by Dontnod Entertainment, but by Deck Nine, the former ‘Idol Minds,’ a studio best known for the Ratchet&Clank PlayStation 3 collection, which–let’s face it–isn’t a lot to go by on. They recently announced that they’re switching gears towards creating narrative-led projects and, if Beyond the Storm is anything to go by, Deck Nine might just be a studio to watch out for.

The more I think about it, the more I find myself drawing parallels between Life is Strange and Before the Storm. Both games begin with someone whose destiny is intertwined with Chloe’s, getting her out of major trouble; and while this time, time-travel is out of the question, Beyond the Storm is never the less steeped in the supernatural. These elements have, by now, become such a fundamental part of Arcadia Bay’s DNA that to have a game set in this setting but lacking in them would be tantamount to a crime.

Many of the characters Max met in Life is Strange are here; only, instead of seniors, they’re all freshmen and so are younger, less skilled in the art of being bitchy; but not for lack of trying. I’m speaking of course, of Victoria Chase, with whom you can chose to interact at one particular moment in Episode 1; she’ll call you Kari Price, even though she’s well aware of your real name. Although, I should say without spoiling the fun…screwing with someone in high school is never a one-way street. Take from that what you will.

Two original characters that never crossed Max’s path in LiS are worth mentioning: Steph and Mikey, a geeky duo of friends who play D&D and are absolute, adorable geeks. There’s an optional 20-minute scene between these two and Chloe which might very well be my favourite light scene in the entire episode.

Speaking of Chloe, three years before the events of Life is Strange is an interesting time to pick control over her; as I said earlier, it’s a very low point for our heroine, and being able to see, hear and even decide what goes on in her head once again reinforces that while she’s got a ton of baggage (and rightfully so), Chloe is also a very cerebral character. It’s the fact that this is hidden behind her tough-nut shell that makes her all the more compelling.

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Beyond the Storm is a little over three hours long, if you do every single conversation and look for all of the optional graffiti you can draw on walls, trains, cars, toolboxes, and whatever the hell else there is to draw on.

I’ll write a lot more about Before the Storm, and I’ll revisit Life is Strange by making a long video essay at some point in the future–probably when Before the Storm is out in full, so as to be able to create a thoughtful comparison between the two.

What I can say, based on this first Episode is this — Beyond the Storm is faithful to its predecessor in the best ways. Deck Nine has succeeded in recreating the touching narrative that made Life is Strange a hit, proving that lightning does indeed hit twice.

It’ll set you back 17 euro or $20; two more episodes are coming, with a bonus Mini-Max story for those that have pre-ordered the game, like yours truly. I know, I’m a sucker… But it’s worth it.

 

 

 

Saturday Night Gaming: Total War: Warhammer– Twenty hours of Dwarfing around

“Here’s to dwarves that go swimming with little hairy women!!!”
-Gimli

This quote has informed my entire way of thinking when it comes to dwarves. Its merits are obvious, and its conclusions–grand.

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The dwarves in Creative Assembly’s Warhammer game don’t go heavy enough on the “swimming with lady-dwarfs” bit, but they do quite nicely in other aspects. In my 209 turns’ worth of in-game time, I:

  • murdered a ludicrous amount of orks with hammers, axes, pickaxes, grenades, crossbows, siege weapons, and gyrocopters. As a result of that, I basically committed genocide against anything Greenskin, be it ork, goblin, or any other squeaky, violent what-have-you; and you know what? I’m not even sorry.
  • I turned my attention to the Vampire Lords. They’d been giving my fellow dwarven allies a fair bit of trouble; as High King of all the Dawwi, I do not take light of such violence. What was supposed to follow is a little trick I like to refer to as ‘GIVE ‘EM THE AXE!’ maxresdefault1
  • Which is what I would’ve done, had not the forces of Chaos come spewing forth from the hellish North; after that, it was one battle after another; bloody, scary battles, those. Dwarves have a problem with cavalry and monsters, being the sturdy tiny people that they are; Chaos is all cavalry and monsters and very nasty anti-infantry.
  • Many a short lad perished in those darkest of days; but all the free races united against the common threat. The Empire, led by Karl Franz, was in dire need of aid; Nuln, Franz’s new capital lay besieged by the powers of Norsca and Chaos, alike. His armies, having suffered a defeat at Altdorf during the sacking of  Altdorf–the former capital–were but a shadow of the Empire’s might.
  • We little people had much to say about that. GIVE EM THE AXE, we cried in unison; and so we gave ’em the axe. They got the axe. They got it good.
  • After that, it was back to business; we got those stinkin’ vampires turned to dust and all, and we liked ’em better that way. Used the dust for nutrition of Castle Drakenhoff and Castle Templehoff. Tip for everyone? Undead really don’t do well against gyrocopter bombardments. Not even a tiny bit, turns out.
  • With humanity profoundly weakened, we wee lads settled into ruins of human cities, turning those into–you guessed it–dwarven settlements. And so it was, that dwarves inherited the Old World.
  • Archon the Everchosen died off-screen, killed by one of the two dwarven factions the High King did not confederate with. Bit anti-climatic; but that’s what dwarven life is like.

What you want to do, if ever you find yourself shoulder to shoulder with dwarves is–use your sturdiest, most well armoured dwarves to contain the enemy’s front lines; then, flank them with your fighters. Things’ll end up wonderfully. I made the mistake of using too many crossbow/riffler units for most of the game, and suffered a bit too many casualties, especially in the late game.  Once that happened, however, I got some fresh new reinforcements and all was wonderful!

I also ended the game with 250000 gold, and way too much turn-based income. I played on Hard but it was too easy. Dwarves are, as you’d expect, a defensive faction that excels in lengthy combat and in slowing down enemies. You should try them, if you’re into grand strategy…or swimming with hairy little women.

P.S. I wanted to make screenshots, but kept forgetting to. I’m absolutely dreadful, I know. Words alone don’t do the game justice; its battles are a sight for sore eyes…especially once you turn the UI off and just enjoy the sight of dwarves hammering orks to death.

All that bloody gore, too!

Saturday Night Gaming: Gigantic

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There’s a particular masochism when it comes to playing hero brawlers (or MOBAs, or Dota-style games, if you prefer). They’re a time sink and a colossal addiction for anyone who enjoys multiplayer games. Nothing as sweet as dominating the enemy alongside your friends, that’s for certain.

Gigantic is a magnificent game with some interesting background–the developers ran out of money at one point and the team was supposed to stop working; but the day after they got the memo, they all showed up and kept on the good work.

The result?

Gigantic spent some time on the Microsoft store–i.e. in Purgatory–where it didn’t get too much traction…since next to no one uses that platform for games, so badly is it optimized. Some streamers began picking it up, though, directly from the site. As is prone to happen with good games, people will eventually notice.

Streamers did, and so did their audiences…and more recently, it came to Steam. Since then, it’s only grown exponentially. The fact that you can buy all characters that have come out, that will ever come out, for only $30, certainly makes a sweet offer.

Now that backstory is out of the way, let’s go into the specifics of this colorful action game.

The way Gigantic looks speaks of cohesive vision–fluid, beautiful art direction is reflected both in map and character design, as well as in the way attacks and abilities are animated.

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Not too many characters are available to choose from, right now; about two dozen but they’re all distinctly different. They come with unique skill kits and fall into the roles of tanks, melee and ranged damage dealers and utility characters–mostly healers. I have only played five characters, and four of them were ranged; when you play with a ranged character, Gigantic feels like a cross-breed between FPS games such as Overwatch and skillshots like the ones you might be familiar with if you ever played Smite.

There are no mobs you kill for gold and experience, nor are there items to customize your chosen character; what there is, instead, is a comprehensive talent tree to choose from, when upgrading your abilities. Two levels of upgrades per each ability which makes for a nice amount of combinations and variety in what your character does.

It’s fast-paced and skill-based, this colorful little game; and I don’t mean the skills your characters have, but the ones you have. I’ve only played for several hours, buy experience in the genres which Gigantic successfully brings into one has proven to be of great use–I’ve murdered more two-legged cows with badly textured nipples than I can count with Mozu, a strange humanoid mouse-like wand-thief. Have a picture of her below:

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A real beauty, and a wicked shot, too!

The game mode is unique; you basically kill other players and the enemy’s creatures on the map in order to power up your guardian until he overpowers the enemy’s, and then you pound upon that enemy until you wound him. Wound him three times, and he dies. You win. Great job!

You get 10 points when you kill an enemy or a miniature creature on the map, twenty when you kill its upgraded variation, and twenty for energy orbs, which are orbs that help you gather Focus. Focus helps you upgrade buildings and use your ultimate ability; depending on the character, those can be pretty damn impressive.

This system doesn’t dilute personal accountability; rather, it enhances it. When you die, you allow your enemy to progress towards victory. Another tenth of the bar that allows them the opportunity to wound your guardian. The more cautious, the more attentive you are–the harder it will be for the enemy team to catch you unawares and tear you a new one. And trust me when I say this, paying attention to your surroundings and your hp and stamina bars is of the utmost import. The better you are, the greater your team’s odds of winning.

Truly, Gigantic is a wonderful experience that feels both familiar and new; much more than just a new coat of paint over reiterated design features that’ve been done over and over again. I’m absolutely charmed with this self-titled “Strategic Hero Shooter”, and can’t wait to see how it develops further.

P.S.A minor gripe– the game is locked at 60 fps, which is…unfortunate. Not for me, but for people with 120hz monitors and preference for hundreds of frames per second, it’s certain to leave a bad taste  It also requires a minimum of 6 Gigabytes of RAM; if you’ve got less, I’m sorry to say–you’re very much out of luck.

At any rate, thank you for reading! It’s been fun, writing this up! See you again next time.

Saturday Night Gaming: My One-Year Anniversary as a D&D Dungeon Master!

I first took the seat as a Dungeon Master a year ago in August. Since that time, I have killed a player character, gone soft on several occasions and not murdered several others, and realized the most important lesson anyone wearing the DM hat could ever learn — convoluted plans are worth squat when your players have the freedom to do as they will!

Planning is great, of course. The type of session I hold, however, is very much about player choice; the action (or inaction) the players take affect the world in many different ways; I try to make the world fluid and never stationary. I imagine many DMs do it, to differing levels of success.

Me? I fumble with words, sometimes. I’ve always been much more gifted with the written word than with the spoken one; I am actively working through that particular flaw, and — though it takes effort — I’ve become better. This last year has helped me improve a great deal — as a storyteller, improviser and even as an actor.

Okay, that’s a lie. I’ve always been an amazing actor!

Improvising has been a problem in the past, however; not so much now. When you’re constantly forced to do something, you either get better at it, or get murdered by a mob of angry players ( or “friends,” as they keep insisting they are) for sucking.

What lessons have I learned?

My players are evil sunsuvbiscuits.

That’s about it, actually.

On a serious note, I had an amazing time exploring D&D. Here’s to ten more years!

With the amount of evil wizards, priests of lost gods and what-have-you-not having been awoken due to dreadful decision-making by said players, we’d be lucky to wrap Act I by then.