Backlog Battle Report (11th Sept 2017)

I spent some time looking at options and possibilities for extending the activities on this blog to YouTube and recording versions of this for those who would rather listen than read. Unfortunately, the internet connections and speeds available in this part of Australia effectively limit my options to “move elsewhere” or “suck it up”. Since only one of those is viable, this’ll probably remain a text only venture for a while.

Still, I like writing, so hopefully people still like the reading. With all that said, let’s get into the games.

Heroes of the Storm (PC) — Obey the Call!

Let’s start with the new patch of Heroes, which I’ve played a good chunk of games on. Of the four hero reworks in the patch, I’ve only had the chance to play two of them so far, meaning Morales and Jaina I have no comment on. Chromie and Leoric I’ve played a couple of games of apiece, and then a number of Kel’thuzad games to cap it off.

The Leoric rework is, in a word, awesome. Don’t know how he is in terms of power overall, but the adjustments to his spells and auto attack pattern feel a lot more responsive and his talent choices feel much more interesting. While I haven’t picked up a set build yet, the talents that give Wraith Walk more utility that leads into more damage makes for a decent way to start a fight. Both his ults feel like viable choices now as opposed to just the one, though I still need to play around with the 20 talents. He’s great fun.

Chromie is a little less stellar in the long run, but comes with the caveat that I might just be completely awful at her. Either way, her ability to combo and delete somebody instantly is gone unless you manage to ramp up early by getting good hits and completing your baseline quest. That said, in two games I only managed to finish it in one, and then only just before the game ended. Does that mean I’m an awful shot, or is she undertuned? Probably more the former, but either way I can’t really give a full opinion on how she is numbers wise. This needs a bit more time.

And then everybody’s favourite Lich himself, at long last. Kel’thu-freakin-zad. How does KT play? Well, he feels totally accurate to play, being very lich-like and feeling quite powerful and controlling. Is he actually? Tricky to say… he has one talent at 7, Glacial Spike, which enables him to target one person and then unload his full combo including ult pretty much without fail unless outside intervention is provided. That’s enough to kill most non-tank heroes in the game. Without it? Well, he’s a pretty good mage, but just as susceptible to dive and burst as others. I’m not sure if he needs additional power or if he’s honestly pretty strong, but Glacial Spike is much too powerful and practically mandatory for how early in the tree it is, and his Cryoblast ult just isn’t very good.

I love playing him and will probably continue to do so as my go to mage for a while. We’ll have to see how he totally holds up in the coming days though. Aside from that, I’ve not been playing much, but I am currently 3-0 in my Hero League placements for the season. So far so good.

Grim Dawn (PC) — Less grim around noon

Last time around I speculated that I was right near the end of the base game, and it turned out I was correct. Cleared through the last couple of areas and beat the final boss shortly into the week after a decently close battle. I have to say that while the last fight was built up like and did feel like the conclusion, the actual ending of the game and how the story wraps up… well, it kinda doesn’t. Plenty still left open, with a major character being dragged away mid-fight.

Even with that big bad evil creature dealt with and the plots of one major faction thwarted, there is still a hell of a lot to do in the setting. The world is still a complete mess and there’s plenty that they’ve left open. I know that there’s an expansion coming out potentially as soon as this month which will probably touch on some of this, but all the same, I wasn’t particularly satisfied with the ending. I say that in both the good and bad ways — it wasn’t a great ending as yet, but I enjoyed the game thoroughly enough to want more.

To the game’s credit, there is a bunch of extra dungeons and side content I could easily delve into to fill in the waiting time, which I very well may do so. Plus, of course, there’s the higher difficulty modes to upgrade the character to and push myself into the high levels as an option, assuming I don’t just start a new class combo from scratch. We shall see. Either way, my time with Grim Dawn was thoroughly enjoyable and there will probably be more to come!

Torchlight 2 (PC) — Out of the mines and into the world

As is the way of one with a huge backlog, however, I didn’t just start replaying Grim Dawn and instead jumped into another ARPG to try and fill the empty space. Torchlight 2 was a game I meant to play long ago but never really got into at all, especially after how much of the first I played (never finished due to getting frustrated by my dogged persistence with a glass cannon build, but was almost at the end). This seemed as good a time as any.

Unfortunately, even with a lot more time into it than my first attempt, I still wasn’t really able to stick with it. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the game — it’s a solid ARPG — but it just hasn’t managed to sell me with its world or plot or characters. Characters especially, actually; I deleted and restarted a handful of times trying to find a class with abilities and build potential that I liked, and ultimately couldn’t find one that stuck. My progress saw me get to about level 20 with a heavy armoured two-hander wielding engineer, but even that didn’t feel anything more than functional. Perhaps Grim Dawn and Path of Exile spoiled me.

The first Torchlight was very obviously a retelling of the original Diablo, and while some elements of the plot have deviated, that tendency continues: one of the original characters has been possessed by the power they defeated in the conclusion and is now carving their way across the continent with you in pursuit. Beyond that, there’s a few little attempts at worldbuilding but, like many ARPGs, it’s fairly sparse.

There’s a few elements about the game that I genuinely like, such as the pet with its ability to return to town for provisions and to sell your loot without disrupting the action. But overall, the lack of character build that I’m finding myself attached to is not helping it, sadly. I may give it another shot, perhaps with some of the multitudes of high quality mods available, but we’ll see.

Rather than making its own section, I will also add that my ARPG binging took me to briefly playing the first of the Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing games. Regrettably, that gave me the same conclusion: couldn’t find a build or moveset that I liked enough to stick with. Might get on to it properly one day, as I gave it even less of a solid attempt than Torchlight 2.

Final Fantasy III (DS) — When Jobs feel like work

Now this was a random urge. I’m not sure where it originated, but something during the week made me think of this game and how it was one of the few Final Fantasy games I never either finished or made much of a decent attempt at. So I dug up the old DS cartridge, played it for a couple of hours, and have put it right back again after that. There’s good reason why it remains unfinished.

Even with the 3D update and introduction of more character to the party that the DS remake has, it’s still a very archaic JRPG. There are plenty of times where you’re just limited in what you can do, and the fights are more punishing than entertaining. While it sees the introduction of the now iconic Job System to the series, this first incarnation was incredibly bland, with no real customisation or reason to do much of anything except level the same one or two jobs per character. Sometimes you may need to switch it up, but that’s usually just because the enemies in a dungeon have some gimmick that makes it necessary to adapt by invalidating all other options.

So yeah, I gave it an attempt but my heart simply wasn’t in it. It did, however, encourage me to go and finish up with FF12 Zodiac Age, which is a much better remake. I can usually deal with older games, but this one is just a little too unfriendly to me.

The Witcher 3 (PC) — A witch and a witcher go into a cave

Progress continues on the absolute mountain of content and gameplay that is Witcher 3. I’m still in the fairly early days, alternating between going off to explore and tackling a few of the side quests. It still impresses me that each of them at least attempts to have character and development, and I’m still continually caught off guard by how conversations and encounters will not go quite like I predict.

An example: I stumbled upon a lynch mob of four peasants that are in the process of stringing up an imperial deserter. This deserter is pleading for his life, saying he’s abandoned the army and is trying to go home to his wife and child. He’d been dragged away when trying to trade his ring for some food, and now they were going to kill him. So I got involved and attempted to talk them down, but there was no way to do so; it lead to combat, and so I was forced to cut down all four peasants.

The man was thankful that I saved him, but Geralt was quick to point out that if he hadn’t intervened, only one man would be dead. He gave the deserter some advice and wished him all the best, but it’s still a sobering situation to consider. And this is still just one of many vignettes and encounters I’ve stumbled in to that plays off expectations and either subverts them or takes them in directions that nobody would ever consider. On top of all that, it’s still a damn fun game to boot, and I’m getting better at navigating the combat.

I did start doing the Velen region’s main quest as well, which proved to be quite interesting (even if I had no idea who a character that’s clearly from Witcher 2 was… I really should have finished the whole series first). Nonetheless, they were an interesting character, the dungeon was varied and full of hidden treasures and challenging encounters, and overall I had a lot of fun. Once again, I keep asking myself why I didn’t get to this sooner, but such is life. I’m here now and Witcher 3 continues to impress.

Monster Hunter Stories (3DS) — PokeMonster Hunter

It may be considered sacrilege by many, but I could simply never get into the mainline Monster Hunter series. I have a huge amount of respect for the games, and how the grinding and incremental power gains is still secondary to your personal skill and knowledge of it, but I’ve never been able to play them for long. I’ve tried a couple of times, and after playing this game I plan to try again soon, but this is not a standard Monster Hunter. Despite that, it has all the same charm and manages to convert many of the same concepts and mechanics into a wholly different genre, which is remarkable.

At its heart, this is a Pokemon-esque monster catching and battling game with an ensemble of smaller versions of Monster Hunter creatures. Where it differs is that your player character joins in the battle alongside your monster of choice, allowing for interesting tactics and combination attacks. Combat consists of you selecting one of three attacks in a standard rock/paper/scissors arrangements (Power > Tech > Speed > Power) or else using your special gauge for a skill.

If the enemy monster is attacking you directly, you’ll go into a head-to-head attack, and selecting the superior move will see you do additional damage. If you do it enough times, the enemy will topple, allowing for a guaranteed critical and bonus items. As such, combat largely consists of learning the enemy’s patterns and exploiting them skillfully, much as in the mainline games. It’s a rather impressive transition.

You’ll adventure around, finding monster nests and sneaking in to steal eggs which can be hatched to add to your party. There’s a wide array of monsters on offer, and you can even customise them further by transferring genes from other monsters to them (though this releases the donating critter afterwards). Want to give the giant snow bunny Lagombi the ability to breathe fire? Not only is it doable, but it’s part of that function’s tutorial.

Beyond this… the story is nothing to write home about, as it’s largely aimed at being kid friendly, but it is charming and there’s a lot of quality game here to like. Hunting the bigger monsters feels as interesting and satisfying as the mainline games, albeit with a fraction of the time and skill requirements. It’s quite an enjoyable game and I’m eager to play more of it.

If any of this sounds interesting, another feature I have to give Capcom credit for is their demo implementation. For the last couple of weeks prior to the game’s launch, a demo of it has been available on the 3DS eShop, and rather than being some neutered or limited teaser it’s actually the entire first act of the game. You can mess around with it, farm monsters, and do whatever you like in that segment, and then your save file will transfer 100% to the main game should you choose to purchase. Given that demos can be somewhat rare at all, this is a very generous implementation and one that I hope more devs follow suit on. As such, do give it a shot.

Project AM2R (PC) — A warmup run before the long awaited return

You’d be forgiven for not knowing what AM2R is: Another Metroid 2 Remake. Calling it “another” fails to do this game justice, however. This is one of the highest quality fan-games I’ve ever seen. The developer was working on it consistently for over nine years, going through huge amounts of polish and iteration which was catalogued on his blog. I stumbled onto it years ago and followed the progress with some interest, but when it finally released, I was utterly blown away.

AM2R isn’t just a fantastic reimagining of the very dated Metroid 2, but it’s also an incredibly tight, immersive, and well designed game that deserves to be called a proper Metroid title in its own right. And, again, it’s just a free fan-game! Unfortunately, it was released for all of a week before Nintendo issued their DMCA and forced it down from the main page, but once something is on the internet it’s out there and easy to find with a quick Google search.

There was a lot of uproar about the takedown at the time, since it was also released on Metroid’s 30th anniversary year when Nintendo themselves barely acknowledged the series at all for… well, years. We didn’t know about their own official Metroid 2 remake in development at the time, of course, so the return of the series at long last softened the blow. In fact, Metroid 2: Samus Returns is due out for 3DS this week, and I’m going to be picking it up on launch day.

That’s largely why I came back to AM2R: to finish it completely in preparation for the official remake so I can compare how they handle it. Footage of the new game looks promising and I’m hopeful that it’ll be a good romp and maybe a return to form for the oft absent series. But no matter how good it is, I’m going to keep insisting that fans of the series and genre give AM2R a shot, because it really is an incredible example of what a dedicated developer is capable of with patience and love.

At the moment, I’m a little over halfway through the game now, having just acquired the Plasma Beam and encountered my first Zeta Metroids. They can be pretty brutal. I think I’ve done a fairly good job of keeping up with the hidden items as well, but I’m genuinely curious to see how many clever ones I’ve missed. I also have to say that it’s a little odd playing a 2D Metroid game on an analog stick, since I’m using a gamepad, and it can get a little fidgety at times. I wonder how the 3DS equivalent will feel. Well, time will tell!

Guild Commander (PC) — Juggling progress bars

To round out the list today, here’s a game I briefly played on a whim from among the many cheap Steam titles I’ve accumulated over the years of sales. This is a simple management/tycoon style game where you take a guild of adventurers, grow their ranks, set up their equipment and dispense them throughout the kingdom to make it safe and deal with threats. The gold you earn can be reinvested into those lands’ own infrastructure, getting new equipment, or building improvements in your base to speed up member recovery. Rinse, repeat.

It’s a short game and ultimately pretty straightforward. Before very long it ultimately becomes a task of juggling which threats you deal with first, as you only really have the manpower to handle them one or two at a time. It’s also a trivial matter to become fairly self sufficient in terms of income, and then it’s just a matter of time spent gearing up. Not a lot to say here. It was fun for the couple of hours I played, but I mostly just went through it while listening to podcasts. For many it’ll just be busywork, and while it’s cheap, I probably wouldn’t recommend it as anything special.

And that largely concludes my week of gaming. Thought I’d have less to write up this week, but apparently not. I didn’t even touch my PS4, and Yakuza is still calling my name so that will probably be on the list next week alongside Samus Returns. Stay tuned.

Finally, since I’m feeling quite encouraged and positive about this drive to pursue my journalism, I’m probably going to be expanding the blog yet again with further posts. As well as this Report and Right Click to Zoom, I’m planning on writing more in-depth reviews for each game I finish (or be finished with, as the case may be). There should be one of those before the next Friday installment, so stay tuned.

As always, thanks for reading. Got any thoughts on the games I’ve played? What have you guys been playing? I’d love to hear about it.


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