Backlog Battle Report (2nd Oct 2017)

Astute observers may notice a lack of Right Click to Zoom from this Friday. I’m hoping to have that up tomorrow, but I was in no state to be writing on Friday or during the weekend thanks to work related drama that I had to resolve. If all goes well I’ll be back on schedule this week. In the meantime, here’s the list of games I tackled this week.

Elder Scrolls Online (PC) — Keep Scroll-ing

Another week has passed but I’m still firmly entrenched in the universe of the Elder Scrolls. In fact, I don’t think I played anything but it and Heroes of the Storm until halfway through the week. That in itself is probably telling of how much the hooks are in, given how quick I am to jump between games at the drop of a hat.

Nonetheless, I’m still playing through. This week has seen me still playing my Templar, reaching the mid-30s in level. I’ve spent a lot of that time working on different skill trees and varying my action setup as much as possible, both to create variety and facilitate later progress. Since the aim is to eventually be a healer on this character, quite a few healing skills have been picked up and kept on hand just to make the transition as painless as possible when the time comes.

Beyond that, it’s mostly just been questing through the world of ESO. Since I’m sticking to the primary Dominion faction’s questlines, this sees me almost permanently locked in some variety of forested areas as I plumb the depths of the Valenwood, home of the Wood Elves.

It’s interesting and does a good job of diving into their lore in many aspects, though I feel like there’s really not enough variety between the zone types. They may break up the density of the forest and what’s going on, but it’s still a forest and has been for three or four zones now. Yes, I could quite easily go and see a different zone to break it up (and I usually do with frequent jaunts to the desert locale of the Thieves Guild content), but since I’m trying to follow that story to its conclusion I’m less inclined to do so.

Despite this nitpick, it’s still holding up as my game of choice. Next week the Final Fantasy 14 patch drops at last though, so I’ll have more variety in my MMO escapades soon.

Heroes of the Storm (PC) — Master of missing skillshots

This week saw a fairly sizable content drop in Heroes, featuring a new Overwatch themed map and hero. An audible groan was heard from a lot of players about this, since many play Heroes for the rich history of Blizzard characters to draw from and play as, so frequent Overwatch drops aren’t always well received since you can, well, play that still.  Add to that the contention that the first Overwatch map of Hanamura made in the community, and thus you have trepidation going into it.

That aside, the content itself has been really good this time around. The Volskaya Foundry map is much more “standard” to the map design and objectives of the game. Hanamura had the problem of its payloads not really giving much of an advantage, leading to the correct strategy being to ignore the objective entirely and push hard. If you do that in Volskaya, the objective will probably kick your ass.

To put it simply, you stand on the point in Volskaya as a team, fill the capture point bar, and doing so grants you a two person vehicle with a variety of interesting skills for each player to use. It’s a little squishier than you’d think, but it can do a ton of damage. I think the scaling may be a little off though, as the early game objectives don’t seem to be that effective whereas the late game ones can obliterate structures in a matter of seconds. We’ll see how that pans out.

Then we have Ana, a new support character. Quite frankly, I love Ana. She’s a really neat character and has a number of interesting mechanics, not the least of which is her kit being entirely skillshot based. She does a pretty large amount of healing, but that’s kind of necessary when it’s so easy to accidentally miss your abilities because your teammates are busy juking incoming damage.

When everything lands nicely, though… you have a lot of burst healing, plenty of utility with your three second crowd control effect opening up great kill opportunities, or the ability to counter and shut down other healers. The Nano Boost ult is hilariously powerful in conjunction with mages and can see them shredding teams apart (in the event that they notice the strangely limited spell effects anyway) and the long range healing and sniping of Eye of Horus is a solid go-to.

Furthermore, Ana’s talent tree is full of diversity and options that feel less pigeonholed and more about setting up to counter or deal with opposing threats. I’ve gotten her to level 5 and I’m still not entirely sure what my ideal build with her would be, I’m still changing it up per game.

That said, as much as I love playing Ana, she does have one glaring weakness that means I’m not likely to play her solo: her wave clear is limited. More than anything else in my Heroes games, I frequently find it annoying that my team composition is lacking the means of clearing minion waves and often falls behind as a result. It’s my ultimate pet peeve and I try very hard to pick characters that can overcome this.

Regardless, both map and character make for good, welcome additions to the game. Junkrat should be along next in a couple of weeks, and I’m quite interested to see how they’ll translate his skillset from Overwatch to Heroes. Sometime before that, I need to finish off my ranked placement matches too…

Endless Legend (PC) — A little less spacious

I mentioned Endless Space in last week’s update, and that little outing saw me visiting the ground-based, single world fantasy version of the game this week. Despite having had this game for a while now, I’ve never put as much time into it as its space counterpart. After this week… well, that still holds true. For whatever reason, it just doesn’t stick with me as much.

A closer comparison to the game than Endless Space would be a Civilization game, though with more fantastical elements. At the same time, there are a lot of unique mechanics that make Endless Legend quite different. The ability to recruit and level heroes, or the separation of the world into smaller regions to claim, the use of luxury resources to boost your empire stats, or the subjugation of and allying with lesser races and bringing them into your dominion all stand out.

It plays out much the same as other games of its kind; build up your army and empire, expand, research tech to give you the edge, and crush your foes. It also feels (at least in the learning phase) a lot slower than a normal game of Civilization, but perhaps that’s just me. Either way, I have to manage a lot of not necessarily intuitive mechanics to try and get the best of things, and as much as I want to like it… it just wasn’t grabbing me as Endless Space did.

As I did with that game, however, I have to give Endless Legend props for the story and lore of the world. It’s quite clear that the planet of Auriga has experienced a lot, and some of the races have obvious sci-fi slants. Ancient salvaged technology, vaults beneath the ground, ruined structures that are clearly old starships? It all paints a fascinating picture in conjunction with the details of Endless Space, and it gives the workings of each individual faction more punch when you consider where they’re from and how they do things.

More to the point, each of these factions has their own main quest that you progress by playing the game as that group would. Filled with flavour text and rewards that make them worth undertaking, I can’t give Endless Legend enough credit for trying something different with its worldbuilding. It does its best to make you care about the setting and gradually let you piece together the mysteries of its backstory, and it’s really unlike anything else out there.

I really do wish I could be more attached to this game, but so far it seems to be in words only. I’ll give it another shot though.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (PC) — Cue the retrowave

For whatever reason, I felt the need to play a first person shooter this week. Something simple, fun, and that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s harder to fit that bill than Blood Dragon does.

Taking the open world Ubisoft collect-and-shootathon formula and condensing it down into a manageable form is a good start. Applying a neon filter and gloriously 80s sounding retrowave to make everything look and sound different makes it an even better time. Throw in some intentionally rough dialogue loaded with cliches and one-liners, and you have a good time.

I’ve played for a couple of hours and already done a good chunk of the game, both main and optional. It’s a fun little romp with some fairly fast paced and solid gunplay. Odds are that I’ll have completely finished it before it overstays its welcome, which has happened to me in most attempts to finish an Ubisoft open world game in the past.

That said, I need to bring up something: despite owning this game on Steam after having picked it up on a sale somewhere, I’m actually playing a pirated version that I picked up. Why? Because of Uplay. I get that it’s the thing that all companies seem to do, having their own internal launcher and store in the vein of a localised Steam, but having that be a requirement even for the Steam versions? And, most importantly, NOT WORKING EVER?

Yeah, despite my best attempts to do the right thing and just suck it up, I couldn’t even log in to Uplay. After getting the password wrong once because I hadn’t used it for a while, the entire program froze, crashed violently, and then refused to even start up again no matter what I did. Even after restarting the computer, it didn’t want to cooperate, so I eventually gave up and resorted to piracy.

Everything that people say about Uplay often sounds like its being exaggerated, but it really isn’t. This is just a shoddy, poorly programmed, intrusive and completely unecessary piece of bloated software that people are wise to avoid. And it’s marring the enjoyment of an otherwise really solid and fun game. I’ll be playing more Blood Dragon, but I won’t be using Uplay again.

Borderlands 2 (PC) — You don’t know Jack

Perhaps the initial trigger of wanting to play a fun shooter this week was a number of Discord discussions about Borderlands 2. These discussions eventually segued into a handful of friends banding together to play four player co-op, of which we had a brief session of a couple of days ago. It was a lot of fun, and hopefully we’ll be able to resume it soon.

Despite being five years out from release, Borderlands 2 is probably still the best first person shooter and RPG hybrid out there. The first game set up the concept of introducing heavily randomised and readily available loot and numerical progression in an FPS, but Borderlands 2 executed it on a grander scale. Add in a bigger variety of quests, areas to explore, more interesting and expanded plot, and it’s still an act that hasn’t really been beaten.

Which isn’t to say there haven’t been attempts, but most have either been strangely out of place (Shadow Warrior 2, which really didn’t need loot) or else followed more MMO-like conventions (The Division and Destiny as the biggest examples). Even the next Borderlands game — the Pre-Sequel — was developed by a different studio and introduced a handful of new elements that hindered the flow somewhat, as well as felt a little more forced. With a Borderlands 3 still nowhere in sight, 2 will probably still remain the king for a while.

I’ve never actually finished this game, or even progressed particularly far. Most of my attempts to do so usually burn out fairly quickly, either because my co-op partners are unable or uninterested in continuing, or else I just lose interest myself in solo runs. It’s a game I really do want to put more time into and finish, though… even if that’s not the first time this week I’ve said that. We’ll see if it’s any different.

This present 4-player co-op run is seeing me play the hilariously entertaining Krieg the Psycho character. I’m investing fully in the Fire skill tree and fully intend on using whatever gun is most likely to set everything in the vicinity (self included) ablaze, or else just charge into the mix with axe swinging at every possible opportunity. His action skill is incredibly satisfying, and I’m fairly sure my teammates have commented that I am clearly having fun every time the axe comes out and I start charging in. And I am. Oh, I most definitely am.

In addition to my bloodthirsty berserker, we’ve also got a Commando, a Mechromancer and a Gunzerker to round out the merry band of murderers. I look forward to diving back into it with them, but even more so than my usual attempts to duo the game, this cast is really spread out across the globe. Finding time for everyone is going to be tricky, but we’ll make it work! Hopefully.

Puzzle Quest Galactrix (DS) — Gravity’s a bitch

This game is terrible and I hate it.

No, seriously.

Let me elaborate. Ten years ago, the original Puzzle Quest came out and proved itself a really interesting concept. Taking the core match-3 puzzle gameplay of Bejeweled, Puzzle Quest then added a slew of RPG mechanics into the mix. Each colour of gem you matched gave you corresponding magic of that type, which you could use to fuel spells to change the board or add effects. Matching skulls was a direct attack to foes. Both you and foes took turns moving the pieces and whoever ran out of life first was out.

It didn’t end there, however. Puzzle Quest was fantastic because it chose to include so many different ways of using the concept. As well as having endless combinations of spells to use, each enemy had their own unique setup which you could learn by capturing them in a special type of puzzle minigame. You could also get equipment and gear, which you crafted through more puzzles. There was even a servicable story complete with a number of side quests, all of which were fuelled by even more variety in these puzzles. It took a simple concept and made it work.

Most importantly, the first Puzzle Quest felt like a labour of love. It was made on a comparative budget, but it looked and sounded nice, played very well, and had lots of variety within. More than that though, it was all polished quite well and just felt like a really solid, well-made game. It was a joy to play, and as a real sucker for Match-3 type games, I’ve replayed it many times over the years.

Puzzle Quest Galactrix has none of this. It’s clearly taking the success of the original and building a cheap knockoff. It looks and feels like a budget game, and feels utterly soulless and by the numbers. There’s no character classes, no distinction between characters, and the stats are flat and uninteresting.

All of the variety in the game comes from the concept of kitting out your starship with equipment, which is a neat idea, but the actual effects of this equipment is generally weak and uninteresting. It does try to deliver variety in the puzzle types with various minigames, which is nice, but it’s a very flat rendition and doesn’t help cover up the fact that the base game is so bland.

The biggest weakness and glaring flaw of the game is the way the puzzle board works. In Puzzle Quest, it was a square board and everything flowed from top to bottom. In Galactrix, the board is now replaced with a hex, and the pieces will now flow in from whatever direction the last piece to be moved came from. This might not sound like much, but in practice it makes the game far more beholden to RNG.

See, when the board is always constant and pieces are flowing in a direction you can predict, it means you’re able to more safely set up and influence things with correct moves. You know where pieces that you can use will be in a couple of turns. But when things can come from any direction, suddenly any sense of planning goes out the window. You can’t set up future moves because a single nudge from any direction undoes it all. Ultimately, every move feels random and arbitrary.

There is a mechanic that you can utilise called Gravity, which will temporarily apply gravity to the board and dictate where the pieces are going to fall. However, this is temporary and quite easy to counter or alter depending on equipment. More importantly, by the time you get access to this equipment, you’re a ways into the game and the frustration has already set in.

I could rant about this game for a while, honestly. Having a colour that replenishes your health and appears more than damage to slow the game down further? A variety of damage numbers meaning that you can suddenly get blown up if three 10 damage pieces appear at once? Flat, uninteresting and boring writing and quests?

I don’t know why the hell I’m playing this game. Probably just because I’ve finished the first Puzzle Quest so often that I feel bad for replaying it yet again. But hey, doing that sure as hell beats wasting more time with this.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS1) — Die, monster!

It’s funny where my gaming urges can come from sometimes. One moment I’m talking with a friend about Capcom games, and the next that somehow leads in to Konami, which in turn has me missing Castlevania. Cue the friend mentioning that he’s never played the games before, and thus I gush about them for a while. By the end of it, I just have to play Symphony of the Night again, so here I am.

Having beaten a number of Metroid games recently, it’s only fair that I progress on to the Metroidvania subgenre, all of which began with this game. Dracula’s Castle is big, sprawling, and maze-like. There’s a whole slew of hidden secrets and items scattered throughout to find. Despite playing through the game many times, there’s plenty I’ve never found, and I haven’t actually fully completed the game (I usually stop somewhere in the Inverted Castle) which I’m hoping to rectify this time.

I’m still in the early days, having just beaten the second boss, that being the copy of Alucard. Will report more on the game once I get further. I also picked up two Game Boy Advance Castlevania games to play through as well — Aria of Sorrow, and Circle of the Moon. I’ve yet to play them, but they’re around for when I need the fix. More on that soon.

And that’s my week in a nutshell. Lots of writing ahead of me to catch up, and then hopefully I’ll be back to it. What has everyone else been playing? Do let me know!


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