Spending Christmas In Valheim

The time has come for my yearly return to Valheim. There’s a new major patch, I’ve got some amount of time off coming up that is pretty much unclaimed due to the world shutting down for a holiday I don’t celebrate, and I have a huge backlog of podcasts since I spent the last three or four months doing a re-listen of the entire Sci-Fi side of Friends At The Table in preparation for the upcoming new season. Now, all I need to do is figure out how to get my friend who hosts the world to leave his computer on so I can play while he’s busy with family. Then I’ll be set to build the new base we’ve been discussing and maybe go on a bunch of hunts to finally have enough feathers so I’m not constantly rationing all of my arrows. He’s the tank and I’m the DPS, so I have been running out super quickly now that we’re in areas that take some real work to deal with all kinds of more-mobile enemies (the plains are full of smaller enemies that really just love to change their movement direction the instant I loose my arrows).

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The Best Game I’ve Played This Month is Lil Gator Game

Recently, I purchased and played through the entirety of a game in a single day. I stayed up very late to do it, but I managed to one hundred percent Lil Gator Game in an extended evening. I’ve been following the development of the game on Twitter for a while now, ever since I saw a retweet and was instantly charmed by the blocky but detailed aesthetics and the clear homage to The Legend of Zelda that the main gameplay revolves around. Over the months since then, I’ve watched as more and more detail has come out via small videos and trailers for Steam and then, on the 14th, I bought it immediately. While I’m normally leery of any kind of hype train, I can definitely say that this game delivered on every promise it made.

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Horizon Forbidden West Is An Amazing Sequel

I have been playing a lot of Horizon Forbidden West lately. I bought the game the day it came out (as you can probably guess from my recent posts, I was incredibly excited to play it) and have sunk most of my video game time into it lately. All-in-all, it is an excellent modern example of how a sequel can be an improvement on the original game, not just a continuation of the story. Everything Horizon Zero Dawn did well, Forbidden West also does well, and then it adds a whole new list of excellent things. The plot is just as interesting, the world just as enthralling (maybe even more so, since they’ve really improved on the environmental design), and the battle mechanics are so much more fluid and engaging. As much as I am tempted to find a pattern of battle that works and stick to it as I did in Zero Dawn, the weapon systems and new combat skills make it incredibly rewarding to branch out and try new things that I’ve unlocked. Even just wandering the world to investigate the smattering of question marks feels more rewarding. I can’t think of a single thing that wasn’t markedly improved from the first game to this one.

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Understanding Story Adaptation Between Mediums

I’ve always been interested in the way stories change as they are adapted from one form of media to another. For most of my life, the only examples I had were books to movies. I didn’t follow comics closely enough to really consider how comicbook characters were represented in superhero movies and TV shows, and I knew that most comicbooks had such varied, ever-renewed stories that adaptation was fairly open-ended. When the Lord of the Rings movies came out, I was given my first real chance to evaluate something I was familiar with as it moved from books to movies. I didn’t have the skills required to do it in a good, critical way when the first movie came out, but the movies remained a part of my life for long enough that I was still thinking about them and the books when I finally had the skills to do a thorough critical analysis.

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Closing Thoughts On Death’s Door

I finished Death’s Door. I have officially completed 100% of the game on the switch, experienced all the game has to offer (unless there’s more secret stuff I have somehow missed), and am thoroughly satisfied. I have a lot of notes about how it could have been better, but honestly it’s like taking notes on how a pizza could be better to the granular level of “there were only 9 pieces of pepperoni on this slice, 1.7 pieces lower than the average per-slice pepperoni count.” A lot of it has to do with the ease of commenting on something already made than making something better from inside it. It wasn’t one of my top 10 games, it wasn’t something that hit me hard like Celeste, and it isn’t something I’ll replay for years like Breath of the Wild. It was a very fun, enjoyable game that I looked forward to playing, even after I completed the main story beats and was working on the fiddly, specific collection and secret-finding phase. Given how many games fail at being this thoroughly and consistently good, I feel like this should be taken as enthusiastic praise.

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Death’s Door is a Delightful Adventure

One of the games I picked up as a result of skimming “Top Games of 2021” lists is a small game called “Death’s Door.” It’s a cute, delightful adventure game featuring a Crow playing the part of a reaper of souls who travels through doors to various places to collect said souls. At the start of the game, you get sent to collect a cartain soul, defeat the monster whose soul it is, and then go off on a crazy adventure in order to finally collect this soul so your assigned door can be properly closed and you can return to being immortal. Armed with a dodge roll, a magic bow, and a sword (also an umbrella you can find pretty early and few other weapons you find throughout), you battle the various monstrous creatures that inhabit the worlds you pass through and use their soul energy to make yourself stronger for the challenges ahead.

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Horizon Zero Denouement

I finally finished Horizon Zero Dawn. I took my time, doing most of the upgrades, finishing every side quest, doing almost every hunting trial with a complete success, collecting most of the outfits and weapons and all that. It was good, though I’ll be the first to say that though the text logs are super interesting, they’re a little too hidden away and difficult to find for any but the plot-centric ones to be worth getting. I thought I did a pretty good job of looking, but I definitely did not, seeing as I found maybe a third of the non-plot data logs. I could look up a guide and hunt them all down, but that just does not feel worth it when I could move on to other games, like playing Ghost of Tsushima again or playing The Witcher 3 for the first time (it was on sale!).

All said and done, it was worth playing. I had a good time, enjoyed most of the gameplay, and only got bored three times. And it wasn’t game-terminal boredom, just session-terminal. I was able to take a day or two off of hunting for raccoon pelts and bellowback hearts before returning to the game, refreshed and ready to hunt again.

While there were definitely some difficult parts early on, the availability of arms and gear meant that by the time I hit level thirty, fights weren’t a challenge anymore. It was only ever a question of how much time and how many resources it would take to finish it. The only times I died is when I fucked up a hunting trial and decided it was easier to just die since I spent too many resource to just try again. I even successfully killed a giant t-rex monster robot called a Thunderjaw way earlier than I should have been able to by cheap-shotting it with fire arrows from behind a rock it couldn’t path its way around. It took, like, fifteen minutes, but I brought it down.

The narrative was worth binging, though, so I’m glad I largely ignored it until I was mostly finished exploring and sidequesting through an area. It’s not that it wasn’t memorable, but that it had a degree of urgency to it that was difficult to ignore most of the time. While the robotic movements and painfully awkward expressions of the characters in cutscenes was difficult to watch, the plot itself was enough to carry me along. It twisted in not entirely surprising ways, but it gave me villains to hate, assholes to yell about, causes to believe in, and a twist I didn’t expect. I always thought it was going to be a global warming/environmental thing that wrecked the world, but that wasn’t it. Turns out that problem was solved. It was something else that revolved around the hubris of humankind that ultimately did us in.

That being said, I felt like there wasn’t enough plot. It felt like maybe ten hours of plot stretched into sixty hours of game by refusing you the information you want until near to the end, at which point it just dumps it all on you at once. There were a couple places where the protagonist, Aloy, interrogates another character about some big plot element (usually about a character) that is just a bunch of question prompts, the option to bail out of this massive dialogue tree, and an NPC just word-vomiting. It felt kinda of stilted, to have it all dumped out at these points. I’d have preferred never knowing to this kind of expository dumping.

While I’m super excited for the next game, and very interested in what might be going on in this next segment, I do feel a little restless. The final conclusion to the game wasn’t terribly satisfactory. Not merely because it was a setup for a sequel (as far as sequel bait goes, this was relatively mild), but because it just felt sort of abrupt. We’re chasing this thing down, fighting to save the world, and then we beat the big bad and it’s just over. No wrap up, no denouement, just a final cutscene to set up the next game. I know that unresolved plot is the key to a new story and that I literally just wrote a post about wonder and the space between certainties, but I don’t like it when it feels like those things were created by cutting holes in something.

I would definitely recommend the game and this is one gripe in an otherwise wonderful distraction and experience, but it is pretty heavily on my mind as I reflect on the conclusion to the game. There was just a world demanding so much of Aloy, a moment of victory, and then a lead-in to the next plot. Seriously, it just feels like they clipped the actual denouement out of the game. It’s a frustrating end to a lovely game.

I Never Wrote About Valheim

I have been updating my blog for two months and eleven days. A more merciful schedule means that I have posted sixty-one times in those seventy-two days. Things have progressed to the point where I no longer feel like this is something I need to do every day. This isn’t a task to fulfill, though writing and editing are on my daily to-do lists, but so is making my bed, washing my masks, and driving to work. Updating constantly, unless I need a break (and I guess I’m just taking Sundays off, since that is the pattern that seems to be emerging), no longer takes up psychic space.

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Swept Away Again

Due to my attention/anxiety issues, I almost always have music going in the background. It makes it easier to ignore errant or intrusive thoughts if I have music playing. As I’ve gotten into podcasts, I’ve found myself doing the opposite, finding something to play in the foreground so I can pay attention to my podcast since I’d almost always wind up browsing twitter or something on my phone if I don’t have something to do with my eyes and hands when I’m listening to a podcast. As a result of this habit, I’ve discovered a special moment I treasure whenever it happens.

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TAZ and The Words I Needed to Hear

“See, there’s magic in a bard song. They call it inspiration and it tells the listener what they need to hear right when they need to hear it.”

Those were the words I needed to hear right when I needed to hear them. I was sitting on my couch the night following my grandfather’s funeral, a year and twenty-seven days ago. I’d just gotten back from Chicago, unloaded the car, and then sat down on the couch to finish the podcast I’d started on my first of many drives down to Chicago in 2019 to visit my grandpa and help out my mom. I was alone–my roommates could tell I didn’t want to talk–and I put on the last two episodes of the Balance arc of The Adventure Zone.

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