Three Hundred of the Most Occupied Hours of My Life

In my nightly video game time, I’ve been doing another run-through of Fire Emblem: Three Houses. I’ll admit I’m not particularly interested in the game any more and I approach playing it the same way I approach playing Sudoku: I don’t expect to really get anything out of it other than a stretch to the non-artistic parts of my mind. I enjoy strategy and puzzle games for this specific reason, but a lot of the time I play them, it’s because I think I need some mental exercise or a monetary occupation rather than because I actually enjoy it.

Continue reading

Playing At Righteous Wrath But Only Managing Indignant Pique

So, I finally beat (sorta) Pathfinder: Kingmaker, and started playing Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous. P:K was a bit of a letdown because the alignment system actually factored pretty heavily into the decision-making process for running my kingdom and had some incredibly significant impacts on the “post-game wrap-up” storytelling of the playthrough I finished. I didn’t get the long ending, since my character was content to let things shake out the way they did and just be finished with the whole farce, but my freedom-loving chaos mage apparently was a terrible ruler despite promoting mercy above all else and created a police state using magical surveillance technology. Still not sure what that came from, though I do know some of my advisor meetings kinda glitched through the cutscenes because I was doing a lot of saving and loading to get good outcomes because I didn’t want to deal with that shit. Anyway. I finished that and started the next game.

Wrath of the Righteous starts out pretty intensely, with a decent helping of mystery and stakes that are amped up pretty much instantly, but that was a nice follow-up to the expanded character creator whose UI is… Well, parts of it are better, but not all of it. It’s difficult to get a full-picture of your character when creating them or leveling them up, information is hidden in weird places, and some choices aren’t terribly intuitive. The greater number of options is nice, but the fact that information like which attributes matter most for each class and class variation being hidden in different text windows makes trying to figure out where my points need to be spent a pain in the ass. Especially since some of the class variations change what your primary attribute is. But that’s mostly a problem for Pathfinder as a whole than something tied specifically to this game. They just don’t fix the problem in the game.

After all that, though, the improvements show up. Being able to rotate the camera is nice, though it is made necessary by the somewhat cluttered environment you find yourself in at all points of this game so far. Since things are only transparent in a small bubble around your character, you have to get used to rotating the camera on top of moving it around, zooming, and managing your party. It gets very onerous in large battles that involve multiple angles of approach, too. It is a necessary skill to learn, though, because an object being transparent doesn’t actually mean it isn’t there. Clicking in the wrong place (on the roof of a house that was rendered invisible by your party, for instance) can have nasty ramifications in battle because you think you’re attacking an enemy but really you’re sending your character through an entire mob of foes to be ruthlessly cut down as they walk to the nearest reachable point to the invisible roof you clicked on.

Camera gripes aside, I do enjoy the fact that being persuasive and having a high-charisma no longer feels absolutely necessary to the game. I still made a high-charisma character and didn’t change off it when I got the option to retrain them because I like playing that type of character, but I no longer feel like that’s my only good choice if I want to do everything. I could easily see myself playing a different class some time in the future. Maybe a fighter, barbarian, or something more melee-based than my usual style.

I’ll also say I’m a bit frustrated that so many characters seem to be good at rogue skills early on because I built my sorcerer to be good at those things as a fun build idea and it wound up being so incredibly redundant. Half the characters I got initially could do those things as well as, if not better than, my character could. And not one single character was smart until I got through the whole long introduction section and into the exploration section. I actually missed a bunch of stuff early on because none of my people had any of the knowledge skills. I even got a whole pile of magic items I couldn’t properly use because no one had a decent Arcana skill. Seems like a bit of an oversight to me, given the importance of magic items to this game.

Well, I’ve aired all of my grievances now, so I think I’ll wrap up. I’m a bit too early in the plot to really comment on that (I had some install troubles and started the game 72 hours after release, but I’m not sure I can blame the game for this one since one of my hard drives might be corrupting), but it seems interesting so far. Much more so than P:K’s was since that amounted to “become a king and find out who is fucking with your attempts to become a king!” It’s definitely worth playing and hopefully future patches will continue to iron out the problems. If nothing else, P:WotR is in a much better place at launch that P:K was. Solid progress.

Still, as the title suggestions, I’m not sure where “Wrath of the Righteous” enters into the equation. Sure, demons are bad and they shouldn’t be in our world, but that’s more of a “fighting off an invasion” type thing. Righteousness has nothing to do with fending off a murderous invasive species. So far, the only “Righteousness” I’ve seen is the kind that is Good twisted to commit acts of Evil that has me wondering how all these god-empowered assholes could still be granted powers by their gods when they’re torturing and executing people without trials.

Legendary Moments From My Poképast

I finally got to the point in my replay of Pokémon LeafGreen where I can start catching Legendary Pokémon, and my recent attempts to actually catch them reminded me of some fun moments from my poképast and the strange way games can play out when they rely on random chance. If you don’t really care about Pokémon, or maybe even actively dislike it, then feel free to head out. Everything after this is going to be about Pokémon. Or stick around. I’m not your boss. Do what you want.

Continue reading

Retreading Familiar Ground in Animal Crossing: New Horizons

The first and only Animal Crossing game I’ve ever played longer than a day (I borrowed one in college but didn’t have the time to do more than make a character) was the original one on the GameCube. That isn’t a result of a lack of willingness on my part so much as a result of my disconnect from buying new games during college (I think the only new game I got while I was in college was Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword) and my lack of free time as a post-college adult. I’ve always had something come up that make a time-intensive and daily play game like Animal Crossing prohibitive.

Continue reading

Tabletop Highlight: On the Importance of Dice

I am a firm believer in the importance of dice in tabletop RPGs. To be entirely fair, that’s not exactly an uncommon opinion, even if more people are moving toward digital dice rollers instead of actual rice. Sure, telling a computer to roll twenty six-sided dice makes it a lot cleaner and it does the math for you which makes it take less time, but there’s no feeling compared to being a twentieth level sorcerer casting disintegrate just so you can roll forty six-sided dice all at once. At one point, I literally had bought enough d6’s so I could roll damage all at once for my caster. It was an amazing feeling, making it rain dice like that. It was also incredibly difficult since I could barely hold that many at once and rolling them involved a lot of me saying “did anyone see where the beige one went?” and my friends replying “no, but I did find the purple one from last week under this radiator.” Good times.

All that aside, what I’m really talking about is the importance of specific dice, which is also a bit misleading since I’m not thinking of one specific die in all of creation. What I’m talking about is the importance of having specific dice for you to use. By our very nature, as creatures reliant on ephemeral chance to dictate the course of our gaming session, we tabletop gamers are a rather superstitious bunch. For instance, I not only have a favorite set of dice, but I pick the dice I use on any given night by how aesthetically pleasing I find them as I get ready for the game. I firmly believe that prettier dice roll better and no amount of bad luck on my more gorgeous dice can shake that belief. The inverse is also true. When my players are having a string of bad rolls, I swap to using my ugliest, most generic and awful dice so the enemies the party is facing roll worse. My absolute favorite set, the set that has rolled more triple-twenties than all of my other twenty-sided dice put together, is a beautiful set of clear plastic dice with bits of black paint or plastic swirled inside them. Unlike every other set of partially clear dice I’ve ever seen, the color is only on the inside of the dice. It doesn’t touch the outside layers at all, so you can spin the dice as you hold it up to the light and watch the smoky black color swirl at your fingertips. I don’t even let other people touch those dice. I keep them in a plastic container inside my dice bag so I’ve always got them ready to go in case I need to roll well on something important.

If you take a survey of all tabletop players, you’ll find a range of traditions and superstitions. There are players who believe in punishing their dice when they roll poorly and even destroying the dice if they keep rolling poorly after being punished. This punishment can range from something as mild as leaving the offending die on its own for a while to the incredibly gross tradition of putting one of your misbehaving dice inside your mouth for a while. I’ve even seen someone go so far as to file through a die they were punishing so it could never roll again, which just seems completely over the top to me. There are also people who believe that you need to roll all of your dice at once, regardless of how many that might be. I’ve got a friend who uses a specific die for every type of action his character might be taking in any game he’s playing, so he has to buy new dice every time he plays a game with an additional action type. I prefer to buy new dice for characters who are about to make their debut, so the character and the dice start off fresh. I generally only get new dice for characters who are supposed to be a part of a campaign for a long time and I do it to avoid any kind of mental influence on how I see the dice.

Despite the range of beliefs and the things people do with their dice, most people remain a bit more rational and logic-oriented than their superstitions suggest. I bet if you followed up your first survey with a second survey asking people if they though there really was something to their little traditions, almost everyone who answered the first one would say “no.” And yet we’d still turn around and immediately go back to our superstitions as soon as the situation called for it. The way I’ve always viewed it is that there’s no harm in being cautious or believing in something that’s probably not there. If it isn’t there, then you’ve just spent a bit of time marking a tradition. If it turns out that there was actually something to it, then you’ve got your bases covered already. It’s why I don’t really believe in ghosts, but I won’t denigrate anyone who believes in them. Additionally, and probably more importantly, it helps the players feel like they’re in control of what is pretty much just random luck. If you believe punishing your dice will make them roll higher next them, then you’re in control of your own outcomes because you can “encourage” your dice to get with the program. You more order you can impose on what seems like chaos around you, the better you feel.

The same is true of having specific dice for specific things. I probably haven’t rolled more triple twenties with my favorite set of dice than with any of my other sets, but the belief that I do roll more twenties makes me remember when I do. It’s simple confirmation bias. The same is probably true of punishing dice or whatever inane thing we all do that makes us feel more comfortable with the fact that the world isn’t as cut-and-dried as we’d like to think it is. Random things happen outside our control or comprehension and we get a glimpse of that when we play games with dice because the difference between success and failure is pure chance. For the vast majority of us, there’s no skill involved, no talent, just dumb luck. Even the most skilled of us, who should be able to succeed no matter what is thrown at us, can sometime fail because of chance. So roll the dice and hope you get more passes than failure.

I Want to Be the Very Best

Today marks the very first day of my new life’s work. I’ve decided to follow in the footsteps of many great trainers before me and abandon any attempt at being a productive member of society. Instead, I am going to wander through the wild parts of the world, capture creatures with funny names and huge powers, and then train them to battle other, similar creatures owned by people like me. All of my money will be earned by robbing the people I defeat, I’ll sleep in the woods, and I’ll rely on free healthcare to keep my captured monsters in peak fighting condition at all time. I may make friends along the way, I may encounter a friendly or combative person frequently enough to designate them my rival, and I may rise from obscurity to sit at the peak of the monster fighting league so that everyone in the world knows my name. Unfortunately, none of those things are guaranteed, but I know I’ll definitely have a great time along the way, bonding with my new pets and crying when I’m forced to say goodbye to them.

If you haven’t guessed what’s going on, I’m talking about my plan to finally go on the Pokemon Journey reality has always denied me now that Pokemon Go finally introduced trainer-versus-trainer battling. I imagine battling will change significantly as time goes on since it’s clearly in favor of people willing to spend money or who have done nothing but play Pokemon Go and the whole “use a shield to block a charged attack” thing is just plain weird, but I’m glad they finally got something out there. So far, I’ve declared one of my roommates is my rival, battled him a few times (we’re tied for wins and losses right now), and done absolutely nothing else with it because society is demanding I do my day job so I can pay my bills and afford to live in my nice house with my actual pets. Someday, perhaps once the holidays are over, I’ll go on a short Pokemon Journey to test the waters. After I’ve figured out how the battling scene is going, that’ll be it for me. I’ll quit my job, pack up everything I own into a backpack that breaks physics, and head off into the great unknown in order to find new Pokemon, battle new trainers, and become the legend I’ve always dreamed I could be.

I imagine it’ll be difficult to live off the land and spend all my time traveling between major cities, but I think I can manage it. I’m single, have no societal obligations that I’d miss, and am a rather hardy individual. I can walk for long periods of time, assuming my pack isn’t as heavy as a typical Pokemon Trainer’s backpack must be, given that it holds hundreds of pokeballs, healing items, berries, cases, bicycles, and so forth. If it’s a bit more realistic and not able to hold a limitless supply of whatever I want (if it removes the weight of the things I put in it, that would also be pretty cool. I could work with that), then I imagine the first couple weeks would be rough while my feet adjusted to the constant walking. After that, I’d be unstoppable.

Unfortunately for me, I seem destined to become a gimmick trainer. Likely a Hiker with a heavy focus on rock-type Pokemon. I could get behind such a gimmick, of course, but only after becoming the best there ever was. Then I’d go find some mountain path to live on and challenge every trainer who passes through before making my team of Geodudes all use “Self-Destruct.” The trick would be that I have a sixth Pokemon, maybe a Mew or something super cool and rare. It would also use “Self-Destruct.” That would be my gimmick and then I would become a different type of legend. I’d become even more famous than when I toured the world as an unbeatable Pokemon Master and trainers would come from far and wide to see if they could beat my team. Unfortunately for them, all my Geodudes would be immune to one hit knock-outs and the final Pokemon would change on occasion so they’d never be able to defeat me. Every match will end in a draw and I will establish myself as an unbeatable Pokemon Trainer. It will be glorious!

I will have to wait, though. Pokemon Go is still in its infancy and we’ve yet to see if it will truly last the tests of time. There’s also no move in Pokemon Go that functions like “Self-Destruct,” though I remain hopeful that they will either eventually add more game-like features to Pokemon Go or replace it entirely by creating Virtual Reality Pokemon. I would be all about that. Nothing quite like immersive games in virtual reality to make you feel like you’re not stumbling around your home while waving your arms dangerously close to every precious and fragile object you own. Heck, maybe they’ll figure out how to make Pokemon robots and then we can go on Pokemon adventures in theme parks. That’d be super cool.

Since none of that is happening right now, I’m just going to focus on battling my rival, enjoying the new combat feature of Pokemon Go, and trying to remember who half the people are on my Pokemon Go friends list so I can remote battle people without feeling weird about initiating an interaction with someone who is effectively a stranger. The feature was difficult to find and it still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense about the way it works, but it’s fun to play. I think the Stardust and Pokemon Candy requires for learning additional moves are egregious, since it’s almost impossible for most players to afford something like that. Only people who play constantly have access to that kind of stardust and enough candies for powerful Pokemon or legendaries. I mean, I spent most of my candies and stardust just powering up Pokemon fairly recently, so I can’t afford to give anyone an extra attack, which means I’ll be vulnerable to anyone who has one since they’re great for countering Pokemon that typically counter whatever Pokemon has the second attack. The fact that you can add extra moves is a huge break from their established methodology, so I’m interested to see where they continue to take.

Whatever they do, though, it’ll be fun. I can’t wait to get out there and start playing again!

Tabletop Highlight: Role-playing

Lately, I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had with my ex a long while ago, one day when we were out to breakfast. I was talking about a Dungeons and Dragons character I was making and how I wanted to role-play them. I made the comment that they were nothing like me, and she took issue with that. After a bit of back and forth, as I asked her to explain what she meant, she eventually said “you can’t be someone you’re not. If there’s no trace of them inside you, then you can’t play them and wouldn’t even want to. Any character you make is going to have a bit of you inside them.” I disagreed back then but ultimately dropped it (which is too bad, since it turns out that her view that people couldn’t change into or try to be something they weren’t already informed a lot of my reasons for ending things last summer) since she wasn’t willing to actually engage with my thoughts on the matter.

The thing is, I constantly play people I’m not. I create characters in games who look nothing like me and who do things I wouldn’t dream of doing. I role-play my way through decisions and choices I’d absolutely do differently if I were actually faced with that situation. I pretend to be evil or a sadistic, murderous asshole in order to play out a character I’ve created. I’m a Dungeon Master and I actually role-play the bad guys. I play chaotic-aligned characters who do whatever they want because they only care about myself despite the fact that I feel guilty even pretending to not care about other people. I’m constantly pretending to be someone I’m not for tabletop RPGs and video games and I’m constantly consciously stripping away my preferences and thoughts in order to be someone else.

Role-playing is my favorite kind of escapism for just that reason, to be honest. There are days when I don’t want to be me anymore. Maybe I’m tired from a day full of mind-boggling information that makes me question the sanity of people around me, or maybe I’ve worn down from a day of trying to be more forceful so people actually listen to me when I know I’m right. Either way, being able to step out of my life and into someone else’s gives me a break from whatever it was that wore me out so I can approach whatever problems I have with a somewhat refreshed mind. It doesn’t fix anything, but it can give me the time and mental space needed to be able to fix whatever is going on. The biggest downside is that I have a tendency to get caught up in it, lose track of time, and stay up way too late while playing whatever game has caught my attention. Tabletop RPGs don’t have this same problem because they’re reliant on other people who generally don’t want to play for as long as I do, but they also hold my attention less because it is difficult to stay in whatever role I’m playing if other people aren’t even trying to stick to their character.

Not even reading helps me escape as thoroughly as role-playing does. I love books and always will, but you’re still you, even if you’re still caught up in the story. As much as I like Chris Amann and think he’s an awesome dude, sometimes I really need to just be someone else for a while rather than just get away from my problems. Video games are my favorite way to get the experience because just playing as a character in a game can make you feel things. The controls for the Nintendo Switch version of the Doom remake feel like I’m piloting a donkey on rocket skates over slick ice, but damn if I don’t feel like a total badass as I rip apart enemies and just storm through levels without a care in the world. There’s almost no role-playing in Doom because it’s just some dude on a demon murdering spree, running around until he’s killed all the demons or died, but I still get a sense of escapism from that. When I play a game specifically designed for role-playing, like Pathfinder: Kingmaker or Dragon Age, I can literally forget about the guy sitting in the chair until something happens to pull me out of my game.

There is, of course, a point when this goes too far. It’s never good to entirely lose focus on who you are or what is a part of the real world and what isn’t. Doing so causes way more problems than it could even pretend to fix and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of staying just short of that line. I occasionally overindulge, but I’m generally not consciously choosing to play a game for twelve hours. I just lost track of time and didn’t think to set an alarm or something to pull me back out again. Additionally, I also tend to play most games with the same moral compass that I have in the real world, to keep myself anchored to the identity that produced and refined it. Even though I can be someone who is nothing like me doesn’t mean I have to be. I like characters who allow me to explore different ways I could be. For instance, my Pathfinder: Kingmaker is pretty much me (in terms of personality and morality), but without the firm belief that society benefits from structures and order. My Pathfinder: Kingmaker character believes that structures are order are necessary evils that can’t be avoided if you want to be a part of society, so she tends to support the local government and it’s laws while still promoting personal freedom and self-expression. It’s a fun idea to explore since it makes me reflect on the places where my belief in order and structure falls short of doing the most good possible.

All that being said, it’s still mostly about escapism for me. I don’t really sit down to play Pathfinder: Kingmaker with the thought that I should explore a particular kind of moral quandary. I just play the game to get away and wind up getting opportunities to reflect on what it means to be a good and just ruler. Role-playing is a lot of fun and can be an opportunity for reflection and growth, even if it’s a rather slow one.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker has the Makings of a Great Game

A long while ago, I pledged to an interesting looking Kickstarter that was described to me as “Pathfinder the computer game.” Now, as the usual Game Master for a few different groups, I don’t get much of a chance to play in any tabletop games, so I instantly pledged to support the project just so I could maybe enjoy a game where I got to be a player. Like most Kickstarters, I pretty much forgot about it until October, when it came out. Unlike most Kickstarters, I shoved the emails into my Kickstarter folder and promptly forgot about it again. To be fair, I was rather caught up in a lot of stuff at work in addition to preparing myself for National Novel Writing Month, so I didn’t really have the time to be playing anything as time-consuming as Pathfinder: Kingmaker. It likely would have stayed in that folder, forgotten until my physical rewards showed up at whatever point in the future (they had a much later delivery date than the digital rewards that included the download code for the game), except I found out my grandfather was dying rather more quickly than I expected and I couldn’t process it emotionally because I’d been kept awake until seven in the morning that day.

After spending a few hours trying to deal with my emotions, eat something, get enough caffeine to pretend I wasn’t basically dead inside from emotional and physical exhaustion, I tossed aside my writing and decided to just find some dumb game to play so I could forget about Chris Amann and all his problems for a while. Which is when I remembered getting the notification email that my download code and digital rewards were ready. It took a couple of hours to track everything down, create accounts I’d forgotten to create. download the game, and figure out how to make it run optimally on my computer, but I got sucked into it immediately. I got sucked into it so thoroughly that I accidentally stayed up until almost four in the morning on a work night, playing it. And then I accidentally stayed up until almost two in the morning the following night. Since then, I’ve only allowed myself to play it on days when I don’t have anything going on the next morning, since I severely doubt my ability to stop myself from getting sucked into this game. I still play it pretty frequently, though. At least once a week, since I still need the escape it provides me. I just make sure to avoid it when I’ve got something important to do the next day that requires me to have gotten enough sleep, like writing.

As far as being “Pathfinder the computer game” goes, I’d say that’s a fairly accurate summary. The developers made some concessions when it came to adapting the rules since Pathfinder is a bit more complicated than most computer game audiences are looking for, not to mention how difficult it would be to program different numbers for all of the easily combined or excluded skills. It makes sense to get rid of crafting and profession skills because few tabletop gamers actually use them. The benefits of trying to implement those systems in a way that fits with Pathfinder doesn’t seem worth the absolute headache (and probably one or more years of development time, since they’re super complicated) including them would cause in everyone working on the project. It also makes sense to reduce the available spells a bit since there are so many “incredibly useful” spells that are actually only useful in one specific scenario that almost never comes up and can be neatly avoided thanks to video game mechanics.

The only real “tabletop game to computer game” issue is how encounters work. In the tabletop version of Pathfinder, encounters are supposed to drain the resources of the party until they are forced to rest in order to restore said resources. This means that only the weakest encounters won’t be a drain on the party and mid-to-low level encounters will still drain the party if they encounter enough of them. Since the rules are drawn from the tabletop version of Pathfinder, this same effect still applies to encounters in the computer game. However, since time is more compressed when one players is making the decisions for every character, you can get through a larger number of encounters in a smaller amount of play time on the computer game. That wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that a lot of those encounters require expending resources and, since there are more encounters than you’d expect due to video game design logic (players need something to fight or interact with every so often or they get bored), you find yourself needing to rest more frequently than you’d like. Throw in the time management mechanic the game has–stuff like hunting up food for six people can take seventeen hours despite the skill in the tabletop game stipulating that foraging for food happens during travel time–and the fact that camping supplies weigh ten units per single-use (which is measured per-person), and you’ve in the awful position where you can’t bring supplies to cut down on time but can wind up spending over a day just finding food for everyone. I get that the game developers needed to separate the movement speed effects of hunting for food from the “find enough food” effects of hunting for food since it’s difficult to track modifiers like that ahead of time and the computer game actually measures minutes and hours while the tabletop game measures days, generally. Still, it’s frustrating.

That being said, those are my only gripes about the game. Sure, spellcasters feel super weak at low levels, but that’s true in the tabletop game as well. In every version of it. They always have and probably always will. Any problems with using casters in Pathfinder: Kingmaker are a result of the weird resting and camping gear weight issues, so I wouldn’t call that a gripe in its own right. It’s an auxiliary gripe. Given the monumental task the developers set out to accomplish, how well they’ve done overall, how active they are in their fan community, and how often they roll out patches to fix the issues players find, I’m more than will to overlook these issues. In fact, I’m willing to advocate that you buy this game if you want something immersive, entertaining, and downright absorbing. Still, you should only buy it if you actually want Pathfinder the Video Game. It feels so much like the tabletop game that I’ve mixed up the video game with the tabletop game I’m in on Monday nights. I’ve called each character by the other’s name and forgotten who had what magic items frequently enough that I’ve started making lists to keep near each character so I can remember who has what (one is a bard and the other is a sorcerer, so they have a lot of magic item overlap). It feels like a good problem to have.

The story is what really does it for me, though. You’re essentially a mercenary hired by a local noble to take out a bandit lord set up in a neighboring unclaimed land with the hopes of establishing you as the baron of said land once the bandit lord has been killed. There is a great deal of additional political maneuvering behind their move, but you’re never really sure which side is in the right. You could make a snap judgment that one side is good and the other is bad, but honestly it’s more of a “Chaos versus Law” thing than good versus evil. The side setting you up as baron is the Chaotic side and the side trying to recruit you to their cause is the Law and Order side. There’s far more to each side than that, but that’s really the distinction between the two. The chaotic people seem nicer than the law people, but that’s often how it seems to anyone who isn’t lawful. You get a lot of information and a good number of chances to pick a side or help one cause or the other. It’s a lot of fun working through the game with these larger concepts in mind.

The combat is a bit dense at times, but that’s because you’re trying to manage up to six people’s worth of combat abilities and resources. There’s a lot to keep track of and, as long as you think of it as a turn-by-turn combat, similar to how the tabletop game does it, you’ll figure it out just fine. Aside from that, it’s actually really fun to do. I love watching the characters charge across the screen, see them line up their shots, or watch spells go whizzing around the battlefield as they all engage in the chaotic dance of combat. It’s a very cinematic experience, actually. To the point where you need to be careful or else a character might get mismanaged as you try to just enjoy the special effects on your screen.

The skill usage is a little opaque at first, but you figure it out pretty quickly. Everyone makes checks, but the little information ticker only tells you when a passive check (perception, for instance) is successful. Which makes sense, since you shouldn’t know that your characters failed to stop a hidden treasure chest. Active checks are made by finding icons on the screen or as dialogue options when talking to people. The number you’re aiming for is given and the roll plus the math happens behind the scenes. Unfortunately, there’s no part of the game that explains what happens when you fail a skill check, so it can be a mystery as to why the trap went off this time and not the last few times you failed to dismantle it. Unless you’re familiar with Pathfinder and know that failing to meet the Dice Check number by a certain amount or more results in the trap going off, you’ll be unable to figure out what’s going on. That being said, I have players I’ve been DMing for years who still don’t know how this works, despite almost exclusively playing rogues, so that’s not necessarily a failing of the game. Just, you know, keep it mind.

Character management is a bit dense, but that’s mostly because you have to become an expert in six or more character classes so you can manage their upgrades properly. Because of the wide variety of upgrades available in the game, you spend a lot of time reading up on what things do and comparing it to what your stats are. As someone familiar with Pathfinder, I expect this sort of thing but I can see how it might be difficult for someone with less knowledge or willingness to read a few walls of text. I recommend doing all your research ahead of time and rely on forums to help you pick what you should do since people who love to build characters and figure out how to do weirdly specific things are also the kinds of people who like to talk about both those things on dedicated forums.

Honestly, this game feels like a good bridge between the hardcore audience and the more casual audience. There’s everything here the hardcore min-maxing power gamer needs to build his ultimate murder-hobo but there’s also plenty of options that give less invested players recommendations and easy options for powering up. There’s even an option that’ll do the powering up for you, so you don’t need to think about it and, based on my own research into the matter, it actually builds good characters. They’re pretty focused around their core mechanic and lack the sort of weird-but-fun powers you get from a fully customized character, but they’re still very good (as in, they’re both effective and fun to play).

If you want a game that’s got a lot of gameplay hours for you, that’ll suck you in with a myriad of tasks, fun combat, and a great story, look no further than Pathfinder: Kingmaker. I love the game and am constantly looking forward to playing it again. The wide array of characters you can add and the sheer variety of characters you can create means that even multiple play-throughs could be fun and new. I suggest putting this game on your Christmas wishlist. Or just your Steam wishlist, if you think it might be a bit late to add something new to your Christmas one. Either way, get the game. You’ll enjoy it.

Fallout 76 is Challenging my Expectations

I bought this game the day before it came out so I could play with my roommates and friends. I played it the first night people could access the servers and not much since then, thanks to National Novel Writing Month. That being said, most of what I’ve learned about the game has been from my solo playing after the brief introduction with my friends and from watching my roommates play it. Well, plus reading about it online because it is currently the internet’s favorite thing to love to hate right now. While I don’t have as many hours as I’d normally like in the game before reviewing it, I really think that it needs to be talked about.

First of all, it plays like pretty much every other Fallout game. There are a bunch of minor variations, like V.A.T.S. (the auto-targeting system that lets you use character stats to shoot or hit things instead of your ability to aim) not pausing time and jumping costing Action Points, but those seem like fairly obvious concessions necessitated by the change from a single-player game to an online multi-player game. You can’t pause the world if someone on the map is using V.A.T.S. and it’s unreasonable to expect the developers to find a way to pause time for only your character. Other than those two things, it feels remarkably like Fallout 4. Maybe even disappointingly like Fallout 4, since I was really hoping for a change in color. You get bored with browns and washed out blues or greens. I was hoping for some orange and yellows, maybe, or some vibrant color variants. It is a solid entry in the same vein of most Fallout games, simply trading one contrived plot for another, one vault for another, and one location for another. Which isn’t a bad thing, mind you. I quite enjoy all the Fallout games even if I tend to get bored of the endless side missions and weird power curves before long.

The biggest downside to this being a standard entry in the Fallout line of games is the number of bugs. There have been tons of them and even the most forgiving players would characterize Fallout 76’s first month as a “rough start.” That being said, it’s still managed to pull off a multiplayer online game while avoiding all of the worst problems. Griefing people is difficult, since the Player versus Player combat rules require two consenting adults to shoot at each other before removing a huge set of damage reductions on either character. It is still possible, of course, but there’s no way to stop a determined player from griefing someone if they want to. The lack of a good, in-game reporting feature is concerning, but the fact that they can real-time track every player, who is doing what events, and how your individual actions might set up the environment for a player passing through later is monumental. We expect it because we’ve been spoiler by online multiplayer games that are good at faking it, but we actually get the whole thing here. There have been myriad issues with the gameplay itself, things like players getting trapped in their Power Armor or the one player whose character is unable to die. There are a lot more bugs attributed to the game acting weird than issues arising from it being an online game, which has so far shocked no one but the people who’d never played a Fallout game before this one.

The internet has been going on about this game a lot. Most people seem to absolutely hate it or love it, which seems to be a theme of internet culture these days. Everything is all of one thing or it’s all of the other. There’s no room for middle-ground or change over time, everything either sucks or is the greatest. To be fair to the haters, Bethesda kinda deserves it. There have been issues with pre-orders, people feel like they were misled about the game they were getting, some of the pre-order people received sub-standard items with their pre-orders, and people feel like the game is limiting them from actually enjoying their online experience because of the rough start to the game’s release. At the same time, not all of the criticism is as valid as the rest. Advertising a canvas bag in one of the top-tier pre-orders and sending a low-quality nylon bag instead is dumb. They either should have had the prototypes and pricing done before they advertised, or they should have sucked up the cost and given people what they were promised.  Being mislead about the game they were getting isn’t really valid. Sure, people expected a fully finished game on launch, but I think people’s expectations are wrong in this case, especially seeing how the video game industry has changed over the years.

Sure, there’s the basic change of development from risk-taking hobbyists to corporate profit-chasers that has resulted in micro-transactions and a “new” Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty game every year, but that’s about how the industry makes its money and what sort of staple games appear. What I’m talking about is the way games are delivered and what is handed to us when we download it. Back in the day, there wasn’t a way for games to get an update so they’d take a few years to create despite being relatively simple. No amount of computer tools makes a 3D model easier to create and animate than a sixteen-bit pixel model and every level in an old game was a two-dimensional surface with shading to give it a sense of depth. The games took longer and were as complete as possible when they reached our hands because they had to be. The games that weren’t that good have gone down in history as being enormous flops or cult classics. Sure, everyone probably remembers the Missingno trick from Pokemon Red and Blue, but not every realizes that doing it wrong or making a poor choice at any time could have really screwed up your game. I mean, I played Majora’s Mask for a week, trying to get to the first save point before my game froze on the N64 and I only ever saw it as a challenge I had to overcome. Our expectations were different back then. The only games that were “perfect” where the ones that were too simple to mess up, and even most of those had bugs or exploits for whoever went looking for them. At some point, we got it into our heads that games had to be perfect when they come out and it’s ruining our ability to enjoy perfectly playable if buggy games.

In addition to that, the product being delivered to us has changed.  Gone are the days when we expected a game to stay exactly the same as when we bought it. There are still some games like that out there, but most of our big games change overtime. Almost all of our online multiplayer games shift as time passes, introducing new events and story tidbits for us to enjoy. Look at Destiny 2. The game has an entire year of additional content planned. Most of it isn’t story content or anything that’s really going to change the game for us (we already got our big chunk of story content and changes to the game this year, so that’s all for us until the next expansion), but it’s still new activities and weapons and so on. Look at World of Warcraft and the way they spread the pieces of a new expansion out over the course of several months. Look at literally every multiplayer online game out there. We, as consumers, have grown to expect this, and yet the entire customer base loses their shit when a game isn’t perfect the minute it releases. For whatever reason, we love a story that unfolds over months but can’t stand a game that transforms from a basic, ambitious concept to a fully realized constantly developing world that ceaselessly incorporates community feedback in its decisions about what to do next? That’s ridiculous.

I think that we, as a whole, need to cool our jets and just enjoy the alright Fallout game we’ve got as the development teams continues to improve it. It is far from unplayable and the fixes they’re delivering are a sign that they’re listening to what the community wants, even if they’re slower about responding to it than we’d like. People should just play what they can and give the game a chance to live up to our expectations rather than trying to shut it down the moment it fails to conform to our desires. I think people will be presently surprised at how much the game has grown if they return to it in the spring.

Despite all of the DOOM, There Isn’t Much Gloom.

I got DOOM for the Nintendo Switch. You’d think that I’d have chosen differently after buying Skyrim for the Switch and never playing it past the first few levels since it reminded me why I never played first-person shooters until I could get them on the computer. But no, I bought it for the Switch. And I’m once again remembering why I dislike playing first-person shooters on a console. I’m also enjoying the shit out of DOOM because it doesn’t really matter.

Sure, the graphics are updated and the game has basically been entirely remade to fit the modern era of consoles and gaming in general, but it was originally played on a system where you controllers your entire character’s movement and aim from a keyboard. The first people to play this game couldn’t look up or down at all and, instead, just ran around until the enemy was centered in their crosshairs. Despite all of the modernization, that strategy still works pretty well. The enemies tend to duck and dodge a bit more, but rapid crouching and very high horizontal aiming sensitivity made it a cinch to pivot and shoot them right in the face. Honestly, the biggest challenge is that I keep swapping my weapons instead of firing them because I can’t stop hitting the right bumper instead of the right trigger. It’s frustrating and literally the first time this has ever happened. There is no game where my bumper is the primary fire of my weapon and I play a bunch of other games on the Switch with mechanics tied to the triggers and bumpers without ever confusing which I’m supposed to be using at any given time.

Beyond that unfortunate habit, I’m having the time of my life. This is my first foray into the DOOM series and I’m enjoying the sheer over-the-top cartoonish level of violence in the game. Doomguy, the protagonist, is an incredibly angry person who punches the crap out of everything I’ve encountered so far. Annoyed at the guy talking to you on the computer? Throw the monitor away. Attacked by some kind of demon thing when you’re literally coming out of a stone coffin you’ve been sealed inside for who knows how long? Better grab what’s left of its skull and smash it on the edge of the coffin. Still super annoyed with the guy who is now talking to you over the elevator’s control system because he seems so smarmily self-assured while all hell literally breaks loose on the mars base you woke up on and you stare at the corpse of one of his soldiers or employees (you can’t tell which because it’s too mangled)? Punch the shit out of the elevator. Want to purchase an upgrade from a flying little robot dude but don’t have the money? Steal it and then punch the little robot dude until he stops trying to get his property back. Punching solves most of your problems and the ones that punching doesn’t solve are solved by shooting. It’s a simple, straight-forward game style that appeals to me when I’m stressed out or exhausted (which has been me since June).

Since I didn’t play the first games, I can’t really speak to how much has changed since then, but the modern game still seems pretty basic. Upgrades are point-based, the path is fairly linear since all roads eventually lead to your goal. Exploring is often rewarded, but you’re preventing from going too far afield so you never find yourself wondering if it’d be better to just focus on getting to your destination rather than running to every corner of the map. There is some hidden stuff, but keeping an eye out for alternate paths and actually exploring everything has gotten me all of the secrets so far. At least, I’m assuming I’ve found all of them since I’ve walked on every surface the game will allow me to walk on and two it tried really hard to prevent me from walking on. What makes this even better is that your character is constantly sprinting, the jump/climb mechanics are incredibly forgiving, and Doomguy doesn’t take fall damage so you’re not penalized for messing up a jump other than maybe being surrounded by demons who want to rip you to pieces.

The enemies are plentiful and annoying, but the health packs are all over the place, armor is readily available, ammo is never in short supply, and the badass melee kills just spew health packs when you get one just right. This is my favorite game to play an unstoppable killing machine dishing out mayhem and death to demons and mostly dead humans turned into quasi-demons that want to use your corpse to summon actual demons. Despite the low-key horror vibes of the game, the unending amounts of blood, and the horrific violence being perpetrated against the demons without end, none of it is really on-screen long enough to make an impact. You just wade through the sea of violence and mayhem, slaughtering demons by the wave and ripping them apart so they heal you whenever one flashes blue or orange. It’s a good time.

It’s a good enough time that I keep accidentally staying up too late playing it. My time is at a premium these days but I still find myself putting off my less urgent writing so I can take the time to play at least a little DOOM every day. It’s incredibly relaxing, really. Even with all of the harsh colors and the anxiety-inducing music (even the friggin’ PAUSE menu has a track that flip-flops between almost silent and pounding drums that make me certain I’m currently being attacked despite being paused in a single player game), it’s still responsibly for most of the peace and relaxation I’ve had. And that’s only possible because I got it on the Switch. Since I can go from unpacking my Switch to playing DOOM in thirty seconds, I’m much more willing to spend my five or fifteen minute breaks on it. Also, if I know I’m going to play it more, I just leave the game running and put my Switch to sleep so it only takes five seconds to get back to playing. It’s way easier to enjoy on the Switch than it’d be on my computer, even if the gameplay is more of a challenge without the precise control of a mouse.

If you’re looking for a game to play, I recommend DOOM, but only if you hate demons and don’t mind excessive violence against the worst things imaginable. Most of the game is demons and over-the-top violence against said demons, so demon lovers or violence haters should probably avoid it. Apparently there’s going to be a sequel to this game eventually, so you should get into this now while it’s still the only modernized DOOM game. Otherwise you’ll be committing to what might be a new video game series rather than just a series of remakes.