The Way of the Wang

It wasn’t that long ago I was singing the praises of Shadow Warrior. I believe I picked up a copy of the game via Humble Bundle, and wanted to play this remake of the old 3D Realms classic because it hearkened back to a day when FPS games didn’t take themselves so seriously. Like a bastard stepchild, Shadow Warrior wasn’t quite as popular as the studio’s major hit, Duke Nukem 3D, but shared the same game engine and tongue in cheek humor. It seems though that the bastard stepchild has taken to the forefront in this new generation, as we can all recall the lackluster performance of the Duke revival. Shadow Warrior was an instant classic, and was one of the best FPS games I had played that year. I did an episode by episode playthrough up until some sort of data loss (I believe my computer took a shit) meant I had to forgo writing more. Needless to say I was fond of the title.

Enter Shadow Warrior 2. I knew it was coming, it had been on my wishlist for quite some time. My past birthday came along, and my father gifted me a copy of the sequel. I dove in right away, and instantly knew it was going to be a great experience. Taking the formula from the original title and expanding upon it, the game mixes first person martial arts combat (complete with some basic combo mechanics that result in more powerful abilities) and more traditional FPS concepts seemlessly. Feeling more like a Borderlands title, the game now boasts 4 player co-op, semi-open world areas and a color coding system for rarity when considering both gear and mobs. There are main story quests and side missions to get lost in. There is an upgrade system for your Chi powers and now also a card system that allows for additional perks. Weapons can also be slotted with various relics giving bonus stats. In some cases it feels a little messy, and in other cases it’s pretty cool being able to enhance the gear you get throughout the game. Rather than just being stuck with whatever the developers throw at you throughout the course of a story, now you can pick and choose your loadout and tweak that to your heart’s content. Sounds like a winning proposition to me.

Graphically the game appears on par with the original. One part I can note that is lacking is in most of the character models. Enemies look well and good, but some of the NPCs you’ll encounter look pretty shitty. But who cares? You don’t really pay all that much attention to the storyline or what’s going on, you just shoot shit and move on to the next thing. At least, that’s how I do it. The gameplay is a blast, switching off between wacky weapons and using different ninja tricks, you’ll be swinging more than just one liners. It feels smooth and refined, and I don’t notice framerate dips.

Overall it’s a worthy successor to the original remake (oxymoron, that). I’ve had this draft sitting around for a long time and needed some writing inspiration. Since I only touched the first couple of hours of the game, I figured this was something worth sharing, and I’m going to try and finish it off soon and give my full, final impression. Regardless, I recommend the title to fans of the first, and those who enjoy goofy FPS games like Borderlands. Here’s some screens in case you’d like to know what it looks like:

New and Noteworthy

While browsing Steam recently I came across some titles in my discover queue that immediately stood out to me. That’s rare given the steady lineup of greenlit nonsense and semi-porn Japanese games Steam is usually trying to recommend to me. Given the fact that both of these games happened to be on sale at reasonable prices, I thought I’d give them a go. Yes, I know I bitch about my backlog constantly, but such is my nature to go against the grain and such. In one case the game is in Early Access (which tends to come with considerable risk) and the other is an indie project that harkens back to the 8-bit days of my youth. Both appealed to me in different ways, and both would certainly not be for everyone. But as eclectic as my taste can be, you can rest assured that both come with my seal of approval. Whatever that’s worth.

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As a fairly avid 4x fan, Northgard stood out to me as one of those Early Access titles that looks like it has some real work done to it, and appears to have the broad spectrum of the game in place, only allowing players to test things out as they are developed. I don’t see anything wrong with this, as titles such as Darkest Dungeon were played by many through its tenure in Early Access. I’m one of those people who ends up buying into Early Access and then usually only dips his toes til closer to completion (or upon release of a desired feature). So I will probably not dive too deeply but what I saw was very promising. Take a look:

So there are 3 factions with 2 more listed as coming soon. Each has it’s own positive and negative aspects, depending on the sort of focus you want to have in the game. It has the basics of 4x covered, but feels more like a mixture between say, Civilization VI and Banished. Winter is definitely coming my friends. And she is not kind. The 4x similarities are present in the familiar hex grid, and some simple portions of city management; exploring is imperative and you at times need to exterminate some of the local flora and fauna. I assume you too will battle the other AI, and a multiplayer version of the game is in the works, so that’s promising. There is also a planned Campaign, which I assume will have a story line to follow with similar mechanics.

Where the game takes a turn from the norm when it comes to 4x games, is that the resources are sort of a careful balancing act. I know when I was playing Banished I couldn’t make it past a winter or two because I wasn’t “getting” the flow of the game. I came to understand it over time, but it’s not something you usually have to worry about until the citizens start rioting. Each hex has certain resources and an allotment for buildings. This means planning what buildings you need to expand needs to be well thought out, and done properly. You only get workers every so often as long as things are going well, and you can only assign them to certain roles, so choosing wisely and expanding carefully is the only way to go. I didn’t really follow that theme in the game that I played, but it still would be sound advice after learning what not to do myself. I know what to do going into the next game. Lastly, the individual units can be independently controlled, more like a traditional RTS game. So it really feels like a marriage of multiple strategy game subgenres that I enjoy. Can’t wait to see what they add to the game.

This game came out of nowhere for me. To be completely honest, I didn’t play the original game, River City Ransom on the NES. I remember seeing it in magazines and wishing I owned it, but must have forgotten to ask for it for Christmas. Something. Years later I played and loved an emulated version. I don’t think I ever completed that game, now that we’ve mentioned it. Alas. So here comes a spiritual successor that is essentially done up in the original graphical style. If you played the original 8-bit version, this will look immediately familiar. However, it appears that they made the introductory level look spot on, and then you can see some tweaks in the engine (probably a byproduct of much better technology) that make the “new” game stand apart just a bit. I like what I’ve seen, and perhaps you’ll see what I mean in the following screens:

I feel like there’s a difference there, but again, it’s subtle. Overall, the gameplay is just the same as you remembered, though I’m pretty sure there are a few extra buttons available this go round. I loved the combat, it’s stupid but makes sense, and has that same weird AI timing from back in the day. After a few minutes you’ll figure out the rhythm. Perhaps that’s just muscle memory from decades ago, coming back to life. The cool thing about the game is it’s sort of like a dumb teenage fighting anime but then plays like a regular old beat-em-up while also having a touch of RPG elements and even a new game + to keep things fresh. Seems like a promising addition to my collection. I’d recommend checking both of these games out!

Mini Impressions: February Humble Monthly

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These days months just seem to fly by. It feels like New Years was a couple of weeks ago, but here we are coming up on March already. Soon it will be summer and we can all bitch about how damn hot it is. But for now, let’s focus on the newest round of Humble Monthly entries. I did this post last month and figured it’s a good way to keep me trying out newish games and writing about them. This month I don’t have nearly as much to share, but I’ll explain why. Let’s take a look at the list of games included this month:

X-COM 2
Ryse: Son of Rome
ABZU
Steamworld Heist
Okhlos
Project Highrise
Husk

Just like every other month since I started subscribing to the service (since May of last year), there are some titles included that I already own, and some that I’m just plain not interested in. This isn’t something new, but only slightly annoying as most months there is at least one game worth my time where I feel like I got my $12 worth for the month. Honestly, I pay the same amount for other monthly services (like my bank that likes charging me a service fee to hold my money and use it as they see fit until I want it back) so it’s always worth the investment despite having some dry months where I’m completely unimpressed. This month would have been fantastic, had I not already owned the two best games included (this is my opinion at least). That seems to always be the case though, so again I’m not upset about it.

X-COM 2 was the early unlock for the month, and I picked it up rather early in January, mainly because my Dad’s birthday was coming up and it’s a great game that I figured he would enjoy. I already have it along with all of the DLC so it was great as a gift and it served its purpose. If you haven’t played X-COM 2, it’s more of the same as the first game that re-started the series a couple of years back, but improves the formula in a number of ways. It’s been out for over a year so you probably have already heard all you need to hear, but I’d recommend it again anyway.

Ryse: Son of Rome is a pretty typical action game. It reminds me of games like God of War, those that I’ve not really played or enjoyed since I was young. I played plenty of beat-em-up games throughout the years, and this feels like a natural 3-D and more “mature” version of those titles from yesteryear. I’m just not really into these types of games. Sure, a title like Uncharted or other games that are shooters are essentially the same time of game, but I prefer the stories and nature of shooting over the wonky button mashing of games like Ryse. I didn’t play it much, and probably will never play it to its end, but it’s a bit on the meh side. If that’s your thing, or if you have a teenager who thought 300 was the best movie ever made, you might get some value out of this.

I didn’t even redeem the code for ABZU. I remember Eri talking about this one when it released and we were still doing the podcast, but looking at the store page on Steam I could tell it’s a game I just wouldn’t play. Not my cup o’ tea. With that said, you might enjoy it, so I’d recommend looking it up. I should also notate that the same went for Project Highrise, which is one of those building management games I have never really been into. Sim City was a title that never really grabbed me, save to just build a city and hit it with natural disasters. So again, I’d use your own discretion when looking up these two titles. My opinion is nil.

Okhlos was a weird looking title that actually tickled my fancy a bit. You basically start off with one character, gather up a mob, and let the mob do your dirty work for you. Mobs get balanced by collecting different types of people hanging out in the level. You’ll eventually be able to trade some of those mob members in for heroes that provide different buffs. It’s a random and weird pixellated game that was fun to play, but nothing that you’re going to play for years.

Steamworld Heist is the other game I already owned. I picked it up once it was available on PS4 and nearly completed it before being distracted by other shiny new games. It’s a pretty awesome turn based strategy game with familiar characters from the Steamworld Dig title that came before it. I’d recommend this one to anyone who likes strategy games… it’s pretty long and very entertaining.

Lastly, the game Husk. I don’t really even know what to say about this one. It’s trying to be a first person horror game, but it starts slow and feels unfinished. Apparently the devs have had similar feedback from those who bought the game and they are “working on fixes and improvements.” I don’t think I’m going to wait around for that day. You might like it, but it did not impress. Resident Evil 7 is definitely worth your time in comparison.

The early unlock for March was Total War: Warhammer, and I’ve had that on my wishlist for a long time. Was just waiting for the right sale to hit, and $12 for the game is a smoking deal as it’s still $60 on Steam. However, there are multiple DLCs out, and no sort of package that brings them all together. I’ve nickled and dimed them all to this point, which felt like a bit of a rip-off, but it is what it is. I have enjoyed what I’ve played so far, and it has definitely made March a better month than February without even seeing the rest of the bundle.

That’s my two cents at least.

State of the Game: Resident Destiny, Evil Fantasy XV

sotg

For a long time it was difficult to find a happy medium when it came to gaming. I was either knee deep is some story-rich RPG, or for a time I was playing one MMO at a time and little to nothing else. I played nothing but MOBAs and other lobby-based competitive games for a long period of time, and I still dip my toes into new entries in all of these genres. I have always been a little wishy washy or fickle in nature, so I’ve always gone in waves where I delve deeply into one genre, grow tired of its tropes and move on to something new. I usually come back around time and again, but with that bits of real life interspersed I will also go in waves where I don’t play as much. Having other hobbies like Magic also take away from gaming, but provide valuable face time with real people. It seems that over the years I have found myself becoming neurotic over purchases made, my backlog and/or spending all of my time on one game. When I was hosting the Couch Podtatoes Podcast, it made sense for me to be on top of all the sales and play the newest games, because people who were listening to the show weren’t there to hear us drone on and on about the same game. There are game specific podcasts for a reason, and if that’s the only game you play then that podcast would probably suit you better. This isn’t to say I had a massive audience, but the people who were listening were expecting Eri to have a list of new Indie games to rave about and I’d typically have some list of recent big titles to hype up. It became our thing but also part of the stress I put on myself to actually play these games but also work and have a social life. It became a trying thing, and eventually something have to give. As such, the podcast is no more (but I long to produce another) and I’ve reduced my output on the blog. I’ve put more time into social outings (like Magic) and have actually started to get into somewhat of a routine, finding the balance to be not exactly to my liking but better for my individual personality on the whole.

The result of that stream of consciousness drivel above is that I’m in a happy head-space these days; the self-induced pressure to perform to some inhuman standard no longer rests on my shoulders. I suppose this should should have been a rant better saved for some other post, but the words keep flowing so I’m going to continue on anyway. Don’t worry, I have games to discuss in a moment. The gist of it all is that I’ve found some sort of happy medium where I’ve managed to have a few days a week to myself to game away and make progress on more than one game, and I don’t feel as guilty about the laundry list of games I haven’t completed. In many cases, I’ve cleared out games from the backlog simply because the titles weren’t engaging. If I’ve played a game for a few hours and it’s not grabbing me, I’m not pushing myself to finish it. Uninstalling has been a great weight off of my mind. There are still too many titles that I’ve procured during sales that I need to get to, and games that I currently enjoy are constantly pushing DLC down my throat (Total War Warhammer was the early unlock for next month’s Humble Monthly, but getting all of the DLC for the game was pricey… I also picked up the 3 DLC packs for Civ VI… sigh) but if I’ve already seen what I need to see, I’m okay with letting some lie in the pile. I have been making progress on more than one game here recently though, so let’s get this State of the Game on the road, shall we?

The three games I’ve put the most time into this past couple of weeks are Resident Evil 7, Destiny, and Final Fantasy XV. Yeah, the latter was finally on sale for $20 off so I picked it up. It looked too damn cool to pass up, and I’m glad I made the purchase. Despite having an RPG (Destiny) I was already working my way through, I didn’t want to miss the sale and I’m nearing the end of Destiny so that one will soon be out of my steady rotation.

I finally hit level 40 the other night on my Hunter, and managed to also complete The Taken King expansion (outside of raids). One thing that immediately stood out to me as being sort of fucked up is that despite playing through the whole game to that point, I only had a light level of 208 after finishing TTK, while Rise of Iron requires a minimum light level of 280… which means grinding for light before I even get to finish the storyline. Out of curiosity, I loaded up my Warlock who was level 7, and used the level 40 boost on him. He got a pile of blue gear, that gave him a light level of 280, just in time to run through RoI. So at this point I’m questioning whether or not I want to continue to level my Hunter until 280 light and then move on to the new expansion, or just play the Warlock through the new storyline and call it quits. Honestly I’m at the point where I’m pretty much done with the game, especially with Destiny 2 supposedly dropping this year. I’d almost rather save the effort and just quit now so I can jump into the sequel on the ground floor (and not wait until the end of its lifecycle like I did with the first game). I do want to see RoI though, as I did pay for the priviledge. I suppose we’ll see how it goes and how sucked into these other games I get. Here’s some pics of progress:

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Resident Evil is one hell of an experience. I have only played for a few short hours, but it is screenshot gold. I don’t really have much to share, and these pictures will likely be spoilery, but damn if it isn’t visceral. I will give a final impression once I’ve completed it, but if you like scary games you absolutely need to do yourself a favor and buy this. VR not required (but likely to require a diaper!).

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Last but not least, as I mentioned I picked up Final Fantasy XV. I’ve been a fan of the FF series for a long time, with some stand out favorites were Tactics, 6, 7 and 9. I actually recently bought the FF9 port because I didn’t get to finish that one back in the PS1 days. FF7 will always be incredible and I still can’t wait for the remake. Tactics is my all time favorite just because I loved the setting and the gameplay. 6 is a classic that would also be great for a remake. I have played most of the others classic titles, but for some reason lost touch with the series during the PS2 era. I never played X, XI, XII or XIII. XIV was a decent MMO that unfortunately came at a time when I wasn’t really into MMOs. With that said, I was really impressed with XV when it was revealed and knew it was a game I wanted to play. After it released and I read some reviews, I knew I’d purchase it. I told myself I wouldn’t buy it when it was $60 because I couldn’t rightly justify the cost knowing I have other deep RPGs sitting on my hard drives. But $20 off? Yeah, I’ll buy that. Overall the game is completely different than any FF game I’ve played, and that’s not a bad thing. Having more of an open world is a nice touch (though I hear it becomes fairly linear later in the game) and I love the main characters and their banter. The combat system is awesome, if not a little confusing at first. After a few battles though, it really takes off. I look forward to seeing this one to its end, and will really start powering through it once Destiny is off of my list. Here are some pics of the early game:

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That’s all for this edition. Happy gaming!

The War Report: Theorycrafting – Commander

mtg

In this segment of The War Report, we come back to the topic of Commander. As I mentioned in the last edition, I had only recently discovered this other format so I purchased a Commander 2015 pre-built deck named “Call the Spirits.” It was interesting enough, but after the first round of playtesting I found that there were some cards that felt lacking, and in some cases I had better standard format cards. I also knew that there were new mechanics added with the 2016 pre-built Commander decks, so I picked up “Open Hostility.” Upon playing with those two decks with a regular group game we’ve been having nearly every weekend, it seems that both had room to grow. That’s one of the major benefits to buying the starter decks, as they give you an idea of what you can do, and they you can customize as you see fit (while sidebording the original cards just in case you play someone out of the normal group or against a new deck).

For my first round of improvements, I sorted through my collection of cards and picked out those that I wasn’t using but recognized as being powerful in this new format. When playing Standard, you’ll typically want to keep the mana costs of your cards under 5, and if you do have any 5+ mana cards, they better be game-breaking. This isn’t the case with Commander. Having more health, more cards, Singleton rules, and multiple opponents mean the games are slowed down considerably. Don’t get me wrong, there were games where we had each other whittled down through various means and someone started making killing blows rather quickly. The usual state of the game is much slower than that example, or Standard (probably much slower than Modern and other modes) and that means your mana curve goes up. Essentially there are more mana in the deck, more mana fixing lands/artifacts, and because of the slower ramp up in power distributed across the board you will be able to use cards that cost 5+ mana. In fact, a large percentage of the cards tend to be that much, because games last long enough to have tons of mana to play with. In one game I managed to drop a spell that did 26 damage to another player and heal me for that much — he ended up winning the game too! There are so many other possibilities with this and I have barely begun to scratch the surface.

That said, I decided to put an order in to Troll & Toad. I received my haul today, which was part power cards (rares and mythics that are super nice but hard to procure from packs and cost a few bucks a piece depending on perceived value and strength in the game) that I had on my wish list, and some that were from older sets I haven’t played to this point but would fit into these two Commander decks. Let’s check out what I picked up:

emrakul

Apparently Emrakul is something of a big deal. I hadn’t heard of him, but I missed the introduction of the Eldrazi (though I have seen some of the newer variants from the Eldritch block). He had some previous versions that were all overpowered and banned from competitive play, and this particular Standard-legal version of him has recently been banned as well. As such, the asking price for this card dropped dramatically and he was a wishlist purchase that is still playable in Commander, so he now has a use! He’s got a crazy ability where you get to play out your turn then play an opponent’s turn for them (hopefully winning you the match or at least causing a good bit of chaos in a multiplayer game). Not to mention being a 13/13 flying trample that has protection from instants. Can’t wait to drop him on the board.

sorin-lord

I purchased a Sorin, Grim Nemesis for my Lifegain deck, but it just so happens that he’s a powerful card that would fit into the black/white commander deck. It just so happens that there are multiple versions of him that could potentially do me some good in this other format where the cards are legal to play. This one costs less than Nemesis, but is obviously less powerful. Still, more options on the board and an ability to kill other Planeswalkers is a great utility.

sorin-solemn

These were the only two versions of this guy that were inexpensive enough to buy. Believe me there were plenty of power cards from throughout the years that I would love to buy, but collecting some of the old stuff is just not going to happen. Apparently there is another set called “Modern Masters” that reprints some decent cards that are Modern legal (something I’m interested in looking into once my current decks start to lose cards from the current rotation) but that’s a tale for another day. This version of Sorin has a nice ult that forces opponents to sacrifice creatures each turn, so yeah more options.

vraska

The other Planeswalker I couldn’t resist purchasing. Vraska is a character I hadn’t heard of to this point, but her ultimate ability is phenomenal if used properly. This one has to fit into my 4-color deck, but packs a nasty punch. Dropping 3 1/1 creatures onto the board that will instantly kill a player if they do damage to them? It may be tough to get those 1/1’s to break through, but I’m going to figure out at way to make this viable in the deck. If nothing else, it’s a fuckin’ cool card man.

perdition

Another Standard legal pickup, I’m unsure which deck I will use this in. I’m thinking the 2-color deck, but it will fit in either. Regardless, being able to potentially make this creature a 40/40 defender while simultaneously lowering another player’s life total to 13 is just cruel. It’s only getting countered by a counterspell or a direct form of destruction. No puny lightning bolts taking out this guy, no sir.

decimator

Another fearsome looking Eldrazi, this guy packs a punch. He leans towards being placed in the 4-color deck because of his cheaper emerge cost, but could still be played viably for 10 mana in the format. A 7/7 trample haste that gives the rest of your creatures +2/+2 and trample? All-in bro.

herald

This card is two fold. I wanted to drop it into my mono-black Standard deck, and also wanted to throw him into one of the commander decks. He’s a 5/5 flyer that forces discard and can potentially 1 shot weenies. He goes along with the theme of the mono-black, where the creatures are all Aetherborn or Demon, as does the Demon of Dark Schemes I’m thinking of pairing with him once I make these changes to the Commander decks.

behold

This one is Standard legal but I’m going to use it for Commander. If played when you have little to no cards, it’s a great trade to get some options.

basker

This guy is brand new, and though my 4-color deck doesn’t use any sort of energy, he can use it himself and probably should before removal gets him. Still, a 7/7 trample is hard to avoid, and if used with a token deck (which mine happens to be) he could potentially get a huge swing in on his 2nd turn out, if he doesn’t get destroyed first.

eternal

Moving on from Mythics, here’s a pretty sweet Rare that will beef up one of these decks nicely. Despite the fact that you’ll use many more high mana cost cards in Commander, you still need a few low cost ones, though they usually have to stand out from the crowd. I feel this one does. Whenever it becomes target of a spell or ability, it goes into exile. You get to play it again on your next turn (if you choose) from exile. A 3/3 for 3 mana that comes back every turn? Yes please.

defiance

Part of the Collective series (each new set has something like this, where it will thematically tie in with each color and have a different version; see the “expertise” line from Aether Revolt), this card is just a nice form of removal for a decent price and worth slotting into the 4-color deck.

yahennis

This is the current series similar to the one I explained above. I already had a copy of Yahenni’s Expertise, but I figured another couldn’t hurt. Most of these cards I purchase can be played in multiple decks. It won’t kill off much in Commander, save for most commanders themselves and token creatures. The real benefit is being able to drop a 3 cost card for free (like that Eternal Scourge from earlier).

rishkars

Another one of the expertise cards, but for my 4-color deck, which typically has out quite a few creatures allowing for some nice card draw, along with dropping a 5 mana cost card for free. That’s gonna be nice.

rise

And finally, the only uncommon that I picked up this time around. This card is going to come in handy. See, the guys I play with have access to a bunch of cards in their collections, as they hadn’t sold off old ones or forgotten the hobby like I did. As such, they tend to have some cool cards that don’t exist anymore or at least have a new variant that is effectively the same but worse in some way. This one will help even the odds, as quite a few awesome cards end up in graveyards, and I can throw them right onto the battlefield for only 5 mana. Perfect for commander.

So I think I’ve made some decent improvements. I will have to get back to playtesting to see how well these cards perform. All in all I think I have been most successful during the game nights we’ve had recently. I know last night I played 3 rounds and won two. Last weekend I believe we played 2 and I won one. Perhaps I’ve broken even. Either way, I’m loving this game and I’m glad to be back into it.