Finally Finishing up Assassin's Creed II

Over the weekend I decided to press on with the Assassin’s Creed series, since I rounded out my AC game collection in the last Steam sale, picking up Brotherhood, Revelations, and AC3. I played AC2 last year but for some reason I just stopped in the middle. I decided that I should finish it before I went on to the next game so I wouldn’t miss any of the cool story stuff.

I didn’t think it would take very long, but good lord, it doesn’t ever end. It turned out I was only on like Sequence 4 or 5 out of 14. Even ignoring side quests and sticking to the main storyline, I still didn’t finish it. I love just about everything about AC, but sometimes it gets a little tedious running around from place to place when you just want to get through it.

On another note, I finally picked up an Xbox controller because I got sick of trying to translate the ABXY buttons displayed on the screen into the square, triangle, circle, whatever buttons on the PS3 controller I normally used. AC was definitely made for a controller, but before now, I’ve always played it with keyboard-mouse controls. The controller is a lot easier.

The Walking Dead Game Episode 3

Finished The Walking Dead (game) Episode 3. This one seemed considerably longer and to drag a bit more than the previous two. There were times when I just wanted it to move forward without having to go through the adventure-style puzzle solving. In those times I would say that the gameplay was getting in the way of the story.

I’m thinking in particular of a time on the train toward the end of the episode, when you had to get a map, but someone was in the way and wouldn’t move, so you had to find a way to get him to move on his own, but I didn’t really realize that’s what I was supposed to be doing, and the way you had to do it was pretty convoluted and strange.

Two more episodes to go! What will they find in Savannah??

The Walking Dead Game Bites

The Walking Dead on Steam

Ha ha! Wasn’t that hilarious? Anyway I’m currently bored to death with all existing MMOs, so I’ve turned to my Steam library to find a game that will hold my attention for more than a few hours.

I tried Rogue Legacy, which the GWJ people raved about. I can see why they liked it, but it’s basically a side-scrolling platformer and I’ve never liked platformers. It would take me a long time to get the hang of the controls, and at least in the first hour of play, I didn’t see where there’s any reward for spending the time to learn the controls.

I tried Torchlight II because I liked the first one, but it’s basically the same game, and it’s still that Diablo-style isometric view that I dislike in general (because the view of your surroundings is so limited).

Then I checked out The Walking Dead, which was recently on sale. This game is riveting and good. Well, let me amend that: The *story* is riveting and good. The game itself is not all that interactive; basically, you occasionally get to pick the direction that the story goes (usually in the form of picking who to help). Depending on your actions, the story will unfold differently, or different people will become friends or enemies.

I found that TWD works best with a controller. I say that mainly because you cannot change the default WASD movement keys and I did not want to use those. The only things you can really do to interact with the game is move your guy (sometimes), select a dialog option, or mouse over objects on the screen and interact with them, sort of Myst-style. It’s a bit awkward to mouse-over things with the controller, but still easily doable.

Firefall Founder By Accident

I played a fair amount of Firefall over the weekend, which they are still saying is in Open Beta, driven mainly by boredom with everything else I’ve been playing. After you go to an Internet guide and read up on what it is you’re actually supposed to *do* in the game, it’s a bit more fun.

Of course, that means the game itself is not providing any bread crumbs for the player, which one could argue is poor design. Previously I would log in and play around with battle suits during character creation, then it would set me down in the starting zone of Copacabana and I’d think to myself, “Okay, now what? Nobody is giving out quests.” Then I got bored running around looking for somebody to give me something to do and exited.

Funny story. I’m only playing Firefall again because I accidentally became a Founder. I actually wanted to get into the WildStar beta, because everyone’s talking about how it’s going to be the next great MMO, so I went searching to see if there was a way to pre-pay and get into the beta, like so many other games let you do. (Because game “betas” are usually just a way to get people to pre-pay for early access, as opposed to giving the developers a chance to test the game.) So I did some searching and found a page to become a founder and happily forked over $50 to unlock the beta … then I realized I had actually been on the Firefall website, not WildStar. And even more annoying was that I already had beta access for Firefall, and had already decided it wasn’t for me.

But after reading a quick guide and playing the game for a few hours, it turns out that there is more of an RPG element to this game than I originally expected. I thought it was just a Tribes clone, but there’s actually a big PvE element as well. It’s sort of a CoD-style of character progression, though. You don’t get loot from monsters exactly, but you get pieces and parts from which you can make or buy loot back at the towns. (“Loot” in this game is in the form of upgrades for your battle suit or whatever it’s called.)

I seriously doubt if I’ll play Firefall for very long, but maybe I’ll get a week of entertainment out of it.


Taurus Demon Down

I finally defeated the second boss in Dark Souls. I say "finally" because I spent quite a lot of time wandering around dying in the Undead Burg, leveling up with the meager amounts of souls I could accumulate from the skeletons there, and gathering bits and pieces of gear. I feel like I know the stretch of the map between the campfire and the boss like the back of my hand now. Two skeletons, run across bridge, three skeletons, up stairs, three skeletons, up the tower, one skeleton sniper, down the stairs, two skeletons and a tough dude, then another skeleton comes running down, and then you’re going up the spiral stairs to the boss area.

I killed the boss on the second try, although I don’t think the first one counted and one could possibly argue that I didn’t technically "kill" him the second time either. On the first attempt, I zapped him with my bolts, ran past him, zapped him some more, then ran past him back toward the ladder, when I suddenly had the brilliant idea to run up the ladder and rain bolts on him from above. That’s when I discovered that the boss climbs up to the top of the tower and squashes you.

On the second try I stayed on the ground, kept my distance, and shot him with sorcerer bolts. I was down to the point where one more shot would have killed him as he was running toward me. I didn’t think I would have enough time to fire again so I decided to be safe and run past him again, and naturally I managed to dodge through a hole in the wall and fell to my death. I was about to blow a gasket when I saw that the boss for some reason jumped down after me and killed himself. A slightly unsatisfying kill, but nevertheless it earned me the loot and allowed me to reach the next campfire. Which, ironically, turned out to be the same campfire as the last one.

By the way, I am playing exclusively with a PS3 controller now.

Dark Souls on the PC

I watched some very amusing "Let’s Play" videos of two of the GWJ guys playing Dark Souls, and decided that I finally needed to get this "killer" game. By killer I mean it has a reputation of being mercilessly difficult. So I got the "Prepare to Die" PC version from Steam.

Okay. So yeah, it’s hard. But it’s not hard in the way you might think. It’s hard because the controls and camera management are impossibly obtuse for a PC game, at least initially. I’m used to playing with mouse-and-keyboard, but the mouse-and-keyboard controls for this game are just horrible. It doesn’t even hide the Windows pointer. So you really have no choice but to play with the keyboard only, where in addition to the normal WASD controls on the left, your right hand has WASD-style controls on the right side of the keyboard, which controls your camera view and target-lock. It’s a bit awkward, to say the least.

So of course you tend to die a lot – not because the first encounters are particularly hard, but because you can’t figure out which key or combination of keys to press to dodge, swing your sword, run, block, turn around, or whatever. The built-in hints are no help at all since they are all for the Xbox 360 controller.

And actually, the first boss is pretty hard. During the brief tutorial section while you’re learning which buttons to press, you run into a boss almost right away. At first you think, okay, well this guy looks tough, but even though he looks big and formidable, he’s probably one of those massive bosses with only a tiny health because if the game puts me here so soon, then I must be able to defeat him with my meager skills and equipment, right? Nope. He smashes you in one or two blows, and your fist punches do not even scratch his health bar. It turns out you’re supposed to run around him to a side door.

But then after you pick up a shield and weapon and go through a few more tips and tutorials, you end up facing that boss again. You might think you’d have a better chance to kill him, but no, not really. On the second try you at least have something besides bare fists, but basically you have to keep dodging him and plinking him with your ranged ability. At least, that’s what I did with my sorcerer. I can’t imagine surviving a melee encounter.

Since the keyboard-only controls are pretty awful, I decided to see if I could get a PS3 controller to work. I did – eventually, using a slightly dubious, ad-riddled driver thingy called MotioninJoy – but I’m not sure if it’s an improvement. Movement is much more intuitive, but I don’t know if the buttons make things any easier. I should probably just stick with the controller.

I’m not sure why I want to keep playing this game, other than the perverse challenge of it, and just to say that I did. It is a neat-looking game, and it does have a very old-school RPG feel to it.

Healers and Tanks are like Cats and Dogs

I got into a couple of particularly bad Rift dungeon groups all in one night, and they both basically came down to a fight between the tank and the healer. "You’re a terrible tank" vs. "you’re a terrible healer."

One group was in Realm of the Fae. The tank was a dwarf warrior who clearly didn’t have a tank soul setup, and played with a two-hander generating no threat whatsoever. He didn’t attempt to gather any mobs that got away from him either. He was not good. And the healer not-so-subtley let him know, too. "So we’re going with a two-hander, then?" he said, at the start. But it was RotF, so it didn’t really matter. You can get through RotF with no tanking whatsoever, and we basically did, until we wiped on Twyl at the end and then all the flaming really got started. "I’m so sick of people who don’t know what they’re doing!" yells the healer. For god’s sake, it’s the very first dungeon. Chill out.

Another group was in Darkening Deeps. Unfortunately, you can’t waltz through DD like you can RotF, and for some reason I get a perverse pleasure in watching people’s reaction to this. This tank announced that he was new to DD, but he still felt comfortable enough to play the "I’m the tank so I’m in charge" card. Usually not a problem, except it was slightly annoying when he stopped on the way down the spiral to tell us not to pull mobs before him, while we’re being bombarded by the canon thingy. Yes, yes, fine, now *move* before we all die listening to your speech!

We got to the bottom and faced the first boss – and the tank proceeds to get one-shotted, to everyone’s befuddlement. I thought it was funny. We tried again, and the tank didn’t quite get one-shotted but still died pretty quick. We should have been able to kill the boss anyway but we fell just short each time, mainly because the rest of the party wasn’t exactly top notch. In retrospect, in my support role I should have reverted to full healing, but I still kept up DPS, mistakenly thinking the healer would be able to, you know, heal.

At this point I’m thinking holy crap, I’ve never seen this happen before, even in the expert version. It was a special combination of a bad tank, bad healer, and standing in fire. Of course, the tank says, "wtf heal me!" The healer says, "wtf I healed you and you still died!" As I’m debating whether to comment that there’s some fire you shouldn’t stand in, the tank vote-kicks the healer and the party agreed. (I didn’t vote.) Before I could say, "yo it might be a while before a new healer queues" he was out of there.

Personally I was more inclined to side with the healer – this tank was getting blown up and didn’t have much health (I think around 1800). And he was standing right in the Bombard AoE. And he had that annoying tank ego on top of it. On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of healers heal through DD damage, so that healer was not exacting tearing up the place.

Now here’s the funny part. We eventually got another healer in. We got all setup and ready to go again after much discussion and role changing so that we had *two* healers so we could handle this massive damaging boss. (Even though I was in support, nobody asked *me* to do any healing, so I just went full DPS.) We go for it – and the tank dies again. This time, though, we still managed to kill the boss anyway. (How could we not with two healers??) That seemed like pretty conclusive evidence that the healing was only part of the problem, but I kept my mouth shut lest I too be kicked for challenging the tank’s authority. After that it was a very slow crawl through the rest of the dungeon, but eventually we finished it.

On another topic, I’m having some trouble with my lowbie mage. My main 60 mage runs Pyromancer for DPS, as does pretty much everyone else in the game, because it’s the de facto "top DPS" spec. But I wanted to do something different with my lowbie mage – I wanted to explore some of the other souls that I haven’t used much before. Namely Stormcaller, Warlock, and Dominator. As far as I can tell, Dominator still has no usefulness outside of PvP, so that one’s out. That leaves Stormcaller and Warlock, and personally I’d rather work with Stormcaller just because it’s the more obscure of the two.

So far, though, neither Warlock nor Stormcaller seems like much competition with Pyro, based on the anecdotal DPS meter readouts I’ve seen. Granted I haven’t really had a chance to do a fair comparison yet. Next time I think I’m going to try a Stormcaller/Elementalist build with an Air Elemental pet to increase single-target damage.

Newbies in the Lowbie Dungeons

I spent most of the holiday weekend queuing for lowbie dungeons with my new collection of lowbie Defiants.

I’ve realized that I don’t like tanking with a warrior … dealing with the builder/finisher mechanic interferes with focusing on the tanking. Maybe I just need to forget about finishers. Anyway I generally prefer the cleric tank, where you don’t have to really do anything but spam the AoE attack. (I say that knowing full well that you almost never see cleric tanks in raids or expert dungeons. I wouldn’t ever want to be a raid tank anyway.)

Having done RotF and IT now with four different characters in many different roles, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern with the people you see in these first dungeons: A lot of them don’t know what they’re doing. :) This is contrary to what I would have expected, which is that everyone knows these dungeons by heart and speed runs through them.

I assume this is because the game just went f2p and a lot of new people are seeing these places for the first time. These are the DPS mages rolling with their rock pet, the tank warriors rolling with two-handed swords and cat, the DPS warriors rolling with sword and board, and the DPS rogues stealthing around and sapping trash mobs. Worth a chuckle, but harmless. Mostly they just haven’t learned you can setup multiple roles.

But there is another class of people who are just dicking around without the slightest interest in learning to play. Usually it’s a group of them that queued together. They spend most of the dungeon quipping back and forth in all caps and trying to be funny (I guess?) instead of paying any attention to what’s going on. The rest of the party has to carry them through so that their mistakes don’t waste everyone’s time too much. But occasionally their antics ends up wiping the party even in someplace as easy as Realm of the Fae, and then they get all bent out of shape and someone ends up leaving or getting kicked, and I have to put a bunch of names on my ignore list.