Single-Player Holidays

The last thing I mentioned playing was Divinity: Original Sin. I sort of gave up on it. It’s a great game and all, but it’s just too exhausting. I went through two boss fights in a row (SparkMaster 5000 and Radagoth) and both times, luck was the determining factor for success. That’s just not fun. I don’t know how all the people who play tabletop games do it. :)

I last logged into FFXIV on December 22nd, when I got the Christmas bear mount in about twenty minutes in the FFXIV Starlight celebration (I also got the Bard Perform skill, which was underwhelming).

I installed EverQuest II and started a new Conjurer, which seems to be one of the few classes in that game that I like (Warden and Necromancer are the only other two classes I’ve played more than like 5 levels). I had a lot of fun with it until I bought Divinity: Original Sin. I haven’t logged in since.

On January 6th, I finally re-installed ESO after my big SSD crash. This time, I realized that the breadcrumbs I thought had been leading me to Morrowind back in June of last year were not that at all, and I had been following some random quest that was totally unrelated to the expansion. My mistake I guess for thinking that the NPC who ran up to me after I logged in the first time after installing the expansion would actually be giving me a quest related to the expansion. It explained why it felt like it was taking such a long time to get to Vvardenfell. :) This time, I just waypointed right to Seyda Neen and looked around for a bit. It didn’t make much of an impression on me. I didn’t even take a screenshot. The most memorable part was an NPC guard telling me that her talents were being wasted guarding an empty building.

Right before I logged out I noticed that I had mail which had an attachment which I had to consume in order to finally start the quest that led me to Morrowind. It was a pretty convoluted set of steps hidden in a place I rarely look. I read my mail in MMORPGs about as much as I read my mail in real life–not very often. Mail is not a great way to deliver story content to me. I wish they would just put the new quest in my log without me having to do anything.

Anyway, I played ESO for about a half hour and felt like I had seen enough for the forseeable future. Maybe when they launch the new wardrobe system I will log in for another half hour to change my outfit. I don’t know what it is about ESO but I always feel like I’ve already done all of the new and interesting stuff way back in the months around launch time, so there’s never much of a “hook” to draw me into the game. It’s always just … more of the same.

Other than that I have been playing Morrowind (the old one) and Oblivion. I also installed the Skyrim Special Edition (the only other game I bought in the Steam winter sale) but I just can’t play three games simultaneously. It’s hard enough with just two.

Finally, the entire reason I’m writing this post is to test out a new Corsair K55 keyboard I bought to replace my 10+ year-old dying Logitech G110 keyboard. It was still mostly fine for playing games, but anytime I tried to use it to actually type words, for example, into a blog post, the keys would stick and it was just too frustrating to deal with. I got the K55 largely on a recommendation I saw on Keen and Grav–his criteria matched mine pretty closely. Non-mechanical, quiet, full-sized, etc. It “feels” different (the keys feel very tall to me) so it’s going to take a while to get used to, but overall it works fine. The “RGB” flashing disco lights thing is just ridiculous to me, but I was able to set it to a solid color by installing the “manager” tool. It still does a disco strobe thing every time you reboot though. I’m not sure this keyboard feels like it’s really designed for longevity, but we’ll see. (It does not feel any more solid than the old, dead Logitech it replaced.)

Incidentally, the best keyboard I’ve ever used for typing is the MacBook Air chicklet keyboard. My fingers fly across those keys at light speed with almost no effort. This Corsair K55 is a pale shadow of that, but at least it works without the keys sticking.

Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition

I allowed myself to buy one game in the Steam Winter Sale, which was Divinity: Original Sin.

Then, a few hours later, I bought the Skyrim Special Edition, because I saw everyone on Twitter talking about it which reminded me that I wanted to buy that too and, hey, what a coincidence, it was on sale.

But this post is about Divinity: Original Sin. It’s an isometric, turn-based strategy RPG which can trace its ancestry back to games like Baldur’s Gate (the earliest example of this kind that I can think).

I’ve played about 12 hours so far and the short version is: It’s very good, with caveats.

You can zoom in pretty far to take screenshots I guess.

I absolutely love the turn-based combat in this game. I can’t think of any other game I’ve played where I felt like there were so many inventive, strategic options available during combat. It’s better than Dragon Age: Origins and X-COM (the two previous title-holders in my mind.) You can run away, you can duck behind obstacles to avoid ranged attacks, you can throw poison gas grenades, you can knock people down, stun them, set them on fire, freeze them, the list goes on and on. There’s a whole lot more depth than simply picking targets and swinging or shooting at them. So many times I’ve started a fight and thought, “Well I’m dead, I hope I have a recent save game,” and then as the fight goes on turn-by-turn I’m able to work out a way to stay alive and beat the bad guys.

That brings me to my first problem with the game: It is hard. I don’t mind challenging games, and even relish them when I feel like I’m being treated fairly as a gamer (see: the Dark Souls series). The issue with D:OS is that the outcome of fights depends a lot on random chance, which can be very frustrating. It feels very unfair at times, and it’s irritating. An entire fight could turn on whether you happen to get a critical hit or if a spell happens to fail at a pivotal moment. There is a whole lot of re-loading from your saved games. There is one early boss (SparkMaster 5000) where I saved my game after practically every turn during the fight, so I wouldn’t have to go back and start over again.

Get used to seeing this…

Not only is the combat hard, but the puzzles are fairly challenging too. Completing story quests is more than simply running from person to person and talking to them. You have to explore and find hidden things and bring them to the right people to trigger the right dialog options that will advance the story. It’s a bit frustrating at times because you feel like you have to be doing it right, but because you didn’t do some other little thing first, it didn’t trigger the NPCs in the way they need to be triggered. I have already visited a number of wikis to try to figure out why I couldn’t proceed on some quests (with mixed results–I wish there were more web sites that gave “little hints” instead of “full walkthroughs.”).

Twin Dungeons puzzle

I mentioned saved games: This is a game that leans heavily on saved games for recovering from failure states. If you’re like me, you may have gotten used to games that save for you, and never let you get into a situation so bad that you can’t recover from it. This is not one of those games. Save often. Like, every turn, if need be. Personally I think this is a game design flaw, but I’m willing to admit it could just be my preference. Before server-side games existed, a lot of single-player games (maybe all of them?) were designed around loading and saving game progress.

Another important part of any RPG is the story that it tells. Divinity: Original Sin is “okay” in this regard so far. I find the characterizations a little bit too jokey for my tastes. This is definitely not intended to be a weighty epic fantasy world that you immerse yourself in, it’s more of a tongue-in-cheek wink-and-nod-to-the-audience kind of fantasy. The voice acting is very cartoonish and over-the-top and the accents range all over the map from standard British fantasy voices all the way to American and Texas or New Orleans accents. I personally find them very interesting to listen to, but they do not serve to immerse me in the story at all.

Still haven’t figured out what to do with these. :)

There is a bit of a “twist” fairly early on that takes the story in a completely different, unexpected direction. If you’ve played the game before, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. It raises the stakes from a run-of-the-mill murder mystery into more of an end-of-the-world scenario. I didn’t care for it. I had settled into the story the way it had been going and found myself sufficiently invested in it to keep moving forward, but the new direction felt extremely random and distracting. Fortunately it turns out to be more of a background plot that I assume will come into play later in the game, if I ever get there.

But overall, I’d recommend it. All those people who said this was a fantastic game back in 2014 were not delusional.