Sunday, February 23, 2020

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem

I picked up Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem last week, and I am enjoying it a lot. Wolcen is an ARPG, and it's clear that its developers intended it to be the "Goldilocks" of ARPGs. If Diablo III is too simple, and Path of Exile is too complicated and rigid, Wolcen is clearly aimed at the sweet spot between the two. Wolcen has done a marvelous job hitting its mark.

Wolcen is technically class-less, but there are three main archetypes: caster, rogue/archer, and warrior. Your character can equip any type of gear. You can learn every spell and ability, but abilities require specific weapons to use. For example, you can only cast spells if you use a staff or catalyst. The clever part here is that Wolcen has at least one 1H and 2H version for each archetype. So if you focus on one archetype, say pure caster, you can use the 2H weapon. But you can also combine 1H from two archetypes and use abilities from both. For example, if you use a pistol and a catalyst, you can use both archer abilities and spells. It's a very simple and intuitive system.

Abilities drop from mobs, sort of like POE gems, but you learn them permanently. If they drop again, you gain special currency when you learn them. You can equip 5 or so abilities. Equipped abilities gain experience and level up. As they level up, you unlock talents to modify the abilities like D3 runes. However, these options cost 1, 2, or 3 points (points available depend on ability level). This makes for a lot of different combinations. You can swap abilities and talents whenever you are out of combat.

There are no "primary" attributes. Instead there are 4 secondary attributes: Ferocity which modifies crit chance, Toughness for health, Agility for attack speed, and Wisdom for applying ailments (debuffs). Basically every weapon can do multiple types of damage, and you have a chance to apply an ailment based on the type of damage. You get an overall damage boost from your top 3 attributes. Every level, you get 10 points to distribute. You can reset this for a gold cost.

Wolcen has a skill tree very much like Path of Exile. Only it is much smaller and more focused. Fewer points, and easier to get to the edge, but each point feels like it does more. Wolcen also has the tree divided into rings, and you can rotate the rings so that you can pick which sections you want to focus on. Skills can be completely reset as well, for a secondary currency cost.

I am very happy that Wolcen allows you to respec and change abilities and talents easily. It makes it much easier to experiment, rather than having to start over all the time. I am terrified that Diablo IV will decide to be more like Diablo II and be a lot harder to change things.

There are some other interesting facets. The gem system is a bit more complicated, with specific socket types to get different effects. There's a built-in roll when you press space, which allows you to evade attacks and move around quickly. The basic attack has a built-in charge (which you can turn on and off if you don't want to charge). I really like these options because it means that movement abilities aren't "required", and you can take other abilities if you prefer.

Gameplay is pretty good. It's not quite as smooth as D3, but it's quite enjoyable. The bosses at the end of Acts I and II were pretty difficult. However, you can set the difficulty down to Story mode for just those fights, if you want.

I really like the story. I haven't finished it, I'm just starting Act III. But so far it's been solid, with pretty good voice acting. The female character models are a little weird (super long legs), but they look better in armor and in gameplay. Speaking of armor, I really like the armor design in this game. The cosmetic system is superb.

I'm currently playing a sword-and-shield tank, putting most of my points into Toughness, with a variety of buffs and debuffs. It's a lot of fun.

I should note that Wolcen has had a lot of server issues on launch. Most of which seems to have calmed down now. However, there's an offline mode which is completely functional. I've been playing in offline mode for the most part.

I don't know what the endgame is like, though. Apparently there's some sort of mode where you build up a city or something? I figure I'll worry about that when I get to it.

I am really enjoying Wolcen and highly recommend it. They've hit the sweet spot between simplicity and complexity almost perfectly. It's fun to fiddle around with all the options, try out different talents and builds, but still being able to respec whenever something isn't working out. The game looks good, plays well, and the story is interesting.

For me, the single player campaign is worth the money. If the endgame turns out good, that will be the cherry on top.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Reviewing the EA Origin Access Premier Subscription

My EA Origin Access Premier subscription is coming up for renewal, and I thought I would look back and see whether it was worth it. I originally picked it up a year ago for Anthem.

Perhaps surprisingly, I didn't actually play many games on Origin. But then again, I usually play MMOs, which have their own setup. Games I played:
  • Anthem - Maybe it didn't have the longevity people (and Bioware) wanted but I really enjoyed the campaign, leveling, and messing around for a bit at max level.
  • Torchlight 2 - In the end, I did not like Torchlight 2. On the other hand, I might have purchased it and regretted the purchase.
  • Vampyr - Great game. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.
  • Jedi: Fallen Order - A great Star Wars game. An excellent story.
So four games, two of which were AAA games that I played at launch, which would have cost me the full price. Vampyr, I think I could have found on sale for about 60%, and Torchlight 2 would have been very cheap.

All in all, I think was good value for the money, but not by a whole lot. In hindsight, I think I should have made an effort to play at least one more game from the back catalog. For example, Dragon Age 2 or similar.

So should I renew the subscription? Unlike when I purchased it, there's no major EA game I am anticipating. On the other hand, the track record of the past year seems pretty good. I don't regret purchasing the subscription in the least.

Taking a look at what's new, I see they just put in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. I was thinking about trying that, so maybe I'll just stick with the subscription for now. They're also saying something about making Origin available on Steam, which would simplify things, assuming I can manage to connect the two services.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Control Complete!

This post contains spoilers for Control.

I finished Control the other day. I loved it!

The world-building and atmosphere is superb. The game was just a joy to watch the story unfurl. The characters are varied and great.

The mechanics were pretty good, and they played well. It has just enough customization so that you can pick a playstyle, but not so much that you can mess up your build, and the game becomes unplayable. I ended up using the basic pistol and Launch for most of the game.

Two cautionary notes: first, there is no difficulty setting, and some of the bosses are hard. It seems to be optional side bosses mostly, however. I don't think there were major blockers in the main line. As well, bosses tend to be difficult because they deal a lot of damage in one or two hits. So you have to get good at avoiding taking hits. A fight which is going well can go south quite quickly.

Second, the game is clearly setting up for an expansion, DLC, or sequel. The ending, while tying up the main story and seeing Jesse grow into her position, leaves several important threads dangling. Honestly, though, I'm really looking forward to any new story content.

Control is a great game, and I highly recommend it!

Sunday, January 05, 2020

The Rise of Skywalker

This post contains major spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker. I discuss the ending and everything.

After watching The Rise of Skywalker, my first thought is that the story in Jedi: Fallen Order was a thousand times better than this movie.

I came across a forum post suggesting that The Rise of Skywalker would have been a better movie if Jar-Jar had been in it. After recovering from the shock of such rank heresy, I read the reasoning, and it actually made some sense! The thought was that RoS really needed a single designated comic relief character. That would have had allowed the other characters to be more serious, which would have improved their part in the movie. Instead, everyone other than Rey is trying to be witty and tossing one-liners around, most of which simply do not work. The worst was when C3P0's gallant sacrifice got undercut with a snarky one-liner.

Rise of Skywalker is best summed by this Simpsons clip of Sideshow Bob. RoS is Sideshow Bob, and the rakes are mistakes. The movie just steps from one mistake to the next. Palpatine is a mistake. Palpatine having a thousand Star Destroyers is a mistake. Each of those Star Destroyers being a planet-killer is a mistake. Rey being Palpatine's granddaughter is a mistake. General Hux getting dispatched ignominiously was a huge mistake. (Hux is my favorite character from the trilogy, and it was galling to see him go out like that. Such a waste.) And so on throughout the entire movie.

Truthfully, I just don't like J.J. Abrams movies. I haven't since Star Trek: Into Darkness. It's all "action sequence, one-liner, action sequence, one-liner, etc." Sometimes I really wonder how the same man wrote Alias.

J.J. Abrams also doesn't have a sense of space and time. It feels like this entire movie took place in a small city instead of a galaxy. Instead of people moving across a galaxy, they're merely going up the street to a different neighborhood. That's why it seems like their paths cross all the time. The Force Awakens had a very similar problem.

Heh, I think Finn/Rose must have done extremely badly in China. It's super-conspicuous how Finn gets paired with a black woman this time around.

The one thing I did like was the relationship between Rey and Kylo/Ben. I really liked how their realities bled into each others. It was a superb effect executed beautifully. And they simply did not bother explaining it. They didn't know why it was happening, just that it was, and then they started taking advantage of it. For me, Rey's "crowning moment of awesome" was when she dropped her lightsaber behind her back to Ben.

The ending itself violates Sanderson's First Law of Magics. There's no real reason Rey should be the winner. She just is, because the Jedi are simply more powerful than the Sith for some unknown reason. As such, it is an unfulfilling ending. Rey should have won because Ben was redeemed, because there were two Jedi at the end. Something like Rey holding Palpatine in place with the lightning sabers, and Ben finishing him.

I don't really have an opinion on the kiss, which seems to be controversial for some reason. The connection between the two of them is pretty much the only good part of the trilogy.

I do think having Ben die was a mistake. This was the final movie in a trilogy of trilogies. Let it end well, with hope and redemption and forgiveness. Have the last link to the original movies, Leia and Han's son, survive. This idea that redemption is only allowable if the bad guy immediately sacrifices himself--that needing to forgive the living is not necessary or desirable--is a weakness in modern Western storytelling.

Ultimately, I feel like you could take the three movies in this trilogy, and cut out everything but Rey and Kylo's story. Reduce Finn and Poe to side characters who only occasionally appear. The resulting movie might actually be pretty decent.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

No-Castling Chess

Grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik has proposed a new chess variant: No-Castling Chess.

To Kramnik, the problem with high-level chess is that it results in draws more often than wins. The logic behind his proposal is pretty straightforward:
  • There are too many draws because defense is stronger than offense.
  • Castling is a very strong defensive move.
  • Banning castling keeps the king in the center, making it more vulnerable and empowering offense.
  • It also makes it harder to "link" the rooks.
Most other solutions for high-level chess have focused on introducing randomness and time pressure. This is an interesting proposal because there is no randomness at all. In fact, it's a simpler variant of chess that everyone learns before you learn about about castling. But because castling is so strong, pretty much all established theory assumes that one or both sides castle early in the game.

Kramnik is apparently working with Alpha-Zero, and he says that Alpha-Zero comes up with some very interesting games in this new scenario.

Of course, this isn't a proposal which makes it likely that humans will start beating computers once again. It may turn out that White's moving first is an insurmountable advantage with a stronger offense. And after a few years, new opening theory will be established. But for those few years, high-level chess will be very interesting as the game is figured out once again.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

First Impressions of Control

On a whim, I picked up Control, by Remedy Games, from the Epic Games Store because it was on sale for the holidays. I'm really glad I did, because it's a lot of fun. However, it's also a game where I would strongly recommend that you go in blind, because discovering everything about the setting and story is so enjoyable.

I've put anything even slightly spoiler-ish behind the cut. Here are the non-spoiler important points:
  • Control is a third-person shooter.
  • The setting is modern-day paranormal. Shades of the X-Files and Half-Life.
  • There doesn't appear to be a difficulty setting. However, the game does not seem to be overly difficult. It's possible it will get harder later, or maybe there's some dynamic difficulty going on.
Heh, it's pretty hard to try and convince people to play this game while withholding all information. But the setting and story of the game are just so interesting and well done.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Supergiant's Hades?

Supergiant Games--developer of Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre--has a new game out, Hades.

Or at least, I think they do.

I was browsing Steam when it popped up. I really enjoyed those three previous games, so I went to buy it, but then paused when I saw the 'Early Access' label. The three previous games were story-based games, so does that mean this one is not? Or perhaps they are releasing the story in pieces?

The game is described as a "rogue-like". The early reviews all seem uniformly positive, with many saying that this is one of the most polished Early Access games they've seen.

Supergiant themselves describe Early Access this way:
We designed Hades as an Early Access game from the ground up. Our foremost goal was to see if we could create something great in partnership with our community -- a game that was true to our values about design, worldbuilding, and storytelling, and could naturally evolve based on the feedback we'd get along the way. Every aspect of the game, from its modular structure to its approach to narrative, flow from this idea.
What the hell does this mean?

If I buy Hades now, is it a beta where it changes significantly, and I would have to start over when it reaches 1.0? Or maybe because it's a rogue-like where you are constantly dying and restarting runs, changes to the core game don't really matter story-wise. And the story is set in stone, even if new chapters are released slowly?

Should I buy this game now? Should I wait for Hades to actually release? Normally, buying a Supergiant game would be a no-brainer. Buy it, play it through to the end, thoroughly enjoy it, and then wait for their next game.

Why do game companies insist on making things complicated?