Sunday, May 28, 2017

Play Log: Lapses

The whole point of writing Play Logs was to give myself a way to continue writing, using a short-form style that would be easy to manage.  This past month or so has been so busy I guess I couldn't even manage that.

Company of Heroes 2
The PIAT change has really changed UKF's mid-game for me.  Now I don't feel nearly as much need to rely on the AEC or Bofors to deal with vehicles.  Luchs are still a big threat, but I can live with that.

I'm finding myself slowly revising my opinion of the vanilla Sherman.  It's still kind of crappy at dealing with other tanks, being equal if not slightly inferior to the Panzer IV in a straight matchup, but the combination of HE rounds and a top-mounted MG make it a killer infantry tank.  If you think of it as a unit for blasting away vehicles and infantry that can also defend itself against enemy tanks (if necessary), it becomes a more compelling unit.  I'm actually curious if the Easy 8 (which lacks the ability to switch between HE and AP) has the same splash as the regular Sherman's HE rounds.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 2
On to the sequel.  It occurred to me that I'm not sure I've played a series of games where the stories are so tightly interlocked.  Most of the time when games have sequels, the individual games' stories still stand apart from each other.  Take Kingdom Hearts, which I think is the closest example of a JRPG series following a single overarching plot.  The original Kingdom Hearts had kind of a mysterious ending, but it was an ending all the same; Sora rescues Kairi and Destiny Island, and manages to briefly reunite with Riku.  Then you have Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts 2, which explicitly follow up on the overall story but are still individual sagas in and of themselves.  The same goes double for games like Birth By Sleep and 358/2 Days, which plug fairly neatly into the series' narrative but still tell standalone, focused stories of their own.

Trails of Cold Steel (and presumably Trails in the Sky) isn't like that.  Trails of Cold Steel 2 is chapter 2 in the same book.  Cold Steel 1 essentially didn't have an ending.  A whole lot of stuff happens, and then the game is over.  Picking up Cold Steel 2 is like coming back from a commercial break mid-way through a TV episode or movie.  They even start you out at level 40 (which is about 25 levels lower than I finished CS1 at, but remarkable all the same), with all of the crafts you learned in the previous games.

I just... Don't know what I think about that.  If you buy Cold Steel 1 intending to finish it, you're basically locked into buying and playing the whole saga if you ever want to see a proper conclusion.  It's like if each episode in a Telltale game was 70 hours long and cost $40.

Bloons TD 5
I'm sure I've mentioned before my enduring fondness for Tower Defense games.  I played Bloons TD 5 a long time ago and didn't think much of it.  The cutesy visuals the premise of popping balloons didn't really ring home with me.  Well, for it's had a consistent following over they years so I figured I'd give it another shot.  It still feels a little hollow to me, but what eventually got me into it was the tower variety.  There's about 25 different units, ranging from planes that patrol the battlefield to super monkeys that blast balloons at ludicrous speed with eye beams.  The amount of enemies thrown at you and number of resulting projectiles flying around the screen means that the game can get somewhat hectic.

It's not bad.  In other news, I finally decided to wash my hands of Kingdom Rush.  I gave it its fair shake, and it's not for me.

Lara Croft Go
I couldn't get into Hitman Go, as much as I wanted to.  While the visuals and presentation were slick as hell, the core game just wasn't doing it for me, and at the end of the day didn't actually feel much like Hitman.

Lara Croft Go is way better in this respect.  It has just as much if not more visual flair than Hitman, with colorful, exotic environments and slick animation.  But to me at least, it truly evokes Tomb Raider.  I haven't played the PS1 games, but the trilogy Crystal Dynamics made during the mid-2000s were as much about quiet exploration as they were about blasting away at hostile wildlife.  I would even say they had a meditative quality about them.  Lara Croft Go captures that perfectly.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Play Log: New Semester

New semester has started for me and as a result I've suddenly gotten considerably busier...

Trails of Cold Steel
I'm finally at what appears to be the final chapter, and it's clear that in the grand scheme of things the story is only just getting started.  I'm not sure how I feel about putting 80-hours into a game and basically only having the prologue to show for it.  On one hand, it helps establish the sheer scale of the story the developers are trying to tell, but on the other, it makes me feel a little ticked off that I put all this time into the game and ultimately there's no payoff unless I keep going to the sequel.  Like, there's nothing wrong with multi-volume stories, but a good series doesn't just leave you hanging between works, and that's what I feel this game is doing.  It's setting up all sorts of plot strings that are very obviously not going to get resolved before the end of the game, and that sort of sucks.

Company of Heroes 2
I've been playing a lot more USF lately.  They're a hard faction to play on this setup because I don't have any keybinds, but their versatility and mobility is always a breath of fresh air coming from UKF.  And while I don't think much of USF's vanilla armor, the Easy 8 and Pershing can get a ton of work done.  I'm finding the Pershing's cannon to be astonishingly good against infantry, perhaps comparable to the IS-2 or King Tiger in splash radius.  And the ability to triple equip bazookas on Rangers does wonders for your roaming AT capability.  Most of all though, it's so nice having such a highly mobile mortar team.  The range got nerfed pretty bad last patch, but the lightning-quick set up and pack up times almost make it worth it.

I've also been experimenting with using my Major more on the frontlines.  The Major is traditionally a valuable unit because he can act as a secondary retreat point.  Pair him up with an ambulance and USF players can essentially pick anywhere on the map to retreat to for full-service healing and reinforcements.  But the Major can also call in air recon and artillery barrages, which makes him a pretty valuable asset on the frontlines as well, despite not really being cut out for heavy combat (he's really squishy, and unless you give him a BAR or two his damage sucks).  Lately I've been doing a sort of three-musketeers style thing with him and the Captain and Lieutenant.  Since all three can sprint at full veterency, they work well as a first-response unit before my full force of Riflemen and/or Rangers arrive.  I also use them as point cappers, which saves other, more combat-oriented units from having to halt their advance.  Normally I use Rear Echelons for capping, but lately I've been relying on them to provide light AT with bazookas, so I run into a lot of situations where I'm torn between having them stay behind to cap a point, or allocating them to help with a nearby enemy tank or vehicle.  Plus Rear Echelons have a number of things in general that only they can do, so I've found that giving them bazookas suddenly makes them perhaps the busiest unit in my army, constantly running between engineer tasks and frontline combat.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Spice and Wolf Synopsis: Volume 6

"You won't go quarreling with your companion over anything quite that foolish again, will you now?"

In the grand scheme of things, not a lot happens in volume 6.  It's a transitional story, focused mainly on foreshadowing volume 8, introducing Col, and, as always, developing the relationship between Lawrence and Holo.

And yet I struggled to keep this one from getting too long.

Play Log: The Ride is Over

Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
Well, it's finally over.  The ending... wasn't very satisfying, but I guess I can't complain too much.  I think IBO is going to go down in history as a pretty polarizing show among Gundam fans.  It's very different.  That's not unusual for an AU show, but IBO really has a fundamentally different feel to it from even most other AUs, in terms of everything from mechanical design to tone of its story.  Okada brought something very new to the franchise, and in the end I think that's a good thing.

After War Gundam X
I finish watching one Gundam, and promptly start up another.  Coming from IBO I was very worried that older shows would suddenly feel very dated (even though I've already seen and enjoyed plenty of them), but X is hitting it off with me right away.  I like Garrod, and I really like the overall set up of the show.  "After War" turns out to have been a very apt timeline title, as the show takes place only a few years after humanity has already largely destroyed itself in an all-consuming war.  It's the typical Earth vs. Colony feud, except this time nobody was around to stop both sides from going all the way.  Now it's just scattered remnants trying to pick up the pieces in a Mad Max-esque world.  As a result the show is weirdly dark sometimes.  Like for example, there's a scene early on when a bunch of bandits are trying to steal Gundam X from Garrod, but they're not united at all and the moment one of them falls over or is defeated by Garrod, the rest dogpile him/her and finish them off, just to reduce competition.

I guess Gundam X is fresh in its own way just because how cynical it seems to be in its portrayal of humanity.

Amagi Brilliant Park
I ended up watching the 14th episode of this for reasons, and enjoyed it.  So I decided to come back and give the actual series a try.  I'm already having a blast with it.  It goes without saying that it's a beautiful show (with lots of beautiful women, hue), but it's got a lot of character.

Black Lagoon
Another one of those well-known shows that I haven't seen.  Let's fix that.  I'm only a couple episodes in, but it's not bad.  I think I might have a soft-spot for anime set in places in the southern hemisphere, in places like Malaysia and South America.  Those are places that I know little about and don't have much interest in visiting, but there's an exoticism to them that I enjoy seeing portrayed in fiction.  And if nothing else, it's a nice break from the endless stream of anime set in Japan or facsimiles of it.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
Now that some of my Master Quartz are maxing out and I'm getting some really good slot quartz, combat's been kind of a breeze.  I'm in Roer now, that's a cool place too.

Company of Heroes 2
So, the balance patch is out.  Penal squads have anti-tank rifles now, which... Isn't totally strange I guess, but I didn't feel like Soviets were really hurting for extra AT options, and giving Penals PTRS rifles makes Guards less attractive.  The fact that satchel charges can stick to vehicles now is hilarious, though.

The PIAT got a big buff too.  Overall, I'm happy with the changes.  The shots home now, which is silly in action, but makes the weapon much less frustrating.  This is counterbalanced by a big reduction in range, which makes it easier for enemy armor to kite you.

And, well, right on the heels of this patch, it seems another one's cooking.  This time Relic's finally giving in to the whiners and nerfing the Comet and Cromwell.  Personally, I felt the Cromwell was in a great place, so it stings a ton to see it get nerfed.  The Comet was a really good tank, so good that it rarely made sense to choose the Churchill over it, but the balance changes currently suggested seem way too harsh.  Especially buffing the population cap up from 16 to 20.  That's right in line with a King Tiger.  It's one thing to make it cost more popcap, but they're also reducing its overall effectiveness at the same time, so we're getting a worse tank for higher popcap.  I think the ride might really be over for me if this is the future of UKF.

So a new expansion came out recently, Tempest of the Gods.  For me, the most exciting cards came for Swordcraft, but it feels like almost every faction got some pretty scary new additions.  Dragoncraft in particular got buffed like nuts.  But what seems to really be shaking up the meta is Heavenly Aegis, a new Havencraft card.  Heavenly Aegis is an extremely strong card just looking at its attack and defense, but the kicker is that almost nothing can kill it.  It can't be damaged, it can't be banished, it can't be removed by spells.  Theoretically, the only way to deal with it is to use a a card with Bane.  It seems like with every expansion, Cygames pushes the boundary of what ought to be permissible for a balanced meta, and they're really stretching it this time.  There are some factions that, as far as I'm aware simply do not have cards with Bane (like Havencraft, heh), so Heavenly Aegis becomes unstoppable.

Granted, Heavenly Aegis costs 10 points, so you're not going to see it until very late.  This means you can realistically kill a Havencraft before they ever get a chance to play it, especially because Havencraft decks often have a slow start anyway.  That said, I feel like if your strategy to defeat a card has to be "beat the player before they can play that card", that card might be a little too strong.

I'm not even sure what Cygames hoped to accomplish by introducing Heavenly Aegis, as it's not like Havencraft was a struggling faction.  In fact, I've long considered Havencraft to be one of the strongest factions; even though it's not my favorite faction (that'd be Swordcraft or Forestcraft), it's the one I usually win the most with.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Play Log: Fun Times

I spent a good portion of this month traveling, hence the break in activity.

Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta
I believe I commented earlier that this show was pretty easy on the eyes.  That was an understatement.  The animation is honestly pretty damn topnotch sometimes.  And Kotoha is awesome.  I like her character, I like her design, I like her ability.

I went and did a bit of research concerning just where this anime sits in the continuity, and apparently it is actually supposed to be generally covering the beginning of the manga.  It sure as heck doesn't feel that way, though.  Take the vampire twins, for example, or the cop.  The story treats them as familiar characters, but they never had an introduction...

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
I think I finally understand what's been throwing me for a loop with IBO.  I don't want to make Gundam sound like some super intelligent franchise, but I do feel like they're usually more cerebral than IBO.  It's a franchise that loves to portray clashes between various philosophical and political ideals.  IBO has this as well (mainly in McGillis and Rustal), but on the whole it's less about a bunch of high-minded individuals fighting to change the world and more about people fighting to preserve what's important to them, or better their own lives.  So the battles are more emotional, more base, and more brutal.  What the show lacks in complexity it makes up for in raw impact.

Company of Heroes 2
I'm probably lying to myself even as I write this, but I don't know how much more of this game I have left in me.  It's still fun, but the community is insufferable, and it's obvious Relic's not going to add anything more to it beyond perhaps the occasional skin or balance patch.

Cowboy Bebop
This is a great show and I'm glad I finally got around to watching it.  However, as mature adventure stories go I think I liked Michiko and Hatchin more.