Friday, September 17, 2021

Play Log: Mostly Mobile

 I'm back!  For a bit.
So in all truth, I haven't really been playing a lot of videogames and I sure haven't been watching much anime.  But I can talk about what little I have gotten around to.

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (Season 3)
In all truth, I hadn't really watched any anime in around two years, but I came back to finish off Yahari.  It's one of my favorite series of the modern era, and I absolutely wasn't going to miss the conclusion.
Unfortunately... I came away kind of disappointed!  People will and have written long, drawn out essays pulling apart this series moment by moment, but I'm not really here to do that.  I'm just here to say that this season was hard to watch for me at times.  Yeah, I was on team Yui.  But even putting that aside, I felt like the role she was forced to play here was pretty poor.  We get multiple scenes and episodes across the season of her being forcibly sidelined and just kinda being forced to deal with it.  While I suppose her ending of accepting the new status quo was supposed to be relieving, to me it really just felt tepid.  

The other half of this issue though wasn't just how they wrote Yui's story, but how they wrote Yukino's.  While Yui is forced to play the tragically pining character who we as viewers must acknowledge will not get what she wants, Yukino is thrust into the spotlight through spurts of character development that felt uneven at best to me and often straight up unearned.  How she became the person she is in the final episode is honestly still somewhat unclear to me.

It was a double-whammy of one character being forced to suffer almost expressly so another could excel, and that's not a great feeling.


That all said, the series still retained most of its other strengths.  While it might not be a stretch to say I was exhausted by the main trio's dynamic by the end, other inter-character dialogue continued to be excellent.  Looking back over the course of the entire series, I think Komachi, Haruno and Iroha are far and away the best-written characters in Yahari, and I thoroughly enjoyed pretty much every scene involving them.  Komachi and Hachiman's conversations feel incredibly authentic, Iroha is a witty character with interesting layers, and Haruno plays the straight man to many of the series' idealistic values with a mix of cryptic cynicism and good-natured teasing.  Sometimes, for brief moments, Haruno feels like the closest thing the series has to an antagonist, even though I generally think her position has more to do with a vast difference in perspective and experience rather than any antagonistic intentions.

Anyway, I enjoyed the series overall, but I liked the second season more.  I plan to read the light novels eventually to see if the character development is handled better there.

Arknights

This is what the last year or so has mainly been for me, in terms of game time.  I like tower defense, and I like RPGs, and Arknights is basically a tower defense game where your "towers" are characters.  This is a pretty niche comparison, but it's not unlike Defender's Quest, for those who have played it.  That's a pretty good game, by the way.

Anyway, Arknights is a Chinese game by developer Hypergryph, published internationally by Yostar (who also handles Azur Lane).  It's set in a post-apocalyptic world that has been ravaged by oripathy, a terminal disease that comes from originium, a mineral of sorts.  The problem is that originium is also prized for a variety of applications, energy being big among them.  In Arknights, much of the world's technology is fueled by originium.  Oripathy is a highly infectious disease though and has so far proven incurable, so society has become divided between those who are infected and those who aren't, with the infected frequently being ostracized or having their human rights infringed on.

You play as the Doctor, an enigmatic figure who is recognized as a strategic and tactical mastermind and also a leading member of Rhodes Island, an independent medical organization whose mission is, at least on its face, to fight oripathy and aid the infected.

Arknights' world and characters are pretty interesting, and its clear that there's a lot happening under the hood.  While it is ostensibly a pharmaceutical company and does indeed have a large staff of medical experts working on figuring out oripathy, RI is pretty clearly a political entity as well, and it employs a force of PMCs known as operators, who are also typically the units you use in gameplay.

Unfortunately, it's kind of hard to enjoy this world, mainly because the writing is usually very stilted, roundabout, and vague.  Characters can have entire conversations with each other and manage to talk around the actual point in such a way that once the scene is concluded you still might not actually be sure what the purpose of it all was.  The result is that its VN-style story scenes are, more often than not, a chore to get through unless you're prepared to really try and squeeze as much context as possible out of each and every line.  I'm inclined to think this is less a localization problem and more a failing of the original writers, though the odd translation error or grammatical screwup doesn't help.

Furthermore, the game makes absolutely no effort to keep you updated on when events are taking place relative to each other, chronologically.  Aside from the main story, you have many side event stories that run the gamut between canonically having happened in the past or actually taking place in the future, far ahead of where the main story is.  The game almost never spells these things out for you though, so the best you can do is try to piece it together from context clues.  It's pretty hard to stay engaged with a story when you really don't even know the order that the events happening in.  I've more or less thrown up my hands and resigned myself to trying to enjoy each of the event stories as self-contained arcs, with little consideration to how they fit into the broader tapestry.

I do quite like the characters in the game, though.  Hypergryph did a great job finding talented VO and artists to build memorable and interesting characters.  The world of Arknights is adjacent to ours, with analogues to major states like the US and Russia present.  But most people living in it have animal features (cat/dog/rabbit ears, lizard tails) for... reasons?  That's just the world it is, I guess.  Probably to sell more merch.

Gameplaywise, this is a free-to-play gacha game, which means there's plenty of reason to be guarded.  I'm not that experienced with gacha games for the same reason, but having put over a year into this one I think it's pretty fair.  Characters are classified in order of rarity from 1 to 6 stars, with higher rarity characters typically being more sophisticated.  The rates for getting high-rarity characters are fairly pitiful, but they do have measures in place to ensure you're guaranteed to roll a 6-star at least periodically.  Furthermore, nearly all of the content in the game is designed to be doable with easily obtainable 3/4 star teams, which you can find plenty of evidence of on YouTube.  If you stick with the game, it's also possible to slowly build up gacha currency without ever paying a dime, though as is typically the case with F2P games you're going to need a lot of patience and the ability to accept that you can't have everything.  Personally, I buy their $5 monthly pass, which combined with some planning and research has given me the resources to get me nearly all the characters I've wanted so far.  I'm also not someone who gets hung up on trying to ace endgame content though, so your mileage may vary if you're the sort who prefers to aim high.

As is typical with tower defense games, you have one or more spots on a map to defend, and enemies arriving in waves that you need to kill before they reach said spots.  You do so by deploying operators, who are characters in the game.  Operators are broadly classified into eight categories.  You have Defenders, who are classically tank-like characters who can take a lot of damage but aren't the best at dishing it.  Snipers are your traditional ranged units who also tend to be the best at hitting airborne enemies.  Guards are your bread and butter DPS units who aren't always the toughest but will probably be the meanest.  I have to speak in generalizations though, because even within each category there's a ton of variation.  Guards and Snipers especially come in all shapes and sizes, from explosive-lobbing AoE Snipers to Arts Guards who exclusively deal magic damage.  The challenge comes from figuring out what composition of units from such a diverse pool will effectively ward off the enemies in each stage.  And as with any good tactics game, there's rarely if ever only one solution.

I've quite enjoyed myself with this game.  It's not without its flaws (the writing isn't the only qualm I have), but it's specifically a good mobile game, in that I can engage with it for hours or minutes and get something done either way, and it doesn't demand fast reflexes.  And did I mention I really like some of the characters?

Punishing: Gray Raven
This game launched very recently worldwide, just this month in fact.  I heard about it through some rumblings around the Arknights community and, knowing that it's often best to get in on the ground floor with F2P games if you have the opportunity, have been tooling around with it casually.  This game's future on my phone is uncertain.  The core gameplay is both technically smooth and pretty satisfying, but I know it will only get more difficult as I get deeper in, and I'm not convinced that a challenging action game is really what I want from a mobile game.  I'd rather have a controller for when things get difficult, and I'm not the sort of person who is interested in carrying a controller around for my phone; I've been there, and I'm over it.

Moreover, while PGR is a good action game at its core, it's a good action game wrapped in an F2P superstructure.  You mostly roll the machine to get new characters and weapons, and you level up your abilities and such using a bunch of different currencies and resources that will no doubt become scarce as you get deeper in progression.  I could play this good action game wrapped in F2P trappings, or I could play another good action game like DMC or Bayonetta where I don't have to deal with the extra fluff.

Finally, unlike with Arknights, I'm not sold on PGR's characters, world or story so far.  Basically, it's another post-apocalyptic world, where humanity has been decimated by some sort of virus that destroys organic matter and corrupts machines, called the Punishing Virus.  The remnants of humanity have escaped into outer space and are now fighting a proxy war with the corrupted machines on Earth that, upon being infected with the virus, have become single-mindedly devoted to the extermination of humankind.  You start the game as the human commander of Gray Raven, a unit of combat androids that is deployed down to Earth on missions investigating a new type of machine that has emerged lately.

If this premise and setting sounds startlingly similar to the outward premise of Nier: Automata, you're not alone.  I think 2B and company are even featured at some point as limited crossover characters.  At any rate, neither the story nor world are really hooking me so far, and the character designs (which I think are honestly pretty important to the success of a gacha game) have been pretty so-so.  

This game seems to be going the route of having multiple different versions of the same character across the rarity spectrum, where the S-ranked version will look and play different but will still be more or less the same personality and have the same VO.  These are androids and consequently can be reconfigured with different frames and weapons, so it makes sense in-world, too.  It also seems to be possible for lower-ranked characters to actually go up in rarity and maybe be statistically comparable to their peers, although I don't think a B-rank character that makes it to A-rank will have as sophisticated a gameplay kit as a proper A-rank character.  

You could look at this and see it as them skimping out on making actual new characters and maybe trying to save on VO costs, but I don't actually have much of an issue with it because different versions of the same character do seem to play very differently.  And at least compared to Arknights, each character has had a lot of VO work done for them.  I also like the rank up system; it feels like a smart compromise for people who really like a given version of a character and want to keep them relevant farther into the game.

I guess the short version of all this is that while I think PGR is a good game, I'm not sure it's a good mobile game, and I'm not sure I feel like giving it the attention I expect it will want as I get deeper in.  The good news though is that I've figured out how the auto system works, so in theory it could be possible to complete the dailies in a few minutes?  I'm not sure yet.

Genshin Impact
The game that's all the rage, lately.  I've been on and off with Genshin.  I played a little around the time it first released but it didn't pull me in.  Then I came back again to try for Eula, and didn't get her so I put it down again.

I'm the sort of person who is really deeply attracted to strong character art and animation.  It's a big part of the appeal for me in Kingdom Hearts and Nier Automata, for example.  I love Genshin's character design.  It's colorful, friendly and expressive, and the animation oozes personality.  As much as I don't love the moment-to-moment gameplay, I still find myself thinking about the game, wanting to spend more time in the world with its characters.

Whereas I previously played it on mobile, I've now downloaded it on PS4 and decided to give it a third try there.  I'm going to take it really casual, and just see how I feel about it that way.

Another Eden
Yeah, this was the year of me dabbling in gacha games.  Arknights is currently still the only one I've paid any money into, though.

I tried Another Eden after seeing it mentioned in a reddit thread as a game that both respects your time and doesn't have as much FOMO going on.  I'm not 100% sure I agree with the former evaluation but it is far and away the most laidback gacha game I've played.  It doesn't really have any daily or weekly missions to keep up with, no energy meter, and there's no time-limited content; anything added to the game is there indefinitely.  The only reminder the game really gives you that it is an F2P gacha game is a soft prod to watch an ad for some free currency.  The in-game currency store is stashed in the options menu, and the gacha machine is a sleepy world of dreams that doesn't get in your face.

In many ways, AE feels like a JRPG first and an F2P game second.  It's a heavily story-driven game, with sprite-based cutscenes and lots of world travel.  It uses a turn-based battle system, with a 6-person party (3 active, 3 in reserve) that would be right at home in a late 90's console JRPG.  You get new characters mostly by rolling for them in the gacha machine, but the game gives you a stable of story characters as you progress; and interestingly, it's possible through grinding resources to rank up characters into higher rarities, like in PGR.  Unlike in PGR though, you are literally upgrading them into their higher rank version, not just a statistical upgrade of their base rarity, which means they get all the abilities and such along the way.  It's a flexible, if grind-heavy system that allows patient players to often skip the gacha entirely.  In Another Eden this is called the Another Style (AS)/Extra Style (ES) system, where a given character might have a higher rarity AS or ES that is the same character but better or different.  You can pull an AS character from the gacha just as you would a wholly different character, or you can work through the process yourself.  Either way, you can swap freely between each version of a character that you have.

This is somewhat important, because Another Eden utilizes a strictly paid currency for most of its worthwhile gacha banners.  You can roll on basic banners with a currency that is built up slowly over time doing quests, but from what I can tell there is absolutely no way to roll on the majority of the featured banners without using a special currency that can only be purchased.  Genshin uses a similar split currency system for its featured banners, but the difference is that Genshin lets you convert your F2P currency into paid currency.  Not possible here in AE.  What's more, Another Eden doesn't have any sort of monthly pass or subscription, like all the other games I've written about here so far do.  You either buy the paid currency in somewhat expensive lump sums or you don't buy any at all.

I put around 12-15 hours into Another Eden before deciding it wasn't really for me.  It's a competently made JRPG, with a reasonably engaging story, decent music and characters and a general interface and flow that is well-suited to mobile.  There were a couple of things that ultimately made me decide to put it down.  The first was the grinding.  Another Eden has a lot of fluff.  It's littered with side quests that are unapologetically just banal fetch quests that your main character agrees to do because he's the archetypical Good Guy(TM) and a huge sap.  There's literally a quest where he meets a random little girl who's heard super heroic, larger-than-life things about him and demands he go fight a bunch of monsters to prove he is actually who he says he is, and he agrees because... he cares about proving his identity to some random little girl?

You could just ignore these quests, but they award gacha currency, XP, and materials for upgrading your gear, which are all worthwhile.  Your alternative for getting these things is to just go out into the world and fight monsters a bunch (which you'll do anyway to keep up with the story levels), but that won't get you any currency.  This is not a problem that is unique to Another Eden; it's an obvious trope in games that the good guy in games is a huge dope that will do ridiculous stuff just because the NPCs ask them to.  Another Eden is maybe among the worst offenders of it, but it's more that I just kinda don't need another game doing the same thing that a lot of games have been doing for decades.

The other thing was that I like my stories to end eventually.  This is always the thing I have to watch for with online games that try to be story-focused, as it's inherently not in their interest to have a properly paced story that comes to a natural conclusion, because then they have to figure out what happens after that.  It's an issue that I think FF14 has walked a fine line with over the years, sometimes triumphantly with Heavensward and sometimes frustratingly with patch content.  It's also a small part of what drove me away from Granblue Fantasy and Shadowverse.  I don't know if Another Eden's story ends, but I didn't feel all that optimistic about it, considering they're still adding new chapters now.  If the game had more compelling gameplay and characters to fall back on, I would be less inclined to worry about it, but in my opinion Another Eden is a competent JRPG, not a particularly standout one, where gameplay is concerned.  

I think if I were someone pining for the olden days of JRPGs where it was just simple characters going on an adventure, Another Eden would hold more appeal for me, and that's the sort of person I would also likely recommend it to.  It's a competently made old-school RPG that you can play on your phone for as long or as little as you want.  It even has some core staff from Chrono Trigger working on it.  But I'm not really that person, and so I decided to duck out.

Hitman 1-3
I had gotten Hitman 1 and 2 gradually from sales, and had been meaning to play them because I enjoyed Blood Money and Absolution.  I initially dabbled in each before deciding to just go buy 3 and play the entire trilogy in 3's engine.

What a great experience.  IO really made something special with these games.  They look great, they're deftly written, and they have so much depth.  Nearly every location is packed with things to mess around with and discover, it's phenomenal.  It's all the rage for people to rank their favorite Hitman levels, but I think this post is already very long, so I'll just say which level from each game I found to be the most memorable.

Hitman 1: Hokkaido.  I tend to like snowy levels, and Hokkaido is the first level in the trilogy that throws a few wrenches in the formula.  First, you're not allowed to bring any gear in because the place is tightly secured, so everything is acquire on-site.  Second, access to deeper parts of the level is tightly controlled with an ID chip system, which made your choice of disguise even more important.  Conversely, I can see this being frustrating for people who prefer Suit-Only runs, but I for one prefer to embrace the Hitman games for their social stealth mechanics.  Hokkaido also has some of the more interesting scripted kills.

Hitman 2: Whittleton Creek.  This one's a little tricky, because I liked Mumbai a lot as well and think Mumbai had somewhat more interesting mission stories.  But there's something about stalking around a sleepy suburban neighborhood filled with caricatures of American life that I find incredibly entertaining.  Especially because one of them is almost certainly a serial killer and they're not on the target list.

Hitman 3: Dartmoor.  This one was difficult as well because I think every single Hitman 3 level had some interesting twists going on except maybe Chongqing (I respect Chongqing though because of how kindly it treats Sniper Assassin players).  Dartmoor's just resonated with me the most.  There's one mission story in particular that turned what could otherwise have been a pretty standard level into something with a completely different flavor, as you can basically commandeer the role of a private investigator.  Not only that, but it's one of those rare levels where you're not the only one who is out to get your target.

I haven't messed around with Haven Island, New York, or any of the other non-story missions/locations yet.  I'm definitely looking forward to it, though.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Play Log: Love and War

The next synopsis for Spice and Wolf is still oncoming.  It's just, where I'm at now the plot suddenly got kind of complex, so I was having trouble wrapping my head around it, much less putting a summary together.

Valkyria Revolution
The first two hours or so of this game seem to consist largely of cutscenes.  You do one tutorial battle a few minutes in, and then it's a lot of menus and talking heads.  This doesn't bother me so much as the story is somewhat interesting, but it does suggest poor pacing.  I just got to the point where free missions open up, so it seems like there will be more battling going on.

A lot of people were pretty harsh on this game leading up to and through its release, because how different it is from the previous Valkyria games.  I try hard to judge games for what they are, rather than what I want or expect them to be, so even as a huge fan of Valkyria Chronicles I wanted to give this a shot.  The parallels between VC and this game are...superficial, I guess you could say.  It has the storybook structure of the first game, the "underdog nation fighting against an empire" premise, and the sorta artsy graphics style that helped Valkyria Chronicles stand out.  And there's a valkyria in the game.  Those are kinda all the major things in common that stand out.  While the story has similar trappings, actual plot and even the world are completely different.  There's no indication so far that Valkyria Revolution actually takes place in the same universe as the previous games.  The technology is different, as are the countries and history.

And of course, the big difference here, the elephant in the room, is the gameplay.  Valkyria Revolution is an action-RPG with light strategy, as opposed to the strategy-RPG with light action that Valkyria Chronicles was.  For some reason, when I think of games to compare it to mechanically, The Last Story actually comes to mind.

Anyway, I'm too early to speak qualitatively about the game, but I don't hate it.

Total War: Warhammer
Having now played Rome II, Shogun II, and just a bit of Medieval II, I felt it was time to dip into Total War: Warhammer.  I've put a couple dozen hours into the game now, and there are some distinct things I do and don't like about it.

The biggest thing I like is the fantasy.  The Warhammer license really brings a lot to the Total War formula.  Now you're not just working with swords, cavalry and spears, you're working with huge beasts, tanks, and griffons.  Mages cast spells that sweep across the battlefield while undead dragons fly overhead.  Rocket batteries release hell on distant targets while trolls charge headlong through crowds of infantry.  Tactically, large creatures and flying units add a surprising amount to the traditional formula.

And yet, Warhammer is also probably the simplest Total War I've played, in most respects.  There's really no managing of finances to be done (you can't for example adjust tax level, even faction-wide), true sieges (with walls to breach and such) only happen at province capitals, and your formation options are reduced to just "melee at the front" and "ranged at the front", a big departure from all the options Rome II had.  This makes it probably the most accessible Total War, but I do feel like Creative Assembly sacrificed a certain level of depth to accomplish this.

Shogun II had a meta-mechanic in the campaign called "World-Divide", that was designed to keep the player on their toes and shake up the status quo.  Similarly, Rome II has internal politics that you have to stay wary of as you expand.  In Warhammer, the meta this time is Chaos.  Chaos corruption is a constant threat throughout your game, but at some point a few hours in, you start getting warnings of a huge horde of Chaos mustering far in the north.  It's not long before they're knocking on your door, and if you're not ready, they'll roll over you.

One other thing that I like about Warhammer is the confederation mechanic.  Unlike in previous Total War games, humans aren't the only ones competing for power.  Other races like Dwarves, Elves, and Vampires are also on the map.  Within each race you have multiple factions.  For example, I might start as the human Empire, but there will be plenty of other human factions on the map, too.  I can choose to just conquer them, but in Warhammer if you can get friendly enough with other factions of the same race, you can convince them to basically join you willingly.  A situation that you run into fairly often with TW is that you get onto good terms with a relatively small faction that, while not particularly strong, isn't worth the diplomatic penalty you'd incur for betraying and forcibly annexing them.  So you leave them be and hope you don't find yourself having to swoop to their rescue too often.  Now, in a situation like that, that small faction would more than likely be willing to just be assimilated by you (which the game calls "joining your confederation").  Especially as the Chaos horde approaches and a need for unity comes into play.

The biggest thing I dislike about Warhammer compared to previous entries is how frequently routed units come back to fight.  A lot of this has to do with how simplified morale is compared to previous games, but I can't count how many times I've had an enemy unit retreat, only to come running back into the battle minutes later.  This happens in other games too, but uncommonly.  If you routed a unit, there was always a chance they'd come running back maybe once or twice, but in Warhammer routing a unit almost feels meaningless unless you actually run them off the map, because without fail they'll come running back into the battle sooner or later.  Sometimes units that have been routed multiple times still come back for more.  The thing that makes this distasteful to me is that it turns a lot of battles into ones where you end up fighting to the last man, which is supposed to be really uncommon in Total War, at least until end-game.  I never feel like a unit is truly out of the fight until I've literally exterminated them, which is costly and time-consuming.  This feeling is compounded by what I feel like is a proliferation of units that basically don't rout at all, like the Axe Champions and Mace Flagellants, who will in fact fight until they're all dead.  I dunno, call me weird, but I've grown accustomed to the more gentlemanly battles, where the enemy runs when they know they're beaten.

God Eater
This is one of the few anime that I'm watching with English voices, because the voice actors are largely the same as they were for the games.  Though it follows the same overall story as the first game, it definitely takes some interesting swerves.  That's kinda what I like to see in an adaptation, to be honest.

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.