I have another post queued up for real world stuff like Ukraine
and the market
/return of Gamestonk
, but let's talk about the big March PS5 releases
came down and met me and Jes
at Ponto. I was hoping to hang out and shoot some overhead waves but there was weather
. So I turned the 500mm on seagulls and rainbows and drenched people.
Me and J have managed a few sessions of Elden Ring
and we're quite enjoying it.
Elden Ring feels a lot like Zelda, and I mean the original Zelda with its massive overworld and frequent caves
. I suppose Skyrim did that too, but oftentimes in Skyrim a small cave entrance would lead to a massive network of chambers and underground cities and such. From a playability standpoint, in Skyrim you kinda have to think twice about derailing your current plans, in TLOZ and ER you can just pop in for a boss/item/deathloop
Keeping the above comparisons going, one of the most iconic moments from the Elden Ring early game went like this:
We were sneaking up on some dudes in a swamp, trying to decide if we could take them. In a Skyrim-like moment of draconic grandeur
and Souls-like moment of involuntary excretion, a dragon swooped in and wrecked the whole NPC group. Then settled in and told the whole swamp, "try something". We backed away slowly.
Open world Dark Souls
Elden Ring closely follows the mechanics of other Souls games
. For co-op combat, this means that enemies have a single target lock (that they switch from time to time) and will ignore the other player. This makes for easy 2v1 battles and slightly harder 2v2+ battles with minons. Large enemies and bosses still focus on a single player but mix in AoE and no-look attacks.
Bosses and difficulty
The Elden Ring dungeon bosses vary from "not too bad" to "we'll uh... come back"
, with some requiring a craftable to make the battle winnable. True to the genre, the main bosses require a lot of attempts or grinding.
Here's where the open world thing kicks in: where linear souls games require replaying prior locales to grind/unlock, in Elden Ring you can just point a direction and go somewhere new
. The overworld isn't particularly friendly, but if you're walking around a ton of unspent xp, you can probably make it to a campfire.
Shout out to the load screens:
One of my favorite mechanics of Bloodborne was making J wait while I wrote a message to the soulsverse
. It's an awesome balancing feature in souls games that lets you tell others when they're walking into an ambush or missing a secret area. Or completely lie, hoping that some naive player will jump into a chasm that you promised has a secret.
Since the allowable dictionary is finite, people have gotten creative in writing sophomoric jokes. I have deep respect for the helpful messages, the troll messages, and the meme messages.
The game looks good and uses both gloomy colors and pretty colors - something unheard of in the genre. I think. I've only played Bloodborne and Nioh.
The enemies aren't always especially inventive. Then again, in Elden Ring I can say, "J, watch out for that bear/wolf/crab/lobster/tentacle creature!" It's a lot more informative and specific than the Bloodborne/Nioh exclamations, "J, watch out for that tentacle creature/tentacle yokii/tentacle skeleton/light blue tentacle creature!".
Horizon Forbidden West
Moving from a co-op masterpiece to a solo masterpiece, I've made some progress in Horizon
but have a feeling it'll take some time before the west is won. There are some very vague mid-game spoilers here.
The main conflict in Forbidden West reveals itself rather slowly
- over a half-dozen main quests - and the story is not short on antagonists. Aloy sets out to solve a world-ending plague, but runs into Sylens, the Tenakth, the Tenakth rebels, and the Zeniths. The situation is a litte more nuanced than good vs evil.
HZD introduced players to a post-apocalpytic realm of robot dinosaurs, risen from the ashes of "the ancients" (that's us). HFW attempts to measure up to HZD
with a story that includes a global plague and interplanetary colonization (Far Zenith). It's ambitious, perhaps unnecessarily. I'll be ultimately disappointed if the Far Zenith arc is just an origin story for a handful of baddies - there's so much potential in the *other* attempt at saving human civilization.
And it should be said that the apparent need to save Earth again more or less invalidates the struggle of the first game
. At least Aloy isn't short on randos who recognize her as the savior of Meridian.
Gear, chests, and locked doors
HFW follows the HZD model for weapons and equipment: a variety of types/rarities, simple modification slots, and elemental focuses. Forbidden West adds a few weapon types and elements and thereby does not mess up a good thing. But when you take a step back, the loot/equipment system is kind of meh
Chests are more numerous in this game but they aren't especially exciting; they mostly just carry ammo crafting components
. Now, I like that ammunition is scarce (but not too scarce) but I'd rather just buff the machine drops than sprinkle chests everywhere.
HFW employs the Zelda mechanic of providing unlockable equipment that enable new abilities/area access
, e.g. you unlock scuba gear. This is awesome in that it lets you swim around without an air meter and it lets you fight a Loch Ness monster bot. But once robo-Nessie has been vanquished you think of all the places that had unreachable areas due to lung capacity. (Aside: thank you, game for telling me that the area was unreachable with current gear, saving me from drowning a couple of times before realizing there was an unknown mechanic at play.) Anyway, you get the scuba gear and go back to these places to find a few crates with ho-hum items
Certainly going back is not obligatory, but games usually provide nice rewards for players who recognize and remember a secret. Now, if New Game+ starts Aloy with her scuba mask and fire stick and other access items, that's a pretty good NG+ incentive.
Is the world too big?
Yes and no, but pretty much yes. There's something to be said for an impossibly-large map in a game that's meant to be an open world. But it's also neat, in open world games, to set off in a direction and know that when you get toward the edge of the world you might find a unique challenge or item
. Considering how beautiful and intricate the environment design is, it's almost criminal to not encourage exploration.
This brings us back to the less-than-compelling incentive system and lack of neat stuff to sprinkle around the map. Like with progressively-accessible areas, there could be better motivation to scour random corners of the forbidden west
. I've found myself inclined to scour the main areas of the map, because western settlements have better gear that makes the early vendors kind of worthless.
Mods and cosmetics
The weapon mod system lets you focus or diversify attack modifiers, sometimes emphasizing rather niche ones like damage while sliding. This mechanic been carried forward from the first game but leaves me wishing the developers had dipped their toes into the Borderlands/Division realm of creative weapon effects
. Having a wealth of effects/modifiers options could address some of the gear/map incentivization issues; I would totally venture to a remote slot canyon to retrieve the schematic for a MIRV corrosive arrow.
Moving beyond bows and tripcasters and slingshots, the HFW armor sets are designed to complement to a player's style/skill build. What's more, you can craft paint dyes to create that unique look. With a wealth of character skills and weapon effects, Guerrilla could have gone a bit farther with armor customization (maybe even linking to cosmetic components)
, but it's at worst a set-it-and-forget-it.
The geography of the HFW world is executed to perfection
. The forbidden west is dynamic but traversable, enemies are neither too sparse nor too dense.
Having not played a Horizon game in four years, I'm happy to jump back into vaguely familiar combat/enemy mechanics. While behaviors and components have probably been tweaked, the biggest change I've noticed has been and emphasis on elemental strenghts and weaknesses
. The introduction (I think) of apex variants of enemies is a good way to ramp the difficulty and rewards(?).
Of course, the real
monster is indeed man. And it's annoying that they wear helmets.
Unlockable overrides are still a thing
, though they now require specific components to complete (in addition to clearing the Cauldron). I quite liked the override mechanic in the last game but my few uses of it in this one have been lackluster.
I'm still floored by the amount of motion capture that went into this game. Sure, a AAA PS5 title should have nice, fluid character movements that work with the terrain. HFW does this, but every bit of dialogue seems to have its own mocap sequence
- even talking to the randos at camps who give you map pins. Weirdly, it makes the dialogue trees seem artificial because Aloy has to return to the same pose to ask the next question. Otherwise, like with The Last of Us
games, the natural feel to character interaction sets the game apart from the standarde fare.
The plan for this month to rave about Horizon: Forbidden West and Elden Ring. The Ukraine crisis
was an ominous but interesting situation three weeks ago. Sadly, now people are fighting for their country and seeking refuge and having their lives destroyed by a pointless invasion.
I'll keep the theme from the previous posts, primarily just regurgitating the news and discussion that I've consumed
Everything started with headlines saying that the 'go' order had been given without further details. I guess Reddit had been somewhat on-point with the flight tracking - the airspace cleared and Kyiv-bound flights looked for new places to land
It was surreal to watch the UNSC emergency session
. Member nations gave rote speeches about de-escalation while social media reported shelling and airstrikes. Midway through, the Russians announced their intentions using all the euphemisms that they could muster. Then the mic went back around the room again for hastily-modified variants of the original de-escalation rhetoric. The only interesting bits were the US delegate saying, "we told you so" and Sergiy Kyslytsya being understandably outraged and demanding to see the Russian Federation's UN birth certificate
(so to speak).
Two weeks in, there's been plenty of information and disinformation. I won't attempt to even provide a synopsis since there are far better resources, but the TLDR is that Russia is still advancing but probably much slower than they had anticipated
Intelligence, propaganda, and casus belli
Biden, NATO, Five Eyes, whoever - they knew the Kremlin's game plan and warned the world in advance. Based on the provocations, false flag attempts, and assurances that they weren't planning an offensive, it appears Russia was trying their hardest to establish a legitimate-sounding casus belli
. I guess Putin got tired of waiting and simply went with the stated intention of 'denazifying' Ukraine.
Broadcasting Russia's plans was an impressive tactic
that may well have paved the way for the international opposition to the war that we see today. It ensured that any "evidence of Ukrainian aggression" would be scrutinized, that the international community would have time to prepare its response, and that the US would remain out of the spotlight while still defending its interests.
In retrospect *of course* this invasion was going to happen
. At the time, the idea of a traditional military offense seemed unbelievable. It wasn't unimaginable but it seemed like Putin was doing the Kim/Saddam routine of creating a negotation chip out of nothing. If there's one takeaway from the armchair (well, nap time) news junkie, it's that many of us legitimately thought this thing wasn't going to happen.
For a couple weeks there was the talking point floating around that the administration was sounding the alarm to distract from domestic issues. This briefly morphed into the accusation that NATO was antagonizing Russia
, hoping for a war to distract from domestic issues. As it's become apparent that this has been in Putin's five year plan, people stopped banging that drum.
Maybe the writing was on the wall.
Midterms are this year, after all
This is all pretty dry, so I'll get to the memes as quickly as I can. But the administration's "be like water" playbook has continued beyond the failed deterrence phase
. In summary, it's:
- Troll a former KGB dude by flaunting their penetration into his military/government.
- Robustly sanction everything but oil and natural gas (more on this later).
- Provide anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, backfill Poland's donated MiGs with F-35s.
This could turn out a miserable failure or a huge success. At the very least, it's kept a lid on escalation while openly supporting Ukraine
. Ultimately, this occupation feels like a race between Ukraine's defense forces and Russia's tolerance for economic isolation. It's a shame that something so globally important has to be poisoned by domestic politics, but the midterms are a mere eight months away, so...
Bro, it's not smart, he did that with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It's like you aren't even paying attention.
"This wouldn't have happened if I were president." I'm not so sure. There was a pretty strong anti-NATO, pro-isolationism posture in previous years. In an alternate time line I bet "this is Europe's problem"
As I was saying, the West - and I mean like everyone - decided to obliterate Russia's economy. Or, in newspeak, the West decided to launch a special operation to denazify the Russian economy
. MOEX looks like it's closed for good, taking the classic strategy of keeping your losses unrealized.
Some funny Russian investor dude toasted the death of the Moscow Exchange.
The global community - setting aside China, India, and a few Russia fanstates - has sanctioned Russia so hard that MOEX has been closed for two weeks and counting
But the uncertainty and disruptions to energy markets
have been unkind to the global exchanges that aren't hiding with the curtains drawn and lights off.
Markets that are actually open
Vozdvizhenka Street Bets.
So while there are far more important issues here than money, there's never a good reason to let institutionals walk away with your tendies.
Energy and volatility
. That's been the play for the last two weeks, coupled with some serious index swings. Cybersecurity stocks pumped as Russia teased cyberwarfare. Defense stocks bounced, possibly in anticipation of a larger conflict. But SPY is down 6.5% since the start of the conflict.
To fight the severely devalued ruble, Russia raised interest rates a smidge.
What does the internet have to say about it?
That title sounds sarcastic and it is largely sarcastic, but aside from comprehensive support for Ukraine, there have been a few interesting reads
. For example, this retired Army Major
provided some easily-consumable advice on withstanding invasion and turning an occupation into hell (for the aggressor). I've seen tank mechanics chime in with diagrams of where to drop a molotov for greatest effect and hypothesize on the state of Russian equipment maintenance regimes.
And there's been lots and lots of garbage commentary. But here are some nuggets:
Even with the crosshairs directly on him, Zelensky brought that meme charisma.
The absolute opposite of Zelensky: angry bots on antisocial media.
Then there were the people who made composite streams of cctv cameras and read comments aloud.
Everyone talks about what Forte11 is doing, but nobody talks about how Forte11 is doing.
Could you Imagine if Russia shot FORTE down? reddit would lose it's collective shit
FlightRadar gang stood by Forte11
How can you fuck up so bad that virtually every country hates you that much ... Well done Volodia, well done
Dude for real though Civ just brings that out. I tried to play agame SO peacefully, focussing entirely on culture then all of a sudden China is like "excuse me, why do you have so many great people?" denounce. Norway: "ay fuccboi, your navy licks balls" denounce. America after I create a new settlement lightyears away from them directly after them settling on my border: "your people are too close, stop it or you're fucked"
So anyway, I started blasting
Sid Meier prepared all of us for this, except that we thought we could count on Overflow Gandhi
So I covered some of the enthusiastic support and even humor in this dark saga. But there has been some really, really bad commentary. Here are a few common themes/comments...
"This is going to be WW3."
While it's not impossible, based on publicly-available information this is just not likely. Russia has very few places to go before they hit the NATO wall (that's kind of the point) and they don't have anyone willing to open a second front. As the weeks have passed and Russia has shown its ineffectiveness, the idea that the offensive could be expanded simply does not seem plausible.
"They took Chernobyl!"
Well, I was also surprised to hear that there was fighting at the infamous power plant. A quick search indicated that it's simply on the shortest path between Belarus and Kyiv. Still, there was a lot of dumb speculation about nuclear cataclysms.
Wow the Ukraine ambassador just absolutely steamrolled the Russian ambassador. "All ambassador's parents are proud of their children. All children of ambassadors are proud of their parents. Except for yours".
I'm totally fine with Mr. Kyslytsya's entirely-justified condescension for his Russian counterpart. But praising that as a "slam" that "totally got him" doesn't say much for our appreciation for effective dialogue (confrontational or otherwise).
"This makes me feel..."
Ugh. It's not about you or the anxiety you get from doomscrolling.
"Looks like covid disappeared overnight."
Yeah, I stopped by the Zerohedge comment section just to see which side of the knife they fell on. Surprisingly, the most popular opinions were about how covid must have been overblown since a war in Europe is now #1 in the headlines. I guess they missed the fact that covid is the #2 headline and that it's declining because of omicron and vaccines. Well, maybe this means they can stop trying to reach a resolution on if covid is a total hoax or a Chinese bioweapon or a conspiracy to impant chips in people.
"But the US..."
Russia apologists (including official statements from China) have frequently referenced the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. While the US shouldn't and hasn't escaped condemnation for these wars, pivoting to them is rather low-effort whataboutism. Hilariously, this comparison sort of presumes a major US role in the conflict when, in fact, the administration has deferred to its European counterparts on many of the public-facing aspects of the crisis. The comparison also sucks. The US has term limits and Russia has none. The US attempted regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan, but annexation wasn't ever a consideration. Putin's declared the Ukraine isn't even a real country and has made his intentions very clear. Those don't make one right and the other wrong, but they're not interchangeable.
Far Cry -> Deep Rock
Okay, to the gaming. And I have good news: Juan wasn't evil!
Big Smoke keeps his title as worst turncoat in all of gaming. He would have anyway.
FC6 had a tragic-but-not-dark-like-FC5 ending after a cinematic-but-meh final battle sequence
. I do like that the games never end with a boss battle (if I recall correctly). I think I recently wrote
that a good boss battle is hard to pull off, sometimes the only way to win is not to play. Letting the final level be the climactic challenge and ending (or not ending) the big boss in a cutscene is just fine.
Me and J played some of the 'black ops' missions that seem to be the replacement for community content. I was initially excited; the game mode is different and the maps aren't small. As it turns out, they're all the same scenario so the only variety is the map.
A map editor would have been so amazing for replay value
Since Deep Rock was a recent PS+ title (excellent choice, Sony), me and J have polished our pickaxes
, waxed our beards, and hopped in the drop pod to mine some asteroids. I think we're going to move to Elden Ring soon, but it will be nice to have this one to switch to every so often.
Horizon: Forbidden West
With great anticipation, I loaded up the sequel to my favorite 3D open world RPG
. But hold on, it wasn't so easy. Here I'll show you:
Gamestop: the final chapter
I thought the hard push for preorders were a thing of the past
Click through for full chat.
. Welp, after this and the PS5 debacle
, I'm done with Gamestop. They used to be slightly preferable to supporting Amazon, Best Buy, or Target.
Okay, into the Forbidden West!
Well, I'm not actually in the Forbidden West yet. I ran through the prologue and am nearing the end of the second prologue
, but it's given me a good taste of the gameplay.
Yes yes, this will age poorly, but holy shit does this game look good. Let me rephrase, HFW graphics are a clear step up from PS4 games
The gameplay is largely the same: stalk and shoot robo dinos, climb things, craft, experience a neat story
. Climbing is still reasonably easy. Games like Assassin's Creed and Dying Light make climbing a major play mechanic that can be slow and rife with fatal falls. HFW's climbing system has a bunch of controls so it's not trivial, but at this point I don't dread the frustration or pace of climbing segments.
Stealth hasn't changed much and, importantly, tall grass is still the same color as Aloy's hair.
Forbidden West offers a few new mechanics, one of which is the Valor Surge ultimate abilities. Currently I have an invisibilty cloak that is nice for sneaking in inconvenient locations
or to get out of trouble.
The holographically-embalmed villain is your run-of-the-mill annoying hacker. I'm guesssssing he has a present-day clone who is equally annoying.
I totally do not remember any of the characters from the previous game
(except Lieutenant Daniels). It's weird that the first dozen conversations are like:
Aloy: Oh hey buddy.
Buddy: I have a crush on you.
Aloy: Not a great time, buddy, world in peril.
Me: [Who are you again?]
The game teases a couple of sidekicks and, while the dialogue and voice acting are good, the game plays better with - at most - a part-time ally.
The Steam campaign continues. We wrecked Jekserah
My DPS Quartermaster build
notched three-figure damage in the aformentioned boss scenario. Then I swapped out a stun potion for a minor power potion (in addition to major power potion) and pulled north of 160 killing oozes and sneks in the Gloomhaven sewers
- [Top] Catastrophic bomb - Attack 1, range 3, 12-tile AOE
- [Bottom] Sharpening kit - +1 to all attacks
- [Continuous] Proficiency +1 to attacks that use an item
- Minor power potion +1 attack
- Major power potion +2 attack
So that's a long-range, 12-tile AOE attack 6 with eagle-eye goggles for advantage. It takes a few turns to refresh my spent items, but it's not a one-and done attack.
One dad joke before I go