Why I Probably Won’t Finish Wolfenstein: The New Order

wolfenstein_by_trycon1980_dbv8olo-pre

Image created by  Trycon1980 from Deviant Art

And the completionist in me weeps to face that reality. But let’s start from the beginning. 

This week I decided to opt-in for Playstation Now — which is a good investment for the gamer who isn’t hung up on playing the newest shiniest releases. PS Now has a pretty good selection–including both Wolfenstein: TNO and Wolfenstein: The New Colossus among a number of other games across genres.

The first thing I chose to download was Wolfenstein: TNO as I’ve been circling the series for a few years without taking the leap before now.

Why?

I don’t consider myself a huge fan of First-Person Shooters. This is strange only because Goldeneye is one of my favorite games of all time (it is an N64 staple and revolutionized the FPS as we all know it) but I haven’t been all that impressed with modern FPS offerings because I’m not interested in running around in fatigues and getting shot down by uber talented 8 year-olds in multi-player. 

But, as usual, I digress. 

I have a very real love/hate relationship with this game, and I realize that much of my aversion is due to its unfamiliarity. I’ve never played a game that pitted me against menacing super-Nazi’s, I’ve never jumped out of my skin when a large robot dog from hell, or Panzerhund as they’re called, lept out at me and tore me to bits. I’ve never watched a guy I was talking to get blown to pieces seconds later by the car bomb he put in his trunk.

However, after playing through the first few hours, I got a hang of things and could see the appeal–and that appeal–like with most FPS games–is full-on immersion. 

wolfenstein_2___panzerhund_by_jqueary1991_dbxaait-pre

Enter the Panzerhund. Image by  jQueary1991 from Deviant Art.

I should add that I started playing on “I AM DEATH INCARNATE” difficulty level because I’m a sado-masochist. “I AM DEATH INCARNATE” is only one level below the hardest difficulty level, “UBER”. After playing at “IADC”, I cannot imagine what sort of sicko can even play one level of this game on “UBER”, but I know I never want to meet them and that they are probably 12-years-old. 

Anyway, after being killed like 1,000 times and yelling at my fiance in frustration, I moved the difficulty level down one peg to “BRING ‘EM ON”. This level is still really hard, but it gives you a fighting chance which means the world in a game full of deadly surprises. 

The Wolfenstein franchise is known to be difficult, and so I quit my belly-aching and locked in for an extremely exciting ride, and boy is it exciting, but that won’t be enough to make me see things through. 

Don’t get me wrong, this game offers an experience that I’ve never quite had before. I was invested in a way I haven’t been in a long time, and I can only attribute this to the fact that fighting murderous Nazi’s in an alternate reality really got under my skin. 

I’m a wimp, so the realistic violence is a bit much for me. The immersion is impressive, but it will be a large part of why I don’t finish the game. For example, when the main character, William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, was being tortured early on in the game, the first-person perspective made me feel like I was in the hot seat, and dammit, with the way the world is now I can’t play a game that stresses me out that much. 

I regularly shiver with anxiety while navigating whatever cold dungeon I’ve broken into, performing impeccable stealth kills or mowing down a gaggle of Nazi scum with whatever heavy weapon I’ve picked up along the way. I bite my nails during cut scenes as I prepare for whatever fresh hell Wolfenstein: TNO has in store for me. I pump my fist in maniacal glee after leveling an entire army of Nazis. 

All of these visceral reactions show just how amazing Wolfenstein: TNO order is, but, alas, this old gamer’s heart can’t take it. 

So as I power up my PS4 to inhabit Blazkowicz’s handsome body one more time, I realize that while I may be over the repetition of shooting, diving for cover, and being gunned down–brutally–over and over, I can enjoy it for as long as I decide to without the added pressure of needing to see it through to the end. 

While the completionist in me isn’t quite happy knowing I’m playing a game I won’t finish, I can fully appreciate the masterpiece that is the Wolfenstein series. And you never know, I might post here one day and reveal that I completed the game after all. But I won’t beat myself up if I don’t. I’ll leave that to the Nazis. 

Darkest Dungeon: Tips for Surviving the Best Turn-Based RPG You’ve Never Heard Of

IMG_0785

I don’t know about you (it would be creepy if I did) but I loooove a good turn-based RPG, especially since they are a dying breed among mainstream game offerings. I consider turn-based mechanics to be the mark of a “true” RPG.  During my formative years, I cut my teeth on true RPGs like Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy VII (I have to include that one or you’d just click off the page right now, I’m sure) Super Mario RPG, Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy XII, Legends of Dragoon, and Valkyrie Profile, just to name a few.

Short attention spans, the rise of the “casual gamer”, and the tendency for game developers to stick to action RPGs has caused the true RPG’s star to dim in recent years. However, I’ve never given up the search for the type of turn-based fun that offers the addictive challenge and novel theme that characterizes an entertaining, memorable, RPG experience.

One such memorable, true RPG offering is Darkest Dungeon from Red Hook Games. It is a brutal turn-based RPG that is so difficult that it makes you throw your remote to the ground in….pleasure? Yes, pleasure, because Darkest Dungeon makes no bones about how challenging it is, but still manages to be a smashing good time.

As you play this game, you will, inevitably, make peace with the reality that without meticulous preparation (and sometimes in spite of meticulous preparation) your party members will die, and it will be all your fault, you spineless worm! Just kidding, you’re not spineless.

Surviving DD’s extended dungeon crawls is no picnic. With your party of four tortured heroes, you’re charged to free your ancestor’s crumbling estate from the clutches of dark entities that his bad behavior unleashed upon the lands, and paying for your family’s sins has never been so entertaining.

You’ll venture out on Skirmish missions where you have to complete 100% of room battles, Scouting missions where you have to explore 90% of the rooms, and boss battles — where you’re killed immediately — all the while going up against the likes of bipedal rotting fish, rancid corpses (here’s looking at you, Drowned Thrall), skeleton soldiers, Hags with cauldrons that aren’t just for show, and blobs of melted flesh that dole out attacks that can level your party in fewer than three turns.

You can attempt escape–and most likely your attempt will fail. If that happens, prepare to lose all of your turns and suffer murder with extreme prejudice, because there are few rewards for cowardice in the twisted DD universe.

Darkest Dungeon is an addictive exercise in perseverance and problem solving. As a seasoned gamer, I tend to glean real life-applicable impressions from the games I play. For example, if I choose a combination of heroes that are not able to get the job done (translation: die immediately) on a Scouting mission through the Cove, I reevaluate my choices, implement some strategic thinking, and go guns blazing with another approach. If at first you don’t succeed, die, die again. DD teaches hard lessons, such as “preparedness guarantees nothing, but preparedness guarantees a chance at something”. I made that one up, but it’s applicable, kinda!

Some of your party combinations will get a cool title if you arrange them just right.

The object of this game–which is to complete a long list of “Caretaker Goals” that include everything from leveling up a hero to defeating a boss — pales in comparison to the necessity of determining the proper party combo and resource stockpile that will get you through a mere Skirmish mission unscathed, or better yet, help you withstand the relentless onslaught of a boss battle. Boss battles are insane, by the way, mostly because you must endure room after room of resource depleting, life-sapping, stress inducing battles before you happen upon the room that contains said boss, who is ALWAYS harder than you think they’ll be. Every. Single. Time.

One game-changing distinction that makes Darkest Dungeon so sexy is your heroes’ two-fold vulnerability gauge–one that determines Stress level (the Affliction System), and one that determines HP. Certain creature attacks deplete your HP while others will add to your Stress gauge — as will certain conditions in the environment or random missteps you make during your crawl. Reach 100 in stress, you gain a Stress quirk that can manifest in any number of ways. These Stress quirks, or Afflictionscan cause the affected party member to literally stress-out their war-worn peers, pass their turn, self-harm, or attack enemies without your command. Reach 200 in stress and you’ll have a heart attack, and there’s no coming back from that. In DD, stress, like in life, is a killer.

DD Stress

Stress can make you Hopeless. (Image from DarkestDungeon.com)

Outside of hours spent traipsing through dank ruins, fishy coves, overgrown warrens, teeming wealds, or the titular Darkest Dungeon (you have to use Level 6 party members to play the Darkest Dungeon—I’ve played this game for over a year and despite having Level 6 heroes, have never even considered darkening the threshold of the Darkest Dungeon, this game is that hard) you spend a lot of your time patching your party up back at the Hamlet. 

The Hamlet is home to places like the Tavern and Abbey where your heroes can engage in a variety of anti-Stress activities, like drinking (always the best and cheapest choice unless your party member has an aversion to drinking) flagellation (really), getting naked in the brothel, meditation, or prayer just to name a few. Stress is also mitigated through random events that occur within the dungeon crawls, or by using stress relievers around the campfire during longer missions.

This game has no shortage of unique challenges, including your need to equip pre-crawl provisions that relieve status effects and interact with certain items you’ll find during your travels. For example, a Bandage relieves the status effect “Bleed” and can also be used to protect your hands while you rummage through a pile of rusty blades for useful items that will help you on your journey. You have to choose–and use–your provisions wisely, or, well, you’ll die.

Death, like in life, is final for any of your heroes who succumb on your journey. My advice is to hold off on naming or becoming attached to any of your heroes until you get your bearings, because most likely, they’re going to die.

Darkest Dungeon is detailed, intricate, dark, and engaging. It is a game that you can play alongside your other more lengthy and in-depth gaming endeavors. For example, I’ve played Darkest Dungeon alongside my Mass Effect re-playthrough, Red Dead Redemption 2, Beyond: Two Souls, Detroit: Become Human, Horizon Zero Dawn and any other long-ish game that strikes my fancy. Once you get a hang of things, it’s easy to come back to it over and over again without a steep relearning curve, and, if you think this is a game you can beat in a week, you’ve got another thing coming. No one fucking beats this game. (I will let you know as soon as I do, which will probably be around my 50th birthday.)

In an effort to help you put your best foot forward, I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks to help you prepare to face the Darkest Dungeon. Don’t say I never gave you anything.

TIPS:

  • It’s imperative that you use status effect attacks on your enemies; Bleed, Blight, and Stun are lifesavers in clutch moments, use them wisely. These effects also stack–meaning if you afflict an enemy with Bleed three times — they get three times the damage each turn. Lay it on thick!
  • Party member position is key. Make sure you place your heroes in the spots that work to their strengths. Not all of their activated attacks work in every position, and if an enemy shuffles up your order with a Move attack, you could be royally fucked.
  • Use a good mix of Buffs, Debuffs, and melee attacks. Of course melee is going to get the killing job done, but sometimes buffing your party toward being speedier or more evasive is as important as stabbing a baddie in the face. Debuff your baddies where you can, make them slow, make them inaccurate–make them pay! Be strategic.
  • When choosing provisions BUY ALL THE FOOD available. I cannot stress this enough. During your trek through the dungeons, a prompt will sometimes pop up at random requiring you to disperse food to your party. If you don’t have enough, they suffer massive Stress.
  • Another note on provisions, you have limited space in your inventory, so choose wisely–sometimes I leave things behind–either during the crawl or while choosing provisions beforehand. Never leave a shovel or food behind, but you can forego things like Luadanum–it’s good for removing Horror, but I don’t find that I need it that often and I can get through most crawls with out it. Here’s my recommended Provision pack:
      • 9 torches
      • All the food I can buy (if you can’t afford all of it, sell some trinkets or something, then come back and buy all the food, I mean it!)
      • 3-4 shovels
      • 2 medicinal herbs
      • 2 holy waters
      • 1-2 keys (keep in mind that not having a key will never kill you or Stress you, you just might miss out on some treasure or a secret room.)
      • 2 anti-venoms
      • 2-3 bandages
  • When you get enough cash, remove some of your party’s quirks at the Sanitarium.
  • When choosing what to drop and what to keep as you deal with limited inventory space, always choose heirlooms over cash when you can as the heirlooms allow you to upgrade your heroes and the services available in the Hamlet. If you get the Crimson Court DLC, the heirlooms allow you to upgrade your Hamlet with new buildings that give you additional boons.
  • DO NOT go into a boss battle until you’ve practiced besting Skirmish and Scouting missions. Boss battles are no fucking joke. I once leveled up a party to 5 and lost them all on a (Level 4) mission, which brings me to the fact that…
  • Level designations mean nothing–just because a level says it’s for level 1 heroes, doesn’t mean all of your level 1 heroes are fit for the battle, be strategic.
  • ALWAYS brings shovels. Not having one when you need it can cause Stress and injury. On the few times I forgot a shovel, I just saw myself out immediately.

Ight

  • Leave the dungeon if you can’t cut it. You’ll live to fight another day, even if you leave with a few more quirks than you came in with.
  • Leave your ego at the door.

So, there you have it, a write up on one of my favorite games of all time. Play Darkest Dungeon with the understanding that you’re supposed to suck at it, but with airtight strategy and persistence, you’ll suck less and less over time. Whether you prevail and become a DD master, or flounder and experience a full-party wipe out, you’re sure to have a barrel of rotten, decaying fun.

Video Game Review: Beyond: Two Souls Was Beyond My Skill

beyond

Or that’s how I felt, at least, when I failed–repeatedly–to input the right commands during the fight sequences. But we’ll get to that–let’s start from the beginning.

Beyond: Two Souls is another interactive drama and action-adventure game for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 (I played it on PS4) and Microsoft Windows from David Cage and Quantic Dream. This dynamic team brought us other immersive, interactive drama and action adventure games like Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit), Heavy Rain, and Detroit: Become Human  all of which are very good (if you enjoy this genre of game) and worth checking out of you’ve got a lot of time on your hands because of, well, COVID-19.

Beyond: Two Souls tells the story of Jodie Holmes,  (adult/teen Jodie is played by Ellen Page who does a kick-ass job) a woman who is literally linked to a mysterious spirit named Aiden. The story follows her from childhood to womanhood as she deals with the weirdness of having a (very capable) spirit companion with whom she shares a very complicated relationship.

Jodie grows up under the watchful eye of the United States Department of Paranormal activity under the tutelage Dr. Nathan Dawkins (Willem Dafoe) and Cole Freeman (Kadeem Hardison). During this chapter of her life, she learns the bounds of her amazing powers while struggling with the horrors of young adulthood. She then goes to work for the CIA, using Aiden to aid them in their quest to create a link to the “other side”.

The CIA, of course, is full of douches that use her for their own devices with little regard for her safety, sanity, or the viability of opening up a portal to the spirit world (spoiler alert, their attempts go awry every time) and Jodie, with Aiden’s help, is constantly working to clean up their ghostly messes.

Despite some reviews I read that said different, Beyond; Two Souls has an appropriately intricate and interesting plot and it is every bit a cinematic juggernaut on par with the rest of Cage and Quantic Dream’s work. The gameplay here is a bit more complex than that of Indigo Prophecy or Heavy Rain, though you can adjust difficulty according to your comfort level.

I chose the “experienced” level and felt pretty confident about my choice–and then came the fighting mechanics. It’s set up like this: Jodie’s body or body part moves, in slow motion, in any given direction on the screen and you’re supposed to move the right joystick in that direction. I sucked at this. During the 10-second or so slow motion moments it’s up to you to determine which direction Jodie’s swinging, ducking, or kicking. This literally kicked my ass. I kept rolling into punches, ducking when I should have been jumping to the side, punching to the right when I should’ve been punching to the left. Overall I got my ass kicked in about 75% of the fights. Lucky for me, I was still able to get through the grueling action sequences even though Jodie was always worse for wear. I sported a lot of bloody noses, busted lips, and limped while holding my arm a lot.

Needless to say, I performed below par and as a very seasoned gamer, I’m ashamed to admit it.

As is typical when I suck at some component of a game, I looked up reviews on the game to see if other people had this same problem with the fight mechanics. Phew! They did.

So the moral of this story is, check out Beyond: Two Souls, because I was able to love it despite it’s relentless mission to take me down in peg in my gaming prowess, so that must mean it’s pretty good. I mean, you get to possess people (Aiden’s abilities essentially make you a bad ass–with Aiden’s help, you can fly and heal people, for example) fight smoky evil entities, kiss men (or not if you so choose) and kick ass — but be warned that the fighting mechanics kind of suck. Don’t agree? Think I’ve got a mouthful of sour grapes? Try the game and let me know if you had the same experience I had–which was a good one, overall.

Video Game Review: The Absolute Ecstasy of Mass Effect

Mass Effect

As an ardent Bioware fan, I play through the entire Mass Effect series once a year and I’m in the middle of my 2020 play-through as we speak.

Mass Effect tells the story of Commander Shepherd, an Alliance fleet hero who is charged with (of course) saving the Earth from a species of “old-machines” called the Reapers who exist to eliminate organics.

Each installment centers around Shepherd fighting the Reapers and whatever agent they’ve recruited to do their bidding. In the first installment, it was the rogue Spectre, Saren (with a special appearance by the Geth), in Mass Effect 2, it was the Collectors (and, of course, the Geth), and in Mass Effect 3, it was the Reapers and their favorite mindless slaves, the Geth. Really, the Geth are always around causing trouble and being completely vulnerable to tech attacks (yay!).

Currently, I’m admiring the crown glory of the series, Mass Effect 3, which signifies the complete evolution of the series up to that point in its improvement on less than stellar elements of the first two installments.

I played the series out of order as the inaugural installment of Mass Effect wasn’t readily available on PS3 when I learned about the series. My first introduction to this space-age opus was Mass Effect 2, which was a vast improvement on the first in the series–mostly because you didn’t have to drive around in the awkward M35 Mako on every mission. No, in MS2 you just had to spend countless hours scanning planets for mineral deposits that didn’t really tip the scale in the game that much after a certain point–yet I did this a lot because I’m a rabid completionist.

images

M35 Mako: Mass Effect

Overall, I cannot tout the absolute perfection of this series enough–and without reservation–I consider the entire series to be an impeccable epic of space kick-assery — let me make that clear for those who have numerous complaints about the ending, or about this, or about that. Many fanboys crucified the game’s final installment, Mass Effect: Andromeda, effectively torpedoing the series based on their claims that it didn’t live up to their standards. I’d like to see these same fanboys deliver on-point gaming caviar after four installments. At that point, I’m sure we can all agree that anything can jump the shark.

What I love about Mass Effect is that its setting goes beyond the well-worn depiction of a pseudo-medieval/renaissance environment, which I am entirely tired of. I play a lot of RPGs, and since turn-based RPGs have, from a mainstream standpoint, gone the way of the Dodo, I tend to play a lot of Action RPGs that are mired in dreary castle-dom and armor and scabbards and the like. Don’t get me wrong, I love Skyrim, Witcher 3, Dragon Age (another AMAZING Action-RPG series by Bioware), Fable, Dragon’s Dogma, etc. but I’m a little tired of  seeing dragons, elves, castles, kings, etc. as the overarching theme of  RPGs/Action RPGs.

To put it simply, I’m a bitch that loves space.

There’s a lot to love about this game, but the Simmer in me (I’m playing the Sims 4 right now as well) particularly enjoys the in depth customization options available for you to create your unique hero in Shepherd. It’s no secret that being able to personalize your main character allows for deeper immersion in a game, and Mass Effect has that in spades. Check out some video of my kick-ass purple-haired maven, Prism Shepherd, below.

Otherwise, the game is gritty and more than sates my shooter appetites (it’s a great third person shooter). Like Dragon Age and the two installments before it, Mass Effect 3 has a relationship development engine (though it’s a bit less in depth in MS3) and includes lots of cursing, skimpy clothing, sexy aliens, and depending on what difficulty you choose, some very deadly, asshole-ish baddies. I mean what more  could you want?

So this is an ode to one of my favorite RPG/Action RPG series. Mass Effect is keeping me entertained during this quarantine horror show, and I’ve dropped some game play footage below for your enjoyment.

Check out Mass Effect, it’s good for you.

Prism Shepard and “ally” geth Legion discuss the current state of things during a cut scene.

Wonder what it would be like to shoot cubes in a Tron-like Geth mainframe? Well, you’ll wonder no more after playing Mass Effect 3!

 

 

 

Movies: Netflix’s Death Note

There could be spoilers here about Netflix’s stab at the popular manga/anime series, Death Note. I write these things via stream of consciousness so I don’t check for loose lips, only glaring errors. So, perhaps, SPOILER ALERT.

I’m not going to pretend I read the Death Note manga, nor have I seen the anime series, so my opinion is based on watching it without knowing anything about it.

In summary, without giving too much away, the main character, Light Turner, finds a way to dole out just deserts with the flick of a wrist–with horrific results.

I read a review calling it the “worst movie” the reviewer had ever seen, so needless to say, I was intrigued.

Now I’m sure we all know by now that for every binge-able most-watched Netflix series, there are like ten awful ones that you wish you could erase from your viewing history. I knew this had potential to be pretty bad, so I dove right in.

I pick movies apart for a living. Or, I live to pick movies apart, either way, I was waiting to do this and I missed my chance because I became interested in the movie. Willem Dafoe’s Ryuk is both frightening and funny–and Willem’s voice was made for this guy.

Nat Wolff’s Light Turner grew on me. At first, I didn’t think I’d be able to stomach his emo hair and his overall affect, but that grew on me quickly. Add in a deliciously evil Margaret Qualley as Mia Sutton/Kira, and you’ve got a pair of homicidal teens with hearts of gold.

It wasn’t something you write home about, but it was entertaining, a little bit scary, and very interesting–in no small part thanks to the ubiquitous Lakeith Stanfield who is the perfect eccentric super-detective with a troubled past and razor sharp instincts.

Now, I’m tempted to go watch the Death Note anime to see what the fanboys (I’m guessing the people who hate the Netflix rendering are fanboys, or fanpeople?) are talking about. It’s probably same old same old: “they left [insert character] out of the Netflix version! Burn their houses!” Or, “in the manga/anime, the detective character was white!” Yawn.

As a standalone quickie don’t think too much movie, it was perfect. Also, it kind of had a Heathers feel, and I love that movie, don’t you?

Staying Productive During Corona Madness

thiebaud-faix-jvGX2sMoBU0-unsplash

 

It’s not easy. I learned a long time ago that having endless time on your hands can be a burden.

With that said, I’ve been more productive than ever, churning out writing samples, working on my sci-fi series, and gaming only a little.

Speaking of gaming, in the spirit of being productive, I’ve managed to play endless hours of Mass Effect 2 (I’m being funny here) and have used it as a form of meditation (seriously).

I do true meditation, you know, sitting immobile in my favorite chair, calming my racing thoughts, but what people don’t realize (or maybe they do and I’m late to the game) is that intense focus on ANY activity can be meditation. So by that logic, watching Midsommer last night was intense meditation practice. Too bad the movie is so weird I was troubled for the rest of the evening.

How are you keeping busy during this uniquely horrific time?