Author Archives: Zoso

About Zoso

If it weren't for my lawyer, I'd still be in prison. It went a lot faster with two people digging.

No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.

I wrapped up the story part of Path of Fire the other day. It was pretty standard stuff, really; get killed, return from the dead, slay a god, pick up some random items and hand them to an NPC ten or even twenty paces away, that sort of thing. As I’ve posted about a couple of times before the story of Guild Wars 2 really hasn’t engaged me. I should probably just skip it; I’m not sure there’s any gated content that depends on having completed the story, and the rest of GW2 continues to offer plentiful activities. Pottering around exploring maps (greatly helped by the new mounts), fractals, adventures, crafting, the Mad King’s Halloween event and what-not. I’d taken part in a fair bit of Structured PvP (5 vs 5 matches) last time I was playing heavily but I think I’d risen to my level of incompetence and reached the stage where I was more of a hindrance to my team, so I’ve been doing a bit of the more open World vs World mode recently, tagging along with sufficiently large blobs. It’s frustrating sometimes, spending a while running across a map only to bump into a larger enemy blob and get squished, but being part of a large scale coordinated team attack is most impressive, especially when friendly Mesmers open up a teleportation portal for surprise flanking manoeuvres. I don’t do an awful lot apart from follow everyone else and drop AoEs on the designated location, but I feel like I’m involved at least, even if only as a very minor cog.

In the story, on the other hand, though I’m theoretically the largest dragon-slaying cog around I don’t feel involved, I’m a title, a cipher with a generic personality regardless of race, class and shoulderpad size. A bunch of NPCs dump some exposition, you fight some stuff, repeat. For me the story of an MMO world is best handled with a light touch, a bit of a push to move players from zone to zone with some interesting lore in the background for those that want to delve into it, less of the lectures. I’ve just started Destiny 2 and that seems to be handling it fairly well so far, even though I never played the original so don’t have any background there. It’s not staggeringly original; Big Nasty Aliens Invade, get the band back together, we’ll see where it goes, but it supports the core running-around-shooting-things requirements well enough. “You” are strangely mute while your robot chum does all the talking, reminding me a little of The Secret World, a game that had almost the opposite problem of Guild Wars 2: an interesting story and world but the levelling grind and rest of the game weren’t strong enough to support it (I should probably have a look at the relaunched Legends version).

It’s a tricky thing, combining an engaging and personal story with a more free-form game, becoming trickier as online multiplayer becomes ubiquitous and open-world map-mopping seems to be a bit of a default template. Paul “Mr Biffo” Rose wrote a strong defence of games as a storytelling medium in light of EA “refocusing” a forthcoming Star Wars game, and while I enjoy a multiplayer shooter or MMO as much as the next man (probably a fair bit more than the next man, unless the next man is a County-standard MMO-enjoyer in which case not quite as much as the next man but more than a composite average man, or indeed woman, assembled from a sufficient sample size) I do like to break things up with more story-driven titles, and recent games like Mass Efffect: Andromeda have been a bit disappointing on that front. Perhaps monetisation strategies are having a negative effect, it’s quite the hot topic (particularly loot boxes) as the wider industry grapples with issues that had previously been largely confined to the free-to-play ghetto. We’ve been talking about these things for years, and obviously games companies have to be held accountable, but I can’t help feeling a little disappointed that players have embraced the idea so enthusiastically that, from a business perspective, it looks mad not to crowbar them in. Rob Fahey on gamesindustry.biz is confident that the games will be there as long as the audience demands them, hopefully the industry can find a happy medium that keeps some variety in AAA titles.

One advantage of talking to yourself is that you know at least somebody’s listening

Path of Fire, the new Guild Wars 2 expansion, is enjoyable enough so far, but it hasn’t really got its hooks into me. Mounts are fun, a new way of getting around; each class has a new elite spec, but unlocking it involves grinding a goodly number of Hero Points so it’ll take me a while longer at my current, rather slow, rate of exploration. Most immediately there’s more story, but as outlined previously that’s not really a plus point. I hardly paid attention to the story of the first expansion, or any of the Living World since; something something dragon something another dragon something something god of war something dragon (possibly the second dragon or maybe a new one) seems to be about the gist of it. I almost came a cropper during one conversation as the game asked me to make a decision about which faction a Mayor (or General) (or costermonger, I dunno, I wasn’t listening when he introduced himself) should support. At that point my character should really have said: “Look, I’m going to be completely honest here: I have no idea who you are. I have no idea why I’m here. I don’t even know where ‘here’ is, there was probably a briefing or a letter or something but I don’t really care. I expect you think I’m fully au fait with the current situation as the previous stage of the quest involved running around the map and talking to a load of people, but I’ll let you into a little secret: they’re all so dreadfully tedious I started playing Candy Crush as soon as any of them started expositing. I should probably go back to that office (or warehouse) (or ice rink, I dunno, I wasn’t listening) and apologise for not immediately leaping to the defence of whoever it was I was talking to when they were ambushed, but I was doing rather well on level 764 at the time. Now, if you’d be so good as to assume I’ve selected whatever option offers the best rewards, why don’t you pop a green asterisk on the map, I’ll run along there and attack anything with a red name or click on anything clickable, I’m not fussy, then I get stacks of XP and loot and stuff and everyone’s happy, OK?”

Inexplicably that wasn’t an option, though, so I just clicked the middle one, trusting that the fundamental nature of the game meant it would make approximately bog-all difference in the grand scheme of things, and toddled off towards the nearest green asterisk to click on a thing…

Mr Mojo Risin’

At a loose gaming end of an evening I had a bit of a poke through a virtual pile of unplayed games. A Humble Bundle from a while back yielded Dead Rising 2 and 3, and I thought I’d start with the earlier game first but didn’t get terribly far. The graphics aren’t unplayably awful but show their age a bit, the controls are rather clunky, and save game checkpoints seemed few and far between making it a frustrating exercise. Moving on, Dead Rising 3 turned out to be a considerable improvement in all three areas. Describing it to Melmoth he said it sounded like Grand Theft Auto meets Evil Dead, which is indeed an excellent summary; hordes of zombies can be battered, sliced, shot, pummelled, toasted and shredded with a huge variety of weapons, and like Evil Dead 2 the gore and ultra-violence is so over-the-top it generally falls on the comedic side of grotesque. You can kit yourself out with Ash’s preferred chainsaw and shotgun, but one of the selling points of the series is the ability to combine items to produce weapons ranging from the sublimely ridiculous (Cement saw attached to a sledgehammer? Sure!) to the ridiculously sublime (A battleaxe with a speak n’ spell to provide sarcastic robotic commentary? You bet!)

Mowing down zombies in new and interesting ways gives experience points, and what do experience points make? Cuddly toys, of course (probably with a bunch of knives strapped to them). Also points to assign to various skills to improve your health, melee abilities, etc etc. There are various things to do around the city including assorted challenges to complete, cosmetic outfits to pick up, everything you’d want in an open world game. Co-op mode sounds fun, settings allow you to run an open game that anybody can drop into but I’m sticking with single player for now ’til checking there’s no potential for griefing (it’s quite tricky avoiding friendly NPCs when flailing around with a flaming katana/scythe hybrid, friendly fire could get rather messy).

There’s a story that so far is hitting a bunch of Standard Issue Zombie Beats (quarantined city, small group of survivors, sinister government/military threat, nasty human gangs posing the old ah-but-who-are-the-real-monsters question (it’s the first one, Rich)), but rather conveniently the game lets you replay previous chapters while retaining your character progression, so after advancing a couple of chapters quite rapidly I’ve rewound to spend a bit more time finding new and improbable weapon combinations before doing anything silly like trying to escape from a zombie-infested city.

Not sure it’s an all time classic, but an hour or two of zombie-bashing mayhem here and there isn’t a bad way of passing the time. Worth a look if you like the excesses of latter Saints Row games and always wanted to turn a parasol and dragon mask into a weapon of some sort.

You fought hard and you saved and earned

It’s coming up for a year since (finally) properly getting into Guild Wars 2. The good old Tuesday N00b Club moved on a little while back but Melmoth’s Sunday morning group fortuitously had a vacancy and Fractals (instanced mini-Dungeon type things) have been providing nice bite-sized chunks of content ideal for a once-a-week diversion. Thing were starting to get a little stale and we explored a couple of alternatives (WildStar and a return to SWTOR), but neither really stuck, so everyone wandered off over the summer. I’ve been ticking along with the usual gaming suspects; War Thunder, Mass Effect: Andromeda multiplayer, a bit of the new DOOM (satisfyingly squishy but not hugely engrossing), a quick glance at a new update for The Division (still fun for a quick blast). Nothing terribly inspiring on either the gaming or blogging front. The announcement of a new GW2 expansion, Path of Fire, has sparked a bit of interest, though, so I think I’ll pick that up and have a look around.

The title is a little odd, though; who makes a path out of fire? That’s a pretty clear violation of Appendix 9.2-A of the Drives, paths and landscaping section of NHBC Standards, and frankly a health and safety nightmare. All I can imagine is a mix-up in ArenaNet’s contacts list, and instead of engaging Capability Brown to provide the landscaping for the new expansion they got The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. Easy mistake to make.

Chalke Valley History Festival 2017

Our fifth visit to the Chalke Valley History Festival, on a new site this year, no less picturesque but slightly easier to get to. As ever there were all sorts of fascinating speakers, I started the day with World War II pilots Colin Bell and Keith Quilter in conversation with Will Iredale. Iredale’s splendid The Kamikaze Hunters covers the airmen of the oft-neglected British Pacific Fleet such as Corsair pilot Quilter, who was shot down in July 1945 and rescued by an American submarine where he spent the final weeks of the war. Bell was a Mosquito pilot of the Light Night Striking Force and completed 50 missions over Germany. They were fascinating, reflecting on the role of luck in their survival, both having returned from missions with flak damage that could easily have been fatal.

Around the site were living history encampments covering various eras from Romans through to World War II, the re-enactors also giving demonstrations such as missile weapons through the ages with slings, javelins, bows, a trebuchet and early artillery. Napoleonic cavalry showed their skill at arms with sword and lance:

My wife then went to see Monty Don talking about the history of British gardens, with a minor interruption halfway through as a column of Vikings marched past to (mock) battle:

This year’s air display was a little disappointing; the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster was unable to attend, and a Messerschmitt Bf 109 had engine trouble so was replaced with the Yak-3 that was there last year. On the plus side the only flying Bristol Blenheim gave a fantastic display, I hadn’t managed to catch it since its recent restoration before now.

All in all another fantastic day out, helped by the glorious sunshine unlike last year’s mud bath!

Warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed

War. War never changes. Apart from when it does, like the time Ian Pointed-Stick invented the pointed stick, that was a shock for the non-pointed stick folks. The War folks are pretty bad about patch notes and version numbers, though, and seldom put out a press release when a new update to War is released unlike Gaijin, developers of World War II(ish) combat game War Thunder. The last few updates to War Thunder have been ticking along, generally adding some new planes and tanks, always nice but not particularly noteworthy. The addition of Japanese tanks at the end of last year to join their Soviet, German, US and British counterparts rounded out air and ground forces for all the countries in the game, the latest update expands the array of nations for the first time in (mumble) years as could be surmised from its name: Regia Aeronautica. Yes, it’s all about a fearless aeronaut called Reg. Or possibly the Italian Air Force.

Italian aircraft aren’t completely new to the game, there were a handful in the German tree, but Update 1.69 sees them take to the skies under their own flag with a fully fleshed-out tree of fighters and bombers from the biplane CR.32 up to the jet-powered G.91. The tree will be gradually made available a few aircraft at a time, or the full thing can be researched by players who buy an Italian premium aircraft pack or complete a series of tasks. It’s early days yet but there’s a nice range of aircraft available, and the mid-war “Serie 5” fighters in particular seem to be performing well. It’s always fun to go back to the slightly more relaxed early tiers, and the new Italian tree gives a great reason to do so.

Crunchy Mass Corn Effect

I finished off Mass Effect: Andromeda the other day, and it’s… fine. I put around 100 hours into it, both single and multiplayer, so it’s not a bad game (or I’m a terrible masochist), but it’s not amazing. Using a new Crunchy Maize Corn Stick Based Review System, I’d liken it to a giant bag of Salt & Vinegar Chipsticks: you open the bag, thinking you’ll have a few Chipsticks then seal it back up again, and they’re pretty nice, so you have a few more, and you don’t really notice that you’re about two thirds of the way through the bag, and then there’s no point leaving a few so you keep going, and without really intending to you’ve finished the bag and your fingers are clad in a crunchy maize gauntlet and you need to drink a couple of pints of water to clear the salt & vinegar coating from your tongue. Compelling enough to keep you going, but you don’t sit back at the end and think “well that was a great dining experience, I’ll do that again tomorrow”.

In general it’s very Mass Effect-y. Talk to a bunch of people, shoot a bunch of aliens, talk to a bunch of people, shoot a bunch of aliens, flirt with squadmates, shoot a bunch of aliens, y’know, Mass Effect-y. It’s more explicitly Open World than the previous games with planets to roam full of assorted odds and sods; the majority of missions are fairly bland busywork of the “go to X waypoints” variety, a bit of a single-player MMO, especially when coupled with resource gathering for crafting, but the driving and combat work well enough for it to be generally enjoyable rather than too much of a chore. I liked the flexible skill system that allowed you to combine combat, tech and biotic powers, though I did get into a bit of a rut of sticking with the same powers once I found a combination that worked.

The overarching story was all right but I couldn’t shake the feeling I’d seen most of it before one way or another, and the central strand was a bit weak (the usual game problem of balancing an imperative to follow a main story with almost unlimited opportunities to arse around picking up drink ingredients for a nightclub). I didn’t find any squadmates intensely irritating, but none of them especially clicked either. I inadvertently ended up locked into a romance after always picking flirtatious options when talking to anyone (and in the game, ah); I thought there was a warning if you were going to commit yourself to one person (like in real life when a message flashes across the screen), maybe I missed it. In the final mission of the game (extremely minor spoiler warning) you get help from people you helped out along the way, but a combination of my increasingly failing memory and fairly inconsequential side quests meant I couldn’t even remember who some of them were. “Ryder, you saved my life, I can never repay you but I’m here to help you out!” “Oh that’s awfully nice, thanks. Um. Who are you, again? Are you sure we’ve met?”

Overall, then, not a disaster of intergalactic proportions, but not an all-time classic. If you were peckish and poking around the kitchen cupboard then a giant bag of Salt & Vinegar Chipsticks would do in a pinch, but you wouldn’t order them in a restaurant. Unless it was some hipster Crunchy Maize Corn Stick restaurant.

Noel’s Andromeda Party or No Party

So we were chatting away about the recent Mass Effect: Andromeda patch with improvements to the character creator, and wondering what future updates might hold…

> MELMOTH: Patch Notes: Deleted all Ryder face and beard options and replaced them with 'a version of Noel Edmonds that our artist modelled one Friday afternoon while drunk'.

> ZOSO: New game pitch: ME:A featuring Noel Edmonds as Ryder with squadmates Mr Blobby and The Banker


The planet Eos. NOEL “PATHFINDER” EDMONDS disembarks from the Nomad accompanied by the pink and yellow horror that is MISTER BLOBBY.

EDMONDS: Looks like a Kett encampment ahead, Blobby, better be careful. Here’s the plan: we sneak up, hidden by those rocks there, then I’ll use my Biotic shield to cover…

BLOBBY: Blobby? Blobby blobby blobby! BLOBBBBEEEEEE!

BLOBBY charges forward wildly firing a submachine gun, falls over, narrowly misses EDMONDS with a burst of fire, gets back up; EDMONDS cautiously moves forward in cover trying to suppress the Kett with assault rifle fire; BLOBBY trips again, lands on EDMONDS.

EDMONDS: Blobby! For heaven’s sake…

Kett troopers look on, somewhat bemused. A telephone rings loudly and everybody pauses.

EDMONDS: Ah! About time The Banker turned up.

EDMONDS answers a telephone inexplicably sitting on a rock formation.

EDMONDS: Yes? I see. Really? Right then.

EDMONDS puts the telephone down. Tense music plays.

EDMONDS: Well, Kett Anointed, The Banker admires your bravado but says it will be your undoing in the end. He’s going to make an extremely generous offer that he knows you’ll turn down: 500 credits, an Uncommon item, and some inorganic lubricant.

KETT ANOINTED turns to his comrades.

KETT DESTINED: I’ve got a really good feeling about your container, I reckon there’s definitely an Ultra Rare in there, don’t take the deal.

KETT CHOSEN: The Banker’s just playing mind games with you, think about how those credits could change your life.

KETT ANOINTED: Well… it’s a good offer, Noel, but at the end of the day I’m an AI mob scripted to blindly attack you, so I’m going to have to say ‘no deal’ and shoot you with a plasma rifle.

While the Kett have been talking, BLOBBY has climbed up to a nearby platform. He takes aim with a Black Widow sniper rifle.

BLOBBY: Blobby!

BLOBBY fires, completely missing the Kett; the recoil knocks him backwards in a somersault off the platform, landing on EDMONDS again.


Some people just have to take things too far, though…

> MELMOTH: Mr Blobby romance options...


Pathfinders Quarters on the Tempest. EDMONDS and BLOBBY have returned to the ship.

EDMONDS: Well, Blobby, as Kett Anointed didn’t take the deal I still have that inorganic lubricant. Better hope you don’t ‘trip’ and fall on top of me again…

BLOBBY: Blobby blobby blobby blobby blobby blobby *squelch* blobby blobby blobby!

Fade to black. Fade to black! For the love of all that is holy fade to black!

AFAOIEIOGDOFDOMAF

As many commentators pointed out the whole idea of April Fool’s Day on the internet seems rather superfluous in the current climate, but at least there’s April Fun And/Or Interesting Event In Online Game Day (Or Few Days Or Maybe A Fortnight) to look forward to (AFAOIEIOGDOFDOMAF, as all the cool kids call it). I’ve been a bit distracted by Mass Effect: Andromeda so haven’t looked too far around the net to see what’s been going on this year; Guild Wars 2 has the Super Adventure Box, an 8-bit inspired Mario-y quest to rescue a kidnapped princess, but it’s not a genre I have particular nostalgia for so I haven’t done much more than poke a nose in.

Over in War Thunder developers Gaijin introduced modern main battle tanks and attack helicopters. Though the game is largely based in World War 2 its vehicles have been inexorably moving forwards in time, so it’s less of a rib-tickling gag than a logical extension. Last year’s sailing ship event was an opportunity to test out aquatic combat in advance of the naval forces beta test and there’s widespread expectation that this event presages something major, either War Thunder itself moving into the modern era or perhaps a new and separate game. It does seem like a fair bit of work just for a few days:

Mind you we haven’t seen World War II Mechs after the 2015 event, which is rather a shame as they were quite splendid, so it might just be a one-off.

Encumbered forever by desire and ambition

It’s a funny old game, The Division. Saying that, I didn’t find it particularly amusing, the quirky mission-givers being a bit jarring in an otherwise bleak, bleak time, and it’s not old as such, having been released exactly(ish) a year ago. Still, “it’s a game, The Division” would be a bit of a weak post opening despite the factual accuracy.

On the one hand I’ve sunk a fair amount of time into it and mostly enjoyed it, popping back in for the updates and noodling around New York with a bunch o’ guns. It’s got a good hook, the set-piece story missions play well and can take a fair bit of repeating in the “do it again but harder” endgame (note to ed: insert Kenneth Williams animated reaction GIF here in a desperate attempt to keep up with newfangled social media trends that are already dreadfully passée thus appearing even more out of touch, unless we luck out and they’re undergoing a retro revival). On the other hand, it feels like there are missed opportunities. The story is left dangling; obviously you want to leave space for a sequel but I would’ve liked a bit more of a resolution at the end of the main game. It hasn’t really been picked up in any updates or DLC, and from what “Year Two” details I’ve seen there are no more story missions on the cards (the old conflict between story (expensive voice actors, time-consuming development, ‘properly’ experienced once (if that) by most players) and repeatability). Combat generally works, but it can be a fine line between rampaging around without any difficulty and cowering behind boxes waiting for a healing skill to recharge as any attempt to peak out is met by a fusillade of pin-point return fire. The DLC packs have felt a little lacklustre; nice additions, but not necessarily £12-worth. Survival is fun but pales after a few runs, the most recent Last Stand looks particularly empty unless you’re into the PvP side of things. Assigning a value to games is increasingly difficult, entirely arbitrarily I’d say I got my money’s worth from the main game but not quite the season pass.

Tim & Jon were talking about it on their 9th Anniversary podcast (hearty congratulations to them for tireless devotion to entertaining gaming wittering, and indeed even older legacy textual rambling that the Wayback Machine has just about saved from The Demise of Domains) and mentioned a new in-game “Premium” vendor in the most recent update flogging emotes and cosmetics for real money (or at least for Obligatory Premium In-Game Currency bought with real money). I hadn’t seen this new vendor, so I fired up the game and toddled along to have a look and it is a trifle odd. Where, say, Mass Effect 3 compartmentalised the multiplayer (loot boxes, cash shop, ‘grind’) and the solo story, they’re blurred together in The Division for good (being able to drop in and easily play with friends, generally) and not-quite-so-good (£5 for a dance emote!) I’m not quite sure what genre The Division falls into; Sort Of Fairly Open World With Strong RPG Gameplay Elements And A Bit Of A Story If You Want To Pay Attention To It Optionally Multiplayer Third Person Cover Shooter, maybe. Not that everything has to fall into a neat box, of course, but I think it’s spread itself a bit thin and ended up the proverbial Jack-of-all-Genres, mastering none.