Candlekeep Mysteries

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I bloody love Candlekeep. Make no mistake about it, Baldur’s Gate was my introduction to the Dungeons and Dragons universe and Candlekeep the first location I ever truly explored.

At the time, everything about being constrained to the BG story annoyed me – I hated being forced to being Gorion’s Ward and having a pre-existing relationship with Imoen. Later in the game I hated the whole ‘Bhaal Son’ thing. But in my older years, having matured, I can appreciate that this was but one of many stories I could enjoy in the Forgotten Realms, or DnD in general.

(All of this, of course, with the exception of Minsc and Boo. Minsc and Boo are infallible.)

One thing that never disappointed me though, was the locations. The isometric maps of Candlekeep and BG and even the wilds that surrounded the cities and places to visit were living, breathing characters on their own. I visited every shop and every store room. I fought assassins and I read books and for a map that was essentially one big circle around a castle, it was undoubtedly my DnD hometown. And now, to see Candlekeep serving as the new location for the adventure anthology, Candlekeep Mysteries – well, I can tell you this is a day one purchase for me.

One of the things that is great about the collection of stories is that WotC have recognised that there is a market for ‘small bites’ of DnD. Sure, some people might love an enduring, multi year campaign … but others have time for a one shot once every few months, and nothing more. After all, life has shown us in the past twelve months that we need some agility in how we live our lives, and so setting up a book of one shots and giving people a chance to taste DnD, rather than scaring the hell out of people who know nothing. It’s a smart move – and I like it.

I want to get a game together for later this year, and while I was planning on grabbing an Internet one shot, I reckon this mystery-style approach could be just the gateway drug we all need.

Let’s see how things go.

From Pajitnov, With Love

I quite like Tetris. I think it’s one of the few timeless games that has managed to find its way into the hands of people from about three or four generations – and do you know what? It’s still just as fun as it ever has been.

I was a little surprised to see in the past week that EA’s Tetris Blitz would be ending in April this year, and instead the product had been licensed out to a new company, N3TWORK.

Um, excuse me? Rude!

There’s not many games that have stood the test of time on my iPhone. Even The Simpsons Tapped Out was taken off there some time ago, and Gardenscapes is only hanging on there by a single nostalgic thread. Tetris Blitz, however, has stayed on my screen for a few years now. I wouldn’t say that it’s particularly religious-level of playing, but certainly once a week or a fortnight, I’d whip it out and see what kind of score I could get with the free boosts that I had collected, or, if the mood grabbed me, what kind of boosts I was willing to cash in on.

Do you know what I’m not willing to cash in on though? $8 of hard-earned money to be able to play Tetris on my phone without ads. GTFO, N3TWORK.

One of the benefits of having the large companies control gaming, is that they are less tied to marketing, or advertising, revenue. Sure, they still put ads in games, either as banner ads or as opportunities to recover a life or get some extra power – but they don’t put them up as a barrier between the player and getting into the game. They want you in their ecosystem to tempt you into micro transactions. Not to bombard you with cheap, crappy mobile ads.

N3TWORK, it seems, couldn’t give a toss what I think. Ads before a game, it is!

I have some other issues with the game, all of which are (allegedly) to be addressed in future updates, but I have to say, unless you don’t want iOS users switch over day-and-date you have your ‘full’ release, then be prepared for a multi-pronged onslaught between xCloud, Apple Arcade, Uplay Plus, and any one of a number of subscription services out to take consumer’s disposable income. You also need to try and deliver, at the very least, a like-for-like product.

Right now there is no Facebook Connect, no different game modes, and limited settings. I assume there is an Apple ID / iCloud connector somewhere working in the background … but I’m not convinced. I feel like this is something that could, and should, have been done prior to launch.

Perhaps I expect too much.

I’m going to keep the new Tetris on my phone for now – if only to hold out hope that it’ll get better. It’s a very thin, tenuous hope, but if Blitz is to be retired, well, it might be all I have.

Tetris has survived this long on my phone. There’s a very good chance that this’ll be the year it does not.

Blacker than Black

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six® Siege2020-1-19-23-10-2

For as long as there have been Tom Clancy video games, I have been in love with the franchise. Truth be told, I’ve never really liked Clancy’s style of writing because it is technically and character heavy, but his contemporary and near-future military setting has always appealed to me, as has the lore he built-out, first with the Rainbow Six series (assumedly with others’ input), and later with other franchises such as Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon. Truth be told, I take issue with some of the latter aspects of the franchise, only because I know they were created after his death … but I still love and cherish the setting, and so I play the games without complaint.

I’ve played quite a bit of Rainbow Six Siege on Xbox over the past few years since it was released, and now, going into its fourth year, I finally took the plunge and dived into the game on PC. I wasn’t sure if I’d already bought it or not, but from what I can tell, I simply had the cheapest, if not free-to-play, version on my PC, and so I lashed out with a heavily-discounted $15 purchase to grab the ‘Year One’ edition, which brings with it all the original operators and the full game itself. That, in itself, was probably unnecessary right now, as the main action in R6 is happening in an event called ‘Road to SI (Six Invitational) 2020’, and involves a deliberately crafted structure and course designed to simulate a real world military-sports event. Truth be told, it’s quite good fun, but if there was ever a game I wanted to bring across all my unlocks and perks and characters in, it’s R6.

Exhibit #813 when it comes to why games should have cross-save.

And so, I’m doing the slow crawl from Level 1 onward on PC. It’s served me well so far because people aren’t unnecessarily cruel and unusual in their ‘feedback’ (there are exceptions), but I think the value in the game comes from being able to undertake what I’ll consider ‘team-lite’ gameplay … going solo with everyone having the broadly-speaking same goal, rather than a more coordinated squad-based shooter.

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six® Siege2020-1-19-19-49-7

For Assault, I’ve been leaning heavily into Glaz, because I like his infrared scope, and for Defense I normally go Rook for his body armour. I’m a simple man with simple pleasures, though I suspect the Road to SI 2020 event would actually be a good time to experiment with other operators – considering they’re all unlocked from the get-go.

For now, I’m keen just to have the occasional game and build up my renown without too much exposure to the broader internet. The internet is typically a fairly average place to play games with people you don’t know … so I’ll try and stick to Terrorist Hunts and the odd multiplayer when there are challenges that require it. I’m not a ‘bad’ player, but skill and capability doesn’t seem to mean much on the internet these days anyway. The list of things that will have you labelled ‘a letdown’ far surpasses those that earn a ‘good job’.

Toss a Coin to your Witcher

If there was one thing I loved about The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, it was Gwent. I don’t think I’m alone – I think everyone who played the game either loved, or didn’t really have any attachment to – Gwent, though from the people I spoke to … many, if not most, fell into the former camp.

Now that The Witcher series has dropped on Netflix, to mixed reviews, it’s little surprise to see The Witcher III concurrent players spike. Hell, even I re-downloaded the game, if not to try and recreate the series, but just to revisit what is being considered the well-deserved ‘game of the decade’.

Now that I have a little better context to the origins of some of the characters, I also considered another playthrough of the core game – that is if it wasn’t 90-plus hours long just to get through the main story, and without any real achievements worth cleaning up along the way, I admit that my appetite just isn’t really there for another hard slog.

(The Witcher 2 is another story though – I started this in the last 24 hours, but that will be something I’ll save for another blog post.)

What it is there for though, is Gwent. And so in addition to putting W3 back on the Xbox, my iPhone slogged through a few gig of download today to put Gwent back on my device, and already I feel a little more in love with the game than I did back when it first launched. It’s unclear how many quality-of-life improvements have been made to the game since it launched, but it certainly seems like an accessible, fun alternative to Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering or the myriad of other CCGs in the market.

For a rather saturated market, I quietly hope that Gwent manages to stay the course. Almost all of the major CCGs have big corporate backers: Activision, Bethesda, Wizards, etc., and Gwent has CD Projekt Red which gives me some comfort – but at the end of the day, an unprofitable game is an unprofitable game, and so I fear its longevity is directly related to The Witcher‘s success as a franchise.

In the meantime, I’m going to have a red hot go at having some success this ‘season’ on Gwent to see where I land. Even if I play terribly, there seems to be more incentive to progress than something like Hearthstone, which just seems to mock my inadequacy rather than encourage me to do better. Let’s see if that feeling is the same at the end of the season than it is now.

End of Year Wrap-Up 2019

Imagine a world where you love video games, you breath video games, and you get so excited about a time when you had the ability to play them, stream them, and write about them with gay abandon – and then you had three kids, a full time job, a promotion, and the whole other raft of vicissitudes that come with contemporary life that you never quite manage to get any one of those elements ‘quite’ right.

Hence why there’s month-long delays in my blog entries.

Nonetheless, while I haven’t been writing, I’ve certainly been playing. Over the past month, I would struggle to say that I’ve necessarily ‘finished’ anything, though I have certainly been enjoying a good broad spectrum of gaming, largely thanks to the diversity offered by Xbox Game Pass. I wanted to spend a few minutes today going through some of the games I’ve played, if not just simply to update the blog, but also to offer myself some catharsis for my creative outlet that hasn’t been appropriately scratched for a while.

Insane Robots

I’ve actually been quite surprised how much I’ve enjoyed this relatively benign turn-based game, but between my son and I, I think we’ve sunk quite a few hours into this little title over the past 48 hours alone. There’s nothing particularly innovative about the game, you have an attack column, a defence column, and you have to juggle an increasing array of cards and power-ups to defeat robots. For a long time I’ve considered the phrase ‘easy to play, difficult to master’ a bit of a marketing furphy, but for the first time in a long time, I actually wonder whether this is the game that people have in mind when they think of that phrase.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

I’ve tried to play Hellblade before, but ended up getting stuck in the section just after Senua’s long boat ride with credits. It seems to be a ‘heavy’ game, and while the structure of it is fairly good and the combat is fundamentally OK, I kind of want it to be over just so I can say I’ve played it and I never have to play it again.

Truth be told, the main reason I was keen to give this a go was that the sequel has been announced, and I don’t want to end up in another situation like Borderlands or Gears of War, where I’m a few titles deep into the franchise and well-and-truly left behind.

Ticket to Ride

This was quite boring. There, I said it. I know that some games are not supposed to be all action and excitement, but even a board game should give me a serotonin hit every now and then.

This game, however, did not.

The premise is essentially ‘owning’ a series of railway track routes across America (I believe there are other countries the further you play), working towarrds an end-goal where you’ve blocked your opponent from mastering the routes they’re after while at the same time acquiring your own. It’s slow, it’s clunky, and there’s not really any sensible logic around scoring, so as soon as I got something in terms of achievement, I was out of there.

Fallout 76

F76 was $10 as part of the Black Friday sale, and so I figured ‘why not’. I’m glad I did actually, it’s quite good if you can ignore the plebs on the internet playing with you. The visuals are easily as good as Fallout 4, and the gameplay is solid. I actually enjoy the VATS real-time’ness, thing going on that is necessary as part of playing online, but there is a story there, and what seems to be a good variety of crafting and building that some small disturbed niche of the public enjoy when it comes to Fallout.

Pathologic 2

I finally worked out, kind of, maybe, perhaps, what the story here is about. I’m not entirely sure I know what I’m supposed to be doing. You play a Doctor trying to resolve a plague-ridden city that is about to be annihilated, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I’d like to give this a little more time, I really would, but let’s be honest. I have a whole range of competing priorities which means this title – which hasn’t managed to grab my attention – will probably get shelved.

Untitled Goose Game

2019’s breakout hit. I’m about three or four levels into this, and it’s pretty good. I don’t quite understand the fuss, it’s a good game, not a great game, but it is from Melbourne, so that pleases me. There’s a good chance I’m going to keep playing it just to give the boys the statistics they deserve for bringing this together and having the success it has had.

So, that’s the state-of-play as at the end of December 2019. It’s been a fairly big year for me personally and professionally, and so it’s kind of natural that gaming would kind of slip a bit.

That being said, I feel like I have the whisper of good sleep and better time management coming to me in 2020, so fingers crossed this might mean more games, and better quality time gaming.

Or I’ll just get myself a Xbox Series X and play the same old inane stuff I usually do.

Ho Ho Ho.

Color Saw 3D

I’m not going to lie … I found Color Saw 3D far more cathartic than I thought I would.

Do you know I don’t find cathartic? Ads. And the few thousand that they’ve managed to slot in the short space I’ve time I started playing, and even though it’s a great game, this behaviour has more likely to have turned me off playing, if not purchasing, the game – and instead finding something … I don’t know … “else.”

The joy from this game comes from its simplicity. You saw blocks. The end. It’s fun. It’s simple to learn, and it’s as good for my kids to learn too. It’s a game where you chop stuff. Play it if you need a new time-wink in your life … just make sure that time-sink isn’t anything important like brushing your teeth twice of clogging the toilet. Far simpler to just do it right the first time.

The Kreator

I don’t know whether this game is supposed to be called The Kreator or simply Kreator. There is some marketing inconsistency going on with this title, but in any event, I think it’s fairly clear that this is a whimsical take on the word ‘Creator.’

From what I can gather, the actual creation in this game comes from manipulating your small, yellow orb about an ever-rotating world, at which point any pre-existing flora on the surface ‘grows’ a bit when you touch it. Voila! ‘Look what I have created!’ It’s actually not quite as exciting as that, but I think that, in terms of connection between the title and the actions goes? Well, this is it.

While growing plants is nice and all, the substance of this game comes in the form of taking the aforementioned dot and collecting more yellow dots. Repeat ad nauseam. From time to time there’ll be a missed dot which turns evil, or you’ll collect some white guardian angel dots which help save the day, but there’s no huge narrative to explore here. No compelling protagonist. You collect dots.

Do I love it? No. Do I hate it? No. It is what it is. The reviews on the App Store tout this game as the perfect way to end the day or any one of a number of cathartic environments that need a quick mobile fix.

Gardenscapes Level 135

As I mentioned the other day, for a few weeks now, I’ve been getting back into Gardenscapes on iOS, which is essentially just a matching game with a bit of a narrative overlay thrown in for flavour.

I actually think that making it to Level 135 is more representative of my ability to stay with the game this long, rather than any sort of skill. All of the games like this seem to have a mechanism built in that tries to entice you into spending some real life money, and when it sees you’re not going to, it gives you a fast-tracked win and then tries again another day.

That nugget of wisdom comes to you thanks to over 135 levels of staying power.

My only criticism in the game (other than microtransactions and incessant ways to make you spend your real money – a criticism I level at most mobile games now, not unique to Gardenscapes), is its inability to skip over some rather dry narrative beats. I don’t mind tapping through a few dialogue boxes every now and then – but depending on what options you choose, you can start to feel a bit dry after the tenth line of dialogue in a game.

And so, the journey continues. It’s hard to tell where the Gardenscapes journey ends or if it’s just a never-ending road of developer updates and tweaks, but I’ll keep checking in with it as time goes on.

Besides, it beats having to try and work on my own garden!

Homescapes Level 43

When I think of some of the earliest games I played on the iPhone, a few notable titles come to mind: Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, and Homescapes all rung-in a new generation of gaming that made mobile phones a legitimate vehicle for contemporary gaming.

With all that in mind, I’m not sure whether I’m just a bad player or if I played more Gardenscapes than Homescapes, but I’m not sure why I’m still only at level 43!

Ah, I know what it is … parenting.

Without getting into a long monologue about contemporary parenting as a gamer, what I will say is that, often, overnight when you have a newborn, you want a quick fix of a short, sharp, but – most importantly – fun video game. Since the birth of my third child, I’ve been leaning quite heavily into Gardenscapes, cf. Homescapes, and so while they’re both great titles, I’m considerably ahead on the former.

The other thing that I think draws me to Gardenscapes over Homescapes is the story. While it’s nice that the whole narrative focuses on improving our protagonist’s parent’s home, I think it feels more engaging to be working on the expansive garden in Gardenscapes. There is real aesthetic changes rather than just the small tweaks and occasional new asset dropped into the environment of the home.

So … with that in mind … I better get back to it. This house won’t renovate itself, and the cat needs a new bed to sleep in!

AoM Forbidden Valley 1-7 Flicker of Hope

As it turns out, you can only use your ‘borrow a minion off a friend’ once a day, and so with a whole roster full of woefully underpowered heroes, I elected to mix up the path a little and head into the Forbidden Valley.

I didn’t think there was anything special about this fight – it was fairly evenly matched and both sides lost a person or two (though, obviously, I still had some standing at the end!), but my main takeaway out of this whole encounter was that I had completely missed the auto advance button on the left hand side of the screen. So, instead of trying to find the best attack/defend option on each round, I can increase the speed to 4x, let it auto-play, and I believe it’s going quicker than I’ve ever been able to get through a game that didn’t use an auto-clicker or a few player-friendly enhancements!