Reaping the Chocolate State-of-Mind

In case you’re not already a follower of mine on the Tweeters, last night I had my first table-flipping moments with the Reaper of Souls Friends and Family beta. Okay, maybe that’s a bit too dramatic; I was frustrated, but clearly not to the point of flipping a table. What was I frustrated about? I was still approaching Reaper of Souls with the mindset that I was still playing Diablo III Chocolate.

You can’t do that, or at least you shouldn’t. In the conversations I had with Wyatt Cheng at Blizzcon I should have been better prepared for what I was going to experience, yet clearly hearing about the changes coming and experiencing them are completely different things. You will likely fall into the same pitfalls and experience similar frustrations as I did, yet if you take my initial experiences to heart then you will quickly adapt and overcome the shift in combat pacing.

BUT before I go into that, I should preface everything that I’m about to jot down that this is still Friends and Family BETA. BETA. Things can and will change and we could very well see some major overhauls still as Reaper of Souls is still very much in development. So while some of myimpressions will remain true when we all are reaping monsters and demons for really reals, things will be different when everything is live.

With that out of the way, let’s get on to what you all are clamoring for, my impressions so far.

You’ve heard me state it on the post-Blizzcon Live From Anaheim episode of the Shattered Soulstone and I will restate it here for emphasis: ADVENTURE MODE IS AMAZING. Ahh-maze-zinggg-geh. Being able to jump from act to act and kill any boss solves many problems we experienced in Chocolate. Adventure mode is probably responsible for the death of Nephalem Valor since jumping in and out of games to farm bosses (well, who actually farmed bosses anyways?) is moot.

Forcing us to get five stacks of NV was merely a means to prevent quick game creation and now with adventure mode, why would you want to? Adventure mode allows everyone to play as little or as much as they want and ALWAYS have something productive and rewarding to do. Between Bounties and Nephalem Rifts there is a lot to do in a single session. Some bounties are super quick and easy and some take a bit more time to complete, but they feel meaningful and rewarding yielding sizable chunks of gold and experience, Blood Shards for gambling (yes, gambling is back though sadly Gheed’s personality isn’t), Horadic Caches that yield random and varied rewards, and chances for Rift Keystones to open up Nephalem Rifts.

Phew. That was a mouthful. Yes, bounties yield quite a bit of rewards for your efforts and if you’re looking to get from 60 to 70 as quickly as possible, stick to adventure mode as the experience boosts from completing bounties is pretty absurd at the moment. Granted this is still early beta, but as things stand at the moment, bounties seem to be the quickest way to grind experience.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that when RoS is live Act V will most likely be locked in adventure mode until you complete it in the campaign. And let’s be honest, we all want to see what Malthael is up to right? I should also state that for my own sake of avoiding story spoilers I will NOT be touching the campaign mode AT ALL until I have my Reaper of Souls Collector’s Edition in my hands. I don’t want to ruin that experience for myself with the beta. Playing the game and learning the ins and outs of all of the new mechanics and systems introduced is one thing, but spoiling the story is another.

Anyhoo, let’s move on to my actual personal experiences with the gamplay itself since there will be better sources of information to familiarize yourself with all of the new mechanics and systems in the game. I haven’t dug into all of the new crafting stuff enough to give you in-depth reports on them, but I assure you that should you want to dig into it, there are plenty of resources out there. I will say this though, HOLY MOLY there are a lot of new crafting materials to start worrying about.

OKAY. FOR REALLY REALS I WILL GET TO MY IMPRESSIONS NOW.

After I copied my characters from live over, I quickly got to work with my main wizard, Malnevicent, that recently hit paragon 100, (good thing too ^^). Her gear isn’t amazing by any stretch of the imagination, but she was able to easily handle MP6 and could handle MP8 decently enough by switching to a hybrid CMWW build. With this in mind, I decided to embark my journey to 70 at Expert difficulty. It’s hard for me to say what the equivalent monster power would be, but given how easy it felt early on I would say MP3-4 would be a good guess.

In case you’re wondering the current difficulty selections go Normal, Hard, Expert, Master, Torment (which has multiple levels, I-V, but is locked until you hit 70 with one character). So there is some parity with the ten levels of monster power, but obviously in going from ten settings down to nine, there are some differences especially since the benefits are quite different from the monster power system.

Going from 60 to 66 was an absolute breeze for my wizard and in retrospect I am wishing that I had gone with Master initially as it yields the added benefit of increased chances of legendary recipes to drop (that I would assume would have very little chance, if any at all, to drop at a lower difficulty). As soon as my wizard hit 67 things changed, dramatically.

With the removal of the difficulty modes (Normal, Nightmare, Hell and Inferno) monsters will automatically scale to your level no matter where you are in the game.

Up to this point I hadn’t found much in the way of upgrades for my wizard, or at least what I thought were upgrades for her. I was unwilling to give up some of my bonuses for Toughness and Healing upgrades and in retrospect was my initial undoing. At Expert (67) things start hitting HARD, very very hard. And the poop on the ground? OUCH.

Suddenly I was having lots of issues staying alive against elites and champions, but I could power through them without too much difficulty if I played more conservatively and employed kiting tactics. BUT bosses? OMG. My wizard’s lack of focus on improving those toughness and healing metrics became CRYSTAL clear. It was one-shot city. I couldn’t even briefly skirt through one of Araneae’s poison puddles without being gibbed.

At this point having sub-100k HP and 700 AR wasn’t enough to survive in Expert. Toss in the nerf to life-steal (which honestly I no longer had at all since I never had a LS weapon and Magic Weapon – Blood Magic is no longer a thing) and having very little Life on Hit or Life Regen and the issue I was having was apparent: I needed survival gear, again.

Remember in the old days of Diablo III Chocolate when you needed survival gear and defensive abilities? Yup, those days are back. Or at least they probably will be depending on inevitable number tweaks that we will experience as the beta matures.

Once I hit 68 and then later 69 it wasn’t only bosses that were giving me problems. Ohhhhh no. Now elites and champions were getting their share of one-shots on my poor defenseless wizard. I also ran into a new monster affix that has become the bane of my wizard’s life: THUNDERSTORM.

Holy moly does Thunderstorm hit like a truck and worst of all, it strikes randomly from range with little you can do to avoid it. YUP. It’s pretty much the most devious monster affix that I’ve ever experienced and I think, or at least hope, it will be changed or tweaked to bring it more in line with other affixes.

So what was my poor wizard to do? Gear wasn’t raining down upon her and with monsters becoming increasingly dangerous with her prospects of farming gear looking more grim with level 70 rapidly I realized there were two options, dropping the difficulty level or making use of the blood shards she had been saving up.

As I mentioned earlier there are new NPCs in town that accept blood shards as a currency to buy ??? gear. Costs are pretty reasonable for most gear slots (most armor slots save jewelry are 5 blood shards each) for the shot at rolling a random piece of gear. Yup, gambling is back. I probably spent about 60-70 shards and upgraded my wizard’s chest, shoulders, belt, and pants and now she’s sitting at ~420k DPS, ~260k HP and an effective Toughness of ~1.4 million (whatever that means).

I haven’t taken her new gear out for a spin yet, but I am hopeful that she’ll be a bit less squishy as she inevitably hits 70 today. I’ve seen some chatter that you will want ~1mil DPS for Torment but I haven’t hit 70 yet to give it a shot yet.

As for legendaries, I’ve only had one drop from a random mob in the world and had two drop from (mini)bosses earlier in the journey to 70 (back when bosses were trivial for my wizard). So I haven’t had much luck on the legendary front, but I’ve only dumped maybe three’sh hours into getting up to 69. Still too early to make any assumptions on drop rates, but I can state that it feels weird to no longer have NV stacks and guaranteed rares from elites and champions.

I have dabbled with the enchanter a little bit and, again, while I don’t have enough experience to give solid advice, I can state that for those of you chomping at the bit to enchant your amazing legendaries from the outset, think again. To enchant legendary items you need a new material, Forgotten Soul, which you get from salvaging legendaries. I salvaged my stash of existing legendaries which only yielded ONE.

If this remains the case for when RoS goes live, there’s ZERO reason to hold onto your existing legendaries for enchanting purposes. Besides, as previously stated, you really should aim to replace most, if not all, of your existing gear by level 68 or so.

Another thing that caught me off guard was that almost as soon as my wizard hit level 62 marquise gems started dropping like candy. Seriously. I’m not joking. So if you, like me, are hoarding gems for RoS, don’t. Just don’t. They will be utterly pointless in RoS unless the way gems are currently handled is completely broken; it is definitely not finished as the costs associated with removing and combining gems have clearly not been touched yet.

So yes, you should probably take everything I just said with a massive grain of salt, but I would say with near certainty that hoarding gems right now on live is a waste of time and effort.

Alright, now on to skills and runes.

As you all know I am a huge lover of lightning spells and I am loving the direction that the wizard is going right now. Being able to easily create elemental synergies is fantastic with almost every spell in the wizard’s repertoire having numerous elemental flavors to them. Lightning meteors? Lightning arcane orbs? OMG. YES PLEASE. And the lightning flavor to the new Wizard spell Black Hole is just amazing. Crowd control and damage? YES, YES, YES. I love it.

I have given a fire build a shot, but I didn’t like the synergy with Spectral Flame Blades. 1% bonus per monster hit seems pretty cool, but it only lasts as long as you have monsters to constantly hit (buff lasts 3 seconds) which leaves little room to weave in big hitters and creates a massive warm up period if you really want to apply the hurt. Going fire also doesn’t give you any of the CC opportunities that going frost, arcane and lightning easily yield.

Sorry budding fire wizards, you’re probably not going to have fun, at least not without some help from gear that can provide some CC. But don’t give up all hope, there is a fire variant of Black Hole, at least I think so, and the small amount of CC it provides is pretty fantastic.

Currently Paralysis feels fantastic, perhaps a bit too fantastic though as a 20% chance to stun can stop a lot of monsters and even some bosses in their tracks. It synergizes amazingly well with Electrocute – Forked Lightning at the moment as forked lightning dumps a TON of charged bolt sparks on the ground (though this could be a by-product of my wizard having ~60% crit). Either way I do expect that we will see some tweaking to both paralysis and forked lightning as my wizard can pretty much lock down large packs thanks to stun procs going off almost constantly.

In addition to that I am loving the synergy between tossing out an Arcane Orb – Spark to give my Black Hole – Supermassive a boost. It’s a ton of fun to toss a spark through a large pack of monsters and then drop a black hole in the middle and watch them all convulse and melt as they get sucked in.

It’s just so much fun as a lightning wizard right now. And you have other options with Wave of Force getting a lightning flavor that almost feels like Lightning Nova from Diablo II but gets the added benefit of causing all monsters hit by it taking additional lightning damage for 4 seconds. Like I said, lots of new elemental synergies that will likely fit a number of different play styles. And this is just from runes, imagine the possibilities with build-changing legendaries (I can only imagine right now since I haven’t found any yet ^^).

All in all so far my preliminary impressions have been overwhelming positive. There are a few detractors and critiques in there, but it is still early and I guarantee there will still be a lot of tweaks made in the coming weeks and months as the beta matures. I am extremely excited with the direction that Josh Mosquiera and crew are taking Diablo III in and I don’t think I can go back to Chocolate anymore.

And with that folks, I think I need to get back to it. I’m amazed I took the time to actually blog about my impressions so far, but rest assured I will probably be back more frequently to apprise you of how things progress in the beta. Closed beta is quickly approaching, so you too will soon have the opportunity to join in on the fun, (especially if the Shattered Soulstone gets some keys to give away). So until then, stay tuned!

What a Penske …

Before you ask the title of today’s quickie is a play on what a pain. Why? Well as I’m laboring to type these words for you I’m sitting on at a plastic picnic table which is filling in for Penske’s customer lounge in lieu of the real thing being utilized for a meeting. Not terrible on its own since it is a beautiful day out, but I’m unable to enjoy it on account of possibly having a sinus infection. Oids.

Whoa, that’s a lot of QQ there.

I’m allowed to vent from time to time right? Sure I may have already done so on Twitter, but I figured I would share here as well since I’m trying to make the most of it by blogging from my phone. It’s coo right?

Alright, I suppose we can allow it this time, but I’m hoping there’s a little more substance to this “quickie.”

Thank you for being so understanding but you’re right, I do have more to say than just bitching about Murphy’s Law. So let me get on with it …

I am relieved to see that Blizzard is letting loose with a good amount of 4.2 information. With the numerous “delays” of 4.1 I was beginning to worry that in typical Blizzard-fashion it would be weeks before anything would surface. Had this been the case I would have cried foul on their plans to release smaller content patches more frequently.

Sure, it could still be awhile before 4.2 hits the PTR and could languish there as 4.1 did, but by releasing this information so soon after Rise of the Zandalari Blizzard has successfully allayed my worries … for now. Should 4.2 hit the PTR next week, we could possibly see the Firelands go live by June which is pretty close to a 6 month release cycle for major raid content patches.

But you’re not a raider and never will be so why do you care?

This much is true as I’ve said it multiple times before, but I do care because I like to live vicariously through my friends who do raid. That and with the introduction of t12 armor we will be able to purchase t11 with JP.

Really? You’re excited about welfare epics?

Yes, yes I am and I’m not ashamed to say that. Getting great gear and putting it to use is fun for me and it makes running heriocs a lot less stressful and enjoyable to run with strangers. Well, okay that might overstating things a bit, but I have encountered some fantastic people in the dungeon finder before. At the very least the proliferation of older raid gear makes PuGs a lot more bearable.

Besides, I can’t wait to deck my mage out in t11 since they clearly won the armor set competition this round. Hopefully rogue t12 won’t be terribad … it’s been awhile since there was a rogue set that I really liked.

Anyhoo, this quickie has ended up not so quick. Time for me to close this out so that my thumbs don’t fall off since I’m sure there will be auto-correct fixes that I will need to go back and fix.

Ciao!

Ninjaclysm

Don’t look now, but this might just be a WoW-related blog entry. Is the world ending? Is the Cataclysm coming? Yes, folks, the end of days are nigh. At least in Azeroth as we used to know it. Not only is Blizzard changing the landscape of Azeroth, but they’re changing how we’ll be playing our classes … well at least somewhat. Now don’t fret, I’m not going to go into detail of the nine class change teasers released this week, there are far better sites out there for that analysis. I will, however, in a series of posts offer my opinions and takes on the changes that affect the classes I play: rogue, priest, mage, druid, and death knight.

As a short aside, I think Blizzard’s “world friendly” release schedule for the teasers was horrible. Releasing teasers at 11:58pm PDT? C’mon Blizzard.

Rogue Ninja

Anyone else disappointed with the rogue teaser? I am, especially considering the duplicity of statements of “rogues are too cooldown and stun dependent making them very binary in pvp.” So what do we get? More cooldowns -.- … Well, at least with more cooldowns we can try to not blow them all at once. But let’s be honest, other than the increased health pools and supposed armor increases to leather, we’re still going to be a very binary class in pvp. Our stuns are getting nerfed again which means we’ll have to blow combat readiness against melee or smoke bomb against ranged and then hope our increased yellow damage will be enough after nerfs to our white and poison damage output.

Now don’t get me wrong, I really like combat readiness and smoke bomb, but I was hoping for shadowstep to become a baseline ability. Recuperate may be able to provide us with some sturdiness in pvp situations, but we’re still completely reliant on cooldowns. We’re still going to get roflstomp’d trained when combat readiness isn’t up and vanish will continue to remain borked. But I digress, I don’t pvp with my rogue anymore so my pvp QQ is pretty much moot anyways.

Unfortunately we’re getting slightly tuned nerfed in PVE content as well. I’m cautiously optimistic that overall our numbers won’t change much, but the adjustments to Fan of Knives and Tricks of the Trade have me a little worried. Greg “Tiberius” Street can claim that neither adjustment is a nerf, but let’s call a spade a spade, they ARE nerfs.

Blizzard HOPES to allow us the ability to apply poisons to our ranged weapon, which likely means that it won’t be at Cataclysm’s launch, or ever. *cough*fixing vanish*cough* While having a ranged poison applier would be useful in PVP, we’re losing FoKs ability to apply two poisons in PVE. Not a huge nerf, but a nerf nonetheless, even if it is sound in its logic; it’s not called fan of swords/maces/axes/fists after all.

Then there’s the adjustment to tricks, one of the best utility spells we were given in Wrath. Sure, they’re happy with how well it has worked out for us, but they’d like to lower the amount of threat transferred. >.> Okay, maybe I’m over-reacting to this “adjustment” especially with the return of necessary crowd control in Cataclysm, but it has been a blast never having to worry about throttling my DPS (unless paired with an epic-fail tank). I’m sure casters have appreciated their ability to open up their arsenal from our threat transference.

Oh well. At least Blizzard has fixed our combo point problem when switching targets … once every minute. Seriously Blizzard? Couldn’t you just make the points stack on US instead of the target? Oh right, that might be too over-powered in PVP. @.@ Then again, I’ve become accustomed to how our combo point system works and haven’t had issues with it in PVE situations. It is entirely possible that I may never even need to use redirect, but I imagine there will be situations where it will be useful. Hell, I may even herald it as the ONE change made to our class that reinvented how we play … okay, I jest.

Not everything in the teaser disappointed me though as recuperate and smoke bomb will have huge impacts on how the rogue class plays while leveling and give us incredible group utility respectively. When I remember back to my days of leveling my rogue in vanilla WoW I recall having to eat and/or bandage every couple of mobs. While we had zero downtime on our ability to kill things, we had downtime on our ability to survive.

If you got more than one add while blind was on CD, it was usually game over. Now rogues will have a chance to live through some situations that we weren’t able to previously. We will have to wait to see what kind of HoT recuperate will provide and whether or not it will it will find a place in the new end-game, but for now it looks good on paper. Well, other than the potential to have healers completely shun us for heals now that we can heal ourselves outside of potions and bandages. Like we’re not shunned right now … ^^;

Smoke bomb underwhelmed me at first, but after re-reading the ability description I’ve grown quite excited about it. We’re ninjas now! Yay! or something … I only wish Blizzard had gone all the way with this and turned our subtlety tree in a pseudo-evasion tank tree. Now before you roll your eyes, there are precedences for evasion tanks in other MMOs and for a brief period of time in WoW itself. Sure it is counter to the direction Blizzard has been taking tanking in Wrath, but I’m not suggesting the ability for rogues to evasion tank end-game content. Although it was awesome to see rogues become physically unhittable in the Burning Crusade.

No, definitely not end-game content … but it would be quite cool if a subtlety rogue could “tank” normal dungeons and possibly easier heroics through the use of absorption shadows (ala the ninja’s utsusemi spell in FFXI). Absorption shadows are what I would have imagined shadowdance to be and given subtlety a completely different purpose. If I were to think this redesign out completely this is what I would envision:

It’ll never happen, but it would be damned cool if Blizzard did go this route with subtlety rogues. It’s not terribly overpowered and the % to dodge could be adjusted if +agility on gear does get out of hand, pushing a rogue’s chance to passively dodge too high. It’s impossible to become unhittable in Wrath, so I don’t think this would be an issue in Cataclysm, but you never know; with reforging it might be possible.

Again, I’m not suggesting to make rogues capable of tanking end-game content or harder heroics (well maybe when over-gearing heroics) but it would be fun as fuck to tank normal dungeons as a rogue. This redesign would also give subtlety rogues survivability in PVP without making them horribly unbalanced providing that Blizzard doesn’t substantially boost subtlety’s damage output.

Okay, enough dreaming …

Paradigm

I’m closing in on 16 hours of playtime in Final Fantasy XIII and I hate to say it, but I’m pretty disappointed with the game so far. There’s something amiss in FFXIII besides the horrible pacing, awkward cinematography, and convoluted and relatively uninteresting storyline. I haven’t quite put my finger on it yet but I think it has to do with the lack of control I have had, even 16 hours in.

My complaints with the pacing of FFXIII are multifold from the frequency of save points to the battle system, even the item and story progression. You’ll often encounter save points on both sides of a cut-scene and then go through an entire “level” without one unless there’s a boss battle. There’s no rhyme or reason to the placement for many of the save points, but they do serve a secondary purpose: upgrading your equipment and shopping the miscellaneous “eCommerce” stores.

This secondary purpose raises more issues with the game thanks to the extreme scarcity of materials used for upgrading equipment and gil that is provided early on. Well I should state that you’re given enough materials to upgrade a couple of items a number of times but that presents yet another problem. You’re given so many weapons and pieces of equipment that you can’t upgrade them all which adds insult to injury because if you’ve spent any time upgrading any of your early weapons they’re far more powerful than anything you receive later in the game.

Even the pacing at which you upgrade equipment is strange with some items only requiring 300-500 points to level up and others requiring 1000+. There’s even a multiplier mechanic thrown in for good measure that requires the heavy usage of junk materials to increase the bonus multiplier for materials consumed while upgrading. You can keep bumping the multiplier with junk to reach a 5x multiplier (I think) but it requires a metric ton of junk as the highest I’ve reached is a 3x multiplier. This multiplier isn’t permanent, however, as beneficial materials used will decrease the bonus multiplier.

Certain types of materials are better for upgrading different kinds of weapons and equipment but you’re not given an interface to make this process simple and easy to understand. You’re forced to pick a weapon or piece of equipment and then manually go through all of your materials one at a time to see if it’s beneficial or not. It’s all very convoluted and horribly executed and explained.

You are given the ability to buy some materials from the save point stores but you’re given so little gil in the beginning that I’m wondering why these stores are even provided. I have been hoarding all the gil I’ve received so far and I currently only have 5600 gil. Yes, that’s right … 5600 gil after 15 hours of play. ><;

I’m hopeful that once the game finally opens up that many of these issues will be resolved. I feel like I’ve been playing an extended prologue as I still have no control over my party as the storyline splits the six protagonists into groups of two with the occasional intersection of paths for a fully fledged three person party. You’re also not given control of whom you want to be the party leader, so occasionally you’ll be in control of a character with paradigms that you’re not comfortable with.

You can think of paradigms as your classic final fantasy jobs or roles, but with new and exciting names! Can you sense the sarcasm? For example, instead of white mage, you’re a medic. You’re given the ability to change your party’s paradigms on a whim to suit the situation by selecting one of (up to) six preset combinations, (these are given exciting names as well!) and for boss encounters you’ll be doing this frequently. Generally you’re given enough paradigm combinations to cover most situations, but you may want to double check and create a combination or two with more than one medic or all ravagers.

One reason you’ll need to switch paradigms is too build up a stagger meter to drastically increase damage once an enemy is staggered. This stagger meter is not always easy to fill as the stagger point will vary from enemy to enemy as well as the attacks effective at filling the meter. This is where you’ll need to be mindful of the paradigms active in your party. Ravagers are great at bursting the meter up but that build-up quickly decays without having a Commando attacking the same target to slow the stagger meter’s decay.

You don’t need a commando active at all times to prevent the meter decay as I’ve switched to all ravagers to build up the meter on boss encounters as their stagger point is usually difficult to reach. You just need to pay attention to the meter and execute paradigm shifts and abilities as necessary. Your party leader can queue up abilities which cost a varying amount of action points: single target attacks requires one point, area attacks require two points and summons require three (I think). Initially you start off with three action points per command sequence, but once that character unlocks their Eidolon (summon) you’re given four points.

You’re also given the option to manually queue up abilities, or hand the reigns over to the computer to make the decisions for you by selecting auto-battle. Usually auto-battle is decent, but you’ll probably want to dictate how you want to apply debuffs to the enemies if controlling a Saboteur. In one battle where I controlled Vanille auto-battle wanted to apply poison multiple times without decovering or defaithing.

Once the abilities are queued manually or by auto-battle the ATB meter will begin filling and the abilities will automatically execute one after another once the meter fills. While the meter fills you can press the triangle button or Y button to execute the commands in which their segments are filled and cancel the remaining queued commands. Why would I want to do that? Occasionally you’ll run into a situation where you need an attack NOW to prevent the stagger meter from completely depleting or relaunching an enemy before they have a chance to retaliate.

However, it is more likely that you may use this when you do not need an entire ATB meter to finish off an enemy. Because of all these mechanics to the battle engine and the speed in which everything plays out, battles have never felt twitchier. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can lead to frustration if you find yourself frantically trying to swap in a medic or two to prevent your party leader from dying; if your party leader dies, it is game over.

Overall the battle engine feels like a bastardized child of Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy X-2 which isn’t a bad thing. I just think that it could have benefitted from the action slowing down or pausing during command sequences to eliminate the frantic feel to a lot of the boss battles I’ve encountered. I’m sure some folks out there will love it, but because of the frantic nature of battle the engine lends itself to being more reactive than strategic. I’ve found combat really enjoyable so far but feel that if some of the frantic chaos was taken out, it would have been perfect.

Outside of the mechanics Final Fantasy XIII’s story and character development has been another disappointment for me. The entire first hour was extremely painful for me to get through as you’re tossed into the middle of an assault with a number of characters that are so incredibly stereotypical that you could care less what happens. Toss in the convoluted concepts of the fal’Cie and l’Cie and the battle between Cocoon and Pulse and you’re completely lost.

Things did pick up once I got through the fal’Cie interior and once the initial five protagonists were branded as l’Cie I was hooked. Unfortunately every time the story picked up, it tripped over itself and all momentum lost. There will be a building sense of urgency only to be ruined by short cut-scenes where the characters are casually or lethargically getting through the script. Sometimes they’ll have out-of-character moments leaving you scratching your head, but I think that has to deal more with Japanese storytelling style.

I’m having a hard time feeling compelled to keep going to the point where the game finally opens up. No game should ever demand so much of an investment from it’s players before becoming completely enjoyable. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m such a Final Fantasy fan-boy, I probably wouldn’t still be playing XIII as I’d rather be playing Mass Effect 2. Had the game not taken 5+ years in development and been released on PS2 it might have fared better in a pre-ME world.

Editor’s Note: I completely forgot to cover the Crystarium system which is how you “level” in Final Fantasy XIII. It is very similar to FFX’s sphere grid, just in 3d. No complaints here. I also forgot to cover Eidolons in detail, but I’ll save that for another update since I still haven’t grasped that system completely.

Mass

Good intentions only get you so far in life, you actually have to follow through on them.

Over the past couple days I have intended to update my blog with an entry centering on Mass Effect 2. Sadly this never came to be as one thing or another got in the way and my general pittance of energy wasn’t enough to sit down in front of my computer to pump out an entry. Fortunately things seem to be in order now and my energy levels have normalized to make this entry possible.

So let’s get this started, shall we?

It’s a shame that I didn’t take my annual break from online gaming sooner to spend more time with Mass Effect 2. Trying to sandwich in as much ME2 time before Final Fantasy XIII’s release hasn’t allowed me the opportunity to fully enjoy just how epic ME2 is. Bioware has crafted an experience with Mass Effect 2 that has captured my heart unlike the original and has given me reason to go back and play the original when I get the chance.

Mass Effect 2 is quite simply the greatest TPSRPG I’ve played and I haven’t even gotten all the way through the game yet. Okay, I might be jumping the gun a little on showering ME2 with praise having not yet finished it, but the first 15 hours have engrossed me so thoroughly that I can confidently place it in the company of Panzer Dragoon Saga and Final Fantasy X. Yes that’s right, X is my favorite Final Fantasy ever, or at least so far.

It isn’t without fault, however, as there are a couple issues I have had with the game. They are, mostly, small quibbles such as the cross-eyed conversations and the frequently reused pacing animation during in-game cut-scenes. Bioware still has a few things to learn to humanize character interactions in a more believable and natural way, but they’re getting there.

Mechanically the game is pretty solid, but I have had issues with how the game handles the sniper rifle scope. Most of the time the game does handle the sniper rifle decently enough for me to score impressively quick sniping shots, but occasionally I found myself grossly off-target when zooming in. There also has been one occurrence where I became stuck on top of a ramp’s railing when attempting to use the side as cover.

I haven’t encountered another game-breaking bug, but I have encountered an incredibly obnoxious bug where I’ve lost the ability to use Grunt’s Fortification ability after completing his loyalty mission. His status shows he is loyal and I have access to his alternative outfit, but his fortification ability remains grayed out. While this may not be a game-breaking bug and doesn’t occur for everyone, it is exceptionally disappointing that Bioware allowed the game to ship with this bug.

As a quick aside I’m positive Bioware knew of this bug prior to release but couldn’t nail down the cause and deemed it not important enough to fix. I did work in QA as a tester for Namco and can confidently state that 90-95% of all bugs that go live are found by the testers. They just don’t get fixed because at some point the time investment to squash every bug isn’t worth it, especially if it isn’t a game-breaker.

My biggest gripe with Mass Effect 2 is with the load times, especially when reloading after a critical mission failure. I simply do not understand why I have to sit through a ~20 second reminder of my failure. I can understand epic loading times when switching between areas, but most games are able to restart at the last checkpoint without need to reload the entire area. Maybe I just need to harden the fuck up, but because of this issue, I definitely will not replay the game at anything higher than the normal difficulty.

There will definitely be multiple playthroughs of Mass Effect 2, I can guarantee that. I am going through the game as a paragon infiltrator, but I intend to go through as a renegade after finishing the game. Then of course I’ll probably play through a third time after I go through the original and import my character. I just need to decide upon the character types for each playthrough. That and finish Final Fantasy XIII ^^;

Oids, so much gaming goodness.

Ruin

If you’ve been following me on twitter you’d know that my weekend has been absorbed by beer, wild card playoff football and one game. No, it hasn’t been WoW. Oh no, it definitely hasn’t. Between an extra PS3 blu-ray remote and a $25 gift card I received from Christmas it was high-time to pick up a new game to pry me away from my keyboard. There were a ton of options before me dating back to August and when it came time to pick out ONE game to buy, I went through decision overload.

Do I pick up Batman Arkham Asylum which I’ve been dying to play since the demo? Should I pick up Borderlands which I’ve been hearing so many good things about? How about Uncharted 2 to give my newly acquired PS3 some love? Or if not Uncharted 2, what about some older PS3 titles that I’ve missed out on such as Infamous or Metal Gear Solid 4? Should I ignore the past and go with something just released such as Bayonetta or Darksiders?

As I said, if you’re a follower of mine, you already know which game I picked up and realize that I’m only building up some suspense. What game did he pick up? C’mon tell me already! It was a difficult decision but fortunately the store I was in at the time, Target,  limited my options somewhat. In the end it came down to either Batman, Uncharted 2, Bayonetta or Darksiders.

I gave serious consideration to all 4 games and it took me a good 20 minutes to sort it out in my head. It almost caused me pain to not decide on Batman, but I figured that soon it’ll go platinum/greatest hits and I’ll be able to pick it up at a discount. I passed on Uncharted 2 for purely vanity reasons as the cases they had at Target were plastered with marketing phrases: 25 perfect reviews, 10 out 10! Sure they were probably stickers on the shrink-wrap, but for some reason when I see marketing that tells me that YOU NEED TO BUY THIS GAME NOW I take a contrarian position and look elsewhere.

So that left me with a decision between Bayonetta and Darksiders. Two games with a lot of similarities, but enough differences to stand on their own. I knew what I’d be getting with picking up Bayonetta: lots of action, Sailor Moon’esque transformation sequences, and an overly complicated plot that teeters on the edge of detracting from the game itself. I absolutely loved the demo so picking up Bayonetta presented little risk.

Darksiders on the other hand was mostly an unknown. Sure it has been touted as the love-child of GoW and Zelda, but the general opinion of the game has been mixed at best. The first time I heard of the game I was instantly intrigued. The characters, premise, and gameplay all resonated with me. I mean how fucking cool would it be to play as War slaying demons and angels? So when the first reports of rampant screen-tearing for the 360 version hit the ‘net a little part of me died inside. It only supported the opinions of the game being average at best; an amateur product of an overly-ambitious premise.

So what game did you get damnit?!?

In the end, the Zelda lover inside of me won out and I picked up Darksiders, on 360. Even though Bayonetta presented little risk, I just wasn’t in the mood for a pure-action game. I desired some exploration, progression, and most importantly a story-line that doesn’t get lost in pretentiousness. I don’t mind complicated plots, but they need to make sense, and I’ve heard quite the contrary when it comes to Bayonetta. I’m not trying to knock Bayonetta for its story-line  as I can look past that and enjoy the game for purely the gameplay. I do play fighting games after all and they’re notorious for their story-lines.

Darksiders became a no-brainer for me as I thought about it more and more. So what if it were only average? An average Zelda game is better than a lot of crap shoveled out these days. I yearned to fill that gaming-void that has plagued me since Nintendo decided to focus on DS Zelda titles. So average reviews and screen-tearing be damned, I picked up Darksiders. I desired to step into the boots of War and kick some ass.

So let me be upfront about the biggest criticism over Darksiders on the 360: Yes the screen-tearing is BAD and can sometimes be distracting, but it doesn’t get in the way of the game. Evidently there is a title-update on the way to address the issue, so if you can’t look past the amateurish mistake of screen-tearing you can wait until it is fixed. If you can look past it, you’re in for quite a treat: Darksiders is fucking amazing.

Okay, okay. I am a bit biased towards Zelda games, but Darksiders is solid. Well, except for that pesky screen-tearing ^^; You can critique it for being blatant Zelda rip-off as it essentially Zelda painted with an apocalyptic brush. You have your z-targeting, maps, compasses, keys, tools, environmental puzzles and baddy-clearing rooms. Yes Darksiders IS Zelda, but I tend to not think of it as a rip-off but as an homage to one of the greatest gaming franchises. The gameplay is solid and very very rewarding, and that’s what we should care about right?

Zelda isn’t the only homage I’ve come across in the 6 hours I’ve spent with it so far. Prior to the first dungeon you encounter you’re treated to a sequence that pays homage to Panzer Dragoon, another one of my favorites. It wasn’t quite as refined as Panzer Dragoon, but it was a decent twist in the gameplay and an interesting way to bridge the player to the first dungeon. This wasn’t the only bridge I’ve encountered as prior to the second dungeon you’re given an over-the-shoulder 3rd person shooter sequence which reminded me of Master Chief carrying a turret from Halo 3.

Then you have your ability to purchase moves, weapons, consumables ala Devil May Cry and weapon leveling ala God of War. Yes Darksiders is full of reused ideas from other games, but it does so in a GOOD way. I didn’t go into Darksiders expecting a revolutionary experience, I wanted something fun to play and don’t mind the “I’ve played this game before” feeling. It comes down to the overall composition of the game and Darksiders hasn’t dissapointed me yet.

While I’m on the topic of composition, now would be a good time to give my impressions of the story-line and characters in Darksiders; spoiler-free of course. If you’ve read a synopsis of the game, it is pretty basic: the apocalypse has occurred and the horseman War has been blamed for it and War has to clear his name. While I’m only 6 hours in, the story-line hasn’t progressed much, there are still many things unanswered such as who is behind the events that have occurred and where are the other horsemen?

There have been lots of little plot-devices to explain the progression of the game which are fairly pedestrian. To be blunt, it isn’t the story that has hooked me, I’ve been hooked because of the characters. This game has a lot of character in its characters from Vulgrim the lich merchant to Samael the out-of-favor demon. War, himself, is a very intriguing character thanks to the voice-actor delivering his lines despite him being pretty straight-forward.

Oh god, the voice-acting is top-notch in Darksiders; quality work. If the voice-acting were not as well done as it has been, I’d probably not be professing my love for this game as much as I have been on twitter. The occasional line delivered in demonic tongue makes me wish I knew how to speak demon. I might be overstating my impressions of the voice-acting considering I haven’t played Uncharted 2, but regardless I’m impressed.

But enough gushing about the characters and voice-acting. Let me gush about the character designs themselves. War is fucking bad-ass. His armor, his sword, his shadow wings,  his glowing sigil on his forehead, his hair, his eyes … er … right, let’s reign that in a bit. Again I am biased, but the character designs are incredibly well done in Darksiders. Vulgrim, Samael, the Watcher, the gatekeepers, the Black Hammer … all quality. Even the throw-away enemies look suitably hellish (or angelic) and received some love from the artists and designers over at Vigil.

Then you have the (mini)bosses themselves; again, quality work. I encountered a mini-boss called the Jailer that created a substantial amount of OH SHIT! He hurts you, bad, if you don’t get away from him. He sticks out so far if only because when you do down him, one of the prisoners kept in a cage attached to the Jailer frees himself and takes a couple of shots at the dead boss. Hilarious!

If there were one complaint or critique I do have about Darksiders is occasionally the controls get in the way when it comes to boss encounters. Pressing in on the right-stick to enter aim-mode for your crossblade or to precisely aim a bomb toss isn’t the most intuitive thing. That gets compounded by the decreased mobility War suffers while in aim-mode which can lead to taking accidental damage.

There are also a couple of platforming issues in regards to some quirkiness with the camera when attempting to navigate ledges. While slightly annoying, these issues are not rampant with the majority of the gameplay I’ve encountered so far. There’s a good balance between combat and puzzle-elements in Darksiders with a pinch of platforming to keep you on your toes.

So if there’s anything you can take away from my impressions of Darksiders is that it is a worthy game to played. If you enjoy Zelda games even a little bit, there’s absolutely no reason to not give Darksiders a go. If you are as big of a Zelda fan as I am and you’re not playing this game, what is wrong with you?! Go out and pick this game up now. I demand it.