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Holiday Updates

I got in some quality gaming time in the past few days.

Far Cry 4

As mentioned in previous post, I was having some issues getting into (or really, staying into) Far Cry 4 despite it being better than what else I was playing. I originally attributed this to the breakpoints within the game, but as others deduced in the comments, it might have been from other tertiary concerns as well. After thinking about it, I agree it was not so much the game itself. Part of my “obligation” in playing Far Cry 4 was that it was taking up a lot of hard drive space, and I thus felt like I needed to finish it and make room for something else I had wanted to try.

After the insight, I went back to Far Cry 4 and enjoyed the experience more as I coasted into and past the endgame. I feel like Far Cry 3 is the better narrative experience overall, but Far Cry 4 plays much better and is a much more cohesive as a whole. Being able to get mobility options like the Wingsuit early on really opens the game world up, without being overpowered.

The Talos Principle

In a word: Amazing.

Portal 1/2 are better games overall, but The Talos Principle is the first puzzle game in quite a while to engender a sort of mild existential crisis. And that’s really what puzzle games are for, right?

Inevitably, everyone always seems to point out the most superficial philosophical questions when it comes to games like this – “Can robots be people?” “Are people just robots?” – and then just stop there. The Talos Principle should invite more salient questions though, and did for me. The game’s setting is one in which mankind is slowly dying, and you can read (and listen via audio logs) to how various individuals react to that inevitability. Some fight on to the bitter end, some leave to spend their last days with family, others do a LAN party, and another pair enjoy one final sunset and then commit mutual suicide. Milton, the AI “serpent,” will question your grasp of the meaning of life over the course of the game, and how it can be ascertained, often deconstructing arguments in ways that would lead some people I know IRL into tears.

That is what The Talos Principle should be noted for, not because the player-character is an android. If anything, whether the player’s android avatar is truly conscious in the same way people are is the least interesting question posed.

Anyway, I highly recommend it if you intrigued by philosophy or pathos or puzzles. It gots all three.

Warframe

According to the Search bar, I have apparently never talked about Warframe before. I played it once last year for about two hours, and then dropped it. I was interested in taking a second look primarily because my Amazon Prime account gave me Twitch Prime, which in turn gives free goodies every month, including what I thought was a free “warframe” but ended up being cosmetics. I think.

Warframe is a third-person over-the-shoulder looter shooter. Think “Diablo meets space ninjas” with a generous helping of impenetrable nonsense. It is also about the slickest F2P experience out in gaming right now.

The general idea is that you are a space ninja and need to space-grind ninja-resources across the solar system. Maps are surprisingly well-crafted, although you will be seeing them quite a bit, as each one serves several different gameplay types – sometimes you need to kill X mobs, sometimes you need to do a sort of King of the Hill node capture, etc. As you finish missions and kill bosses and collect loot, you unlock the ability to craft different warframes (aka classes), which come with different movement abilities, attacks, and so on.

I doubt I stick with Warframe for much longer than what I have already played. While it is a lot of visceral fun being able to jump around the map as a space ninja doing cool space ninja things, there doesn’t really ever feel like much of a narrative “point.” When I completed the first story section, for example, the next required me to reactive a Solar Relay to access missions on Venus. The activation though, required a laundry list of different, metagame-related things, like obtaining 20 mods, equipping four of them, etc. While that is a good way to ensure I am playing the game properly, it also meant I had to play several maps for the express purpose of trying to obtain randomly-dropped mods. Each map probably lasts 10 minutes or less, so it’s not a huge ask, but it still didn’t sit well with me.

Guild Wars 2

Even though I had not been playing playing GW2 for quite some time, I kept it installed on my PC and had been logging in once a day in order to accumulate the free goodies ArenaNet gives you. The currency is nice, but the real prize for me were basically the Tomes of Knowledge, which are free levels. The idea was that once I ended up purchasing one or both of the expansions, I’d have the opportunity to actually experience the content on a class of my choosing, rather than having to stick with the Elementalist, which is the only level-80 class I have.

Well, I picked up Heart of Thorns this past weekend for $15. So I’m playing GW2 again.

It’s funny though, the sort of things that go through my mind when playing MMOs like this. For one thing, I really enjoy the Necromancer, and that is the class I wanted to experience more of the game with. Since she was level 45, I could have skipped near the cap with my 34 Tomes. But wait a minute, I could also get an easy 10 levels via leveling up crafting, right? Gotta save those Tomes for when they are more valuable. Probably like never. But, whatever, I have level 400 Cooking now.

As I cycled through my characters just to re-familiarize myself with things, I also noticed that at least three of my characters received a 5-year anniversary present pack. Which, incidentally, meant I got three level-50 boosts. I had already leveled the Necro into level 55 by that point, but it will be good for later alts.

Anyway, I will be playing GW2 some more now. Seeing people running around on mounts really makes me want to pick up Path of Flames, just to make leveling alts easier, but I’m going to hold off for now. Will my GW2 experience be another passing fancy (again)? Will not jumping in with both (expansion) feet cause the game to be another passing fancy? Stay tuned.

Breakpoints

The two games I have been playing lately have been Far Cry 4 and No Man’s Sky. While I can and have played NMS for 3+ hours at a stretch, I struggle to play Far Cry 4 for more than maybe an hour. This is in spite of Far Cry 4 being the more entertaining game on both a micro and macro sense.

On reflection, the reason seems obvious: breakpoints.

Far Cry 4 is technically an open-world game that allows you to run wherever. However, there are definitely a lot of story-based missions that have clearly defined beginnings and endings and checkpoints inbetween. While they are not necessarily spaced far apart, there comes a time at the end of a mission that you begin thinking about how you’ll be spending another 30 minutes sneaking/guns-a-blazin’ through the next one. Why not just hit Save & Quit and take a break instead, eh? The end is as good a place as any to quit.

Conversely, No Man’s Sky is a lot like Minecraft insofar as there are no particular breakpoints. Turning in Missions sounds like a good time… but as soon as you turn them in, new missions appear to replace the old ones. And, oh, this one just requires you to exit the space station and kill one pirate ship. While you’re out there, the planet in the background has the Trading Post destination for that other mission clogging up your log. Ooo, it’s been a minute since you’ve seen a planet with water, so maybe go collect some Kelp Pods… et cetra, et cetra.

This phenomenon is not new by any means. Anyone playing MMOs knows it intimately, insofar as the breakpoints offered by dungeons, turning in quests at a hub, winning a PvP match, and so on.

What has become more interesting to me now, is how these breakpoints affect my perception of the underlying game. Like I said at the beginning, Far Cry 4 is objectively more fun. I know it’s more fun. But when I sit down to game in the evening, I find myself hesitating on the Far Cry 4 icon. If the game is so fun, why can’t I play it for more than an hour? What does it say about a game that I feel somewhat relieved when it’s over, and I boot up something else afterwards?

When I think back on the MMOs I have played, especially with WoW, I recognize that while there were breakpoints in certain content, there were a variety of alternative activities that allowed one to unwind. Raid for two days a week, spend time farming mats the rest. Complete a dungeon, go back to town and look into enchanting your new gear. and so on. Far Cry 4 technically has some elements of that – collecting herbs, selling vendor trash, etc – but obviously the game isn’t exactly designed to give you as full a break as an MMO.

The other interesting thing about breakpoints is how I used to feel like games without them would lead to faster burnout. It seems to make intuitive sense that the longer you leave a candle burning, the faster it goes out. Instead, I feel like all the abrupt starts and stops in Far Cry 4 have decreased the mental shelf life of the game. It is almost as though my mind only recognizes the number of intervals, and not the total length – playing an hour at a time is the equivalent as as playing four hours at a time. This certainly makes sense to me in terms of FF14 as well, when I kept running into content walls that all but required me to stop playing for the day.

Perhaps breakpoints aren’t as good as I once thought.

This is Why You Wait

Dragon Age: Inquisition

  • 11/18/14 – Released for $59.99.
  • 11/24/14 – Discounted to $45 via GMG.

 Far Cry 4

  • 11/18/14 – Released for $59.99.
  • 11/24/14 – Discounted to $45 via GMG.

Now, you may be tempted to chalk this up to being a holiday thing. Or a GreenManGaming thing. And you would be right in that prices (probably) don’t drop this quickly under normal circumstances.

But, guys, it hasn’t even been a week.

The GMG deal apparently expires on Thursday, so there is a little tension as to whether we will still see a similar price drop on Black Friday from somewhere else. On the other hand, the Steam sale begins on Wednesday, so you can probably safely hedge your bets then.