God of War (2018)

I preordered God of War, received in timely with its release, played it off-and-on for a few days, and stopped. It wasn’t a bad game. It wasn’t a game I disliked. It just wasn’t what I wanted at the time, nor what I expected. It felt like yet another series turned to the open world dark side. And I love open world games, but I do not love every game being open world.

Thankfully, I finally returned to finish God of War and it wasn’t that open world after all.

2018’s God of War is one of those sequel/reboot things. The Greek Kratos, after slaughtering his way through the Greek Gods in God of War 1-3, returns as an older, gruffer, but milder version of his former self. Now he lives in the forest of Norse mythology alongside his boy, Atreus, after the pair recently lost Faye, Kratos’s offscreen romance and the boys mother. They were tasked by Faye to spread her ashes from the highest peak and that is what they set out to do.

The Norse gods do play a role in the story, but they are mostly absent. In their place is the rich lore of the Nine Realms, cross-realm travel, and some marvelous set pieces using dead giants and the World Serpent, Jormungandr.

Owing to videogames borrowing their names, as a kid, I was fascinating by ancient myths and legends. Games like Final Fantasy extensively reference these figures, most often in the names chosen for their powerful summons. Other games more directly borrow. I enjoyed the original run of God of War games because of my interest in Greek and Roman mythology. I have the same enjoyment with the 2018 version. Norse mythology, by its many contrasts to other pantheons, fascinated me as a kid and still does. God of War plays a bit loose with some of the stories, but does so in an effective way to build its own take.

Having Atreus tag along with Kratos helps. He is a source of both wonder and exposition for the game’s lore. Kratos, being a foreigner, has little to no concept of these new gods and monsters, but Atreus was raised by Faye who has an expansive understanding of her own culture’s cosmology.

Atreus also freshens up the series. He provides a softening for Kratos that, frankly, was necessary after the events of the first trilogy. Kratos softens further over the course of the game as he and his son’s relationship changes and matures. It isn’t a story told as well as Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us, but it is a good attempt. It is also a welcome bit of humanization in a story otherwise revolving around immortals murdering one another (and everything else in the world).

Gameplay-wise, this version of God of War continues the series tradition of having excellent action gameplay. This version is a bit more challenging and focuses on fewer but tougher enemies. It is a welcome change from the more arcadey feel of the originals.

With all that in mind, I ultimately thought this God of War was above average but not great. It is definitely a reset from God of War III which hurt this game for me. There are several repeat enemies and the much of the additional boss fights (the Valkyries) that are unique are also optional. The game’s final fight had a big fight feel in comparison to everything else in the game, but I didn’t realize I was so close to finishing the game and it left me feeling a bit hollow. This God of War sets up the rest of the story, but it suffers for it and doesn’t feel like a totally complete arc on its own from a gameplay standpoint. From a story standpoint, the introduction of Atreus and the arc between he and his father is a fantastic and welcome bit of warm to an otherwise edgy and cold series.

In other words, hurry up and give us God of War: Ragnarok already.

When My Dragon Heist Campaign Got Real

5th edition’s Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is the first ever campaign book I used. It was also the first ever D&D campaign I ran as a dungeon master. After a little over a year, the campaign is close to ending so writing a post-mortem must wait. Instead, I wanted to talk about how the story got more real than I expected it too.

Fair warning, there are likely spoilers ahead. Avoid if you are interested in experiencing Dragon Heist without my opinions.

This is not a review of the book, but I learned quickly that I a) did not like it and b) do not like the formatting of D&D campaign books. They are written in a style that makes them more pleasing to read casually which, for me at least, meant it was hard to find critical information. 

For example, the second chapter requires the low level party to suddenly come up with a lot of gold to fix up a tavern/business they are rewarded with at the end of the first chapter. There are apparently moneylender options, but that information is included in the stat block for various NPCs referenced in the back of the book. I realized this only after complaining on the internet to people who thought I was stupid for not having read the entire book cover-to-cover several times prior to beginning the campaign.

The book does outline which villain you should use depending on the season. Since we originally began the campaign in winter, I decided to make it winter in-game too. This let me decorate the city to match a not-quite Christmas aesthetic. However, I wanted to try and introduce all the villains as potential threats and to round out my second chapter.

This led me to introducing Victoro Cassalanter, a duplicitous noble who moonlights as a worshipper of the archdevil Asmodeus along with his wife. One of my players, Tanya, is an orphan who was raised on the streets and grew up in a shanty town within Waterdeep we named ‘Chantier’. In secret, Victoro’s goal was to collect as many unfortunate souls as possible for sacrificing to Asmodeus. Using his wealth and reputation, he decided to “adopt” the poor people of Chantier as his own. With their trust, he lured them one-by-one to his underground temple where he chained them up.

Another player, our paladin Calen, is the apprentice to the famous hero of Waterdeep, All Knight (a play on All Might from My Hero Academia). All Knight is a dedicated servant of the god of justice, Tyr, and the type to have a key to the city. He also cares little for day-to-day operations of the temple which he leaves entirely to the treasurer, Sir William Austin. Unbeknownst to All Knight, Sir William Austin has been peddling access to the temple’s greatest hero as a means to fill the temple’s coffers with donations which he skims off the top for himself.

As All Knight’s self-appointed agent, Sir Austin quickly becomes allies to the influential Victoro (though he knew nothing of the secret cult he was running). Victoro and his wife want Sir Austin to convince All Knight to name their son as his apprentice. This is a ruse, of course. All Knight is a powerful hero and would count as a “great soul” if sacrificed to Asmodeus. If the Cassalanters can lure him into their own home through the pretense of training their son, they will capture him.

These two fronts of our story collided in a big way. The people of Chantier slowly went missing and All Knight eventually did too. This led to Calen, Tanya, and their friend Ophelia (our third and final player) to investigate and eventually discover the Cassalanter plot beneath their estate. 

At this point, Jarlaxle Baenre had become the bigger threat in regards to the plot-as-written so I wrote a send-off for the Cassalanter story that I hoped would result in a lot of character growth for Calen and Tanya. In an epic moment where they were totally outmatched, All Knight sacrificed much of his life force as an avatar of Tyr and vanquished the cult of Asmodeus along with the Cassalanters while saving the party.

And this is where the story got real.

When I realized how many cult members were present (that I just instagibbed with holy energy) and that they would be a collective of influential Waterdeep nobles and merchants, it dawned on me what a huge story-altering event this was beyond just my Cassalanter plotline. Overnight, a significant number of Waterdeep elite would disappear forever. Jarlaxle, having the inside scoop through a secret agent (the Black Viper, a noble in her own right masquerading as a vigilante thief), seized the moment.

He turned this into a class war.

When I introduced Victoro, I introduced him as the president of the Waterdeep Savings & Loan. I wanted him to be a banker with deep ties to the noble community both above and below the table. When he and so many others died overnight, Jarlaxle used their disappearance to spread rumors that caught fire when combined with the wipeout of Chantier (almost everyone from there was sacrificed to Asmodeus).

In Waterdeep, it quickly became assumed that wealth and power came from Asmodeus alone. Many middle and upper class families retreated into their lavish homes, protected by their guards and mercenaries. The rest of Waterdeep – those forced to fight and scrounge – rose up to protest and eventually rebel against the shadows of evil cast by Jarlaxle’s plot.

The Black Viper had successfully stolen Victoro’s journal. As Esvele Rosznar (and eventually with Jarlaxle pretending to be Rosznar), the Black Viper used her noble name to stoke the flames of hate further by revealing others accused of associating with the Cult of Asmodeus. These names were carefully selected to do the most damage by preying on the emotions of the upset rather than providing evidence of any actual association.

After making her a hero of the people, Jarlaxle killed Rosznar and tied her murder to the city guard. With her death, Waterdeep itself became a warzone overnight.

Now, the party is caught in a fight to gain the Stone of Golorr, a mysterious object that somehow leads to a vault containing embezzled gold and treasures. With the money, Jarlaxle hopes to uplift his city, the city of Luskan, to membership status in the Lord’s Alliance whilst simultaneously tearing down the city most likely to oppose him. All the while, the city guard, the Lord’s Alliance, and the Harpers fight to keep Waterdeep from burning down and hope to repair the relationship between classes that Jarlaxle has disrupted.

A Knowledge Cleric for Innistrad

My first experience dungeon mastering an entire campaign is nearing its end. After more than a year of “Waterdeep: Dragon Heist”, I am ready to get back in the player’s seat for a bit. Thankfully, one of my players and a DM in two other campaigns I played is ready to take back his seat. And, as a huge Magic: The Gathering fan, he wants to take us to Innistrad.

To test the waters a bit, he actually ran us through a two-shot set in Innistrad several months ago. It gave me some time to prep for Dragon Heist and take a much needed break running things. It was an interesting setting. I do not generally go for gothic horror, but I have read “Frankenstein” and seen enough vampire movies to know a thing or too.

Given the overbearing nature of the Church in the Innistrad setting, I thought making my first Cleric would be perfect. I wanted to base him off concepts of guilt, sin, and early Christian theologians as the scientists and philosophers of their day. I also wanted an older character who has experienced the world more through books than direct experiences or social interaction (akin to common Wizard tropes).

The Knowledge Domain was a perfect fit. It gives me all the access to skill proficiencies and languages I could want. It also has plenty flavor to tie into my background. But rather than write out his background outside the game, I thought it might be fun to write it inside the game as something he keeps with him at all times.

On his person, as an admission of his sins, he has the following letter:

To whoever is owed my truth,

I admit without redaction: I have been lying for the last five years. I lied to the Church and to my peers. I used my position, my reputation, and my talent to selfishly get what I wanted most for myself.

May Avacyn look kindly on me for my sins.

It started when the Church denied my request for fieldwork. They claimed it was because they needed me in Thraben and would not risk losing my knowledge. They actually meant that a 39-year old scholar, who never left the library or the city, was not worth the resources.

They were right. I spent my whole life surrounded by books, living comfortably in ivory towers. My mother kept me here to protect me. She left me to explore the Great Library on my own while she worked as a researcher and archivist. But she told me to never leave or else I would die as my father did – ignobly and forgotten.

With her gone too, I remained and have spent my years in study and quiet repose … an old man’s life at a young man’s age.

The Church’s denial was the catalyst I needed. Risking my reputation and my life, I manufactured and planted evidence of one of the greatest discoveries of our age: the Chalice of Life. With an artifact this powerful, I knew the Church would let me out of my duties to the Great Library.

But the Chalice never existed and never will. This note is my recognition of what I have done. I weaved a tale using ancient texts which I translated myself from languages no longer spoken. I destroyed priceless tomes that would contradict my lies. I misled my peers. I attacked the reputations of scholars rightfully onto my deceits.

If you have found this, then I am already dead and judged. I accept Avacyn’s will. I hope you too will find mercy for my transgressions.

In guilt,
Orran Richter

The “Chalice of Life” is an obvious McGuffin. I originally left it blank and suggested to the DM to fill it in however he likes. Whether it exists or not, whether I will find it, etc. are all questions I leave to him and hime alone.

I am excited to play him “sometime soon.”

Halo Again

I preordered the original Xbox at Gamestop (then EB Games) in the mall. For $500, I got the system and three games. Two of those games were Dead or Alive 3 and Project Gotham Racing. The third? Like almost everyone else, it was a copy of Halo: Combat Evolved, and it changed my gaming life.

I love Halo. Maybe not as much as I did, but I always have a soft spot for it. Whether it was the multiplayer over LAN or over Xbox Live starting with Halo 2, I played games in the series a lot. More than that, I loved the single player. The original Halo felt revolutionary compared to other FPS games I had played. It had vehicles and big open sections. The enemy AI felt somehow more real. I even grew to like Master Chief, despite having little personality, and love Cortana for her snark.

I was a big enough fan to even read a few of the books.

Halo 4 was not a bad game. As 343 Industries first attempt at a new Halo trilogy, it did not upset things too much. I mean, I kind of hated seeing the Forerunners return and the main villain was a snooze, but it was more Halo and that is what I wanted.

However, my love of all things Xbox faded quickly after Halo 4. The Xbox 360 and I had some good times, but I also liked having a gaming PC around. With it, I only needed an Xbox to play Halo and without more Halo, why keep an Xbox?

I skipped the Xbox One entirely. It was the first Xbox system I did not own. When Halo 5: Guardians came out in 2015, it was tempting, but I ultimately opted to keep playing games on my Playstation 4 instead. Ever since though, I wanted to play Halo 5. Me and Halo? We are old friends, and I needed that old friend feeling.

I bought an Xbox Series X at launch. There were no launch titles that sold me. Instead, I bought in entirely on the merits of Xbox Game Pass. It is by far one of the best deals in gaming, and I wanted its convenience in my living room (in addition to the office). I also knew I could play Halo 5 with it.

And I think I hated it.

Halo 5 starts off where Halo 4 left off … I think. There were a bunch of characters I either forgot or was never introduced to. You spend most of the campaign not playing Master Chief. There is a new team – Fireteam Osiris – starring Nathan Fillion as himself along side some other people.

Actually, let me do a brief side rant here first: Nathan Fillion is okay but I hate hearing him everywhere. I am sure there are counterexamples, but he seems to always play the exact same character. Plus, I hate using real actor faces in video games. It somehow makes them feel more fake to me.

I have nothing wrong with any of the actors playing team members in Halo 5, but the fact that they are there on every mission bothered me. This game does not feel like Halo.

I know I am rusty, but I never felt like that bad ass Spartan of old. More often than not, I would get shot down by overwhelming firepower from dumb enemies, and then I would be forced to wait for an AI teammate’s pathing to not break so they could resurrect me.

Rinse and repeat. Die and wait.

If you were the one fan who loved fighting beside the marines in the first Halo and said, “Why can’t this be the entire game?”, then first of all, I hate you. Second, Halo 5 is your fault. In Halo 5, you are only allowed to feel badass in the cutscenes where physics cease to exist. It is cheesy and goofy. Otherwise you will make your AI partners look bad.

The story also sucks. It is hard for me to put a finger on exactly why, but it is the same issue I had with Halo 4 and a similar concern I have with Destiny 1 and 2. Everything is “The <Noun>” and it is supposed to be this grand, epic, universe-spanning idea. Every name, plot point, and story beat sounds like a cheesy game of mad libs and it grates on my nerves.

But, I finished it. That says something. The guns were fine. The vehicles were fine. It was a perfectly average game with the production turned up to eleven. Finishing it has made me less excited for Halo Infinite though. I think the series needs a reboot, not the epic conclusion to a trilogy with no real purpose.

Most Anticipated Games in 2021

There are currently 18 games on my wishlist. Some of those are carry overs from previous years, but a few are games I am looking forward to in 2021. I thought I would share a few thoughts about the ones I am most excited to play:

Nebuchadnezzar and/or Pharaoh: A New Era (PC)

One of my all-time favorite games as a kid was the Sierra Studios classic, Pharaoh. To me, the classic city-builder starts and ends with Pharaoh and similar titles. I have played plenty of quality city-builders since, but revisited Pharaoh with a more modern design is high on my wishlist.

Enter Nebuchadnezzar and, or perhaps ‘or’, Pharaoh: A New Era. The former is an indie game designed by two-people to mimic, but not copy, the original Pharaoh. The latter is a full graphical remaster of the original.

I say “and/or” because I am unsure I need both in my life. I was shocked to learn that we were getting not one but two versions of the classic game in 2021. While Nebuchadnezzar may do enough to set itself apart, perhaps I yearn more for something as close to the original as possible? Then again, maybe I am just looking at a game I once loved through the veil of nostalgia.

I am excited to find out.

Hollow Knight: Silksong (PS5)

Hollow Knight was a surprise hit for me. It was one of the first games where I realized that, when designed correctly, I could enjoy challenge. I spent a great deal of time on the game’s optional content, defeating the Path of Pain platforming section and the game’s optional Nightmare King boss.

More than the challenge, I loved Hollow Knight for its setting, style, and overall vibe. I want more of it. I want Hollow Knight: Silksong.

Honorable Mentions

  • Halo: Infinite (Xbox) – I have yet to play Halo 5. I doubt the series is as good as it was, but I am still a big fan and still in need of more quality FPS games.
  • Bravely Default II (Switch) – I absolutely devoured both of the other games in this series. I intend on doing the exact same with this one.
  • Horizon Forbidden West (Playstation) – The first Horizon was an all-time great. A bigger, better, bolder version could be even greater. More than just fighting robot dinosaurs, I was taken aback by how much I loved the game’s story. Ever since, I have wanted to see more of that world and that is what I am hoping we get.

Sports Story (Switch)

I never expected to love Golf Story. I bought it for the Nintendo Switch partially on a whim and partially because mini-golf in videogame form is almost always entertaining. I remember starting the game up when I was home sick one day. I had let the game sit for months after buying it on some discount.

I did not put it down again until I finished.

Golf Story is a fun, irreverent kind of game. Its the sort of story you only get in videogames, and the kind of gameplay you only get in a game that doesn’t take things too seriously. It was funny, endearing, and a joy to play.

When the sequel was announced, it instantly became a must own title for me. Though it may not live up to the original, if it comes close, it will still be a great game. We missed learning more about it in 2020, but I am hoping we will not miss seeing it this year.

What games are you more excited to play in 2021?

2020, A Year in Gaming

I hate that December is the month to look back on an entire year and make sweeping judgments like “Game of the Year”. After many began posting about their favorites, I was still padding my completed games list for the year. Instead of in December, I thought it better to try and do this early in January once the year has switched over and I can truly say the year is done.

All-New Everything

I was lucky in 2020 to make a series of upgrades. I mostly rebuilt my PC early in the year. This led to me thinking I could finally pull-off a virtual reality headset on my computer. I had been using my Playstation 4 Pro and, despite loving it, PSVR always felt limited. It took four months of waiting, but I got my Valve Index in November.

Also in November, I got both a Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X. Excessive, I know, but the wife owed me the PS5 (for prior debts I took on when we were first starting out). The Xbox was more an impulse buy. Back in the day, I was a bigger Xbox fan than most anything else, but I skipped the prior generation entirely. With Xbox Game Pass being a great deal (I am paid out three years in advance), I thought also having an Xbox in the house to play games easily was a good idea.

Here are quick reviews of each:

My computer now handles any game I want to play perfectly on my 1440p monitor. Also, I have two additional 1080p monitors going for work purposes. It has been a long time since I was truly a PC gamer, so the parts I bought were not top of the line, but I am excited to have them all the same. My computer feels like a beast especially since I only play games like FFXIV which, albeit beautiful, are not that intense.

The Valve Index is a dream. I sold my PSVR to help make financial sense of buying the Index. I do not regret it. With the mounted base stations in our office, it has never been easier for me to play a game in VR. With the PSVR, I had to keep the camera mounted on a mic stand which needed to be pulled out and adjusted each time I wanted to play. It was a huge hassle. Furthermore, the higher fidelity on the Index has led to a lot less motion sickness for me.

The Playstation 5 is perfect. The PS4 was one of my favorite consoles in recent memory, if not ever. The PS5 is strictly an improvement. I opted for the disc-based version since I wanted to play UHD movies on it. My television is limited in HDMI slots for HDR, and I knew PS5 would be guaranteed my best HDMI slot.

The Xbox Series X has been an experience. As I said, I skipped the prior Xbox generation entirely. I did not miss much. Still, with the entire Xbox Game Pass available, plus all the games I owned on the Xbox 360, I filled up my Xbox’s hard-drive with games on day one. I focused on playing other stuff, but I am excited to finally play Halo 5 or replay all the other Halo games or finally finish Child of Eden.

My 2020 Dropped List

Time is our most precious commodity. I spend most of mine on games. Sometimes a game does not work out and it makes my dropped list. A game could be dropped because I did not like it, was not feeling it, or just got away from playing it so much that I know I may never go back. I used to look at this list as a waste of money too, but that is less the case. With so many services, more and more games are dropped after trying them rather than trying them after having also bought them.

Presented in no particular order:

  • Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight
  • For the King
  • Scourgebringer
  • Nex Machina
  • Farcry: Primal
  • The Outer Wilds
  • Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
  • Pit People
  • Monster Train
  • Knockout League
  • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
  • Dicey Dungeons
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  • Blood & Truth
  • Beat Saber

2020 Games of the Year

Here are all the games I finished in 2020, ranked from least enjoyed to most enjoyed.

#17. Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem
#16. Airborne Kingdom
#15. Panzer Paladin
#14. Timespinner
#13. World of Warcraft: Shadowlands
#12. Final Fantasy IX
#11. Final Fantasy III
#10. Control
#09. The Messenger
#08. Cuphead
#07. Red Dead Redemption 2
#06. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
#05. Sackboy: A Big Adventure

I never intended on buying Sackboy, but after reviews came in, I decided it was worth a shot. I am glad I did.

Despite having played a ton of platformers in the last couple of years, they have all been 2D. Sackboy was the first 3D platformer I have finished since Mario Odyssey and the first non-Mario 3D platformer I have finished since Astro Bot Rescue Mission.

Those are both huge titles to live up to and Sackboy does it. The game oozes charm and imagination. It is fun and inviting. There is the right blend of humor and challenge whilst never being overbearing with either.

Sackboy was a perfect launch title of the Playstation 5. I obsessed over playing it and did almost everything I could to 100% it. I still have a ways to go, but I never try to 100% a game unless I care about it.

#04. Half-Life: Alyx

Half-Life: Alyx is not my favorite VR game. That honor remains with Astro Bot Rescue Mission. However, I have always loved the Half-Life universe. Alyx is no exception.

As my first ever Valve Index game, Half-Life: Alyx was a crash course in what VR should be, can be, and is. Few games have inspired the same level of intensity. While the puzzles and story were a bit weak for my tastes, the game’s focus on survival horror-esque elements (darkness, limited ammunition, etc.) always kept me on my toes.

As an experience, Half-Life: Alyx is unlike any other. It was totally worth the investment I made in order to play it. I hope to see more like it in the near future.

#03. Ghost of Tsushima

I loved Ghost of Tsushima for its atmosphere. The gameplay was fun too. I had high hopes that I would fall deeply in love with this game as I had with other open world games like Horizon: Zero Dawn. While I did not, that is no critique of the game overall.

More than its atmosphere or gameplay, I most enjoyed just standing around in this game. That is not a common thing for me. The island of Tsushima is so beautifully rendered and lovingly crafted, that I valued my long horseback rides through its countryside more than anything else.

I have no idea where a potential sequel might go, but I am ready to go wherever it takes me.

#02. Hades

As of writing, I put almost four days of time into Hades. I bought the game shortly after it first hit early access on the Epic Game Store. I have loved it ever since. By far, it is my favorite Supergiant game which is saying something because I have loved (and completed) every game they have put out.

Hades though brings in another passion of mine: Greek mythology. It also taught me that I too can enjoy cute boys and shipping them like some internet-raised teenager. That part is a stranger thing for me to admit, but no less true than my other feelings about the game.

The combination, along with its replayability, makes for as close to perfect as I think a game like it can get.

#01. The Last of Us Part II

If Hades is perfect, then what is The Last of Us Part II?

I always knew I was going to buy a Playstation 5. My wife has promised me one well in advance of any details. With that knowledge and knowing it would be backward compatible, I chose to wait to play The Last of Us Part II until I could play it on my new Playstation 5 rather than my old Playstation 4.

The wait was difficult. I loved the first game and thought it story hit deeper than any other game (and more than most other kinds of media too). The Last of Us Part II hit deeper, harder, and stronger. The game is not perfect in the way that Hades is perfect, but it resonates in its exploration of the human experience. It demands many emotions and earns them all without question.

The Last of Us Part II is not more perfect. It is more human. And it is terrifying.

An Honorable Mention

I played a ton of Final Fantasy XIV this year too. Though I technically finished Shadowbringers, I did not want to include it here as I never feel any kind of completion with FFXIV in the way I do with other games. There is always more to do now and more to come.

Contrast that with World of Warcraft, which I also played a great deal of this year. Both earlier in the year and later in the year for the expansion, I realized more and more that WoW is not the MMO for me anymore. I could write another tireless rant about why, but what is the point of that?

I Played Wolcen

I realize in writing this review of Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem that I am evenly split in my regards to the game. On one hand, it is by far the most successful Action RPG for me personally. I have tried (and failed to enjoy) genre titans like Diablo, Torchlight, and Titan Quest. Wolcen is the first and only Action RPG I have ever “finished”. At the same time, the game is horribly balanced, and I found the plot hard to follow. Completing the game was more chore than anything.

If you are unfamiliar, Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem is an Action RPG in the same vein as games like Diablo. Similar to Warhammer, it features absurdly sized characters in absurdly sized armor yelling at one another about demons, cults, rival political forces, etc. 

As I said before, I felt the game’s plot was hard to follow. Each act (the game is broken into three acts) seemed to introduce a new faction to contend with. However, since the gameplay largely revolves around wandering empty canvases in search of loot pinatas, there weren’t any side quests or side NPCs to exposit more about the story.

And, if I am completely honest, that may have been for the best. Of the bits I did understand, none of the story or its characters landed with me. It felt under-cooked, generic, and overly derivative.

Wolcen does stand out in its freedom. Rather than picking a class, your character is free to specialize in a number of different passives while also improving broadly applicable stats and leveling up skills tied to specific weapons. The game also smartly features a dual resource mechanic (willpower and rage) that is hard to describe but easy to understand once you play for a bit.

The game lacks properly balancing though. Initially, I went with a melee-centric build, but I found it impossible to beat the game’s first boss with my setup. After a little grinding, I managed to switch over to a caster build that made short work of the boss. For all of Act 2 and some of Act 3, I used the same build, but it made the game laughably easy. In Act 3, I switched back to melee after getting some lucky drops and, though it worked better, it wasn’t nearly as smooth or enjoyable.

Still, in my final build for completing the game, I went my own way with a bow build that I enjoyed playing and found reasonably balanced between my two previous extremes. Your mileage may vary, but from my experience, put everything in ferocity, learn how to dodge, and pick one of the top 2 or 3 skills to base your entire build around. Everything else is a trap.

As down as I may sound, I did mostly enjoy my time with Wolcen. It was a solid filler game to occupy my time (mostly while I was battling allergies). The endgame opens up a bit for some repeat activities, but I am not sure how much more juice I can get out of this lemon. If these is your type of genre, then you’ll probably enjoy Wolcen, despite its faults. For someone like me, who clearly doesn’t favor Action RPGs, it was probably worth the money I spent, but I am unsure if I will ever go back to it.

Timespinner (PC, 2018)

I don’t have a lot to say about Timespinner except that it was fun enough. I kickstarted the game on a whim back when kickstarters still seemed like good ideas. I finally got around to playing it and breezed through.

I found the game to be more interestingly, narratively-speaking, then in how it played. It was otherwise a reasonably competent metroidvania.

All that said, it was nice seeing my name amongst the other Chris’s when the credits rolled:

Timespinner - Name in Credits
That’s me!

I am the Moon Lord!

In my desperate, post-Slay the Spire doldrums, I decided to go back to Terraria, another game I’ve spent hundreds of hours on already. The last time I played, I tried to get to the Moon Lord and failed miserably. Details are poorly stored in my memory banks, but I think it was a mix of playing the game a) solo, b) on expert difficulty, and c) with a penchant toward less productive (for monster slaying at least) character builds. I remember getting demolished during all of the game’s Hard Mode exclusive events.

This return was different. I didn’t play on Expert. My previous world had been lost to reformatting, but my character was stored in the cloud. In my new world, I was a god for quite some time.

I did struggle a bit on the mechanical bosses. I had inherited a good setup for killing lots of enemies simultaneously, but the build had little to no single target damage. I had to rethink and rework my approach. I eventually settled on a ranged build (using a bow or gun, whatever I had that was better). From there, rather than be demolished, I became the demolisher.

I rapidly found where I had left off: post-temple but pre-Moon Lord. At a certain point, the power you can amass with just a little effort in Terraria sends you rolling downhill at whiplash speed. After some initial hiccups, I reascended to godhood …

… until I finally met the Moon Lord.

For those of you unfamiliar, the Moon Lord is Terraria’s (current) final boss. He’s a Cthulhu-esque monstrosity that takes up the majority of the screen and has two distinct phases. In phase one, you destroy the eyeballs in his hands and the one on his forehead. In phase two, you destroy the one on his chest. With my ranged setup, I was consistently able to get to phase two, but I never survived it for longer than a few seconds before dying.

Unfortunately, dying to the Moon Lord when solo means he flies off, and you have to resummon him. Resummoning him means doing a map-spanning event to slaughter around 400 semi-challenging enemies. It’s a time sink!

When I picked the game back up, I had intended to get all the achievements done. After playing for a bit, I did get a few more done, but there are some that I just can’t get interested in (mostly fishing related). Still, the Moon Lord had to die, regardless of all else.

I tried a few more times with different ranged weapons/builds, but nothing worked. Rather than continue to beat my head against a wall, I instead decided to cheese the boss with a build specifically chosen to outlast, rather than outplay, him.

It worked and I am done.

I absolutely still love Terraria. I do consider it one of the best games ever, and it holds up every time I revisit it. Sure, sometimes it feels a bit cheap for my liking, but that’s more due to the game’s open-ended design rather than its strict focus on punishing anyone. That you can farm or innovate around bottlenecks is just one of its many, many charms.

Also, it is embarrassing to admit this (for the wife, not me), but after vanquishing my fiercest foe, I ran out, mooned her and yelled, “I am the Moon Lord now.”

Why did she marry me?

Dungeons & Dragons (& Dinner)

Well, it finally happened: I am a Dungeon Master running a D&D campaign.

In addition to our regularly scheduled weekly game, we decided to start an irregularly scheduled side campaign (mostly to fill-in when our other party member is unavailable). The sister’s boyfriend is the DM of our primary campaign (and has been for a few years now), so he was excited to get back in the PC chair again. I wanted to practice DMing with something longer than a one-shot. Its working out.

We decided to run D&D 5th Edition’s Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. I admit, I bought the book (and the sequel) long before there was any guarantee of me running it. As the summary states, Dragon Heist is a “treasure hunt set against an urban backdrop”. That’s instantly appealing, as is its levels 1-5 target, especially for my novice DM skills.

In two sessions, we’re off to a solid start. We’ve got a streetwise druid, an up-and-coming paladin, and a bard whose latched onto the pair in hopes of a song. I’ve had a blast sticking to the script, albeit it with my own slight tweaks to impart a little more humor. DMing with actual material to follow feels a bit like wrangling a tornado at times, but that too has (thus far) been appealing to me.

In addition, as is customary, I’ve cooked dinner as well. When it was just family playing in our primary campaign, the Mrs and I would host and I generally would cook. Now that we’ve added others, I cut out the cooking because it was going to get expensive.

I haven’t missed cooking, but I do miss have a reason to cook something “different”. While I rarely fall into much of a routine with just the Mrs and I at home, adding two more to the table gives me an opportunity to put on more of a show.

Enter the de-boned turkey with sausage stuffing:


Presentation wasn’t perfect (I should really learn a butcher’s knot) and I got it a touch overcooked for my tastes, but everyone enjoyed it. I served it with Mike’s Hot Honey glazed, roasted potatoes, radishes, and Brussels sprouts, as well as black-eyed peas. All-around, a very filling and satisfying meal.

I doubt I do anything else like this anytime soon. Our next session is tentatively scheduled for pre-Royal Rumble this weekend, so I am imagining wings or pizza … or both.