Friday, August 31, 2018

Conan Exiles (Xbox One) Update

Almost a year ago, I played an early access for Conan Exiles on Xbox One.  Now, the full game has been released, and I figured I would jump back in for a few hours to see what has changed.

Wow.  First off, the game is now third person.  I think it was first person before, but I'm not 100% positive on that.  Third person makes the combat a lot easier to manage.  However, combat is still very clunky.  Aiming doesn't get thrown off by being hit anymore, but still has strict accuracy.  It's a step in the right direction, though.  The equipment wheel is still used to equip things from your inventory, like weapons.  It's still cumbersome, and takes a lot longer than I'd like to equip and un-equip items.  This hurts combat, as it is slower to ready and stow your weapon, and doubly so if you want to use a shield.  It's not a great solution when Minecraft figured a better one several years ago.

So what about building?  Well, there was some improvement in actually getting pieces to snap together.  This means it is much more reliable to make a structure that looks like an actual structure, and not some impossible hodgepodge of parts.  It's not perfect, since I had several instances of not being able to put a piece where I wanted, even when nothing was in the way.  But again, it's still an improvement over what I originally experienced.

Much like combat and building, the UI has improved, but is still more cumbersome than it needs to be.  Moving items to from your inventory to your equipment wheel, to leveling up, all feel like a chore.  Text is either the right size, or way too small to read on a TV.  Stats do have descriptions, and it's easier to see what you will get by spending your skill points.  The game also displays the prerequisite skills needed for higher level ones.  It's just a picture, so you have to manually try to match it up.

It seems as though the developers listened to people like me, and added some basic tutorials.  They are enough to get you started on the right foot, so the game isn't so obtuse.  There's also a neat checklist of things to do in the game.  I like that.  If you want to play but aren't sure what to do, just check the list, and try to do something from that.  Thankfully, there is also a map.  It is glorious.  Certain locations get automatically marked on it, too.

Even so, the game isn't overly fun at first.  You can still only have one save file, which is absurd.  It takes awhile to gather enough resources to build, and food/water to survive.  But tucked away in the pause menu, there is a magic option that makes the game a lot of fun.  You can turn on admin controls.  This allows you to teleport, turn off hunger/thirst, give yourself items, or even be invincible.  It is so much fun to build things when you don't run out of items part way through.  Well, you can still run out, but it's easy to spawn more.  Want some high level torches so you can see?  Poof.  What a strong sword for those pesky monsters?  Poof.  Want 100 walls so you can build a nice big house?  Poof.  The admin controls make it happen.

It might sound silly to some, but it was a game changer for me.  No longer worrying about the mundane stuff like eating, or how cumbersome things are, is a great way to increase my enjoyment.  Being able to check out high level stuff, or build interesting buildings is great.  I could travel all over the map, seeing what is out there.  The hassle-free exploration was enough to satisfy me...the rest is just a bonus.  If you are an achievement hunter, you can even use the admin controls to make all but one a simple affair.  Pretty nice.

Conan Exiles is surely improved from the game preview version available last year.  While still clunky, combat, building, and the UI have improved.  It's still not the most fun experience you can have in a survival game, but the admin controls definitely save the game, giving it a lot of entertainment value.

The Good:
The admin controls are amazing.

The Bad:
UI, combat, and building still feel cumbersome.

The SaHD:
You can build the torture wheel thing from the beginning of the first Conan movie.  I don't even think it does anything.  You can also capture enemies and force them to work in it.  Crazy!

(Review code for Conan Exiles was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia (Mobile Phones) Review

Well, here we are, at a point I never thought we'd reach...a review for a mobile phone game on my site.  If it was just some ordinary game, we wouldn't be here.  But here we are.

Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia is not the first mobile game I've played.  I've played a few.  However, it is the first I've felt compelled to write a review for, simply because I really enjoyed it.  Before we get too far, I should make fun of the name.  The Dissidia portion is a reference to the fighting game, which mixes heroes and villains from various Final Fantasy games together in a barely coherent story.  The Opera Omnia part...I'm not sure.  It's silly, but follows the current trend of weird subtitles for JRPGs that has been going on for the past decade or so.  Maybe even longer.

Unlike its fighting game brethren, Opera Omnia is a turn based RPG.  The turn order is based off a character's speed, and reminds me a lot of the system in Final Fantasy X (another good game).  When your turn comes up, you have the option of doing a Brave attack, HP attack, or using one of your skills.  To tie into the Dissidia games, this one also uses a similar system for damage.  A character's brave value is the damage they will do with an HP attack.  So, you want to use your brave attacks to drain an opponent's value while adding to your own.  When it is sufficiently high, you can use your HP attack to do actual damage.

It might sound strange at first, but I like it.  The system provides more strategy that you would think.  If you take brave damage that exceeds your current value, you become broken (no, not like Matt Hardy).  This shifts your turn back a space or more, while giving the entire opposing side a several-hundred point increase.  Plus, you can't do HP damage until you get enough brave back.  I should also mention that using an HP attack sends your brave to zero.  While you need to do damage, you should be careful when you do that damage.  If an enemy is targeting you right after that character's turn, you might not want to use the HP attack, unless it will finish them off.  Otherwise, you may empower your opponents when they strike back.

It's a pretty fun system once you get down a rhythm.  To mix it up a bit, each character has one or two special skills.  They can be heals, buffs, high brave attacks, multi-target attacks, or my favorite, the brave then HP attack ones.  They have limited uses per battle, so you have to decide when it's worth it.  For shorter fights, it's easy to blow the skills as necessary, while you want to be more discerning in their use during multi-wave boss fights.  While I was dismissive of the buffs at first (as I am wont to do), some of them are incredibly useful.  HP/brave attacks may be my favorite, but some of the others are almost as good, and might be more useful in the long run.

As post-battle rewards, you will occasionally gain colored crystals.  These can be used to further enhance the stats for characters, and get them additional passive skills.  Each character needs a specific crystal color, and only that one.  Maxing out their crystal levels makes them a powerhouse, but it does take a lot of crystals to do so.  Just make sure to set those passives.  Plenty of times I have forgotten to do so.  I tried to find at least one good character per crystal type, since I like to do the daily levels for each color (I could take or leave the money one).  They are great levels for the experience, but once you hit 50, they are still great for the sheer amount of crystals you can get from them.

One last way to make your characters stronger is with their equipment.  Weapons and armor have a rank, from 1 to 5 stars, with more stars equaling stronger equipment.  To level those up, you have to merge them with other weapons or special weapon/armor orbs.  If you merge it with another of the same type, it will "limit break" them, increasing their maximum level.  Hey, it's Final Fantasy, you have to have "limit break" in there somewhere.  Each piece of equipment has extra CP, allowing the equipped character to have more passive skills on.  This limit increases when the limit breaks.  Rank 4 and 5 equipment will also give bonus skills to certain characters.  If you fully max out it out (limit break it three times and hit the level cap), that skill is then unlocked for that character, so they can get it without equipping the associated piece.  It's a pretty cool system, but does take some luck, rare resources, or a chunk of money to max out the 5 star weapons and armor.  It can be worth it though!

The game's story is probably the weakest part.  It very much follows the "take all these characters and shove them into a strange world" trope that seems popular with mash-ups like this.  The story scenes aren't bad, they just don't add much.  The characters in them are usually appropriate, but you will unlock a lot as you go through the game, and they cycle in and out who appears in a scene.  There are a few funny scenes, and the characters act appropriately, but it's just not that memorable.  To make it better, you aren't limited in doing most stages.  There is a "stamina" system for a few levels, and the daily stages are limited, but the story stages are not.  If you want to blow through a chapter or two in one sitting, the game doesn't stop you!  I'm glad that a chunk of the game isn't the "play three stages, wait two hours" nonsense that other games have.  Also, only a very few select and rare stages limit who you can bring.  If you want to constantly use Cecil because he's awesome, you are free to do so.  I'm glad the characters don't have silly cooldown timers.

However, another massive plus Opera Omnia has over similar mobile games?  You get all the characters in the story or special events.  There's no random chance to get your favorite characters (and Lightning), just their weapons.  All in all, I like that.  It means you don't have to throw money at the game to get your favorite characters, just wait until they are available, or get to the part of the story where they are unlocked.  Plus, previous event characters eventually come back with permanent events, so if you miss someone great, just wait a couple of months and you can get them (and their 5* armor) at your leisure.

I do have a few other minor problems with the game.  One, the boss fights can be a slog.  Not only do many of them have a lot of HP (it is a JRPG, after all), but they tend to be the fourth or fifth wave of their levels.  I could deal with one or the other, but both together make them longer and less fun than they could be.  They also hit hard, which I would expect, but bosses seem to get a disproportionately large amount of brave for doing their moves.  One last quibble is how some of the female characters are treated.  I can only remember two so far, but Ashe (FF XII) and Celes (VI) have stumbling in some of their attack animations.  You might be able to get away with Ashe, since she is a princess, but they why does "she" choose to use a big, two-handed sword?  Celes is less forgivable.  She's a powerful general, and swordswoman, and mage, and opera singer.  If she just launched a ground wave at the opponent, she wouldn't stumble to follow that up because she's a girl.  I have yet to see a guy treated like this, and I'm frankly disappointed Squeenix did this.  It's not unexpected for Japan, though.

While it's not a phrase I would have thought I would say, I really like this mobile game.  Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia is a lot of fun, and a solid RPG.  I like playing it, making my characters stronger, participating in the daily events, and getting characters I like from the various games.  I would definitely encourage turn-based RPG and Final Fantasy fans to try it out for a few days.  I have yet to spend any money on the game, but have plenty of strong characters, weapons, and armor.  I actually want to spend money on the game because I enjoy it so much.  It's...a weird feeling.

The Good:
Mobile game with lots of Final Fantasy characters, and not many of the limiting traps of free-to-play games.

The Bad:
Boss fights can be a slot, and of course the curse of RNG.

The SaHD:
I like to refer to Cecil's "darkness" skill as "hitting them with the no parents"...thanks Lego Movie

(Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia was downloaded for free on the Android store)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Curse of Deadpool 2

A few weeks ago, there was a small contest of sorts that allowed people to get a free digital version of Deadpool 1 and 2 on Vudu.  I didn't have an account at that time, but managed to get one of the codes.  So, I just had to wait until it was available, and then my wife and I could watch it.  Simple, right?

Of course not.  Story time!

Before it was available to stream, I looked at the listing in my Vudu movies.  It's in a format called HDX, which I had never heard of before.  According to the site, it's a very high quality, and not really meant for streaming.  That meant it was unlikely to work on my downstairs TV.  The most logical course was to download it when available, use the Chromecast I received with my phone purchase, and watch it on the upstairs TV.

Just for kicks, I tried streaming it on the smart TV.  It would play about 1/2 a second of the 20th Century Fox logo, cut to a black screen, and repeat.  After a few rounds, it politely informed me that my connection wasn't good enough.  Not quite how I thought it would play out, but somewhat entertaining.

So, on to the main event!

Early Saturday morning, I started to set everything up.  Step 1 was download the movie.  Well, first I started to stream it on my computer, to see if it was actual possible, and if the HDX description lied to me.  It ran for about 30 seconds just fine.  Even so, I didn't think it would be a good idea to stream it from the internet while streaming that to my TV, so I figured I would just download it.  I knew it wouldn't just let me download it, I also had to download the Vudu app on the computer to do so.  Fine, let's just get it over with.  I downloaded what it wanted, signed in, and hit the download button.

An error message.  "Download is incompatible with Adobe Air 30, you need Adobe Air 29 to download in the app."

The hell?  Then why not just put version 29 with the download instead of 30?  I sighed, dug through the programs to find it and uninstall it.  Then I followed the link to get version 29.  Well, eventually.  There were 3 different options, and I didn't know which to get at first.

Anyway, back to the program, which of course wanted to update to version which I said hell no.  Program up, Deadpool 2 downloading.

While that was finishing up, I hooked up the Chromecast to stream to the TV.  Plugged it into the HDMI, and...nothing.  Oh, it needs a power cord of course.  I don't remember seeing one in the box, so I check again.  Nope, not there.  I had opened it previously, but it hasn't been used.  Was the power cord ever there?  I couldn't remember.

I looked for the power cord and plug for a solid 30 minutes, and came up with nothing.  My wife was content to sit on the couch and read her phone.  Don't worry, she helped by showing me what the cord looks like.  Thanks, honey.

No cord.  It might never have been in the box.  I don't know, and it's too late to do anything about that now.  I found a similar one to try.  It powered on.  Success!  Well, for the moment.

I have to set the dang thing up now.  Go to the site it gives me and...the site tells me I need an app.  Why?  Let me just set the stupid thing up.  I search to see if I need the app, as I don't want or need more apps on my phone, and I don't want to use the phone just to set it up, which I know I don't need to.  There's supposedly a link to do in on the PC, but it doesn't show up on the site.

Guess why?  Because that link only shows up if you view it in Chrome!  F#($#ing stupid.  So, I go to the link in Chrome to finally set up this monstrosity.

Well, until it tries to connect to it.  I don't know what went wrong at that point, as it just didn't connect.  Then, it couldn't try to reconnect, even though the setup could find the Chromecast on the network.  I could have spent more time on that problem, but during this whole debacle, my TV display was showing lines.  It just started when I tried to connect the WiFi to the Chromecast the first time, and didn't want to stop.

Power cycling didn't work.  Unplugging it for a few minutes didn't work.  Slapping it a bit didn't work.  Hey, don't laugh at that, I've known several TVs that don't work right until you teach 'em who's boss.  Point is, the TV seems to finally be giving out.  Either I pay $300 to get the board repaired, or pay a similar amount and get a new TV.  Pretty easy option, but not a happy situation.  It does make sense, since the TV is over 10 years old, and had a few brief issues in the past.  Not bad for a display model!

In an effort to salvage the day, my wife drove us to Best Buy to price out some new TVs.  We started to look online, but for some reason trying to connect to the Chromecast set our region as Canada.  All sites kept sending us to the Canadian version until the PC was rebooted.  How does that even happen?  After a drive to check out the TVs, we found a pretty good contender for $500.  That's less than the previous one cost me, hopefully it lasts near as long.

Let's recap.  My free digital copy of Deadpool 2 cost me a day, a Chromecast power supply, some of my sanity, my old TV, and (probably) a few hundred dollars for a new one.

All of that, and I still don't know if the movie is any good.

[UPDATE 8/20/18]
We ended up buying a new TV, and even had an adventure getting it in the car.


We finally saw the movie, and it was really good.

Damn, I was excited to see one of my favorites, Juggernaut, made to look badass.  While I don't like the look of the character, but it made sense, they did the rest of him so well.  I'm amazed I was able to not see spoilers for the movie before I got to see it.

There were a lot of good lines and parts.  "Cleaning up the timelines" probably made me laugh the loudest.  It was so appropriate and so cathartic.  Definitely worth seeing.  I don't know if it was worth the cost of a new TV, though.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Vampyr (Xbox One) Review

Vampyr is a unique RPG set in London just after World War I.  You take the role of Dr. Jonathan Reid.  Besides having a great name, he has also recently become a vampire.  He seeks to use his newfound powers to track down the one responsible, and end them.  While the fights are very action-oriented, I wouldn't call Vampyr an action RPG.

Coming across enemies, which you will do, requires combat.  Jonathan can equip two main weapons and two sub weapons.  The d-pad allows you to swap between the two when you need to.  The main weapons are things like swords and clubs.  Sub-weapons might not always deal damage, like the stake or the Liston knife that draws blood, but they are still useful.  Guns are very powerful sub-weapons that have limited ammo capacity.  Used strategically, they can turn the tide of a fight very quickly.  Enemies will of course try to hit you too, so there is a dodge maneuver.  It seems okay, but isn't the best.  For example, it can't get you out of a corner if an enemy traps you there.  It's also not a reactionary dodge, so you have to do it before an attack, but not too much before, otherwise you will still get hit.  Both attacking and dodging take stamina, so you need to do better than just mashing buttons to get through.

What I'd really like in the game is a proper stealth attack.  Something that does a lot of damage, and rewards you for being sneaky.  The vampire bite would be ideal for this, but unfortunately, it is only used to give you a small amount of blood.  If you do sneak up on an enemy, you can "stun" them, which equates to you shoving them to the ground.  You can then bite them for a measly amount of blood and damage, or hit them, which instantly breaks the stun.  Some kind of powerful attack would have been the best, I think.

There are several different weapons to find, including two handed weapons (if you equip one, you won't get an off-hand weapon for that set).  Hopefully you like crafting, since they can be made stronger.  True to many Focus-published RPGs, you can increase the stats of a weapon by using parts and leveling it up, or adding mods.  While some part amounts seem a bit high, the whole system is much more streamlined than other, similarly styled game.  I also found enough parts that I could take advantage of the system, instead of hoping for a stronger weapon to be found.  While there don't seem to be many different weapon mods, the ones present are solid.  More damage, less stamina consumed for attacking, and drawing blood.  This last one is easily my favorite.  I had difficulty getting blood reliably, because "stun then bite" was not useful after the first 30 minutes.  Moding a weapon to give some blood per hit ensured I could build up enough to use abilities and heal myself.  I definitely recommend getting one rank of this on your main weapon as soon as you can.

In addition to more normal weapons (well, as normal as swinging a broadsword around in post-WWI London can be), there are some special vampire abilities to learn.  Most take blood, which you can get from certain items, or by drinking some from enemies.  There is a blood spear, which gives you a ranged attack, or the claw, allowing you a quick and powerful melee attack.  I really liked the blood shield, which allowed me to take an extra hit.  It was very useful when dealing with multiple enemies, or ranged foes.  However, the heal is probably the most useful ability.  It does cost blood, but really helps in a tight spot.  Once you are level 10, you can also purchase an ultimate skill.  These are powerful,but have a long cooldown.  All abilities are set to the shoulder/bumper buttons, and can be re-assigned if you get more than four.  They felt a bit expensive to me, since blood can be tricky to get in fights, especially early in the game.

When not in combat, Jonathan will make his way around town, talking to others, doing side quests, finding items, crafting, and maybe even curing some sick people.  He is a doctor after all.  If you want to get powerful quickly, you can also drain people of their blood for some fast experience.  Of course, you won't be left with quest givers or shops at that rate.  To make it easier to stay your fangs, people have a blood quality.  You could eat them right away, but if you learn more about them, you will get more experience from draining their blood.  It's a nice system to balance a mad quest for power with actually talking to people.  When you talk to people about these hints and secrets you learn, Jonathan uses his mesmeric vampire powers to get them to talk.  It's a neat little detail that I like.  In fact, I really like talking to the various people and finding out all of the hints I can.

Gaining experience doesn't directly give you levels.  Instead, when you sleep, you spend your experience to buy new passive and active skills, or upgrade the ones you have.  In turn, this raises your level.  I'm not sure what amount of spent experience equates to a level increase, but it doesn't seem that important.  Your skills and weapons seem a better determination of how an encounter will go, rather than a level vs level comparison.  Your experience can also be reassigned, so don't worry too much about picking something that isn't that good.  Also note that experience costs climb quickly, so it would be very hard to max out a useful skill instead of spreading it around to several useful ones.

Vampyr's difficulty is a bit of a rocky area for the game.  You can easily take a lot of damage, and it's not hard to get hit (detection feels a bit off).  However, I could still make it through most fights without much trouble, which I like.  What I don't really like is how enemy levels seem to jump up, instead of a more natural progression.  In the first area, I received several side quests.  However, there was no way to complete a few of them, because the enemy levels were double mine or more.  Even one I could complete had level 6 enemies on one floor, and the next had level 9.  This lopsided balance even extends to the end, as a friend of mine had to fight a level 50 boss, while he was topped at 35 or so.  It's not the best design, I'd say.  And no, embracing people for experience wouldn't have helped, since doing that what got him into that mess in the first place.

My last, and biggest problem with the game is the saving.  I am fully aware that one of the game's core ideas is you living (or un-living) with the consequences of your actions.  That's fair.  However, they should remember that it's a video game, so fun should be a priority.  Instead, the developers went down the Fable road, of each game having only one save slot, and it's an auto save.  Let me save in slots, so I can have a little fun.  That's one of the reasons Bethesda games do so well.  This problem is exacerbated by the Mass Effect-like dialogue options.  Remember the joke that you pick an innocent-sounding option, only to have it go awry?  While not as overblown as the jokes, that sort of thing is sadly present.

There are several minor ones, but the first major one is what stuck with me the most.  I don't want to spoil parts of the story, so I'll be vague.  I caught someone doing something bad, and had the following options: killing them, making them quit their job, or making them forget.  I thought that having them forget the bad thing they were doing was a great idea.  It was also in the blue text, which previously meant it was derived from a hint.  So, I picked that option.  Instead of doing what it sounded like, it made them forget everything.  Not enough that they could continue being useful and not do the thing I wanted them to stop, but all of what they knew.  So, they just wandered off, ruining two communities.  What?!  That's a really severe consequence to a choice that doesn't have near enough information.  Why are there two bad options instead of the one obvious one?  Too bad I can't just load and get the result I wanted and was trying for, all because of some David Cage-like god complex.  Forcing consequences may be alright at times, but not when it feels like you are being tricked into it.  It really made me want to stop, but I persevered and kept playing.

Vampyr has its faults, but I'd still say it's a fun RPG.  I was expecting something more along the lines of Focus' other RPG offerings, but this is much more substantial than a downloadable game.  It offers 40 or so hours of quests, dialogue choices, and adrenaline-filled combat.  It's a solid title, and one I would heartily recommend to RPG fans, or people looking for an interesting vampire game to play.

The Good:
Lots of choices for who to feed on and who to save in this fairly solid RPG offering.  Good replay value.

The Bad:
Hitting and dodging can be spotty at times, enemy levels seem to jump up instead of rising normally.  One auto-save file and questionable dialogue choices don't make for a good combination.

The SaHD:
It's pronounced "vampire", although I keep wanting to say "vam-peer".  I'll deal, since the "Y" motif is meant to evoke the autopsy incision.

(Review code for Vampyr was received from the publisher)