To be honest, I totally avoided things I knew would be awful. I didn’t see any brainless comedies or pandering lowest-common-denominator action flicks. I didn’t play modern military shooters (other than the fantastic Spec Ops: The Line, which if you play video games, YOU SHOULD PLAY NOW) or sports games. It’s one of the advantages about blogging not being my main source of income. As much as I may envy the likes of Yahtzee or the Nostalgia Critic, I do have the advantage of not needing to experience any entertainment that I know isn’t for me. Not that I’m above it or anything – it’s just been a long time since I’ve had a donation.
Anyway, the worst thing I did entertainment-wise this year was read Word Bearers.
Oh, Word Bearers. There’s so much potential in a cadre of superhuman killing machines driven by faith instead of jingoistic patriotism. In the Warhammer universe, the Chaos Gods are real. I think it’s a lot easier to justify your faith when you can actually have conversations with your gods, even if they do tend to squabble and fight amongst themselves. The best thing about the Word Bearers, to me, is that they seek a unified, middle-of-the-road approach to Chaos worship. You may still have one leader who’s more inclined towards Khrone, and another who engages in Tzeenchian manipulations, but at the end, they’re all in one place, and their debates and schemes all occur within that place.
Want to know how to ruin all of this storytelling potential? Well, start with avoiding the mention of the Chaos God’s names. Make all the personalities of the bombastic, energetic, and at least half-crazy Chaos Space Marines flat and boring. Kill all of your incidental characters the moment after you introduce them. Repeat the same murder sequences ad nauseum. Make your main character’s struggles amount to nothing. And don’t let your plot develop, deepen, or go anywhere.
I never thought that picking up this book would leave me so bored. As a reader, I was deeply disappointed. As a writer, I was incredibly frustrated. It was easily the worst entertainment experience I had in 2013.
The new year is in full swing. I’m starting it off writing by carving out writing time on a daily basis (for the most part, more tomorrow on that). But once the writing is done, and with Fringe done and Sherlock‘s third season not yet underway, what sort of amusements fill my time once I tear myself away from the allure of social media and videos on the Internet?
Magic Type <2
With the introduction of Gatecrash, you might think that I’m eager to get involved with new decks for Magic: the Gathering‘s Standard format. And you wouldn’t be wrong. However, I have to admit the format is beginning to lose some of its luster. New sets to Magic come out every few months, and when they do, your current Standard decks either need an overhaul or get scrapped altogether. I like theorycrafting and deck-building as much as the next Planeswalker, but the recurring investment is starting to bother me. I’d much rather make small alterations to decks I already have than having to keep build new ones every quarter while sinking money into boxes of new cards.
To that end, I’m turning more towards Modern and Legacy formats of Magic. I’ll talk more about the decks I’ll be fielding next week, but suffice it to say the new expansion does factor into at least one of them…
Oh, 40k. If ever a hobby was even more of a time and money sink than collectible card games, it would be you. Your little plastic men are much pricier, your rules are a great deal more complex, a fighting force takes a lot more to prepare than a deck, there’s painting involved…
…yet I can’t deny there’s appeal. The universe is steeped in baroque, melodramatic lore, the disparate forces guarantee there’s something that will appeal to players, and I’ve played it and other wargames enough to understand the appeal of plotting out a strategy to defeat the enemy, preparing the right mix of troops, seeing how the enemy responds, and the thrill of adaptation on the fly. I have a Dark Vengeance starter kit sitting near my writing desk, just waiting for me to make the time to start doing something with it.
Soon, my minions… soon.
I played a bit of the original PlanetSide back in the day, so I figured since it has the same name and is free to play, PlanetSide 2 would be worth checking out. There are plenty of multiplayer shooters out there – Team Fortress 2, Blacklight: Retribution, Tribes: Ascend – but this is the first one where I’ve felt like part of a major military outfit instead of a being out for myself. To succeed in PlanetSide, teamwork is required, not unlike League of Legends. And rather than approaching the enemy with a couple friends, you do so as part of a group that could include 100 or more fellow players. This leads to some chaos, to be sure, but after joining up with an Outfit and getting on Mumble with them, it really provides a gaming experience I hadn’t realized I missed. It feels like a worthwhile investment.
On the single-player front, I have quite a few video games left to finish before I feel comfortable downloading new ones. I kickstarted Strike Suit Zero and definitely need to play more of that before I weigh in on it, I haven’t finished Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, and I have an itching desire to play through LA Noire and The Witcher 2, which probably means I should finish the first Witcher as well. At this rate, it might be a while before I finally play FarCry 3 or Dishonored, which is a shame, because I really want to play both of them! Not enough hours in the day, unfortunately.
Here we have perhaps the rarest of specimens amongst the games I play. I live with someone who finds board games to be rather boring, and so my boxes containing SmallWorld, Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, Android: Netrunner, and Lords of Waterdeep go largely unopened. We do play Cards Against Humanity and Chez Geek from time to time, but I don’t think the others will ever really win her over.
But I will not be deterred! There are still board games I want to experience. I am a huge fan of space-themed 4X games, and Eclipse looks poised to scratch that particular itch. After Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop showed me how Alhambra works, I find myself intrigued by a game with such a pastoral theme that still has deep strategy and requires forethought and negotiation. I hear wonderful things about Battlestar Galactica, and the theme in and of itself is enough to encourage me to buy. And tying back into Warhammer is Chaos of the Old World, a game that will require me to scrape together three friends, no more and no less, who will probably get annoyed at me if I keep calling dibs on Tzeensch.
That’s a rundown on what I’ll likely be playing in the year ahead. What about you? What’s on your docket for gameplay and other amusements?
There’s something soothing about the rattle of polyhedrals. As immersive and rewarding as an experience can be when the game in question involves role-playing and character sheers, the tactile feeling of dice rolling around in my hand is just as good in other games. Playing things not based on the computer is a relatively uncommon experience these days, but with so many good memories and a few choice games eagerly awaiting to be played in my closet, I do want to increase the frequency at which I chuck dice.
My dad introduced me to grand strategy on the tabletop at a young age. We played a lot of old Avalon Hill games together, ranging from historical engagements to one based on Starship Troopers. The scale of our games varied, from the great naval battle of Jutland played out on the living room floor while things got rather personal during Advanced Squad Leader. We’ve tried several variations on Risk, finding the Lord of the Rings version to be, perhaps, the most appealing. We’ve also had long campaigns of War of the Ring, Fortress America, Shogun, and Axis and Allies. We’ve even found ways to play these game via email, and while it’s fun, it just doesn’t quite capture the feeling of dice in your hand.
I’ve dabbled in the world of tabletop miniatures gaming in the past. I still have all of my books for Warhammer 40,000 and WarMachine. Plastic and pewter soldiers do have more presence than cardboard ones, adding dimension to the action taking place. The downside is that even a small, basic force can be massively expensive, and assembly and painting eats up a lot of time. Part of the reason I enjoy the Dawn of War video games is the ability to field massive forces of my favorite grimdark armies without having to shell out for, glue together, and paint up an embarrassing amount of miniatures. While it’s something I could get back into, between my Magic habit, a slew of video games to play, and other tabletop games, I know better than to really delve back into that world.
The New Stuff
Settlers of Catan is a game I was introduced to some time ago, and it remains fascinating to me, bloody struggles for land replaced by trading wood for sheep with my neighbor. Resource management and diplomacy may not sound like very interesting stuff, but games that focus on interpersonal dynamics and frame competition in ways other than direct violence do tickle the intellect in interesting ways. Co-operative games, as well, break away from the usual slugfests. Arkham Horror is a particular favorite, and I have picked up Pandemic to see if the experience is similar. I mean, sure, sometimes you just want to blast your buddy, a niche that Frag and Munchkin fill nicely. But I also seek new takes on old favorites, like introducing my family to Ticket to Ride as a much faster and more friendly type of Rail Baron game. As much as I don’t get to play these games terribly often, there’s still good times to be had chucking dice around, if just for that tactile feeling and spending time with people away from glowing screens and klacking keys.
The miniatures wargame Warhammer 40,000 and I have something of a history. There have been periods in my life where I’ve had enough disposable income and free time to seriously consider the hobby. While the atmosphere and lore of the universe created by Games Workshop still holds appeal, more often than not I’ve found myself needing to feed myself and invest in other pursuits rather than properly outfit and paint an army of Eldar, Dark Angels or Black Templars. The Dawn of War RTS games circumvented the need to buy units by allowing gamers like myself to create armies within the context of those games, but the distant viewpoint necessary to corral several units of elite troops meant that things might feel less than authentic. You haven’t been able to properly experience first-hand the awesome size of a superhuman Space Marine, the visceral nature of close combat or the grim darkness of the far future… until now.
“Thank you, Captain Titus! But your Inquisitor is in another manifactorum!”
Space Marine puts you in the power armour of Captain Titus of the Ultramarines. Since this is only a demo we don’t get too much in the way of story, but it’s enough to whet the appetite. Savage orks have overrun a forge world, where the weaponry and machinery of the Imperium is created, and they are threatening to seize some sort of powerful device. With the Imperial Guard’s backs against the wall and Inquisitor Drogan missing, it’s up to Titus and his compatriots to fight their way through the tide of greenskins. Unlike some other games set in the 40k universe, the voice acting is relatively subdued when it comes to the humans and appropriately boisterous for the orks. But enough talk of story, we’re here to get our bolter & chainsword on.
Just another day at the office.
The very first thing I noticed, which has been said elsewhere, is that the characters and objects in this game feel like they have weight. Space Marines are massive, and not the kind to go bounding from cover to cover like they’re floating an inch above the ground. In fact, the Imperial Guard has a tendency to use the Space Marines as cover when the shooting starts. The ponderous pace of Titus as he tromps towards his foes, the barking sound of the bolter or bolt pistol and the way the rounds from each explode inside their targets leaves the game feeling authentic, as true to the mood and descriptions in the massive 40k tomes as possible.
Outside of the exciting prospect for fanboys of a ‘proper’ 40k game, there’s other aspects this shooter/spectacle fighter has going for it. You can carry more than a few weapons on your person, and there’s a good deal of variety. The Stalker-pattern bolter allows you to do a little sniping, and the Vengeance launcher provides the means for tactical set-up of a coming battle. And don’t think you can just duck out of the way and your health will magically come back to you. The force field that protects your armour will regenerate but your health does not. To get that back, you must channel the fury of the Emperor (which you can only do occasionally) or execute a foe. And these executions are brutal. Being reduced to a mere sliver of health only to manhandle an ork and pull off a wince-inducing kill in order to keep fighting is deeply satisfying in a way I should probably discuss with a professional.
So, sometime in the next dozen millenia we’re going to get our damn jet packs.
The demo provides two relatively short missions, one to give you the feel for a scenario start-to-finish and one to tease you with some jump pack action. Assault marines are some of the fastest and nastiest units in 40k and strapping a jump pack on has the same authenticity of the other aspects of the game. Hopping into the sky only to slam down onto an enemy placement intent on sniping your buddies with rockets (sorry, in ork speak that’s ‘rokkitz’) is just as satisfying as hefting one into the air, body-slamming it and stomping on its face. It’s very difficult not to enjoy the experience.
On the PC, the controls are smooth and fully customizable. The game has a great look and feel to it, with excellent sound design and a full orchestral score. While this title will mostly appeal to fans of the universe and spectacle fighter veterans of God of War and Bayonetta, from what I’ve seen Relic is doing just enough differently from both it’s own previous titles and current industry standards in both shooting games and action games to make Space Marine memorable and worth the time to play. The full game will be released in September.
As my darling wife has mentioned (What’s that? You didn’t know she was blogging? Shame on you, go read her awesome posts, I’ll wait), there are several MMOs of various flavors on their way. Following her fine example, since she followed mine in getting a blog started in the first place, I’m going to take some time to talk about why I’m interested in playing some of them, and why some of them don’t interest me at all.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
Woke up on the wrong side of the continent.
As a former WoW player (my weekly twelve-step meetings are going well, thanks for asking) I do understand the appeal of a new expansion. Some areas of the old world map have fallen quite behind in terms of quest quality, population and overall aesthetic. New dungeons promising better loot is a major draw as well, and tying in old threads from previous games in a way that’s loyal to the typical Blizzard atmosphere of a world going dark (Diablo, for example) isn’t all that bad.
When I wrote this section earlier I was focusing on the few bad experiences I had that turned me off to the repetitive dungeon grinding in MMOs in general and WoW in particular. I however had some good experiences as well, rendering this entire section moot as well as making me out to be a blatant liar. Therefore I have redacted this section and will be spending the rest of the evening in an act of contrition too horrific and stomach-churning to relate here. Suffice it to say it involves jumper cables, running water, a roll of duct table and no less than six very angry ferrets.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
I’ve said on several occasions that I used to love Star Wars, but George Lucas slowly and surely strangled all joy out of the original films and my childhood memories of them. The closest I’ve come to the pure enjoyment I once got out of Star Wars was playing Knights of the Old Republic. Both of those games had a heavy emphasis on story, being rooted in BioWare’s development mentality, and those stories were, unlike those in the prequels, very well told. The Old Republic setting, from the original graphic novels to those two games, painted a much deeper and more vibrant picture of both the Star Wars universe in general and the Jedi in particular.
When it was first announced that the Old Republic would be the setting for a new Star Wars MMO, I was excited. Despite some major problems, Star Wars Galaxies still had something to offer in terms of both gameplay and nostalgia. However, it’s diffcult to balance the classes when you’re pitting normal beings with high technology against space samurai with psychoflexus powers that can toss heavy objects and people alike around a room with almost casual ease. There’s also the fact that, as rich as the setting might be and no matter how much text BioWare will be dumping on the players, all of it is eventually lurching towards the time in the future when all of the Jedi will get murdered at the hands of a super-powered politician with a partially melted face and an asthmatic boy-man who spends most of his formative years stomping his feet and bitching people out over the unfairness of his life.
I feel like I want to vomit already.
Star Trek Online
If I’m going to deal with lag and bugs, I might as well have something nice to look at.
Star Trek, on the other hand, has had ups and downs in all sorts of flavors and colors, and I still think there’s lots to like about it. The MMO is set in the ‘prime’ reality, rather than the ‘alternate’ one created by Abrams. You know, the one people say craps all over Roddenberry’s dream of the future, which would be biting comments if they hadn’t been said about episode of Deep Space 9 or Voyager or Enterprise or some of the later films? Anyway, my feelings on that subject are well-documented and I’d rather talk about the game.
I’m working on a ‘first impressions’ that encapsulates my experiences in the open beta of Star Trek Online, but suffice it to say I’m liking what I’ve experienced so far. Fleet actions that work a bit like WAR’s Public Quests, skill trees that take the place of arbitrary levels, an Away Team system that ensures you have help when beaming into hostile areas and the ability to customize just about any visual aspect of both your character and your Bridge Officers are a few of the highlights of the game’s current build. I’m still toying with the Away Team AI, looking forward to more missions that don’t involve the usual straightforward “go to location X to kill Y hostile craft/creatures belonging to Z”, and curious about this Replicator system that allows me to sell random drops without having to visit a vendor. More to come on this, but up until now my experience has been positive.
Unprotected sex is heresy. Heresy is punishable by death.
I love the world of 40k. There’s a lot going on, plenty of diverse and dangerous cultures and situations and the overall grimdarkness of the atmosphere puts it far and away from the worlds of either Star Trek or Star Wars. Characters in crapsack worlds tend to be more interesting, which is why encountering people in Fallout 3 is a treat more often than not. However, I think a lot of people are going to look towards this game and try to find out if they can be a super-powered Space Marine.
Screw that, I say. Being overpowered and motivated by faith and loyalty alone gets really dull after a while. Ask most Jedi, if they’re not just interested in waving their dicks lightsabers around. I’ll take Ibram Gaunt over any Space Marine any day of the week. A former Guardsman pressed into service as a mercenary to try and make a living, the assassin masquerading as a nobleman to get closer to his targets, a Dark Eldar privateer looking for his next big score… you could probably come up with many more character ideas and possibly port them into the other sci-fi MMOs, but 40k’s world is so grim and so dark that it’s probably the best and most interesting sandbox in which they can play.
Final Fantasy XIV
Stole this one form the wife.
A few of the Final Fantasy games turned out pretty well. I particularly like games in the series that incorporate the Job system. Apparently, in this upcoming MMO, the system will be returning in a way that sounds intriguing. From what I understand changing your equipment is what changes your job. My wife covers the game a bit more in-depth and I’ve already stolen both the concept for this post and a couple images from her, so I’ll let her take it from here.
It seems like just about anything can be made into an MMO. My interest stays mostly within speculative fiction, however, so I’ll be keeping an eye on the aforementioned IPs. Hopefully the soulless corporate money-makers won’t try to make absolutely anything into an MMO. At least, I hope not. It’s not like there’s a Twilight MMO in the works.
NO. NO. NO NO NO JESUS O’ BASTARD WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE THERE WILL BE STABBINGS THESE PEOPLE ARE JUST BEGGING TO BE STABBED NO NO NO CHRIST NO.
I really, really need to see Daybreakers. I need to restore my faith in the fact that people out there know how to portray vampires that act like fucking vampires. For your own safety and the safety of others, await my review of this film. Help support me seeing it, and avert the oncoming torrent of hate-filled stabbity death.