The Elder Thoughts

RPGs, miniatures, books and other rants

Status Update: October 2020

We recently moved to a new house (twice in a month!) far from home (but still in Spain), so life's been busy outside of fantasy and sci-fi worlds.

I played some Diablo (cheap legaly available and with Hellfire expansion applied) and, while for short bursts is still awesome, it's also true that I've played it so much that gets repetitive. And I don't feel like levelling up a barbarian Hellfire character from scratch.

I tried to play Diablo II also, but it has aged way worse than the first part. The sockets, gems and crafting system is still great and makes the game last almost forever, but graphically looks too "wrongly pixelated", probably the pseudo-3D effects looked cool back in the day (although I remember toggling them off) but now makes it feel worse than the predecessor.

Keeping with the trend, I played a few hours of Path of Exile. It feels different enough to invest real time on it, and levelling based on your item gems and an insane skills tree means you can go as deep as you want with specific character builds, but the graphics are a mixed bag of incredible 3D effects & models here, amiss 3D models there. Shopkeepers all look like giants, character visual customization is very limited (probably tied to selling cosmetics as the main game income, which is free to play by the way) and playing with graphic settings at max sometimes it's hard to discern enemies, the path to follow, etc. Here the expertise of Blizzard in Diablo III is apparent, both are fully 3D but Diablo simply looks better and more defined.

And lastly, I played 20-something ours of Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor Martyr. I'm glad I bought it discounted (and without DLCs), because while the idea isn't bad, the implementation is a) really boring and b) again 3D modelling is a hit-and-miss. It annoyed me the most that your character is way too small compared with every single enemy, from Space Marines (which are huge and ok, some inquisitors have human-size, but mine looks as big as a Space Marine in videos) to imperial guard or renegades, even compared with other Inquisitors. But was also dull and repetitive, there are lots of enemies (all sorts of chaos demons & humanoids, imperial guard, space marines, dark eldar, ...), a few vehicles, huge bosses... but it's mostly killing all that moves, and when isn't (protecting someone or something) the fear of losing the mission weights more than the fun factor (they tend to not hold up much). It has story, lots of missions an nice lore and voice acting, but I got tired of it quite fast.

My main achievement these past months has been playing and finishing Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. Around 50 hours poured in (and still pending finishing the Future Connected extra missions), while I prefer Xenoblade Chronicles 2 gameplay, the first one is also quite fun and the story is, apart from deeper than you'd imagine at first, quite engaging and interesting. It's one of those games you finish and say "wow, now I have to digest all this and maybe play it again knowing what I know". It features a New Game+ mode so I'll probably come back to it in the future. JRPGs tend to have the classic level grinding moments, but here is not so steep, mostly following the story and doing the "main side quests" (there are tons of quests) you'll level up accordingly to the expected enemies and bosses.

So, no painting and no real RPGs, but for now computers compensate for it with CRPGs.


Status Update: June 2020

Finished

Stonekeep: An old PC title I finished once but so long ago I wanted to replay. The UI, runes and NPC interactions are still quite cool, but the game itself gets a bit boring in later levels, instead of exciting and with scarier enemies. I would even dare to say it feels rushed on its final chunks (some of the late enemies are ugly and a bit crappy). Still, overall a great experience.

System Shock: With a remake on its way, maybe I should better have waited, but on the other hand I've felt "the original experience" (well, the enhanced edition one, but it is just minor tweaks). An immersing game, great for its era and with an intriguing setting, lots of tension and decently sized (not too long, not too short). The graphics really feel outdated, up to the point that I lowered the resolution to 800x600 to feel it "equally pixelated", but still enemy sprites are chunky and need some imagination. The maps can also get tricky to navigate, it's best to memorize your path as you go because the space is so packed that sometimes you look at a map and can't even make how to reach a certain elevator or door.
Having it freshly finished I can say that the remake looks really faithful but at the same time awesome in the visual upgrades aspect (enemies, cameras, and overall lighting and textures are spot on).

Ongoing

Diablo III: It seems I can't quit it. While not playing as much any more, I'm still from time to time farming all companion pets, using one of my secondary characters, the barbarian, to also improve a bit his equipment.

Final Fantasy VI: To some "the best Final Fantasy ever", so I wanted to see why so much praise. I'm a dozen hours in, and my remarks are that it feels "more japanese" than future titles would be (by mixing a quite serious plot with jokes and flirting between characters), the mechanics and subtleties are indeed more advanced than other games (from "special battles" that require special actions/items, to puzzles and minigames), and for an SNES title really good looking. I'm still not as impressed as I was with FFVII and FFVIII but I know enough to wait until story progresses further.

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition: My main time sink for the following month(s), I poured +70 hours in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (and have pending a New Game+ run) and I don't expect less in this title. Gameplay is similar to its sequel but some mechanics are new, small tweaks make for a more streamlined experience (not needing to return to the giver to complete trivial quests is nice), and what's most important, the story is completely new, just in the same universe.

On Hold

Pillars of Eternity: One of my first Kickstarted backings, I had forgotten it and decided to play it on my Linux laptop. It is great and brings me fond memories of Baldur's Gate with its similar look and feel, the story is interesting and the gameplay is great. I simply paused playing it because is insanely long: Any quest can involve half an hour on its own, your watcher powers translate, among other things, into tons of text when you feel and see people's past, and even the interesting Stronghold maintenance, evolution and quests "side game" can take quite some effort. I think this game is like a good wine, best consumed in calm, spaced intakes. If not, can be a bit overwhelming, to me at least.

Zelda: A link to the Past: I feel really bad, as the game is great, but I reached the Dark World and it feels a bit tiring, especially since in Zelda: A Link Between Worlds There's an evolution and I also felt it dull sometimes.
I'm sure I'll finish the game in the future, is just not the appropriate moment.

Zelda: A Link To The Past


Book review: Building Big

Building Big book cover

Building Big by David Macaulay it's a 190 pages entertaining title about huge human constructions, from bridges, tunnels and dams, to domes and skyscrapers. Combining explicative illustrations with easily understandable descriptions, you will learn some building secrets, from why steel pillars are I-shaped to how many different methods of constructing a bridge exist.

The images are very well chosen to give you the proper context and/or represent critical diagrams, the text never gets too dense but also never feels short of important points, and I cannot really complain about anything.


Outcast

I'm going back to finish videogames I started in the past but, for whatever the reason, didn't finished and feel should have. Some of them are classics, others more recent. In any case, I wanted to write today about Outcast, a 1999 PC videogame that I both had on CD-ROM and then grabbed digital (also to experience the nicely welcome 1.1 patch for modern PCs).

Outcast screenshot

Outcast was a technical marvel when came out. You surely needed a beefed up PC, but videogames were one of my main drives back then so that wasn't an issue. The combination of voxel-based terrain, polygons for entities and buildings, the smooth particles and the great effects (the water ripples and effects were amazing compared to the likes of Quake or Unreal) made for a really nice looking title. But what really stood out was the setting and the attention to detail.

Stargate is one of my favourite films, and Outcast is "similar, but not the same": Military people visiting an alien planet, "gates", a quest to find a way back home, oppressors and oppressed and you, the hero, in the middle... The cool thing about a videogame is that it can provide the (usually illusory) feeling of freedom; sure quests, lack of key items and other techniques will stop you from really doing whatever you like, but in this title you really can go to any of the 6 islands (regions) if you dare. You have probably hundreds of NPCs to talk about dozens of quests per region (plus a few cross-region ones), primary quests, secondary quests, optional quests (at first I wasn't sure, but at the end of the game you even get some % completion scores)...

But the way the world is built is simply awesome. Even today, when some parts of the game engine are clearly outdated and feel even buggy, watching the talan (alien race workers, the good guys) go work, get scared and run if you shoot, call you out and many other behaviours, make everything look really alive. Some NPCs stay put, others do rounds, and others have more complex paths, so you can for example ask for where to locate a certain talan, and they will reply you sentences like "I saw him by the water near the crops far to the northwest of here a while ago". Sure, the voice acting varies a lot, and sometimes is quite terrible, but still to see so much dialogue is great.

The controls are terrible, you can get stuck in the scenery at a few places (saving is your best ally) and sometimes it is not totally clear what you have to do (hint: when in doubt, search for items like "keys" in the floor of relevant areas), but still I had a blast playing and finishing the game. I even drew island maps to mark the daookas (gates) and where they went.

While Outcast it is not advertised as an RPG, it might not have player stats/levelling, but to me it felt way more akin to role-playing than many other titles that do so.


Status Update: March 2020

As I live in Spain, currently with the COVID-19 pandemic we're in strict house confinement and I don't have the gaming PC, so I'm taking advantage of it to change my usual habits of gaming to try indie titles, play older games and play more the Nintendo Switch (which I do have with me).

These past months I've mostly redeemed myself by finishing the original The Legend of Zelda, I must confess I had to check a walkthrough at some points because the hints are not so good, but I agree it is impressive considering that came out in 1986. I tried Zelda 2 but I can't bear it.

I also finished Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, which I remember as having a great atmosphere, and it truly delivers. I just got a bit tired of so much shooting, but the sneaking, the running and overall the plot is great, such a good adaptation from Lovecraft main Innsmouth lore.

I'm burning out from playing Diablo 3 on the Switch, as the following screenshot can assert:

Diablo 3 character profile screenshot

I played one season character, I played the Darkening of Tristram event, and I'm soloing with my necromancer greater rifts near level 55, but it is increasingly hard to find better gear for her and I'm not willing to grind loot too much. I might switch to another character to try to obtain some of each class armour sets, but the only thing I want (all the pets/minions) is one of the harder and chance-based tasks, so not willing to complete the collection.

I also played Diablo 1 a bit more, as the Hellfire expansion was included in GOG's version and I could make it run under Linux, but playing in hard difficulty mode is slow even with my level 43 character, so I've stopped (you feel the lack of variety in the levels after some runs).

Finally, what I am currently playing now is quite a departure from the usual... the latest Animal Crossing game for the Nintendo Switch, New Horizons.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons screenshot

I played a lot 3DS' New Leaf game, so I remember most of the basics, but you can feel the supreme expertise of Nintendo in polishing and always improving gameplay of it's AAA titles; everything feels smotth, simple to learn, varied, helpful, intuitive... The game looks like having content and things to do for potentially hundreds of hours, and even the multiplayer is fun (visiting other's islands and trading fruits and materials with them). At least to me, it is the perfect calm companion for this confinement.


Previous entries