Video Game Review – Divinity: Original Sin 2

Divinity: Original Sin 2 (D:OS2) is amazing and Larian Studio has earned my Kickstarter money! If you like RPGs with great writing and detail, you should be throwing your money at the developer. It’s not a perfect game, but it is very close. If you loved Baldur’s Gate and wish there were more games out there like it, this is your game. D:OS2 has earned the 95% Metacritic rating!

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I concur. It’s awesome!

D:OS2 is great because the writers really took the time to develop a story which is easy to follow, but has a depth and intricacy that I became immersed in. The character development, especially in the playable companions, is exceptional. I only played through once, so I only experienced four of the seven potential character stories. While I enjoyed each of them, I have to say that Lohse is a MUST HAVE as a companion! No spoilers, but her personal quest was exceptionally well done and rewarding at its conclusion. Thank you, Larian Studios!

In my playthrough, rather than go with a custom character and background I decided to use an established Origin Story for my main character. I didn’t regret it. Also, once you get to a certain point in the game, fairly early, you can freely respect and customize all your characters at nearly any time in the game. So, don’t stress too much at character creation.

Complementing the writing and characters is a complex and difficult turn-based tactical combat system that will often frustrate. Every battle on Classic mode felt like the characters were hopelessly outgunned and I had to reload many battles to develop alternative strategies to defeat the enemies. Use of the environment is critical to success and the enemy will always use the environment and complimentary status effects against you. I quickly realized also that I should never get comfortable in battles – many times when I thought I had the upper hand in battle (especially boss battles), another seemingly insurmountable challenge would appear.  “Oh, crap,” and other expletives were often used as I played the game and each was a compliment to the writers and developers.

Though I won the game, I feel like there are so many loose ends, missed opportunities, and different quest strings left to be explored. D:OS2 is definitely replayable on many levels if you have another 70+ hours to spend playing through it again.

If I had one gripe it would be inventory management. There is so much detail in this game that I still don’t know what half the stuff in my inventory does, but I didn’t want to get rid of it (just in case it was important). Also, every time I got a new random piece of gear it felt like I had to remove myself from the immersion to take quite a bit of time figuring out what gear was best for my current character build. It’s another layer of the strategy, but it felt cumbersome at times. The crafting system is complex, but helped along by the many recipe books found throughout the world. Some of the quest lines seem to be broken, but it could also be that my decisions may have prevented me from completing those quests.

I loved this game and I hope you will to! Well worth the $45 to buy and experience now rather than wait for a Steam sale.

Movie Review: Logan (Spoiler Free)

Now that I’m home from the movie, I’m reading the reviews. Rotten Tomatoes rates it as a 93% and I’d say that is appropriate. It’s not just a great superhero movie, it is a great movie with amazing acting. This was the reason I was so excited to see it in the first place. Hugh Jackman, since he says this will be his last, will be hard to replace as Wolverine. Hugh is Wolverine and this was by far his best rendition.

Whether on stage or on the bridge of the Enterprise, I have always loved to see Patrick Stewart perform and I must admit that I saw more Patrick in the “performance” than I did Charles. Regardless, it was the highlight for me in many ways and provided some occasional much-needed humor in the otherwise weighty plot. Bravo, Sir!

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Dafne Keen stole the show – impressive given her costars!

Surprisingly though, Dafne Keen stole the show. In the beginning, she doesn’t do much more than grunt (and kick a lot of ass), but by the end she is showing some amazing emotion for such a young actress. The character and writing was spectacular, sure, but the actress did an amazing job of bringing her to life.

 

This is the Wolverine I have been waiting for since Hugh put the spandex on 17 years ago. The action is intense and bloody, but for me the violence took a backseat to the story. It isn’t a “family story,” but it is a story about family. James Mangold did a great job writing, directing, and producing this film and I can’t wait to see it again to pick up on the dialogue, lore, and nuances I may have missed!

Should you see it? Absolutely! I’d love to hear what you think about it.

Should you bring your kids? If you’re ok with pervasive F-bombs, decapitations, impalements, a lot of violence against children, and limbs flying everywhere… Yeah, probably not, my daughter is going to wait – a long while.

I checked and there is not a mid or end-credit scene; honestly, the ending is perfect (especially the final ~5 seconds) and anything additional would do the movie a disservice.

Video Games: “Old School” RPGs

I am currently playing and loving Legend of Grimrock 2. I’m embarrassed to say, I bought it after succumbing to a PC Gamer clickbait article of “Great Role Playing Games,” but I haven’t regretted it! I even don’t regret getting 8 hours in and realizing my party build was terrible and restarting. Grimrock is representative of a type of RPG which I have fond memories of – “Old School” since it was a long time ago and I was in grade school.

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Wizardry – To this day, seeing this box art gives me a warm fuzzy. Some people have comfort food… I have my games.

In the mid ‘80s I had the fortune to visit with an older boy across the street. In his room was an Apple computer and all around his computer and taped to his walls were several maps meticulously drawn on graph paper with amazing detail and annotations. I asked him about the maps and he booted up a game which I will forever hold dear – you never forget your first! Wizardry!

Wizardry was the best! It was an amazing interpretation of a Dungeons & Dragons party in an epic dungeon crawl and I was hooked from the start. He showed me his party and allowed me to go into the dungeon and explore with his super powerful characters including ninjas, a samurai, and bishops. I eventually could purchase the series for my Tandy 1000 and then my walls were plastered with maps of my adventures – though, as an adult now (some would say), I am very grateful for the auto-map feature of Grimrock 2!

My appetite for games in high school was insatiable and I played a lot (still do!), but some remain my absolute favorites.

Wizardry (1981). One game to rule them all, or at least get the trend started. Don’t get me wrong, I played Adventure on Atari and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin on my Intellivision as a kid and they were great, but they were also very simple and not very representative of the D&D experience I was looking for. Wizardry brought the wonder of exploration and adventure, as well as characters I could name and mourn when they died – Wizardry was pretty brutal and unforgiving of mistakes. It was always good to have a backup character disk! Wizardry brought the dungeon crawl to life and the best part was that you could import your characters from one game to the next!

Bard’s Tale (1985). Bard’s Tale took Wizardy’s concept and added some great art, music, and humor to their dungeon crawl. It borrowed all the best concepts of Wizardry and added its own flair. All three came out in a six-year period and each one consumed dozens of hours of my time, and probably contributed to me being a B student. Totally worth it!

Starflight (1986). Starflight was a game changer for videogame RPGs in my opinion because developers threw off the shackles of fantasy and jumped into science fiction. I loved it! Starflight allowed me to be a starship captain with a crew in an unexplored galaxy full of interesting new alien races, planets to explore, and enemy starships to blow up! Starflight II was an even better game. Years later, in Mass Effect, as Shepperd explored the galaxy in his starship and planets in his ATV, I felt like I was reliving the “glory days” of Starflight.

Wasteland (1988). Holy crap! Post-apocalyptic, party-based RPG with zombies and machine guns! Yes, please! Wasteland made quite an impression on me and to this day its spiritual successor series (Fallout) is still my favorite.

Honorable Mentions:

Ultima. While Wizardry was often self-contained adventures, the Ultima series gave the feeling of an open world with an amazing amount of lore and adventure. I didn’t play it as much as the Wizardry series, but thought it deserved mention.

Dungeons & Dragons Series. OK, yes, I loved Pool of Radiance (1988) and Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989), but honestly, other than being canon D&D, they were just jumping on the money train and ultimately forgettable experiences. Fun at the time, but not lasting memories.

So, those are my favorite “old school” RPGs. The cutoff for me is 1990, when I graduated from high school and entered the Army. Of course, I had the fortune of growing up at this pivotal time in computer game development. I love my modern RPG experiences like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Fallout, and Elder Scrolls Skyrim, but sometimes I want to feel the wonder of the games of the past. And right now, that game is Legend of Grimrock 2.

Those are my favorites – I look forward to hearing about yours!

Video Game Review: Civilization VI

civilization_vi_cover_artYes, I am a declared Firaxis fanboy with Sid Meier’s autograph hanging on my game room wall, but you have to believe me when I tell you that Civilization VI is by far the best game at launch that they have ever released and well worth your time if you want to take the proverbial one more turn. There are a lot of reviews already out there from professional reviewers, bloggers, and game sites that got advanced copies and they have been playing for over a month! The reviews are all resoundingly positive, 94% on Metacritic. I’m hardly a dissenting vote, but I would put it more in the 80 – 85 range with potential to be a masterpiece!

I’ve had only ~30 hours since launch to absorb what CivVI has to offer and I am extremely impressed with how refined the game’s mechanics are at launch. Civ had a reputation of launching the vanilla game and then adding mechanics like espionage and religion on future DLC releases. Not so with CivVI! Not only are all the familiar mechanics present, they are amazingly well developed and balanced for the new game. Though it has a familiar feel, the game is very different from previous releases and it took some time getting used to, even for a seasoned player like myself; however, now that I’ve got the hang of it, I don’t think I will be able to go back to any previous version.

For the first day, I logged 12 hours sitting side-by-side in the game room with my friend David as we each played CivVI on separate computers. At first, we thought we might multiplay, but instead I went with a standard game and David did a smaller, fast paced game. He got two games in quicker than I finished my first game and that’s how I would recommend anyone just starting CivVI. There are so many complexities in this game that it is easy to make mistakes just starting off. For instance, I love the new district system, but if you place your districts incorrectly, you’re stuck with it. And districts really matter! So, David was able to learn from his first game and apply the lessons learned to his second short game almost right away. The other advantage to playing alongside David was that as we each discovered new and interesting events, systems, features, and mechanics, we were able to learn from each other. It is complex, but it is the complexity which makes it such an amazing game with potentially infinite replayability. CivVI feels so complete, I almost wonder what Firaxis plans to add to the base game!

It’s not without issues of course. As with all 4X games, the AI has a few issues which detract from the enjoyment of the game. I believe the issues will be fixed in patches, but the AI issues are most prevalent in diplomacy and war. I would like to say that the leaders follow their stated goals, agendas, and current government types, but it seems like most will declare war on you at one point or another. It’s not necessarily something related specifically to some leaders because Gandhi does it too! War is a part of history, but some of these declarations of war seem ridiculous and the AI is unable to follow through with their aggression. The part I don’t like is how brutal the warmonger system is. When an AI declares war (happens a lot), they will send a peace treaty as soon as you approach their cities with a sizable enough force. If you accept their peace offer, they will be right back to attack you 30 turns later. If you don’t accept the peace terms, they and every other civilization will think you are a warmonger and soon the entire world is against you. The constant wars got annoying, so I ended up finishing off every civ that declared war on me so they would just leave me alone to do my city building.

My favorite new addition is definitely the districts! In older Civ games, there wasn’t much difference between your cities. Most cities could build almost every building, so each city looked about the same by end game, but varying in size depending on the terrain you settled on. Not so now. Each city is unique and you have to specialize nearly every city according to their strengths and what you need at that moment! As with real life, the key to successful city building is location, location, location! Planning the cities is awesome!

My least favorite addition is the proselytizing zerg swarm the AI does. My first game, I was too busy kicking Russia back to the Stone Age (see previous AI comment) to realize England slipped in with 20 or so missionaries and converted all my cities, including my Holy City. So, getting a religious victory absolutely seems to be a viable strategy – it’s just annoying when it happens to you!

Sean Bean isn’t as good as Leonard Nimoy was in Civilization IV, but he does give it some extra pizzazz.

I’m enjoying CivVI immensely, but really hope that the AI is fixed up a bit to make the diplomacy and war AI a little more balanced and less annoying. I think CivVI has potential to be the best of the series and I look forward to seeing what else Firaxis has in store for its flagship title.