Tips for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The long awaited Witcher 3 was just released. This third and final installment introduces open world gameplay, and though some aspects of the game have been streamlined, there’s still a lot to learn as you’re playing. Here are a few tips I’ve learned as I’ve been playing. I’ve played on normal, on XB1. This post is spoiler free.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

General

  • The Bestiary is important. Unlike most games, it doesn’t just give history but actual useful information. Before fighting monsters, check the bestiary for its weaknesses to certain items, bombs, or signs.
  • When you pick up books, make sure to give them a read before you ditch them, they may add something to your Bestiary.
  • Meditate. You can do it pretty much anywhere out of combat. It will refill your health (on most difficulties), and restock your potions.
  • You can usually find armor and weapon enhancers in towns or outposts, use them when you see them for a temporary upgrade.
  • If you’re short on money, keep an eye out for treasures and caches on the map.
  • If you come across a monster nest you need to destroy, walk up to it and you should get a button prompt. Don’t just toss bombs at it.

Travel

  • You can fast travel at signposts, but do it too often and you’ll risk missing things out in the world.
  • If you’re mounted you can hold down A and your horse will follow the path without having to be steered.
  • You can fight while mounted.

Items

  • Pick up everything (but don’t spend hours picking flowers, unless that’s what you’re into). The inventory UI isn’t great, but you can generally use items to craft things, or disassemble them into crafting mats.
  • You only need to make things like potions once. After this, they are replenished during meditation using alcohol.
  • An item called Potion of Clearance will let you reassign your skill points, but costs 1000g. The first place I found one of these was Keira’s hut.
  • Repair your equipment when you can, but don’t waste money repairing the junk you plan to sell or disassemble. Repair kits are also sold and come in handy in dungeons.

Leveling and Quests

  • In this game, you have to ‘equip’ skills, and in the beginning you only get 3. So it’s best to pick a couple favourite abilities (I like to focus on fast attacks and Igni) and put many points into them rather than spreading them out over many abilities.
  • Equip a mutagen that will buff your most important equipped skills (they’ll be the same colour).
  • Do all the available side quests before you face your first big enemy. Experience and gold were a bit hard to come by at the start of the game.
  • Check the bounty board in each new town.
  • Secondary quests can vary wildly in level. Make sure you check the level of the quest before tackling it, you generally want to be within 2 levels of it.

Combat

  • This is the first Witcher game where you have a ranged weapon, so don’t forget about it. While it doesnt do a lot against armored enemies, it’s good when things are out of range or in the air.
  • Dodge a lot. Parry enemies with swords. Attack from the back.
  • You’ll sometimes have a companion with you in combat – let them serve as a distraction so you can attack from the back.
  • If your offensive signs aren’t proving effective against certain enemy types, Quen is always a good choice.
  • You can only assign 2 potions or foods to hotkeys, but you can also consume them from the inventory screen.
  • You can eat and drink in combat.

When in doubt…

  • Use your Witcher sense (L2). It’s necessary for many quests. Quest-related items and locations will glow red, while objects you can loot will glow orange.
  • Use Aard. If you’re stuck, there may be a door you can knock down or rubble that can be cleared with your telekinetic burst.
  • Check your quest log.

Have fun!

When Music Makes the Game

Yesterday I started playing Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. I’ve never played a Far Cry game, but heard good things about this one so I wanted to give it a go. I get through the cinematic intro and the gameplay starts. I’m in a helicopter, with a laser gun, and Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally is playing. Boom, I’m instantly hooked. And I’ve never even seen Predator. A good song automatically gets me excited to play.

It got me thinking about how a good licensed soundtrack can really enhance a game. One series that uses music exceptionally well is Saints Row. Popular music is used enhance set pieces – in SR3, Kanye’s Power plays as you take over a rival gang’s penthouse apartment, and Holding Out for a Hero is the track when you race to rescue your crew near the end of the game; in SR4 Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing plays as you’re selflessly risking life and limb to diffuse a nuke and save the United States from an attack.

Music is also used to help you bond with your homies on their loyalty missions. Pierce’s mission is always a highlight in the games for me, with SR3 having him and The Boss sing along to What I Got, while it’s Opposites Attract that offers a bonding moment in SR4. It’s the music that gets me into the game, and performances of the voice actors that make the characters come to life.

Another game that uses licensed music in a spectacular way is Spec Ops: The Line. Vietnam era rock is a mainstay of the war shooter, even those set in present or future days. While The Line does deliver a few of these classics, such as songs by Hendrix, Deep Purple, or the lyrically relevant Nowhere to Run by Martha & the Vandellas, it also delivers some more diverse, though ultimately very fitting songs. Rather than stick to the 60s and 70s catalogues for the soundtrack, it ventures into more recent music that plays homage to the sounds and messages of the era, such as the Canadian rock band Black Mountain’s Stormy High, or The Black Angels’ The First Vietnamese War. More unexpected are the addition of Mogwai’s quiet RU Still In 2 It or Björk’s Storm. However, though they are unexpected, they fit the tone of the game perfectly. Spec Ops: The Line is a game that subverts expectations in many ways, not just musically but narratively. I highly recommend listening to the soundtrack, preferably as you play the game.

Good music can also be used to great effect in trailers, often making me interested in a game that would otherwise fly right under my radar. My feelings on the Call of Duty franchise are quite ambivalent. Advanced Warfare was the first game I played (and reviewed) in the series, and while I thought it was a solid shooter, it didn’t send me running out to pick up any of the other 700 games in the franchise. When the Black Ops III trailer released a few weeks ago, I thought it looked great. However, after thinking about it for a while, it occurred to me that the use of The Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black was responsible for 99% of my excitement. The actual gameplay doesn’t look much different than AW. This is not the first CoD trailer to make use The Rolling Stones either.

Original soundtracks also often make a game for me, with Bastion being the soundtrack I always think of first, but that’s a topic for another post.


Is there any particular use of licensed music in a game that sticks out for you?

Revisiting The X-Files – Ice

Cold open. Literally. It’s dark and blustery. A whining dog walks through a research station, passing bodies as it goes. A lumbering man with a gun turns on recording equipment and begins to speak – “We’re not who we are” then is attacked by another man. The ensuing struggle leaves them pointing guns at each other, in a standoff. Reaching a silent understanding, they slowly point their guns at their own heads. A quick cut to outside, and two shots are heard. It goes no further than this. Or does it?

After a few middling episodes, Ice offers a breath of fresh, cold air and is the first episode that really showed X-Files as something that could be great. Mulder and Scully are sent to investigate the disappearance of the Arctic Ice Core project team, who haven’t been heard from since the video recorded in the opening. Some scientists and a helicopter pilot are also along for the ride (one of whom is played by Felicity Huffman), meaning the agents will be trapped in the arctic with a group, rather than just each other.

From the start, paranoia is rampant. Doctor’s Da Silva and Hodge request everyone show ID so they all know everyone is who they say they are. These two are also immediately suspicious of Scully and Mulder, assuming they know more than they’re letting on because they work for the government.

X-Files season 1 - Ice

We start discovering what happened when a dog attacks the helicopter pilot, Bear. The dog shows symptoms similar to bubonic plague and Bear, in secret, discovers he has the same symptoms after he’s been bitten. He immediately becomes paranoid and aggressive and the doctors soon notice a worm wriggling around under his skin. When the worm is removed, he dies. Things devolve into chaos as the survivors wonder who else may be infected. Who’s not really who they are? The influence of The Thing is plain to see.

This is a really great Scully and Mulder episode, and a standout for Scully in particular. While everyone else is losing their heads, Scully is the only one who keeps a semblance of cool. She stays scientific and analytical, while everyone else engages in a witch hunt. As Mulder’s paranoia grows, we think he may be infected but really, that’s just Mulder. The pair get a couple great scenes together, as their trust in each other is tested but ultimately grows.

X-Files season 1 - Ice

One of the more dramatic scenes has Scully and Mulder pointing guns at each other after Mulder is found with the body of Dr. Murphy, a reflection of the scene from the intro. Mulder is the  one to lower his gun first, as Scully suggests that he may not be who he is. He’s locked away and its up to Scully to find a solution to their problems, which she does very quickly. It turns out the creatures causing the infection will not tolerate each other and will kill one another if a second specimen is introduced into the host.

Scully, unsure that Mulder really is the one infected, goes to talk to him alone.  The agents inspect each other for physical symptoms in a scene that’s slightly reminiscent of the examination scene from the pilot, but much less gratuitous. It comes down to Hodge and Da Silva vs. Scully and Mulder, each pair convinced the other is infected. But it’s Da Silva who, at the last minute, is discovered to be the one. The agents work together to hold her down and she’s given the last worm.

Aside from being one of the more well-written and thrilling episodes of The X-Files so far, I really like how Ice showed much more respect to Scully than she had gotten previously. Her scientific background comes into play when she realizes how to cure the infection, and her skepticism ensures she never gives in to the hysteria being experienced by the other characters. Scully finally gets to be the hero here.

Silent Hills – Teasers, Promise, and Disappointment

Silent Hills has been cancelled. For horror fans and gamers in general, it was one of the most hyped games announced last year, and for good reason. It was to be a collaboration between Hideo Kojima, creator of Metal Gear Solid, and Guillermo Del Toro, director, writer, and producer of a number of great dark fantasy movies. It would star Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead (and the really terrible Boondock Saints). Having such prominent names attached to this game meant it cast a wide net and got its hooks into a lot of people.

PT hallway

The biggest hype came from the playable teaser, aptly named P.T. When it was first released, it wasn’t billed as a teaser for a Silent Hill game. It wasn’t until people had solved the final puzzle that a trailer played, revealing that the next game in the Silent Hill series, Silent Hills, was happening.

P.T. was, to put it plainly, an amazing game. It was one of my best gaming experiences of 2014. But was it a successful trailer? From the wailing and rending of garments happening all over the internet since the cancellation was made official, I suppose the answer is yes. But for me, P.T. had the opposite of the intended effect. It provided a tight, harrowing experience in a perfect little package and made me question whether a full length game could improve or even match its quality. The mechanics of P.T. were simple – you walked around and you looked at things, zooming in on certain objects to trigger events. The environment was tiny – a hallway, a bathroom, and a small basement that you looped around continuously. The limited scope of the game, I would argue, is what made it so special.

When you’re confined to a small area, everything can be controlled. The player experience can be engineered down to the smallest detail. There’s no wandering off to collect ammo or health packs, no pausing to read a codex or a quest log, no inventory management. Player choice and branching paths can be great, but there’s also something to say for a gaming experience which removes all but the most basic choices from you (do you really want to turn around?) and delivers the exact experience the creator intended.

I was so impressed by P.T., was provided with so much fun and terror as I played through it with a group of friends, that my outlook for Silent Hills was bleak from the get go. It was just too good to be a teaser. Could a more open world provide such a consistently tense atmosphere? Could a full length game keep me on the edge of my seat like this? Would the addition of fumbling combat or having to search for keys add anything at all to the experience? I don’t think so.

It’s disappointing that Kojima and Del Toro don’t get a chance to try to live up to P.T. but at the same time I appreciate the game they did deliver. If you’ve got a PS4 and haven’t already, make sure you download P.T. before it’s gone.

The Charnel House Trilogy (Review)

One of the greatest merits of the adventure genre is the platform it gives a writer to tell a story. They can tell of thrilling exploits, amusing capers, mysteries of the world and of the mind. They don’t need to rely on flashy visuals or reaction time-testing action. By letting us step into the shoes of a character we get to learn about their life and story through their conversations and observations about the world around them.

The Charnel House Trilogy - Inhale

The Charnel House trilogy, a classic style point-and-click adventure game by Owl Cave, succeeds at telling a great story. In the first chapter, Inhale, we meet Alex, a 20-something woman who seems to be working to overcome some hardships – a recent break-up that’s still in the forefront of her mind, a sick father.  Alex will be going on a journey. This first act functions mainly as a set-up for the rest of the game, and introduces us to the characters and themes that will be explored more deeply later on. Act 2, Sepulchre, was actually available as a standalone game for a while and is made stronger by the bookending chapters. Sepulchre focuses on Harold, who boarded a train with Alex, and has to deal with strange events that are happening. While Harold seems to be in an almost fugue-like state, Alex is plagued by her memories, which weigh heavily on her. Act 3, Exhale, goes back to Alex and does an amazing job at tying everything together.

It’s hard to say a lot about the story without giving things away, but the titles (Charnel House, Sepulchre) should certainly give you an idea of the direction it takes. While it is a horror game, it’s not scary in the traditional sense, but provides a gradually increasing sense of unease that worms its way in and turns into dread. The writing by Ashton Raze is on point. Dialogue goes from sounding completely natural to Lynchian levels of bizarre. The best praise I can give is that from Act 2 on, no line is wasted. Everything has a purpose, and is building towards something. It’s a very well constructed story with a self-aware script, and it gets better as it goes.

The Charnel House Trilogy - Exhale
For a game that maxes out at a 320 x 200 resolution, not a pixel is out of place. The style is very reminiscent of the Blackwell series (Ben Chandler did work on both this and The Blackwell Epiphany). The character portraits that pop up during conversations are lovely and the backgrounds, few that they are, are attractive.

The soundtrack often blends seamlessly into the background, but when it becomes more prominent, it’s really quite great. I highly recommend playing this with headphones, I put them on halfway through and was immediately impressed by how great it sounded. The voice acting is competent. Madeleine Roux’s Alex started off a little flat, but got better as the game went on. I have no complaints about the rest of the main players. Jim Sterling did well in his turn as a too-friendly neighbour, and the smaller parts were also generally well done. Though to be honest, I can’t hear Abe Goldfarb without thinking of Joey Malone.

The game is light on puzzles, but since the story is the star, that works out. There’s no mindless combining of inventory items or pixel-hunting for objects. Gameplay is quite straightforward, and I think more challenging puzzles would have been a distraction.

I only have one real complaint about the game. Inhale is peppered with in-jokes and nods to the voice actors. In-jokes are okay, but the first 10 or so minutes of the game consisted of little else, so that it was a bit of a turn-off.  Once the game got that out of its system, the story started steaming ahead and I was more than happy to go along for the ride.

The Charnel House Trilogy took me about 2.5 hours to complete. It’s currently available on Steam for less than $5, and it’s well worth the cost. Content warning for the game – it does deal with topics such as violence, stalking, and suicide.

Verdict – Highly recommended. If you’re a fan of adventure games, horror, or just great stories, The Charnel House Trilogy is a treat. It’s a taut, wonderfully written experience kept me intrigued and I ended up finishing it in one sitting.

 

 

Revisiting The X-Files – Season 1 episodes 3-7

My intention of reviewing every single X-Files episode might have been a bit ambitious. So rather than try to stretch the episodes I don’t have a whole lot to say about into whole posts, I’m going to combine a few.

Conduit

“I want to believe…” -Mulder

This episode is rather Mulder-centric as it deals with a young woman being abducted by aliens, a cause near and dear to his heart. The most interesting part of the episode is the titular conduit, the woman’s young brother who seems to be receiving messages from aliens. Mulder takes to the kid and projects on him a little bit before the woman is eventually returned, but refuses to say what happened to her.

X-Files - Conduit

The thing that stuck out to me most this episode, unfortunately, was an immensely creepy scene near the beginning while the agents are talking to the mother of the missing girl. Mulder sees a picture of the girl from when she was very young. Note to writers: don’t ever write a scene that involves a man stroking a picture of a child in a bathing suit. Just don’t. I know, the picture reminds him of his own sister, but this could have been communicated in 7000 other, better ways.

Other than this, the episode is decent.

Jersey Devil

“Unlike you Mulder, I’d like to have a life.” -Scully

As far as paranormal content goes, this is the first weak episode. It deals with a mountain man (who turns out to be a woman) who has been attacking people outside of Atlantic City. City officials don’t want to cooperate for fear of driving off tourists, making the case harder to solve, yada, yada, yada.

However, this episode does have some interesting Scully and Mulder content. This is our first glimpse of Mulder’s apparent porn habit, when Scully walks in on him reading a nudie magazine in their office. He is reading an article about alien abduction though, so at least it’s somewhat work related, I guess. Scully gets glimpses of a life outside the FBI as she visits some family and even goes on a date. As for Mulder though, it’s made abundantly clear that work is his entire life.

Shadows

“Psychokinesis? You mean how Carrie got even at the prom?” -Scully

This episode deals with a ghost who is sticking around the mortal plane to protect his secretary/daughter proxy and help her solve his murder. It’s not a particularly memorable episode. Not bad, but not great either.

This episode starts to feel a bit like Polkaroo. There is plenty of unexplained phenomena going on – Mulder gets to witness a man being suspended in mid-air, objects moving by themselves, and an office being trashed by unseen hands. Scully is always just outside the door when these things happen and walks in just as they stop. She’s got to maintain her skepticism somehow, I guess.

Ghost in the Machine

But there’s plenty of kooks out there. Data travelers, Electro wizards, techno anarchists. Anything’s possible.” -Wilczek

The series takes a bit of a break from the paranormal this week, as the villain ends up being a supercomputer with artificial intelligence. Sadly, it isn’t done very well. The episode comes off as low budget and the script is weak and lacking humour. Witty banter between Scully and Mulder is what makes this show so good, and its absence is palpable.

X-FIles Ghost in the Machine - Scully saves Mulder

So after a strong beginning, these episodes were a bit of a slump. Luckily, one of the best episodes of the season is up next.

Tips for Pillars of Eternity

It’s been great to see so many strong isometric RPGs come out in the last year or two, with more still to come. Pillars of Eternity was released at the end of March by Obsidian and it’s been great so far, and really brings up the nostalgia for games like Baldur’s Gate 2 or Planescape: Torment, while adding some cool new features and story.

Pillars of Eternity

Here are a few tips if you’re just getting started.

Combat

The real-time combat took a bit to get used to for me, here are some of the things I learned:

  • Micromanage the hell out of your party. Even on lower difficultly levels, you can’t usually just let everyone auto-attack and still win.
  • Combat can be over quickly, and your characters can be killed in a matter of seconds if you’re not careful. Be aggressive – use your abilities proactively, don’t save them for a time you think they may be more needed. If you’re up against a group of enemies, reducing their numbers quickly is key.
  • Use the custom formations to put your party members in good initial positions (heartier melee in the front, ranged and casters in the back).
  • Make sure your squishy ranged are actually equipped with ranged weapons (a quarterstaff will still have them running into melee range) so they stay in safe spots.
  • Buffs and crowd control are just as important as damage and healing. I particularly like abilities that knock down enemies, or the big AoE buffs from classes like Priests and Druids.
  • Read all your spells – some offensive spells will only hit enemies, but many have friendly fire as well.
  • Sometimes, you just aren’t strong enough to beat a particular enemy yet. Learned from experience – don’t try to take on Raedric at level 3.

Companions

Here’s the list of all 8 possible companions and where you can find them, so you don’t miss any:

  • Aloth (Wizard) – Gilded Vale
  • Eder (Warrior) – Gilded Vale
  • Durance (Priest) – Magran’s Fork
  • Kana (Chanter) – Caed Nua
  • Pallegina (Paladin) – Oondra’s Gift in Defiance Bay
  • Sagani (Ranger) – Woodend Plains
  • Hiravias (Druid) – Stormwall Gorge
  • Grieving Mother (Cipher) – Dyrfold Village

The pre-created companions will all add something to the story as well as have their own character quests.

  • There are 3 classes not represented by the pre-created characters – Barbarian, Monk, and Rogue – in case that impacts the creation of your own character.
  • You can also make your own companions from an Inn.
  • You’ll level up faster if you don’t have the party of 6, as each character will get more experience.

Items

  • Rope and Grappling Hook, Hammer & Chisel, and Lockpicks are very useful, especially at the start of the game. If you get a chance to buy or pick these up, do it. There are in-game events which will need them if your skill levels aren’t very high yet.
  • Always carry the max amount of Camping Supplies (4).

Crafting

  • You don’t need to worry about recipes in the game, they’ll open up as you reach the appropriate levels.
  • You can cook or do alchemy, to get foods and potions which will provide buffs. You can make scrolls, though I haven’t found those are needed much, or traps.
  • Enchanting has been the most useful type of crafting for me. If you get a good, named piece of equipment, enchant it to make it even better.
  • Don’t worry too much about saving materials for later, most things can be found again or bought easily.

Exploring

  • Make extensive use of the Tab button, which will highlight items you can pick up or interact with, and Scouting mode, which will reveal traps and hidden items.
  • If Scouting mode is too slow for your tastes, pair it with Double Speed.
  • The initial scrolling speed for the game is slow, it can be increased in the menu under Game.
  • Rest often. It doesn’t seem that rest can be interrupted by monsters.
  • Visit Caed Nua early, because it opens up some cool new stuff.
  • You can’t get to Twin Elms until Act 3, don’t drive yourself nuts trying to figure out how to get there.
  • It matters what exit you take from some screens. Exiting from the East won’t open up access to an area South of you.

That’s all for now! Let me know if you need more info, or if you have any tips for me.