Tag Archives: combat

XCOM2 Tips and a Strategy Game Question

XCOM2 is out! I basically play this 12 hours a day now, I’m having so much fun with it. I thought I’d parlay all that time played into a video with 10 tips to get you started with the game. Here it is:

I got a comment on the video, which I haven’t responded to yet, that asks what it is about XCOM that appeals to me. They go on to say that in their experience women aren’t very in to the strategy genre but have a seen a ton playing and talking about XCOM2 and they wonder what about it appeals to women moreso than other strategy games.

First, I obviously am not a fan of sweeping generalizations about what genres appeal to each genre. Second, women are not a monolith so aside from the fact that XCOM features just as many women as men, which I think is a draw, I can’t really say why anyone else is attracted to the game. Third, my experience is contrary to the commenters. I know lot of women who play and talk about strategy games like Civ, Crusader Kings, Banished, Cities: Skylines, Warcraft, Starcraft, but when I fangirl out about XCOM it’s mostly men who respond in kind.

Lastly, I tried to think of some common denominator shared between the strategy games I love. I like the alien and sci-fi aspect of XCOM – but also like high fantasy strategy games and the semi-realistic nature of Civilization. I love that I can micromanage the tactical combat in XCOM, as opposed to just building and placing units and letting them do their thing – but not being able to do that doesn’t turn me off the others. I like that in Civ I can get cultural and technological victories rather than fight – but I’m also good with the all military, all the time nature of XCOM.

Which brings me to my questions for you. Do you like strategy games? What draws you to the ones you like? Alternatively, if you don’t like Strategy games, why not?

Fallout (4 ) Never Changes – First Impressions

I’ve put about 10 hours into Fallout 4 over this weekend. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the time it will take to complete the game, but I think it’s enough to get a handle on the positives and negatives of this new iteration of Fallout. I’m not writing a full review – I haven’t finished yet, and writing a review of an open world game sounds terrible. However, I do have some assorted  thoughts on the game.

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  1. Character creation. For the first time in Fallout my character isn’t an ugly, blurry mess. Borrowing from DAI’s face sculpting tools, you can actually create a decent looking character in this game.
  2. Setup. For the first time, we get to see what things were like before the bombs fell. It’s brief, but we are introduced to our character and their partner and child just minutes before they’re ushered into a Vault and the nukes go off. It’s nice to have a minute to appreciate Fallout’s distinct aesthetic in its prime before the world becomes a Wasteland.
  3. Story. The game tries to give us a more urgent and personal story from the get-go, but it doesn’t succeed. As we wake up in the Vault we see our infant son get kidnapped, so we go out to find him. However once you leave the vault and get a glimpse of the wasteland, all thoughts of the creepy baby are quickly pushed aside, as exploration is much more appealing. Sure, you can tell people in conversation that you’re looking for your baby, but so far I’ve gone 10 hours without following that particular story thread. There’s no emotional attachment there and frankly it’s just not that interesting.
  4. Urgency. There really isn’t any. At least so far. However, this is a problem with pretty much all open world games, so I won’t hold it too much against Fallout 4.
  5. Voices. For the first time, the protagonist is voiced. This is a very welcome change, though the performance of the female protagonist so far is not particularly inspiring. It’s not bad, but she’s certainly no Commander Shepard. Partially this is due to the writing – the dialogue is sparse and to the point. Though there is usually a sarcastic response option.
  6. Storytelling. Where I’ve always thought the modern Fallout games excel is visual and environmental storytelling. It’s not the big arc, it’s the small ones. It’s stumbling upon a sidequest while you’re on another mission, seeing a skeleton in a car and piecing together what happened, hacking into terminals to find the real story behind a location. Fallout 4 continues to excel at this.
  7. Robots. This game is full of sassy robots, who are full of personality. Not just your companion Cogsworth, there are many robots to meet in the Wasteland.
  8. Combat. VATS is still great, the rest of combat is still kinda shit. Though I’ve been reading in other reviews that the FPS combat has improved, I’m not really seeing it. Especially at the beginning of the game when most enemies rush into melee range, I don’t find the shooting mechanics are very good.
  9. Companions. Companions are quite helpful in combat when it comes to killing things. However, they’re also in the way. Like, all the time. Going down a narrow corridor? There they are, blocking you. Trying to shoot something at a distance? They’ll become an obstacle. If anything, I think this problem may be worse here than in previous games.
  10. Explosions. One of my biggest frustrations in previous Fallout games was that I’d often get blown up in combat, and have no idea where the explosion came from. Though they have added a little icon to tell you when a grenade is near, I still get caught in mystery explosions way more than is necessary.
  11. Saving. You can quicksave your game anywhere, though autosaving doesn’t happen as often as I’d like.
  12. Crafting. Fallout 4 has introduced a rather robust crafting system where you can modify your weapons and armor. It’s an enjoyable addition so far, and it’s nice to customize things to suit your playstyle or visual preferences.
  13. Workshop. Your home in the Wasteland can be built up to our specifications through the Workshop. While initially I didn’t think this was something I’d like, I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time with it. You can build beds, new houses, plant crops, build water pumps – everything a growing Wasteland settlement needs. People you help through the game will join your settlements. It is fun to build, though the game’s engine isn’t ideal for it. Placing objects is awkward. Some kind of overhead or simplified view of things would be great. You can build electric systems to power your base, but it isn’t explained very well. The best part of this is that all the junk you find in the Wasteland – the clipboards, the old telephones – can be used to build things rather than just as vendor fodder.
    One thing I’m not liking as I go through the game is that every place where you help people can be turned into a base, with a workshop for you to build up. While making one wasteland sanctuary sounds fun, making a dozen sounds like a huge timesink. I haven’t figured out what, if anything, happens when you ignore these bases. Does it matter if they don’t have enough food or defence?
  14. Exploration. I’ve been pretty burnt out on open world games lately and I have to say, exploration in Fallout 4 is 100x more enticing than it was in games like Witcher 3 or Dragon Age: Inquisition. Part of this is due to the simplicity of the map. You see icons for major landmarks, but not every single place where you can gather a resource or fight a camp of raiders. So there’s mystery. There’s a reason to explore. It’s not just a matter of ticking off every box on the map. I’m sure there will be many little locations and items that I’ll never find. And that’s okay. The locations I do find are interesting, full of great visuals and stories that don’t need to be explicitly spelled out.
  15. Finding things. At the beginning of the game I found it really hard to locate items. So many games I’ve been playing recently help the player by highlighting objects of interest in some way, and Fallout doesn’t do this. Now that I’m a few hours in, I’ve gotten used to it, and it makes things feel less game-y.
  16. Text. Fallout has some of the best in-game text entries. RPGs are generally full of lore and codex entries, books and letters. I hate reading them. In Fallout most text is found on terminals, and I read every word. Text entries are put in the right places. It’s not just general knowledge or lore, these entries tell you about the places you are in  and the people who live (or have lived) there. They often tell a story from multiple points of view, they can contain hints of where to find item stashes, point you to other interesting locations. Log entries tend to be darkly humorous and the fact that you often have to hack into these terminals to find the information just makes it that much more intriguing. Reading information in Fallout feels like reading someone’s journal, not like reading a textbook.
  17. Overall. Fallout 4 feels like Fallout. The good parts of Fallout 3 are there – the exploration, environment, the storytelling within particular locations, the dark humour. And the bad parts are still there – the combat is mediocre, it doesn’t look as good as other current games, the story doesn’t have any urgency. Though some new mechanics have been added, I don’t find that the existing ones have been improved much. I wouldn’t want a ton to change, but it’s been five years since New Vegas, some refinements would be nice.

If you prefer videos, I’ve also done a mini video review. It covers some of the same stuff, and includes some gameplay footage.

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!

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.

Dragon Age 2 is a Better Game than Dragon Age: Origins

After playing Dragon Age: Inquisition, I had the urge to replay through the Dragon Age series. I started with Dragon Age: Origins and I have to admit, it was a little rough going. I think part of the problem was my choice of class. 2H warrior combat consists of pressing an ability button about 3x per minute, it’s really dull. Then I started Dragon Age 2 and I have to say, it’s a much better game.

Oddly, many people don’t agree with this. From a critical perspective (at least a metacritic perspective), DA:O has an average review score that’s a bit higher (8-9% depending on platform) than DA2. As far as user reviews go though, DA2 received a deluge of really bad review scores and has an average score of 44% compared to DA:O’s 86%. Because gamers are spiteful creatures, a little like Hurlocks.

That’s not to say DA:O is bad. It’s a good game and I like it but DA2 does almost everything better. Like…

Dialogue is better

  • Going back to DAO’s voiceless protagonist is very strange. The Warden doesn’t feel like an actual character, she’s an empty vessel. This is a huge downside to DAO.
  • The dialogue wheel is much more interesting and effective than static response options.
  • In DAO the mean/negative/renegade? conversation options just make your character sound like an asshole, while in DA2 the conversation options are more snarky or direct. Playing through the Dwarf Noble origin story, most of the “bad” dialogue options basically amounted to “Get away from me you lowly peasant.”
  • In DAO, despite women being present in all the major battles, and in positions of power and leadership throughout Thedas, female Wardens are still subjected to “What? You’re a woman? How shocking!” reactions all the time.

Relationships with your party members are better

  • No trading random gifts for sex or acceptance.
  • Each of your party members has their own life, it’s not 100% about the player character. You can visit them in their homes, they can visit you at yours. They can have relationships with other party members or NPCs which can grow over time.
  • Other characters can disagree with you, but still stick around.
  • In DAO it’s really easy to miss or even kill possible party members. If you didn’t know Zevran was supposed to be a party member, all you need to do is make one choice and you kill him and miss a lot. Likewise with Wynne – agree with Cullen in the Tower? She attacks you, you kill her, no healer for you this playthrough.

Combat is 700x better (I did the math)

  • From an animation standpoint, everything is faster and slicker.
  • You can move around the battlefield much quicker, rather than feeling like you’re wading through quicksand.
  • Talent trees are bigger, more interesting, and allow you to customize your character much more.
  • By the end of DAO you pretty much have every talent you can use so your choices meant very little.
  • Your companions get enough tactic slots for all of their abilities.
  • You can take your dog into fights with you without having them take a spot in your party.
  • When you tell a character to take a potion, they take the damn potion.

Story is better

  • I enjoyed the story from DAO, especially the first time around, but it’s a fairly generic fantasy.
  • DA2 has a lot more depth. There are more politics, there’s more nuance. Elements from other parts of Thedas get incorporated into quests or character back-stories rather than just referred to in one of the 7 billion codex entries.
  • Since the story takes place over a number of years, you can see how Hawke is making a difference in Kirkwall and in the lives of its people. The scope of the location is small, but the scope of the story and timeline is much bigger.

UI, inventory and controls are better

  • Having your party members have a single set of armor that can be upgraded, makes inventory management much less tedious. You can still customize their weapons and accessories but don’t need to worry about armor, boots, helms, and gloves. It’s also easier to tell when something is an upgrade.
  • Besides gear, there’s less junk to manage. At once point in DAO I had 20 gift items taking up space in my inventory, there’s none of that anymore. Also, quest items you pick up can’t be accidentally junked or sold.
  • Runes are much simpler to manage. Their effectiveness depends on the level of gear you’re adding them to so you don’t have to worry about different rune levels like journeyman, master, etc.
  • It’s much easier to tell your other party members to stay put, or move as a group. They get in your way a lot less often.
  • There’s more useful stuff to find, like items that start side-quests, recipes, or armor upgrades. This makes looting everything much more useful – you have a chance to pick up something other than yet another damn Darkspawn Dagger.

So that’s that. I know the big complaint is that DA2 recycled dungeon areas which, I’ll admit, isn’t good but in the grand scheme of things is rather minor.