My gaming news, including Skyrim SE, LOTRO, VR, The Division, & more

Since my hiatus from Destiny has allowed me to play other games, I’ve played lots of them. Since I’ve had all these (mostly) good experiences, I thought I should write it down.

I’ve spent most of my play time in LOTRO, which I mostly stopped playing when Destiny came out two years ago. I still logged in occasionally to pay my housing upkeep, but I let my VIP payments lapse (in terms of total dollars “invested,” LOTRO is by far my most expensive game, with maybe 5 years of VIP payments, plus buying all the DLCs – they’re good at extracting money from me). I made it to Gondor and did most of the Dol Amroth quests with my level 100 Lore Master, but then stopped. Now that they have tons of new content, I wanted to experience it, since I love the lore and the Tolkien universe.

First, being in Middle Earth without being VIP is very constraining. Most of the quests are locked off, travel is expensive, and many perks are disabled. So within minutes of restarting, I was paying up for a few months of VIP. At that point, the quests unlocked so I could deal with the baddies in Perlargir and all around central Gondor. Hopefully soon I will hear over to Minas Tirith and experience more of the story.

The game play came back very quickly, though I’m not as adept a Lore Master as I was, since I’ve forgotten what about half the skills do. The combat is quite boring, compared to Destiny and The Division or even Elder Scrolls Online, but it is a bit more strategic as I can’t just power through mobs, but have to worry about crowd control, debuffs, buffs, etc. And when I try to power through, I aggro a bunch of enemies that run over and kill my poor, squishy LM.

One of my favorite parts about the Rohan expansion to LOTRO was the war steed combat. I loved that and ended up being pretty good at it. But in Gondor, the enemy density is high and the terrain isn’t well suited to it. However, I still use the war steed, because it is fast and I can mount in combat. Unfortunately, even a light war steed turns like an aircraft carrier in confined spaces, so I’ve died several times trying to maneuver through a narrow passage to escape a bunch of enemies only to become stuck, dismounted, and killed. Also, the rubber-banding effect where the game lets you progress past an obstacle you hit on your war steed only to pull you back a few seconds later is still present. In fact, I had one instance yesterday where I was maybe 5 seconds and hundreds of feet past the obstacle when it yanked me back. It isn’t a game killer, but it is an immersion killer and quite annoying.

I also played with some VR games (well, really VR tech demos) on my new Playstation VR. It is a very comfortable unit and works quite well. The resolution isn’t great, but you quickly forget about it. I really enjoyed the shark encounter scenario in the VR Worlds Ocean Descent “game.” Even though I knew I was sitting in my chair at home, I was very concerned about that shark prowling around my cage, and when it attacked, I cringed in chair. Very well done!

I played a little of, and then deleted, Transformers Devastation and Lords of the Fallen. Transformers was a pretty OK action game with some RPG elements. It had a cartoony look that fit the theme, but as I was never a Transformers fan, it didn’t grab me for too long. Lords of the Fallen is an excellent Dark Souls clone that was difficult and very tense. Unfortunately, I have Dark Souls and never finished it, so I’m sure not going to finish this one.

So in my quest for action games, I went back to The Division. After this latest patch, it is quite fun. They’re trying to out-Destiny Destiny with all the loot that drops. I kill random baddies on the street and they drop top-of-the-line gear (though none better than what I had, so far). Some of the missions and encounters are still too hard to solo, at least for me, but it is a much improved game.

Finally, I tried Skyrim SE. Since I already had Skyrim and all the DLC on Steam, I got SE for free, which is damn nice of Valve and Bethesda. Unfortunately, Skyrim SE doesn’t support my 3440×1440 monitor. Sure, I could and did edit the .ini file and make it draw at that resolution, but the UI is cut off at top and bottom in that case. (To be fair, the original Skyrim is the same.) It is sad that a new release is so limited in what it can support. Even LOTRO, STO, and Fallout 4 support my monitor with only a little stretching sometimes. In any case, I never played the Skyrim DLCs, so I had thought maybe I’d give it a shot in SE, but since I used mods in Skyrim that don’t work in SE, I don’t want to mess with trying to load the saves, and I sure don’t want to play the whole thing again! So perhaps I will go back to Skyrim some day…

Done with Destiny, Back to LOTRO and STO

Between griefers and trouble finishing a Heroic Strike while wearing a Speaker mask, I’m just done with the frustration of Destiny and the Festival of the Lost. I’m tired of doing pointless quests for a random chance at crap. So I’m taking a vacation from Destiny (in fact, I nearly deleted it out of frustration, but held my temper in check).

Now I’m going back to explore the last 2 years of content that I’ve missed in LOTRO. I’m also going to catch up in STO, too. And, frankly, I’m looking forward to getting back to significant story lines and (hopefully) fun quests. Sure, neither have combat that compares to Destiny, but they have atmosphere and are fun.

Destiny, screw off!

Star Trek Online for PS4 is pretty good!

Star Trek Online for PS4 is Star Trek Online. Sure, the controls are different from the PC version, and it’s a little dumbed down, but the basics of the game is still there and it is still fun. It also looks pretty good, so they’re taking good advantage of the PS4’s graphics capabilities. There were a few bugs that I ran into, but none game-breaking, and I can’t link my Arc account for some reason (perhaps because I have a lifetime subscription on the PC version), but the game was entirely playable. If I didn’t have so many hours invested (is that the right word for a game?) in the PC version, I’d play it more in a heartbeat.

The control scheme is the biggest change from the PC version. In space, it uses the gamepad sticks very intuitively for ship control and camera control. Since the gamepad only has a few buttons, we only get a few powers that we can use, but the L1 button (left bumper for you Xbox folks) can be held down to bring up a radial menu of powers, it tends to work out. R2 (right trigger) fires phasers, while R1 fires torpedoes if they’re bearing on your target. Switching energy profiles is easy with the D-Pad, as is speed control. The ground controls are similar, but it uses “shooter” mode rather than RPG mode (options in the PC version). L2 is Aim Down Sight. Overall the control scheme is simple and works well.

I’ve been using a gamepad with STO on PC from the beginning, and I have lots of powers mapped by using triggers and bumpers as modifiers for the ABXY buttons on my Xbox 360 controller. On the PC version we’d be at a severe disadvantage if we could only access a few powers, so we’ll have to see how the console version compensates for that.

The early missions are a bit of a mash-up of the original Borg invasion missions from the early days and the more current Star Fleet Academy stuff, but fairly well done and a nice introduction to the controls and to the game. Loot drops are auto-looted if you get close, which is a nice improvement. I’ve never spent much time in shooter mode on ground missions on the PC, but I see that works pretty well on the PS4.

It looks like the Temporal Agent start isn’t available on the PS4 version, which is a bit of a shame, given the tie in with the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, but perhaps it will come later.

I did pick up the free (yesterday) 23rd century costume pack as well as a nifty Andorian Escort ship that was also free. That ship rocks – it’s almost unfair how quickly it stomps enemy ships to the curb. I don’t know if it was a mistake or not, but I’m happy I got it.

My biggest disappointment is that I can’t link my Arc account to the PS4 version. I get to the Link Accounts screen, press the button, then the screen just reloads each time I press it. I’d sure like to be able to link my lifetime account and thousands of Zen to the PS4 version. I don’t actually want to play my PC characters on the PS4, but I’d sure like the unlocks I’ve earned over the years. If I can’t do that, my play time with the PS4 version may be at an end or at least very minimal, since my best experience with STO is going to be on the PC.

If you’re an existing STO player, there probably isn’t a compelling reason to play on the console version, but the console version is probably much better for people that are new to Star Trek Online.

No Man’s Sky is tedious, annoying, boring, yet strangely compelling

Yes, annoying, tedious, and boring describe No Man’s Sky (NMS) pretty well. You’ll note that the word “fun” isn’t there, but there is joy to be had in the game. NMS is an inventory management and resource gathering game. Sure, the setting is a procedurally-generated galaxy with tons of worlds that nobody else (players, that is) has ever seen. But really it is about getting a space ship with more inventory slots. And getting a multitool (magic mining laser/gun) with more inventory slots. And upgrading your exosuit so it has more inventory slots. Sure, there’s exploring new worlds that are very much like all the other worlds, and meeting aliens, one at a time. Occasionally we can shoot space pirates too (or be killed by them). But overall, it’s all about managing inventory well enough to build the things you need to fix the new space ship you found that has one more inventory slot than the last one.

Even though the worlds are all different, they are largely the same, in that the mineral deposits look the same on all the worlds, and since that’s all that is important, that’s the defining characteristic. Sure, the animals are different, and the weather can be very different, but in your exosuit, who cares. On the other hand, some of the views are spectacular, and it is fun to be the first player to explore a place, including naming things.

The biggest problem I see with NMS is scale. The galaxy is huge, as are the planets, yet I’ve got a space ship that is reasonably expensive to launch and tedious to land. Much of the exploration therefore is done on foot, which is tedious and not much fun. There is a galactic map, but no ground maps where you can mark a favorite trading post or a rich mineral area. So, in short, it’s a big universe, and you can visit a lot of it, but once you get there, you can’t cover much ground. I think something like an in-atmosphere flyer that you can call and get picked up nearly anywhere and jump off quickly would be perfect. Something like the ability to get vehicles in the latest Saints Row games would work. I think the NMS universe is great and I’d like to be able to explore more of it. I’m already on my 3rd star system, and I really regret leaving the first two so quickly. I may even go back to check them out again (if I can find my way back on the map).

So at the moment, the challenge and interest slightly exceed the tedium, so I’ll keep playing No Man’s Sky for a while more, at least.

It’s easy to lose yourself in the world of Pokémon Go

Last week, I installed Pokémon Go as a bit of a science experiment. I wanted to understand why so many people have their faces glued to their screens even more than usual, falling of cliffs and the like. My wife also wanted to know if there was a lot of Pokémon activity near our house, so, of course, I volunteered to study the issue. (It turns out there are a couple of Pokestops near our house, which could account for some of the activity.)

When I installed it, I picked up the initial Pokémon that appeared in front of me, then didn’t do much with it until Saturday night. We were on our way back from a family gathering, and my wife was driving, so I pulled out the phone and looked for Pokémon (is that the plural of Pokémon?).

While we were on the freeway, I didn’t see a single Pokémon. I saw evidence that they were in the surrounding neighborhoods, but none appeared to me, which is good, because we don’t need more distracted drivers. Once we got off the freeway, however, things changed. I live in a touristy town, so along the main drag, there were several Pokestops per block, many of which were accessible as we were driving, so I collected many, many Pokeballs. This is good, because I’m pretty bad at flicking the Pokeballs to capture a Pokémon, so I need a lot. In addition, many Pokémon showed up for me to capture, some of them repeats, but still, it was very easy to capture a bunch. I can’t tell you how many I have right now, because the servers seem to be down, as usual, but I jumped from Level 1 to Level 4 pretty quickly.

The reason I say it is easy to lose yourself in the game in the title of this article is that the 20 or 30 minutes it took me to catch my Pokémon went by in a flash. I completely lost track of time, I was so busy accessing Pokestops and capturing Pokémon. I’ll even say it was fun. But it really takes you out of the moment and requires lots of concentration, so I understand why people fall of cliffs or walk into walls. For a casual game, it is surprisingly intense.

 

Fun and Frustration in Star Trek Online

I’ve been playing a lot of Star Trek Online recently. In fact, I’ve played more in the last couple weeks than I played in the previous couple years. The Risa Summer Festival is what got me back in, because I wanted a nice new ship (and it is a nice Escort class ship), but the recent release of Agents of Yesterday also brought me back in. This is a terrific way for the game to tie into the Star Trek 50th anniversary and to have our characters run around in 23rd century uniforms, including the short skirts for the female characters. It also added voice talent from wonderful Star Trek actor Walter Koenig, as well as Christopher Doohan and Vic Mignogna from Star Trek Continues. They also had some Leonard Nimoy voice acting, presumably from the game’s launch when he played a major role, so Spock was present too.

So I started a 23rd century character and progressed through the time travel story. It was fun, but the bugs were a little frustrating. Many times, a mission would end, but the next mission wouldn’t start, so I had to search for available missions to continue the story. Since I’ve been playing Star Trek Online since the beta, I know to how to do this, but a newbie that joined casually would be stuck and frustrated, which may lead them to quit the game. These tutorial areas need to flow better to keep people engaged.

Once my new character finished the timeline missions (i.e., the tutorial), she was unceremoniously dumped into the STO main universe and timeline to do the same old missions all my other Federation characters have done (boring). So then I jumped to a level 50 Vice Admiral to see what other time travel mission are available. I did those missions (in my fancy new ship I got from Risa), and it was kinda neat, including a visit to the JJ Abrams “Kelvin” timeline. But the stories came to an abrupt end with no real payoff, so that was disappointing.

Another annoying thing is that they’re trying their best to break the gamepad support in the game. Since STO is coming out for consoles, thus requiring gamepad support there, the devs must be experimenting with gamepad support on the PC. Well, they made it so any pull of the left trigger or left bumper along with any other button locks out the joystick controls, so you can’t turn the ship or the camera. This only happens in space mode, not on the ground, but it is annoying. I have found a workaround by unbinding the left trigger and the left bumper, which leaves them free for use in my control scheme mapping. But annoying, nonetheless.

Dragon Age: Inquisition DLC was a mixed bag

As I stated in my previous post, I was looking forward to playing the Dragon Age: Inquisition DLC. It turns out that while all three did provide added gameplay, only two of them were decent, and only one followed the open-world(ish) style of the main game.

Jaws of Hakkon is a big, open area expansion full of exploration and fun. It follows the style of the rest of the game and, of course, ends with fighting a dragon. You make some new friends, kill lots of baddies, and overall, it’s pretty great. Even the story is good, as you follow in the footsteps of the last Inquisitor.

The Descent is a sizeable, very linear DLC that offers very challenging enemies and a fairly OK story, though not as great as they thought it was. The final boss is surprisingly lame, and there isn’t much branching story and the side quests are minimal.

Trespasser is a disaster. It ends the game, as it takes place well after the rest of the story, but it doesn’t end the game in a satisfying way (much like Mass Effect 3’s endings). It is very short, not overly hard, and you can see the plot a mile away. Overall, it left me very unfulfilled. When compared to Witcher 3’s Blood and Wine expansion, this is a joke. I finished it in maybe 8 hours or less.

I’m really glad I bought this stuff on sale. Only Jaws of Hakkon is worth playing full price for, though The Descent offers a fair bit of gameplay, though much less than Jaws of Hakkon. And Trespasser is a joke. I’m glad I played them, but if I’d paid full price, I’d be really mad.

Finished Witcher 3 DLC, back to Dragon Age Inquisition

My poor non-multitasking brain can’t handle playing too many games at once, mostly because I get the controls mixed up, so I tend to try to finish a game, then move on (MMOs excepted). So I just finished the excellent Witcher 3 Blood and Wine DLC, and had to decide on a new game. Finishing the Witcher 3 missions was both good and bad. I loved the game and hated for it to end, but had played it for many, many, many hours. I was in denial for a while, so I backed up to play another ending (I was only able to produce 2 endings to Blood and Wine, so I may have to look if there are more). I found a couple of extra missions that seem to have been unlocked by the ending, but other than that, no more quests. I cleared all the “unknown” spots on the map in Toussant, then went to Velen and did the same. I had maybe 16 on Velen’s map, and cleared all but one bugged bandit camp that just won’t clear. Then I went to Skellige, and found 80 question marks on the map (the map counts them, so I didn’t have to)! And they’re all out in the ocean, so tedious to get to, kill the sirens, grab the loot, become overburdened, and repeat. So I did 4 of them and gave up. Sure, I may come back when all other games disappoint me, but for the moment, I’m done with Witcher 3.

I recently bought the Dragon Age: Inquisition (DAI) Game of the Year edition on sale for $20. I already owned DAI and one of the DLCs, but buying the 2 remaining DLCs would have also cost $20, so I just bought the GOTY edition, which had a few more goodies. Origin very nicely dropped the 2 new DLCs into my existing game files, rather than making me delete it and download the whole thing, so kudos to the EA Origin team.

I’ve now started playing DAI’s 2nd DLC, The Descent, and must admit to being a little disappointed. While the surface DAI areas are open-world-ish, this is strictly linear so far, and involves tediously looking for gears to open doors. The combat and banter is still great, but coming from Witcher 3, this feels constraining. I also miss Witcher-Sense – even though there is Inquisitor-Sense, it isn’t quite as good.

So I’ll work through DAI’s DLCs, but I’m also busy doing Star Trek Online’s summer event activities on Risa, because I want this year’s ship! Of course, I will still occasionally pop into Destiny and The Division when friends are online.

My luckiest Destiny Crucible match ever

After I got all my Guardians to Iron Banner rank 5, I continued playing so I could keep getting that phat lewt Destiny was handing out (sometimes). Since I was just messing around, I didn’t have the pressure to win, which may have helped with my luckiest match. I was stealing kills (not on purpose) and having lots of good luck, resulting in my best K/D ever. It probably didn’t hurt that I had a full-auto Hawksaw as my primary gun and the sweet Lord of Wolves as my secondary (I can’t emphasize how much fun Lord of Wolves is). I realize this isn’t great by other players’ standards, but I was happy to have done better than usual.

The Division looks great, but they really dropped the ball here

I like Tom Clancy’s The Division(TM) (and, yes, that’s the last time in this post that I’ll use the whole name), and I think it looks really good. The city is modeled and textured very well, and the guns and gear are lovingly rendered (especially the purple beanie and the stylish slouchie, whatever that means). But sometimes, the devs got a little lazy and used a lot of copy and paste. An example is the “Fashion” store in the video below. All the clothing is the same (and ugly as sin). Sure, it is good to reuse textures and art assets, but it’s like they’re not even trying. You can’t tell me there wouldn’t be a little black dress or a red sparkly dress in a fashion store in NYC. If this were just a random spot I wandered into, it might be okay, but we need to go into these stores to get crafting materials, so it is an integral part of the game. C’mon The Division folks, try harder.