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.

I like The Division’s Matchmaking

I’ve had good luck with matchmaking in The Division and think it is very good. I can’t quite put my finger on why I think it is superior to Destiny’s matchmaking, but I think it just works better. In Destiny, I’ve always hated playing with randoms for Strikes, but the PUGs I’ve played with in The Division have been good.

Perhaps the first thing is that The Division doesn’t force you to group up, at least for the normal missions (which are all I’ve tried). If you’re good enough, you can solo them, though that’s quite a challenge most of the time. If you choose to group up, it is very easy. You can choose to matchmake from the map or from the start of the mission. So far, it has worked very well for me, and I haven’t run into any AFKers, which have been so prevalent in Destiny. In fact, the randoms I’ve played with have been as good or better than I am.

The only downside of The Division’s matchmade groups comes are the end of the mission. In Destiny, the fireteam is dissolved and you go back to orbit. In The Division, you come out of the mission’s building, blinking in the sunlight, standing around in confusion figuring out what to do next. In other words, you’re still in the group. If you travel to your base or a safe house, you’re still in the group. You actually have to leave the group to get back to your own instance of the world. This isn’t a terrible burden or anything, but it is slightly uncomfortable. I don’t have a great suggestion on how to fix it, either, so it’s something that we’ll have to live with, and that’s okay.

 

Filling in the AssCreed gaps with Revelations

I finished Witcher 3 and enjoyed it a lot. I look forward to the release of the 2nd DLC so I can go back and enjoy even more Witcher. I’ve also been playing a fair bit of The Division, though my main character is only level 19. But I wanted to play another plot-based game, so I pulled Assassins Creed: Revelations from my vast unplayed-game collection.

AssCreed Revelations is the 3rd game featuring Ezio Auditore, first seen in AssCreed 2, so I call it AssCreed 2.75, since AssCreed 3 introduces a new protagonist (and I haven’t played 1 or 3 or the most recent ones, but I have played and really enjoyed 2, 2.5, and 4). This time, Ezio is in Constantinople (now Istanbul), and I love the way they portray the architecture of the city. One of my favorite parts of playing the Ezio series is exploring famous cities, including Florence, Rome, and finally Istanbul. The care that Ubisoft puts into the creation of these city models and the background text descriptions is terrific. It’s like a history lesson that I’m participating in and stabbing people (though only people that need stabbing).

The management of the team of Assassins to do side missions is a little tedious, though not bad, but the tower defense mode is just plain awful. I am doing my best to try to avoid it by not pissing off the Templars too much and bribing the Heralds to reduce my notoriety. Overall, though I’m enjoying the game, though I don’t actually expect any “revelations.” In fact, as with most of the AssCreed series, I expect to be at least as confused about the plot at the end of the game as I was at the start. Perhaps I’ll be pleasantly surprised, but I hear from friends that it is another cliff hangar and not much will be cleared up.

Nearly done with Witcher 3, and I’m okay with that

I’ve been playing a lot of Witcher 3 lately. A whole lot. Like to the exclusion of nearly everything other than eating, sleeping, and working. Sure, I’ve poked my nose into The Division’s business, but only a few hours.

I’m finally closing in on the end of the plot, and I’m okay with that. I feel like I’ve had such a good experience in the game and have enjoyed the characters enough that I’m fine with getting to the end of the story. I don’t normally feel that way about great games – I don’t want them to end, and sometimes put of playing the ending for months, like I did with Dragon Age: Inquisition. But in this case, I’ve spent so many hours with Witcher 3 that I want to reach the climax. I know there will be more I can do afterwards, and I may do so once I buy the DLCs, so it isn’t like I’ll be locked out of playing anymore. And I’ll be happy to move on to something else for a while.

That being said, someday I’m gonna have to finish Witcher 2. I’ve started it twice, then got distracted (most recently by Destiny), so stopped playing. I’ll need to start over top remember the plot, but I’m fine with that. I’m also looking forward to the Fallout 4 DLC dropping next month. Of course, I bought all the DLC for Skyrim and never played them – once I finished the story line, I stopped and always intended to go back, but never did. Maybe it is time for that too…

My hope is that I can play more of The Division and I will check out the Destiny update coming out next month. But in the next day or two, gotta finish Witcher 3!

Had a much better time in The Division last night, but the checkpoint system needs work

I gave The Division another shot last night and had a much better time. I didn’t experience any annoying glitches, and a friend helped me through that pesky Security Wing mission. That’s a pretty hard mission to solo – they’ve really ramped up the difficulty since the beta, and I’m perfectly okay with that.

Despite having good fun, I think the checkpoint system is pretty broken. In most games, a checkpoint happens after you reach a certain milestone, but before you start the next phase of the mission or combat or whatever. In The Division, the checkpoint I was stuck at last night was when the JTF person was trying to disarm the bomb in the tunnel and the enemies were already inbound. Each time I died or the mission failed (and that happened a lot), I had just a few seconds before the enemies showed up. Well after failing so many times, I needed a biobreak, but there was no way to stop the action. So I just had to abandon my character to death as he stood there while I took a leak. This is disappointing.

While I didn’t look for a way to abandon the mission, I did try to run out of the tunnel, but even that didn’t work, because as soon as they killed the JTF agent, the mission failed and I was dumped back to the checkpoint. At one point, I actually quit the game, then I noticed a friend was online. I asked her for help on the mission, because she’s higher level than me and obviously knows what she’s doing (and it’s way more fun playing with her than solo). When I reloaded the game, strangely enough, it put us after the checkpoint, as if the bomb was already disarmed. So I essentially skipped that part of the battle, which is somewhat disappointing.

So I think the checkpoint design/placement should be rethought a little so checkpoints can give respite. But other than those annoyances, The Division went well last night.