10 games I’m looking forward to play in 2019

With no big releases this month, it feels fair that I can turn my attention to 2019 already — and the games that are supposedly coming with it. Here’s a quick list of 10 games that I’m looking forward to playing (but by no means are these the only titles I’m watching!):

1. Torchlight Frontiers

I’m really starting to feel excitement grow for this MMOARPG. If they can get the combat and progression just right, this could be a perfect “I have 20 minutes, what game should I play?” choice. Plus, player housing!

2. The Outer Worlds

Obsidian really turned some heads with this game reveal, and my neck is cranked around with the rest of the crowd. A sprawling galactic RPG set in a corporate-dominated universe where you have to take sides with one is pretty intriguing, and I love the Fallout vibe and the dark sense of humor that this game promises.

3. Project Gorgon

I keep holding off from really diving into this with the hopes that it’ll officially launch and I won’t have to worry about any sort of wipe. With any luck, 2019 will be the year this’ll happen. I don’t want my enthusiasm to peter out over this!

4. Among Trees

What looks to be a mix between The Long Dark and Firewatch, Among Trees promises a survival sandbox set in a gorgeous-looking forest environment. As long as it’s not too hardcore brutal, I’m down to play it.

5. Wasteland 3

Even though I haven’t played the second Wasteland yet, I’m psyched for the third, which takes the action to post-apocalyptic Colorado. There’s some base building and multiplayer, which is nice, but I’m more into the visuals and setting here.

6. Cyberpunk 2077

Who isn’t excited for CD Projekt Red’s scifi RPG? Count me among the throng of people drooling to play this high-tech cyberpunk title with lots of body modification and a scary exciting city to explore.

7. Psychonauts 2

Never really thought this action-adventure game would get a sequel, but it is, and I will be playing it. Psychonauts was so… odd… that it became this cult favorite, and I definitely agree that there was a lot of room for more adventures.

8. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

A spiritual successor to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night? I am so there.

9. In the Valley of the Gods

The fact that this is the sophomore follow-up from the Firewatch team puts this on my radar. Hoping it’ll be just as involving.

10. FFXIV: Shadowbringers

There’s no assurance that I will still be playing FFXIV when the third expansion hits, but I’m always happy to see MMOs get expansions period, and it’s fun to see the community vibrating with joy over the coming of this one.

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Final Fantasy: An Interest Reborn

This wasn’t really where I expected to be at the end of this year, but that’s how gaming goes, sometime. The thought of returning to FFXIV has tickled the back of my mind most of 2018, but with other interests in the forefront, I’ve pushed it off. Now, what with the expansion news and some time to let my interest regenerate, I’m back.

Unlike my previous re-entries, this time around I elected to start aaaaaall the way over again to pursue the same class. On one hand, this feels like foolishness. I’ve invested a whole lot of time and effort into my old character, and she’s at least made in-roads into Heavensward. On the other hand, I feel like a fresh start is needed. I want to relearn everything, get invested in a character from the start to finish, and enjoy the full journey. Even if that journey involves some boring pre-50 stories and a whole lot of nodding.

Class-wise, I’m going with Arcanist/Scholar for leveling, mostly because I love healing in dungeons here. I do have my eye on the Red Mage, Mechanist, and this weird Blue Mage thing they’re doing, but that’ll be in the future. As for now, give me a big textbook and some glowy pet thing.

I did deliberate on a race and spent some time messing around with Lalafell options, but despite being a small race, they’re just… way too cutesy to embrace. So cat-girl it is, at least until the rumored bunny folk arrive. I’ll save my potion of fantasia until then.

On a different server (Ultros), I began my journey anew. This all came with a heavy dose of nostalgia — both for FFXIV and for Final Fantasy games in general. I may be going through a bit of a nostalgia phase these days, and I kind of reveled in the music and wonky feel. Anything I could do to power up enthusiasm and settle in for the long leveling haul.

At least I have the benefit of hindsight. This time, I wouldn’t be flipping between jobs and wasting a lot of time trying to figure out what I wanted to play. I also wouldn’t be doing any side quests — it’s all main story quests or bust (with any dungeons or leves to assist with XP as needed). I printed out the list of MSQ names — just the names — and broke them up by patches and expansions. This turned out to be (and I kid you not) 16 pages long. Just quest name after quest name. And these aren’t usually short quests. I did that because I appreciate having some idea where I’m at in the overall story and to be able to see my progress as I cross off the names.

So far it’s been a fine if not exceptionally interesting journey. Play sessions are fun enough, although I’m recalling story beats from a year or two ago the second that the game starts into them, so I’m a little concerned that it may bore me after a while. Depends whether or not I’ll really grow attached to this character — if not, I can simply not re-subscribe or I’ll move over to my old toon. I have options.

Pillars of Eternity: When we emerged, we were not all here

Lots of Pillars of Eternity spoilers in this post.

I’m a bad person. At least, you wouldn’t want to be part of my adventuring party in an RPG. Sometimes I choose the virtuous path, sometimes the diplomatic — and sometimes I just go, “Huh, I wonder what would happen if I pushed this button labeled ‘EVIL — DO NOT TOUCH.'” Push.

Despite my initial noble intentions, Pillars of Eternity has taken me on a journey where my heroine has become flawed and fantastic in different ways. There are more surprising and unexpected choices that pop up, and some of those have left scars on all of the characters under my employ.

To speak to “unexpected,” the other day I was exploring through Dyrford Village and making sure I went to all the homes. I was speaking with the tanner and found a key that went into his back room. Interesting… so I used the key and he got really upset and started attacking me. I wasn’t trying to get in a fight, but we ended up killing him and his assistant even so. I contemplated reloading to avoid that, but I’m trying this thing where I’m living with the consequences of my actions instead of save-scrumming the best option.

This actually turned out OK — the tanner was hiding a passageway in the back that led down into a huge dungeon full of some sort of scary cult that he was a part of. I wasn’t even prepared for a full-on dungeon crawl, but there I was, fighting tooth-and-nail for every room and seeing if I couldn’t find this missing girl that had the whole village in an uproar.

So we find this one room that has a pool of blood in it, and since I can sort of talk to dead spirits, the whole thing is whispering like mad to me. And then it tells me that I could choose to sacrifice one of my companions and draw permanent power from that action. Normally I wouldn’t. Normally that’s beyond the pale. But… you know… I wanted to see what would happen.

And to its credit, the game DOES NOT SOFTEN this act. The companion I chose suddenly bled out in this horrifying way and my entire party reacts to the inexplicable death that happens in their midst. They didn’t know it was me, they just freak out — except for the priest, who looks hard at me and pretty much knows I was the culprit.

I’m a bad person.

But then it gets worse. Soon afterward, we find the missing girl and she’s being infected with this sort of Manchurian Candidate spell that will turn her into a terminator for her immediate family. The cult leader tells me that she’s the niece of this lord who got her pregnant and bear the son that his wife couldn’t give him, and that he was trying to force her into marriage. So this noble is despicable, yet she’s going to kill him, the wife, the aunt, the uncle, every dang person in the family. She starts walking out the door…

…and the game gives me a choice. Snap her neck or let her go. Kill an innocent pregnant girl (and thwart the cult’s intentions) or let her go kill off her entire family against her will.

I… I didn’t know what to do. I really didn’t. Like, this was the most agonizing decision a video game has ever forced on me, and I had no idea it was coming and no way to talk my way out of it. I think it was a bit of a cheat that we couldn’t restrain the girl and kill the cultists, but that option wasn’t available.

I couldn’t bring myself to kill her, so I let her go. She was perhaps the only real innocent in all of this, although she wouldn’t be for long. Maybe there were other options, but I didn’t have access to them.

When we limped our way up out of that dungeon, a part of us was missing. I felt raw and shaken, but in that kind of good way when I know that a game made me actually care about the narrative. That’s pretty impressive.

I got great value out of the SNES Classic (and its little brother)

It’s been a little over a year since I got the SNES Classic, and a little over a half-year since I also procured the NES Classic for my collection. I remember hearing some advice when I first got these that I might be throwing my money away if I didn’t actually end up playing them. They’d be mere collector’s items.

Happily, this has not been the case. After all this time, I can say with honesty that these two consoles probably get more play by me and my household than anything else. I’ve kept the NES Classic in my work office, where occasionally I am watching my kids and need a fun diversion. The single controller and lack of accessible games have kept it from being a favorite of theirs, but they will spend a chunk of time going through the Super Mario Bros. titles, Kirby’s Adventure, or even the first part of Zelda.

The SNES Classic, on the other hand, has gotten so much more play time being at home, having two controllers, and being the superior console. My kids in 2018 are just as enthralled with games like Street Fighter II and Super Mario World as I was back in high school. My six-year-old is a whiz with Starfox and moves his entire body whenever he’s piloting that basic polygon jet. I love to see the cooperation between them as they offer advice while trading turns going through Super Mario World, and so far they’re pushing into the third area pretty well.

My daughter is somewhat taken with Zelda: A Link to the Past, although she has yet to beat the first dungeon. I think we need to sit down and really go through it for her to grasp all of the mechanics, but it definitely has sparked some interest in her.

When my brother-in-law came into town, we roped him into Street Fighter II tournaments where he was pulling off all the moves he memorized back in his high school days to the amazement of my kids. If I have a few minutes in the evening, I’ll even sit down and have a quick jaunt through Contra III, Super Castlevania, or another old favorite.

With so many great RPGs on that console, I really would like to get some time to play them. I think I’ll need a better chair to sit nearer to the TV or a wireless controller to make this a reality. One of my biggest goals is to play and beat Final Fantasy III/VI, which I’d rather experience in its classic SNES form than the slapdash tablet version.

I really thought about getting a Nintendo Switch this Christmas, but truth be told, we just don’t need it. The SNES Classic is plenty entertaining already and far less expensive. The fact that it powers up so quickly, offers a choice of 21 games without switching cartridges/discs, and has several two-player titles makes it perfect for our family.

I know the industry expects a N64 Classic, but my greatest wish for Nintendo is to put out a SNES Classic 2 with some more great games, like Chrono Trigger, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Turtles in Time (a massive family hit when I had that on my emulator), the other Donkey Kong Country games, ActRaiser, Mortal Kombat II, and Final Fantasy IV. That would be an insta-buy from me.

6 changes that could help Fallout 76 succeed

While I didn’t think that Fallout 76 was going to be the greatest game ever, I certainly didn’t anticipate that it was going to be such a messy poopfest that it’s become. Bethesda isn’t helping matters by over-promising, under-delivering, bait-and-switching, and being far too quiet. Todd Howard loves to talk up a good game before it launches, but afterward it seems like he’s nowhere to be found.

However, I don’t think that Fallout 76 is a loss here. It shouldn’t be written off and abandoned, not only because it’s supposed to be an enduring online service and will take that revenue stream away from Bethesda, but because it could be salvaged with some hard work. I truly hope that the studio is going to take a cue from, say, ESO or the original FFXIV and double-down on its efforts going forward.

Here are six changes that could help Fallout 76 succeed:

1. Be generous with compensation and talky with communication

Bethesda’s been really stingy with its apologies and compensation since launch, and both of those could go a long way to soothing a riled playerbase. It says that it’s going to be putting out dev posts on a weekly basis, but I almost think that there needs to be more — including a live Q&A session, AMAs, and a developer or two on video talking about all this. Players should be getting rewards of some kind for pre-ordering at full price and putting up with this. How about daily login rewards until the game gets fixed?

2. Get those bugs fixed and don’t hand-wave them away

Bethesda knows that it delivers buggy games. Howard was even mocking the studio during E3 earlier this year for this very thing. But you know what he wasn’t doing? Making sure that F76 was fully tested and as bug-free as possible. Killing those bugs and fixing broken parts needs to be of the highest priority right now, otherwise all other efforts to salvage this game will be rendered futile.

3. Abandon PvP and focus on co-op PvE

I don’t think PvP as its structured will ever work in Fallout 76. The map is far too large and the opt-in system will keep dedicated PvPers away. So just abandon that. Trash it. Look at Fallout 76 as an opportunity for an amazing coop multiplayer experience and do more to facilitate that. Give players better social tools, starting with text chat and guilds.

4. Give the PC an interface worthy of that platform

Does Bethesda hate PC players? At the very least it seems to barely tolerate them, giving PC players horrid ports of the console version instead of designing interfaces that work better with mouse-and-keyboard. At the very least, the inventory should be redesigned so that we don’t have to endlessly scroll through lists.

5. Rethink VATS

VATS as it is in Fallout 76 is barely better than nothing. The game doesn’t work as a straight-up shooter, but it doesn’t work as a Bethesda Fallout game either. The whole VATS system really should be re-examined and a better way found. Hey, if The Matrix Online could do bullet-time in a multiplayer environment 15 years ago, you can too.

6. Free DLC and a relaunch

Fallout 76 is going to suffer from a bad launch and reputation for a while to come, and Bethesda could only make that worse if it tries to sell DLC before the game is shored up. Instead, it could win back fans by releasing a meaty content patch (or three!) for absolutely no cost, at the end of which it could make a big to-do out of relaunching the game with all of that packaged in.

Pillars of Eternity draws me into moral quandries

Over the past week, I’ve set a daily goal to boot up Pillars of Eternity and play through one mission, zone, or 30 minutes — whatever comes first. For as long as I’ve played and reloaded this game, I’ve never beaten it. But I’m closer right now than I ever have been before, and I’m serious about finishing it before the new year.

I think my gaming diet needs some single-player RPG in it, and this one scratches a great itch. It’s so comfortable to slip back into, especially coming from the old Baldur’s Gate days, and I appreciate the addition of the party AI that helps out in combat. This mostly frees me up to concentrate on the story and exploration of new areas, and I think I’m starting to make headway on all of the quests that opened up in Defiance Bay.

Without making much of a stink about it, Pillars of Eternity threw in an awful lot in the way of choices. Quests can be resolved — and even failed — based on actions and dialogue, and I find that these choices draw me much deeper into the story.

One side mission in particular that stuck out at me involved the disappearances of three locals. The first part of the quest was all footpad detective work, tracking down friends and extracting details. All of them pointed to a local theater troupe, and when I made the right inquiries (backed by a full investigation), I was led to a secret underground theater. It was here, apparently (and full spoilers ahead) that rich and influential patrons would pay to watch the show — which always ended with the very real death of an unsuspecting actor or actress.

For anyone but a psychopath, this situation calls for justice. But the game gives a lot of leeway as to how that justice can be extracted. The theater operators can be killed, of course, but they can also be convinced to shut it down if a wealthy benefactor is put away. Additionally, I got to confront the benefactor (who committed suicide when I threatened to turn him in) and a stagehand who was trying to flee. There’s a lot of pull between the desire to see justice done and accepting de facto bribes from the game — extra money if a player doesn’t extract justice. It’s not *real*, so you can justify taking the money for that reason, but I couldn’t do that.

Anyway, my team is starting to gel together as a real fighting unit. I’ve structured it so that there are two frontline fighters and four ranged attackers who plug away with the slowest, hardest-hitting weapons in the game. It gives me a very good alpha strike, and I’ve been able to put away drakes in the first few seconds.

I am wondering whether or not I should get the expansions after finishing this game or move on to another title (there are so many in my backlog, including this game’s sequel). I guess that answer will be “depends on the GOG winter sale.”

DDO: Screaming idol baby

I know he’s SUPPOSED to be intimidating, but this idol kind of looks like a baby throwing a tantrum if you take the horns coming out of his chin for arms and legs. Maybe it was an ancient god that would throw a fit until he got his own way, I don’t know.

Delara’s Tomb was up for our DDO group run last week, and it went rather smoothly save for one of our party members getting a face full of trap and dying instantly. It’s scary how fast your health can plummet in this game if you’re not careful.

Wait a minute, guys… what am I supposed to do in the fire? Stand in it?

Our group is slightly unconventional in that we don’t have any frontline fighters or tanks. We’re one Sorcerer, two Warlocks, one Artificer, one Rogue, and me, the Druid. So there’s a degree of squishy going on in our makeup, but also a lot of firepower.

If we do our job right, mobs melt before waves of fire and acid and crossbow bolts. But it does keep me on my toes as a healer. Some stretches are pretty boring and only consist of topping people off, but every once in a while the whole party will get hit by something and I’ll be flinging out spells left and right while cursing the global cooldown.

Honestly, I don’t know how this game calculates all of the action that’s happening, especially with the placement and complicated skills. DDO isn’t one of those MMOs that gives everyone a handful of carefully approved, developer balanced abilities. Instead, it will overload you (especially if you’re a spell caster) with dozens of abilities, many of which are highly situational.

I try to keep my abilities focused and tight. I have a pet wolf that does his own thing and a pet falcon that gives me a few stat boosts. I don’t usually think about either. Now that I’m level 8, I’m able to cast Mass Longstrider on the whole team to give us all a running boost, but that’s the extent of my buffing. I let others buff and save my mana for heals. It’s kind of bad if I run out in the middle of combat.

So for heals I have one large chunky heal, one heal-over-time (which is the one I use most of the time), a group heal-over-time (which uses placement and is finicky), and now one enhancement ability that lets me put a protective spell on others to give them a heal if their hit points dip below 50%. Not entirely sure this spell is working, but it’s cheap and I can be proactive with it.

The only difficulty we had in these dungeons was from a lack of group coordination in rushing into new rooms. The one tomb kept throwing up bars about one second after the first person went in, so if you weren’t quick enough, you’d end up on the outside watching everyone die. Or not. Usually not, we were pretty good.

Gear-wise, I got a nice healing necklace — but I won’t be able to equip it until level 9. That’s probably not going to be for a month right now, alas.