A Plague Tale: Innocence finished — and final thoughts

A Plague Tale took me about a month longer to finish than I had originally anticipated, but that was partly due to arriving at a point in the game where I wasn’t quite as interested in it any longer — but I was too close to the end to give up. You know that point? You crave the satisfaction of completion, so you press on, a bit at a time.

Not to say that A Plague Tale was a bad game. It was, in many respects, a very good game, although one that saw its novel premise wear off about midway through. Probably the strongest thing going for this game is chucking the player right into the middle of a fantasized version of the Black Plague. The setting is very strong, especially in the beginning when I was stumbling through a plague- and war-torn locale. But after a while there was the sense that the game designers didn’t quite know what to do with it, and as such, everything got toned down and reduced to “bad inquisitor guy wants to control rats for some reason” as a main plot.

Yeah, even the plot wasn’t the greatest at the end. I don’t even know what it was trying to do or say other than the obvious black vs. white (literally — there are black vs. white rats) scenario. The brother/sister relationship was explored a small bit, but after a while that kind of faded away as well. So all that left me with was the stealth and puzzle solving mechanics, which were fairly well-tuned. I don’t think that there was any one section that really gave me trouble or more than a few reloads other than the final boss fight.

Man, I don’t know WHAT was up with that final fight, but it took me over an hour of constant reloads to beat. It wasn’t that difficult to understand, it was that in a game where one little mistake means game over, I had to perform a flawless final battle without a single misstep. And I misstep a lot.

Points in the game’s favor? Good bits of storytelling with the dialogue of the various NPCs. The stealth/escorting wasn’t that annoying. Making hordes of rats eat bad guys is surprisingly satisfying. Occasionally it could be very nerve-wracking and even scary. There were often multiple ways through puzzles even up to the end. And the friendly NPC party that gradually assembles around the main characters are well-written and easy to like.

Points against, other than what I mentioned? The mom remains this weird, secluded character who never explains exactly why she kept her son so isolated for so long. Sometimes the game got far gorier than it really needed to be. I got desensitized to hordes of swarming rats about 40% of the way through. And they killed the game’s most likable character, although I won’t say who (they also killed Sean Bean, although that’s kind of his thing).

Anyway, I’m glad I pressed through to the end, and that means that I might move on to a different non-MMO. I have a few in mind, although I’m going to take a couple of days to mull it over.

RimWorld’s permadeath is what makes this game great

It was a small, budding colony in just its second year, but life was going well. Very well. The original three crashlanded survivors had been joined by three others, and their hard work carved out a fairly comfortable living situation. There was power, plenty of food, an impressive rec room, a couple of good rifles, and even the one drug-addled guy had finally overcome his addiction.

That’s when it went wrong. Terribly wrong.

A megasloth roamed by the base, and attracted to the idea of tons of meat and leather, my hunter went after the normally docile beast. But this time, its 1% revenge chance triggered, and the megasloth trampled and mauled the hunter to death — and savagely wounded a friend who came to rescue him.

Two people down, the base’s mood turned sour. A dry thunderstorm over the desert sent sparks flying in trees far away, but the fires eventually lit the horizon. By the end of the second day, half the map was on fire, and the four able colonists spent most of their time trying to keep it away from the base’s walls.

What they didn’t anticipate, however, was the fire breaching the Ancient Danger — a giant rectangular cavern on every map. The fire burned through the wall and sent some sort of blade-slinging cyborg straight at the base. The four couldn’t find one of the rifles dropped in the megasloth melee and had to run to the sandbags with less armament than normal. They desperately fired — and then stabbed — the cyborg as it approached. Miraculously, they survived, although three of them were wounded.

A big sigh. It looked like everyone would be able to survive another day — and hey, they might be able to scout out that large cavern for its high-tech goodies.

That is, however, until the wildfire ALSO breached the cryochambers inside and six very angry, very well-armed people spilled out of there like ants swarming toward an invader. The colonists did what they could and put up a respectable fight, even though they had just a revolver, rifle, and bow against rocket launchers and better guns.

One by one, the colonists became wounded to the point of collapse, and a doctor kept dragging them into their rooms to relative safety. But it was too much. The rockets set off even more fires around the base and the last colonist was taken down in fire and writhed in pain in the dirt. The invaders attacked the colony without mercy, knocking out the power and setting fire to most everything.

Then a Man in Black — a new colonist, armed with a revolver — appeared out of the west and tried to do what he could to simultaneously fend off the bad guys and rescue the now-burning and severely bleeding colonists. But it was five against one at that point, and the Man in Black’s heroic rescue ended up with him being burned alive on a path between buildings.

That was it. Game over. Six lunch breaks of progress in RimWorld undone in a chain of horrible accidents, unfortunate decisions, and unavoidable tragedy. It was glorious — and it was all thanks to the permadeath mode.

See, RimWorld offers to modes in regards to saving. There’s one where you can save and reload, and one where anything that happens, happens without a chance to go back to an earlier save state. The latter mode vastly changes how you play and perceive the game, and I’ve come to deeply love it and see it as THE way RimWorld is meant to be played. In the above scenario, if I had the chance to reload, I would have done so the second that hunter went down. He was far too valuable to lose. But then I wouldn’t have seen and experienced everything that followed, and even though I lost, I got an amazingly hilarious and memorable story out of it.

There’s a lesson in that.

Sunday Serenade: Zen, Dream Academy, Alone in the Dark 5, and Bad English

Time for another Sunday morning dose of random songs that I’ve been listening to this past week! Welcome to Sunday Serenade — now let’s crank the jams up with…

“Slixxon Oil Rig” from Zen: Intergalactic Ninja — A slick and groovy soundtrack from a late-in-the-cycle NES game that most people never heard of.

“Time Stood Still” by Bad English — I’ve been listening through a playlist of underrated ’80s songs, and this one had that great rock ballad vibe that caught my attention.

“Rush” by Big Audio Dynamite — Hard not to start dancing when this beat starts up!

“Brand New Lover” by Dead or Alive — The ’80s only needed two instruments: a synthesizer and electronic drums. Everything else was optional.

“Life in a Northern Town” by Dream Academy — Until now, the only song I knew from this group was the one that’s played in Ferris Bueller. I rather like this tune! Great chanting.

“Who Am I?” from Alone in the Dark 5 — Wasn’t really expecting a kick-butt chanting song from an Alone in the Dark game, but this one is truly stellar.

Retro Gaming: Majesty the Fantasy Kingdom Sim

Ever since it was released in 2000, I’ve played and replayed Majesty the Fantasy Kingdom Sim fully through about once a year. It’s one of the quirkier gaming traditions in my life, although I’m sure many of us have a game or two like that.

In short, and without overstating it, Majesty (the original) is my favorite RTS game of all time. It’s certainly one of the most unique RTS games ever made, taking away direct control over units from the player in favor of gradually shaping a fantasy kingdom and nudging the free-spirited citizens to do your will.

When I came back to play it this year, I did it with one big question in my mind: Does it still hold up in 2019? Is it still fun to play? I mean, it’s not a perfect game. The actual terrain and landscape is kind of dull and without any mountains, valleys, islands, lakes, or other distinguishing features. Building placement is far more spread out than I’d like. And since we’re dealing with an era of sprites, the animation isn’t as fluid as we’ve grown accustomed to.

Despite all these factors, when I played through it this past month, I had an absolute blast all over again. I’m convinced that Majesty was a brilliantly designed game that’s vastly underrated for what it offers. It’s basically like an MMO world where you are the quest-giver and designer, watching all of those computer players mill about, go on adventures, buy armor, level up, grab treasure, and act according to class roles. The sprites are large and colorful, the sound design is flat-out amazing (the music and the charming sound bites never get old to my ears), the option to follow up to two different characters around on their journeys is fascinating, and the strategy in what buildings you make and upgrade offers a lot of meaningful choice.

Every race and building in this game often has an interesting backstory if you care to read it, and I love how there are racial conflicts that force you to choose between hosting Gnomes, Dwarves, or the lazy, lazy Elves in your kingdom. Enough heroes die, and a monster-spawning graveyard appears. Various missions can offer surprisingly flexible win conditions and events, from bedazzled heroes to other kingdoms helping you out.

Have I mentioned the mission narrator, who sounds like Sean Connery? Or the adorably cute Gnome voices? Or how nail-biting it can be to watch your tax collector with a full pouch get stalked by a minotaur? Or be under attack but have no gold to tempt heroes into helping out?

The only real downside is that Majesty only ever released one expansion pack (the Northern Kingdoms), which means that there is a limited number of quests to play through, not counting the custom mission generator. I never liked any of the sequels or spin-offs, as they lacked the tight design and charm of the original. But at least GOG.com offers a fully playable Majesty for me to still enjoy today, and enjoy it I do.

Trying out GOG Galaxy 2.0

While everyone seemed mad for a WoW Classic beta key last month, the only key I really wanted this summer was the one I got last week — access to GOG Galaxy 2.0.

GOG Galaxy is the digital platform for GOG.com, my preferred site for games (some modern, tons retro). Over the past several years, I’ve built up a library of two hundred or so games, and the Galaxy client has become more useful installing and uninstalling them rather than using the website itself.

But then I heard about Galaxy 2.0 and the seemingly wonderful promise of being able to funnel ALL of my digital game platforms into one place, and I saw rainbows and unicorns (that’s my wallpaper motif, but I was also pretty excited). Gamers these days know how annoying it is to have to deal with multiple platform clients and try to remember what game is on what and have to struggle with them clogging up memory while they’re all loaded at the same time.

So believe me when I say that I was incredibly excited to try out Galaxy 2.0, just to see if it, you know, actually worked. And the crazy thing is that, yes, it does. Within minutes of booting it up, I had my Steam and Epic Games Store linked to GOG, throwing all of these games under the same umbrella. I could scan through them, see achievements, played time, the works.

Yeah. How cool is that? Pretty cool.

For me, I think that this will be the most useful for browsing through my complete library when I’m on the prowl for something to try or play next. I don’t do that as often on Steam, and I only touch the Epic Games Store when they give away something free.

The client is very straight-forward, with the option to make the landing page your library, the store, or your recently played titles. There’s a friends list and some other bells and whistles, but really, the only thing I cared about was just having everything in one spot.

I ran a quick test to boot up and play a Steam title through Galaxy 2.0. And yes, once again, it just worked. I mean, any installed games on my computer are going to be accessed via icons on my desktop, but I’m all for multiple options to do the same thing.

Anyway, I’m going to hang on to this for the future, and while it doesn’t really touch on MMOs (I don’t tend to go through Steam for those), it’s useful for everything else in my digital games collection.

Cascading dominoes in World of Warcraft

One thing that I’ve noticed in MMOs is that when you have a whole bunch of projects and goals that you’re more or less pursuing simultaneously, progress tends to come in waves. There I’ll be, just plugging away for days or even weeks, when all of the sudden everything starts coming up Milhouse. Major goals are achieved, I get great loot, I ding levels — I have some really good nights.

That’s exactly what’s been happening with me in World of Warcraft over the past couple of weeks.

When I came back to the game last month, it felt like I was buried under a mountain of tasks and goals. There were tons of storylines and quest chains to complete, lots of reputation tracks to pursue, and so on. I whittled it down to one thing at a time and kept plugging away, and slowly but surely inched the needle up to completion on all of them.

It felt like dominoes cascading on the nights where I’d log in and be completing two or three major achievements while finding a few great pieces of gear that inched my item score north of 400. I finished all of the 8.0 and 8.1 storylines, I got revered with all of the Alliance rep factions from those patches, I pushed on to get exalted so that I could access the Kul Tiran and Dark Iron Dwarf allied races, I leveled my heart up to 55, I started on Naz, and I even plugged away at a handful of island expeditions every week which paid out in a few cute pets.

All in all, I’m starting to feel like I’m getting somewhere. I know that I still have a ways to go to unlock flying, but it feels doable and there’s plenty of adventures to go on as I explore these new zones. I keep toying with the idea of rolling up a new alt with one of the allied races I unlocked, but I want to stick it out until I get flying for the account-wide unlock before I do that. Plus, with Classic coming in a couple of weeks, I don’t want to get too spread out.

I did spend an hour sightseeing around Darkmoon Faire the other day, which was a hoot. I remember when they first put that in the game way back in vanilla. It was practically nothing, just a few tents and some vendors, but since then it has really grown into a tremendous monthly event.

The new rollercoaster was a blast, although the buff it gives is functionally the same as the carousel while it takes you longer to ride. I kind of wish that the rep buffs could stack or that there was something else to do on the ride, but I can’t deny that having a giant rollercoaster in the middle of the faire improves the visuals while creating a stronger carnival vibe.

And while I haven’t been to Mechagon yet, I do have some thoughts on Nazjatar. First, I’m pretty impressed that Blizz pumped out two new zones with the patch. That’s a lot of new scenery and content, and while some players blazed through it quickly, I think it could last people like me a good long while.

Naz as a zone, however, isn’t the best. Conceptually it’s pretty interesting — pulling off a Moses and parting the sea to create a dry patch of land to explore on the sea bed — but functionally it’s frustrating. It’s just hard to go anywhere in the zone due to obstructions and elevation changes. I’m sure it’ll be much easier with flying, but without it, there’s a lot of winding paths to be had. It definitely makes me miss the much more open and lovely zones of Kul Tiras. I’ll do what I need to do there, but after I’m done, I can’t see coming back to this one.

Blizzard’s two-prong strategy with World of Warcraft Classic

Welcome to the month of World of Warcraft Classic. It was inevitable. And it’s going to be pretty weird and wild.

Even though the release of WoW Classic is still a couple of weeks off, players are grabbing their name reservations this week and ramping up plans for what they’ll roll and do in those first few days (probably deal with server issues, overcrowding, and slow progress, more like than not). Discussion has been brewing about how successful this server type might be and what Blizzard will do with it in the long run, but I think that one of the most fascinating angles to look at is how the studio has set up a win-win (or, in the words of Michael G. Scott, “win-win-win”) scenario with WoW Classic.

In my eyes, Blizzard is setting up a Xanatos Gambit, where it’s not choosing a path to victory, but laying a situation where all paths lead to victory in one way or another. It might seem foolish setting itself up as its own direct competition, but look at it from the studio’s standpoint:

1. Whichever version of WoW you play, you’re still subscribing and paying into Blizzard.

2. If you are bored or dissatisfied with World of Warcraft, then you’ll have an escape with WoW Classic.

3. If WoW Classic ends up boring or dissatisfying you, you may develop a deeper appreciation of retail WoW (as Misdirections posted, “I almost suspect one of the reasons Blizz is doing Classic at all is to bring home to players how much the game has improved since those days.”).

4. With two live MMOs going, Blizzard gets double the media coverage for relatively small sustained effort.

5. Plus it generates goodwill for players who have been asking for a vanilla server, wrests control away from those profit-siphoning emulators, and helps build up steam for WoW’s 15th anniversary celebrations later this year.

Sure, there are ways WoW Classic may backfire, but it’s really not that risky of a proposition and holds a lot more win scenarios than not.

I can see my attention flitting back and forth between the two versions. Initially I was lukewarm about WoW Classic, then I got super-excited around the beta, and now I’m cooling off a bit as my interest rises in retail WoW. But the point is that it’s harder to burn out completely on two different versions and experiences of a game than just one, which will serve to keep people like me in Blizzard’s ecosystem for even longer.

That’s pretty clever.