Up and in Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City

Last Thursday I got my last Christmas gift of the season: a new graphics card! OK, it’s not the most powerful or latest model or anything, but putting a 1080 Ti into my machine was a big step up from the GTX 950 I had in there. That’s Syp: Cutting edge for three years ago!

Hey, at least it’ll allow me to run some of these modern games that I hadn’t been able to, such as Cyberpunk 2077. That’s been sitting in my folder since I got it from Epic with a $10 off coupon. I wasn’t in a huge rush to play it, but still, I want to get through some of these big CRPGs this year that I have in my library, so I didn’t want to wait forever either.

And I definitely am intrigued to see what such a game looks like in a cyberpunk setting. It’s not an over-mined genre, but I’ve always liked it for the gritty and techno-happy look at the future.

I took my time getting into the game, spending an hour on character creation. It’s a little disconcerting that my character spent that entire time completely nude — is it too much to ask for a bathrobe on the character creation screen? It’s chilly in there!

So that’s my V up there: A little bit punkish, but I didn’t feel like going overboard with the tatts and piercings. I thought it was a little difficult making a decent-looking character — not Fallout-hard, but it wasn’t easy. I decided to put her background in the corporate world because that sounded the most interesting to me. Ideally, I’m going to play her as nice and altruistic as possible to see if I  can push back against an oppressive setting.

It’s nice that you get a small apartment, because I’m going to need a safe haven to retreat from all of this urban density. For someone who wants to see everything and poke around everywhere, this might take a while… but for now, I’ll just follow some of the quests and see where they take me.

I’ve learned early on that Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t a game where you can really talk or navigate your way out of a bulk of combat. This is very much an action combat game with lots of set pieces, so I’m going to have to find some setup that works well for me. It probably will involve a shotgun.

I’d laugh at them, but I’m playing just as much a tourist as I gawk at everything and take unscheduled detours from the missions. I’m also gawking at all of the weird glitches, most notably far-off fauna that pop through everything else. It’s like I’m being haunted by the ghosts of palm trees.

So I’m really not sure on the combat and core systems yet, but I do like the world — and in a CRPG, that’s 70% the way to wanting to stick around and marinate in the atmosphere.

Octopath Traveler: Looking for a group

I’m not super sucked into Octopath Traveler — at least, not yet — but I am really warming up to some of its aspects. The combat in particular is pretty satisfying, and I like how I’m not completely lost and confused at this stage.

I’ve also been playing the game with a controller ever since my second session. That isn’t something I do with computer games — pretty much *ever* — but this title was clearly designed for a controller and is awkward as all get out with just the keyboard. I don’t resent having to use a controller, although the rumble pack in mine is way too aggressive and wants to vibrate my hand off.

With my first character under my belt, I’m following the game’s gentle instruction to go around and assemble the other seven main characters. I figure that just going around the game map clockwise should do fine for this, so next up was Alfyn.

This was a good move, since Alfyn is a healer who wants to go out and heal the world or somesuch. Honestly, his introduction is really lame, but I do like his upbeat attitude and the fact that he brings much-needed heals to the table.

With a second character in the party, we head up north for a third. It’s a very relaxed kind of trip, allowing me to level up from fights, explore nooks and crannies, and otherwise enjoy the gorgeous backdrops.

It’s a good thing that I’m not in a rush, because the trip really does take a while — especially with all the random fights. The good news is that I’m getting very practiced with taking down mobs. I wish that I was seeing gear drops, but hey, levels are levels. Can’t hurt to have more of them!

Here, the small party enters some northern forest… very dreamy.

It’s here that I start in on the tale of H’aanit (don’t ask me how to pronounce it), a hunter in the dark woods who lost her master a year ago. Square-Enix does seem to love dousing particular cultures in its RPGs with super ye olde fashioned speeche, and this place gets the heaviest dose I’ve ever seen.

For such a “dignified” hunter of renown, H’aanit ends up fighting the doofiest-looking boss I’ve seen yet in this game. Derpy derpy do. And what about the drool situation, there?

Ah well, at least now I have a party of three to call my own!

Octopath Traveler: This kitten’s got claws

Finally a bit of time freed up on my gaming schedule to allow me to dip into Square Enix’s Octopath Traveler — a title I’ve been hearing about for a while now from friends who gush about it. I’m approaching it with the same relish that I would opening up a big novel that I know for certain I’m going to enjoy.

At the start of the game, you get your pick of one of eight pre-established characters to explore. After reading through all of their descriptions, Primrose’s story leaped out at me — the tale of a dancer who grew up an orphan after her father was slaughtered by a trio of mysterious men.

Very early impressions? The quality and polish of this game hit me smack in the face — so far, it’s really fantastic. The first thing that really grabbed me was the presentation, which is a wonderfully modern take on old school JRPG visuals. The characters are all sprites (huzzah) but the landscape is side-view 3D done in pixel art to give it some depth. With the borders of the screen fuzzing out somewhat, there’s just a very distinct look to this game that feels like you’re playing an elaborate diorama. That’s the best way I can describe it.

So Primrose is working to follow up a tenuous lead on one of the three people who killed her father, and at the tavern where she dances, she finally spots him and follows him into the nearby catacombs. There I finally got some combat, which is *also* old school — turn based, menu-driven combat with incentive to break an enemy’s shields with certain attacks. I love how Primrose can “allure” townspeople into becoming her temporary companions for a set number of summons. I hauled in an elderly woman with me into the dungeon and kept laughing as I brought her out to join the fight. She didn’t sign up for this, no doubt.

I like that this game isn’t super-easy on you right out of the gate. I actually died — twice — in the first dungeon before I started to get a handle on the vulnerability system and how to boost attacks. Not having a second character or any healing skills (other than, er, grapes) doesn’t allow for as much room to fail.

Obviously there was going to be a big showdown with Primrose’s “master” — the game telegraphed that so strongly that I would have to be blind, deaf, and a JRPG newbie not to see it coming — but it was still satisfying to knock off the fat pig.

From there, the game gave Primrose her overarching quest, to find the three Crows. But I have the freedom to make my own path, and it’s heavily suggested that I recruit all of the other seven travelers. So that’s my goal for the time being — that, and unlocking city fast travel points to free up the map. One hour in, and I’m really digging this!

Divinity OS2: If someone asks you if you’re an undead necromantic abomination from another era of history, you say YES

One title that’s been weighing on my backlog more than others is Divinity Original Sin 2. It’s not even that it was a gift from a generous reader (although that’s part of it), but that this looks like a meaty, story-rich RPG that I would love. I just needed to carve out 100 hours or so of my time to get through it.

Or, you know, 200 half-hour segments over the better part of a year.

In any case, over the last few weeks I have been making my way through Fort Joy and the starting island in this game. Out of the six starting characters, I went with Fane, because who wouldn’t want to be a skeleton with necromantic powers from an ancient civilization? That’s by and far more interesting than all of the other characters’ backstories, so there we go.

Readers with greater memories than mine may recall that I did try DOS2 a while back and didn’t get very far into it. I have greater hopes this time around, partially because somewhere along the way the dev team released an update for the “definitive edition” that comes with a lot of improvements and bells and whistles. It doesn’t seem that much different than before, but I’ll trust that they ironed out some of the rougher parts. I did select “explorer” for my difficulty level, which is not quite the easiest mode but it’s down there.

My reasoning for this is that DOS2’s combat just takes forever. It’s a turn-based RPG where each encounter might take five or more minutes to play through. That offers a lot of strategy and tactics, but it’s slow as crap and is not something I’ll want to repeat many times over to beat particular mobs. Another nice thing about this difficulty level is that you can raise any killed allies after combat without having to worry about stockpiling rez scrolls.

Probably my only other major quibbles with the game so far is the camera, which I keep having to rotate due to the game’s large landscape graphics (which results in me getting disoriented) and a pretty crappy map (which lacks quest markers). If a game’s going to be in a pulled-back camera mode, it might as well lock into an isometric viewpoint like Pillars of Eternity.

What does keep me going is that the characters — both in the world and in my party — are downright fascinating, the dialogue is really well written, and there are so many odd things that happen that I keep wanting to explore to see what else is out there. You don’t get much better than finding a squirrel riding a skeleton cat and acting like a knight. I have no idea what the story is around these two, but they’re following me around and that’s cool with me.

I did make sure to grab the feat that lets me talk to pets, because there are so my bizarrely wonderful conversations you can get into with animals.

Probably the most touching of these is Buddy, a dog who lost his best friend Emmie when she was taken away to be trained as a Source Hound. I was really excited to find Emmie later on and let her know that Buddy is still out there, waiting for her. Doggie love!

At least I’ve been able to get further into the game — past Fort Joy — than I did previously. There was a really creepy section where my party tore through an underground torturer’s playground, and my party’s skills are starting to shape up as each combat encounter gets easier to handle. I am picking this one feat for all of my party members that turns their allies into zombies if they die in a fight, because that is awesome. You kill me? BAM, now I’m back in zombie form. Big mistake. Big.

Final thoughts on Disco Elysium

Disco Elysium may be the first role-playing game that gave me a virtual mid-life crisis. Tossing me in the shoes (er, dirty socks) of a disgraced detective who was so disgusted with his life that he went on a three-day bender to forget everything and start over again — in the middle of a case, no less — had me rethinking of what it was to pilot a hero.

Was Harry a hero? If I wanted him to be, I guess that he was. But by handing a complete wreck of a human being to a player, we were given something far more unique to this genre — freedom to be weird. And being weird is what Disco Elysium is all about. After all, Harry is guided by a host of inner personalities who vie, bicker, advise, and lead, often in different directions to each other. It’s hard to be sane and normal after that.

I finished up this CRPG a couple of weeks ago, to my immense satisfaction. During my time pursuing a murder case in this mythological European island city, I felt the freedom to deviate from the nice/naughty paths to explore some of the true oddity that can happen when you’re piloting a broken human. I’m always choosing weird options in RPGs to see what the devs come up with, and this is exactly the kind of game where that pays off — in advancement or story or amusement — more often than not.

DE is more akin to adventure games than traditional fighting RPGs (there is precious little combat in this). Reminded me a lot of Planescape Torment in that regard, not to mention how the main setting is a very rundown and depressing city. Focusing more on skills than fighting made for a very fascinating experience, and except for reloading the game a bazillion times to beat some of those low odd checks, it was a great change of pace.

So a couple of things I didn’t like. At times, Disco Elysium delves into extremely wordy treatises on politics that almost seemed like gibberish (but probably makes more sense to Europeans used to these tricky governments). And while there are laughs, the whole game atmosphere is depressing. I often came away from the game feeling emotionally wrung rather than jazzed up.

All in all, I had a great time and lend my praise to this title as one of the more excellent and imaginative RPGs that the industry has produced lately. I don’t feel a desire to replay it, which is weird, but I am very glad that I got to go through it at least once.

Disco Elysium ate my brain

As I mentioned on Twitter recently, roughly four days into this month and I found myself rearranging all of my gaming plans. For the most part. I’d wrapped up my progression stuff on LOTRO earlier than expected and playing Witcher 3 ultimately prodded me right back into the arms of Elder Scrolls Online. But what was the most striking is that I couldn’t help but dive deep into the oddly alluring Disco Elysium.

I only became aware of this CRPG late last year, when it popped up on all sorts of “Best of 2019” gaming lists. I went from “intrigued” to “drooling over” after reading up on it even more, and I bought it for myself as a Christmas gift, thinking that I’d play it in February or March. But I couldn’t resist — don’t you love when you can’t resist getting right into that game or book you’ve found? — and now I’m deep into this demented detective tale.

If I had to describe it in comparison to other video games, Disco Elysium would be in the very rare company of Fallen London and Planescape Torment. It’s a wordy, bizarre CRPG in which your own character is an unreliable and unstable narrator and the game might take off in a very unexpected direction at a moment’s notice. There’s little like it, which makes it a welcome relief after being saturated with tons of standard fantasy tropes.

Disco Elysium does begin with one big honking trope of its own, however: It’s a film noire setting in which you, a detective, awake with amnesia. It kind of works in the context of an RPG, allowing you to mold and shape your new consciousness after apparently have gone on the mother of all self-destructive benders in order to destroy your old one.

So my unnamed (and, so far, un-faced) detective awakes without a clue where he is or what he’s doing. Where he is happens to be a pseudo-European island on a world that has some passing similarity to ours. He’s part of a police force that nominally patrols the islands, but this particular isle is in fact controlled by a labor union and its brutes. Why he’s there is that there’s a dead body hanging from a tree — for over a week — and that’s about it. Who that person is, what happened, and how it ties into everything else all around is part of the ongoing and unfolding investigation. The detective gets a temporary partner from a rival precinct, and from there just about anything can happen.

Seriously. Apart from Torment, this is one of the most out-there RPGs I’ve ever played. You CAN play the detective very straight and normal, but even then the game gets bonkers at times. It’s much more fun to go off the rails and shape the private eye the way you want — as a supercop, as a drunkard, as an insane lunatic who gets obsessed with cryptids and desperately wanting this case to be “sexy.” Me? I’ve been going all over the place with him, picking whatever options amuse me and seeing what happens.

Another similarity to Torment is that this isn’t a fighting kind of RPG. Instead, there’s a bunch of skills and the game keeps making dice rolls against them to see what happens. You can invest in a detective who has better hunches, or can lay out a crime scene very well, or is physically intimidating, or all of the above. In an interesting twist, many failed skill checks can be retried in the future if you invest another skill point in that field.

I think that the familiar-yet-alien setting is the most fascinating to me. There’s a lot about European politics and governments that kind of goes over my head, but the dev team obviously went to great lengths to give us an alternate universe version of our world where the cars were designed differently, people still wear armor, and reel-to-reel is still hot tech.

I’m only on Day Two (Tuesday), and while I’ve got a long way to go, I’ve certainly… seen… some things so far. I’ve met the Light-Bending Rich Man and the cryptozoologist, I’ve freaked out a whole bunch of union guys by being irresponsible with a gun, and I’ve solved several smaller mysteries. It’s one of those rides that you really want to slow down and enjoy because you know you’ll only ever experience it for the first time once, and you want that to last as long as possible.

Witcher 3: Apart from the bandwagon

I just want it stated for the record that I’m not playing The Witcher 3 this month because of the huge uptick in the game’s popularity thanks to the new Netflix series. I’m just a guy who is very, very behind on playing his Steam backlog.

Actually, Syl has been pushing this one hard on me for a couple of years now, and I’ve about run out of reasons not to play it. I’ve been dragging my heels because (a) I don’t have 500 spare hours to beat this reportedly huge game and (b) wasn’t that in love with The Witcher 1’s action combat style. But I’m down for playing it for a single month, to dig into it and see what’s there and if it’s worth completing in the future.

I did start it a few weeks ago but didn’t get much further than the tutorial. Then I ran into a problem with cutscenes not showing or stopping the game entirely, which was fortunately fixed by repairing all of the game’s files. In the first week, I’ve gotten through the entire first area, clearing out all of the quests and points of interest. It went from a game that I dragged my feet on to one I was honestly excited to boot back up and play.

And I don’t think it’s for the somewhat generic fantasy world or its growly, hypermasculine hero. Instead, what hooked me was the exploration of it all. The cutscenes lend a lot of weight to each quests (the lady howling on about her pot had me chuckling) and the Guild Wars 2-style of world exploration encouraged me to just roam, fill out the map, and bump into all manner of encounters. Between the combat style and the map and the quests, all of this reminded me of Elder Scrolls Online, which isn’t the worst thing in the world.

The little side-stories, as usual, have me more interested than the big main one. Helping a dwarf uncover who burned down his house or figuring out how to drive a haunting spirit away from an abandoned village was infinitely more exciting than trying to find friends who failed to leave forwarding addresses.

I’m still not that keen on the combat, but there’s an option to reduce difficulty to focus more on exploration and questing. Call me weak, but I’m going with that just to enjoy my time in the game more.

And apparently this song from the show is super-popular right now, so I’m required by nerd law to include it:

Bio Break 2019 Wrap-up: Solo gaming

Merry Christmas everyone! And since I’m posting this on the one day of the year that virtually no one is going to be reading it, I could just cut and paste entire paragraphs from Jane Austen here. I won’t, but I could.

Instead, I wanted to share the 10 solo (non-MMO) games that I genuinely enjoyed this year. Looking back at 2019, I think I played more solo titles than I have in a very long time. I’m finding a nice balance between MMOs and these, and it’s great to have a change in the gameplay type when I’m in the mood for it.

Here’s what I liked the best out of what I played:

The Outer Worlds — Easily my “game of the year” pick for 2019, if I had awards and they carried weight with anyone. I loved this Firefly-Fallout homage, from its corporatism-run-amok-in-the-stars to its black humor to its diverse ways of solving each quest. Really looking forward to any DLC or expansions Obsidian wants to make for it.

Pillars of Eternity — Speaking of Obsidian, I finished up a long playthrough of this title back in January and was generally happy with it. I was planning on doing the expansion or the sequel, but somehow that still hasn’t materialized.

Return of the Obra Dinn — This got so many awards in 2018 that I had to play it last January, and I am truly glad I did. There’s nothing quite like this detective story at sea, even if it used graphics straight out of the 1980s.

The Avowed — I got this based on some strong word of mouth and was generally happy with it. The Avowed is a retro-styled adventure game that came out not too long ago about demon hunters in NYC. There are some choices, some good tales, and a few tricky puzzles.

The Long Dark — I absolutely loved the setting for this quiet, snowy post-apocalyptic game. Its survival aspects felt a little too brutal for me, but I’ve been told that there’s an easier mode I should go check out and play.

Subnautica — Along the lines of survival games, I didn’t expect Subnautica to win me over, but win me it did. And not just me, but my kids as well. My eldest son in particular loves exploring the sea and creating different vehicles and structures. It’s so pretty and definitely a nice change of pace than the usuals in this genre.

The Last Door — A modern horror adventure game with REALLY retro graphics that manages to actually be scary? It does just that, even though I ultimately was unsatisfied with the story.

Outer Wilds — Not to be confused with The Outer Worlds, this is a very odd Groundhog Day-in-space story of a doomed solar system and an intrepid band of alien explorers. I’d love to actually finish this game if it wasn’t for the wonky controls.

A Plague Tale — Took me a while to finish, but I really did like this alternate history take on the Black Plague. I think it lost its punch about midway through and was a little more gory than I would have liked, but there’s some great imagination with this one.

Shop Titans — As bashful as it was to admit it, this freemium game grabbed me and hasn’t let go since. Its simple premise of operating a fantasy store for heroes is one that appeals strongly, and I’ve found it’s a relaxing game for a minute or two here and there.

Yes, Your Grace demo impressions

Next up on my whimsical journey through my Steam backlog was a demo for the upcoming Yes, Your Grace. I’ve been hearing interesting things about this pixel art kingship sim, and I was more than eager to try it out.

In YYG, you’re King Eryk, the monarch of a small but bird-filled kingdom that’s dealing with a lot of issues both internal and external. Every week, petitioners line up to be heard, and as king, you have to make decisions how to deal with each person. This is trickier than you might think, as you only have limited resources (such as gold or generals) to apply to situations, and you never quite know if getting involved is a smart thing.

What was far more interesting to me is that this isn’t more of a blank slate; the king, his family, and his kingdom all have personalities and backstories, which are discovered in little scenes and dialogue that Eryk encounters after he’s done with throne duties. He’s got three daughters, some of whom are fighting and some of whom are snail-obsessed. There’s a curse upon his family, alliances to be forged, and the specter of a crushing defeat by enemy armies right from the very beginning of the game.

I am not exaggerating here: I was raptly captivated by the unfolding tale of this game as I played it, as were all of my children who came in to read and laugh at the various discussions. I agonized over my choices, traded a daughter for an army, and found myself groaning when I hit a cliffhanger that marked the end of the demo.

That was cruel. I wanted to see how my choices bore out and how flexible this game’s narration would ultimately be. I suppose I’m just going to have to wait until next year, when it’s due to release.

The Outer Worlds completed! …and final thoughts

By December 2nd, one of the four major gaming goals that I set for the month had already been finished. I wrapped up The Outer Worlds after playing it for the majority of November, sitting back in a bittersweet satisfaction as the end credits told me of the fallout from my adventures.

Perfect game? Nah, but I didn’t expect it to be. Most fun new game I played this year? Definitely. The Outer Worlds was everything I hoped to gain from a Fallout/Futurama/Firefly hybrid, delivering a compact and satisfying experience in a narratively rich setting. I’ll agree with some viewpoints that I’ve heard — namely, that the runtime is short, the normal difficulty setting is rather easy (especially after the first planet or so), and some of the mechanics aren’t as explored as others.

I consider the virtues of The Outer Worlds to be much greater than their flaws, however. There was so much detail in these small areas that I enjoyed combing through every inch of the game. The crew I picked up was entertaining and extremely memorable, especially after going through their own side stories. And I felt as though I usually had enough options to roleplay and game the way I wanted to.

Sometimes I would make a save and then try out different choices to see what would happen, and more often than not, the devs had clever responses to those choices. You can be downright scandalous in this game while still being a nominal hero, but I would imagine that most players went through as I did — largely choosing the more virtuous options and trying to make everyone happy.

The final act of the game contained two huge storytelling beats that had great potential to be explored in future DLC or expansions or sequels, and I truly hope that Obsidian is hard at work on more of this game universe. I definitely want to adventure more in Halcyon and perhaps get the gang back together for one more ride.

Great game. Very satisfied with my purchase and will probably be doing another playthrough in a year or so when I’ve forgotten some of the details. I hope that this title gets its fair share of end-of-the-year awards from press outlets and fans, because I strongly feel it deserves it.