From the Ashes

Greenish tints are common in post-apocalyptic wastelands.

Devil’s Crossing has seen better days. Mostly the ones where they’re not under siege from a fallen city overflowing with horrific monstrosities. But, seeing as they are under siege, and their militia is more or less useless, you’re going to be busy for a few days. Or weeks. Assuming you aren’t immediately swallowed up by the void. Ashes of Malmouth is the utterly fantastic continuation of Grim Dawn, which features both new Masteries and new story content (alongside a heapin’ helpin’ of new items legendary and otherwise).

It’s a good ol’ fashioned expansion.

The two new Masteries alone are worth the price of admission, as they can either be used on their own or with any of the other Masteries which opens up myriad possibilities. I’ve been trying the Death Knight (Necromancer/Soldier) and the combination of summoning with close combat is pretty fantastic. Having a menagerie of unholy beasts and skeletons is pretty neat.

That said, the new story content is excellently introduced through a series of breadcrumb quests which take you back to Burrwitch and then to heart of the void. From there you journey to Malmouth and (quite literally) fight your way to the heart of the city. Gaining ground and losing it in equal measure as you push forwards. It’s a surprisingly extensive journey which will introduce you to new factions nestled deep in marshes and crumbling cities, and will require you to make choices, as your actions will dictate who will welcome you and who won’t, and those interactions will help you understand the true nature of these factions. As expected from Grim Dawn there is a wealth of choice and consequence that’ll keep you busy for hours to come.

Crown Hill definitely has an infestation problem.

I’ve had a few pangs of nostalgia while playing through this expansion, too. It gives me similar feelings to those I had when I first experienced Diablo II Lord of Destruction, wherein the snowy plains of Act V kept me company while I adjusted to the innumerable challenges that lay ahead. I’m also quite excited to see how the Death Knight develops. I’ve mostly experienced Ashes of Malmouth with my Warder (Shaman/Soldier), which, besides being my first character, doesn’t have a particularly strong or effective build.

It has great burst potential but terrible survivability.

However, despite the build drawbacks, I’ve greatly enjoyed all that I’ve experienced so far. I’ve still got to find those new dungeons, too. I would say that I’ve seen the majority of what this expansion has to offer, but I know that isn’t true as it is so incredibly content dense. I’ve definitely missed quests and NPCs along the way. Not to mention the results of different choices.

It’s an incredibly easy recommendation to make if you love ARPGs. Grim Dawn is an expertly crafted and beautifully complex yet intuitive and easy to learn ARPG, which only becomes better (in every way) with this expansion. That and you can raise skeletons. All the cool kids are doing that. I’m not really sure what the Inquisitor does- but I’m sure that’s neat as well. I’m quite excited to see what’s coming next for Grim Dawn, but, until then, I’ve got to roam the fields of Wightmire with my Death Knight. She’s due to loot something really cool any day now. Or maybe I’ll try to make sense of the Devotion screen and pick something out for her. I don’t really open that screen much. It’s big and confusing.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

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Purloiner of Cinders

That’s a fairly accurate description of what I do.

I’ve also been known to farm Silver Knights for their equipment, collect spells of many different varieties, collect armour sets that I’ll never use, and sometimes even fight bosses to progress the story. I became the Lord of Hollows, too. That was quite an interesting marriage ceremony. Dark Souls III is an adventure that I’ve been eager to begin, but one that I approached with a build that focused on two things I’ve scarcely used before- Strength weapons and Pyromancies. It’s an odd combination and it’s not the easiest build to make effective.

But I get to throw smouldering fireballs at people. Which explode into lava.

I’ve greatly enjoyed the build, but I will admit that I mostly fell back on using my weapon and shield instead of the varied Pyromancies. Which still feel like (mostly) PvP options to me. That said, I’m not too upset about that as I’ve been able to make use of a greatshield. Which is also a first for me. I’ve had varying success with bosses for obvious reasons, too.

As is becoming common practice for Dark Souls, Human Effigies (like Humanity before them) have been replaced by Embers which are much less required as they only really boost your maximum health until you die. It’s a nice boost- but it’s not as necessary as using a Human Effigy because you’re missing half of your health. Many of the mechanics you’ve become accustomed to have returned as well. Infusions allow you to enhance or completely change the damage type or scaling on your weapon, the reinforcement process remains unchanged, and the most major of differences is the introduction of Ashen Estus Flasks. Which are like regular Estus Flasks (and they share collective charges) but recover FP instead of HP.

Let’s take the scenic route.

FP is a rather important mechanic but only if you intend to cast spells or use weapon arts. It replaces the previous mechanic of attuning multiple copies of the same spell for extra uses and introduces a casting resource (FP), which is recovered with Ashen Estus Flasks, and so every spell has a cost, while spending points in Attunement will give you more FP and more slots. It’s probably the broadest change and it’s a little confusing at first, but very simple once you get the hang of it. I’m actually really supportive of the change. It feels balanced.

Likewise, weapon arts allow you to use special moves with certain weapons.

These special moves will also drain FP but they’re often worth the cost. While some of the more unique transposed weapons will have entirely different movesets to what you may expect, which makes those weapons interesting for reasons other than scaling and/or damage. It’s an enjoyable experience overall which still holds a lot of secrets (and optional bosses) for you to discover.

Likewise, the Dark Souls series as a whole is quite enjoyable. There are some less than enjoyable moments or bosses, but it’s mostly a very well made series, which has the ability to be experienced in different ways over different playthroughs, and will most certainly give you hours of entertainment. It also tends to teach you how creative you can be with profanity. I’ve got a few other builds I want to try with Dark Souls III as well. Mostly those that include Sorceries or something that suits my usual build. Even the dual wielding weapons look fun. I’ve also yet to make my way through the DLC, which I know are quite difficult and feature several multiple phase bosses. Those are my favourites- that’s when the despair really sets in!

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

Shieldless in Drangleic

It’s a dangerous world out there.

Likely even more dangerous when you willingly opt out of using a shield entirely. That said, I’ve started to wonder if I rely too much on my shield. Especially when I don’t really build characters around heavier armour which are more likely to require a shield, or, at the very least, make good use of one. Dark Souls II is an experience I don’t really talk about all that much. That’s not to say that the experience itself is bad, just that I made a bad decision in thinking that Miracles would be a good secondary damage option. When they’re really not.

Well, no, they are- you just have to progress pretty far into the story to get those Miracles.

Which meant that I’d need to start over with a new build and I never really got around to doing that. Until recently. Which is when I decided I’d run a full Sorceries build with limited weapon options and no shield. I’ll admit- it sounds like a bad idea. Which it was with some bosses. But it was something different that helped me to understand when a shield is actually useful.

The majority of character progression and development mechanics remained the same as they were in Dark Souls. But the most significant difference would be the introduction of Human Effigies, which essentially act as Humanity but also restore the temporary maximum health loss that occurs when you die. They’re not particularly required, either. Especially if you have the ring that reduces the amount of maximum health you lose with each additional death. I do believe the Sorceries have remained mostly the same as well. That said, for me, the greatest challenge was defeating bosses like the Lost Sinner with no reflexive shield raising. I always do that panic button press hoping that it will absorb the damage when I’m about to get hit.

Shower him with Soul Arrows!

I’ve had a lot of fun with the build, though. It’s definitely different as I’m usually doing most damage with a weapon and then relying on Sorceries for some enemies. Whereas, with this build, I’m having to think a lot more about actually rolling effectively as I don’t have a panic button. If I roll badly I’m going to get hit. Which makes equipment weight more important, which in turn reduces the number of armour sets I could wear without investing heavily into its governing attribute. Casting time is also something I’m now much more aware of.

It wasn’t as difficult as I was expecting, either.

Which many would say is because of the inherent damage of Sorceries, but in many ways I felt almost underpowered in the earlier areas as I had limited Sorceries to attune and these were my main sources of damage. But that’s part of the challenge. When using a Strength/Dexterity weapon you have steadily increasing damage, whereas Sorceries are much more spiky.

It took a fairly long time to come back to Dark Souls II but I’m glad that I did. I didn’t own the Scholar of the First Sin version until recently, so these are all observations of a character in the original version but I do have the DLC for that version. So I’ll likely be exploring those at a later date. Until then, I’ll likely be moving on to the next in the series with which I will likely try another different build. But, again, as I said with the first Dark Souls, the character customisation and progression is what makes the series so enjoyable. It’s great to always be trying new weapons or building around different attributes. I can easily recommend Dark Souls II, though. It’s different- but it’s the enjoyable kind of different.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

The Realisation of a Dream

The very fabric of the universe is tearing apart.

Megadimension Neptunia VII is the first adventure that I’ve experienced in the Neptunia universe that isn’t part of the Re;Birth remake series. It’s an interesting one for that reason. Things that I’ve become acquainted to (such as the Remake system and Stella’s Dungeon) are not present, but there’s a bunch of other interesting ideas to replace them. Like the ability to invest in cities, which, for the most part, replaces the Remake system. Or the use of Scouts. Which also replaces some aspects of the Remake system.

There’s a world map (with actual enemy encounters), too.

Along with more emphasis on New Game+ in which more items become available the further you go. I was most surprised about this, as I know that Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2 Sisters Generation used a similar mechanic for multiple endings- but New Game+ is almost required in Megadimension Neptunia VII. It’s still incredibly content dense without it, though.

It’s broader (with a much longer story) but simultaneously narrower (with much less to unlock and use) but there’s more emphasis on each choice. Weapons have been completely overhauled in this way, they are fewer in number but actually have specific combo capabilities. Chaining together effective attacks is more important, too. The EXE Drive returns but only lasts for a single battle, while Formation and Coupling Skills are actually based on surrounding an enemy. Or slicing straight through it. There’s quite a variety of those as well. You’ll easily be able to build effective parties (even with DLC characters) and utilise those powerful attacks. There are also specific intense boss battles with unique conditions which require HDD to be activated.

Even the quests have been reworked so that you need to earn access to higher rank offerings. It’s incredibly ambitious and ridiculously enjoyable. The lack of opportunities to grind endless experience in your first run presents much tougher opposition, with some boss battles becoming quite heated. The introduction of a smaller but more specialised cast is appreciated, too. The DLC characters are some of the best I’ve seen in the series, with many not only having a great selection of skills but really unique (and gorgeous) character models.

Then there’s the HDD Next Form for the CPUs.

Introduced as the ultimate evolution of the CPUs and requiring a second activation to unleash once available, it boasts skills that are so powerful they cancel out HDD once used and return the CPU to their human form in return for devastatingly powerful results. They also feature really gorgeous character models and some of the most impressive animations in the series.

I’ve only one regret with regards to Megadimension Neptunia VII and that is that it marks the end of the currently available content. That said, I’ve scarcely been happier with a series than I have been with this one. I’m looking forward to seeing them all through again in New Game+, too. Especially this one. Which boasts the highest replayability of the series. I was surprised by the depth of the story- which is actually three stories- and how enjoyable it was. The true ending was among the best I’ve experienced so far as well. I’m certainly looking forward to the return of Neptunia (in any dimension) and can easily recommend this series to anyone who enjoys JRPGs. Or Neptune. Even if you don’t now- she’ll grow on you. I promise.

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

The Sunshine Estate

It’s not so dark now, is it?

Many things have changed since the full release of Darkest Dungeon. We’ve seen the introduction of town events, the Antiquarian, Radiant Mode, Stygian Mode (the rebalanced New Game+), heirloom trading, and the first story expansion with The Crimson Court. With the release of the expansion it seemed as good a time as any to return to the horrors beneath our family home. I’ve been meaning to go back to my previous estate, but, as you can probably tell from the title of this post, I instead opted for a Radiant Mode campaign.

It’s an interesting concept for a difficulty adjustment.

Rather than making the enemies and dungeons trivial, it instead makes the campaign shorter and reduces the need for grinding significantly by providing Radiant Mode specific stagecoach upgrades. Most things are cheaper, too. Which, when paired with an Antiquarian in your roster, reduces the need to grind for gold almost entirely. It’s a pleasant experience overall.

I’ve not played the default difficulty (now known as Darkest Mode) since release, but Radiant Mode has great pacing comparatively. Each week has a purpose and affords progression. Whether that progression takes the form of a boss kill, an upgrade to the estate, levelling up a hero, or even an expedition to the Darkest Dungeon. It’s nice that the challenge is retained, too. Failure is still possible if you don’t play well or use effective team compositions. Or forgot to bring torches to the second assault on the Darkest Dungeon. Which was the highlight of my entire campaign, as I noticed almost immediately but fleeing the Darkest Dungeon results in a guaranteed death. I wasn’t fond of that as I’d been training these heroes for this for some time.

Nightmare made material.

Which also made the mistake even more hilarious. Thankfully, I didn’t have any Sun Rings on the heroes in that party so fighting through in the darkness was at least doable. By virtue of Cry Havoc and Rallying Flare we were successful. I did take 60+ stress from Revelation, though. They acted before either of my guards could be applied. I had few deaths in this campaign, too. Besides that ill fated attempt at fighting a Shambler with an Antiquarian party that lacked the necessary damage. We killed the Shambler- but the spawn quickly finished us off.

Hilariously, that loss was worth two achievements.

With the release of The Crimson Court I would have to agree that Darkest Dungeon is in the best condition that it’s ever been in. The classes are all particularly useful for one reason or another, there are innumerable team compositions to provide different answers to similar problems, and there’s even new content (and a new class) to experience if you own The Crimson Court.

I’m intending for this Radiant Mode campaign to be the first in a series of campaigns. I was thinking of doing difficulty progression akin to how you work through normal, nightmare, and hell in the earlier instalments of the Diablo series. I’ve had a lot of fun with this estate, but I’m slightly dubious about the shortened campaign length. Given that I’ve spent nearly 50hrs in this estate at this point. Though, to be fair, that is likely shorter than a Darkest Mode or Stygian Mode campaign would be. I also took the time to kill all of the bosses, level up all of the classes, and do other things that aren’t necessary for the successful resolution of a campaign. I’m starting to think I have a problem regarding the completion of miscellaneous objectives.

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

Priests of Rathma

Call forth the spirits of the fallen.

Diablo III has seen two rather significant and quite exciting changes recently. The first of those is patch 2.6.0 which introduces six new areas (along with new bounties), hordes of new enemies, various quality of life tweaks, and Challenge Rifts. I’m most intrigued by the concept of Challenge Rifts. They’re presented as something different to both the Campaign and Adventure Mode, in which you use a specific build (based on another player) to complete a weekly static dungeon. The aim is to complete the dungeon faster than the original player.

It does make me wonder if they’ll include gimmicky builds, too.

Those could be interesting (and challenging) in their own way. Rather than just trying to figure out how to do the best with what you’ve got, you’d have to figure out what the gimmick is and how you actually use it. On the other hand, these gimmicky builds could also be ridiculously frustrating if their particular gimmick isn’t enjoyable or particularly viable.

The second of these changes is the introduction of the Necromancer. The class that everyone was secretly hoping would be carried over from Diablo II (like the Barbarian), but never made it into the original or expansion release. Though many felt that the Witch Doctor was basically a different kind of Necromancer. To access the new class you’ll need to purchase the Rise of the Necromancer pack which includes the class, two character slots, two stash tabs, and various cosmetic rewards. The Necromancer is fully voiced throughout the Campaign with new class specific items, new Legendary and Set items, an extensive set of skills, and the ability to raise legions of the dead. It’s also awesome. Definitely one of the best classes Diablo III has.

As an almost exclusive summoner they have the capability to summon a literal army, while making use of Revive as and when corpses are available to further bolster their ranks, or turning those corpses against their foes in an explosive cacophony of blood. As a warrior they’re able to bolster their defences with Bone Armor and regenerate health through Curses. Or, if you prefer, they can make use of an arsenal of spells such as Bone Spear and Bone Spirit to face foes from afar. They can even sacrifice portions of their health to deal more damage.

Flexibility is built into everything they do.

I’ve always been fond of Poison Dagger Necromancers in Diablo II and I had hoped there would be a similarly viable build here. Not only is it viable, but it’s incredibly enjoyable and requires an amount of concentration to make best use of. Mostly due to the unique mechanics of Bone Armor. But I was pleasantly surprised that the option was available and is actually useful.

I find myself arguing between Corpse Explosion and Revive on my first Necromancer. I could have a constant stream of newly resurrected minions with Revive, or I could have explosive corpses with Corpse Explosion. Explosive. Corpses. That don’t even cost anything to explode due to their finite nature. In fact, I love Corpse Explosion so much that both of my Necromancers use it. I’ll admit that I might have a problem. Maybe. I’m particularly thrilled with this class content pack, too. Entirely worth the price of admission. Which hasn’t always been something I’ve been able to say about Diablo III, but I’m hopeful for the future with the many content patches we’ve seen and the excellent quality present in this class a whole.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Space Cowbots

Time to scrap the Scrappers!

SteamWorld Heist is an incredibly enjoyable tactical RPG offering the same charming art direction and quirky personalities present in SteamWorld Dig, but a departure in mechanics, presenting an adventure through turn based combat in mission sized bites, which is just as fun as the prior instalment but definitely more challenging. It’s the sequel that isn’t a sequel, which builds on the story of the SteamWorld universe but doesn’t require any previous experience to be immediately playable. It’s actually surprisingly intuitive in every way.

There’s a simple complexity in many of the mechanics.

Such as the characters themselves. Each is unique and named, with some sharing classes, but few sharing bonuses, and each has a signature ability that defines their role in combat. Every character has the capability to fight, but support and healing abilities are evenly distributed to help you develop effective party compositions to meet the challenges you’ll face.

Besides their innate abilities, characters can be equipped with a weapon and two utility items to provide statistical bonuses and further improve their effectiveness in combat. Utility items cover all sorts of bonuses such as bolstering health, providing retaliation damage, increasing damage, restoring health, or even some quirkier options like improved jumping. There are some that are best suited to certain characters which provide bonuses that fit their signature ability. Weapons come in a variety of destructive flavours, with everything from your standard revolver to an incendiary cannon which wouldn’t be out of place in the Worms universe. They’re enjoyable to use, too. They also feature ridiculous trick shots.

I feel as though an ancient evil has been unearthed.

Unlike other tactical RPGs which rely on calculated percentages to determine a successful hit, these weapons require you to manually aim (often with sights) to land a hit which make them a little more skill based than you might expect. With this comes ridiculous ricochet angles that allow you to land nearly impossible shots. These mechanics and varying mission objectives prevent repetition and stagnation in later missions. You should always keep a few extra weapons on hand, though. Some are definitely better suited to certain missions than others.

Be sure to stock up on Storage Units when and where you can, too.

Those will be important for carrying all of the equipment you’ll need to explore Deep Space. Which is a scary place. It really is. Levelling your crew will also be crucial to your success, which is handled via standard missions or particular solo missions which are designed to help you farm experience. Not to mention loot. So it’s a fairly comfortable experience overall.

One of the greatest successes of this title is the flexibility in everything from difficulty settings to optional content. It’s rare to have such control over how, where, and when you’ll progress with the story or with the optional content. Unrestricted access back and forth through maps gives you the opportunity to level up, recruit companions, visit vendors, and more at your own pace. Without fear that it will be locked out when you move to the next portion of the story. It’s refreshing to have options. I’d best describe Steamworld Heist as memorable and enjoyable. Something that’s fun to play, with an interesting story, and a unique cast of characters which are equally useful in the myriad missions you’ll encounter.

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie