The Lady of Caed Nua

The fairest lady of all.

Pillars of Eternity is an exceptionally enjoyable but devilishly complex CRPG that offers a satisfying, engaging, and (often times) harrowing adventure. It also allows me to have a stronghold that I can invest in to provide increasingly diverse bonuses and amenities. Which is the kind of freedom I haven’t had since the rather excellent PS1 JRPG Suikoden. Also, according to local law, as a landowner, I have the right to freely execute or imprison people without requiring any actual legal intervention. I don’t remember being able to do that in Suikoden…

That said, what did you think was going to happen when you offered me Orlan slaves?

Firstly, I don’t support slavery. Secondly, I’m an Orlan. Thirdly, I may have reconsidered my decision had I known that your corpse would be hanging from a beam near the Eastern Barbican. But there’s no sense in crying over spilt milk. Or broken necks. They’re more or less the same thing. I’ll put it down to the barbarism Barbarians are known for.

One thing I was concerned with when starting this Pillars of Eternity campaign was whether I would ever see my loved ones again. Or if I could effectively build a character. I’ve had a taste of the mechanics present in Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Neverwinter Nights to name drop but a few but they’re all based on a Dungeons & Dragons ruleset. This isn’t a Dungeons & Dragons ruleset. Also, real time with pause combat. I have no idea how to micromanage that. But I feel as though the Barbarian was a good choice. Great at dealing damage, reasonably mobile in combat, has a few active abilities, and is adept at dealing with multiple enemies at once. She’s also (rather surprisingly) got more health than both the Fighter and the Monk in the party. So she’s great at getting punched in the face, too.

It’s a very inviting cave, isn’t it?

The other thing I was concerned about was the level of difficulty. I do enjoy a challenge, but I’ve rarely experienced real time with pause combat and when I have it was through a more restrictive ruleset. However, so far, I’ve greatly been enjoying the pacing and the combat, and I’ve only really found one battle that I haven’t been able to win. Not yet at least. But, to be fair, the opposing force does have a literal army, and I have six party members. I could also probably do with more troops which are likely to come from The White March expansion pack.

Speaking of The White March- it’s pretty great.

I’m quite pleased that it has been integrated into the main story from as early as Act II and that it doesn’t offer wildly overpowered rewards. I was expecting that I’d need to finish the main campaign before I could access the content, but, to my surprise, it turns out you can be clubbed by frost ogres from relatively early in the campaign.

As always, I intend to write a more comprehensive less exuberant post after I’ve completed the main campaign. But I thought I’d write something that shows how much I’m enjoying the multi-layered complexities of the dialogue present in Pillars of Eternity, much as I would enjoy a multi-layered chocolate gateaux garnished with chocolate curls. Sadly there are no chocolate curls in Pillars of Eternity. We do have cocoa beans, though. So maybe there will be a quest delivered to my stronghold wherein I must discover the secrets of chocolate. That would definitely take priority over quite literally every other quest I’ve got. Even the one about defending my claim to Caed Nua. Who needs Caed Nua when you have chocolate?

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

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Strangely Coloured Crotch Rocket

An apt description of her transformation.

Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls continues the series’ strange naming convention which seems to get longer with each new instalment. It also continues the series’ fascination with alternate timeline stories. Which I do so dearly adore. Featuring IF as one of two protagonists that set out on a journey to understand why time is disappearing, how to reverse or stop the process, and ultimately work towards a non-post-apocalyptic future. It’s also got a rather neat character class system which is reminiscent of JRPGs of yesteryear.

Which is more or less the entire reason that I bought it.

That and the Dreamcast was a criminally underrated console and seeing a living incarnation of said system decimating her foes is a cathartic release of sorts. Each character has multiple classes and even unlocks a final ultimate class that is representative of everything that character embodies. Such as IF being a ninja. Or Neptune being a kangaroo.

The battle system introduces a few new mechanics, too. There’s the Fever Gauge which builds during battle and can be utilised to unleash Fever Time. Which is more less you having infinite turns and priority in the turn order until the effect wears off, but also makes available various powerful skills that can only be used when that delightfully upbeat music is playing. Characters retain previously established transformations as well. The CPUs are still able to utilise their HDD forms while IF gains a more powerful awakened form. Like a fiery, not-so-golden, less aerial Super Saiyan. It certainly aims to make button mashing in battle less of a thing and (mostly) succeeds, as your position in the turn order is governed by how much you do in any given turn.

The series’ tradition of using a system of plans to unlock new weapons, armour, locations, and bosses is sadly absent. Instead many of these things are unlocked when certain story events have taken place. That said, there is a rather neat conceptual approach to making dungeons more explorable with different collectibles, breakable objects, and unique ways to access other floors. It’s definitely something that helps to prevent dungeons from becoming mundane or repetitive too quickly. It also suits IF as a protagonist as that’s pretty much what she does.

My only criticism is how (surprisingly) clunky the PC release is.

The translation is most baffling as information about items is either entirely absent or doesn’t accurately describe what items do. The fonts in dialogue boxes (especially for names) are weirdly distorted, too. Not to mention the awfully inconsistent dialogue for certain characters whose personality is then harder to understand.

It’s certainly not what you would expect from a series that usually has reasonably high quality PC releases, but it doesn’t detract from the experience too greatly. I’d be almost entirely okay with it if there were more information available about the different classes. They’re quite easy to figure out, though. It’s still an enjoyable instalment in the Neptunia series and features the series’ trademark humour, characters, and the internal quandary that Neptune has whenever she’s not the protagonist. In that way I can still recommend this title as something that will keep you busy for 30-40hrs. Perhaps longer if you’re achievement hunting. Or trying to get every character to Lvl 99 and every class to Lvl 50.

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

Heroes of the Resistance

The ADVENT coalition doesn’t own this world. Not yet.

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is an incredibly engrossing and thoroughly satisfying sequel to the quite wonderful XCOM: Enemy Within. Featuring an ever-increasing number of unit classes, myriad facilities, a flying fortress of doom, updated mechanics, multiple resistance factions to join, and a Geoscape that has more notifications than the Windows 8 operating system. War of the Chosen also harkens back to the days of old where expansion packs added new units, new mechanics, and new ways to access the existing content in the base experience.

It’s quite an impressive feat overall.

It can certainly be slightly overwhelming working through everything that happens in the first few hours. In fact, that’s probably the only (minor) criticism I could offer against the War of the Chosen expansion pack. It is a little too busy and the first five or six hours feel very linear and forced, but otherwise it is a truly enjoyable experience.

I was most impressed by the variation in (and number of) unit classes. Each feels unique enough to fit into a particular role, but broad enough to fill several roles when they need to. Rangers provide the perfect balance of mid-range combat with the ability to slice and dice in close quarters, Specialists pair their combat prowess with either healing or hacking units to provide different bonuses, Grenadiers have the potential to rain continual death upon areas of the battlefield but also shred armour with their cannons, Sharpshooters take the high ground while firing mercilessly on all those who cross their field of vision, Psi Operatives can utilise their otherworldly powers to embolden allies or debilitate foes, and SPARKs offer either exceptional destruction or impenetrable defence as they fill either role with utmost ease.

Those who have given much for the many.

If that wasn’t enough there are three additional factions (the Reapers, Skirmishers, and Templars) which offer their own unique abilities and bonuses, too. Then, to add more layers to this delicious gateaux of customisation, each of these unit classes has the ability to build towards different styles of play, and then even unlock additional abilities via the facilities you build. Such as the Training Center which allows you to unlock additional abilities from the same unit class or even some abilities that belong to other unit classes. It’s quite ridiculous, really.

You’ve also got access to much more unique equipment in the sequel.

There are more powerful variants of existing weapons, armour that is (quite literally) made from the skin of your enemies, entirely new and unique weapons with their own benefits and drawbacks, and even utility items that utilise unique mechanics. Also, via Modular Weapons, you can even add weapon modifications to your standard weaponry.

In many ways that’s what I feel is the best thing about XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. The depth of customisation is staggering. There are so many opportunities to further develop soldiers and create truly unique characters, which, alongside the ever-evolving nature of the main campaign, leads to exceptionally unique yet coherent content. It feels as if every part of the experience has been written into the code. Yet, in truth, it is the many layers of customisation which have come together to provide this outcome. It’s a very refreshing and very welcome change of pace. I can only imagine that each subsequent campaign would introduce more unique, more challenging, and more interesting variations of missions and soldiers. For that reason I highly recommend both XCOM 2 and the War of the Chosen expansion pack!

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

By The Skin Of Their Teeth

Not all losses are acceptable.

One of my favourite gaming experiences in the last few years is XCOM: Enemy Within. It’s not that surprising as I do enjoy turn-based strategy, but I really enjoyed the depth of mechanics present in the modern XCOM series and how infuriating but simultaneously fun it could be. I’ve long considered multiple campaigns with increasingly brutal sets of conditions. That said, I’ve yet to play XCOM 2. I’ve also yet to experience the many wondrous things that I’ve heard about the War of the Chosen expansion pack. So I decided to do both at the very same time.

Despite having no idea how either one works.

Initially it can be quite an overwhelming experience. For those entirely new to XCOM 2 there’s a lot to learn about the various unit classes, the new (and rather powerful) unit development mechanics, the different facilities that you can build, the different kinds of missions (and rewards from them), and so many other things.

There’s also the minor issue of the Chosen appearing on missions and basically ruining your day. Easily surmountable once you’ve discovered what they can do and developed a strategy for dealing with them, but absolutely terrifying in the first encounters. Where the Assassin runs across the entire map to stab and daze a soldier, then vanish, and retreat into the fog of war. While you’re under fire from an ADVENT MEC or two. Totally normal day in the life of an XCOM operative and I won’t hear otherwise. That said, it is an oddly satisfying experience. It becomes significantly easier as you hunt down the Chosen, as you progress through the main story, and as your soldiers become increasingly more powerful but it’s still deeply enjoyable.

One final shot to bring it down. Or you’ll miss and be annihilated.

The notion of encountering a Sectopod on a mission is still daunting (albeit less so) even when you have the most advanced weapons and armour. Just ask the entirely unaware Ranger who helped me figure out what Wrath Cannon is and how much damage it does. To be fair, I wasn’t expecting the outcome that I got. But that’s the way that you live and learn. Or, more accurately, that’s the way I lived and learned. I can’t say the same for that poor, unfortunate, remarkably selfless soul. On the other hand, Sectopods are quite useless when you’re controlling one.

I am quite impressed with the variety of aliens, though.

It feels as though there are multiple aliens which offer an individual challenge with individual mechanics. There are far less simply hiding in (and firing from) cover and more that utilise unique abilities, take to the skies, rain death upon you, or lay eggs in the corpses of deceased civilians. Yes. They’re back. With armour.

I’m planning on writing a more comprehensive post soon which details the different classes, mechanics, and other interesting things that I’ve enjoyed about XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. But this seemed as good a time as any to write about the modern XCOM series as I’ve greatly enjoyed both XCOM: Enemy Within and XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. I’m also looking forward to seeing what the Tactical Legacy Pack has to offer. It won’t mean much to my current campaign as I’ll be doing it after I finish the main story, but in any future campaigns it would be nice to see how the unlocked equipment affects my progress and ultimately whether it’s worth having. That said, I highly recommend both XCOM 2 and the War of the Chosen expansion pack. They’re pretty awesome!

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

An Unlikely Continuation

From the ashes of humanity. Or the franchise.

There are few series that I’ve enjoyed in recent years as much as the (once disappointingly short-lived) Darksiders series. Darksiders was an exceptionally enjoyable combination of great art direction, satisfying visceral combat, and everything I’d ever loved about the Legend of Zelda series. While Darksiders II featured some of the best art direction I’ve seen and some of the best music I’ve heard in a video game, not to mention a loot system and character development mechanics akin to an ARPG. Darksiders III is… somewhat disappointing by comparison.

It’s still an enjoyable experience but is marred by flaws.

Most puzzling of all is how it feels as though many mechanics were never finished. Such as the weapon Enhancements which insinuate that you need to actively use (or switch to) the weapon to get the effect, when every weapon is the whip, and so every effect is always active. Despite the feeling that maybe actual secondary weapons were meant to exist.

The mechanic which allows you to dodge an incoming attack and retaliate with massive damage is one of the few enjoyable elements of combat. Much of the rest of it is a painfully slow exercise in evaluating when best to land a hit with your whip, or the several other variants of your whip which you unlock as the story progresses. In many ways the secondary weapons could be interesting additions to your arsenal. Were it not for the fact that Fury is made out of tissue paper and can easily be killed when she is locked in an attack animation that can’t be cancelled. Not to mention the convoluted mechanics present with Nephilim’s Respite. A consumable which allows you to restore your health that replenishes when you defeat enemies (or purchase refills when visiting Vulgrim). There are ever-increasingly expensive health restoration items, too.

Pride can make people do terrible things.

The world design is also oddly inconsistent. There are some environmental hazards that will kill you despite being able to easily jump out of them. While some falls will return you to the place you were before you fell at the cost of a portion of your health (despite visible ground below you suggesting you can fall down). Further to this point, the Hollows, which Fury uses for puzzle solving purposes, often appear in number at any given puzzle. Even when it’s not possible to have one Hollow before another and so the inclusion of a second or third is moot.

It was certainly an ambitious project and I recognise that ambition.

But the execution of that ambition left a lot to be desired. Lest we forget that one boss fight at the beginning of the story which functioned more as a puzzle than a fight. I was hoping those boss fights would not make a return (and they didn’t), but it was still a weird uneven mess of trying to understand how controls work under threat of death.

I don’t like to be inherently negative when I write about things and so this post might seem a little out of place. However, it is, in my opinion, the only way to honestly talk about how I feel about Darksiders III as a continuation of the series. I still believe that it’s worth experiencing for yourself as everyone enjoyed something different about the Darksiders series. It’s also not entirely irredeemable as it has quite an engaging story. It could also be said that this is how Darksiders III is taking the series as a whole in a different direction, and that, while I liked Darksiders II, many people could have felt similarly to those changes. However, I still greatly enjoy the series and look forward to what they do next.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Jiants From The Hills

As mentioned in the Crimson (or Azure) prophecy.

World of Final Fantasy is an interesting and enjoyable JRPG which draws influence from the many main instalments in the Final Fantasy series over the years. It is marinated with a thick, juicy, tender layer of nostalgia. In which two young Mirage Keepers awaken to the world of Grymoire wherein they must fight, Imprism, and ultimately train powerful beasts and summonable creatures (referred henceforth as Mirages) who will fight at their behest. From inside their MiraBalls. They’re actually called Prisms. They’re also cubes. So maybe they should be MiraCubes…

There are myriad Mirage mechanics present.

Mirages gain experience as is traditional to JRPGs but level up via Mirage Boards. Each node represents some form of improvement (be it a new ability or statistical enhancement) and some afford the use of seeds to customise Mirages further, which ultimately contributes to how strong the stack with the Mirage Keepers will be.

Mechanically what this means is that when stacked they will unlock more powerful abilites under certain conditions. For instance, two Mirages that can cast Fire and Fira respectively would combine to cast Firaga. Mirages (or Mirage Keepers) with high level magic may even unlock Holy, Flare, or Ultima. But with great power comes great weakness. As all weaknesses are amplified in these forms. In that, if two Mirages are weak to thunder damage, the combined form would be ludicrously weak against it. Some Mirages may also possess a rarer Mirajewel node which essentially allows them to pass their abilities to either of the Mirage Keepers. Unlocked as a reusable Mirajewel these items allow the Mirage Keepers to further bolster their stacks with impressive abilities and statistical enhancements. Or to utilise unique combined abilities.

Until the completion of the main campaign the stacks must consist of two Mirages and one Mirage Keeper. However, after the true ending has been unlocked, you can remove the Mirage Keepers from the stacks. That’s only really relevant when attempting the post-completion content, but if you’ve decided you’re finally tired of Reynn’s constant smug know-it-all attitude you’re offered some respite. Or if you’ve ever wanted to see a Kuza Beast, Gilgamesh, and Magic Jar tear all those who stand before them asunder. That’s a perfectly valid reason, too.

Some characters have definitely been more annoying than others.

That said, I’m rather impressed with the main antagonist (especially their voice acting). I’d have expected something light-hearted given that World of Final Fantasy was meant for younger audiences. But, no, the developers are certainly gearing up fledgling adventurers for the darker stories they’ll find in the rest of the series.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from World of Final Fantasy but I was pleasantly surprised. I feel as though the availability of new mechanics and Mirages could be better paced, as there are some Mirages which you have from the very beginning of the campaign which don’t realise their full potential until after the first ending is unlocked. At which point most people (I would assume) have moved onto other Mirages. As they literally can’t level those ones up further without the appropriate Memento. But, besides that slight criticism, it’s definitely an enjoyable experience and the many Mirages are fun to try out. If, like me, you’ve played literally every main (non-MMORPG) instalment in the Final Fantasy series, World of Final Fantasy should rekindle some nostalgic embers in your heart. I highly recommend it!

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

Seekers of C’drall

I’m not entirely sure that we want to find them, though.

Battle Chasers: Nightwar is an exceptionally enjoyable JRPG that features six playable characters, a number of explorable dungeons, engaging character development, crafting mechanics, and myriad enemies to cleave in twain. It also features one of the least frustrating fishing minigames that I’ve experienced in a while. I actually want to catch these fish, too. Those Shadow Coins are pretty useful. I’ve greatly enjoyed exploring the locations (and dungeons) around the map, and find that it usually provides meaningful rewards. Which is a refreshing change of pace.

I’m quite impressed with the character development mechanics, too.

The crafting mechanics allow you to not only craft weapons, armour, jewellery, and trinkets but powerful enchantments. You can even craft each of the six legendary weapons. This replaces the often ever-present convoluted process of returning to previous locations to acquire unique items to form the most powerful armaments.

Each of the legendary weapons require specific rare (or unique) crafting materials, but most of these can be acquired by completing optional quests and you’re likely to have the majority of them when you gain access to the recipes. There’s only one crafting material that requires running a specific dungeon to acquire. That said, I’ve found the grinding to be quite palatable overall. I’ve usually had most of the materials required to craft most recipes, and any that I didn’t have were easily obtained via random battles on the world map. You can also overcharge each recipe (besides legendary ones) to provide higher statistical bonuses at the cost of more crafting materials. You can use any materials you wish, though. So be sure to use the most plentiful stock first.

I was pleasantly surprised at how flexible each of the party members were, too. Each character has two different Masteries (usually with one for damage and one for utility), which, when combined with enchanting, allows almost unprecedented ability to customise each character. You can only have three characters in your party, though. But you’re free to change that around whenever you feel that you need a different approach. Parties are mostly used when in dungeons or explorable areas on the world map, with each character having access to unique dungeon skills.

These can provide significant buffs to your party when exploring.

For instance, Calibretto, the hardy war golem, can heal the entire party by a certain amount when exploring and outside of combat. Garrison, the bleed-inducing critical hit machine, can deftly dodge traps and stun enemies before combat. These skills can be boosted via character Masteries, which adds another layer to the depth and customisation of each character while influencing experimentation. Wherein you develop your own specialised dungeon running party formation.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Battle Chasters: Nightwar but I’ve been continually impressed. The art direction is absolutely gorgeous and the combat is incredibly fun, with beautifully fluid animations and character models which look amazing when using their powerful Battle Bursts. I wasn’t sure how long it would last, either. But my first playthrough was over 40hrs and I’ve still got New Game+ to experience yet. I’m rather hoping that there will be either a sequel or a continuation of the story, too. It definitely deserves one. I can’t recommend Battle Chasers: Nightwar highly enough to those among us who enjoy the great JRPGs of yesteryear. This feels akin to those experiences but with all of the modern conveniences included.

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie