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

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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

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

First Impressions of… Book of Demons

To the depths of the cathedral we go!

Book of Demons is a rather charming ARPG (and lovingly crafted tribute to Diablo) which features an interesting combination of mechanics that work well together to create a unique experience. Items, equipment, talents, and spells are being represented as cards while character classes (and character development mechanics) are presented in a more conventional fashion. But the dungeons are composed of randomly generated exploration, events, and combat via the Flexiscope system. Which allows you to control how much progress you’ll make and how long the dungeon is.

It’s a great system if you’ve only got a certain amount of time.

Once enough progress has been made you’ll need to undertake a quest to defeat the final boss for that area. However, despite having only a few areas, and a few final bosses, the dungeons themselves are quite lengthy and don’t feel as repetitive as the random generation may suggest. In fact, due to the myriad events they’re incredibly fun to explore.

There are three character classes to choose from: the Warrior, Rogue, and Mage. The Warrior is the first available class and you’ll need to reach Lvl 5 before the other two will unlock. They rely on Artifact cards (which reserve a portion of your mana but provide different bonuses) and have few actual spells. The Rogue relies more on item cards as they have elemental arrows which can be applied to their bow, but they also utilise Artifact cards. Mages are (as expected) the most reliant on spells but do have some rather neat item cards. Each class can use the different kinds of cards, but they will have more or less of them depending on how they’re designed to explore dungeons. Warriors will usually have most of their mana reserved while Mages won’t.

I wasn’t sure about the Burning Axe at first, but now I love it.

Each card can be upgraded to a second and a third rank which usually increases the cost but also increases the effect of the card. Or adds new effects. There are magical variants of the cards, too. Which the Sage can identify at a cost but will provide randomised prefixes and suffixes for further customisation. I’m not sure if there are truly unlimited combinations of affixes and the possibility to collect hundreds of cards, but the affixes I’ve found have been useful. Each variant of the card is individual, though. So upgrading one doesn’t upgrade the others.

Item cards are also interesting as they need to be charged.

This process is usually done via the Fortune Teller and costs an amount of gold per charge. Upgrading item cards will usually increase the maximum number of charges and the effect of the card, but will also require more investment per charge. That said, item cards can also be recharged by randomised drops in the dungeons. So they’re quite flexible.

I’ve been anticipating the full release of Book of Demons for some time and it hasn’t disappointed. If anything I’m more surprised as to how many different mechanics are at work, and how they’re all working together to create something that brings a warm nostalgic joy to my heart. Even if it wasn’t a tribute to the original Diablo I’d still love it. It might have been inspired by the series (and wears that inspiration on its sleeve), but it also provides many of its own ideas that bring modern design concepts to classic design principles. If you’re a fan of ARPGs and you enjoy crawling through dungeons for sweet loot, gratuitous slaughter, and the echo of an infernal bleat in the distance then I can’t recommend Book of Demons highly enough. It’s an amazing experience.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Newly Constructed

I haven’t done this in a few years.

Following a series of increasingly expensive decisions I built a new computer this weekend. It wasn’t an entirely necessary upgrade as new releases were still running at the highest settings at 1920 x 1080 resolution, but it was becoming evident that my ability to upgrade my older machine was rapidly decreasing. Which is to say that the video card upgrade from last year was the last possible upgrade I could make. Or, rather, it was the only upgrade that wasn’t ludicrously expensive for the performance boost it would’ve afforded the system.

I learned much of this while looking at video cards.

I wasn’t entirely sure as to which video card would best suit this new system. At first I was looking at either the GTX 1070 or the GTX 1080, but both of these cards were older models and comparable to the prices of the newly released RTX 2070. Which I would assume would provide better system performance.

The full specification of the machine features an i5 9600k 3.7ghz six core processor, 32gb of 3200mhz DDR4 RAM, a RTX 2070 (with 8gb DDR6 VRAM), and a 1tb SSD as an operating system drive. I had considered an eight core processor, but this is a machine that can be repeatedly upgraded and I don’t feel as though I need it immediately. So we can add that to the list of things that might change in the future. The RAM is of a much higher specification than what was in my older machine, and also has the capability to be of an even higher specification due to the XMP profiles present in BIOS. Which was the entire motivation for building this machine in the first place. I want to be able to build on the system over time and not have to continually replace the motherboard.

I’m not only surprised by how small that SSD is but that it worked without needing to be configured.

As a result of building this new machine I finally decided to replace my failing secondary monitor. I now have a 3840 x 2160 resolution primary monitor, and my older 1920 x 1080 resolution primary monitor is now (an actually functional) secondary monitor which I plan to finally start using. I’m actually thinking it could be a valuable tool for my creative efforts. I’d be able to have references or what have you on a secondary monitor, while having the full workspace of the primary monitor available.

I’m also pleasantly surprised with the new resolution.

Everything I’ve tried so far (that could actually support different resolutions) has had no issue running at this resolution. I’ve run into a few issues where the resolution is actually supported but it’s not very stable, and so I’ve had to remain at 1920 x 1080 resolution for those. More testing will be required to determine whether it’s best to run them as fullscreen or windowed, though.

As with most of my modern systems I’ve had little to no issues getting everything to run. I was incredibly surprised that the Steam library functionality now reconnects to every installed title, and doesn’t require you to manually reinstall each for it to find the existing files. That certainly saved me some time. My initial testing has also revealed that almost everything is willing to run without issue. I almost miss the days where setting up a new machine would require hours of testing or possible unexplained errors. It’s also a little sad to think that this machine could be one of the last that I build for a very long time. Even if that was the purpose of pursuing the components as I did, it’s still something that will be absent from my life in the years to come.

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

Wrought From Atomic Fire

Bathed in the undying glow of a new civilisation.

Fallout 4 has always been an interesting web of contradictions. Having enjoyed both Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, my initial impression was that Fallout 4 would provide a broader story and more engaging mechanics. Which it does. Kind of. Having started a new character recently I’ve noticed that almost every improvement is immediately countered with a drawback. Such as the expanded crafting mechanics, which, while they do function as intended, also have arbitrary level requirements that make it difficult to effectively utilise them.

I’ve never really understood the reasoning behind level requirements for perks.

It feels as if they’re artificially lengthening character development by forcing you to invest elsewhere for no discernible reason. This is most noticeable when you want to craft workbenches in any settlement, as that requires a fairly heavy investment into Charisma and two perks to unlock. Even though most settlements only feature one or two workbenches by default.

Criticisms aside, I do enjoy Fallout 4 and I’ve yet to experience the majority of the DLC which is the sole motivation for creating this character. I feel as though I could enjoy Fallout 4 as much I’ve enjoyed Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas, but I need to experience it from a different perspective to do so. A perspective that I hope this character will provide. I’ve not really settled on a character build, either. I was thinking about using pistols but settled on automatic weapons. I’ve been thinking about using power armour but I’m also interested in armour sets. I’d usually be frustrated by such a lack of clarity, but it’s actually advantageous for a character that could change my opinion of Fallout 4. I’m able to utilise many more mechanics with no build in mind.

If I’d been tethered to a corpse for years I think I’d hate camping, too.

Following the rather spontaneous return to The Commonwealth I also decided to purchase Fallout 76. I’d been somewhat disinterested with the development of Fallout 76 due to having little information about how viable it is to experience the content alone, and (knowing me) that’s probably how I’d experience the majority of the content. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s entirely viable to explore Appalachia on your own. The C.A.M.P. mechanics still allow you to passively interact with the community, too. Should you want to.

Even if the C.A.M.P. mechanics sometimes fight you due to the inhospitable terrain.

I feel as though Fallout 76 has an incredible amount of potential, and it really depends on how that potential is realised as to whether it will be a truly great experience. At present, many of the mechanics function as intended but they rapidly become less important after the first few hours. Like collecting scrap. I’ve now collected so much I’m bundling and selling it.

I’ve enjoyed the (ironic) feeling of isolation and loneliness in Appalachia. Due to a lack of NPCs (besides robots) and mostly being surrounded by the rotting, irradiated, post-war corpses of the characters whose stories you’re following you’re presented with a unique storytelling approach. It’s also a very depressing approach. If the previous adjectives hadn’t given you the hint. As many of the stories have themes of regret, loss, desperation, and hopelessness as the characters adjust to their new post-apocalyptic hell. But it fondly reminds me of the same feeling of isolation and loneliness present in Fallout 3. I’m looking forward to (and remaining optimistic in) exploring more of what Fallout 76 has to offer.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie