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Dragon Age: Origins – Part II: Gathering the Clans November 16, 2009

Posted by emeraldsuzaku in Blog-along, Video Games.
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Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Whoo-boy. It was a busy weekend. In Ferelden, that is. I pretty much did nothing but laundry, some badly needed cleaning, and Dragon Age. Have I mentioned lately how good this game is? This game is good.

Let’s see. I cleared Redcliffe, including all the questing that involved, recruited the mages, and I cleared the Elves. You know, come to think of it, that doesn’t really sound like much. It’s funny, really. The game is so much fun, and really sucked me in, but there is so much to each segment that when I look back, it feels like I didn’t really get anywhere compared to the amount of time I spent.  I tried to figure out what was causing them to take so long, and I realized…I can easily spend 30+ minutes just talking to NPCs in a location. Since it feels like I’m actually having something of a conversation with them, I don’t even notice the time fly by. And then there’s the length of the dungeons. With all the encounters and occasional NPC interaction mixed in, those take hours. Plural. And of course that’s not counting the various party interactions and sidequests. Like sexing up Morrigan. Oh, you wild witch, you.

So, where to start. At the beginning, I suppose. That would make the most sense.

When last we left our intrepid adventurers, there was a massive battle, the Grey Wardens were all but annihilated, and we had been saved by a rather questionable witch of the wilds. Who gave us her daughter. Sweet. First stop, Lothering.

For a such a small town, there sure is a lot to do here. After dispatching the bandits (toll collectors…suuuuure….) , I checked out the town. Half the place was filled with refugees, and the other half wasn’t terribly happy about it. The first Chantry board of the game was here, which turned out to be an excellent source of income throughout the game. I picked up Leliana, a rogue, and she is still a staple in my preferred party. Her affinity for opening things people would prefer to keep locked has been very helpful—and has the added benefit of free party experience. Win/win! I initially started to stress the archer route with her, but then I had a change of heart (mostly because she couldn’t keep her nose out of melee combat) and refocused her into a basic rogue with a touch of dual-wielding. I also came across a caged gentleman with a wonderful sense of humor, and I just couldn’t pass up the chance to free him and take him into my service. Of course, as it turned out, pretty much everything I did pissed Sten off, so I replaced him at the earliest opportunity…some hours later. So I did some questing, ran around the Chantry, recruited a couple of party members, and drove off roving bands of bandits, bears, and spiders. All for the greater good and pocket change, you understand. After I was finished in Lothering, I decided that my next step should be Redcliffe. Oh, boy.

The events surrounding Redcliffe are a rather lengthy series of quests, and the fact that I elected to head there first added another whole thing. But more on that later. The people in Redcliffe seemed rather cranky, but then so would you if you were subject to undead invasion every night. The first step was to recruit a handful of villagers to defeat the undead horde (and a horde they were). That was easily accomplished with some promises and spare silver. Then the actual undead incursion started. It consisted of fighting off two waves of enemies. (Unless, of course, you leave the village after starting to gather the villagers, but before initiating the defense. In which case it happens without you. That was actually cool. Then I reloaded.) The first wave wasn’t too bad, but the second prompted me to switch the game over to Easy difficulty. It turns out that it is indeed very possible to horribly screw up spell and weapon selection as a mage. I ended up not being able to do jack to the undead critters. Luckily the easier difficulty fixed that. The village defense was followed shortly by a castle assault of my own, which went pretty well. Things got a bit hairy in the courtyard when I had to fight a revenant and a horde of archers and other undead baddies, but I pulled through.

It was interesting to see that Jowan poisoned the arl. I wonder who it is in the other origins…maybe some character specific to each of them? I released him from his cage (much to Alistair’s disapproval). When given the choice, I decided not to attack the boy, or kill Isolde and enter the Fade that way, much as that latter offer was tempting. Instead I went to the Circle to ask for help. Which brings us to…

…the Circle of Magi event(s). Redcliffe got to be put on hold for a while so I could spend a day dealing with that freaking place. I did get Wynne early on (buh-bye, Sten!), and then proceeded to fight my way up the tower. Not much of any remark happened until near the top, but the sheer amount of papers and notes I came across that relayed the plot was awesome. I eventually reached the Sloth demon (who didn’t even make mention that we had met earlier. Shame on him! Unless he was a different Sloth demon. Possible, I suppose.)  The Fade portion was both ludicrously fun and a royal pain in my arse. Not playing with a walkthrough, I didn’t do the areas in anything resembling the “proper” order, so the golem was the last form I got. It was really cool morphing into different spirits to navigate my way and defeat the various bosses and such, but all the backtracking was horribly annoying. The whole thing culminated in a boss fight that started me thinking that maybe I wasn’t doing it right, as the demon kept changing forms, but I finally got it down. Though, not until after realizing just how awesome massive AoE spells would be in my hands.

So,  a couple of hours later I was out of the Fade and was able to finish the tower. Despite all pleas to the contrary I did not in fact kill everything in the Harrowing chamber, tempted as I might have been. Nor did I succumb to Uldred’s temptations, even though I thought it may unlock the Blood Mage specialization. No , I played the white knight and killed all the bad guys while leaving the innocents standing. Then I traipsed on down to the first floor and secured assistance for Redcliffe. Yay.

Before I left I also ran through the summoning rituals in the library and the common room upstairs. I don’t recall if I got anything nifty out of them, but the quests were done. The statue puzzle in the common room(s) was particularly arcane.

So, back to Redcliffe. Using the lyrium from the mages I popped into the Fade and rescued Connor. I was very tempted to trade the kid’s soul for the Blood Mage specialization, but I declined. Now I’m kicking myself, but whatever. I’ll pick it up for Morrigan next time around or something.

Of course, the arl still needed saving, so queue yet another (lengthy) quest chain. This one sent me seeking an urn of dead lady ashes. After a brief pit stop at Denerim for information, I was off to the village of Haven, which appeared to be a set piece for Siren or something. Very spooky, and the bloody altar didn’t help. I ended up having to battle my way through a bunch of cultists until I reached the revered father running the thing, who in turn tried to convince me that they weren’t all bad. Leliana wasn’t having any of it, so I killed the bastard. What can I say? The boobs made me do it. One NPC rescue later I was on my way to a huge temple where the ashes were supposed to be. Several hours, another failed coercion attempt, and some drake scales later I reached the peak of the mountain. Wow, is that ever a big dragon. Dang. I’ll have to come back to that. The “Gauntlet,” as the structure at the top of the mountain was called, beckoned me, so I had a nice spot of tea with the guardian inside. Then I went forth to be tested, which was fun. I like the rhyming riddles in this game. They amuse me. The one sticking point was a bridge puzzle, but after drawing the whole thing out on a piece of paper it started making sense and passing that section was made simple. I made it to the end and claimed the urn. Yay. On the way out I swatted the dragon kicking around and skinned it.

I made it back to Redcliffe with minor incident, but I also picked up a new party member. Zevran (which makes me think of Zathras every time) is an amusing fellow, but not very useful at picking locks, which meant that Leliana was staying. Sorry, buddy. In the end the arl was cured, and Jowan was packed off to the Circle. Yay, and stuff. Now the arl wants an escort to Denerim. I think I’ll do the Elves next, actually. Thanks, anyway.

The Dalish clan, much like the Circle Tower, was comprised of two main adventuring areas—the forest, and some old ruins. Also much like the Circle Tower, it took for-freaking-ever. But this time there were werewolves. Which made it cool. After the usual NPC interrogations I wandered into the forest, disturbed some revenants for their armor, returned an acorn to a giant tree who sounded like an ent from Lord of the Rings, and found some werewolves holed up in some ruins. Naturally I wanted to root them out. I fought my way through the wolves at the front gate and proceeded with an absolutely enormous dungeon crawl. Literally every time I thought I’d reached the end, there was another floor. But I did get the Arcane Warrior specialization out of the deal, so it wasn’t all bad. In the end I sided with the cute nekkid spirit chick, there was a shiny lightshow, people died, and the curse was lifted. The Dalish were free to join the alliance. Yay!

That was pretty much all the plot I went through over the weekend. I did do some other sidequesty stuff—mostly Chanters boards and random bits for the Irregulars. I did also get two sets of drakescale armor, as well as Superior Dragonbone Plate. Morrigan has been “slept” with (anyone else find it odd that she actually put a bra on just for that occasion? Does she carry one in her purse just in the event of sex? Is it a magical witch condom?), Leliana is up to a bit over 90 affection, Alistair is in the 70s or 80s, and everyone else is meh. Wynne is a bit friendly, but my tryst with Morrigan pissed her off a bit so she periodically disapproves.

Speaking of Wynne, keeping her around opened up a series of plot points that were really quite cool. And got me something spiffy. Also, her interactions with Alistair when I’m just wandering (or anyone’s interactions with Alistair, really) are absolutely hilarious (it’s a sock)!

At the moment I have the humans, elves, and mages behind me, a bit over 100 gold in the bank, and 100 inventory slots. My next step will either be Orzammar or Denerim. Probably Orzammar. I’ve put in something over 35 hours at this point, and I don’t see finishing in less than another 10-15 or more. I’m thinking this is easily a 60-hour game. I do still have some sidequests hanging out there, but only time will tell how many I actually do. I’m not doing the assassination ones by choice, and at this point I’m taking the rest as the opportunities present themselves. We shall see.

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Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 – Part VIII: The Juggernaut, Bitch! November 13, 2009

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So DLC has been released for MUA2, and I just had to have it. Mostly because Psylocke is awesome. Of course, you don’t see her name in the post title, do you? Didn’t think so. That’s because in addition to the big DLC pack, Juggernaut is now a DLC character for everyone. Hallelujah!

My party currently consists of Thor (because he’s a complete and utter badass), Magneto (because I used Phoenix last playthrough), Psylocke (see above; also, she has a nice targeted fusion with…), and Juggernaut. Because he’s awesome. And big. And awesome. Also, his Triangle power is awesome at building fusion meter on bosses.

I spent most of my MUA2 playtime since the DLC dropped doing silly things like the last set of trivia I needed to complete, getting the fusion trophy (all fusions with all non-DLC characters), and unlocking the extra costumes for the non-DLC crowd. After that I figured I’d traipse through the levels some more, and got all the way to the secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base. Woo! Some boss battles were a little interesting since this *is* Legendary and I was going for the no-revival trophy. I did do part of one map Thor-less, but that was the only time I ran for an extended amount of time with a character down. If either Juggy or Psylocke (Juggly?) went down, I just reloaded a previous save. The Colossus/Dazzler fight was a bit hairy, until I just decided to take Colossus down first. Then it was cake. Captain America, in all of his various forms, were not too bad, though I have been noticing a distinct lack of healing tokens in boss fights this time around, where that never bothered me on the last playthrough.

I’ve been making sure to keep up on pickups in the levels, and have made a conscious effort to get them all before moving onto the next mission. So far, so good. I’ve also maxed all my Attitude bonuses, and taken another stab at some simulator challenges, with varying degrees of success. Thor is rocking the power pips, and I really need to stop feeding him the ones in the field. Psylocke is hungry, ya know? Thor is just about maxed out on his powers, and will be before he hits 60. I’d been neglecting his lightning bolt power, but I’m seeing it becoming much, much more useful as the game progresses. Heck in the Venom/Goblin fight in the chemical plant, lightning took Venom and Gobbie down quickly whenever I wasn’t tossing bombs down the reactor core. That seems to be the way Thor goes as a whole. He starts out pretty meh, but then gets exponentially more awesome the more levels he gets.

Overall, there hasn’t been anything terribly surprising this time around, other than the awesomeness of Thor and Juggy. Magneto seems to be holding his own quite well, and I haven’t noticed him sucking, so good for him. I haven’t played much (or at all….) with the Carnage or Black Panther, so I can’t speak to their effectiveness. Maybe later sometime. I do need to get their alternate outfits at least.

Dragon Age: Origins – Part I: A Tale of Two Versions November 13, 2009

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I know I haven’t updated in a while, but I went on an extensive sidetrack away from game-related things. While I did fiddle around with some games for a bit, I didn’t really accomplish anything. I knocked out some levels in Scribblenauts, got to Silvalant in Star Ocean, and went pretty much nowhere in Demon’s Souls.  Oh, and I made more progress on Ultimate Alliance 2, now that the new DLC is out. But that will be its own post.

But the real purpose of this post is to discuss Dragon Age: Origins. I had pre-ordered the PS3 collector’s edition from Amazon months ago, and it finally arrived this week. After a fairly lengthy round of installing and inputting content codes, I was taking my first plunge into the world of Ferelden.

Or not. In reality, I spent the next long time in the character creator. It is a very, very sexy thing. I’ve only spent that much time in a character creator once twice before—in Star Wars Galaxies and City of Heroes. Putting some serious time into designing a character in an offline game is a somewhat new experience for me. I was amazed at the various options and depth of customization. And the kicker is that you can only actually customize your character’s face (and hairstyle, voice, and portrait, but meh). There’s no body customization. It’s an interesting choice, but probably for the best. I’d likely still be sitting there if body customization was available.

I ended up creating an Elven mage (typical, I know—but this one was really based off of my WoW character, so….) and running through that origin story. The origin section alone took several hours, and had a lot of dialogue trees. The dialogue in Dragon Age is amazingly well-acted, and the lips sync up well with it. It’s a small thing, but it helps bring the characters to life. And even early on there are some interesting lines you can pick. There is some odd shadowing and shimmering on character models during conversations on the PS3, but nothing major. Movement and conversation work well.

And then there’s combat. Combat works well enough if one is soloing (which is the case for the first couple of dungeons in the origin), but the interface really starts to get clunky when the combats get larger, as I found out in the third dungeon of the origin. By that time I had a cone of fire that I could spew, and would have killed my compatriots several times over had I been playing on a difficulty higher than normal. The limitation of only having 6 abilities hotkeyed at quickly becomes an issue, as well as only being able to pause combat by opening up the radial menu. The game is screaming for tactical combat, which the PS3 version does not deliver. It’s fun for what it does, but it’s easy to see that the designers had more in mind.

The menu interface also leaves something to be desired on the console. In order to compare equipment in your inventory with equipment that you’re wearing, you have to highlight the equipment and hit a button. This brings up two big boxes with equipment details, covering pretty much all the screen. You can scroll through your inventory in this view, but you can’t actually see what you’re doing. It’s mildly annoying. The codex interface is a bit more annoying. The quests and codex entries are just linear lists that take a lot of scrolling to get through. It’s also easy to close a section you wanted open, and to open a section you want closed on accident. Overall, the menu system, like the battle interface, is functional but not optimal.

I did make it up to the Tower of Ishar in Ostagar in my first evening. I had planned to make the ascent and light the beacon last night. Despite interface annoyances, the game really dragged me in. Three hours passed unnoticed, followed by a couple more. Dragon Age really is addictive.

But wait, there’s more!

After airing my grievances with the PS3 version with a couple of friends who own the PC version, I looked into that version more in-depth. It appeared that none of the issues I had with the PS3 version were present in the PC release, and the interface was actually *gasp* intuitive! After much hemming and hawing, I decided to but the PC version. I installed it (15+GB? WTF!) and quickly recreated my character. The PC version has a couple more sliders in the character creation area, including the ability to tweak the character portrait’s expression. Nothing major, but cool nonetheless.

I had to run through the origin again, but it really wasn’t as tedious as I thought it might be. Even running the same content again a day later, the game was still totally engrossing. I think part of that may have been the actually logical and intuitive interface this time around. The quick pause feature alone is worth it. The tweakable camera angles are also great. There are a few more tutorial tips in the PC version because of the new interface, but nothing major.

The interface isn’t the only place the PC version differs from the PS3 release, however. The loot appears to be different in the PC version (and a bit less to boot). Running through the Harrowing went quickly enough. The dialogue options were exactly the same, and the controls were easier to use (duh).

I popped out of the Harrowing, and ran around the tower with no hint of the framerate hiccups present in the PS3 version. Yay! Though, in my explorations I noticed that bookcases no longer sparkle like chests and crates if they have loot. That is very good to know. Some other things also fail to sparkle, so it pays to be more observant in this version, as well. With the mouse and camera control, though, it’s really pretty simple. Things that you can poke still glow blue when you mouse over them.

My next real eye-opener was the spider-infested store-room tunnels. Now, I am running the game at maxed-out graphical settings, but DAMN does this place look good. Total night and day versus the console. Once again, navigation was simple, auto-pausing upon entering combat was great, as was the occasional manual pause. This (mini) dungeon was much more fun this time around. I was in and out in no time.

A couple of quick conversations later and I was on to the third and final (and only *real*) dungeon of the origin. This was where the game slapped me upside the head and informed me that I was an utter fool if I thought the difficulty level would be the same as the PS3 version. That is very much not the case. The PC version is *harder*. Not because of any interface clunkiness, but because the enemies seem a little smarter, hit harder, etc. And later on, there are more of them. I was much more involved in combat this time around, and I got this overwhelming feeling that this was how the Baldurs Gate and KotOR games *should* have been. It was incredible. Combat was fast, frantic, and just plain awesome.

I plowed through the dungeon without much of a problem, came out, had my conversations, watched a couple cutscenes, and joined the Grey Wardens. I did pick a couple of different dialogue options this time through just to see, but nothing really affected anything. Which, since I don’t have any real party members yet, makes sense.

Onward to Ostagar! I tore through the dialogue, and found a quest that I hadn’t run across previously—a guy captured for desertion had a key to a shiny cool chest, but wanted me to get him some food and water before he’d trade it to me. I could have tried to kill him outright, but I decided I wasn’t playing that kind of character this time around. Because I screwed up with my skill allocation I hadn’t picked up a level in Coercion, and I failed to get him his food. Oops. I guess I’ll see about trying that quest next time around with a rogue.

My trek through the woods went well enough, though I did have to reload once. It turns out that in the PC version, letting yourself get sidetracked while the other three members of the party deal with a mob of enemies will start getting people killed. Who’da thunk? Did I mention that the PC version is harder? With more enemies? Yep, this is where it really starts to show. I cleared through the woods well enough, this time conspicuously avoiding the old Grey Warden ruins until I’d finished up my other quests out here. After getting all the side stuff done I went along, met Morrigan and her mother, and returned to camp. Though, not before sprinkling some ashes on some rocks and awakening a demon and having to dispose of it. Yep, something else I hadn’t found last time through. Spiffy.

Like before, I came, I saw, I Joined. The war council was the same, with the same sinking feeling that Loghain was going to turn tail when the beacon was lit. The cutscene of the beginning of the battle once again gave me flashbacks to Lord of the Rings (might have been the totally awesome music), but this time was much prettier. I fought my way to the tower (sustainable abilities, like frost weapon, really can suck up the mana) and went inside.

And promptly got rocked. Repeatedly.

This was the point where the game told me it was serious. That it had shown me how to play and now expected me to put up or shut up. It flattened me. Several times. This was where I learned that just because I had a healing spell didn’t mean that it was actually going to do the job all by itself. I ended up mowing down health packs like a starving denizen of a third-world country, and that finally got me through. The next several rooms were a tad easier, though no less intense, and then I got to another big room, this time with a ballista close by. That I could use. It was awesome. By the end  I was pretty much bowling for party members, but meh. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I discovered on the PS3 that even with friendly fire off, cone of cold would still freeze allies even if it didn’t damage them. I suppose the knockdown from the ballista would be no different. So I kept firing the bugger with the occasional break to life drain the baddie shooting at me and using health packs on the rest of my team.

I tried to cautiously go room by room, but apparently enemies in this game can open doors, so I was pretty much up against 6+ guys at once at a minimum. But it’s all good. There were many mana-giving corpses on the ground—thankfully all the enemy’s.

When I reached the top of the tower and saw my opponent, my first thought was “wow, that’s a badass looking monster” followed quickly by “he is *so* going to eat me.” He did have a lot of health, and he hit really hard. I ended up not being able to keep the rest of my guys up, usually because he was picking one up and squeezing them repeatedly—which not only hurt them, but also denied them actions so they couldn’t health pack when my heal spell was down. Of particular interest to me, however, was that some of his attacks were manually dodgeable. He’d start to throw a really big rock, and I could run out of the way. He’d charge, and I could dodge. I used this to great effect after he’d broken my other three party members, and managed to take him down with a sliver of health left on my main character. Talk about a tight battle! I love this game.

After the epic boss battle I lit the beacon, watched the cutscene, went “Ah-hah! Called it!” at Loghain’s part in it, and promptly got pincushioned with arrows and landed on my ass. I woke up at Morrigan’s hut, had a lively chat with her and her mother, and am now ready to go to town (literally and figuratively).

And that’s where I stopped for the night. I can’t wait to continue my adventure this evening.

Demon’s Souls Part II – Here There Be Dragons October 9, 2009

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I had intended to get this written up and posted yesterday, but circumstances didn’t play nice.

I beat 1-1 Wednesday night. Phalanx was an awesome boss fight. Not because it was hard or complicated, but because of the mechanics behind it. The creation of little minions that also act as shields, in addition to be stand-alone enemies was sweet.

I also discovered an interesting workaround to the second death thing. If you die, and then die again getting back to your bloodstain, you can turn off the system before you get loaded back to the beginning of the level, and you cancel out the death. So you can load the game back up to get back to your stain. I admit, I used this a couple of times when I didn’t want to lose 5000 souls (which, to me, was a lot at that point in the game).

I stumbled upon a soldier in need, and actually managed to not kill him. Go me! I helped him clear a couple of rooms, and ended up getting some spiffy loot out of it. Luckily the couple times I hit him didn’t bother him too much. I’m starting to miss my rapier already. I also discovered that I can hop walls by using the X button. I saw a corpse with an item on it, but no path to actually get to it. So I eventually just tried hopping a wall above it, and sure enough, it let me hop over. Cool. Got a new ring for my troubles.

The depth of background really wowed me. Seeing the dragons on the cliff over that-a-way while traversing other parts of the area was a sight to behold. And they were animated! I found a message right before the bridge with tons of enemies on it that said to try it later, so I instead took the path that ended me up outside with the dragons. Yay. Damn, but they look good the closer I get to them. I took one look at the pile of smoldering bodies on top of the cliff, and decided to explore the lower path. That did appear to piss off the dragons a bit, but I kept close to the wall and their breath didn’t touch me. Got some nifty loot out of it, too.

Realizing that, while it had some cool scenery, this obviously wasn’t the way to go to progress things, I went back and confronted the bridge with tons of enemies. I had just drawn the first couple of demons towards me when I heard what sounded like a dragon circling. I didn’t think much of it—I assumed it was part of the scenery or something. Then the wing beats got closer, the dragon roared, and I heard the sound of flame blasting out of its gullet. I figured I ought to get the hell out of there, but alas, I didn’t make it in time. Luckily, neither did most of the enemies on that bridge. *cue evil laughter*

Now knowing what to expect, I retrieved my souls (I love shortcuts), patiently waited for the dragon to finish its series of breaths, and sprinted across the bridge (poorly) dodging the few remaining enemies. I had a close call at one point where I got pinned between two demons and the wall, but I managed to barrel dodge roll out of that one. Once I got to the other side I polished off the remaining demons, tempted fate by retrieving some pickups from dead bodies on the bridge, and pulled the lever to open Phalanx’ room.

The rest of the level saw me blasting my way through globs of black…pus…with my soul arrow and arriving back at the beginning of the level before the gaping maw of the Phalanx room. Cool. Then I whooped his gooey core and ported back to the Nexus. That felt epic. I love this game.

I ran around talking to the folks the plot dictated I talk to, and unlocked the ability to level up. Yay! Between the souls I had gathered, and the “usable” souls picked up from random soldiers along the way, I ended up around Soul Level 15. I suppose I ought to start thinking about using souls for weapon upgrades, but I wanted to get my stats in order first. I’m starting to really put a bunch into strength so I can use the purple flame shield I got from the cliff. That seems like a really nifty shield.

After I leveled, and stored my crap, and repaired, I decided to venture into 1-2. This level has so far been uneventful. I blasted some goos with magic, rescued the same dude I rescued in the last level, and almost got toasted by a dragon. So all in a day’s work. I do find it amusing that the dragon will strafe the bridge, but not any of the towers along it (so far, at least). Also, I hate dogs. Not in real life, but in the context of this game. They’re quick, they’re hard to hit, and they hurt. I had to slay a good half dozen of them so far.

I stopped partway through 1-2, in a tower on the wall/bridge/whatever and haven’t progressed any farther yet. This game is still awesome. It took me 3-4 hours to really beat the first level, though that does count time spent screwing around with the system (mmm….dual-wield….), and the time in the tutorial.

Demon’s Souls – Part I: We’re All Gonna Die. Over and Over Again. October 7, 2009

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I found out about Demon’s Souls a month or so ago, and after some research decided that it needed to be on my pre-order list. I had some pretty high expectations for the game from the reviews that I’d read, and I was eagerly awaiting release day. It arrived yesterday from Amazon and I have to say, I’m damn impressed. This game is awesome.

And by awesome, I mean awesomely hard. You will die. A lot. The game knows this, and even plans for it by working in death as an actual mechanic and not just a punishment for screwing up. When you die, you respawn at the beginning of the level you died in. If you manage to make it back to the spot you died at without dying again, you get back everything you lost when you died—orbs, max health levels, etc. If you die again, well, you’re screwed because the previous blood spot you made will be gone, replaced with one where you most recently died. So don’t die twice in a row.

The premise of the game is simple: there’s a kingdom in peril, there’s fog, and there’s monsters. Kill the monsters, drive back the fog, save the world. It’s all very basic, but that’s fine. Demon’s Souls harkens back to the days of yore when gameplay was king and stories were there as a backdrop to justify the actions taking place. And the gameplay is goo. And hard. Demon’s Souls is one of the only games I know of where it’s easy to die in the tutorial level. I mean besides the part at the end where the story says you die.

I booted up the game and planned to make dinner while the install was happening. Right. Bad idea. There’s no install. You get to watch a pretty awesome video, then you get the title screen. Then you go. The first thing the game had me do was create my character. I got to chose gender (two options) and class (lots of options). I picked Royalty because I heard that they get to stab and frag. Swords and magic sounded like a good combo to me.

In addition to class and gender, I got to customize lots of physical characteristics. There’s a basic mode where I could just choose between some preset faces, hair styles, and such, but there’s also a more advanced mode where I can select anything from the profile of the chin to the curvature of the cheekbones. The changes are subtle, but they still provide ample customization.

After I made my character, a blond-haired blue-eyed rapier-wielding magic-slinging dude named Vahn, I was taken to the tutorial level. My first thought was “damn, the game looks great.” My second thought was wow, that animation is fluid.” My third thought was “okay, I really ought to get on with it now.” So I got on with it. I came across some glowing red script on the ground, which turned out to be a message. In the tutorial, these are system messages teaching me the controls. In the game proper, these can be left by other players. More on that later.

The tutorial level walked me through various combat and item usage commands, and almost killed me several times. Which would have been embarrassing, but this is Demon’s Souls. Death is expected. I also saw some phantoms of other players running around, which was at once both cool and freaky. Combat is very solid, by the way. Guarding is done with the left trigger, and attacking with the right. L2 is a shield deflection which, if timed correctly can be followed up with a normal attack for an instant kill. R2 is a heavy attack. There’s also an option to grip a weapon in two hands, but I didn’t notice much use for this with my rapier. I assume that bigger weapons will get much more mileage out of this feature.

After the tutorial level, and my rather inglorious death, I was taken to a nexus area. There were some NPCs to talk to, including a blacksmith that had some other weapons and armor for sale. He also offered to upgrade my existing stuff, but I didn’t have nearly enough souls by this point to do anything with them. I also found a bank character, though I didn’t have any excess crap to toss in at the time. It’s good to know one exists, though, as the game does have an encumbrance system.

I explored the place some more, watched some amusing deaths, read some messages, and found the warps to the game’s levels, which I appear to be able to approach in any order. I remembered seeing some footage of a level with some castle ramparts, so I went ahead and picked the level at the bottom of the steps next to some guy.

So I launched into Boletaria and watched a big-ass dragon swoop down and eat some random soldier. That’s when I knew this game was going to be epic. After the first couple of enemies nearly had their way with me, I remembered that I had a lock on function. That made things significantly easier. I have to say, I love the rapier. It’s quick, has a decent range, and doesn’t have much recovery time.

There weren’t very many notable moments (or maybe there were, depending on your point of view). I died a lot. Some of the messages left by other players were pretty useful. Others, not so much. I ran into a few that told me to look out behind me, but most of those were either in a bad spot for me to actually figure out where “behind me” was, or they were placed just a touch too late. But I’m glad they tried. There were some that warned of traps and ambushes, for which I am grateful (and marked those messages up to show my gratitude). The Indiana Jones moment with the huge stone ball rolling down the stairs was pretty cool.

One issue I have with the messaging system is that it consists merely of canned messages, some of which allow you to insert words or phrases. Unfortunately, they’re not very customizable, so the boulder message was just “trap ahead” and not something along the lines of “giant boulder rolling down the stairs ahead.” But I suppose that added to the mystique, and if the things got too verbose they’d be more akin to having the game played for me. It’s more fun when I know something is coming, but have to figure out exactly what. On the other hand, I tried to leave a message about standing on one side of a wooden machine and blasting a boss-like enemy from there, and I had to adlib it. I don’t even remember what my message said exactly, but it was a tad arcane for the situation.

Another thing I learned from Demon’s Souls: glowing eyes are BAD THINGS. They appear to denote stronger than normal enemies. If you’re thinking that if they’re stronger than normal, they’d have to be able to kill me in one go, you’d be right. Here’s an example. I came up a flight of stairs and onto a rampart. I killed the normal enemies fairly handily with my magic (I love my magic). Then I saw this thing with blue glowing eyes standing in front of a fog portal. I approach it, and it takes off half my health. I dodge out of the way, blast it with magic a few times, and done. This is the thing I tried to place the message on. It’s much easier to take out from a distance.

At this point the rampart is clear, and I discover that I have a couple of options for where I can go. There are towers at either end of the rampart, and there’s the fog portal. I picked one tower and went that way. I went through the room, read a message that said, quite succinctly, “goodbye,” and came out on another rampart with an enemy that looked like the overly strong creature I killed by the fog portal, but this one had red eyes. Well, I beat Blue Eyes, so Red Eyes shouldn’t be too bad, right? Yeah, about that. It turns out that this one has a spear, and a multi-thrust combo that can easily one-shot me. Needless to say, I became a puddle of blood on the ground.

I respawned at the beginning of the level and made it back to that rampart. I expected my bloodspot to be right outside the door, where I actually died. Instead, it’s right where I aggroed the monster. Greeaaaat. So I grab the blood spot and aggro the demon. And proceed to run like hell. I clear the room and start running along the rampart I came up, and I hear the thing still behind me. Which freaks me out a bit because so far nothing has chased me all that far. I make a beeline for the fog portal because I figure that the thing can’t follow me inside. Yeah, about that. It definitely followed me inside. I ran down some steps, and it started coming down after me. So I started blasting it with magic. It made it to the bottom of the steps, and I had it one hit away from death. So I stand there and start casting, and the bloody demon lunges at me from much farther away than I had any idea it could. Yep, death for me. But at least I know I can technically kill the thing, and I have a decent idea as to how such a feat can be accomplished.

I respawned as normal, and got killed by the second group of enemies in the level. It turns out that, while my Vahn is more than capable of utilizing a downward thrust to destroy barrels, crates, and other inanimate objects, he spontaneously forgets that skill when trying to attack an enemy a couple of steps below him on a staircase. Lovely.  In an effort to save my bloodstain with 2000-odd souls, I killed the game before it could reload. We’ll see what I end up with when I fire it up next, which will likely be tonight.

So far, Demon’s Souls forces the player to know what’s coming, while at the same time giving the enemies enough of an AI that they don’t always act the exact same way every time. So even if you already know an area, you still have to be on your toes. It’s a pretty solid approach to game design, and works well here. It also serves to make restarting a level a bunch of times not so much of a chore.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 – Part VII: Once More, With Feeling September 30, 2009

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I started up my New Game+ last night. I once again was stuck with the same initial four as the first time, but that wasn’t terribly unexpected. Boy, are the enemies tougher now! Not “tougher” as in more difficult, but in that they do way more damage and have way more health. I got through the entirety of Latveria only quitting and restarting once (I wanted credit towards the no revival/map reload trophy), and that was on the last map. The bosses so far haven’t been too bad; it’s been the mobs of enemies that are the real killer. I used the Femme Fatales to clear the final Latveria map, and I can safely say I won’t be doing that again. Only clearing fusions, mediocre damage, and limited survivability are not a good combination on Legendary. The Tinkerer bot fight pretty much was reduced to standing back and zapping the legs, popping a clearing fusion every so often to clear out the little enemies and get a health token, and repeating ad infinitum.

Other than that, I played with the New Avengers on a rerun of the first level to pick up the dossier that I apparently kept managing to miss somehow. Luke Cage does not take much damage. At all. And he has a nice Targeted fusion with Spider-Man. Cool. I haven’t messed around with the other “teams” yet, but I have reached the conclusion that any team with Thor, a targeted fusion, and a clearing fusion is made of awesome and win. And really, the two fusions are optional. I know I said before that I didn’t really get what was so awesome about the guy, but man, does he ever shine on Legendary. His X power torpedoes him through mobs of enemies, pretty much flattening anything in his way. His hammer smash is solid damage with a small aoe. And his circle power is pretty sweet, as well. I haven’t had much use for his triangle power, though.

So, my team. Thor is definitely in. The AI tends to use both Storm and Invisible Woman effectively, though Storm moreso. So Storm is in, too. Her ridiculous damage immunities also help. I’m thinking of taking Hulk for a big, nigh invulnerable bruiser, and I never really gave him much play my first time through. Plus he needs to take down a couple of bosses later in the game anyway. I’m still leaning towards Songbird as my fourth, partly because she has some great potential, and partly because I already used Jean a ton my first time through. Of course, things may change when I see what I have for fusion types with this roster. The AI also seemed to do pretty well with Nick Fury.

I’ve gotten all the pickups from Latveria now, and it’s pretty cool how the bosses drop new boosts on Legendary. I haven’t gone back through any of the simulator challenge missions yet, and I’ll probably wait on that until I’ve gotten farther through the game and leveled up more, anyway. I’ve been racking up the Diplomatic responses, and I’ll probably get those boosts unlocked around Act II. Then it’s just on to Defensive. Which I *might* be able to do this time through as well. Maybe. It will probably be pretty tight. I’ll have to make sure I get the special conversations, too. Oh, and I need to knock out the Act I trivia game yet, too. I’ll probably use a second controller and cheat the fusion bonuses on it this time.

I finally got around to ordering a wireless earpiece/microphone from Amazon, and it arrived yesterday. I charged it up, so I’ll have to see about taking MUA2 (and other games…like Gundam 0081…) online at some point. I’m actually strangely excited at being able to play PS3 games online now (my internet connection is *much* more reliable at my new place than it was at my old one) and being able to communicate with the people I’m playing with. Should make for some fun times.

Star Ocean: First Departure – Part II: Through Purgatory September 29, 2009

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And so it continues. I played some more Star Ocean last night. I finished the stuff in Astral. I REALLY like Phia. She’s rather okay in combat, but her personality amuses me. Not nearly as much as Ilia amuses me, though. That woman is hilarious. Especially her comment about Roddick being whipped. Wow.

Anyway, I undertook the (optional?) quest to go retrieve an item from Purgatorium. You know, that place I ground waaay too many levels out at earlier. Of course, I wasn’t using this mysterious super-secret-entrance thing, so I had to stumble around a bit until I found it. I was expecting a cave-like thing on the world map, but there wasn’t any indicator of where it might be. I just zoned into the secret entrance area when I got close enough. Interesting.

I met up with Ioshua (awesome name, by the way) and ran through the dungeon with him. The teleporting colored blobs were cool, and the hints were suitably mysterious, yet easily decipherable and helpful! Though, the big multi-tiered room was really, really annoying. I kept accidentally running into the wrong color of puyo and getting sent where I didn’t want to go. I came out a couple hundred skill points ahead thanks to random pickups in bundles of 50 SP.

The phantom hounds at toward the end weren’t very difficult, and now I’m really starting to regret having taken the time to play around with the crafting. I am so overleveled (my main three are around level 30+ now), and Roddick is so insanely powerful the game has no challenge. I assume things will even out eventually, but for the moment it’s all pretty meh. Everyone has Determination maxed, Ilia maxed Appraisal, and Roddick is working on finishing up Crafting. I don’t remember if I maxed that with him or not.

Ioshua has Trance (or whatever skill it is that reduces lag time between spell casts) up to level…9…I believe, and is proving to be mostly useless. I just don’t get hurt enough to make him need to heal, and I’m still leery of allowing the AI to spam skills/spells all the time, as they invariably burn everything on random encounters as soon as humanly possible. I really wish there was some middle ground between “kill the crap out of everything” and “don’t use anything shiny.” The “spread out and attack” tactic is okay, but meh.

The conversation at the end of Purgatorium was pretty amusing, as was the cutscene back in Astral. I loved the personalities of the Three Graces, and Phia is developing well also. The plot is certainly thickening. I did end up requesting Ioshua to join me. It’s another party member, and he might actually be useful later. Maybe. Or something. Now it’s onward to Silvalant, with possibly even more skills. And stuff. Next time through I’m definitely going to hold off on the power leveling crafting thing. I didn’t realize that I could abuse item creation to get THIS overpowered so early in the game.

I finally feel like I’m getting used to the battle system. I’ve played a decent amount of Tales games, which have a similar yet different system (and one that I still like better), but even so it still took me a bit to wrap my head around this one. I think my initial issue was that I was using Semi-Auto instead of Auto, which required more menu management and made targeting clunky in comparison to the combat system as a whole. Auto is definitely the way to go with this one.

Star Ocean: First Departure – Part I: Behold the Power of Art! September 28, 2009

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Star Ocean is another one of those games I started a while back and never really played too far into. Yes, yet another victim of gaming ADD. This weekend I sat down to watch a football game, as I usually do on weekends during this sports season, and plugged in Dissidia. Which was cool. But then I got Dissidia’d out, so I had to find something else to play. It’s a curse—I apparently can’t sit down to watch a sporting event on TV without having something else to do as well. I was contemplating the new Persona, which is sitting next to my chair, but instead opted to rescue the PSP version of the first Star Ocean from the bowels of my backlog.

I started where I had left off, which was apparently in the middle of a pirate hideout. I vaguely remembered some instruction or other along the lines of “kill the pirates, get the boat” so, being all about wooden floaty things, I proceeded to massacre every last pirate I could find. I know I skipped some branching paths in the place, but I was running so low on resources that I really didn’t care. Unfortunately, it seems that I can’t go back anymore to retrieve what I missed. Oh, well. Also, I have Cyuss.

After beating up the big, burly men, looting their loot, and rescuing some mysterious girl, I returned to port. The girl ran off without even giving her name (typical) and dropped her ocarina, which I picked up. I smell sidequest later. Possibly even a recruitable character. I poked my head around town, but didn’t find her, so I apparently can’t get her now. Oh, well. I’ll just hang onto that ocarina for a while.

I took my free ride by boat to the kingdom of Astral, and wandered around the continent, occasionally getting lost by not following the road, and eventually ended up in Tatroi. I wandered around town for a bit and found the ferry to take to the city of Astral, though I decided to wait on that. Instead I left town and poked around the rest of the continent. I found another city, Tropp, but there wasn’t much of interest there. I also found a cave that led to a place called Purgatorium, and I ended up doing some serious leveling there. 400-800 exp per person per battle was amazing for me at that point in the game.

Everyone in my party (that’d be Roddick, Ilia, and Cyuss) gained a massive number of levels, and with them SP. I had already started Cyuss on the path of the Chef earlier, so I finished him out on that. Dang, level 10 Knife is expensive! After that I started popping points into Determination.

Roddick spent his time working on Determination, Godspeed, and whatever else I felt like. At the moment he has 8 levels of Crafting, but other than that it’s a pretty schizophrenic skill build.

And then there was Ilia. I had her working on Art, and was able to max that out for her. This being a Tri-Ace game, I periodically take breaks to see what kinds of cool stuff my folks can make. I’ll usually save the game, but a bunch of ingredients and go craft. If I don’t like what I see, I’ll reload and craft again. This way I get a feel for what each character is liable to make me with the skills they have and with the levels they are at. I figured that with Art I’d be able make some cool stuff that would be a little ahead of where I was at at the time, but I was rather unprepared for what I actually got.

At first, I popped a couple of Jack-in-the-Boxes. Generally those resulted in junk, or a random battle that killed me quickly and messily. I kept reloading and retrying, and then I got a Goody Box. Oh, dear. I saved and opened that a few times, and ended up with a Sword of Marvels. Helllloooooo, overpowered Roddick! Coupled with the Ring of Might and Berserker ring he made from crafting random crap I had lying around, he now hits for 3500-4000 when everyone else is hitting for 200-ish. And heaven forbid he gets a Power Surge. I ran him through the Rank C arena fights and got the Omega SFT skill, which I promptly maxed with him. And in my next battle I promptly learned Omega Double Slash. That one hits for 7000-8000 per hit. Yowza! I didn’t bother going any further in the arena, or working on breaking things with any of the other characters because I’d been at it for a while and, well, one broken character really is enough for me right now. Though I did get an Arbalest out of one of my last jack-in-the-Boxes and am now awaiting someone who can actually use it.

I went back to Tatroi and took the ferry to Astral city. Phia appears to be rather amusing. When she’s not killing people. And sometimes even when she is. Oh, wait, it’s not really Phia. It’s really some spider demon chick things. Ewwww. Must squash like bug! Or arachnid! *puts on J. Jonah Jameson mustache*

I followed the demonic spider lady into the cave between Astral and Tatroi, and went pretty much all the way through it. I found the boss fight before I had finished exploring the cave so I reloaded to the save point right before her. I finished exploring, and ended up finding the way back to the beginning of the tunnel. The game was over at that point, so I healed up at the statue, saved at the save point right there, and quit for the night. I’ll run back through the tunnel and squash spider chick later. Possibly tonight.

And yes, I’ll likely be getting back to the Legendary run-through of MUA2 later this week. When football’s not on.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 – Part VI: The Highest Platform of the Tallest Spire September 25, 2009

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Well, I beat MUA2 on Heroic. I was moderately surprised that the last Act was one big stream of maps; there was no brief intermission back at the HQ. I was around level 31, and finished with a team of Storm, Jean, Gambit, and Wolverine. The FBS was doing ~1800-ish to bosses. Sweet. The final boss has a few tricks, though the game tells you, rather insistently, how to get around them, so that’s not a big deal. He does toss out a lot of difficult to avoid damage, though. There were plenty of healing tokens around, though, and Phoenix had a couple of timely resurrections on the way to him, though. I wonder if a Phoenix revival via her ability constitutes a revival for the purposes of the trophy. Hmm. Not that it really matters since I’ll likely not be using her this playthrough.

I did run through a couple of previous maps to try and get the “Lead team xxx for a whole map” heroic deeds, but it didn’t work for either Luke Cage or Captain America. Which is weird because I DID get it last night for Reed and the Fantastic Four. No idea what’s going on there. I’ll just pick it up on Legendary, I guess.

The ending was short and sweet. I was expecting something a bit more, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what. The conversation during the credits was hilarious.

I saved my game and went to the next mission console to start a new game + on Legendary. I was hoping I would be able to swap characters around from the get-go this time, but I’m still locked into a preset team initially like a normal new game. I did notice, however, that the Anti-Reg abilities are still unlocked. I’ll have to see if they stay that way after I choose a side, but I suspect they will. Which means that on this palythrough everyone will have access to all their abilities, and not just their faction-specific and universal ones.

So far the big difference is that things have a lot more health, and hit harder. So pretty much just as expected. I saved right at the beginning of the map so I can cheat the system if I end up in a revival position. I can just quit and reload my save without it counting as a reload of the map. Yay. Since there’s very little leeway if one wants the 25 maps with no revival or reload trophy, and the rumor is circulating that I won’t be able to retry a level via the simulator if I need to and have it count for the trophy, I figure this is a decent way to go about it. Though I suspect that I’ll be replaying levels as much as I need to get all the pickups before moving on to the next one. That should also help boost my levels, as I anticipate the bosses being a pain.

I’m not sure who I’m going to focus on as my main team this time around. I’m leaning towards Nick Fury, Thor, and Songbird, but I don’t have a definite plan for the final spot. There will likely be some switching so I can get some stats stuff out of the way, but I want to have a solid core again.

Anyway, that’s enough MUA for now. Time to watch some football and catch up on the month or so of comics I’ve been behind since I moved.

Marvel Utimate Alliance 2 – Part V: The Daily Grind September 24, 2009

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I didn’t get much done tonight. All I did was go into the Basic Training sim and work on unlocking costumes and boosts. All of the Anti-Reg specific requirements are done now, so I can either play through Act 4 and just try to pick them up in Legendary, or get everything out of the way I can right now. There are a couple of things I want to figure out as far as how things count, so I’ll probably run back through a couple of missions with some specific teams and see what happens. Other than that, though, I don’t think I want to grind any further. I’ll have plenty to do on Legendary regardless.