Back to life, back to reality

January 5, 2009

It’s not everyday I get to slip a Soul II Soul reference in there, right?

At any rate, my holiday vacation is now unfortunately at an end.  And what a 2 weeks it was.  Lots of time with friends and family, including some great gaming experiences.  It’s back to real life for me – time to get back in the groove of the job and to try and get over my impending WAR withdrawal.  Over the past couple weeks, I’ve made a significant amount of progress on my Archmage main (now at level 35.5) as well as my Bright Wizard alt (lvl 13).  Lots of surprisingly good T4 questing along with a decent amount of ORvR.  As I mentioned earlier, I picked up my first warded gear (3 parts of the Annihilator set), and once I hit level 36/RR33 I’ll be able to actually wear it.  I also managed to get two real-life friends hooked on WAR, which has only deepened my enjoyment and fed my desire to play.

Along with a pretty absurd amount of WAR time, I got to dive in to Left 4 Dead and blast some zombies, which was incredibly fun.  It’s definitely a nice change of pace coming from an MMO to a frantic co-op shooter.  I also did a bit of Red Alert 3 online, but I think I’m to the point now where I’m just getting owned all the time and it’s not fun anymore.  I’ll probably give that one a rest until I can recruit some friends to join me to finish the campaign.  Rock Band 2 was a hit with the family, as usual, and my wife found out she’s a pretty good drummer.  And I saw just the tip of the iceberg on what promises to be a nice little JRPG in Lost Odyssey – I just hope I can give it the time it appears to deserve.

All in all, it was one of the more relaxing vacations I’ve had in years.  Although my pace in WAR will undoubtedly slow down now that I’m back at work, I’ve gotten a good chunk of the 30’s out of the way.  I think I’ll be able to relax through the last 4 levels without putting too much pressure on myself (especially if they keep that XP bonus – HINT).  I’m going to try and spread my gaming time between a variety of games, with WAR always being at the forefront.  I can honestly say I’m having a great time with Warhammer right now, and I think the future looks very bright as I march on to 40.

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What PC strategy games are in store for 2009?

January 1, 2009

Even though they often take a backseat to my WAR discussions on this blog, I am still an avid player of strategy games.  With that in mind, when I saw Big Download had a post on the upcoming strategy games for 2009, you could color me interested.  In their own gallery-style article (which I’m still not sure if I’m a fan of), the article went through several different games they are looking forward to.  I highly recommend you go through the article if you have an interest in picking up any strategy games over the next year.  I will most likely be buying at least a couple of them.  My thoughts on some of those games (when I had thoughts) are captured below:

Demigod – Gas Powered Games generally has a pretty good strategy record, and this title could be interesting, with the ability to control a hero-type character or a horde of smaller units.  Plus Stardock is the publisher, which is a plus in my book.  It’s on my radar.

Battleforge – Collectible card RTS?  I’ve never had anything inherently against card games, but this just seems to ridiculous to meld that kind of game with an RTS.  No thanks.

Sins of a Solar Empire: Entrenchment – Apparently the first of three “micro-expansions” for Sins of a Solar Empire, the surprise strategy hit of 2008.  I picked up this game last spring and enjoyed it immensely, although the lengthy games tempered my excitement somewhat.  Very good game though.  I’ve wanted since then to get deeper into it, but never got around to it.  I will definitely consider doing the micro-expansions (estimated to be about $10 apiece) when they come around.  Note that the beta has already begun for the first and is free to try with a preorder of the expansion.

Empire: Total War – I have never played a game in the Total War series, which I know is probably a hit to my credibility.  Lucky for me I really don’t have any, so I’m ok with that.  I don’t know much about these games except for the fact that they are routinely acclaimed.  That’s enough to have it on my radar – I’ll be following it more closely as it nears release.

Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II – I purchased Dawn of War off of Steam less than a year ago, and was less than impressed for two reasons.  1) I’m not a big fan of the contant dark, blood-n-guts theme the game tends to represent.  2) Company of Heroes did the victory point system better.  Yes, I played CoH (also developed by Relic) earlier than DoW, so I was kind of ruined on CoH’s excellence, which spoiled my DoW experience.  I am, however, excited to see what Relic has in store for the sequel – if they can improve upon CoH, I’ll most likely pick it up, despite the grim atmosphere that will surely be a part of the experience.  No base building is scary though.

Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor – I immensely enjoyed CoH, but again the whole no base building thing from Relic has me cautious.  I like building up my bases, dammit!

Unannounced Red Alert 3 Expansion – Without a doubt, I’ll be picking this up if and when it’s released.  Still having a lot of fun with the base game.

Starcraft II – Again, this one is obvious.  I’ll continue to follow Starcraft II developments on my blog as they surface.  Let’s just hope the game comes out in 2009 instead of being postponed.

After you factor in some inevitable surprise games, as well as the ones I didn’t discuss, 2009 is looking like it could be a busy year in strategy!


Back and (possibly) better than ever

December 30, 2008

I realize I haven’t been posting too much lately, which was mainly due to the Christmas holiday.  Well folks, that is all about to change, as I am back and better than ever – and ready to provide you with plenty of unsupported opinions and pseudo-news.

Despite my absence from this space, and from my home in general for a three-day span, I have been doing a decent amount of gaming over the past week or so.  I’ll use this post as a quick update and get into more depth later on the specific topics.  Here’s what I’ve been playing lately:

Warhammer Online

I’ve been playing both my main and my alt, though I am starting to focus in again on my main the Archmage for my grind through the 30’s.  I will reach my original goal of 34 shortly, so my new goal for the Christmas holiday is to hit 35.  It is slow going though.  That said, I’ve had some EPIC open-RvR advancements lately that I am looking forward to sharing with you in my next post.

Lost Odyssey

I picked up this little Japanese RPG off Half.com for around $20 in order to play it over break.  Unfortunately with the re-emergence of WAR for me lately, it hasn’t gotten the attention it apparently deserves.  I’ve put about 5 hours into it thus far and have been really impressed.  The combat is nice, the enemies are creative and varied, and the story is quite interesting thus far, even if the main character is a little bit unlikable.  I look forward to putting more time in with this over the next week and into the future.

Red Alert 3

When I’ve got just an hour or so to play games, I tend to fire up Red Alert 3 for some quick online strategy.  With the latest influx of Christmas players, the competition has gotten closer to my level, and my record is leveling off as I climb closer to the .500 mark in 1v1 matches.  My faction of choice is the Soviets, at least for now.  Yes, I know they’re probably the most vanilla and boring of all the factions, but I seem to have the most success with them so far.  Although I haven’t learned the Rising Sun faction yet, so once I get around to that I may change my mind.  Also, my buddy and I haven’t continued the campaign mode yet, partly because of leveling in WAR, but mostly because of…

Left 4 Dead

I’ve only had one extended play session with this game, and it was only with one other person, but it was great.  Me and my buddy ran through the No Mercy scenario on Easy, and have plans with another guy to do some extended co-op gaming on harder levels and different scenarios in the very near future.  This game is undoubtedly going to be taking up a lot of my gaming time over the next couple months.  And I must say, it looks great on my computer, which although recently upgraded is far from top of the line.  Kudos to Valve for yet another quality offering (what else would we expect?).  I can’t wait to get deeper into this one.


Gearing up for the holiday gaming season

December 19, 2008

Well, it’s that time of year again – the holiday season is upon us. Along with the normal joys of the season, I am blessed to have a job that affords me a lot of vacation. Accordingly, today will be the last day I work in 2008 (WOOT!).

In the absence of work, I plan on playing an absurd amount of games. As much as the wife aggro will allow at least. I thought I’d put together a list of my gaming goals/planned fun for the next couple weeks.

1. In WAR, level my archmage to at least 34. As I just hit 32 and fully plan on leveling a couple more alts with friends, I think this is a reasonable goal. Sieging a couple keeps and seeing another fortress would be nice as well.

2. Purchase Left 4 Dead on the PC and mow through the zombie menace.

3. Purchase or rent Gears of War 2 and play through the co-op campaign.

4. Play a game of NBA 2k9 with my brother without spewing a stream of profanity.

5. Not playing any Call of Duty 4. No amount of good intentions will stop my profanity while playing that accursed game.

6. Finish the Red Alert 3 campaign with my buddy, and dominate an unsuspecting online opponent in a 1v1v1 game that is in reality 2v1.

7. I recently bought Lost Odyssey for cheap off half.com, so I want to sink a few hours into that to see if I want to invest more time in that.

I think those are attainable goals to mix in with all the sleeping, eating, and not-working I’ll be doing over the next two weeks. Undoubtedly some of them won’t get finished, but that’s what goals are for. What goals do you guys have for the holiday break?


Sending those commies back to their mommies

December 11, 2008

So a friend and I got deeper into the Red Alert 3 campaign mode last night. We did the final Soviet mission, which took the better part of an hour, and the first Allied mission.

The final Soviet mission was pretty well done. We had a reasonable challenge on medium difficulty, although we were never really in danger of being defeated. Eventually we amassed a huge force and rolled over the Empire without much resistance. All in all, a fun first third of the campaign. I’m going yo be surprised if I like either of the other two factions more that the Soviets, as they are probably the closest faction to the typical C&C game of old. 

Two things: the cooperative mode is insanely well done, and this game has character. What this game may lack on original mission types and game mechanics (they’ve all been pretty standard thus far, with limited exceptions) it more than makes up for with the co-op and the story.  The co-op is easy to get started and well-implemented, often requiring (rather than just allowing) teamwork to advance. Sometimes this is because the two commanders are limited to certain units (e.g. one gets navy, one gets air) and other times because the CPU forces are just too much to overcome without help. It definitely feels like you’re working together. A mic is definitely recommended (voice chat is built in).

The story is a big plus as well.  It’s obviously over the top and campy, with the live action cutscenes the series is so well known for.  Some hate it, but I absolutely adore it.  The actors seem to be in on the joke, and ham up their lines to no end.  And they’re more or less actual actors too!  You’ve got Tim Curry, the bad guy from Toy Soldiers, one of the nihilists from the Big Lebowski, and enough out-of-place cleavage to satisfy even the most immature among us.  Best line so far: U.S. president J.K. Simmons asking us to “send those commies back home to their mommies.”  Good stuff.

I have very few complaints about this game.  One thing I’m not a huge fan of though is the disjointed difficulty level curve associated with presenting three separate campaigns. What I mean is, we work our way through the Soviet campaign and finally unlock all the units available on the last mission. (For the record, I am in favor of this kind of progression, as it teaches you about each unit one mission at a time, which is a good primer for multiplayer.)  However, when you go on to the Allied missions, you start back at first-mission difficulty, only able to build the most basic of units.  It’s a small complaint, and honestly, I’m not sure there’s a better way to do it and keep a semi-coherent storyline, it’s just a bit jarring.

Nonetheless, so far this game has been well worth the $50.  Loads of good times to be had with a buddy.  I’ll update further here on how the Allied and Empire missions play out and also some multiplayer info once I progress a little further.  Does it change anything in the RTS world?  Not really, aside from the excellent co-op.  But it’s more Red Alert that I wanted, and that’s what I got.  No complaints.


Red Alert 3 Initial Impressions; I hate rushers

December 9, 2008
(Note that this post originally appeard at digitalschlotzky.blogspot.com on 12/6/08, but was moved when the blog relocated to this address.)
I think Command and Conquer may have been the first “real” PC game I ever played. I remember tooling around in Sam’s Club one day waiting on my mom to get done shopping (this had to be junior high or earlier) and finding this game set up on the PCs there. I was fascinated with the way you could move the units around, causing the fog of war to dissipate as they uncovered more and more of the battlefield. I think I bought it shortly thereafter.

Fast forward 13 years. After numerous iterations on what is essentially the same formula throughout the Tiberium, Red Alert, and Generals games, Red Alert 3 is the latest in the series to be released. Some would say my use of the words “essentially the same formula” in the last sentence would be construed as a negative. To the contrary, that is exactly what I want. I have loved every single one of the games in the series (except for maybe Generals). For the uninitiated, Red Alert 3 is a real-time strategy game in which you are charged with building a miliary base, collecting resources, and wiping out your opponent.

Although slightly slower paced than Red Alert 2 and C&C3, RA3 is definitely faster-playing than a lot of the RTS games out there. There’s only one possible resource (ore), and it comes from set points that are clearly visible to all players. Most online matches last between 15 and 30 minutes. These battles can range from the truly epic to the extremely frustrating and mundane (see rushing diatribe below).

I haven’t gotten through all the campaign yet. RA3 has its trademark full motion video scenes between missions, which are great. New this year is the implementation of co-op into the mission structure. Every mission in the campaign can either be played with another live person or the AI. I tried the first few Soviet missions with a friend of mine, and it works fantastically well and is great fun.

I will probably get into specifics in later posts, but let me bitch about one thing before I sign off for the night. Rushing. Rushing is the process by which an RTS player acquires just enough resources to build a ton of one type of unit, with the sole purpose of sending that mass of clones to take out your base before you can get your economy up and running. To me, this type of play requires absolutely no skill, unless you count looking on forums to find optimal build order, then typing that build order into your queues a skill. However, few things are more satisfying than fending off a rusher and defeating them.

I’m not saying the game is imbalanced – there are ways to defend all rushes, I just don’t think I should have to. It’s this way in every RTS game I’ve played, unfortunately. Is it enough to get me to stop playing Red Alert 3? Not hardly. I do automatch a lot, and I would say out of the twenty or so online games I’ve played, maybe 7 have tried to rush me, probably 5 of which succeeded. So it’s not pervasive, but it definitely enough to be highly annoying.