The Travels Ezio Auditore da Firenze (Assassin’s Creed: 2, Brotherhood, and Revelations)

When Assassin’s Creed 1 was announced as a launch title for the PS3, I remember being somewhat interested, but ultimately, I never ended up playing the game. In fact, I kinda forgot about Assassin’s Creed altogether. It wasn’t until I decided to watch a Youtuber do a playthrough of Brotherhood that I really became interested in the series, and I bought and played 2 on PS3 some years ago.

Since then, I’ve been keeping a loose eye on the series, and in the recent Steam Autumn Sale I decided to pick up 2, Brotherhood, and Revelations. This was motivated partly by the fact that The Ezio Collection has recently been released on PS4 and Xbox One, meaning that everyone was talking about my favourite Italian in gaming once again. (Sorry, Mario.)

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Moments like this make me glad to not be afraid of heights!

From a narrative standpoint, it has been very interesting to see Ezio grow from a boy to an old man. I’m a sucker for lifelong narratives, and I’m currently halfway through Revelations and still finding great interest in the machinations of old man Ezio. (I could happily go on about my interests in lifelong narratives and life from the perspective of the elderly from here, but that’d be straying too far from gaming territory. Suffice to say it is a topic that interests me greatly.) But aside from Ezio’s story, I’m also greatly enjoying the story of Desmond Miles, the protagonist outside the animus who is using it to relive the memories of his ancestor, Ezio. Whilst some only care about the stories of past Assassins, I find myself drawn in to the sci-fi portions of Assassin’s Creed as well as the historical, though I hear this is significantly toned down in later games.

I have to say, I believe Assassin’s Creed 2 had the perfect amount of side missions and collectables. Whilst I’d not run around collecting 100 feathers myself, I found that outside of missions, the Subject 16 puzzles, the viewpoints, codex pages, Assassin Tombs and Villa management were enough to keep me satisfied. After 2, I feel that it gets a little out of control. I enjoyed the Borgia towers in Brotherhood, but they added Borgia Flags in addition to feathers, city management in ways of buying stores, investments, extra missions as rewards from 100% synchronisation, animus trials and more. And in Revelations, there’s still more to do. Though, I will admit that I am perhaps biased as somebody who is playing the games back-to-back, rather than as somebody who is waiting a year between games as they were developed.

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Assassin’s Creed has boasted odd glitches since long before Unity.

I’ve never really been one for stealth games, but Assassin’s Creed is somewhat different with how you move around the city, between crowds and across rooftops. Anyone familiar with the series will know of its uniqueness (if you can call a game with 9 main titles and a remaster ‘unique’ anymore). It’s not all about stealth, though; Assassin’s Creed has some satisfying swordplay, though I’ll admit that it becomes maybe a little too easy when they introduce kill streaks in Brotherhood. You kill one guard, you kill the entire crowd, so long as you time it right.

Parkour is also a huge element in the games, and the completely parkour oriented levels (i.e the Assassin Tombs in 2 and the keys in Revelations) are probably some of my favourite parts of the series. I love being presented with something seemingly insurmountable and being able to work my way there through conveniently placed nooks and crannies, leaping from one deadly hazard to the next. And Revelations definitely kicks it up a notch in terms of how dangerous it looks; there have been many sequences where a ledge will crumble as you grab onto it, and suddenly you’re kicking off of a falling rock and onto the parallel ledge, barely escaping your terminal fall. It can also be a source of frustration in the general run of things, though, as many times I’ll find myself running up a wall instead of past it, or leaping off backwards when I meant to simply jump.

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That’s, uh… that’s some good finger strength right there.

I only bought up to Revelations, but in a massive stroke of personal luck, Ubisofts free Ubi30 game this month is Assassin’s Creed 3, the very next game in the series. I very much look forward to playing it.

General Gaming Update

So last week I didn’t do a blog post because I had nothing to specifically post about besides having played 2 hours of DiRT 3, and this week I still have no specific game to focus my post on or the energy to discuss another gaming related topic. So instead, as I can’t bring myself to bail on 2 weeks in a row, I’ll just have a natter about what I’m currently playing.

With the release of Minecraft 1.11, I tried to get back into playing a new vanilla survival world, in the hopes of finally settling down in one place and building something that would amount to years of progress and enjoyment. This did not happen. I experimented with many different custom terrain generations and ultimately came to the conclusion that if I had to punch another tree I’d promptly stick my head into the nearest lava lake.

Instead of giving up on the game entirely, however, I decided to search for a good Minecraft server, as the one I usually play on has been down for almost half a year now and despite all of the good-natured Discord updates, my patience was beginning to wear thin. The server I did eventually find is called RenMX, and has a whole bunch of amazing plugins which transform how you approach the game, from the claiming system to an on-the-go storage system and crazy things like hidden collectible cards which can be used to spawn in items, buffs, pets or other things. The server has a 6 year history, and perhaps most enticingly they expand the world map with each game update rather than resetting it and forcing you to start over. Whilst I never overtly minded about the latter way of doing things, I find myself much more attached to a world that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

I’ve also been playing some more Tomodachi Life on 3DS. I won’t say too much about it here in case I decide to write a fully fledged blog post on it in future, but here’s something I wrote about it a year back.

The Autumn Steam Sale is here and my wishlist has lit up green. When I discovered that the Assassin’s Creed Ezio Collection isn’t coming out for PC, I decided to buy the original Assassin’s Creed 2, simply because it was £3.60 and whilst I’ve played it on PS3, I’d rather be able to play it in 1080p at 60fps because I’m a privileged bastard. So far, I regret nothing. I’m also intrigued by the upgrades to UPlay, such as how you can now use particular points earned by in-game achievements to earn a discount on future Ubisoft games. This is an idea I’ve had for achievements since they were first announced, so it’ll be interesting to see if any, er, more agreeable gaming platforms pick up this idea.

I went over to my friends house yesterday and tried some Battlefield 1 on his PS4, and whilst I might have previously not paid much mind to the game due to my own personal preferences in regards to thematic settings in shooters, I actually had a ton of fun. Battlefield has always been a series which rewards players well for participation instead of just how many baddies you done shot, and this only serves to make actual kills feel even more rewarding. Plus, the outbreak of skirmishes around the map make for fun emergent narratives that cause you to feel even more determined to push forward and take the objective.

And finally, I’ve recently re-installed the Elder Scrolls Online, after dropping it immediately when World of Warcraft: Legion began digging its claws into me. And I’m still playing that, to be honest, but it no longer takes up the majority of my gaming time and I’m eager to see how the One Tamriel update has changed ESO. Plus, it may help that I recently bought the game for a friend. I’m still only level 22 myself, but now that I don’t have to worry about being distracted by other quests and levelling up past particular storylines, I can let loose and get stuck in. I’m still not entirely certain how the alliance based storylines are going to work now that I can just teleport to the enemy and start working for them, though.

Kill, Loot, Die, Repeat (Overture)

In the recent Halloween Steam sale, I focused on looking for super cheap arcade style games that I could waste my time on in small bursts. This was partially because there wasn’t too much in the way of larger titles on sale this year, but also because I’m a little… entirely broke. But, regardless, I have come across a nifty little game called Overture for 40p.

Overture is an action-adventure roguelike which draws heavy inspiration from hits such as Diablo, Realm of The Mad God, Zelda, and The Binding of Isaac. Explore vast randomly generated dungeons and slay hordes of cunning enemies!

The mixed reviews initially put me off. I saw many complaints of people dying too quickly and unfairly and not even knowing what killed them, but having played the game for myself, I believe that these players have simply been running into enemy-spawning traps and failing to utilise the game’s running mechanic to evade the ambush. That being said, this game is a bit of a roguelike that you have to throw yourself into and die repeatedly to progress. If this doesn’t suit your playstyle, then this may not be the game for you, though I’ll add that the sense of progression is well implemented, and deaths feel more like a small hindrance than a punishment. The speed at which you can die if you’re not careful can make longer runs feel very rewarding.

Here’s how it works – you have four classes of hero to choose from, each containing some sub-classes that you can play individually. In the game, monsters and barrels and other assorted environmental caches drop gold, which fill your character’s XP bar for that run. When you level up, you get better stats. This gold also carries across runs, and can be used to purchase upgrades for your characters. These upgrades increase your character’s base strength when going into the dungeon, essentially guaranteeing you progress on even the most catastrophic of runs. So while this game may seem like you’re bashing your head against a brick wall at first, you’ll swiftly start to notice your character getting stronger and dominating the earlier stages that previously gave you trouble.

Loot does not carry over between deaths, but it is extremely easy to see what is an upgrade for your character on the fly. In Overture, you’re not going to be sitting in a character screen humming and hawing over which statistics you want to gain and sacrifice between two different sets of robes. Rather, you’ll run over a treasure chest at some point and a shiny trinket will drop with green bold text saying +ATT, +MRGN or something along those lines.

One issue I can understand is screen clutter. I often find myself running into an enemy and being damaged before realising what’s happening. I can fully understand the confusion about ambush traps and not understanding what’s attacking you under the sea of numbers and pixellated gore. But I also have to admit that I find that to be part of the challenge. This is a heavily action based game that relies on reaction speed, and realising that there’s a skeleton popping out of the ground to skewer you on a bone kebab is just one of the aspects of the game that you need to be on the lookout for.

My only other criticism in this game is the achievement system. There are four achievements – one for completing the game with a character of each class. There’s plenty of opportunity to give players achievements for upgrading their characters, reaching certain floors, collecting particular loot or slaying particular bosses. But this isn’t something that a lot of people will care about, and I’m aware that many developers don’t bother with achievements at all. Just a little personal gripe.

Anyway, the game is usually £3.99 (which I wouldn’t call unfair), but it sometimes goes on sale for much cheaper. If you want an easily pick up and put down-able roguelike to throw yourself into which isn’t a platformer or a tactical dungeon crawler, then I’d point you in the direction of Overture.

The Life of a Pretend Millionaire (Grand Theft Auto V: Online)

I bought GTA V on PS3 when it first launched back in 2013, and since then have kind of regarded that as a bad move, given that it was £50 and I didn’t even play it all that much around launch period. In fact, since owning it on PS3 I’ve hardly ever booted it up, save for when me and my friend want to fuck around in a private session. But he eventually upgraded to the PC version, and the game becomes somewhat significantly less fun when you’re running around a private session (or public session populated by 12-year olds with a Michael Bay fetish) on your own. But according to my Rockstar Social Club statistics, I’ve played over 50 hours of multiplayer on PS3, so I suppose that it did sort of pay off in the end.

Well anyway, I finally upgraded to the PC version last week and whilst I’ve still not had a chance to fuck around with my friend in a private session as is my usual go-to for the game, I did decide to give the actual multiplayer a try. Whilst I still prefer the relative safety of a private session to the insufferable explosive hell that is public sessions, I’ve found in GTA V the multiplayer racing game that I’ve always wanted. So long as the host isn’t a dick and the racing isn’t “GTA-style”. The recently released Cunning Stunts DLC has made up the bulk of my activity; for those of you who are unaware, it give players the option to race in the more arcade setting of loops, ramps, and mid-air racing rather than the typical street-racing that was in the game before. I’m willing to bet that this was a decision made after reviewing the popularity of similar-styled racing on hacked tracks back in GTA: San Andreas multiplayer. I certainly approve! Winning a hard-fought race of multiple players in this game is so rewarding, both mentally and in cash and RP.

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Weeeeeee!

One issue that people have with GTA Online is the microtransactions. I’ve heard it said before that they purposefully put the free new DLC at ridiculous in-game prices so players are forced to buy it via the purchasable cash cards. And sure, that’s certainly true to an extent, it’s their business model. But I’ve found that it also isn’t unobtainable through standard play. I’ve only got 5 hours played of GTA V on my Steam account, but I’ve already made over $250k just from chilling out with some Cunning Stunts matchmaking. And of course, it’ll take me a fair amount longer to reach the millions necessary for some DLC content, but it’s certainly not an unreachable goal for those who do play the game for fun and not to grind out money. And I’m not actually attempting to save up for any particularly expensive content; I’ve actually spent some of it on some car modifications and stuff, so maybe that’s why it doesn’t feel like such a grind to me.

Loading times and UI issues are legitimate criticisms, though, and they have been since the game’s release. There’s plenty of annoying nitpicky stuff, such as the inability to start a private online game unless you’re launching into it from the single-player campaign. When in multiplayer, I had a very hard job trying to find out how to simply play offical Cunning Stunts races with matchmaking, and there’s still no way of knowing whether the lobby you’re joining is going to be an active one with 10-16 players or one with 4-5 who then leave. And the waiting times between races border on frustration at the best of times. At the end of a race, you have to look at who won, wait for everyone to like or dislike the race, go back to the lobby, wait for the host to decide to start the game, choose your car / outfit or whatever, and wait for everyone to ready up before a final loading screen. This can take up to 5 minutes, based on personal experience, and depending on the length of the race, you’re looking at actually racing for about half the time that you’re online.

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It is surprisingly difficult to get a picture of one’s entire garage.

One thing I do love about GTA Online is the progression of ownership. When I walk into my garage, I like being able to look at my vehicles and remember where they came from. Many people just have a collection of supercars, I’m aware, but my supercar shares a garage with my Bifta (off-road buggy style thing), my suped-up mini, my Banshee (favourite car in the game), my two muscle cars (one stylish and one for casual open-world usage), that free sports car they gave everyone (an Elegy), my original stolen and insured car that I began with, and more. The other day I walked into my downtown garage and found one of the slowest cars in the game that I’d hijacked and painted pink in a free-roam session a few years ago with my friend. The memory brought an instant smile to my face.

So yeah, I’m having a good time with GTA, and I don’t regret buying it a second time. On PC it looks gorgeous. I should probably play some single-player, too, because I remember being interested in the story the first time I began it. Plus, if I remember rightly, they give you plenty of the DLC multiplayer cars for free in a garage somewhere for a test-drive. So if you need me, I’ll be zooming off the edge of Mount Chiliad.

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The Pimp Wagon, in all its glory.

Pokemon Sun and Moon Special Demo Version

Whilst I’m not exactly foaming at the mouth for the next Pokemon game as much as other people are (for I am still fully ensnared in the videogame crack den that is WoW: Legion), I decided to give the demo a go when it released today (see: 2 days ago, when this post was written). For those who are unaware, the modern Pokemon demos are typically standalone experiences that introduce the player to the setting and key game innovations for this iteration of the franchise. In this case, it document Sun’s (the main character who you’ll be able to rename in the main game) arrival to the first island in the game, and gives you some two main areas to explore: the town, and what would typically be called a route.

The first thing I noticed was the movement. In Pokemon X / Y, they allowed the player to move outside of grid-based movement for the first time in the franchise, although this was still restricted to roller-skates and bike riding. They expanded on this in Omega Ruby / Alpha Sapphire (ORAS), allowing grid-based movement only if you used the D-pad. In Sun and Moon, they graduate from this entirely, adding smoother running and walking animations and removing all remnants of the oppressive grid-based system.

But that’s only one minor improvement. From what I’ve gathered from the demo, one of SuMo (Sun and Moon)’s key selling points is its iteration. There are many quality-of-life improvements that are a great welcome from a game which has a tradition of following a set schematic, and the main game seems set to stray from tradition in more ways than the minor quality-of-life updates. But as far as they go, I was pleased to see they’ve added a way to check what stats have been buffed and debuffed during the battle. They’ve also added a system wherein you can see what moves are not effective, effective or super effective against an enemy if you’ve beaten them before. Part of me welcomes this change greatly, as the National Pokedex is getting too large to remember the types of every single Pokemon, though I do worry that this will devolve the game into less tactics and more mindless button-pressing.

I was never all that sold on the setting of Alola itself. I’m not a holiday island kind of a guy. But playing through the demo, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the cultural quirks which differed from the other regions. And that’s just as well, because they’re going all-out on this; the professor isn’t even a professor, because they want him to seem more laid-back. I’m a fan of what we’ve seen so far from Kukui and the, er, the rival dude who’s name escapes me. I even found myself enjoying Team Skull; there’s a big danger of them simply becoming edgelords, but they were actually somewhat amusing to me.

They give you a Greninja for the demo, and so far there’s been no indication as to whether you get to keep him or anything else from the demo to take to the main game (as was the case with the ORAS demo). At one point you get to use a Pikachu, and that was during the (frankly odd) trial where you had to go and sneak pictures of Pokemon, who would subsequently attack you. I have a feeling that that mechanic is going to be one of those features that Game Freak try to promote but ultimately ends up falling by the wayside. At the end of the trial, there’s a boss Pokemon, which is basically one of the earlier Pokemon but in a different form – which then assumes another, fiery form… it’s confusing. I’m not entirely sure I like that particular direction the game series is heading in.

Z-moves are cool, though. I’m not sure I was ever fully sold on mega-evolutions and having to mega-evolve your Pokemon in each fight to get the best out of them. Z-moves are SuMo’s mega evolution type game-changer. Whilst you only got a chance to use it once in a demo, I’m assuming that you can only use them once per battle, and that they do a hefty portion of damage. And the animation was awesome… though I can see it getting somewhat annoying once you’ve seen it a few dozen times, because it does take around 10 seconds to complete.

And then the demo ends but not really because New Demo Plus. You get to go back to the demo zones and ride a Taurus around, which is another feature coming in the main game that I absolutely love. It beats the bike by miles. Not only is it really fast – and has a charge move that goes even faster – but it also has utility, seemingly taking the place of Rock Smash as you barge past rocks and open up new areas. Speaking of which…

The area you can unlock with this charge is a kind of mini Safari-Zone. And I’m talking oldschool Safari Zone. There’s no time (well, step) limit, but they give you a certain amount of Pokeballs and chuck you into the long-grass, telling you to catch yourself some pocket monsters. However, demos being demos means there’s only three to catch – Pikipek, Yungoos, and Rockruff, so that gets stale pretty quickly.

And that about sums it up! I look forwards to playing the full game when it’s released. I should probably go and work on completing Pokemon Yellow so I can transfer those guys over…

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“Hey Slowpoke, can I leave the demo area?”

Starting Dragon Age: Origins

So a year or two ago I bought Dragon Age: Origins and played through the first 3-4 hours of it, and while I did enjoy it, I ultimately got distracted by other games or things to do. However, since 100% completing Skyrim a few months ago (oh yeah, that happened), I’ve been on the prowl for another RPG that doesn’t have the letters MMO stuck in front of it, and I decided to give DA:O another go.

Whilst I originally rolled a mage character, as I typically do in most RPGs, I decided to go for something a little different this time. I’m a city elf warrior who specialises with dual-wielding, and I’m currently torn between whether I should put my upgrade points into strength, agility, or constitution – strength for the armour, agility for the abilities, and constitution for general all-round not dying-ness. But this little indecision only occurs for a small amount of time when levelling up, and isn’t even really a legitimate gripe with the game. I’m aware that as somebody who started PC gaming when they were 12 in 2007 (and even then favouring consoles until I was 18), I’ve had it easy as far as stat attribution goes, as most RPGs have watered it down significantly since the days of yore.

Anyway, as somebody who already played through the mage starting experience (it was a Harrowing time, geddit?), it was interesting to see the beginning of another character’s adventure and how it differed from before. They all funnel into the same place eventually, of course, but I actually found myself enjoying the city elf scenario more than the mage one, probably because I can identify somewhat more with a character who isn’t shooting fireballs every which way from the get-go. And from what little I’ve seen of Bioware’s storytelling so far, I continue to find myself easily immersed and thoroughly entertained by the characters and the response choices you can choose between. One day I will have to make a character who goes down the purely evil route, because some of those options are very intriguing.

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My main character, Gardon, bears a striking resemblance to one of my closest friends and it’s getting to be somewhat distracting!

The combat is interesting. It feels to me between a combination of a tactical turn-based system and an MMO’s ability / cooldown system. And I have to say it works very well. I love that I have the ability to simply pause the game at any point and flick between my party members to determine what they should be doing and if they need to sip a quick potion. I do find the tactical view somewhat redundant due to the fact that in third person mode, I can see further ahead and around me, but that might be a perk of modern PCs that weren’t accounted for at the time of the game’s release in 2009.

Whilst Dragon Age: Origins is getting on a bit in age now, it’s aging well, both graphics and gameplay wise, and feels to me like a solid combination of WoW, Skyrim, and a Telltale style narrative. DA:O obviously preceded the latter two listed games, but I’m just applying my own experiences retroactively as similarities. If I manage to complete DA:O you can expect another blog post about it, and perhaps I’ll look into Dragon Age: Inquisition at some point too.

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This guy was a bit of a bastard to kill. And he’s only the first boss in the game!

I’m putting this at the bottom of my blog post as it’s somewhat of a sidenote. Since I got this new PC a few months back, I’ve been going back and playing some games that I’ve already played on my laptop, and finding them inexplicably more enjoyable. I’ve come to the conclusion that my laptop’s constant struggle to keep a consistent framerate probably had something to do with it, and the smooth 60 frames I’m seeing all around nowadays is enabling me to focus on the gameplay rather than because subconsciously sidetracked by technical issues. And the ultra graphics options are always a nice bonus, too.