DAI: It’s all over

DAI_fade

It’s all over.  At just over 50 hours, and with still tons more side-stuff to do, I have finished the Dragon Age Inquisition campaign.

If you want the short version:  it’s very good.   It’s the best BioWare console experience I’ve had since Mass Effect 2, that’s for sure.  Is it my Game of the Year?  That’s a tougher question.  I stand by its inclusion in my top 5, but I don’t know that it was the “best thing I played all year.”

For one thing, even though it ran pretty smoothly for me, there were a handful of times when the game locked up and crashed on me – including the literal moment before the final battle started, which meant I had to re-load the game and go through the opening cutscenes again, wondering if I’d lost any progress (since I hadn’t done a hard save before I started the mission).

And honestly?  I’m kinda glad it’s over, because holy shit it’s been a while since I sunk that much time into a game; even if, at the same time, it’s been a long time since I played a game that I enjoyed for that long without getting bored.  Sure, some things are tedious; I read the subtitles quicker than the voice actors say their lines; towards the end I opted to fast-travel instead of walk, because I don’t particularly care to inspect every single goddamned inch and harvest every single goddamned herb and mineral; but what would an RPG be if not slightly tedious at times?  The overall experience was far more enjoyable than any moment-to-moment tedium.


What to do now?  There’s something freeing about finishing a massive game like DAI; it’s like finally finishing a huge book, where you’re kinda sad to see it go, but also glad that you can move on to something new – or just take a little break altogether, now that you’re not shackled to anything in particular.

I may go back and finish some of DAI’s side-stuff – there are still a large number of small quests I never finished, and plenty of places I never fully explored, and that stuff can be dealt with in short bursts.

I may go back to Forza Horizon 2 (henceforth, “Forizon 2”) and might even get that new DLC island.

I may dip my toes back into Far Cry 4, or also Shadow of Mordor, and if Sony puts Alien Isolation on sale, I might buy it and try to finish it.

One thing I’m not going to do, though, is finish Assassin’s Creed Unity.  I gave it a quick go yesterday afternoon, once the latest patch was installed, and the simple fact that it took me almost 3 minutes of staring at the map to figure out where the hell the next story mission was located was all I needed to say, “I don’t have time for this shit.”

Speaking of which, one of the categories in my GOTY post that I didn’t get to this year was “A Once-Favorite Franchise That I’m More Or Less Ready To Give Up On”, and it should go without saying that the winner of that particular category would be Assassin’s Creed.  I’m done.  I don’t care about next year’s installment; I don’t believe it will fix the things that need fixing, nor do I have faith that it will be shipped in a working state.  And considering the current state of Ubisoft game design, why should I bother playing an Assassins Creed game when I could play Far Cry 5, or Watch Dogs 2, or whatever else they decide to rush out the door?


 

And speaking of the GOTY post, three other notable omissions:

1.  In the “Did Not Get To” pile, the biggest name on that list is Kentucky Route Zero.  I’ve been meaning to sit down and give KRZ a serious go for basically the whole year, and for whatever reason I never found myself in the right frame of mind and with enough time to give each episode a proper go.  (“Right frame of mind” doesn’t necessarily imply a state of sobriety, mind you; it simply means being open and un-distracted for a different sort of pace.)  I’ve heard nothing about raves about both Episode 3 and a Side Story thing, and I need to get on this soon.

2.  Also in the “Did Not Get To” pile, but with the caveat that I simply hadn’t bought it yet, is Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris.  I was a big fan of the first game, and this appears to be more of the same; I just haven’t gotten around to pulling the trigger yet.

3.  I did end up playing the first 10 minutes of Danganronpa over the weekend, which is (obviously) not nearly enough time to figure out just what the hell is going on.  I would like to give it at least an hour or so to figure it out, and then decide whether I should push on with it or send it back.  I don’t necessarily regret buying the Vita, but I never have a proper opportunity to play it, and, so, there it is.

 

Failure, And Moving On

I turn 39 on Monday.  And as such, I’m feeling particularly reflective and ruminative today, with all the attendant melancholy that such navel-gazing generally brings.

This is probably as good a time as any to mention that I failed this year’s NaNoWriMo, and it was a pretty spectacular failure – I think I topped out at just under 7,000 words.  What started as a memoir-ish chronicle of a person I used to know ended up with a deep dive into my college journal and an inadvertent re-opening of a lot of old wounds that I thought I’d closed, and so I’m in this weird paralytic state where I can’t finish the project because I desperately want to reach out to people that I’ve lost, all the while knowing that some of those people probably don’t want anything to do with me.

I was emailing with an old friend yesterday about this:

I get hung up on a lot of stuff in my past, which sucks, because aside from [one specific thing that I’m redacting for purposes of this public blog] I’m very much in love with my present.  But the thing is, I still recognize a lot of my darker moments in my journal, and that’s the part that’s disconcerting, because it would appear that I haven’t changed nearly as much as I think I have.

So anyway, there’s that.


On the gaming front, this weekend is primarily focused on progressing through Dragon Age Inquisition, and I suspect that’ll be the case until I’m done with it.  If I need a break, I’ll go back to Assassin’s Creed Unity, because (a) I hate myself and (b) I’m almost done with the campaign.


On the TV front – and yes, every once a while I watch TV – the wife and I watched the first two episodes of Black Mirror on Netflix last night, and holy shit that show is incredible.  The Brits know how to make really good TV, people, that’s the lesson to be learned here.


I finished reading Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven last night; I liked it, but it was the third post-apocalyptic novel I’d read in a row, and so as such I was probably a little burned out on the subject matter.  I’ve since started Thomas Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco, which is really creepy and unnerving and good.  I came across his name the other day in a piece about True Detective and plagiarism; I haven’t watched the show but I’d obviously heard a lot about it, and Ligotti’s work is cited quite often as a direct influence on the show.  So I figured, hey, why not.


I’m not necessarily done with this just yet, but I figure I might as well start putting it out – here’s my Favorite Songs of 2014 playlist.

[spotify https://play.spotify.com/user/jervonyc/playlist/1qUgxbGW7oZehDejNwFsUk]

The (Dragon) Age of Anxiety

1.  I’m 20 hours deep in Dragon Age Inquisition now, and I think it’s fair to say that any doubts I might have had about BioWare following the 1-2 punch of Mass Effect 3‘s controversial ending and The Old Republic‘s failure to topple World of Warcraft can be put to rest; BioWare’s got their mojo back, big-time.

But let me qualify that “20 hours” first:  20 hours is a rather considerable length of time as far as games are concerned, and yet I’m still dickering around in the early areas of the game… because I haven’t yet decided to align with the Mages or the Templars.

I mean, the Templars were huge dicks when I met them, and the Mages weren’t, and it seems pretty straightforward to me that the Mages would be better for an alliance… but this is BioWare, and they’ve been known to throw curveballs before, and I don’t want to piss off Cassandra (even though she hasn’t been rolling in my party for the last few hours).

I guess the thing I’m most concerned about is making the wrong choice, even if it’s the one I believe is right, which is why I’ve been grinding sidequests for the last dozen hours and trying to gain more powerful equipment.

I could, of course, consult a walkthrough and see what happens; I could also manually save before making my decision and see for myself how things play out.  And I could also just arbitrarily decide to do one thing and then play through the campaign again as a different character (in all senses of that word) and then really play up every opposite choice I made the first time around.  But all of those actions feel like I’m simply hedging my bets; while I’d like to think that my Herald of Andraste is a woman who carefully considers her options before taking decisive action, I can’t very well believe that if I’m taking advantage of a design flaw of the medium itself.

Real life does not contain these sorts of loopholes.

It should go without saying that being afraid of making the wrong choice, even if it’s the one I believe is right, is a fear of mine that extends to nearly every avenue of my life.  Jobs, friendships, romantic entanglements; I get paralyzed by fear and doubt and anxiety and more often than not I end up simply treading water until something else happens, and then the decision is made for me.  In those instances where I do take charge and make a difficult decision, I actually do feel a bit empowered and accomplished; but it can be terrifying to make that leap.

In the game, however, I can essentially continue treading water forever; there’s no alarm bell ready to go off if I haven’t committed to a specific story-driven course of action by a certain time, and so I’m free to dick around in the Hinterlands until I’ve seen every single blade of grass.  And so I’m grinding because I’m procrastinating, so at least I’m being productive.

It is to the game’s immense credit that there is so much to do, and that so much of it is actually worthwhile, and – most importantly and refreshingly – that it treats its open world with a careful, considered grace, unlike the spatter paintings that become the Ubisoft maps in Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry.  I don’t feel the need to explore in those games, because more often than not, anything I come across is likely some variant of something I’ve already done.

I haven’t enjoyed questing like this probably since Oblivion or Fallout 3.  And even then, the writing is so much stronger than in Bethesda’s games; I love this world, I love seeing what there is to see, and I love that the game’s letting me see it instead of constantly reminding me of other stuff.  At some point I’m going to have to actually make a choice, though, even if only because there’s a lot more world out there that I’m going to want to see.

2.  I don’t mean to keep harping on Ubisoft.  The truth is, I did end up giving Assassin’s Creed Unity another go, now that it’s been patched rather thoroughly.  The patches have helped, I think; the game certainly seems to be running smoother, and now I’m in this weird state where I’m reluctantly finding myself wanting to finish it, even if it hurts.  At the very least, I fully levelled up the Theater Cafe and did all its missions, and so now I have a very healthy stream of income coming in.  I bought some bad-ass weaponry, too, and all my gear is 4 stars or better, and so now my enemies are cleaved in half like a soft pat of butter.  If I must proceed, at least the proceeding is relatively easy-peasy.

The thing is:  while I appreciate that the Paris of Unity is gigantic and really quite spectacular to behold, it’s also quite tedious after a few hours.   I rarely actually walk from point A to point B any more; if there’s a fast travel location anywhere near where I want to go, I use it.  Why bother walking?  So I can get chased by bad guys simply because I’m running?  So I can collect hidden collectibles that don’t actually offer anything worthwhile?  So I can open hidden chests that don’t contain anything useful?  So I can engage in those murder mystery side quests that are just mind-bogglingly dumb?  The only reason to walk from one side of the map to the other is so that the in-game clock continues to run and that I can collect more money in the Theater.  (Speaking of which – the fact that this money isn’t directly deposited and must instead be manually claimed is absolutely insane.)  The world may be historically accurate, but that doesn’t mean I want to walk every inch of it when so much of it doesn’t really matter.  GTA 4‘s Liberty City felt like New York, but it certainly wan’t an inch-by-inch recreation, and it was a lot more fun to explore in that regard.

3.  Speaking of GTA:  the more I replay GTA V, the more difficult it is to take seriously.  Let me rephrase that:  the GTA franchise is “satirical”, a playful poke in the eye of American pop culture, and so it’s not necessarily meant to be taken seriously.  But in light of what’s happening in Ferguson, it’s incredibly difficult to play Franklin’s storyline and not feel like it’s just a way for white kids to feel OK with casual use of the “n-word”.  Indeed, it’s almost as if GTA V was specifically built for people like Michael’s spoiled, privileged son Jimmy, even as it makes fun of Jimmy at every single turn.  It’s hard not to feel that Rockstar has moved from satire to outright contempt.  And while American pop culture is certainly deserving of contempt, it’s hard not to feel disappointed that the game’s writing is so lazy about it.

Here, Carolyn Petit said 1000x better than I ever could:

I don’t think the so-called satire in GTA is daring at all. I don’t think it “goes far” at all. I don’t think it takes guts at all to reinforce traditional notions of masculinity, to mock women and trans folks, to reinforce the status quo. I don’t think there is a single moment in GTA V when the average straight male player will find his worldview challenged, his notions about masculinity seriously called into question, when he will feel in any way threatened or caught off-guard by anything the game is saying about our culture.

It doesn’t take nerve to side with the powerful and to punch down.

4. Aside from my initial splurge, I’ve been trying to ignore the Steam sale, even if there’s a few things on my wishlist that I keep thinking about.  On the one hand, do I really intend to play Resident Evil 5 again – a game I might be alone in saying that I enjoyed far more than 4, and played to death on the 360 – even if it’s only $6.79?  On the other hand, knowing that my PC can run it but not necessarily run it well, do I even want to bother trying Divinity Original Sin at 33% off, especially while I have my hands more than full at the moment?

As it is, I tried playing Vanishing of Ethan Carter before I left on Wednesday night, and the damned thing crashed on me about 20 minutes in.  So that’s a drag.  Supposedly there’s a PS4 version coming in 2015; I suspect it’ll run much better there, but I wasn’t necessarily planning on buying it twice.

I’m also kinda debating whether or not I should get Geometry Wars 3 – and if so, what system to get it for.  It’s a little ridiculous that it’s not on the Vita, I think, which is why I haven’t already bought the PS4 version.  The reviews are on the lukewarm side of positive, which makes me more inclined to wait it out for the time being.  Again – there’s way too much on my plate as it is.

further thoughts on Assassin’s Creed

I get why people hate on Assassin’s Creed Unity, I do.  I listened to the last two Bombin’ the A.M. with Scoops and the Wolf episodes yesterday and both Messrs. Klepek and Navarro sounded fully exasperated with it, and given that I hold those two gentlemen’s opinions in rather high esteem, it even made me re-evaluate my own experience with it.

I mean, I spent a good 4 hours with Unity last night without even meaning to; I immediately found myself in a good rhythm and cranked through Sequence 7 while also fully upgrading the Cafe Theatre, solving a few murder mysteries (which are a neat idea, if a bit half-baked) and Nostradamus Enigmas (which I can only do with the help of a walkthrough, because I don’t give a shit), upgrading some armor and weaponry, finally figuring out how the different currencies are earned, etc.  The hours flew by, and I only turned it off because I looked at the clock and realized holy shit, I have to wake up in a few hours.

Even though I’m having a good time with it, I can (and will) acknowledge that Unity is deeply, deeply flawed.  Again – technical glitches aside (though that’s not to say they’re excused), it’s ultimately the same exact game we’ve all been playing for the last 7 years, with a ridiculous narrative thread that’s been at the breaking point for at least the last 4.

More to the point:  Ubisoft seems awfully insecure about its ability to keep you entertained.   It’s not just that the map is bursting with stuff to do, it’s that it continually interrupts what you’re doing with other stuff that has nothing to do with what you’re doing.  If you have one (1) unused skill point, you will be reminded every 5 minutes to spend it (even if there are no skills that can be earned with 1 point); if you are tailing someone, random crowd events (thieves, bullies, etc.) will still occur right next to you which are damn near impossible to avoid.  It steadfastly refuses to let you enjoy it on your own terms, which flies against the whole point of an “open world”.  (Indeed, you can apply this paragraph to Watch Dogs and Far Cry and the same issues will still apply.)

This all stems back from the insane amount of overcompensating Ubisoft felt obligated to perform in the wake of the original Assassin’s Creed, which had only 3 or 4 different things to do.  It’s true that those 3-4 tasks grew repetitive, but they also made contextual sense; you eavesdropped, you tailed, you observed, and thus you were properly set up for your ultimate task.  The world was technically a sandbox, but that’s not what the actual game was designed for; they could just as easily have constructed individual levels for each assassination and it would’ve worked just as well.  But because the game became a massive hit, and the larger audience was misled by what the sandbox structure was meant to convey, they built AC2 (and every ensuing title) with the express purpose of making sure that every goddamned square inch of virtual real estate had something for you to do.

And there are moments when this works.  Of all the AC games, Brotherhood remains my personal favorite because the side missions were legitimately interesting (especially those secret platforming puzzles and those weird digital glyph puzzles), the economy was legitimately fun to engage with, the villa’s upgrades were worthwhile (and it was fun to watch it get built up), the idea of building up your own gang of followers was interesting and really well executed, and so on and so forth.

But it’s also my favorite because it surpassed all my expectations for it.  I had absolutely no faith that a sequel to AC2 – especially one that was arriving one year later – would be worth playing, and it ended up improving all the things that were great about AC2.  Consequently, Ubi established an impossible precedent, that these massive and densely-packed adventures could somehow get better with every passing year, and that’s probably why Revelations fell apart for me; the tower defense stuff felt shoehorned in, an obligatory back-of-the-box bullet point, like they were merely capitalizing on the tower defense fad that was swarming everybody’s smartphones at the time, rather than making sure it was (a) contextually relevant and (b) fun to play.

And the less said about AC3, the better.

Last year’s Black Flag felt like a genuine breath of fresh air; it was most certainly not the same game we’d been playing, even as it immediately felt familiar.  Sure, some of the individual missions were tedious and tiresome, but the overall feel of the game was so radically different from what we’d seen before.  Finally, Ubisoft gave us an open world and let us do whatever the hell we wanted; we were free to explore on our own terms, at our own pace, and with our own goals to pursue.

This is why Unity feels like a step backward.  Sure, it looks good (when you’re not moving), but there’s nothing in the game that feels new.  Whatever lessons that Ubisoft may have learned from Black Flag were most certainly not implemented here (which seems especially ridiculous, given that after nearly every goddamned thing you did in Flag, you were asked to rate it out of 5 stars).  I suspect we’ll see those lessons in next year’s game, but even that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the next game will be technically competent.  It’s hard to be a fan of this franchise without being increasingly cynical, which is why it’s often safer to have no expectations at all.

And yet, and yet, and yet.  I spent 4 hours last night with it without even meaning to.  I managed to ignore the game’s incessant insecurities and pursued my own tasks at my own pace, and was able to rediscover those old familiar rhythms that I love so much.  It’s just a shame that it’s buried under so much nonsense.

_________________________________

Today is the biggest blockbuster day of the release calendar, and I still haven’t yet decided what game comes next.  I had a bit of insomnia last night so I tried out the first 10 minutes of the new-and-improved GTA V; not nearly enough to get a good sense of the game’s visual improvements, or even how the first-person stuff works.  I will mess around with it a bit more, but it’s not necessarily at the top of my to-do list; I’m thinking of it more as a palate cleanser.

I kinda want to play a little bit of Far Cry 4, because I liked FC3 on the PC and I’m curious to see it on the PS4.  I am intimidated by Dragon Age Inquisition, even though I suppose that’s the one I want to spend the most time with.  That’s really what it boils down to, I think; I can bounce between Far Cry and Unity (and also Forza Horizon 2 and Sunset Overdrive) with relative ease, but once I start Dragon Age, that’s pretty much it as far as my attention span is concerned.

Yeah, I’ll probably be flipping a coin.

The Next Few Hours: Assassin’s Creed Unity

I can’t be the only one who’s having difficulty facing tomorrow’s very difficult decision of what to play first, right?

On the one hand, Dragon Age Inquisition sounds like it’s the Game of the Year; according to Rock Paper Shotgun you “could probably spend thirty hours on the first major region alone and it wouldn’t be time wasted”.  And when it comes to Bioware RPGs, I like to dive very deep.

On the other hand, I’m kind of in the mood for Far Cry 4 right now, given that I’m already playing Assassin’s Creed Unity and I’m already in the sort of accepting state of mind that requires dealing with Ubisoft’s open-world design strategy.

And on the other other hand, I really want to mess around with the GTA V first-person mode.  I don’t know that I need (or even want) to play the entire game again… but first-person mode looks amazing, and the game itself somehow looks even better than it did on the 360, and online heists are coming, and there’s enough new stuff for returning players (including that L.A. Noire-esque murder mystery mission) that makes me a lot more excited than I thought I’d be.

And yet… I’m also kinda sorta starting to have a good time in Assassin’s Creed Unity.  For real.  The game’s gotten at least 2 patches since I started playing, and despite some occasional frame-rate jankiness here and there and some ridiculously long loading times, I can’t honestly complain about the game’s performance.

I can still complain about the obtrusive UI, though.
I can still complain about the obtrusive UI, though.

The biggest problem I’m having with the game right now is that even though you technically don’t need to do all the side mission stuff that’s scattered literally everywhere you look, you more or less have to if you want to afford the gear and skills you need that make the game’s difficulty manageable.  That being said, the game does an incredibly poor job of articulating how you can earn the 4 different types of currency you need in order to buy all this stuff.  If you want to farm skill points… I don’t know the answer to that question, actually; I just know that every once in a while I’ll get a message in the middle of my screen telling me I have unused skill points that I should probably cash in.  If you want to farm hack points… again, I have no idea how or why, and I don’t know what the difference is between hacking an upgrade and purchasing an upgrade, except that I’m almost always short of both types of currency.

These side missions aren’t terribly interesting, nor are they much different from what the main story tasks me with doing, which is why I’ve been trying to avoid dealing with them.  And yet I’ll still run off the beaten path to unlock chests and find cockades and other such collectible doodads, because (again) they’re there, and they’re self-explanatory, and the rewards are generally worth the investment.

The main story is… eh?  I haven’t found it as bland and forgettable as other people have, though I’d be hard-pressed to remember anybody’s name.  It is weird to be surrounded by people speaking English in British accents in the middle of the French Revolution, but at least it’s more intelligible than French people trying to speak English.

Eh, I can nitpick here and there all day; even with the patches the game’s still got significant technical problems, the controls still have a tendency to do the opposite of what I’m trying to do, etc.  But I’m 6-7 hours into it now (I think I’m at the beginning of Sequence 7), and despite my better intentions (or perhaps because I was weakened by a pretty terrible headcold all weekend), I’ve become very much in sync with the game’s rhythms.  When Assassin’s Creed games are at their best, they are riveting and engrossing; and the simple truth is that Unity can, every once in a while, achieve that sort of state for me.  It looks gorgeous, the Cafe Theatre makes for a pretty terrific home base, and when I feel inclined to just head off in a particular direction and mess around, it’s remarkably easy to get pleasantly lost within the world.  And to be honest, there might be a part of me that’ll be reluctant to put it down tomorrow; I may very well end up hanging on to it.

The First Few Hours: Assassin’s Creed Unity

Yeah, so.  I made it to Paris, did one side mission (which tasked me with – for real – finding 3 severed heads for Madame Tussaud), opened up a few trunks, and called it a night.   I am going to stick with it until Tuesday, when GTA V HD and Dragon Age Inquisition come out, and at that point I’ll either decide to stick with it or send it back.

Let’s leave aside the horrendous frame rate, the glitches, and the ridiculous story for the moment – these are all known issues, widely discussed and documented, and I couldn’t possibly claim to have seen enough of the game to comment with any sort of authority (even if I have run into some really bad frame rate issues and some amusing but non-game-breaking glitches).

For me, personally, of all the frustrating things about the AC franchise and Unity in particular, perhaps the most annoying is the UI.  I really wanted to take some screenshots last night, because when the framerate is stable and there aren’t NPCs randomly floating through a room (God, how I wish I’d taken video of that), the game can look quite stunning.

Except that there’s all this stupid bullshit cluttering the screen – maps, waypoint icons, mission reminders, currency counters, inventory numbers, eagle vision timers… I mean, I get it; I understand the point of the meta-story, where Ubisoft (er, Abstergo) is constantly trying to reinforce the idea that you’re in some sort of memory Matrix and that none of “the game” is real; but didn’t I already agree to that conceit when I sat down on my living room couch with a PS4 controller in my hand?  It’s impossible to be fully immersed in the world when there’s so much extraneous shit on the screen.

Of all the stuff I’ve read about Assassin’s Creed Unity thus far, I think it’s this Rock Paper Shotgun review that most closely resembles both my initial impressions about AssUnit and also about the franchise as a whole.  When these games are good, they’re really good (AC:Brotherhood, AC4); when they’re bad, they’re among the most frustrating things I’ve ever played (AC:Revelations, AC3).  It’s obviously too soon for me to know where Unity will lie on that scale, and yet I already feel overwhelmed by the extreme over-abundance of side activities, the crowded UI, and the game constantly reminding me at every opportunity that it’s a game.

I am hopeful that a patch can come out (soon) that will iron out some of the more glaring technical issues, but the problems with AC at this point – and with Ubisoft’s open-world philosophy as a whole, really – are much deeper than unstable frame rates.  Ubi’s big 3 – Watch Dogs, AC, and Far Cry – all feel very much alike, even as they aim towards different ends; and the homogeneity of their experiences coupled with their ubiquity starts to get suffocating after a while.  It’s already exhausting to go through a new AC every year, and Far Cry 3 was a handful in and of itself; I can’t do this same thing every 6 months.

Anyway.  I’ll have more to say about it after the weekend, I suppose, but it could very well be more of what you’ve already heard.

In Which A Whole Bunch of Navel-Gazing Ensues

1.  My rental copy of Assassin’s Creed Unity has not yet arrived – it might come tonight, it might come tomorrow – and yet considering the spectacular number of glitches and game-crashing bugs that are dominating my Twitter feed, I’m not sure I want to start it until the first wave of patches arrive (and that those patches don’t further break the game).  And by that point, when enough patches have come out so that the game is in a playable state, I could very well be knee-deep in Dragon Age Inquisition and might not want to bother.  The larger problem is that the code isn’t the only thing that appears to be half-baked; Assassin’s Creed games have always been tough nuts to crack from a narrative point of view, and I keep hearing that Unity’s story is bland, boring and nonsensically enigmatic, the way it’s always been.  No amount of patching can fix a busted story.  Do I want to spend 40+ hours of my life wrestling with something this problematic?  I mean, I’ve played pretty much every AC game there is (except the Vita game and Rogue) but I haven’t been afraid to leave them unfinished (i.e., Revelations, AC3).

Furthermore, regarding Ubisoft’s actions with respect to Unity’s release – specifically, the bizarre 12-hour post-release review embargo – well, it smacks of bullshit and corporate shenanigans, a desperate flailing to reduce the number of cancelled pre-orders once the word got out that Unity was straight-up broken.  And considering how the pre-release hype failed to live up to the post-release reality of Watch Dogs, I can’t help but feel very nervous about Far Cry 4.

2.  And speaking of broken stuff, I must admit that I’ve stalled a bit on my NaNo project.  Honestly?  The subject matter started sending me into a very inward-facing, navel-gazing spiral of depression – which was exacerbated by re-reading my college diary – and so I’ve been mired in this weird melancholic funk of nostalgia and regret for the last week (which itself has been exacerbated by a nasty cold that my family has been passing around to each other for the last month or so, as well as some day-job-related stress that I can’t talk about here).  Indeed, this morning I listened to the first half of Marc Maron’s WTF interview with Allie Brosh (of Hyperbole and a Half fame) and what I heard hit me square in the face.  I go through these depressive cycles every once in a while, and they’re a real pain in the ass; I get apathetic, and then I get mad at myself for being apathetic, and then I get mad that I’d rather get mad at myself than stop being apathetic, and so on and so forth.  So, yeah – writing about one of my college friends and collaborators has turned into something a bit uglier.  That doesn’t mean I intend to give up on it, though; it means that I need to approach it in a different way.

3.  Switching back over to games: I beg your forgiveness for all the Xbox One bashing I’ve done this year.  I’ve been playing Sunset Overdrive and Forza Horizon 2 just about every night since I bought the damned thing, and I’ve become rather enamored with it.  So much so that I haven’t decided which platform to play Dragon Age on; frankly, I’m waiting for the Digital Foundry people to get their hands on it (especially once the PS4 patch is in place that supposedly fixes a lot of what was broken during the review period).  Because unless the PS4 version is noticeably and markedly better-looking and performing, I might just stick with the XB1 – even though I have a $15 credit on the PSN store.

4.  And now switching back to books:  I’m trying to keep my good-book-reading streak alive, and so I’m still trying to figure out what to read next.  In addition to the list of 10 as-yet-unpurchased books I put up the other day (as well as the countless already-purchased-and-still-unread books on my Kindle), I’m now tremendously intrigued by Michel Faber, who I’d never heard of until yesterday, when I flipped through this week’s New Yorker and saw his newest book mentioned in their Briefly Noted section.  David Mitchell, writer of this year’s “Bone Clocks” (which is my personal Book of the Year and might end up in my all-time Top 10), calls Faber’s new book “his second masterpiece”, and so I had to find out what the first masterpiece was, which is “The Crimson Petal and the White”, which a few Facebook friends also raved about; and it turns out that he also wrote “Under the Skin”, which is also a movie I’ve been wanting to see all year.  So, then:  if you’ve got anything to say about him, please let me know.

The Rest Of The Year

I seem to have picked up a number of new followers over the last few weeks, ever since I decided to expand the scope of this blog’s subject matter.  For those of you new to the blog, hello!  I’m glad to have you here.  That being said, today’s post is probably going to be of very little interest to you; for today is, more or less, the beginning of the fall videogame release deluge, and you might as well know what you’re going to be in for, if you’re coming here on a regular basis.

I’ve said this before, and I’m saying it again because, well, why not:  I am not a professional game journalist, and the readership of this blog is relatively small, and yet despite all this I still feel compelled to play as many of the big game releases as I can, if only so that I can talk about everything in short bursts that are not nearly as insightful and helpful as if I actually sat down and focused on one thing at a time; this comes out of a desire to be part of the larger conversation about games, even if I am but a tiny voice in the throng of much more well-informed speakers.

As it happens, I’d originally started writing this post yesterday afternoon, listing (in order of priority) the games I planned on playing for the rest of 2014. This list, of course, contains no critical insight; I’m putting it here so that (a) I can remember what’s coming up, and (b) you might have an idea of what I’m going to be writing about over the coming weeks.

But after this morning’s astonishingly good reviews for Dragon Age Inquisition and this afternoon’s equally astonishingly disappointing reviews for Assassin’s Creed Unity, the list has gone all sideways on me.

So, then:  here’s what’s coming up.

  1. Assassin’s Creed Unity (PS4) – Thank God I was able to successfully cancel my pre-order – of the super-deluxe edition, no less.  That being said, the rental copy is still on its way, and so I’m probably going to at least try it out for a few hours, time permitting.  I am wary of this franchise; it was a slow and steady climb that peaked for me with Brotherhood, fell apart completely between Revelations and AC3, and somehow was built back up with last year’s Black Flag.  I’m glad to hear that the last-gen Rogue is getting better reviews, though my 360 is dead and my PS3 is in a similarly unplayable state.
  2. Dragon Age: Inquisition (PS4) – Meanwhile, holy shit, have you seen the reviews this has been getting?  I was a bit on the fence about this one – the first game didn’t really appeal to me, and the second one played a bit better but had some very significant and unfortunate flaws – but WOW.  When I need a long, deep RPG to sink my teeth into this winter, I’ll be very grateful to have this one around.
  3. Grand Theft Auto V (PS4) – I felt conflicted buying the HD conversion, because I find the story abhorrent and – well, look, I’ve already written about it.  But at the end of the day, I still have a greater affection for the world than I do for the narrative, and so being able to explore it again on my own terms is a far more appealing prospect.  Maybe I’ll even muck around with the online side of things a bit more, who knows.  And some of the forthcoming single-player content sounds intriguing – like that murder mystery bit, which is a nice knowing nod to L.A. Noire.
  4. Far Cry 4 (PS4) – Given Ubisoft’s worrying track record when it comes to next-gen AAA titles this year, I’m not necessarily holding my breath.  But I already pre-ordered it, so, I guess I’m stuck with it.  I’m not necessarily feeling as conflicted about it as I was with Far Cry 3 (which coupled my already-heavy shooter fatigue with the heavy, sorrowful feelings I had regarding the Newtown massacre), but I haven’t been paying a great deal of attention to the preview coverage, either.   
  5. Little Big Planet 3 (PS4) – I’m renting this one, and this might very well mark the first time I let my 19-month-old son put his hands on a game controller.  I have a fondness for the franchise because how can you not, it’s the cutest goddamned thing you’ve ever seen, but let’s be honest – the platforming can be a bit fussy and floaty, and I’ve never really given the creation tools much of a go.
  6. continue playing Forza Horizon 2 (XBO) – I don’t know that I’ll ever 100% it, but I plan on keeping this in the rotation for as long as it continues to be entertaining, and given that I’ve been putting 2-3 hours into it every day without getting tired of it, it’s going to stay in the rotation.
  7. continue Sunset Overdrive (XBO) – This has taken a back seat to Forza, obviously.  I haven’t forgotten about it, but I don’t know that it’ll be high on my to-do list, either.  (Ironic, too, given that the Sunset Overdrive bundle is the Xbox One bundle I’d had my eye on in the first place.)
  8. try to finish Shadow of Mordor (PS4) – I expect this game to rank pretty high on the various GOTY lists that will start going up at the end of the year, but it never quite did anything for me.  I don’t want to give up on it, necessarily, but I had a hard time staying with it and it’s been so long since I picked it up that I may just have to start over from scratch.
  9. try to finish Mind: Path of Thalamus (PC)
  10. try to finish The Talos Principle (PC) – These two are very enjoyable (though somewhat obtuse) puzzle games, but I’ve gotten to the point in both of them where I’m just not quite smart enough to advance.
  11. maybe try the Halo collection (XBO) – You can’t beat the price, but:  I was never the biggest fan of the campaigns, and I’d wager that the main reason this is coming out at all is so that hard-core Halo fans can continue to play their favorite maps on their new console.  I suck at competitive Halo, so the pull isn’t quite there.

Taking the plunge

1.  So I just received the confirmation email that says I’ve officially signed up for NaNoWriMo, which is something I’ve been thinking about doing for years.  I don’t have any particular idea in mind, and November is also the busiest time of year in terms of AAA videogames, so who knows how this is going to work out, but that’s not even the point – if I can’t carve out an hour of writing time every day, then I have no business calling myself a writer.

I had an idea for a novel a few years ago, and I took a writing class to help develop and flesh it out, but I couldn’t quite figure out what I wanted to do with it, and it ended up withering on the vine.  I’m not sure I want to attempt to resurrect it for NaNo, either; I know myself all too well, and if I got frustrated with reviving it, I’d give up entirely.  I’m also staying away from Scrivener, even though I’m dying to use it; Scrivener seems to be a useful tool when you already have a plot and characters and scenes in mind, and it’s also useful if you already know how to use it without having to hunt and peck.  And I haven’t turned my Macbook on since I updated to Yosemite, so I have no idea if Scrivener is even working at the moment.  In any event, I’m determined to not let technical difficulties get in the way, so I’m keeping it simple and sticking to GoogleDocs on my home/work PCs.

I suppose there’s a part of me that’s annoyed that it takes something like NaNo for me to get off my ass, but there’s another part of me that’s well aware that this is why NaNo exists in the first place, and so I’m going to try not to beat myself up about it too much.

2.  I am now into the third and final book of the Southern Reach Trilogy, which I am enjoying quite a bit; it’s a very quick read, and makes for an entertaining come-down after the lofty heights of The Bone Clocks.  The second book (“Authority”) wasn’t quite as well-written or as absorbing as the first (“Annihilation”), but the third (“Acceptance”) is immediately gripping and seems to be on much firmer ground, which bodes well.

After I finish this one, I’m not quite sure what I’ll read next.  I still have a hefty backlog to get caught up on, for one thing, and I’m also considering giving the uncut version of The Stand a re-read after polling my Facebook friends on their preferred Stephen King novel – specifically asking between The Stand and It.  “It” was always my favorite, whereas “The Stand” never quite hooked me; I’m willing to give it another shot, though.

Hell, I might as well open up the floor here:

3.  I recently received a preview code for The Talos Principle, a first-person puzzle game from Croteam.  I’m about 2 hours into it so far; I’m enjoying it, despite some odd tonal dissonance and puzzle repetitiveness.  I’m not quite sure what I’m allowed to say about it – I don’t often receive preview codes – but I will say that it’s certainly a refreshing change of pace after the suffocating tension of Alien Isolation.

4.  I’m having trouble finding the Sunset Overdrive Xbox One bundle at the discounted price, but Amazon has already started accepting pre-orders at the new price for their Assassin’s Creed Unity bundle (which also includes ACIV at no extra charge).  I’ve already ordered the digital version of ACU for the PS4, but given that Ubisoft’s already made it very clear that they’re aiming for graphical parity between PS4 and XBO, I can’t help but wonder if I should cancel the PS4 pre-order and get this bundle instead.

5.  I’m not much of a drinker these days, but I’ve developed a fondness for spiced rum, which is quite nice for sipping during a cool autumn evening.  I’m not sure why I felt compelled to bring that up, but it’s too late now.