weekend recap: Dangerous Golf, Overwatch, Blood & Wine

Today’s favorite album:  Steve Gunn, “Eyes on the Lines.”

This was a very busy weekend; lots of fun family activities, plus also a wee bit of a stomach bug last night.  You can’t win ’em all.

I’ve got three games I want to talk about, so let’s get to it.

First up: the eagerly anticipated Dangerous Golf, the first game from the ex-heads of Criterion Games, makers of the Burnout driving games, also known as my personal favorite driving series of all time.  On paper, this sounds like a perfect little arcade diversion: take Burnout’s crash mode, but instead of a car smashing other cars in glorious slow-motion, it’s a golf ball destroying hundreds of fragile, breakable objects in an assortment of rooms.

In execution… well, it’s not quite there.  It’s so close to being great.  Sadly, it feels a little rushed and unpolished.  The impression one gets after an hour or so is that this is a snazzy proof-of-concept physics demo, rather than a well-thought-out game experience.  And it’s not just the strangely bare-boned career mode, or the inconsistent camera control, or the aggravating load times; there’s just a curious lack of attention to detail that make this feel a lot rougher than it ought to be.  Just as an example, there’s no interstitial music.  This is obviously not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, but it does come off as an oversight that ends up becoming more and more distracting.  Ironically, the 5-second guitar flourishes at the conclusion of each round sound not unlike the sound cues you’d hear after putting a set list together in Rock Band, which is *also* just a bit weird.

There’s also little things like having the control scheme graphic feature a whole bunch of advanced features that don’t actually unlock right away, which can lead to some frustration.  Key example – there’s a thing called “Pistol Tee” and “Pistol Putt”, which happen by pushing RT when you tee or putt (obviously).  But you don’t unlock those two things until after your 2nd “tour” is complete, and even when you unlock them, they aren’t ever explained.  Indeed, the whole putting game is never explained – and you can’t move the camera after you shoot, so when the flag is in a different room you can’t see where your shot is going.

These are things that could arrive in a future patch, but I can’t imagine they would.  I know lots and lots of Burnout fans who have yet to play this game – either they don’t know about it, or they’re busy playing Overwatch, or they just don’t care.  It’s a shame, because with a little more elbow grease this could be a ton of fun.  As it is, it’s almost a ton of fun – and I’m giving it the extreme benefit of the doubt, given that (a) I love golf games, (b) I love the developers’ previous work, and (c) this combination is right in my wheelhouse,  but I don’t know how much more time I’m going to spend with it.

* * *

And speaking of giving prominent game developers the benefit of the doubt – as well as mentioning Overwatch in passing – well, my rental copy of Overwatch finally showed up on Saturday.  I am probably not going to play very much of it.

But I want to stress that this isn’t the game’s fault.

I have nothing but respect for Blizzard’s past work, and Overwatch has received superlative writeups from all the critics I care about, and my friends all love it, and I’m all in favor of vibrant colors and a diverse cast of characters.

The problem, of course, is that I do not like competitive shoot-’em-ups, no matter how amazing they are.  Maybe it’s a genetic thing; maybe I’m never going to like competitive shooters.  It’s the part of every big game that I go out of my way to avoid:  Halo, Call of Duty, Uncharted, Gears of War, Destiny, The Division – I just can’t do it, man.  It’s not even that I suck at them – I mean, I kinda suck at Rocket League but that game’s never coming off my PS4 hard drive*, because even being terrible at it is still super-fun.  There’s a certain mind-set that goes into enjoying competitive shooters, and I just don’t have it, and I don’t know that I ever will.  I’ll be very curious to see what game comes along to break that particular pattern, especially given that I’m always going to be older than the target demographic, and also given that I will eventually spend less time per night gaming than I used to.

Finally, I gotta talk about The Witcher 3 – Blood and Wine DLC.

As I noted last week, I had no idea that I could’ve been playing the first DLC all along.  So I started a new character and began the first Hearts of Stone mission and very quickly  realized that it was all familiar, and very quickly remembered that I’d already played it  and simply forgotten that I’d done so.  So I then immediately started the new one, Blood & Wine.  Now we’re all caught up.

Here’s the thing about this particular bit of DLC – it’s a perfect bit for a player like me, someone who loved the original game but hadn’t played it seriously in a long time and had forgotten what the overall rhythms of the gameplay experience feel like.  Unlike other prominent RPG DLC missions, this is not merely a quest with some side objectives; this is an entirely new and rather large landmass, with at least a dozen heavy-duty side-quests that I’m compelled to tackle if only because I’m still underleveled for the main quest.

I haven’t even really begun to mess with the whole “I own a vineyard and a country villa” angle, if only because I’d already foolishly spent a lot of money improving a different DLC merchant before I realized what I needed it for.

The long and short of it is:  godDAMN I love this game.  I love how this game is built; each quest has its own pace and its own “hook”, and the characters you meet are almost always interesting.  It’s nearly impossible to predict how a given quest will flow; even the monster-hunting quests, which are the closest thing this game has to a “cookie-cutter” approach, are different in terms of your combat tactics.

Here’s another thing about Witcher 3 – it’s completely ruined Bethesda’s RPGs for me. I was already having trouble enjoying Fallout 4, and now I know I’ll never be able to go back to it after this.  Same goes for Skyrim and Oblivion and the like; even if Bethesda remasters them for current-gen consoles, they’ll still feel clunky and archaic.  Playing Fallout 4 after playing Witcher 3 is similar to what it’s like to play GTA 3 after playing GTA 5; even though I adore GTA 3, it’s damn-near impossible to play given how shitty the controls are.  And Fallout 4’s cutscenes and writing just simply aren’t as sharp or as interesting as Witcher 3; and Geralt is infinitely more compelling than any blank cipher I come up with.

But whatever – I’m not here to be sad about Bethesda, I’m here to celebrate The Witcher 3 – one of the finest games of this generation, and one of my favorite games of all time.  I’m so glad to have a compelling reason to revisit it, and I’m even happier that this DLC is, so far, really, really good.

* This reminds me of a question that popped up on Twitter not too long ago – what games will you always keep on your hard drive?   My PC, when it was working, had a 1.5TB hard drive and so everything stayed on it.  My XB1 doesn’t really get used all that often, but I will always make sure that Pinball FX2 stays on, and I suppose I’ll always keep the latest Forza Horizon title on.  (I did recently delete and then re-install Sunset Overdrive, because I forgot how to play it and the only way to re-tutorialize is to completely wipe out any record of you playing it, both locally and in the cloud, and I can’t believe this hasn’t been fixed yet.)  As for the PS4, my primary console of choice – well, I’ve had to do a fair amount of juggling in the last year or so, but I suppose I’ll always make sure I have room for Witcher 3 and Rocket League.

Weekend Recap: Back Into Hell

SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT: my new piece for Gamemoir just went up!  
“What the E.T. Game Taught Me About Life, Criticism, and Self-Doubt”

The short version:  I am utterly surprised to find myself thoroughly re-addicted to Diablo III, after spending nearly 2 years away from it in a self-imposed exile.

The question inspired by the long version:  How do you make the simple, repetitive, monotonous and tedious act of left- and right-clicking a million times compelling?  And when one has spent over 80 hours doing this, thoroughly burning themselves out in the process to the point where the mere idea of playing other, similar games causes mild panic attacks (I again apologize to Torchlight II), how do you get them to come back?

This was a busy and productive weekend as far as non-gaming, family business was concerned – though this is not the proper venue to discuss that (at least not quite yet).   But it’s worth bringing up if only to explain what I found myself doing on Saturday morning.

I was a little nervous about our day-trip activities on Saturday; and so, in need of some sort of distraction, I felt compelled to fix my Blizzard account, which had been broken for quite some time.  [For purposes of clarity, I’m going to lay this out in bullet points, mostly because it’s Monday and when I wrote this as a long paragraph, even I lost the thread.]

  • At the height of my Diablo III addiction, I’d attached an Authenticator to my account in the interest of added security.  As you do.
  • But then, at a certain point long after I’d stopped playing regularly, the iPhone that the Authenticator app was attached to broke and needed to be replaced.
  • When I got my iPhone replaced, and when I got around to re-downloading the Authenticator app, the sync was off and I couldn’t log in.
  • As it happens, this wasn’t necessarily the end of the world – my PC hard drive had crashed around the same time, and when I replaced it, I never bothered to reinstall Diablo III, since I figured I was still done with it.
  • When the Reaper of Souls expansion was announced, I found myself mildly curious, but, of course, my account was still screwed up and when I looked into how to fix it, it seemed like too much work to bother.  (Blizzard is really serious about making sure you want to remove your Authenticator, requiring Government-issued IDs and such.)
  • But now there’s Hearthstone, which I’m kinda wanting to start to engage with, and I felt like I really ought to get off my ass and fix the account, since maybe I have friends who are playing?
  • And so I bit the bullet and dealt with Blizzard security and fixed my account.
  • And then I figured, well, now that I can log in again, why not download Diablo III again while we’re out on our adventure so that I can see what’s up when we came back?

Upon our return, and after the kid went to bed, I saw that Diablo III had, in fact, finished downloading.  And so I fired it up.  And then I found myself accidentally on purpose buying the aforementioned Reaper of Souls expansion, and then I looked up and saw that 4 hours had flown by.

Now, as far as I can tell, this post from August 2012 marks the last time I spent any significant time with Diablo III, and that was really just to check out the 1.0.4 patch, in hopes that the tweaks were enough to keep me invested.  [tl,dr:  It was intriguing, but not enough.]

It’s kinda frightening how quickly it all came back.  My stats bore out that I’d already sunk over 80 hours into it when it first came out – I’d hit the level cap with my female Monk*, and I’d gotten 2 other classes somewhat up to speed, and I’d ultimately burned myself out because the endgame was repetitive and tedious and the loot was hardly worth the time or effort – most of what I’d been equipping was stuff from the Auction House anyway.  Indeed, Blizzard had been aware of this very issue, and if I recall correctly that’s what the 1.0.4 patch was intended to address.  It wasn’t enough for me; I’d seen everything the campaign had to offer 10 times over, and the higher loot drop rate just wasn’t enough of a pull anymore.

But nearly 2 years later, the game feels remarkably fresh and revitalized, and – as far as the new campaign is concerned – I’m totally sucked back in.  I have barely scratched the surface of what’s new and improved, as I’ve only touched the new act of the campaign, but I can at least verify firsthand that kick-ass, equippable loot is dropping for me about every 5-10 minutes or so, even on Normal difficulty.  The mind reels at what will start dropping once I finish this run and start at a higher difficulty level.

In fact, here’s my current build – and I’m nearly positive that everything I’ve equipped is all brand-new stuff I’ve picked up since Saturday night, which is insane.  I mean, it used to take me hours just to find one usable weapon that was markedly improved from what I’d equipped; but now, in just a few hours’ worth of play, nearly every equippable slot has seen at least one incredible new drop.


So, yeah, I’m totally enjoying the shit out of it,again, which I suppose is the greatest surprise of all.  I suppose I’d sort-of been checking out the PS4 version whenever it came out, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to play through the original campaign again – nor was I sure that I’d have access to my current character roster, and the thought of losing 80+ hours of progress just to play the game on my TV wasn’t particularly appealing.  In any event, this is a moot point now – I prefer playing this game with a mouse and keyboard, in the relative quiet of my office, and my PC runs the game quite well.

I’m not sure I can answer the question I posed above – the one about how Blizzard has managed to make me fall in love all over again with something I’d been thoroughly exhausted by – but goddamn, they totally succeeded.  Even if it’s simply a matter of performance – and I should definitely point out that the game is running much smoother now than it ever did before (which I’m sure is a combination of both Blizzard fixing things on their end, and my securing of a faster internet connection since the last time I’d played), it’d be enough to have a transformative experience.   I’d also wager that having a new campaign to play is helping to keep things fresh.

But I suppose the kick-ass loot has something to do with it too.

* I’m not sure why I took the time to mention that she’s female, except that later this month I’ll be publishing something on Videodame.com about my experiences playing as female characters – whether by the game’s choice or my own – and when I was putting together my research and going through all the times I’ve played as a woman, I guess I’d totally forgotten than I’d rolled a female monk in Diablo III, probably because I’d blocked out Diablo III from my brain.


A quick addendum, and then a quick adieu

I’m going on vacation tomorrow, and so unless I get really bored and/or really sick and can’t do anything with my family, this blog is going to be silent for the next week.

But before I go, I just wanted to make a quick adjustment to yesterday’s Trials Fusion impressions.  I’d downloaded and played the game on Tuesday night, and so Wednesday morning I’d made mention of the excruciatingly long load times after races.  I played a little bit last night, though, and those long loading times are gone.  Like, completely gone.  So maybe the servers weren’t working right, or something – you can never tell with Uplay-  but in any event, consider that particular demerit scratched out.

I’ve been filling up my iPad with some stuff to play – Hitman GoWarhammer QuestFTLShadowrun, and then finally Hearthstone, which people are flipping out about.

I’m a little concerned about playing Hearthstone, though, specifically because my Blizzard account is totally screwed up.  Back when I was addicted to Diablo 3 on my PC, I’d used the iPhone’s Authenticator app for some added security.  Problem is, the original iPhone that the app was on broke, so I never had a chance to formally remove it or de-authorize it or what-have-you; and when I tried logging in a few months ago, I had to re-download the Authenticator and it was never able to sync up with my account.  So then I tried removing the Authenticator entirely from my account, which is something that apparently requires a passport and possibly a lawyer.

I’ll need to get that problem resolved eventually – there is a part of me that really wants to check out the recent Diablo 3 expansion, either on PC or on PS4 – but in the meantime, I might just have to create a dummy account and hope I don’t screw anything up too terribly.

Anyway.  That’s my problem, not yours.  I’ll see you all on Monday, April 28.  Maybe I’ll have my Vita back by then!

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