Trying my best to be a team player and not get hypothermia in The Division

tom-clancy-the-division-survival-gd-impressions

Tom Clancy’s The Division sure has had an interesting year and change, and I’m actually quite mixed on the game. Like a piece of delicious chocolate that is marred by the powerful taste of disgusting coconut, there’s good and there’s bad. It did make my list of my five favorites for all of 2016, but I know that a lot of that backing had to do with simply just how much time I put into it over the few months I dug deep over getting all them dumb collectibles. However, I quickly found that the end-game material was less appealing and eventually drifted away from snowy, apocalyptic New York City as my shallow pool of online friends greatly dwindled, returning briefly to play a bit of Underground, its first expansion last summer.

Since then, two more expansions have dropped, namely Survival and Last Stand, bringing about a number of changes to The Division‘s inner workings and plethora of systems involving math, as well as making running around the Big Apple worthwhile even after hitting the level cap. Well, not entirely worthwhile, but more. There’s still a hollowness to the running around, but at least new meters are filling up and check-boxes are being checked on a frequent basis. I’m really good at the daily challenges involving destroying weapons and gear for crafting materials that I’ll never ever use; I can hold the stick in for days.

Well, instead of devoting a post to each piece of DLC and clogging up Grinding Down in all things The Division, I figured I’d lump everything together for one single critical damage attack since I’ve now gotten to dabble in every expansion though I do not claim I was often successful. In fact, I mostly died a bunch. Still, there are thoughts, so out into the contaminated snow we go…

Underground was the first expansion released for The Division and focuses on exploring the uncharted underworld of New York City. Players are tasked with chasing after enemies with up to three other Agents through a maze of tunnels and subways. Or, if you are like me, you’ll play it solo and on the easiest difficulty in hopes of finding all the collectibles which, thanks to the randomly generated levels, are found only on a wing and a prayer. I think I’ve collected five of one type and four of another so far and have leveled up my overall Underground rank to about 13. As you level up this rank, you can modify each run with restrictions, like being unable to use your abilities or even have a mini-map, and being successful with these turned on results in greater rewards. There are a few scenarios you can play through, and a solo run with no modifiers can easily be completed in 10-15 minutes, which, when there was not much else to do in The Division, was enough to occupy my brain and hands for a bit.

In the Survival expansion, players must–and hear me out first–survive as long as possible after a horrible helicopter crash. I’m not sure why I included the adjective horrible there, as if there is such a thing as a delightful helicopter crash. Anyways, this expansion is quite different from Underground, as well as the main campaign. You are alone in an extremely hostile environment, and the only way to continue breathing and making it back to safety is by gathering essential supplies and high-tech equipment to call for help and get your frozen butt extracted back to your base. It is without a doubt my favorite mode to play, as it feels extremely fleshed out and there’s a lot of tension in every move you make, considering the longer you hesitate the more likely you will die.

Now, by essential supplies, I’m talking about scarves and jackets and, I guess, weaponry, but this mode is all about the clothing on your back because you not only have to worry about being hit with bullets but also hypothermia; you combat the elements by dressing appropriately and huddling near trashcan fires. This mode makes clothing matter and exciting, though the fact that you are sick and in constant need of medicine can be too stressful. This is why I don’t play things like The Long Dark or Don’t Starve–there’s too much to worry about, and I really just want to wear comfy clothes and walk slowly from one waypoint to another, enjoying the view. Still, Survival is exactly what I wanted to see from The Division‘s DLC–a unique endeavor that forces you to think strategically instead of simply hiding a wall or car and blind-firing until all the enemies are on the ground.

For Last Stand, things become a little more traditional. This DLC pits teams of eight against one another on a section of the Dark Zone where the goal is to capture and hold as many terminals as possible. Naturally, the team that holds more terminals builds up their score quicker and wins. Sounds both simple and familiar, yes? Well, there are a few wrinkles. Such as the fact that enemy mobs still roam the battleground area. Players can eliminate these scrubs to earn a currency used during the match to build defenses like turrets or scanners that detect enemy movement in a designated area. Lastly, all gear is normalized to make things as fair as possible…if a bit uninteresting.

I’ll probably continue to poke at The Division throughout 2017, especially since Ubisoft plans to remain supportive of the game for the near future, even offering up two more expansions for no cost to the player. I suspect I’ll revisit Survival the most of the three DLCs as it offers something very different from the standard experience. Look, this game has been and remains often confusing and clunky, and yet I enjoy the firefights, dressing up my avatar, and the idea of having a full gear set that really plays to my strengths, which are healing other players and taking potshots from a safe distance. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but the dream is enough to keep me logging in now and then.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #37 – Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily

Detective on break
Must solve murder mystery
Melt that eerie ice

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Five games I’ve been perpetually playing these last few months

Right now, change is afoot. Good change, happy change. Not useless pennies and dirty nickels change, but the quality of life kind. Because of that, I’ve put off starting a bunch of new, so fresh and so clean games, especially large time-sinks like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which will be my reward for completing chapter two of Death, Divorce, and Disney, whenever that happens. I also have my beady eyes on LEGO Worlds, Thimbleweed Park, Yooka-Laylee, and LEGO City Undercover. And that’s just a few off the top of my hairy head. There’s never been a better time to be playing videogames, both new and less new.

Because of this, I’ve been focusing on a few games only over the last few months, trying not to juggle too many things at once. Let’s take a look at them, through words of course…

Dragon Age: Inquisition

I got this and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor digitally for Xbox One during Microsoft’s Black Friday sale last November. Of the two, I picked the one I hadn’t already played a bit of and really enjoyed myself. For a good while, too, especially once I got to Skyhold and found myself running my own castle of loyal followers and friends. However, this game is big. Perhaps bloated in spots, with a lot of side quests that, while not interesting or extremely rewarding, must be completed because they are on a list of unfinished tasks, and I have to be thorough because I’m probably ever only going to play Dragon Age: Inquisition once and so I might as well see it all.

Each region is massive, and I recently stumbled prematurely into an area meant for post-game DLC, though I suspect I’m somewhat underleveled for it considering how many potions I’m burning through with each encounter. Oh well. It must be completed. That said, I don’t even know what is going on with the plot or how much of the main game I have left to see. Methinks a ton, which is why I will continue poking at this dragon-esque adventure for a few more months still, until the sky is free of every mystical demon-summoning gate.

Stardew Valley

I only got about 25 to 30 hours in on Stardew Valley when playing it on PC last year, but since then, it came out on consoles, and growing crops at Melanator Farm has been a mainstay in my weekly gaming routine. I’m certainly further than before on the Xbox One, now working through my second year of that sweet, sweet farmin’ life. Here’s a quick summary: I’ve completed the Community Center, I’m married to Maru, and we have a baby that four-hearts me very much. I still have a bunch of other things I want to do, like ship more crops, befriend more dudes (Maru doesn’t like when I gift too nicely to other women in town), and go at least another year and see what my Grandpa thinks of my work.

Battle Ages

Somewhere in my lengthy list of drafts here at Grinding Down, I have a work-in-progress blog post for Battle Ages that I have been saving for when I “complete” the game. Or rather when I feel like I’ve completed my time with it. I thought that might have happened sooner than later, as I’m nearly the last Achievement I want to pop, which is for leveling up my settlement to the Industrial Age. That costs 6.5 million in-game gold coins, which takes a while to build up, especially when you log in and see that you lost a million or so when not playing due to invading enemies and such. This is a free-to-play take on Age of Empires with limited space to build and glacier-like slow gameplay, but it’s something I keep dipping into every now and then to see how my people are progressing between Netflix and going to bed.

Gimme Five

Gimme Five, besides being a somewhat odd name and just makes me think of that one Seinfeld episode, is a trivia game that puts your knowledge of anything and everything to the test. Questions range from rhyming words to geography to pop culture to math and so on. It really does run the gamut. The aim of the game is simple–answer as many questions as you can before the time runs out. Each question has 5 correct answers, and in order to move on to the next question you need to answer it correctly. Or you can use some power-ups, like skipping the question entirely, highlighting one right selection, or removing all the wrong answers.

It’s trivia. That means I have good runs and bad runs, depending on the subjects at hand. For instance, I’m phenomenal at identifying words with five syllables, and I’m not so good with prime numbers or countries in Africa that border another country. Backing all this thinking is a surprisingly great soundtrack, and the UI is clean and easy to navigate. Gimme Five is something I go to when waiting for my dinner to cook or need to zone out for a few minutes, with my intention being to only play a round or two and then discover I’ve done ten in a row and it’s half an hour later.

Disney magical world 2

When I last wrote about Disney Magical World 2 here, it was in January 2017, and I was ready to put the collectathon down for a bit until the in-game environments changed over for Spring on April 1. I mostly kept to this plan, putting some time into Pokémon Moon and Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King instead. However, a few weeks before Spring was to debut, I put the cartridge back into my 3DS and have been chipping away at my completion rate (now over 50%!), as well as those post-game pro stickers. I have only one left, which asks you to surf 400 meters in Lilo and Stitch’s land without falling off. This is no easy task, requiring luck and timing and a strong thumb, and the best I’ve gotten to is around 375 meters.

Since then, Spring has hit Castleton, with character-themed eggs to find, bunny costumes to craft, and Easter medals to stock up on. This season will last sometime into June, if I recall correctly. Maybe I’ll be around 75% completion by the time things change once more. We’ll see.

I fully expect to still be playing these five games, as well as some others, like Gears of War 4 and Borderlands 2, over the next few months. After all, sometimes familiarity amidst change can be calming, grounding. This is a topic for another post down the road, but I actually have anxiety over all the untouched games in my collection and often freeze when trying to decide what to play next, settling for something that I already know and enjoy rather than plunging into the unknown.

What games have stayed in rotation lately for you? Tell me about them in the comments below. Especially if one of them is Panzermadels: Tank Dating Simulator. Especially.

Cut the Rope, grind out some free Achievements

I’m a curious fella, and so I like to download a range of freebies, judging nothing by its cover or title or clearly-designed-for-mobile artstyle, from walking simulators to platformers to physics-based puzzle games. Like Cut the Rope. Now, I got Cut the Rope as a free download on the Windows Store back in November 2016, many moons after everyone probably already played it on their phones. Or somewhere else. No, really. Allow me to list a few of the places you could have already played ZeptoLab’s indie darling from October 2010: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Leap Motion, BlackBerry 10, Symbian, BlackBerry PlayBook, DSiWare, Mac OS X Browser, BlackBerry, Nintendo 3DS (Nintendo eShop), Chrome OS, Firefox OS, Nook, iPad, and so on. I’m sure I missed a few platforms too. Sheesh.

Cut the Rope‘s objective, from its title alone, should be self-explanatory, but there’s a little more to it than simply snipping some string. Sorry, I love alliteration. Your true goal is to feed candy to a little green creature named Om Nom while collecting stars. The candy just happens to be tied up by a bunch of ropes, and by cutting them and using other elements in the level, like bubbles and puffs of air, along with general physics and momentum, you must guide the candy to Om Nom’s gaping mouth. You can use your finger to cut by swiping it across the touchscreen, but I’m cooler than that and played it on my laptop so imagine the same sweet maneuver, but done on a less-than-stellar trackpad. Boom goes the dynamite. It actually works fine, with the bonus of not having to look at my phone any more than I already do.

I was initially under the impression that Cut the Rope was like nearly every other free-to-play iteration built around getting three stars in a level out there–y’know, Angry Birds, Bad Piggies, Crush the Castle, and on for infinity. Nope. Well, not this version from the Windows Store, at least. If anything, this is Nintendo’s take on free-to-start, with only the first six levels of the first two worlds available for play and the remainder under lock and key. I thought I’d get the whole game and just have to occasionally close some advertisements or deal with an energy meter that limited how much I can play. Turns out, my play time was constricted, to only 12 levels that clearly hinted at fun gameplay and a super cute aesthetic, but I found one way to milk this cow for all it ultimately had. Ew, milk. I must think of a better metaphor for next time; anyways, I’m talking about Achievements. They’re those digital rewards I’m still somewhat interested in popping for the games I play.

Yes, despite only have access to a few early levels, I was able to unlock nine of Cut the Rope‘s 19 Achievements. Not bad for zero pennies and maybe an hour and change of my time. These Achievements revolved around doing tasks a specific amount, such as cutting X ropes, popping X bubbles, and losing X pieces of candy and were easily earn-able through repetition. Find a level that quickly lets you cut, pop, and drop, do it, restart, and the cycle is formed. I was also able to pop “Tummy Teaser,” which tasks you with getting Om Nom to open his mouth 10 times in a row in one of world 1’s basic levels, using a piece of candy on a single rope and having it swing back and forth in front of the teeny green beast for a bit. Strange enough, the Internet said this could only be done later on, in the full version. So this just proves my amazing prowess.

But yeah, ringing these twelve levels dry for Achievements with the music turned off and something else occupying my ears was the most fun I could come up with for Cut the Rope, seeing as the gameplay didn’t hook me enough to purchase the rest of the levels. I ran into this problem before with Can You Escape, also from the Windows Store, so I have to start being a little more critical in my downloading decisions because something labeled free might not always mean complete. That said, let the countdown begin until I inevitably grab Cut the Rope 2, which, in its description, says this:

SWEET! Cut the Rope 2 has arrived and you can enjoy the full adventure for FREE!

Uh huh. Sure.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #36 – Spectrum

The world is all gray
Bring color back with crystals
Lousy platformer

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Not all monsters are human in Resident Evil: Revelations 2

You might notice an unsettling trend of late here at Grinding Down, with me playing some games that fall into the horror slash survival horror genre. Please note that I didn’t say slash fiction. Rather, things like Outlast and the first chapter of Bendy and the Ink Machine. Not my usual go-tos for fun gaming times, but that’s okay. I’m both trying to diversify what I play as well as get through these experiences to delete or uninstall them with the knowledge that I gave them a fair shake, no matter how much I hated sneaking around in the dark like a total wuss. Naturally, the majority of horror games in my collection are freebies, with the last one I actually deliberately payed money for being…well, probably Silent Hill 3. Perhaps this is all building to finally digging into that amusement park nightmare.

First, a quick history of my, well, history with Capcom’s long-running, zombie-shooting, ammo-conserving, ruby-finding-and-using-as-a-key Resident Evil series. Don’t worry. Just like with Mega Man, I haven’t found myself playing many of these games over the years. I wonder if I secretly have an unconscious dislike for the company; I mean, yeah, they made Breath of Fire III, Star Gladiator, and Zack & Wiki, all of which I enjoy, but their more well-known series, including Street Fighter and Dead Rising, are just not my bread and butter. Mmm butter. Moving along, I most definitely played the original Resident Evil on PS1, as well as rented Resident Evil 2. I believe I watched my childhood best friend go through the majority of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Because I couldn’t handle something chasing me constantly. I tried the demos for Resident Evil: Revelations and Resident Evil 5…and that’s it. You’ll notice that I’ve never touched Resident Evil 4, which many claim to be the star of the series. Oh well.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 is, from what the Internet says, set between the events of Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6, which, if you read the previous paragraph, means absolutely nothing to me. However, it does follow two classic characters from the series’ past: Claire Redfield and Barry Burton. In the opening scenes, Barry’s daughter, Moira, is kidnapped alongside Claire, by a mysterious woman calling herself the Overseer. They end up imprisoned on a severely isolated island where, naturally, dark and terrifying scientific experiments have gone from wrong to oh so worse. In this first episode called “Penal Colony,” the narrative jumps back and forth between those two exploring the compound and a second story thread six months later as Barry comes to the island to find Moira. He is accompanied by a young girl with mystical powers because why not.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 remains a survival horror game, and that means trying not to die by the bloody hands of zombies (and other monstrosities), as well as scavenging for ammo and key items. However, this one supports cooperative gameplay. One player is the hero, using guns and melee weapons to get the job of murdering zombies done, and the other player is more there for support, shining a bright flashlight in enemies’ eyes, throwing bricks, or spotting hidden items in the environment. The flashlights in this game are much better than Outlast because they have eternal batteries, thank the Maker. I played the game alone, which meant I had to control both characters, flipping between them when necessary with a simple button press. It’s fine when solving puzzles or generally exploring, but you have to stick with the fighter for combat, otherwise it’s downhill from the first bite.

A couple nitpicks because I am who I am. First, when you are controlling Natalia and carrying a brick, when you go through a door from one location to another, she doesn’t take the brick with her; Barry of course carries his entire arsenal of firearms through, but you then have to scrounge around for another brick to throw. Seems like an odd limitation. Second, I like to crouch-walk a lot in stealth games and, again, when moving between a door to a new location, even if you are crouching, the game doesn’t remember this, and you are now back to standing. This also goes for having your flashlight on or off. Basically, all your “presets” go back to the defaults in each new room, which is annoying. Lastly, since this is a co-op experience and I don’t have anyone to play with, relying on the AI is pointless, as Moira rarely shown her light at enemies and Natalia stayed hidden during all fights involving Barry. I believe you can upgrade some skills to allow for better AI, but I’m also sure having another living, breathing player controlling them is the best way to do it.

Honestly, I thought that I’d play Resident Evil: Revelations 2 to see what it had to offer, quickly run through it, delete the infected file from my Xbox One, and then move on to something else. That is not the case. The game actively encourages replaying, with new modes to try out–like being timed or dealing with invisible enemies or a score attack–and you can continue earning BP to spend on upgrades, which ultimately can help with your next run. Naturally, I want all them collectibles, as well as to try out the Raid Mode, which is a type of “run and gun” mini-game where players fight through short stages to reach a goal and level up their characters and equipment. The mini-game itself exists as a scenario where the Overseer is testing the new Red Queen Alpha program on the player, who is a test subject for it. Sounds neat, at least.

All that said, I don’t think I’ll be grabbing any of the other episodes for Resident Evil: Revelations 2 just yet. I have a couple other titles in the series from PlayStation Plus–specifically Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles and Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, of which I know nothing about them–that probably deserve some attention. But before I get to them, I have to replay Barry’s chapter a few more times to grind for gems and pop that stealth kill Achievement, among other tasks.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #35 – Resident Evil: Revelations 2, Episode 1 “Penal Colony”

Stuck on death island
Co-op Afflicted, puzzles
Don’t be Claire sandwich

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.