Category Archives: musings

Absolutely nothing special about the platforming and punching in Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom

Everyone’s been talking about collectathons of late with the release of Yooka-Laylee, and I’m a pretty big fan of this…uh, genre. Sub-genre? This style of game. I mean, I like things like Insomniac’s Spyro the Dragon–still working my way slowly through Spyro: Year of the Dragon, somewhere now over 40% complete with plenty more eggs to track down–and Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, which split the difference between action elements and collecting shiny trinkets pretty nicely. Shockingly, I’ve never played Super Mario 64 (or 98% of the Nintendo 64’s library). But, having a list of shiny objects to collect is not the worst thing in the world and, in a lot of ways, can be quite calming and satisfying, even if there’s no larger reward at the end of the task.

I’m also a firm believer of playing bad videogames. Not because I’m a masochist and love them more than good games, but because it is important to see all sides of the industry, from the AAA work that takes hundred of people and years to make to the smaller outputs that certainly needed more time in the oven or someone to step in and fight for or against specific design elements. Some less-than-stellar titles from my past include The Incredibles for PlayStation 2 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One for the Nintendo DS. There’s more, but I’m not going to name ’em.

Naturally, these two paragraphs of buildup is for me to talk to you about a little ol’ thing on the PlayStation 3 called Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom, of which I’m currently working my way through. It was a PlayStation Plus freebie for April 2017. If you, like me, have never heard of this beast before, fear not, for I have a summary of sorts. Invizimals is a Spanish augmented reality video game franchise developed by Novarama and published by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. The series, which originally began in 2009 as a video game on the PSP, has since inspired toys, trading cards, comics, and an animated television series telling an interconnected transmedia story.

In Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom, you play as the child hero Hiro, who is sent through a Shadow Gate and into the Invizimals world to form allegiances with the various creatures that he encounters, as well as stop a bunch of evil robots for some reason that I stopped following. The uneventful story is told through in-game cinematics, but the introduction is done in full-motion video with actors, like Brian Blessed, that fans of the show would probably be excited to see. All I’ve been able to gather is that robots are bad and violent animals that attack them are cool. Not sure yet where humans fit into the picture.

Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom‘s gameplay is beyond perfunctory and repetitive. Hiro is able to fuse his teeny tiny body with the various Invizimals he meets, which help to unlock a number of abilities. Such as climbing up vines, swinging over inexplicably large drops, swimming underwater, and teleporting past locked gates. You can switch freely between these Invizimals using a weapon wheel menu, though the game will often automatically transform you into a specific Invizimal when the puzzle or platforming section says so. When given a choice, I’ve been sticking with Ocelotl, mostly because I like how the narrator says his name. There are two main actions: attacking and collecting. The fighting is bare bones, with mashing more than enough to get you through it, and the menus for upgrading don’t provide a lot of context for the abilities you are purchasing. As for collecting, well…there’s a lot to snag–Sparks (2,000 in total), Z-Sparks (13,000 in total), pup idols, dark seeds, and unlockable vault doors. None of it is difficult to gather, but I’ve completed some levels with a few items unscooped, and it’s eating away at my brain.

Some general complaints about Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom include that there are no subtitles or even options to muck around in. You may be able to play with the audio levels, but I can’t remember. There’s also next to no explanation for a number of things, especially the Battle Mode, which, from what I saw, is kind of like a one-on-one Pokemon fight in real time, where you can level up your creature. But to what end? I don’t know. There are also too many quick time events, which instantly warped me back to when I first got my Xbox 360 and only had Kung Fu Panda to play for many days.

Look, I’m just not as into Trophies as I am into popping Achievements, and part of that still has to do with how finicky it is to sync them with your profile and the clunkiness that is trying to quickly view the list as you are playing. But whatever. I’ve completed a few games on the PlayStation 3 to 100%, namely Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Doki-Doki Universve, Dragon Fantasy Book 1, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Kung Fu Rabbit, Machinarium, and rain, but have yet to acquire my first Platinum Trophy. I came close with Prototype 2 (at 91%). Sadly, or rather humorously, Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom might be my first Platinum Trophy. It doesn’t seem difficult to get, just a little bit of time and collecting and we’re at our final destination. So while it may not have been the best freebie in the world, at least it served a purpose…for me and my desire to have digital rewards. I’ll let you know when I hit it.

Games I’m probably going to get before 2017 ends

We’re inching our way towards the middle of the year, and so far, of the new games released for 2017, I’ve actually gotten a couple. Go me. Namely the re-release of Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King for the Nintendo 3DS and Night in the Woods, which I’m taking my sweet time playing. Other than that, a lot of the big AAA titles have come and gone and will most likely pop up on my annual list of games I didn’t get to play come the end of this year. Still, there are a few I’m keeping my eyes on and will probably get so long as the bank account doesn’t run dry. I don’t need many as my backlog is still ready to burst at any moment.

And now I’m going to briefly touch upon each one. Don’t be shocked when you see that most of them are for the Nintendo 3DS, also known as my beloved confidant.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Mmm a new entry in the The Legend of Zelda series, and one that many, many critics seem to love. This is going to be my reward for finishing up the second chapter of Death, Divorce, and Disney, which has been a little tough to focus on these last few months as life moves forward. I don’t have a Nintendo Switch, so this will join my mighty collection of retail Wii U games, which includes Super Mario Maker, Wii U Fit, and whatever Mario platforming game the system came with that I’ve never bothered to try. What an honor, and what a difficult couple of months it has been trying avoid a lot of details about this game on the Internet. It’s already out in the *ahem* wild.

Culdcept Revolt

For something like four or five years, I’ve been carrying around a folded index card in my wallet. What’s on it, you ask? I’ll tell you–videogame names. Specifically, the ones to be on the lookout for either at used game stores or yard sales because, as my hair gets lighter and my brain heavier, the memory of all these funky titles is not as strong as it used to be. One title on that list is Culdcept, a turn-based strategy video game that shares some features with things like Monopoly and Magic: The Gathering. There was a PlayStation 2 version that I missed out on, but now there’s a new entry in the series for the Nintendo 3DS. I’m all about collectible card games, but digital is the way to go moving forward, so sign me fast. It comes out on August 29, 2017.

Ever Oasis

Ever Oasis is a new action-adventure RPG from the mind of Koichi Ishii, the creator of the Mana series. As you explore the desert and solve puzzling dungeons, you’ll gather resources to build up your oasis with the water spirit Esna. Allies will join your cause and use their skills to slay larger-than-life bosses. Your oasis is your kingdom, and you’ll get to choose which shops to build, stock their inventories, collect a share of the profits, and keep villagers happy by fulfilling requests. The graphics are colorful and cute, and the combat appears to have some depth to it other than mashing attack. It’s been compared to Fantasy Life, which is all I needed to hear. This will be out on June 23, 2017.

Miitopia

Look, I’m actually a big fan of the StreetPass game Find Mii–and its sequel Find Mii 2–which are mini-RPGs that require you meeting people in real life to make progress through each dungeon. In the end, you can earn new hats for your own Mii to wear, which is always fun. Anyways, Miitopia seems to be something like that, but now a full retail release that, I’m assuming, won’t rely entirely on StreetPass-ing people. I’m down with that. Sounds like you’ll cast these Mii characters in various roles across the kingdom, manage friendships, and give them jobs with distinct stats, abilities, gear, and a custom look. So, part Tomodachi Life too. The main quest is to defeat the Dark Lord and restore the stolen faces of the citizens of Miitopia. I’m so going to put my Shaq and Ron Swanson Miis to work. Miitopia drops on July 28, 2017.

Dragon Quest XI

This one is potentially unlikely, considering there’s been no announced released date for American shores, but I think we might hear something about that come E3. Japan gets it this summer for the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo 3DS, the lucky bastards. Something I’m super excited about for the Nintendo 3DS version is that graphically it features a different style than the PlayStation 4 version, showcasing 3D graphics on the top screen and 16-bit styled sprites on the bottom screen. Otherwise, it seems to maintain a lot of the traditional elements that make the Dragon Quest series both quirky and enjoyable. Again, no U.S. release date announced yet. I’ll let you know when it is slime to pre-order.

Marvel Heroes Omega

I have a bunch of the Marvel Ultimate Alliance and X-Men Legends games in my collection, still untouched. However, I did play a ton of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls on the ol’ Xbox 360 and really enjoyed the changes for console. Marvel Heroes has been heading in this direction for a good long while, and while it is free on PC, I’ve not been able to devote the hard-drive space to it. So I’m looking forward to the free-to-play version called Marvel Heroes Omega on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Me thinks I’ll be going with Squirrel Girl because no one is better than Squirrel Girl. That’s just a hard fact, deal with it. This is tentatively scheduled for release in Spring 2017. Hey, that’s kinda now-ish.

And that’s all I can think of for the foreseeable future. Granted, E3 draws near, and I’m sure there will be some surprise reveals for the holiday season that I might be interested in. I’m not expecting Elder Scrolls VI or Disney Magical World 3 any time soon, but maybe something else might look interesting enough to keep a sliver of my brain occupied until it is released. We’ll see. I’ll say it again, that I really don’t need any more games to play. Oh, also, I still wanna check out both LEGO Worlds and LEGO City Undercover. Sigh.

What games do you plan to still pick up in 2017?

Yesterday is such an easy game to play

“Yesterday” is not my favorite song from The Beatles, nor is it my favorite point-and-click adventure game, but I enjoy both of them greatly. They are easy to listen to, easy to play, and leave me wanting a little bit more from their respective mediums. For those curious, depending on the day, either this or this is my favorite tune from The Fab Four. I don’t know if I’m ready to commit to saying what my favorite adventure game is yet. That’s kind of like naming the best cheese. Besides, there’s a bunch of so-called classics–here, I’ll name a few, like The Dig, Day of the Tentacle, and The Secret of Monkey Island–that I’ve still not touched despite having copies at the ready, which would probably affect my decision immensely. Probably.

Anyways, Yesterday from Pendulo Studios is a dark beast. A quick research of the company shows that many of its previous games were more comedic, but there’s not much to laugh at in this one, which features a lot of murdering, satanic worshipping, and forced suicides. It all starts with the philanthropic Henry White and his bungling friend Cooper. Both of these men work for a charity committed to helping New York’s homeless people. However, after a serial killer starts murdering members of the community, Henry and Cooper venture into the abandoned Cadway Subway station to see who they can help. It is here that they meet the murderous Choke and his assistant Boris and are forced to take drastic action. That’s more or less the prologue of the game, with the real meat of it focusing on satanic cult investigator John Yesterday many years later. He is recovering from an apparent suicide attempt that has left him suffering from amnesia because of course. Henry White now runs White Enterprises and has employed John to unearth the link between the serial killer and the occult known as the Order of the Flesh.

Yesterday, in terms of gameplay, is a pretty straightforward point-and-click adventure romp. You examine an environment, collect items in your inventory, chat with other characters for background details, and solve puzzles to move forward. Something that gave me a bit of anxiety was the high amount of items you often pick up and the fact that many of them do not vanish after being used. Reminded me of my time with Deponia, which was not a blast. Sometimes these items are used again later on, and sometimes they aren’t. You’ll never know until it is too late. Naturally, as it often happens with these types of games, some of the puzzles don’t follow the best logic this side of brain development, which leads to trying everything on everything in hopes of anything changing. If you only knew the number of solutions I came up with for acquiring a truth flower that didn’t come close to working.

Thankfully, Yesterday offers a couple tricks to help when you are stuck: a hint system and the ability to ping the scene and identify every object you can examine. The hint system builds up over time, so you can’t spam it, but it’ll point you in the right direction, though it can be a bit condescending. I ended up using it more than I would have imagined, but at least it let me stay in game and not close out to look up a walkthrough. You can also, at any time, press a button at the bottom of the screen to highlight every interactive object around you. This is great as it helped reduce pixel hunting, as there were occasionally a couple areas or items that I missed after doing an initial scan of everything.

I was pleasantly surprised with the conversations system. These occur with the two speakers framed in their own windows, with dialogue options in a bulleted list. As you move through each option, the boxes are checked off when the topic is concluded. New topics open us as you chat, and I found myself exhausting every topic, even if it didn’t immediately seem relevant to the puzzles at hand. I found the script and voice acting to be well done, save for that Frenchman who endlessly gave out tips on how to identify a Frenchman. At times, the whole thing reminded me of Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars. Occasionally, the subtitles did not match the spoken words perfectly, but that’s just me being an editor and too observant. Lastly, I’ll say that the game’s visuals are gorgeous and detailed and kept me interested in seeing what was next. I especially liked the comic book-style cutscenes.

The loopy narrative about investigating satanic cults and unraveling John Yesterday’s mysterious past comes to a close rather quickly, somewhat abruptly, and the post-credits scene added little to the whole picture and was completely unnecessary. It felt like things were just beginning to build to something grander, but once the villain began to explain why he did everything and how, I knew it was over. Still, I enjoyed going through Yesterday at a slow pace, over a few nights, eating up the atmosphere, characters, and designs to make puzzling out progress less frustrating. Maybe I’ll check out Yesterday Origins or one of Pendulo Studios’ other titles down the road. However, for now, I have some other point-and-click adventure games still to launch in my collection, and I just know that many of them won’t make things as easy as Yesterday did in this tiring day and age of too much to play and not enough hours on Earth. Boo to that.

Old is boring in Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor

Melanie’s father retired recently, and he’s already itching to get back to work, to occupy his time and his brain. I’m sure this is fairly common. You work and work and work, inching your way to a place where you no longer need to work–and find yourself lost. I myself don’t know if I’ll ever retire because I just can’t imagine my daily life with nothing to do each and every day. Sure, sure, I’d love to fill up that time with drawing and writing and being a creative fountain with unlimited high water pressure, but I suspect I’d somehow still feel real guilty about it. That said, if I do retire, I think one of the first things I’ll do is finally set about my mighty PopTarts-tasting adventure, wherein I try every flavor ever made; in fifty years or so, I expect there to be at least a hundred new flavors.

Anyways, all of that intro is to say that Donald Dowell, the central, almost-bald and definitely bored figure in Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor, is also ready to get back to work. He’s in his eighties, and his reasons include being uninterested and to get away from his, so he says, intolerable wife. Unfortunately, not many people are hiring, and they certainly aren’t looking for a man of his age. He spends many hours knocking on doors and asking for jobs before he finds a potential gig: ghostbusting. Bob Delano, the most famous occult detective in all of Ireland, is looking for an assistant, and Donald’s first gig is investigating what is happening at the mysterious Barker Manor.

Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor is an old point-and-click adventure game made recently, only a few years ago. Lemme see here: it was released in December 2013. It’s designed to be more old school in terms of gameplay, graphics, sound, and so on, and that’s perfectly fine. At least it isn’t driven by verbs, though you still have to click use door if you want to try and open it. Some may be put off on its retro tone alone, but I found its look intriguing enough to start clicking. However, I quickly discovered that not everything was to my liking, which, for a free download, is not a huge loss, but I still feel like I need to get these thoughts down and out of my brain before I can move on to something else. So here we go…

First and foremost, there’s a malicious coating to everything that Donald says about his wife. These constant putdowns are unnecessary and disappointing, as “being old” is not an excuse to treat someone with such disdain. It really is upsetting and doesn’t make him the slightest bit likable from the word go. There’s also a fair amount of repetition, both in jokes and puzzles; for example, in the opening scene, Karl allows Donald to go into his bathroom twice and clog up the toilet in the exact same manner without raising an eyebrow about the old geezer’s motives. This is done so the player can solve a puzzle, but doesn’t hold up through the narrative. There’s also a lot of fourth wall-breaking, which normally doesn’t bother me, considering I enjoy things like Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and being god in Drawn to Life, but here it just feels out of place and uninspired.

However, the biggest snag I’ve hit so far in Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor is the kind of thing that I fear in every point-and-click adventure game I play–it opens up too fast. I believe this also happened rather quickly in the second part of Broken Age. Anyways, basically after playing the intro scene, which had you, at most, examining items in two locations with one sole to speak with, you are transported to Barker Manor–cue the lightning and thunder crash joke–wherein you are suddenly able to visit a handful of new locations immediately, all with people in them to talk to, items to examine, and things to interact with. I can’t count for you, but I feel like there were more new areas to explore than I have fingers. It’s overwhelming. The game is non-linear and doesn’t provide a good sense of direction in terms of quests or plot. There’s also no map, so once you travel all the way to one end of the manor’s grounds, you need to slowly retrace your steps, scene by scene, to head back. I think double-clicking to move to a new location in more modern point-and-click games has ruined my patience for these slow-burners.

That said, I really do like the art direction in Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor. It’s cartoony and colorful, with characters that stand out and instantly have unique personalities, which is important to get since there is no voice acting. And, despite probably not catching every reference out there, the call-outs to things like Monkey Island, Broken Sword, and Day of the Tentacle are plenty and enjoyable, as are the many mentions of famous historical and fictional people. The music is all right, but begins to lose its fun after repeating several times, especially when you realize you have to listen to it as you cross the manor’s grounds yet again to see if that person at the far end of the river has anything else to say now that you picked up some dentures you stole from manor’s manager as he was distracted.

I really really hate abandoning games unfinished, but I’m just not feeling this one to want to see it all the way through. Especially not when I know there’s a laundry list of other point-and-click adventure games in my collection still to try, such as Yesterday, Oxenfree, Grim Fandango Remastered, and so on. Good luck, Donald, with your anti-retirement plans and catching them ghosts. Do try to be nicer to the people in your life.

Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily kinda puts your detective work to work

Y’all remember when I snatched up that Humble Mobile Bundle from Artifex Mundi earlier this year despite not having the specific type of mobile phone required to play any of the games on? The one with 10 games when all was said and done? Good, good. Then I don’t need to rehash many of the details of how I’m working my way through them. However, I am happy to report that I’ve now completed two of these narrative-driven hidden object romps, the first being Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova and the second being the hilariously titled Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily. I’m not going to say I’m on a roll, but things are certainly rolling along.

Let’s just get into what Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily is all about. I bet you think it’s about a crime, as well as some secrets. You’re not wrong. A grim murder interrupts a private detective’s vacation plans to have some time alone at a secluded hotel in the snowy mountains. Alas, she only has one clue to work from: a mysterious paper lily attached to the victim’s frozen body. As anyone who saw The Shining a bunch of times could expect, a blizzard has cut off all communication with the outside world, leaving her to her own devices and curious wit–aka, your ability to click everywhere. The story is campy and melodramatic, but some fun is to be had at figuring out who is involved and how. It’s a more grounded affair, even going to the effort of scientifically explaining how our killer is quickly freezing his victims.

I never know what to think about these types of hidden objects games when it comes to graphics. Visually, Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily looks all right during the scenes where you are finding a list of objects, but poor elsewhere, especially the cutscenes or where action is supposed to be taking place. There are some animated effects that help liven up the frigid scenes, but every single person you encounter is factory-made, extremely stiff, and only capable of a limited number of facial expressions. The voice acting is no better or worse than it was in Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova, to the point that the game might’ve been stronger without it. Also, at one point after being away from the game for a few days, I got mixed up two characters until one of them died, cementing that I had him pegged incorrectly as the game’s villain. All of that is to say that the art direction, writing, and voice acting did little to make these people stand out from the crowd, let alone each other.

One feature found in Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily that I didn’t see in Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova are “crime scenes.” These are sections that must be thoroughly searched for clues. Instead of searching for a list of items, you must examine the scene and click on the elements you think are related to the crime. Once you find them all, you must then put them in chronological order, which, thanks to the inclusion of colored lines on multiple tiles, is easier than it sounds. After you arrange everything correctly, our detective will walk herself through the crime to see how it ultimately happened. It’s nothing amazing gameplay-wise, but it helps break up the puzzles a bit from the hidden objects scenes and mind-benders. Strangely, hidden object scenes can be substituted for a game of Mahjong if desired, but I come to these things for the hidden objects so I only tried this once, despite my affection for ruining games of Mahjong.

Steam Achievements–I got them all. This doesn’t happen often, and I actually missed one for Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova. Anyways, they weren’t terribly hard, with a number devoted to moments in the story, not using skips or hints for puzzles, and finding every collectible in the forms of snowflakes and origami. Origamis? Whatever. These were a bit tricky to spot in many of the scenes, but that wonky part of my brain refused to let me move on to the next scene until I scoured every clickable corner.

All that said, I’m not sure which title from the Humble Mobile Bundle from Artifex Mundi to tackle next. I’m leaning towards Eventide: Slavic Fable, but Mythic Wonders: The Philosopher’s Stone also sounds like a hoot, even if I already know it has nothing to do with that boy wizard that lived under the stairs. We’ll see. I’m beginning to head into that part of the year where I unfortunately don’t write as much about the games I play, and if the rest of these hidden object affairs from Artifex Mundi are, more or less, the same experience then we might just have to settle on review haikus and move on with life. It’ll be tough, but we’ll get through it, together.

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.

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.