Category Archives: xbox 360

Back to Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, where the shadows are

I acquired a digital version of the Game of the Year edition of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor at the same time I got Dragon Age: Inquisition, which was last Black Friday. Not a full year ago, but somewhat close. Still, knowing that both were big, meaty adventures with intricate systems, I decided to start one over the other and promised not to diverge from that plan until credits rolled. I went with Dragon Age: Inquisition and greatly regret that decision. I had played inferior versions of both games, click here for whinging about glitches in Ferelden and click here for whinging about insufferably long load times in Middle-earth, but I was more interested, at that time, in a traditional roleplaying adventure that was all about managing stats and less about quickly climbing up rocks and sticking daggers in necks. If only I knew then what I know now.

Moving along, I’m now working my way through Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor at the same time as I tackle the open wilderness in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, at more or less the same pace as I did with the Xbox 360 version, even tackling the side missions and collectibles similarly. What can I say, I’m a creature of habit. The only difference really is that this GOTY edition provided me with some extra special weapon runes from the start, one of which lights my sword on fire after a long combo streak. I’m usually not a fan of pre-order bonuses that dramatically make things easier for the player, but this time I’m not complaining. Also, it looks cool as heck, the kind of effect that Beric Dondarrion would quietly appreciate.

The ho-hum plot takes place between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. You control a ranger called Talion, who was killed by the Black Hand of Sauron alongside his wife and son. The wraith of the Elf Lord Celebrimbor bonds with Talion’s body, and together they set out to avenge the deaths of their loved ones by taking down every goblin, orc, and troll in their way. Also, there’s Gollum, because of course there is, and his missions often have him leading you somewhere and then following hidden tracks to trigger an event. I’m a little further story-wise than I was during my first go at Talion’s take on revenge, and I’m not finding it all that thrilling, and this is from a guy that has played a lot of Lord of the Rings games, including sub-par ones like The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Aragorn’s Quest, both from the PlayStation 2 era.

Gameplay in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, which one could easily call a third-person open world action-adventure thing, is basically the Assassin’s Creed series with big improvements to mobility and combat. You run around, you climb, you attack swarms of enemies, you collect collectibles, and you level up your weapons and abilities by gaining XP. You can be a stealthy ranger or an action-first ranger or, most likely, a mixture of both. The combat is rhythmic in the vein of Batman: Arkham Asylum, and it feels good to be in complete control of a mob of Orcs, keeping the combo chain high and mighty. There’s no surprises here so far, but a lot has been streamlined to feel better or make things easier, such as not taking fall down from high heights or being able to get a burst of speed after mantling an object. My favorite is a new ability I just got that lets Talion immediately warp to a selected enemy’s location; Tolkien sure did love his teleporting rangers.

Obviously, the biggest hook in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor‘s arsenal is the Nemesis System, which tracks any non-generic Uruk that the player comes into contact with, either through story beats or simply by killing Talion or surviving a fight with the ranger. These Uruk will be promoted into captains, and defeating these leaders helps weaken Sauron’s army. On the flip side, being killed by a named Uruk will cause the current mission to be cancelled, and the victorious Uruk will gain additional power, making him more difficult to defeat in the next encounter. This system was not fully implemented on the previous generation version, and I definitely missed out on a lot of personality, character, of really feeling like these Uruks were living, breathing, vengeful monstrosities traipsing around Middle-earth according to their own schedules. See, each of these named Uruks have a range of strengths and weaknesses that Talion can exploit in combat to quickly take them out, such as a fear of explosions or invulnerability to ranged attacks, and you can gain this type of knowledge by draining and interrogating marked enemies, systemically removing the leader’s bodyguards and barriers.

I’m mildly enjoying Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, but in bite-sized chunks. Hop into the game, find a collectible or two, take on a story mission, and close out, as the combat can become quite button mashy and my thumb often needs a break by the time Talion is done beheading his fiftieth orc. The stealth, when successful, is great and makes you feel pretty powerful, but I’m not invested in the story bits…one bit. As this is the GOTY edition, there’s plenty to see and do, with DLC included, and I’ll probably keep plugging away at this while everyone enjoys Middle-earth: Shadow of War next month. Thankfully, I’m in no rush to see Sauron’s army fall, especially knowing that it will just rise up again, bigger and stronger, in the forthcoming sequel.

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80,000 Gamerscore lies in the joy of achievement

Hello, my few dear readers. I’m sure you all realize that it’s been about eight months since I hit 70,000 Gamerscore perfectly on the head. Well, the good news is that I’m back with another ten grand. Go me, go my fingers and thumbs, and go creating a silly goal for popping these numerous Achievements, which, ultimately, in the end do not mean much. Eh, that’s okay. I’m having fun doing what I’m doing…if you need a refresher on all of the milestone markers I’ve touched during this journey of mine since early 2010, just follow this tag.

Anyways, videogames. I played them, they rewarded me with digital pictures and numbers, and now I have for you the latest tally hammered hard on the mark, in all its beauty and refinement:

Boom. Click the image if you want to see that number closer up. Getting this was a little trickier than expected, with only having 25 Gamerscore to work with. I thought, at first, I could pop this easily in Rare Replay, but was struggling with some of those Snapshot challenges. Those older games, like Digger T. Rock and Snake Rattle n Roll, are not the easiest to control. Which then lead me to dive deep into my Xbox One’s digital games library folder to see if there was anything easy in a new game to unlock. Such as “finish the tutorial” or “watch the credits” Achievements. I opened a bunch of games, such as Grow Up, The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, and Kameo: Elements of Power. I thought the former would work out since it is kind of a collectathon, but nope, too many Achievements with high scores. All of the Achievements in The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, which I do need to play sooner than later, were hidden, and I was too lazy to look up their descriptions. And that last one, that Kameo, seemed to have a bunch of Achievements worth 0 Gamerscore, which I will never understand the point of, but I’m no designer. But here’s proof I did open Rare’s launch title for the Xbox 360 and will now probably have to actually play some of it down the road:

Finally, after opening several more games and getting nowhere, I discovered an early Achievement in Super Dungeon Bros, which is a rock-themed dungeon brawler where a band of mighty rock bros must navigate the fantasy realm of Rökheim and its hellish dungeons. Uh huh. Deep breath. Right, the Achievement was for completing the your first mission in the game, worth exactly 25 Gamerscore, and 8.65% had already unlocked it. I only needed to be careful to not unlock anything else along the way. Which, naturally, I did. This thing, fortuitously worth the same amount of points, popped at the tally screen at the end of the level:


Time Management (25G) – You beat a level before reaching threat level 3

I was worried that hitting any more buttons would “complete” the first mission and ruin my perfect 80,000 number, so I quickly bounced back to the dashboard and closed the game before anything else could happen. I’m crazy, but these are the things I do for this fleeting moments of fun. I’m sure I’ll have another hurdle to cross to nail 90,000. I predict that I’ll be getting an easy 2,000 soon since Mel got me two LEGO videogames for my birferday recently, specifically LEGO Worlds and LEGO Jurassic World. And I always unlock everything in them. I’ll go ahead and be bold and make a prediction for hitting another ten grand, which will happen by…March 2018. Mel is going with April 2018. We’ll see.

And now, to stay on theme, please leave me either exactly 80,000 comments below or one comment with exactly 80,000 words. I’m fine with whatever happens first. You all now have the power.

LEGO Star Wars is from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away

I’ve not played every single LEGO video game out there, but I’ve gone through a good amount, most of which were in order of release. For me, it began with LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game back on the PlayStation 2, but it’s probably more accurate to say that the starting point for the evolution of these LEGO video games from TT Games began with LEGO Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues. That’s where you began to see things like an enlarged hub world to explore and a split-screen camera option for when playing with a co-op partner, both of which have become mainstays for the series. Going back to play LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga recently has shown me just how far the series has come, for better or…no, just better. It’s only gotten better.

That’s not to say LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga is a bad game or un-fun. Mel and I have been having a good time completing levels, collecting studs, unlocking red bricks, buying multipliers, and revisiting areas for hidden collectibles. We chip away at the larger beast. The LEGO grind is here, but it’s enjoyable because, compared to LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, not every level takes upwards of an hour to complete. Not every door requires you to solve a minigame to open it. Not every puzzle is dastardly obtuse. I guess there’s some worse in the newer entries after all.

LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga is basically a compilation of LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game and its sequel LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, that way you can play through them all together using one single product. Which is good for us because I only ever played through the former of those two, and Mel played the latter with her brother many moons ago. So we both got to experience some new areas together. Also, the game incorporates two previously deleted levels–“Anakin’s Flight” and “Bounty Hunter Pursuit”–though I’m only finding out about this now. Many other levels were redesigned and updated so that both games worked with each other and felt unified. Either way, the games follow the movies, which means you’ll get to see the exciting Trade Federation negotiations go down, young Anakin grow up, watch Luke learn about his father and The Force, and see Ewoks take down the Empire with sticks and stones. Since this is an older entry in the series, the cutscenes are wordless reproductions, but still silly when they want to be.

Here’s something I didn’t expect to ever say: Jar Jar Binks is essential. Early on, his ability to both double jump and jump high is pivotal for getting some hidden minikits, red bricks, or blue studs, which are the ones worth the most money. We brought him into every level we could during Free Play. I do miss the camera that would split in half and allow both players to do their own desires; here, you are stuck to each other, and often it made things easier for one player to simply drop out then for both to jump across sinking platforms floating in red-hot lava. Also, the flying levels are a struggle, especially when you need to get from point A to point B with missiles or a bomb being dragged behind you, and the whole world is out to make you explode. Later, we managed to make a door glitch out and not open despite doing everything right because glitches need stitches. Or something like that. Sorry, I didn’t know how to end that sentence.

We’re currently around the 65% completion mark, with several more levels to fully finish. Then there are special levels to do after you complete everything else, as well as challenges, arcade mode, playing online, gold bricks to buy, characters and vehicles to unlock, special cross-over Achievements to pop, and so on. Only after all that, after we see that 100.0% high in the sky, can we happily put LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga to bed. Still, this has been good co-op fun, which is not bad in July 2017 for the 23rd greatest video game of all time, according to the Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition in 2009.

Gears of War 3 has bigger problems than just the Lambent

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I beat Gears of War 3‘s campaign the other night, on the normal difficulty, and the hardest part was at the very beginning, when our gallant troop of four from the Delta Squad–Marcus Fenix, Dominic Santiago, Anya Stroud, and Jayson Stratton specifically–would run up to the deck of the Sovereign and stare in astonishment at a surprise attack from the Lambent. You can see this depicted in the picture above. Trust me when I say I’ve also stared at it a whole bunch because it is this point in time that the game decided to freeze for me on multiple occasions, hard-locking the entire Xbox One and forcing me to do a reboot. I’m not sure if this was a common happening in the original launch version or has something to do with it being backwards-compatible, but either way…yuck.

Because I’m slightly loopy and couldn’t help myself, I began tracking the number of Xbox One hard-freezes I hit in Gears of War 3:

  • Act 1 – FOUR
  • Act 2 – ONE
  • Act 3 – ONE
  • Act 4 – ZERO
  • Act 5 – ZERO
  • GRAND TOTAL: SIX.

Now, six hard locks on the console might not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it is more than enough to be irksome. Especially for a game of this quality and number of people working on it. Thankfully, as you saw, it was more problematic at the start and steadied itself by the middle of the campaign, which meant I could focus more on shooting monsters in the face and less panicking every time a cutscene started.

Right. Gears of War 3 plot summary time. So, the Lambent launch a surprise attack. Before dying, Chairman Prescott gives Marcus an encryption to a disc, which reveals that his father, Adam Fenix, is still alive, but held as a prisoner on Azura, a secret COG base. Marcus and his pals then must fight their way to the Anvil Gate Fortress, where Hoffman possesses the necessary equipment to fully decrypt Prescott’s disc. Upon arriving at Anvil Gate, Marcus and his comrades assist soldiers in repelling a combined Lambent and Locust assault. There, they also learn that Azura is protected by man-made hurricane generators, making the island only accessible by submarine. The basic goal of the game is getting to Adam Fenix, with four and three-fourth acts or so of roadblocks that deter our protagonists into other areas first. Because videogames.

Gears of War 3 plays pretty similar to Gears of War 2 and Gears of War. I know, you’re shocked. Shook, even. You might also be surprised to learn that it does not exactly play like Gears of War 4 and that I had some trouble switching between the two. Like, I won’t even tell you the number of times I tried to run up to cover and mantle over it. I won’t. It also seems to move slower compared to the newest entry, and there’s no knife melee kill much to my chagrin. As previously mentioned, I played through on the normal difficulty and didn’t have any problems with the combat, occasionally dying to a well-placed Boomer shot or someone chainsawing me unexpectedly. There are a few vehicle sequences that are merely okay, though I felt like the submarine section towards Azura could have used more punch.

I don’t have any plans to play through the game again on a higher up difficulty, but I might check out the first few levels once more via the arcade mode, which basically scores every action you do. I’m currently going back to select chapters (on casual, you nerfherder!) to find all the collectibles and lost COG tags because I already stumbled upon a good chunk of them my first time through, so I might as well finish the job. A few of these shimmery items are hidden pretty well, so I’m referencing a guide here and there. No shame about it. It’s actually going faster than I initially expected, which makes me want to pop back into Gears of War 2 and Gears of War to grab their respective sets of collectibles. Once I start, I often can’t stop. I really do like how well Gears of War 3 monitors and tracks your progress, from collectibles to executions done to Achievement progress. It’s a small detail, but much appreciated.

After this, while I continue to chip away at Gears of War 4‘s multiplayer modes of Team Deathmatch and Dodgeball infrequently, I’ll eventually need to try out the black sheep of the series. Yup, the dreaded Gears of War: Judgment. I at least hope we get to learn more about where Damon Baird got his infamous goggles. At the very least.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #26 – Gears of War 3

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Find Adam Fenix
Save what humanity left
Hard to play post-4

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.

Grinding Down’s 2017 gaming resolutions

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This is always dangerous, making promises. I’ve done it in the past here on Grinding Down, only to burn myself and those written words when it, for instance, ultimately, took many more years for me to beat Final Fantasy IX. Still, it’s always good to have goals, something to reach for and hopefully achieve after putting in the hard work, and, at the very least, these empty checkmark boxes give me direction, a place to go when I’m not sure what to do next. I’m not saying I’ll be successful on every account below, but I am willing to try. For all we know, 2017 could be the year of our very unmaking, and I might as well go down fighting for a cause, trivial as some of these may be.

Right. Allow me to highlight some future gaming goals…

Suikoden III

It’s always been my intention to play (and replay) the entire Suikoden series from start to finish to get to the games I’ve never touched yet, specifically Suikoden III, Suikoden IV, and Suikoden Tactics. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t believe I ever saw credits roll on Suikoden V, but I do have a memory card save…somewhere. I got through replaying the first two games rather quickly, but then moved on to other non-Konami adventures after that.

For 2017, I’d like to get back to collecting them 108 Stars of Destiny, especially after finally playing some Dragon Age: Inquisition last year and seeing a few strong connections between the two. The roadblock is that I want to finish up everything for Dragon Age: Inquisition first before moving on to another large, time-demanding RPG. I just became friends with Dorian and am looking to move things forward romantically with Blackwall before tackling many more side missions. It’s probably going to be awhile.

So, I did play a bit of Suikoden III a few years ago, but my PlayStation 2 copy seems scratched up and unreliable. Thankfully, during some past PSN flash sale, I purchased a digital copy for the PlayStation 3, which means I really have no excuse now. It’s installed, ready to go. The real question is, as always, what to name my castle once I acquire it.

Earthbound

I’m not sure what it’s going to take me to finally start playing EarthBound. I was hoping buying the game, for more or less zero dollars thanks to Nintendo Club’s closing back in May 2015, was a solid place to begin. Alas, nope. I haven’t loaded it up once. Honestly, having this game available on the Wii U gamepad and not actually a Super NES locked to a TV should make this process even easier, considering I can take the experience with me into bed (hey now) before the Sandman visits.

However, that would mean I’d have to put down my Nintendo 3DS for some time, and with Disney Magical World 2 taking up all my pre-sleep time and Pokemon Moon waiting in the wings–as well as the remake of Dragon Quest VIII waiting even further in the wings–this might not happen just yet. Maybe by Spring 2017. I mostly wrote that to both give myself some breathing room, but also a starting point to stick to. This one’s for you, Iwata.

Steam backlog

At the time of writing, I have 362 games in my Steam library. Yeowza. Granted, many are not installed, and not all of them are huge, triple A titles that can’t even run well on my struggling-to-breathe ASUS laptop. Many have not been played at all, in fact. See, I have a bad habit of downloading just about every free thing released on the platform, as well as gobbling up indie bundles for real cheap to bloat this thing out even more. It’s gotten to the point that, when I do finally occasionally scroll through the list, I can barely remember where some of these titles came from, and then I freeze in fear, unable to decide what to try next, eventually settling on something safe, like AdVenture Capitalist or another unsuccessful run in Runestone Keeper. This is a problem.

I’m not here to make any kind of crazy schedule, like trying to play X number of games every week. That’s not going to gel with life. I am, however, here to make an effort, and make that effort known. I’m going to start small, using HowLongToBeat to help identify the not-so-big-timesinks and start whittling away from there. My problem, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, is that I always want to experience as much of a game as possible, that I can’t remove it simply after beating it if there are, for instance, collectibles remaining to find or extra challenges that could be accomplished. I need to work on that. I need to accept that not every game needs to be squeezed dry, leaving nothing behind but a colorless husk. For 2017, I need to let go more often.

80,000 Gamerscore

This seems more than doable, especially considering that I jumped 10,000 Achievement points in the matter of six months last year. This goal also feeds into the constant sub-goal of clearing up hard-drive space on my consoles and removing finished games, as I continue to download those freebies every month, but not do much else with them except wonder when I’ll find the time. I’m looking to polish off Earthlock: Festival of Magic real soon, as well as a number of those single introductory episodes from Telltale’s numerous adventure gaming series, which will probably help make a good step forward towards this next milestone.

Create something one might call a game or experience or waste of time

Now, I know nothing about programming and code and how to submit something for certification with the big console-makers. It takes me upwards of three minutes to remember how to hyperlink something using HTML when the button doesn’t work here on WordPress. That’s fine. I’m not looking to do all that and beyond. This can obviously be argued, but: I can draw, I can write, and I have ideas.

And so, I want to create something. An experience, with emotions and mood and meaning and jokes, maybe stuff to click on, a puzzle or two or twist you never saw coming. Something interactive. Which leads me to think that a piece of interactive fiction is a good starting area. I plan playing a few pieces of interactive fiction soon, which will hopefully help bring the inspiration juices to a boil (ew gross). The trickier part would be deciding what story to tell, y’know, from the hundreds bouncing around in my brain every day.

Well, there you have it. Five things make a post. Two named games to finally dive into, a whole bunch of things within my Steam library, a larger Gamerscore, and something creative. We’ll stop there, as any more goals will just tip the boat over.

That said, how about y’all? What are you looking forward to accomplishing in 2017? It need not be related to videogames. Perhaps you are finally ready to start cleaning up that garage full of clutter (hi, Dad!) or want to exercise more or get into knitting. Either way, let me know in the comments. I like knowing.

The fact is I hit 70,000 Gamerscore perfectly

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Mark the date down, for today, this twenty-ninth period of twenty-four hours as a unit of time, is yet another behemoth moment for Grinding Down: 70,000 Gamerscore. Hit perfectly thanks to Killer Instinct‘s “Stylish Fulgore” Achievement for 10 points, but really, this was a group effort. Those involved will be thanked two paragraphs down, but first, a summary of my long, meticulous journey to this point and the previous landmarks I visited along the way. Because I enjoy thinking about the trek, imagining myself as an unassuming Hobbit on a grand Adventure, one to eventually share with future generations, becoming legend. Hmm, methinks it is almost time to rewatch Lord of the Rings for the umpteenth time.

Well, naturally, this all started in February 2010 with 10,000. After that, almost a year later, I slid into 20,000. Next, 30,000 was acquired another year after that in March 2012. The black sheep of this story happened in September 2013 as I wasn’t able to get the number I wanted because of stupid ol’ Fable III and settled on 41,000 instead. The gap between that amount and 50,000 was almost two years, as I backed away from the Xbox 360 for a while…for reasons. Here’s the kicker–it was only last June of this very year that I was celebrating 60,000 Gamerscore, which means I did a whole bunch of popping Achievements in the few months since then. Let’s examine where this exponential growth occurred the most.

Let’s see, let’s see. I dug back into my larger-than-necessary backlog for the 360, polishing off Hitman: Absolution and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag as much as possible. In terms of the Xbox One, the games that really helped grow that Gamerscore were LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Costume Quest 2, Monopoly Plus, The Wolf Among Us, and, embarrassingly, Ben-Hur. Of course, I’ve dabbled in a number of other games, both large and small, both on consoles and mobile, and, as mentioned before, this was a team effort. Even the games where I opened them once and played for less than twenty minutes matter. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to thank every game individually, but they should know in their heart of hearts that they are greatly appreciated.

I feel like with every one of these posts, I try to convey an air of lukewarm detachedness. That hitting these milestones is no big deal, simply a little fun to have with a system designed to reward gamers for all sorts of actions, such as defeating a tough boss or simply watching a game’s credits all the way through. The truth is…I care about hitting these numbers very much. The minute I begin to inch closer to them, I immediately start scanning out the list of potential Achievements and begin planning my path forward. I find it entertaining, and maybe someone out there reading this does too–hey, let me know if ya do–and I’m genuinely curious about what mix of games will lead me to the 80,000 mark. I do have a bunch more episodic adventures from Telltale Games to go through, and those are pretty easy Achievements to pop. We’ll see.

With all that said, picture proof:

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Wait, I took a better pic, since that screenshot ended up being so tiny. Also, I refuse to change my Avatar’s outfit. The more likely reality is that I no longer remember how:

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