Tag Archives: microtransactions

Murder once more and slide in style with Apex Legends

I’ll just start this post off with a humble brag: my squad won on my fourth go at Apex Legends, a new free-to-play battle royale game where legendary competitors battle for glory, fame, and fortune on the fringes of the Frontier. It comes to us from Respawn Entertainment, as well as EA, which previously made things like Titanfall, Titanfall 2, and Call of Duty, all of which I’ve never played. Well, there was that one time I tried a demo for some Call of Duty entry on the Xbox 360, but it didn’t go well; heck, it went so poorly that I never even bothered to document it on Grinding Down. Wah.

Anyways, the battle royale genre is looking like it is here to stay, at least for the near future, and I’m okay with that. I don’t really play a lot of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds these days, though I did hop into it recently to check out the snowy map, but I am still dipping into Fortnite Battle Royale mode to eat up all the various in-game challenges and level up my Battle Pass. This one, this Apex Legends, does a lot of neat things for the blossoming genre, many of which I fully expect to see show up in other games as soon as they can implement them, and I’m having a pretty good time overall despite not being the greatest guns-blazing attacker. Thankfully, there are support classes to rock and other ways to help out your teammates.

The setup is, more or less, as expected. There’s an island full of buildings, weapons, and differently named locations, and you’ll land on it with the goal of being the last team standing. Ah, see, this is a three-squad game, and there’s no solo mode. I really like that there’s a jumpmaster–basically, one person on your squad is randomly assigned this role, and they get to decide where to land–and everyone on your squad jumps together, locked in, though you can veer off if you want to, but Apex Legends stresses staying together, even offering numerous ways to, ahem, respawn downed teammates. A ring slowly closes over time, forcing squads to face off in smaller areas, and there’s a bunch of high-tech weapons to pick up, along with ammo, attachments, and health boosts.

Apex Legends stands out by offering a playable roster that’s more like what you’d find in a hero shooter like Overwatch, which, again, I’ve still not played, despite there always being a free weekend event for it like every month. Characters called Legends include a robot scout named Pathfinder, a hulking heavy known as Gibraltar, a skirmisher named Wraith who is surrounded by inter-dimensional sparks, as well as several others. They all play different roles, like stealth, healer, or scout, but no one character is faster or stronger than anybody else from the get-go. In addition to a special passive ability, Legends have a tactical move and an ultimate power, both of which are on cooldowns.

So far, for me, the neatest thing that Apex Legends is doing differently is based around reviving your squad members. When you die, your squad has a certain amount of time to get to you and revive you as you are bleeding out. If they don’t make it in time, they can still collect your “banner,” a customizable image that represents your character. At any point during the match, they can then run to a respawn beacon and insert your banner, which will respawn you in a dropship up in the sky. Naturally, there’s a risk to this—using the beacon takes time and leaves you exposed—but it’s a welcomed chance to get back into the game. Usually, in Fortnite or PUBG, after dying, I’d just drop back to the lobby, not caring what happened to my remaining teammates, but now there is more reason to stick around and see if you can rejoin the battle.

I’m real curious to see where Apex Legends goes. Maybe more maps and new characters to play as down the road? I wonder if it’ll make dramatic sweeping changes every season like Fortnite or stay more familiar like with Call of Duty: Blackout or PUBG. Time will tell, but it’s certainly off to a strong start. Also, if you must know, I’m most inclined to pick Pathfinder if given the chance; what, I like cheeky robots, and yes, that includes Claptrap.

Alice in the Mirrors of Albion is stuffed with hidden objects

We’ve gone over this before, but I enjoy a good hidden objects game. Give me a list of things to search for, and I’m ready to go. Don’t need a lot of frills or extra time-wasting work. All I want to really do is look at an image crowded with stuff and find the canary, the umbrella, the globe, the oven mitt, and the tiny bust. Thankfully–or maybe not, depending on how you feel–the market is drowning in games like these. For instance, if you look at Microsoft’s online marketplace, the count is mega-high, and that’s where I found Alice in the Mirrors of Albion, a hidden objects game that combines some detective work with Alice in Wonderland‘s fantasy world.

Right. Well, this is the newest hidden objects game from Game Insight, the creators of Mystery Manor, which I have not played. They make a lot of mobile games. Alice in the Mirrors of Albion takes place in a mystical version of Victorian England, fraught with intrigue, crime, and suspense. The biggest story is that Alice–yes, that Alice–has gone missing, and it’s up to you to figure out what happened. Y’know, but only after you examine scenes for hidden objects. You’ll also have to solve puzzles and experience the game’s unique-if-long-winded story by tackling countless quests in your mission to foil the evil machinations of the Red Queen. Don’t be surprised by the addition of mini-games and an energy system; this is, after all, at its core a free-to-play game brimming with ads and a desire to get you to spend real money to speed up timers and accrue special currencies. No thanks.

For a while there, I was playing something called Twilight Town and Lost Lands: A Hidden Object Adventure. Alice in the Mirrors of Albion, even though it is made by a different developer, follows almost exactly the same format of those two, plus countless others out there. I’m talking about its use of energy, its focus on completing collections, the overworld map littered with icons and things to confuse yourself on, and the different ways it makes you find items in a scene, be it either from a list or pictures of silhouettes. I wonder if all these developers got together in a room and decided this was the new modus operandi for all things related to hidden objects. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t; for instance, in Twilight Town, I could literally do three actions before running out of energy, but Alice in the Mirrors of Albion has been more kind than that.

So, yeah, it’s fine. I do find it humorous that the story kicks off immediately with Alice disappearing and then things drastically slow down because you have to find keys for so-and-so or a special hat for the Mad Hatter…because, well, the developers needed to pad the game out from the get-go. I’m slightly interested in the story, and the writing isn’t honestly terrible, but many of the missions do feel like filler, and this detective work is only inching its way forward at a snail’s pace while a young woman’s life hangs in the balance. Want to save her right away? Sorry, you’ll need to up your mastery in this one location while also waiting for your energy meter to refill. Look, I’m not insane, I know what this game is and am not expecting Hemingway, but it should be either all in on the story or just scrap it entirely and don’t hide the fact that you are meant to play these levels over and over again.

There’s a character in Alice in the Mirrors of Albion that really gets under my skin. His name is Cheshire, Jr., he’s a cat, but also a part of the police-force. Look, I’m not here to ask too many questions. Anyways, the voicework done for Cheshire, Jr. is some of the most atrocious I’ve ever heard, and it really does make nails on a chalkboard sound like a thousand angels singing. You’d think, with him being a cat, that he’d meow like a cat, but no…instead, he says the word “meow” and draws it out with some extra syllables, because it’s not enough to just make your ears bleed once. If he continues to make his presence known, I may not be sticking around too long for this one.

Wish me luck on continuously finding that fire extinguisher, as they actually do a good job of hiding it in the police office scene. However, if we don’t get closer to learning what happened to Alice, I’ll be saying goodbye quickly to Alice in the Mirrors of Albion.

Casting Relashio on the ho hum Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery

I’ve been meaning to uninstall Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery for months now. Yes, I have known for quite a while that this is not the kind of digital Harry Potter experience I want, which means they need to reveal whatever that open-world thing is as soon as possible or I must finally play my cheap-o copies of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for the PlayStation 2. Heck, LEGO Harry Potter did a much better job of immersing me in the fantastic and fantastical world of wizards, muggles, and a secretive school for learning magic.

The game is naturally set in Hogwarts, but before the events of J.K. Rowling’s novels, featuring a customized protagonist, who you can see above in this blog post’s prominent screenshot. Yup, that’s me, eating the world’s largest sandwich. Alas, he probably looks like a lot of other players’ avatars because the customizing options are fairly limited or locked behind spending high amounts of your precious gem currency…just to get a different hairstyle. Anyways, your homemade student is a first-year and can attend magic classes, learn spells, battle rivals, and embark on quests. So long as you have the time.

Throughout Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery‘s story, players are able to make choices that affect the game’s narrative. Occasionally, these choices are locked if the player’s statistics are not high enough. As expected, your avatar will be interacting with notable characters from the series, such as Albus Dumbledore, Rubeus Hagrid (aka, the best character ever), Severus Snape, and Minerva McGonagall. The main plot starts with your character meeting Rowan Khanna in Diagon Alley, a young witch or wizard–I think if you pick a male avatar, Rowan will also be male because Melanie’s Rowan was a young woman–who teaches the player all about the wizarding world. Later, a conversation with wandmaker Ollivander reveals that the player character’s brother, Jacob, was expelled from Hogwarts for attempting to open the “Cursed Vaults,” a hidden vault rumored to have existed at the school.

As a free-to-play mobile game, it naturally features a system with tasks costing energy to perform. Look, it’s just a staple of the genre now, so to speak. You have to tap on the screen–really specific characters or objects–to use energy during quests; when you run out, you can either wait for it to recharge over real time or pay gems to add more (don’t ever do this). The player also gains different levels of courage, empathy, and knowledge via the choices they make, and higher levels of a particular attribute allow the player to choose some different dialogue options or change the interactions of other students and staff. You won’t be surprised to learn that I focused mostly on empathy throughout my short, two Ravenclaw years at Hogwarts, because I’m a caring soul.

Here’s the part that I found really frustrating in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. Many of the quests are limited not only by a specific amount of energy, but also time. For example, say you are trying to learn a new spell. Well, you have only an hour to complete the quest, and you end up being a few energy taps short after your first go at it. Obviously, you just need to wait a bit and come back to it, but I don’t like feeling tied to my cell phone all the time, and I’d often only return way later to learn that I had failed the quest and would have to do it all over again to progress.

The game looks quite good, but the writing is disappointingly bland. There are occasional moments of interesting stuff, but the side dialogue during quests is so generic it might as well not even be there. Every now and then you get asked a magic-related question to answer, and the questions are beyond easy, even for someone only faintly aware of the Potterverse. Dueling other students and casting spells is neat, but mostly just involves tapping and relying on a rock, paper, scissors outcome. Honestly, the waiting around for your energy meter to recharge wouldn’t be too bad…if you had more to do in Hogwarts. But everything requires energy. You just jump from space to space, looking for something interesting to engage in, and, shockingly, at a school where a professor can turn into a cat or staircases move on their own, there is nothing special to engage in. What a shame.

Ultimately, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery made me feel like a prisoner of Azkaban, demanding I check in on it sooner than later, and I am deathly afraid of Dementors…so no thank you.

Marvel Heroes Omega’s squirrelly performance on consoles

I’ve long wanted to play Marvel Heroes since it came out in 2013, but after seeing just how large the download file was from Steam–somewhere over the 30 GB mark–I decided to hold off. Then I completely forgot about the optic blasted thing, even after its double renaming to Marvel Heroes 2015 and Marvel Heroes 2016, until Gazillion Entertainment announced that it was coming to consoles this year, still as a free-to-play beast (not to be confused with Beast, the NPC you need to speak to during one of the main story missions). Anyways, it is here, it is rebranded once more as Marvel Heroes Omega, and it is a good amount of mindless fun, with some technical issues peppered throughout the experience. Let me and my army of squirrels explain.

To start, this is Diablo starring superheroes, that you play with a controller. At least that’s how I’ve described it to others. I’ll go more into the gameplay mechanics in a bit, but let me sum up the story, written by Brian Michael Bendis and which would be right at home for a long-running Saturday morning cartoon series arc. Legendary no-gooder Doctor Doom obtains the Cosmic Cube, which is capable of transforming any wish into reality, irrespective of the consequences. He uses this device to incinerate the Watcher. On the flip side of things, Madame Hydra and HYDRA have facilitated a breakout, freeing several super-powered inmates. You, the player, whether you are everyone’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, Captain “The Captain” America, or berzerker claws-only Wolverine, must go on a series of quests to take these villains down and put a stop to whatever Doctor Doom’s end-game plan is. Total domination, I’m assuming. The story is told via text in mission logs and dialogue with other peeps, as well as stylized, hand-drawn cutscenes that make you feel like you’re right inside a comic book. One problem: so far, I haven’t see a single brown hair of Squirrel Girl, despite her being my main hero and almost level 40.

Marvel Heroes Omega is without a doubt an action role-playing game, or ARPG for those that like to keep things short. You can tell immediately by looking at it and seeing the camera perspective, as well as the UI that puts a number of spells that once called numbers on a keyboard home now associated with the A, B, X, and Y buttons. It’s also a free-to-play game, but unlike Candy Crush Saga and Final Fantasy: All The Bravest, there’s no energy system that restricts how long you can play for, nor do the microtransactions seem to get in the way or block people from playing most of the game. Many of the superheroes cost a high amount of real money bucks or special currency, but you can grind out the latter as you play through the single player content and other modes. I think all the alternative costumes are in loot boxes, but I’m not certain of that.

Here’s what you do in Marvel Heroes Omega: beat up baddies and gain levels. In short, kick butts and eat nuts (only if you are Squirrel Girl, which, thankfully, I am). As characters gain levels, they gain passive stat increases and power points, allowing the player to further define the abilities of that character, and each character has three power trees in which they can spend points. These focus on a certain mechanic or play style, such as melee, guns, explosives, ranged, or special ranged. Currently, I’ve unlocked an ally for Squirrel Girl named Tippy Toe, who wears a pink bow and does some series damage. Also, I can shoot a squirrel like a machine gun. Without paying any money, you can play every single character in the game up to level 10. Then you must unlock the character to continue gaining levels and powers, which I did for Squirrel Girl, and I’m currently saving up special currency to buy Iron Man for Melanie so we can continue playing this together.

It’s not a perfect launch, which is somewhat disappointing, considering they’ve had years to work on at the very least the foundation of this game. The concrete floor, the support beams, the installation–that stuff. I’ve had Marvel Heroes Omega crash a handful of times already, dumping me right back to the start menu with little explanation. There’s insane slowdown when things get crazy with a bunch of superheroes all unloading on a single group of enemies at once. Also, if you try to move ahead in the level before it has finished loading, you hit an invisible wall until the game catches up with you. Not total deal-breakers, but irksome issues regardless.

I’m a couple chapters short of finishing the main campaign for Marvel Heroes Omega, but that doesn’t mean this adventure is over. Far from it. After that, I’m curious to see how my Squirrel Girl will grow as a character via other modes, and I do want to see how other heroes play, such as Gambit or Kitty Pryde, but probably only to level 10. I don’t think I myself have enough superpowers to grind out special currency for another character unlock after Iron Man. I’ll never say never, but I also won’t say likely. Also, at some point, I need to give at least one of the following three titles–Marvel Ultimate Alliance, X-Men: Legends, and X-Men: Legends II – Rise of Apocalypse–a shot, all of which entered my gaming collection some years back and remain untouched, cases on a shelf.

If you wish for peace, be ready to wait in Battle Ages

battle-ages-xbox-one-gd-impressions

One of my more fonder early gaming on a PC moments was the time I spent in Age of Empires, a history-based real-time strategy video game developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft. Yes, despite my natural disdain for the majority of RTS games out there, save for things like Kingdom Rush and the random run of a Command & Conquer: Red Alert skirmish, I did have a good time with that one, as it was a much more methodically paced foray into building up your camp and defending it when deemed necessary. It was definitely more Civilization than Warcraft, and that’s probably why I did better at the whole goal of trying to maintain peace for years on end. I’m into peace, majorly.

Anyways, Battle Ages is without a doubt no successor to Age of Empires, but it tries to guide the player slowly through different historical ages and creates one-off scenarios to do battle with other players’ camps or in-game missions. The problem is, right from the start, it’s a free-to-play game, and that means progress barriers for those unwillingly to pay money to knock those walls down. Like me. I started playing Battle Ages back in October 2016, and I guess I’ll consider myself being done with it as of this month. There’s still a new age to reach, as well as four seemingly unattainable Achievements, so I’m ready to uninstall the whole thing as soon as this post gets posted. Boom.

I’ve dipped into Battle Ages almost daily, whether to collect coins or begin researching a soldier or upgrade a building, because all those things are important to growing a strong, survivable settlement, as well as heavy on time. Naturally, the timers begin short, with some ranging in the 15-30 minutes range. A few, such as for upgrading landmines or walls, are instant, so long as you have enough free workers available for the job. By the end though, you’ll be waiting up to 5-6 days for some processes to complete. You could, of course, use money to bypass these timers via the use of jewels, the game’s special currency, but you don’t need to, if you are patient enough to wait. You will earn some jewels as you play, and I ended up burning a bunch to instantly have enough coins to push my civilization into the next era.

At some point during my journey to earn more gold so I could upgrade quicker, I broke some sort of peace treaty. This meant that, while I wasn’t playing Battle Ages, other people playing the game could attack my settlement and steal my hard-earned coins, as well as deplete my stock of soldiers. Boo to that. There were times that it felt like I was going nowhere, earning just enough gold to repair my bombs and restock my army tents. You can also go through a number of campaign missions where you attack a settlement and try to utterly destroy it, and these range in difficulty, but the most annoying thing for these is that, after you do one, you need to restock your army and call-in help before doing the next one. I eventually stopped doing these early on and stuck to timers for earning money and fame…which is probably why it took me so long to reach the Industrial Age.

So, with all that said, my time with Battle Ages has come to a close. I don’t see myself acquiring the four following Achievements left unpopped on my account:

  • Moving on Up (Acquire 2,500 trophies in battle)
  • Sticky Fingers (Steal 1,000,000 coins from the enemy)
  • Hold the Line (Achieve 250 defensive victories)
  • For the Win (Achieve 250 offensive victories)

If anything, Moving on Up seems permanently glitched, having been stuck at 40% for me since last year. Unless I’m doing something wrong. Either way, whatever. No Achievement for lowercase trophies. Well, when I get that next free-to-play, lots-of-timers itch and Fallout Shelter isn’t doing the job, I also have Battle Islands: Commanders from the same publisher 505 Games to get into, with that one focusing on World War II.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #63 – Battle Ages

Free strategy lark
Grow your civilization
Wait on long timers

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.

Warning: enter Vault 713 at your own risk

fallout-shelter-29

I waited a long time to play Fallout Shelter; I probably should have kept waiting. This free-to-play mobile room manager from big ol’ Bethesda was revealed and released to the world–well, for iOS devices–in June 2015 during the company’s E3 press conference. It later came to Android devices in August 2015. It never came and never will come to those that use a Windows phone despite that making some degree of sense. You might not know anyone in that last category, but if you are reading these words and follow Grinding Down, you at least know one sad soul–me. Well, it recently made its debut on Xbox One (and PC).

Allow me to run down what you do in Fallout Shelter since there’s no story to follow, save for whatever adventures you create in your brain as you tap and drag and force people to breed with one another. Basically, you build and manage your own Vault as an overseer–a.k.a., the never-questioned ruler of this nuclear safe haven. You guide and direct your Vault’s inhabitants, keeping them happy through meeting their essential needs, such as power, food, and water. You can rescue dwellers from the wasteland and assign them to various resource-generating buildings in your Vault, using the SPECIAL statistics system from the other Fallout games to key you in on their strongest abilities. Your dwellers level up over time, increasing things like health points and how good they are at producing resources. The number of Vault dwellers can grow two ways: waiting for new survivors from the wasteland to arrive at your doorstep or by pairing a male and female dweller in a living quarters room to, after some time has passed, produce babies.

Some other things exist to mix up the waiting on rooms-on-timers gameplay. You can take a risk and “rush” a room to completion. If you’re successful, you’ll get the resources right away, as well as some bonus caps. However, if you fail it, badness arrives in the form of fires, radroaches, or attacks from raiders. There are challenges to be mindful of, such as equipping a dweller with a weapon or gathering up X amount of food, and completing these will earn you caps or lunchboxes, which hold randomized loot. Once you build the Overseer’s room, you can send your people out on quests to find better items (weapons, armor) and caps. Everything takes time, and that makes way more sense for the mobile versions, but after sending out three people to shoot some wild radroaches I found myself staring at a bunch of rooms that wouldn’t be ready for harvesting for at least ten minutes with nothing else to do. Fallout Shelter is a game of waiting, which is not what I want when I plop down on the couch to play something.

On the Xbox One, navigating around the Vault is done via the thumbsticks. This can be a finicky process, and I once accidentally spent caps on removing boulders after the cursor jumped too far from the room I really wanted to select and gather resources from. This wasn’t the worst because, yeah, eventually I planned to clear them rocks, but I wanted it to be my decision, on my schedule. You can zoom in closer to the rooms to see some funny if frivolous bits of dialogue from your dwellers. The majority of the game is driven via menus, and accessing them is thankfully pretty simple and easy to use with a controller. That all said, I’m not a huge fan of the combat; it’s basically hands-off and hope you get some good invisible dice rolls like you’re back battling cliff racers in Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, which is frustrating to witness. Here’s a true scenario from my time in Vault 713: a teeny tiny radroach nearly depleted my level 14 dweller’s health as she missed shot after shot after shot with a decent hunting rifle. Blargh.

I should have mentioned this earlier, but it’s pivotal towards my future progress in Fallout Shelter, of which there probably won’t be any more, so here we go: my Xbox One is broken. Or perpetually breaking. One of those. Some time after Black Friday last year, something happened. My “pins” disappeared from the front dashboard with a message saying, “Sorry, we can’t show these right now.” Then I discovered that I could access the store tab, but nothing I clicked on would work. I could mash the “A” button to no effect. Same goes for a lot of the advertisement tiles on other pages, unless they were tied to the Internet Explorer app. I tried doing a hard shutdown, unplugging my router, resetting the WiFi connection, and checking for further updates. Nothing seems to work. I am not interested in a factory reset, and I’ve managed, for the most part, to survive. I can still access apps like Netflix and Twitch and download those Games with Gold freebies by logging in on my Xbox 360 and adding them to my account. Lifehack central, y’all.

However, the other night, after gathering enough food, water, and power to keep my people beaming with happiness, I saved and shut the game down. A message came up that said the game was trying to sync my save with the Cloud, and so I let it do its thing, not wanting to mess anything up. Which never seemed to finish. Five minutes went by, then ten. Then twenty. Then thirty. There’s no way a game the size of Fallout Shelter takes that long to sync save data that is probably as big as a Cheez-It crumb. Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait much longer and simply closed the console down as it was. When I tried to load the game up the next day, it couldn’t find my save even though it is also on my console’s internal memory, and the screen that shows your three save slots just spins infinitely, unable to find anything. I can’t even start a new Vault. This happened over a week ago, and I still can’t access Vault 713. And I was one room away from unlocking the Achievement for building 25 rooms. Grrr.

I could probably download Fallout Shelter on PC and either start again or see if my save in the Cloud carries over. I could, but I won’t. I’d rather play the Dead Money DLC from Fallout: New Vegas again. Or test my luck out in the wasteland proper. I thought I’d be more bummed about this, but there are a zillion other pieces of digital entertainment available at my fingertips.