I’m pretty sure I’ve never played the originalSnake, having only touched some updated version of it on a cell phone many years back. Snake‘s a pretty simple concept: the player controls a dot, square, or object on a bordered plane. As it moves forward, it leaves a trail behind, resembling a moving snake. In some versions, the end of the trail is in a fixed position, so the snake continually gets longer as it moves. Another common take on the mechanic is that the snake has a specific length, so there is a moving tail that is a fixed number of units away from the head. Either way, the player loses when the snake runs into the screen’s border, a trail or other obstacle, or itself. According to the ever-trustworthy Wikipedia, there are over 300 Snake-like games for iOS alone. Oh me, oh my.
Which brings us to…Snakeball. This one evidently uses most of the mechanics of the late 1970s Snake, with the goal being taking balls and throwing them into the hole at the center of the stage. There are variations on this gameplay, but the main goal stays the same throughout, accompanied by a flashy disco graphic style. Stages take place on disco floors that Tony Manero would greatly approve of. You can select between 16 different characters, all with a bunch of color schemes, and, evidently, if you had access to a PlayStation Eye camera, which I do not, you could snap a photo of your face–or anything else you found photogenic–and plop it onto one of the riders. Developed by Gamoola Soft, this is very much a casual game, which is why I played an hour or so of it, saw what it had to offer, and uninstalled it from my PlayStation 3, as per the goal of these themed posts.
There are three main modes in Snakeball: Snakeball, Challenge, and Ball Frenzy. Snakeball is the multiplayer mode, where up to 8 players can play online; however, since this game came out at the end of 2007 and I was playing it for the first time in 2018, a decade later, there was nobody online to play against. Shocking, right? You can battle bots though it isn’t too exciting. The Challenge mode tasks players with navigating through levels to open up a teleporter and go to the next level, with 14 levels in total to complete. Ball Frenzy is basically a remake of the classic Snake, with 10 levels to conquer. The goal of this mode is to collect all 1,000 balls in the level without crashing and destroying the ship.
Did you know that, for a time there, Trophies weren’t a thing on the PlayStation 3? They kind of only came around after the Xbox 360’s Achievements system began picking up steam as Sony wanted in on the extra stuff action. A lot of games got patched to include poppable Trophies, and all games going forward seem to now have ’em. However, Snakeball was not one that got graced with a patch, and so it is just this very straightforward experience that is mostly fine, but a bit lifeless and repetitive and lacking goals.
I’ll probably play some strange, updated version of Snake down the road. It’s inevitable. However, that said, I’ll probably never touch Snakeball ever again.
Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.
The pier was bereft of life. Not a single other soul dropped there, as far as my eyes could tell when quickly scanning the sky as I parachuted to the dirt. It was just me, and 99 madmen elsewhere on the main island. Time to scavenge.
I immediately made for the largest house in the area, scooping up every weapon, ammunition box, and gear item I could before eventually settling down in the attic. I found two different rifles and a pistol. I left the crossbow and bolts where they lay upstairs, an emergency backup option only. Overall, I had some decent stuff. Not enough ammo–because there’s never enough ammo in an isolated and cutoff existence where the only way to keep on eatin’ is to shoot everyone still–but enough ammo for the time being. I checked to see where the circle was. Somehow, I was almost directly in the middle of it. Phew. I stayed put, watching out the windows and listening for any movement downstairs. I mostly put on my patience pants and waited.
Outside, the engine of a vehicle drawing near got my attention. I hurried to the closest window and spotted a large truck trying to get up and over some small hills right outside my building. I didn’t hesitate, opening fire, the window shattering glass everywhere, but I think I only landed one shot before the player drove off to safety out of range. Oh well. Also, my cover was now blown, but I knew what was coming, and so I got prone on the floor in front of the staircase, waiting, listening. A minute or two later a man came up the stairs, and I fired instinctively, not even giving him a chance to know where exactly I was. I looted his body for goodies, but didn’t get any more ammo for my weapons. One kill.
By then, the circle had changed, shrinking away from me and the pier and up north towards the farmland. Alas, I would have to move and leave my safe perch on high. I zipped out of the house, keeping low and to the shadows, and made my way to what I quickly saw was a very open field. Not good. I got just inside the circle and instantly found a bush to squat in, watching my surroundings like a hawk. I didn’t move until the blue started creeping in more, and after taking a few steps, someone behind me began shooting at my butt. I spun around and managed to take them out without receiving much damage, but there was no time to loot or even take in the moment–the blue crept onwards. Two kills.
I made it to another bush just inside the circle unscathed. In the distance, I saw two players battling it out, and I watched with concerned interest as one took out the other and then began crawling on the ground…right in my direction. I waited patiently, popped out of my bush, and took him out. Three kills. At this point, my one rifle was now out of ammo. That left me with another rifle with like 20 shots and a pistol with something like 60 rounds. I also had some kind of grenade, but I never remember to use grenades.
As I moved closer to the next circle, a player in a vehicle came out me, clearly intent on running me down. I fired, using all of my ammo, but took the player out. Naturally, I stole their car. Four kills. Also, it had a full tank of gas and was not terribly damaged, so I was feeling really good about that, especially since I could see/hear another player nearby driving around in a vehicle too.
At this point, there were four people left alive, one of them being little ol’ me. One was driving around, trying to ram me, and two…were clearly hiding nearby. There were no buildings, only bushes. Both of us drove around in circles in the circle, hoping to find these hiders. I managed to run one over. Five kills.
It got down to two players left after the other guy in the car ran over the third remaining madman, and unfortunately we couldn’t just drive our vehicles around forever. This player certainly thought the strategy of putting it into reverse and trying to run me over backwards sound, while I took pot-shots from my P1911 pistol and hurried out of the blue. Using a buggy for cover, I sealed the deal. Sorry, TheScoobySnoop. My hands were shaking, and Melanie and I both let out an exclamation so quickly and loudly that scared our cat Timmy off of the couch. It was, to simply say, exhilarating.
I never got into the original Destiny, but I sure watched a good amount of coverage on that game via those chuckleheads over at Giant Bomb, enough so that I felt like I understood the ups and downs of Bungie’s latest sci-fi first-person shooter that wanted to be a big ol’ massive multiplayer extravaganza, but was severely lacking in the story department. Still, people went ga-ga for this thing and constantly cried out “The shooting feels great!” to any naysayers while I contently hacked away at Borderlands 2 and the online multiplayer aspect for Gears of War 4. That all said, I may be interested in checking out Destiny 2, especially now that I got to nibble a bit off the larger loaf via the recent free and open beta.
What was in the Destiny 2 Beta, you ask, probably already knowing the answer, but helping me segue into a new paragraph nonetheless? Well, it features activities from three core experiences to use the company’s own words: Campaign, Cooperative, and Competitive play. I’ll talk a bit about each below and my experience with shooting alien monsters that were shooting at me and accidentally hitting the “dance” button one too many times. Mmm-hmm. Evidently, you could visit a specifically hub section called the Farm, but only at a special time, that which I did not know. That’s fine. I prefer not to be social.
The campaign mission is called “Homecoming,” and it’s a mix of single-player action with some wave-based enemy elimination near its end where other real-life players can join in to help out. You are responding to an emergency distress call from the last safe city on Earth. Also, I forgot to mention, you get to pick an already decked-out character at the start of the Destiny 2 Beta, and I went with the Hunter class. I also tried out its two subclasses, namely Arcstrider and Gunslinger, preferring the latter greatly, but only after I figured out how to activate my super ability; I’m sure original Destiny players had no trouble with that, but the game never instructed me on how to pull this off, so I had to look it up in the control options menu. Anyways, it’s a short, linear, and perfunctory mission, where nothing goes wrong, with some story stuff at the end involving the word “light,” sometimes capitalized as “Light,” that went completely over my teeny tiny head.
Next up is the Cooperative Strike called “The Inverted Spire,” which tasks you with infiltrating an enemy stronghold alongside two other Guardians to take down all active threats. Also, here’s a bit of descriptive text that is lost on me–The Cabal awoke something deep beneath Nessus’ surface. Right. So, I went into this with two other players, one of who spent a long time jumping around the milk waterfall and trying to reach out-of-reach platforms. Eventually, you get to a big boss fight at the end, which is where everything went to crap, especially because communication was non-existent. I died, they died, we all died, and I eventually dropped out (sorry, peeps with gamertags I can’t remember). I can imagine this being easier and more fun, as well as rewarding, with a dedicated group of friends that are able to issue commands to one another. Plus, there wasn’t any loot to pick up, which is an important element for a loot shooter.
Lastly, there’s Competitive Multiplayer, and several versions of it to try out. I don’t think I could tell you what mode I played, but it was one team versus another, and we were trying to control certain points, indicated by capital letters, on the map and keep the opposing team from getting them. I wasn’t great at this, but I did manage to shoot a few guys and hold a flag for some seconds. It’s very quick and somewhat chaotic, and despite my constantly changing affection for Gears of War 4 online multiplayer, this was most certainly not for me. I felt like I barely had a chance to do anything, and when I finally did and something went wrong, it went bad fast. I’m sure there’s a whole cut of the population that loves this, but if I’m to play any Destiny 2 down the space road, it’ll likely be campaign stuff and Strikes, but only when I’m with a trusted group of Guardians. If such a group can exist.
So we’ll see come September if I’m interested in picking Destiny 2 up. I can concur with those that shouted about the shooting feeling good. It does. It really, truly does. I also like its overall look and the names of the weapons and pieces of armor and the tougher enemies, but I also want a good story, sue me. I don’t want to have to piece things together via websites and an app on my phone. I want characters, and I want those characters to interact with me in a meaningful way to get me to care about Earth blowing up or things going dark or whatever the plot turns out to be. Perhaps I’ll wait a bit and see what people have to say about it. Maybe while I do that I’ll play through all of Halo: Reach. Er, maybe.
Sigh. Well, here we are. Some nearly 80+ hours later–and I’m not including the time I put into the PlayStation 3 version, which was all kinds of borked–and I’m just about done with Dragon Age: Inquisition. I want to be done-done, but there are a few things left to see and try, such as the fact that this game has an online multiplayer component to it, and after putting this much time into the bloated beast I feel compelled to see it all…because I never want to go through this again. Ever. Y’all heard me. Sorry, Achievements for beating the story on higher difficulties–ain’t gonna happen.
Anyways, I have a lot to say about Dragon Age: Inquisition. Probably too much. As mentioned above, I’ve put a good number of hours into this thing, almost on par with Disney Magical World 2. In the end, the latter is the much better game of tasks and rewards, dressing your avatar up in various outfits, and engaging combat. Yes, those are fighting words, and I’m ready to fight. That said, there’s a good chance I’ll forget something and that this post will be somewhat frantic and unorganized. I apologize in advance, but if you continue on and read through this whole dang thing, grinding out each and every word, I promise you a reward at the end: a weapon, named something like M’ahlbrogger Gur’s Justice or Stormstrangler and in purple font, but several levels lower than the weapon you are currently equipped with. Sorry. You can immediately mark it as junk and sell it to the nearest vendor. Or destroy when your inventory becomes full. I understand. After all, that’s how the game is played.
Let’s talk about story first, however, since this is a massive roleplaying game set in a fantasy land full of magic and magical beings. That means story is big, larger than life, and it definitely is just that. I found it daunting early on, less as time progressed. Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s story follows you, known as the Inquisitor, on his or her journey to settle the civil unrest on the continent of Thedas and close a mysterious tear in the sky called the Breach, which is, unfortunately for all that live in this world, unleashing demons. The Inquisitor is viewed by some as the “Chosen One” and because of this forms the titular Inquisition in an attempt to stop Corypheus, an ancient darkspawn, who opened the breach to conquer Thedas all by himself. Phew. Got that? Basically, good versus evil, with some shades of gray sprinkled throughout.
The narrative was somewhat simple to follow…early on, when you only had a small base in Haven and a limited number of areas to explore and side quests to deal with. However, once Haven bites the bullet and you are forced to move into a so-not-like-Suikoden abandoned castle in Skyhold, the story stops feeling important. Sure, to everyone in this world, it is of the upmost importance that this Breach is closed, but the game doesn’t really hammer this home; instead, you are given plenty of breathing room, as well as meaningless quest after quest after quest to do because…well, I guess people like doing a lot of different things in RPGs. I do too–I just prefer that there’s meaning, a reason. In every big area the Inquisition can run around in, you can do lots of things, such as: go discover every region, establish a number of camps, complete requisition recipes, claim a bunch of historical sites as yours or at the very least under your protection, scan for shards, scrounge up all the shards, complete a select amount of Astrarium puzzles to unlock a hidden cave, figure out illustrated treasure maps, close Breach rifts, harvest plants and minerals, ping the area for hidden items, loot dead enemies, recruit agents, and more. All of that is of course mixed in with normal combat and main quests that often have you fighting tough bosses or doing specific things, like impressing royalty while simultaneously investigating something mischievous.
Hey, while we’re at it, please help fill out this timely and totally relevant poll of mine:
Right. I’ll also say that about fifty hours into the game…I started skipping cutscenes and mashing my way through dialogue trees to get through them as fast as possible. I knew that, if I wanted to maintain good relationships with everyone and be mostly neutral to a lot of situations, I had to select the dialogue option to the top right most of the time. You know that’s a bad sign for me if I’m just trying to rush through it all. Several years ago, I remember being shocked to discover a buddy of mine doing this for Fallout: New Vegas, a game I loved to listen to and ate up every conversation, but maybe that felt to him like Dragon Age: Inquisition did to me after so many hours in: just wasting my time. Also, I’m evidently not alone on this matter.
Okay, let’s switch over to combat, as that is a big part of all of this, and I might even go as far as to say it gets in the way nine times out of ten. In Dragon Age: Origins, combat was something you paused the action for and planned out, to ensure your survival. I skipped Dragon Age II so I don’t know how it was there, but here, in this one…there’s barely any strategy involved. I’ll present to you how I tackled every single encounter in this game and did more than fine. It went like this:
Hold RT to attack targeted enemy from a distance with bow and arrow.
Use three specific powers, generally in this order–Explosive Shot, Long Shot, Leaping Shot.
Continue holding RT and wait for cooldowns to cool down.
Rinse and repeat.
(Sometimes I’d poison my weapon or use Full Draw, but these were rare moments in time and only when I noticed the icon for them was ready.)
I only occasionally switched to other members of my party to give them a health potion, but never bothered to control them individually or give them specific tasks to do. They seemed fine on their own. Again, about halfway through my journey, I gave up caring and just used the “auto level up” button on Dorian, Varric, and Blackwall, the only three dudes I stuck with for the long haul. Considering we took down 10 dragons, over 75 Breach rifts, Great Bears, and the final boss rather quickly, I guess it all worked out fine. However, when it came to trying to run to a specific area or get a bunch of shards, combat just got in the way and slowed progress down. There’s no easy way to duck out of an encounter, so you might as well finish it, otherwise it feels like running through molasses if you try to leave the area.
Romance was a big part of Dragon Age: Origins, and it is not the main focus here. Gone are the days of giving a woman shoes and watching a meter go up. That’s actually a good thing because that’s simply not how a relationship works. However, you still earn likes and dislikes from party members based on actions you take in the story and conversations, most of which you can enter a romantic relationship with–I went with that bearded beauty Blackwall. This romance option was probably the most interesting part of Dragon Age: Inquisition all in all, as I found his character intriguing and mysterious, and there’s a quest chain to follow after you and he do the dirty deed, which really goes places and changes his future involvement in the campaign. However, I never felt compelled to dig into anyone else’s backstory. There were too many people to pick from, and because of that I went with one only and dug deep. Sorry, Sera, I’m sure you had a zany bunch of quests to do.
The crafting system is terrible. There, I said it. I struggled to figure out how to do most of it, though tinting armor and weapons to be a certain color was fun. Basically, you have a recipe to make a weapon, and depending on what materials you put into it, you’ll get different results. Obviously if you use higher-rated materials like dragon scales, you’ll make a stronger thing. That said, there was no easy way to compare this weapon-in-progress with one you had equipped, so you had to remember the stats and hope for the best. A majority of the time I ended up wasting dragon-related materials on a weapon that still turned out to be weaker than the unique bow or staff I got from beating a story mission’s boss. In fact, the entire UI for equipping weapons and armor is frustratingly slow to slog through, and I found myself storing my unique, purple-font weapons away without so much of a glance. What did it matter? I was taking down everything in my Inquisitor’s path without a struggle.
Let’s see. What else, what else. Oh yeah, Dragon Age: Inquisition is broken or always on the edge of breaking. Like an ice cream truck on a thin sheet of ice. It’s a game that asks players to do some platforming even though it was clearly not designed to be that kind of experience. Here’s me trying to collect a shard. Speaking to people can be problematic too, with the dialogue wheel sometimes not activating or activating in the middle of nowhere. Here’s me talking to a dude and then suddenly entering combat. And sometimes you just want to sand surf. Several times, the game crashed to the Xbox One dashboard without warning. Thankfully, it autosaves frequently, and I got used to making hard saves.
DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition has been weird. This version that I bought last year during the Black Friday sale came with everything:Jaws of Hakkon, Dragonslayer, Spoils of the Avvar, The Descent, and Trespasser. Since I wasn’t playing the game from release day with an eye to the sky for more, I didn’t know what was what and what order things should be played in. I also got a whole bunch of special armor recipes, mounts, and things like that right from the get-go. I did know that one piece of DLC was only accessible after completing the main quests. I’ve now completed all the DLC, but finishing Jaws of Hakkon and The Descent very late into the game, with the former being finished after I beat the main campaignandTrespasser, sure felt like a waste of time and energy. There was no point to even looting any enemies or chests because I wasn’t going to play any further after I finished them off.
And now I’m just going to cop this style from The A.V. Club and leave everyone with some…
Clicking in the left analog stick to ping the environment for interactive items is officially one of my least favorite things in modern game design
I rode a mount two times total, one for a story mission in the Hinterlands and the other when messing around in a menu and accidentally hitting the button
I’m the Inquisitor, the Chosen One, leader of a great army, and I have to pick all these flowers and rocks myself?
I killed a bunch of nugs near the end of my time with Dragon Age: Inquisition to help pop the Trial of the Emperor Achievement, and I feel like a monster
Anthem better not be Dragon Age IV, but sci-fi, or I’ll cry on my controller and break it
My character’s name is Felena, but now I wish I had named her Felicia, so I could say that thing all the kids are these days
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.