Annuality

“Hi March! I believe we’ve met many times before. I’m doing well, and you? Oh? You’re thinking it’s time for another break from online gaming? I was thinking the same thing considering how incredibly behind on my console gaming I am. You’re right, I have effectively given Blizzard $30 for logging into WoW a handful of times during the past 2 months. Again, you’re right (as usual) … taking some time off will also give STO some time to rectify the many faults it has. Okay, take care! I’ll see you again next year.”

As you can probably surmise from my humorous and imaginative conversation with the month of March, it’s time for my seemingly annual break from online gaming. Breaks help me avoid from completely burning out and gives me the opportunity to catch up with my consoles. It also has the added benefit of giving the finances a small break as well. At least, that is, if I don’t go out on gaming benders and pick up a ton of games. ^^;

What does this break mean for my blog? Well, if you’ve been following my blog over the past 5′sh years you’re familiar with this annual ritual and know what to expect. If you’re a newer follower of my blog here’s the run-down: chances are that WoW/STO related entries will disappear for awhile, but I will continue to blog about my console gaming exploits during my online hiatus.

I definitely won’t be at a loss for gaming to blog about for at least a couple weeks; I’m currently working on Mass Effect 2 and Final Fantasy XIII comes out next week. Then there’s my backlog … mostly of PS2 games, oids. Persona 3, Rogue Galaxy, Magna Carta, Grandia III & Xtreme, Dragon Quest VIII … ugh, the list goes on. I’ve started most of them, but somewhere along the line, WoW got in the way I never finished them up.

I guess I'm going on a vacation in the Gamma quadrant?

There will probably be one last STO entry since my subscription is active until the 4th. I would like to reach Commander, pick up my shiny new cruiser and give it a go around the galaxy. There should also be the occasional WoW/STO entry as warranted by breaking news even though I’ve not been one to blog my reactions/opinions to the news; not, at least, unless it is a MEGATON piece of news that I can’t help but blog about.

So fear not, the blog will continue to live on as it always has. Ciao!

Ruin

If you’ve been following me on twitter you’d know that my weekend has been absorbed by beer, wild card playoff football and one game. No, it hasn’t been WoW. Oh no, it definitely hasn’t. Between an extra PS3 blu-ray remote and a $25 gift card I received from Christmas it was high-time to pick up a new game to pry me away from my keyboard. There were a ton of options before me dating back to August and when it came time to pick out ONE game to buy, I went through decision overload.

Do I pick up Batman Arkham Asylum which I’ve been dying to play since the demo? Should I pick up Borderlands which I’ve been hearing so many good things about? How about Uncharted 2 to give my newly acquired PS3 some love? Or if not Uncharted 2, what about some older PS3 titles that I’ve missed out on such as Infamous or Metal Gear Solid 4? Should I ignore the past and go with something just released such as Bayonetta or Darksiders?

As I said, if you’re a follower of mine, you already know which game I picked up and realize that I’m only building up some suspense. What game did he pick up? C’mon tell me already! It was a difficult decision but fortunately the store I was in at the time, Target,  limited my options somewhat. In the end it came down to either Batman, Uncharted 2, Bayonetta or Darksiders.

I gave serious consideration to all 4 games and it took me a good 20 minutes to sort it out in my head. It almost caused me pain to not decide on Batman, but I figured that soon it’ll go platinum/greatest hits and I’ll be able to pick it up at a discount. I passed on Uncharted 2 for purely vanity reasons as the cases they had at Target were plastered with marketing phrases: 25 perfect reviews, 10 out 10! Sure they were probably stickers on the shrink-wrap, but for some reason when I see marketing that tells me that YOU NEED TO BUY THIS GAME NOW I take a contrarian position and look elsewhere.

So that left me with a decision between Bayonetta and Darksiders. Two games with a lot of similarities, but enough differences to stand on their own. I knew what I’d be getting with picking up Bayonetta: lots of action, Sailor Moon’esque transformation sequences, and an overly complicated plot that teeters on the edge of detracting from the game itself. I absolutely loved the demo so picking up Bayonetta presented little risk.

Darksiders on the other hand was mostly an unknown. Sure it has been touted as the love-child of GoW and Zelda, but the general opinion of the game has been mixed at best. The first time I heard of the game I was instantly intrigued. The characters, premise, and gameplay all resonated with me. I mean how fucking cool would it be to play as War slaying demons and angels? So when the first reports of rampant screen-tearing for the 360 version hit the ‘net a little part of me died inside. It only supported the opinions of the game being average at best; an amateur product of an overly-ambitious premise.

So what game did you get damnit?!?

In the end, the Zelda lover inside of me won out and I picked up Darksiders, on 360. Even though Bayonetta presented little risk, I just wasn’t in the mood for a pure-action game. I desired some exploration, progression, and most importantly a story-line that doesn’t get lost in pretentiousness. I don’t mind complicated plots, but they need to make sense, and I’ve heard quite the contrary when it comes to Bayonetta. I’m not trying to knock Bayonetta for its story-line  as I can look past that and enjoy the game for purely the gameplay. I do play fighting games after all and they’re notorious for their story-lines.

Darksiders became a no-brainer for me as I thought about it more and more. So what if it were only average? An average Zelda game is better than a lot of crap shoveled out these days. I yearned to fill that gaming-void that has plagued me since Nintendo decided to focus on DS Zelda titles. So average reviews and screen-tearing be damned, I picked up Darksiders. I desired to step into the boots of War and kick some ass.

So let me be upfront about the biggest criticism over Darksiders on the 360: Yes the screen-tearing is BAD and can sometimes be distracting, but it doesn’t get in the way of the game. Evidently there is a title-update on the way to address the issue, so if you can’t look past the amateurish mistake of screen-tearing you can wait until it is fixed. If you can look past it, you’re in for quite a treat: Darksiders is fucking amazing.

Okay, okay. I am a bit biased towards Zelda games, but Darksiders is solid. Well, except for that pesky screen-tearing ^^; You can critique it for being blatant Zelda rip-off as it essentially Zelda painted with an apocalyptic brush. You have your z-targeting, maps, compasses, keys, tools, environmental puzzles and baddy-clearing rooms. Yes Darksiders IS Zelda, but I tend to not think of it as a rip-off but as an homage to one of the greatest gaming franchises. The gameplay is solid and very very rewarding, and that’s what we should care about right?

Zelda isn’t the only homage I’ve come across in the 6 hours I’ve spent with it so far. Prior to the first dungeon you encounter you’re treated to a sequence that pays homage to Panzer Dragoon, another one of my favorites. It wasn’t quite as refined as Panzer Dragoon, but it was a decent twist in the gameplay and an interesting way to bridge the player to the first dungeon. This wasn’t the only bridge I’ve encountered as prior to the second dungeon you’re given an over-the-shoulder 3rd person shooter sequence which reminded me of Master Chief carrying a turret from Halo 3.

Then you have your ability to purchase moves, weapons, consumables ala Devil May Cry and weapon leveling ala God of War. Yes Darksiders is full of reused ideas from other games, but it does so in a GOOD way. I didn’t go into Darksiders expecting a revolutionary experience, I wanted something fun to play and don’t mind the “I’ve played this game before” feeling. It comes down to the overall composition of the game and Darksiders hasn’t dissapointed me yet.

While I’m on the topic of composition, now would be a good time to give my impressions of the story-line and characters in Darksiders; spoiler-free of course. If you’ve read a synopsis of the game, it is pretty basic: the apocalypse has occurred and the horseman War has been blamed for it and War has to clear his name. While I’m only 6 hours in, the story-line hasn’t progressed much, there are still many things unanswered such as who is behind the events that have occurred and where are the other horsemen?

There have been lots of little plot-devices to explain the progression of the game which are fairly pedestrian. To be blunt, it isn’t the story that has hooked me, I’ve been hooked because of the characters. This game has a lot of character in its characters from Vulgrim the lich merchant to Samael the out-of-favor demon. War, himself, is a very intriguing character thanks to the voice-actor delivering his lines despite him being pretty straight-forward.

Oh god, the voice-acting is top-notch in Darksiders; quality work. If the voice-acting were not as well done as it has been, I’d probably not be professing my love for this game as much as I have been on twitter. The occasional line delivered in demonic tongue makes me wish I knew how to speak demon. I might be overstating my impressions of the voice-acting considering I haven’t played Uncharted 2, but regardless I’m impressed.

But enough gushing about the characters and voice-acting. Let me gush about the character designs themselves. War is fucking bad-ass. His armor, his sword, his shadow wings,  his glowing sigil on his forehead, his hair, his eyes … er … right, let’s reign that in a bit. Again I am biased, but the character designs are incredibly well done in Darksiders. Vulgrim, Samael, the Watcher, the gatekeepers, the Black Hammer … all quality. Even the throw-away enemies look suitably hellish (or angelic) and received some love from the artists and designers over at Vigil.

Then you have the (mini)bosses themselves; again, quality work. I encountered a mini-boss called the Jailer that created a substantial amount of OH SHIT! He hurts you, bad, if you don’t get away from him. He sticks out so far if only because when you do down him, one of the prisoners kept in a cage attached to the Jailer frees himself and takes a couple of shots at the dead boss. Hilarious!

If there were one complaint or critique I do have about Darksiders is occasionally the controls get in the way when it comes to boss encounters. Pressing in on the right-stick to enter aim-mode for your crossblade or to precisely aim a bomb toss isn’t the most intuitive thing. That gets compounded by the decreased mobility War suffers while in aim-mode which can lead to taking accidental damage.

There are also a couple of platforming issues in regards to some quirkiness with the camera when attempting to navigate ledges. While slightly annoying, these issues are not rampant with the majority of the gameplay I’ve encountered so far. There’s a good balance between combat and puzzle-elements in Darksiders with a pinch of platforming to keep you on your toes.

So if there’s anything you can take away from my impressions of Darksiders is that it is a worthy game to played. If you enjoy Zelda games even a little bit, there’s absolutely no reason to not give Darksiders a go. If you are as big of a Zelda fan as I am and you’re not playing this game, what is wrong with you?! Go out and pick this game up now. I demand it.

Diversions

How awesome are the new 5 mans in the Frozen Halls? I know right? Er, well … I haven’t seen them yet. What little time that I have had in WoW was spent setting up add-ons and running one PUG with the new dungeon finder tool. I’m determined to use pitbull again but ver.4 has a different learning curve to setting up than ver.3 did. I figure that since this should be the last major patch until the 4.0 roll-out prior to Cataclysm any time I spend on getting my UI just right will be worth it.

Considering that I don’t have much to comment on with patch 3.3, I figure I’ll shift the focus on this entry towards console gaming and the upcoming diversions from WoW. There have already been a large number of games released this holiday season that I’m interested in, but I’m always looking forward. Assassin’s Creed II, Borderlands, Uncharted 2 … Meh! Who needs them right? Let’s look to first quarter of 2010 for what really has me excited. Old games are old news is what I always say ^^;

Right out of the gate January has two games that I am really looking forward to: Darksiders and Bayonetta. The buzz revolving around Darksiders is very positive, but I’m hoping a demo gets released in the coming weeks so I can try it out for myself. I downloaded the Bayonetta demo and WOW that’s how you start a demo. It doesn’t slow down in January either with Dark Void and Mass Effect 2 on their heels. Dark Void is likely to get overlooked by many but I’ll check it out based off how much I loved Crimson Skies. Mass Effect 2 is a no-brainer … but I still need to pick up Mass Effect and finish it first.

February isn’t quite as packed with titles that cause me to salivate but there are a couple of titles that I’ll mention. As blasphemous as this might be I could care less about Bioshock 2. I didn’t like Bioshock, the control just felt off and as cool as the atmosphere seemed, it just didn’t grab me. Where Bioshock 2 fails to excite me Star Trek Online exceeds in tapping the inner-trekkie inside of me. Away missions aside the game looks amazingly fun. DS9 uniforms?! Hell yes. I loved TNG and DS9 (season 4+) and cannot wait to captain a cruiser through the Gamma quadrant and kick some Dominion ass (okay, that might be getting ahead of myself).

February closes with a bang with Splinter Cell: Conviction which is a little surprising coming from me. I’ve never been a fan of the Splinter Cell series, but Conviction just looks bad-ass. Obvious inspiration from the Borne movies as well as Fox’s 24 seems to have shifted Conviction into a game that I look forward to playing. Speaking of 24, season 8 is going to absorb my Monday nights. I am a huge Jack Bauer fan and should my wife and I ever have a boy, he will be named James “Jack Bauer” Rainwater. ;)

Finally the grand-daddy of all diversions will come in March as Final Fantasy XIII is released. As much as I love the Warcraft universe, Final Fantasy has and will always be #1 in my heart. Once FFXIII drops my WoW playtime will disappear until I’m completely satisfied and finished with FFXIII. I just need to decide whether I’ll pick it up on 360 or PS3 should a PS3 slim find its way into my home during the Christmas holiday.


Downloadable

There’s a growing trend that is starting to get me a little worried: downloadable content. DLC is both a boon and a bane in my eyes for video games. On one hand DLC can extend the life of a game beyond it’s initial scope usually for a modest price, but it can also alienate a section of the player base if they don’t pick it up (ie. map packs for online games). This alienation isn’t what bugs me though, it’s the feeling that developers are holding back or omitting content that they know they can offer as DLC later down the road.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a design choice running rampant with many developers; nor does it really pertain to every game genre. It just feels like single player narrative games are being stripped down so that content that fleshes out the world can be added later, artificially increasing the price of the game. Moreover we’re starting to see DLC available far closer to the launches of some games which begs the question, “Shouldn’t this content have been included in the price of the game?” Then again, you could make an argument that DLC that comes out months after a game launches runs into the issue of relevance, especially when competing against brand new titles.

So when should DLC be offered? What should the DLC contain to justify it’s existence? These are tough questions and will probably vary on a case by case basis, but how do you justify spending extra money for a game that you’ve already paid for? I can answer this for myself pretty easily: when the value of the DLC outweighs the cost … which is almost never for me.

Now that’s slightly hypocritical coming for me. I play WoW and have been an avid MMO fan since FFXI but the value I get out of WoW greatly outweighs the monthly subscription I pay. But then there is that time when I picked up all of the extra costumes for Street Fighter IV. Ooops! I mean really, I paid for extra costumes?! And they came in multiple packs where if you wanted them all, you had to buy them all.

Outside of the costume purchasing I haven’t purchased DLC for pretty much anything else. Now if I were an avid Halo/FPS fan I’d probably pick up map packs. Those I generally see as being worth their cost, but in Halo’s case, those map packs are made free later on. Spending extra money for an extra “mission” or side-quest isn’t valuable for me. Cosmetic DLC is even worse, but *cough*ahem*cough* sometimes might just a download on my end.

So How do you feel about DLC? What is your measuring stick for determining value vs cost? Have you purchased DLC and then regretted it later on? Or is there DLC on the horizon that you’re itching to buy and download?

Broadcasting

After watching numerous people stream their video games via justin.tv I decided that I wanted to do so as well. While I wish I had a beefier computer, and some more equipment (probably a mixer board) I slowly started getting the hang of it. First I needed to pick up a capture device and at the advice of fellow SFIV friend I picked up a Hava Platinum HD which is capable of accepting component input. It also handles most of the encoding from the input source, so that allows my CPU to focus on translating it to Justin.tv.

Which brings in the next piece of the puzzle, the software. Adobe Flash Media Encoder is unable to utilize the Hava Video Device (it’s ALWAYS in use by another program) so after a conversation with some other j.tv broadcasters I discovered the “trick.” You can use a program, Webcam Max, to define a “preview window” on your desktop that will stream as a virtual webcam to justin.tv.

Problem solved … mostly. I just needed to open the Hava PC player and set the preview window in Webcam Max to include it. Yet this still left the audio out of the loop and for a while I was at a loss on how to share the audio coming in through the Hava PC player. That is until I remembered I had a 2x male 2.5″ cable that I could run from the headphone jack on my speakers to the microphone jack at the front of my computer.

Now should I want to actually hook up a microphone and still get game audio, and/or mix in music with game audio I will need to buy a mixer board. But for now, I’m happy … very happy actually. If you’re interested in watching me game, you can now do so at justin.tv/ninvampire. Obviously I won’t be broadcasting all the time, but you can follow me on twitter to receive updates as to when I am broadcasting.

Rebirth

Oh LiveJournal how I’ve neglected you. I really didn’t mean to, it’s just you know … things come up and good intentions get sidetracked. Let’s put the past behind us and start again … I’m sure we can make things right.

So where do I begin? This blog has mainly served as a means of recording my activities with time-sucking MMOs and I seem to be at a stage at my life that MMOs are not the center of my gaming habits anymroe. I am (and have been since early Feb) once again on hiatus from Warcrack. This time feels a little different however; I am no longer daily keeping up on WoW news and even when I do, I feel like an outsider. Meaning I’m not feeling those same yearnings to come back.

It’s taken 4 years but I think I’m finally sick of WoW; don’t get me wrong … I loved WoW, but its just no longer for me … I think. I’ve never really been able to get the “most” out of WoW in terms of raiding; my life just isn’t set up to. There’d be some sense of envy when I’d sit on the sidelines while my guild would raid, but I always felt like a hinderance when I would get a chance to join a raid.

Needless to say now that I’m nearing 3 months of removal from WoW, I’ve been able to catch up on some of my backlog of console games gathering dust. Sadly though my habit of picking something up, getting deep into the game and then sitting it down continues. I’m near the end of Half-Life 2 and Fable 2 but I’ve been playing Street Fighter IV and just started Persona 3 (finally).

There’s still more to my backlog however; Drakengard 2, Dragon Quest VIII, Grandia 3, Grandia X-Treme, Magna Carta, MGS3 (sigh, yes), Radiata Stories, Rogue Galaxy, Last Remnant, FFTA2, and maybe I’ll try FFX-2 again. >.<! Yes, there’s enough to keep me busy for a very, very long time; not to mention upcoming titles that I’ll probably want to get as well. I know that once Diablo III drops, my intentions to get to those backlogged titles will get sidetracked ^^;

So what else have I been up to? Well my wife and I have really adopted Facebook into our lives and recently started twittering. With the recent acquisition of two Blackberry Curves our semi-obsession with social-networking has been strengthened. Poor Myspace has become a thing of our past it seems. I still check it from time to time, but Facebook has definitely become my favorite. (Hit me up via PM if you want to add me as a friend on Facebook)

Well I think that I’ve sufficiently given LJ some love for now. Next update I’ll try to focus in on Persona 3 and Street Fighter IV. Until then, adieu …

Difficulty

Who loves laspes in updates more than I do? Anyone? Anyhoo I figured it has been long enough since my last update and to check in. I recently celebrated a birthday and picked up Final Fantasy Tactics A2 with a gift card. Being the Tactics veteran that I am, I figured I’d begin a campaign on hard difficulty. FFTA was absurdly cake, and I was itching for a challenge that would tax my tactical skills. Everything was going fine until I started hitting the brick wall of job progression; not having equippable items to learn abilities from specifically.

Maybe I didn’t pay enough attention, but I must have missed the explanation that anytime a yellow dot filled a bazaar slot, you could unlock an item. Rather I thought I had to fill all available dots for a particular row before you could craft items. When I discovered that this was not the case, that brick wall crumbled … a little.

Now I’m running into the problem of being underleveled for most quests without a surefire way to level my team up. Seems that random clan battles have been mostly nixed, and the “world map” is sometimes annoying to navigate. The one clan battle I did get to jump into featured a level 9 mage with firaga and a golden hairpin. >.< Are you serious? (BTW, I did win that battle, but it was a tad hairy)

While I appreciate that FFTA2 has enough old stuff tweaked and new systems to feel fresh, I am not quite on board with the bazaar system and the lack of direction with the plot 10 hours in. Another quibble I have is with how excrutiating long every turn, action, etc takes. I *LOVE* the battle system, I just wish I could breeze through battles faster.

Other than FFTA2, I played the Too Human demo for a bit and, well … I’m disappointed. Everything was pointing to cool with Too Human, but when they chopped the multiplayer down to 2 players from 4, I knew something was wrong. Quite simply, the combat blows. Using the r-analog stick to execute melee attacks is already questionable, but can be acceptable should the attacks flow naturally. That is not the case with Too Human.

Combos suck because they don’t flow and require you to continuall tap the stick in the same direction. A misplaced flick and you’ll find your character careening off screen to attack some enemy that you can’t see. And that brings up another problem: the camera. LB + R-Analog for free look is counter-intuitive when you have melee attacks mapped to the analog stick. Didn’t anyone over at Silicon Knights bring this up?

*Sigh* Well at least I can scratch Too Human off my list of games to buy. I’ll assuredly pick up Force Unleashed and Fable 2 now.