The Backlog Rewalk Files: Divinity Original Sin 2 Co-op Mode, Part 1

“Throw the bodies into the pool of poisonous blood!” “And then remember to blow them up!” – Anonymous (actually, my two sons)

Good evening, mortals! I trust you enjoyed your weekend, hmm? (Editor’s Note: Wow, it’s nice of you to a- ) sure, whatever, I don’t want to hear it if not. (Editor’s Note: …and, there it is.) I am finding myself in the eye of a whirlwind of change, personally and professionally. Some of this I expected (still working out the podcast, but I may have amend my initial plans of having every episode along side my fire-haired eldest spawn as he’s quite busy himself) and some have been out-of-the-blue, though not altogether negative. But one particularly pleasant diversion has been my sons’ idea to use my Backlog Rewalk of Larian Studios’ Divinity Original Sin 2 as our chance to do a full co-op playthrough of the campaign.

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Possibly the only moment that some member of the party wasn’t on fire.

As any of you who know me or have followed along for a while now realize, RPGs are far and away my favorite genre of game. But even for all I love them, their Achilles’ heel has always been a sore lacking in the ability to share the adventure with others. Although recent years have seen this somewhat addressed with the advent of MMORPGs, with many tremendous offerings in both free-to-play and subscription based models (Editor’s Note: Oh, we definitely need to so some separate entries on that subject…) the classic narrative-driven RPG, whether party-based or featuring a solo avatar, largely remained single-player affairs. When earlier generations of games attempted multiplayer components, it largely felt like a tacked-on afterthought, such as a second player being able to control a single party member in battle but otherwise being limited to just watching the game unfold with little to no agency. Not so in the least with regard to Original Sin 2.

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Not pictured: the Evil Wizard generally setting the rest of them on fire.

As players of either of the Original Sin games will know, a huge party of the games, both in and out of combat, comes from environmental interactions. Buildings, ships, and treasure chests on fire can burn up and be lost without a quickly cast rain spell; poisonous fogs can be cleared by a cleansing fireball; out-of-reach crates and statues can be teleported or lifted telekinetically to be placed on pressure plates – the possibilities are near-endless. And since each of these requires some expertise in different skill trees and spell schools, diverse party make-up is essential to fully explore the world and take advantage of combat situations. While in a single-player game, these decisions can all be left to the player to manage across different party members, Original Sin 2 shines when it’s turn-based world and combat are shared between a group of friends (or a twisted father and his equally-demented sons), ideally in the same room. Did the tank manage to successfully pull all the enemies into a group together focused on him? “Hold still, son – you can handle this fireball!” Is the healer teleporting the mage out of danger because all the healing spells are on cooldown? “I’m sorry, dad – I didn’t realize you were still on fire when I dropped you in that puddle of oil!” The possibilities for fun are endless – as are the number of things that you will likely yell across the room to your party that nobody else in the room will have any hope of making sense of. – EWE

 

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The Backlog Rewalk Files: Darksiders Warmastered Edition

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” – Charles Caleb Colton

The Four Horsemen. Just the name alone is enough to conjure so many images to mind – four larger than life forces of nature, carving a bloody path of destruction leading inevitably to the apocalyptic end times.

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Also these guys.

The very idea of four supernatural harbingers of the end of days has always, naturally, fascinated me. So the opportunity to play as one of the legendary Horsemen in a post-apocalyptic world designed by famed comic book artist Joe Madureira and inspired by the classic Legend of Zelda series sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? Enter the puntastically named Darksiders: Warmastered Edition.

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War never chang- wait, sorry, wrong game.

 

A graphically enhanced edition of the original Darksiders PS3 game released for modern consoles and PC, the game places you in the hulking, brooding form of War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In the universe of Darksiders, an ceasefire has been reached in the endless wars between Heaven and Hell, with the balanced maintained and enforced by the mysterious and creepy Charred Council, a weird collection of talking skull-rocks that won’t allow the heavenly hosts and hellish hordes have at one another until such time as the world of humans is ready to participate in the final conflict. In order to maintain the Balance, the Council employs the aid of the Horsemen, four mysterious siblings of unbelievable power.

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“Always” is a REALLY long time…

A catastrophic series of events leads to a massive upsetting of the precious Balance, and War is left to take the fall for it. Slapped with a sentient shadow that acts as both a restraining bolt and warden, War sets out across the ruined Earth to discover who is truly to blame for the upsetting of the Balance and cut that person to ribbons with his BFS Chaosbringer. But all is not as it seems on the remains of world, and War will need to explore puzzling ruins, acquire useful tools and artifacts, and make deals with several devils – and angels – before he can solve the mystery and get his revenge.

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Dude. You can’t tell me that every last breath mint on Earth has been lost.

The visuals in Darksiders are, in a word, stunning. Madureira’s character designs are spectacularly realized – War is a hulking brute of a warrior, with oversized boots and gauntlets that somehow don’t seem out-of-place at all. Surrounding him are fiery demons, packs of angels wielding both swords and laser cannons, and giant, tumorous monstrosities that look like nothing more than eldritch abominations. Colors are vibrantly contrasting, popping off the screen and giving you the impression that you are in control of a graphic novel published by Dark Horse.

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…I don’t suppose we could talk this out, could we?

The gameplay can best be described as a glowing, polished love letter to the 3D Legend of Zelda games. War’s journey will take him from one dungeon to another, each one serving to introduce newer and more complex gameplay mechanics and often including new tools or equipment to assist War in solving environmental puzzles in order to advance. This gameplay loop builds upon itself in an immensely satisfying fashion, with puzzles and challenges incorporating and expanding upon the tools and solutions discovered in previous places.

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Well that glowing just CAN’T be good.

Boss fights are often puzzles in and of themselves, with each one serving as a culmination of the tools, tricks, and traps found in their environments to defeat. For all the power that War possesses, it is his – and your – ability to analyze and adapt to his situation that serves him best throughout the entirety of his adventure. That isn’t to say that every card up War’s sleeve is entirely useful – one might go the entirety of the game, for example, without ever even knowing that War is capable of blocking some enemy attacks rather than utilizing a well-timed dodge. Similarly, while War has access to a small selection of magic spells, I found only one to be something that I used more than once, and even then it’s use felt situational and more of convenience than necessity.

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You know, something about this thing seems important.

The sound design is equally polished, if in my opinion less memorable. While my youngest son insists that the soundtrack and battle music in the early stages is among the best that he’s ever heard, for me there is nothing of note to distinguish from one growling guitar background to another. That isn’t to say that any of it is bad – just that it is there and serves it’s purpose without ever truly standing out. One exception I would note is that the voice acting is amazing, particularly Liam O’Brien as War.

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This should end well.

After more than a few twists and turns, Darksiders’ narrative ends with a fairly obvious hook for further sequels – sequels which have since come to be. Would they pick up that story trail? I guess you’ll have to come back to my upcoming discussion of Darksiders II to find out! – EWE

The Backlog Rewalk Files: Pillars of Eternity: The White March (I & II)

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Hope you like snow and ice!

Welcome back, humans!  I hope life has been treating you better than “President” and “guy you wouldn’t buy a used car off of” Trump has been treating poor people trying to flee to a better life in America.  Though I suppose given just how abysmal the treatment of them is, that’s a pretty low bar that life has to clear to treat you better.

Anyway, as you may recall, I’ve been strolling through the overgrown jungle that is my game backlog since I needed to replace my computer’s HDD and as a result lost a significant portion of my save data in many games.  I began this little journey in earnest with Pillars of Eternity, and decided I would give it a strong push through all of the expansion content – The White March Parts I & II – and then complete the game.  So how did it go?  (Editor’s Note: Some SPOILERS AHEAD for Pillars of Eternity and The White March.)

 

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Oh there was something behind the waterfall, alright…

The White March expansion was released by Obsidian in two parts, and unlike many expansion packs for RPGs, it is integrated seamlessly into the main story path of the base game.  Part I is accessible once you reach Act II of the main story, and Part II is accessible upon reaching Act III.  Your quest journal has a nice touch that keeps separate track of main quests for the base game, WM I, and WM II – though this doesn’t extend to the sidequests and “tasks” – those are all lumped together regardless of which part of the game they originate in.  Nonetheless, Obsidian deserves a TON of credit for making the new areas, NPCs, and quests feel like they were always a part of the world to begin with.  The base game itself was already one of more well-written fantasy worlds in gaming, and WM did nothing but drive that point home.  Most notably, your choice of companion characters escalated from sometimes-funny to batshit crazy hilarious!

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Evil Wizard? Check. Foul-mouthed, possibly cannibalistic druid? Check. Robotic serial killer rogue? Check. Former war criminal barbarian? Check. Elderly masochistic hallucinogenic-addicted monk? Check. Um…one fairly well-adjusted hunter? Also check.

The character backstories and personal quests for the three new playable party members in WM are absolutely fantastic – some of the best, most genre-aware and yet not-total-parody fantasy character writing I’ve seen in video gaming, period.  My only complaint is that there wasn’t more of it – the personal quests for these three felt very short compared to the quests for the base game characters.  But as complaints go, that one doubles as a compliment – always leave your readers/players wanting more!  And it was the characters that sealed my desire to play the next game in the series – once I’ve got more time and funds.  But lets not discount the fantastic real-time-with-pause combat mechanics, either.

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Yeah, that’s right – nobody screws with this crew of cutthroats.

Every class in the game is functionally useful in different combat situations – to the point that you will find yourself regularly journeying back to your fortress of Caed Nua to switch out party members for different bosses and challenges.  And boy do I mean it when I say challenges – while you can reach a point where most regular encounters won’t give you much trouble, several of the optional bosses in the game are absolutely brutal and require close attention to party positioning and skill management.  For example…

EWE and Editor Cave

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Editor’s Note: See, there WAS a cave behind the waterfall! HA! It never fails! Now we can just grab whatever bonus loot Obsidian tucked away in here and…
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Editor’s Note: …oh. Oh dear. (EWE’s Note: Yeah, there’s your fucking treasure, asshat!)

So after THAT little mishap, I also discovered that not all of WM takes place in a frozen wasteland – some of the quests do take you to new zones in the more temperate zones of the main game.  For example, after you take care of an archmage who had decided that lichdom sounded better than death (Editor’s Note: and who’s reanimated head you kept floating behind the party as a pet…) you end up being summoned by one of the other archmages to a meeting.  Sadly, a village full of cultists decides to get in your way and must be…dealt with…but then you can have intelligent conversation with one of your intellectual peers…

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OH COME ON!

So, let me share a little life advice: do not attempt to send melee fighters against a dragon.  Just…don’t.  (Editor’s Note: I said I was sorry, and you only got set on fire a few times.)  But all’s well that ends well, yes?  And here is how THEY ended:

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What can I say, humans…I’m very good at what I do, but what I do isn’t very nice.  What IS nice though is that I got to play through this gem of a game.  It is a definite love letter to games like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale, but with enough subtle modern improvements that it doesn’t feel dated.  If you haven’t played it yet, what are you doing?  Stop reading and go play it! – EWE

 

 

The Backlog Rewalk Files: Pillars of Eternity (Pt. 2) & More!

Hello once again, mortals!  A very happy Memorial Day to all of you in the US, and for those not in the US…uh, I hope your Monday was not awful?  (Editor’s Note: …smooth, very smooth…)  Whatever – anyway, the point is that you’re here now, and that makes everything better, doesn’t it?  (Editor’s Note: I mean-) Shut up, you!  So, what have I been up to on this lovely extended weekend?  Well, let’s just see, shall we?

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So the big question as we left EWE and Co. last time in PoE was whether or not I would attempt to help the Lord of Gilded Vale see the error of his ways and become a better ruler for his people…or whether I would just slaughter him and make way for someone else to take a shot at it.  After not really thinking about it all that much, I massacred everyone in the throne room and left their looted corpses for the next monarch to clean up before taking the throne.  With that, I was off to see what exactly the deal is with my visions of people’s past lives – only to meet a sentient chair and a lunatic, which wound up with me inheriting a haunted castle.  Nice!  I knew I had always liked PoE, and this is reminding me of why.  But that’s not the only CRPG I’ve been diving into as of late…

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I’ll admit it – I’ve always, always had a soft spot for classic Forgotten Realms RPGS.  Baldur’s Gate (all of them, I, II, EE, Dark Alliance I & II, ALL OF THEM), Icewind Dale, and of course, NWN.  Now I will also say that going into NWN back in the day, I was simultaneously excited about the upgrade from the classic Infinity Engine to the Aurora Engine, but also hesitant about the idea of only having one hireling along with me as opposed to a full party of adventurers as I did in the Baldur’s Gate titles.  This time around, however, what first leaped out at me was that the jump to 1080p resolution has NOT helped this game at all.  Seriously, this was never the most attractive game, even in its day, but the “Enhanced Edition” is not visually enhanced at all.  Still though, it didn’t diminish the longstanding crush I’ve had on Aribeth de Tylmarande.

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I’m not too terribly far into the game yet – my paladin (Editor’s Note: HA!) ahem, has just begun looking for the cure to the Wailing Death and is currently infiltrating the Prison District.  The gameplay is still the fantastic pause-and-play real-time combat I remember, and once you accept how far graphics have come since NWN was released, it’s still a fantastic RPG.  And finally…

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My sons and I pre-ordered the Elsweyr expansion to ESO and thus received early access to it.  Now, it’s no secret that we are HUGE fans of ESO, enough to sub to it when it’s optional.  That being said, while I have almost nothing but positive remarks for it, I have to say that I didn’t realize that the Elsweyr content would consist of one, and only one, zone.  I mean, it’s a zone with quite a bit to do, and all of it is very well executed, but still…one?  Hopefully the regular content updates will possibly expand on this, but that’s pretty much my only disappointment so far.  The new Necromancer class is fantastic – and still fairly OP and in need of some balancing in PVP – and I’ve had a blast with leveling It’s Me Skeletor and Evil Wizard Esq along with my boys.

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And with that, we come to the end of another trip through the backlog.  Will I continue to terrorize the masses in Pillars of Eternity?  Will I be the worst paladin in all of Faerun in NWN EE?  Will my progeny and I carve a path of death and destruction across Tamriel in ESO?  As always…signs point to yes. – EWE

The Backlog Rewalk Files: Pillars of Eternity

Good evening, humans!  How are…ugh, honestly, I’m too tired to care.  I’m a little…busy…at work and consequently have been too exhausted to do much of anything.  Even if you were on fire right in front of me, I couldn’t summon the effort to enjoy it (Editor’s Note: Uh, you mean to put it out) sure, whatever – regardless, no fucks to give.  So there is only one thing to do when your body is breaking down and your mind is shattering from too much stress (Editor’s Note: Rest?  Eat better?  Eat at all?) nope, spend some precious evening hours replaying the Steam backlog that got erased!  (Editor’s Note: …we’re going to die, aren’t we?)  Probably.  Though we did some focus groups on reaction to our death and the results were…less than stellar…

Let Them Die

Regardless, before total collapse, a random stab into the backlog brings us to (drumroll) Pillars of Eternity.  No, not the more recent sequel – the original Kickstarter-backed love letter to classic CRPGs like Baldur’s Gate.  So far the early game is as strong as I remember it, with a fairly robust character creation system that mixes together some standard fantasy tropes and classes along with some more original and alien options, such as the Godlike race and the Cypher class, which focuses on soul manipulation as explained in the background lore.  And boy – so much lore.  Obsidian did an amazing job crafting this fantasy world and leaving it for you to explore and find bits and pieces of, letting you have as deep an understanding of the background of the world as you are willing to invest effort in seeking out.

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Was there ever really doubt about me being a Deathtype Godlike Wizard?  Have you even been paying attention?

The early scenario for the game does a great job of introducing the classic real-time with pause party based RPG combat, although by the end of the starting dungeon, you’re going to find yourself in some need for, uh, new companions.

Not These Guys

These early hours are pretty dark too – what with your caravan party being slaughtered and you stumbling into the starting town only to be openly threatened with death by the town guardsmen basically because the Mayor is in a pissy mood.  But then again, so am I, so that leads to the big question: will I complete Act I just by setting the Mayor of Shitholetown on fire?  Tune in next time to find out, fleshbags! – EWE