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 (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

An Inspirational Bolt of Lightning(Ellen)

Humans, your technology is many things. It is sometimes novel, sometimes mundane, sometimes awe-inspiring, sometimes infuriating. But there is one thing that it always, ALWAYS is…

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And so it is that I recently decided to upgrade the storage in my laptop to allow me to stop having to choose what I wanted to delete every time I got a new game. Unfortunately, while the upgrade process was simple enough, some other unforeseen technical issues prevented me from being able to clone my old drive, and thus, all of my old save games for every game I play on my PC are now gone. Now, normally you would think this would be the beginning of a profanity-laced rant in which I threaten to end the world (Editor’s Note: in fairness, this is your typical reaction to…almost everything, really) yes, I’m aware, now shut up. As I was saying, I actually saved myself from a blood-pressure-spiking rage by taking a queue from my good friend and fellow blogger, the estimable “Lightning” Ellen, of both Livid Lightning and The Well-Red Mage fame.

My gaming backlog now consists of…everything.

Yes, I will now begin each game anew, and you gullible suckers (Editor’s Note: I think you mean WONDERFUL READERS) yeah, sure, whatever – you humans get to come along for the ride. I’m not necessarily saying I’ll give full blow-by-blow playthroughs of EVERYTHING – but I’ll be restarting them all, from Skyrim to the games I got for free in a Humble Bundle and didn’t even realize I had. Now you may be asking, “EWE, what is your plan for tackling such a huge task?” Well, fleshbag, I should think my answer, by now, is obvious.

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So join me, won’t you, as we answer such questions as “who thought this was a good idea?” “wonder if I should fight that dragon?” and mostly “why the fuck am I doing this to myself again?” – EWE

The Elder – and Younger – Scrolls

Ho there, adventurous humans! Gather ’round and here a tale of magic and mysticism…of warfare and wonder…of evil and, um, pretty much more evil. Yes, I speak of the founding of the fledgling group of mercenaries and traders known as Murder and Mayhem Inc.

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Yes, mortals, what this means for those that don’t know is that my eldest spawn, Beefer (Editor’s Note: Not only does he not hate the nickname he’s had since birth, but he actively uses it as a handle online) managed to convince me to join him in playing The Elder Scrolls Online. As someone who has put many, MANY hours into MorrowindOblivion, and Skyrim – not to mention Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 (or as a wise woman once said, The Best Fallout) – I’d heard good things about the MMO chapter in the Elder Scrolls saga. So, with a new expansion on the horizon, Beefer convinced me that this was the best time for me to join him in Tamriel and journey the land together, questing and battling foes as father and son. Until I played with him for the first time, whereupon he had me follow him to a shadowy shrine, turned around, and drained my blood, inflicting me with vampirism. “Hey, cool, I really CAN turn others into vampires at this level!” Whereupon, he left to go fight endgame monsters that I couldn’t even look at without dying.

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In fairness, what else would Evil Wizard Esq be but a Vampire Sorcerer?

Thus, it was left for me to begin the long path to joining my treacherous little Beef in the upper echelons of killing ability. Fortunately, ESO is a dream to play. The combat and questing combine the best of Elder Scrolls style with slight twists on the modern WoW MMO formula. Positioning and active aiming of your abilities is generally required, but is not difficult thanks to crosshairs on the HUD as well as smart hit detection by the game engine itself. You can play in both first- and third-person, but generally I find it much more advantageous to play in third-person, as there are so many ground effects to avoid and battlefield variables to be aware of that the zoomed-out, or even over-the-shoulder third-person views are far less frustrating than the first-person. There are a myriad of classes that at first seem to fall within the standard tank-healer-dps trinity, but with the dozens of different skill trees in the game, can all become self-sufficient while also remaining viable for group play. Really, I can’t say enough about the character customization – it is superbly balanced and fun to play around with.

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But the true icing on the cake is the questing. While world building and lore have always been a strong suit of the Elder Scrolls, and Bethesda games in general, they absolutely outdid themselves with ESO. Quests are leveled to your experience level – no more picking up quests at level 10 and then finding them not worth completing a few levels later. Instead, the enemies and rewards are tailored to your characters ability at the time they are encountered and it makes it so much more immersive when going through the dozens of quest lines available in every zone of the game. And you’ll want to go through them because every zone is a treat for the senses – absolutely beautiful, with fantastic ambient audio, music, and voice acting.

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I have thoroughly enjoyed my time thus far in ESO and cannot wait to keep exploring its nooks and crannies. If you are a fan of Elder Scrolls games, MMOs, high fantasy in general, or any combination of them, I encourage you to give it a try. It is free to play once you purchase the game itself, but it has an optional subscription that if you find yourself enjoying the game is well worth the price – giving all content updates as well as various premium perks and rewards on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

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Until next time, see you in Tamriel, humans! – EWE

Persona 5 Father/Son Run – Better Parenting Through Demonology

**WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR PERSONA 5**

Greetings, humans – it’s been far too long, and while life offers no guarantees, I hope it is not so long again after this.  And I will leave that at that.

Now, what does a malicious mage like myself get up to in the many months since we’ve met?  Who is to say for sure (Editor’s Note: well, possibly some of those villagers…but I don’t think you left them in any condition to talk, actually), ahem – Editor’s flattery (Editor’s Note: I wasn’t complimenting you…) FLATTERY aside, I did engage in one particular activity that I can share with you here that quite intrigued me over the last couple of weeks.  You see, several weeks ago my eldest, redheaded clone pointed out that when I had initially completed Persona 5 when it released on the PS4, he had not been able to watch most of it at that time.  He seemed intrigued in the gameplay systems as well as the standard SMT storyline of carving your own path through the world to rage against the gods and your opposed humans to grab your destiny with your own two hands.

But the decisions being made moment to moment are what really brought us closer together.  Because as you may understand, between the holidays and then some early January scheduling strangeness, they were able to more freely pick and choose time to spend with me.  And since my big Beefer has been with often lately, he was able to help establish our personality for our avatar and how he interacts with his social links, er, I meant “Confidants.”  For example, it took no time at all for us to agree strongly that Ryuji is a loud, tasteless, useless piece of garbage and gleefully try to envision scenarios in which we could get him destroyed.  There were the long discussions about who the best female confidant was and why we should have our character date her as opposed to anyone else.

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And then there was watching my young boy, my growing little man, who claims little interest in school topics, show genuine curiousness about the various demons, gods, and mythological figures that filled out the Persona Compendium.  He and I loved checking online for more info on whatever the latest god we had tamed and the abilities now at our command.  From there would be stimulating back-and-forth conversations regarding the occult, Judeo Christian demonology, Japanese youkai and spirits, and others.  It truly is amazing seeing an intellect that reminds me so much of what I once was, but sharper, growing and learning and becoming even greater than I could have dreamed.

We were not, however, able to come to total agreement in choosing between clearly fellow nerd love interest Futaba:

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…and more mature, and darker punk rock back-alley doctor Tae Takemi.

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Honestly, it’s a great problem to have, choosing between those two.  But even better has been the last 130 hours of game time – laughing at the insanity, freaking out at the ever increasing audacity of the villains, and concocting new ways to save our friends.  Until finally, on the day we were faced with having to destroy God himself in order to preserve the freedom of humanity, we sat in awe as the main character we’d created ourselves manifested powerful demon lord and destroyed the divine.  We were still talking about it when I had to take him home to do homework.  About about the bonds the main character forged with his true companions to sustain him.  About how outside of one another, they didn’t care what others had to say about what they felt called to do.

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So for any of you parents that believe videogames are a waste of time, I openly mock you – because while you are busy denigrating something you don’t understand, you are also losing a valuable tool to connecting with your own children!

Until next time (Editor’s Note: unless in his frustration he summons a meteor to annihilate us all), I will take my leave and see you soon! – EWE

For the Fe-liance!

Welcome to Sunday, humans!  And what better way to celebrate than to completely ignore whatever mindless nonsense the fluorescent troll-mander-in-chief has spewed all over himself this weekend and instead get back to something more fun.  So what’s on the menu tonight?

First off, after quite a hiatus, I’ve returned to World of Warcraft just in time for the latest expansion, Battle for Azeroth.  After being monumentally disappointed in the Warlords of Draenor expansion, I skipped the Legion expansion entirely, and so I’ve got that entire expansion of content to work through in addition to BfA’s content.  Fortunately, Dracollia and my sons all decided to hop back into Azeroth along with me, and the boys’ mom hasn’t stopped playing since we both started back in the days of Vanilla WoW.  So I’m not going back alone!  But in order for us to coordinate, we decided to form our own small guild – and thus was the Feline Mafia born.

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Meeeeeeoooooowwwwww!

In terms of other games I’m currently playing, I’ve actually been putting more and more time into a game on my phone that my oldest son turned me on to by the name of Alchemist Code.  The game itself is a free download, with available in-app purchases.  At first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking this is a typical gatcha-style anime-based Japanese cell phone game aimed at making a quick buck on American cell phones, but this assessment does it a huge disservice.

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Unlike many other similar games, which feature a fairly standard style turn-based tap battle system, Alchemist Code is a full-fledged SRPG, in the vein of Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea.  In fact, both of these references feel particularly appropriate – because while you can see from the image above that the main story and vibe of Alchemist Code is very much in the vein of the political machinations of Final Fantasy Tactics, the game regularly engages in crossover promotions with popular anime and game franchises, pulling in popular characters and storylines from universes including Fate/Stay, Phantom of the Kill, and most recently Disgaea.

In terms of SRPG gameplay, I would say that it plays most similarly to the PSP classic Jeanne d’Arc.  Party size is initially limited to four (with an optional fifth “mercenary” character that can be hired with currency) and two characters placed in reserve that will sub in automatically upon the death of a party member.  Each party member can be developed into multiple classes and skillsets from a master pool of points, gems, and currency.  While there is the usual option to use real money to purchase gems or currency to advance at a more rapid pace, I have not put a single cent of real money into the game and I have not felt held back once – advancement still happens at a nice pace without feeling throttled.

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All in all, I have to give Alchemist Code the highest marks – it truly is everything that a mobile game should be.  No up front cost, no strings attached for players that don’t wish to, or can’t afford to, pay for advancement, but deep gameplay and story hooks that are enough that I have found myself tempted more than once to break my personal rule of not using real money to buy fake money in mobile games.  If you have an iPhone or Android device and are a fan of SRPGs, you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to give it a try.

And if you play WoW and find yourself on Khaz Modan, consider causing trouble with the Feline Mafia! – EWE