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: Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition

“It shall be even bloodier than you hoped.” – Dorn Il-Khan

Love is a funny thing, humans.  Sometimes it feels so strong at first, only to burn out or fade over time.  But the best and truest love is the love that remains a bond; the love that, even when apart for a time, remains in your heart and can pick right back up where it left off when reunited.  (Editor’s Note: …who even are you?)  Shut up, I’m having a moment here.  I loved Baldur’s Gate.  I had always wanted to play tabletop D&D, but I lacked a very important component: friends with which to play.  So while I read as many rulebooks and companion materials as I could get my hands on and rolled character after character, I never got to take them on adventures and quests…until Baldur’s Gate.  So it was with some trepidation that I approached a fresh run through Beamdog’s Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition – could we pick up where we left off years ago?  In a word: yes.

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First things first: I adore what Beamdog did with the visuals.  They were never going to take an isometric PC RPG from the late 90s and make it graphically spectacular.  But as you can see above, they took the approach of function over flashiness, and it absolutely worked.  The Infinity Engine was a landmark interface for the genre, and Beamdog took into account widescreen, HD monitors and incorporated interface elements that would normally have required additional user effort to access right into the main play screen.  They also smoothed out and enhanced the sprites for HD resolutions.  But the classic look and feel of Baldur’s Gate remains unchanged.  This carries through to the sound as well – hearing Imoen tell me “I’ve done had enough of this” as I instructed her to pick a lock made me smile despite the fact that I knew I was going to hear it 1,000 more times.

For those that may be unfamiliar, Baldur’s Gate operates on the now archaic-sounding Dungeons and Dragons 2.5 Edition ruleset (Editor’s Note: For comparison’s sake, you may want to mention that the modern ruleset is 5th Edition.)  What?!  What kind of masochistic non-nerd would still be reading this and not already be aware of that?!  (Editor’s Note: …fair point.)  While at first seeming overly complex and strict when compared to more modern interpretations, once you understand the system there is a tremendous amount of freedom to be had within its confines.  So many multi-class and class kit options are available that are either no longer viable or not nearly as unique and interesting as they were under the older ruleset.  So, what does an Evil Wizard, Esq. do when creating his Forgotten Realms avatar?  Well, obviously…he rolls a half-elf Fighter/Wizard/Thief multi-class.  (Editor’s Note: I…don’t know how “obvious” that is…)  Hey, sometimes I want to stab mortals, sometimes I want to set mortals on fire, sometimes I want to steal all of their things and laugh maniacally into the night…I like options.

Now we come to my favorite part of the Enhanced Edition by Beamdog…added content.  When Beamdog developed the new release, they didn’t just port the original game and it’s Tales of the Sword Coast expansion.  They wove into the game new party members and quests, incorporated characters from the sequel into the first game to add backstory, and finally, created and released Siege of Dragonspear, a totally new expansion that bridges the story gap between Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II.  The new content is a masterwork – in particular the characters that were not originally present.  The original Baldur’s Gate assumed that you were going to lose party members – either to death or just utility loss – and replace them, so while it’s party members were often endearing in some ways, they were not particularly fleshed out.  Beamdog has taken the more modern approach of giving characters meaningful backstories and motivations, personal quests you can assist them with, and even possible romances with your character.  And these are not cookie cutter characters – they span the alignment gamut, with some being teeth-achingly sweet and others deliciously sadistic.  It’s tough to pick a favorite, but my party has included the half-orc blackguard Dorn Il-Khan, who gleefully gives the quote at the top of the page when asked to…do anything, really.  Even just walk to a certain point or open a door.  It’s amazing.

My time with Baldur’s Gate was taking a long overdue vacation with your best friend.  You both have been busy with work and life, but you still text and call each other.  When you finally are able to spend some time together, you still laugh at all the same things, you still finish each other’s sentences, and even when you disagree on something, it feels more of affection than argument.  My worries about the Enhanced Edition not living up to my nostalgic memories of the original were unwarranted – as soon as I got back into the game, just like spending time with an old friend, I was home again. – EWE

Let’s Play! – The Witcher – Ep.2

 

Lookie here, mortals – I’ve managed to actually get a second stream done and uploaded!  Still now live viewers/subscribers – but that’s ok, I think we have all learned by now that I can happily carry on a conversation with myself (Editor’s Note: …what’s that supposed to mean?)  So, if you would be so kind, watch the replay of Let’s Play! w/ Evil Wizard, Esq. – The Witcher – Ep. 2 on Twitch or right here below!

As for some other goodies on their way, I’m still working out the script and a recording time for my flame-haired offspring and I to sit down and record the first episode of our podcast – with tentative topics being a breakdown of the new Legion expansion of the popular (and free to play) Diablo-killer, Path of Exile, as well as a discussion of the fantastic start that new North American pro wrestling promotion All Elite Wrestling has gotten off to recently!  In addition, I’ve been bitten by the bug to do some old-school D&D dungeon crawling and have been powering my way through Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition and will be bringing you my thoughts as I finish that campaign and carry over to the Siege of Dragonspear interquel.  So you’ll be seeing, hearing, and reading me more and more, fleshbags!  (Editor’s Note: Uh, that sounded kind of threatening, don’t you think…?)  MWAHAHAHAHA! – EWE

Let’s Play! – The Witcher – Ep. 1

 

Good evening, mortals!  As I said last time, my fire-haired eldest spawn has decided that I should do a series of Let’s Play streams taking us through the world of The Witcher.  To anyone that was able to join me live, thanks so much, and I’ll try to get the audio better next time.  But if you missed it, well, there’s no time like the present to get caught up!  Join me, won’t you?

Here’s a link to the original video on Twitch since I CAN’T GET WORDPRESS.COM TO EMBED THE GODDAMN VIDEO!!

I also uploaded it to my YouTube channel – and I would be ever so grateful if you followed and subscribed to either or both!  (Editor’s Note: “Grateful” here having the meaning “won’t immediately torch your village.”)  YOU’RE NOT HELPING.

That’s all for now, fleshbags!  To anyone in the US, have a safe Independence Day, but remember – if you watch or support the Orange Hobgoblin’s Nazi Dictator Military Parade, I have a meteor with your name on 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

Indie Corner: Last Dream

Welcome to mid-week, mortals!  You’re halfway to…wondering where in the hell your weekend went before doing all of this over again, for the rest of your natural lives.  BWAHAHAHAHA!  Ah, but I don’t bear all bad news – in your spare time, you could stumble upon spectacular little gaming gems like the one I’m about to tell you about!

This is actually a two game series that was funded on Kickstarter and developed by White Giant RPG Studios, and was brought to my attention by my very good friend and fellow streamer, as well as husband to my bestest friend in the world Malevolent Moogle, the one and only Absurdum.  Please, please, pretty please, find and follow him on YouTube and Twitch – he is very funny and talented and knows his games!  Last time we got together, I saw him playing what appeared to be a retro-RPG and asked what it was.  After watching him play it for a while longer and hearing from him about how much content the game and its sequel roughly contained, I pulled them up on Steam and found them to be on sale in a bundle for under $5 total – and you can guess what happened.

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I have not yet progressed far through the main story of the game yet, but that is primarily because I have been reveling in the comfort-food-feeling of the combat and leveling mechanics.  For those with fond memories of being able to lose themselves in an hour or so of fast-paced, turn-based combat with a relatively steady trickle of rewards in the form of skill points and gold for new abilities and equipment, you will be right at home, and the variety of character classes ensures that multiple playthroughs are unique in playstyle.

If these games are still on sale on Steam, and you have any fondness for old school JRPGs at all, this is a no-brainer from my standpoint.  If they are not on sale, this still feels like a pretty solid value, but the developer’s website appears to have a demo version available for download, so try it out for yourself and if you like it as much as I do, by all means, support an indie dev, humans! – EWE

God of War – First Impressions

(Editor’s Note: While the following will contain spoilers for the previous games in the God of War series, there will be NO SPOILERS of anything not previously made public about the newest entry just released for PS4.)

Early on in God of War, there is a moment when Kratos’s son, Atreus, is despondent and unresponsive after a brutal battle.  “You’re in your head, boy,” remarks Kratos, “Close your heart to it.”  Atreus doesn’t respond, and so Kratos gruffly states “Then we return home,” before slyly adding, “A shame…to quit the journey so soon after we began…”  Atreus immediately snaps out of his shell shock, exclaiming, “What?!  No!  I’m fine!  See, here…I’m dropping the chain!  I’m fine now!”  It was a moment that made me, and would make any father or parent, smile.

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I am still early on in my journey through the Norse lands in God of War, but Sony Santa Monica has already taken a character in Kratos, who was once the poster child for one-note characters – literally just an anthropomorphic personification of rage – and transformed him into one of my favorite nuanced characters, and fathers, in all of fiction.  This isn’t an exaggeration.  I am a father of two sons myself, and perhaps that is part and parcel of why I find myself relating so, so much to the struggles and the strengths of Kratos in this adventure in these latter days of the demi-god’s life.

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It isn’t a spoiler to say that Kratos and Atreus are on a journey following the death of Kratos’s wife and Atreus’s mother – that much was made obvious from the prerelease trailers and campaign from Sony.  And yet, despite sharing this deeply personal loss, it is obvious in the early hours that Kratos struggles with the emotional bonds of fatherhood.  There have been several times where Atreus has appeared in need of comfort, while Kratos reaches an unseen hand toward his back, only to hesitate at the last moment and then drop the hand away.  Many have speculated that this is indicative of Kratos’s struggles with “adjusting to fatherhood,” but for me this misses the mark and overlooks a huge chunk of the character’s history.  He’s already been a father – and it came to a brutal, tragic end at his own, albeit unwitting, hands.  So it isn’t that the bonds and emotions of fatherhood are foreign to Kratos – instead, he is all too familiar with them, and knows the pain of having them ripped away, and thus has been torn between nurturing them with his new family or keeping them at arm’s distance to avoid the risk of repeating his tragic and violent past.

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While much has been made of how this game represented a “fresh start” and would not necessarily be tied to the prior games, but would still “honor” them, for me personally, the ties to Kratos’s journey through the previous games have been pervasive through the early hours of his new quest.  From multiple characters referencing Kratos’s past, to Kratos’s starting equipment referencing that it covers a “dark secret,” to a mysterious illness that Atreus suffered from as a child that Kratos seems to know more about than he is telling…and then there is the growth of Kratos himself.  Gone is the blind rage of Kratos rampaging through the Greek pantheon.  In its place is an older, wiser man, still capable of tremendous violence when challenged, but more focused on imparting reason and wisdom to his son than in engaging in the slaughter of all who oppose him.  He is a deeper, nuanced character that can be related to much more easily than in past installments in the franchise.

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These changes to the God of War formula are immediately apparent in the gameplay itself.  Gone are the days of the zoomed out, fixed camera angles – instead we now have a controllable camera that is zoomed in over the shoulder of Kratos, making combat much more visceral, brutal, and tactical.  Every encounter, even on normal difficulty, has the potential to end your game if you just mash an attack button and don’t pay attention to your surroundings.  Enemies are brutal and intelligent, engaging in flanking tactics, adapting to your battle maneuvers, and attacking in well-balanced packs that require employing varying battle tactics to succeed against.

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But this isn’t to say that combat is in any way unfair – if you plan well, you’ll succeed.  Time your blocks, look for openings, call for Atreus to send in arrow strikes at opportune moments, and unleash hell, and you’ll be rending enemies limb from limb in short order.  Boss fights, however, are still tense affairs requiring you to observe and identify patterns and weaknesses.  Rushing in without knowing what you’re doing is going to get you quickly killed – and honestly, that feels right in a game set amongst gods and monsters.

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I spent all weekend and as much time this week as I could playing God of War and I still feel like I have barely scratched the surface – and that thrills me.  I don’t ever want it to end.  Everything about this game has amazed me, and it has been one of my favorite gaming experiences that I have had in a long, long time.  More thoughts will assuredly come as I continue my journey alongside Kratos and Atreus, but for now, all I can say is that if you haven’t begun your own journey at their side, you should.  This isn’t just a game – it is a piece of art, it is a timeless story that should be told and listened to and experienced.  Do not miss it. – EWE