“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.
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.
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
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.)
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!
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.
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…
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…
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:
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
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…
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.
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.
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
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…
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.
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
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.
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
Greetings, mor-*HACK*-tals. As you can probably tell, even old EWE is *ACHOO* subject to a sinus infection now and again. It is decidedly unpleasant. Perhaps this is why, after I submitted my initial thoughts on this insipid holiday devoted a human emotion that causes nothing but pain and misery, Edi-*COUGH*-tor convinced me to allow him to speak on the subject, and let me focus on the later game review. (Editor’s Note: Your post was so heartrending and miserable it would have resulted in mass-extinction levels of suicides.) And what’s your point, exactly? Whatever…you people all seem to like Editor’s sad-sack, mushy take on life, so fine – enjoy the next bit because when we get to Tales of Berseria, you’re stuck with me again.
Hello, friends! Now, despite my chastisement of EWE for his…rather dark thoughts on Valentine’s Day, some of what he had to say has merit, I believe. (EWE’s Note: SOME?!?!) So, I don’t really want to talk to the traditional, happily-in-love Valentine’s Day couples out there – because quite frankly, if you need a day or an excuse to celebrate having that kind of love in your life, then you are missing the entire point of it. Every day, every moment that you get to spend with that person is a reason to celebrate. Every chance to show them you care, be it with flowers or candy or just a hug or a hand squeeze is something you should take at every opportunity, not just one day out of the year. So while we wish you the best (EWE’s Note: Uh, who the fuck is “we?”)…while I wish you the best, I think there are some others that are more in need of attention right now. This is for everyone who’s without a valentine, even if they know who it would be.
This day can feel harder than others, but the reality is that it isn’t – it just brings focus to something you think about in one way or another every day. But just remember – it isn’t about you or your value. The problem lies with the other person not recognizing it. Don’t let that hurt you, today or any other day. I know that it’s hard, and I know that it is going to hurt no matter what I say – I know because it hurts me too. But you are stronger, and better, than that. If the person you love is worth being patient for, then don’t let today be anything other than one more day. And if they are not, then let today be the first day of moving on.
And if you are someone out there reading this who may be overlooking or dismissing or discarding someone as “not good enough” or “not worth their time” – ask yourself, really ask yourself, if that person you so easily dismiss weren’t a part of your life, would you truly be better off? Would you be happy? Or maybe, is it easy to say that because you’ve come to take that person for granted? That’s a dangerous thing. Because depending on what you may believe, we all only get one shot at this life. One. And we never really know when our story, or their story, could come to an end. Yes, it’s nice to think about the perfect person just around the corner who is going to be everything we’ve ever dreamed of since we were children – except that we were children, and children have to grow up. Nobody is perfect. And while you are so busy looking past someone who loves you for the next best thing, you never know when you might turn around and that person you took for granted, that person who loved you and supported you and cherished you while you ignored them, will be gone. We only get a finite amount of time with one another. Spending it with someone that truly loves you, even if they aren’t perfect, or what you always dreamed of, is a worthwhile way to live in that time.
Ugh…and with that mindless, sappy drivel now over with, it’s time for something that actually matters – my review of Tales of Berseria. As I stated recently, there had been a horrible audio bug in the Steam version of the game that had made playing it enough to make me want to kill…even more than I normally want to. Thankfully, that bug appears to have been fixed with the most recent patch, and so I can bring you my full thoughts on this recently released entry in the long-running Tales franchise.
As I’ve said before, I am a latecomer to the Tales series, with my introduction being Tales of Vesperia on the Xbox 360. But oh, what an introduction it was! I’d of course heard of the Tales tried-and-true real-time battle system, and its heavily anime-inspired stories and settings, but what truly, truly hooked me about Vesperia was its CHARACTERS. And above all the rest stood the main protagonist, Yuri, and his foil, Flynn.
For the first time in what felt like forever, the world had a pure, noble, lawful-good knight as a hero to the people…and THAT WAS NOT YOU. Nope, that was your old frienemy, Flynn. Yuri, the main playable character, was everything I wanted out of an avatar in a game – a dark, driven anti-hero vigilante. And when I say vigilante, I don’t mean in the Batman, I-am-good-just-scary sense. If you were a bad guy and Yuri found out about it, he was PUTTING YOU IN THE FUCKING GROUND. Not because he was forced to, or because you’d backed him into a corner and there was no other way. Just because you fucking deserved it and he could. Case in point (SPOILERS if you care about them in an Xbox 360 game at this point), at one point Yuri and the crew save a town and it’s people from the machinations of a corrupt government official. The people laud them as heroes and the official is locked in prison to await trial for his crimes. In the dead of night, Yuri breaks him out of prison and sneaks him to the edge of town. The official gleefully believes that Yuri must have been hired as a mercenary by some of his wealthy contacts to help him escape judgment. NOPE. See, Yuri had figured all along that if the official were brought to trial, he’d just find a way to bribe or manipulate himself out of the consequences for his crimes. So Yuri broke him out of jail and got him out of town JUST TO FUCKING MURDER HIM AND TOSS THE BODY OFF A BRIDGE. That, ladies and gentlemen, is my kind of goddamn hero! (Editor’s Note: Yuri does go through some character development, folks.) Shut up – he was fine as he was!
Anyway, this little stroll down memory lane was just to set the stage for this revelation – the cast of Berseria is BETTER than the one I loved in Vesperia, up to and including Velvet Crowe replacing Yuri as my favorite Tales protagonist of all time.
Velvet started out pretty upbeat for a girl who had lost her parents, and then later her sister, to the recurring waves of demonic activity in her world. Left with only her younger brother and her brother-in-law as the centers of her universe, Velvet is understandably upset when those last two remaining pillars of her world are ripped away from her right before her eyes – and when she tries to stop it, she has her left arm lopped off and is chucked into a pit with some kind of Eldritch Abomination. Said horrific monster decides to chuck her back up to the surface with 1. a new, monstrous, demon-devouring arm, and 2. a burning desire for revenge to the exclusion of all other things. Oh, and an outfit that isn’t too shabby either.
Now, this wouldn’t be an RPG or a Tales game if Velvet and her ever-growing motley crew didn’t wind up facing off against a threat much bigger than they initially realized, but it’s Velvet’s constant desire for vengeance that drives the plot forward. Guy you want dead is now the head of a massive theocratic world government? Don’t care. Upsetting the balance of power could potentially endanger the world? DON’T CARE. Usually in this genre, even if a character has some type of ulterior motive or driving goal that they are initially following, it is quickly subsumed by the overriding goal of “saving the world” and largely forgotten. Velvet doesn’t forget a goddamn thing, and neither does the player. You will know every fucking second that Velvet wants to kill the man who took everything from her, and nobody had better get in her way.
It helps sell this point that Velvet’s English voice actor does a tremendous job of conveying this dark, driven, single-minded tone through her work. Overall, the voice acting is above average for a Tales game, and for most JRPGs in general, but it isn’t on the level of a Metal Gear Solid or Last of Us. Some voices, whether by design or not, are incredibly aggravating, and you will quickly come to dread whenever their character portrait appears on screen. But by and large, the voice acting overall is acceptable. The musical score is even better – one of the best I’ve heard in an RPG since Skyrim. The diversity between exploration themes, battle tracks, and menu background music all play well off of one another and had me nodding my head along with the rhythm more than once.
Speaking of menus, one quick note here – the menu artwork in this game is absolutely breathtaking. If the anime art style of the Tales series is your thing, then you’ll just stare at the menus in wonder. I did not include any screens here because quite frankly once the entire party is gathered, to show a menu screen of them would be to spoil a rather important plot point. But sufficed to say it is phenomenal.
On to the bread and butter of any Tales game – the combat. Berseria once again utilizes the classic Tales real-time combat, triggered upon coming into contact with an enemy while exploring. This transports the party to a separate battle arena, in which you can freely roam and move while attacking your enemies. You only control one character directly, but can switch that character freely. Once again, the mainstay of combat is Artes – a huge variety of physical and magical attacks that are learned throughout the course of the game and can be set in various combos to the four face buttons on the controller. Use of Artes are governed by the Soul Gauge – when you run out of Souls, you must defend and wait for them to replenish to continue attacking. Souls can also be stolen back and forth or spent on special attacks – giving combat a tense tug-of-war feel as you balance Soul spending and replenishment to drive your combos higher and unleash greater sustained damage.
The interplay between combat and the story is what is going to drive me to replay this game at least once upon completion. There is so much nuance and depth to the combat that it is possible to get lost in trying to master its intricacies, but at the same time the story is so good that you are driven to continue it. Thus, the temptation to simply button mash your way through the game on the initial run is very strong, and on the normal difficulty levels this is very achievable. Once the initial run through the story is complete, the game begs the player to return at a higher difficulty and become a true artists at its delicious combat system, and I for one will be heeding that siren call.
If anything, some aspects of the game are a bit overly complicated and thrown at the player very quickly in the beginning. After almost every battle for the first several hours, some new element will be addressed in a tutorial screen. It happens with such frequency in that time that it quickly can overwhelm the player and you may very well forget about the last thing you were told as you are bombarded with the next and the next. While it doesn’t necessarily detract from the overall experience, it just feels like they may have tried too hard to cram too many good ideas into one gameplay system.
Visuals are gorgeous, and the art style is the classic Tales anime-inspired fare. It is not exaggeration at all to say that playing this game is like playing through your favorite anime series or film, except that in many cases the level of animation and detail surpass even that. Magic and Artes effects in battle are stunning and did not contribute any slowdown whatsoever during my gameplay with them.
All in all, Tales of Berseria is just a fantastic anime-inspired RPG. If you are a fan of the genre, or of the series, or just of good games in general, you should definitely give it a try on PS4 or PC. The PC version seems to have addressed the nagging audio issue, and I experienced no other issues with it during my play sessions. As a newer Tales fan, I can say this is my favorite game in the series, and I’ve heard many veterans of the Tales franchise saying that this was the shot in the arm that the series needed after languishing a bit in the last few entries. A definite thumbs up here – the developer’s village gets spared for another day.
That’s all for tonight, kiddos. Tell someone special that you love them. If they know what’s good for them, they’ll love you too! – EWE