It’s the end of the month, and therefore time to update on the ongoing Backlog Project! I first talked about this in early December, but I am trying to spend my gaming time working through a sizable backlog (Steam and otherwise). So the first thing I did was to figure out which games I was currently in the middle of, and try to knock a couple of them off.
Well, over the last week or so, I managed to finish Serious Sam 3: BFE. This was my first entry into the series, and I think I bought it in a Steam-sale-infused fit of madness after having seen a few people playing it on Twitch. It looked like a very old-school style shooter with waves and waves and waves of enemies and lots of giant explosive guns. And it mostly was! It was also fairly difficult in parts, to the point where I ended up micro-managing my save games to get past particularly hard areas that had like 5 of these giant minotaur dudes and roughly infinity undead bulls.
GOOD LORD IT IS HUGE
So, yeah, the actual game was pretty enjoyable as far as shooters go. I haven’t played this style of FPS in ages – everything that I’ve played recently seems to either be more tactical (Far Cry, Crysis), cover-based (Gears of War), or multiplayer-focused. Borderlands is the closest thing I’ve played, and the RPG/quest elements of that make it somewhat different.
On the other hand, the writing and voice acting is really, really, really bad. I mean, I fully believe that this was made as something of a parody of itself – in the way that everyone wanted Duke Nukem to be – and it’s hard to see it any other way (I mean, you set charges and blow the shit out of Ancient Wonders of the World, for god’s sake!), but even so, it’s just hard for me to get behind an over-the-top brotastic asshole of a character. I’d just rather play something else like Borderlands where that character is the insane hilariously-douchey bad guy, and the characters that I am playing are dumb in other ways.
That and I basically had no idea what was going on or why all these screaming headless dudes were running at me with bombs in their hands. Or what the ancient alien devices I was activating were meant to do. Or why I called main bad dude’s kid on my cell phone and got taunted about getting “mooned”. Silly, sure! And even kind of funny! But it just felt like a bunch of disjointed one-liners. Maybe that’s the point, or maybe I’d have appreciated them more if I’d played the other games. I didn’t, though, so whatever.
All in all, I think the relatively mixed Metacritic reviews are about right, for me. It did scratch a particular old-school wave-based shooter itch, though, so that’s saying something!
Next up is Bastion! I think I bought this game on Xbox Live when it first came out, but I never got around to playing it. Sometime since the, I picked it up on Steam (probably in a Humble Bundle), and since it ties in with some other projects, I figured I’d play it there. Well, I’m now a few hours in, and it is awesome. I am even appropriately annoyed at myself for not having played it before!
I love the art style, and the float-up ground is interesting, but what I really like is just the atmosphere. The ongoing narration is really incredible – there even seems to be specific dialogue for really random stuff that I end up doing – and adds a level of immersion that you don’t usually get in these kinds of games. Plus, the various weapons/powers and customization is nice – different loadouts really feel different!
So, yeah, I don’t think that game will end up lasting very long against my assault. And then? Well, who knows. There are a lot of options!
The WoW level-slowly-in-instances thing that helped re-hook me over the summer is coming along nicely. And as we were approaching level 70, our fearless organizer Mangle wondered aloud whether it might be fun to take a few at-level pokes at Karazhan again. Fueled by a nostalgia-induced haze, many of us quickly agreed, and last week a few of us finally made it to 70 and capped our experience gain thanks to Slahtz, the hidey NPC. Well, now Mangle is off on some Australian snorkeling adventure, and it didn’t seem right to see this thing through without him. So the group of us that was available this week decided we’d check out some of the notoriously difficult TBC heroics.
Keep in mind that, while I was very much playing during Burning Crusade, I was still learning how to hit the level cap. I only barely managed to do so during Vanilla – joining in on a month or two’s worth of Molten Core, Zul’Gurub, and AQ20 runs with my brother’s guild, and while I did level up that same (shadow) priest fairly quickly in BC, I quickly fell back into the “WHAT CHARACTER SHOULD I PLAY AND WHERE SHOULD I PLAY IT” doldrums for much of the rest of the expansion. All that is just a long-winded way of saying that I don’t have nearly as much previous experience and stories concerning these particular instances as the rest of the group I’m running with.
So when we jumped into a few heroics (Sethekk Halls, Shattered Halls, and Magister’s Terrace) and they turned out to not really be all that much more challenging than the normal versions of the same, it was pretty easy to fall in line with the general consensus that this was all a bit disappointing. No longer did you need copious amounts of CC and very careful pulls. While it was possible to end up dead as a tank, it wasn’t all that consistently dangerous – it just meant that the healer couldn’t be off sending text messages (yes, that did happen).
There are a lot of reasons for that, obviously. The game has been changed in significant ways since TBC was current. Itemization is totally different, we all have different skills (and no real “ranks”), various contents have been nerfed. And, of course, we all have a lot more experience with the “heroic” style of instance. But, whatever the reasons, it’s just a lot easier than it used to be.
However, the more I think about this, the more I’m convinced that it is actually okay. I mean, look, I’m only even doing these instances at all because of nostalgia. And do I really want to have to go run around and gear up to full/mostly full normal gear so that I can get creamed in Heroic Shattered Halls because I didn’t happen to get the nostalgia bug with a group of people that happened to have exactly the right number of mages? No, of course not. This way, I get to roll in there, fight some dudes that are (slightly) harder than normal, reminisce about how many times we had to run these or how much of a pain in the ass it was to get keyed for <whatever>, and then move on to the next thing.
That’s the thing about nostalgia. It’s a powerful motivator to go back and attempt to recreate a previous experience. But it really does put blinders on regarding all the terrible things that we all bitched about at the time. And nostalgia, for me at least, really does burn bright and hot – and fast. So being able to consume these instances at a reasonable pace – and without all the headaches of farming Karazhan for a month before we try one of the larger raids – is actually perfectly reasonable. This isn’t the content that I’m going to spend months and months on – we’ll probably spend another couple of Monday Nights time on it and then move on – and that’s pretty much exactly where these things now sit.
And in the meantime, we’ll all be playing all the rest of the parts of the game that are perfectly fun. I mean, sure, nostalgia brought us back, but it has been six months and we are still going relatively strong, so clearly WoW is doing something right. Oh, and we’ll be arguing over what the right class to instant-level to 90 is. When we are all pre-ordering the next expansion pack.
Plus, I got a cool shield to go with a dumb hat and axe made out of floating crystal stuff. So, basically, it really IS like I’m playing TBC again.
Look at my hat, my hat is amazing
Cat Context Episode 43 is now available!
Arolaide was a Kickstarter backer for Broken Age, and she reflects on the feeling of ownership that comes with that. The crew has a discussion about the ups and downs of the Kickstarter process and what it means. Also, she has actually played the game and gives some early feedback!
We also struggle with knowing that we all own more games than we are likely to ever play – especially since new ones keep coming out! Ellyndrial remains optimistic on his chances of getting through them, but Liore is less sure. We discuss our strategies for tackling these monstrosities, and what exactly it means to complete a game.
And, finally, we touch on the topic of the upcoming Warlords of Draenor expansion for WoW – and specifically, the notion of instant level 90 characters. Do we care? Does it matter? How much is this sort of service worth to you?
Of course, there are the random other topics: Ellyndrial played in the Magic GP Sacramento last weekend! There’s some new MMO up on Kickstarter! We are really professional and have good segues!
To listen, head on over to the official episode page, hit us up on iTunes, or check out our YouTube channel! Please continue to send in ratings, comments, and questions. We really appreciate them!
Last weekend, over 1800 people made their way to the Sacramento Convention Center for a Magic Grand Prix event. I was one of them! This was the largest event in California history, and I had a great time. This time, it was Theros limited (so, Sealed on Day One, Draft on Day Two). It marks my second ever GP (the first having come last summer in Oakland for M13 limited), and my best finish yet (6-3, missed out on Day Two by 1 match)!
There was another whole half!
I took the day off on Friday so that I could drive up to Sacramento early and participate in some of the side events going on. The thing to know about these events is that, while there is a two-day 18-round main event, there are other sanctioned events constantly going. Drafts, Sealed events, Standard/Modern/Commander tournaments, some 2-Headed Giant stuff, etc. Plus, there are countless pick-up games and tons of trading.
With that being said, I arrived relatively early on Friday and jumped into the queue for one of the Last-Chance GP Qualifiers. I ended up picking Sealed, mostly because I wanted to get in a little more limited practice, and it seemed like a lot more people were signing up for Sealed than Draft. This ended up being a great decision for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that there were something like twelve Sealed events launched, while only one or two Drafts ever fired.
The other reason, of course, is that I ended up winning my 32-person Sealed pod! After five rounds of single-elimination play, I ended up winning quite a few prizes – a box of Theros (second place got one, too), an upgrade to the VIP package for the weekend (including a playmat, a fancy pin, and a ticket for another event), and two byes for the Main Event. Awesome! It’s definitely true that I got a bit lucky and ended up with a really strong pool, but I also felt like I managed to play well – and I felt like that is what carried me through to the end. Here’s a look at the deck (the two empty sleeves were a Temple of Abandon and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion):
The unsleeved cards on the right were my most-used sideboard cards (particularly the top set). The rest of the pool looked like this:
Last-Chance Rest of Pool
In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have played the Nylea’s Presence main-board. I was thinking about the possibility of Scholar of Athreos activations, but that seems a bit greedy (and never really came up). I suppose it was useful given the fact that I had two different cards that both wanted three mana symbols (Arbor Colossus and Hundred-Handed One), but I still think one of the removal spells or even the Chosen by Heliod would have been a better choice for consistency. That said, it was clearly very good!
So that sets the stage for Saturday. I’d already gone 5-0 in sanctioned events, and my byes had pushed me to 2-0 in the Main Event before I even opened up my pool! As a player with byes and the VIP package, I got to show up a bit later, and build my deck while the first round of the event was being played. I never feel like I have enough time for deck-construction, and this weekend was no different. I ended up torn between two options, and I think I ended up choosing the relatively weaker one. Here’s what I came up with:
Main Event Deck
Again, the three cards on the right were primary sideboard cards (and the Ember Swallower was just a mistake to leave out – it came in for a Cyclops every time). I know in my heart of hearts that playing an aggressive deck in Sealed is really hard and generally a no-no, but I had so many one- and two-drops! Turns out I also had a lot of 4-drops, which is why it often ends up falling short. But, honestly, I ran fairly well. I think, ideally, I might have used my third Traveling Philosopher and cut yet another of the 4-drops, but it’s hard to say. If I’d had an Ordeal or a Gods Willing, I think those would also have helped. But I did not.
The other deck option swapped out the White for a pretty strong set of Blue cards. It would have looked something like this:
Main Event Deck v2
I even sleeved these all up and got the mana prepared so that I could do a heavy sideboard into it (and I probably should have against at least one Green-based heroic opponent), but I never actually deployed it in the heat of battle. The top end on this deck is stronger, I think. There are 5-6 (depending on whether I kept the Divine Verdict) removal/bounce cards, more high-impact creatures, and some evasion. It’s light on early plays, though, so I may have always just been struggling to stabilize. Hard to say.
Here is the remaining pool:
Main Event Rest of Pool
Any thoughts? Should I have played the shallow black or the mediocre green?
Overall, I was pretty happy with how things went, even if I know that, looking back, I might have built things slightly differently. I ended up making it to 6-3 in the main event, which is a pretty strong finish. I was playing in the last round, trying to get in to Day Two, and I ended up with an overall 11-3 match record for the weekend (including my 2 byes). So, that’s good! But it would also have been nice to do even better. I definitely made some play mistakes (including missing an active Purphoros for a couple of turns, and mis-sequencing my plays on several occasions), but I’m bound to do that when I’m not used to playing competitive matches for 18 hours out of 36.
As for the rest of the weekend, it really was a great time. In general, the atmosphere is very welcoming – most people are willing to chat with you in between games (or even, to some extent, during them), and everyone is really just there because they enjoy the game, which is great! I got to watch Brian Kibler play a few games (and the speed of his shuffling feels even faster in person), and I was seated next to Josh Utter-Leyton – who seemed perfectly nice, if definitely focused – in the final round at 6-2 playing to get in. There are folks from Wizards wandering around and playing pickup games with people. A bunch of artists come to each of these – yes, I did get my Revised Brass Man and 4th Edition Leviathan signed – and will do sketches or sign prints or whatever. It’s very cool to see the full frame versions of some of the art that makes its way on to cards.
And, if you happen to be in Sacramento, I can definitely recommend Burgers & Brew. I had a chorizo burger that was incredible, half a bottle of Saison Dupont and some Duchesse de Bourgogne on tap. Yum!
All-in-all, I heartily recommend making it to one of these events if you can. Even if you don’t end up playing in the Main Event, there is plenty to do, and being part of the atmosphere is great fun.
I’m going to try and keep this relatively quick this morning, since I’m getting ready for a weekend playing Magic in Sacramento. It’s another GP, like the one that I went to in Oakland over the summer. We will once again be playing Limited (Sealed on Saturday, Draft on Sunday), and this time it is Theros! That means Gods and Enchantments and everything else. This time around, we are also much deeper into the format, so that should be interesting. I will take some pictures and report back next week!
In other news, I am sure most people have heard by now, but part of this week’s Wildstar Beta patch was a reduction in bust size for three of the eight races (sepcifically, both Human races and the Aurin). I’m sure that it has caused great sperging about the downfall of society in some corners of the internet, but honestly, I think it’s a good thing! If nothing else, it shows that Carbine is willing to respond to reasonable criticisms, which is a good precedent to set. They’ve even hinted at the possibility of adding more in-depth body sliders at some point after release, but given that we are probably only a few months out, it’s possible that this is all they felt they had time for.
Character creation still isn’t perfect. One of my biggest issues is that the poses in the character creation screens are still very much “break my back showing off my glorious chest and booty assets”. Which is unfortunate, because as soon as you see those models in-game (and with some armor), things start to get somewhat better. There is still a lot of stupid running, but one thing at a time, I guess.
In any event, I’m hoping that this is a good omen for the future. And I’m also hoping that the more of these sorts of dust-ups that occur with new games, the more likely it is that developers will start to actively think about it before having to be yelled at by the public. Seems like a long-shot, I know, but a person can dream.