Friday, July 24, 2015

Path of Exile: My "Awakening" hasn't happened yet...

I'm putting "The Awakening" to bed...

I've had it.

I really enjoyed Path of Exile but now we've gone from challenging to stupid.  As I say that you should know I'm not just referring to the difficulty I'm also referring to the game mechanics.

You see, I anxiously awaited the content promised by "The Awakening" but so far I've been unable to experience any of it.

I have a level 53 witch who has been trying to complete the Dominus battle for weeks now in cruel mode.  It's bad enough that she can't level up because the opposition always overwhelms her (dying=loss of XP) but throw in the changes made from the update and it's near impossible.

I'm talking about the changes to the skill tree that have effectively gimped all 4 of my characters, horrible lag and frequent disconnects that leave me at the login screen.

I'm sure that all of these are little more than annoyances to hardcore veterans of the game who've long since left behind such basic concerns but for me it's too much.

...and I'm not alone...

There's no shortage of wailing in the forums for the game and it's obvious from Act IV's concentration on boss battles that all of this is geared toward veteran players.

That's too bad because there's plenty for the level 80+ set to do in the game without the need for making it into a soul-crushing grind.

Now compound that with flaky servers and a worsening lag issue and the game has become as much fun to play as waiting for a defrag to finish on a hard drive.

The game is no longer friendly to new players and its only made worse by the frequent disconnects and server issues. 

And before we start blaming the victim for bad Internet connections and not partaking in the lively "trading" communities to get better equipment just stop...

No game should require anything but the base complement of available equipment to complete it.  Yes it may be more challenging but relying on someone else's custom crafting just to finish is a fail in my book.

So too is a skill tree that forces the player to bias toward one discipline even if that character's makeup could take advantage of others.  Play the game long enough and you soon find that some skills are more effective than others against differing types of opponents.  In other words, the skill tree is stupid.

I really don't care if anyone disagrees.  This is a game not a career and when it's not fun anymore I'm not interested.  The rest of you who don't suffer from these shortcomings can go ahead and continue stroking your egos and chastise the rest of us.  But know this, when new players stop coming the game's days are numbered and so too is your glory.

That's reality folks and the problem with Path of Exile right now is that it's as screwed up as the real world which is exactly the thing we're trying to get away from when we play a game!

Maybe someday I'll come back to it but not before they developers get their act together.  

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Mounting Zuma's Revenge....see what i did there....

EA's last On the House Freebie has been getting a little dusty.  In fact it's been nearly 3 months since they offered up anything new.  New being a relative term considering the last game on the promotion was originally released in 1994.

This time, however, we get a freebie from the current century.  

EA's offering up Zuma's Revenge.  Yet another PopCap game in the vein of Bejeweled, Plants Vs. Zombies and Peggle, Zuma's revenge fits squarely in the casual gaming category.

Its premise is simple, Lose your marbles or get eaten.  You're a cute little frog being besieged by an endless train of colored marbles.  If they reach the mouth of the idol, it's curtains for you.  Your defense?  Your frog can spin around and fire its own marbles at the enemy's marble chain.  Match colors on 3 or more and that group of marbles explodes.  Along with power ups and combinations the game offers special challenges ultimately leading to the boss battle.

I won't spoil the rest.  Just know that for the price (free) it's worth the download (about 130MB) 

Pick it up now in your Origin client.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Path of Exile: The Awakening

In case you haven't heard....

The wait is almost over!

The next installment in what has proven to be the best online RPG (free or otherwise) is primed for its next chapter.

The Awakening (otherwise known as Act 4) is set to launch on July 10th, 2015.  Yes, less than 3 days from this writing we'll finally get to explore beyond the domain of the now vanquished Dominus.  

This latest update to the popular RPG promises more boss fights, more loot and updates to the user interface that include the ability to place gems into the passive skill tree to as the developers say, "erase any weakness"

Check out the official page for more information.  

The game should self update in your Steam library when the update officially releases.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Portal Stories: Mel

NOTE: This is expanded from my Steam Review...

I'l be honest here...I initially liked this Portal 2 mod a lot but somewhere after chapter 2 it went off the rails.. 
I usually don't spend much time with fan mods generally because they're either not well thought out or buggy.  From the first few hours I honestly thought this one was different.
Is it as engrossing a story as the original game? Almost.   But then we all know it so well that we really can't expect too many surprises from a bridge narrative.  Think of Portal Stories:Mel the same way you think of Star Wars: The clone wars.  
Yeah, a lot is familiar but there's also a lot of questions that get answered.  Admit it, when you were running around Portal 2 and found the old test facilities weren't you just a little bit curious?  This game fills in the blanks that could only be touched on in Portal 2. 
Unfortunately, once you get to the actual tests it's all downhill...
I'll spare you the spoilers save for the timeline.  You're in between Portal and Portal 2 trying to get out and there's no GlaDos.

Look, Portal games have always been like trying to build a functional Rube Goldberg device.  Always has been.  If you don't know what a Rube Goldberg device is Google it, trust me it's worth it...
Are the puzzles difficult? Yes and no which is absolutely wonderful, at least at first.  I spent almost an hour just trying to get out of the first chapter.  Know what, that's OK because it was exactly the same for me in Portal 2.  It will take you just to the brink of exasperation and suddenly you see the solution.
At least that was how it started out....
The visuals are good and worthy of a few screenshots.  The voice acting is OK.  However, I prefer the REAL voice of Cave Johnson (J. K. Simmons )
The lack of GlaDos starts to become evident when what is apparently her predecessor (Aegis) tries to actively engage in killing you.  Ultimately he's just another ominous male robotic voice like something out of a bad sci-fi movie.
The problem with this game is that it got too ambitious like most Portal Mods do.  They were right on track up to about the middle of chapter 2 then things started to get stupid.
By stupid I mean presenting puzzles with solutions that weren't even remotely evident from your surroundings.  For me, It seemed the game suddenly switched from brain teaser to masochism.  It was less about portals and more about hopping over desks so as not to get electrocuted, burned, drowned, etc.  Too much time spent on things that had little to do with Portal games.  
If I want to spend my time playing a game that's all about leaping over chasms and crawling through vents I'll go play Half Life 2.  
After awhile it got annoying.
The main difference between playing this and a REAL Portal game is the thought that went into the maps.  In the entirety of my time with Portal and Portal 2 I can count on one hand the number of times I had to go look for a walk-though video.  This game drove me first to YouTube for each level and finally cheats just to get out of an area (sv_cheats 1 & noclip work wonders)
My mind doesn't like to work on needlessly complex puzzles.  Hey, it's a game not String Theory!  It's supposed to be fun!  
Ok, so I'm no MENSA candidate, it's a just a game folks...
One that crossed the line from challenging to outright abusive.
Portal was never easy but you always had everything you needed right in front of you even if it wasn't immediately obvious.  
None of this going back and forth into rooms 3 times to open a door monotony only to have to do it all over again to open another.  Or making me jump to the perfect spot  which is a 1x1 square in a game engine with just slightly more sophistication than Quake!
That's a mark of bad level design.  If I have to keep going back to the same place just to finish a level or keep dying because of things that have nothing to do with portals something's gone wrong.  It tells me there wasn't enough imagination expended to create a completely fleshed out  level. 
I call those "Boomerang" maps and  unfortunately, this mod is full of them.  I got  the impression that the first and last half of the game were designed by different teams.  Almost as if the game itself developed multiple personality disorder mid way through its development.
I'm also thinking the devs were getting a little too caught up in being clever with the map design.  Which is typical for Portal mods and a big reason I don't play them much.  The charm of Portal games has a lot to do with a good story and ambience that weaves its way through the gameplay.  It spurs you on and is often an important ingredient to solving maps.  

Portal Stories: Mel started out that way and I did find the story amusing but by Chapter 3 I could tell that this game was just another gussied up mod.
Meaning I can only recommend the first 2 chapters of this  game and maybe half of the third one.

A lot of reviewers will excuse the level of difficulty by suggesting that players should be already be familiar with Portal mods at an advanced level.  I say that's a cop out.  If you're anything like me, playing this game will leave you suffering from a bad case of bait and switch.  It isn't marketed as a mod.  Even with the always attractive price of FREE it's pitched as something more.

I appreciate the effort to try to mimic the feel of the original but in the end it's just another game mod for those more interested in the mechanics of Portal than the more esoteric aspects of the game that made it so popular.

Portal Stories:Mel is a free (4.4GB) download for registered owners of Portal 2 on STEAM and does not require Portal 2 to be installed to play.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

What I've been playing...

Consider this a kind of follow-up to my last article on MetaCritic...

In case you were wondering if there were any games that I actually liked,  The answer is unequivocally yes!

I've compiled a list,  free of any commentary, of the games I've been playing with regularity in the past 6 months.  Ranking is based on nothing more than how often I choose to load them up...

So before I launch into another 500 words, here they are....

Path of Exile                      Action/RPG   

Saints Row IV                     FPS/Action Adventure

Sonic & All Stars 
Racing Transformed           Racing

            South Park.. 
            The Stick of Truth              RPG


  Lego Star Wars Saga           RPG

Portal Stories: MEL             Puzzle Platform

Battlefield 4                       FPS

Poker Night 2                     Card Game

Battlefield 3                       FPS

Bulletstorm                        FPS

Team Fortress 2                 FPS

     Borderlands 2                     FPS

Warface                              FPS

Grid 2                                 Racing

Orion: Prelude                    FPS

Again, based solely on the amount of time I played them.  There's a few others but anything under an hour was left out.  If I can't get past 1 hour in 6 months I'm pretty much done with it.

Metacritic: Keep your opinions to yourself!

Banned for life!

At least I think I am considering nobody bothered to notify me.

If you're even the most casual of gamer you've probably hit Metacritic  (http://www.Metacritic .com/) to check out what everyone else thinks of your potential purchase.

Now we all know that so-called "professional" game reviewers have a bias.  That is, they don't want to kill the golden goose by giving a damning review if it means they lose access to the developer.  It's the fine line walked by all consumer journalists.  Even if what they're reviewing is crap the most critical review won't rise above a middling, "Could be better."

Which is why I find them useless. 

I can appreciate an opinion when it's genuine.  If, however, said opinion comes only at the expense of the reviewers credibility then we're edging dangerously close to something resembling those 50's radio payola scandals. 

I'm not outright accusing Metacritic  of taking kickbacks or anything like that but I am accusing them of supporting a corrupt system.

Think about it.  How many times have you bought a game based on a "supposed" expert opinion only to find disappointment and rage?

I know its happened to me more than once and considering the outrageous prices a Triple-A title can command it's formed the foundation for my hatred of gaming hype.

Case in point.  Take a look at the current, (as of this writing) Metacritic  review of Battlefield 4.  The professional reviewers (52 of them) give it a combined rating of 81 out of 100 which for Metacritic  is actually a grade of B.  Users, on the other hand, have given the game a 5.9 (out of 10) based on 3200 user reviews.  5.9 is 59% which was a failing grade when I was in school.

That's quite a discrepancy isn't it...

It almost makes you wonder if the two groups were playing the same game.  To me I'm thinking the backroom press parties at E3 2013 must have been awesome!

Yes, I believe it happens and I also believe that developers will use whatever means necessary for a higher Metacritic  "Meta" score to have ammunition for their next pitch to a publisher.  Of course they won't bring up the "user" scores.  Check out Kotaku if you don't believe me... 

It's human nature.  We always choose the option that to us is most favorable.  The problem comes about when the grade is on a curve.  In this case a motivated developer and motivated reviewer enjoying a symbiotic relationship.  The end result is a marketing fantasy that leaves millions of hyped up gamers disillusioned on launch day.

So I suppose my viewpoints could fly in the face of all that and provide cause for censorship by the less impartial in what is laughably referred to as gaming "journalism."

I now include Metacritic  in that group.  Not because I'm particularly vindictive or even care for that matter. Rather I find it disappointing that Metacritic  has chosen to selectively ban viewpoints that challenge the status quo from its "User" reviews.

It's far too easy to hang the label of Troll on people online.  Comment sections and forum posts will come right out and levy the accusation with reckless abandon.  Sites like Metacritic , however, level it with silence.

And so it seems it is with me.  I went to the site today and found that I was suddenly banned from posting any new reviews.  The stated reason, "You may no longer submit a review due to the content of you previous comments or reviews"

I was racking my brain for an hour trying to figure out what triggered the ban hammer.  I'd done about a dozen or so reviews on Metacritic  in the past few years with my content averaging somewhere around the middle.  Meaning there were games I liked and a few I didn't.  Still, I was hard pressed to give anyone a 0 out of 10.  Short of malware installing with the game executable it just wasn't going to happen. 

Being a game blogger I was also conscious of my presentation.  Meaning any 8th grade English teacher would be more than proud of my contributions.  That meant no profanity,  2 word reviews ( e.g. 'IT SUCKS" ) or personal attacks.

Without warning or recourse I find myself craving some measure of closure (or maybe disclosure?)  If I'm guilty of wrongdoing then like any thoughtful individual I'd like to see the evidence.  But alas, I know my day in court isn't forthcoming. 

Others have contacted Metacritic to contest their silencing with mixed results.  I won't bother with that mostly because I find little value in expending the time.  If the hand of an individual is the reason, I'm fighting a subjective opinion.  If it's an automated system then it's broken and much like YouTube's Content ID, the odds are unquestionably against me.  In the end, if the sin can be committed then it's pointless to petition your way back into such a Hell.

So I can only surmise that it's politics and not premise.  Which brings into question the veracity of Metacritic  itself.  What possible use is a metric based on a subjective curation of opinions?

As it stands now it appears that even if the latest triple-A title delivered the digital equivalent of bull manure, there would never be a user score below 1 on a scale of 10 if the "pros" bestowed anything above an 80.

But then, we're just stupid consumers, what do we know...