Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Spending money on DLC

I don't have a moral objection to DLC but as a general rule I don't buy it. I don't go for cosmetic enhancements and I already have  too many games and too little time to play them so mission packs don't make sense. Furthermore the modern trend is for DLC to retain its price even after the base game has been heavily discounted. "Game of the Year" bundles with all DLC included used to be a thing but that practise seems to be dying out. The net affect of all of these things is that I don't buy DLC ...

Except ....

Occasionally I enjoy a game so much that I just want more of it and in those rare cases I am happy to spend the money. Two cases in particular come to mind. Several years ago I did a marathon play through of  the Mass effect trilogy and I got so sucked in that I really wanted the additional story line DLC. I spent far more on DLC missions than I did on the games themselves but I didn't regret it at all. I even felt happy to give a bit more money to Bioware for making such a wonderful trilogy once I had gotten over the awful awful Bioware points system they force you to use to buy the stuff. More recently I have spend more on DLC for Total War: Warhammer than I spent on the base game and again I don't regret it. I really love this game and I am happy to spend a few more euros on it. I even bought the much criticised blood and gore effects add on just to have the complete package. To be fair to Creative Assembly they were quite generous with the base game and gave several free DLC updates including the magnificent Brettonia campaign. 

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Thoughts about "Inside" and "A Story About My Uncle"

"A Story About My Uncle" and "Inside" are both puzzle / platformer games set in weird quirky worlds that are beautifully imagined. Inside is a 2D game with a dark almost monochrome aesthetic while Uncle is 3D and wildly colourful. I recommend both but Inside was a more enjoyable experience for me overall. 

The thing about this type of game is that there is very delicate balance to be struck between offering the right level of challenge and frustrating the player to the point where they quit. This is made all the more difficult by the range of player abilities in both puzzle solving and precision jumping. However there are plenty things a developer can do to make things better or to make things worse. The position of checkpoints is huge. Never put a tricky challenge at the end of a long boring section. Good visual clues are also ideal so that the player always know what they are supposed to go even if it is not obvious how they are going to get there. Inside get s the balance very right in my opinion. I had to replay many sections more than once but I never felt really lost and I never felt like quitting in frustration. Several sections seemed impossible at first but there were always subtle clues to point the way and none of the jumps required nano-precision. If you can interact with an object in the game then you can be pretty sure you will need it to solve a puzzle which is very re-assuring. 

A story about my uncle on the other hand is a lot more frustrating. It is often not clear which way you need to go (including several sections in dark caves where you cannot actually see). The checkpoints are often cruel requiring the player to repeat long boring sections over and over just to  fail at the same difficult bit. The game is to be praised for having some wonderful movement abilities including a grapple and rocket boots but some of the jumping is just to hard for me requiring multiple attempts before I can get the timing right. I am currently in a section called the ice caves and even though I am pretty close to the end of the game I am thinking of abandoning it because a particular challenge with falling blocks I have to jump between has beaten me at least ten times. This is not the first such roadblock I have encountered and these hurdles do diminish the overall enjoyment of the game for me. If I try a challenge three or four times and then succeed I feel a sense of triumph and elation. On the other hand if I have to replay a section twenty times to overcome it then I feel jaded and weary particularly in some sections where it isn't even clear that I am on the right track.  The game is still worth playing just to experience the thrill of navigating a beautifully imagined world but don't expect to finish it unless you are very persistent and willing to put up with a good deal of frustration along the way. 

I have no such reservations about Inside. The difficult level is very well balanced and it is never cruel to its players. However if you do play the game be prepared for some very dark weirdness. It starts off with a little boy running for his life from nasty men with tranquilliser guns and it rapidly gets blacker and weirder from there. The final section in particular is downright bizarre and I have no idea at all what it is all about. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Total War Attila is being malicious

I am playing a "Franks" campaign in Total War Attila and having a bad time of it. I am currently at war with six other factions each of whom seems able to field multiple full armies while I struggle along with depleted units and a few mercenaries. The Thuringians are being particularly annoying at present and after overwhelming my tentative attempts at expansion they followed my armies home with two large armies intent on destruction. For some reason (perhaps related to difficulty setting) they just seem to be better than my armies. Their troops are more robust in battle than mine and they seem to replenish faster between battles. Particularly annoying is the fact that they seem to be able to travel further than I can in a move. They always seem to be able to catch my armies when the odds are in their favour while I am unable to catch them when the situation is reversed. Happily they finally made a mistake. Their main stack captured one of my settlements (a crushing defeat, rather not talk about it) and moved into the town leaving the smaller army exposed on its own. Even better news: the smaller force walked right into an ambush I had set. Even though my army was smaller the ambush allowed me to attack them in an unprepared state giving me an excellent opportunity to utterly destroy them. I knew this could be a turning point because once the smaller army was out of the way I could cobble together a force of mercenaries to besiege the settlement trapping the larger army.

The ambush battle went well. I squeezed their marching line between a wall of infantry and a barrage of missiles with some cavalry charges thorn in for good measure. I then chased down every last one of their routing soldiers including most importantly the general. Army annihilated and battle over I recruited some of the captives into my own army and was waiting for the loading screen when ... Errors Message: "Attila Total War has crashed". Arrghhh,

I reload a save from just before the battle, use the same strategy and cross my fingers when I get to the same loading screen: It crashes again.

I tried auto resolving the battle and it didn't crash but instead of a total annihilation I got a Pyrrhic victory leaving my opponent alive and my forces in a sorry state. More experiments revealed that I could also avoid the crash by playing the battle myself and not winning as convincingly. It seems like the game only crashes if I am doing well! Is the game just being spiteful?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Total Warhammer: Dwarves and their grudges

My biggest mistake with the dwarven campaign in Total War Warhammer was not really playing it until after I had already spend a lot of time with other factions (Empire, Bordelaux and Vampires). Having a good grasp of the basic game world and game mechanics from those other campaigns the only challenge remaining is dealing with the strengths and weaknesses of the dwarves themselves.

Dwarven strengths: 

Even low level dwarven warriors are very tough  and tend to win battles just by standing still and letting the enemy come to them.

Dwarves have easy access to some of the best ranged troops and artillery in the game.

The dwarven economy is very strong so it is easy for them to make lots of money.

The dwarven building tree is very streamlined that and allows a player relatively quick access to high quality units.

The dwarven starting position is easy to defend with nearby access to weak green skin armies and settlements for early game combat experience.

Dwarves have a huge technology tree that is chock full of good things. You can buff up your already tough warriors to a huge degree as well as getting massive buffs to your economy.

Dwarven weaknesses:

No cavalry.

No magic

They are slow.

They are very slow.

In the multiplayer game dwarves are considered one of the weaker factions hampered by their lack of mobility but sadly the AI doesn't seem to be able to exploit this so dwarves are a very easy faction to play. Easy doesn't mean fun unfortunately because their lack of mobility leaves you with very little choice of tactics. Dwarves play a slow defensive game using artillery to taunt enemies to dash themselves against the  impenetrable ranks of dwarven warriors while dwarven ranged troops rain death from a distance.  They win these battles very easily but it isn't a whole bunch of fun.

There are nice things about the dwarven campaign: The book of grudges is a lovely idea that is well executed. If anyone wrongs you (eg conquers a settlement or raids your lands) it goes into the book and gets added to the list of offenders you must punish. If the AI was better I could imagine dwarven attributes could lend themselves to some epic last stand defence battles but sadly it isn't and increasing the difficulty level just increases the number and stats of enemies not their intelligence.

Perhaps I am getting burned out of TW Warhammer. Certainly this campaign isn't keeping my interest. There are some interesting mods out there (Steel Faith Overhaul has caught my interest) but it may just be time for me to move on.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

For The Lady: Total Warhammer Bordelaux Campaign

Confession time: The Bordelaux campaign is the first full total war campaign that I have completed since Napoleon. I have explained before that Total War campaign games have a habit of bogging down into tedium so I usually give up before achieving the final campaign objectives. The fact that I persevered this time reinforces my belief that Warhammer is indeed the best Total War game to date.

The Bordelaux campaign is a free DLC campaign that was only released in February but it is both unusual and interesting so I can highly recommend it. Bordelaux like all Bretonnians are a knighly race who love their horses and put chivalry above everything. Indeed the main victory condition for the Bordelaux campaign is to amass sufficient chivalry. Chivalry governs how you must play a Bordelaux campaign. Several common actions such as raiding, ambushing and pillaging human settlements  actually cause you lose chivalry so they are best avoided. Victory on the battlefield gains chivalry while defeat loses it. Somewhat surprisingly an easy win overwhelming your enemies will grant lots of chivalry while a heroic last stand will lose chivalry unless you pull off the impossible and actually win. Another unusual feature of Bordelaux is that the economy is based on peasants in the fields. You can make money very quickly from farms but if you recruit too many peasants (pretty much any unit that isn't a knight) then your economy takes a hit. This limitation applies to all of your infantry and ranged troops and it is particularly onerous in the beginning of the game when you have very few settlements and cannot afford to recruit knights. 

The beginning of the Bordelaux campaign is quite tightly scripted. You start off at war with the Vampire armies of the Red Duke in Mousilon and almost immediately a triggered event causes public order to drop ensuring a stream of goblin incursions on your lands. These circumstances fill the first twenty turns or so with constant combat. This is a great opportunity to level up your lord and your starting forces but you need to be wary of the particular demands of chivalry and the peasant economy or else you could mess up badly during these early turns bankrupting your economy and losing rather than gaining chivalry. 

Once you survive these first twenty turns things settle down and you can look to your next real objective which is the unification of all the Brettonian provinces under your rule. However Chivalry raises it head again here. There are large chivalry penalties for warring on your Brettonian neighbours so confederation is the only game in town. In order to confederate you need to train a particular set of technologies called "Heraldries" and you need to impress your Brettonian neighbours with your own might and prowess. This is actually harder to do than it looks because you are surrounded by friendly provinces that you should not wage war on and I actually got stuck for a bit around this point (turn 40 or so). Happily there is a quest chain for your main lord which takes you to a nearby province called Estalia. The Estalians are a passive race who never caused any harm to anyone but they are not Brettonian and that makes them fair game for conquest. The conquest of Estalia and their similarly unaligned neighbour Talia gave a significant boost to my ranking and prestige and pretty soon my Bretonian neighbours were queuing up to confederate with me. 

Playing as Bordelaux it is very easy to quickly get on best terms with all of the human faction in the game which results in constant invitations to ally. This is an area where, I think, you need to choose very carefully. Non aggression pacts, trade agreements and military access treaties are almost always a good thing. Defensive and especially military alliances no so much. Defensive and military alliances usually result in your being dragged into pointless wars with factions you would far rather be friendly with. I prefer to choose my own enemies thank you. In my campaign I maintained excellent relations with all human factions and with all dwarven factions while I waged war on goblins and orcs. I stayed away from Vampires and the forces of Chaos so they never troubled me. The Elves did seem predetermined to dislike me (something lore related I suspect because they kept making disparaging remarks about our beloved Lady)  however I played a careful diplomatic game to ensure they never got unhappy enough to actually leave their forests and declare war on me.

Good relations with so many factions led to healthy trading income and the combination of farming, some industry, lots of ports and healthy trade make sit easy to amass wealth as Bordelaux. By the end of the game (turn 120 for me) I had a gross income of 18,000 gold per turn which was more than enough to field four full stack armies. One word of warning: be careful mixing industry and farming in the same settlement because the top tier buildings in each interfere with each other.

What about the forces of chaos you may ask? Well Bordelaux starts on the southern edge of the map and Chaos comes down from the North. There are enough buffer regions in between to ensure that Chaos will not bother you unless you choose to go North to meet it. The final Erranty War quest in the Bordealux campaign gives you a choice of fighting Chaos forces in the far North or Greenskins in the South. Teleportation isn't an option and since I had spent the whole game in the southern section of the map it was an easy decision for me to pick the Green-skins. The fact that the Chaos battle is even an option however makes me wonder if some play the campaign differently and go North for their conquests rather than south as I did. 

One point worth mentioning is that Brettonnians forces can benefit from many buffs and blessings. Chivalry itself gives benefits as do many of the Lord traits and a few legendary buildings. These buffs go some way to making up for the fact that most Bordelaux's forces have low armour and low morale while their peasant based infantry forces are particularly underwhelming.