Backlogged: Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning

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Time to beat: 52 hours and 55 minutes (Main Story and as many side quests as I could find.)

Now you might look at this and say I disliked more things than I liked and objectively that’s true from the list below. However, I really enjoyed my time in Amalur. The story, the little lore spread throughout, and the fully voiced characters helped tremendously to convey an interesting story in an interesting world. The combat got stale towards the end but I think that was because I choose to go full sorcery. When I play through the DLC’s I’ll be respecing to try out the other class trees. A lot of the time you’ll see this game brought up when people are looking for single-player games that feel like MMOs. I’d agree with that there are enough fetch quests and kill 10 whatever quests to qualify. But there’s also an expansive open world with a lot of little secrets and cool locations to find.

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Things I liked:

The World: The world of Amalur features a number of interesting locations. My favorites being the cities of Ysa and Rathir, the Gallows Tree in the Midden, and Nyralim the oldest living mortal who happens to be a giant tree.

 

The Lore: I went out of my way to learn about Amalur. I went through dozens of conversation options with hundreds of NPC’s and quest givers. I read all the books I could find and found all of the Lorestones in the zone for added stories.

 

The Side Quests: Kingdoms of Amalur shines with its storytelling. My favorite series of quests were the Faction Quests for The House of Ballads and The Scholia Arcana. Both were interesting and complete stories in their own right that outshined the main story. My favorite side quest included helping a local Nobel fake his own death by dueling a war hero and then shipping him off the continent. Only at the last minute his mother showed up and paid me to ship him to the war front instead!

 

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Things that could have been better:

The Loot: By the time I went to Klurikon and until the end of the game I didn’t find anything better to equip than what I had. The last 10 or so hours of the game I kept the same armor and weapons. It got to a point where I just stopped picking up loot and opening boxes. There were far fewer styles of armor and weapons in this game than I thought there’d be. It leads to a lot of items being stat upgrades but looking exactly the same as the thing you just unequipped. Even the purple named weapons which had a variety of flavor text ended up looking like common weapons.

 

The Combat: The combat starts out strong with a good mix of dodging and a fairly quick time to kill. As the game progresses and you’re given more skills and more armor dodging doesn’t do much except ensuring you can get your skill off. Halfway through the only thing that could damage me was a big creature, by the end of the game even the bosses had a hard time denting my health bar. I played on normal difficulty and perhaps the sorcery tree is a bit overpowered. At the end of the game, I cast 2 AoE spells that pretty much killed everything in one or 2 hits. I had stacked enough spell cost reduction that the only spell that cost me anything to cast was Heal because it relied on a percentage of my MP instead of a set number.

 

The Dungeons: The gameplay loop of KOA is getting a quest, going into a dungeon, kill whatever is in there, then get another quest. It’s all well and good until the dungeons start looking the same and don’t have any unique items at the end of them. The worst is when they don’t have an exit at the end of them and you have to run all the way back to the beginning of the dungeon.

 

The Housing/ Mining Operation/ Investment Banking?: By the time I finished Amalur I had 4 or 5 houses with maxed out facilities. Unfortunately, I never had any reason to visit them. There’s a mining operation in Detyer that you end up taking over and will net you profit over time. After I finished the main story I went back to the mine and was rewarded with 4k gold. Considering I have about 1.5 million on me it’s not a ton. You can have a Gnome invest for you in Adessa…it’s something I’ve never encountered in a fantasy RPG so I’ll give KOA credit for that.

 

Crafting: Crafting doesn’t seem worth the effort. I invested heavily in sagecrafting to make gems to augment my weapons but I didn’t use it much. Maybe blacksmithing is better but I didn’t see the point in making weapons when there were so many lying around

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Things I wished I knew sooner:

  • Tasks are repeatable quests and ususally can’t be completed so they stick around on your quest list slowly driving you crazy as you complete everything else. I’m looking at you “Gathering Flames”.
  • The Fateweavers can reset your abilitie points, destinies, and skill points for very little money. This would have been nice to know sooner as I spent a lot of skill points on sagecrafting which I didn’t end up using.
  • Fast Travel is your friend and it is a time saver for all the back and forth fetch quests you’ll be doing.
  • Max Detect Hidden as soon as you can. You’ll find hidden doors and chests, enemies will show up on the mini map, and the final point will show you the location of Lorestones on the map. I didn’t realize any of this until about 30 hours into the game.
  • The end of the main story is worth getting too even if the game loses a bit of it’s magic in Klurikon
  • The PC version of this game is full of bugs. But they’re the kind that make you laugh not the kind that breaks your game.

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The Slow Road Through Amalur

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I’ve settled into a nice groove with Kingdoms of Amalur. Lately,  it’s been taking up most if not all of my solo gaming time. At 30 hours in, I find myself in Rathir, the city of the Dokkalfar (Dark Elves) which is where I thought I left off playing on PS3. I can’t be sure though, I know I left off in a big city but that might have been Ysa, the city of the Fae,  and that was way earlier in the game. Perhaps I didn’t actually play this as much as I thought… The main story has me boarding a ship to the next continent so I’m guessing I’m halfway through the game.

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I’d like to say it’s the riveting gameplay or the stellar story that’s kept me playing but that’s not the case. In fact, the combat I remember loving so much has turned out to be just so so. Especially now that I have two AoE attacks that will one-shot almost anything that’s not a large creature. The main story isn’t bad but it’s not all that exciting. What it boils down to is: I’m the chosen one who’s going to break the stalemate in a war that’s been going on for 10 years. Probably, by killing the leader of the Tuatha, Gadflow.

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AoE in action

No, what’s kept me going is the world-building going on in this game. In yet another deviation from how I usually play RPGs, I’m taking my time reading and listening to text that isn’t needed to progress. I’ve found this extremely rewarding thus far. Most NPC’s will have a few lines of dialog relating to the quest and then a list of topics that they’ll also talk about. These range from the zone/city your in, themselves, other NPCs, and events going on in the game world. At first glance, it seems like most of the NPCs will talk about the same topics but I’ve found that each NPC adds just a bit more information about any given topic. I’ve also been reading the books I’ve found on my adventures which do a great deal to flesh out little bits of the world and unlike Skyrim, most of them are interesting to read through. It’s actually kind of amazing how much time and effort was put into completely optional dialogue and text. Especially when you consider that everything is voiced too.

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Kobolds are basically very large rats

I mentioned that I was choosing which quests to do based on urgency. Right now the main quest has me meeting with 2 people who I might be able to help and turn the tide of the war. The way I see it, the war’s been on for 10 years they can wait a few more days to turn it around. So I’ve been doing side quests, a lot of side quests. As of right now, I’ve completed 76 quests. Most of these quests have been interesting and added to the world. I have run into a few quests that are of the “kill 10 rats” variety. For the most part, though they’ve been thoughtfully amazing. I just finished up a quest in Rathir where I helped a wealthy merchant’s son fake his own death by starting a duel with a war hero, putting a sedative on the war hero’s dueling sword, and then arranging for a ship to load him on and take him far away from the war. Unfortunately for him, his mother found out and paid me handsomely to ship him instead straight to Klurikon, the front lines of the war.

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Sir, do you know you’re bleeding all over me?

So I’ve been taking my time with the game. I’ve been completing zones even when they’re no longer a challenge, I’ve been going out of my way to find books I haven’t read yet, and I’ve been drilling down into these dialog trees. The fact that it’s all voiced makes it easier for me to choose those optional dialog trees. That being said, I haven’t gotten this much enjoyment out of an RPG in a long time. I’d be open to trying this method with another game in the future even if it’s all text.

Backlogged: Pokemon Shield

This is a rare event indeed. Not only did I buy Pokemon Shield but I played it all the way through with very little breaks. Yes, my dear friends, I have become the Pokemon Champion of the Galar region in just a few week’s time!

This year (or rather last year) my wife and I got each other a Switch for Christmas. You see my wife only likes to play “cute” games and who has cuter games than Nintendo? No one that’s who. I, on the other hand, wanted a pokemon machine. Ok, and a play indie games on my couch instead of at my desk machine. Not nearly as catchy of a title though.

Ever since I played Pokemon Blue on my cousins’ couch at 9 years old I’ve been hooked on Pokemon. I was a child of the late 90s and early 2000s so I didn’t stand a chance from avoiding the Pokemon hype train. Those were some prime Pokemon years. It was everywhere and every kid in elementary school was watching the show, trading the cards, playing the games. Oh, and of course there were the spin-offs. Remember Pokemon pinball? Pokemon the Trading Card Game The Game? And who could forget Pokemon Snap?

But you know, as great as it was to pretend to be Ash I always wanted to play Pokemon on my TV. Even in the old days with 2d sprites and 8 bit music I always the experience would be enhanced if I could just play it on my TV. Also not having to change batteries and having to find a light source you had to angle just right to see the Gameboy screen would have also been a plus. Man handheld gaming was hardback in the day.

Then there was Pokemon Stadium for the N64 and that really gave me a taste of what I wanted. But that wasn’t enough for me, oh no, I wanted a mainline Pokemon game on my TV. You know what I got instead?

  • Pokemon Stadium 2
  • Pokemon Colosseum
  • Pokemon XD
  • Pokemon Battle Revolution

Sadly, I’ve had to wait 19 years for a pokemon adventure I could play on my TV. And you know what? It was worth the wait!

To tell you the truth, I had fallen out of love with Pokemon games ever since finishing Pokemon Y. Pokemon y was the first time I experienced 3d pokemon battles in a mainline Pokemon game. That alone had me hooked until the end. Pokemon Alpha Sapphire did not inspire the same level of excitement. Neither did Sun and Moon. I’ve bought these games but I lost interest about 2 hours in.

Things I Liked:

I think that break helped to make this Pokemon installment that much better. I was constantly discovering Pokemon that I’d never seen before only to find that they were a generation or two old. I only found one pokemon from this newest generation I wasn’t a fan of (Carkol I mean it’s a cart full of coal with eyes…) but I thought the rest were solid additions. My favorite by far was Centiscorch which had a place on my team ever since I found her. Oh and can we please talk about Sirfetch’d. This pokemon right here is the reason I have to berate my friends with Sword to trade with me.

The graphics worked for me. I was pleasantly surprised that this wasn’t 3DS pokemon blown up to TV size. I had no issues with the way the pokemon looked or their animations. It all made me feel like I was in a season of Pokemon ripped from straight from 90s TV.

The length of the game was perfect for me. I completed it in just over 21 hours and througholy enjoyed my whole time with it. I haven’t done the post game story yet but I’ll get to it eventually. I never was into the endgame of pokemon. Grinding EVs to battle online and looking for shiny’s never did it for me.

The way the story was presented as a tournament was a nice change of pace. I liked the way the “Elite 4” of this game were just the same Gym Leaders with stronger pokemon. At the same time, I did miss not having the Elite 4 to take on at the end.

Showing which moves are effective against the type of pokemon your facing.  I lost track of strengths and weaknesses in like…Gen 3. So this was a welcome addition. Of course, you have to fight the pokemon once to have this show up.

Character customization. Tacking on dress up to a pokemon game was not something I knew I wanted until I had it.

Things I Didn’t Like:

The difficulty: I don’t expect a lot of challenges from a Pokemon game but I expect to have some close calls and need to level a little bit. I tore straight through Shield without doing any leveling and was always a good 10 to 15 levels ahead. I lost once at the end of the tournament to the Champion. That was the only time I had a total party wipe. Though this could be because I wasn’t cheap this time around and spent money on potions and status restorers

I could take or leave Dynamaxing. While it was cool the first few times, after a while, it was just kinda there. Oh that gym leaders on their last pokemon? They’re gonna Dynamax and we’ll have to finish the match with the big pokemon. It was hilarious to Dynamax Inteleon. He’s already tall and when he’s Dynamaxed most of the time I couldn’t see his head.

Other Stuff

The team I used to beat the Champion:

  • Inteleon – because I have to keep my starter always
  • Centiskorch – my favorite out of this gen
  • Heliolisk – because I’ve never used it before
  • Eternatus – Because I have to use the legendary even if it is basically a god. Props to the developers putting in a line about the strongest trainer using the strongest pokemon when you face the Champion.
  • Tyranitar – Found her at level 60 but she didn’t end up being that useful
  • Drifblim – Ended up being one of the staples of the team. His description in the Pokedex though  “It grabs people and Pokemon and carries them off somewhere. Where do they go? Nobody knows.”

On a side note, I didn’t realize the internet was all up in arms about this game until after I finished it. Mostly of the “they sold us an incomplete game” variety. Even more, so that DLC was announced. I felt this was a complete game even without 800 pokemon. 400 pokemon is plenty of variety for me.

On the side side note: This lack of screenshots brought to you by the Swtich being a pain to get screenshots out of without an SD card.

Questing with Urgency

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I ran into an interesting Reddit thread last week that I can no longer find. The jist of the discussion was about how different people tackled open-world RPGs, especially when it came to questing.

Typically, when I find myself in an RPG I follow the same pattern. Create a character, do the intro exposition main quest, then vacuum up all of the side quests, and tackle them one at a time until I run out. Once the area is clear I’ll pick up the main quest again until I find another side quest to distract me. And then repeat. This is actually burned me in a few games to the point where I just stopped playing them. I’m looking at you Skyrim and The Withcer 3…

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So I was looking for a new way to approach  Kingdoms of Amalur. KOAR lends itself perfectly to the above method. There are side quests everywhere and also conveniently located in MMO style quest hubs. There are a few quests I’ve run into out in the world but the majority of them are picked up in towns.

I found one unique answer in the thread that I wanted to put into practice for my playthrough. It suggested doing quests based on their urgency. Whether their the main story or a side quest, rescuing someone from immediate danger takes precedence over meeting with someone to discuss something or fetching materials for someone. I’d never thought of doing this before.

So far I’ve found this method to be quite immersive. It’s also been limiting the amount of time between story quests which tends to happen when attempting do all the side quests I see. I’m finding that the story flows better and I’m more engaged with the main quest. But it also leads to situations where I’ll do a whole sidequest line because it feels more important than meeting up with the next story beat.

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For example, the main quest was having me meet up with Alyn Shir, a mysterious assassin looking character who keeps showing up at the worst times, to meet with someone in the House of Ballads to decipher an ancient artifact. While that’s all well and good, on the way I stopped at a town that was suffering from a plague. Didenhil was on the brink of being wiped out when I arrived. I put the learning more about the Codex of Destiny on hold to run several quests to not only gather materials for the medicine to fight the plague but also find its source and destroy it.

I found it difficult at first to skip the yellow exclamation marks when the main quest called for it. Old habits die hard but it’s getting easier as I do it. I’ve had to remind myself several times that I can always come back if I want to. It’s not like I need to do the side quests, I’m already feeling over-leveled for the zone I’m currently in, but there’s that chance that a side quest could reveal an interesting tidbit of lore or launch a quest chain that’s more interesting than the main story.

How do you guys tackle the whole main quests vs side quest thing in the games you play?

 

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning – The Second Time Around

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I spent most of my gaming time this weekend on Kingdoms of Amalur. I’m trying to make a real effort in playing games I already own this year. And what better way to start that off then playing a game you already know that you like? The benefit of playing a game 7 years after you last played it is that you don’t remember much. Go figure, it’s almost like playing for the first time again.

The last time I played this for more than a half-hour was in 2013 on PS3. I don’t remember why I stopped playing I must have had to go back to school or something. I got decently far and then never touched it again. I endedup buying it at the end of 2018 in a Steam sale with all the DLC since the PS3 has been long since deceased.

Actually, I’m surprised that I can remember so little from it’s had a lasting effect on me. I’m always quick to recommend KOA to friends when they’re looking for a great RPG. What I do remember from playing the first time is the excellent combat and the class system which allows for a lot of flexibility.

There’s also the tutorial which I could run in my sleep at this point. What ends up happening in RPGs for me is it takes at least 8 tries before I’m happy with my character. Sometimes I don’t like the hair or the face. Sometimes I don’t like how a race looks walking around. Sometimes I just want to play a different class after playing for 3 hours….So I get very aqauinted with RPG starter zones.20200118094615_1

The original plan was to make a hammer-wielding melee character. So Boris here was born looking like he was born with a hammer in hand. Unfortunately, halfway through the tutorial, I found a staff that has a very satisfying move set. So instead of starting over at character creation I know have one burly looking mage. The more I look at him the more OK I am with the whole thing.

With this in mind, I also decided to do something I wouldn’t normally do. When you level up you are given a skill point to put into one of 9 different noncombat skills. I wanted to see what happened if I put as many points as I could into Persuasion. So far all this has done is given me a 3rd conversation option that involves convincing people to give me the quest items I just found for them. Which is very useful and sometimes hilarious. At one point I convinced two thieves the hat I stole was cursed and they just believed me and left. Another encounter the option was simply to tell the quest giver that I’m keeping this ring and you’re going to pay for my trouble.

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I’m also not investing in skills that require foraging for items in the world *cough* Alchemy *cough*. I did this last time I played which turned exploration into flower picking simulator. I tend to be cheap in games opting to do everything possible to not spend my hard-earned gold on health potions. But I’ll suck it up this time, I think there’s a heal skill in my future.

I decided to play a pure mage this time around. Last time I was a Finesse/ Sorcery hybrid so I didn’t want to play the same class again. This is yet another odd choice for me in RPGs where I usually roll some sort of DPS melee character. I figured if I’m going to make all these other new choices I might as well switch up the playstyle too. Though this decision was heavily influenced by the Chakram weapon type. Still to this day my favorite weapon in any RPGs. They’re a kind of magic throwing disc that comes back to the user and they are so satisfying to use. I’m glad that the combat is as good if not better than I remember. Its fluid, it feels good, and it makes me feel like a fantasy action hero.

 

 

 

 

Quick Impressions: Remnant From the Ashes

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This fog door looks very familiar…

I don’t often buy games at full price. In fact, I don’t even remember the last time I did so. This month I’m going to do it twice. I’m getting Borderland 3 at the end of the week and I purchase Remnant from the Ashes last weekend.

I learned about Remnant maybe a week before the release date. From the trailer, I wasn’t sure what kind of game it was. It looked like a third-person shooter that might have been a looter shooter a la  Hellgate London. All I know is that the setting and the monsters made me want to play it. I held off on release day though because I was out of spending money for the month and because I wanted to know what the game was.

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The reviews came out: “Dark Souls with Guns!” Which was confusing because it didn’t look like it had all that much to do with Dark Souls and it kind of put me off to the game. I don’t hate Dark Souls but I never got into them as much as other people. I enjoyed Demon Souls, some of my best memories from gaming were because of that game but Dark Souls-Bloodborne did nothing for me. To this day Bloodborne is the only game I’ve ever traded back in when I was done with it.

Anyways, a few more days passed and the reviews changed their toon. It wasn’t that much like Dark Souls, after all, it was it’s own game, imagine that. I had the money, I had the desire to play something new, I was kind of hoping my friends might pick it up on sale one day. So I bought it.

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I’m 5 hours in and I can tell you that I’m very much enjoying it. See, it is a little like Dark Souls after all but it’s taken the good things about Dark Souls. The level design encourages exploration to find hidden items, lore, and short cuts. Learning enemy attacks and movements and finding the most efficient way of taking them out. Most importantly, the combat isn’t clunky and the roll animation doesn’t take an unnaturally long time to finish

The boss fights are fair but difficult. Sometimes it does seem like they’re tuned more for multiplayer than single-player campaigns. Which is fine because as long as you’re playing in a public lobby, anyone can join you on your adventure. The first 2 boss encounters I had to do a few times before I beat them but, man, did it feel good when I finally downed them. Especially the first one. The first 2 boss encounters were so much easier with a second person and a third probably would have made them trivial. That’s ok with me too. I’ve always liked exploring the levels more than boss fights anyways.

It does seem like progress isn’t saved unless your hosting. I had a nice run with a stranger through a part of the game I was struggling with only to find out when I logged back in that I had to do that part over. It did give me a bunch of crafting materials though so it wasn’t all bad.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of the story and exploring more of the world.

Backlogged: Borderlands 2

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Me and Jay have been playing Borderlands 2 on and off for 5 years. As of Saturday night, it took 5 years to beat our first playthrough.  In fact, it probably took more than that, I think we started a playthrough on PS3 before the PS4 version came out. Our playthrough predates this blog. I had just moved into my second ever apartment, and I was working like 3 jobs. 5 years later I’m married, I have an actual full-time job in a field with a career path, and I feel like I’m somewhat established as an adult.

When we beat it Saturday, we both breathed a big sigh of relief. It’s been on the back burner for so long, one of those games we said we’d play and then we don’t. In the beginning, we were on track. I bought it when it first came out and we played it almost nightly. At some point, we got sidetracked with DLC. I will say that I think Gearbox makes way better DLC than they do games. There is still a ton more DLC that we could have played but Saturday we were determined to get to the end.

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See, I like Borderlands as a whole. The looter shooter aspect is compelling and the dialog is off the wall, albeit sometimes kind of annoying. But I’ve felt like I’ve been held to it for too long. It’s always been nagging in the back of my mind when we decide what we want to play.  Most of the time, I didn’t want to play it because I don’t like shooters on PS4. I’ve never been good at aiming with a controller, it frustrates me. But the time was right to beat it now before Borderlands 3 comes out. And we are 100% getting it on PC.

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We were going to try and play through the DLC that ties 2 to 3 that came out in June. That is until we discovered it was no longer free. I’m trying to phase out purchasing games for ps4 so I wasn’t about to buy it.

All in all, I had fun with Borderlands 2. I would have liked it a lot better if I hadn’t spread it out so much. I would have liked it a lot better if it was on my preferred platform, but 5 years ago I didn’t have a capable PC. We had some good times with it over the years but ultimately, I’m just glad it’s finally over.

I am very much looking forward to Borderlands 3. I will be beating this game much quicker this time around.

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