[Bloodborne] Skulking Through Yarnham

I approach every unexplored corner in Bloodborne’s ruined, eldritch universe with an embarrassing level of caution. It feels unnatural to approach a game world like this, after the power fantasies of action games, MMOs, and shooters have taught me that in most cases I’m a lesser deity, if not a god. “Save your caution for the boss fights,” they say. “Even if you somehow die, you passed a checkpoint only 30 seconds ago.”

In Bloodborne, like the Souls games before it, even a plague-ridden, slow-moving villager with a pitchfork could spell my end, if I’m not careful. And any death can mean a serious loss of experience –  the currency, not the knowledge.

That’s why I find myself plodding into new districts of Yarnham at a careful, walking pace, torch in one hand and an electrified mace in the other. To move like this enhances the sense of exploration. I’m easing into uncharted territory, the only guarantee being that, whatever I find in this tomb, or forest, or ancient academy, it will most definitely want to kill me.

And yet, for all the caution, the careful steps I take into each new potential bloodbath, the game transforms into a rapid-fire masterpiece of precision combat as soon as I encounter a threat. When they first announced Bloodborne wouldn’t have shields like the Souls games before it, I didn’t know what to think. I knew people had played through Dark Souls wielding massive 2-handers the whole game, never bothering to hide behind a shield, but I’d never been so brave. Shields, to me, were a quintessential part of the Souls experience. They let me control the pace of a fight, hiding behind a barrier until I’d learned an enemy’s move set, waiting for their strikes to bounce harmlessly off my gleaming shield before I countered. With shields absent (minus one shitty exception) Bloodborne offers another form of control: speed.

My hunter’s swift sidestepping is so much more satisfying, and powerful, than the clumsy rolling of Souls. Instead of holding up my shield to withstand a mighty blow, it’s a simple matter of timing for my hunter to dodge right past it and get in a few strikes from the side.

This change in combat lends itself to a constant pendulum swing between creeping dread and brutal, fast-paced combat, more similar to a traditional horror game than I’d say the Souls games are. It’s a weird feeling I get when I think about playing Bloodborne: I feel a hesitation, a pit of dread sitting heavy in the stomach, but at the same time I’m so, so curious to explore and see what horrifying thing I’ll find next.


What have I had my hands on lately?

Destiny. Still going. I managed to find an excellent static group for raiding, so I’m online at least once a week for that. I don’t feel much pull to upgrade gear or anything, so I’m not grinding through daily bounties much anymore. Just having fun with friends a few times a week!

I don’t know what kind of legs Destiny will have. The raids are fun, but the rest of the game is lackluster, and without some heavy duty improvements in the next expansion it’ll probably drop out of my rotation.

Infamous: First Light. Free through PS+ this month. The story is short, and only really interesting if you like Fetch as a character, but that’s not where the attraction lies: this game has a kickass battle arena. You’re either trying to survive endless waves of enemies or rescue hostages as they pop up. In the later waves it gets really challenging, but you get fun boosts like invulnerability, super blasts, and infinite melee finishers to help you tackle the mobs that spawn. I like it a lot, and I think I’m gonna try for the platinum.

Diablo 3. I hopped back into this a few weeks ago when Blizzard gave us a 100% experience boost for the weekend, and I used that to get my hardcore monk to 70. Rediscovered a little bit of love for smashing and looting in the process, not to mention my brother just started playing this and i’s fun to run rifts with him. Currently debating between trying to gear up my crusader to tackle Torment 6 or just start more characters and mess around.

The Swapper. I played a few hours of this on PC then dropped it, but I’d like to clear it now that it’s free on PS+.

Dragon Age: Inquisition. Woooow. This or Destiny probably my game of the year for 2014. I finished my first playthrough at around 80 hours, almost entirely satisfied by the experience. I was getting a little burned out on the side quests at the end, but I was still having enough fun to immediately start a second character. This time I’ll be sneaking around a dagger-wielding rogue.

Persona 4. I have finally almost reached the end of this one, after playing it on and off since sometime early this summer. The more time I put into this, the more psyched I get for the next installment. Which is hopefully still coming out this year? Anyway, I’ve hit the point toward the end where I have access to some crazy demon fusions, and I really need to sit down, spend a little time, and try to create some of the awesome ones. Now I just have to decide if I want to put time into a second run and access more of the super secret stuff at the ending…

I’ve been trying to play a lot of games lately on relatively little free time, so I’ve been a little scattered. In the midst of this, I still find myself wanting to pick up FF14 again, especially with the first expansion dropping in just a few months. It seems to be the MMO with the best support out there right now, and I reeeeeally like the look of some of the new classes coming, especially Dark Knight. I might resub to this soon and mess around in preparation for the summer, when I’ll have a lot more free time.

Destiny: Crushing Crota

Destiny’s first expansion, The Dark Below, dropped last Tuesday, and first impressions reveal a thoroughly mixed bag.

A patch dropped just before the expansion gave players a much easier way to gain materials and upgrade gear, which many of us took advantage of, before revealing that those items would be pretty useless. Exotics can be upgraded, increasing their max attack from 300 to 331, but they lose all upgrades along the way. Plus, the list of exotics which can be upgraded is determined entirely by Xur’s random weekly inventory.

Legendary weapons and armor from the first raid, the Vault of Glass, cannot be upgraded, and can in fact be replaced by newly available superior equipment from vendors. I completed the raid ~10 times just to get two pieces of armor…. and I’ve already sharded both of them.

Compare this to new expansions in WoW. Gear from the high-tier raids would never last you through the whole next expansion, sure, but you wouldn’t replace it immediately. At least if Destiny offered cosmetic options like transmog there would be a reason to keep it around, but there’s no way to know if that’s even in the cards.

At least glimpses of the raid armor & weapons offer more unique perks than those in VoG. I think every weapon from that first raid only offered “deal more damage to oracles.”

So itemization overall has been disappointing and confusing. The new missions are more rewarding, but do absolutely nothing to redeem Destiny’s empty shell of a story. This is a sore spot for me. The Grimoire cards reveal such a detailed mythology, full of interesting characters and environments, and we see only the smallest fraction of that in-game. This approach has not changed in The Dark Below.

Bungie’s attempt to improve their storytelling centers around Eris, a new Tower NPC/rep grind who dispenses “quests”, new bounties, and a selection of emblems, shaders, and upgrade materials. Quests are basically just bounties, and the ones introduced by Eris lead you through three missions and a new strike. There’s an additional, Playstation exclusive strike as well. These missions are fine, basically the same level of quality as those in the vanilla release… BUT. They barely introduce new areas, and always start with running through environments you’ve already seen a hundred times. And they have the same “get to this point, then defend against a few waves of enemies” missions structure as literally every other mission. It’s just getting old.

This new story line has all the same old problems. Destiny has no villains, only monsters. What are we fighting against? Is Crota affiliated with the Darkness? Omnigul, the new strike boss, and Crota have no dialogue. No motivations. We’re fighting them because they’re bad. I’m not really surprised The Dark Below doesn’t show a major step here; it had to be pretty far in development by the time the game first released and they got hit with feedback. Not a lot of time to make huge changes. But I’ll be really disappointed if we don’t see some serious evolution in House of Wolves.

All that aside, the meat of the expansion lies in the new raid: Crota’s End. While the raid suffers from the same lack of story/motivation, at least Crota is introduced in story missions, whereas Vault of Glass was totally out of left field. You can tell the majority of Bungie’s work goes into raid design, and Crota’s End is an excellent followup to the superb first raid.

The encounters are fun and challenging, and the environment is awesome. Fantastic design. I ran through it this week with a great group. We finished most of the encounter in 3 hours one night, then went back in and spent another 3 hours finishing off Crota. We had a lot of close calls and noticed a few glitches (along with one super frustrating batch of lag) but managed to take him down in the end.

It was exciting for me to clear the new raid so close to launch. When Vault of Glass came out, I didn’t get in there for a few weeks, and by then most people had a pretty good handle on it. This felt a lot more like uncharted territory.

One thought – in the next raid, I would like to see more variety in enemy types. So far, all the enemies you see in raids are just reskins of the same old shit. Well, I guess Atheon was a little more unique. Crota’s just a big ol’ knight. I’d like to see some kind of massive final boss, where we have to attack different parts of his body one at a time maybe. No more scaled up humanoids; let’s see something truly weird.

Bloodcurdling Blogs – A Light in the Dark

Well this would have been great to start the first of the month, but better late than never! October means Halloween, means spooky stories. I love reading creepy, ambiguous horror, the type of fiction that makes you feel like something’s skulking just on the periphery of your mind’s eye. But I’ve never really tried writing it.

So, for the rest of the month, I’ll try to whip up some short, scare-tastic stories as often as I can. I’d love to say I’ll do one a day, but with my track record that’s unlikely. I’ll just promise to try and get down on paper every creepy crawly I can find in my brain.

Without further ado, the first entry…

That pinprick of light was a beacon of hope the first day. It meant maybe he wasn’t so far from the surface. It meant maybe someone could her his screams. It meant maybe he would survive this.

By day two, that small glimpse of sky and cloud was torment. It meant he would die here, just a dozen feet from open air. It meant he could watch the sky darken and know another day had passed. It meant he could clearly see no one looking down on him from above.

But he kept staring, even as he grew to hate that window to the outside world. He kept his eyes fixed firmly on that cold, bright point until night fell, then squeezed them shut. Always he faced the same direction, since he’d first fallen and found himself buried here.

The fall had knocked him out cold. He’d swam back to consciousness confused, sore, disoriented. When he first sat up, he’d seen the pinprick and its single beam of light streak down, thin and fragile in the black, to land upon that bright blue eye. He’d frozen, staring, as soon as he noticed it. He couldn’t see what it was attached to. All he could see was the milky white sclera, riddled with red veins, the stormy-ocean dark blue iris, and the pupil matching the inky black of the subterranean.

That first glimpse was enough to set his lizard brain screaming. He’d turned slowly, the scrape of his jeans against the rock louder than a summer storm. He faced that single pinpoint light, too terrified to make a noise. Waiting to hear something in the darkness behind him, waiting to feel the grip of something cold and slippery at the back of his neck.

For two days it didn’t come. His muscles were groaning in the stillness, sick from holding the same stiff posture. He felt delirious, insane. Maybe he had imagined the eye. Maybe he had imagined the cold twist in his stomach, the lurch of animal instinct warning him against the unnatural. He had almost convinced himself to turn around when it spoke.

“I could get you out, you know.”

It didn’t sound like something out of a monster movie, more like an old man. Still, he felt paralyzed and could say nothing in return.

“There’s a way out,” the voice said. “But we can’t go up. We have to go down.”

After 30 Hours in Destiny

A list of things I have accomplished…

Reached level 25. I was stuck at 23 with a full set of blues, but I reached Vanguard rank 2 and spent some marks on purple gloves, then got lucky and received a chest piece from a purple engram dropped in the Crucible. If I get purples to replace my helm and shoes, I should hit 26 and be ready (gulp) for the raid.

Earned my first exotic weapon. It’s a machine gun called Super Good Advice. It has low stability so it kind of sprays bullets everywhere. I don’t love it, but it does feel special to have a beast like this in my armory. There’s a rare chance, whenever you turn in a bounty mission, to pick from 3 exotic bounties, which have 3 parts. My first task was to search chests on Mars, and would have built more suspense/anticipation if I haven’t found what I was looking for in the first one I opened. The second stage was to buy an item from the vendor who’s only available on weekends. I started this bounty on Friday, so was able to pass this stage immediately. The last stage was to kill 500 enemies with machine guns, which took a few days and kind of just felt like a grind. At the end of it, I like the concept of exotic bounties, but wish the required tasks were more interesting and had more story to them. Maybe some of the others are more interesting.

Tried farming. Yes, I have visited the cave on Russia a few times, each for no more than 15 minutes. I got a few blue engrams and quickly grew bored. Though a public event can pop there, so that’s kind of nice if you just want to kill a little time.

Enjoyed the Crucible. I’ve never been very good at competitive FPS. My K/D ratio in Modern Warfare 2, the last one I played for any significant length of time, was atrocious. I’ve actually been having fun and performing decently in Destiny, consistently near the top of the leader boards. The Titan’s shoulder charge ability is almost entirely to thank for this.

Made new friends. I’m a solo player in almost everything, even MMOs, but I’ve been having a blast running with other people in Destiny. It probably helps the headset I picked up is super comfortable (Sony Gold). I’ve been playing with one new real life friend, a few randoms I met on reddit, and one of my old college roommates who just picked up a PS4. It’s nice to feel connected.

Overcome challenges. Once you hit some of the high-level missions in Destiny, you run into serious difficulty. Enemies have elemental which require a certain damage type, and you can only have elemental damage on your secondary and heavy weapons. A little coordination with your Fireteam helps here.

Two challenging missions have made a real strong impression so far. First, I ran last week’s heroic strike with two new friends from reddit. It was TOUGH, and the last boss fight saw us talking a lot, coordinating supers and running around reviving each other. The boss is a bullet sponge, sure, but it’s still a fun fight. The adds require you to shift your attention, and you’re never standing still for more than a few minutes.

Last night, I ran one of the new epic missions for the current Queen’s Guard event. It was me at level 25 with my friend and his buddy, both level 21, on a level 24 mission. They basically died in one hit, and this was a mission with a lot of Hobgoblins, which are infuriating Vex snipers. We had a lot of “oh shit” moments, and the boss fight at the end was hectic, exciting, and very satisfying to beat. Plus, guaranteed legendary.

30 hours in, I’m still having a blast with Destiny. I want to level up some of the factions to get new gear, and I’m looking forward to trying out the raid and higher level strikes. I haven’t tried the Hunter or Warlock classes yet. Crucible is still madly entertaining. I have enough strange coins to buy an exotic piece of armor this weekend, so I’m excited to see what the vendor has in stock.

But the current available content won’t last forever. Eventually I’ll get tired of all the strikes in the playlist. But if Bungie can keep up a cycle of interesting events, and the expansions contain enough to keep me busy, I can easily see putting another 100 hours into this game.

Right now, my main concern is that the expansion is going to cover little new territory. I don’t think we’re going to see a new planet, and I have a feeling the new story missions will overlap a lot with areas we’ve already visited. I hope I’m wrong!

Check out my Titan here: http://destinydb.com/guardians/playstation/2305843009214962285-mean_cheez#1. I’ll try to remember to grab screenshots soon, I’m terrible about remembering to take them on PS4.

A Loop of Destiny

I’ve been playing Destiny on PS4. It’s not perfect. The story is incoherent and bland (though a dig through the grimoire cards on bungie.net reveals considerably more interesting world building). Boss fights could use a chop to their HP, and maybe a more varied pool of tactics. There are more, though few have made enough of an impression to remember. In spite of its flaws, I’m a little in love with the game, and I think it comes down to a supreme satisfaction with its core loop. Let me try to break it down.

I load up my Titan and head to the Tower to check the day’s bounties. Bounties are parallel to missions, tasks like “kill 200 of this enemy type” or “kill 100 enemies with precision kills” or “earn 9000 experience without dying.” You complete bounties during the course of other activities. They are available for PVP matches in the Crucible, along with PVE content. I check a few vendors in the Tower while I’m there, and it’s fun because Destiny’s movement feels good. I see other players in the Tower, running around or dancing at each other, and there is a strong sense of place. I like visiting here.

I check my friends list. Doesn’t look like there’s anyone online. That’s okay. Two of the bounties I picked up want me to complete patrol missions and kill enemies on the Moon, so I head that way. I zip around the Moon, completing patrol missions and killing mobs. I run into a few other players, find chests, and harvest resources I know I’l need soon to upgrade my weapons. Enemies drop six or seven pieces of loot, both regular pieces and unidentified engrams. Loot drops show up as bright, glowing crystals colored by rarity: green, blue (purple & gold I’ve yet to see!). Seeing these drops gives me the same feeling as red box drops in Phantasy Star Online.

After my bounties are done, I head back to orbit. I check the side of the map to see the daily heroic story mission. The daily missions reward extra reputation points and tokens to use for more powerful gear. They’re missions I’ve played before, but at a higher difficulty and with modifiers to add different challenges. Before I start, I check my roster and see one of my friends is online. I invite him to my fireteam and he joins me for the mission. After it’s done, we join one of the Strike playlists and hop into a random dungeon.

Two strikes down he has to go, so we leave the queue and I head back to the Tower. I have new weapons and gear to check. I equip a few upgrades, then break down the rest for upgrade parts. I take my unidentified engrams to the Cryptarch and get a few more pieces. I turn in the bounties I completed for more experience, then check out my new skills, gun and gear upgrades. I buy a new armor shader and admire myself dancing on the edge of the balcony overlooking the City, beneath the Traveler’s sphere.

For me, these are satisfying loops, made even more fun when you can play with friends. Shooting feels good, movement feels good, and new activities are easy to access. The story is forgettable, and I hope they spend more time on developing characters and fleshing out the world in future chapters. But if they don’t, I’ll still enjoy the game. I’m making my own stories.

Dungeon Delving in Diablo 3

The world of Sanctuary is a giant, gothic pinata filled with gold, gems, and skull-studded pauldrons. Crowds of colorful demons explode with all kinds of loot, an upgrade around every corner, and I’ve spent the last few weeks in front of the PS4 hoovering up as much as I can.

When Diablo 3 first came out on PC in 2012, I only played for about a month. I made it through the first two levels of difficulty but quickly ran out of steam. It’s changed a lot since then: more control over difficulty, the paragon system, more frequent & more exciting loot… I’ve watched all this, but waited to jump back in because I knew it would be coming out on PS4 and I had a feeling I’d have a blast playing from the couch. I was right.

Diablo’s clicky action translates like a dream to the controller, and the introduction of a dodge ability (mapped to the right stick) gives me a better sense of mobility. Menus are a little less intuitive to navigate, but everything’s still pretty easy to figure out – it just takes a little longer. The action shines at an almost-rocksteady 60 FPS, broken only occasionally in the particle showers of co-op.

Couch-co-op is really where the game shines. “Apprentice Mode” erases any level disparity, so my girlfriend’s level 40 witch doctor scales up and she can hold her own with my level 70 crusader. It takes 10 seconds or less to hop into a game with friends. Really, the only drag is inventory management with multiple people. You can only have only character’s menu on-screen at a time, so we’re always in for some downtime when we head back to town.

I’m having a blast with the game, and my only regret is that its release fell so close to Destiny. My attention will soon be divided.

I hit 70 with my crusader and started earning paragon levels a few days ago. I’ve been running bounties on Master, building up my DPS and trying to optimize gear until I’m ready for the first level of Torment difficulty. I’m running with Blessed Shield and I feel like a homicidal, hyperactive Captain American, tearing through hordes of demons and watching my shield bounce between them. Right now it seems like the best way to boost my DPS is to stack crit chance and crit damage gear, and I’m seeing some huge hits. Looking forward to finding some of the really crazy legendaries!


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