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Dark Souls Day, Loving gifs and an idea for a road trip in Horizon Zero Dawn

It’s Finally Here: Today is 25/05/2018. History will say that it was on this day that Dark Souls Remastered was released.

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Okay, in the context of the world around and everything that’s happening now this isn’t that serious. But I am really excited for this. I didn’t own a PS3 the first time around and I haven’t had a computer capable of playing such games for a good while. What I have got is a PS4 which I’ve used to play through Bloodborne and Dark Souls III multiple times (Bloodborne getting the Platinum).

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Just to have the chance to play one of the touchstones of the series/genre (I’ll get around to Demon Souls, somehow) is utterly thrilling. And the fact it has a legitimate claim to being one of the best video games ever made just adds to the upcoming experience. I guess my first run will be like most of my first runs in these games. A healthy amount of strength and a big sword/axe never really goes amiss.

And with that I’ll guess I’ll see you when I see. I’m going to be be hunkered down in Lordran for a good while.

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For the Love of the Gif: This blog features the very liberate use of Gifs. As you may have gathered I’m rather fond of them. They are handy tools for showing a game in action, they are easy to make and the fact that they loop just helps to reinforce points of interest.

When I first started making gifs that’s all I had in mind for them. Footage was recorded on the basis of how it showed key game play aspects and nothing more. I can’t recall the exact time I started to do this, but at some point I was recording footage on the basis that it would look cool to make into gifs. Some of that footage was related to the stuff I was writing about, but some of it was simply for the sake of it.

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Right now it’s pretty much a guarantee that when I cook up a batch of gifs there will be some that have been made sorely for the joy of it. At this point they may be a hobby in and of themselves. And sometimes it is the gifs themselves that have driven the writing. A few weeks back I wrote about quiet time in Dark Souls III. It was only after making gifs of quiet time in Dark Souls III that I got around to that. And to get back to the first sentence in this paragraph I made some gifs of my first fight against Darkeater Midir for a little something on this blog about fighting dragons. I really only needed 3 gifs. I ended up with 7. Gifs are just a lot of fun to make.

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I have chunks of footage on my PS4 sorely for gif’ing. Not for any articles or stuff like that. I just thought the footage was neat and would look good as a gif. There’s a ton of Bloodborne footage just lying around and there’s about 3 or 4 Pyre matches for editing. Pretty sure there’s some Dark Souls III hanging around as well.

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I’ve gotten more exact with the process now. Whereas before I’d go off memory now I have a pen and paper near the PS4 so I can make a note of times and stuff for making gifs from bigger pieces of footage. It’s a whole lot better now with this system. I’m no longer worried about missing things.

It has been nice to see the process of making gifs going from one of illustrative to being both illustrative and fun. And I hope to continue making gifs for the foreseeable future. It’s just so damn fun to do.

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The Horizon Zero Dawn Journey stuck in Limbo: It’s been awhile since I have played an open world game. And it’s been even longer since I played Horizon Zero Dawn. But something lately reminded me of something I wanted to do in the game. Maybe I was talking about open world games with a friend or something of that ilk. This idea could still happen but with Dark Souls and other things it’ll get pushed back even further than it already has been.

After watching Django Unchained for what seemed like the third time I made note of the part with Jim Croce’s “I got a name”, where Django and King Schultz ride up into the mountains. Then I thought about riding up into the mountains on one of the many robot horses in HZD.

The idea gradually grew in scope until I honestly considered riding across the entire map on the same robot horse. I had the idea of documenting the entire journey with gifs and photos. And then it occurred to me I could do that whilst accompanying the whole thing with text, as if it was a travelogue.

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But I got into other games and the idea got further and further away. And the idea has stayed further away.

By now this idea will have been carried out a good few times. Hell, someone probably did this before I even conceived it. But it’s still there for me to do it for myself. And it would be nice to return to Alloy’s world since it is a particularly beautiful and varied one.

And if I do go back I might even get around to buying that DLC. But Dark Souls comes first. Maybe after that. Perhaps. Possibly. It would make for a fun road trip.

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What I’ve Been Playing This Week

God of War: The story is all wrapped up, every Valkyrie has been freed and all that remains are some odds and ends.

I finished the game roughly a week ago so there has been enough time for everything to settle and for opinions to coalesce. Some weeks back I said I was sure that I was playing a great video game. And for the most part I still think that. As far as the combat, the story, the characters and the game world go there isn’t much more that could be done better. All of those were pretty much nailed. As the credits rolled I felt like I had taken part in an excellently constructed adventure.

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There is something missing from that list of great things and that is boss fights.

It is the only part of the game I have issues with. They started off in a disappointing fashion and at least as far as the main game goes never seemed to rise above that. Before I go further into this I want to state that a lot of this is due to my preferences regarding boss fights. I do not like quick time events and big cut scenes intersecting with boss fights. It ruins the flow of the fight and there are stretches of some boss fights where I am doing very little or in some case nothing at all.

A great many of God of War’s main game boss fights feel this way. And if it wasn’t that it was multiple phases in boss fights that simply weren’t that different. Baldur never really changes in all of his fights and the climactic battle beyond the spectacle is just Baldur’s greatest hits repackaged. And the spectacle alone wasn’t enough for me to overcome that. The dragon fight felt a bit silly as I hurtled bits of Yggdrasil sap at its head for a fair portion of the fight as opposed to actually duking it out with the beast (Darkeater Midir remains the number one dragon). Magni and Modi actually came close to being great but I really could do without the shield blocking mini game in the midst of the boss fight. Again I felt like it broke up the rhythm of the battle.

And if it wasn’t those types of fights then it was reskins. Kratos and Atreus encounter a troll at the beginning of the game and it’s a cool fight. It’s significantly less cool upon encountering a troll for the 8th time. The most disappointing of all the trolls was the bridge keeper in Helheim. After all the build up it’s another troll. Sure there’s a somewhat different move set but at the end of the day it’s another troll and I’d already seen too many of them. The same applies to the Ancients as well. Every Ancient does the same 3 attacks but in different colours and they are all defeated in the same way.

In regards to the boss fights the saving grace here are the Valkyries. There are no interruptions and it’s just Kratos, the boy and them having it out. The fights require skill and dexterity in order to pass them and with each Valkyrie having a unique move it’s finally an example of repeated bosses done right. And the final fight with the Valkyrie Queen brings all those move sets together in a single enemy with a significant health boost to make the final fight that’s rather climatic and satisfying. While I don’t consider them on a Ludwig or Friede level (the lack of phase changes leave the fights a little one note) they are still great to fight and are easily the best boss fights in this game. However that Valhalla quick time event with the face stomps can go away. I’d be perfectly fine with that exiting the game.

Now that most of the negative feelings I have about the game are out of the way let’s get to the things I really enjoy, which is pretty much everything else.

The relationship between Kratos and Atreus is beautifully realised, and it only gets better when Mimir joins the duo. Story time with Mimir was one of my favourite parts of the game. Sailing around the Lake of Nine listening to Mimir regale Kratos and the boy with tales of Viking myth was great and only made better by Mimir’s voice actor. I’d be remiss not to mention Freya and the two Dwarfs here as well. Everyone plays their part, and the voice acting is always up to snuff.

Watching Kratos gradually open up to his boy about the past and become a better, more trusting dad felt like a really organic process. It didn’t feel rushed, it didn’t feel hammy. It moved at its own pace and in the context of the journey felt wonderful. When Kratos let Atreus carry his mothers ashes to the highest peak it felt like a powerful moment, because of that perfectly paced build up. That trust had been earned, and Atreus growth throughout the story was rewarded.

One part of the story that is great (and here come major spoilers) is that despite how much his boss fights really do annoy me, Baldur’s hidden relationship to Atreus. Those people who have made it to the end of the game will know that Atreus would have been known as Loki if his mother had got to choose the name. At first I wondered whether he was the real Loki and after some reading around (reddit and stuff) it all checks out and it’s some great writing. The arrow quiver being fixed with the mistletoe early in the game coming back to play a pivotal role in the last boss fight was some great delayed payoff. And Atreus sudden bratty turn upon learning of his Godhood suddenly made a ton of sense. That’s some of the best writing in a game I’ve seen for a good while (surpassed by Pyre though). In fact a lot of this game runs through Baldur (him and Kratos, him and Freya) so while I don’t like his boss fights I can at least appreciate him as a character.

The combat in God of War really does shine. It does start out a bit slow, I will admit that. But once that skill tree opens up and runic attacks have been found throughout the game world there’s a lot of potential for mixing and matching. The ability to throw the axe gives the player ranged attacks to play with, and while the axe isn’t to hand Kratos can still pummel things with his fists. So it’s perfectly possible to whizz the axe at an enemies head before sprinting into a punch before recalling the axe to finish the job. That sort of combination has a lot of possibilities and enemies can even be pinned to walls or hit in the back to stun them even quicker. Once that stun hits a certain level enemies are open to grab attacks. And just like Bloodborne’s visceral attack it always feels good to nail one, with them seemingly never getting old. There is a glorious sense of catharsis here with weapons having a great deal of weight and heft behind their swings and arcs. Also this isn’t Souls like combat. At all. Please divorce oneself from that notion as soon as possible. The combat becomes a lot more enjoyable after that. The lack of stamina and flipping enemies into aerial combos really makes that comparison look very silly.

Add in the boy being very useful at distracting enemies and at higher levels being able to deal a lot of damage himself and it becomes clear just how fun and creative the combat can get. Actually Atreus can summon runic attacks in the form of wolves, falcons and other animals which is a great amount of fun. That can lead to rather busy sequences though and it can be hard to tell what’s going on whilst 3 electric wolves are jumping about while an axe is whizzing around.

And then there’s the Chaos Blades to throw in as well. It’s all bloody good fun.

While I’m not in love with the cinematic boss fights, the game had some brilliant set piece moments that really do incorporate game play really well. Two that stand out are a moment in Helheim and right before fighting the Dragon boss there is an ascent on an old rickety elevator. Both of these moments feature a horde of enemies that need to be disposed of with the added benefit of sending them flying into the depths below. There’s a real sense of spectacle and game play coming together here which somehow the boss fights just miss. The one in Helheim really stands out with the Blades of Chaos whizzing around, sending interlopers over the edge into the frozen wilds below, and melting the ones who do manage to gain a foothold.

Speaking of the realms, I really do like what’s been done with them in this game for the most part. Midguard opens up wonderfully so as the game advances, and reveals some great side quests. Admittedly there is some less great side stuff (a Revenant boss fight? Really?) but freeing a dragon never got old and was always a sight to behold. And some of the side quests are really worth the effort. Make sure to take a trip up to the Nothri Stronghold and be sure to stop by Fafnir’s Store Room.

Alfheim and Helheim are both brilliantly realised. Helheim is a slow burn though. At first it seems rather small but it’s suitably atmospheric. Later in the game it’s returned to and fleshed out a whole lot more and as mentioned before contains within it a glorious sequence of game play. After the story realms there are two realms (Muspelheim and Niflheim) that essentially house various challenges. I’m rather fond of Muspelheim. Visually it looks wonderful, all cliff faces and burning pits of sulphur. And the challenges are jolly good fun. Killing 100 enemies back to back with all the tools at Kratos disposal allows for some creative acts of mayhem, and killing enemies quickly to generate more time leads to genuine moments of tension before returning to the joy of cleaving heads open. And it all leads to a Valkyrie fight on the top of a flaming mountain. Video games are the best.

Niflheim is okay. It’s essentially a procedural sequence of traps that need to be navigated whilst dealing with poisonous fog sapping Kratos’s health. This can be offset by gather Mist Echoes which allow the purchase of armour that mitigates the effect of the mist and other treasures. It’s a thoroughly okay part of the game.

The one disappointment/I still enjoyed it realm was Jotunheim. Visually it’s an amazing spectacle and the scene of one of the best reveals in the story. But the mid game makes it seem like it’ll be a level in and of itself. Yet when we get there it’s like 10 minutes there and then the game finishes. I just wanted more of it is all.

There are one or two little niggles I want to bring up. God of War I do feel has really good level design with short cuts, looping paths and all that good stuff. But I don’t find it half a memorable as Yharnam or Lothric. I mean that in the sense of that I find it a whole lot easier to get lost in God of War. I can go back to a place and find myself wandering around not out of joy and curiosity but with a sense of genuinely being lost. I do find my way back but I don’t look forward to back tracking in the same way as I do as in a SoulsBorne game.

And speaking of Bloodborne, as I play more and more games I find myself in utter admiration of Bloodborne’s Platinum. Aside from two collectathons (which do have some brilliant lore to go with them so I’m good with it) Bloodborne simply asks the player to see everywhere and kill every boss. If it has a bad point it’s the Chalice Dungeons but they are still solid game play for the most part. What Bloodborne doesn’t have is oddles of collect this and find that nonsense. Because traversing an entire region in search of one raven or one artefact isn’t that fun. In fact it’s downright tedious.

Fast travel between the realms would be nice as well. The realm room is nice and all but that animation sequence eventually loses its lustre.

But yeah, on the whole God of War is a great game that deserves attention. And if you are down with heavily cinematic boss fights you’ll probably enjoy those more than I did. It is a title that is definitely worth checking out.

Pyre: After spending my time slumming it at level 3 in Versus mode I finally decided to upgrade the difficultly level to level 4 and see what that was like. The first time they kicked my teeth in. Second time I won in a very unconvincing fashion but a wins a win. And the third time I pretty much cruised to victory.

And lately I have been consistently winning at level 4 further enhancing the theory that a little self belief can only be a good thing. Going up against human opponents would be a great experience, both for the thrill and for the learning but with Pyre having only local multiplayer I have to go up against the computer.

Something that I would like to learn is how to use the Sap class. These are tree-people (Volfred and Manley) who are mainly defensive but I have massive trouble using them efficiently. This is a time when a human influence could really help the learning process but I guess I could hang around the Pyre subreddit and go from there. Only with Volfred though because Manley’s a dick.

I’m still playing Pyre on most days, and it remains my game of the year so far. I mean I keep recording footage of Pyre and making gifs of it for no reason other than I love it.

And that feels pretty damn good.

Dark Souls III: Absence does make the heart grow fonder. After traversing Midguard and the Downside I made a much delayed return to Lothric.

And I was a little rusty. To ease myself back into the swing of things, and the sudden joy of a camera angle not bound to a single point I headed out to the Abyss Watchers arena and set about fighting Gru’s and Dark Wraiths. That went relatively well. The crucifixion monster went well. The Black Knight did not go well. I didn’t die, but I did get my ass handed to me. So I went back twice more and didn’t take a single hit. So the rhythm was back.

I had also lain down a summon sign while I was wandering about mainly in hope rather than expectation. And while standing over two Dark Wraith corpses I was called forth. A Crystal Lizard was dispatched, a lovely trip through Farron Keep (wasn’t in the mood Basilisks) was undertaken and after another round of Dark Wraith killing I with the Abyss Watchers, and then we said our goodbyes.

It was just a lovely coming back to Dark Souls III. And what was just as lovely was talking to the NPC’s. Andre remains the best blacksmith and I really do adore Karla.

This really is one of my favourite games of all time.

Bloodborne, Indies and Favourite Game of the Year (so far)

The (perhaps, maybe) 9th run of Bloodborne: I’m thinking about Bloodborne all over again. I’m thinking about Bloodborne a lot. God of War has been finished (barring some side and end game stuff) and whilst it’s great I still maintain Bloodborne is the greatest game I’ve played.

The main reason for that is my general preferences as to how From Software does things so they are subjective but I really do love how From Soft go about their approach to video games. So with that I’m getting a hankering to run through Bloodborne again. And this run will have a particular theme. It’s (theoretically ) going to be NorseBorne. The seeds of this go back to when I played Jotun so it has been rattling around my head for a while.

It would be a strength build and the weapons of choice will be the Hunter’s Axe and the Kirk Hammer. The Kirk Hammer has the benefit of being a sword as well which covers a Vikings armament (axe and sword) plus a big hammer for Thor shenanigans. Not an electric hammer though. That requires some in depth Chalice Dungeon runs and man I really don’t like the dungeons.

The body armour is a relatively easy choice, being the Crow Feather set. Crows have a big part to play in Norse Mythology so that set works well. The head wear is a little more problematic. Brador’s Testimony is a thing but it veers right into stereotypical horns on helmet territory so what may be required is one of the many hoods that Bloodborne has in its wardrobe.

The reason for all the if’s, buts and maybes strewn about is that Dark Souls is on the very near horizon and I want to be fully focussed on that. Also I’ve got a fair bit of DLC to clean up in Dark Souls III but in any case I’m way over due for a return to Yharnam. And if that return is just to feel the joy of the R2 R2 Kirk Hammer combo then that’ll be enough. On that second hit you can swing for the fences.

Indies, Indies and More Indies: With the previously mentioned finishing of God of War is has dawned on me that besides Dark Souls there’s not a lot in the way of “big” games that I’m really looking forward to. If I’m being honest aside from Shadow’s Die Twice there’s nothing at E3 that I really care about. And if there’s nothing about Shadow’s Die Twice at E3 well the whole sound and the fury will just roll on past me.

On a major plus side this means I get to spend lots and lots of time with Indie games. And that fills me with excitement. Many games will be worth a go and some will be excellent and others will be less so. And that’s all good. After Pyre I’m looking forward to leaving behind my gaming comfort zone even more. The sheer volume of PSN sales will help with the venture, with the occasional Switch purchase offering some more variety.

My What I’ve Been Playing This Week pieces will gain some more variety which will be nice and there should be lots of new gifs to make, and I do love making gifs.

And Speaking of Pyre: This year I would say of the games that I have played 3 of them have really stood out to me in regards to story and game play. These three games are Shadow of the Colossus, Pyre and God of War. I have a strong hunch that they will become a foursome when Dark Souls remastered arrives.

And out of those three games the front runner is…Drum Roll…Drum Roll…More Drumming…More Rolling…

Pyre. Shadow of the Colossus and God of War are both amazing experiences. Yet Pyre is the one that has had the biggest impact. I think a lot of that is to do with how unique it is. A party based RPG sports game cum visual novel is one of those things that stands out. And when that premise is executed borderline flawlessly it stands out that much more.

The game play really compliments the narrative. I still maintain my most epic moment in gaming this year was (the upcoming combination of words will make sense to some people) beating Lendal and the Accusers by 1 point in a liberation rite with Hedwyn’s freedom on the line. All the Colossi and everything I’ve seen in God of War still haven’t topped that moment. I had so much invested in the characters involved in that game that to win in such circumstances was thoroughly life affirming.

Add in Pyre’s artwork and music and it becomes one of those special experiences in gaming. Actually one of those experiences for art in general.

God of War and Shadow of the Colossus are still really great though. I just want to repeat. It’s just that Pyre stands out that little bit more.

That explains all of these Pyre gifs. I just love capturing game footage and running through it. I just love the game.

What I’ve Been Playing This Week

God of War: Everybody’s already talked about this, or is talking about it. Well almost everyone. I don’t really know what I could add to the conversation. The simple fact is that God of War is a great game, and it has a whole lot to like in it.

So instead of approaching this write up like a traditional run down of a video game I’m going to try and approach it through my various feelings from starting the game to where I am now. Well, let’s get to it.   

What I want to mention first is the circumstances under which I bought the game. The initial plan was to buy the game a few weeks after it had came out. This would have let the majority of the hype burn off so that I could play through the game without the burden of expectations. Because the hype this game had was massive. It was the sort of hype that lead off with “Best PS4 exclusive” and combat that “raised the bar for 3rd person games everywhere” (paraphrasing) and that’s a lot to put on a video game. It’s a lot to live up to and try as I might to view something in isolation sometimes the outside stuff seeps in.

What ended up happening was I bought the game a day or two after it came out. Thanks to the joy of people on YouTube jamming spoilers galore into thumbnails while saying no spoilers in the video title (which is a dirty lie) I decided to abandon my plan and get the game rather early. Which meant all that hype was still burning white hot as opposed to burning out.

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So I decided to approach the game with cautious optimism. And early on things seemed to be good. Not great but good. The combat felt by turns to be meaty and cathartic. It seemed like areas had space to explore whilst retaining a feeling of tight design. The relationship between Kratos and the boy seemed to be going in a good direction. And there where things to be found with cool lore notes and that always rubs me up the right way. It was so far so good. Maybe that greatness everybody spoke about would come later.

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But that cautious optimism didn’t grow, in fact it receded into disappointment. Whilst the combat felt good I didn’t feel it was going anywhere. Perhaps the lack of enemy variety didn’t help with this (this hasn’t got better).  It even started to feel clunky and the fixed camera was becoming a real bother. The loops and short cuts in areas felt like they were there for the sake of it and not for a reason. Story wise things were feeling a bit predictable and the relationship seemed to be going nowhere. And worst of all the boss fights felt utterly disappointing, either being reskins of one another or fights with repeating phases and a surprising amount of time spent watching cut scenes as opposed to actually playing (I’m not sure this has got better).

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Now at this point I had two options. Keep wallowing in disappointment and just accept the fact that I had shat away £52.99 on an utterly mediocre game. What the hype was and what I was playing seemed to be worlds apart. The other option was to put all of that behind me and try to see the greatness that this game was supposed to hold. So I decided to press on.

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Rather pleasantly disappointment left and cautious optimism made a welcome return. I found the path to advance the game and finally got to leave the hub world behind (being the idiot I am that way was far simpler than I thought it was). New area’s opened up bringing new challenges and new (well some) enemies. Those loops and twists suddenly showed signs of becoming good level design. New abilities really broke the combat wide open along with learning how to use the boy properly boy (playing solo on games for longest time made getting used to help a little drawn out) and just helped to make the game fun. Also the relationship between Kratos and his boy really came into its own with some great dialogue shared between them. I didn’t want to get too far ahead of myself but things were really looking up at this point.

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So that brings up to right now.

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So where am I right now? Well I know I’m playing a great video game. I know that much. Everything has come together right now with the story, game play and game world all working together. The runic abilities give the combat a lot of room for experimentation and variety. Throwing the axe adds a lot to the combat, allowing one to mix range and melee for some great combos. I will say here that I’m more or less used to the camera right now but I do prefer other video game cameras (more on that later). The game world is really well assembled and back tracking throughout the hub world has revealed some really good level design. And the boy and Kratos share some truly beautiful moments and more characters join the fray and they are a joy to be around. Also before I forget there are some great side quests that are really worth doing. The one involving a whetstone is really something special. An abundance of lore makes me happy and even the collectibles can be fun to find. There are these things called Odin’s Ravens and nailing one from distance feels pretty neat.

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There are some things I’m not too fond of, and I have nitpicks but there are all personal preference things really and not things that are objectively bad. These things are crafting, enemy variety, weapon variety and the boss fights. I just hate crafting and at best I tolerate it. Not much more to say there. The enemy variety gets a little better throughout the game but it’s really just fighting the same enemies carrying different weapons. And in the case of challenging sections its regular enemies jacked up to silly levels. The Axe and the (spoilers here, spoilers here, spoilers here) the Chaos Blades are good but I want more. Maybe a two handed weapon like a halberd, or something like a broad sword. Maybe the ability to two hand the axe. Lose the throwing ability but get access to some new combos. And truthfully, the boss fights so far have been massively underwhelming. Coming from From Software background dealing with cut scenes and quick time events in boss fights just feels awful. All I want to do in a boss fight is get in there, have an introductory cut scene if necessary and then have control for the rest of the fight. And I don’t have that here and it feels all the worse for it. There are some optional bosses I have fought but my thoughts on those are pretty much all over the place so I’ll let my opinions on them coagulate first before saying anything. Again, all of that is subjective and just based on preferences. Nothing more and nothing less.

As for being the best PS4 exclusive? Well not while Bloodborne’s still around. But I’m having a wonderful time with God of War. For the most part it’s just a great game.

Pyre: The game just keeps on giving.

Even though the campaign of Pyre has been completed (and truthfully it deserves multiple play throughs) there is still the fun of Versus mode. This is essentially the sports part of Pyre with everything else cut out. It can be used to play with other people but it’s only local. So I play against the computer having no one else to play Pyre with. Either way it is great fun but a human opponent would bring some great strategy to the game.

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Basically you can pick any team and any of the characters from the games roster. You can also set the difficulty and talismans that can be equipped and all that good stuff. It really feels like Pyre’s equivalent of pickup basketball. It’s all about the orb now and nothing more. Versus mode is a great place to experiment with tactics, to try out characters that the campaign wouldn’t allow and just a nice space with which to mess around with.

And you can just pick three demons and turn a game into dunk city. That’s pretty damn cool.

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Dark Souls III: Petty vengeance is the best vengeance. And invasions are fun to write about. This particular invasion has a prelude invasion. They had a gank going on and thanks to some brainless play from me (getting plunged two times in a row takes some effort) left me going home. Which is okay except the dude who plunged on me pointed down and so I thought to myself I’ll go again.

I arrive right in the middle of the host copping a massive riposte. The dude who plunged on me is the one carrying Yhorm’s Great Machete. The honourable thing to do here would be to fight Yhorm dude in one on one combat, a true test of strength and a proper shot of revenge. Instead I scythe the host in the back and make them all reconnect. I have no regrets.

Also my love/hate relationship with this games platinum is back on. It’s incredibly grindy but the upshot is that I get to break out the Falling Bolt weapon art and it may be the most satisfying one in the game to land.

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On another note coming back to the Souls camera after God of War is, well, I’m used to the God of War camera but I infinitely prefer the Souls camera possessing so much freedom and movement. It’s a beautiful thing. And the dodge roll is beautiful. And “try finger, but hole” is forever good.

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Love ya Souls. That remaster can’t come soon enough.

Thou’st a place in that world– Revisiting Sister Friede

From Software have many difficult bosses in their canon. And with so many to choose from I can say that in my experience (8 runs of Bloodborne and 5 runs of Dark Souls III), without a hint of doubt that Sister Friede is my nemesis. No matter how I feel going into that fight, no matter how much footage I have watched of other (far more talented) players facing her and no amount of advice offered there is always the chance of it turning into a complete and utter shit show.

But on one occasion I did manage to keep it to five attempts, and I honestly feel it’s the best I’ve played in a From Software game. This was due to the circumstances before the fight and that it was against Friede. And what I would like to do now is run back through that fight with the aid of gifs and talk about pivotal moments and mistakes made. Also for the sake of completeness I will post the fight in its entirety. But before that I’m going to lay some ground work on Friede as a character and a boss fight as well as the circumstances of the fight ahead. If you already know about Sister Friede you can skip the upcoming paragraphs.

Sister Friede is the final boss of the first of Dark Souls III DLC’s, the Ashes of Ariendel. She is almost a self appointed guardian of the Painted World and is now actively prohibiting the lighting of the fire in this world. She has done this by supposedly convincing Father Ariendel to leave the fire be although there is some doubt to whether Ariendel was convinced or wanted this all along. This has the knock on effect of creating a schism in the painted world. This place is inhabited by Corvians which has resulted in some Corvians killing their own kind who would like to see the fire lit and have it burn the rot away.

All of that brings us to our Ashen ones who have journeyed this far driven on by lighting the fire thereby putting us in direct conflict with Friede. And as anyone who has played a Dark Souls game knows where ever an Undead treads there will be conflict on some level.

I will say that this fight has cut scenes but at this point my appetite for them had severely waned. And they are pretty great cut scenes so be sure to catch them if you get the chance to.

This fight was undertaken with my first Dark Souls III character, Thora and this was the NG+ run. I had returned to this place because (beside masochistic tendencies) was that in NG me and Friede both died at the same time which despite the game saying Heir of Fire Destroyed still means a draw and I carved a clean win over her. I really didn’t want to leave Thora without a clean win over Friede. Every other boss had been cleanly defeated and so here I was, back in Ariendel to claim that win.

The fight starts with Thora standing by the fog gate and curiously only 9 estus flasks on her person. The reason for that is in the previous attempt which I felt was going rather okay (I was part way through phase 2) the game suddenly lost connection with the Dark souls severs and thus booted me from the fight. At this point the common sense thing to do would have been to head back to the bonfire and restock on estus flasks. But no, I’m probably getting a little bit pissed off right now and maybe even seeking a chip on my shoulder. It’s mere moments later the fog wall is crossed and Thora has another shot at Friede.

Using a weapon such as the Fume Ultra Greatsword in this bout carries its share of risk. Any miss or mistimed stroke leaves the user open to massive amount of damage thanks to their cool downs and stamina consumption. And against Friede this can prove to be devastating with her speed and combo ability. But where there are down sides there will also be upsides. What weapons like the FUG’s lack in speed they more than make up for in damage. In addition to the massive amounts of damage they deal Ultra Greatswords also being with them a more than healthy amount of stun and break generous amounts of poise. And the range some of them posses allow for boxing out opponents particularly on their thrust attacks. They also have the benefit of generating helpful amounts of hyper armour which in a pinch can be useful.

Also by this point I had a lot of experience with the weapon and felt confident taking it into a fight like this. I knew the risk but also the benefits and was willing to roll with that come what may.

In phase 1 Friede can go invisible for a time so watch where the snow is disturbed. She also has a few nasty combos to deliver. Watching the first phase back here there’s not really a lot to gif. For the most part it’s just very competent. The FUG’s deals damage at a fair click and on a few occasions just stops Friede in her tracks and I’m not letting her combo like she wants to. It’s one of the few occasions were I’m taking the fight at my pace and that’s a healthy position to be in. On one occasion she recovers faster than I anticipate and catches me with her scythe but it’s nothing major.  There is one part however where I completely forget how to deal with the teleporting attack but thankfully panic rolling saved the day. For the record learn how to deal with the attack and follow her footsteps. Panic rolling can only save one so many times. But aside from that this phase passed relatively error free.

Normally the second phase is the easiest despite the fact there’s now two of them. Father Ariendel is rather angry at you killing Friede so he brings her back and enters the fray himself. This is because whilst Father Ariendel can hit like truck Friede completely dials her aggression back. If you’re not careful she can still catch you but her taking a back seat in this section really is a god send. No, what catches me here on a few occasions is that age old killer of Ashen One’s and Hollows. And that is greed.

So many times here I get a head of myself and take 2 hits when 1 would do, and 3 hits when 2 would do. And at least 2 of those see me on the cusp of death. What I feel contributes to the greed here is some passive play. I’m kiting a lot here and what I should be doing is playing aggressively (but with intelligence). By backing away so much what I’m doing is taking too many shots when I finally get a chance to deal damage. I do get lucky a few times but I’m still in the fight and right now that is all that counts. And there’s still a healthy amount of estus flasks left. So despite some sloppiness here I’ve found myself in a good spot.

Also in this phase frost bite isn’t that big of an issue. There are fair worst conditions in Dark Souls to contract. The stamina drop isn’t that big and the health loss isn’t either. There’s just more chance of being frost bitten in this phase as Friede can spread ice fields whilst one is targeting Father Ariendel. But it’s very manageable with some careful play.

In this fight I do have an estus scale of sorts. I like to use a maximum of 2 on the first phase, and 3 on the second phase. That in regular play would get me to third phase with 10 and that in theory should be more than enough (I’m vulnerable to brain farts and fuck ups though.) So far in this fight I’m down 1 in the first phase and down 3 in the second leaving me 5 for the final. So I’m actually bettering my regular standards but dealing with less overall. And that feels pretty good really. Its improvement and it’s always nice to see that.

The third phase is where I feel this fight gets its legendary difficulty. Friede is now Blackflame Friede having been granted it by Father Ariendel (I think). Friede posses incredible speed here with seemingly infinite stamina for her combos. In addition to this she gets some of the most damaging jump attacks a boss can get. Then there is the grab attack which can one shot. And if it doesn’t one shot your health bar will be eviscerated.

And yet in spite of that everything (mostly) comes together here.  All of that greed from the second phase? It’s gone and in its place is taking what’s on offer and that makes all the difference (cheeky jumping attack aside). My dodging is sharper here than it has been in any other phase. From the beginning I’m rolling the jump attacks almost perfectly and that was just the best feeling. In fact it’s not just the jumping attacks I’m rolling. Her big hitters here are just being nullified.

What does please me watching this back is how I’m using the FUG’s in a far more aggressive manner than in the second phase. Granted Friede really does eliminate kiting here as a strategy but even so I’m turning the dodge rolls instantly into thrusts and pokes. That initial stun effect then allows for longer combos. But unlike the second phase I’m managing stamina so much better here. There’s always enough left to back out and then plan my next move.

I didn’t go for back stabs here because in my previous attempts Friede had dodged out of them and I just wasn’t feeling confident in that strategy. So I opted for going for combos of 2 to 3 hits and it really paid off. Also I have a feeling the combos were doing more damage than a single back stab which further influenced my decision.

Of course, this is me playing a From Software game and it wouldn’t be me with a glorious fuck up. Right near the end one of the jumping attacks I’ve been dodging so well is misjudged which sends Thora sprawling. Friede for once now has a clear shot at a combo and almost get’s Thora. Luckily I regain enough composure to roll through the grab attack and then there it is. An over arcing R1 finishes this and then another R1 is thrown in just to make sure. It’s quite possibly the most satisfying pair of R1 attacks I’ve ever thrown out there. What is also nice here is the fact I hit Fride during one of her cool downs after being fearful of being hit on Thora’s cool downs for the whole fight. It’s just a nice little note.

 

And with that Thora has her clean win. No draw but an honest clear victory over a tough foe. And with only 2 estus flasks used on the 3rd phase (could’ve been less) it pretty much went better than I had ever envisaged. In total across the 3 phases that’s only 6 flasks used and I’ve never been near that since. Thora just did a great job here.

Whereas with some boss fights I keep going back because I get a kick out of the fight I’m not sure why I keep on fighting Friede. It’s the one fight that can frustrate me more than any other. The Friede fight so difficult for me because of unique combination of skill and endurance it requires. Friede herself almost moves like a Bloodborne character whilst the player character still insists on moving like a Dark Souls character.

But it’s that frustration and challenge that gives me a form of catharsis I don’t get from many video game foes. It’s a great well designed challenge that I happen to be very bad at. And yet over coming that challenge always feels great. No matter how much I lose and get angry over it upon victory I am just awash with a sense of joy, relief and satisfaction. And that alone is cause to rejoice.

Various Notes

Header Image: It was sourced from here.

God bless wiki’s and the service they provide. Bless every one of them.

The music: One of the best tracks in the game. It really gives an already incredible fight that much extra.

Always remember to rate messages: Rating a message helps whoever laid it down back to full health so always take the opportunity to do it. Even during a boss fight. The break between the second and third phase is perfect for this. And the message “try attacking” is just solid advice.

Always remember to recover lost souls: Because I clearly needed those 3,000 souls. There were totally worth risking my life over them.

 

What I’ve Been Playing This Week

Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition: And that ought to do it. The game has been completed, the secret ending has been unlocked and a great many skeletons were suplexed and pile driven along the way. In amongst all of that every side quest was finished, every area was 100% bar one (I’ll get to that) and in general I just had a super fun time with this game. The ending was pretty good as well with a very nice and wholesome montage filling out the end credits.

There is one major negative I want to bring up. I’ve mentioned it before when talking about Guacamelee and it’s all to do with the coloured shields some enemies have. The climatic boss fight has two phases and each phase has these shields. They match up with various special moves, and those moves have to be used to break the shield. In the second phases it’s a bit easy because the boss turns into a demon and grows much larger but in the first phase when he’s just a dude and a lot smaller telling the colours apart, as a colour blind person wasn’t the greatest experience, particularly in the case of the dash manoeuvre. That is normally denoted as a blue shield but due to the back ground of the fight that colour came out as a sort of whitish one which took me a while to clock on to. The yellow and green shields would be hard to tell apart and it’s a very frustrating experience to die not because of lack of skill (which I can live with) but due to the fact I actually can’t see what I have to do. Hopefully in Guacamelee 2 things like that will be a bit clearer.

One other negative was that I did encounter some glitches in the game even some that had to see sections restarted. Some grapple attacks trapped some enemies in a pipe where they were immune from damage. That wasn’t game breaking but it sure was annoying. There were some more but I’ll mention them later on as they pertain to a certain area in the game.

But aside from all of that (barring something’s of personal preference) we are all good here. The game’s setting continued to provide some utterly brilliant artwork and character designs. The many abilities found along the way make navigating the world a blast and also meant that back tracking was never an issue. The boss fights were varied enough, fun enough (colour issues aside) and challenging enough so it was good news on that front. Particular shout outs here to the Trio Del Muerte and X’Tabay as boss fights with some cool mechanics and character designs. The Trio are group of dead musicians and in the boss fight come to form some kind of totem pole with two of the trio attacking and one passive. It’s up to the player to target the passive part of the pole and that was a fun fight. X’Tabay fights with magic and mimics of herself and I enjoyed the challenge of switching between the two combatants.

The combat truly never got old. Going with the wrestling angle was a really great decision. There isn’t much filling that niche and to see it done so well here. And with various power ups moves are enhanced and with the suplexing and the pile driving this was rather fun. Their splash damage radius is increased meaning that one suplex can knock a whole host of enemies down which allows for dashing across the screen to finish the last standing guy with a pile driver. And the spectacle of juggling an enemy up high with upper cuts and dashes before slamming them down with a well timed pile driver was just the best. Seriously, giving a skeleton a suplex or a chupacabra a pile driver are the sort of things video games are meant to allow us to experience.

Going back to the introductory paragraph, that alternative ending does take some getting. There are six orbs scattered around the game world and each of is blocked by a puzzle or a platform challenge. Some of these are rather difficult to complete. But they are doable (I mean I can manage them) but there’s one area called the Tule Tree that has a really challenging one and there is one with disappearing platforms which takes both platforming and memorisation skills. I’m not the greatest fan of super difficult platforming (ala Super Meat Boy) but I just wanted to see the entire game world because I loved it so.

And that brings me to the one area I didn’t 100%. That area was El Infernio and it features various challenges (i.e. managing a two hundred hit combo and difficult platforming in a time limit). I needed ten gold medals, and I got those and left. If you enjoy difficult platforming, you will love this bit but for me I was perfectly content to get in and out of there as soon as possible. Again this is optional content and my disagreements are down to personal preference more than anything else. As with every other area, it’s well designed and filled with life and humour.

There is one El Infernio challenge that can glitch. You have to hit a 200 hit combo without using special moves. Under a certain set of circumstances (I think it’s leaving one of the enemies in the first way alive) an enemy who attacks from underground (who you would normally body slams) heads towards the barriers that lock the challenge off and just won’t come back out of the ground. It essentially means a restart and again it’s pretty damn annoying.

Before I close this out there is one thing that could can slightly cheapen some later sections of the game. Some areas are only accessible after gaining the ability to turn into a chicken. These are gated off by very small and narrow tunnels that surprise can only be navigated by something chicken sized. But the turning into a chicken also has a secret ability. After the six orbs have been collected it turns out in chicken form you can fly. For the most part it is balanced for with platforming challenges that cannot be flown through but there are some end game platforming sections that are meant to difficult and some items that are meant to be tricky to get that can now simply be flown to. The orbs necessary to gain this ability are gated behind tough platform challenges so at least they cannot be gamed. I will admit right near the end I flew past some stuff but I just really wanted to see how the game would pan out. Pretty well it turns out.

So on the whole Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition is damn fine game that should please Metroidvania fans, platforming fans and dare I say it wrestling fans. It’s just a damn fine game.

Pyre: And that’ll do it for Pyre. I want to take a moment here to once again admit that I honestly thought this game really wouldn’t work. The moment Super Giant games talked about a sports based RPG game I thought that I would never buy it, never mind play it through to completion.

And that is why my opinions for the most part count for somewhere between jack and shit. Pyre is an outstanding game from start to finish with its combination of game play, narrative and artwork making it a brilliant example of the medium. Also I can’t forget the music. It’s pretty much a given with Super Giant games but the music is top tier and always adds to the experience.

As the end of the game comes into view there is a very palpable sense of dread. From now on spoiler warnings are in effect. There are massive spoilers incoming. There will be spoilers. The stars are fading from the sky and the cycle of the rites is coming to a close. Not everyone will return from exile. There simply isn’t enough time. At this time the liberation rites became almost unbearable. Before the last one I spent a good 5 to 10 minutes pacing anxiously around the house before I clicked play, so fearful I was of costing one of my charges their freedom.

Thankfully that didn’t happen although a furious comeback from the opposition really tested my nerves. It’s really a credit to Pyre’s utterly brilliant writing (which the game has in spades) that I had such a connection with the cast of characters in this game.

In addition to the (in a good way) stress of trying to get your people out of exile whilst in the full knowledge that not everyone will make it there is also matter of making sure the rebellion brewing in the Commonwealth will come to fruition. The possibly of success can be checked whilst looking at Volfred’s planner and that little number ticking up with every passing rite by greater or lesser numbers depending on your successes and failures means a lot to a great many people. The people of the commonwealth, your rag tag band of scrappy rebels and you yourself. The game has different endings and the best one is considered to be the “peaceful revolution” and I think the number needed for that is 70%. I think I ended up on 79%.

A wonderful cast.

After the ending has wrapped up there is a chance to check every character encountered throughout the story and find out what happened to them in the aftermath. Some of them went on to form unlikely friendships and some of them became major forces for good in the new society that followed the Commonwealth. Rukey Greentail and Pamitha Theyn particularly made me smile in the post game with their unlikely bond. Actually I got a kick out of a lot of characters post game lives. It really felt joyous to see them achieve goals or to make the best out of not great situations (the unfortunate souls stuck in the downside). And that great writing extended to the non-player characters as well and some of those made me want to break down and weep. You have to remember your freedoms come at their expense, and some of those characters really deserved to go free. They really did, and their fates afterwards were not deserved.

In addition it’s very easy to see that each of these characters could have a different ending depending on in game events (returning from exile, being left behind etc). There are so many branches here to each characters arc that it’s astounding to behold.

Also at the very end of the game you have to choose who goes free between yourself as the player or your initial choice at the beginning of the liberation rite. And testament to the writing and the game play I forsook my own freedom so Bertrude could go free. Because through her play in the rites she earned that, and her place in team meant that she earned it. At least two characters returned from exile thanks to Bertrude’s play. It was only fair that she went free. The game play gives the story that much extra, with little threads and rivalries playing out in amongst the grander narrative.

The fact a collection of pixels and such can get people feeling like this is pretty great. Video games are amazing.

And on a final note, Logan Cunningham once again proves his voice acting talents to be beyond compare. In addition to being the announcer he also voices a whole bunch of characters that I would never have guessed were him. The man simply has astounding range and ability.

Pyre such a great game. Everything from the game play to the story to the artwork to the music just works. Pyre for me is easily a top 10 game and maybe a top 5 game. And with that I’m really looking forward to Super Giant’s next project.

Wuppo: So having completed Guacamelee I have moved onto another Metroidvania. It has the interconnected world in addition to back tracking in order to get certain items. Certain places are only accessible after gaining items that allow passage there. But in its story, art style and setting Wuppo certainly different from many other Metroidvania’s I’ve played.

The story of Wuppo isn’t one of a grand quest. It’s not some heroic rescue or world saving act. It’s a story of bettering oneself and interacting with the world around, as opposed to sitting in hotel room being a lazy, piece of shit eating ice cream all day. Because that is exactly how the game begins. The player character is a wum who is staying at the wum house (a sort of hotel) and on our latest ice cream binge we spill it all over the hotel which leads to us being kicked out of the wum house having to fend for ourselves.

Everything that comes after this is the search for a new life and it has lead to utterly surreal moments. It has also lead to some moments that are very much everyday yet can feel more monumental in the context of the game. When those two elements combine it feels pretty great. As a case in point the fifth floor of the wum house is inaccessible due to a build up of dust. Upon reaching the fifth floor there is a giant dust bunny which needs defeating (a boss battle). After completing this fight we talk to the hotel owner who (rightfully) kicked us out. Upon seeing our efforts at self improvement, he softens a little and then grants us the glorious gift of a train ticket meaning we can leave for the main city in the hopes of finding a job and a new home.

This whole thing takes on another layer because to get the ticket before our wum had to try and steal it from two other wums. That attempt always failed which then leads to finding another solution and that solution was to do the right thing. That’s just a great sequence of events.

Getting onto the combat of Wuppo it’s very clear it isn’t like many other games. Our main weapon is a head mounted turret that shoots paint. As such shots are weighted and need to be arced in order to hit. It’s actually a very nice change of pace to the traditional gun and sword orientated combat. It’s also delightfully goopy and messy. There is a bazooka version which can be charged for a move powerful glob of paint. It does a lot more damage but it means the rate of fire takes a dive. Balancing each mode is a nice little challenge.

After all of that let’s get to the art style. It’s a very child like combination of crayons and construction paper. I’ve been wondering for the longest time of how to write about this but I’m at my wits end. It just works. It’s so very simple yet so very effective. That isn’t the best paragraph I’ve ever written but honestly, I just know that this art style works for the game in ways I really struggle to explain. It’s downright fantastic for reasons I can’t fully articulate.

There is one boss fight I want to talk about that sort of brings together a few of things I’ve been discussing. It features a giant rock monster and some friendly flower people. The flower people are from a previous boss fight were our wum bested them, were upon they pushed for peace. In the aftermath we agreed to come on this expedition to hunt a rock monster. In this boss fight the monster can crawl on the roof and the flower people give your Wum a boost so that he/she/it can keep fighting the monster. It’s halfway through this fight I begin realise, in a room where I’m completely by myself I’m actually talking to these flower people out loud saying “boost me!” whilst avoiding falling rocks to ascend skyward to fight this rock monster and that all felt pretty damn great.

Another thing that I’m very fond of is this game’s world building. It’s done through collecting film reels that when run through projectors give us information about the world we inhabit. Essentially this is the games lore and it’s wonderfully presented. The lights go down, the projector starts the reel spinning and a little animation plays out whilst the games resident lore experts add additional notes to the proceedings. I’ve never seen world building approached in such a way and it makes me feel very happy to see it.

On some general things the level design is very good with some great short cuts. There has been one short cut that genuinely made me squeal with joy with how creative it was. I’ve have liked the vast majority of the characters I have encountered and the side quests, well the side quests are pretty great. I’ve had to deliver newspapers and paint pictures and that’s so different to the vast majority of gaming side quests as to be rather refreshing. And getting around is pretty functional with a double jump from the get go, which is nice.

I’m very much looking forward to pushing on throughout Wuppo’s world. There’s a lot more to explore, a great many more characters to meet and presumably many more interesting boss fights to have at. And my Wum needs a place to live. It’s going to be fun.

Dark Souls III: Fun and adventures with Friede’s Great Scythe. Last time around I was getting to know the weapon and now I feel a lot more confident with it. The weapon arts are pretty damn great but they aren’t there to be spammed. It’s awesome to break out the wombo combo but it’s even better when the way has been paved for it to clean up a fight. It’s great creating ice fields but using those to create space for you and reduce the space that the opponent can move around in feels even better. And I really dig the R1 combo. That twirl on the third arc is to die for.

I’ve also been thinking about how I’m still playing Dark Souls III (more on and off these days I’ll admit) and I think a large part of this is the entanglement of single player and multiplayer. The single player is amazing but if I get a little bored of it I can just invade or do co-op. And when that gets a bit old I can go right back to the amazing single player refreshed. Having the two modes entwined gives this game so much longevity. Well that and fashionsouls. Playing dress is no end of fun.

All games come to an end. There’s that sense of closure when you’ve done everything you want to in a game. I know that point is coming in Dark Souls III and yet it’s making me awfully sad. It’s probably the game I’ve had the most fun with between single player and on line. It’s genuinely going to feel sad leaving Lothric. Good job skeleton. Good job.

Games I’m looking forward to playing (In this year or the next)

In the midst of the gargantuan pile of games that are coming out there are a few of them that I am really interested in and I’m going to list some of those games that I am looking forward to playing. Some of these games are coming out this year, some may come out this year and some may come out eventually after that.. Either way, they all have me interested in one way or another.

Eitr: Hope springs eternal. Well it does in regards to video games locked in a long development process. I’ve written about Eitr on this blog some time before and in the mean time not much has come out regarding the game. But recently something has stirred, in the form of two gifs. These do show that the game is still in development and from what I can see here, however small the sample size it’s looking pretty good. The combat and movement look to be crisp and responsive and that pixel art is utterly gorgeous. It really is.

The idea of a Nordic Souls esque game appeals to me greatly and when that comes to pass with that graphical style I’ll be very happy. There will be a loot system and I really do dislike those but if everything else is good I should be able to push past that. Because everything else is looking pretty damn good.

Shadows Die Twice: After roughly 400 or perhaps it was 500 hours in Bloodborne and round about 300 hours (it’s probably more) in Dark Souls III From Software are a developer that I have the utmost trust and faith in. Seeing that From Software label in the box gives me a great amount of confidence.

However that being said Shadows Die Twice is a mystery right now. The only thing we have to go off is a very short trailer that features nothing in the way of game play or extended game footage. I would love to see those things but it’s very early days right now and it is what it is. But it’s an intriguing trailer and the imagery that is does show certainly does carry that uniqueness that From Software has cultivated over the years with the Souls series and Bloodborne.

There is something that I don’t want this game to be and that is Bloodborne 2. I firmly believe that Bloodborne is the greatest video game ever made that told its own self contained story. In this age of near constant sequels I just like the idea of something existing for its own sake and not as a jumping off point for a potential series. The game mechanics carrying over; yeah I can get with that. But the setting, story and characters; let’s go somewhere new.

God of War: Going to admit this right off the bat I’m mainly here for the Nordic setting. Ever since I came back from a trip to Norway I’ve been digging Scandinavian imagery and myth, so to see Kratos head off in that general direction is very cool. And from the footage that has been released the combat seems to be very good indeed and I’ve heard murmurings of the level design being inspired Bloodborne. I firmly believe that can never be a bad thing.

I must state that I have never played a God of War game before and I am aware that there has been some, discontent amongst the fan base in regards to this game. It seems to be rather large shift in direction in both game play and story and that may be a problem for some people but for me coming in fresh everything seems okay.

Still, I’m not going to rush into buying a triple AAA game. £56.99 isn’t cheap. Still, the reviews have been pretty decent so far, so that’s a plus.

Hollow Knight: The reason Hollow Knight finds itself on this list is the fact I do not own a computer that’s really capable of playing games so I find myself waiting for the Switch release (or a PS4 release if that happens) in order to experience this title. Hollow Knight piques my interest for a number of reasons. Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania, and I like those. Hollow Knight has a beautiful art style and I’m always a fan of that. There seems to be a lot to explore in Hollow Knight but not in bloated open world sense and that’s a pleasing thing. And the story delivery seems to be really Souls inspired and that always goes down well.

On the flip side there seems to be a disappointing lack of weapon choice but one potential disappointment in a sea of potential positives isn’t bad going really.

So let’s go Hollow Knight. I wouldn’t a release date. There’s not much I’m finding to my liking on the Switch right now and Hollow Knight is the only release I’m honestly excited about.

Dark Souls Remaster: There’s not too much I can write here, particularly after Shadows Die Twice. I have only played Bloodborne (8 play throughs) and Dark Souls III (currently on my 5th run) so Dark Souls has taken on something of a mythical quality for me. Lordran is practically sacred ground, I have to meet the original Sun Praiser and I must stand in front of the first fire.

There’s so many areas I want to visit (Ash Lake and the Great Hollow are top of the list) and so many bosses I want to face up to (Orienstein and Smough and Artorias are top of that list). And aside from Solaire there are going to be so many amazing NPC’s to meet.

So roll on May, and Praise the Sun!

What I’ve Been Playing This Week

Burly Men at Sea: This is a choose your own adventure game which is heavily influenced by Scandinavian folklore. It features three burly and beardy men (Brave Beard, Steady Beard and Hasty Beard) who upon finding a bottle containing a map floating nearby their sleepy coastline village set out on a grand adventure on the high seas.

And it has spent the last week utterly captivating me.

https://gfycat.com/TidyPlumpAmazonparrot

At various points in the game paths split into two which means multiple play throughs. And I am really fond of how the game handles this. Each play through lasts on average 20 minutes, so it’s easy to come back to it and see how a different event plays out when you take the road less taken. Secondly play throughs will reference each other. Whether it is our intrepid adventurers themselves or the characters they encounter they will talk about what happened before, and that’s a nice sense of continuity to have. Also, that encouraged me to replay as I wanted to know how characters would perceive previous events. What I will say is that the stories do have the same beginnings and more or less the same ends. But I liked this. A sense of familiarity accompanied the change, and these two concepts made for pleasant bed fellows.

In a game like this the writing has to be a good standard. And across multiple play throughs I found that to be the case. It is by turns funny and stoic with each of our sea farers personalities’ shining through in the many situations they encounter. And the good writing isn’t just limited to the burly men. One of my favourite characters is a boat man who seems rather down on his job. His melancholy dialogue makes me laugh and gives him an Eeyore quality, which I find rather endearing.

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The controls are very simple, but feel very good. The game has come from touch screens and adapts to the controller very well. The L2 and R2 buttons extend the screen left or right which sets our beardy men in motion and then using the analogue stick the cursor moves around and X selects what needs to be interacted with. Sliding the view left and right is something I’ve become very fond of and it has the extra effect of slowly revealing the world around, giving a sense of expectation and the unknown. It not just moving around the L2 and R2 handles. They can close and open a beasts mouth, they can expand and shrink a whirl pool and whole bunch of other stuff. For a simple mechanic it really goes along way and really enhances the story telling on show in this game.

Lastly, the artwork just makes me all sorts of happy. The minimalism works really well here. The bold colours of the village houses look splendid and characters convey a lot of emotion and humour. There is one particular character that looks ethereal despite existing as a collection of lines. The sky in both night and day looks gorgeous and circles shift from being the sun to a whirl pool in neat transitions. It’s all just so good.

At the end of every adventure the events of them are collected into a little book which is placed on a shelf and seeing that shelf fill up with tales of heroism and adventure is a very rewarding experience.

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So yeah, Burly Men at Sea gets a major thumb’s up from me.

Guacamelee Super Turbo Championship Edition: A tale of redemption both in game and in real life.

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Way back in 2015 (I think) I bought the original Guacamelee for my PS Vita. My PS Vita is a Japanese Vita and as I was learning Japanese at the time I left it with the Japanese language setting. This affected some games and Guacamelee was in Japanese. Also at this time my Vita was showing some wear and tear and sometimes characters in games would just start moving left of their own accord. So what I was left with was a game I could barely understand with a propensity to have controller malfunctions when attempting to play it. I didn’t have the best time with it.

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Lately though in one of PSN’s many sales Guacamelee was on sale, as the Super Turbo Championship Edition which adds extra content to the base game. I really don’t remember a lot about my time on the Vita to say what is extra but reviews I have read say the extra content was more than worth it so it seems all good.

So has taking a second chance on the game worked out? Well so far it’s so flipping great. There is some much to like here. I like the story, I like the characters, I like the game play, and I like the environments. I pretty much like the whole damn thing.

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The game is a Metroidvania with lots to explore with lots of abilities to be found and lots of back tracking to open new paths with the new found abilities. And the reason for all of this is a skeletal fiend has kidnapped the president’s daughter and as Juan Aguacate, her childhood friend (who also has a crush on her) we have to rescue her. After a less than successful attempt Juan returns as a masked luchador and uses our new found wrestling prowess to fight through undead hordes to save the senorita.

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And that wrestling prowess is where a lot of the fun comes from. Many games feature combat with swords and shields, guns and the like and Guacamelee simply wants none of that. Guacamelee’s combat has punches and kicks before expanding into frog splashes and headbutt before ascending to the glorious grapples of suplexes and pile drivers. This alone is a major strength of Guacmelee. The combat here is so unique and upper cutting a skeleton, smashing it back down and crushing it with a frog splash is never not fun. And weakening an enemy to the point they can be grappled and hurtled into their fellow miscreants further extending a combo is just lovely. There’s also a meter that when filled up Juan gets to unleash an “Intenso” mode where moves do more damage and his appearance becomes demonic. It’s very cool.

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The game has lots of platforming sections, and they really do a good job of bringing in the various abilities to make for some nice challenges. Chaining together jumps and attacks to cross vast gaps, phasing platforms and barriers in and out of existence whilst timing jumps through them. They require skill to pull off, and really give a good sense of achievement for completing them.

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And the back tracking here hasn’t been a hassle because the environments are so good to look at. As the name of the game suggests the setting here is Mexican and the game takes full advantage of that. Villages with really cool wrestling posters and houses out of a Georgia O’Keefe painting fill the landscapes here and it’s all so wonderful to look at. There’s also forests, and deserts not to mention a fishing port and I’m pretty sure at some point I’m going to journey into the Mexican version of hell so I’m looking forward to that. Also, there is one ability that allows for the switching of worlds so we can move between the living and the dead and that is even more visual gorgeousness particularly with all the inhabitants having Grim Fandango faces just adding that something extra.

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Speaking of the inhabitants of this world, I really do like the characters on show here, even all of the random village dwellers. There’s a sense of humour I really dig here. The villains are suitably charismatic as are the protagonists. Some people have mentioned how the humour is very meme like but I’ve found it good going. There are some puns; some video game references and what I’m assuming are some Latin American cultural references. And I’ve found the majority of it funny, which is nice. I am fond of the goat man. You have to break his statues to get abilities and his grumpiness at the constant breaking was always a source of cheer.

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I have some issues. Sometimes the controls aren’t the most precise and when I’m trying to do an upper cut (up + circle) the game will do a dash attack (across + circle). It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s annoying when it does. And as a colour blind person some enemies have protective shields which colour code which attack to use and there are yellows and greens that I get conflicted. The last one is really annoying. I’ve died a few times because I can’t tell the colours apart. There’s a yellow and a green that is really close together for me and it really throws me off.

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But for the most part Gucamelee is really impressing, and I’m looking forward to finishing it.

Enter the Gungeon: I had a successful run! That’s good! Now me and Gungeon are on a break! That’s bad!

To go into detail on this on the 89th attempt I reached what I assumed was the end of the game. Then I learned that one has to craft a magical bullet of sorts that is assembled from various parts scattered about the dungeons in order to truly finish the game. So from that point on I’ve been attempting to do that. It hasn’t gone great. What I’ve found out is that the first part of the bullet (the prime primer) costs 110 units of currency and it’s only available on the second floor. This entails saving up a lot of bits and throwing my lot in with the RNG gods. And they can be fickle. I can’t afford buy keys so I’m depending on them spawning. I can’t afford to buy guns so I have to hope the chests give good ones when I do have a chance to open them. Sometimes I don’t have enough currency to buy the primer and that means those runs are automatic write offs.

I’ve been getting angry with the game. Part with my own mistakes, partly with RNG and in the interests of well, feeling better I’ve but the Switch out of sight and leaving Gungeon alone. It’s still a great game but right now I’m not feeling great when I play it.

I recently ended this break, got close, felt really bad again and the break is back on. I’m getting really angry with the game, and it’s just not making me feel good right now.

Dark Souls III: Not much to add here, just that I’ve been getting to know Friede’s Great Scythe and it’s a very fun weapon to use. There’s a nice R1 combo, and learning when to deploy the weapon arts is a rewarding experience. I always struggle with Sister Friede so to know that struggle wasn’t in vain is truly a nice thing.

It also looks really good as well. That’s not the most important thing but it feels good. And since I’m kind of waffling here I’m just going to talk fashion souls for a bit. I really dig capes in fashion souls and I’m always down to wear a big hat. This is the first time I’ve worn the Drang armour and I’m rather taken with it. It is an aesthetically pleasing piece of armour with a gorgeous cape. Probably should have worn it before really. But I’m wearing it now and that’s what counts.

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And as an extra, here are some more screenshots of Burly Men At Sea and Guacamelee. There’s no room up there, but I like them all the same.

The Joy of Lore, Nemesis and Having Fun with Other People

For the Love of Good Lore: Looking back to last year it’s pretty clear to see what the defining moment was in my gaming life. It was the From Software dividing line and with that came a great many things. One of those things was a new found appreciation of lore within games. Whereas before I would skim item descriptions before now they are actively devoured. Every corner of an area is scoured just to see if anything has been missed, however small that thing may be. That thing may not have much use really; a well written description, a funny description will honestly do it for me.

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Bloodborne and Dark Souls hold this banner high and now they have been joined by Pyre and Enter the Gungeon. Pyre in addition to its quite frankly brilliant main story provides plenty of item descriptions, location descriptions and character biographies that really contribute to filling the world around with character and life.  And the Book of Rites remains one of my favourite repositories of information. The history and lore of the rites are preserved in this tome of beautiful artwork and it is always a joy to peruse its pages.

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Enter the Gungeon keeps its lore in a book named the Ammonomicon (God I love typing that out) is full of brilliant gun descriptions (even the guns I’m not fond of are worth it for the descriptions), enemy descriptions and that isn’t even including the writing for items and bosses. The writing here is funny and mythical with heroes of the Gungeon past mentioned in almost reverent tones. With the story being really thin on the ground (to be expected in such a game) the lore just really adds a brilliant extra dimension. Gungeon is also the only game where you can shoot a giant raven wielding a Vulcan cannon to death with a T-shirt cannon. I just felt that was worth mentioning.

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There was meant to be Gungeon pictures here but my Switch isn’t in the mood to let me post the images, so there’s more Pyre pictures. But they are all really good so in some way I’m good with it.

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Oh God it’s you again: I like to think (in order to compensate for my own inadequacies) that everyone has a video game nemesis. That one boss, a semi-regular enemy or just plain regular enemy that for reasons makes life seem very much not worth it. No matter how hard I practice, no matter how much I watch the YouTube tutorials on the subject, no matter how many times I play the game there’s just no guarantee of the fight being over in less than 5 attempts or turning into a 2 hour waking nightmare.

It’s a frustrating thing. There’s always that hopeful sense of this time, this is the one, and this is that attempt where I finally nail you to the fucking wall. And then an hour and a half has gone by and I’m completely tilted and saying and thinking about lots of awful things about a character who is a bunch of polygons and not in the slightest bit real. But victory after a struggle nearly always feels great, because of that wonderful concept of catharsis.

What I’m trying to say here is that I hate you Sister Friede and that your scythe is a really cool weapon. However on the flip side, Canonbalrog has finally been slain so ha to that infernal bowling ball.

Things are fun when done with other People: Normally I’m a relatively lonely gamer. I’m by myself and on occasion people walk in on me playing a game but for the most part it’s just me and the game. When I’m Invading and Co-oping on Dark Souls III there is someone on the other end, but there’s no face to face communication.

Last week I went over to my friends quite lovely flat and actually played games in the presence of other human beings. And I had forgotten how honestly fun that is. There’s shared successes, sympathy in the failure of a good run and laughter at slapstick infused failure. We were playing Mario Odyssey (Goddamn is that game fun) and my friend hadn’t been seen the area that was up ahead (I asked if she wanted to do it but she said it was fine that I went ahead) and just the thrill and joy of discovering new things with someone else was something I had not felt for a long time. Just seeing each other’s reactions to things is great in and of it. And I wouldn’t be against feeling that again.

On another night I let my friend play on my Switch and it lead to us sitting on a church bench with a conversation that went down a great many avenues and me eating a donner calzone. It was a pretty great night.

It’s a just a completely different vibe to playing by oneself. And if Snipper Clips is involved there’s a lot of shouting “scoop”. Sometimes you don’t even need a scoop. It’s all so much fun.

What I’ve Been Playing This Week

Enter the Gungeon: The word of the day is fun. Not in the gif department though as I can’t get footage off my Switch for the making of gifs, which is incredibly annoying as this game is very gifable.

Because that is what Enter the Gungeon is. It’s fun. Everything about the game is just fun. The weapon selection and design is fun. The character and enemy design is again fun, and incredibly detailed. The pixel art here is polished and of a very high standard. There’s lore that has a great sense of humour and world building, and guess what, it is fun. Gungeon is so much fun that all the time I should have spent writing about I’ve been playing it instead.

What we have here (aside from lots of fun) is rouge like with procedurally generated levels wherein we dive down down deeper and down, acquiring random power ups and weapons along the way in the hope of reaching the bottom of the dungeon and not being splatted across the dungeon walls as 90% of my runs will end up. It’s also based around bullet hell, with lots of lovely and varied enemy patterns to memorise. There are four starting classes. The Marine who starts with extra armour, the hunter who gets a dog companion who will on occasion dig up items (keys, health and so on) and the convict who on taking damage gets a damage output buff and the smuggler, who…I actually don’t know what is special about this guy. He seems like a standard character really.

Each floor has a merchant who always expresses some surprise at how alive we still are. And each floor has a number of chests that house guns and power ups. Some of these chests need keys, and keys can either be found or bought at the merchant. This can lead to the fun of picking between that health pick up or a key, bringing some nice risk and reward game play into the equation. Do be wary with the chests though because on occasion, an old Dark Souls friend will drop by for a visit.

What really gets me about Gungeon is how a 2D pixelated rouge like dungeon crawler manages to absolutely nail cinematic quality gun fights in a way some triple AAA titles can’t. Through a combination of gaming’s most adorable dodge roll, the ability to flip objects like tables over and a wider variety of background items that can be interacted with(piles of books, boxes and so on) the game high octane shoot outs feel incredibly satisfying. A bonus point here if a table is flipped over that has books on it. The joy of unloading a clip before dodge rolling behind a table once again is fun. Combine that with flipping that table over and watching papers scatter across the room in amongst a hail of bullets and I’m feeling like John Wick all in the glory of 2D pixels.

And to go back to the set dressing piles of books scattered on rolls, boxes break and a host of other things just add to maniac nature of the gunfights. On level has coffins that act like tables and flipping those over can send a skeleton tumbling to the ground. There really is so much detail here. Not mention there are barrels that can be flipped over which can spill flammable liquid on the floor, and toxic liquid on the floor. There’s just so much to work with and enjoy.

The guns that are provided for these shoot outs are just the best. There is so much creativity and joy to be found in Gungeon’s arsenal. From the starting pistols here is so of the weapons can be acquired in game – a shotgun shell that fires shotguns, a t-shirt cannon (with a variant that fires poisoned t-shirts), an origami gun that shoots paper airplanes and is refolded as it reloads, a letter box that shoots letters with the final round of the magazine being an exploding parcel, a gun made up of party balloons that fires hot air along with a cast of rifles and submachine guns. An awesome cast of weapons awaits any player of Gungeon. There’s also a bunch of great power ups to find such as rocket powered bullets (bullets go faster), making bullets thicker, poison rounds, electrified rounds. There’s a great many combinations to partner the great many weapons.

And the enemy variety is also pretty damn great. Each level adds new enemies to the fray ranging from anthropized bullets to iron maidens to wizards and cluthu beings. Some rooms require exceptional dodging to get through unscathed. And the boss designs really go all out, with some great pun names going around. Gattling Gull and the Ammoconda are two of my favourites. One thing I’ve really enjoyed is memorising boss bullet patterns. Certain bosses that used to trouble me are now easy, and that’s a pretty cool thing. Other bosses though still get me, so that’s on me to memorise their patterns. And right now, that’s a challenge I’m enjoying. I’ll get you one day Canonbalrog. Also upon defeating bosses gives weapons and currency for buying new weapons and power ups.

Last, but certainly not to be the least are the characters we encounter and the lore surrounding this world. They are here in plenty, and they are plenty good. Everything about the Gungeon is chronicled in a book called the Ammnomicon and the item descriptions are just the best. Solid humour and great world building abound throughout the book. Everything that comes into the Gungeon will at some point become a weapon. That explains the post box, and why even ammo turns into a gun. Tis a strange but wonderful place our intrepid characters explore.

And in the dungeons we find various characters to rescue. Some people become merchants, others offer quests and some return to haunt us from time to time. It’s a great bunch of rag tags and misfits ranging from robots to aliens and ghosts that haunt the place long after their passing. It is the merchants to whom we can give the currency we get for killing bosses in exchange for new guns and items within the Gungeon.

All in all, Gungeon is some of the best fun I’ve had in gaming for a long time.

Pyre: With the long break away from Pyre ended by the completion of Shadow of the Colossus (amongst other things) I finally got to return to the world of the Downside and the Exiles within it. Where I was up to in the story came back to me pretty quickly but getting back up to speed with the game play hasn’t come as quickly. The plucky Nightwings lost for the first time, and then twice more.

So the unbeaten run is rendered ash but it has does wonders for an already great story. Every win and every loss impacts on the story so there’s no sense in replaying a loss. Take the result and watch the story go in a different direction. And succeeding in sending someone home in a liberation rite after failing in the one before feels gloriously cathartic.

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In addition to the main story line what the game does exceedingly well in intertwine little stories in amongst the greater narrative. One of my liberation rite’s saw a lot of little threads come to fruition and it was truly one of my favourite moments in gaming. I had lost the previous rite to the Accusers and Lendel – who incidentally really dislikes Hedwyn, their team captain insisted on taunting me and promising how it would be he going free and not one of the Nightwings in the liberation rite.

The chances for liberation are running out, and I am not leaving Hedwyn stuck in the Downside. So already the rite has stakes upon stakes. In addition, one of my team Bertrude the bog crone had come into the team based on her good performance in the rite beforehand. But before that she had been sitting on the side lines due to a poor game so there was a chance to prove that previous game wasn’t a fluke. In addition to all of this, Tizo was playing on the left and he also has a thing with Lendel. It’s all going off in this liberation rite.

It starts off very badly and the Nightwings and I are soon in a hole. But we show patience and dedication to cause and slowly we start to turn the match around. This saw Lendel sledge Tizo aggressively. Tizo responds with a furious roar and after that insult I knew that this rite couldn’t be lost. We had to win. Bertrude made some massive dunks and her physical presence helped to counteract the size advantage of Lendel’s team of heavies. Tizo shook off Lendel’s sledge and played very well, and Hedwyn held everything together with great skill and grace.

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It gets tight near the end. But then Tizo breaks right on through Lendel , banishing him and poetically it is he who lays down the final dunk, sealing a 1 – 0 win and in the process shutting the door on Lendel’s bid for liberation as well as granting Hedwyn his.

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Bertrude gains redemption in the biggest rite of the game so far. Tizo not only scores the winner, but gains enlightenment in the process and Hedwyn ascends over his rival to become a free man. I run around the house whooping and hollering and taking the time to call Lendal a dick. And then more whooping and hollering. Hedwyn went free. That felt so utterly great. Video games are the best.

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The game continues to be stressful but in a good way. I’m really scared of letting down this cast of characters I have come to know and love. And there is that nagging sense I can’t help all of them which just heaps on the pressure. But it’s the great writing that has made me care this much and if I do care this much that can only be a good thing. It really is amazing how people make us care about characters so much, character that are not even real, just an assembly of pixels.

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Well, once more into the breach. There’s a rebellion that needs supporting.

Dark Souls III: Invasions are back on the menu. They left the menu as my confidence using the scythe dived. Constantly parried, hyper armoured through regularly while the scythe tries to pretend it has hyper armour. But I had enough of moping around and decided give the whole thing a second go. Turns out getting your ass handed to you really is a growing experience. 6 or 7 losses with a win or none sprinkled in becomes 8 – 3 with some hard work and endeavour. The fight below was the turning point. It’s me being invaded, and the invader carries the Exile Curved Sword a weapon I have always had problems with. To succeed against that felt great. Also, after that that person sent a friend request with a “gg”. And that was nice.

Mixing up R1’s and R2’s means I’ve been parried far less. And effective use of spacing has resulted in more damage per swing, taking advantage of the scythes sweet spot damage and if done right an opponent can be boxed out with well timed swings and swipes.

I mean, it still goes wrong sometimes. Any weapon that gets hyper armour and stun locks can blast right on through me. But it’s all a learning process and where I am right now with where I was with the scythe I’ll take where I am now every damn day.

The weapon art is still borderline impossible to hit. It looks cool though so it has that going for it.

The end goal for this run is still Friede’s Scythe but after some initial hiccups me and the Great Scythe are having a great, fun time of it.