Steam Sale Games: Part 1 – XCOM: Enemy Unknown

So the steam summer sale is over, the dust has settled and everyone has less money than before. Well, I didn’t have much to begin with, but I picked up a couple of 80% off games, the first of which is XCOM: Enemy Unknown

I’ll start by saying I have about 4 hours into the single player, which seems to be enough to get a reasonable idea of how good the game is. And it is good. Very, very good in fact. For those who don’t know, the best way to describe XCOM is as turn based grid based strategy game, a la Final Fantasy Tactics (which I have played) where aliens invade the earth. You are the commander of the XCOM project, which essentially Area 51 without Will Smith and Jeff GoldblumI will admit I have a bit of a soft spot for these kind of games, but this is only a slight bias and if XCOM had been terrible I would have dropped it like Snoop. But I’m please to say it isn’t. It has a butt ton of customisation, decent cutscenes and multiple paths, although I have yet to find out how much of a difference your choices make. I’m guessing it’s a reasonable amount, as so far my choices have led to anarchy in Japan. Guess I’m not doing so well. There are two parts that really shine for me.

1. The atmosphere. There are alien abductions happening all over the world and you can only respond to some of them. It feels like whatever you do, you can’t save everyone. Someone is getting probed. Also, with cutscenes of alien autopsies and attacks from UFOs really make it feel like the earth is under threat and it is down to you to save them. The fact that your team members can perma-die only adds to this.

2. The combat. This is where the magic happens. The grid based combat is excellent, with cover and overwatch (the ability to tell your guy to shoot at anything that moves in the aliens turn) play a big part. It is occasionally frustrating when your team of expert soldiers repeated miss a guy right in front of them, that they are supposed to have a 75%+ chance of hitting, but this is rare and there isn’t much you can do about it. As your soldiers do missions they level up and gain new abilities. This progression means you start to get attached to them, making perma-death more than just a mild annoyance. Save often if you want to keep your favourite guys alive.

 

Overall this game is excellent, one of the best games I’ve played for a while and I have yet to touch the multiplayer. I’ll make another post when I have tried it out. If it had to rate it out of ten it would be pushing 9/10. There is very little wrong with it and I can’t really argue with the cost, getting it for 80% off. Slap this on your steam wishlists and hardscope your email for a sale, this is worth the cash. It’s up there with Skyrim, Borderlands 2 and Mass Effect 3.

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Things I have learn’t about the Modern metagame: Part 3

Okay, so the reason I’ve taken a while to do another one of these is simple. I haven’t played many different decks since last time. I’m played a lot of burn and RDW, and a lot of mono-black varients, neither of which are particularly interesting. No offence to anyone who plays burn, but it’s a really boring match most of the time. Either they draw the cards to kill you, or they don’t. Or I play t2 Kor Firewalker and ride it to victory.

The more interesting decks I’ve played against are as follows:

Grixis Control: Another control varient, but weaker than UWR I think. Electolyze, Cryptic Command, Bolt, etc, with additional hand disruption and Terminate, plus a different manland. Not worth the loss of Day of Judgement, Ajani, Elspeth, and Path in my opinion. One guy I played gets style points for Cruel Ultimatum, but  you really shouldn’t be maindecking it.

Domain Zoo. 5 Colour zoo, with the Kird apes, Goyfs, Loam Lions, Goblin Guides, Deathrite Shaman, Dark Confidant, Elspeth, Knight Errant etc, and Tribal Flames hit for 5. Was interesting to play against, but a 5 colour manabase dependant on fetchlands doesn’t like 8 strip mine effects and Leonin Arbiter. Not one bit.

Affinity: Only played against this once, but it didn’t go well. I play an affinity varient in paper magic, so I know how stupid it can get. I didn’t draw great hands and the other guy got empty your hand+thoughtcast t2 nut draws both games. I don’t have a great match-up against this anyway. The decks with Thalia do it slightly better, but I need some sideboard tech for it. Kataki, War’s Wage would be my go to guy.

R/G aggro: Modern version of the standard deck Naya Blitz. Probably has 5 guys down by turn three. Goblin Guide into t2 Burning Tree, Burning Tree, Tarmogoyf is something I’ve played against. My outs here are the pro red guys in the sideboard, as well as Mirran Crusader if it doesn’t get hit with Lightning Bolt.

Jund Aggro: I like jund aggro, but it has a horrible match up against this deck. Vengevine and Loltroll don’t like mirran crusader and it gets even worse for them post board when I can put timely reinforcements in. The manabase can be fragile too. And good luck casting demigod of revenge.

That’s all folks. I don’t have more things to say, because of the silly amount of times I’ve played against burn in the last week or so. Things I have learned are that I really need path to exile and the curving Mentor of the Meek into Hero of Bladehold is awesome.

Here is the deck I’m playing. Since last time I took out the Ring of Thune and put a Flickerwisp into the sideboard. Needs Thalia, Linvala, Path and some more sideboard tech, but those are kinda expensive.

4 aether vial
1 flickerwisp
1 ajani, caller of the pride
2 eight-and-a-half-tails
3 hero of bladehold
1 judges familiar
4 leonin arbiter
3 mentor of the meek
4 mirran crusader
4 serra avenger
2 student of warfare
4 honor of the pure
4 sunlance
1 oblivion ring
4 ghost quarter
4 tectonic edge
13 plains
1 ethersworn canonist

2 burrenton forge-tender
2 celestial purge
1 flickerwisp
2 kor firewalker
1 mentor of the meek
1 rule of law
2 tempest of light
4 timely reinforcements

Ye Olde Goodie: Dragon Age Origins

Okay, so maybe it isn’t that old in the grand scheme of things, but in game terms 4 years ago is a loooooooonnnnngggg time. After the Dragon Age 3 trailer at E3, I went back to the original to try again and see how it has held up. But I have a confession to make. I have never completed a Dragon Age game, despite how much I like them. I always play for a while, play another game and then when I come back, I start a new file and play on that.

I have made 5 characters across 2 systems in Dragon Age one, and 3 characters in Dragon Age 2, all of which have reached Act 3 (the final bit for non-Dragon Age players). Still never finished either. Never feel like it. I’ll get to it eventually, probably just before I get DA3, so I can import a finished file.

I also hold the seemingly controversial view that DA2 was pretty good. I liked the combat system and while not being able to pick a race felt a little stifling, having a fully voiced character, as opposed to DA1’s mute more than made up for it. Having your character never talk breaks the 4th wall like almost nothing else for me. And I actually kind of liked Hawke, DA2’s protagonist.

But I’ll leave DA2 to another day and talk about number 1, because as I’ve found recently, DA1 is awesome. Here are a list of some of the things that make DA1 awesome.

1. The story. It feels like a proper epic world is in your hands do something about it but it isn’t going to be easy story. I have experience only a portion of it, as I’ve never completely finished it, but just the bit’s I’ve seen are damn good. One of the best plots around.

2. The characters. Having a group of people, who respond to your actions in different ways and who can be talked to, to befriend or romance really helps the you to connect with the world.

3. Morrigan. I know she is a character, but Morrigan is cool enough to get her own bullet point. Biting wit, magic and shapeshifting are all part of a brilliant character. I would bet a not insignificant number of fans got a little happy in their pants when she appeared in the DA3 trailer.

4. This one is for PC only, but mods are well worth mentioning. There are plently of mods out there that can be installed without too much hassle.

5. The music. I won’t say any more, go listen to it. It’s up there with Lord of the Rings (okay, I said some more, so sue me)

Anyone who hasn’t picked it up yet should grab a copy, I’m sure it’s pretty cheap. I think I got the Ultimate Edition (with all the extra content) for less than £10 and that was a while ago. And anyone who has played it should go back and do it again, because they won’t be disappointed. Well they shouldn’t be, and if they are they should mod it until they aren’t.

And maybe not just DA1. I’m going to do back and play some games I haven’t touched for a while, see how they are. You should to. Might save you some money, on top of everything else.

Mass Effect: Crying Like a Small Child

Before I get into writing, I had better say that there are major SPOILERS for Mass Effect 3 in this post. Right, everyone played it? Well, everyone who cares about it played it? Good, let’s do this.

 

I wanted to talk about something I experienced in Mass Effect 3 that I hadn’t found before. I genuinely cared about the characters. Even the ones that weren’t human. In fact, the two most emtional scenes weren’t related to humans at all. I’m talking about the Legion Scene shown here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRa6WH90xVc and the Mordin Scene here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-_X9Tsg0Fc

I was wondering what anyone else who played through the games found were the saddest moments. But these two, when characters you have been with for hours and hours (especially if you played ME2) don’t make it, when they sacrifce themselves for something bigger than themselves made me actually feel sad in a way that few other films and games did.

Titanic… Nothing

Atonement… Nothing

In fact, the only other fictional story that made me as sad as Mass Effect 3 was Marley and Me.

Let’s not go into why I get more attached to dogs, weird lizard aliens and sentient robots than people….

 

Did I cry like a small child? No. But I wanted to. You don’t need actors to tell a story. Hell, I think in some ways, games tell it better.

Kindle Fire: The Tablet of (cheap) Awesome

So, I really like my kindle fire. I was never really a fan of the Ipad, but when I heard about the kindle fire being £99 on amazon 6 months ago, I decided that it was affordable and it was worth a try.

It was really worth the try. Free books, access to the Android app store, and functional web browser. Properly awesome. The John Carter of Mars series is free and a must for anyone interested in sci-fi books.

Some other free Sci-fi and fantasy worth a look are:

In Her Name: Empire by Micheal R. Hicks

The Honour of the Knights by Stephen Sweeney

The Phoenix Conspiracy by Richard L Sanders

These three were excellent and in the case of In Her Name I went on to buy the next two in the trilogy (they didn’t cost a lot).

The app store is pretty good and is getting better. I’ve found the best three games on there to be Jurassic Park builder, Jetpack Joyride and Flow. I’ve been tempted by a couple of the paid games, notably Final Fantasy 3, but have resisted thus far.

Overall I find having a Kindle Fire is excellent and well worth the money. The only two issues are the short battery life (which takes a long time to recharge) and the small storage. I have the regular kindle fire and it only has about 6gb of storage. Thankfully the apps don’t take up too much space and I’ve put a couple of audiobooks on there too.

I would reccommend one to anyone thinking about a tablet and if the storage space is a problem, I know the HD edition comes with increased storage.

Magic: The Socialing

For my first post I’m going to talk about what is possibly my favourite hobby, Magic: The Gathering.

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Well, why should you care about Magic: The Gathering. It’s just a lame cards game for kids and guys who live with their parents for way too long, right? WRONG

For anyone who doesn’t know, Magic: The Gathering is a trading card game, played all over the world, with regular competions and is popular enought that if you are really, really good, going professional is an option.

This isn’t me. I’m just a guy, who very much enjoys spending an evening with friends playing cards, usually at a pub. The friends I have now are almost all from playing Magic, and the group of people in my area who play are very much a community. We have a facebook group to chat and organise events. We meet on fridays for Friday Night Magic (I’ll explain this in another post). Most importantly, people who play Magic, at least from what I’ve found, care about the group. If someone has a problem, we will try and fix it. If someone doesn’t own the cards to join in, you can be 99% sure someone will lend them something. As a group, we want people to join in. It is far and away the best social experience I have found. It gets people talking. As someone at an event, you know you will always have at least one thing in common with the people there.

Something else I that I find amazing, is the variety of people that are brought together by playing a card game. The age range of our group is from about 17 to around 50. Most people are around 20, as it is a uni town the group was set up by students in the first place, but there is no awkwardness, whether you are a student, a secondary school teacher (who sometimes brings work he needs to mark to get it done between games), a bouncer or someone who sells batterys. When we meet up everyone is a Magic player and that evens it out.

What I cannot emphasise enough though, is how much playing with people you like being around matters. I’ve been lucky with the people here, and when eventually I have to leave, finding a new group who are as welcoming as they are is a little daunting.

So, if you are reading this and you are curious to find out more, to find out if it is something you would be interested in, there are a couple of ways.

1. The best way to find out is to find a group near you and either contact them somehow, or just turn up at an event. This http://locator.wizards.com/ is a link to a page where you can find events near you. Don’t worry about intruding, variety is key with Magic, people want other people there, with different ideas and different ways of playing, to keep things new and interesting. If you are like me and don’t really enjoy asking people you don’t know about anything, standing awkwardly for a while will probably lead to someone coming over, asking about you and getting you involved. If you say you don’t know how to play, someone will teach you. If you say you want to get into Magic, someone will suggest how.

2. If you don’t fancy just turning up somwhere and asking, without knowing how to play then Duels of the Planewalkers is a good start. It’s a game on Steam, on Xbox, on PS3 and on tablets. It’s a good starting point and will teach a new player the rules, but isn’t nearly as fun as sitting round a table with friends, face to face, where you can talk. While it is true that something is lost in translation, it is still a really good introduction.

I know I haven’t really talked about how the game is actually played and I will get to that in another post, but for now all you need to know is it’s great fun, the players are welcoming, it’s great fun, it’s different from anything else you might get up to in the week and it’s a really good way to meet new people. Whoever you are, you should give it a try. The worst that can happen is that you find don’t like it and you have spent an evening trying something new. Go try it, you may find it really is your thing. Also, did I mention how much fun it is?