Warning: video game nerd content higher than usual in this post. Please avoid if necessary.
So I’m playing through Nioh again. This game got months of dedicated play when it first came out, and improved my skills to the point that after I beat it I was able to go back and play through the entire Dark Souls/Bloodborne sequence and beat all four of them as well. Nioh is, to my estimation at least, easily the hardest of the five games. You may recall me devoting a post to the day I finally beat Yuki-Onna after literally respeccing my character twice and an unprecedented several months of attempts. And it turned out that the ninjutsu tree was absolutely necessary to get through the rest of the game– the bosses in this game are stupid hard, and I was only able to beat most of them by cheesing the shit out of them with shuriken and kunai. It’s not unfair to say that I didn’t beat a single boss after Yuki-Onna without at least a little bit of blatantly exploiting the game mechanics.
Well, this time ’round I’m using the goddamn odachi, because I’m a glutton for fucking punishment apparently, and I’m reaching the point in the game where I run into Yuki-Onna again and where I hit a wall. The kusarigama/ninjitsu combo I used to finally get past her is all fast burst damage and long-range stagger, and the odachi is … not either of those things. The complete opposite of those things in fact. I’ve managed to blow past three of the bosses in the early game– Hiro-Enma, Umi-Bozu and the Goddamned raven tengu— who gave me hell the first time through, so hopefully I can actually beat her for real this time.
We shall see. I’ve got shit to do this weekend, so I don’t have a lot of time for weeping and gnashing of teeth and throwing controllers. Somebody’s going down, dammit.
A true fact about this cat, who suddenly figured out laps this afternoon and spent about an hour cuddling with the boy, who has been home sick from school for a couple of days: his shit stinks worse than the shit of any other pet, of any species, that I have ever had, and it not only fucks up huge chunks of my house to the point where I feel like we’re going to have to renovate our HVAC system to provide for greater air movement where we’ve got the litter boxes, it clings to him afterwards for a while, so if he uses the litterbox and then runs into the living room to demand scritches you will be able to tell where he has been. It is monstrous and terrifying and we are well beyond the point where I can chalk it up to him having been an outdoor cat and eating rats to stay alive. Dude’s been in the house for like two months now, there ain’t nothing in there but kibble and Fancy Feast. The other cats don’t stink like this. Not even close.
(The other cats are also female? I’m not sure if that matters. He’s fixed, at any rate.)
Today was the first day of this semester that I would characterize as a bad day. Not, like, by historical standards, or anything like that, and I mean a bad teaching day, as opposed to a bad my-mom-just-died-and-I’m-fucked-up-about-it day, but it’s actually surprisingly good news that it took this long. That’s all I have to say about it; there aren’t any interesting stories, really, but I thought I’d mention it.
In other news, in addition to fantasizing about writing another book (a short story! a microfiction! Fucking anything!) at some point in the future and fantasizing about eventually doing a podcast, a desire I have had for a couple of years now without the slightest inkling of a good idea for a podcast crossing through my brain, I have now decided that I want to do Let’s Plays for YouTube. I will never do this; to do it the way I want (discrete episodes, not livestreaming) requires far too much investment into equipment– I am fairly certain I’d need an entire new computer, for starters, because I don’t think there’s a good way to do video capture through my iMac, although I could be wrong– and frankly there is absolutely no demand for 43-year-old video game streamers. So I’m not going to do this, but it’s fun to toss it on the pile of other random creative bullshit that I’m not working on and watch it fester.
Meanwhile, I’m playing through Nioh again, because my career as a YouTuber should definitely start with games from four years ago, right?
I go back to work tomorrow, and I’m surprisingly unstressed by it, although I do have a little bit of work I need to do tonight. No, it’s every other thing in my damn life that’s causing all my stress right now; work this week is going to be a Goddamn refuge.
(Yes, I plan to pivot from that into complaining about a video game; brace yourself accordingly. Talking about anything Real is beyond me at the moment.)
So, yeah. Hollow Knight. You might remember my review of Salt and Sanctuary from a couple of months ago; this is a similar game both in style and structure and in that I downloaded it forever ago, took a shot at it, then walked away, and now I’m back and playing it again. I’ve put about 35 hours into it over Winter Break and right now my main feeling about it is Jesus how is this game so big how can I possibly not be done with this by now, combined with a weird sort of completionist impulse that is keeping me from simply beating the damn thing and being done with it. No, I want to be finished, but I want to 100% the sumnamabitch before I do that, and oh Christ there is so much to do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m having fun, but I’m having the kind of fun that is at least 25% I need to be doing twenty other things right now while I’m having it.
Guilt-laced fun is the best kind, of course.
You may get a book review later, since I haven’t posted much in the last few days. I finished this yesterday and am still sorting out my feelings about it. Pay no attention to the fact that Amazon inexplicably thinks the release date is next summer; I assure you, the book is available.
The two worst things about Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order are the name and the architecture. The name needs some damn punctuation somewhere, maybe a colon or two, or at least the removal of the words “Star Wars” from the official name, since once you see the word Jedi and there are a bunch of lightsabers on screen you don’t really need the “Star Wars” part in the name because I’m pretty sure people are going to get it. I’ve been mostly calling the game Fallen Order, because that’s good enough, but my inner grammarian is deeply annoyed by how clumsy the title is.
That said, if that’s most of what I’ve got to complain about, and it is, we’re in pretty good shape. Folks have been waiting for a good single-player Star Wars action game since forever, and this one not only manages to fit the bill admirably but tells a damn good story in the meantime. Fallen Order is set just a few years after the end of Episode 3; Order 66 has been enacted and most of the Jedi are dead, but the Inquisitors are still out in force hunting down the handful who escaped. You play as Cal Kestis, a Padawan who got away by the skin of his teeth, losing his master and half his lightsaber in the process, and who has been working as a scrapper on a shipyard ever since. Some hell breaks loose, Kestis is forced to reveal his powers, and we’re off to the races, with him being rescued at the last moment by another fallen Jedi. The main narrative goal of the game is a Macguffin, more or less, taking the form in this case of a Jedi holocron filled with the names and locations of potential Force-sensitive children, and there is much talk about rebuilding the Jedi Order.
Now, this is interesting, right, because we know that ultimately they have to fail in this goal somehow, because by the time Luke rolls around there are legitimately only him, Yoda, and Obi-Wan left among the Jedi, and the Order very much does not get to be rebuilt. So the fact that the game starts off with the ending predetermined and still tells a great, compelling story is a serious plus in its favor. It’s beautiful to look at, particularly in its environments and any chance it gets to pull back and show some of the sheer scale of the ships and creatures in the distance (the initial shipyard level is really amazing in this respect) is going to be something really special. The characters are a highlight as well, especially Cal’s companion droid BD-1, who spends most of the game perched on Cal’s back and gets a number of upgrades over the course of the game to make him more useful to you.
The only weapon you get to use is your lightsaber; no initial period of running around with a blaster here unlike several of the older Jedi-focused Star Wars games, and while your powers take a while to open up (Kestis is a Padawan, after all, and he repairs his connection to the Force over the course of the game) once you’re firing on all cylinders the combat is satisfying as hell, with plenty of Stormtroopers around to mercilessly beat the hell out of along with a number of tougher enemies who will test your ability to block and parry. There are five major planetary environments and a few minor sub-areas, and the levels themselves are enormous, enough so that one of the game’s few non-technical shortcomings is that it really needed a fast travel system of some sort. There will be some glitches here and there, too, especially for those of us still on a regular PS4, but no bugs that prevented me from completing missions or anything like that. Kashyyyk in particular featured a lot of three- or four-second freezes during transitions through doors, as the game couldn’t get everything loaded up fast enough. There are enough little quibbles here and there to keep this out of 10/10 territory, but I’m perfectly content calling it a 9/10 or a high 8/10. The combat and the story (and the ending, my God) are more than enough to make this game one of the highlights of the year.
(What am I playing now? I brought my PS3 out of mothball status and hooked it up to the main TV, and I’m playing Demon’s Souls for the first time. I am perhaps a bit more excited about it than is reasonable.)
An interesting phenomenon, at least to me: I’ve noticed that the older I get the more annoyed I get by bad worldbuilding in my video games. This isn’t a story concern, necessarily; what I mean is that I need things like levels to make basic physical sense and seem in at least a cursory way to be things that could exist in the actual world the game is portraying.
Why yes, I am playing Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order right now. How did you guess?
It’s been a running joke for a while, at least among my immediate family: my wife works in occupational health and safety, so we notice these sorts of things: Star Wars doesn’t have OSHA. Everything, everything is positioned with no railings over a bottomless pit or, if there is a railing, there’s not a chance in hell it would keep anyone from falling over it or, uh, being thrown:
That shit is not safe. And don’t even get me started on this bullshit:
So I’m used to the idea that in a Star Wars video game there are going to be some fall hazards. The idea doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t make sense on a fundamental level, but it’s pre-established in the world. But here’s my problem with Fallen Order: you unlock your Force powers as you travel through the game, and you use them extensively to get where you’re going on whatever planet you’re on– particularly the wall run ability, which is used constantly.
So if I had to use half a dozen Jedi wall runs, had to Force Pull a convenient vine over to myself to swing across a huge gap, had to use Force Push to break through a conveniently weak area of wall, and — oh, right — had to exterminate hundreds of incredibly dangerous examples of the local fauna in order to get to an area, how the hell are there two dozen Stormtroopers already there when I get there?
(“Why the hell are the Stormtroopers so much less dangerous than this space goat” is another question relevant to the game, but not the one I’m discussing at the moment.)
This shit gets to me, guys, it really does. You don’t have Jedi powers, Stormtrooper! How the fuck are you here? How did you get to the top of this wroshyr tree on Kashyyyk that I’ve been climbing using my magic Jedi abilities for twenty minutes? Did someone drop you off there in a ship? Why did they do that? Are they going to come get you? Are you here just in case a Jedi shows up? Because they’re supposed to all be dead.
How did any of these chests get here?
Remember these goddamn things?
Random huge pieces of machinery with no clear function whatsoever that seem to exist only to impede player progress are starting to get on my nerves. There are tons of enormous machines everywhere (on abandoned planets; who built all this shit?) that serve no purpose other than to kill you if you don’t figure out how to properly avoid and/or slow them down (Oh, also: Jedi slowing powers. I had to slow down a huge fan and sneak through an airduct to get here! How are you here, Stormtrooper?) and I just want to know what they’re for. Why are there giant spinny blades with holes in them in this area? What’s this thing, that just slams back and forth but doesn’t seem to do anything? Who decided that these catwalks needed to have places where you had to jump over holes? Because every fucking catwalk has holes, and they don’t all appear to be damaged. Some of them just aren’t finished. Why? Is the Empire suing the shit out of their contractors? Because they need to be suing the shit out of their contractors.
I’m having a lot of fun with the game– don’t get me wrong. But Jesus, the level geography is like they deliberately tried to make no damn sense at all.