Rolling a Natural 1 – Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance Review

I’ve related my Dungeons & Dragons misadventures here before. From ill-timed invisibility to challenging monster fights, my band of D&D friends and I have gone through quite a bit together. Truly, we have run the gamut of hilarious D&D escapades a group campaigning together can go through.

However, despite my positive experiences playing around a tabletop with my friends, I haven’t really explored the world of D&D when it comes to video games. None of them really called to me, especially because my favorite aspect of Dungeons & Dragons is the downright goofiness that can occur when fails happen. (Failing in a video game the way I fail in D&D would be gutting.)

So when I found out that Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance would be available to play on Xbox Game Pass, I thought it would be nifty to grab a friend and give it a whirl. ‘Why not dabble in a D&D video game?’ I thought to myself.

It’s disappointing. That’s why.

Dark Alliance is an overall letdown, and I’ll tell you why in just a sec. I first want to admit that I only played around two sessions of the game, each of which lasted maybe a few hours. I did not complete it, and maybe the game has more to offer down the road. All I know is that it did not offer enough to make me want to continue playing it.

Dark Alliance pulls its characters and some of its story from the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. I am only loosely versed in its lore. However, noteworthy character Drizzt Do’Urden is one of the four characters you and your friends can choose to play as during missions.

If you are familiar with the gameplay structure of Left 4 Dead or Vermintide 2, you will know what to expect when booting up Dark Alliance. You and up to three friends go through these fairly linear missions, fight off monsters you find, and complete rudimentary objectives.

If you’ve played those two games I mentioned, then you know that this formula can be very successful. However, Dark Alliance messes it up in multiple ways.

For one thing, the characters feel very uninteresting. It sucks because they each have a backstory that fans of the Forgotten Realms universe will know about, but the manner in which this is conveyed to you is either through dry narration or through these one-liners the characters will occasionally speak during a mission. And the snippets of cutscenes you see at the start and end of missions don’t inform you much on the characters or the events at large.

If only the story itself was lacking, I would be fine with that. But the gameplay itself leaves a lot to be desired. I played as the character Wulfgar during one session, and Cattie-brie in the next, and no matter which I played as, it was not fun.

Any action in the game felt unresponsive. Whether I was swinging my hammer or firing my bow, there was this laggy, molasses feeling that persisted. Even picking up objects from the ground took an age and a half. And I don’t think this was input lag on my controller’s part. I would swing at a rock outcropping to get some loot, the hit would connect, and then two seconds later, the rock would crumble. It was that slow.

And the enemies were uninspired at best. They would always be clustered by some door or square-looking area, arranged like stodgy chess pieces, and sometimes they would not even react when you hit them. They’d take it, slowly turn to you, and only gradually start to attack you. This is a far cry from when I played Left 4 Dead 2, and zombies would rush at you from every which way, and certain special types would attack in a specific fashion.

In addition to that, cooperative play was unrewarding as heck. My coworker friend and I felt like our characters did not interact with each other in a meaningful way at all. They had a few abilities that could be beneficial for a group, but it did not feel like an impactful interaction.

Lastly, the bosses felt laughable. They are appreciably difficult in comparison to regular enemies, but each encounter feels similar. Do some damage, roll away, do some damage, roll away, do some damage, roll away, do some damage, roll away.

Playing Dark Alliance made me hunger for the simplistic artistry of Risk of Rain 2.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance was disappointing because it wasn’t fun. One of the basic tenets of D&D (for me at least) is that no matter who my DM is, who my fellow party members are, or what story is being told, the game has to be fun. Dark Alliance did not hold up to this standard.

I rate Dark Alliance a poor-representation-of-how-much-fun-D&D-can-be-and-a-sucky-game-at-launch-to-boot.

Video Game Villanelle

Do not dismiss the video game,
The delight it brings, the joy it inspires.
Truly, your life will be never be the same.

Though some might label it lame,
They underestimate how it sets the soul on fire.
Do not dismiss the video game.

Immersion is key to lighting that flame,
Making gameplay your sole desire.
Truly, your life will never be the same.

Whenever a good game called, I came,
Craving narrative experiences that never tire.
Do not dismiss the video game.

Explore vast open worlds that will never be tamed,
Live through experiences that will take you higher,
Truly, your life will never be the same.

So embrace a title without shame,
Especially when the world at large feels a little dire.
Do not dismiss the video game.
Truly, your life will never be the same.

Fragile Packages Don’t Exist: Totally Reliable Delivery Service Review

That’s me on the left

If I do say so myself, I make a fantastic delivery person.

I only break every other package.

And all of my experience comes from playing Totally Reliable Delivery Service.

For those of you who haven’t heard of this delightful cooperative game, Totally Reliable Delivery Service is a goofy good time, full of goofy good fun. You may not learn any real delivery skills whatsoever, but you will have a riot just reveling in how not-seriously the game takes itself.

The premise of this little title is as simple as it sounds. You deliver packages from point A to point B using a variety of methods at your disposal. You could take it in a delivery truck, fly it by chopper, use a boat to carry it, or just walk it over like a plebeian.

While the goal of the game is incredibly basic, the execution is unforgivably hilarious. My little character is the most unwieldy and awkward thing I have ever controlled in a video game. It sometimes feels like they have their own center of gravity, and driving a car is more impossible than sending a real life space shuttle into orbit.

However, don’t let this put you off from playing! The jankiness of the controls is all part of Totally Reliable Delivery Service’s charm.

Players are dropped onto this open world of interconnected islands, and these areas range from beach-side resorts to snowy mountain peaks to a downtown city block. Each area is peppered with an assortment of vehicles you can use to help you in your deliveries.

Deliveries are typically straightforward affairs, tasking you to either deliver a package within a set amount of time or to bring it over as undamaged as possible.

However, I remember the first time I played Totally Reliable Delivery Service with my coworker friend, we maybe completed a grand total of two deliveries in the span of three hours.

Why so little?

Because we spent the rest of the time just messing around with all the game had to offer!

One of the highlights of Totally Reliable Delivery Service is how it gives you total freedom to go where you want and do what you want when you want. If you want to ignore every delivery on the map and ride on a Ferris Wheel, you can!

When my sister and I played the game, we spent hours just trying to drive up the mountainside in go-karts. Alya could not control her vehicle at all, and she kept sliding down after making too sharp a turn.

When I played with my friend Andreya, we tested how high we could go in the hot air balloon before the game told us no. (It never did.)

There is no pressure to complete objectives, and the game excels in how much freedom it offers. Also, from experience, this is the kind of game that is best played with a few friends beside you (or online) and a handful of drinks at the ready.

Side note: I have never giggled so hard as when my friend missed jumping on a trolley while we were in the city, and I got to stare at their little character huffing and puffing after it, trying to leap onto the moving vehicle, while I watched in mirthful comfort.

And the game has practically no limits to what your character can do. The only big one is swimming. Do not, I repeat, do not take your character for a dip because stepping into water is automatic death. For some reason, you just can’t swim in this game.

But other than that, the game pretty much lets you do what you want.

That’s not to say that it is without shortcomings.

Honestly, I think the game feels pretty unplayable without friends. It doesn’t require co-op play, but just roaming around the world being silly by yourself does not hold a tenth of the appeal as doing it with friends.

The vehicle controls truly are terrible, and they take a while to get used to. If you’re trying to actually complete deliveries, you will hate any that involve aircraft.

In addition to that, Totally Reliable Delivery Service is good for maybe 3-4 hours of fantastic fun before you get tired of the environs, the controls, and the never-changing gameplay loop.

So it’s definitely not a forever game or a must-buy by any stretch of the imagination.

However…

…if you just so happen to have Xbox Game Pass and a few friends you can call on for a raucous time, then I would not miss out on Totally Reliable Delivery Service. It might not be a polished, triple-A experience, but it definitely delivers on a good time.

I rate Totally Reliable Delivery Service a totally-reliable-game-that-is-clearly-meant-to-inspire-goofy-fun-with-friends.

Side note: I should mention that the game’s soundtrack gets very repetitive. Almost to the point of insanity. You’ve been warned!

Putting Control Down For a Bit

I hate writing this. It makes me feel ashamed of myself.

But if there’s anything this bloggy thingamabob has shown me, it’s that posting stuff that paints me as Below Average is par for the course.

So I’ve been playing Remedy Entertainment’s Control for a bit, and after some immense struggles, I’m going to put it on the shelf.

That’s right.

I’m giving up on it for now.

There are several factors that have made me decide to stop playing Control, and you should all know that I’m embarrassed and frustrated by all of them. And it was only after an explosive outburst with the boyfriend that I realized I really should not play something that puts me in such a negative headspace.

So here we go…

1. Performance Issues

This is easily the most understandable and swallowable (in terms of my pride) reason to put a game down. Control is not the most demanding game I’ve ever played, but holy hell, it is just not playing as it should on my Xbox One S.

Side note: I really should get a Series X. I just have to, you know, find a store that has one available.

When you play as Jesse Faden, you have some pretty cool super powers at your disposal. You can fly, grab chunks from the wall, and hurl them at people with your telekinesis. And no part of the environment is safe from this. I can point at a random wall and Launch portions of it at enemies.

But see, when I do that, everything on my screen slows down. It lags to the umpteenth degree. And the game suffers from an uncommon amount of blurriness during combat sequences.

There’s a voice in my head that berates me for leaving Control for this reason anyway, saying that I stuck through all of Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ issues. Why not fight my way through Control?

2. The Guns Are No Fun

Actually, that’s a lie. The different gun types in Control are all awesome.

But apparently, their damage output is nothing compared to your Launch ability.

Over time, I’ve learned that to do any real damage to enemies, using Launch to telekinetically toss shit at people is the most efficient way of dealing with combat.

And it’s like, why give me all these cool Service Weapons to use if the game seems geared toward ignoring them?

The voice in my head just scoffs and says this is a baby-poo-poo reason to give up.

3. I’m an Utter Failure When It Comes To Launching Things

To Launch an object at someone, you have to look at it, press a button, have whatever it is zoom toward Jesse Faden’s hand, and then release the button to have her throw it.

During boss encounters, I just couldn’t tell whether or not I was highlighting and grabbing the projectiles they chucked my way to use against them. So I’d hold the button to grab onto it, wait for it to zoom to Jesse’s hand, and then be dismayed when it turned out I hadn’t grabbed onto the projectile, it was just making its destined beeline toward me and eliminating all of my health.

And using Launch, as I’ve stated before, just demolishes the frame rate of the game.

The voice in my head just tells me to git gud.

4. Interrupting Side Missions

I love doing side missions in games. They’re fun. Red Dead Redemption kept me so distracted, I ignored the main storyline for far longer than I should have.

I hate the side missions in Control. The main story in Control is actually riveting, but these occasional alerts will crop up that completely halt the flow of the gameplay.

And what’s even worse, the first time an alert showed up and I went to go tackle it, I died almost instantly and that was it. No opportunity to do it again. It disappeared from my mission log entirely.

These alerts are just combat scenarios you’re supposed to take on within a set amount of time with almost no relation to the story.

The voice in my head is telling me I’m a wuss puss.

5. I Don’t Know How It Wants Me To Play

Normally when I play a game, I learn fairly quickly what playstyle the game wants me to adopt. When I first played Doom (2016), I learned early on that moving was key to survival. Whenever I got placed in combat, I knew I was supposed to run around the arenas while shooting demons because doing otherwise was death. Movement was key.

In any Gears of War game, I knew that taking cover was a vital aspect of gameplay.

In Risk of Rain 2, I learned that balancing my items was important for later stages down the road.

I don’t know what the fuck Control wants from me.

At first I thought it would want me to take cover, especially given how squishy Jesse’s health bar is. But two things make that blatantly untrue. For one thing, Jesse is given a lot of mobility powers, which indicates that the game wants you to use them. For another, enemies drop little health beads when they’re downed, and you have to run over them to collect them. That means if Jesse gets hurt, it behooves her to get closer to foes.

But when I tried rushing into rooms and diving into combat, I was quickly overwhelmed by enemies I didn’t even see. I would get surrounded and annihilated.

The voice in my head is asking me if I’m just stupid.

6. It’s Too Easy To Die and So Hard To Get Back

I bet Soulsborne fans are rolling their eyes at this one. Yeah, I’m being a major whiner right now. You can mock me in the comments.

When Jesse gets hit, her health takes a nosedive. And it’s hard to recover that health aside from killing a few enemies and rushing at their corpses to try to pick up that health confetti they drop.

And when you die, you have to sit through one long-ass loading screen before the game deposits you at your last save point (called a Control point). These Control points are often not even close to where you died.

Side note: Huh, this really is sounding like a Soulsborne game.

So if there’s a boss fight that is giving you trouble, and the Control point preceding it is far away, expect to make the arduous jog to that fight multiple times, complete with an annoying loading screen. This can get especially irksome if, let’s say, the boss fight takes place over a giant chasm, and in your eagerness to start the fight again you time your flight over it a little poorly, and that one fall sets you back to the beginning before you even had a chance to ineffectually Launch something at the boss.

The voice in my head isn’t saying anything so much as he’s just staring at me in judgment.

So there you have it. I’m putting Control down.

And I’m feeling utterly humiliated by that fact.

Rock and Stone! Deep Rock Galactic Review

Owning Xbox Game Pass is a lot like owning Netflix. There are so many cool games I want to check out, I spend more time scrolling through the game library planning what I’ll play next than I do actually buckling down and settling in with a title.

However, that’s not to say I haven’t taken a bite out of the selection available to me. As you guys might remember, I work for a site called TheGamer. I wrote about this ages ago, and since that first post, I’ve climbed through the ranks and become an editor! It’s super cool.

Anyways, I’ve had the incredible pleasure of making friend with several of my fellow editors, and one of them in particular has embarked on this journey with me of combing through fun online co-op titles available on Xbox Game Pass.

One of the first games that called our attention was Deep Rock Galactic. The tagline for the game (“Danger. Darkness. Dwarves.”) is the kind of tagline that just makes you think, “Okay, now this, I’ve got to check out.”

After weeks of playing it, I can say that Deep Rock Galactic does in fact give you danger, darkness, and dwarves, and that it promises straightforward mining fun that leans on cooperative play and indulges in a great sense of humor.

Your Dwarf works for Deep Rock Galactic, a mining company that operates in the far reaches of space. Your new job entails dropping onto a planet called Hoxxes IV and retrieving precious ores in its most dangerous caverns. These caves are crawling with dangerous bug-creatures and riddled with devious environmental hazards.

When launching into a game of Deep Rock Galactic, you start off on a rig in orbit around Hoxxes IV. It is here that you can customize your Dwarf and upgrade their gear. It’s also a nice little hub where you and three other players can just chill out before dropping into a mission.

There are four types of Dwarves you can play as: the Gunner, the Driller, the Scout, and the Engineer. The Gunner is more heavily equipped with weaponry to keep off the hordes of bugs that can attack your group. The Driller has an item that allows them to quickly and easily drill through rock and stone. The Scout focuses on mobility, coming complete with a grappling gun that allows them to travel from one place to another with incredible speed. The Engineer possesses two sentry guns that they can set up wherever it’s most useful.

Every Dwarf uses flares to light up the darkness, a pickaxe to mine for those minerals, and a basic gun to protect themselves in addition to the specialty items they can carry.

Once you’ve tricked out your Dwarves on the rig, you can descend to Hoxxes IV for more adrenaline-inducing fare. There are several mission types, but most of them are basic mine-for-this-ore-until-you-have-this-much assignments. Don’t let this basic gameplay loop fool you though. There is a lot of fun to be had in working together to set up a pipeline, retrieve bug eggs, or mine for a hard-to-see metal.

And every mission is tied up neatly with a mad dash back to an escape pod after you complete your objective.

Now, one of the only cons I can say for Deep Rock Galactic is that the environments tend to blend in after a while. Hazards in a specific area might be unique, but there is a similar quality to every map that is inescapable. However, the joy of playing with your friends completely obscures the repetitive nature of each excursion. Every outing is an adventure, and though I’m going through the same motions every time I go on a mission, I have yet to get tired of it.

I enjoy playing as the Scout, and my coworker friend has rocked nothing but the Engineer since we started playing. It makes for a decent combination of skills as I can zoom in and out of a bad situation and he can provide a solid bastion of support with his sentries.

We’ve had hours of fun simply goofing off on the rig before going on a mission. There’s a jukebox and a bar area where you can drink and dance to your heart’s content, and I’m not too embarrassed to say we’ve spent decent chunks of time just grooving and kicking barrels before diving into a mission.

Side note: I’ve also taken to screaming “Rock and Stone” in an abysmal accent. I’ve also started singing “Diggy Diggy Hole” whenever I swing my pickaxe.

Deep Rock Galactic is a diamond of a game that I feel has gone mostly unnoticed. It is delightful, and it vacillates between hilarious downtime to pulse-pounding sprints for safety. These adrenaline moments are lightly peppered throughout the game, so if you mostly want a chill type of game, don’t turn away from Deep Rock Galactic.

I rate Deep Rock Galactic a game-worthy-of-your-time-that-will-make-you-shout-rock-and-stone-more-times-than-strictly-necessary.

D&Ding Online

The pandemic is still affecting our lives in dramatic ways, and it sucks to think that many of us are approaching the one-year mark of social distancing and quarantining and mask-wearing.

If you do anything long enough, you kind of get used to it, but not being able to see my friends in person is something I don’t want to get used to. Smart social distancing means that I haven’t hung out with any of my friends, including my Dungeons & Dragons group, since March of last year.

My D&D buddies and I used to meet up once a week, every Sunday, to play about six-hour long sessions of adventuring. We’d all gather around a table with carefully drawn diagrams on graph paper, miniature figurines denoting our characters placed on the paper, and role-play and roll dice to our hearts’ content.

2020 changed that set-up. We use online spaces to keep the game going, and it’s functioned fairly well for us.

We use Discord for all our audio needs. We have a private server run by our DM extraordinaire, and we still log on every Sunday to chat and play. We even use Discord to watch movies together-apart. We’ll pick something to watch on Netflix (a streaming service we all have), then press play at the same time.

Side note: And, of course, we’ve also played Among Us together using Discord. I’m a terrible liar, but it turns out I’m also a terrible truther. I have yet to play as Impostor, but no one ever believes me when I say I’m innocent. I have the voice of a guilty person. It majorly sucks, and I’m thinking the next time I play, I’ll speak in a monotone the entire time.

To make up for not having an actual tabletop, we use Roll20, a site that specifically caters to those playing D&D games online. We can recreate graph spaces for our characters to move around in, and Roll20 even comes complete with online dice to use. Most of us still prefer to use our real dice anyways, though.

Playing Dungeons & Dragons online serves its purpose, but it does not feel as great as playing in person. Internet connection issues can wreck a session. RPing through a computer is not nearly as entertaining as doing it face-to-face. (Plus, if you’re speaking as a brutish half-orc into your computer and people in your household happen to be around, crippling embarrassment can detract from your performance. Yes, I’m saying this from experience.)

Personally, I also dislike playing D&D online because it ties me to my laptop for another six hours. Since I work from home, I spend a lot of time on my computer. A lot. And even though D&D can be an enjoyable pastime, when it keeps me glued to this computer, it starts to share that work vibe.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d rather play D&D online than not play D&D at all. Playing online during the pandemic is like using a crutch to walk when you have a limp. The crutch helps you get from point A to point B; you need the crutch. But that wouldn’t stop you from wishing the limp would go away so you could just walk like you normally do.

It’s just not the same.

Minecraft Has Never Been More Therapeutic

With it looking more and more likely that I will not be seeing my sister for Christmas due to concerns about the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, it has never been a better time to dive into the world of Minecraft.

I did not get into Minecraft when it first came out in 2009, but I have always known of it. If you’ve never played Minecraft, it is a game like no other. The graphics are comprised of simple textured blocks, and your little character is placed in a biome (forests, deserts, plains, etc.) and let loose. Minecraft has no rigid structure by which you must play it. If you so choose, you can mine to the deepest portions of the map looking for diamonds and other precious stones. Or you can go around chopping wood blocks so you can craft enormous mansions in the middle of the woods. Or you can spend you life on the run, slashing at errant zombies, creepers, or spiders that come your way. Minecraft is brilliantly simple with numerous ways to get into it and relax.

When you play by yourself, it’s easy to get lost for hours trying to make a little house for yourself with your favorite materials. But one of the greatest pleasures Minecraft can offer is the ability to play with friends. You and your friend can explore the world together, mining your hearts out while you chat about how you day has been going.

During this pandemic, I’ve mostly played Minecraft with my friend Bubba (who I’ve mentioned before) and a coworker of mine (who shall remain nameless because I haven’t gotten their permission to write about them yet).

Bubba is a Minecraft veteran. He knows most of the ins and outs of the game, and he’s really skilled at making ornate palaces for us to live in. While I’m using my incredibly lackluster architectural skills to make rectangular prisms, he’s making rafters, cornices, and entryway steps on his latest masterpiece.

He even goes out of his way to decorate Nether portals. He makes them look like something straight out of a D&D campaign.

We once made an island home, complete with a roller coaster, floating farmlands, intricate stables, and an up-and-coming woolen statue on a nearby mountain. A lot of that was due to Bubba’s diligence and creativity. (I kind of just focused on the farming and the animals.) Unfortunately, we lost that world for a reason which shall not be listed here.

But it had to do with ray tracing.

My coworker and I have barely scratched the surface of what we can accomplish in Minecraft. We found a nice place to make a settlement near a dense forest, but it is terrifyingly prone to thunderstorms there.

While my coworker was busy building our house (you can probably sense a pattern here), I was making a pumpkin patch bordered by a fence. Rain started to pour and thunder boomed in our headphones. I was just a teensy bit unnerved, I’ll admit.

Okay, I was a lot unnerved.

My nerves certainly weren’t helped when lightning struck nearby.

Not that Minecraft is stressful or anything. I’d hate to give you that impression. My favorite thing to do in Minecraft is farm, and it’s one of the most relaxing activities you can do. You just clear out a little square of land, make sure it’s irrigated, i.e. place some water nearby, and then plant seeds. You can grow a variety of different things, from wheat to sugar to beets to potatoes.

You can also cook meat, so fishing is usually on my agenda too. There is nothing more chill than standing by a lake trying to catch a fish.

In a video game, that is.

I’ve never gone fishing in real life.

I live in a desert. Where would I fish?

So Minecraft has been a delightful escape from the depressing news of the real world. (Honestly, at this point, any video game is a delightful escape from the depressing news of the real world.) If you have not heard of Minecraft or if you have but you’ve never played it, I highly recommend that you do.

It’s a laidback experience that promises only good times.

(Unless your friend accidentally deletes a beloved world that you two shared and now you have to start from scratch.)

Rain, Rain, Go and Play: Risk of Rain 2 Review

People use the phrase “out of left field” to describe something that surprised them in some manner. The saying comes from the sport of baseball, and it is typically associated with a ball thrown from left field that can surprise the runner.

I don’t play baseball, but I’m rather fond of the saying. It’s one of my favorite ways of saying that something delighted or weirded me out unexpectedly.

Risk of Rain 2 came out of left field. I’d heard about it vaguely, information about the game coming from tiny references in gaming articles or offhanded mentions during a stream. So when the game was on sale, I decided to buy it and give it a whirl.

Holy shit.

Risk of Rain 2 surprised me with how engrossing and fun it could be. Its straightforward gameplay loop drew me in and kept me playing for hours. More than once, I stayed up till 2 in the morning trying to finish a lengthy run.

It is a roguelike third-person shooter, and for those of you who don’t know what the term “roguelike” stands for, it means the levels are procedurally generated and once you die, you’re dead. Your run is over. You have to start from scratch.

However, don’t let this turn you off from Risk of Rain 2. The game’s immense replayability makes it an utter joy to start up again.

The game has a decent handful of maps to explore. Each map will have randomly placed items every time you spawn there. Every map will also have a teleporter that needs to be activated to move on to the next level. Enemies will pop up to take swipes at you, and in order to defeat them, you should collect as many of the items as you can find on the map. These items cost money, and money is gained every time you down an enemy.

And that’s pretty much all there is to gameplay.

It’s a terribly simple premise, but it sucks you in with how satisfying it is. The game is action-packed, so there are never any dull moments where you’re wandering around the map with nothing to do. Enemies are constantly thrown at you, and you have to defeat them before an insurmountable swarm overcomes you.

In addition to that, the items (and how useful they are) are a huge part of why you want to persist in playing to the end of your run, no matter how long it takes. The items can stack upon each other infinitely. So, for instance, there is an item called a Hopoo Feather that gives your character an extra jump. There is nothing that stops you from getting more of these. As long as you can find them on the map and you have the money to buy them, you can stack these Hopoo Feathers like there’s no tomorrow until your character can jump in the air twenty times or more.

The absence of limits is liberating, and the game refuses to tell you no when it comes to gaining items. And when the enemies consistently increase in numbers and difficulty, you’re going to need those items.

Dodging foes can become a bit tricky when the screen is crowded with brightly colored enemies and laser blasts and fire attacks, but mastery over the combat eventually means you can recognize attack patterns and avoid them with practice.

My absolute favorite aspect of Risk of Rain 2 is how differently each character plays. Oftentimes, in games that include different classes, they all have the same feel when you play as them. There’s just a minor difference or two between one and another.

In Risk of Rain 2, the different playable characters you acquire all have different playstyles to get accustomed to.

And the fantastic thing is that even though they’re incredibly different, they’re all equally viable.

For example, aside from the Commando who is the standard default character, there is the Huntress. She’s got the lowest health pool initially from the group of characters you can unlock, but she’s the fastest. She can sprint and shoot at the same time, something no other character can do. Her bow also automatically locks on to enemies without you having to do more than generally aim in their direction.

If a squishy speedster is not your style, you can play as the Engineer. He can toss out grenades, but he’s not really a precision fighter. His true strength lies in his deployable turrets. Any items he collects are also applied to these turrets, which essentially gives him up to a three “man” squad any time he goes up against a boss.

But what if you like to get up close and personal? Then maybe the Mercenary is right for you. The Mercenary wields a sword, so getting right next to enemies is the name of the game. This is incredibly daunting when going up against flying opponents that like to stay out of reach, but it is oh so satisfying to slice them to bits.

Risk of Rain 2 was a surprising amount of fun for me, especially given that I’m particularly fond of story-based games. (I’m a fan of the walking simulator for crying out loud.) And just in case you were worried about not having played the original title, you have nothing to fear. I never played the first game. But that didn’t stop me from adoring the second, even though it did come from out of left field.

I rate Risk of Rain 2 a drizzling-torrent-of-a-good-time-that-is-unironically-the-perfect-game-to-play-on-a-rainy-day.

A D&D Story: The Rogue and the Mirror

Our Dungeons & Dragons party hunkered in a hallway outside a room where we knew a big battle would take place. Our game sessions had been leading to this moment for months. We were nervous, excited, and more than a little unprepared.

Weeks ago, our party had fought a giant abyssal creature, and it had driven one of our characters insane. (Seriously, our Dungeon Master thought it would be nifty to fiddle with Insanity Rolls.) No longer trusting anyone, our resident Wizard snuck away from the group without leaving any word of where he was headed. When the rest of our characters finally did learn where he was hiding, we also learned that he had made friends with some dark entity from another dimension, and our misguided Wizard was trying to bring it over to our world.

We had to stop him.

Which led us to this hallway, in an old fortress, waiting to enter a room.

Both in real life and in the game, we were pumped to dive in and rescue our friend.

Here’s who was playing that day:

Our newest party member Tekoa was playing as a sprightly Monk our group had found adrift on the sea while trying to locate our Wizard friend. She was great in a pinch, willing to lie to trick the bad guys, and packed a mean wallop with every roll.

Christian was playing his Rogue, sneaky to the millionth degree, his penchant for getting into trouble matched only by his ability to get out of it.

Mia was playing the practical but probably-incredibly-tired-by-our-party’s-shenanigans Druid. She has healed us more times than we can count, and her level-headed use of spells during a fight is irreplaceable.

Dalton had the honor of playing two characters at once. He was the one who had lost his Wizard to insanity, so he was still in charge of that guy. He had also made a new spell-wielding Dwarven Automaton character to accompany the rest of us in bringing his original wayward character back into the fold. Dalton would be playing both a villain and a hero in this encounter.

And lastly, there was me, playing as my optimistic Fighter. She was a small Gnome with a massive amount of Dexterity at her disposal, a force to be reckoned with at close range with finesse weapons.

We might seem like a crack team of D&D players, but if you’ve read any of my other D&D Stories, you know we’ll always find a way to mess things up.

Our group had coerced a diminutive Goblin to lead us to the room where our Wizard was attempting to contact this dark entity. The Goblin mentioned he only knew of one secret way into the room aside from the main entrance. And it was tiny.

My small Fighter instantly volunteered to go through the opening the Goblin indicated. “I’ll do it! I can do it! I’m going in!”

Mia’s Druid held up a hand, saying, “No! Wait! Let’s come up with a plan first!”

Our Dungeon Master (DM) looked right at me and asked if I would heed the Druid’s warning. Knowing that my Fighter was overconfident and headstrong, I figured she would have already rushed in the small passage. I said as much, and Mia could only grit her teeth in annoyance.

Not knowing what might await my character, the rest of the party decided to enter the large room without me, hoping that the passage the Goblin was leading me down would allow me to flank our Wizard at the end of it. They gathered themselves by the main entrance under our Druid’s lead. My careless Fighter had left them one man short.

Just before the door was opened, Christian’s Rogue placed his Ring of Invisibility on his finger. He disappeared from view.

Now, this ring is Christian’s prize possession. It allows him to deal huge amounts of damage when he sneaks up on an unsuspecting victim. Before a big fight, he usually puts it on in preparation.

So as the party burst through the doors, the Rogue was invisible, as per usual.

The sight that awaited my friends was distressing.

Our Wizard friend was standing before a grotesque portal with strands of fleshy material tethering it to the wall, ceiling, and floor. An eerie light was emanating from it. Our DM told us, however, that the energy in the room felt like it was mounting for something bigger. Clearly, the portal wasn’t open yet, but it would be very shortly.

Unfortunately, my friends didn’t have long to glimpse this horror. As soon as they came into the room, the Wizard whirled around, a grim smile on his face. With a wave of his hand, he removed a large cloth sheet from a mirror that was mounted directly in front of the door my friends had just used. As soon as the mirror was revealed, the DM told them they all had to make Charisma Saving Throws.

I bit my nails nervously (in real-life, not in the game) as everyone at the table rolled their 20-sided dice. Mia, Tekoa, and Dalton all rolled high numbers for the Druid, Monk, and Automaton respectively.

Christian rolled a terrifyingly low 4. His Rogue was not a particularly “charismatic” character, so there was not much he could add to increase that number.

With special enthusiasm, the DM began to describe what happened to the Rogue. “You feel a strange light surround you, and a strange sucking feeling at your feet. All of a sudden, you feel like you’re pulled away. You blink, and you’re no longer in the room. You’re in an infinite white space with fog all around you.” The DM turned to the rest of the party (the Druid, Monk, and Automaton) and said, “You see your friend disappear.”

Mia, ever aware of practicalities and inconsistencies, furrowed her brow. “But…he was invisible.”

The DM paled at this forgotten bit of information. “Oh…right. Umm, then I guess none of you see anything happen.”

Stunned silence hit the table as we realized that we just lost our Rogue friend to a magical trap…and none of us were aware of it.

Side note: Yes, technically speaking, as players we all know Christian’s character got trapped. But our characters, in the world of the game, have no clue. And as part of playing D&D properly, we have to maintain their ignorance.

Dalton, as his Wizard, spat out a “Dammit!”

We all laughed as one, knowing that from the Wizard’s perspective, his mirror trap absolutely failed to ensnare anyone.

The fight to close the portal and reason with our insane Wizard friend began in earnest. Several goons were protecting him, so the Automaton and the Monk started hammering away at them. Mia knew where our priorities should lie and had her Druid cast Moonbeam over the still-barely-closed portal. White, ethereal light shone down on the fleshy tendrils, burning them slowly with radiant damage.

Meanwhile, our Rogue tried running around in his infinite interdimensional pocket, to no avail.

Tekoa’s Monk decided to abandon the fight with the goons in favor of punching the lights out of the Wizard. She had come to the group after his departure, so she had no compunctions about hitting his face to kingdom come. She landed some hefty hits on the Wizard, and Dalton had to struggle to keep track of how both his Automaton and the Wizard were faring in terms of health.

Meanwhile, Christian’s Rogue tried cutting a whole in the floor to escape; it didn’t work.

My Fighter had been having a tough time following the Goblin through the secret passage. A magical fire trap actually killed the Goblin halfway through the tunnel, but my Fighter survived by the skin of her teeth. Traumatized and singed, she emerged in the room where the big fight was happening after a few moments.

With the Druid focusing on the portal, the Automaton focusing on the goons, and the Monk focusing on the Wizard, it was hard to decide where my Fighter should go next. But after Tekoa’s Monk was given a beating by some goons who stepped up to support the Wizard in his fight against her, she was not looking too good. I sent my Fighter sprinting over to assist her.

The fight continued as Christian’s Rogue went crazy trying to figure out a way to escape.

Finally feeling merciful toward Christian’s plight, the DM allowed the Automaton to make a History Check. This is not only a roll to see if he remembers what this mirror is and how to deal with it; it is also a roll to see if the Automaton can make the logical leap that the mirror was a trap our invisible Rogue might have fallen into. A very average 11 ensured that the Automaton at least recollected that destroying it should release whoever is inside. The metal behemoth trudged over to the mirror and began whacking at it.

Mia’s poor Druid was left to attack the portal by herself while also fending off the goons the Automaton had previously held at bay. “You guys, the portal!” she cried out desperately.

Tekoa’s Monk was on the brink of death, however, so she crawled as far away from the fight as she could to try and recuperate.

My Fighter, in the meantime, was attempting to start a dialogue with the Wizard, her former friend, in the hopes of reaching a peaceful resolution to the situation.

The energy from the portal reached critical levels.

The Automaton swung a mighty blow against the mirror, and it shattered into hundreds of pieces. Our Rogue appeared from out of nowhere, gasping in relief and visible for the world to see. Unluckily, he was not the only being trapped in one of the mirror’s interdimensional pockets. Three Drow Elves, a Dwarf, a handful of beasts, and a Mind Flayer all suddenly appeared in the room.

Mass chaos ensued as everyone began fighting everyone.

My Fighter’s dialogue with the Wizard halted as we both turned to look at the suddenly much more crowded room. Tekoa’s Monk huddled in a corner trying to heal. Mia’s Druid begged us all to turn our attention to the portal one final time.

That’s when the portal finally opened fully, and a gargantuan Beholder floated out of it with a hideous cackle.

Things went downhill from there. Tekoa’s Monk ran away in fright. The Automaton got petrified and charmed by our Wizard. Mia’s Druid got tossed out a window and fell 60 feet. The Rogue used his Warp Arrows to teleport outside to save her, but he ended up shooting the arrow too far; he appeared by the fortress walls instead. My Fighter then used her Broom of Flying to try and catch her as well, but that failed. Our Druid didn’t die, but it was a close thing.

Those of us that could flee had to run away from the fortress. Dark clouds gathered around the battlements, and we could hear the Beholder’s laughter in our minds as we sprinted away.

At the end of the session, the DM leaned back in his chair and rubbed at his eyes. “I guess we’ll pick this up next week?”

How and Why BioShock 2 Failed Me

My love for the original BioShock game is stronger than Superman’s ability to arm wrestle. I wrote a whole post about it. Even though it’s a grim setting, the world of BioShock charms me to no end. I love immersing myself in the universe and lore, and for those of you wondering, I even love BioShock Infinite.

As most gamers who have played BioShock will say, the weakest link in my BioShock adoration chain is BioShock 2. When asked about whether or not I liked the sequel, I have always just shrugged and said, “It was okay. Not amazing, but not bad.”

Well, after trying to replay BioShock 2 a few months ago (key phrase is “trying to”), my opinion has definitively changed.

I really don’t like BioShock 2.

As a gamer who likes to see games through to the end no matter my level of enjoyment, I found myself becoming more and more indifferent to finishing BioShock 2 until I eventually dropped it in favor of playing endless rounds of Risk of Rain 2.

Side note: Expect a future post about Risk of Rain 2. I just want to try out the multiplayer component before I type up a review/gush-a-athon.

If you have never played BioShock, this post might not mean much to you. I mean, why should you care why its sequel is such a disappointment if you’ve never played it? But if you’ve ever played a role-playing game (RPG) at some point, you’ll be able to understand my grievances well enough.

The first thing that works against BioShock 2 is that the wonder of the world of Rapture begins to fade.

In the original game, Rapture is an engrossing environment. It’s an underwater city that was meant to house artists, inventors, businessmen, and entrepreneurs in a world that functions like Ayn Rand’s wet dreams. However, as anyone who has read Atlas Shrugged and learned about the pitfalls of Objectivism knows, you can clearly see why everything went to shit. When exploring the world in the first BioShock, you’re just captivated by how terribly everything fell apart and the nuances of how a society like this could ever have functioned.

The second game takes place in Rapture as well, but there is nothing new about the principles of the place. It is still a decrepit underwater city that failed due to its selfish societal dictates. So the fascination with its downfall is lessened somewhat. In addition to that, since BioShock 2 attempts to incorporate new enemy types and environmental hazards in a world that has already established a history, every new aspect feels like a forced add-on.

The original BioShock was a crisp and unique monument. BioShock 2 added unwieldy lumps of clay to that monument.

The second thing that brings BioShock 2 down a notch from its predecessor is its premise. You play as a Big Daddy trying to reunite with his “daughter.”

Now, in the first BioShock, Big Daddies were the ultimate enemy types that a player could face. Hulking behemoths in gargantuan old-timey wetsuits that take lumbering steps that shake the floor (and your controller) as they protect their Little Sister charges, all the while moaning and groaning in a metallic fashion.

Big Daddies were the stuff of nightmares.They were a terrifying and ominous threat that you took on at your own peril.

In BioShock 2, you play as one of them, and while that might sound cool, it significantly lessens the vibe of what it means to be a Big Daddy.

Why?

Well, because suddenly, Splicers, the lowest form of enemies you can face in the BioShock franchise, can attack you with relative impunity.

It’d be as if you were playing a Lord of the Rings game, and suddenly Hobbits were giving trouble to the Ringwraiths.

However, that’s not where BioShock 2 fails the most.

The biggest turn-off for me while playing had to do with its RPG elements.

Now, the BioShock series features very light RPG elements in that you can upgrade your skill set throughout the game, slowly getting stronger, getting access to better weapons, and improving those weapons over time.

The first game handled these aspects well. You slowly built up your store of powers and gained weapon upgrades incrementally. Everything felt perfectly spaced out. Personally, I was always pumped whenever I got some ADAM so that I could upgrade my powers. And the new weapons were handed to me in unforgettable sequences that allowed me to try them out.

The second game, in my incredibly Below Average opinion, totally fudged this up.

Let me explain to you how the upgrade system works in BioShock 2.

As a Big Daddy, you need ADAM to upgrade and gain new abilities. ADAM is found in corpses scattered around Rapture, and the only ones capable of extracting it are the hideous Little Sisters. And even though you’re technically a Big Daddy, you can’t just summon up a Little Sister to follow and protect. No, you have to steal them from other Big Daddies. Once you’ve defeated a Big Daddy, you “adopt” his Little Sister, and she can lead you to corpses filled with ADAM.

Side note: Yes, the concept of taking red DNA juice from dead bodies is gross, but that’s part of BioShock’s charm.

However, it’s no small task for your newfound Little Sister to collect ADAM. For some reason, setting her down to suck up that sweet, sweet ADAM sounds a clarion call for every Splicer in a mile-wide radius to come attack you. Once you assign a corpse to a Little Sister for collection, BioShock 2 initiates this kind of defense sequence where you have to stop anyone from getting to her.

So collecting ADAM and upgrading your character becomes a long, drawn-out process that contributes nothing to the story. And to make matters worse, BioShock 2’s placement of Big Daddies and Little Sisters is super rushed.

For instance, at one point in the game, I have to confront a Father Wales. He’s this religious nut that has created a cult of followers in a section of Rapture called Siren Alley. Wales is stopping me and my character from reaching our pseudo-daughter, so he has to be dealt with. I enter Siren Alley with every intention of dealing with Wales immediately. His voice mocks me on the intercom, and I’m prepared to defeat yet another video game’s psychotic religious leader.

However, as I enter the beginning portions of Siren Alley, I see a Big Daddy leading a Little Sister along.

Any RPG player worth their salt knows that upgrading skills and gear is of paramount importance. You always tackle upgrades before diving into the story because you don’t know if and when a story mission might take you away from a place you could have gotten some much-needed skill improvements.

So what do I do?

I prepare for a Big Daddy showdown.

After defeating this other Big Daddy and taking his Little Sister, I have her lead me to as many ADAM-filled corpses as she can. Each time we find one, I prepare for the imminent onslaught of Splicers before setting her down. I lay out some traps at different entry points, buy a few health kits, and hunker down for the attack. Finally, after she’s gotten me all the ADAM she can and I’ve killed a city’s worth of Splicers protecting her, I drop her off at a vent and prepare to continue my quest to stop Father Wales.

But then my controller starts to shake and I hear the giggles of a Little Sister. Turning the corner, I see another Big Daddy and Little Sister in this very same area. I sigh, gear up for another unsatisfying Big Daddy showdown, and take his Little Sister when I’m done.

I take her to the corpses she can find me and engage in more defend-this-ADAM-collecting-machine segments of gameplay, and after two hours of playtime in Siren Alley, I have not progressed an inch in terms of advancing the story. I’m in the very same section of plaza that I was when I entered this area.

And so, after some listless slogging, I finally dropped my replay of BioShock 2.

I’m currently enjoying Risk of Rain 2 to no end.