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!

Can I Just Say I Have the Best Coworkers Ever?

As anybody who has worked as a freelancer can tell you, it’s not easy to make friends with people you work with.

Time spent freelancing for people feels fairly transient, so you don’t always have the opportunity to form bonds with your coworkers. It is definitely not like a traditional workspace.

For the longest time, I felt a little left out of conversations between my mother and my sister. The two of them could talk for ages about the comings and goings of their fellow teachers. Since they have similar career paths, the two of them could chat about every aspect of their work under the sun and not miss a beat.

But if I tried to reminisce about a particularly tough day at work when the internet refused to cooperate or a program was acting wonky, they’d give me oh-that-sucks murmurings, and then return to a conversation topic they were more familiar with.

However, at this point, I have been writing and editing for TheGamer and GameRant for years, and I’m so happy to say I’ve established bonds and shared experiences with the people who work alongside me there.

Honestly, this is the best group of people I’ve ever worked with.

When I first started out, I was so hesitant about talking to anyone in our Slack channel (think Discord but more work-oriented), but these days, I’m joking with everybody (or trying to) on a near daily basis.

It has been an absolutely friendly work environment, and I’ve gotten to know fellow editors and writers in this workspace I would never have met otherwise.

Side note: I even have a dedicated gaming night between me and one of my coworkers. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before.

It’s been a lot of fun, and even though I worry about my job security (something every freelancer has worried about at some point in time), I know that the friendships I’ve made will extend beyond my time there.

Anywaysies, I’m feeling lucky and grateful to have had this job for so long, and I just wanted to gush about it today.

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.

Volatile Voyages: Sea of Thieves Review

During my neverending quest to play through all the titles on Xbox Game Pass that I can, I came across Sea of Thieves. My coworker buddy and I were both pumped for trying it out because who doesn’t want to be a pirate?

Side note: I really should ask him if I have permission to use his name here. But I keep forgetting/chickening out.

Now, I have never played Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, so Sea of Thieves was actually the first game I played that involved using a ship and sailing.

Nothing but excitement and anticipation filled my body as my coworker friend and I booted up and got ready to sail the seas.

And after several hours of adventure, mishaps, and extensive fishing, I know exactly what to say to people who ask me what Sea of Thieves is like.

It’s okay.

That’s it.

Sea of Thieves possesses a fairly shallow gameplay loop, so long-term replayability does not sit well with me. But those initial hours of exploring the world with a crew of your friends are undeniably fun and exciting.

The game starts off with a short tutorial that you must complete solo, but afterwards, you and three other friends can comprise a crew together. There are three different kinds of ships you and your friends can use: the Sloop, the Brigantine, and the Galleon.

Their layouts are similar, with most of the differences contingent on the increase or decrease in size between each. The Sloop is the smallest and can comfortably fit two players. The Galleon is the largest, and if two people tried to run that boat, they’re asking for trouble. Between running below decks to plug leaks and running back up to lower the anchor, every voyage would be a marathon.

Once you have a crew assembled, you can go on quests together, and one of Sea of Thieves’ problems is that these are all essentially fetch quests.

There are three types of quests available at the time of this writing. You can either receive a map of an island with some buried treasure to dig up and deliver to somebody, a bounty on some evil skeletons that you have to defeat in combat and deliver their skulls to somebody else, or a commission to transport goods from one person to another.

As you can see, a game comprised entirely of this can get fatiguing as you shuttle back and forth as a glorified deliveryman.

There are a few events scattered throughout the world, and I assume these are updated regularly, but they’re still pretty much the same. Fight off bad guys, take their loot, and deliver it.

On the bright side, your pirate is fully customizable. You can purchase different skins for your equipment, weapons, instruments, and more.

Sailing your ship is honestly the most exciting aspect of Sea of Thieves. It looks and feels like what I would imagine sailing an actual ship would look and feel like.

And the water.

My god.

I have never seen an ocean look so good in a video game. The waves pushing past your ship are so enticing, it makes you want to jump overboard just to be closer to them. Graphically, the sea is absolutely stunning.

One person can manage to sail around in Sea of Thieves, but it’s far easier and more enjoyable with at least two. You can take turns standing by the helm, adjusting the sails to catch the breeze, perching in the crow’s nest to keep an eye out for ships, examining the map below decks, or playing your hurdy-gurdy non-stop to maintain some mood music.

Side note: Oh, yeah. Sea of Thieves lets you play music on instruments you just have in your equipment wheel. When you and other players pull out the instrument of your choice and start playing, the music automatically harmonizes.

While sailing the expansive ocean, you’ll notice that the atmosphere changes depending on what portion of the sea you’re sailing on. For example, one area features sparkling sea-green water, with relatively clear skies, while another area to the south contains choppy, grey waters with stormy skies almost constantly. It’s a cool way to keep the generally static environment of an ocean feeling fresh.

While you’re sailing from point A to point B, several things can happen that shoot some excitement into an otherwise relaxing endeavor. Other player ships can appear on the horizon, causing the two crews to wonder if you’ll attack each other or just sail right by, ignoring each other. There are also monstrous sea beasts, like a giant shark and a kraken, that can attack your ship. These creatures are cued by threatening music, and the kraken is usually heralded by a sudden staining of the ocean from blue to utter black.

Peppered across the sea are small islands, and it’s here that you can pick up items, find those skeletons for your bounties, and dig up treasure. Though the occasional fortress or odd cave might differentiate these islands from each other, they feel largely similar. The activities you can do on each island are also the same. You can fish, fight, dig, or collect small animals that inhabit these lonely specks in an interminable ocean.

Sea of Thieves’ biggest flaw is its complete lack of an end goal. The only end goal I can see deriving from Sea of Thieves is earning enough money to pay for your favorite paint jobs. That’s it. And if customization is a game’s sole objective instead of just a side perk, you’re going to have a tough time drawing in and keeping players invested. There is no demonstrable story to find, and your character’s skills cannot be upgraded. Personally, aside from unlocking every parrot-themed skin I can find, there is nothing else for me to really work toward.

That’s not to say I haven’t had a great time playing Sea of Thieves. My coworker friend and I have had some outrageously hilarious adventures of our own making while playing the game.

Our most disastrous outing was also one of our first. We decided to take up a contract to deliver some chickens to an outpost. After receiving the chicken coops needed to carry these birds, we set out on a search of various islands for the specific type of chicken we needed.

It took us ages. We had terrible luck finding an island that sported chickens on its shores. Pigs and snakes must have bred like bunnies; they were everywhere.

Finally, we found an island with some chickens, and after a bit of finagling, we got two of them into our coops. We brought them on board and set sail for the outpost.

However, while we were sailing there, this mighty storm appeared over our heads. The waves became gargantuan slopes in front of us, rain poured down in sheets, and thunder sounded every few seconds.

The storm tossing us around actually caused damage to our ship, springing enough holes in our boat that our bottom deck got flooded. In an effort to save the chickens from drowning, I brought them above decks, near the mast. I went below decks to start bucketing water out of it and to try patching up some of the leaks. In the meantime, my coworker friend was struggling to control the helm and make sense of our spinning compass.

During one of my trips up to dump out water, lightning struck the ship and sent me flying out into the ocean. My friend immediately dropped anchor and was able to guide me back on board.

When I climbed back up, the two of us could only see smoking drumsticks in the chicken coops by the mast.

Apparently, the lightning struck and cooked our chickens.

At this point, we’d left the ship leaks so neglected as we stared forlornly at these edible remains that our Sloop slowly sank.

With our ship scuttled, we got a new one and tried to start another delivery quest. Almost as soon as we set out on that mission, a Kraken attacked our vessel, killing me and destroying this second ship as well.

We haven’t had a wild time like that in a bit; we have instead chosen to focus on fishing. I have my eye set on a parrot-themed fishing pole, and the only way to get it is to fish and deliver “pondies” to an NPC.

It’s quite relaxing, and we don’t get sent to Davy Jones’ locker as often as we used to.

I don’t want to turn anyone away from playing Sea of Thieves because it is a fun experience in those first few hours. However, don’t expect this to transform into a game you frequently return to unless they add more content.

I rate Sea of Thieves a pirate-adventure-that-loses-charm-over-time-but-can-set-your-heart-to-sailing-with-a-mesmerizing-sea-and-a-recipe-for-good-fun-with-friends.

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.

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.)

Eldritch Hilarity: Call of Cthulhu Review

Before you ask, no, I’m not reviewing H.P. Lovecraft’s classic short story “The Call of Cthulhu.” I’m not even talking about the popular Call of Cthulhu tabletop RPG.

No, today I’m going to review the video game Call of Cthulhu that is based on those two pieces of work. It was made by developers Cyanide, and I recently played it on my Xbox. (I finished it ages ago, but since work has been freakin’ piling on me, I haven’t had a chance to write about it until now.)

Call of Cthulhu takes light RPG elements and tries blending them with a survival horror experience. Does it succeed? Kind of.

Well, no, not really.

But that did not stop me from enjoying the game immensely.

However, if you’re looking for meaningful scares, you might want to look elsewhere.

I was first introduced to the game thanks to my handy dandy Xbox Live Gold membership. Every month, a couple of games are given to members for free, and Call of Cthulhu was one of them. I eagerly downloaded it and approached my D&D buddies with the news. “Guess what I’m going to be playing,” I half-boasted.

After proclaiming that I was, in fact, going to be diving into Call of Cthulhu, one of them, Chris, chortled. “Good luck,” he said. With those two words and a tone full of mirth, he dashed my hopes that I’d be getting a serious Cthulhu experience.

Side note: I’m getting a bit nervous typing “Cthulhu” so often. Maybe I should stop.

Chris’ manner of wishing me luck led me to believe that I’d be playing a bad video game, so when I first started it up, that’s how I approached it. I decided to be patient with any game foibles I encountered, laugh good-humoredly any time something corny or lame happened, and I also decided wholeheartedly to join Cthulhu cultists if the game gave me the opportunity.

Side note: I normally take the white hat route in any and every video game I play. I don’t like being the bad guy. But, you know, it’s fun to let loose every once in a while. Especially if you’re looking for giggles.

The game is played from the first-person perspective, which is ideal for a horror game in my opinion. Makes you feel like your face is right up in the danger. The basic gameplay mechanics consist of walking around, picking up items, reading a few stray documents, and holding up a light source to guide you through the very green darkness.

You can also talk to non-playable characters when so prompted, but I’ll go more in-depth on that in a bit.

Your character is the delightfully stereotypical drunken detective, Edward Pierce. He possesses skills for Investigation and Occultism and a few others, and you can upgrade these skills with points. You earn points by progressing through the game.

The story starts with Pierce being contacted to investigate the mysterious death of a family in a place called Darkwater. (Like, if that name doesn’t set off alarm bells for H.P. Lovecraft fans, I don’t know what will. It just sounds like it’s about to be inhabited by Cthulhu worshipers.) As Pierce uncovers a vast conspiracy on the island, he must traverse through an abandoned mansion, an insane asylum, and dark caves, all places you’d expect to see in a game like this.

The graphics are serviceable, and I have to give a tip of my hat to whoever decided to make the lighting eternally green. No matter where you go on Darkwater Island, there’s greenish lighting everywhere. Sets up the tone of the game quite nicely.

However, facial animations look a bit stiff, which matches the voice acting in certain places at least. Conversations can become downright hilarious when a character’s facial expressions do not match what you’d expect to see given the circumstances. Plus, since conversations are such an important aspect of the game, you can expect to be off-put by these animations frequently.

Conversations give players a chance to pick from a few dialogue options. Though none of them match the side-splitting non sequiturs from Life is Strange, if you get Pierce to go insane, new choices are available to you that are incredibly funny.

Another important aspect of the game is puzzle solving, and I’m happy to say that Call of Cthulhu does have some pretty nifty puzzles for players to work through. I especially enjoyed the one in which you have to open a safe by picking up various clues from a man’s bookstore.

However, Pierce’s “detective” skills verge on magical. The game sets you into a sort of flashback when Pierce enters detecting mode. Clues become highlighted on the ground, and as you pick them up, a scene starts rebuilding itself. Despite its departure from realism, those are actually cool moments. In fact, they’re way more serviceable than the combat and chase sequences.

At one point, madness enters the minds of all the denizens on the island. Pierce must finally use his gun to escape from these zombie-esque islanders wandering around. The thing is, these guys are all one-shot kills. As soon as you tap them with a bullet, they’re down. It doesn’t even have to be a headshot. At first, hesitant to down innocent townspeople, I started shooting people in the arms and legs to try and nonlethally get past them. Imagine my dismay when each and every one of them went down like a sack of concrete.

Combat is laughably easy. The mind-controlled people move slower than a George Romero zombie. You can pick them off with ease once you get over your qualms about shooting them. (Which you do because if they get near you, you are instantly killed.) Calling these sections “combat” feels a bit like a lie.

There are also chase sequences, and while they are as straightforward as the “combat” ones, they are more frustrating. You see, mind-controlled persons aren’t the only threats you face. Cthulhu throws some monsters at you, particularly one called the Shambler. You cannot really kill this thing; you can only run from it. And these moments are either hilarious marathons as you keep the monster forever on your trail or frustrating insta-kills.

My favorite parts of Call of Cthulhu were any conversation I had with this cop named Bradley. He never really reacted in ways I would expect. Toward the end of the game, you’re faced with a choice regarding Bradley’s fate. However, it’s never revealed whether your choice had any lasting consequences.

This leads into what is one of Call of Cthulhu’s greatest flaws. Your choices in the game do not feel like they have much of an impact, and with a game that possesses RPG elements, that’s not a good thing. I can’t even say whether it mattered or not that I placed more skill points in one skill over another because I’m not entirely certain I could have gotten different results with different skills.

To prove my point, the ending seems to give you various options a la Mass Effect 3, each of which gives you a different ending cutscene.

I, of course, chose to complete the ritual that would allow Cthulhu to enter this world, and I do believe it is the best choice. Why? It gives you a half-second glimpse of Cthulhu as you call it forth.

None of the other endings give you that. The other endings just give you a drunk and depressed Pierce back at his apartment, in an asylum, or dead.

Clearly, I chose the best option.

Don’t play Call of Cthulhu if you’re looking for a horror experience. You’d be much better off playing something like Outlast. And if you want to dive into a good RPG, Call of Cthulhu is also one to avoid.

However, if you want to spend a little time goofing around in a Lovecraftian mystery, it’s actually not that bad of a game.

I rate Call of Cthulhu an enjoyable-romp-through-Eldritch-cosmic-horror-that-remains-hilariously-down-to-earth.

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.