Saturday, 11 October 2014

Dark Souls 2: Crown of the Ivory King and Main Game Issues

As much as I love this game it's becoming harder to defend some of the decisions made by FromSoft so here are some questions and complaints regarding the main game and the DLC's in particular The Crown of the Ivory King.

I've seen posts on forums and particularly the developers own forum, where a couple of people don't think broken poise, hordes of enemies, inflated difficulty and bad enemy placement in place of actual creativity and other real problems are fine and we should accept them as part of the game.  That's just short sighted and in my opinion quite ignorant.   I enjoy this game but it has glaring issues, especially since the recent patches.  Anyone who doesn't see that is fooling themselves.

Difficulty does not equal inflating enemy poise and health pools, having hordes of enemies swarm you, faulty hitboxes, and generally making the player weaker to simulate a "hard" game.   That's cheap, not imaginative challenge.
Onto my list of things that need to be addressed in the main game:

1.  Why is it with the plethora of items requiring Twinkling Titanite and Petrified Dragon Bone we cannot get a vendor who sells infinite supplies of both at the end of New Game.  The game was developed so that we couldn't farm ad infinitum due to spawns being limited.  This can be achieved by using Ascetics effectively ascending those areas to NG+ level and beyond depending on how many times you do it.  However, when one progresses to NG+ rotations those areas remain at their elevated levels.

So, you have a number of armour sets that require Twinkling Titanite.  Which one or two do you use all of your resources on?  I wouldn't care if the price was high and it should be, but not limited or requiring farming, which as already mentioned is discouraged.  Farming for hours is boring, so why on one hand limit it and then make it impossible to buy these resources?

There are a lot of Boss weapons, a number of which are inferior to other weapons requiring basic Titanite even when fully upgraded, so why is there no way to purchase unlimited Petrified Dragon Bone?

2.  Why, when FromSoft decides to "balance" the game and entire classes out of reasonable existence do they not ever communicate with their fan base.  I know a lot of game developers don't bother to talk to the people who actually pay for and play their product, (loyal fans by the way,) but a little goes a long way when the game is now so different than it was at release.  And not for the better in many respects. 

OK, some things needed balancing and certain exploits needed nerfing, but there's a point when it goes too far.

 It seems to me they are balancing the game around PvP, and listening more to PvP players, when a very large part of it revolves around PvE.  I have zero interest in PvP but the game was developed with both in mind therefore each have their place, so don't make one inferior to the other.  I'm not the only one who prefers PvE, helping others and getting help myself when needed, and having fun in co-op. 

Stamina regen has been noticeably reduced, but most enemies seem to have infinite stamina, not to mention poise.

Lockon is now at close melee range, if you're lucky and in good lighting.  For mages that's almost a death sentence when enemies in groups rush you.  What is the use of armour when it does virtually nothing for defense and poise?  We may as well run around in rags as many do, for mobility, but also because armour doesn't matter much except for "Fashion Souls." 

The nerfing of Lightning Spear damage, which was supposedly a mistake when reducing the number of casts, has never been fixed, or acknowledged.  However if you pay for the Crown of the Sunken King DLC you get a Lightning Clutch Ring that increases damage at the cost of physical defense. This is a theme over all three DLC's where magic of all types, except for fire, has been reduced, but you have to pay to get a ring to replace it.

To add to that casting speed has been reduced, the number of slots needed for some spells with reduced castings is ridiculous and damage in general has been lowered.  Some say magic was overpowered, maybe it was, maybe not, but isn't playing a mage class about being powerful in their chosen discipline since they can't afford to be hit?  The term "Glass Cannon" came about for a reason.

Enemy resistances have been boosted now, making a mage build even harder and in the DLC's, practically a waste of time.  My mage characters have basically been left to linger as I don't see the point in having to level stats to use a bow which is way more efficient than spells, especially in areas like the Shrine of Amana.

3.  I don't really care because it looks ridiculous, but where is the rest of the set belonging to the Flower Skirt from the Crown of the Sunken King?  If the rest of the outfit was available it may well be worth having even if only to say you have it.  I can't say I've ever seen anyone wearing the skirt either.

4. Why can't we get infinite Repair Powders from a Smith, preferably Leningrast, instead of a functionary at the castle?    Also Leningrast should sell infinite Iron arrows, perhaps if necessary after a certain point in the game. 

Since Majula is the hub for vendors why do we have to travel all over the map to get to the others, some of whom are in dangerous areas.   Straid being a case in point where he is surrounded by exploding mummies that rush you at the bonfire, and could potentially kill him as well, although I don't know if that can happen, but I suspect it's possible.

5. Enemies at bonfires.  As above with Straid, and worse at the Salt Fort bonfire on the way to the Lost Sinner where you could be killed on spawning by crossbowmen if you don't very quickly get out of the way.  I usually despawn them out of spite.  Doing things like this is poor design.

There is also the fact that some bosses have added annoying enemies which for the most part isn't too bad, until you get to the Royal Rat Authority which is a failure of a boss in itself, but to have a group of added rats that can immediately apply a fatal dose of toxin....?  I know Dark Souls 1 had a few bosses with added spawns, but it was done so you had an even chance, except maybe the Capra Demon, but that could be done without so much pain.

6. What is the point of wearing item finding gear, aka the Jester's Hat, Covetous Serpent Ring+2 etc, when drops are so far and few between.  Getting torches and herbs instead of what I'm after is annoying to say the least. This is another problem with farming and limited spawns. I don't expect rare drops every time, but once in awhile in several runs I wouldn't mind getting something useful when I'm using the gear to maximize drops.

7. Fix the hit boxes and ludicrous 360 degree tracking of enemies who spin like tops when you try to get behind them or roll away and you still get hit even though their weapon obviously was nowhere near you.

8.  Many people have complaints about the Netcode.  I haven't had those issues myself except if being summoned by someone for a boss fight who is lagging all over, or being invaded by someone who teleports all over the place, but I've seen the problems in videos.

9. Fix the weapon durability on the PC at 60fps or increase durability overall.  In the Crown of the Ivory King in particular, my weapon threatened to break so many times, and worse it happened in boss fights so that I either had to use multiple repair powders or attune the Repair Spell on a character that doesn't use magic, both of which do not repair nearly enough.

10. This should have been much higher in the list but whatever...Fix poise for heavens sake.  Being stunlocked by rapiers and daggers is stupid especially if I'm wearing high poise gear and the Ring of the Giants.  The DLC enemies, mainly the Crown of the Sunken King have so much poise it's unbelievable.  I cannot stagger the Drakeblood Knights even with two hits from an Ultra Greatsword.

11.  Soul Memory. This has been the most hated and discussed issue since the game was released so I'm not going to go into detail here. I haven't personally found this to be a problem for me, but I don't play with friends who want to co-op together which is one of the things that was supposed to be a core function of the game.  I do a lot of co-op in the Sunbros and I've never had issues finding summons or to be summoned, but that's different to two friends wearing a ring specifically to be able to play together, and can't if their soul memory is too far apart.  This was changed to a degree in one of the patches, but I don't know if it's better now or not.  Having read posts on a few different forums I suspect it's not, but maybe that's due to incompatible internet connections as much as Soul Memory.

12. Finally as far as the main game goes, my pet hate.  It may seem frivolous to some but it should not happen.   The collision boxes on architecture that prevent sniping from safety so you have to totally expose yourself to fire arrows or spells when the enemy can fire back at you.  See screenshots for exactly what I mean.  This game loves to set multiple high damage enemies on you all at once so at times it's an advantage to use a bow if you don't want to be overwhelmed.  When your arrows consistently hit invisible walls it becomes frustrating.  Not to mention playing as an archer build becomes bloody annoying.

Both of these screenshots show the arrow buried in an invisible wall and these are not the worst cases by far.

12a.  Adding to this the fact that enemies can hit you through walls which means staying away from walls when an enemy is on the other side trying to get at you if for example you need to heal.   That's something we can't do so why is the collision so bad that we are at yet another disadvantage. 

Now on to the DLC's and mainly the Crown of the Ivory King where there were a number of things that disappointed me.  I consider myself an above average player, particularly when seeing some of the Youtube Let's Players attempt this DLC, but some things just left me pun intended. 

I enjoyed both the Crown of the Sunken King and the Crown of the Iron King and there wasn't really much that bothered me except for the already mentioned enemy poise and magic resistances in COTSK.  I liked the puzzle elements in both and the level designs in general.

I also enjoyed the level design of the Crown of the Ivory King and I didn't even mind the backtracking as it opened up new areas and had a point.  I was even bright enough to realize that I needed 3 extra knights for the main boss fight before attempting it and that was very well done in my opinion.  I'd go as far as to say it was the best boss fight in the entire game.

Aava was also a refreshing change from the humanoid boss fights and I felt sad to have to kill such a magnificent creature.  The NPC summons have been upgraded nicely as well.   I only used them for that fight with success on the first try.  And they both survived.

The NPC invaders were fine overall, but Maldron version 2.0, with his inflated health, that damned lance and super human recovery times made for a long, boring and unnecessary fight.  After being tricked the first time opening the gate and having him run to hide behind a large enemy, I thought I would leave him to his own devices and not even go to him again.  However, I took particular pleasure in poisoning him, even though that wasn't easy either.  I guess since he was such a troll in the previous DLC From thought it would be funny to do it again, but in a worse way, and I didn't think it was amusing at all.

I wasn't a fan of the Ice Rats, as cute as they are (sort of.)  Being damaged just by touching them and then stun locked into infinity and losing most of my health when they roll into me is beyond annoying.  Thankfully, they have little health and arrows can kill them quickly.  I suppose they are a replacement for the Bonewheel Skeletons.

However, there are things I absolutely hate about this DLC.  OK, I farmed 15 Loyce Souls as far as getting the boots, gloves and chest piece, then discovered I had to get 35 souls to get the helmet.  Really?  In a game where farming is discouraged! It can be done by co-op, but I'm damned if I'm going to farm another 20 souls for a helmet not matter how good it is.  Besides I would never wear it as it looks silly.  The armour itself looks amazing, but unfortunately no other headpiece I have looks good with it.
And surprise, surprise it needs Twinkling Titanite as expected.  Where do we get all of this marvellous material for all of our special armours?   Oh, that's right there's no vendor that sells infinite supplies.

Then I discover I need 50 souls to speak to Alsanna and have a chance to get the Ivory King Set and her soul.   You have to be kidding!

You can shoot her with arrows for her soul without farming, but since she is one of the non evil Shards of Manus I don't see why I should kill her.  She is a tragic soul and doesn't deserve to die for her family's evil doing.

Another thing that's a little annoying about farming these souls is that I am more often summoned to help fight an invader, then get crystalled out.  This happens at both bosses, Aava and the Ivory King so actually getting to co-op a boss fight is not easy.   The Charred Loyce Knights also seem to stop spawning after a time so what is the point of it all?  I'm not going to use an Ascetic just for that.

Most of these things I can put up with or ignore, but the Frigid Outskirts is about the worst area I have ever played in any game.  I didn't mind so much that I'm in a constant blizzard with low visibilty where it clears for literally only five seconds every so often so you can briefly see where you're going.   In fact it adds a bit to exploration and finding something special.

I do mind very much the Ice Stallions with infinite poise that cannot be staggered even with an Ultra Great Sword or the Great Club fully upgraded. It doesn't matter that you roll in plenty of time to avoid attacks, but they still manage to hit you when they charge for a good chunk of health even when I hear them coming.  If that wasn't enough they start coming in pairs and even in threes in a couple of instances and even with the NPC summons, or human ones it becomes a chore.

Not only do you burn through resources at a massive rate, ie health items, repair powders, and others, but then you get to the boss, if you're lucky (?) and find two reskinned tigers that use magic and have AOE's like Aava, in a relatively small arena.  Now this wouldn't be so bad if the camera didn't screw you up, you didn't get caught under one or against a wall so you can't see what's going on, but when one is at around half health the other tiger joins the fight.  Then, he buffs himself so he takes less damage and regains health.  The buff is short lived, but is that really necessary after the trek to get there and having supposedly already killed the other, or not if you're not doing enough damage.

I realize this is a challenge area and optional, but whoever designed it has no idea of real challenge and difficulty.  There's just not enough manoevering room to fight these bosses especially when you have partners, and it just becomes a confusing mess when you can't see what's happening around you.  That's not a challenge, it's cheap and boring.

I've seen videos of people successfully fighting these bosses and most of them were doing it solo, (which is their own fault really) and raging mightily about the same things I am here.  Maybe that would be easier since I did actually get there solo after both my NPC's died, and got one tiger to half health, but I'm not patient enough, or skilled enough I suppose, to do this over and over again 50 bloody times because it's supposed to be "hard."

Despite what I said in the previous post, I am going to try NG+ with my main characters now that I've done everything I want to do, but it already feels like I'm doing them a disservice and should retire them instead of putting them, and myself through that again.

Oh, and one last thing.  After speaking to King Vendrick in his memory the crowns gain the ability to cure the curse for good.  What's the point of that after finishing the main game and the DLC's and finding that bonus doesn't carry over to NG+, or so I've read on the Wiki.  I wouldn't have expected it to, but it seems a bit useless at that point in the game.  I never killed Vendrick and now I can't see any reason to.

I know I'm wasting my time by typing all of this, FromSoft don't communicate their reasons for doing anything and none of it will be fixed, but I had to get it off my chest.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Dark Souls 2: For Better or Worse It's A Different Game Now

Now that the final DLC has been released for Dark Souls 2, as far as we know, I feel it's time I expressed my thoughts about this game.  Some of this will be good and some will not be so great.  The game has a lot of problems some of which have been made worse by the constant "re-balancing," nerfing of weapons, magic and armour, complete classes made almost useless, and other mind boggling changes.    

I bought the game on the day it was released and except for a couple of weeks, I've been playing it obsessively and still enjoy it to a degree.  I will be 60 years old next month and female and I consider myself a reasonably good player.  I do everything solo except for bosses as I don't have the patience to try over and over again to succeed, so I summon and then return the favour by co-oping for people who need or just want to team up to defeat a boss.  I've talked about that in a previous post.  Having said that, I've gotten better and I can solo some bosses or use the NPC's provided, as useless as most of them are.   The Ruin Sentinels don't strike fear into my heart like they used to, although at Drangleic Castle I can't be bothered with them.  It's just a grind.

 The base game is not that hard really.  The so called difficulty is not there by creative, imaginative means, but by bad enemy placement, ridiculous hitboxes, enemies hitting you through walls, sometimes overwheming numbers and one of my personal pet hates, dodgy collision on the architecture.  Why can I not fire arrows around a corner without a huge collision box on a wall stopping me from sniping from safety.  I have to be completely exposed to the enemy, or enemies plural, to do so because there's an invisible wall poking out a long way from the wall or over a ledge.

Another thing about difficulty - Currently I have one character partway through NG+ but I truly don't know if I'll bother continuing with her or my other characters, especially the way things have been nerfed to make melee classes the only really viable playstyle.  Difficulty past NG should not be about adding red phantoms everywhere, which to me look out of place and a bit silly amid the rest of the environment, but about adding more normal enemies, and/or giving the existing ones better AI and being a bit more creative. 

Many people say this game is not a good as Dark Souls 1, but I believe many of those are looking through rose coloured glasses when reminiscing about a lot of that games mechanics.  Yes, I enjoyed Dsk 1 but it was not without it's issues.  Combat in most cases involved fishing for back stabs, magic was overpowered and it also suffered from cut and paste syndrome.  Lost Izalith is a prime example of that.  In general level design was much better and it actually has Lore where DsK2 is all about heroes, places and objects forgotten in time and remembered by no-one.  

In the main the combat in Dark Souls 2 is more fluid and feels more natural to me.  However, I don't appreciate enemies with infinite stamina, instant 360 degree tracking, inflated health as in the DLC's and also many who have infinite poise.  At times controls are unresponsive (I use a 360 gamepad) and the jump attack and guard block is a "hit and miss" affair a lot of the time.  We also lost the ability to cue commands.

The number of times I've been hit by a weapon obviously out of range due to bad hitboxes, or I press a button and get a different response is beyond annoying. The lockon system is flawed so that I'll locked onto an enemy and suddenly I'm facing another, or I want to retreat and I find myself locked on against my will.  I've changed it several times in the options, but it stays the same. And they even nerfed that in a recent patch so if I'm playing a mage I have to be in melee range to cast my spells and since I put points into magic skills for a mage character I don't have a lot of physical defense and can't afford to be hit.   Isn't the point of playing a magic class to NOT be hit, but to use spells against the enemy from distance?  I detest that my mage has to invest points into levels that I don't want so I can use a bow because my spells don't travel across the map as the enemies' spells do.  Even using the binoculars has become redundant.

Then there's the recent reduction of stamina regen making melee classes unnecessarily harder, reducing the effectiveness of heavy weapons which also ties into stamina, the seeming focus on what PvP players want and ignoring the PvE aspect of the game.

Since the recent all encompassing nerfing of magic and faith classes I've been forced to respec my Cleric to a strength build and my sorcerer to a dex build with support spells.  I already have two each of those and while I enjoy them, I also like to play as a different class for variety.  That's become less and less viable. 

Clerics have support spells, but they also use defensive spells, ie Lightning Spear and Emit Force. In the case of Lightning Spear the number of casts was reduced to a 1/4 and the damage was severely reduced.  Supposedly the damage reduction was a coding bug, but has never been addressed.  Some say Lightning Spears were overpowered, that people cheese bosses with them, which is partially true, but to make a whole class pretty much redundant because of it is a backward strategy.

It's my belief that this was done to make way for rings added by the DLC's, which is poor thing to do and it's too bad for the people who don't have or want the DLC's.  This included the Lightning Clutch ring, Sorcery Clutch and most recently Fire and Dark Clutch rings which increase the damage while reducing your overall defense.  Then there are the new spells with stupidly high requirements that would be almost impossible to use in a NG game and which encourage people to go to NG+ and above to be able to use.  I've already mentioned why I probably won't be doing that.

FromSoft do not communicate with their fan base, we do not get any info re why they feel the need to continue this overall nerfing of weapons, spells and other things, yet they open the road to exploits.  Some of the new gear in the Crown of the Ivory King DLC is going to infuriate a lot of people in PvP, at least the victims of exploitable situations.  I have no interest in PvP at all but it seems to me, and a lot of other players, that they are trying to balance the game around PvP and ruining PvE in the process.  They will lose a lot of fans by continuing down this road, but I imagine nothing will change now which is a pity.

I did say there would be some good in this review, but thinking about it I'm finding it hard.  Obviously I still play the game and despite the problems I still get some enjoyment from it, but it's far from the game I paid for.  It states in the Eula that changes can be made at the developers discretion, but they are going entirely the wrong way about it.

All of these things make the smaller annoyances more glaring.   One of mine is the NPC's who repeat their starting dialogue every, single bloody time and block you entering the inventory at the end because they have to get in the last word.  The worst is the Emerald Herald who you have no choice but to speak to and then click, click, click through it after the first time.   At the end of the NG cycle there is no merchant who sells infinite Dragon Bone and Twinkling Titanite which means grinding or using Ascetics.   The problem there is limited spawns, so grinding becomes redundant. Using Ascetics is a solution but also has the side effect of being permanent so going to NG+ and further makes those areas even harder.

On to the DLC's. 
Crown of the Sunken King.  I liked the level design of this DLC and the puzzle elements they added. I could have done without the infinite poise enemies, inflated health pools, the Drakeblood Knights ridiculous,  relentless attacks and Elana summoning Velstadt which was a cheap tactic.  I didn't mind the "gank squad" as everyone calls them as it was of course meant to be a co-op area.  Sinh was a great fight.

Crown of the Iron King.  Two of the bosses were excellent, then they had to ruin it by re-using Smelter Demon and re-skinning him to be magic based with altered moves, as if that was an innovation.  This was another challenge area meant for co-op but to be honest I found it to just be annoying more than fun and challenging, so did it once and never returned.  I thought the DLC  level design was every good and I liked the concept of destroying the Ashen Idols.

One moment that gave me a particular pleasure was using a Seed of the Tree of Giants against that lance wielding asshole as watching him be destroyed from above.  Thank you to whoever it was that posted that hint on one of the forums.

Crown of the Ivory King.
I've gotten two characters partway through thus far.  The environment is beautiful and the enemies weren't all that hard, however I haven't yet gotten as far as Killing the Ivory King.  I have found all the Loyce Knights so that's next on the list.  I loved Aava, the tiger boss and actually felt bad for having to kill such a beautiful creature.  It was a nice change from humanoid bosses and it moved and behaved exactly as a big cat would, except for the magic of course.  Not at all fond of the bone wheel replacements, the stunlocking small creatures with icy spikes.  I don't know what they are called, but they are a pain.

I have not yet attempted the Frigid Outskirts, the new co-op area, but I have seen videos. The crystal horses(?) look amazing, but they constantly respawn and are very strong, you are in a constant blizzard whiteout with very low visibilty, and the run to the boss is a long one.  Not to mention there are two of them, also tigers. 

I'm sad to say I'll probably have a run through to see the area, but I certainly won't be bothering to go back again and again.   There's challenge and there's challenge.

The NPC invader who used Chameleon was genius. He caught me out the first time. In fact nearly all of the NPC invaders have been improved, however why they give some of them lances which are almost impossible to counter, I'll never know.

Anyway, I'm sure I've forgotten to mention a lot of things and this turned out to be more about the game's faults which become more glaring at every patch cycle.  I also expect that many would disagree with some of my comments, but this is my opinion and that's what matters here. 

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Dark Souls 2 - Reflections and Musings

This may sound weird but I want to thank the people who helped me defeat bosses in co-op, most particularly on my first playthrough, although they would never see this.  My skills aren't as good as someone half my age and twice my talent, but having played for ages now (every day since release) but I find my skills are getting better.  Maybe it's a mix of skill improvement and confidence.  I tend to put myself in the place of my character and use every survival tactic available to me.   That is to say I find the game to be very immersive, contrary to the opinion of some who say this isn't the kind of game to be "immersed" in.

Where my confidence falters is with bosses.  I can handle the mobs in the outer world, and in fact have killed some bosses solo, but when I pass through some of those fog doors, my focus goes to hell.  I can often maintain my composure until the boss is almost dead, then something pings in my brain and I make some stupid mistake. I guess I'm not alone there though and it's often a matter of timing or a slip in concentration, or more likely the most aggravating death happens from stupidly falling off a ledge.  I don't mind trying again of course, it's part of the experience, but sometimes it's the tedious trek back to some of the the bosses that is more annoying then anything.

Now, since I have summoned players to help out, I have also returned the favour over and over again helping others do the same.  I've recently started a Dex based character and this time I'm going to join the Sunbros and become a golden phantom.  "Praise the Sun."  My other characters, (melee strength and a sorcerer) are near the end game and I don't know yet if I will take them to NG+.    I might be making it harder on myself than I will ultimately enjoy.  We'll see when the time comes.

It's fun and rewarding and those Smooth and Silky Stones have the potential to net something nice from Dyna and Tilo.   But, please guys, no more Demon Great Hammers....I can't use them on any of my characters, but they do bring a nice price from the great Gavlan so that's a plus.  I also have a collection of Tokens of Fidelity.

I summoned a Shade for the first Pursuer fight with my new character and the guy shot me with the ballista, so that was one try down.  And we nearly had him beaten too. I had to laugh though and I don't know what the phantom thought after he killed me.

Something people who look down on others for using summoned help may not realize is that it can also make the boss fight longer and more unpredictable, gives the boss more health, especially if two phantoms are summoned, and I believe less damage is done per hit.  Three players hitting on a boss can really mess with their AI though and confuses them as they aren't programmed to be able to handle attacks coming from multiple sources.   Something like that would be near impossible to program though I imagine, which is probably a good thing depending on your point of view.

This brings me to the fact of summoning help in the first place.  Some do it because they may feel they need the help, (ie me) others because it's fun to co-op (also me) and for the person being summoned there are rewards as well as feeling good about helping, (me again.) I watch a few Let's Plays and it pisses me off no end how some over zealous (to put it mildly) viewers dictate how others should play the game.  This happens with most games of course, but the Souls fan base is particularly and ridiculously extreme.  Who bloody cares if a player wants to use a summons, be it another player, or an NPC, who by the way, except for a couple are mostly useless.  It's supposed to be fun not an exercise in masochism for the masses, unless the player really wants to go solo and has the skill.  However, a couple of LP'ers I watch tried summoning and were reviled for it in the comments.

As far as NPC summons go, Lucatiel keeps falling off the walkways and drowning in No Man's wharf, every single time I've tried to use her there, so her quest is over before it starts.  I clear the place of every living thing, except for Gavlan and Carhillion, before summoning her and she still drowns getting to the ship.... Her summon sign needs to be on the ship, but then she'd probably drown in the hold on the way to the boss.  Either that or she gets stuck coming through the fog gate and never arrives to help anyway.

The best NPC phantoms I've discovered so far are Jester Thomas for Mytha the Baneful Queen and he can solo her if you let him.  The other was Pilgrim Bellclaire, a mage who also holds her own against the Ruin Sentinels, a fight I always dread, at least until I have a shield that blocks 100% and plenty of stamina.  My mage character had less trouble though as I could keep my distance. 

To my dismay I met these freaks of nature again in Drangleic Castle in a small area where there are statues with spears who come to life and can quickly "ruin" your day if they are all woken at once by mistake, which is easy to do.  They are just about my most hated enemy because they are impossible to backstab and their spears go through shields, seemingly even if I dodge and roll like a boss.  One on one isn't too bad but it's an area with several doors and behind all except one is a Ruin Sentinel.  You're out of luck when all the doors are open because you'll be fighting them all any time you pass through there....and they respawn.  I just run past them now, I don't care about the loot.

Anyway, back to what I was saying about Co-op which along with being able to invade another player's world is build into the game and is explained in the Lore by Saulden.  If people have the skills and patience to solo bosses, even after many tries, or on the first try, I say good luck and congratulations to them.  It's the fanbois who seem to feel it's mandatory to handicap yourself so they can feel superior for beating a boss solo and then berating others for not being able to do it, or not having the patience that really irritate me.  It's a game, not a life or death simulator in real time.

I had a funny invasion the other day with my strength character who had just killed the Demon of Song with the NPC summoned phantom.  I had teleported to the Forest of the Giants to check something and was invaded by a red phantom fully encased in Havel's gear and carrying the Dragon Tooth.  Now, as far as Covenants go I joined the Blues at the start of the game and never really thought about it after that so a Blue Sentinel arrived to help me out.  I don't know what level the invader was but he or she didn't stand a chance being slow and fat rolling.

I wield a fully upgraded lightning infused Murakumo and wear very little armour, so I'm very mobile.  The invader threw Lightning Spears at me which I just sidestepped, not even dodging, and with two or three hits from my sword they were defeated.  I think The Blue Sentinel might have gotten a hit in, but he or she took awhile to find us as the invader actually ran away from me after I took half their health down and as invaders can't heal, it was all over soon after.  I got 133,364 souls from that which had me worried as I've read of instances where people get huge numbers of souls from hackers and because of Soul memory, their game can be ruined from a Co-op point of view.  I also read that players of a very high level who do a lot of PvP can have enormous amounts of souls on them because it eventually costs 100,000's to level, and successfully repelling an invader nets a percentage of what it cost them to level.  Anyway, I used the souls to level a few times and to upgrade weapons. 

I've had a couple of invasions with my latest character, who had basically just killed the Old Dragon Slayer at the time, that seemed sketchy to me.  One was a guy who lagstabbed me repeatedly from across a large room, but maybe that was a connection thing.  That was the first time that's happened though as I've been invaded before with no weirdness going on.  The other was similar, also with a lot of lag, but I'm sure it was a cheat because he stunned me so I couldn't even retaliate, from across the river in the Forest, and he kept rubber banding all over the place while he was doing it.

Not much to do do about it though unless something is done developer side but grin and bear it, and so far it's only been those two that were problems.  A fair fight is good fun even if I die, but cheats are just failures with low self esteem, so I just carry on regardless.  It's not worth getting worked up about. Unfortunately, from what I've been reading the cheats and hackers are coming out of the woodwork as in previous Souls games, so we can expect more of it I imagine.

My most advanced character has just reached the Undead Crypt entrance so I haven't seen what comes after that, but I've enjoyed most areas, except maybe Black Gulch and The Shrine of Amana.  The first is a poison pit, even worse than Harvest Valley which I quite enjoy strangely enough, and the second is a pain in the neck, at least the first time through with the mages and their homing Soul Arrows, although I believe they were nerfed a bit in a patch.

Then there's the deep water you have to wade through slowing you down while things attack you with abandon, aka the lizard like stealth assassins hiding in it.  Then there are the bottomless drops in the water that are very hard to see until "YOU DIED" appears on screen.   I'd advise using a torch to explore the outer areas so you can see the depth of the water, preferably when everything is dead because there are some treasures and other things to be found.  It's a very pretty area though.

The Gutter is like a vision of hell the first time as well, but isn't so bad on later visits.  If you have Arachnophobia, then you're in for a treat in a certain area as well.   I'm looking forward to seeing the dragons though, even though I foresee many deaths.

Onward I go for now though, ever the intrepid adventurer(s).....I have three poor souls with very different experiences as they traverse this dangerous world.   And having a blast doing it.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Dark Souls 2 PC - My Impressions

Let's start by saying this is not a review as such, just my impressions, so if you want a proper pro review it's probably better to go elsewhere.  However, I will be talking about what I like and dislike and a few of the issues that need to be fixed, but probably won't be.

So, here goes:

I've been playing this game every single day for hours upon hours since it was released and I was able to activate it on Steam.  If I'm not playing I'm thinking about playing and what I'll do next, where to go, what upgrades I want to do, different strategies for a boss I'm having difficulty with etc, etc.  I think I've already played this game, and will play in the future, more than any other game I've ever played before. 

I currently have two characters.  One a pure strength build, although I am now leveling her to add some magic, ie Lightning Spear, to help deal with the harder areas now she's reached Castle Drangleic.  My +10 Claymore and Great Club do amazing damage, but my reflexes aren't what they were years ago and having arthritic hands doesn't help sometimes.  However, I take things carefully and I'm ultra aware of my surroundings and having an upgraded bow using poison arrows has saved me many a time.   I will admit that I bypassed one main boss because it was so irritating, but I had the requisite number of souls to enter the Shrine of Winter so I could progress.  More on that boss later.

Now I've started a second character, a mage/melee hybrid, my melee skills have improved which I've taken to my strength character with more success.  Playing a mage makes me paranoid as any enemy, even the lowliest hollow can one hit me if they get close enough.  I use Hexes and Miracles as well as a +10 magic Bastard Sword but I may upgrade to another weapon later.

I don't do PvP. I'm not good enough, although I have managed to kill most invaders, which in fact have been very few.   I think I've only been invaded half a dozen times in all the time I've been playing, except when I've wandered into PvP zones by mistake, for example The Grave of the Saints, or the Belfries.  Going there is asking to be ganked by not just one, but two or more players so it's not worth the effort unless I choose to play offline or burn an Effigy and they aren't easy to come by.   It's just annoying to me not to be able to investigate an area because I'm continually being summoned as a gray spirit or invaded in those areas.

I played Dark Souls 1 for many, many hours and loved it, but I'm finding I like Dark Souls 2 even more and I don't miss GFWL(Windows Live) and it's issues.  So far on only one occasion have I not been able to login to the Steam servers and that was a global problem.  There are so many cheats and hackers playing Dark Souls 1 now that it's become unpleasant to say the least being in human mode and trying to reach a boss because you'll just be invaded and ganked either by cheats or low level players with high level gear.  There are cheats making their way into Dark Souls 2 which, I believe was blocked by VAC, Steam's anti cheat function, but for some unknown reason VAC had been disabled for the game allowing more cheating.

The second half, or more the last third, of Dark Souls 1 was more of an annoyance, for me, in some ways though.   I didn't much like the Lost Izalith levels which even the developers admit wasn't well optimized.  I'm not a fan of red and black lava levels for ages and the bosses in that area were just irritating and reiterations of previous bosses in numbers, rather than challenging.

I don't own a console so haven't played Demon Souls although I have watched some Let's Plays.  I like the way some things were brought forward to Dark Souls 2, although at times having to travel back and forth to level up so I don't lose a ton of souls can take me out of the game, so to speak.  I'm not sure how I feel about being able to fast travel from the start, but since the levels aren't connected in the same way as in Dark Souls 1 it's become a necessity.  Not to mention as I said, carrying around a lot of souls is asking for trouble, so it's always back to Majula to level or buy and upgrade gear to be safe.

A word about summoning help.  I know a lot of players look down on people who summon help for bosses.  Well, good for you, get over it.  It's part of the game, and in the Lore, just like invading other players, and I have summoned help several times, usually after trying it for myself first.  After I do though I always spend a lot of time paying back by helping others with those same bosses.  It's rewarding as well as a way to get rewards and souls.  The boss I will always summon for, even if it's just the NPC, is the Ruin Sentinels, this games answer to the New Londo Archers.  It's an optional boss but that area has a lot of hidden stuff to find otherwise I would avoid them altogether.

There is so much I love about this game but here are just a few things that stand out:

A minor thing maybe, but I love that the game never crashes, unlike others I could name, and I personally have had no issues at all with stability.  I use a SweetFX Preset to give the graphics just that bit more depth and richness, otherwise I think the graphics are pretty good, if perhaps faded looking. 

I like that I now have to watch my weapons durability and have other weapons upgraded and in my inventory just in case.  I always carry repair powder, but except for the very early parts of the game on my first playthrough I haven't really had a problem with a weapon breaking.

The changes to the "Lock On" mechanic.  I much prefer the way you have more freedom of movement while being locked on and not only being able to circle the enemy.  I can still keep them in view while being able to direct my blows the way I want.  It took a little getting used to early on, but it's become instinctive.

There are no useless stats.  Adaptability is an essential and getting it to at least 20 is a huge bonus to resistances as well as faster usage of consumables and dodging i-frames.

You can't farm indefinitely now as enemies stop spawning after a certain number of kills.  But, you can use an item at a bonfire that re-populates an area, including bosses.  However, this makes the enemies harder and is permanent.  I haven't neeeded it yet as I haven't de-populated all areas but by this stage you know what you're dealing with so it shouldn't be that hard.

Exploration is rewarding.  So many hidden things to discover.

You can aim spells with the binoculars although they don't have a cross hair, but you get used to it.  The binoculars are in the weapon category as well so that's a plus.

After a critical you can now hit enemies while they are down instead of waiting until they recover. 

After the first playthrough, as in Dark Souls 1 you can got to New Game + multiple times where new items, enemies and other events happen.  I haven't got there yet but am looking forward to at least NG+ once. 

Anyway, there's so much to like, in my opinion, I can't list it all, but there are a few annoyances, as with most games.  No game is perfect.

 A few Cons:

One of my biggest bugbears, and this included Dark Souls 1, is the way collision boxes on geometry block obvious visible paths to fire arrows or spells, especially when sniping, how an enemies weapon will pass through walls to hit me but my weapon hits the geometry, (as it should,) and other attacks, especially things like the beam attack from one boss in particular, kept passing through brick and rock walls to hit me.  It really frustrates me when I'm sniping an enemy above or below me, and I can see them clearly, but my arrows hit a wall or the floor.

Next most annoying...Irritating cheap bosses with extra minions that are often the cause of death before the boss even has a the Dukes Dear Freja.  The bonfire is so far from the boss and you have to kill so many enemies to get there, but then it has all these minions that swarm you.  That can be dealt with though with care, but having to trudge though all these enemies just to get to the boss isn't actually hard,  but is damn tedious when all I want is to get there and fight the boss.

Input is sometimes (often) unresponsive, for the 360 controller at least, creating dead zones where input is not recognized.   Jump attacks and Block Break are so inconsistent as to not be worth trying because they only work erratically, if at all.  The controller doesn't appear to recognize the input which can result in a quick death.  Chaining actions doesn't always work either.  There are a lot of complaints about it so it's not just me.

The big one that everybody hates...Soul Memory.  Why they did this I'll never know.  Supposedly it was supposed to stop high level players from preying on low levels ones as in Dark Souls 1, but all it does is prevent co-op and people who want to play together being able to connect at the same time.  There are a ton of threads about this so I'm not going into detail except to say it's a pain and is not stopping cheats which are the ones who need to be stopped, but that's probably impossible.

Some areas of the game absolutely require the use of a torch or some other light source, eg the Light Spell if you're a magic user, but torches cannot be purchased from vendors.  The only way is so get them from enemy drops or sometimes in chests or other loot, so if you run out before going to The Gutter (hellish place, second only to Black Gulch and it's poison spitters) you'll be running around in almost pitch black darkness.  And that is a real nightmare.

A couple of very minor things that should be mentioned are the NPC's who continually repeat the same lines of dialogue when you go to them.  The worst offender is the Emerald Herald, someone you have to speak to to level up.  Vendors do it as well so it becomes a clicking race to get through the repetition to actually do what you wanted.

When exiting the game you have to once again go through logging into the servers and another menu.   It should be a simple return to the Menu and "Do you wish to Save and Exit"  Yes/No and that's it you're back at your Desktop.  It's totally unnecessary.  Maybe there's a reason for it, but I don't know what it is.

In general though, this game is the best I've ever played and the complaints, except for Soul Memory can be overcome.

Thanks to FROM SOFTWARE for a great game.  Looking forward to the next one.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Long Time Away

Well, it's been quite some time since I posted here and in fact I didn't realize it had been so long.   Time just got away from me I suppose and then at other times I intended to write something but never got around to it.   Plus, I wanted to change the look of the Blog and since I have no HTML skills I need to use the supplied formats, which isn't that bad.

It seems my last post was about Tropical Skyrim, but I was sure I had posted some things since then.  Maybe my mind is playing tricks as I haven't even viewed my Blog for ages.   It's been a very long time since I used that mod because I removed it while waiting for updates that as far as I know haven't happened.

Anyway, I've pretty much given up on Skyrim and the rest of the TES series.   As far as Skyrim is concerned I'm sick of the bugs and the save corruption issues, but more than that the fact that it's just a shallow game without consequences or soul.  I've done a lot of complaining about the game on this Blog so I'm not going to add to it except to say if they use the same game engine for TES6 disguised as something else they won't get my money.   Suffice to say it's life didn't extend as far as Morrowind and Oblivion for me.

I still like Fallout:New Vegas though and will probably play it for awhile longer.  It at least has a decent story with branching quest lines, factions and other things that should be in a real RPG.

I recently purcheased THIEF (2014) and to say that is a train wreck of a game is an understatement.   For a game that's supposed to be primarily stealth based, the AI is absolutely stupid, it's virtually on rails and the sounds...oh! the sounds.   One of the most basic requirements of a stealth game is directional sound.  Being able to hear which direction an NPC is walking and talking, guards patrolling etc is fundamental to stealth.    That doesn't exist in this game.   Then there are mismatched subtitles, missing sounds and a plethora of other sound related issues.

Some of the sound bugs have been addressed in the latest patch (1.4 at time of writing,) but the biggest issue facing players at the moment is save looping which is causing the inability to progress, and has not been fixed satisfactorily.   A massive list of bugs, some game breaking can be found on the Eidos Forums:

I personally stopped playing at the end of the 1st Chapter and intend to wait until the game is fully patched or as much as the devs intend to before I play again, if I can find the desire by then.  I'm so disappointed as the THIEF series is one of my favourites.   

I paid $70 Australian for this game and once again players get shafted by AAA companies who ship their games to a static deadline, don't thoroughly test (ie the sound and crashing bugs) and forget that the PC is NOT a console.   I have nothing against consoles as such, I don't own one, but if developers can't program effectively for the PC then don't release games in a half done state.  There's not even a jump key for goodness sake, hence no free jumping, and there are several actions that rely on one key.

This video is a good description of the broken AI issues.   Stepping on broken glass does nothing as far as being detected, a sleeping guard doesn't wake when there's a furor going on right next to him, guards go back to their routines within 30 seconds as if nothing had happened.   Admittedly, this is in the 2nd chapter and some people say it gets better...BUT this is meant to be a first impression of the game, so to speak.  I wouldn't be expecting any better or wanting to play further if things are this bad so early.   Maybe some people don't have high expectations, but to be immersed in a stealth game, there needs to actually be stealth elements that in the earlier games of the series. 

I think it probably takes a heck of a lot for Gopher to be this angry and disappointed with a game and not continue playing or at least uploading videos of the game.

Players who want a real THIEF experience however might want to give The Dark Mod a try.  It's FREE and has all of the elements (and more) of the original games.  I downloaded it today but haven't got as far as playing, but I have watched some videos and it looks to be very good indeed.


Anyhow, at least I've found my gaming niche for the foreseeable future.  I'm playing Dark Souls again and totally enjoying it.    I am eagerly waiting for the 25th of April for Dark Souls 2, but I'll talk about those games in  their own post.