What game are you playing?

I’ve been enjoying Forza Horizon 5 and Pokémon: Brilliant Diamond enough but neither has quite taken over my game-playing brain in the way I expected them to. So based on some trailers and the talk on here and the fact that I should really be taking advantage of Game Pass more than I have — I played some Exo One.

The short version: it feels like Denis Villenueve remade Journey. I like Journey and Journey-like games, but I can only play so much of them before the (elegant) simplicity starts to burn me out. But the movement in this one is really neat — the way it challenges you to slingshot your way around each landscape, finding these sparse elements that interact with your craft in specific ways, it’s quite gratifying when it hits just right.

I will say though, I am not thalassophobic in the least — Subnautica is one of my favorite games and my favorite planet in Outer Wilds was Giant’s Deep — but the third(?) planet genuinely freaked me out. The darkness and sheer emptiness of that ocean, and the way you plunge into it without knowing exactly when you’ll re-emerge, it genuinely made my lungs clench and my heartrate speed up. The contrast between the tranquility on the surface and the murkiness below just adds to that too. It got under my skin in a way a game like this has definitely never done before.

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Played through Unpacking - finished within a single setting. I enjoyed it mostly, it was very calming but I’m not sure if it was clever for attaching character to all the things, or whether it’s just a very poignant way that games can attach character to mundane items. Worst level was when you were moving into the swanky apartment with the boyfriend, no wall space to hang her degree (aside from above the toilet), this relationship was never going to work out - took way too long before I realised that the only place it could go was under the bed. I thought for sure it was going to go into more tragic territory, with you packing up all items to somebody who passes, but there’s always room for Unpacking 2 right?

I also enjoyed how two of the DVDs are clearly Pan’s Labyrinth and Donnie Darko and Blu Rays of Jaws and Shin Godzilla. That’s basically my movie collection.

I’m glad I played it, it calmed me right down after others players not picking up the oddball in Halo Infinite.

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Finished Exo One. Really cool game, especially in the back half once the levels get a bit more complex. My favorite is definitely the one with the asteroids around the star — the momentum tricks and slingshots you have to do in that one are so satisfying, and the visuals just really captures what the game is trying to do with sense of scale. Highly recommend, especially if you have Game Pass and/or like moody, atmospheric sci-fi, and/or just want to vibe with some beautiful visuals and great ambient music.

(Though I have seen some reviews say that the story is enigmatic or confusing and I kinda disagree. Maybe it’s just because I spent my summer unwinding the puzzle box that was Returnal but it seems pretty obvious that the guy piloting this craft was responsible for the deaths of his crew in a mission on Jupiter and the ending is the craft going fast enough to create a singularity and go back in time so that he can change the past. It’s basically the plot of The Flash.)

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I’ve been craving a Pokemon game lately, so I started playing SMT 3: Nocturne. That’s not a joke, I thought about playing a Pokemon game, but decided on this instead because Pokemon sounded too frictionless.

I’m loving this game! It’s extremely edgy in a good way, there’s minimal story, it has great proper nouns, and the combat keeps me on my toes but is not particularly obtuse. These are also the reasons I like many first-person dungeon crawlers, so I guess it’s not surprising that I also like the sequel to a series of first-person dungeon crawlers.

I beat Matador first try! I had seen what element his attacks were in the walkthrough I was using, but the team I was planning to make anyway happened to be good against him. I’m not trying to brag, I was worried about this fight because people talk it up so much, so I’m very glad it wasn’t a wall for me. Also, Matador is a fantastic character, I love me a bombastic skeleton man.

I just wrote 3 paragraphs about how this game is exactly to my taste, but the disappointing/confusing thing is that I have previously bounced off of Persona 3, Persona 5, and SMT 4, so I was pleasantly surprised that there was at least one game in this series that is constantly talked about and recommended to me that I do like. It sounds like 5 is similar to 3 in structure (less talking, more grinding), so I’m looking forward to checking that out eventually!

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I think my SO might be hooked on Subnautica? Which is awesome. It’s a great game where you can kinda give hints to help smooth out someone’s experience here and there without giving anything away. They’ll still discover 90% of things organically on their own, but encouraging them to use beacons, for example, is a great deal of frustration saved and can really, really help them come to terms with the game’s lack of handholding.

It looks pretty good on Switch, as well. Certainly, it loses a fair bit of the technical fidelity when compared to PC, but the art direction and environmental design are so wonderful that it continues to inspire awe. Particularly when everything is always in motion.

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Finished Pokemon Shining Pearl. Folks concerned that those games are too easy should have a go at that Elite Four + Champion.

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I didn’t play it, but I did watch a streamer play through it. I thought the difficulty spike at this point seemed a little unfair. The streamer was basically steamrolling through the game without grinding levels. He was even borrowing the permadeath rule from Nuzlocke by releasing any Pokémon that fainted, and he still didn’t sweat any of the gym fights, team galactic fights, or anything else.

He hit the elite four + champion, and suddenly he was sweating. He almost didn’t beat it. At the end of the champion fight, he only had his starter left. To be fair, he wasn’t using revives between fights, so he did make the entire thing harder on himself by his self-imposed rules.

But it still looked like the game did very little to actually prepare the player for the difficulty of the final five fights.

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That’s largely true, yes. There’s the occasional hint here and there that there’s a beastly fight to come (the eighth gym leader’s Luxray knows Ice Fang which is super effective against the Ground type you almost assuredly brought with you) but the Elite Four + Champion are like, proper competitive battles and the game doesn’t really prep you for that. I looked ahead (like I usually do because I like to lock my team in as early as possible) and discovered that was coming so I got my whole team to 67 before taking them on. I had a little bit of trouble with the Psychic-type trainer and with Flint’s Rapidash but otherwise I was fully prepared.

This sounds very much like what I want the difficulty of a Pokemon game to be like but the fact that it doesn’t happen until the end is disappointing.

Gameplay balance takes work but I would willingly pay an extra $5 to have a hard mode from the jump in a Pokemon game.

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That’s…theoretically possible but like, in the early game, unless you’re reading ahead and EV training, most of what you’d be doing to overcome the tougher bosses is like 1. spending money you don’t have on healing items and 2. grinding levels until you’re overleveled anyway. Unless you’re into that, in which case party on.

Well I was playing Watch Dogs Legion only to discover I’ve apparently lost several hours of gameplay. I’m completely stumped - I’d been using quick resume on the Xbox Series X, which means I hadn’t closed the game for a few days, but it can’t possibly only save when you go back to the main menu? I figured it must be autosaving in the background.

I’ve lost so much progress - not just missions I’d have to repeat and upgrades I’d have to find again, but proc-gen recruits I’ve permanently lost and not in the interesting “here’s a story about how they died on a mission” way. I’m frankly unsure whether I’ve got it in me to repeat things, especially with the threat of it all disappearing again.

Legion is like…95% The Gimmick and 5% everything else. If you’re having fun with The Gimmick, stick with it. If not, move on.

I’m thinking more along the lines of having and using decent move sets. I would like my party composition to matter for most of the game and feel pressure to use items a lot more regularly instead of sitting on a pile to use during the elite 4.

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I know it’s kind of a slog to get there but I think you would have a blast playing competitive Pokemon. You’ll get everything you’re describing here and then some.

Okay, so Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is very endearing despite doing almost everything worse than the games it’s cribbing shamelessly from.

Bit of background, I always wanted to play this one bit it’s been sitting at around $30 for a used 360 copy for years so I never bothered. Went on sale on the Xbox a few days ago and I’ve been poking away at it.

Things I like:

Stealing from the Jackson LOTR trilogy - especially the soundtrack. Skyrim is the same way. Yeah sure it’s derivative to have the big epic fantasy choir warbling along in the background but counterpoint: it rules.

Patrick Stewart. Always a good idea of have some Patrick Stewart.

The pacing. Game moves with little regard for your own bearings or verisimilitude. I’m sure it’ll settle into something more formulaic but in the early hours you are hoofing it through levels. It feels properly adventurous.

Things I think are weird:

Bizarre look to this game. I think the gothic Castlevania-ass stuff looks good but all of the high fantasy they’ve grafted on to the periphery just looks weird. Gabe is huge, a high-T individual to be sure, and his hair looks real dumb. Just a funny looking Scottish(?) himbo.

Also, nothing feels quite as good, or locks together quite as well as everything this game is borrowing from. The combat doesn’t flow quite as well as God of War. The puzzles aren’t as well-signposted as Zelda. The platforming is somehow more stilted than both GoW and Uncharted. For a game that has been hit with the production stick in some areas, it almost always feels like Gabe isn’t actually in the environment. It feels like he glides over the top of it like a giant ice cube.

The violence is also extremely splattery in a jarring way. I think the combat cross is a really fun and stupid idea, but there’s nothing really cool or stylish about how the whip is used here. I like the way it’s animated for the most part, but eventually Gabe is just going to jam the whole thing in a werewolf and that’s just a bit too much nu-metal butt rock for my tastes.

Finally, fairy tiddies. They just have em there for no reason. Castlevania is a horny series, but not random tiddies horny. Definitely a weird play for the smelly boy crowd.

Anyway, apparently this game sold really well? Bizarre. Definitely enjoyable and decently ambitious for its sheer size and variety, but not something that deserves to be remembered.

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I remember having a good time with it back in college and this description sounds like the exact kind of thing I would have been way into in college.

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I don’t think SMT 3 is a very fun game. I have been playing a lot of relatively difficult dungeon crawlers this year and loving them, but I don’t think SMT 3 is a particularly good one of these. Breaking news: person deep in a subgenre thinks popular one isn’t the best one.

SMT 3 feels like someone forced me to play a board game, refused to explain the rules beforehand, and then is gloating that they have a better strategy than me. I expect these kinds of games to be punishing when you make mistakes, but for that to be a learning experience so you know how to avoid that mistake next time (e.g. high-numbered encounters in Dungeon Encounters instantly killing you teaches you to be wary of high-numbered encounters). SMT doesn’t really do that, instead since your party and their skills are constantly rotating, the lessons are things like “this particular boss has a fire attack and you have one party member that happens to be weak to fire, so replace them for this fight”. That doesn’t deepen my understanding of the game, doesn’t make me rethink how I build my team long-term, and doesn’t make me feel clever for overcoming the boss.

Also, I try really hard not to use this term, but this game is too grindy. Part of the general structure of dungeon crawlers is fighting a ridiculous number of random encounters to gain enough xp to fight the boss, but that usually doesn’t feel tedious to me because part of the challenge is managing your resources so you can explore as much as possible before returning to base. SMT 3 doesn’t have very big maps, barely rewards exploration, and requires a lot of grinding beyond filling out the dungeon map because you get so little XP from each fight. It feels bad when you complete a random battle in a level appropriate dungeon by just auto-attacking and get 150xp when you need 200xp to level up, and you need 2 levels before you can do the demon fusion you want before you fight the boss. I have switched the difficulty to Merciful to help with this, but it changes too much for my taste.

However, I am still determined to finish this game because I’m liking the world and the story. This is extremely surprising to me because I haven’t really cared about the narrative of a video game since… probably 2019? I am a huge sucker for bible lore and the way this game let’s you decide ||which JRPG villain’s dystopia you will create||.

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Been all over the place.

Grabbed Ace Combat 7 on a sale and really enjoying it so far. Thanks to those who recommended it. It’s fun to shoot gun. I also was in the mood for something expensive-looking and this fits the bill.

Dipped into Thumper, which Sony gave away last summer. This game is hard as shit! What the hell? I am trash at rhythm games, so I’m not sure I am going to be able to play through. I looked up whether other people thought it was hard, and, yeah, they did, but they weren’t getting owned on level 2 like me. Very cool game, though.

Did a bit of the Breath of the Wild DLC on a roadtrip. The Champion’s Ballad kind of feels like a chore? Honestly, I am slightly regretting this purchase. Not really feeling it.

Checked out a game I bought months ago, Star Wars Battlefront (2004). It’s cool. There are some weird maps in here and the hard mode is actually pretty hard. The sequel is definitely superior, but I am excited to try the above-map aerial combat if I can ever find a dang ship.

Hoping to wrap up Metroid Prime this week. Got the grapple recently. I’ve taken forever to beat this game because I find it a) exhausting and b) hard to play if I haven’t specifically carved out time and space to play. I don’t want to play Prime mid-conversation with my roommates. I really want to be in there. Which is fine, but my neuroticism about this means I only play a few times a week.

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Alright folks, FFXIV: Endwalker is finally arriving this Friday. I’m 8/14ths of a full person, got my buddy Ardbert in here, got my buddy Estinien out there, Soken is bringing the rock and Ishikawa is bringing the tears. I’m here to mess up the bad guys and then cry about it.

Still struggling to pick between Dragoon and Red Mage. I did the rest of the story as Dragoon, but I might be leaning towards the Red. Regardless of what I pick I’ll be able to backflip stylishly off arenas.

I’m trying to finish off a couple of things- Chicory and Jedi: Fallen Order. Both really great. I’m definitely on the final stretch with Jedi, which I’ve been really enjoying. It does lightsaber battles really well, and the boss design is up there with it’s high standard of enemy design in general. I’m pretty sure I’m over the halfway point with Chicory, and it’s a shorter game in general. I don’t know that I like it as much as Wandersong (which is one of few games I would recommendas strongly as I can, to everyone, without reservation), but it’s a lovely, warm, welcoming game that is unafraid of the darkness we all keep within us.

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So, I picked up Journey in the ongoing Steam sale [along with a few other things that were super cheap, below £20 for everything…], because I remember hearing about how great it was back when it came out - and because recently I noticed that people who talk about things like Outer Wilds and even Heaven’s Vault sometimes mention it in a list of influences.

So, I played it for about 20 minutes, and I was enjoying the “exploring a desert landscape” vibes, the cloth creatures and the light jumping puzzles. Generally, I thought it might be going somewhere… and then I put it down to come back to later. Surely this game autosaves, right, since there’s no save menu? I thought.

Reader: it does not. I assume the idea is that you need to have your journey as a single experience each time - which is great as a theoretical argument for how an experience should work, but some of us aren’t going to be able to devote an arbitrary and unknown slice of time to them in one go. It works for, say, Outer Wilds [which does have an autosave, of a sort, of course as well] because the quantum of time is only 22 minutes. For Journey… well, it’s definitely longer than that.

This is a problem for me mostly because it feels like the initial space is very “tutorially” - and apparently you can’t ever even encounter another player during it, to avoid adding too many mechanics at once - and whilst it was magical the first time, I’m pretty sure it’s going to wear thin very quickly. If Journey was, say, more procedurally generated, so the journey actually was “slightly different” each time, this might be okay, but it seems like it is entirely preconstructed?

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