Summary Judgment: Divinity: Original Sin

For a long time, I considered the CRPG to be something of an endangered species in the PC gaming world. Sure, we had our Dragon Age and our Witcher, but even among those hits it felt like certain compromises to modernity were being made in a way that diluted the experience. Sure, the old ways were around, but they were hidden, buried titles that only the devoted could find, disciples of a style of game that seemed rapidly diminishing.

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            Then there’s Divinity: Original Sin. A classic, turn-based CRPG in the truest sense, Divinity is a romp through a lighthearted fantasy world with two protagonists in an adventure of cosmic proportions. Along the way, you’re able to gain a staggering amount of skills and abilities, all of which play out in useful practical ways when it comes to how the player approaches problem solving scenarios.

            Divinity is a game that knows what it is and loves itself for it. It never takes itself, the player, or the genre too seriously, and it knows exactly how hard to make an encounter to keep the player paying attention but never completely in control. Enemies will whiff arrows into cliffs and set off explosives next to their friends just as much as I did, and the whole thing has a kind of comedic haphazardness to it that even a basic encounter can be challenging and hilarious.

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            Enhancing all of this is the way the storytelling is executed, showing you the world through the eyes of two Source Hunters, tailor made by you before the game begins . The interaction between these two is the key to the game’s story; even when playing alone, you’ll have opportunities to trigger interaction between your party members, and many of the game’s story events and conversations will require input from both heroes. On top of that, this input occurs in a way that can cause personality shifts with real gameplay consequences to both the world and your characters, encouraging you to find a personality that resonates with your gameplay and to stay consistent about it.

            Combat is methodical chaos that plays out like the best Dungeons and Dragons encounters. Each character in the combat takes turns using up their action points through a variety of skills and attacks, often making combat a nice balancing act of deciding between expensive major actions or multiple cheap movements or skills. My one complaint is with the interface, which interprets all context-absent clicks as movement orders, oftentimes causing accidental movement when trying to click an attack on an enemy’s model. It could’ve been easily fixed by requiring the issuing of a specific command for movement as an action during combat instead of just defaulting to it, and it’s a curious flaw that this wasn’t thought of when so many similar turn-based games use a similar system.

            Divinity is a labor of love that is an absolute joy to play to completion. The often frantic pace of combat coupled with the jovial, magically comedic storytelling and atmosphere make Divinity: Original Sin a must have experience for anyone who loves fantasy, co-op multiplayer, or combat that requires planning and strategy. Bring a friend, warm up your quicksave button, and be prepared to have a tale or two to tell to your friends when you’re done. As CRPGs go, Divinity proves that you can go home again.

            Divinity: Original Sin is available for PC on Steam and GOG, and costs $39.99 at the time of writing.

Key Signature: The Glory Days

It’s not often that I feel like a discussion of a musical album belongs here. But upon listening to Jimmy “Big Giant Circles” Hinson’s newest chiptune masterpiece “The Glory Days,” I couldn’t help but put together some thoughts here on why I think this album really connects with me on a personal level.

The Key Signature feature idea was to go to different game soundtracks of the past and present and take a look at what tracks really stood out and why. In this case, “The Glory Days” isn’t a game soundtrack per se, but it includes samples and derivative works of many of gaming’s most treasured soundtracks, and so I believe this album, as much as any, belongs here. In this instance of the feature, I’ll be looking at my favorite tracks from “The Glory Days,” and why they really hit a personal note with me.

Go For Distance

This is an energetic, upbeat track that leads off the album like a perfect first level. There’s a looping, bouncing repetition to “Go For Distance” that really makes it sound like classic BGM for side-scrolling platformer from days of yore, and the loopable version on the album reinforces this as it flawlessly repeats back into itself.

“Go For Distance” reminds me of the excitement of starting an SNES game for the first time and figuring out what the hell I was doing while I dashed through the opening act. Most of the side-scrollers of that era started in a sunny, optimistic way, with a first level managing to be a tutorial without handholding, a proving ground that didn’t punish.

This song is the same way. It pulls you into the album and tells you what you can expect, but it doesn’t give too much away and it doesn’t ask too much of you in return. It’s a track that generates excitement every time I hear it, and it’s a fantastic start to the album.

Sevcon

A wavy, dreamlike track that swirls around in your head, reminding me of treks through moonlit fields, underground caverns, and sparkling forests. There’s definitely an element of dubstep wubbyness here at parts; like a lot of game music from the time that the album invokes, there has to be some kind of “action” to the music and the wild electronic sections of “Sevcon” harken to that.

Beyond that though, the song floats in my consciousness like a river. It feels like something that would pop up in the middle of the game, when levels start to get more mysterious as the mechanics start to get more familiar. “Sevcon” feels like falling asleep, and falling back into the kind of games I played when I was more carefree.

The Trials of a MAN

This track kicks things into high gear and feels like something out of Mega Man or Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s a frantic, kinetic song with a feeling of constant forward motion to it, and I can practically see a screen filling with enemies or lasers or something as I listen to it.

Frankly, the track sounds like something I’d hear playing while I was dying a lot. As the time implies, this thing sounds like something you’d hear during a “trial”, and it takes me back to the times when I was pretty goddamn awful at the whole video games thing. Seriously, a lot of people tell me they were way better at this as kids, but I can say with almost complete certainty that I was an utter trainwreck at this hobby as a kid. Bless.

This track soars and dips along with the highs and lows of a real action game experience, and I love it for that. I may have sucked at this when I was younger, but dammit, I loved doing it, and this track reminds me of that.

The Glory Days

This song is a culminating gut punch of warm feelings. It’s a trip back in time, both in music and mind, and the running homage to Super Mario World in the middle of the song drives in an end run that makes me think of, to paraphrase Field of Dreams, “all that was once good, and could be again.”

This is the track that sold me on the album. It’s a masterful, resonating strike at the heart of the longtime gamer, and it ends in what feels like a joyful sprint into the sunset. I can’t recommend this track (and this entire album) enough to anyone who loves games, chiptune, and remembering things were can still be. Excellent work, Mr. Hinson!

You can (and should) listen to and buy The Glory Days over at http://music.biggiantcircles.com/album/the-glory-days . It’s a name your price kind of thing, with the minimum set at $10.

Right to Remain Silent: The Wolf Among Us, Episode 1

I decided to put The Walking Dead on hold for a bit, as it’s a hell of a downer at times and I want something a little less unbelievably bleak at the moment. Thankfully, Telltale has provided me with exactly that; The Wolf Among Us, the first episode of which I’ve played for today.

As a quick matter of character, I’ve decided to play Bigby as a rough kind of guy with a soft spot where women are concerned as part of his ongoing effort to improve himself from his rather colored past. I’ve never read any of the Fables books, so my character knowledge of Bigby is solely what I’ve learned from the game. That said, Bigby is a bit of beast inside so I have a sense that he’ll slip from time to time, and I’m not going to pull any punches against people who deserve it. Naturally, there will be spoilers for the game here. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at The Wolf Among Us: Episode One.

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Well, it didn’t help much in the end, but I gave Faith the money. Not that I get the sense that Bigby had a lot of cash to throw around to begin with, but Faith probably needed it more than I did.

I liked Faith a lot, so the sucker punch of her death really got me. I’d hoped I was able to mitigate some of the danger she was looking in by helping her out here, but that, uh, obviously wasn’t the case. Still, I can’t imagine not giving her the money here. She’s too rad to not help out, and she seemed to know Bigby somehow.

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I utilized my favorite thing Telltale provides me with here, which is the right to remain silent. I told Beauty I wouldn’t let Beast in on what she was up to, and I stuck to that promise and let the elevator doors shut on his face. That’s not to say that I find anything wrong with Beast, but it’s not my place to go messing with his and Beauty’s business.

Beauty’s definitely up to something, though, but I don’t think it’s necessarily something antagonistic or bad as much as it is something Beast would disapprove of because it’s dangerous or threatening to Beauty in some way.

I’m a bit surprised how harshly I was in the minority on this one. I think some of this probably has to do with the relative obscurity of the silence option, but 6.8% is a hell of a small group to be in on a choice like this. I’d be interested to see how many people did decide to rat out what Beauty was up to, or if more people straight up decided to tell Beast to shove it to his face.

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Toad’s problem here just seemed more imminent. Lawrence certainly looked like he wasn’t doing so hot, but my suspicion was that he was probably already screwed, and that Toad’s situation was probably still salvageable. I like Toad, despite his slipperiness, and so I wanted to try to help him out of trouble if I could; I’d feel pretty awful if something bad happened to him because I put his problems lower on my priority list.

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…So I guess maybe my call up above might have cost Lawrence his life. I’m actually pretty surprised to learn that Lawrence can survive; he seemed pretty far up shit creek when I saw him, but I suppose if I had decided to come here first and leave Toad for later, I might have been able to salvage the situation.

I strongly doubt it was the gun that killed him, given the evidence at the scene. The bullet seemed to have been fired some time beforehand, so I think something more elaborate is at work with regard to Lawrence’s death. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that I let the trail get cold here, and the knowledge that I could have saved him doesn’t make that feeling any better.

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I feel pretty good about my guess here. The pimp in question is a complete unknown at this point, and none of the suspect’s I’ve been presented with besides him have seemed all that compelling to me.

Lawrence obviously didn’t do it, since, well, Lawrence is a little too dead to be lopping people’s heads off. As much as Bigby and the Woodsman are at odds, this kind of serial killing really doesn’t seem like it’s within his capacities; he’s a simple guy with a simple mindset, and I don’t think he’s all that deeply sinister so much as he is just a rough bastard. On similar lines, I’m fairly sure that Dee and Dum are just thugs, and this kind of thing goes way beyond them.

The only real wild card beyond the pimp is Bluebeard, who has a certain kind of foreboding enigma around him and it certainly seems like Bigby has a lingering suspicion of him. The document on him earlier in the chapter also indicates that he has the ability to harm Fables in the way we’ve seen, but I think he’s been so disconnected from the story so far that I have a hard time suddenly jumping to him as my suspect at the moment.

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Dee’s the one who matters here, so I went after him. The Woodsman’s a bastard, but I still don’t think he’s really all that related to what’s happening with the murders, and he’s definitely not the one who killed Faith. Dee, on the other hand, is verifiably connected to the larger plot at hand, and to top it all off, I owed him one for the cheap shot on me earlier in the game.

I really like the twists and turns The Wolf Among Us has taken so far, and I’m really looking forward to diving into the second episode sometime in the next week or so. The story’s still weighty and gritty, but not overwhelmingly so like Walking Dead, and the cast of characters is very likeable and compelling. Stay tuned.

Thornwatch Interlude: The Dark

THE DARK

Night in the Eyrewood is a time of both serenity and danger. Children of the village are warned of it, the Lookouts are trained in their survival during it, and the Daughters of the Eyrewood wrap its permeating solitude around the Forest like a blanket. But through all the fabric of human consciousness, there exists a lingering fear of the uncertain, and no man or woman who lives within the Eyrewood is without a lingering trace of trepidation in the dark.

On this night, four of the Thornwatch, the Eyrewood’s nomadic sentinels, are called to the four corners of a shadowed glade. a deep place in the wood, surrounded by thick pines and shrouded in the in the cool hanging breath of the gliding night.

Each person brings a different perspective to all situations. Four men, four Thornwatch, four corners of the glade. But in the darkness within, as the Eyrewood curls in around them, they may find that not even the Thornwatch can truly escape the fear of The Dark.

KALE, THE GREENHEART

The call!

I felt the familiar tug like always, the call of the Wood. The call means something different to each of us, you see; to me, it means another chance to make the Wood better, to make it grow. With the call came excitement, because every call was an opportunity to learn something and see something I’ve never seen before. Even the most horrible parts of the Eyrewood were beautiful from the right perspective.

Except this one.

My sudden appearance outside the dense pocket of trees was unceremonious and more unusually, unlooked for and welcomed by no one. My only greeters as I swirled into existence in the dark of the Eyrewood were the trees, dense pines that seemed to cluster together tighter into an entryway into a blackened wood, beckoning me inward as they swayed. There were no Lookouts, no Daughters, no people or beasts of any kind present. Most importantly, there was no Crow’s Loop.

The Loop calls us, and I heard the call, so you can imagine my apprehension at answering it only to find that the Loop had made off somewhere during my transit! I searched the area for a time, perhaps out of a procrastinating need to avoid the inevitable conclusion of the Glade that beckoned, the dark hole in the trees that called out to me. Eventually, I could ignore it no longer, and with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation I made me way into its murky threshold.

Oddly enough, I soon found myself entering into a large, open clearing, with a cool breeze sweeping through my hair.  A bright full moonlight clearly lit the area, and what I witnessed in the open field nearly floored me on the spot.

It was infinite. A gigantic stretch of…nothing. A flat, enormous, endless expanse the likes of which I had never seen in the wood, or in my life at all. An emptiness so dizzying that in spite of myself, I turned and attempted to retreat back into the comforting embrace of the Eyrewood. The embrace, however, was truncated; as I made my way back into the trees I found that they too ended abruptly, seemingly having been reduced to only a thin line of wood at the edge of yet another endless expanse.

It was too much for me to handle. I thought of the Eyrewood and its dense mystery, something new around every bend, an ever-growing menagerie of unbelievable creatures, sounds, and sights. A work of natural art. My home. Perfect.

Not like this.  The more I looked, the less I saw. Soon, even the line of trees that led me here disappeared into the horizon and I was left only to the expanse and myself. No monsters to fight. No corruption to purge. No weeping Lookout, or questioning Daughter. Only the field.

I fell to my hands and knees and began to search the grass for something, anything to be my anchor in the expanse. I found nothing but dirt and grass, not even insects scuttling through the reeds or a worm squeezing through the cold earth. I scoured my pockets for seeds, clawing away at the raw earth in order to plant them, to create something besides the blank eternity. But as I planted them, they too became lost in the dirt. Even the stars above me blinked of existence one by one, until they had all been extinguished and the light of the moon had dwindled to nothingness, leaving only myself and the ever-growing darkness.

I crawled ever-forward, refusing to give up on the idea that I could find something within this unnatural infinity upon which to rest my consciousness. Something to learn. Something new. I clawed my way through the dirt an inch at a time for what seemed like an eternity, until the darkness finally overtook me, and I spiraled into my own mind, where I could still find something new, even at the cost of my own sanity. Eventually my mind settled on the sound of a crying child, and it echoed into the abyss with me as I fell into madness.

VECEN, THE BLADE

The call?

It always comes when I’m in the middle of something, like a reminder of what I should be doing with my time instead. A nagging mother, pulling me into the wood to attend to my chores. This time, I didn’t even get the pleasure of meeting the person who tied the Loop – even the Loop itself was gone, for moss’s sake! As irritating as it may be to be pulled out of an activity, it is infinitely magnified by having my time wasted when it occurs. Seeing neither the Loop nor the one who tied it, I made my way down a path into a dark, gnarled passage of trees, hoping to find either a fool to chastise or a body to throw on a pyre so I could return to my business.

What I found instead was a somewhat disappointingly mundane site; a makeshift graveyard, seemingly ancient. Mossy, small headstones poked out of the ground, piercing through the hanging mist in orderly rows. The text on the graves was too worn to read; undoubtedly, these stones had been here for centuries. The long lost and forgotten dead of times past. I shuddered.

I searched each of the headstones, hoping to find someone hiding behind one to drag out of the eerie silence of the mourning night. Instead, I found nothing but more graves. With a sigh and a shrug, I turned back to the entrance; whatever fool who made their way here had likely been slain by whatever had scared them so, and they now joined the legions who had been buried beneath, food for the swift spinning worms that pierced the cold floor of the Eyrewood in droves.

I tripped suddenly on the way out, nearly falling onto a headstone, when I noticed that the ground underneath the headstone had given way, revealing bones piercing a shallow grave into which I had nearly fallen. With a jerking kick I knocked away the hideous gnarled bones, amazed that even this relic of the dead man buried here had managed to survive decomposition this long; the worms weren’t particularly known to discriminate between flesh and bone. As I kicked, I tore my right legging on the harsh corner of the headstone, and saw with a lurch of the stomach what had become of my flesh underneath.

My own bones lay exposed beneath the fabric, with no meat or blood left on them to speak of. With a broken scream I scurried backward on my hands, unable to lift my leg any longer, hurriedly pulling back the remainer of the pantleg and tearing off my right boot to reveal only a skeletal leg and foot beneath, gleaming in the pale moonlight.

Panting, I tore off the rest of the leggings to find that both legs had become nothing but pristine bone. Paralysis crept up my body, slowly robbing me of the use of each of my muscles. Before I lost the use of my arms, I crawled to a pool of water near one of the graves in time to see the process reach its grim conclusion; my face began to degrade into a skull before me, and as my eyes decomposed into nothingness, the darkness of the Eyre overtook me and I heard only the crying of a child in the distance before I felt myself being swept into the blanket of the earth beneath, a gravestone sprouting above my frozen terror in the blackness.

MARL, THE GUARD

The call.

I am not given to wasting time when summoned by the Crow’s Loop. As I arrived at the caller’s location this time, I was perplexed to discover that the Loop was nowhere to be found, nor its creator. My only greeter was a strage path through the wood, leading into a maw of darkness. The Loop may have been disturbed by something that escaped down this passage, and so I moved within so that I might find the caller, or whatever remains of his corpse.

What lay at the end of the passage was wrong. The warmth of the village and the sound of its inhabitants carried through the night, and I arrived at the gate of my own history. Lookouts paraded through the torch-lit streets with tiny swords, slaying invisible monsters. My own clothing had changed before my eyes, into a uniform I had discarded long ago. The children looked at me with admiration.

I looked back with horror. I had abandoned this. I let it go for a reason. The village is blind to the song of the Eyre. The Lookouts and their shortsightedness are something I fled from, and my mind scrambled to understand what had dragged me back into the memory of the only oath I had ever broken. I will not be ignorant of the Eyre again. I will never go back.

The other Lookouts surrounded me and ushered me into a warm inn, sitting me at a table and asking me to tell them a story of my exploits in their order. I ignored them and searched frantically for the Loop. For the prickle of the thorns. I can never go home again.

Eventually, the twistedly familiar scene was too much. I stood from the table and ran from the inn, knocking patron and Lookout alike out of my way in my search for the town’s exit. I tried to removed the uniform that had appeared on me, hoping to somehow tear it away and reveal my own tattered trappings beneath. It refused to be moved, and with each tug at the cloth it only grew tighter, until I felt suffocated by the wool of the cloak and the warmth of its embrace. I fell to the ground in the trees, screaming, pounding away at my head to drown out the echoing mantra that pierced thought and flesh, interrupted only by the sounds of the crying child within. The mantra refused to be silenced. It burned in my brain, and hung on the air and my breath. It filled my throat, even as the cloak clasped it shut:

May we die in the forest.

LIANDER, THE SAGE

The call…

Someone undoubtedly in need of rescuing from their own mess. Well, that’s the way of things, isn’t it? The talentless bequeath the aid of the talented. As a member of the Thornwatch, it is my duty – nay, my privilege – to assist those too incompetent to avoid being killed in the Eyre themselves.

This time, the caller seemed to be too hopelessly lost to even bother to remain where he had tied the Loop, let alone to bear witness to my arrival. It was no matter – his destination obviously lay within the glade ahead, down this admittedly unappealing path into a darker section of the Wood. Honestly, sometimes I think the untrained that find their way into these predicaments would be slain by their own shadows if given the opportunity. I set off into the darkness, awaiting the chance to once again teach someone why the arrival of the Thornwatch is to be revered , not dreaded.

Shockingly, I came into what appeared to be a crowded marketplace! Lit by elaborate candles and filled with excited people browsing the wares, the market sang the merry song of commerce into the night, utterly ignorant of my sudden arrival or the presumed trouble that brought me here.

I made repeated inquiries at the shoppers and merchants, but they seemed utterly uninterested in what I had to say. Indeed, the more I tried to get their attention, the less they seemed to acknowledge my presence at all! Growing frustrated, I began to resort to more and more outlandish means of making them notice me, creating elaborate displays of fire and prowess in the middle of the crowd to no avail.

Had they gone blind and deaf? Was I turned invisible by some sort of sorcery of the Eyre? It was infuriating to be ignored when it was undoubtedly one of these cretins who had called me here in the first place! I was the protector of these dirtfed peasants, the least they could do was LOOK AT ME!

Before long I realized I was shouting these thoughts out loud, screaming in the square of the market for someone to notice me. The crowd grew denser still, closing in around me, swelling around the booths but only ever looking through me. I began to weep and fell to my knees, yelling childishly for my parents in the evergrowing din of the human swell. Soon the crowd around me grew so dense that my cries were drowned out entirely, and I fell into the darkness of the forest of legs, a pathetic forgotten thing, committed to the ground where I belonged. I wept there, on the floor, crawling amidst the legs, and I heard someone weep with me, to whom I seemed to crawl for an eternity. The darkness overtook me. 

THE THORNWATCH

Four men entered The Dark that night, and four men met nothing but themselves within. Still, they were drawn onward by the last vestige of their outside knowledge; the sound of a crying child hidden within their nightmares. The Greenheart Kale pushed himself through the dark infinity to it. The Blade Vecen used a blind, skeletal jaw to claw himself along the ground to it. The Guard Marl guided his fall into the darkness toward the sound of the child’s weeping. The Sage Liander, in all his supernatural prowess, crawled through the endless sea of legs in search of the young wails that matched his own.

They did what only the Thornwatch could. They found the Crow’s Loop.

Prying through their own nightmares to reach it, through hells of their own making, they found the crying child; a Daughter of the Eyrewood, held to the earth by rotten, pulsating tendrils. Finding that  their strength returned as they neared the child in the ever-deepening darkness, they combined their efforts to free her, never speaking of the horrors they had traversed to reach this simple black glade. They freed the child, and spotted the Crow’s Loop on the tree next to her as she darted off into her wooded home. Summoned by a Daughter in the forest, to free her from a nightmare that latched her to the earth itself.

From then on, the Thornwatch spoke in hushed tones of The Dark, of the patch of the wood where the lost are seized by unknown forces, where the horrors of a Watcher’s heart are made manifest on the land itself. No weapon will pierce it, and no armor will stop it. Only the strength of a Watcher of Thorns’ will can protect him from himself.

 For within all of us, darker fears lie than those of beasts or words. Deeper fears that cut beyond the bone: Fear of stagnation. Fear of death. Fear of the past. Fear of being ignored and forgotten. The fears that grow in the hearts of children and never fully leave.

The fears of The Dark.

 

Hero Worship: Disruptor

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This hero, guys. This fucking hero. I think I may have found The One, and I’m currently working up the courage to ask Disruptor if he’d like to be best friends and maybe come to my birthday party and talk about boys.

Like the name not-so-subtly implies, Disruptor is all about screwing up what an enemy hero is trying to do. Moving people around, keeping them where they are, silencing them for an extended period if they remain in an AoE, Disruptor and his lizard mount are the guys for the job if you want to dominate where the enemy can, can’t, and must go.

The downside being that Disruptor is pretty useless on his own. All of his abilities are somewhat slow-boiling, and only his Q and his ult do any kind of damage, both of which deal long term building damage rather than immediate nuking. However, it seems like if you stick to teamfighting and make sure to always have a buddy around, you can really set up some crazy stuff if you use your abilities right.

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Q – THUNDER STRIKE
Repeatedly strikes the targeted unit with lightning. Each strike damages nearby enemy units in a small radius.

At first, I thought this was a pushing tool for clearing out minion waves, but as I used it more I realized the real value of it is the six seconds of constant vision it gives you on an enemy. At max rank, Disruptor’s Glimpse has 1800 range, so if you’re chasing someone and they get the lead on you, putting Thunder Strike on them before they get out of that range can let you see them long enough to get the Glimpse on them and pull them back into the team.

Aside from that, the damage is pretty mediocre, although if you get it on someone in a group and combo it with Kinetic Field and Static Storm, it can add up. Still, I stick with my original assessment: the vision is best part of the ability. Stick it on anyone you want to keep an eye on.

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W – GLIMPSE
Teleports the target hero back to where it was 4 seconds ago. Instantly kills illusions.

Now we’re talking. This is the kind of wacky playmaking ability that I love using. It’s flashy, it’s got a huge range at level four, and it can completely screw over your team if you’re not careful when you use it. You have to keep a mental counter of four seconds going in your head when you’re eyeballing a Glimpse target.

Thankfully, you’ve got the perfect tool for that. Thunderstrike strikes roughly once every one and a half seconds, so if you apply it to the target (which you should be doing for the vision anyway) you can keep a count on the strike and then just use the ability after the second strike.

Glimpse is just fantastic. It can be used to yank a chased target back, it can be used to set up Kinetic field, it can be used to send teleported people back to base, it can be used to buy you some breathing room if you’re being chased. It is the most versatile tool in your Disruptor toolbox.

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E – KINETIC FIELD
After a short formation time, creates a circular barrier of kinetic energy that enemies can’t pass.

If Glimpse is the butter of Disruptor, Kinetic Field is the bread. An AoE battlefield control mechanicsm that can be used either to trap people or to force them to seek out alternative routes, Kinetic Field feels like the key way you manage people in a teamfight situation positionally. There’s a bit of a lead in time on the casting, so you can’t use it to instantly snag someone, but you can place it around the location where Glimpse is going to drop someone off, or you can put it down to cut off an escape route or corral people into a specific place.

Combining this with your ultimate really lets you rack up damage and crowd control in such a way as to be a nearly perfect teamfight combo. It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that it doesn’t affect magic immune targets and can be circumvented by things like Blinking (but not the Force Staff.)

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R – STATIC STORM
Creates a damaging static storm that also silences all enemy units in the area for the duration. The damage starts off weak, but increases in power over the duration.

The coup de grace of the AoE combo, this thing does a crazy amount of damage with an Aghanim’s Scepter and can silence an entire team if they’re stupid enough to clump up together before a teamfight with a Disruptor around. It may not be hard crowd control, but a five second AoE silence is nothing to sneeze at in a teamfight, and any team that’s clumped around a tower is going to regret it if they stick around in the cloud long enough to keep the damage ticking.

It was tempting to use this after I corralled everyone into your Kinetic Field, but I think the opposite might be more effective, especially if you have a Scepter and can silence the item usage of the people affected, really sealing them into the field.

Disruptor is a blast to play and really forces the enemy team to think carefully about their movements. People who aren’t paying attention to what they’re doing are perfect subjects for Glimpsing, you have an almost unparalleled level of teamfight management with Kinetic Field and Static Storm, and Thunder Strike makes sure no one gets out of your sight. Disruptor, will you marry me?

Retrospection: Demon’s Souls

                I had a bit of a weird and time-scattered experience with From Software’s 2009 PS3 classic Demon’s Souls. I bought the game alongside my PS3, having heard of its reputation not only for difficulty, but also for innovative multiplayer implementation. I played the first level or so, liked it, but ultimately sort of fell off the wagon in favor of other experiences and let it sit neglected on the shelf until about a month or so ago.

In the intervening period, I played Dark Souls, having been swept up in the ever-swirling cloud of hype and love that surrounds that game amongst its devoted fanbase, and I began to understand what it was about the series that got people so enraptured with it. As the release of Dark Souls II loomed closer, I decided to give the spiritual ancestor a try, either out of hunger for more of the same, or a curiosity as to what was different.

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TIGHTER, BUT MORE CONFINED

In looking back, it’s most interesting to note the ways in which Demon’s Souls differs from its descendants. The core gameplay is mostly the same; well-tuned action combat, with a variety of wildly differing weapon styles, magical spells, and equipment augmentation that combine with your carefully chosen stats in order to produce a character that really feels like the sum of the choices you’ve made as a player. But where Dark Souls placed a heavy emphasis on slow discovery, exploration, and unity in the world, Demon’s Souls takes a different approach.

Demon’s Souls chose the path of designing tightly instead of designing widely, and it shows. Each one of the game’s 16 levels has a very distinct and carefully laid out feel to it that made the entire experience feel very intentional. I felt a tension to every step forward, as there was an unshakeable aura that a developer was looking over my shoulder, chuckling to himself because he knew what I was about to step into.

MORE THAN HALF THE BATTLE

The boss fights were no different. Demon’s Souls is perhaps more cerebral than its spiritual sequel when it comes to combat; both games are largely about knowing your enemy, but in Demon’s Souls, it felt like knowing was a lot more than half the battle. Dark Souls often required a certain level of mechanical execution and skill to the timing in all of its boss fights, but its antecedent is more entirely about figuring out what the trick to the fight is in almost every boss encounter.  The notable exceptions here are the Flamelurker and the False King, who are fairly mechanically demanding fights, but even in those, there’s nothing on the level of Ornstein and Smough or Artorias from Dark Souls.

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Demon’s Souls is more about knowing than doing. It’s about taking what the boss is telling you and really listening to it. There are fewer fights to blunder through, but if you can figure out a fight quick, it can be trivial to smash it to bits. It’s all about thinking on your feet and looking at context clues and tells that the boss is giving you, and in that way, the bosses are an interesting difference from the later game.

Of course, a lot of that probably has to do with the fact that I played all of Dark Souls before really getting into its predecessor. Most of the combat training from Dark Souls stuck with me, and so things that may have been extreme challenges to new players when the game came out weren’t so threatening to me when I saw them, and some of the surprises were things that they’d reused in the sequel. I was already familiar with the multiplayer elements of invasions, signs, and phantoms in general, and I knew about From Software’s penchant for bridge dragons and hiding surprises next to loot. I also knew about the importance of item descriptions, and how the elements of the weapon upgrade system worked. All of these things made Demon’s Souls more a challenge of learning levels than mechanics, and so the experience felt more cerebral and slow paced to me.

There are important differences in tone here, too. Demon’s Souls has a certain bleakness to it, but not on the level of Dark Souls’s inevitable dwindling of the world. Demon’s presents you with a world that can really be saved, and it feels like the characters you encounter along the way are not quite so hopelessly doomed as the ones that populate Lordran.

All said, Demon’s Souls represents an interesting mid-generation touchstone for the last console generation. It’s an eastern company’s taken on a Western style RPG, and it’s a delicate, deliberate, carefully constructed experience which sets itself apart in difficulty, cleverness, and atmosphere. It may lack the cohesively interwoven world and sense of exploration of its spiritual successor, but it makes up for it in the details of the level design. Demon’s Souls is worth looking back at.

The Real ABC’s of Game Journalism

            A certain foul human being named “George” wrote an article at http://www.ruthlessreviews.com/20998/abcs-game-journalism/ that’s been making the rounds lately. In “The ABCs of Game Journalism,” George goes into a lengthy diatribe on all of the many ways in which that mean bully that is the gaming industry mistreated him and how gosh darn it, it’s hard out there for a dude these days. 

            George is full of shit. George’s list is a catalogue of all of the bitterness built up in George’s heart, and isn’t a remotely realistic picture of anything going on in the gaming industry on any consistent level. So what I’m going to do is fix George’s list for him, and show how a lot of people out there are doing great work on a daily basis in the gaming industry. Along the way, I’m going to point out how outrageously wrong George is in nearly every way. George’s cynicism and bitterness can go fuck themselves.

 

A is for Activity. Sites like Joystiq, Kotaku, Eurogamer, Giant Bomb, and IGN all make a living producing game related content. It turns out that the production of content is a time consuming thing, and that in order to be successful in that endeavor, constant, regular readers need to be maintained. As a result, a frankly staggering amount of features, reviews, interviews, and preview content get posted at regular intervals throughout the day in order to ensure that when a reader visits the site, they always find something interesting to look at, thus keeping the whole machine running.

B is for Big Cities, because human beings tend to congregate together into communities in order to more easily facilitate group activity.  It turns out that being a shut in who refuses to communicate by any nondigital means isn’t conducive to a prosperous career; people want to meet each other.  Human connection is invaluable and helps you develop meaningful friendships and creative relationships.  Being located nearby to the people to whom you are making these connections is a large benefit, hence, concentrations of game-related folk tend to crop up in certain areas.

That said, it’s also completely untrue that you need to move to a certain area in order to create meaningful content in the game industry.  Many game journalists like Polygon’s Ben Kuchera, much of the Joystiq crew, Rock Paper Shotgun’s Cara Ellison, Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek, US Gamer’s Cassandra Khaw and countless others live in locations scattered across the US and the world, many of which are extremely affordable cities.  I generally have no doubt that if my work was good enough and I was persistent enough, I could make a living anywhere.

C is for Conversation, which is what occurs naturally when civil, intelligent human beings talk to each other in reasonable ways about topics of mutual interest. The Internet enables dialog in previously impossible venues, and so naturally, discussions occur when people engage with material that matters to them.  Again, something very evident to anyone who doesn’t spend all day being overly antagonistic.

D is for Development, which is the arduous, soul-draining, life consuming, but ultimately (in the good cases) rewarding process through which the people who make video games pour years of their life into products in order for consumers to be able to enjoy them, think about them, and remember them. 

Many people have used games writing as a segue into game development, such as Bastion’s Greg Kasavin or Gunpoint’s Tom Francis, but many more take their career as writers seriously as a lifelong investment.  Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann has made it abundantly clear on many occasions that he’s a man who produces games content, not games themselves, much like his colleague Patrick Klepek.  Other writers and content like Nathan Meunier, Andrew Groen, and Travis Gafford have made extensive livings covering topics that matter to them in very in depth ways, be it Nathan’s focus on creating guides to entering games writing, Andrew’s commitment to compelling eSports long form pieces, or Travis’s exhaustive eSports interview collection. People who want to write about games for a living permanently exist, and it’s insanity to claim that the game writing business exists only as a stepping stone on the way to making games.

E is for Editor, or the person who works their ass off to make it so that all of the sites we love to read don’t put out unfiltered, unedited content that reads like garbage. Anyone who writes without an editor may as well be writing without eyes, a fact for which most of the work on this blog stands as a shining testament.  Creative work cannot be properly generated without criticism and editing, and editors provide the much needed filter of judgment and discernment that keeps sites from becoming unbearable content fire hoses. On top of that, they act as general custodians and caretakers of a site’s content environment, granting a general sense of cohesion and vision to the entire endeavor.

F is for Fifteen, the average age of someone who has no idea how the hell to write anything decent and lacks the discipline and life experience necessary to produce usable content on a consistent basis while developing personal and business connections necessary to succeed in any job, let alone games writing. There are plenty of talented fifteen year olds out there writing great stuff, they just need more time to hone their skills because, well, they’re fifteen fucking years old. If these people are a threat to you, you’re not trying hard enough.  Sorry.

G is for Girl at the Gamestop, who probably has been playing games every bit as long as you have but doesn’t talk about it because she’s had too much experience with getting shouted down and questioned by manchildren like the original article’s author.  Game journalism resonates with this person because it provides an avenue for meaningful discussion that she’s never had in any game because of belligerent shitheels spouting sexism and lewd profanity at her every five minutes.

What she certainly doesn’t represent is dumbing down of anything. Games of a level of unfathomable complexity that we could have only dreamed of in the 1980s are coming out in droves.  Go play Crusader Kings II, Dwarf Fortress, Dota 2, Europa Universalis IV, or any of a million fighting games and tell me that things have been universally “casualized” across the board. If anything, we’re experiencing a renaissance of depth and complexity the likes of which hasn’t been seen in years.

Beyond that, creating a broad depth of potential experiences, even “casual” ones, is only beneficial and enables more people to acquire greater, broader tastes as they become more integrated into the gaming environment.  The first video game I ever owned was a game about moving blocks into holes to create lines. It doesn’t get much more “casual” than that.  It’s about creating a broad range of products.

H is for Hobbyist, meaning someone who does something for fun because it’s interesting and engaging to them,  Many people who play games for hobby think it’d be great to write about them for a living, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.  Not everyone who loves playing games will love writing about them.  The moral of the story is to write first and expect to make a career out of it later.  If it’s something you love doing regardless of pay, it’s not going to become horrible morale crushing labor down the road.  That’s not to say it will be easy, but it’ll be worth it.  If you don’t like it, don’t do it. I really shouldn’t have to say these kinds of things, but here we are.

I is for Indie Games, the natural result of the deliverance of game development tools to a much wider audience. They’ve delivered a huge variety of experiences as a result of the much broader set of people that can develop them, ranging from bold storytelling experiences (Gone Home, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons) to extremely precise and effective mechanical games (Hotline Miami, Super Meat Boy, Spelunky, Mark of the Ninja) and beyond.  Smaller teams, more tightly conceived ideas, and a lack of publisher pressure and economic oversight mean that these games have the ability to defy convention and take greater risks than AAA projects. As a result, some of the most interesting and engaging experiences of the last several years have been indie titles, which make up in creativity what they perhaps lack in sheer production value.

J is for Justice, in this instance of the social variety. It represents the constant struggle oppressed groups face on a daily basis when it comes to getting equal representation, acknowledgement, and treatment within the gaming industry and beyond. As a movement, the push for social justice is slowly gaining traction within the gaming world, leading to games with a variety of messages gaining prominence, as well as a greater representation of various groups in games and game development. 

However, that inequality problem is far from fixed, and it is never more evident than when reading any of a countless number comments and posts by disenfranchised manchildren, who take to their forum of choice to bawl about how they’re expected to give even the slightest amount of fucks about the actual meaningful content of their experiences. These complaints about “social justice warriors” ruining their good time are the whining, screaming death throes of a vile and repulsive culture, and we’re all better off for beginning jettison it like the diseased limb of the artform and culture that it is.

K is for Keep Buggering On, the only real option when faced with bleak situations.  The gaming industry can suck.  A lot.  But when confronted with this challenge, someone who truly believes in what they’re doing and their desire to break into that industry doesn’t have to let the weight of it all crush them. 

There are a lot of support networks out there for those with depression (like yours truly) and while it’s difficult to take the first step in that regard, it’s extremely important to know that you are not alone in the world or the industry. Like everything worth doing, getting going in this field isn’t easy, and it takes persistence and maybe an unhealthy degree of stubbornness. In the end, though, I feel strongly that with enough effort, it’s possible to make a living doing something that matters to you.

L is for Ludonarrative Dissonance, a rather cleverly devised term created to quickly and easily describe what is often a core issue when it comes to narrative development in games, that is, a tension between narrative actions and gameplay ones. It, like all linguistic terms, was devised to meet a certain authorial need, and it’s pretty much sheer lunacy to try to claim that a term with an extremely specific and directly internally described meaning is somehow superfluous or contrived. It means dissonance between gameplay and story.  It’s right there in the term.  Come on, guys.

 M is for Manchild, or the kind of people that gaming industry is rapidly excising like the cancerous tumor they are. It’s the kind of person who is upset about social progress invading their brainless violence parade, or about the fact that it takes a little bit of social grace in order to make progress in this (or any) industry.  Basically, it refers to the ilk of the author of the article to which this is a response.

N is for Newgrounds.com, a place which once upon a time (and to a lesser degree, currently) was a fascinating petrie dish of independent game development. There’s a lot of junk on Newgrounds, but a lot of gold, too. Many of the people who made flash based games on Newgrounds and similar sites moved on to making greater projects and selling them, because improving at your craft and hopefully making a living doing it is sort of the entire aim of the creative universe.  Without Newgrounds we wouldn’t have Castle Crashers, for god’s sake, and a world without Castle Crashers isn’t one I want to live in.

 O is for Objectivity, which is what the entire games press is dependent upon maintaining in order to preserve the credibility that keeps people coming to their sites. Credibility means readers means a continued existence.  The ludicrous assertion that the entire games press is somehow in the pocket of the developers and publishers solely because they receive advanced copies and previews of games is insane, as Kotaku’s Jason Schreier points out in an incisively well-argued explanation of the process on NeoGAF. He explains this all better than I could ever hope to.

 P is for Polygon.com, a central place to find some of the best written, presented, and argued pieces of long form reporting and opinion in the industry. Polygon has a dedication to being more than just a simple consumer guide, and the actual criticism that Polygon’s reviews present is sometimes all too rare in the industry.

Polygon’s Editor-at-Large Chris Plante is one of the people responsible for the high level of quality of Polygon’s written and video work, and his piece questioning the role of violence in Bioshock Infinite was a wonderful look at the reasons why AAA gaming has flaws in its presentation due to certain studio expectations that influence the way stories interact with gameplay. Claiming that the piece somehow tore down an undisputed classic is a bizarrely worshipful assertion of the AAA industry, especially in an article like the one I’m responding to, where the author had just finished complaining about editors seemingly being in the pocket of exactly the type of interest Chris Plante is questioning.

Polygon’s features editor Russ Pitts is the man at the helm of what I personally believe to be Polygon’s strongest suit: the incredibly well researched and presented features, discussing topics ranging across the entire industry. Just one look at http://www.polygon.com/features turns up an endless buffet of deep, interesting examinations of virtually every topic imaginable in the industry, and Russ Pitts is the man in charge of gathering, editing, and organizing all of that content.  He’s no slouch in the writing department either, generating fascinating features of his own and wonderful reviews like his siege on The Castle Doctrine.

 Q is for Questions You Need to Ask Yourself: Do I really care about games? Will I never shut up about them, even if I’m not being paid? Am I willing to put up with crappy work situations for a while because I’m going to be writing about this crap anyway so I might as well try to make a career out of it? Do I think games actually matter, and are they things worth writing about?  If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then you probably don’t need me to tell you to keep on keeping on with the words writing thing.

 R is for Rogers, Tim, an influential writer and a champion of the idea that, gee whiz, maybe criticism can involve importing the author’s own personal experiences into the lens of the review.  People are informed by experience. Criticism is the output of those experiences and opinions mixed with art. Tim Rogers knows a hell of a lot about video games, and he imports that knowledge along with his experience in order to write some of the best long form criticism pieces around.  His article on Kotaku about some of his most time consuming games of 2013 is probably my favorite list article about the previous year, and reading his opinion about Zelda there really shows how much passion and knowledge he has for what makes a game tick. As it happens, games writing can be more than just telling you what to buy, and Tim Rogers is living proof of that.

 S is for Sexism. Shockingly, around half of the human race is female! Yet despite this fact, there is an overwhelming slant against female representation in gaming, with almost no decent female protagonists in mainstream games and a severe lack of games with a uniquely female perspective. On top of that, we make it worse by throwing in oversexualized women everywhere, making it nearly impossible for women to play games without being in some way alienated. Then, to top it all off, some of us then have the unbelievable hubris of asking women why they aren’t trying harder to represent themselves in games! 

Writers, then, have started to actually write about things that matter in recent years, and as a result our industry’s rampant, institutionalized sexism has come into the light in a deservedly harsh way. Again, remember that bit I said about half the world being women. Sexism hurts us all and prevents perspectives from getting made into stories. Full stop.

 T is for Thesaurus, a writing tool used to find synonyms in order to make your sentences less horrible. Game journalism in particular loves the thesaurus because gaming sites have an audience that needs to be constantly engaged in order to keep paying attention, and in fact, games writing can’t afford to be overly wordy for exactly this reason.

Thinking that editors of sites are in love with overly wordy, flowery pieces is insanity and shows a lack of any real interaction with an editor who spends all day viciously slashing unnecessary words out of articles like Jason Voorhees with a chainsaw. Say it with me: Editors hate unnecessary words. Copy editors exist to dismember unnecessarily wordy sentences. Writers love to embellish and need editors to prevent them from flying off into enormous, wordy tangents. Gaming sites are run by editors. QED.

 U is for Unbelievable Internal Contradictions, which is all that came to mind when I saw that the original article I’m lambasting wrote one paragraph about a lack of objectivity in games writing and then not seven paragraphs later proceeded to complain about too much objectivity and detachment. I can’t even. The lens of personal experience is important. See everything I wrote in the O section above. Jesus Christ.

 V is for Venture Capital, which…you sort of need to start a business? If you want to start something, get some capital, I guess. I’m not really sure what the point of this one in the original article was. I think he had trouble coming up with a word that started with V. In an article about Video games. I don’t know, guys.

 W is for Word Count, which I don’t think either the original author or myself can rightfully say anything insightful about after writing these monstrous articles. Basically, have a sense of discernment about what you’re writing, and ask yourself if everything you’re writing is something you need. Do it before you make your editor do it. Do as I say, not as I do.

 X is for X-Rated, which the original author used as a chance to get mad about women again, apparently? Let me fix that. There are a lot of great women out there, some of whom are making adult content (like the amazing Christine Love’s next game, Ladykiller in a Bind) and some of whom are writing about adult content (like the ever-insightful Cara Ellison in her S.EXE column at Rock, Paper, Shotgun)   Go look at their work.  It’s amazing.

As for the Anita Sarkeesian thing, I’m so very sorry if what she’s saying makes you angry for some reason. Maybe next time, try to conjure some actual arguments against it instead of just claiming she’s some kind of charlatan harlot because she dared to criticize your favorite art form without having spent two decades wholly immersed in it to the point of total social exclusion. Maybe it’s because the medium has an enormous amount of hostility towards her gender baked into nearly every product that’s come out of it in the last three decades?

If you can’t tell, I’m running out of even vaguely civil things to say about the original article, so here I’m just pointing at things that are good instead. Can you really blame me?

 Y is for Youtube, which is where a huge content renaissance is taking place in the gaming industry. The individual gamer has never had more ability to reach an audience with content, and nothing demonstrates that more than the vast popularity of Let’s Plays as a genre as well as more tightly edited comedy content like Two Best Friends Play or Bro Team, and editorial content like what TotalBiscuit produces. All of these show that video content can be driven by personalities, knowledge, skillful criticism, or a combination of all three, and that you don’t have to be an expert to make content that people love. And as long as you’re doing that, and you like doing it, then don’t let the angry, small people get you down.

 Z is for Zilch, which is to say, the amount of progress you’ll make in any industry by being a cynical, dismissive, anti-social ass who clings to tired, old prejudices and tries to beat people over the head with them. The gaming industry is no different. Here, like anywhere else, you have to work with people in order to move forward. People don’t bite. Most of them are alright if you get to know them. Video games are a fundamentally human exercise. Only in meaningfully understanding and interacting with other people instead of screaming into a misogynist, ignorant echo chamber can anything in that field be accomplished. It’s called being a decent human being. Try it sometime, George.