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Month: January 2016

Rewound: Life is Strange (Review)

Life is Strange, an episodic game by Don’t Nod Entertainment, was originally released in instalments over the course of six months between January and October of 2015.


headerI bought the first episode of Life is Strange a few days after it was released, having read good reviews on Steam and other websites. After playing through it I was thoroughly impressed. Enough so that upon finishing episode 1, I stumped up for the remaining 4 episodes there and then.

Now, a year later, having waited for the other 4 episodes to be released, and having the time on my hands to devote to playing it, did the series live up to the promise of that initial episode?

Story Premise

Max, and her wall of selfies…

18 year old Max (Maxine) Caulfield, returns to her home town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon, having moved away 5 years previously with her parents as a 13 yr old. She returns to enlist as a photography student in the prestigious Blackwell Academy in order to be tutored by renowned photographer, Mark Jefferson.

Before she moved away, she spent most of her childhood with her best friend, a girl named Chloe Price, and the two were absolutely inseparable.

Shortly after the death of Chloe’s father, Max had to move and never kept in touch. Something she had felt guilty about over all those years. Returning to Arcadia Bay and not contacting Chloe had only compounded those feelings.

The story proper begins in Blackwell Academy. While photographing a butterfly in the female toilets for a school project, a guy enters, muttering to himself like a madman. Max decides to stay out of sight and wait until he leaves before she comes out of hiding.

It turns out to be a drug deal gone bad, and the guy, a rich kid bully named Nathan, owes money to a drug dealer. However the transaction goes bad, tempers flare and the drug dealer’s collector gets shot and killed in the resulting argument by Nathan.

Shocked to her core, Max immediately finds herself back in class 5 minutes prior to the events described above. She discovers she can prevent the shooting by being able to suddenly rewind time itself, and this then becomes the main game-play mechanic throughout the 5 episodes…

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Simple solution to Chaos Theory: Kill all butterflies!

It’s not a huge spoiler to reveal that the person shot in the toilets was an unrecognisable Chloe, who has since completely changed how she looks from when Max last knew her. Max and her reconnect shortly afterwards, and they begin to rebuild their old bond of friendship.

At this point the game begins to assume its main story arc, that of investigating the disappearance of a girl named Rachel Amber, who had been best friends with Chloe in the years Max was gone, and secondarily trying to prevent a cataclysmic tornado that will wipe out the town killing everyone in it…

The Butterfly Effect

Muhammad Ali was wrong, them butterflies hit like a truck…

Over the course of the journey, it becomes apparent that meddling with time has serious consequences. Not just on a personal level, with Max suffering increasingly severe headaches and nosebleeds as a result of her use of her power, but reflecting the game’s chaos theory motif, the apparent butterfly effect of her actions also begins to impact the larger world around her.

To the point where the constant use of her time-altering powers may actually be causing the increasingly freakish events that begin to unfold within Arcadia.

Was the wait worth it?

Bear in mind I played the first episode in February of last year, but I left it until all 5 episodes had been released in order to play my way through the entire season in rapid succession. In a way similar to how you may binge watch an entire season of a show like Netflix’s Daredevil or Jessica Jones, I binge played all remaining 4 episodes of LiS within the span of a couple of days, nearly a full year after the release of episode 1.

Hell yes it was worth it!

Playing it this way meant that certain cliffhangers, such as the death of a major character at the end of episode 4 (no names), were quickly dealt with and resolved within an hour or so by carrying straight on into the next episode, rather than having to wait an agonising 9 weeks or so until it was released to find out what happened next.

Other Characters & Back Story

The incidental characters, their stories, situations and choices all helped sculpt a rich back story to the main story, and the cataclysmic choices being faced by the main characters.

Do I save this character’s life? Do I let this character get the shit beaten out of them? Do I rat out this character to his wife about his activities? All these minutiae helped carve out a fuller, richer storyline and helped build the history and backstories of the main characters themselves.

These are all set against the backdrop of the two main story threads mentioned above: Investigating the disappearance of Rachel and trying to find a way to prevent the destruction soon to be wrought by the monster tornado.

A sense of loss

The game wasn’t without it’s problems, sure, but as with life, strange or otherwise, it’s not about the destination, it’s all about the journey.

After I finished playing I felt one thing in the main: empty.

In exactly the same way as you do when you finish a really great novel that you’ve thoroughly enjoyed and devoured the many pages of within very few sittings?

The world that the characters inhabit becomes your whole world for that short period of time, and the characters become like friends that you’ve known for years.

Their relationships, their troubles and situations become as intimate to you as your own, and when it’s finally all over? And you realise that you’ve come to the end of your journey, that your time with these characters, these friends, is at an end?

It’s like a small death, a sense of mourning for what’s been lost, but feeling richer nonetheless for having spent time with them.

That’s how much of an impact these characters, Max & Chloe, had had on me over the course of the 14 or so hours it took me to finish all 5 episodes.

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Pricefield

Art & Sound design

The aesthetic of the game is very artsy, in keeping with the entire theme of photography and artwork that features heavily throughout the course of the entire game.

Characters and environments aren’t photo-realistic, and are reminiscent of the art-style of Team Fortress 2, certainly in the environmental design. Textures throughout appear more painterly in style, and it works really well. Check out the beard art on the photography teacher, Mark Jefferson as an example:

Mr Jefferson, photographer extraordinaire
Mr Jefferson, loves taking photos…

Sadly lip-syncing of characters, something becoming increasingly more common in games for purposes of realism, is poor throughout, and during one conversation in the final hour, breaks completely. Max’s lips fail to move at all when talking, but once done with the conversation in question, it immediately rectifies itself and the previous lip-syncing, bad as it was, resumes.

The soundtrack too deserves a mention. It’s light and subtle where it needs to be, and its hipster style is fitting with the somewhat angst-ridden theme of millennials in over their heads.

Endings

At this point, there needs to be some discussion of the endings. There are slight spoilers for the end of the game without content first, which I’ll hide behind a spoiler tag, then full and complete spoilers including the content of the endings within a second spoiler tag, so if you don’t want to know anything about what happens at the end of the final episode, skip over the next bit.

[su_spoiler title=”Slight spoilers lie within…”]The ending though, was flawed in that ultimately, none of the choices you’ve made over the course of the 5 episodes had any impact on the ending you saw.

Reminiscent of Mass Effect 3’s “Pick an ending” debacle, this was the sole and major let down about the game as a whole. That none of my choices over the past 14 hours, none of the people I’d saved, helped out, rescued, brought together or seen die, that none of these choices, at the very end, had any bearing on what happened right at the death?

A major disappointment, but not one large enough to ruin the entire experience, unlike that of ME3…[/su_spoiler]

[su_spoiler title=”Full spoilers for the game’s ending lie within, so be warned!”]Ultimately, the game boils down to a straight up choice:

  • Sacrifice the town of Arcadia Bay to be with Chloe, either as her friend or lover, depending on how you play the game.
  • Sacrifice Chloe, and save Arcadia Bay and everyone in it, by going back in time and allowing Chloe to be shot by Nathan, thereby negating your involvement in any further time-altering shenanigans and preventing the strange series of events that culminated in the tornado.

Disappointingly, none of the choices you’ve made over the course of all 5 episodes can change either choice.

You either throw away all the work you did trying to improve the lives of the residents of Arcadia Bay, and presumably allow them all to be killed by the tornado, or throw away all the work you’ve done over the previous 5 episodes constantly trying to save Chloe’s life, time and time again, and allow her to die.

Patently, given the design of the ending sequences, the developers fully expect you to follow your head, and sacrifice Chloe, as that ending gets a fuller sequence showing her funeral, the characters that you’d saved and had an impact on.

If, like me, you follow your heart instead, the ending received upon saving Chloe and sacrificing the town is considerably more perfunctory, simply showing you riding through the wreckage of Arcadia Bay with Chloe, and driving out of town onto a new life together.

No repercussions or emotional fallout from having condemned hundreds of people, including Chloe’s mother and stepfather or your friends and schoolmates to a horrific and violent death.

Nor any recriminations from Chloe herself for sacrificing the many for the one, which, I’ll re-iterate, included Chloe’s own mother.

Disappointing, there’s no doubt about it. It could have, and should have been handled better by the developers.

Ideally I would’ve liked my previous decisions throughout the game, or even just the final episode to have had some sort of impact on the ending sequences, if not on the final choice itself. If you save Chloe, you see nothing of the Arcadia Bay residents at all, and it focuses the short ending entirely on their drive through and out of town.

[/su_spoiler]

Wrapping up

Flawed as it was, however, the ending was merely a coda on an otherwise excellent game and story experience.

Would I recommend that you pick it up and play it?

Most definitely.

It’s an excellent game, with characters, main and incidental, that I came to care about deeply over the course of my play time. Their characterisation was spot on. Both main characters were flawed, genuine and more human than the “heroes” in most other games.

Sadly, and ironically, my time with them is done, and I am feeling left emotionally raw. This is clearly an experience that will remain with me for some time still to come.


A second season has been confirmed, but according to the developer is likely to feature a different cast of characters, which saddens me, as I’d like nothing more than to spend more time in the shoes of Max Caulfield, Time Warrior…

Stand by me? Always, and forever…

(A Dozen) Things to do in Azeroth when you’re dead (bored)…

We’re now in the middle of the long night of no content, with an undefined dawn awaiting at some nebulous future point.

With potentially so long to go before Legion launches, possibly as long as another 8 months, for those that still want to play WoW, what is there to occupy your time?

What can you possibly do in a game where there’s been no visible content in over 6 months already, with a seemingly bigger barren desert stretching out in front of you as well?

What to do when, like me, your guild is all but dead, awaiting resurrection in Legion?

Well, this is where we start digging into different kinds of content, improving our gear to solo newer content, and grinding out the stuff we didn’t get time to do when the content that was there was fresh.


The List

  1. Mount Runs
  2. Pet Collecting
  3. Toy Collecting
  4. Title Collecting
  5. Achievement Hunting
  6. Valor & Legendary Ring Upgrades
  7. Rep Grinding
  8. Transmog Collecting
  9. Gold Capping
  10. PvP
  11. Levelling Alts & gearing them (including opposite faction)
  12. Professions

So let’s take a quick scoot through some examples of the above list, shall we?


Mount Collecting

I’m a collector. I love collecting things in game, regardless of what it is. If there’s a checklist of things to pick up in game, I love ticking off all the boxes in order to fulfil achievements, pick up bonus rewards or whatever.

The first and primary thing I love to collect are Mounts.

Mounts are a statement of what you’ve achieved in WoW, more than anything else. Some require patience, such as Ashes of A’lar, where the drop rate is so abominably low that you could feasibly go the remainder of the game’s lifetime and never see it drop, even running Tempest Keep on 11 different characters every week.

Some mounts require skill (PvP mounts, looking at you here!), some require friends, some need pure luck, others just cold hard cash, and yet others just need you to complete content or grind reputation.

But most will remark upon some kind of activity that you’ve carried out in order to acquire it.

Of course some you get just for collecting other mounts. I’m currently sitting at somewhere just shy of 210 mounts on my Paladin, and so I need about another 41 or so to pick up the newest added reward for the 250 mount mark, the Felfire Hawk.

So I generally will run older raids for the most prized mounts I still don’t have yet, such as Invincible from 25m Heroic Lick King, the aforementioned Ashes of A’lar from Tempest Keep, Mimiron’s Head from 25m Ulduar, the 2 dropped mounts from Firelands (I got the meta mount when it was still current content), 2 of the 3 dropped mounts from Dragon Soul etc etc.

I do have some prized mounts from older raids and instances that I’ve managed to pick up over the years, such as the Headless Horseman’s mount, the mount from Midnight in Karazhan, the Onyxia mount, all the useless (outside of the instance) mounts from AQ bar the black one, both Malygos mounts, both Sartharion mounts among many others.

But there are more yet to acquire…

Pet Collecting

These are easy enough, for the most part. This is one that requires patience, as collecting the pets that are available in the wild just requires you to nip around the various continents of WoW battling and capturing the pets you don’t yet have.

Easy.

Some will require you to fulfil meta achievements, such as drops of other pets from raid bosses, or be lucky with garrison missions, some just need you to get really lucky with spawns (hello Unborn Val’kyr), and again, some will require simple cold hard cash (either IRL or ingame).

As for me, I’ve collected all of the wild pets you can get, bar 2 rare spawns in Draenor. I’m still working on some of the raid boss drops, either by doing old raids, or buying them on the BM/AH.

Once collected, there’s always the option of levelling them as well, or maybe doing the Celestial Tournament in Pandaria if you haven’t done that. I have, and got all 4 pets, and they’re so worth the effort.

There are the new Legendary pets to battle in Tanaan Jungle, all of which can reward other pets to boot…

Toy Collecting

This is one that I’m not really actively working on, but I do know some people that are as fervent about collecting toys as I am about Mounts & Pets.

Always bear in mind that there are some items that aren’t toys right now, but will become such in Legion.

Title Collecting

Again, not another high on my list of priorities, mainly because I stick with a handful of titles I already have (my paladin is forever either Judge the Proven Defender or Crusader Judge).

However there are a couple of Titles I have that I’m quite proud of, that are actually quite hard to obtain.

Predator is one. This is obtained from killing a very rare challenge boss in Tanaan Jungle, Xemirkol, and is currently one of the titles I use on my Hunter.

Sar the Undying is another one I’m very fond of. Unobtainable now, sadly, but it was garnered by running a full 10 man raid team through Naxxramas without dying to any bosses, prior to 4.0.3 when it was removed from the game. Even then, it was quite the achievement to do. We never did get round to completing the 25 man version, the Immortal

Achievement Hunting

This one’s fairly self explanatory, and doesn’t need much going over. Simply have a look at the achievements you don’t have and set about clearing some of the easier ones to begin with.

I’m about 270 points short of 17,000 achievement points on my Hunter, so I’ve still a fair few to pick up, particularly PvP achievements, which I’ve got very few of.

Valor and Legendary Ring upgrades

Yep, the busy work at the end of the expansion for the 2nd time in a row. Gear obtained from the latest raid instance can be boosted by 5 item levels for 250 Valor Points. This can be done a maximum of twice per piece of gear, giving each piece a maximum of an extra 10 item levels. Overall this would/should boost your overall item level by about 10, giving you that little bit of extra oomph for other activities, regardless of whether you’re a raider or not.

Similarly Crystallised Fel can be obtained to upgrade your Legendary Ring (if you have it) by 3 item levels per time. This can be done until your ring’s iLevel maxes out at 795. Currently I’m at 753 with an Archimonde run still to be done this week.

Of course if you don’t want to run Archimonde each week, once you’re done with the Valor upgrades for your other gear, you can purchase the same Fel item from a vendor in Tanaan for a whopping 1250 Valor.

If you ask me, upgrading your other gear is a far better use of your Valor in the meantime, as 1250 Valor will fully upgrade 2½ pieces of gear. I’ll carry on with the Archi kills until they’re no longer viable methinks, and buy one now and then with any extra Valor I have, as I’m nearly fully upgraded with it anyway.

Rep Grinding

The rep grinds in Warlords were, as has been admitted by Blizzard, godawful. Simple, mindless, drawn-out rep grinds are lazy and uninspired, and the initial reps in WoD were exactly that. Mind you if grinding out reputation in this manner appeals, then you’re already likely to have gotten to exalted with the likes of the Frostwolf Orcs/Council of Exarchs or Arrakoa etc.

The reputations in 6.2 that were added to pad out the meta achievement for flying in Draenor were more palatable, but were gated behind dailies, so couldn’t be done in less than a few weeks.

Of course there are plenty of older reputations that you can grind out. This is one of the drawbacks about changing main characters like I did 6 months ago. I have nearly 50 exalted reps acquired on my Paladin, having played her as my main for nearly 7 years, but now I’m on my Hunter?

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This makes acquiring related titles, such as The Beloved from the 60 reputation achievement that much harder to do.

Ideally the meta would count all the reps you have at exalted across your account, whilst obviously not counting any of the same reps twice. Easily solved by giving a Feat of Strength achievement for each and every exalted reputation on your account, and have the metas work off of those counts.

Transmog Collecting

This is a massive one for me. As you’re probably aware I’m a huge lover of the transmog system not only in WoW, but also of similar systems in other games such as Wildstar, Elder Scrolls online etc.

Legion will of course bring a massive and very welcome overhaul of the transmog system, giving us a collection/wardrobe system similar to that seen in Wildstar. This will happily include Tabards and weapon enchants!

Of course you’re also going to have a starter wardrobe added at the very start of Legion/pre-patch, as you’ll be given access to all the quest rewards you’ve had the opportunity to gather over the years, even including the choices you didn’t take at the time!

If you haven’t already, I thoroughly recommend getting yourself setup with a full set of Hexweave bags to maximise your bag space ahead of Legion to allow for maximum transmog collecting potential. I did this a couple of days ago and got an extra 70 or so bag slots across my personal bags & bank slots. It cost about 12,000 gold, but it was most definitely worth it.

Even at that, 12,000 gold isn’t a massive outlay these days, especially if, like me, you’re looking to set about…

Gold Capping

This is another target for me in Warlords, and one of the main things keeping me ticking over in the meantime – hitting the gold cap at least once.

Hitting the mythical cap is something I’ve wanted to do forever in WoW. As someone who entered Warlords with a grand total of 50,000g and thinking at the time that I was rich (bless), I’ve seen my gold total hit nearly 700k in the time between launch and now.

Currently I’m sitting at just over 500k, having made some investment in mounts to keep a hold of until later in the year in order to re-sell for hopefully a decent bit of profit. I’ve also spent quite a chunk of change over the past few days acquiring the remaining Heirloom items from vendors, and getting some stuff fully upgraded to 2/2 or up to 100. So I now have every Heirloom available for purchase in game, and only lacking the ones available from the Darkmoon Faire, or the Dread Pirate ring from the Fishing Contest.

1 million gold, you will be mine eventually…

PvP

This is one for me, as PvP is something I’ve not done a huge amount of in the past. Mainly this was down to me playing a Prot Paladin, and as such killing players wasn’t exactly something I was going to excel at, given my damage output potential in Prot Spec.

Sure I could have switched to Ret, and did from time to time, but that’s like writing with the wrong hand. Sure you can do it, and maybe it’ll even be legible, but it’s sure as hell not going to considered calligraphy now, is it?

That changed recently, as you’ll have read in my previous post, so no need to expound upon that further as you can go read that if you haven’t already.

Mind you that was carried out with a focus on acquiring a long-desired transmog set, so PvP for other reasons (gear, achievements, mounts etc) is something I’ve yet to do a lot of.

Levelling Alts

This is something I only tend to do if I’m extremely bored in WoW. However it is a great time waster and fills out the feckless days with aplomb.

Mind you there are shortcuts to levelling characters available on the Blizzard Store, now up to 100, but that’s £40 to level a character I’ll likely not play a lot of.

In fact my free 100 boost I got from pre-purchasing Legion is still sitting unused, awaiting the arrival of Gnome Hunters. I’m levelling a human hunter on and off. Actually my 2nd human hunter, my first is sitting at 92 and unplayed. Why not use the boost on that one instead?

Meh, it gives me something to do I suppose, and levelling another Hunter is never a bad thing 🙂

It’s especially nice to play through the opposite faction 1-60 experience a few times to pick up the background story on multiple paths. Of course once you get to Outland and beyond, the story tends to then mirror the experience of the other faction more significantly, and so becomes less worthwhile. Plus that, and waiting to use a boost at 60+ will also give you instantly maxed level…

Professions

Engineering on the Hunter was a very fast and easy experience to level to the Draenor maximum of 700.

It was so easy in fact, I actually wrote up a full 1-700 in less than 6½ minutes Engineering levelling guide!

I’ve struggled over the past few months since to decide which secondary profession I want to pick up. Should I pick up a gathering profession like Mining again, or go for a second production profession?

Given that Engineering isn’t really about producing stuff for profit more than it is about giving yourself small perks and abilities, such as a free Goblin Glider built into your cloak, I decided that another production profession was the order of the day.

I mulled over Leatherworking and Blacksmithing, but ultimately decided on Tailoring. Cloaks are always useful to sell at the start of any raid tier, and there’s always the evergreen sales of various capacity bags to keep the gold income ticking over.

Well that, and Magic Carpet mounts…

Plenty of things to do in Azeroth when you’re dead (bored)

That’s a dozen things I’ve listed that you can while away the time on during the content lull until Legion eventually hits.

Even if you’re not a fan of some of the things listed, have maybe completed others, there should be something there that you can do ingame until Legion.

There’s always fun and content to be had for those willing to seek it out…

Enjoy!

Why I love… PvP!? Or, Sar the Purple People Beater…

Yeah, I know. It shocked me too, trust me.


As you may or may not be aware, I’ve never been the world’s greatest lover of PvP in WoW. In fact I’m somewhat exclusively a PvE carebear for want of a better term.

I’ve shunned PvP in all of the nearly 8 years I’ve been playing off and on since vanilla, and I’ve never really been interested or motivated to partake in PvP, of either Organised or World flavours.

Certainly playing any PvP I had to, for achievements, mounts etc over the years on my Paladin was an exercise in restraint. Me restraining myself from putting my fist through my monitor whilst howling into the black void that would become my soul.

Ahem.

Anyway, having played my Hunter as a side character for several years (before finally making her my main), primarily for the pet collection aspect more than anything else, I’ve wanted one transmog for her over any other since Cataclysm.

The catch was, as you’ve probably already surmised, that it was a PvP armour set that could only be bought with Honor points. Bleurgh.

The set in question? The Ruthless Gladiator’s Pursuit.

Ruthless Gladiator’s Pursuit from Cataclysm

And so it sat on the shelf, with me wistfully looking at it, softly and gently crying inwardly.

And then I decided over New Year’s to do something about it, despite the fact that I’d never PvP’d on the hunter before.

The Revelation

Arathi Basin, and the lengths I go to for a transmog...
Arathi Basin, and the lengths I go to for a transmog…

I found out that Hunters are to PvP what Paladins are to the colour pink.

Such a night and day difference in enjoyment levels! I played more than one battleground without losing patience. Hell I played more than one battleground without losing, period!

In fact I actually managed to more or less single-handedly win a couple of BG’s all by myself by racking up dozens of kills without dying and capturing more carts than anyone else on Silvershard Mines.

Yesterday was easily the most I have ever enjoyed playing PvP in WoW. Without any doubt. I played BG after BG, mostly winning, sometimes losing. But that was ok, because I was racking up Honor Points left right and center.

And after a day of hugely enjoyable PvP I was left with 2 things:

Firstly, an appreciation of how much fun PvP can actually be in World of Warcraft. Albeit a loosely organised one such as a queued battleground, but organised shenanigans such as rated/ranked BGs and Arenas are still beyond where I’m comfortable just yet.

And secondly, enough honor points to finally purchase:

Ruthless Gladiator set
Ruthless Gladiator set

I’m going to likely use the Heroic Dragon Soul crossbow, dropped by Warlord Zon’ozz, as the purple highlights on it match well with the overall transmog aesthetic.

Horrifying Horn Arbalest from 25m Hc DS
Horrifying Horn Arbalest from 25m Hc DS

 

Overall I’m very chuffed with both outcomes.

I’m really happy to finally have the transmog set I’ve been after for literally YEARS.

But also, PvP is quite likely something I’ll be doing a lot more of, maybe even enough of to get a full PvP set of gear. Although I seem to do just fine in my iLevel 713 PvE carebear set 😉

Yeah, fucking right HORDE WINS!
Yeah, you better believe it: HORDE WINS!