Trying out a new format for my little blog here, as I’m looking into writing more regularly and trying to keep it to either reviews or larger in-depth discussions on stuff feels a bit too time intensive to do it spontaneously. So this will be the first of a weekly blog series discussion anything and everything I wanna talk about.
Jumping into Pillars of Eternity
Holy moly, I already knew I’d find joy playing Pillars. The screenshots and backer beta don’t lie. This was always going to be a return to the good ol’ days. What’s surprising me though is just the extent to which Obsidian has furthered the formula. There are numerous design decisions they’ve made that just keep on adding to the joy of playing a CRPG. It starts with recreating the classic Infinity Engine D&D combat experience with a ruleset built for a video game with RTwP from the ground up.
It used to be that some abilities in the older games wouldn’t really feel right in a video game, and the whole “6 seconds equal 1 tabletop turn” conceit just wasn’t optimal. In Pillars of Eternity though, effect duration is measured in seconds and milliseconds. I think the splitting of HP into health and endurance is a good choice. It smooths out the pace of gameplay while avoiding being too forgiving. Especially now that rests are limited in number. Going into a dungeon now is partially about resource management, which I welcome. Of course, the pitfall would be that you don’t know if a dungeon will be just that bit too deep for you to beat it in one go with full supplies, so it’s hard to plan ahead. But up to this point, I’ve found the balance to be just right.
I got the the end of act 1, so I’ve delved into two larger areas of continuous battling.
The writing, as is widely proclaimed in reviews, is very very good. Obsidian never had a problem with this part of their games. If there is a worry I had was that Pillars, in it’s promise of paying homage to old-school RPGs would not take many creative risks to break the mold enough. Well, in the first ~15h or so, I’ve gotten accustomed to the world they built, and while it’s grounded in familiar tropes, there are influences not so commonly seen in western medieval fantasy RPGs. The central focus of the story on souls I haven’t seen like this before in other games. It allows for some interesting smaller stories in the world, like the soon-to-be mother worried sick that her child will be born without a soul, an empty husk of a human called “hollowborn”, like every other child in recent times.
The quests regularly allow you to make judgement calls both small and large, whether to support a local lord or help a pretender to usurp him. And as is getting increasingly important, the choices you make aren’t always clearly good or bad. The more I thought about the situation and possible implications of my decision, the more I felt unsure which would be best. In the end, you need to go with what feels most true to the person you’re roleplaying as.
I usually go for a goody guy who’ll save cats from trees and give money to the poor, but here I was, deceiving another character, leaving them worse off, because I felt it’s the least of two evils. Sometimes you need to make a choice you’re not 100% happy about, but it rings true to life.
The party members you pick up along the journey so far have all been interesting, though not much has been given away yet from their past. It’s usually the case that at least one NPC is annoying or plain unlikable. So far my fighter, wizard, chanter, priest and ranger are all on my good books. Sagani the boreal dwarf woman in particular has an interesting story to tell, and to hear her description of her home and people was great. I want to know more about my companions, and that’s very promising indeed.
Pillars is going to be a game on my plate for a while yet, I can sense that this is a large, large RPG that needs to be savoured, and I’ll share my thoughts on it going forward hopefully.
Game of Thrones is back!
It’s the time of year again where Twitter explodes every Sunday evening (or Monday morning in my time zone) with memes and discussion. It’s time for Game of Thrones Season 5. Unfortunately, the first 4 episodes have leaked and are available on torrent sites, but the quality is sub-par. I’m not against pirating the show per se, but I really like the weekly ritual of watching the show along with the rest of the world. Sure, binge-watching can be great, and even the better way of watching a dense TV show, but at least for the first viewing of a GoT episode, I really like it to be a communal experience almost. So I’m refusing to download the remaining three episodes early.
As I’m watching the show, I’m also currently reading A Feast for Crows. The first time I read it, I was just rushing through to get to A Dance with Dragons, because I knew that Tyrion’s story would continue there. AFFC is often regarded as the least of the books, because it deals with the aftermath of all the exciting things that happen in A Storm of Swords while not featuring POV chapters of the fan favorite characters. But the more I read AFFC, the more I realize that it’s an incredibly deep exploration of the characters psyches, especially Cersei’s. To see her warped mind at play in a position of power is really interesting stuff. The best part is that you can totally see where she’s coming from. This doesn’t mean that you excuse her actions, but it just really rounds our her character that much more.
The first episode itself was good. There’s a lot of exposition and catching up with here the show left off. I understand why that’s important, but since I’m already reading the books, much of the dialog feels shoehorned in for that particular purpose. As usual, this is an episode to set things up nicely for the next episodes to push on. Varys and Tyrion for example, have a lot of potential this season to be the odd-couple that is just the most fun to watch.
Danaerys continues struggling with the difficult moral dilemma shades-of-grey RPG choices thrown at her in Meereen. I unlike so many fans think she is right to stay there and try to master Slaver’s Bay. I get that we want her to invade Westeros, but she’s right to stay in my opinion. You don’t just go invade a place, proclaim the end of slavery and the piss off because you’d have achieved nothing. The slavers would just reestablish the old order and all her grand talk about building a new world would ring incredibly hollow. I think Dany needs to earn the right to return to Westeros, and she needs to earn it in Meereen.
I liked Jon Snow’s plot because now things get exciting and the stakes are rising politically with Stannis on the wall (which means Melisandre is there too!). It’s sad to see Mance Rayder die because Ciaran Hinds is yet another great actor with real gravity (I first saw him on HBO’s Rome. Perfect Caesar!) that won’t be on the show (along with Charles Dance).
Sansa and Littlefinger are now officially Daniel-san and Mr. Miyagi of the art of political scheming. I felt her transformation at the end of last season was too abrupt and heavy-handed. We’ll see where things go from here, I can’t say that this is the most promising plot to follow this season. It’s a shame that we didn’t see more of Arya. There was just a glimpse of the black-and-white door of the Faceless Men in Braavos. Surely she’ll get proper screen time next episode.
Looking forward to the Sand Snakes as well. Good stuff to come still.
By the way, GRRM has released a chapter for The Winds of Winter titled “Alayne”. I read it and it was oddly calming. I guess I was unconsciously afraid that with the show and all the hype surrounding it, GRRM’s prose and quality of writing would be influenced by it in some way. Obviously the book isn’t out yet, but from what I can tell, this book is going to be very much the sequel to AFFC & ADWD, and so the books are very much going to be their own thing, the original source material. The chapter itself was a great read and it reawakened my excitement for the book which hopefully comes out within the year.