Pillars of Eternity: Blind Playthrough

Despite owning Pillars of Eternity for a long while, I’ve just recently gotten around to trying it out. I’m a big fan of isometric RPGs — both the action and party based varieties, and have been since the early days of Diablo and Baldur’s Gate. Obsidian was involved in the creation of some of these old school RPGs, and their experience shows! This isn’t the action RPG variety, but rather the party based kind, where the action is more strategy based than how fast you can mash buttons. Most gamers will know all about this sort of game, and most RPG fans probably ran through this title more than once by now. Pillars of Eternity 2 is already on the horizon as well, so this was a good time to dive in and try to strike one of the deeper games off of the backlog list. I have plenty more to go as far as the backlog goes, and plenty more to explore in Pillars as well. I’d like to notate that despite knowing about the game and knowing that it was similar to cRPGs of old (along with reading good things around the blogosphere) I’m basically going into this playthrough blind. I’m going to attempt to not look up anything and just play through naturally.

After firing up the game and watching a short into movie, I was greeted by the character creation screen, and I was surprised by how feature full it was. The cRPGs of old that I keep referencing made use of AD&D rulesets and so the character generation would reflect that and though this feels similar, there are races and classes that aren’t D&D specific. The stats and skills for each character feel fairly original as well, but that old school feel is still present. It’s just a prettier version of the tried and true, and sometimes that’s all the Old Guard needs. I was taken aback initially by the amount of race and class combinations possible, but assumed that it wouldn’t really matter as you tend to pick up a fairly balanced party in these types of games. I ended up settling on playing a Druid.

I went heavy on Intelligence because I figured if this game was anything like other modern RPGs I’ve played (such as the Dragon Age series), having a bevy of spells at your disposal is rather useful, and sitting in the back with your main character while your AI controlled party beats on things tends to be the best approach. However, it seems that the druid is more about shapeshifting into bigger animals (I chose boar form) and diving into the fray. Whatever the case, the choice doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference as I suspected.

The story unfolds in a similar fashion to most isometric titles, with some in-game dialogue scenes, and then other more animated cutscenes. The graphics are crisp and the animations tight and the lighting effects are excellent. Combat flows well, though I have to get used to only being able to cast spells a certain amount of times per day… but it’s such a throwback and tugs on the right nostalgia strings nonetheless. Apparently you’re a traveller who’s sick and trying to find out what’s going on, but there’s a shroud of mystery that has yet to be lifted. I’m still fairly early on in the campaign, travelling a modest distance to this point.

Earlier this evening I reached Magran’s Fork after being turned away from the Gilded Vale, but I did pick up a wizard buddy. We were clearing the zone when a pack of wolves overwhelmed us and I called it a night. Overall I’m really enjoying this title, it feels really good to have the nostalgic feel in a modern title that still shows its roots. The Dragon Age and Mass Effects were true to their roots in a similar way but still upped the graphics and brought the gameplay in the 3D realm so they were good but this is good in a different way.

It’s refreshing.

The War Report: The Master Thief

I’ve been wanting to build a mono-black deck for some time now. Mainly I wanted an excuse to purchase some of the cards that are excellent in the color, like Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to name a couple. I also already have mono-red (Krenko), mono-white (Sram) and mono-green (Yisan) covered. I’ll eventually get around to making a mono-blue deck as well but for now that’s on the to-do list. Unfortunately, there are only a couple of commanders in mono-black that rank high on the tier list, and those ended up being ones that I wasn’t overly interested in. One commander that I’ve always found intriguing and eventually decided to make my mono-black commander is Gonti, Lord of Luxury:

Gonti is a 2/3 for 4 mana with deathtouch. That alone is pretty decent, but his ETB trigger allows you to look at the top four cards of any opponent’s library and choose one to exile, which you can then cast at will and use any color of mana to cast it. So basically every time Gonti hits the battlefield I get to steal something from an opponent and don’t have to worry what color it is. That’s a great ability and though I’ve used Gonti in other decks to add some spice, I felt like he was good enough to build a whole deck around. So what’s our goal? Mainly we want to abuse Gonti’s ability as much as possible, which means adding ways to recur him, bounce him back to our hand to use again, and we’re going for being able to make big mana to spend on X spells to finish out games. Let’s take a look at some of the ways that black can really make a shitload of mana:

Most of the big mana producers are lands, but most would only really be effective in a mono-black deck, mainly because they rely on having basic swamps or Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to make all of your lands into swamps. Cabal Coffers is the best example, as you pay 2 colorless mana and tap it to gain black mana equal to the number of swamps you control. Clearly these two cards play well together. Cabal Stronghold is a new version of the same concept, though it costs 3 mana to use the ability and only gives you mana equal to the number of basic swamps you control, so Urborg’s ability doesn’t help it out. It’s still nice redundancy, as is Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx which gives mana in the color of your choosing equal to your devotion of that color. I’ve also added Crypt of Agadeem which gives more mana equal to the number of black creatures in the graveyard. Further redundancy comes from Magus of the Coffers and Nirkana Revenant, which both mimic Cabal Coffers in creature form. Lastly, each time a creature dies with Black Market on the board = a counter on the enchantment. You’ll get black mana for each counter on it during each precombat main phase. If you get a few of these on the board you can make some crazy amounts of mana! But what are we using the mana for?

These are the main three spells we’ll want to target when we can make explosive amounts of mana, though being able to make a bunch of mana can be helpful in other ways. Torment of Hailfire probably won’t end a game but it’s painful to have to go through the process multiple times. Exsanguinate is a finisher for sure, as you do damage to all opponents and gain a ton of life in the process. Lastly, a new Dominaria card, Josu Vess costs quite a bit to kick, but when you do pay the kicker you get 8 2/2’s with menace along with Josu himself who is a 4/5 with menace as well. Outside of making big mana and having some finishers, your main goal will be to abuse black’s ability to recur creatures, and abuse their ETB abilities to try and control the board state, along with stealing people’s stuff! Here’s some of the best ETB creatures I’ve included:

You’ll see that the main theme here is removal on creatures, either by forcing opponents to sacrifice their creatures or being able to destroy targets. Disciple of Bolas will make you sacrifice your own creature but lets you draw cards and gain life. Gray Merchant of Asphodel can do some big chunks of damage if you have the devotion, and Abhorrent Overlord and Grave Titan create tokens on entry. Lastly, a new Dominaria card called Torgaar Famine Incarnate causes an opponent to lose half their life at least and will definitely slow down life gain decks. The best news is that these creatures can be further exploited by using sacrifice outlets to then bring them back from the grave yard to use again and again. Let’s look at how we can do so:

Graveyard recursion is pretty damn strong in black. Cards like Oversold Cemetery and Palace Siege will get you a card from your graveyard back to your hand each upkeep. Sheoldred will do the same but also makes opponents sacrifice creatures in the process. Hell’s Caretaker and Whisper will both allow you to sacrifice creatures to bring others back, and others here will return others to the battlefield just off of their ETB. Mikaeus is great in this deck because most of the creatures are non-human so they’ll get +1/+1 along with undying so if they do go the graveyard they come right back and the ETB’s will trigger again. Another trick is to bounce your own creatures, using things like Skull Collector and Erratic Portal. One forces you to return creatures to your hand each upkeep, the other is a paid ability so you can say target Gonti, returning him to your hand and then play him again to get another ETB trigger. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

Otherwise I’ve added fun things like the cards above. Blood Artist and Zulaport Cutthroat will help to do some chip damage as you’re sacrificing creatures or forcing your opponents to. You can force your opponents to do so with cards like Dictate of Erebos and Grave Pact. I’ve also included Panharmonicon and Strionic Resonator so we can double up on some of our ETB’s and that’s about it. I’ve added a bunch of spot removal spells and a few board wipes along with some decent mana rocks to help things along. That’s about all there is to the deck but I think it will be a fun one to pilot!

Becoming Prey

PSN had a flash sale this past weekend and a title I’ve had my eye on for quite some time was heavily discounted. Prey, which is a remake of an older title by the same name came out last year or maybe the year before, and it looked right up my alley. A Sci-Fi FPS with horror elements? Count me in!

The storyline follows your character who is a science experiment of sorts. Initially you think that you’re living some sort of normal life, but as the story unfolds it is revealed that you have been living inside of a lab and most of your memories of your prior life are gone. Some weird alien beings that can mimic every day items (and some that are more monstrous) start appearing and initially you’ll have a wrench to defend yourself… sounds very similar to Half-Life now that I’ve written it down.

The graphics are top notch and the game runs smoothly. The combat is a little wonky when it comes to using the wrench, but eventually you’ll get a proper gun and then things feel a little better. You’ll still want to use your wrench for the smaller enemies because they jump around so frantically that you’ll just waste ammo trying to shoot them. In survival horror fashion, you’ll need to conserve your resources because they don’t exactly grow on trees. Nor are there trees in space. Like most games these days, there is a crafting system, and you’ll need to scour each nook and cranny of the station you are on, mainly because you’ll find crafting stations and use these materials to make things like medkits and bullets.

Overall I’m enjoying the game thus far, and wanted to share that I had started it. I’ve shared some screenshots of my time with the game so far, and will report back once I’ve completed it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

State of the Game: Playstation Plus Goodies

For a while I wrote about Playstation Plus and its free offerings every month, but eventually tired of the formula because simply put: Some months are better than others. When months would inevitably roll around that contained games I already owned or titles I just wasn’t interested in, it felt silly to just write about how much all the games sucked (or were great but I had already played ’em). This column has become my catch all for miscellaneous games I’ve been playing and it just so happens that this month’s games from the service are rather good. So without further ado, let’s talk about some games!

Coincidentally I’ve had my eye on this title for a while, and almost bought it a time or two. It’s not a new game by any means, but it piqued my interest with its Hot Wheels style tracks and it’s kid-friendly design. I figured it would be a game I might be able to get some time in with the boy, and I was pleasantly surprised by its performance. It’s a blistering fast romp through bite sized tracks, each that becomes increasingly more ridiculous (and difficult). To this point I’ve managed to clear the first 20 or so tracks and there have been some tricky ones in there.

Trophies range from catching big air to going really fast and clearing chunks of tracks. Watch out for the invisible walls when you go airborne though, you can have some spectacular crashes if you don’t heed this warning! It seems that the campaign is pretty long, and that’s all I’ve played so far, but it appears that there are plenty of other modes and options to explore. Not sure what the asking price is, but if you have the service I’d definitely check it out.

This title has been around for a long while as well. Somewhat based on the Mad Max Fury Road movie that came out around the same time, it’s got what you would expect from a movie based on a famous IP. You play the title character, you drive a post-apocalyptically appropriate vehicle, and the world is a wasteland — all of which lines up with the lore of the IP and with what you expect. Where this game goes a bit more above and beyond is in the execution. It seems to be almost RPG-esque and also has the feel of most open world games that have come out in the last decade. I guess that’s more of the same, but at the same time it’s an interesting IP so I’m cool with that.

I’ve only played this one for about an hour, but long enough to get a vehicle (which you get to choose from a few) and complete a few missions. So far it’s been fairly entertaining, and I’m glad to have this copy on my PS4. I owned this on PC from Humble Monthly way back when but hadn’t played it, and it feels at home on the console. Probably worth it if you enjoy open-world games, or the IP itself. It is pretty much more of the same but still isn’t bad.

This one came out of left field, it was a title I hadn’t heard of before. It’s a Brazilian game and as such has some Spanish language/cultural influence, but it’s presented in English and is clearly inspired by games like River City Ransom. I rather enjoyed that title from way back when and newer iterations that have released since, so I figured I would enjoy this title just the same and I have so far. There are several characters to choose from, but as I noted here on Twitter, I clearly had to pick this one:

As I said, it looks like River City Ransom, and it plays just the same. You’ll punch and kick your way through various bad guys, grab power ups and there are some light RPG elements. It’s not a new formula but it works and this is a serviceable title. I’d check it out if you’re a fan of this style of game.

Lastly, we have In Space We Brawl. It’s a clever title but it really just amounts to Asteroids on crack. It’s the same sort of twin-stick shooter, but instead of clearing asteroids until you eventually can’t survive any longer you’ll fight against up to three other people while still trying to avoid space debris.

You’ve got various ships and weapons loadouts to choose from and a variety of levels to compete on, but that’s really all there is to it. It’s a fun little time waster, but nothing too deep or serious here. This is the last title I’ve got to talk about this time, but overall it was a pretty decent month for Playstation Plus, and it’s been a while!

The War Report: Dominaria Spoiled

Magic Open House for Dominaria is this weekend, and that means that spoilers have been coming out over the course of the month. Prerelease is the following weekend, and I’ve already preordered a box of Dominaria, so I will be able to pick it up at that point. The official release is the weekend after, and I assume these cards will be making their way in to Magic Arena soon as well. Since spoilers are complete by now, I thought that I’d offer some of my thoughts on some of the great cards that are coming, and show off some of those that I’m looking forward to the most (through the EDH lens of course). This has become a thing around here, so I’m sure you understand where this is going. Let’s get started!

Multi-color:

The Planes walkers for this set are clearly Teferi and Chandra with a showing by Jaya as well. Teferi is busted in some of his other forms, but these ones are so-so. Probably decent for superfriends, and his oath definitely goes in that style deck. Nearly all of these creatures could be a commander in their own right, but I feel like most will slot into decks that I already have built (or have brewed). The simic merfolk will slot right into Kumena, for instance. The Orzhov Vampire will love to hang out with Edgar Markov, and though I won’t use all of these cards in decks at the moment, most are pretty good additions to particular deck styles, so I wanted to showcase them. I know if I pull any of these they will either see play or be traded away for other cards that I need, but I’m impressed with amount of Legendary creatures that are in this set, along with most of them being pretty powerful in their own right.

White:

Besides the new Historic keyword, we’ve also got Sagas, which are a legendary enchantment type. They do a series of things for multiple turns, and there are only a few that I find useful, one being the Fall of the Thran, mainly because it’s an Armageddon but you’ll get some land back (particularly good if you can remove opponent’s graveyards from play before they get the land back). There’s finally an Angel lord, and I’ll slot that right into Kaalia. Danitha also will slot right into Sram since she fills a void for making equipment and auras cheaper and that’s something a Voltron commander wants. There are some great cards here that can potentially beef up a number of decks out there.

Blue:

There are probably more blue cards that I could showcase but these were the few that really stood out. I’m finally building an Inalla deck (from the C17 precon) because of the dean above — he’s basically a Panharmonicon on legs that interacts with Wizards, and wizard tribal works best with Inalla. There a couple new counterspells here as well that are pretty decent, and the Master Wizard is great for spellslinger decks!

Black:

More goodies for black, including more removal and a pretty decent Saga. I’m really loving the Demonlord for kaalia and the Knight is a potentially awesome commander, particularly due to one of the lands coming out in this set helping mono black make big mana which you’ll need for that kicker cost. Otherwise there’s some good card draw and value for the color in this set.

Red:

Red is typically pretty meh regardless of the set, but that Chandra isn’t bad, and I’m seeing some good Goblin options for Krenko. The Chainwhirler is a nice board wipe on a stick (against token decks) while the Squee reprint is a nice addition as he doesn’t really ever die. Sure he doesn’t do much else but he can help recover from wipes. Also a new version of lightning bold for Wizard decks is pretty good too.

Green:

I wasn’t too impressed with the options in green in Dominaria. There are some interesting cards but nothing that makes me want to create a new brew and nothing that really slots into decks I build. However, green has been ramping in power for the last few sets so perhaps it’s time it took the back burner for a while. Multani is good in landfall decks, and a new Naturalize that also nets you a land on the battlefield is pretty much a new staple.

Artifacts/Lands:

There are some awesome artifacts in this set, I’ve highlighted some of the best here. A reprint of Gilded Lotus is a nice boon and will likely bring the price of this staple down a bit. A new Mox is also important for decks that need artifact ramp. I love that new wall, and will throw it in my janky wall deck. The blad and the Weatherlight are both going in Sram for me, and both are very good in that regard. I’m also happy to see them reprint more of the “have” lands, another set of those is good for budget mana bases. Lastly, Cabal Stronghold is a great addition to any mono black deck — it’s not as good as Cabal Coffers, but it’s still definitely worth a slot and I’m going to try and brew something in the color after I get my hands on the new cards.

Overall I think this set is better than the Ixalan block by a mile. Despite enjoying that set and seeing Dinosaurs and Pirates becoming viable tribes and also enjoying the new Merfolk and Vampires, it just wasn’t all that exciting. This set excites me and sort of resets the EDH meta a bit, and I look forward to opening up the box when the time comes to see what I get. I’ll try and do a post about that when the time comes similar to the post that I made back when I bought a box of Aether Revolt. Until then, happy gaming all!