Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Dragon Age – What I want to see next

I really like the Dragon Age series. Origins is one of my favourite RPGs, and whilst DA2 was clearly rushed, it also had a certain charm (and a rare case of retconning improving something, namely the Qunari). Inquisition had its plus points but also took a step in the wrong direction, I think. Size was emphasised over quality. Maps were enormous but the side-quests were shopping lists.

Inspired by this great article by Shinobi here’s what I’d like to see in the next Dragon Age game.

But first, a note. It’s eminently possible, probable, even, that a Dragon Age Tactics game will come out. I have no idea if this would be before or after DA4 (my guess is before). These suggestions are about a main franchise sequel to Inquisition rather than the intriguing Dragon Age meets XCOM game that’s been mooted.

Origins. I do like the increased mentions of race and class (mostly mage) in Inquisition, but the origin stories in the first game were a great addition to help make every combination of race/class feel more distinct, and I’d like to see them brought back.

Combat tactics. These were present in the first two games and inexplicably axed in Inquisition, replaced with a rather rubbish system whereby the skills were tagged as Use, Use Often, and Do Not Use. The Origins/DA2 approach of having, say, Alistair use an attack to knock down enemies but only if they were elite or higher was a straightforward and effective way of ensuring you didn’t have to micromanage companions in combat.

Weightier decisions. In Origins (I’m harking back to it a lot, but it’s a bloody good game) there were numerous stark choices to make, from a possessed child to werewolf attacks on elves who might not be entirely innocent. These choices affected who your allies would be in the final battle. Whilst there are decisions in Inquisition (who to put on the Orlesian throne, for example) they don’t actually seem to have much consequence in gameplay.

I’d also like more moral conflict within parties (this could tie in with the decisions point above). It’s an approximately medieval world, and this can (and historically did) lead to some difficult decisions. If you’re being besieged and there’s food for 10 days, or 40 if you force out all the non-combatants, then you’ve got a dilemma. Suppose you’ve accepted the surrender of a 1,000 men, but an enemy army has appeared and is blocking your access to fresh water, which is running out fast. They offer to let you past if you release the prisoners. Do you do it? Try and negotiate as your water runs out? Kill the prisoners so the men guarding them can join the army and battle the enemy? Or, on a smaller, more personal scale, suppose an arranged marriage could end a war, but one or both of the couple don’t want it. Do you force them to bring peace to many and misery to them? Or let them have freedom at the cost of ongoing conflict? Or what if you’re chasing enemies and they take refuge in a chantry? Do you burn it down or camp outside, risking being attacked by their followers? Difficult choices create meaningful decisions, and the potential for moral conflict.

I’ve already mentioned side-quests. The shopping list approach (fetch 10 dead rams to feed some refugees) is boring. It’s worse still when put alongside the excellent side-quests of The Witcher 3. Quality over quantity, writing little storylines over Fetch X, is much better as well as providing the opportunity to give more depth to role-playing and companions.

Add more weight to judgements. The judgement system in Inquisition was a good addition, capping off a questline by sentencing the defeated foe. However, the upshot was mostly you lop off the bugger’s head, throw them in jail, or they become your ally (which usually meant a small bonus side-quest from the war table). I think this should be expanded. If someone’s imprisoned, they could escape or be rescued, or even have a ransom offered for their release. If they’re killed, their followers/family might seek vengeance. If they become an ally, they could betray you, or (as a one-off) become a party member. I’m not saying have this for every judgement, just make them possibilities that have to be considered. In Inquisition, the ‘good’ option (make them an ally) got most approval and in-game bonuses. There’s no downside. Adding betrayal possibilities would help balance that.

Base improvements to be more substantial. I don’t mind if the cosmetic stuff has no gameplay impact, but other decisions (focusing resources on income or information, diplomacy or military) could be used to affect how things progress. Originally, Inquisition was going to have every conquered keep in the field be designated diplomatic, military or espionage, and something like that could work well.

I’m not a DLC fan. I didn’t get it for Inquisition, though I do know how things turned out. And when I buy a game, I expect the whole storyline in the game, not to be finished off in DLC. Extra content should be just that.

Bring back the murder knife. It was possible, and fun, for the Origins protagonist (the Warden) to be pretty damn evil. A bit more in the way of dark options would be good.

Frivolous stuff:
More armour styles. Some of the armour/clothing looked pretty nifty in Inquisition and I liked the customisation options, but there’s not much range.
Better haircuts. It’s a shame they axed the original set (also used in DA2) because there were only one or two I liked in Inquisition.
A photo mode. I loved this in The Last of Us Remastered.
Bianca and Scout Harding as companions.


Thursday, 25 May 2017

Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger – episode 2 out now!

Liu and Guan return in the second action-packed episode of Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger.

In The Demon Attacks, the outlaws go their separate ways, Liu Shanshan and Guan Shi heading to Xuzhou to stay ahead of Ximen’s lackeys. But it’s hard to relax when there’s a demon on your tail…

The third episode, The Tiger and The Demon, is up for pre-order and comes out a week from now.


Friday, 19 May 2017

Skyrim PS4 mods – thoughts and recommendations

It’s been a little while since they came out, but mods for the PS4 edition of Skyrim are an interesting addition to an already immense game. However, as is known, there are limitations compared to not only the PC but the Xbox One (which has a clear advantage), namely total file size (only 1GB) and the total absence of new assets. There’s also a 100 mod limit.

So, given all that, are mods still worth bothering with if you’re on the PS4?

In a word: yes.

As well as nice little additions, some offer substantially changed weather effects, tweaks to gameplay, or even a full-blown overhaul (more on that later). The file size isn’t a problem because the absence of new assets (including scripts) means that you’re almost certain to never reach the limit.

So, are there any downsides to mods? Well, sometimes they conflict, although this will often be obvious. I’ve had a few more crashes (not loads, maybe one every 10 hours or so) when playing as The Red Panther. And the greyface bug is irksome (new NPCs can have freaky faces). But they add a lot to the game, so if you’ve sunk a lot of time into Skyrim and want something a little different, mods can really add to the experience.

Below is a list of mods I’ve particularly enjoyed. Do remember (I keep forgetting...) to like/rate mods that improve your game. These are all free, remember.

Darkness Falls, by Grumpy-Gazz

Since Dragon’s Dogma introduced totally black nights (save for your lantern’s limited light) I’ve really liked this approach. Nights are miles darker, practically impossible to see unless you’ve got a torch, magical light or are Khajiit. The only downside is this is incompatible with Dolomite Weathers (see below). It dovetails very nicely with the two mods bracketed together below.

Lanterns/Lampposts of Skyrim, by MannyGT and Micahghost (respectively)

The first of these mods adds little lanterns to settlements. In the newly darkened world, these really help make the villages and cities a spot of illuminated civilisation in the middle of the wilderness. The lampposts work much the same, providing lighting for the roads. Neither overdoes it, instead managing to get the balance of light just right. They work perfectly with Darkness Falls, and also fit the darker (although not as dark) nights of Dolomite Weathers.

Simple Survival, by Worlds

Now, I’ve only played with this a little bit because it’s not compatible with the Great Realism Overhaul, and when I made two new characters to see which I preferred I went for the latter. That said, this simple survival mod seemed to work very nicely. It adds a requirement to eat, drink and sleep regularly. Fail to do so and you take penalties, including your health, magic or stamina (or multiple) not regenerating. The mod’s author increased the frequency of finding salt to enable more cooking. I liked this a lot, and the only reason I didn’t stick with it is because I liked the other mod even more.

The Great Realism Overhaul, by Simtar123

This mod changes a colossal amount. The perks, especially those for warriors, have been reworked massively, and mostly for the better. One-handed, for example, has various multi-tiered perks to improve your skills with daggers, swords, axes or maces. Backstabbing perks are now located in one-handed, for daggers, and archery, for bows. Crafting replaces smithing and includes perks to improve cooking (curtailed options initially), create pottery as well as the armour/weapons you’d expect (tip: to improve rapidly, focus on arrows).

Combat is utterly reworked. On the recommended Legendary setting, damage both dealt and received is x2 normal, and you can’t shift mid-swing. So, enemies can be side-stepped and whacked, wolves are suddenly a bit dangerous (early on), and fighting multiple enemies is much harder. Correspondingly, a good follower is worth a lot, and summon spells are much more powerful. Stealth is also more valuable because of the enhanced damage, balanced out by enemies searching for you for much longer.

Carry weight has been utterly nerfed (100 initially) and fast travel is verboten, so this will put off some players, and I completely understand that. It’s particularly irksome when you kill a dragon (which is much harder than it was) only to find its valuable bones and scales weigh so much you can barely carry any of it. Travel by carriage is a lot more useful, but you can’t use it when you’re over-encumbered. Perks to make your armour (when worn) weigh less are also really helpful.

One discrepancy I found (I briefly played with a Breton mage to see how magic worked) is that my Khajiit, The Red Panther, had more or less the starting skill numbers I’d expect whereas my Breton, Laura de Mirgnac, had 1 for everything. Incidentally, the Breton starting spell (conjure familiar) is actually of some use.

It also has two supplementary mods for enemies and looting I recommend getting.

The Great Realism Overhaul really does change an awful lot. For me, it’s reinvigorated a game I’ve already (on the PS3) sunk hundreds of hours into.

All Armour Lootable and Wearable, by Bear

A great little mod that does what it says on the tin. If you get attacked by a Dark Brotherhood minion, why shouldn’t you be able to steal his snazzy masked cowl? Also good for getting a load of cash from selling looted stuff. Not compatible with the Great Realism Overhaul (but you wouldn’t be able to carry all the extra armour in any case).

Dolomite Weathers, by Megaloblast

An all-in-one weather mod (there are a few varieties, I just went for the original) which improves things a lot. In particular the higher intensity and sound effects of rain gave me goosebumps, it’s very good. Fog is denser, and the sky (clouds, aurora) just seems a lot better. I think that the distance you can see has been dramatically increased, although before this I was using the weather mods below so I can’t swear to it. Nights are darker, although not as black as Darkness Falls. The only downside is that the aforementioned mod is incompatible with Dolomite Weathers, but, generally, this is really good.

Supreme Storms, by MannyGT

A weather mod that turns rain showers into torrential downpours. It’s even more intense than the Dolomite version, and works very well (obviously incompatible with Dolomite, though).

Supreme and Volumetric Fog, by MannyGT

Similarly, dense fog for those who don’t want to go down the Dolomite route. Before I had the all-in-one mod, I used this, Supreme Storms and Darkness Falls, which all meshed nicely together.

Master the Summit, by SpaceGoats

We’ve all been there. Heading for Ivarstead. Discovering you’ve got to go all round the houses. Master the Summit adds bridges, steps and so forth to various places in Skyrim, making it easier to get around on foot. Especially useful for those going without fast travel, and fits in perfectly with the game.

Rich Merchants, by Jason069

Pretty simple. Stops merchants running out of money when you want to flog them stuff. Straightforward and very useful.

Smooth Human Female Faces, by FiNwolf

At the risk of sounding shallow, wrinkly foreheads don’t do it for me. This simple mod gives them (particularly Bretons) smooth foreheads so you can have a character who isn’t looking inexplicably old.

Phenderix Magic World DLC, by Phenderix

I’ve not played extensively as a mage, but had to include this mod. It includes several new locations (not visited them) and hundreds of new spells, some of which I’ve messed around with. There’s a vastly increased range of summons, and the destruction magic is improved with new spells too. New bosses, followers, loading screens and the mod bundles together a number of previously released, smaller mods. If you’re playing as a mage or part-time magic user, this is well worth a look.

Immersive Patrols, by Ameermohamedtt

Adds patrols from the various factions (Imperials, Stormcloaks, Thalmor etc) throughout the roads. These can, and will, encounter one another. They can also be very handy if a dragon shows up. I happened upon a fort that’s usually bandit-held (in the vanilla game) and instead found a massive Imperial-Stormcloak battle, which was pretty cool. It’s a nice touch that makes the world feel more alive.

Immersive and Levelled Items, by Gehirnmutant

There’s a problem with finding cool items early, which is that you get lumbered with a basic level of enchantment. However, this nifty mod means you can then level it up to improved versions, if you have the right material. So, if you get Chillrend early on, you’re not stuck with the n00blet level effect forever. Pretty simple, and a nice addition.

Late addition:
Fix: Restore Vanilla Settings, by DylanJames

After writing the above, I wanted to check to make sure I wasn’t over-egging the cake with certain things (particularly to see whether I was misremembering how far you can see the landscape without mods). So I started a new save, without mods. However, my character had far lower skills (1 for most) than she should’ve. Lakraz Ogre-Killer was not amused. I tried making another new save, but Gryzelda also had the same problem. Mostly, this didn’t change a lot, but I couldn’t actually sharpen the iron dagger in Riverwood because I lacked the skill (my smithing was only about 6 or 7).

Happily, the above mod fixed things, although I did have to make a new character.

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but there’s a fair range of good mods that players both hardcore and casual might enjoy.


Monday, 15 May 2017

Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger – episode 1 out now (free)!

Fast, fun and free, the first episode of new fantasy serial Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger is out now.

It’s very much Robin Hood meets Ancient China, as the story follows the adventures of the feisty and irascible Wandering Phoenix, and wise and experienced Roaming Tiger, as well as featuring their loyal friends and implacable foes. Lots of action and dramatic plot twists abound, with a minimum of flim-flam, so it’s perfect for some fantastical escapism.

The first episode is less than half the size of the next two, a nice bite-sized snack to see if you like the style and characters. Episodes 2 and 3 should be up shortly (plan on submitting episode 2 later today for pre-order). So, give it a look and if you like it the next two episodes will be available soon, and, if not, you’ve lost nothing.


Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger cover reveal

Here it is, the cover for the first run of my new serial, Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger:

Many thanks to Jamie Glover for the cover art, which really captures the Far Eastern feel of the story. 

Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger is akin to Robin Hood meets Ancient China, featuring the two title characters and their friends as they fight injustice and face treachery, oppressive noblemen and fearsome warriors along the way.

I’m hoping to get the first episode released within a week, and will put up a new blog when that’s the case. Once Episode One is price-matched (for zero) on Amazon, I’ll put up Episodes Two and Three for pre-order.

Being free, the first episode is quite dinky and will be an easy way to find out if the serial’s for you. It’s fast, action-packed, high on drama and adventure. If you’ve read Outlaws of the Marsh or Three Kingdoms, it may well appeal to you especially.

So, keep your eyes peeled. Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger will be on the loose soon!


Friday, 5 May 2017

Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger – Coming Soon

This month, all being well, the initial run of Wandering Phoenix and Roaming Tiger will come out. It’s a fast-paced, action-packed serial following the adventures of the title characters and their friends. Think Robin Hood meets Ancient China.

The first part will be a free taster, with parts two and three to follow shortly thereafter.

I don’t want to give too much away (the first part is free, after all) but the style is quite similar to Sir Edric. A bit less comedy, and a bit more heroism, but high on action and low on flimflam.

Can’t give a precise date (not least because having a price tag of zero on Amazon takes a little faffing) but everything’s on course for release soon. So keep your eyes peeled.