Thursday, December 31, 2015

Joe Abercrombie: Year In Review

My favourite author has posted his yearly update, reporting on writing and t.v. and whisky and video games:
What with the releases and the touring it’s been a slightly strange, piecemeal year on the writing front.  Jan and Feb were spent finishing off Half a War, which needed a lot of editing (much of it done on the road in Australia).  Then I had a lot of trips and travelling around the two book releases, in between which I was writing the last four or five stories to complete my collection Sharp Ends.  Then, over the last few months, I’ve been working up ideas for a new trilogy in the world of the First Law, and starting to experiment with the first few chapters, which is showing some promise in between my traditional and entirely predictable slumps into pessimistic despondency.  It’s a strange thing – no matter how many books you write you never really feel fully equipped for the one you’re writing.

Full Story: HERE


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Rebuilding for Xmas

Monday, December 21, 2015

Seven Game Design Lessons From Netrunner

Here's a pretty good overview of the mechanics and systems of Netrunner:

Many CCG-style card games, starting from genre founder Magic: The Gathering, tend to have a snowball effect, where a player with the best board position (e.g. more cards in play, stronger units on the board) keep on getting a better position, and it gets more and more difficult for the opponent to turn the game around.

In Netrunner instead the actions required to win, as advancing agenda cards for the corp or making runs for the runner, requires the spending of both clicks and actions, so the player that scores points unavoidably gets poorer and the board state moves toward a new balance.This situation makes for boring endgames where there isn’t fun neither in winning or losing. 

To limit this effect there are usually specific cards that balance the situation, destroying all cards in player (Wrath of God in Magic, Valar Morghulis in AGOT:LCG) or giving an advantage to the losing player (Magic Drain in Summoner Wars). Usually these cards are not appreciated by the player, and seen as unexciting necessity.

Full Story: HERE


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Taking The Black Released

The first chapter pack for the Game of Thrones LCG is now shipping. It's been spotted at local game stores and can be ordered from the Fantasy Flight Games online shop.

Every faction receives new cards to swell its forces as the Westeros cycle begins with Taking the Black. Whether you ride with the knights of the Arbor, trade with merchant princes, or aid the Night’s Watch in its hour of need, you can fully immerse yourself in the world of Westeros with these new cards, including four new plots that offer new deckbuilding opportunities for every schemer and warrior in the realm.

As a Greyjoy player I'm excited to see this new card:

...but I can already hear Sula swearing aggressively.


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Baratheon vs Stark/Nights Watch

I built a Baratheon Fealty deck for today's game with Sula. I won the first game and she the second, but it was very close. The Baratheon strength is kneeling the opponents characters and not letting them stand. At one point Sula had 8 characters on the board but could only stand two at a time. Seems to be a very powerful control deck.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Wolves of the North

Fantasy Flight Games announces Wolves of the North, the first deluxe expansion for the Game of Thrones LCG.

Those who dwell in northern Westeros can be as harsh and cold as winter itself, but words like honor and trust still have meaning there. Fearsome in battle and uncompromising in negotiation, the men of the North are hardy and well equipped to survive winters that can last for years. Though they may scorn the laws that come from King’s Landing, these warriors are fiercely loyal to the lords of House Stark, and some believe the time has come for the North to rise once more and become a true kingdom of winter.

Journey northwards and take your place among the knights, lords, and ladies of House Stark with Wolves of the North, the first deluxe expansion to be released for the second edition of A Game of Thrones: The Card Game. In this expansion, House Stark takes the spotlight as they gain new cards to guide your Stark decks in new and unexpected directions. You may use Direwolves to cow and overpower your foes, rush to victory with the aid of House Tully, or draw strength from the Winter itself. Throughout the box, you’ll find new versions of iconic characters like Eddard Stark, Catelyn Stark, Jon Snow, and Arya Stark, alongside characters entering the game for the first time, including The Blackfish, Shaggydog, and Rickon Stark. 

Though the focus of this deluxe expansion rests firmly on House Stark, every other faction receives two new non-loyal cards to push your deck exploration forward. An assortment of neutral cards, including six new neutral plots, change the options available to every deck, and you’ll be able to call on dangerous new allies like Mance Rayder, Quentyn Martell, and Aggo. 

Look for Wolves of the North second quarter of 2016.

Full Story: HERE


Saturday, November 28, 2015


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Taking The Black

Fantasy Flight Games has a preview up for the first chapter pack of the Game of Thrones LCG.

Taking The Black

You can take your place at the very beginning of the story with Taking the Black, the first Chapter Pack in the Westeroscycle for A Game of Thrones: The Card Game. As part of the Westeros cycle, Taking the Black explores the first chapters of A Game of Thrones with iconic characters like Renly Baratheon, the Hound, and Maester Luwin entering the game for the first time. In Taking the Black, each faction begins its journey through A Game of Thrones towards the Iron Throne!

FFG is saying look for the pack fourth quarter 2015. Amazon has no idea and is saying Dec 31st 2015.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Learning To Play: Android Netrunner [Part 2]

[Part 1 of this Learning To Play is HERE]

The First Five Games

Hanna: (suddenly speaking in Arabic) I like Arabic very much. It’s like Japanese, it’s big.*

In Netrunner both the Corporation and the Runner’s turns are broken down into actions called ‘clicks’. Use a click to draw a card. Use a click to install a server. The Corporation has three clicks to spend. The Runner has four.

Sula: (Game 1/Turn 1) “I want more clicks!”

By this point I’d been reading articles and forum posts for more than a week. I'd also been staring blankly at conversations like this:
“I get Gordian Blade + Personal Touch, Battering Ram, and Crypsis up, and started running all over the place. I nabbed two early agendas for four points, then my friend's side of the table started looking like an ICE fortress. I ran into Heimdall many times, but I was too poor and could not boost Battering Ram enough in the first half of the game, so I skipped his subroutines with clicks and passed.” 
The core set arrived. The base game containing 252 cards. Half for the Corp, half for the Runner, plus some neutral cards. I rifled through them, pushed them around on my desk for a bit. I assembled a Corp deck and a Runner deck to these specifications. I read and re-read the rule book. I watched videos of games on YouTube.

Gradually, a picture formed in my head of how the game might flow and, after a week I felt ready to shepherd Sula and I through a game.

-Note: Sula and I are what I would describe as ‘fervid’ players of the Game of Thrones LCG, a card game which has enough similarities to the rhythms of a Netrunner game that we felt confident we could fairly easily grasp the gameplay.

We began with Sula taking the Corporation deck (Haas-Bioroid was the faction and Megacorp the identity), and I took the Runner deck (Noise the faction and G-mod the identity).

Netrunner comes with handy cards for each player which has printed on them the variety of actions they may execute on their turn: draw a card from R&D, play an operation, make a run, etc. Which meant playing the game felt very easy and clear. We both knew what actions we could take and gradually, as we passed turns back and forth, we became more confident of the tactical soundness of the actions we chose.

Game 1 was mostly a process of one of us doing something, then the two of us jointly checking our understanding of both the legality of the action and the consequences of it for the other player. Sula was very unhappy that I could look at her draw deck before she could, and if I found an Agenda in there I could steal it and score points.

Here’s an interesting thing about Netrunner: the Corporation player has in their hand the Agendas: the things that both players need to win the game. That’s weird isn’t it?  It’s like playing chess but only one of you has a King.

The Corp player must install the Agendas, by laying them face down on the table. Protect them with ICE by laying ICE cards face down in front of them. And then Advance them by using clicks to add tokens to them. When the Corp has added the required amount of Advancement tokens (different for each Agenda) they score points. The Runner is trying to steal the Agendas and, even more weirdly, they don’t know if that facedown card, protected by loads of ICE even is an Agenda. It could be a trap. And when the runner spends clicks and credits to break into that server they might, instead of stealing an Agenda which gives them points, they might get brain damage, or their house might blow up. It makes for an incredibly tense game.

Game 1 went to me. Mostly I think due to me having a better idea of just what the fuck was going on.  Game 2 went to Sula because she’s as smart as a sack full of weasels and it doesn’t take her long to figure out just what the fuck is going on.

Then I switched my deck from Anarch to Shaper. Anarch have a lot of viruses to hand out and it all felt too fiddly when I was also trying to learn the larger arcs of the game. I switched to the Shaper faction, which appears to be about building a kickass Rig (the Runner’s Rig is the programs, hardware and resources they install on the table and is used to generate income and break ICE and do all kinds of things).

Game 3 went to me, which I won by giving myself brain damage. I played a card which gave me 9 credits, all to be used on a run, but when the run was over I had to take a point of brain damage which reduced my max grip size, which is the maximum number of cards I can have in my hand at the end of a turn.

Game 4 went to Sula due to some judicious misdirection on her part. Something I thought was an Agenda turned our to the something much uglier. And game 5 went to me. So, I’m up 3-2.

Sula picked up the Creation & Control expansion pack which, coincidentally contained a large number of new cards for both the Corporation she was playing and the Runner I was playing. So we built a new Corp deck which contains lots of offensive potential and generally looks very nasty. I haven’t done anything to my Runner deck yet so we’ll see how things turn out this weekend. I'm looking forward to playing as the Corporation, which looks like playing another game entirely.

Sula: Remember how I won that game by tricking you?

Me: Remember when I had BRAIN DAMAGE and I still beat you?

Coming up: How Netrunner is like James Joyces's Ulysses. 


* Hanna is a 2011 movie about an American spy who raises his daughter (Hanna) to be every bit the spy that he is. Hanna can fight unarmed, she can shoot guns, and she speaks a dozen languages.


Crowsmack Dark Souls Posters

I've been meaning to link to Crowsmack's incredible Dark Souls posters for a long time, so here you are:

Keri also has amazing Bloodborne posters and assorted geekery:

Crowsmack on ETSY


Monday, November 9, 2015

Learning To Play: Android Netrunner [Part 1]

Sula and I are learning to play Android: Netrunner, an LCG (Living Card Game) from Fantasy Flight Games. It's a two player card game set in a dystopian future where corporations run everything from soft drink manufacture to the military. One player takes on the role of the Corporation and the other player is the Runner, a hacker trying to attack the corporation's server infrastructure. It’s all a little Matrix by way of Neuromancer, and the themes are not exactly in our sweet spot (we are loyal fans of the Game of Thrones LCG; being much more drawn to swords and sorcery than jacking in and logging off), however, we both are fascinated by Netrunner’s design and mechanics, which are asymmetrical.

In most CCGs (collectible card games) each player’s deck will be from a different faction - House Martell vs House Stark, in GoT, for example - but they both use the same mechanics. Very simply, ignoring the varied and deep tactical options in those games, they compare the stats on a card with the card from the opposing player’s deck and the results are tabulated: the larger number wins. In Netrunner, the Corporation and the Runner draw from different pools of cards, use different decks and have different actions to take as they play the game. The two decks aren’t just different thematically, as in Martell and Stark, in Netrunner there is no crossover between the card pools. Corporation cards have a blue backing and Runner decks a red. There is no mixing of the two card libraries. And as they play, the Corporation and the Runner are making different gameplay choices and using different mechanics.

There are a few ways to win:

1) The first player to score 7 agenda points, wins
2) If the Corporation ever goes to draw a card from their deck (called ‘R&D’) and they cannot draw a card, the Runner wins
3) If the Runner is ever forced to take more damage than they have cards in their hand, they die and the Corporation wins

They way each play goes about pursuing those goals is very different.

The Corporation is installing servers, by laying cards face down on the table, and protecting those servers with ‘Ice’ (powerful barriers which the Runner must break). The server could contain an Agenda card, scoring points for the Corporation if they can advance it, or for the Runner if they can steal it.  The server could also contain an Asset, a card which generates income for them, or a trap, which does damage to the Runner when they get in and access it.

The Runner is building a ‘Rig’, a suite of cards, played face up on the table, which help them break the Ice protecting the servers, or generate income for them, or install a virus on Corporation servers, syphoning credits off, or making their Ice weaker.

-Note: That’s a very rudimentary description of the game, and my best attempt at succinctly outlining the mechanics after a week of reading rules and watching games on YouTube. At this point I still have not played a single game. I’ve watched recorded games and I’ve watched live games ( is a browser-based platform for connecting players) and I’ve read lots and lots of forum/Reddit posts and conversations. I’m ready to play. I’m poised and primed.

Richard Garfield, the designer of Magic: The Gathering (the 800b gorilla of CCGs) is also the designer of Netrunner, and has said he wanted to make a game that was more about player skill, and to add a bluffing component, much like poker. And this is the second reason Sula and I are drawn to this game: misdirection. The human dimension. The Corporation could have installed a valuable Agenda in that heavily guarded server, or they could be trying to draw the Runner into a trap which will end with the runner suffering brain damage, or their house blowing up. You won’t know for sure until you get into the server.

That sounds bad, doesn’t it? Bad for the Runner, that is. But get this: the Runner can make runs on any of the Corporation cards. The Runner can look at the cards in the Corporation discard pile (Archives), in their draw deck (R&D) and even into the cards they have in their hand (HQ). So, with some judicious running, and some educated guesses, the Runner hopes to have a pretty good idea if that server contains the valuable Agenda they just saw in the Corporation’s hand, or if it’s a trap intended to make heads explode.

In Netrunner both the Corporation and the Runner’s turns are broken down into actions called ‘clicks’. Use a click to draw a card. Use a click to install a server. The Corporation has three clicks to spend. The Runner has four.

Sula(Game 1/Turn 1): “I want more clicks!”


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Rabbit Hole

Sula and I are learning to play Android: Netrunner. There's a multi-part article coming but here's a shot of Game 01 (excuse the Game of Thrones playmats).


A Greyjoy/Baratheon deck just before taking a Stark/Night's Watch deck down to it's knees.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Worlds Worth Believing In

Over at Gamasutra, Ario Barzan has been exploring the art design and level layouts of Demon's Souls and Dark Souls:
A player’s awareness here was of a sort of realism to the environments that were, nevertheless, designed to an almost obsessive degree of exactitude. Near the start of one world, players could reach a parapeted walkway guarded by skeletal archers. Doing so showed that the archers were flanked by another skeleton that rushed in with spiny rolls and sword swipes. A memorable dynamic suddenly emerged: dealing with the swordsman, positioning oneself so that the archers’ arrows were blocked by parapets, and minding the arrows of a distant sniper from an opposite direction. Later on, this swordsman-type appeared in narrow, underground corridors, frustrating the assumption that one would always find them in more open spaces, and necessitating a change of combative strategy.

Full Story: HERE


Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Seven Hour City

Kill Screen has a terrific article up about City 17, from Half Life 2, exploring what makes it such a wonderful introduction to the game's themes and mechanics:
I step off the run-down train onto the platform, and a bright, white light fills my vision. The beeping surveillance robot hovers away as my eyes adjust, and I begin to see glimpses of the world I’ve stepped into; the world after the war. They say it only took seven hours for the governments of Earth to surrender, and the evidence of that subjugation is all around me. A fleshy alien hunches over the broom it's chained to. Loved ones anxiously await friends and family who will never arrive. A large arrivals and departures board displays cities stripped of their identities and compartmentalised, much like their citizens. I am herded through security checkpoints and dimly lit hallways. Eventually, I make it outside, to a quiet city square carefully watched by the occupying Combine forces, and overshadowed by the phallus-to-end-all-phalluses: the Combine Citadel. This is it. This is life in the Seven Hour City. City 17.
Full Story: HERE


Friday, April 24, 2015

What Game Designers Love (And Don't Love) About Dark Souls

Kirk Hamilton asked a bunch of game designers about Dark Souls and the result is a fascinating mix of insights and perspectives:
“To make a world seem alive and gripping you have to have the possibility that the player may miss things, big and small,” says Night In The Woods’ Benson. “So many games desperately want you to see everything in them, and that’s fine, but I feel it does a disservice to the experience of exploring a world. The Souls games will let you walk past half of the world, or wander into the darkest places with little warning. That’s a world that feels alive. You can miss so much and that means that finding something—be it a clue about the world, the odd NPC off doing their own thing, a strange little area—means something. It’s beautiful.”
Full Story: HERE


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bloodborne's Greatest Challenge and Weirdest Joke

Kill Screen has an article up about a feature of Bloodborne called Chalice Dungeons. They are randomly generated and populated dungeons which you create using in-game items and which you can share with other people via a pre-generated code.  Apparently, they hold some secrets from the main game:
Getting down to depth 5 is an ordeal many players will go through in order to encounter Yharnam, Pthumerian Queen, a storyline figure who can’t be fought in the main game. Getting to her is tougher than the fight itself—you have to fight practically Miyazaki’s entire Rolodex of bosses and struggle through a cursed dungeon that halves your health. But there’s another reason to descend through the ruins: to get the game’s two most mysterious items, which players are still trying to puzzle out.
Full Story: HERE


Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Difference Between Perseverance and Masochism

Over at Offworld Laura Hudson has written a fascinating article about her experience with Bloodborne, and how, in a larger sense, the game unlocked for her what it is that draws people to the 'Souls' series:
If you're playing a Hidetaka Miyazaki for the first time, as I was, the learning curve is often steep; for hours and hours, it feels frustrating and painful, and sometimes incredibly unfair. But here's the trick: it's not. Over time, you start to realize that the game is actually fair in the absolute, and you even learn to trust it. When you die, it's not usually because the game is just mean; it's because you screwed up. Much like a martial arts master who knocks you to the floor every time you leave yourself open, it isn't actually trying to crush your spirit; it's trying to teach you. And if you're willing to listen, it will slowly transform into an incredible badass.
Full Story: HERE


Saturday, April 11, 2015

What's Really Going On In Bloodborne

I finished my first play through of Bloodborne last night and, while the larger story arc made sense to me, I was still scratching my head about some of the finer details.

Thankfully, Rich Stanton has produced a very detailed description of various story beats:
A few caveats. There’s simply too much lore to go into detail on everything, so fascinating places like Cainhurst, or even an in-depth look at the first hunter Gehrman, will have to wait for another time. Though this article is long, it remains the briefest of outlines. And, naturally, I may be wrong on some points - but everything here is sourced and illustrated, and I’ve kept interpretation to the absolute minimum.
WARNING: The article refers to story elements that are best revealed by the game itself. If you haven't finished Bloodborne yet, go away come back when you have.

Full Story: HERE


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Hidetaka Miyazaki Interview

The Guardian has an excellent interview with Hidetaka Miyazaki, the director of Demon's Souls, Dark Souls and Bloodborne:

Miyazaki was assigned to the game and “changed pretty much everything about it”. Demon’s Souls launched in Japan without fanfare. The game had a disastrous reception at the Tokyo Game Show a few months before its release; many players didn’t even make it past the character-creation screen. It sold around 20,000 copies in the week of its release, far fewer than the publisher, Sony, had hoped.
Full Story: HERE


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Guiding Hand of Dark Souls

Dark Souls has a reputation for being difficult - no minimap, no pausing, even low-level enemies will eat your face - but the game does quite a lot to help the player. All the game really wants from you is your full attention.
One of my goals is to refine the image that both fans and non-fans have of Dark Souls, as being defined solely by difficulty.  Perhaps its best-hidden secret is that it does not actually leave the player lost in the wilderness with no direction and death awaiting at every turn, but rather guides and supports them in subtle ways.  The game fulfills two roles at once: presenting a seemingly crushing challenge, but also, behind the scenes, doing what it can to make it more likely that each player finds a way through.  The defining emotion of Dark Souls is the thrill of both facing the challenge and then eventually surpassing it, and the game succeeds because it does everything it can to provide both of those experiences.
Full Story: HERE


Monday, March 30, 2015

Depression is a Bastard

Relentless Reading has a wonderful interview with Scott Lynch about depression and writing and gaming:
Well when did Dance of Dragons come out? 2011? I remember that it was a surprise… In 2010, I had just started on my anti-depressants and I thought, ‘this will be easy from now on’, because the first couple months were so good, especially considering the depths I was climbing out of — the not sucking, the being able to deal with things was heavenly. Even though in retrospect I was a loosely wrapped package. Not surprising, I was seriously damaged.
 Full Story: HERE


Friday, March 6, 2015

Writing Women Characters As Human Beings

I sometimes hear people complaining that they can't write women well, and perhaps ungenerously, I tend to think that's an empathy issue and that probably none of your characters are very rounded.

Kate Elliot has some actual advice on the problem:
Women and girls talk to other women and girls A LOT. If you are writing a hard-shelled patriarchal society, this is going to be even more true rather than less true, and in such a case your story will be less realistic if the female characters in the narrative only ever talk to or interact with men. It’s rare for women to live in isolation from other women—and in circumstances where they do, they are often eager for a chance to interact with other women even for a short time. In Molly Gloss’s novel The Jump-Off Creek, the chapter in which a homesteading woman, who lives in almost terrifying solitude, relishes the chance to spend a few days with another family offers a great example of this.
Full Story: HERE


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Narrative Design in Dark Souls

Over at Gamasutra, Tom Battey has conjured an article in which he explores the unique approach to storytelling found in Dark Souls:
In the Souls games, the narrative is woven directly into the world of the game. There are three primary ways the player can access narrative information; through the dialogue spoken by non-player characters, in the descriptions of the items found strewn across the world, and from the visual design of the world itself. Only by engaging with all three of these narrative devices can a player begin to get a wider picture of the game's larger story.
Full Story: HERE


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin

Dark Souls 2 is being remastered for PS4 and Xbox One. It will include the three DLC packages that were released, plus the developers are adding a bunch of new enemies and items, new encounters, and generally sticking their hands into it and mixing things up a bit. It's not yet clear if the game will feature the mythical 'lost lighting system' which was shown off in pre-release demos, but then was strangely absent when the game launched. However, there's no doubt it will look better and run more smoothly on the current generation consoles.


Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin releases April 07 2015


Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Slow Death of Nuance

Over on his blog, Richard Morgan is writing about nuance in storytelling and the challenges faced by an author who would like their work to have some ambiguity:
It was, and remains, the most forceful reminder I’ve ever had of the limits you face as a storyteller and the risks you take if you plan on using any degree of subtlety in your narrative choices.  Your audience has a mind and agenda of its own, and short of nailing everything down with nine inch nails in the glare of a Klieg beam, you will always face the danger that someone simply won’t get what you’re trying to say.  Over the last couple of months, complaints among the negative side of  the readership response to The Dark Defiles have driven this home to me once more.  Feels more like Book 3 of a four or five book sequence,kvetched someone.  Loses points for the ambiguous ending, said someone else.  I can’t believe that’s it.  What happened?  And so forth.  Even some of the positive reviews talked enthusiastically about the next book, loose ends, where the story would go next.
Full Story: HERE


Saturday, January 17, 2015

My 10 Favourite Games of 2014

(These are not reviews. This list is intended to give an overview of the games I enjoyed the most in 2014.)

#10. Olli Olli

I don’t know anything about skateboarding. I have no desire to go skateboarding. But I like games, and if you like games then you should play OlliOlli a 2D skateboarding game which will have you grinding and popping tricks with aplomb.

#9. Bayonetta 2

Bayonetta X2. More spectacle. More active combat. More of what made Bayonetta so great. The second best reason to buy a Wii U.

#8. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

The best Assassin’s Creed game and the best Batman game, in one orc-shaped package. The combat is fluid and fun (although not as fun as Dark Souls 2) and the world is well-drawn but what really sets this game apart is the Nemesis System. A database of individualized Orc enemies which grows with you and returns again and again, remembering previous fights and slights and taunting you with your failures. After Titanfall this is the second game feature I’ve seen which feels truly next gen. (And in reality, it is a next gen feature, because even though this title appears on PS3 and Xbox 360, the Nemesis System is absent from those ports due to a lack of processing power).  Ken Levine, the creator of Bioshock, wrote an interesting article about this game where he explains how the Nemesis System causes the story to ‘repair itself’:
…you can change the narrative in Shadow of Mordor — kill an important character, fail an important mission — and the story heals itself, because the system can create new characters on the fly.
 #7. Alien: Isolation

The folks at Creative Assembly (the Total War people) were sent 4TBs of data from the making of Ridley Scott’s 1979 film ‘Alien’. Then they made a game which places you in that world so fully and completely you’ll wander around with your jaw hanging open for almost the whole game. They also made a really great game, which focuses on avoiding combat, rather than instigating it. A bold and risky choice in todays market. If you’re even a casual fan of the movie ‘Alien’ you need to check out this game.

#6. Hearthstone

A collectible card game you play on computer or tablet. It plays beautifully and will have you building decks in no time. So easy to pick up and play it should be on everyone’s iPad.

#5. The Jackbox Party Pack

$25 for five games, but all you need to focus on is playing Drawful with four or more friends. You play by drawing things on your phone or tablet and then guessing what the other players have drawn. If there was a game made this year which generates louder and more sustained laughter, I didn’t play it.

#4. Dark Souls 2

The third best Souls game is still one of the best games I’ve ever played. The granular, nuanced combat (the best melee combat in all of gaming) is still present. The mingleplayer, that blending of solo game and multiplayer game is still present. The obtuse lore, hidden away on item and tombstone, is still present. What’s missing is the guiding hand of Hidetaka Miyazaki, the director of Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls,  and the upcoming Bloodborne. And that means the game world doesn’t fit together all that well; locations which could not possibly exist on top of each other are right there, somehow on top of each other. And the world isn’t quite as dark as Souls fans would like it to be. But there is a ton of content. Once you hit New Game + (after finishing the game once, you can restart, with tougher enemies) you’ll find all kinds of new items and new enemies and enemy types, which keeps things fresh. The game is also the easiest of the series, with bonfire warping  and a ring which makes losing your souls to death a trivial matter… However, it’s still great, and when the special edition pops up for the PS4 you can bet I’ll be right there, putting down my summon sign.

#2. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare & Titanfall

These two shooty man games are tied for 2nd place and if you’d asked me back in October if Call of Duty would even be on the list I’d have told you to get your head examined for leaks. I quit that series years ago because of the community, which I find to be incredibly toxic. However, I couldn’t ignore the reviews, which were mostly outstanding, so I snagged a copy and, holding my nose, I jumped in and… It’s great. The pacing is spot on, the weapons varied and interesting to use, the maps finely tuned, and they added an Exo suit, which let’s you jump around at high speeds, giving a spiky, ramped up feeling to getting across the map. They stole it from the other game in this spot, and they were right to do so. After Titanfall, just running across a map will feel pedestrian.  Titanfall lets players double jump and wall run and zip around at high speeds and it’s amazing. Any shooty man game after 2014 needs to include this option or risk feeling outdated. Titanfall also added giant mechs which bash the hell out of each other and whose appearance on the battlefield turns its spaces inside out. The map looks and feels different when you jump into your mech: it widens, its angles and frames seemingly expanding to accommodate your new perspective. Once you leave your mech, the game world appears to iris down again to infantry scale and you’re zipping about once more, bouncing off walls and leaping tall buildings. It’s an impressive trick and if the community hadn’t dried up I’d still be playing this game and, most likely, would not have bothered to try Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.  I consider Titanfall to be the Gears of War for this console generation: a game which looked and felt like what was to come next: something I’d never seen before.

#1. World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

Well, this is a shock. World of Warcraft is one of my favourite games of all time, but my love affair with it has been over for years. I would dip back into it, every now and again, when I felt the urge to run around Westfall and Blackrock Depths and The Scarlet Monastery, but the game was well out of my system. I didn’t even play the Pandaria expansion because, while I thought the Pandas were cute, the Chinese themed world didn’t turn my crank. The latest expansion, Warlords of Draenor, wasn’t really on my radar because I wasn’t playing WoW, but back in October I felt the need to log in and run around bashing monsters. I thought I’d try a Shaman (the one class I’d never seriously put any time into) and I’d do a few quests, gain a few levels, and then quit after a month. Surprisingly, I really loved the Shammy. It has some tools which I love on my characters: melee and magic, a run speed buff which is insta-cast (great for farming nodes when I want to zip quickly from one to another), some healing, some defence spells… I quickly fell in love with the class. Then Warlords of Draenor landed and I was hooked again. This is the expansion for solo players. Blizzard added a little sims-style town for you to manage and build, complete with NPC followers which you can send out on missions to bring back XP and gold and items for you. You can even ask an NPC to come out and quest with you, like a bodyguard, which gives you a kind of insta-party, allowing you to handle tougher quests. You can even construct buildings in your town which provide crafting resources for a craft you’re not specialised in, giving you a source of herbs or ore to complete crafted items without the need to hit the auction house. Managing your wee town quickly becomes an obsession and is the main reason Warlords of Draenor was my favourite game of 2014.

Honourable Mentionables

Dragon Age: Inquisition
I haven’t played enough of this for it to make the Top 10. The combat is a bit janky. It feels like they couldn’t decide if they should drop the tactical combat of the first game, and just stick to the action RPG combat of the second game, so they tried to jam them both in and it doesn’t quite hang together for me. Either make the tactical combat a true option (which it isn’t) or make the action combat more dynamic (which it isn’t). I feel like I spend a lot of time holding down one button, waiting for cooldowns to reset. Which doesn’t make for the most challenging or engaging combat.  However, the world building and characters are remarkable. If Warlords of Draenor hadn’t come out the same week, this game would probably be on the list.

Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker
Awesome game. Fun and bright and just a pleasure to play. Would have made the list in any other year.

Far Cry 4
I haven’t played any of the Far Cry series, but this one is looking like it might be worth a go. It made a lot of lists this year, so it gets an Honourable.

Sunset Overdrive
Another game I’ve not put a lot of time into, but which will likely rate highly in my head by the time I’m done with it. Skateboarding crossed with a shooty man game. Weird and colourful and giddy. 

Dishonourable Mentionables

Hood’s balls the story and writing are awful. Truly awful. Embarrassing. Like, catching your grandfather masturbating, embarrassing. The moment to moment beats, the mechanics of moving and shooting are great. The maps and level construction are amazing. But everything else is dismal. 

Yeah, more awful writing, except with some bonus misogyny and sexual sadism. This game actually depressed me.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection
Multiplayer doesn’t work. It doesn’t work. The thing I bought it for doesn’t work. WTF?

So, that's that. Another terrific year for this hobby which I love so very much. Here's to 2015! Let's see where Bloodborne and The Order 1886  place on this list next January :)

P.S. Be sure to play Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare with everyone muted :)


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