What I've Been Playing II: The Playing-ing? (And gaming night!)

So, let's see what's been on my plate the last couple weeks.

Race The Sun
This is still in light rotation on my gaming time - I usually get a couple runs in a day. But I suspect that might be coming to an end because of a very odd design decision.

I'd mentioned last post that I really liked the daily reset of the map (it dynamically re-generates every 24 hours). But the other part I liked is the three challenges the game gives you. It ranges from "hey, get to X score multipler" simple to "make it X levels in one game without taking damage" hard. Completing challenges gave points, enough points levelled you up, leveling up unlocked upgrades and decals and such.

Apparently I "finished" the game, because I hit Level 25. And I don't mind hitting the level cap, but it then removes all the challenges from the screen - including the ones I hadn't completed yet. I'm guessing it's because there's no more levels, so completing them wouldn't do anything, but it really annoyed me. There's still the Steam achievements, but those are uber-level "score 5 million points" stuff, where I was enjoying checking the daily map and seeing if it was a good one to get my "pick up 25 triangles in the air" challenge that yesterday's map was terrible for.

So, I'll probably keep it installed for a bit longer, but I suspect "finishing" the game will finish it for me.

Kerbal Space Program
Fired that up a bit to try out the new career-style mode (the old career mode now being research or science mode - can't recall the name). Now, you have to juggle budgets and science and reputation while throwing innocent Kerbals into the air (and hopefully safely down again). It's a nice change from the sandbox mode, where you get all the toys up front and it's far too easy to change from "I'm gonna build this huge epic space station" to "Wow, watch the pretty explosion" without realizing it. Career mode starts you with basic stuff, and rewards you for working up the chain. But I find I'm way more interested in the building than the flying, and since career mode doesn't (at least out of the box) let you use mods like the auto-pilot, I usually end up doing this in small doses.

X-COM: Enemy Unknown
Finished the "giant UFO" mission that was giving me trouble - mostly in the inventory-juggling aspect of finding the wounded and psychic-training soldiers and moving all the good gear to, y'know, soldiers actually going *on* the mission? (I'd had one too many missions where somehow my Colonel is sitting there in basic armor and assault rifle instead of Titan Armor and Plasmas.) Which means I've unlocked the next chunk of plot (which is good). But ordering people to shoot ugly things in the face with a shotgun just wasn't cutting it for me this week - I wanted to shoot them myself. Which meant I turned off XCOM and turned on...

Borderlands 2 (Sir Hammerlock's Big Hunt DLC)
I'll be honest - first-person shooters are not my favorite genre, and not my best one either (I'm just a touch too old to have FPS reflexes built-in). But I'll make an exception for two modern games - Team Fortress 2 and Borderlands 2. And it's not necessarily because they're great examples of the genre (maybe they are; I don't play enough of them to have an opinion), but because they have great art styles and even greater senses of humor. And I've gravitated to BL2 because as a single-player (or co-op with friends), I don't have to inflict my lack of ability on people who don't know me. It's also fair to say that the new Pre-Sequel (and friends who are now playing said game) reminded me that not only has it been some time since I have shot bandits in the face with a shotgun, but that I have several DLCs still uncompleted - and as part of my "must finish games owned before buying more" policy, I really should "finish" BL2 (as much as anyone can finish that game - I've got 120+ hours in it, for Pete's sake!) before dropping big cash on a new game in the same series.

So, let's do a quick review on Big Hunt. Borderlands DLCs send you off to a new area of Pandora (which neatly isolates the DLC from main quests) to join Sir Hammerlock to shoot big game. And that promptly gets derailed, because this is Borderlands. My first attempt was a bit problematic, to be understated. Frankly, I was getting my arse kicked. And Borderlands is most fun when you're either mowing through people or in big epic battles. And this was neither - the local Savages were eating my ammunition for breakfast, and I knew something was wrong when I pulled out the freakin' rocket launcher and they weren't going down. Turns out that I had accidentally went into True Vault Hunter Mode (read: "game+" for non-BL fans), and the difficulty was scaling up higher than expected.

OK, dial down to Normal mode, go back in, and monsters start generally dying as expected. But the mobs here are much harder than in the main quest lines (or even the other two DLCs I've played). The Savages tend to have masks on, which block headshots. Some have shields *and* masks, which means you're dancing around just to get a clean shots. And witch doctors are just evil. They have massive masks to block fire. They shoot ranged attacks so you have to get past all the other mobs present. They can heal themselves *and* the mobs. Oh, and they also can buff/upgrade the other mobs around, making the whole fight more difficult. Oh, and they're immune to my character's special ability, so I have to remember to hit someone *else* and hope they tie up the doctor while I sneak up.

Usually I go big for the elemental attacks, but for Big Hunt I'm nearly exclusively in explosive weapons. Assault rifles that shoot exploding rounds. Rocket launcher that does explosive damage. And my savoir - the exploding round shotgun. That shotgun (plus gaining a couple levels to help on the bonus damage curve) has saved me so many times it's not funny. Most enemies die in one point-blank blast, the rest in two. (Excluding bosses who aren't supposed to die that easy). Witch doctors are still a pain, but at least they're killable.

I've completed the main quest line already, somewhat by accident. It's rather short. Surprisingly short, actually - literally, in that I found out I was at the end and went "what, already?". But that leaves the side missions, and BL2 always has cool side missions. Well, the missions themselves are usually pretty standard (collect X of this, kill Y of those, go here-go there stuff), but the stories are where the fun is. Borderlands will go a long way to sell a single joke, and the side missions are perfect for those sorts of gags. My favorite thus far has been being tasked to collect eggs from around the map, while this "documentary filmmaker" narrates in this horrible faux-German accent. It's the fact that the game can make me laugh *and* let me shotgun bandits... er, "savages" in the face that makes me love this game.

The plan is to do some more of the sidequests before tackling the final DLC.

Meanwhile, in non digital gaming, the family went over to some friends for a housewarming and we got to get our tabletop jam going...

Firefly: The Board Game
Played my first un-fun game of Firefly: the Board Game on the weekend. And it's not the fault of the players at the table. (In fact, we had one new player, and I felt sorry that this was his first-impression playthrough). It was a weird combination of no-one getting the jobs and gear they needed, the dice hating *everyone*, and... it ended up being a few hours of general floundering before we called it due to the time (and the fact that no-one was really in their groove for some reason). Weirdly, it makes me want to get the new Blue Sun expansion - probably to get an extra ship so I don't get stuck with the Walden again.

Archer: The Board Game
Tried this out for the first time, and you can almost see the seam where a "just get 'er done" patch was thrown over an interesting idea. The basic idea is interesting - you have a random set of locations. You choose where your character is going, and if you're the first in the round to go to that location you get a bonus for the round. Then the challenges are set out, each player gets a chance to solve the challenge (by a "roll dice and get X or better" mechanic) and score points. The gimmick is that each character has an "insult deck", that does various things. You don't draw cards automatically, but by rolling well (either as part of a challenge, or as consolation for not being first to a location). Generally, getting 5+ on a die gives you one card to draw and play.

And frankly, that's where the seams start showing. There are eight characters in the game, and each gets a unique character card and deck of 20 cards. There are four skills in the game, and a character gets anywhere from one to three dice in each. But the challenges are random, which means there's no real difference in who you pick.

Worse, the individual decks (at least in our first play with three players) looked essentially identical in game effect - and even the flavor text repeated itself a fair bit. And this feels like a missed opportunity - with eight characters (and in the Archer world), it shouldn't have been hard to come up with different abilities in each deck to differentiate them a bit. It feels like they might have been aiming that way, and then went with generic decks due to time pressure?

In the end, I can't recommend it, even if you were a fan of the game - the gameplay is rather boring, and the flavor isn't really reflected in the game at all.