Kit “Interview”

So, a certain acquaintance of mine did this questionnaire thing, and I thought it would be fun to do it for Kit as my first new post in my new blog location. So, without further ado, let’s begin!

1. What is your name?
Xihe Kitaro, though I usually go by Kit Vulpik

2. Do you know why you were named that?
Xihe is my family name, so that part’s obvious. Kitaro… you know, I never asked my parents about that.

As for Kit Vulpik… well, when hiding in human form I thought it would be a fun hint as to my true race. Perhaps not the wisest thing, but hey, over here in the west most people don’t know of Kitsune, so it worked well enough.

3. Nice~ So… what’s your current age?

Oh, what am I now? After all of the world-hopping I’ve sort of lost track of what day it is, but I believe I’m 22 now.

…it’s been a long few months.

4. Single or taken?
Taken. Most unexpectedly, but quite happily.

5. Have any abilities or powers?

Well, besides my amazing agility, acrobatic skills, and being a master of swordplay, I also have quite a bit of innate Kitsune magic that lets me do things like turn into a fox or a human, vanish from sight, confuse my enemies, and other things like that.

6. Stop being a Mary Sue!

A… huh? Ah… sure. Done.

7. What’s your eye color?

A handsome amber. It’s the same no matter what form I’m in.

8. How about hair color?

Which part? I have red fur, white fur, and even a bit of brown. When I’m in human form my hair stays red with just a hint of white.

9. Have you any family members?
Oh, tons! I’m the youngest of nine siblings, and my home is full of uncles, cousins, and other relations.

…Not that I’ve been home in a while.

10. Well, who is your best friend?

Does that count my fiance or not?

11. How many friends do you have?

Oh, plenty! Though if you’re asking about *close* friends, I’d say five.

12. What are your hobbies?

I haven’t had much time for hobbies of late, unless you count swordplay.

13. Who is your favorite author?

Hmmm… when was the last time I had time to read?

14. Favorite quote?

“I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

15. Oh? How about pets?

My lifestyle of late hasn’t exactly been good for keeping pets.

16. That’s cool, I guess. Now tell me something you don’t like.

Hmmm… slavery, megolmaniac witches that want to freeze the world, tyranny in general… there are a few things, I’ll admit.

17. What’s one food that tempts you?

I *do* miss my father’s cooking. He was usually the one who cooked, you see.

18. What are your thoughts on PIE

I’m not quite sure why you Westerners make such a big deal about it. I like it, certainly, but not any more than a number of other desserts.

19. Favorite drink?

It’s been a long time since I had some good sake.

20. What do you mostly wear?

I have a few different outfits, but of late I’ve been in my adventuring gear most every day.

21. Have you ever hurt anyone in any way?

More than I  would like.

22. Ever… killed anyone before?

Again, more than I would like.

23. What kind of animal are you?

I’m a kitsune, not an animal!

24. Name your worst habits.

I have this awful habit of trying to talk people out of doing things that will force me to stab them.

25. Do you look up to anyone at all?

Oh, Saerenrae, Desna, and Cayden Cailean all have some rather admirable traits.

26. Do you go to school?

I have in the past, though I, ah, didn’t exactly stick with it.

27. Am I annoying you?

…Who’s asking these questions, anyway?

28. Well, it’s still not over!

I see.

29. Confession time, Who is your lover?

It’s hardly a secret given that I’m engaged to Greta.

30. Have you kissed anyone yet?

Well, yes.

31. Do you have a childhood sweetheart?

Not really, no.

32. What’s your type?

My… type? I’m not quite certain what you mean.

34. Ever want to marry and have kids one day?

That would be why I’m engaged. I’m rather curious to see what our kids will be like…

36. Do you have fan girls/fanboys?

Well, not that I know of, but given my vulpine good looks and dashing smile, I’m sure I’ve left a few behind.

37. What are you most afraid of?

Failing to defend those I care about.

38. What class are you (low class, middle class, high class)?

Classy enough not to care.

39. What’s you favorite place?

A new place. Nothing quite beats the thrill of seeing somewhere new.

40. Would you rather swim in a lake or the ocean?

After how long I’ve spent in cold places, I’d just like somewhere warm.

41. Camping or indoors?

A mix of both, I’d say.

44. What is your life long dream?

Golarion at peace, Greta and I living with our children somewhere beautiful, with frequent trips to new places to explore and meet new people.

45. What would you do if your dream came true?

Live it!

46. What do you do most of the time?

Of late I’ve been traveling a lot, fighting evil and generally saving the world.

47. What would you do if you meet your creator?

Get to know him! After all, he’s a person I don’t know. A… very unusual one, I’m sure.

Bonus: If you were stranded on a deserted island, name 3 things you would bring

*One of those magic items that can make food.

*Another one that would let me send a message to my friends.

*A tent

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Almonihah Talks About His Characters: Iolar, the Epitome of Eagles

I was having some fun recently trying to describe one of my characters using primarily quotes from him. In this case I was talking about Iolar, Guardian Spirit of Birds of Prey. I thought it would be fun to share this with some more people, so here you are!

Iolar in Quotes

  • “I am What It Is To Be An Eagle, Guardian Spirit of Birds of Prey.” Iolar is basically the incarnation of eagle-ness, in addition to having a duty to watch over the raptors of his world and guard them against unnatural threats (evil spirits, black mages, and the like).

    Iolar also likes singing to the sun. (Art by Nambroth/Jennifer Miller)
  •  “All raptors are shadows of what I am, or, perhaps, I am the shadow of what all raptors dream themselves to be.” Spirits in Iolar’s world have a close connection with dreams–a connection whose exact nature is unclear even to said spirits. It’s possible that Iolar is somehow the sum of all raptors’ dreams of themselves, or that Iolar somehow defines what raptors are. There’s also some hints that eagles being symbols of nobility and freedom has something to do with Iolar having those traits.
  • “The form you see is but a shell.” Iolar’s physical form is created and held together by his Will and Power–the golden markings he has are sort of like magic bindings, holding his powerful spirit to the physical shell he creates. His markings vary over time, due to this–as he changes and grows as a being, his markings change to reflect his changes. He’s also actually hollow on the inside, in a way, filled with light and power instead of organs, muscles and bones.
  • “YOU SHALL NOT HAVE HER!” Iolar has a tendency to ‘adopt’ orphans and others who are defenseless and in need, guiding and protecting them like a mother eagle watches over her chick. Of course, he’s ultimately trying to help them grow strong enough to fly on their own.
  • “I am as old as prey hunted on feathered wings.” Iolar’s world developed rather like our own, with continents and creatures changing, rising, and dying over time. He came into being sometime during the evolution of birds from other dinosaurs, and has vague memories of mountain ranges and seas that haven’t existed for millions of years.
  • “Magpies gather shining trinkets, and dragons have their hoards of gold, but my greatest treasures are memories, my precious gems remembrances of ancient joys.” Because of his incredible age, Iolar has many, many memories–more than he could possibly retain, really. He actually selects the memories he most wants to keep and carefully preserves them in part of his personal dream realm, as gems carefully sorted and stored in ancient caverns.
  • “They are not raptors, but I do for them what I can”: Iolar found the world rather changed when he returned to it. Humans and others of ‘Those who Walk Upright’ had spread far wider than they ever had before (the City of the Skies fell in kind of a Bronze Age kind of time, and he’s returned to find the world in more of a Renaissance kind of time period). The biggest change, however, is that the other guardian spirits seem to be… absent. In their absence he’s rather naturally started expanding his guardianship, watching over birds in general, though he wouldn’t quite admit to it if you asked him.

Other Iolar Facts

  • Iolar can work magic, though he doesn’t view it as such–he can speak to the spirits of air (and, to a lesser degree, water and wood) and talk them into doing favors for him. He views human (and other mortal races) magic very dimly, because from his point of view human wizards are basically beating these spirits over the head with a baseball bat and then ordering them to do their biding. But he knows that 1) they don’t know that; 2) mortals don’t have hundreds thousands of years to learn the languages, cultures, and laws of the spirits like he’s spent on it; and 3) The one time he tried to teach a group the right way to do it ended very badly. So he doesn’t make a big issue of it.
  • About that time… one of the times Iolar did his ‘adopt a poor orphan’ thing, the young man he took under his wing became a great leader who founded his own city, largely based on what he’d learned from the Epitome of Eagles. Said city basically worshiped Iolar as a god, which kind of bothered him, so he visited and told them to stop it. They didn’t really, but they did at least quit being so overt about it. Iolar kept visiting over time and taught them some of the lore of spirits and such. But a number of the other guardian spirits saw this as overstepping his boundaries, and they stirred up some of the other tribes in the area who eventually overwhelmed Iolar’s City of the Skies. Even now, more than two thousand years later, Iolar mourns them.
  • I enjoy getting variations on Iolar’s markings (art by Carmen Durand)

    Maintaining a physical form takes a fair amount of a guardian spirit’s power, so many of them would spend large amounts of time purely as spirits. Iolar, however, felt that doing so led to his becoming disconnected from the world, to the detriment of his ability to empathize and understand the needs of his charges. (This was a constant source of tension between him and some others) Due to the widespread nature of birds of prey, and their cultural importance in a number of cultures, Iolar is a pretty powerful spirit, so he doesn’t have problems with having enough power to maintain his form. However, he does occasionally overextend himself, forcing him to spend a few centuries resting, only vaguely aware of the world. He very badly overextended himself trying to save the City of the Skies, so he ended up knocking himself out for nearly two thousand years after its fall.

What has Almonihah been Playing, February 2017 Edition

So you might have found yourself wonder of late, “Just what has Almonihah been doing of late”? You’ve probably guessed I’ve been playing games, and that would be right. But what games? Well, let me tell you.

Imperialism II

The prosperous nation of Holland… why are you giving me that look?

An older game, I ran across our CD for Imperialism II recently and decided to see if it would work on Windows 10. Surprisingly enough, it did! So I played through a game of it, after a couple of false starts while I remembered what in the world I was doing.

The basic idea of Imperialism II is that you’re playing a major European power starting around 1500 AD through about 1900 AD (I don’t remember the maximum number of turns). You send ships to explore the New World, followed shortly by armies to conquer it and builders to exploit it. You also have to improve your infrastructure back home, too. The really interesting bit with it is its economic simulation. Many tiles have a resource of some sort that can be exploited by building extraction buildings on them, but to be usable you have to ship these resources back to your capital. This means either building roads (and later rails), or hooking them up to a port and shipping them. Of course, shipping becomes an issue when other nations declare war on you and start blockading ports… but some things can only be found in the New World, including most sources of cash, so…

Once you get the goods back to you capital, you have to use your labor supply to turn the raw resources into usable goods, like turning iron ore into cast iron, or timber into cut lumber. You also have to feed your labor… as well as your armies and navies, which results in a careful balancing act where you have to make sure you have enough labor to produce goods while keeping a strong enough military to protect yourself and maybe even conquer some more land.

Speaking of combat, land battles are turn-based tactical affairs, with a good mechanic of reaction fire to help the side that goes second not have *too* big of a disadvantage compared to those who go first. Naval battles are simply auto-resolved. Winning the game depends largely on winning these battles, because you have to own over half of Europe to win and most nations aren’t going to give you their territory peacefully.

In case you’re wondering, Holland conquered over half of Europe in the 1830’s with huge quantities of field artillery and several ironclads. Who knew?

Endless Legend

Color-shifting bat-like people. One of the many things brought to you by DLC.

I talked about Endless Legend a couple of years ago. Since that time they’ve released… *counts* 7 different DLC’s. Now there’s giant Guardians, competitive quests, naval combat, new winter mechanics, espionage, and a slew of other things in the game. I can’t say any of the DLC additions have really wowed me, but with such a good base to build on, they still add some fun to an already fun game.

Orcs Must Die! Unchained

Look at that lovely oncoming horde…

My brother and I played quite a bit of this over the Christmas break time together, and we’re still working our way through it now. It’s basically a tower defense game, where you play a hero who places traps for the orc hordes trying to attack you and then fights them yourself along with your traps. It’s kind of boring alone, but with a friend or two it’s a lot of fun, especially as you shout to each other about your carefully-laid defenses failing.

Sorcerer King: Rivals

Dwarves–saving the world by freezing it solid.

I really need to do a proper review of this game. For now, I’ll just say it’s a fantasy strategy game kind of in the vein of AI War, where the world has been conquered by the evil Sorcerer King and you try to build up and effective resistance while staying under his radar until you’re ready, while trying to stop him from destroying the world to become a god. It’s pretty fun–I’ve discovered I’m rather fond of these asymmetrical strategy games.

Stars in Shadow

Lines and stars–yep, it’s a Sci Fi 4X

Stars in Shadow is another Master of Orion clone, with just enough mechanics tweaks to make it not the same as any others, without enough tweaks to really make it feel any different. As far as it goes, it’s a good clone, but I’d say I probably like Stardrive 2 better as a Master of Orion clone.

Sid Meier’s Civilization VI

China started on an island, didn’t you know?

Of course. 😀 I beat my brother in a multiplayer match around Christmastime… after he beat me in our first multiplayer match by being super-aggressive. We’re both still learning the game. The whole district thing really requires unlearning some old habits and learning some new ones.

And some other stuff…

Pathfinder, play-by-post RP’s, a bit of Stellaris and Starbound… yeah, I’ve been hopping around.

Seasonal Puzzling: Almonihah Plays “Seasons After Fall”

I play a lot of heavy strategy games and RPG’s. That’s where my primary interests lie. But every now and again, I want a bit of lighter, simpler fare. Seasons After Fall is a definite example of this

Pretty Little Fox

Isn’t he such a lovely little fox?

Probably the first thing anyone will notice about Seasons After Fall is its graphical style. It’s… I’m not quite sure how to describe it. Watercolor-ish? Painterly animation? Whatever the case, it looks hand-drawn, with little brush-strokes visible if you look closely at it.

The soundtrack is also unusual–it’s a string sextet (based on the credits, two violins, two violas, and two cellos) that tend to fade in and out at particular times during gameplay, leaving you with only the sounds of the forest at other times. To be honest, I would have liked it if the strings played more often–I quite liked the music.

And then, there’s the voice acting. There are two speaking characters in the game, neither of which is you. One voice is a (generally) chipper, faintly British woman, while the other is a calm, deep man’s voice. It’s hard to say a lot about them without spoiling something of the game’s story, but I will say that the voice actors were well-chosen for their parts.

Look at the brush-strokes on the bear.

Speaking of story, Seasons After Fall‘s story is a fairly straightforward one, something of a children’s fable… and really, that’s what this whole aesthetic builds towards. You feel like you’re playing a children’s book.

Pretty Little Puzzles

The game-play reinforces this feeling. Seasons After Fall is a light platforming/puzzle game, based around having to find ways around obstacles to get to where you need to be. But none of the puzzles are frustratingly difficult: there are a few that may take a few minutes to figure out, but at least for me, I only once had to step away and mull over things before I came upon the solution.

You get a fun little floating-in-the-air animation while you decide what season to pick.

The primary puzzle-solving mechanic (other than running and jumping) is changing the seasons. Fairly early in the game, you gain the power to change the seasons in the forest, which instantaneously causes changes in the environment. Switching to winter will freeze water, letting you jump off of puddles or use now-frozen geysers as stepping stones, while in summer certain plants will uncurl when you bark at them to provide new paths.

I’m dreaming of a purple winter…

Changing seasons also changes the scenery, with snowflakes falling on a landscape of purples and blues during the summer, while fall tends towards reds and oranges. Sometimes it’s fun just to change seasons somewhere to see what it looks like in every season.

It still feels funny to rapid-fire change the season while solving a puzzle, like you’re breaking the laws of nature into little pieces all over the ground just so you can jump up to a high ledge.

Pretty Quick Game

Not everything is as it appears at first in this forest…

Like the children’s storybook it resembles, Seasons After Fall is not very long. Steam says it took me six hours to beat, and I wasn’t in a hurry. It’s about the right length, in my opinion. For an adult, the game is a beautiful little break from the often-frenetic world of “serious” gaming, a calm little breather of a game that’s good for unwinding when you don’t want to be shouting at your screen because your team-mate went top just before the other team ganked you or whatever. It’s not something you play for a challenge, it’s a game you play for the experience.

And sometimes, that’s just beautiful.

The most frightening part of the game is the background here… and it’s symbolic, not actually trying to kill you.

Words Are All You Need: Almonihah Plays (Way Too Many) Play-By-Post RPG’s

If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been posting much of late… well, that’s because most of my creative writing energies have been going elsewhere. Specifically, to a wide array of play-by-post role-playing games. I didn’t try to do NaNoWriMo last month… but if I counted up all of my posts, I’ll bet I got over 50,000 words in the month.

So what happened?

You see only a fraction of the campaigns I’m involved in

Well, the short version is, I discovered the Paizo forums. Paizo is, if you don’t know, the publisher of the Pathfinder Role-playing Game, which is by far my main tabletop RPG. So when I discovered that their forums contain a section for online campaigns with a large, active, and fairly high-quality community… well, I may have gone a little overboard on getting in play-by-post campaigns.

15 campaigns isn’t really that many, right? Right?

Okay, yeah, maybe I went a bit overboard. I mean, I’m still keeping a few other games outside of Paizo going, so… yeah, the total is probably more like twenty. It turns out that, even though I sort-of have the time to keep up with all of them, it kind of takes all of my creative juices to do so.

So what are you going to do about it?

Well… I’m going to stop joining new games. Eventually some of the ones I’m in will complete or die, and I’ll get back down to a more reasonable number.

I’m sure that plan will work, right?

Sim-Space Empire: Almonihah Plays Stellaris

Wow, it really has been a long time since I’ve posted here. I’ve just been distracted by a lot of other things, some of which I’ll have to write about later. Anyway, I’ve been wanting to talk about Stellaris, so that’s what I’m going to do!

What Is Stellaris?

Sometimes, a bit of perspective on the size of your empire compared to the galaxy is helpful.
Sometimes, a bit of perspective on the size of your empire compared to the galaxy is helpful.

At first glance, Stellaris looks a lot like the rash of other space 4X games that have come out over the past couple of years. It has all of the trappings of such games–you found colonies on new planets, research technologies, build spaceships, and engage in diplomacy. It’s real-time, which is somewhat unusual, but not that different.

But somehow, Stellaris takes these familiar elements and makes a game that feels… different. In fact, it sometimes doesn’t feel like a game at all, but rather, an interactive simulation–something like Sim-City, but for a space empire instead of a city. I often find myself thinking, not about optimizing my empire, but rather about what would be like a sci-fi novel or what people with the values I created my race with would do.

It’s not for everyone. If you’re looking for a game you can win, look elsewhere. While Stellaris has victory conditions, technically, most of the time you won’t get anywhere close to them. Not because you’ll lose, but because actually reaching them would take far more effort than it’s worth. Playing Stellaris like you would Master of Orion is destined to be an exercise in frustration.

So what’s the point of Stellaris?

Planet management is pretty streamlined and easy
Planet management is pretty streamlined and easy

You might reasonably ask, why would you play a game you’re likely not going to win? Well, because countries don’t “win” real life. By making victory a distant dream, it actually makes the game feel more real, at least to me–you’re not worried about winning a game, you’re concerned with the health of your empire and the way your neighbors view you and whether or not developing sentient AI is really a good idea. It’s an unusual feat for a game to accomplish.

So to me, playing Stellaris is more about creating stories–stories like the ones from famous sci-fi novels. You want to see if you can do a better job at creating a genetically engineered slave race than all of those fools who are always getting killed by their rebellious creations? Well, you can try! Want to develop sentient AI’s and then treat them like fellow-citizens, thereby making it so there’s no reason for them to rebel and kill all of you? You can see how that works out! Want to create a federation of peaceful races who cooperate to explore the galaxy? Well, your scouts will probably be turned back at the border by all of the other empires, but you can try!

Maybe you should talk about the mechanics

Webs of territory can get quite messy.
Webs of territory can get quite messy.

Right, you might want to hear about those. As I mentioned, Stellaris plays out in real time, though you can pause, speed up, or slow down the rate at which time passes. Income and production times are generally measured in monthly increments, and work about as you would expect–you spend minerals to build structures on planet surfaces, space stations, and ships.

Your nation starts out on a single planet, with a few basic ships and a single species. You can either create a race or use a standard one. In addition to racial traits, however, populations also have morals, which can change–more on these later. Over time, you’ll expand outwards, building mining and research outposts, founding new colonies, building more ships, and so forth. This part’s pretty standard.

Where it gets interesting is when you meet other star nations. Some of them will be more advanced than you–some AI nations start out larger and more advanced than you, and there are a few “Fallen Empires” which have basically researched the entire tech tree before the start of the game, but are now stagnant and generally uncaring about what’s going on in the galaxy. Each of these nations will have a variety of likes and dislikes, some determined by the dominant morals of the empire, and others by the nation’s preferences.

Keeping these in mind is very important. Remember how some nations start out much more advanced than you? You don’t want to make them angry. At least, not until you’re ready.

Other interesting mechanics, in no particular order:

The galaxy can get quite busy.
The galaxy can get quite busy.

*Leaders. Each of the three branches of science you’re researching can have a science leader who makes certain types of research easier, your science ships require science leaders to explore and research anomalies, your planets and sectors can have governors, your fleets can have admirals… there are a lot of uses for leaders.

*Sectors. You can only afford to directly control so much of your empire. The rest of it is automatically managed in ‘sectors’ that you designate. I’m a bit iffy on this–they could raise the number of directly-controlled systems by two or three, in my opinion, but it’s nice when your nation has gotten huge and you don’t care about the specifics of a lot of planets.

*Governments. Depending on your starting morals,  you’ll have a selection of forms of government forms to choose from. One of the effects of this is that, every so often, you’ll have an election/your king will die and his heir will take over/etc. This can have a variety of effects on your nation.

*Factions. The morals of different population units can drift over time, and if you get other species to join your nation (peacefully or forcefully), their values will likely be different. This will make some people unhappy, and if enough people are unhappy for long enough, they will begin to form factions that demand reforms. If unsatisfied for long enough and popular enough with a segment of your populace, these factions can cause trouble up to and including open rebellion.

*Primitive races. Just like there are some species ahead of you, there are others that haven’t even made it to space yet. You can simply research and observe them, or take a more active role in uplifting them. You can even take semi-intelligent species and work some genetic engineering wonders on them to make them new, productive citizens of your empire… or slaves, if you’re not so charitable.

Ultimately, there’s too much to talk about.

I’ve only scratched the surface here, really. Stellaris has a large number of mechanics, many of which you discover as you explore the galaxy and research more technologies. All in all, it’s an interesting simulation/game, interesting for the stories you can make with it, even though ‘winning’ so rarely happens. So if creating your own science fiction stories with a game sounds fun to you, you’ll probably enjoy it, but if you’re in the mood for a new Master of Orion, you’d best look elsewhere.

Secrecy, Vigilance: Almonihah Plays XCOM 2

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ve been a longtime fan of the X-COM games. As in, the originals. The really old ones. Heard of DOS? Yeah, that one. So I was rather excited when the XCOM remake came out… and then rather disappointed to see it was rated M. I generally avoid M-rated games, except for when I have very good reason to believe that it’s not as bad as the rating suggests. And Xenonauts, which looked much closer to the original X-COM, came out at about the same time, so I just played it instead.

All of this meant that I didn’t pay much attention when XCOM 2 came out. But then I noticed it was on sale… and that it wasn’t M rated.

You might say I bought it rather quickly.

A World Secretly Enslaved

XCOM 2's cutscenes contribute to the cinematic feel of the game
XCOM 2’s cutscenes contribute to the cinematic feel of the game

Story-wise, XCOM 2 does something unusual for a sequel–it takes place in a world where you lost the game before it. This did put me at a slight disadvantage for understanding the story, as characters from the original XCOM are referred to fairly frequently, but I didn’t feel like it was much of a problem. But to summarize, the game picks up several years after XCOM was annihilated when the aliens successfully attacked their hidden base. XCOM’s commander (you) was captured when its base fell, depriving the organization of its greatest asset. So when the remnants of XCOM, lead by former Central Officer Bradford, discover an opportunity to rescue their former commander, they jump on it. The mission to rescue the commander serves as a tutorial, and also serves to show just how far XCOM has fallen without your leadership, given that  half of the soldiers manage to get themselves foolishly killed.

Note that getting half your squad killed each mission might not be unusual at first for a rookie Commander.

Once you’ve been rescued, you’re brought back to XCOM’s new base, the Avenger–a massive converted alien transport. You discover that the world has been conquered by the aliens, but that they have convinced most people that it was a benevolent conquest, with the best interests of the world at heart. As proof of their benign intentions, the aliens have shared much of their advanced technology with the Advent–a new world government based on cooperation with the aliens. This technology is used to do such wondrous things as curing most of humanity’s physical ills in Advent-run gene therapy clinics. The world seems to be at peace, save for scattered resistance groups in rural areas.

You often have to choose between mission on the world map.
You often have to choose between missions on the world map.

But sometimes, people disappear from these clinics. XCOM has tracked tens of thousands of these disappearances, which are hushed up by the Advent. The aliens are up to something… but what? Finding out will likely be vital to fighting them… but you may be running out of time.

That’s Nice And All, But How Does It Play?

Just like the original X-COM, XCOM 2 has two main portions–the Geoscape and the tactical battles. The Geoscape portion is your long-term strategy. You have a map of the globe, and access to your base on the Avenger. You have to choose what to research, what missions to pursue, what local resistance cells to contact, and what to build for your soldiers.

Squad sizes are small--you start being able to deploy four soldiers and can get up to six.
Squad sizes are small–you start being able to deploy four soldiers and can get up to six.

And there’s always more to do than you have time for. Missions often come in sets of two or three, from which you can only choose one. Between missions, there are various other goals you can pursue to gain resources. Just like you never have enough time, you never have enough resources, particularly since there are several kinds. So it’s a lot of fun (to me) to have to prioritize and balance the many demands on your time and resources to try to give Earth a fighting chance against the aliens.

One of the biggest things you have to worry about is building up your resistance network. The local resistances groups across the world are weak and disorganized alone, but if you go and build contacts with them, they will provide you with supplies and tips on the aliens’ latest activities, and in some circumstances can give you useful bonuses. Contact with local resistance groups is essential to discovering the aliens’ true purpose and winning the game, but it takes a lot of time and resources.

You end up staring at the inside of your Skyranger a lot, since it serves as a loading screen.
You end up staring at the inside of your Skyranger a lot, since it serves as a loading screen.

The other half of the game is the tactical battles, where you send your soldiers out in your Skyranger (basically a fancy VTOL troopship) to fight the aliens and disrupt whatever their latest plans are. The combat is pretty slick, and heavily dependent on staying in cover–anyone, alien or human, caught out of cover is generally dead.

You start out most fights with the element of surprise. Apparently, in spite of being this jet-powered aircraft that flies low near the battlefield, your Skyranger is surprisingly good at going unnoticed, so the aliens usually don’t know you’re there until you’re spotted or you start shooting. This gives you time to scout things out and start out the battle with an ambush.

Yeah, definitely don't want that thing to have another turn.
Yeah, definitely don’t want that thing to have another turn.

The aliens seem to work in small squads of three or four, each of which patrols around the map independently of the others. So the strategy is usually to wipe out each squad as quickly as possible, preferably without letting them get a shot off back. Of course, things can get really dicey really fast if you miss a critical shot, or if you stumble on two patrols at once. Suffice it to say that I save-scummed more than I care to admit.

Pros and Cons?

As a veteran of the old X-COM games, I appreciate a lot of the changes they’ve made with the new series. They’ve made it a lot quicker and more streamlined–Steam says I beat the game in 28 hours, whereas the original X-COM must have taken at least 60, if not more. I enjoy having different soldier classes, though I wish sometimes I had a bit more control over which class rookies gain when they get their first rank increase. I love how resource management actually matters, unlike in the original where you could quickly get way more money than you could ever spend (Xenonauts caught onto this one, too). Really, I’m just scratching the surface with this review.

Yeah, some alien groups look like this.
Yeah, some alien groups look like this.

Some things I’m more ambivalent on. I understand the reasons for the smaller squad sizes, but I kind of wish you had just a couple more soldiers, though that would require some fairly extensive changes to the combat, or at least the enemy groups and AI. As I mentioned, while I like a lot of the aspects of the class system, I wish you had more control over what class rookies get when they get a bit of training, and I kind of wish they weren’t quite so specialized, or at least that there was a bit more of a generalist class. Explosives, in an old X-COM tradition, continue to be a bit too effective (they can’t miss!), in spite of the many limitations put on them in XCOM 2.

The only real complaint I have with the game is the enemy AI. It’s far too predictable. While facing all of the aliens as once would clearly be overwhelming, having them in these predictable little squads gets a little too familiar by the end of the game. It doesn’t really feel like you’re facing some incredibly dangerous alien threat by the end. It feels like you’re cutting up little pre-package tactical puzzles. Ones you’ve already solved. Fortunately the game ends before this could drag on too long, and they do a fairly good job at introducing new aliens at the right pace to keep things interesting throughout the game, but it still could use some work. I understand there are mods for this, though.

The other thought I have that isn’t really a complaint as much as a feeling of a missed opportunity has to do with the local resistance groups. While you’re supposedly building up this global resistance network over the course of the game, you don’t really feel like anyone’s working with you. It would have been neat to see them make more out of this idea. I’m not sure exactly how it would work, though, so I can’t call that a real complaint.

All in all, however, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with XCOM 2. It had enough of the old X-COM feel to it to please my nostalgia, but with plenty of new concepts to make it a fresh game. If some tense shootouts with aliens, where every shot counts and the fate of the world hangs in the balance, sounds like a fun time to you, then I highly recommend it!

MASSIVE HEAVENSWARD SPOILERS–Thoughts on the latest FFXIV storyline

I just spent a while the last few days immersed in the latest FFXIV patch’s main storyline content, and had to talk about my thoughts on it. In case I didn’t make it clear, this will involve some pretty massive spoilers, so don’t read if you’re not current on the storyline (though I haven’t quite gotten to the end). These are in no particular order, so just bear with me as I ramble.

Minfilia

I like knowing what her final (?) fate is. I’m more pleased that it fits her–and really gives a final meaning to her being the ‘One who Went Before’. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of the Voice of the Mother in the future… and it will probably never be good news.

Vidofnir

I honestly thought they’d killed her. I even commented in chat about how Heavensward has a tendency to kill cool characters (Sorry if anyone didn’t know that). They set up the cutscene to make it look like she died.

This is almost the only screenshot I've taken since 3.0 that doesn't have Hraesvalgr in it.
This is almost the only screenshot I’ve taken since 3.0 that doesn’t have Hraesvalgr in it.

And then they kind of offhand mention in the text after the cutscene that she’d lived. I don’t know why they did it that way, but it felt a bit cheap. At least have her move after Nidhogg leaves! There’s no reason to leave revealing she lived through it to the text afterward, at least in my opinion.

Ishgard

The rapid see-sawing of the people’s feelings on making peace with the dragons felt a bit forced. But I suppose they had to cram it all in now before the set-up for the next expansion begins in earnest. I do hope the issues with the city continue to be a problem after this patch, but I have a feeling our attention will be redirected for a while…

The Dragons

I was glad to see Midgardsormr is still hanging around, though I still feel like they should do more with him. I guess he’s just the mysterious-waiting type. And it might be hard to have him show up more without giving too much of the plot of the next eight expansions away. It’s interesting that he spoke for you to Hraesvalgr… and that Hraesvalgr only seemed to listen to you after his father spoke.

Speaking of Hraesvalgr, he has been the source of many awesome screenshots. Like this one!

20160704070826_1

It’s really awkward that I can’t do the Final Steps of Faith right now… “Sorry Ishgard! My necklace isn’t quite cool enough for dragon-shade slaying! I’ll have to go fight Hraesvalgr a few more times before I’m ready!”

The Future

I noted that the Warrior of Darkness showed up again. I’m surprised we hadn’t seen anything of him recently–I guess they’re just foreshadowing now. I’m not sure if he’ll be in the next couple of patches or if they’re saving him for the next expansion. My vote goes for the second–and possibly even after.

I keep waiting for Ul’Dah to show up again. There’s no way the situation there is long-term stable.

Speaking of the next expansion, they definitely seem to be dropping hints that it will have something to do with Ala Mhigo. It makes sense–they need a new area to set it in, and that’s about all that’s left in Eorzea. That might even bring in an Ul’Dah connection… Whatever the case, I’m interested to see what they come up with after this patch!

Almonihah’s Unordered Set of Favorite Boss Music: FFXIV Calmer Boss Songs

I love a good Orchestral Bombing, but every now and again, I want something a bit calmer. And with its umpteen kazillion songs, FFXIV can easily provide both. So for today’s entry in my unordered set, I want to point out a couple of lovely songs that are much calmer than your usual bombastic boss themes.

First is “Woe that is Madness”, which plays during the second stage of the battle with Bismarck. While it still has a fairly quick tempo to it, the wordless singing and piano are much calmer than you’d think for a mid-sky battle with a flying white whale.

 

Second, “Primogenitor”, a lovely piece that plays during the battle with Midgardsormr’s ghost-thingy.

Again, the combination of wordless song and piano here is just perfect for my tastes.

Honorable mentions go to these songs:

“Thunder Rolls”, the theme for battling Ramuh, starts out calm, but is disqualified in my opinion because of the middle portion, which gets a bit intense for when I’m in a calm mood.

In spite of having my favorite end boss in the game, my favorite theme from Dusk Vigil is “Descent”, the song that plays when you’re *not* fighting a boss. So it’s disqualified for not being a boss theme.

And if I’m going to mention “Descent”, I have to mention “Out of the Labyrinth”, the theme for Syrcus Tower when you’re not in combat, which is probably about my favorite calmer music in the whole game.

So when you’re in the mood for some epic music that’s not quite so pulse-pounding, these are all some good choices. Enjoy!