The Slightly Smarter Way to Open Kegs in Gwent

I’ve been enjoying Gwent since the Beta went public. Apart from the $7.55 starter special, I haven’t spent any money on kegs, and I usually only play it once or twice a week. Yet despite my casual approach, I’ve collected the maximum amount of nearly every card. How? These hard-won lessons, which I freely share.

1. Don’t open kegs or spend ore until there’s a Premium Card Weekend

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Every couple of months CD Projekt Red has some kind of special event where for a few days only every keg will contain a Rare (uncommon bronze), Premium (animated) or Epic (silver) card. At first I found it hard to resist the temptation to open my kegs as soon as I got them (especially after a Season End), but unlike many other games, the contents of the kegs are not determined when they’re awarded to you, but when they’re opened. This weekend is the Epic Card Week, meaning every keg contains at least one silver card, and you better believe I just cashed in all my ore to open 50 kegs in a row.

2. Stop playing once you’ve won six rounds per day

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Winning six rounds every day is the most efficient way to earn those sweet, sweet glitter rocks that Shupe loves so much (read: ore to buy kegs). Curiously, CD Projekt Red doesn’t reward people for playing longer; 6 rounds nets 100 ore, but an additional 12 rounds (18 in total) rewards only 75 more. Personally I think that the rewards should exponentially increase the more you win to encourage you to keep playing, but hey, I’m not a dev. The daily rewards reset at 2am CEST (if that means anything to anyone), so unless you’re really enjoying long stretches of the game I’d say stopping at six per day is the most efficient use of your time.

3. Ever wondered what those numbers mean when you’re opening the 5th card in the keg?

To be honest, this is the real reason I’m writing this. I scoured the internet and couldn’t find an answer to this question until I figured it out tonight. Behold.

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Sorry for the blurry picture, but it will suffice for this example.

Here I was choosing between three standard (non-animated) cards.

For numbers without a fraction, that shows how many of that exact copy of the card you have. In this case, I had 3 standard copies of White Frost.
For fractions, the number on top shows how many copies of that exact card you have, and the number on the bottom shows how many copies of that card you have in total. In this example, because the card being offered is non-animated, I have 1 standard copy of Braenn, and 2 copies in total (the inference meaning that I have 1 premium copy of her as well). For Morkvarg, I have 0 standard copies of the card, and 1 in total (meaning I have 1 premium copy already).

If these cards offered were all premium, it would mean I have 3x premium copies of White Frost and x0 standard copies, 1x premium copy of Braenn and 1x standard copy, and 0x premium copies of Morkvarg and 1x standard copy.

Also note that these numbers reflect your current number of cards, and will change once you make a selection. Because I already had standard copies of White Frost and Braenn, I chose Morkvarg. This would have updated the fraction to say x1/x2. (One standard copy of the card, two copies in total.)

4. When choosing between cards, pick the animated cards first!

Unless there’s an incredibly useful standard card you don’t have yet and can’t afford to buy, pick the premium (animated) card every time. Premium cards are WAY more expensive if you’re considering purchase them with scrap. And if you choose to mill them, not only do you get the standard amount of scrap, you also get meteorite powder (which can be used to transmute cards from their standard to animated forms)!

Incidentally if you’re looking at milling premium cards, this is how much meteor powder you’ll get depending on the rarity:
20 for Common (bronze)
50 for Rare (uncommon bronze)
80 for Epic (silver)
120 for Legendary (gold)

5. Don’t mill your cards unless you need the scraps!

Much to my regret, I only just learned this one mere minutes after milling 30 Epic cards.

Unless you need the scraps to build a new deck that you want to play with right away, try not to buy cards in general. If you open enough kegs, you’ll get the cards you want, as well as a hefty pile of duplicates too. Apparently it’s useful to hang onto these, because according to this reddit post the next major update (Homecoming) will completely reset everyone’s collections and refund their full card values. This means if you’ve got three copies of White Frost like I did, hanging onto them will be worth 200 scraps each (rather than 200+50+50 like I’ll get because I just milled my duplicates like the fool of a Took I am).


And that’s it! Hopefully these tips help you make more informed decisions about what cards you want to choose. Now that you know how to open kegs like a pro, I hope you rake in those legendaries!

How to Master Lucioball

Last year I wrote out these Protips for Lucioball, which are kind of aimed at helping people get from gold to diamond. This season, I set my sights even higher and worked my way into Master rank, with my goal for next year to hit GM. Hopefully these tips are gonna help you do great!


 

General tips

-At the start of the match, establish if everyone feels confident playing as a goalkeeper. If anyone says they can’t keep, make sure they switch with someone who can.

-Communicate before you ult. Unless you’re deliberately overwhelming the opposition defence with two simultaneously ults, it’s generally better to use them one at a time.

-When ulting, shooting directly at the goals is rarely successful (especially at the start of a round). Setting up rebounds is much more likely to cause the defenders to overextend and create gaps to shoot through.

-Passing along the ground may sometimes be preferable to passing through the air; for a short distance the ball moves faster as it travels in a straight line, even if it has more resistance over a long distance. Therefore, short passes along the ground may disorient the defenders and allow you to get around them.

-When the ball comes to you and there’s no one else in striking distance, take your time. Walk the ball up the field – it’s surprisingly easy to dribble. When your opponents get impatient and try and take the ball off you, boop it over the heads or punch it into a wall and skate right on past them.

-If you and an opponent are racing towards a ball and they’re slightly ahead of you, booping it at the wall (instead of towards their goal) is not a bad way to neutralise their advantage, especially if you were further back and then you suddenly turn around and are in the lead.

-It’s possible to set up goals that are impossible to block, the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. One time when I was striking, the ball came to me while I was at the peak of my jump besides the opposite goal and I saw the goalie waiting to block me. In that moment if the goalie had jumped I would have shot it past him to the left. If he had predicted this unlikely shot and moved left, I would have taken the easier shot to the right. These moments are rare, because you have to be far enough away that the goalie can’t take the ball of you, but close enough so that they don’t have time to respond at the last moment.

-The best goal I ever scored was from suddenly redirecting the ball without letting it lose any momentum. My teammate shot for the goals at the right jump pad and the goalie moved to block. Jumping and meeting the ball side on, I shot it into the left corner and it moved so quickly it was impossible to meet.

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Striker tips

-Once you have established good ball skills and you can place it exactly where you want it to, the game takes on another level. It’s no longer about making the best shot (the most direct line to the middle of the target) but about making a shot that is least likely to get blocked. This means anticipating whether the defender will move high or low to block you, but more often it means not shooting straight at the goals but shooting at the wall and catching it (or letting your well-placed teammate catch it).

-A simple combination of a punch (onto the wall) and boop into the goals seems to work better than boop onto the wall and then punch into the goals, but it’ll depend on your distancing and the placement of the defenders.

-Learn to rely on your teammates a lot. A single striker is less likely to score a goal than two strikers who understand each other’s intentions and help set up assists and rebounds.

-Learn to cross the ball (and if you’re striking, assume your teammate will pass it to you and position yourself to receive the cross). That is to say, pass it across the field (rather than towards the goal) to get around defenders.

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Goalie tips

-Always take note of where your teammates are, and where the opposing strikers are. Make sure to set up useful passes to your teammates, but if the opposition’s is closing in it is preferable to pass to an empty corner/space than try and pass it to your teammate.

-In a desperate situation, sometimes you can’t just shoot down the field to clear the ball because there will be two opposing strikers closing off the angle and waiting to return the shot. In these instances, passing up the wall, or even along the wall may roll it past them.

-Furthermore, if the ball is slowly rolling towards you, don’t just shoot it up the field for the sake of getting it away from your goals. If you pass it straight to the opposing goalie or defender, you’ve wasted your boop and may not have time to wait for it before another shot is coming.

-As the goalkeeper, a good option for clearing the ball while setting up for a shot is shoot the ball directly to the opposite wall on either side of the goal so that it rebounds to a waiting teammate. However, this has a higher chance of being repelled by the opposing goalkeeper.

-Another excellent place to pass the ball is to aim for the wall next to the jump pad, so that the ball will slow down and let your striker control the rebound.

-Best of all, shoot into the air above the jump pad so that a skilled striker can spike it over the waiting defenders or put it in the farthest corner.

-There may come moments when your boop is on cooldown and the split-second timing of the punch may be too perilous to use. In moments like these, blocking the ball with your body may be preferable because the ball will stop quite dead if it hits you, enabling you to set up a shot to clear it out.

-You know how last year I said if the ball’s not going to get into your goals, don’t worry about blocking it? Yeah forget that. At advanced levels, waiting until the last second to try and boop the ball out of there gets increasingly dangerous. Sometimes it’s important to leave the goal and get to the ball early so that you can clear it the hell out of there before any of the opposing strikers close in. If the strikers are very good, blocking it once won’t be enough: they’ll catch the rebound, and your boop will be on cooldown as you try and block the next shot.

-This doesn’t necessarily mean skating towards a defender and trying to jam their shot. While it’s true that the closer you get to them the narrower their angle of shooting becomes, a clever striker won’t shoot directly for the goals but will just pop it over or around you and then follow up with the rebound. Or worse, they’ll pass it back or across the field to a waiting teammate who will shoot it past you. In other words if there’s no one near the ball feel free to get it, but if someone’s coming at you try and react at the last second so you don’t overextend.

 


After several hundred games, I can summarise all of these tips thus: try and get the ball into their goal, and try and stop them from getting it into yours. At the end of the day, no amount of advice will make up for the intuition and rapid response that comes from sheer repetition. Play enough games and you’ll automatically calculate timing, distancing and positioning, and more importantly develop appropriate responses based on where you, the ball and the other players are. There’s no easy formula for that, and it’s the simplicity that makes Lucioball a work of genius.

Good luck, have fun, and don’t forget to endorse your team.

My Thoughts on Call of Duty: Black Ops III

With CoD:BO3 being free this month for PS Plus members, I thought I’d give it a shot (if you’ll excuse the pun). I’ve only ever tried to play one other CoD game, and it was Modern Warfare 2. I put it down after about two hours because I was so fed up with being bombarded with the message that America’s military is the greatest in the world, and if anyone ever says otherwise we’ll bomb them into oblivion. Even the loading screens were blueprints of weapons of mass destruction, proudly boasting how many lives could be taken if they wanted to.

I recall Good Game said CoD:III had a great single-player campaign, and after so many hours of crawling through vents in Deus Ex (both Human Revolution and Mankind Divided), I wanted to play something that was the very opposite of stealth. And CoD handled wonderfully – the control were tight, the gunfights were challenging but not unfair (at least on the harder difficulty mode I chose) and the options for different weapon loadouts allowed for a variety of playstyles.

Yet I put it down again after making my way barely halfway through the story because I found the characters disikable and the plot unrealistic. Everyone in the military seems to be an angry white dude (except for my character, who I was happy to see I could make female). More upsetting though was the idea that my player had both her arms ripped off and a leg broken, and hours later her commanders were making her replay terrorist missions in a kind of virtual reality. She hadn’t even had life-saving surgery yet when they were putting her right back into traumatically violent missions, no explanations or options. The game didn’t talk about PTSD in a particularly helpful way, stating that it’s just very vivid memories that it can be fixed with the right medication.

I can’t help but compare this to the excellent Deus Ex. In Human Revolution, Jensen suffers traumatic injuries, and in order to save his life he is given high-end augmentations. He feels conflicted about the surgery, and six months into his recovery (getting used to his new limbs and processing the trauma he went through), he is reluctantly called back to duty to stop a terrorist act. In Mankind Divided, he meets an augmented lady who has developed a second personality to protect her mind from the trauma of her reality as a persecuted aug. Jensen never questions or belittles her for doing her best to stay sane in an insane world, and I appreciated that so much. CoD by comparison… It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Tight as the gameplay was, once I found my favourite gun and ability I used them in every mission and the lack of variety really started to wear on me. It was more fun when I branched out to multiplayer and had a teammate to fight alongside with, but 90% of the way through the mission he stopped moving (either had to go afk or was affected by some kind of bug), and I couldn’t complete the mission without him. It was a bad way to finish, and I didn’t mind uninstalling it rather than replaying the mission. I ended up googling the plot, which turned out to be surprisingly sophisticated, but I don’t think it was worth several hours of slogging through the campaign. Not a terrible game, but not a great one either. I don’t think I’ll bother with any other CoD’s.

Replaying Katawa Shoujo: Lilly’s Path

Replaying Katawa Shoujo for the second time proved to be a much bigger deal than I anticipated. It had been three and a half years since I first encountered the visual novel and spent six months completing all of the paths and story arcs. Because I lost my save file (and all those precious screenshots I took) when my hard drive corrupted, I only had a vague memory of the major story points, and it was a joy to rediscover the magic of the small moments.

The reason I got back into KS was because I mentioned it to a friend, and then linked him to the first blog I wrote about my experiences. Since writing those initial articles in 2014 (you can read them under the tag Katawa Shoujo), the posts have been read by hundreds, maybe thousands of people from around the world.

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Stats for the first half of 2018

I was curious to see if my blog was somehow one of the most popular KS blogs on the internet, so I googled it started reading a bunch of other blogs. I discovered a facebook group that I had never thought to look for, and have found it to be one of the greatest sources of joy in my social media experience. There’s this special connection I have with so many strangers around the world, and it’s been wonderful finding that KS has meant as much (or more) to others as it has to me. The group is a celebration of many of the best parts of KS, and I’ve been so grateful to encounter so much amazing fanart and to see so many people posting for Hanako’s birthday. Plus, discussions around the soundtrack have got me listening to (and playing piano arrangements of) the score again. It’s such a passionate and largely wholesome community, and I’m blown away (and a little intimidated) by the dedication of the artists, musicians, authors and appreciators who give so freely of themselves.

Anyway, I downloaded the game again and worked my way through Lilly’s path like I said I would three years ago. Let me tell you, the feels hit me harder than I was ready for. I cried so much. Like, full body-wracking sobs. After the second heart attack, I literally said (between choking on tears), “Lilly, Lilly, it’s so fucking good to see you again.” What a rollercoaster.

Having the benefit of experience, I found it really interesting to replay the game with a deeper understanding of everyone’s character and backstory. For instance, I used to think of Lilly and Shizune as opposites. Whereas Lilly was thoughtful, measured and poised, Shizune was all spontaneity and passion. And yet, they turned out to be more similar than I had realised; they’re both thoughtful, considerate and caring, just that they had different ways of showing it.

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I learned a lot about Hanako through this playthrough as well. When she learned that Hisao and Lilly were a couple, she made the conscientious decision to give them more space and privacy so that their relationship could develop. As a result, she started studying harder and thinking of her future. When Naomi wanted help in the newspaper club, she slowly took on more and more responsibility and found a whole new group of friends. When she decided to go travelling over the holidays, Naomi’s company was welcome but not essential. It was by breaking away from Lilly that she could really start to find her own feet. Honestly, Hanako has taught me so about strength, and I’m reminded that protecting others from their feelings rarely serves to honour who they are as people.

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As I played, I was incredibly aware of the fragility of Hisao’s budding relationship, and the myriad of ways it could (and would) go horribly wrong if I wasn’t careful. I flinched at every conflict, painfully aware that I was one or two choices away from a “bad ending” at any moment. I sometimes found it hard to relax, even when things were going well, because I knew it wouldn’t last.

And that’s kind of the point isn’t it? One of the themes explored in Lilly’s path is that all things are transient, and that nothing lasts. At times Hisao contemplates the view that “life isn’t a fairy tale” and that everything good comes to an end. But other times he explores the alternative, that worries can be set aside while he treasures the present moment. There are so many moments in the game where he and Lilly decide not to think about the future and to just enjoy each other’s company while they can.

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And Lilly really was the best part of Hisao’s life. Playing it through a second time, I noted the instances in which Lilly took Hisao under her wing, and saw him as someone who needed care and support. And I also noticed the many times in which Hisao took care of her and Hanako. I came to realise that being around and offering help when needed was very different from taking the initiative and going out of his way to be there for Lilly. (The only example that springs to mind is when he bought her the music box, and in a way it’s what saved their relationship.) Hisao realised this, almost too late on the night Lilly was leaving. And so perhaps for the first time, Hisao didn’t just sit back and let Lilly continue with her plans. He made a resolution: that he couldn’t let her go without at least trying to keep her.

The last time I played, I couldn’t understand how Hisao could justify asking Lilly to give up her family and choose to stay with him in Japan. I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I’ve come to realise a few things.

  1. Hisao saw that there was a part of her that didn’t want to go. She wanted to be with Hisao, but she was so used to putting others first that she couldn’t bring herself to ask for what would have made her truly happy. By putting his foot down Hisao wasn’t forcing her to change her mind; he was offering her the future she wouldn’t allow herself to consider.
  2. He reminded her of the promise he had made to her in the wheatfields: to always be there for her, in her joy and in her sadness, and to see her true smile. He was asking for Lilly to believe in their future together, to consider it to be worth just as much as a future with her family.
  3. Hisao well knew how much it hurt to lose everything and everyone. He saw Lilly about to go through the same thing, and he did everything he could to stop it.
  4. He also knew how much Lilly feared loss, and how it lead her to hold herself apart from everyone through her shield of perfect composure. In the end, it was his mad dash to the airport that made Lilly realise how much she loved him, and how much she was willing to give up in order to be with him.

It still gives me chills to think about. The more I consider it, the more I feel like it was a mature exploration of some really heavy stuff. The ending is heartbreaking, and beautiful, and perfect.

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Still, I have to say the experience of replaying Katawa Shoujo was surprisingly difficult for me. Truth be told, this version of Hisao reminded me uncomfortably of myself in high school, and as much as I loved the story, it hit a little too close to home for me. Those years of my life were formative but not pleasant, and I found it really hard to spend so much time with a character who reminded me of a time I would rather have left forgotten. Honestly, it’s taken me a few days to write this because I’ve been working through some old thoughts and feelings (read: I’ve been an emotional wreck). All up, I’m really glad I replayed the game and got to fall in love with Lilly all over again, but I’ve decided to take a break from stories set in high school, and might come back to KS in the future.

If you’d like to read my other blogs on KS written after my first playthroughs, you can find them here:

Lilly
Emi
Rin
Shizune
Hanako

My thoughts on Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Coming fresh off the back of the excellent Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I just finished Mankind Divided and it is exactly what I hoped it would be: better in every way.

Let me say again that I have always hated stealth games. I cannot stand the idea of staying invisible to patrolling enemies. Even worse is being detected, being chased, and then finding somewhere to hide while guards slowly search for me. This is literally the stuff of nightmares for me, and rather than try and sneak through a building undetected, my preference has always been to kill everyone in open combat so that there’s no one left to detect me.

In spite of my loathing for this kind of genre, it didn’t taken me long to once again feel like a walking badass. A few hours into the game, I was given a dozen praxis points to use as I saw fit, I immediately maxed out my hacking skills, acquired some new lungs, accessed my super jump, and overcharged my arms. In one incredibly satisfying fell swoop, the whole of the city suddenly opened before me. While it’s true that Prague 2029 didn’t have as much personality as Detroit or Hengsha, it was thrilling that almost from the start I could unlock every pathway and find every secret.

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And what a treasure trove of secrets there were! I’m not talking about weapon caches or hidden safes (though don’t get me wrong, I plundered the hell out of those too). I’m talking people’s secrets. The lives behind closed doors. I felt like an omniscient phantom, letting myself into people’s homes and uncovering every hidden facet of their lives.

It was heartbreaking to learn of the artist who, because she was augmented, wasn’t being recognised for her talent and who was trying to gather enough money to smuggle her and her partner out of Prague. I discovered a drug dealer’s apartment whose wild parties apparently eventuated in the creation of a double-decker couch. I felt a touch of sadness at the college student whose parents had been suddenly detained for donating to a pro-aug charity, and who had to drop out of school to care for his ten-year-old sister in exchange for access to his inheritance. Everything about the condo screamed that he wasn’t ready for guardianship, and that he wished that she could be adopted by the foster family who wanted to be her parents.

Perhaps most interesting was the apartment of a gentleman who seemed to go out of his way to project the image that all he did in his spare time was go rock climbing and cycling. Despite the luxury and militaristic neatness, it was clear that the apartment had barely been lived in. Digging a little deeper, the home was the epitome of loneliness: only one of the six fancy chairs at the dining table was being used, and it was to drink a bottle of wine while reading custody claims and divorce papers from his ex-husband (same-sex representation, what a surprise to find it in a game like this!). Further snooping indicated that he was an Australian war veteran who was still part of a tight-knit squad of friends that were helping one of their group get through PTSD after “the Incident”. Additionally, in a hidden room (activated by punching bag!) he still kept his sniper rifle, and was apparently not entirely retired… All this without ever speaking to the character. Honestly, the environmental design team deserve to win piles of award and recognition for their genius and hard work.

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Subtle photos on the wall painted a vivid picture of happier times.

 

Combing over every inch of the game allowed me to learn a great deal about major characters. For instance, in one mission I was to abduct a particular individual for questioning. Through watching his broadcasts, reading emails and finding pocket secretaries, I learned that he was struggling with alcoholism and the burden of maintaining a public image. When I finally confronted him, this allowed me a greater degree of compassion as I decided how to handle the situation.

My thoroughness did have its drawbacks though. The game dropped a handful of hints about some major plot developments, and because I found them all, I saw the “twists” coming a mile away. At one point I found myself screaming “DON’T DRINK THE CHAMPAIGN” while Jensen was chatting cluelessly to the people who could have stopped a mass-poisoning.

One thing that must be mentioned is how well the developers explored the issues of discrimination, oppression and genocide. I can’t claim to be an expert on these subjects, but I’ve been thinking more about privilege lately and I really appreciate the complex and nuanced view that the devs took when writing about a futuristic mechanical apartheid. The game looked at both overt discrimination, like having a designated train carriage for augmented citizens, and subvert discrimination like  a casual line in an email that essentially said “Are you interested in dating? Don’t worry, I’m not augmented”.

 

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Tensions were high between augmented and “natural” citizens.

From the trailer, I was worried the game would force me into a binary: aug or natural, us vs them. Fortunately, the game did a remarkable job of making me feel like all choices were equally viable, and that many different beliefs were tenable for their own reasons. I deeply appreciated Rucker’s courageous and non-violent message in the face of terror and abuse, and for the most part I avoided conflict, believing the long-term solution lay in changing the system rather than killing any particular individuals. For the most part, the occupants of Prague were just doing their jobs, and I went to great lengths to avoid killing any of them as I did whatever needed to be done.

Having said that, there were precisely three occasions where I felt the need to use lethal methods. After spending so many hours carefully sneaking around, incapacitating foes non-lethally, it was a strange and euphoric experience to know that the guy I put down wouldn’t get up again and shoot me in the back if his buddy woke him up. It became easier and easier to kill after I did it the first time, and I found myself tempted to assassinate anyone who I saw as an obstacle, or as a “bad person”. It was terrifying to notice I had become the totalitarian regime I was trying to undermine, judge, jury and executioner all in one. I appreciate how seriously the game took murder, and how there were so many opportunities to avoid it if I was patient, bold and clever.

As with most RPG’s, I got a little carried away with the roleplaying, too. Whenever I felt like I might be heading into a dangerous mission requiring extra firepower, I would go back to my apartment to alter my inventory. The first thing I would do was to log onto my computer and reset the locks to keep out unwanted visitors. When I felt secure in my isolation, I would slide back the wall panel to reveal my weapon lockers. I would consider carefully what kind of gear I would need, and would neatly lay out all of my weapons and ammunition so that they were easily accessible. To avoid unlocking the door on my way out, I would leave through a window and then have to hack my way back in later. Obviously this had no impact on any of the characters in-game, but I didn’t do it for them, did I?

 

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This was one of my favourite parts of the game, and I make no apologies for that.

 

Overall, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a superb game! Despite my initial distaste of the genre, I found that when I became sufficiently skilled at the stealth mechanic I no longer feared discovery but instead revelled in being a deadly spectre. With streamlined abilities, a fresh set of augments, new items, mechanics and characters, Mankind Divided was in improvement on the previous game in every way. I hope the end up making the third game of the trilogy, because you better believe I’d play the hell out of that.

My thoughts on Deus Ex: Human Revolution

I first encountered Deus Ex: Human Revolution when it came out in 2011 and I saw a friend playing it. He wasn’t doing anything flashy, just walking around a building. But what struck me was that, due to the augmentations in Jensen’s eyes, he could see the infrared light that security cameras were emitting and could therefore avoid their line of sight. He opened the augmentation menu and scrolled through the various upgrades that he could eventually access, and I vividly remember how the camera highlighted each part of Jensen’s body and showed how the upgrade would affect his physiology. I was excited to learn I could avoid the stealth and just go straight up combat, so I bought the game and set it on my shelf.

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Seven years later I finally played it, and I have to say it’s aged delightfully. I’m not normally one for stealth games – I’d much rather kill anything resembling an enemy and then explore the world in my own sweet time rather than hiding and being hunted. Thus it was with some bitterness that I learned the promised “action route” was heavily disadvantaged – any time I had to fight more than two people at a time I would be gunned down almost immediately. This changed as Jensen got access to better weapons and armour, but those early levels were brutally hard, and it was out of reluctant necessity that I started avoiding combat and started considering stealth. It was several hours before I came to enjoy the process of creeping past guards, avoiding line of sight, crawling through air vents and discovering which actions would draw attention and which would not. It was halfway through the game before I finally began to feel comfortable in a room full of NPC’s without worrying I’d accidentally agro them and suddenly find myself surrounded by enemies.

In fact, I became so competent that I didn’t use most of the tools the game offered me. I frequently chose harder paths because I wanted more opportunities to test my skills rather than take the easiest route. To this end I didn’t employ most of the augmentations I unlocked (and by the end of the game I had accessed almost all of them), nor used most of the weapons. Nevertheless, there was a compelling sense of progression that made me feel that Jensen was getting better and better at moving through the world, either aggressively or invisibly.

In one memorable section, I emerged on a rooftop and stumbled into a guard who I didn’t realise was there. Suddenly he was calling for backup and there were a dozen hostiles on the roofs and in the streets all trying to get a lock on me. I set up ambush, manoeuvring behind some boxes in a bottle-necked corridor and knocking out out anyone walked through the door. I moved their bodies so that they were just barely in sight, attracting the attention of more guards until one by one I had taken them all out. To deal with the guards on the street who were still looking for me, I leaned over the balcony and used my long-range tranquilliser rifle to knock out most of the others, adjusting the height to anticipate the arc of the darts. Finally there was only one guard left, standing in a sheltered area that was out of reach of my rifle. Using the upgrade I’d just purchased, I leapt off the rooftop, cloak billowing as I landed heavily (but unhurt) behind him. He had just enough time to turn and raise his gun before I knocked him unconscious. Apart from a few startled civilians, I was now free to explore the area and looted the hell out of it.

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And there was so much loot. I probably spent hours in total, running back and forth from the unconscious bodies of my foes to my arms dealer in order to sell them to him one at a time. The whole endeavour was satisfying but ultimately pointless – I finished the game with two or three times more money than I could have actually spent in the course of the story. The real loot of the game were the stories: the emails, the notes, the secrets hidden in drawers and under beds. They brought life to the one-dimensional NPC’s who had, until that point, merely existed as obstacles or enemies as Jensen forged a path right through their world. By taking the time to find and read the exchanges, to listen to the idle conversations of civilians, it gave the sense that everyone had their own story even if they barely intersected with my own.

But my favourite characters by far were named Hengsha and Detroit. You see, it’s the cities that are the main characters in the game: dark, mysterious, and a little dangerous. From the pulsing night clubs to the seedy underworld, there is a heartbeat to the landscape, and the streets and back alleys are its veins. The futuristic world of 2027 was full of neon lights, hidden depths, and secrets in plain sight if you just thought to look for them. I couldn’t help but feel insignificant when I walked through those awesome cities, who were bigger and greater than the sum of their inhabitants.

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Deus Ex: Human Revolution is not the sort of game I would have expected to enjoy. However once I got adequately skilled at the stealth mechanics and could make informed choices about how I wanted to play, the game had its own exhilarating pleasure. Not just the thrill of a perfectly planned take-down or a cleverly executed slip, but the wonder of discovery as each turn revealed new secrets and new stories to uncover. The game is far from perfect, and yet for all its flaws I can’t help but love it. I hope the next game, Mankind Divided, is just as good! I certainly won’t be waiting another seven years before trying it.

 

EDIT: You can read my thoughts on Mankind Divided here!

My thoughts on Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery

When I first saw that Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery was being developed, I was cautiously optimistic. A fantasy role-playing game where I could live out my dream of attending Hogwarts? Casting spells, brewing potions, finding hidden corridors and pathways? I was thrilled enough to cast expecto patronum.

And my expecto-tions weren’t let down! When I finally got my hand on the game, it wasn’t quite as hands-on as I was expecting, but it was still pretty good! I couldn’t wander through Hogwarts at my leisure, just tap the rooms I wanted him to visit. I could only cast spells when in class, or occasionally when a duel was forced on me. And there seemed to be a large focus on making mischief (and straight up endangering other students) rather than listening to teachers and acting responsibly. But the thrill of the game exceeded my hopes when I got to rub shoulders with the likes of Severus Snape and Minerva McGonagall, who looked upon me proudly as I aspired to be a diligent student in spite of the rules the game forced me to break. Plus the Mystery alluded to in the game, the promised secrets of the castle and the somewhat sinister plot that threatened all of Hogwarts… How delightful!

One of the things I was most looking forward to was duelling, casting spells under pressure and seeing what spells my opponent was going for in order to find an appropriate counter on the fly (ala Voldemort and Dumbledore in the Order of the Phoenix). What the duelling actually turned out to be was a disappointing rock-paper-scissors game, where any time there was a draw the party with lower health would recover some of it. This gave me a 1/3 chance of actually progressing the battle. Nevertheless, it was actually my favourite part of the game, because I never lost a duel and rarely lost any health. In my mind, my character deflected and countered spell after spell, sometimes getting through a fight without ever losing a roll. It felt wonderful to completely undermine someone’s defences and thwart their attacks, even if the only skill involved guessing what style they were going for.

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I had an uncanny knack for anticipating what stance my opponent would choose.

As with all time-gated games, I got really into it. I felt the game progressed simultaneously too fast and too slow – for a while I kind of liked the grind evoking the sense of getting through a whole year of classes. I played diligently every day, getting a few house points here and completing the odd lesson there whenever my energy bar refilled. And yet the game constantly stopped me from playing while I waited for my energy to recharge, which really halted the fun I was having (though it certainly didn’t stop me from coming back every hour and a half). The game wasn’t especially generous with the premium currency either, so to skip a three hour wait or completely refill the stamina bar would cost most of my hard-won rewards.

Ultimately though what began to frustrate me was the lack of variety. In the first year I only had access to three classes, which is not how Hogwarts works. I gained access to one or two more areas each year, but most of the school was frustratingly locked away in plain sight. In the end, the novelty of attending the same lessons over and over again (casting the same spells and brewing the same potions) wore off, and the game revealed itself to be a pretty shallow grind-fest. And the grind wasn’t particularly meaningful – spending a dozen precious points of energy looking for an ingredient? Slipping a note to Rowan? Practicing for the umpteenth time to summon my broom by saying “Up”? Where was the magic in any of this banality?

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There were a lot of “moments” that took large amounts of stamina, but seemed not to have any relevance with actually learning magic.

Once I realised that the game would force me to play those classes over and over again until I had enough stars to unlock the next potion/spell, I began to feel resentful of all the pointless busywork. The secrets I’d found that gave me energy when I clicked on them became routine rather than thrilling, and the conversations I had with friends were all broken records that just required slightly higher stats over time. It was taking forever to level up, and the only real use for all the coins I was collecting was to buy some pretty ugly clothes (compared to the standard school robes).

I decided I’d play until I could at least see Hogsmeade, that magical wonderland where dreams came true, but when I finally got there I was disappointed. It was just a single street with two stores I could visit but not interact with (the rest being locked behind needing to complete more of the story). I even saw that they copy and pasted the same generic character, and he appeared on both ends of the street simultaneously.

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It’s the guy with the chops! He (or his identical twin in the same clothes) appears twice in the same stretch of road.

It was not long into my game that I decided to look up what J. K. Rowling thought of the app. From what I can tell, she has declined to make any comments and the game is “inspired” but not “endorsed” by her. Plus it’s full of plot holes, making references to things that haven’t happened yet or contradicting things that happen in the book. I was willing to forgive the fact that Merula tried to murder me with Devil’s Snare, but I will not stand by while the characters use Wingardiam Leviosa to levitate people when the spell only affects objects.

Overall, Hogwarts Mystery was kind of fun while the pacing was faster and there was lots to see and do. By third-year, repeating the same trite classes (and doing the same absurdly commonplace activities) just to get enough stars to progress the story was so mundane I couldn’t stand it. It was fun to roam the hallowed halls for a while, but not enough to keep me around. Maybe I’ll come back to it if they significantly rework the gameplay in the future, because the story at least seemed compelling. For now though, I’m happy just reading the wiki page.