Monthly Archives: November 2015

Fanboy Game Review #1 – Fallout 4

[Note: I do not consider myself a game critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion. Oh, and there are some mild SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

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War never changes, but the UI certainly does.

Fallout 4 is big news in the media. It’s all over YouTube, news outlets, and TV. There’s a promotional Nuka Cola Quantum soda available at Target (if you lined up at 8:00 am on the day the game came out). Conan O’Brien even donned a Vault-Tec jumpsuit and Pip-Boy to give his take on the game. While reviews overall are mixed, with passionate viewpoints on both sides of the fence, I decided to put my two cents in about this blockbuster video game release.

So, here we go…

First Impressions:  Bethesda has a pretty good track record. Let’s see…Oblivion, Fallout 3, and FREAKIN’ SKYRIM! That last one is in all caps for a reason. SKYRIM is one of my favorite games of all time. So, the developers are going next generation with the Fallout series, one of the most beloved IPs in modern gaming. Okay, Bethesda, you have my attention. Let’s see what you’ve got.

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You are S.P.E.C.I.A.L!

What I Liked:

  • Since the original Legend of Zelda, I have always loved open-map games. Don’t put on me on rails, just turn me loose and let me decide where I want to go, and the order in which I tackle objectives. Fallout 4 gives me this freedom. Even when I’m not sure what to do next, I appreciate the ability to set my own course and blaze my own path.
  • Junk is useful. Pretty much anything you pick up can help you do something in the game. I have a suit of power armor optimized for carrying capacity so I can ‘clean up’ areas after I’ve cleared them of baddies. Nary a coffee cup or battered clipboard escapes my clutching grasp.
  • VOICE ACTING. Bethesda is known for their incredible voice talents and Fallout 4 does not disappoint. The male/female protagonist talent is top-shelf all the way, and the supporting cast is diverse and rarely if ever repeats. And Lynda Carter is in it as a character you can flirt with. By all that is right and holy in this world, my dreams have finally come true!
  • The story. I know that this is a problem for some folks, but I find it engaging. Now that I’m a parent in real life, the very thought of someone taking my kids away is a strong motivator to me, and very personal. Give me powered armor and I would hunt the Institute to hell and back if that’s what it took.
  • Fallout 4 avails itself of the rich lore built up and established in previous titles. I love reading through the journal entries and letters. Every location has a story and creates something of a snapshot of how things were as the bombs fells. I love unraveling the mysteries and finding those hidden pre-war caches of goodies. Love it, love it.
  • Powered Armor. I AM IRON MAN. *da-duh-da-duh-da-duh-da-duh-dun-dun-DUN-dun*.
  • The Perk System. I know is this a sticking point for some, but I enjoy it. Deciding upon which perk to get in SKYRIM was one my favorite parts of leveling up. This is just taken one step further. I didn’t mind the skill point system from Fallout 3 and New Vegas, but I like the perks system quite a bit better. Nothing is wasted, and it’s all useful.
  • The crafting system. Wow…the permutations of this are staggering. Weapons, armor, powered armor, settlements…it’s adult, post-apocalyptic Minecraft. I was never this much of a kid in a candy store even when I was, in fact, a kid in a candy store.
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Why is there never enough Aluminum? Or Adhesive? Gaaaah!

What I Didn’t Like:

  • For a game with such a robust crafting system, there is virtually no tutorial for how to use it effectively. And for things like establishing trade routes, I had to look that up. It’s not intuitive at all. Or when you retain mods for weapons that can be used again.
  • Settlement crafting is seems like it is really meant for building entirely new buildings with almost no consideration for making repairs to existing structures. Try putting a door in a door frame that you didn’t build, or patch a roof that isn’t flat. Nope.
  • I’m in powered armored but sheets of particle board shoddily nailed across a door or window are utterly impenetrable. Can I build my settlement defenses out of that stuff?
  • I have an Agility of 9, but I can’t climb. At all. I have to go waaay out of my way, jumping on shipping containers like Super Mario to get to higher ground or onto a rooftop. Really?
  • The lack of non-violent/diplomatic solutions to problems. If there are raiders attacking a nearby settlement, your only real option is to hunt them down and kill them all. I get that this might be the case for the worst of the lot, but for all of them? Without exception?
  • The Dialogue Wheel. I know, this is has been beaten to death in other reviews, but there is often a dissonance between what I think I’m going to say and what actually comes out of my character’s mouth. It feels like this greatly cuts down on the role-playing aspect of this RPG because you can’t carefully consider your words ahead of time.
  • The facial animations are behind the curve. As cool as Piper is as a character (and I love her), hers seems worst of all. I realize the open world means that the graphics can’t be as photorealistic as Rise of the Tomb Raider, but here the facial animations seem only marginally better than SKYRIM.
  • The type on the screen is sometimes hard to read. Every time I find a comic book, I immediately have to swivel it around to the back so I can actually read the benefit it gives me. There are also a few times when trading with an NPC will cover up key parts of the trading interface.
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Maybe, but I bet the Spartans would have welcomed powered armor. Just sayin’.

Conclusions:  I love this game, and don’t kid yourself – it is highly addictive. Be prepared to lose sleep and make apologies to friends and family. It’s immersive with a sense of place that is wonderful, terrifying, and rich. The attention to detail is off-the-chain nuts. Seriously. This isn’t a ‘once a year’ title that you’ll play through in a week or two and then put down for months or years. No, this is a game, much like SKYRIM, that you’ll be playing for years to come. Considering the breadth of content in the base game alone, Fallout 4 is utterly worth the price of admission.  You’ve done it again, Bethesda. My thanks.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.

 

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Of Funerals and Game of Thrones T-shirts

[Note: My blog isn’t usually a look into the goings on in my personal life, but this post is. Just a word of fair warning.]

T-shirts are one of my ‘things.’ I recently started posting photos to my Instagram and Facebook page of the T-shirts I wear when writing on Sundays. The characters, musicians, places, and pop-culture references they have on them all mean something to me – deeply. I take great care when adding shirts to my writing wardrobe, and I take care of the ones that do make it so that they will last for years. Take this one for instance:

I Like Lindsey

I wore this shirt when I finished one novel and again when I started another. That’s not me wearing it, however. http://www.shopbenchmark.com/lindseystirling/t-shirts/lindsey-stirling-i-like-lindsey-shirt.html

Here, I want to talk about two of these shirts in particular. Both of them are from Game of Thrones. (No, I’m not a shill for HBO merch, but that won’t stop me from posting links below. You watch.) They have a story, sadly connected, and have proven a (figurative) suit of armor for my emotions during hard times. I’ll explain, but know that this is where things get personal.

Set the Wayback Machine to Labor Day Weekend of 2012. I made the trip to the mountains of Arkansas with my family to see my grandmother for her birthday on September 1st. There was no celebration this year, however. A few months before, she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and it was understood that she could go at any time. She was bed-ridden and on quite a bit of medication. She was far thinner than that last time I saw her, but she was lucid, and recognized me immediately.

The family found itself in that grey Sargasso Sea of waiting. We couldn’t do much more for her other than make her comfortable and tell her that she was loved. I spent the weekend with my family, but on Labor Day Monday, I had to head back to Texas. Believe me when I say that I didn’t want to; I wanted to be there until the very end. Just contemplating leaving made me feel like a galaxy-sized tool. But with kids and an office job, I had little choice but to return.

Life doesn’t always give us the opportunity to say good-bye to our loved ones, but this time it did. I knew I would be a wreck before, during, and afterward. You had better believe that I had plenty of my special shirts with me on this trip. For this last visit, I had my House Baratheon shirt on under my button-up. What can I say? It gave me strength.

She wasn’t so lucent on our last meeting, but smiled when she saw me. We visited, I told her how much I loved her (in great detail), and sooner than I would have imagined, it was time to go. She waved at me as I left, and that was that. She died six days later.

Fast forward to the beginning of October in 2015. My uncle, my grandmother’s only son, died in a motorcycle accident. This time I didn’t get to say good-bye, and his death was an utter sucker-punch out of the blue. One minute, I’m watching Little Einsteins with my son and the next my aunt is telling me what happened over the phone. It felt so unreal and, even after the memorial service, it still does.

Three years might seem like a long time, but when the family gathered for the funeral, it felt like only yesterday since we had all come together for my grandmother. I wore a suit to service. It’s rare to see me in one since I dress casually most of the time (one of the perks of being a writer). This time, my undershirt was the direwolf of House Stark.

To some, it might seem really dorky, perhaps even disrespectful, to wear what is a obviously a fanboy shirt to something as solemn as a funeral. But at that moment it acted as a sort of emotional duct tape, keeping me together when I might have otherwise gone to pieces.

You see, I love those books – the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I can discuss them for hours on end, picking them apart, speculating on various bits of lore and how the series will end. I thank George R.R. Martin for writing them.  I’m fairly sure he didn’t set out to write those books in the hopes that they would one day prove a much-needed bulwark for a man he’s never met, but he managed to succeed in that (admittedly inside) goal anyway. Thanks, George.

GRRM.

Take your time, George. I’ll wait as long as it takes.

Life is short, so hold onto to those things that you love, whether it’s toys, books, video games, T-shirts, or whatever. Give the people you love a hug. Make a memory. We all say good-bye to each other in the end, so cherish the time you have on this Earth.

I know that may all sound like a Hallmark commercial, but that’s what you get for reading the blog of a hopeless sentimentalist.

Thanks for stopping by.