Category Archives: Politics

Dark Souls III: First Impressions, Part Two

 Ed. Note: I started Dark Souls III. I have thoughts about it. Many of them. This is part two of my first impressions. You can read part one here

big and lumbering, just how i like 'em
Killing the tutorial boss on my first try? This game ain’t so hard!

I made my way through the first area with no problem and soon encountered the tutorial boss, Iudex Gundyr. He’s in the middle of the cemetery, kneeling, and he’s not moving as I entered the arena. I immediately knew that he was the first boss, and I walked around the arena, keeping an eye on Iudex. He didn’t move, and there was no fog door, but he was clearly the boss. Full disclosure: I had seen a brief glimpse of him in a video, but I didn’t remember what he looked like. Once I was done exploring the arena, I cautiously approached him. I wasn’t nervous, even though I was fully prepared to get my ass kicked. When I got close to him, a prompt appeared, telling me to pull out the sword next to him. I did, and then, of course, Iudex started moving. It was on, and I was about to test my Fireballs for the first time. I quickly switched to my Pyromancy Glove instead of my Hand Axe* and watched him for a few seconds to get a feel for his pattern. He was slow as are most of the big bosses in Souls games, and he moved pretty deliberately. I did what you’re supposed to do against big, slow bosses in these games–I moved backwards, let him do his set pattern, then attacked. I lobbed Fireballs at him every time he finished his pattern, and I reminded myself to not get greedy. That’s the number one rule in Dark Souls: Don’t. Get. Greedy. It’s hard because FromSoft is really good at making you think that you can end it in one swing when you really cannot. When you see the boss with one or two sliver of health left after you attack, the impulse is to just get in one more swing. However, you’re probably out of stamina at that point, and while you’re mashing on the RB button, the boss is finishing you off.

I kept my cool, and I stuck to the number one rule of not getting greedy. I circled around the arena, making sure to keep my eye on Iudex. I was running out of FP, and I was running out of Estus Flasks, but I was steadily chipping away at Iudex’s health. When I got it down to about a third left, I allowed myself to think that I might get him on my first try. I kept doing what I was doing, and before I knew it, he was dead. I did it! I killed a boss on the first try! Granted, it was the tutorial boss, and granted, pelting him with Fireballs did make the fight much easier, but still. I beat a Dark Souls boss on my first try without ever having seen him before! I mentally patted myself on the back and moved on, feeling pretty pleased with myself. There was a bonfire to be lit once he was vanquished, which hearkens back to Demon’s Souls. I never played it because it’s a PS3 exclusive, but I’ve seen playthroughs of it. I soldiered on, marveling that I hadn’t died yet. I cut through the Hollows who crossed my path, and before I knew it, Firelink Shrine flashed before my eyes. I knew about this before I played the game, but seeing it in all its majesty was a whole different thing. Quick background–Firelink Shrine is the primary bonfire of the original Souls game. I knew that it was going to be in DS III, and I knew it was going to be the hub world, but seeing pictures of it and actually going to it are two vastly different experiences. Firelink Shrine was my home base in Dark Souls, but visually, it wasn’t much different than any other area. I mean, it had its own distinct flavor because that’s the way Miyazaki rolls, but this Firelink Shrine is a set piece, for sure. It’s reminiscent of the Nexus from Demon’s Souls, but on a much grander scale. I walked my character in, savoring the atmosphere. There were NPCs, and, of course, I talked to each one. The Fire Keeper, who is a staple of Souls games, only this one has her eyes bound, much like the Black Maiden from Demon’s Souls did. She gave me a spiel about using the coiled sword to blah, blah, blah and called me the Ashen One. I used the sword I had to light the bonfire, then just stared at it in satisfaction before visiting the other NPCs. The Crestfallen Warrior, though that’s not his name here, but he didn’t have much to say. The Shrine Handmaid, a merchant who reminded me of the hag from the second game–Merchant Hag Melentia (yes, that’s her actual name). She sells a key for 20,000 souls, which made me smile again because every Miyazaki game has this–a shortcut you can buy for 20,000 souls or be a stingy asshole like me and find it the hard way after several frustrating hours.

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Dark Souls III: First Impressions, Part One

Ed. Note: I am going to assume the reader has a base knowledge of the Dark Souls series because I don’t want to repeat what I’ve said before about the games. I have written several posts about the series, some published, some not. You can search my archives if you’re interested in my previous posts. This is the third (and probably final) game in the trilogy*, and I want to get right to the heart of it. In addition, there will be spoilers. I can’t talk about the game without them. If you haven’t played the game yet and don’t want to be spoiled before you do (like me), then I’d suggest you skip this post–as much as it pains me to say it.

whoa, whoa, whoa i'm on fire
Linking the fire in the original Dark Souls

Dark Souls has ruined me for video games. There’s nothing I can play that lives up to it–the original, though I’m in the camp that believes the second game was a good, if not great, game as well. I’ve tried two Souls-like games**, Lords of the Fallen, known as clunky Souls, and DarkMaus, almost a clone rather than a homage, and both wear their Souls inspiration firmly on their sleeves. I tried; I really did. But as I played the wannabes, all I could think was, “I’d rather be playing Dark Souls.” In the end, that’s what I did–put away the other games and re-played Dark Souls and Dark Souls II. I have to confess that the first time I played the original game, I was sick of it by the time I beat it. The legendary Ornstein & Smough boss fight is less than halfway through the game, and it’s really the pinnacle of it. This is probably the fight that has claimed more Souls victims than any other place in the game. Every Souls fan can remember the first time she faced this duo, having beaten a shit-ton of obstacles just to have the privilege of this moment. I played the game well after its release, so I already knew about them, but that didn’t mitigate how awesome it was when I walked through the fog door and their intro cutscene played. “Oh, shit, son! This is the real deal now.” I don’t like to get tips before I meet a boss, so I had no idea how they fought–well, I quickly learned.

I died to these two between sixty and seventy times. No, that’s not a misprint–I died to them a lot. More to the point, for the first forty or fifty deaths, I didn’t feel as if I could beat them. By death sixty, I was mentally defeated. I had been battling these two for a solid week, and they had gotten the best of me every fucking time. I clearly remember the fateful moment when I decided I would give it one last shot and then I would quit the game for good. It was two in the morning, and I had died to them several times earlier in the day. I put on The Pina Colada Song on repeat to keep myself loose, and I walked through the fog door one last time. I did everything differently than I had up until that point, and I finally, finally beat Ornstein & Smough. The jubilation I felt upon seeing Smough disappear into dust has yet to be matched in a video game setting, and I let out a stream of curses in exultation. The rest of the game after that couldn’t match the intensity of that fight,*** and I was more than happy to put the game in the finished column and be done with it. Or so I thought. Then, the sequel came out, and I kept my eye on it. I didn’t buy it when it first came out because I was still recovering from the first one, but I did pick up the complete edition of the sequel with all three DLC when it was on sale for ridiculously cheap. Since I knew I would probably play it at some point, I avoided all spoilers. I did learn, however, that many people were disappointed with the sequel. So much so, FromSoft, the developers, did a remastering of it. That’s the version I played when I finally got around to it, and as I said, it was a good game, more playable in many ways than the original.
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LGBTQ Folks Are Not Your Superheroes

Ed. note: I started this fairly soon after the shooting, but it’s taken me some time to put my thoughts in some kind of order. This is still pretty stream-of-conscious, free-flowing, but I feel the need to get it out there. So, my apologies that it’s not quite as polished as my normal posts. I’m still pretty raw.

“I keep reading about how the queer community is strong and resilient and will not be defeated. This is all true, but we are also human beings who feel a gamut of emotions, ranging from fear to sorrow to rage. Some people have responded to the tragedy in Orlando by seeking out their communities, taking comfort in being with people who know without words what they’re feeling. Others, bunker down, retreating to mourn on their own.

I just want to say there’s no wrong way of processing what’s happened. There’s no wrong way of responding. As Pride festivities occur all around the country, if you need to go to be with your community, go! If you’re afraid and prefer to stay home, that is fine, too!

We do not have to pretend we are not afraid, angry, hurt, grieving, or any other range of emotions. Feel what you feel, and get through this however best you can.

Most of all, take care of yourself. If the news is stressing you out, walk away from social media. Take a bath or read a book or cuddle with a furry friend (or non-furry one).

We are not obligated to be anyone’s superhero.”

I wrote this on Facebook yesterday afternoon, and I wanted to expand upon it in a proper post. By now, you’ve probably all heard about the horrific shooting at an Orlando queer nightclub (Pulse Nightclub) and read several hot takes on it, both from within the community and from without. Two constant themes emerged from all the pieces and the videos. One was that love will overcome hate and the other was that we mustn’t let fear take us over. I want to address both, starting with the latter.

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I am Dragonborn; Hear Me Roar!

Ed. Note: Apparently I didn’t publish this. I thought I had. I wrote in on December 27th, for whatever that’s worth. Enjoy. 

So, yesterday I started a post on Skyrim, intending to explore why I can’t stop playing. Instead, I made a list of all the things that bug me in the game, but I didn’t want to leave it at that. I don’t want to give you the impression that I hate this game or that these flaws make the game unenjoyable in general–no game is perfect. In addition, it’s not as if Skyrim is the only game that does many of the things on the list; it’s just the game I’m playing right now. Many things on the list (such as fetch quests) are video game tropes that I wish didn’t exist. Anyway, it’s obvious that they’re not major hindrances as I continue to play the game; I put in four to five hours last night when I only intended to play one or two. In fact, I honestly thought I only played a couple of hours, so imagine my surprise when I looked at the clock and saw that it was one in the morning. I have never been able to play this game for under two hours at a time, but I don’t know just why that is.

Part of it is the soundtrack. I know that sounds silly, but it’s incredible. It’s so soaring and epic–it makes me feel like I’m the hero of a fantasy novel. Listen to it below and tell me you don’t get chills as it plays*. When the music starts as you’re traipsing around, you know you’re either going to find a Word of Power or about to mix it up with some jerkholes who don’t realize that you’re the chosen one. It’s a call to action most of the time, and it never fails to make me gird my loins in preparation of battle. This is the Lindsey Stirling (and Peter Hollens) on violin LARPing version, which is also pretty damn cool. Seriously, all I want to do when I hear this music is go out and slay some dragons–and I like dragons! I don’t know how Bethesda did it, but they came up with something really special musically.

The game is as epic in feeling as is the music, by the way. I said in yesterday’s post that the story is bog standard–you’re the chosen one, the only one able to save the land from imminent destruction, but Bethesda does it incredibly well. I’m as cynical as they come, but I get swept away as I’m playing with the lore and the grandiosity of the story. Who doesn’t want to be the hero who saves the day and gets the girl?** It’s hard to explain how epic the whole game feels, and yet, there are touches of the mundane, too. Sometimes, I just explore the environment with Barbas (my dog. Well, OK, not my dog, but I’m not finishing his quest until later so I can keep him as a follower) and Morgan, my horse. Or we just chat with people in various towns, picking up quests along the way. There’s little pressure to finish things in any particular order or in a certain time frame, which is exactly as I like it. I hate timed events with a passion, and so far, there aren’t any in Skyrim.


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Walking in a Winter Wonderland

My winter wonderland
I love snow!

It’s the day after Christmas, there’s a blanket of snow on the ground, and it looks so soft and inviting. If it sticks around, I’ll probably do a little nekkid snow dancing later on because that’s a thing I like to do. Preferably at midnight when it’s dark and people are asleep so I don’t have to explain to the cops what I’m doing. I love snow, and I love winter, Christmas notwithstanding. This post is not a paean to winter, however, it’s a post about why I cannot quit Skyrim. Hey, it’s relevant because it’s always snowing in Skyrim. And, since I added a mod that makes snow prettier, the snow really pops. It’s a bit too intense during a snowstorm at night, though. I can barely see where I’m going.

Anyhoo, I’m fifty-plus hours into Skyrim, and I noticed that my interest started flagging around the forty hour mark. The dungeons started to feel a little samey, and I wasn’t quite as eager to fus ro dah as I once was. By the way, I rarely use that Shout because while it’s quite funny to send someone across the environment, it’s a bit tedious to have to chase them down to finish them off. I know that it’s good to use to force enemies off cliffs, but I’m mostly fighting inside, so that’s not really relevant right now. By far, the Shout I use the most is the Storm Call, which as the name implies, brings down a massive storm upon the area. I only have one word of it so far, but it’s already OP. The problem with Shouts, however, as with most of the combat, is that it does damage indiscriminately to friends* and foes alike. I find this one of the most frustrating aspects of the combat, by the way. If you’re fighting with someone, you can’t accidentally hit that person (unless it’s a follower, I think) or that person will turn on you.You can imagine a storm that rains and lightnings in the area around you is not optimal when fighting, say a dragon that is attacking a town. I tried that once, and a guard immediately turned on me after being hit by lightning or something.

I reloaded a previous save right quick, I can tell you that much. It’s funny because when I played The Witcher 3, I didn’t reload a previous save except maybe twice because I wanted to live with the consequences of my actions. In Skyrim, however, I have no qualms about reloading a previous save if I accidentally deal friendly fire or make a decision I’m not fond of. I’m not sure why, except I’m not as invested in the story in Skyrim as I was in The Witcher 3. I think it’s because the story in The Witcher 3 was more realistic in a fashion than is the story in Skyrim. The trials and tribulations of the townsfolk seem more real than those of the townsfolk in Skyrim. My two favorite quests in The Witcher 3 (The Bloody Baron and trying to help someone become the monarch of Skellig) contained some of the best writing in games I’ve ever seen**. Conversely, in Skyrim, the stories are a bit more generic and more video gamey. I don’t feel that most of the decisions I make matter that much, but to be fair, I’ve avoided a few of the heavier decisions just because I don’t want to make them.
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It’s My Party, and I’ll Tear It Apart if I Want to

My team is better than yours.
We’re number one!

I used to be a sports fan, specifically of the Vikings, the Twins, and the Timberwolves*, more tangentially, the Wild!** I’d watch the games and be elated if they won and despondent if they lost. Even so, I’d get over it in a few minutes and go on with my day, so I never was as rabid as fans can be. I rarely went to a game, and I never painted my face in team colors. I didn’t do the wave or chant that we’re number one, and I usually did something else as I watched the game, as is my wont. Over the years, my enthusiasm in sports waned for a variety of reasons, a primary one being the damage that professional sports does to a human body. The news about concussions and the NFL is horrifying, and I can’t in good conscience support a sport that leaves men battered and brain-damaged by the time they retire.

Despite the intro, this post is not about sports–at least not the kind that involves throwing balls around a field.*** This post is about politics and how rooting for a party and sometimes a candidate online feels very similar to rabid fans rooting for their teams. One thing that always amused me about sports fans is how every call against them is bogus and every call for them is legit, but also about goddamn time! It’s not as amusing when it happens in politics because the latter actually matter in the real world, unlike the former. But, just as sports fans can get mired in the minutiae of the rules of their game, so can people who follow politics get hung up on inside bullshit that would leave outsiders scratching their heads.

Side note: I find this to be a problem with the internet in general. It’s too easy to cosset yourself in some niche and then become convinced that you are the norm because everyone around you agrees with you. You could firmly believe that the sun is a puppet of the great overlord, Dragoonish, a Martian with three heads, two noses, and green skin, and you’ll find at least one person who agrees with you on the internet. I’ve ranted about this before, but sometimes, the internet feels like one big echo chamber.
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The Top 10 Ways You’re Playing Dark Souls Wrong

Pretty fly for an Asian gal!
Fashion Souls: My main look

As some of you probably know, I played Dark Souls and beat it, so obviously, I’m an expert on the game. I’ve written several posts about the experience (trawl my archives), some of which are yet to be published. The game is renown for its difficulty, which is well deserved, and I am so stoked for Dark Souls 3, which comes out in April. I haven’t played Dark Souls 2 yet and should, but for some inexplicable reason, they removed the pyromancy class, which is what I rocked throughout the original Dark Souls. I’ve played an hour or two of DS 2, and it just doesn’t have the same feeling to it. I’m going to revisit it again, but not until I finish Skyrim, probably.

I have a love-hate relationship with Dark Souls, but I can’t deny that it’s stuck with me long past the time I finished it. Even though I was just glad to be done with it by the time I beat it, it’s still the game with which I compare every other I play. I’m enjoying the hell out of Skyrim right now, and in part because it reminds me of Dark Souls in some ways. Not in difficulty as the combat is pretty easy so far, but because I’m dual-wielding fire and a battle axe. Or, I was. Now I mix it up, but mostly stick to magick, only switching to actual weapons when I run out of magick.

Anyway, I beat Dark Souls. Let me say that again. I beat Dark Souls. That puts me in an elite class, which means I have the right to tell noobs how to play the game. Hey, I didn’t make the rules, I’m only following them, and according to the Dark Souls forums, if you’ve beaten the game, no one can tell you shit about it. Which, actually, is a perfect metaphor for when people think they’re experts in something in general. Only they know the one true way, and anyone else is full of shit. So, if you have to hate on anything, hate on the fact that this seems to be the accepted protocol that I’ve decided to fully embrace.

I’m joking, obviously, but my desire to write this post was recently reignited as I was watching a YouTuber play Bloodborne. She was cracking on shields and saying how ineffective they are in turtling in Dark Souls. Turtling is when you hold the shield up all the time, and it’s not the best strategy, but it got me through the first half of the game. In fact, it feels weird not to be holding a shield in Skyrim because I always had one in hand in Dark Souls. I eventually learned to keep it down except when I was being directly attacked, but I never gave it up completely, except to beat Super-Biggie, but that’s another post for another day. It’s really with the Biggie & Small fight (Ornstein and Smough) that I started perusing the wikis and realizing that everything I was doing was wrong. Let me count the ways.
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Swimming Upstream

I recently wrote a post about being an older woman who plays video games, and one of the things I mentioned was how I felt indie game developers were caught in a bind between pleasing their core community and creating a game for a broader audience. I feel that sometimes, developers listen too much to their core community to the detriment of their game, and Nuclear Throne was the example that sprung to mind. I have to redefine that thought, though, because the game has been released and there are newbies who are terrible at it, but love it. Why am I so upset about the changes of that game and not as much about the changes The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (Afterbirth) experienced? I think part of the reason is because I played NT throughout Early Access and was in on the relative ground floor. When I first started playing, it was really hard, but I could at least reach and beat the throne. Then they started upping the difficulty to the point of ridiculousness, and my interest waned. I already couldn’t play the game past the first loop, and that’s where they were putting all the neat, cool items. Then, when they buffed Lil’ Hunter to the point where I simply could not kill him, I lost all interest. I think the reason it was so upsetting to me is because besides the fact that I loved that game and played it for hours every day* was because it was moving past me. It’s like a lover who’s broken up with me and has already hooked up with a new partner while I’m like Adele and calling it a hundred times a day. To put it simply, it hurt my feelings, and I stopped playing it.

Why didn’t I feel the same way about BoI:R(A)? Because by the time I started playing it, it was already a set thing. There were no updates or new content until the Afterbirth expansion was released. I already knew going in that I wouldn’t be able to play the Lost (a character who can’t take a single hit), and I was fine with it. I 100%’ed the game except for the Lost shit, and I was fine with never making Real Platinum God. (I’m only Platinum God). When the Afterbirth expansion came out, I started to feel a bit of that, “It’s moving away from me” feeling again. There are two new characters, and on of them is even worse than the Lost (the Keeper). How you unlock him is also bullshitty, although I have become quite adept at Greed Mode (a new mode). I do not like most of the changes to the main game itself, and I think I’m reaching the end of my time with it.

I want to stress that I’m not bitter about these games moving away from me. I’m not the core community, and that’s fine. But, it’s hard, especially with NT, because I feel as if I’m stuck in the middle somehow. I’m not a newbie at it, so I’m not quite as jazzed by the beginning areas. I’ve killed Mad Mike (Big Bandit) hundreds if not thousands of times, and until Lil’ Hunter was buffed, I didn’t have much of a problem with him. So, I’m not getting that dopamine hit of, “Hey, new stuff!” as I’m playing, but since I’m not good enough to loop, I’m also not getting to see the new cool shit, either. It’s starting to be the same with Afterbirth. I’ve done about all I can do with the game, and I’m not going to be able to do the truly elite stuff, which means it’s probably time to move on. I’ll still play Afterbirth once in a while as a vanilla run of it can be very soothing to me, but I’m guessing it’ll stop being a daily thing pretty soon.


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Late to the Skyrim Bandwagon; Now I am All Aboard

Your soul is mine!
Skyrim, Babby’s first solo (mostly) dragon kill

When Skyrim first came out, I knew nothing about it because I was really new into gaming at that time. I was able to play it a bit on Ian’s Xbox, but I didn’t like it because I’d never used a controller up until that point. I found the interface and controls confusing and frustrating, and I made the mistake of trying to kill an annoying brat in the first town. The townspeople did NOT like that, and I had to leave the town forever. Ian explained to me that you can’t kill kids because it gives the game an AO (Adults Only) rating, which is the kiss of death in the video game industry. He thought it was hilarious that I tried to kill the kid, but in my defense, the kid was fucking annoying. Anyway, while I liked the world of the game–I’ve always been more fantasy than scifi–and the trailers drew me in (the link is to the live action trailer, which is incredible. The official trailer is below. I watched the ‘FUS RO DAH’ part of it hundreds of times. The Dragonborn trailer is pretty epic, too. The music in the game is so stirring. Here is Lindsey Stirling playing it on violin while cosplaying), the gameplay on Xbox was a barrier to me actually playing it.

I shrugged and set it aside. There were so many other games to play, why get hung up on one? Admittedly, it was showered with accolades across the board, but still. I also didn’t want to have to kill dragons*, which is a pretty hefty part of the game.Fast-forward five years and countless games later. Imagine me sitting in front of my computer, feeling a bit lost because I’d just put in probably close to a hundred hours into The Witcher 3** and was looking for my next epic open-world adventure. At this point, I’d played Dark Souls (and beaten it. My biggest video game triumph to date.) and The Witcher 3 with controller, so that was no longer an obstacle to me enjoying games I wouldn’t have played before. I tried a few games, but none of them stuck. I stayed obsessed with Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (and then Afterbirth), but I needed an RPG to scratch my wanderlust itch. I looked over my pile of shame and my eye kept landing on Skyrim. I loved the world, and I now had experience with a controller, plus I had faster internet and a newish desktop PC that could run The Witcher 3 with ease, so why the hell not? I had played an hour or so of Oblivion in the meantime, but it was too unwieldy for me to handle. Still, something about Skyrim intrigued me, and I decided to try it again.

I installed Skyrim and created my character. As usual, I chose to be a Dark Elf, female, and a magic caster. I named my character Mulan because I always name my characters Mulan, and I was off and running. I started using keyboard/mouse, then I tried it with controller, and I felt like the former was a better fit for me. Even though I’m more comfortable with a controller these days, every game has a different setup for its buttons, and while keyboard/mouse commands aren’t always the same, you can usually rebind those. By the way, whomever at Bethesda decided that the left hand should be controlled by the Escape key and the systems menu should be mapped to the Mouse 2 (right click) button should be demoted. That is the most counter-intuitive shit in the world, and I quickly changed that to left hand being M1, right hand being M2, and Escape being the systems menu like every other goddamn game in the world. I started on Apprentice (the second easiest mode), but quickly changed to Adept (third easiest) after I killed a dragon without it even touching me. I may bump it up to Expert, but I don’t really want stressful combat as I’m exploring the wintry realms of Skyrim, so I may keep it on Adept.


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