What Joe Has Been Playing #1
May 14, 2018

Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves (PS2)
Having revisited the first two titles, I decided it was finally time to unwrap the over-decade-old copy of Sly 3 I own and put it to use. And so far I'm on the fence...

I like that the game continues the cinematic style of the previous title, but in some ways it feels like it's putting too much emphasis on that. For instance, the game now has multiple dialogue options during cutscenes, which has thus far proven to be an unnecessary feature. The first interaction I had was with a boss from the previous game while he was in jail. He asked me to bust him out, and regardless of what I suggested, he shot me down. We finally settled on the last option, which means no matter what you say, there's only one right answer in this exchange. What's the point of even having multiple dialogue choices if only one pans out? Hopefully, further chats with supporting characters won't be so flimsy.

The segments I've played so far are nothing special, but then again I did only just begin the campaign, and I'm sure it'll pick up before long. I've read a lot of good stuff about Sly 3, so I'm sure I'll eventually dig it.

I guess I'm just not used to the changes. Mainly, clue bottles are completely gone from this title. The first game had 20-40 such bottles per level, while Sly 2 offered 30 per hub. Sly 3, however, completely eschews them, so now there seems to be no reason to explore the hubs. Whether or not they'll be worthwhile will depend on how each of the missions play out.

Tales of Graces f (PS3)
I love the Tales games, and that allowed me to be patient with this one. It starts off with a handful of cliches, but progresses its story in some unexpected ways. For instance, you begin the game by finding a mysterious, otherworldly girl who doesn't grasp most human concepts. Other cliches come into play from there: swordsman prodigy protagonist, childhood friend who has an obvious crush our hero (though he somehow doesn't realize it), a younger brother/brother-like character who could your the protagonist's rival in the future, etc.

It also doesn't help that a good portion of the first chapter consists of wandering around until you trigger a cutscene.

However, as chapter one concludes, the story throws a few twists your way that assures you that you aren't just playing Tales of Eternia with a few extra plot devices.

I also feared that they watered down the combat system, because chapter 1 doesn't allow you to use special skills (Artes), but an event in chapter 2 unlocks them. Currently, the game is starting to pick up and I'm really getting into it, but I wouldn't have dragged my feet as much if the initial chapter had been more entertaining.

Dragon Age II (PS3)
I've read the criticisms for this title, and yet I still decided to play it. I like that they switched up the combat system, so you don't feel like you're just playing the first game over again. This one eschews the Baldur's Gate-style battles in favor of more direct control, transforming it into more of a hack 'n slash than a real-time RPG.

That having been said, I'm otherwise on the fence with this title. Something about it doesn't seem right. It doesn't have the feeling of grandeur or adventure the first game featured, and that's a damn shame. Its early phases feel kind of watered down: towns aren't as complete and just feel like studio scenery, quests lack the level of importance and the plot is just plodding along so far. I hope this game picks up, and that I'm not going to suffer through it for nothing.

Avencast: Rise of the Mage (PC)
I've technically already played this one just about to its fullest extent, having pumped 17 hours into it. I neared the finish line when my previous computer crapped out on me. Sadly, I wasn't able to save and restore my progress on my new system, because the file became corrupt during the crash. I tried using back up files, only to realize Avencast saves everything under a character profile, and that entire profile was corrupt. I only now realize that I could've used Steam's backup feature to work around this, but I didn't think of it then.

Avencast isn't an amazing RPG by any stretch, but it is entertaining. It's somewhat Diablo-style, plus it borrows from Harry Potter. You play a mage nearing adulthood who lives at a magical academy. The school becomes overrun by demons, and it's up to you to stop them. Pretty much the whole campaign transpires within the academy, wherein you either bludgeon monsters with your staff or blast them with spells or generic magical bullets. As with any Diablo-like, combat is easy to learn, and the game is fast-paced and mostly well built. Were it not for that, I would probably just cross this off my backlog and get on with my life.

Ether One (PC)
I'm not one for walking simulators, but this one presents some quality content. It not only has a gripping story and a neat concept--you play a "restorer," someone who enters the memories of people with dementia in an attempt to cure them of it--but also sports mostly terrific puzzles. I was able to play the game to completion, though I didn't go for the full 100%. The ending leaves you feeling a bit melancholy, you see, and I'm not ready just yet to jump back in and repair the last of the projectors.

Grand Theft Auto V (PS4)
I dragged my feet on this game. Truly, I didn't want to play it because its predecessor felt bloated and over-ambitious. This one continues the brand's story-centered campaign, but offers much better side missions and distractions than its older brother. It takes the best parts of GTA IV and combines them with the PS2-era title's diversions to create a very fun and addictive open world game with a good story.

I still prefer Saints Row, though...

A Fistful of Gun (PC)
I tried my hand at this overhead shooter, and I just couldn't stomach more than a handful of minutes. It oozes arcade charm, but it's painfully generic. Plus, a fair number of its selectable characters are awful. You have some who can scotch whole groups of men with a single shot, but others who only fire a single arrow at a time and are lucky to kill one foe per launch. This is also a "roguelite" title, meaning that the troubles you encounter are randomized, but you more or less see the same stuff repeatedly. There are a few surprises, but not enough to earn my constant attention.

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