Post-Apocalyptic Badassery in a Mid-Pandemic Wasteland

Whenever I’ve need to get away from the dark melancholy of a world overrun by a deadly viral pandemic I’ve been retreating to a virtual world overturned by a stark nuclear winter.

My Playstation Plus subscription came coupled with a collection of PS4 games that while they don’t showcase the capabilities of my new top-of-the-line, next-gen gaming system are games I never got around to playing much or at all.

Fallout 4 was on both lists, the list of games I hadn’t played much of and the list of games that came along free with the annual subscription I bought from Sony.

And when I logged in to check my trophies and gaming profile I was a little surprised to see that not only hadn’t I earned many of the achievement that go along with this RPG but also that my time-in-game had passed 30 hours over the last couple weeks. Those two data points didn’t exactly jibe.

Fallout 4 is a role playing game (for those unfamiliar with the franchise.) This means that you start off as a character in the game where character is all that really matters. “Character” doesn’t necessarily mean upstanding character, but rather that the point of the game is to develop and enhance the characteristics of your in-game character to advance through a story and accomplish various tasks and goals.

The main big-picture goal is that of finding you abducted son, who was stolen away under shady circumstances while you were locked in a hibernation chamber waiting out two hundred years of post-nuclear fallout.

The small-picture tasks are generally killing undead radiation creatures while you hunt the wasteland for bigger guns and loot to satiate your endless ammunition needs while you make sketchy friendships with settlers by building them crappy shacks to live in and then filling it with mouldering furniture.

Yes, I’ve actually spent more than 30 hours of my life doing this… during a pandemic. Uplifting, huh?

The trickiest part of the new console though is finding games that balance playability and fun on one side with watcher-enjoyment on the other. The PS5 is hooked up to our main television in a common space where schedules usually converge on three people looking to make use of that screen at the same time.

In other words, if I want to play a game (even though it’s the television I bought — welcome to fatherhood!) I get less pushback if its a game that’s entertaining to watch as a spectator.

I’m not one hundred percent sure Fallout 4 is that game but as I progress deeper and deeper I’m finding myself reading up on the lore and in-game plot threads so that I can narrate the backstory to what’s happening to anyone else in the room who finds themselves stuck watching me V.A.T.S. a raider with my nuclear powered shotgun for the two-thousandth time.

Getting trenched in on an RPG is the point of an RPG. Finding immersion in the story, and seeking to drive the plot forward through the progressive adversity of increasingly more difficult is what game makers aim for, I think. I enjoy RPGs because throughout my life, every couple of years, I find myself entrenched in one and loving the time I invest in it.

Some that stand out in my memory are Ultima VII, Final Fantasy VII & IX, Chrono Cross, Skyrim & Breath of the Wild. I’m getting to a point where I could easily see myself adding Fallout 4 to that list… even as it brings a different level of twisted gloom to an already gloomy era.

Avoiding the Cold in a Virtual Snow-scape

I have started to realize I’m not a normal gamer. Whatever normal is anyhow.

Here’s the thing.

First, I bought a brand new PS5 (luck of the restock lottery!) and though I’ve had it for about a week, I’ve used it almost exclusively for PS4 games so far.

Then, I bought a PlayStation Plus subscription which came with a few great monthly free-to-play games, and a large collection of classic PS4 titles. Instead the game I’ve been playing the most was a title I bought on the side called Steep.

Not to mention that it’s been 20 degrees below zero outside all weekend and I’m inside on the couch playing a video game about winter sports.

Not normal.

I’ve logged roughly ten hours on Steep over the last week.

Snowboarding games and I have a long history. When I bought my original PlayStation in the ’90s, I added in two games to take home with me that day: Crash Bandicoot and Cool Boarders 2.

After picking up a PS2 half a decade later, I quickly added SSX3 to my game collection and then upgraded that with a PS3 and SSX a few years later. (Don’t ask me about the game numbering conventions here!)

It was only fitting, I suppose, that the first game I have really dug into on the PS5 (or my overkill PS4 if you’re a console purist) turned out to be a winter sports title.

The game is beautiful.

I slink through reviews and discussion boards online and the loudest, most caps-locked voices seem to be yelling and screaming about resolutions and framerates and OMG how dare this game NOT be 120 FPS in 8K, I WANT my MONEYZ baCK!!

Old gamer alert: I’m still sitting here with my HD screen, so… 1080p … I think. And if you told me it was 60fps I’d probably … dunno … shrug?

Having gone through the eras, remembering when my little teenage mind was gobsmacked blown away at Super Mario Land on my friend’s Gameboy (I mean, I went home and tried to literally draw a picture of how amazing it was for my little brother to comprehend how cool Mario… in your HANDS could be!) … I digress. I think my point was just that I’m easily impressed. And blah blah something about gameplay and fun and enjoying myself as I slide endlessly down a beautiful mountain in the virtual snow.

The old virtual snowboarding legs returned pretty quick. The folks who developed this title must have played some of the same classics that I had over the years. It took me merely half an hour before I was flipping and sliding and jumping and barely even crashing at all through the powder. I also quickly learned about the joys of ragdoll physics.

Of course there are a million new features that I’ve barely dabbled in.

I mean, I put a classy grunge outfit on my dude.

I tried a bunch of the other sports, like gliding … and jet crashing your head into a cliff something or another sport.

I unlocked a sled, yes a toboggan on a ski hill, and spent a whole evening telling my wife the same bad joke about bringing a sled on our next ski trip. (She said no, BTW.)

And I’ve ignored a whole bunch of multiplayer online people who seem to want to “group together” for some reason I can’t fathom in a sport where I can neither keep track of where I am virtually, and tend to lose people (sometimes deliberately) on the real mountain when I do this kind of thing in real life.

So it goes that as I wrap up my first week with this new PS5 console, I’ve been hiding away from the crazy-cold temperatures on the other side of the window. I’m avoiding the winter (avoiding the pandemic, avoiding the fact I can’t see anyone in real life, avoiding the lack of travel and fun and other winter joys of a normal year) by enjoying a virtual winter scape.

Chilling, as we used to say. See what I did there?

Some Kind of Witcher-ful

Rating: 6 out of 10.

The hype around The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt reminded me of a time back in about late-2011 when I first bought and played Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. That is to say, everyone everywhere seemed to be playing the latest, greatest RPG. I too had jumped on the bandwagon, taken an arrow to the knee, and spent some serious attention on that wide world of dragons and swordplay adventure. I’ve easily sunk over two hundred hours into that game across multiple campaigns on at least three platforms.

The biggest difference was that a few years later, in 2015, when Witcher 3 was released for sale I was busily preoccupied by a few other side interests that had me neglecting most video games.

I let the whole Witcher 3 craze slide past me: Never bought it. Never played it.

The advantage therein, of course, is that four or five years later when this award winning title appeared for a song in an online discount sale I found myself enticed into picking up a licence to a new-to-me game with incredible ratings and amazing community insight.

…if I could ever find the time required to play yet another massive RPG.

Thus The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been sitting in my virtual Steam library for a long while now. And being a fan of massive RPG games it has been teasing me to actually download and install it. Oh, and maybe even play it, too.

Thanks to my speedy internet bandwidth, the 32 GB install only took about an hour this morning. I killed the time with a five mile run around the neighbourhood, a shower, some lunch, and then a backyard play with the dog. After that, I settled into my office chair, in the dim glow of my PC monitor, and booted the game… five and a half years after everyone else.

As the game opens, I was treated to a five minute cut-scene with plenty-o-exciting action. Oh, and then a fade to some soft-core animated action. (Um?) And then a twenty minute combat tutorial which turned out to be a character dream. And then I rode a horse for about fifteen minutes… and onto the actual game.

What I would call playing Witcher 3 commenced about forty-five minutes after loading the software.

I suppose since I started off comparing this game to Skyrim at the beginning, I can continue. In Skyrim I seem to recall opening my virtual eyes as a prisoner being transported to my execution, watching a scant few minutes of story play out, then running for my life from a dragon attack… and into the game.

Playing commenced about ten minutes after first loading the software.

I offered to give my neglected game titles each about 90 minutes of my time. But for Witcher 3 so far half of that I was pretty much just watching a short film play out as I opened doors and followed the fighting instructions on screen.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that my introduction to the game today resulted in only about 45 minutes of actual gameplay which amounted to a half dozen combat encounters, a lot of horse riding, a few lengthy conversations, and the kicking off of the first (of many?) fetch quests… and then a random monster killed me and I figured that was a good place to stop.

Does that position me to offer a fair assessment of a five year old game that has recieved otherwise stellar reviews around the web? It’s a beautiful game and I can sense both the depth of story and action behind it all. And the thing is… I’m not a game reviewer, but I am a gamer …in my forties… who doesn’t often have two hundred spare hours to devote to complex, slow-burn gaming titles these days. Economy of time and playtime and… gah, get on with it! I’m very tempted to leave it installed and come back to it again, and I very likely will, but I’m also just as apt to open up one of my old Skyrim campaigns and revisit a world I don’t need to watch any more cut scenes to understand.

Neglected Games Project

I buy too many video games.

To be precise, I thrift purchase a lot of video games when they show up on really good sales or in humble bundles or in clearance bins.

A small number of my games I do buy at full price, things I really care about or titles that I’ve been tracking through their release and am excited to play, but my honest self would tell you that I am a bit of a digital hoarder and I’ve built a fairly extensive library of titles that looked interesting or piqued my curiosity, yet have never once been loaded on my system to try out.

Some day, I tell myself, I’ll have time to play them and then rather than pay full price I’ll realize I already own them and

It’s been a kooky year and while most people have been struck by an abundance of free time as they stay home and isolate, I’ve been working more than ever. I do one of those jobs that has a key role to play in a piece of the public pandemic response, but is neither front-line nor considerably public. I just need to put in long, often 10 hour days, to get my little part done, and then also the other parts of my job that have nothing to do with living through a pandemic. In other words, I’ve had a lot less free time than many. And what little free time I have had has recently gone to writing a novel and caring for a puppy.

But I’ve decided to take a couple weeks off from work. We’re not actually going anywhere for the holidays, and given the lockdown, this ultimately means little more than sitting in a different chair, maybe some longer mid-day walks, and logging into a different computer each day.

Such as, say, logging into a computer with access to a couple hundred new or newish-to-me video games that may make for an interesting “not work” project for two weeks of deep-winter, pandemic lockdown, can’t go anywhere for Christmas fun.

My plan, and as always this is subject to mood and other obligations, is to load a previously unplayed or barely-played video game title each day, spend at least ninety minutes exploring it, playing it, enjoying it, and then posting a short update here. There are no strict rules other than me trying to find something in my library of games that I’ve spent less than ninety minutes on in the past, install it, play it, and accumulate some play time at least as long as a cheezy holiday film.

Stay tuned.

I’ll warm you up and tell you that my first title, and the title that inspired this, is playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for the first time. Bought for a song on sale. Sitting there teasing me… never even installed. Let’s fix that.