Watching Fires

Having been defeated by The Witcher’s timesink boss, I was browsing through my game library for something a little snappier and came across Firewatch. And happily a link to an article of ‘great short games’ confirmed it might be an appropriate palate cleanser.

After a little backstory setup, the game plonks you in Shoshone National Park in the US, where you are going to settle into a ‘firewatch’ tower – as a park ranger and lookout for forest fires.

It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous game to look at and listen to. The colour palettes are stunning, ranging from lush greenery to orange-drenched sunsets, and they change and adapt in parallel with your progression through the story. The use of light is spot on, creating a wonderful and enveloping environment that begs for idle wandering and exploration1. I found myself drifting along forest paths and grassy meadows or staring out over a stunning valley, not really paying attention to the story, just enjoying being there.

Firewatch valley
That view…

It’s perhaps not surprising when you learn that the super talented Olly Moss (he of the best Star Wars posters ever) was responsible for the 2D art. The UI and general aesthetic benefit from the involvement of Panic, who develop impeccably designed Mac and iOS apps.

The sound too is beautifully crafted. There’s a real sense of wilderness and peace – or otherwise – as you wander the fields, valleys, and streams. I turned the music right down to let the environmental ambience wash over, though Firewatch is one of those rare games where I found the music to be appropriately used. There are times where a quiet musical score will be introduced at just the right moment, enhancing rather than distracting from the journey.

Firewatch forest

In amongst all this beauty, the storyline could almost be inconsequential, but that too is well delivered and for the most part works – especially if you make sure to dive into the conversation options. There are a few jarring moments, mainly to do with the interruption to the idyll established early on, but the fundamental tale of people dealing with life changing events is built nicely and becomes quite emotionally affecting.

And only 5 hours: recommended.


  1. The beauty of the game world cries out for a free-roaming mode, and apparently such a thing is on the cards

DeWitched

During my inexplicable WoW hiatus1 I’ve been trying The Witcher for the 3rd time. I’ve installed and uninstalled it twice in the past, being frustrated each time by the amount of courier quests which take you from one end of the map to the other and back. That plus badly signposted irreversible decisions led to furious HDD wipes before even getting through the first chapter.

This time I decided to fully cheat and have a thorough walkthrough open while playing, as well as a recommended talent build ready to go as I played. Armed with this knowledge, and being better prepared for what I was getting into, I rerolled Geralt and plunged into the thick of it.

And it was better. Knowing most of the map already mean I could more easily adjust to the constant back and forthing, and the walkthroughs helped when it came to some decision point where I wasn’t sure what was going on (or worried about what was).

I rumbled through Chapter I, completing it this time, and actually enjoying the complexity of the questing and characters. The European heritage of the game shines through, both in the depth of the world building (based as it is on Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels) and the adult nature of the NPCs. There’s plenty of swearing, politics, racial tension, and sex on offer. Bad, women-as-reward ‘achievement’ sex, but at least it acknowledges that sex is a thing. There’s all sorts of sub plots, hints at a rich back story, and complicated cross threaded storytelling. It’s very different to standard Dungeons and Dragons based fantasy gaming, and all the better for it.

Feeling confident, I ventured heartily into Chapter II, which takes you into a city for the first time. The story changes to a murder-mystery of sorts, as you try and eliminate suspects whilst investigating the denizens of Vizima. Again there are plenty of complicated stories and characters, and the distances to be traversed are thankfully shorter (though still with plenty of back and forth).

The super annoying ‘drunk’ mechanic is, well, super annoying (you basically can barely see or move for what feels like 30 real-time minutes – though you can force the game to sleep it off by meditating). And the clever idea of using day/night phases to show/hide different NPCs is fun for a while, but eventually a bit tiresome. Having to meditate until dawn to generate an NPC, then immediately meditate again ’til midnight isn’t particularly thrilling gameplay.

Notwithstanding these tics, I slowly pieced together what was going on, and felt that the game was nearing it’s first story climax. I’d solved the mystery, had a suspect in my targets, and was ready to spring the trap…

… only to find that there was what looks like another 10 hours of gameplay before that was going to happen. 10 hours of trudging through a swamp, more courier quests, more sloowwww collecting of objectives. Slightly incredulously I mentioned this to a friend who recently finished (and is working on Witcher 2) who laughed and confirmed that the accursed swamp sub-chapter is indeed frustrating and time consuming.

Even with all the positives of the story, I couldn’t face committing more time into what was already 15+ hours of play to only be half way through Chapter I. It must be a 70+ hour game at this rate, which is beyond my capacity to complete I fear.

Which is kind of an odd position when I think of my /totalplayed in WoW: months, if not years. But an MMO somehow offers something different, the persistence of your characters, the evolving storylines, and the relationships with other players. The timesinks in The Witcher are pretty obvious and pretty weird, given there’s no financial reward for the developer in making us take longer to do something. MMOs on the other hand have got the timesink hiding down to a fine art. Catch 1000 fish but get a great hat? Why not.

The feeling that I’m wasting time playing single-player games is hard to ignore, even though it doesn’t really make sense – it’s ‘wasting’ far less time than an MMO. That feeling is something I guess I was trying to overcome with this latest endeavour, but while I haven’t deleted it off my HDD yet, I can feel the moment fast approaching.


  1. The irony and horror of posting this on the first night of Legion raiding is not lost on me. 

Stalled

After all the anticipation for Legion, and two weeks after release, I’ve managed to get to level… 100.

Yup, not a single level in two weeks. I’ve hardly logged on, and when I do it’s more to potter around Dalaran fishing and avoid making decisions. Thinking back, this seems to have happened to me for every expansion since WotLK: the xpac drops and I get totally paralysed and barely play. And each time I wish I knew why.

This time around the BM weapon being a gun really threw me. Which is patently ridiculous given transmog. Nevertheless, wanting a bow, I spent time testing a MM spec, but don’t find it that compelling and don’t like the proc-based rotation.

Next I thought maybe I should change class altogether, so I tried my Warrior in Fury spec. That was pretty fun, and the animations are top notch. Nothing like a plate-wearing huge-weapon-wielding Tauren to get the blood boiling. But melee? Healers have enough to worry about without more melee. And he’s always been a tank.

Meanwhile I lost interest in my Paladin and Druid once they boosted to 100. That’s a strange phenomenon too, though I guess it’s explained by the fact max level means you have to start grinding, unlike the constant gratification of levelling. Plus dungeon tanking at max level means a sudden escalation in expectations and low-patience from LFD queuers. I feel like the only way to play a tank is to take it from 1-100 so you know the class backwards. Bampfing to 100 has made me lose touch with the rotation and playstyle. Whoops.

A couple of friends who left back in the WotLK days have also (almost) returned, throwing more confusion into the mix. I’d like to be able to level and group with them, but they play far less frequently so there’s a waiting game there.

One other issue, which I’ve seen others express too, is not wanting to rush through the new content. I’d like to see it all, rather than sprint to 110 and start gearing. But if I want to raid then that’s pretty much the expectation, and fair enough. I guess the solution is to have a raiding main that focuses on just that (rather than on exploring the content), and a stable of alts who can meander their way to the top.

So. We finally get new stuff, and reportedly great new stuff, and instead of playing I’ve been actively avoiding it: experimenting with Project Gorgon, installing and trying The Witcher for the 4th time, playing Overwatch, speculating about Crowfall. Guild chat is alive with links to epic gear and flavour items galore, and I’m standing paralysed in Dalaran clutching my Mastercraft Kalu’ak Fishing Pole.

Totally stalled.

There’s no way I’ll be ready for raiding when it opens in a week. Which is ridiculous given my stated goal of being there at the start for once. I guess I’ll just have to wait for this malaise to pass, and join in if and when I can.