Elden Ring

From Software has released its newest, brutally-difficult game, Elden Ring, and it does quite a few things differently from the previous game's in From Software's "Souls-Borne" series. Most notably, Elden Ring has a full open world. That is, an "open world" by the definition that most players would use. Personally, I always thought that Dark Souls and Bloodborne counted as "open worlds" in all the ways that matter, but that's using a very generous personal definition. In any case, this legit open world in Elden Ring does dramatically change the way that Elden Ring is designed, balanced, and paced, and it should also change the way that players approach the game compared to previous titles.

I want to do the same thing that I did with Bloodborne and Sekiro, and provide my own personal tips and tricks for Elden Ring, from the perspective of an experienced, but not elite, player. These tips are geared towards new players coming into Elden Ring fresh, and for other experienced Souls-Borne players who may be having a hard time coming to grips with the new design of the game.

The open world dramatically changes how players should approach the early hours of Elden Ring.

In any case, I hope the following tips help you to get a leg up against the trademark challenge of From Software's Elden Ring.

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Demon's Souls (PS5) - title

I was finally able to get a Play Station 5 for Christmas. It wasn't easy. I was on a Sony waiting list for months before finally getting the email invite to purchase one. When I booted it up on Christmas Day, I tested it out by playing a few hours of the included Astro's Playroom, while I waited for my first batch of digitally-purchased games to download and install. One of the first of those games was Bluepoint's remake of Demon's Souls.

The original Demon's Souls for PS3 is one of my favorite games ever, so my expectations for the remake were quite high. I was certain that a recreation as faithful as Bluepoint's Shadow of the Colossus remake would be good, but I also felt that Demon's Souls offered a lot more opportunity for improvement compared to the much simpler Shadow of the Colossus.

Technical improvements streamline play

Obviously, the visuals are dramatically improved. There's cloth physics, weather and particle effects, really good lighting, and all the other "next-gen" bells and whistles that one would expect. But the new hardware doesn't only allow visual improvements; it also allows for some technical improvements that do dramatically improve the gameplay experience. Perhaps the best of these technical improvements is the faster load times given by the use of a solid state hard drive.

Dying isn't as much of an inconvenience thanks to faster load times.

Quicker load times make a world of difference. Obviously, it's helpful to only have to wait a few seconds before getting back into the action after dying, rather than having to wait a whole minute to try again. But the quick loading also helps with other activities in game, such as farming. Bluepoint added the ability to warp from an archstone to any other unlocked archstone in the same world, including the one you are standing at. This allows the player to reset the current level, which can be very helpful for farming certain enemies for experience or item drops, and the loading only takes a few seconds. Barely more than sitting at a bonfire in Dark Souls!

The quick load times are also useful for things like reloading the game to refresh crystal lizards, or to trade items with Sparkly the Crow.

The smoother, 60 frames per second framerate also helps make the action feel much smoother, which might hopefully spare players from having to suffer as many deaths from mis-timing dodges and parries or from mashing a button too many times and queuing up the wrong action. The game looks and feels faster and smoother, while still maintaining the slow, weighty, and methodical pace of play of the original.

I'm less impressed by the PvP netcode. I never had problems with lag or other network issues in the original Demon's Souls on the PS3. But I rarely invaded and wasn't very good at PvP, so I might not have survived invasions long enough to realize if the original netcode was laggy or unresponsive.

I've experienced a lot of lag and other network issues during PvP.

In this remake, I'm trying to make more of a point of playing the PvP more. Not only am I engaging in more invasions with the Black Eye Stone, but I'm also reviving to human to play through most levels in the hopes of encountering some invasions from other players. I'm not being invaded a whole lot, so I'm assuming that PvP isn't very active in the remake -- or maybe being on Pacific time means all the invaders are already asleep by the time I'm able to play the game later at night. But when I do have PvP encounters, I notice a lot more lag and questionable parries and backstabs than I remember seeing in the original game.

I guess the improvement in console hardware did not lead to a smoother online play experience?

Consumables can be consumed in bulk.

The single player, however, plays very smoothly, and there are other technical refinements as well. Inventory management is simplified. Multiple consumables (such as hard soul items) can be consumed at once. Excess items can be sent directly to Stockpile Thomas from within any level. The inventory screen will show how many of a given item are in your inventory and also how many are currently stored in the Nexus. And perhaps best of all, both blacksmiths can use upgrade stones and boss souls that are still in storage! No need to grab all my upgrade stones from Stockpile Thomas before warping to Stonefang to upgrade my weapons. Though, the blacksmiths can only upgrade weapons that are in your inventory, so I do have to be sure I take those with me.

This reduces a lot of the tedium of the old inventory system, while still maintaining an absolute carry capacity for the character. I don't have to warp back to the Nexus to offload items if I become over-encumbered (and then reset the whole damn level). But I also am limited in what I can bring with me into a level. I can't carry every weapon, armor, and consumable I own into every gameplay situation, as is the case in Dark Souls. I have to prepare in advance and commit to a specific loadout, making do with what I have or what I can find within the level. This maintains the scrappier, more adventurous feel of the original game.

I am pleased, and a little surprised, that Bluepoint retained the controversial item burden mechanic.

I know that the item burden was a very unpopular feature in the original Demon's Souls, but I actually rather liked how it set such strict limits on what supplies and equipment can be carried into a level. The item burden was the one feature from the original game that I thought was the most likely to get cut in any potential remake, and I'm glad that Bluepoint found a compromise that makes the system less obnoxious, but which preserves the fundamental contribution that item burden brings to Demon's Souls' design.

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Sid Meier's Civilization

The announcement trailer for Sid Meier's Civilization VI made me very excited. Not just because there was a new iteration of my favorite PC game franchise, but also because the message of the trailer made me excited for the possibility that Civilization VI would take a much more humanist and globalist approach to its gameplay and victory conditions.

The Civilization games have always had a very optimistic tone, treating human development as being constantly progressing forward. Growing your civilization and building more things is almost always better. For the most part, Civilization treats human history as a constant forward march towards a better, more prosperous tomorrow.

This is despite the games including mechanics for "Dark Ages", climate change, nuclear fallout, occasionally pandemics and plagues, and so forth. Regardless of these mechanics, the civilizations of the game never regress, unless it's by the sword or gun of a conquering civilization, in which case, that other civilization is glorified. Climate change or nuclear winter can run rampant and render the surface of the Earth borderline uninhabitable for modern human life, but a civilization can still accumulate enough science or tourism or faith or diplomatic votes to win one of the various victories, or they can be the sole surviving civilization, presiding over a barren wasteland. But it's still a win.

Civilization is a game about cutthroat nationalism.

Despite vague gestures towards diplomatic cooperation and solving global crises, Civilization is, at its core, a game of competitive, cutthroat, zero-sum nationalism. This design ethos is probably the result of Civilization's inspirations coming from competitive board games like Avalon Hill's Civilization and Risk. "Our country is better than your country," and the whole game is an exercise in proving that. Further, one civilization's success must come at the expense of every other civilization's failure, even if those civilizations are friends or allies. One civ wins; all others lose. Every decision made is done to move your civilization closer towards one of those victory conditions, and every diplomatic agreement, trade deal, or alliance that you strike is only a temporary means to that end.

So what did Civ VI's trailer do to change my expectations for that game?

This essay is also available in video format on YouTube.

The trailer

Well, first, it's important to know how previous trailers and intro cinematics for Civilization games had introduced their respective games. Usually, they emphasized a single nation or leader doing great things. Winning wars, building wonders, developing advanced technologies, and so forth. And they usually ask the viewer: "How will you run your civilization?" and "Will your civilization stand the test of time?"

The trailer for Civilization VI takes a different approach. Let's take a look:

Civilization VI's announcement trailer celebrates the collective achievements of all of humanity.
"We are the explorers, the inventors, the architects of change, the builders of a better tomorrow.
We strive, we dream, we inspire, always towards something greater.
All the odds we defy, the risks we take, the challenges we endure, only make us stronger.
There's no end to our imagination, and no limit to civilization.
"
   - Sean Bean narrating Civilization VI announcement trailer

Notice the language that is used. The Civ VI trailer uses plural language such as "we", "us", and "out". "We are the builders of a better tomorrow.". "the challenges we endure, only make us stronger." "There is no end to out imagination, and no limit to civilization.". And so forth. The trailer for Civilization VI isn't a celebration of one civilization or leader rising above all others and being crowned the "greates" civilization; it's about the collective achievement of all of humanity -- not a civilization, but all human civilization!

It's a beautifully humanistic expression that emphasizes plurality and doesn't elevate any one culture or race or nation above any other. It celebrates the collective technological advancements, engineering, art, and struggles of all of humanity, without implying that any one nation or group has the best stuff. It emphasizes that we can overcome challenges by working together, and come out the other side stronger for it. It implies that when we cooperate to build something or solve a problem, the result will be better than what any individual entity can accomplish.

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Legend Bowl - title

While I was neck-deep in the 2020 editions of Axis Football and Maximum Football, another small indie football game slipped under my radar. Legend Bowl was in early-access on Steam for 2 years before its 1.0 release in fall of 2021. Its retro, pixel-art graphics caused me to initially dismiss it as just another nostalgia arcade game -- another remake or knock-off of Techmo Bowl.

But YouTube comments, tweets, and a discount during a Steam sale have finally convinced me to check it out. After all, Legend Bowl was awarded "best alternative sport game of 2021" by Operation Sports, so it must be doing something right!

In those 2 years since going into early access, Legend Bowl has resisted the urge to just release an unfinished game and re-sell annual incremental upgrades to gamers, the way that almost every other sports game does -- whether it's licensed or not. Instead, Super Pixel Games is confident enough in the game that it will continue to sell based on quality and word-of-mouth. Its creator seems more than happy to treat Legend Bowl as a living product, providing regular feature updates, bug fixes, and so forth without feeling the need to charge us full-price, again, for them. The game has been successful so far, and I'm sure there will, eventually, be a sequel. But in the meantime, I am thrilled that I do not have to re-review a nearly-identical football game each fall.

I initially dismissed Legend Bowl as just another Techmo Bowl clone.

Pixel-perfect simulation?

Don't let the pixel-art fool you. Legend Bowl is not just a casual arcade football game. It can be enjoyed that way, for sure. It's simple enough to pick up and play. Nevertheless, Legend Bowl is grounded in sound, fundamental football concepts.

Perhaps the first thing that gamers will notice is the incredibly slow pace of play. The on-field action is slow, allowing the user plenty of time to react to read the opponent and react to what is going on, whether I'm running the ball, passing the ball, or playing defense.

Running is not simply a race to the edge, as in so many other football games that have poor containment and pursuit angles. Cutting back inside, against the grain, is often a great way to pick up extra yardage or break a huge play, especially if my blockers are in good positions to shield my runner's cutback. Reversing field completely is also much more viable in Legend Bowl than it is in any other football game I've played. It feels really good to cut back inside, get behind the lead blockers, and hit a narrow seam for a breakaway play.

Running out of stamina and becoming "gassed" limits the frequency of breakaway plays.

To help get those precious yards, running moves feel really good to execute. Jukes have a nice explosiveness, and are great for side-stepping around lead blockers. The stiff arm is brutally-effective -- maybe a bit too much so. Running moves use a system similar to NFL 2k, requiring the user to mash a face button to sprint, or hold it down to charge up an extra-powerful move. And all these moves consume quite a bit of stamina, which prevents them from being spammed, and requires the user to be deliberate with our use of these moves. Sprinting or using special moves will result in the player becoming "gassed", causing him to slow down considerably. Runners being caught from behind while they are gassed has proven to be an excellent way of limiting the frequency of breakaway plays. It might even be a bit too strict.

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Civilization VI - title

This will be the second part of a 2-part Retrospective on Civilization VI. The first part features my personal list of Top 10 Good Ideas that Firaxis put into the game, and this second part will be the Top 10 Bad Ideas. If you haven't read the Good Ideas yet, then I highly recommend you check that out first, as there will be several topics in this list that will build on what was said in the previous list. In fact, there will be some topics that are appearing in both lists, so I hope you'll read the good things that I have to say before reading the bad.

I also don't want to be a complete downer, and would like to provide constructive feedback. So wherever possible, I will try to make suggestions on how I think Firaxis could improve on some of these ideas if they chose to revisit them for future games. And some of these ideas are certainly worth re-visiting.

This content is also available in video essay format via YouTube.
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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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