Hearthstone

I’ve been playing Hearthstone since it was released in beta. Over the years I’ve been playing off and on, but I’ve been really digging in since December. I’m a big Blizzard fan, and with the baby coming up I’ve been looking for more baby friendly ways of spending my down time. Until December I had been playing Overwatch pretty religiously, and I even posted about it a few months ago. But a typical Overwatch ranked match can take a half an hour. It’s not feasible to stop and feed a baby or change a diaper in the middle of a match. I’ve always liked Hearthstone, but I figure when the baby comes it’ll be easier to play Hearthstone than Overwatch, so I’ve been playing it a lot the last few months.
When I started getting serious about it in December, the meta surrounding the game was all about Pirate Warrior and Aggro Shaman. I picked up both decks and was fairly proficient with both. Aggro Shaman felt good because it was so consistent, but the burst potential with Pirate Warrior felt amazing. In my experience it was more dependent on draw than Aggro Shaman, but when the cards lined up Pirate Warrior was unstoppable. However, the meta at that point had gotten pretty stale, and if you weren’t playing one of those two decks, you weren’t going to find much success.
The Un’Goro expansion launched last month. It ushered in a new meta, removing two previous expansions worth of cards and introducing it’s own set. I stayed off the ranked ladder for a week to let the meta settle a bit. It’s still in flux somewhat, but the big winners so far seem to be Midrange Paladin, Pirate Warrior (again), and Quest Rogue. At least, that’s what I’m seeing at my level of play. Midrange Paladin is probably the most fun deck to play, the Murloc synergy is amazing. As I said I haven’t ever been a consistent Hearthstone player. I’ve been very casual ever since the game came out. However, this meta seems like the most diverse I’ve ever participated in, and Hearthstone seems to be in the best place it’s ever been in.
I’m currently sitting at rank 10 on the ladder, and I don’t play it super consistently. Hearthstone is something I do when I’m in the bathroom or watching something on Netflix, I never intentionally play it. I’m assuming when I have a baby I’ll be napping with it a lot, so I figure I’ll play it a lot when the baby is a newborn. It probably won’t work out that way, I have a lot of ideas about how things will be when the babies here and I’m sure I’ll be disabused of a lot of my assumptions. However, I’m trying to steer my hobbies into a more baby centric space, and playing hearthstone on my phone while my baby sleeps on my chest seems like a step in the right direction.

I’ve been playing Hearthstone since it was released in beta.  Over the years I’ve been playing off and on, but I’ve been really digging in since December.  I’m a big Blizzard fan, and with the baby coming up I’ve been looking for more baby friendly ways of spending my down time. Until December I had been playing Overwatch pretty religiously, and I even posted about it a few months ago.  But a typical Overwatch ranked match can take a half an hour. It’s not feasible to stop and feed a baby or change a diaper in the middle of a match.  I’ve always liked Hearthstone, but I figure when the baby comes it’ll be easier to play Hearthstone than Overwatch, so I’ve been playing it a lot the last few months.

When I started getting serious about it in December, the meta surrounding the game was all about Pirate Warrior and Aggro Shaman.  I picked up both decks and was fairly proficient with both.  Aggro Shaman felt good because it was so consistent, but the burst potential with Pirate Warrior felt amazing.  In my experience it was more dependent on draw than Aggro Shaman, but when the cards lined up Pirate Warrior was unstoppable.  However, the meta at that point had gotten pretty stale, and if you weren’t playing one of those two decks, you weren’t going to find much success.

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The Un’Goro expansion launched last month.  It ushered in a new meta, removing two previous expansions worth of cards and introducing it’s own set.  I stayed off the ranked ladder for a week to let the meta settle a bit.  It’s still in flux somewhat, but the big winners so far seem to be Midrange Paladin, Pirate Warrior (again), and Quest Rogue.  At least, that’s what I’m seeing at my level of play.  Midrange Paladin is probably the most fun deck to play, the Murloc synergy is amazing.  As I said I haven’t ever been a consistent Hearthstone player.  I’ve been very casual ever since the game came out.  However, this meta seems like the most diverse I’ve ever participated in, and Hearthstone seems to be in the best place it’s ever been in.

I’m currently sitting at rank 10 on the ladder, and I don’t play it super consistently. Hearthstone is something I do when I’m in the bathroom or watching something on Netflix, I never intentionally play it. I’m assuming when I have a baby I’ll be napping with it a lot, so I figure I’ll play it a lot when the baby is a newborn.   It probably won’t work out that way, I have a lot of ideas about how things will be when the babies here and I’m sure I’ll be disabused of a lot of my assumptions.  However, I’m trying to steer my hobbies into a more baby centric space, and playing hearthstone on my phone while my baby sleeps on my chest seems like a step in the right direction.

Telecommuting

Update on my job situation.

I haven’t talked about where I’m at with my job for a while, so here’s a quick little update.

This is going to get a little techy for a minute, so if you don’t have patience for that then move along.  I’m still working as a systems admin.  I’m focused primarily on VMware and maintaining our server infrastructure.  I don’t interact with my boss very frequently, so I’m actually really enjoying my job.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to say that at this organization.  I’m learning a lot because our previous VMware guy left suddenly a few months back.  I’m not certified in VMware at all, so I’m learning as I go.  It’s been a lot of fun.

The baby should be here in two months or so.  Right now, my wife and I are planning to have her take 3-4 months off with the baby.  I’m going to take 2 weeks off initially, and then go back to work.  Once her time is up, I’m going to take the rest of my time.  That should be about 10 weeks total.  My plan is to seriously look for telecommuting opportunities while I’m off for 10 weeks.  I’m hoping to find some either permanent status jobs or contracted work from home.  I want to get into web development still, but I haven’t had the time or motivation recently to really dive into it.  I’m hoping that staying at home will allow me to work less, spend more time with the baby, and develop my web skills simultaneously.  And, we won’t need a babysitter so there’s that as well.

Review – Horizon: Zero Dawn

A great action game full of robot dinosaurs.

Growing up, I was always obsessed with dinosaurs.  I knew every dinosaur by name and my parents bought me a ton of dinosaur books.  I even bought one of my old favorites recently for my incoming newborn.  When I saw the trailer for Horizon: Zero Dawn, I was immediately intrigued.  The game blends two of my favorite things in the world: a post-apocalyptic setting and dinosaurs.  Actually, the dinosaurs are  robots, but functionally they act like dinosaurs.  The game also features a strong female lead who shoots a bow.  My wife loved the new Tomb Raider games, so I bought this one for her because I knew that she’d like it.  I also knew I’d love it, so I’ll admit to an ulterior motive.

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Combat

The combat in Horizon is excellent.  It’s hard to describe, but the tactile feel of the bow is really impressive.  When you shoot it and hit the side of a dinosaur, it has a punch to it that most games don’t have.  You can shoot an entire clip in Call of Duty or Battlefield and the guns don’t have the same feeling you get from the bow in Horizon.  It’s really great.  There are a number of skill points you can invest in as you move through the game that add cool and interesting abilities to your character.  This is not new to action games, but a lot of these abilities add dimensions to the combat that elevate this game above your average action game.

There aren’t a ton of weapons in this game, but the ones that are present are great.  Like I said, the bow is outstanding.  Many games use bows, but this is probably the best video game bow I’ve ever used.  Outside of the bow, the tripcaster was especially good.  The Tripcaster lets you place a tripwire on the ground, and the wire is rigged to an explosive.  Since stealth plays fairly heavily into the combat, it is very satisfying to set up a complex series of trip wires and then lure enemies into them.  While the number of weapons in this game is low, each one had something interesting to add to the combat.

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Fighting the robot dinosaurs is the real meat and potatoes of this game.  Most of your time spent in Horizon is spent fighting giant robots.  Each of these robots can be scanned for weak points.  The weak points typically have some kind of weakness, fire, frost, or electricity.  Horizon introduces a new kind of weakness called tear.  Tear is a stat that you can increase on your weapons, and it increases the likelihood that you will tear off a component when you hit a robot.  Horizon slowly introduces new dinosaurs as you explore the gigantic world map.  There is a large variety of dinosaurs, and seeking out every last one helped motivate me to explore every corner of the world map.

While shooting dinosaurs is a pleasure in this game, shooting humans is not much fun.  The combat dragged for me when I fought the humans.  They were either too few — which made them easy and boring, or there were so many in one area it felt impossible to get past them.  I hope in the inevitable sequel they either limit the human enemies or revamp them.

Story/Characters

Horizon’s main character is Aloy.  She’s a strong woman who overcomes all odds.  She’s a little tropey in that way, and I found her personality to be a little wooden.  Most of the NPC’s she meets through out the game aren’t much better.  The facial animations and overall graphics are great, but I didn’t find the characters to be written all that well.

The story however is really cool.  There’s a reason the world of Horizon is post apocalyptic, and finding out how we got from present day to robot dinosaurs was really interesting.  There’s some cool twists and turns that I didn’t see coming.  However, there’s a lot of Die Hard-esque set pieces in this game and even though I was playing a game about robot dinosaurs, I found some of it to be a bit unbelievable.  This game is definitely not shooting for realism.

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Conclusion

Horizon is easily my favorite game this year so far.  It’s a game that combines many things that I already like and features some really impressive combat. Despite some small shortcomings, it’s an extremely well polished action game.  My wife and I are both playing through it separately, and  we compare notes every couple of days.  I’m probably going to start over again, I am still addicted to the combat in this game.  Check it out if you like dinosaurs or fun.  Thank God one of my anticipated games this actually turned out decent.

A Close Call

My wife and I went through a scare last week.

I’ve been trying to post twice a week, Wednesday and Friday.  I’ve been fairly consistent since November, but sometimes things come up.  The reason I didn’t post last Friday is because my wife texted me when I got to work that she thought something was wrong with the baby.

Apparently, the night before she hadn’t felt the baby move all evening.  She noticed it, but didn’t think too much of it.  In the morning when she woke up, the baby still wasn’t moving.  She got up, showered, had breakfast, and headed to work.  All the while the baby still wasn’t kicking.  My wife wasn’t worried too much the night before, but in the morning she became increasingly scared that something was wrong.  She had been experiencing some other weird issues recently, so after a few hours at work we decided that she should call her doctor.  When the doctor heard what was going on, he said that she should immediately go to the hospital for a full exam.  This all happened within a four hour window.

The sequence of events for me that day went like this:

  1. Go to work
  2. Get a text from my wife who has not felt the baby  move for 15 hours
  3. Frantically Google the symptoms she’s having and finding a bunch of horror stories on line
  4. Waiting for her to get service to respond to my texts
  5. Get the order from the doctor to go to the hospital
  6. Driving 30 minutes to meet my wife in the hospital
  7. Wait for the exam

In the time between getting the text from my wife and meeting her in the hospital, I had a sense of fear and panic unlike anything I’ve had as an adult.  Most of the time, my life is easy.  I don’t have things in my life that cause me to have true fear or dread.  The possibility of my wife having a late term stillbirth put a deep fear into me.  It was absolutely terrifying.  On top of my fear, I was scared for my wife.  My wife is an amazing woman, but she’s very emotional.  I didn’t know how badly she would handle a stillbirth, but it would have been a terrible reaction.

Thankfully, the baby turned out to be fine.  I don’t talk about my faith too much on this blog, but I was praying the whole time for God to save my baby.  I was terrified driving to the hospital, because I didn’t know what kind of news I was walking into.  When I walked from my car up to the hospital and into the maternity ward my legs felt like rubber.  It honestly felt like someone else was walking for me and I was just along for the ride.

When I walked into the room, I walked into good news.  I truly believe that was God intervening in my life.  However, I know that not everyone has such a good experience.  I read a lot of their stories that day on line.  What a horrifying thing to go through, my heart goes out to those whose story doesn’t end as well as mine did that day.  If you or your partner is pregnant, don’t hesitate to get checked out.

On a more positive note, I have made some progress on the crib.  I uploaded some pictures of one of the side assemblies, there are pictures below.

Review – Mass Effect Andromeda

Ok so I wrote up a big post recently about Mass Effect. I think I made my adoration for the first three games pretty clear in that initial post.  I wrote that post in anticipation of the new Mass Effect game, which came out a few weeks ago.  Unfortunately, the game is terrible.  I hate it.  I was hoping to finish this game to push out a full review on this blog, but I can’t bring myself to play it anymore.  I’m done, I’m tapping out. I’m just going to touch on a few things here, I really don’t want to bring any more attention to this game than it already has.

Open World

The open world setting is not working out for Bioware.  They tried it out first with Dragon Age: Inquisition and they’re continuing with it here in Mass Effect Andromeda.  I had a hard time getting through that game because of the open world trappings.  I like Bioware games for the world building and storytelling that is unique to their games.  A lot of those elements come together through the specifically curated levels and dialogue between characters.  When you open a game like that up to an open world setting, you’re giving up a lot of the control you have over the player.  Fill that world with a ton of boring and meaningless filler content and you have a game that feels light on Bioware magic and full of boring content.

This was prevalent in Dragon Age: Inquisition, but they’ve doubled down on this concept in the new Mass Effect.  Most of the quests I’ve been given up to this point are fetch quests that are more at home in an MMO.  The quests that are part of the main storyline aren’t all that interesting in and of themselves because I’m not interested in the characters or story (I’ll get to that next).  But I also don’t like them because many of them use the open world environments instead of specific, well curated level design to tell the story.  Nothing about the locations you visit feel special, it all just feels like a big empty world that can be reused and recycled for fetch quests later.

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Characters

Ok this is the big one.  The reason I fell in love with Mass Effect in the first place was the characters.  When I met Garrus, Wrex, Liara, Tali, et al, their personalities were unique.  They were quirky.  They were well defined.  Some of their personality traits may have fallen into trope territory, but because this was a new series — in a new universe — in a fun game — it was easy to forgive that.  In this new game, the characters feel like retreads of previous Mass Effect characters.  Drack is maybe the biggest offender here.  I literally can’t tell the difference between him and Wrex.  He’s almost a one for one stand-in for Wrex.  He has a granddaughter and he left the Milky Way, so there is a little bit of contextual difference.  But the core of the character feels like a carbon copy.

On top of this, the dialogue is poorly written, and the back stories given to the characters are boring.  One of the human companions, Liam, bores me to tears.  His companion quest revolves around fetching a movie for him to watch on the ship.  The player character is also annoying.  This may just be me being crabby about the game, but everything he says bugs me.  I really hate the characters in this game.

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Story

Ok so the open world sucks, the characters suck, but at least the story is going to be interesting right?  Nope.  Story sucks too.  I think it was a smart choice to set this game in a different galaxy and in a different time from the first games.  It distances this story from the first trilogy in a smart way and gives the writers a lot of breathing room to do different things while remaining in the same Mass Effect “universe.”  However, the premise alone can’t bear the narrative weight of a 40+ hour game.

The story revolves around you as a young man or woman being tasked with finding a planet for the human race to colonize.  It makes video game “sense” to have one person go out into the galaxy and be responsible for this task, but it doesn’t make actual sense.  It’s a hard premise for me to buy.  It seems like they could have put more effort into explaining why you as a young person get to have control of this nice expensive ship and have full control of what you do and where you go.  Even going back to being a Spectre would have been more believable, even if it pulled a bit heavily from the original games.

Moving into a new galaxy, you’d think there’d be a bunch of new alien races.  However, we get only one new race to cooperate with, and one antagonistic race.  The plot twist with the antagonistic race is foreshadowed so bluntly it practically slaps you in the face.  I also hate that the primary bad guy is just a super sized version of his lackeys.  It feels like something pulled out of a dumb action movie.  It just sucks.  Bioware has so many good games and stories under their belt that this kind of tropey story telling is incredibly disappointing.

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Conclusion

I waited five years for a  new Mass Effect game.  The last one was in 2012, and it didn’t live up to the previous game. I was hoping that Bioware had spent the last five years figuring out where they went wrong and fixing it for this new game.  But it seems that the direction they are taking is a more corporate route.  It feels like EA has a bigger hand in the direction their games and stories go, which is a big shame.  I was hoping that Dragon Age: Inquisition was just a one off, but it looks like this is the kind of game that Bioware is interested in making from here on out.  I will not be buying another Bioware game again, until I hear something has changed.

I tried hard to push through all of my frustrations and finish this game, but I just can’t do it anymore.  I have a crib to continue working on, I have a pregnant wife to care for, I have a life to live.  I want to spend my free time doing things I like to do, not pushing through a bad experience just to see the end.  Maybe they turn things around in the back half of the game.  I doubt it, and I’m not sticking around long enough to find out.  What a bummer, the pedigree of this series is so high that this game had the potential to be an all time great.  Instead, this game is so bad that after 20ish hours I’m giving up.