Monday, 9 September 2013

Army of Two

I spent far too much time on Sunday playing Army of Two and not doing mission critical gardening work. But this is a great game, and really ticks the boxes for a two-player shoot 'em up. It plays very like Gears of War, but since GoW is not available on PS3, AoT fills the gap quite nicely. You can watch a video review from a third party here, but here are a few observations from me having played through the first two levels (Somalia and Afghanistan).

Although set in the real world, with an arsenal of real world weapons to choose from, it is not a gritty game. The two characters are ex-US Army troops who complete a mission in Somalia before being offered contract work with a shadowy security corporation as contractors (read - mercenaries). From here they go on to accept a mission in Afghanistan.

What to like?

Great two player action in the same format as GoW, where cooperative game play is particularly rewarding in completing missions. What sets it apart from GoW is the additional 'aggro-meter' - one player can work to draw enemy fire while another sneaks round and takes out the opposition. Similar moves include use of riot shields or car doors, with one player blocking enemy fire as he shuffles forwards, while another shoots from behind the door. There's also the back to back mode where you set up a 360 degree fire zone.


So far, and admittedly we've only just progressed onto the Iraq level, there have been no major boss encounters. I don't mind the odd boss here and there, but bosses ruined some of the levels of Tenchu - Stealth Assassins for me, and also, IMHO, broke Metal Gear Solid.

I also happen to like the humour and banter which goes on between the two characters throughout the mission, particularly how one is obsessed with conspiracy theories and the other is just interested in making money.

There is also something new in each level. For example, the base jump into a gorge in Afghanistan, or having to carry a wounded man out of a terrorist lair while being shot at. In the early stages of the Iraq mission (which we've just started) you get put on the defensive for a change, being attacked by dozens of insurgents.

I also like the sense of paranoia that exists between firefights. It's even got me checking our rear periodically for enemy fighters sneaking up on us rather than simply focusing on targets ahead. I love a game which can sneak up on you.

You can earn cash by completing missions which allows you to buy a range of upgrades to your weapons, plus special equipment, and fancy new face masks which are the game's hallmark.



What not to like?

Not enough grenades. But then there never is.

A tendency to run out of ammo too quickly, but then maybe I'm getting too trigger happy. This is probably not a fault in the game design but more the way in which I play it. I'd rather adapt to a more realistic situation and pay more attention to ammo caches in the game.

Overall, AoT is an awesome game, particularly when you consider it came out in 2006. It has not lost its edge at all and is a worthy successor to Judge Dredd, which I got so much game play out of on the PS2.


Thursday, 5 September 2013

Wargame - European Escalation

I had my first crack at Wargame - European Escalation on Steam last night, and boy what fun that was! WEE is an RTS set during the Cold War. You command combat formations from either side, drawn from historic orders of battle from the 1970s and 1980s. I've always wanted to wargame NATO vs Warsaw Pact, probably ever since I stayed on an army base in West Germany in 1980, and this is a rather nifty way to do it. No painting tanks. No model terrain. No need for an opponent, although I expect an online one is readily available. It was all quite a revelation for me.

I decided to buy this game when Steam was having a 75% off sale in July. I was attracted by the awesome scenery, which really does look as if you're hovering above the battlefield in a helicopter. It is not far from being almost photographic in its realism. Plus, you can zoom in to watch how individual engagements are working out or even follow a scout as he investigates a deserted town.

This is very much an armoured game - you do get infantry, but they're little more than speed bumps it seems once they exit their armoured personnel carriers.

In my first outing I chose to command a West German brigade. It was 1975 (the year I started school, in fact). The East Germans had launched a raid over the border after Bonn refused to hand back a defecting border guard wanted for murder. I was commanding a troop of Leopard tanks sent in response with a small number of scouts, and some conscript infantry who seemed to largely want to sit and watch. I only worked out the reinforcements tool towards the end of the game, so for most of it I completed missions using the same four tanks, one of which got badly shot up, but carried on throughout the scenario. Hero!

Leopard tanks on the prowl in close up format!


The initial mission was to secure the first of two bridgeheads the communists had established on the wrong side of the border. I was initially confronted by T34s (!), which the Leopards quickly made short work of. The DDR boys followed this up with some T55s, but again superior range and accuracy told a bloody tale.

The next job was to move north to a town where a second enemy bridgehead was established. I quickly came to appreciate the value of armoured scouts. These boys have a superior detection range, and indeed my tanks proved eminently capable of rolling straight past enemy infantry and getting shot at from the rear, which they find very disconcerting, with suitable impact on morale. However, the scouts are useless in a straight up firefight with tanks or even infantry with anti-tank weapons. Hence, I began using them as point men, and dropping them back behind the Leopards when they ran into trouble. You can tell I was in the Combined Cadet Force, can't you?

A more distant perspective of a tank battle.


I also had to sortie over the border, about a mile into East Germany, to take out the enemy HQ and fuel dump. This was where I realised my tanks were running out of fuel. Luckily, they were able to stop and refuel before blowing the place.

The final challenge was securing the northern bridgehead. Lacking scout cars, my tanks had serious problems hunting enemy infantry through the streets of a town. Only once I brought in scouts could they ID the enemy and take them out. Even here, I lost a Leopard which strayed down a side street and got ambushed. Luckily, by this stage, I was bringing up another troop of tanks, so was quickly able to complete the mission.

An example of a tactical map with ranging tool.


I also love the graphics on this baby. Enormous fun tracking behind scout cars as they probe ahead, or watching your Leopards mow down a farmer's fences or plough through some poor sod's house. What's cooler than commanding a tank? Commanding EIGHT! Vicarious, unpolitically-correct fun. Bring it on!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Introducing Veneticus, 14th level Cleric of Abadar

I'm currently playing in a Pathfinder campaign which uses the Carrion Crown adventure path arc. I say 'uses' because the GM is pretty liberal with some of the encounters, and we're also skipping chunks of the campaign in the interests of time (or by-passing them entirely as we play to character). Not that I'm complaining - although we play once a week, it is still taking us a lot of time (I'm not even going to try to calculate the man hours) to reach the CC's conclusion, which I'm sure will be inevitably bloody, so pruning out less relevant encounters, or merging them, is to be appreciated.

I'm not going to go into a great deal of depth about the campaign, but suffice to say, the party has now reached the heady heights of 14th level, which makes it the highest powered campaign I've played with  Dungeons and Dragons or any of its various post-OGL successors (heck, is it really 13 years since 3e was launched?)

I'm about to level up my character, but thought I'd display him in all his glory before doing so, just to mark the event. My previous best was a 13th level female barbarian in the Kingmaker campaign, which cratered last year as the party was effectively 'broken' and in danger of taking over the world, and possibly the multiverse.

So, Veneticus is the party cleric. Given the campaign is heavy on the undead, and casts the party as a band of monster slayers out to foil the schemes of a cabal of necromancers, having a cleric is fairly essential. We also happen to have a paladin/dragon disciple, and a necromancer, so all in all, we're able to make short work of most of the undead we come up against. I've actually enjoyed playing a cleric, even though he has moved from a healing role to one of combat magic and some melee since we added another lower level cleric to the party via the Leadership feat. I'm now trying to configure him for more of a toe-to-toe combat role, once he's thrown a few spells at the opposition.

NB: He is carrying an artefact of Pharasma, even though he follows Abadar. I'm not going into too much detail on what it can do, as this might spoil the fun for those who have not played Carrion Crown. I've had a deal of trouble replicating it on HeroLab, and as the campaign looks to be drawing to a close, am not sure I'm going to invest the precious time to configure it now. Instead I'm implementing its powers on a manual basis. It occasionally challenges Veneticus with its Ego of 22, but now that his Will save is so high, its efforts largely come to naught.

Veneticus
Male Human Cleric 13
LN Medium Humanoid (human)
Init +1; Senses Perception +11


Defense

AC 31, touch 13, flat-footed 30 (+12 armor, +5 shield, +1 Dex, +1 natural, +2 deflection)
hp 101 (13d8+21)
Fort +13, Ref +8, Will +16
Defensive Abilities aura of protection (13 rounds/day); Resist resistant touch (8/day)

Offense

Speed 20 ft.
Melee Heavy Shield Bash +13/+8 (1d4+8/x2) and
   +1 Quarterstaff +18/+13 (1d6+11/x2) and
   Mace +1 +18/+13 (1d8+9/x2) and
   Raven's Head Mace +20/+15 (1d8+11/x2)
Special Attacks staff of order (6 rds) (2/day)
Spell-Like Abilities Resistant Touch (8/day), Touch of Law (8/day)
Cleric Spells Prepared (CL 13):
7 (1/day) Repulsion (DC 22), Holy Word (DC 22)
6 (2/day) Summon Monster VI, Antimagic Field, Blade Barrier (DC 21)
5 (4/day) Spell Resistance, Flame Strike (DC 20), Righteous Might (x2), Disrupting Weapon
4 (5/day) Divine Power (x2), Order's Wrath (DC 19), Holy Smite (x2) (DC 19), Shield of the Dawnflower
3 (5/day) Magic Circle against Chaos, Searing Light (x2), Meld into Stone, Dispel Magic (x2)
2 (5/day) Find Traps, Hold Person (DC 17), Silence (DC 17), Shield Other, Zone of Truth (DC 17), Bear's Endurance
1 (6/day) Sanctuary (DC 16), Sanctuary (DC 16), Shield of Faith, Magic Weapon, Protection from Evil, Bless, Obscuring Mist
0 (at will) Detect Magic, Mending, Light, Read Magic

Statistics

Str 18, Dex 13, Con 13, Int 12, Wis 21, Cha 15
Base Atk +9; CMB +13; CMD 26
Feats Armor Proficiency (Heavy), Channel Smite, Extra Channel, Improved Channel, Scribe Scroll, Selective Channeling, Turn Undead (DC 21), Warrior Priest
Traits Resilient, Sacred Conduit
Skills Acrobatics +1 (-3 jump), Appraise +5, Climb +2, Diplomacy +7, Disguise +12, Escape Artist -3, Fly -5, Intimidate +4, Knowledge (arcana) +9, Knowledge (history) +5, Knowledge (local) +8, Knowledge (religion) +10, Linguistics +5, Perception +11, Ride -3, Sense Motive +9, Spellcraft +8, Stealth -3, Swim +1, Use Magic Device +4
Languages Abyssal, Common, Varisian
SQ aura, cleric channel positive energy 7d6 (7/day) (dc 21), domains (law, protection), spontaneous casting
Combat Gear Potion of cure light wounds, Potion of invisibility (2), Potion of remove disease, Scroll of - Add custom scroll -, Flame Strike, Scr, Scroll of - Add custom scroll -, Hallow, Staff of swarming insects, Wand of restoration, Antitoxin (2), Thunderstone (2); Other Gear +3 Full plate, +3 Heavy steel shield, +1 Quarterstaff, Mace +1, Raven's Head Mace, Amulet of natural armor +1, Belt of mighty constitution +2, Cloak of resistance +2, Figurine (ivory goats), Hat of disguise, Headband of inspired wisdom +4, Ring of feather falling, Ring of protection +1, Ring of protection +2, Backpack (10 @ 124 lbs), Holy symbol, wooden (Protection), Hooded lantern, 6095 GP, 5 SP

Special Abilities

Antitoxin This substance counteracts a specific toxin. If you drink a vial of antitoxin, you gain a +5 alchemical bonus on Fortitude saving throws against poison for 1 hour. Alchemical Power Component Like antiplague, this substance can augment certain healing spells. Neutralize Poison (M): Add +2 on your caster level check to neutralize poison on a target creature. Antitoxin has no effect when you cast the spell on an object.
Aura (Ex) The Cleric has an aura corresponding to his deity's alignment.
Aura of Protection (13 rounds/day) (Su) 30'r aura grants Energy Resistance 5 and a +2 deflection bonus to AC.
Channel Smite Channel energy can be delivered through a Smite attack.
Cleric Channel Positive Energy 7d6 (7/day) (DC 21) (Su) Positive energy heals the living and harms the undead; negative has the reverse effect.
Cleric Domain (Law) Granted Powers: You follow a strict and ordered code of laws, and in so doing, achieve enlightenment.
Cleric Domain (Protection) Granted Powers: Your faith is your greatest source of protection, and you can use that faith to defend others. In addition, you receive a +1 resistance bonus on saving throws. This bonus increases by 1 for every 5 levels you possess.
Resistant Touch (8/day) (Sp) May donate Protection Domain's Resistance bonus to ally by touch for 1 minute.
Ring of feather falling Feather fall activates if you fall more than 5 ft.
Scroll of - Add custom scroll -, Flame Strike, Scrying, Enthrall, Protection from Evil, Raise Dead, Add this item to create a scroll with spells on it.
Scroll of - Add custom scroll -, Hallow Add this item to create a scroll with spells on it.
Selective Channeling Exclude targets from the area of your Channel Energy.
Spontaneous Casting The Cleric can convert stored spells into Cure or Inflict spells.
Staff of Order (6 rds) (2/day) (Su) A weapon you are holding becomes axiomatic
Touch of Law (8/day) (Sp) A d20 roll becomes 11.
Turn Undead (DC 21) Your Channel Energy can make undead in 30 ft flee for 1 min.

Veneticus is a wandering priest and adherent of Abadar. He has returned to Ustalav after many years travelling in neighbouring domains seeking enlightenment and waging war on the powers of darkness. Some would call him a religious fanatic, but they don't understand the dedication required to follow the Path of Law.

Sanity points = 10
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