What’s Next

The Ardwulf clan bought me a shiny new copy of Dragon Age: Inquisition for Christmas, and I’ve spent about an hour playing it so far. Coming directly from Dragon Age: Origins it’s a significant shift; the controls are just different enough to create confusion in the easily confused (i.e. me.) But it has jumping, which I appreciate.

From the various holiday sales I also acquired Dragon Age II and Mass Effect 3, so there may be LPs of those coming. I’ve fooled about a bit with DAII so far and like it quite a bit. I would also like to pick up Banner Saga if it comes up for a Daily Deal on Steam before the sale ends; otherwise I don’t have quite enough in my Steam wallet to afford it. I’d also like to grab the latest Crusader Kings II expansion, Way of Life,” which is new enough that it almost certainly will not be discounted.

The Dragon Age: Origins will continue, of course. The candidates for the next Let’s Play that are already in my library are:

  • Crusader Kings II, up through the Charlemagne expansion.
  • Dragon Age; Inquisition, if I can get the fucking video to come out.
  • Europa Universalis IV, with all expansions enabled.
  • Mass Effect Trilogy, a mega-LP of all three games with the same Commander Shepard.
  • If you have an opinion on which of these you would like to see, speak up in the comments!

    The New Ardwulf’s Lair

    For the last year or two, as school pressures and other responsibilities have increased, Ardwulf’s Lair has not been especially active. I’d been posting here and there, but mostly I wasn’t even playing, and it’s hard to post regularly about an activity you’re not doing.

    As school finally starts to wind down, though, and I get more time to play (and there will be even more after the holidays,) I’ve also been thinking about how to revitalize the blog. There are some idaes I’m not yet ready to talk about yet, but the immediate impact has already started — the return of regular posts and increasing development of the Ardwulf’s Lair YouTube channel, both anchored firmly in the bedrock of actual play.

    The old focus of Ardwulf’s Lair, on MMORPGs, is basically no more. While I have not abandoned that genre entirely, much less permanently, it’s disappointed me more than it’s pleased me for the last couple of years, and I think that its brightest lights on the horizon are semi-MMOs like Shroud of the Avatar and Elite: Dangerous. I hope to start talking about those soon, but there are other types of games that appeal to me. Many of these fall more or less into the single player RPG or strategy genres.

    So what games do I think I’ll be playing and posting about in the near future? As you’ve seen, I’ve already started a playthrough of Dragon Age: Origins, and I plan to stick with that. I’d also kind of like to replay the Mass Effect series, and if I’m doing that I may as well do a grand tour of recent Bioware RPGs, to include Dragon Age II and Dragon Age: Inquisition as well. (The latter you will definitely see sooner or later.) In the strategy theater I’m thinking of stuff from Paradox, in particular Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV, and maybe a last go at Hearts of Iron III before its successor comes out. Potential odds and ends might also include Mount & Blade: Warband and the Witcher series. I may even finally tackle Assassin’s Creed, which I’ve owned for ages but never managed to play. There will also be one-shots in the Ardwulf Presents series — Banished is what I’m thinking of for that. I offer nothing concrete at this time, with the one exception noted above, but these are the possibilities that are swirling right now.

    That’s a lot to do, and I surely won’t get to all of it. But I’ll have fun trying, and I hope that you’ll enjoy following me along the way. For now, back to Dragon Age!

    New Frontiers

    I started Ardwulf’s Lair in 2007. For over seven years I’ve been a regular MMORPG blogger, until recent months when I’ve not been blogging much at all. So it’s with some reluctance that I must confess to not feeling like an MMORPG blogger anymore. I have largely lost the love for MMORPGs as they exist today. Not that there aren’t still some good ones, and I certainly don’t swear to never play an MMORPG again, but the days of this blog being MMORPG oriented are at an end.

    Of course, I have by no means given up on either Ardwulf’s Lair or PC gaming. Ardwulf’s Lair will evolve (I expect) into more of a general-purpose blog about whatever I want to talk about. Which will include video games and MMOs, but not exclusively. The Ardwulf’s Lair YouTube channel will also continue, and that will be exclusively about video games.

    I will have a new gaming-oriented blog debuting on December 1, for which I am now working on content. I’ll have an announcement about that some time soon.

    Hearts of Iron III: Fall Weiß

    In my current Hearts of Iron III game, Germany began mobilizing on June 1, 1939, months after the French and Polish. In the early morning of July 1, the demands for Danzig and the Polish Corridor unmet, the Germans Invaded Poland on a paper-thin pretext. Britain, France and their minor allies declared war even as a massive force rolled across the eastern borders and tore through the Polish defenses. With heavy air support, German troops put enormous pressure on the Polish lines while three armored spearheads thrust deep into Poland, cutting off the retreat to Warsaw. Within a week both Danzig and the capital had fallen, and Lodz and Krakow followed. With most of the country’s strategic centers in German hands the Poles had no choice but to surrender on July 10, their nation annexed.

    Abiding by the terms of January’s Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, however, Germany withdrew from eastern Poland and the Soviets began to move in. Forward German infantry divisions immediately began digging in on the new border as garrison units occupied Danzig and Memel and the majority of the remaining forces began to entrain for the western front. In the West, the Netherlands and Belgium remain neutral, although both began to mobilize during the Polish campaign. Germany’s Italian allies upheld their end of the Pact of Steel by attacking along their border with France. The French had the better of these engagements, but no serious territorial gains occurred, and significant French forces remain tied down on this front.

    By the end of July forces had begun to gather behind the lines in the west. Along the Maginot-Siegfreid Line, all is yet quiet.

    A Little Time with Hearts of Iron III

    Against all odds, I had some time to play games over the weekend. Thanks to feeling generally unwell and staying in, anyway. I elected to spend that time not in an MMO but re-acquainting myself with Hearts of Iron III.

    For those who don’t know, this is one of the grand strategy games from Paradox. I’ve had a long fascination with these titles but the actual time I’ve spent playing them hasn’t reflected that in every case. They are all open-ended, brutally complex and not terribly user-friendly. They are also among the only strategy video games that, for me, capture the majesty of old school hex-and-counter board wargames.

    The Hearts of Iron series is the World War II iteration of the line, and is probably the most complicated of the bunch. I’d made a few passes at HoI2 and HoI3 before, but it’d been quite a while, so to refresh my memory I watched a bunch of video and played out the 1939 invasion of Poland. It didn’t go especially well — it took me nine weeks to complete the conquest (as opposed to the five weeks it took historically,) but afterwards I saw what I did wrong. Making better use of air power, not ignoring the relevant victory points and better exploiting breakthroughs with armor and mobile units would make the campaign go significantly faster. This experiment took maybe an hour or two.

    For an actual game, I again settled into playing as Germany, starting in 1936, because I’m pretty aware of their prewar situation and know, pretty much, what they need to do to get ready for the conflict. Even so, I made some dumb errors. I built a lot of units as regulars instead of reserves, costing me Industrial Capacity and time.

    I’m at the beginning of February 1939 and France and Poland are already mobilizing, and I’m not quite ready. I also let dissent get a little high, and while this didn’t cause any direct problems it did delay a couple of national decisions. An ill-considered attempt to launch a coup in Britain failed. Still, much else went according to plan. The Anschluß with Austria happened a little ahead of schedule, as did the annexation of the Sudetenland, and later the rest of Czechoslovakia. I am gearing up industrially as best I can. The Axis is formed with Italy and Japan and an unholy alliance has been signed with the Soviets… probably a little earlier than it should have been (that’s probably why the French are pissed.) The Wehrmacht is efficiently organized; if you start in 1936 it’s a mess. Technologically I’m a bit ahead of the historical timeline, and I have invented radar – but I’m still building the radar stations.

    Perhaps most significantly, spies in the US have massively boosted the popularity of the German-American Bund. This is likely to lead to a messy 1940 election and may keep the US out of the war for a while, which in principle should help Japan. Speaking of my polite far eastern partners, they’ve managed to enforce a truce on the Nationalist Chinese. My plan is to start the war early — the national decision to demand Danzig and the Polish Corridor becomes available in May 1939. But I’m not sure I will be ready that early, because I want to take out France in 1939 instead of waiting until 1940. This will leave 1940 for the minor operations to secure Denmark, Norway and the Balkans while building for the inevitable war with the USSR and bombing the stuffing out of Britain.

    Hearts of Iron III is a slow-building game. I have probably sunk 6 hours into this playthrough and the war hasn’t even started yet. But I can’t wait to resume, and I’m already looking forward to the next game, probably playing as the Soviets. It’s a lot to manage, though. You can basically automate everything including the military, but the AI won’t perform as well as a decent human player. Which I’m not, yet — so I am doing everything manually. So I expect to have to be careful in my invasion of Poland and also think I will be challenged by France. Then again, my spies have national unity there really low and I shouldn’t need many victory points to make the French crumble.

    Time is Short, but the Years are Long

    Some readers of this blog may know that I both work and go to school. Neither of which I talk about very much here. I have mentioned how little free time I have with some frequency. Well, to make a very long story short, due to circumstances beyond my control, I should graduate a full semester ahead of schedule. This is both good and bad. On the one hand, I’ll get to start to normalize my life again about five months sooner. On the other, I have quite a heavy load this semester and may go insane before Christmas.

    It’s probably safe to say that come next year I will get to blog more. The problem, though, hasn’t been time to blog, but time to play. That should also be fixed by the time I graduate. I may also have some thoughts about the closure of Vanguard, which has had me fairly down on MMOs in general of late.

    Right now I’m playing a little ArcheAge. I like it. I may have more throughts about it at some point. Come next year I will likely try to settle down with something, and ArcheAge is looking like a good candidate.

    D&D5: First System Impressions

    As I’ve already mentioned, the new D&D rules have been released into the wilds of the internet, and so they are fair game for commentary above and beyond what I’ve already said based on my play experience at Origins. This isn’t a formal review, but a rundown of what’s in the game and my preliminary opinions about it.

    index First, though, we’d better cover what the new product is and is not, so far. What we have right now are two items, the D&D Starter Set and the D&D Basic Rules. The former is a boxed set which includes a 32-page rulebook, a 64-page adventure, five pregenerated characters, a blank character sheet and a set of dice. The latter is a PDF currently available for free from the Wizards site. They are the same rules, but the Starter Set is aimed clearly at new players and contains a stripped-down and simplified version of the game, with enough material to take characters to level 5. But it does not contain character creation rules; if you want to play with anything other than the stock pregens you’ll need to download the PDF.

    The D&D Basic Rules contains the core of the new game system up to level 20. It comes in at 110 pages and is currently at version 0.1. What this means is that it’s subject to revision, but it also does not currently include a bestiary or the rules for handing out experience and building encounters. So as of now D&D Basic is not quite a complete game. However, the Starter Set includes those monsters and NPCs which appear in the adventure, and there is text in the adventure that explains how to hand out the individual awards for each encounter. There are also some additional monsters HERE from one of the late playtest drafts (which need to be checked for balance) and some preliminary encounter-building rules HERE on Mike Mearls’ blog on the WotC site. So an enterprising and moderately experienced DM could hash this into a workable campaign even now. This stuff is supposed to be added to the Basic Rules as the hardcovers release. Down the line, the Basic Rules are intended to be a living document that will be added to as new adventures and other support materials are released that require additional rules. Considering that the July 3 release contained much more than was originally announced (it was supposed to have been just character creation,) I have no reason to doubt that this will occur.

    It should be noted that the Basic Rules PDF is the core game, not the full game with all the bells and whistles and options. It gives four character classes (the Cleric, Fighter, Rogue and Wizard,) four races (the Elf, Dwarf, Halfling and Human) with basic options for each representing the genre-typical vision of that race or class. It also includes what I imagine to be a limited subset of the spells, although at a good third of the book I’d say there’s aleready plenty to go with. The three hardcover books (Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide) that will be released in August, September and October respectively will be expanded versions of the core game described in the Basic Rules, containing many more options and expansions. But the Basic Rules is supposed to be (and right now looks like it will be) a complete and playable game in its own right if you don’t want any of that cruft. It’s actually pretty complete already, aside from the aforementioned omissions.

    I’m going to punt the in-depth specifics of the two products a future post, but for now I am going to give my general impressions of the game system.

    D&D5’s rules as released thus far represent sort of a return to the roots of the game. The Debbie Downers of the RPG world are calling it warmed-over 2E, or 3E or 4E depending on who you talk to. Which ought to tell you that they haven’t looked at it very closely . There are elements here which first appeared in Fourth Edition, but it’s built on a 3E chassis and the overall effect is of a melange of various editions, with none being especially dominant. It does, however, depart completely from the laser focus on combat and extreme codification of every combat-relevant mechanical effect that was a hallmark of 4E. So the fans of that version are tending to be, from what I’m seeing, it’s harshest critics. Also not appearing in this picture is the default assumption from 3.5 and 4E that you’re playing with miniatures; while you could play 3-4E without them, the rules assumed you were, and the difficulty of doing without them ranged from irritating tedium to major pain in the ass. D&D5 does away with this; all the info you need to play with minis is in there, but the compulsion to do so is gone. The overall complexity level being perhaps comparable to a pre-bloat AD&D2E — so it’s pretty lean. It isn’t as stripped down as Moldvay Basic, as some had hoped and/or feared. It’s pretty loose but with substantial structure, which is a sweet spot from where I am sitting right now.

    There’s a lot of open questions about 5E; I’m not sure I understand the thinking behind the XP requirements for leveling, for example. At a glance it looks like you rocket through the very early levels really fast —— like maybe to level 3 in the first session. My gut instinct is to hate that… but it’s incredibly easy to houserule, and there’s a chance I might be sold on it anyway. We’ll see what happens with the next additions to these core rules, but what I see now looks like a robust and appealing system in its own right, without any real need for additional supplements. If that’s the intention, and I gather it to be, then I approve.