I heart the Forza Horizon series

It’s funny, I would never actually race a car. I’d be too afraid of the consequences – like scratching up the bumper or, ya know, dying in in a fire.

But I LOVE car racing games. Specifically, I love the Forza Horizon series.

Right now, for Gold Members, Xbox is giving away Forza Horizon 2 10th Anniversary Edition. and it is definitely worth downloading. I just went and started up my old game to see if it still held up after all these years and was immediately sucked into racing for 90 minutes, completing championships, racing a crop duster, and taking pictures of cars for easy credits.

I purchased Forza Horizon 3 when it came out, and it takes everything from the first two games and makes it better and then puts you in Australia. The open world in all three games means you can just cruise around and enjoy the scenery, “collecting” roads, going through speed traps, and finding XP billboards.

It’s not all just fast, shiny cars. Driving around, you discover “barn finds”, rare and classic vehicles that are hidden throughout the world. Once discovered, they are repaired so you can drive them and most of them are about style more than speed. I just did a retro hatchback championship and drove a car that was only slightly younger than I am, could maybe hit 100 if I was on a long, open stretch of road. The next championship I signed up for was for Hypercars and I used my credits to buy a Bugatti and now my brain can’t process driving at 200 mph down the tiny Italian roads! The variety of races and car types means you can pretty much play these games forever.

But each time they put out a new one, it is hard to resist the latest features. Forza Horizon 4 will have seasons that change weekly, meaning that the races and challenges available will change each week too.

I mean, just LOOK at this video (from my favorite YouTube gamers on Outside Xbox)

Oh, and the in-game radio stations are not too bad either! I mean, after you’ve played for 6 hours, they can get a little repetitive, but if you change them up enough, there is always something good for driving (or you can always turn them off and have Spotify running in the background since Xbox has an app for that).

So, if you have Games with Gold, do yourself a favor and download this one! And if you have an Xbox One and like racing, I’d definitely recommend any titles from this fantastic series!

Gaming Thoughts: Witcher 3 (PC)

Wow, I haven’t updated this blog since January! I may have too many blogs. 😛

I grabbed Witcher 3 during the Steam Summer Sale, it was $20 for the game + DLC so I jumped on it. I could have just played Tim’s copy, but that would require me to chase him away because Steam’s family share only works if the other person is not on their computer. So that was my excuse…I mean, to be honest, I am a nerd and I wanted to collect the Steam Trading Cards.

Well worth the money though, I’m loving it. I really liked Witcher 2 and I could feel myself becoming obsessed with the world (I even started to read the books) and Witcher 3 is everything and more and OMG SO PRETTY!

But I really love the characters. This is a STORY HEAVY game, even though there is plenty of action, adventure and exploration. I think Witcher has the edge on other games in this genre because of the novels and the very rich world that the game writers had to pull from. Compared to a series like Tomb Raider, let’s say, where Lara Croft is pretty much THE character and you know about her and everyone else is just set decoration. Witcher has characters all over the place, people with backstories that they are happy to share with you if that is your play style. (I can’t help but play Geralt as the badass with a heart of gold, sorry if it is cliche. Maybe the second time through I’ll be a dick to people and tell them to suck it up when they are crying to me about their dead wife).

I’ve logged 16 hours so far in the game, Tim completed the game and has 222 hours. So I have SO much game left to go through, so many stories. When the game starts, it seems like you can just go from point A to point B and complete the story. But riding around pays off. Yesterday, I was meandering around an area and I found an abandoned village full of ghouls. Geralt wiped them out and when he killed the last one, the townspeople returned and set up shop!

And not every quest ends in a battle. The quest I did last night, I had the option of fighting the monster or using the monster for a ritual to make it into a protective spirit. Of course, getting the monster to the right location took a little bit of fighting, but nothing too difficult for Geralt. After he did the ritual, I followed the creature to gather clues about the story. It is so satisfying to make a choice in the game and have it actually be a choice and not just a dialogue option that leads to the same outcome no matter what.

Most hilarious quest so far was going to find a villager’s goat that had wandered off. It liked a little bell, so Badass Geralt is walking around the woods, ringing a little bell. LOL. It was fantastic.

Anyway, I’m only 16 hours in so obviously I have barely scratched the surface, but if you are into games with great story (and you can put the difficulty all the way down to pretty much just play the story) watch for this to drop back down to $20 and grab it. So worth it.

Also, did I mention how pretty? (also, Geralt’s voice? Rawr. It’s probably the thing that worries me the most about the Netflix series. The voice actor for the game was so unique, how could I accept another voice?)

Witcher 3 - Geralt in the Rain//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Bonus: I carried over my save from Witcher 2 and I never got around to getting Geralt’s tattoo removed after the “Hangover” style quest in that game so when I started up Witcher 3, there is was. **facepalm** sorry Geralt! Don’t drink so much next game!

video game thoughts: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (2017)

video game thoughts: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (2017)

I cannot stop thinking about this game. I flew through the 8 hours of gameplay time (well, it took me more than that because I am a very cautious fighter LOL) and I miss Senua already.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is the story of a warrior woman whose lover was murdered by invading Norsemen and she has decided to go into hell to free his soul.

But Senua is not a normal woman – she hears voices. Her mother heard them too. They whisper to her, constant companions since she was young. These voices have kept her separated from the rest of her tribe, which is why she wants so badly to find Dillion’s soul – he was the one person who truly cared for her. I know this sounds cliche, but I have to say that love is the one force out there that will make people challenge gods, even if those gods are not their own.

I love how the game just drops you into the story – no tutorial mode, not even a flash of instruction on the screen to coach you. You must figure it out (even if that simply means hitting “pause” to bring up the control menu) – the game designers have faith in your abilities to play from the start and they don’t want to pull you out of the narrative to go through some clunky “What does the A button do?” screen or cheesy flashback to find an excuse to learn how to make your character walk.

I really feel like this game is another great example of video games as art. I feel like to show how a thing is art, you must give examples of how it brings out emotions in us that no other format can; how it can tell a story that would not be nearly as powerful as just a printed page or even as a moving image.

I played Hellblade as the creator’s suggested: with headphones on. This let me experience the voices the way Senua did – hearing them immediately as our shared quest began and growing both frustrated and fond of their chatter. I don’t think the printed text of a novel could have done this for me and while I can be emotionally connected to a character in a movie or tv show, you can’t become them the way you can in a video game. And while I don’t think I was ever Senua, I felt like I was with her the whole way.

I know this game is already getting a lot of push back from people with mental illness. Ninja Theory, the game design company, did a lot of homework in trying to represent the different ways psychosis can feel. I’ve seen at least one reviewer who are not happy because they suffer from mental illness and didn’t think the game represented them, and I can understand that. The designers could only do so much and they reached out to professionals and got as much feedback as possible but they can’t know what it is like for someone and no game will really ever replicated that experience.

I am coming from a completely different place, and this game really made me think a lot about all of the voices in everyone’s head and how some of us can shrug them off and others are forced to hear them. The voices of self doubt, of fear, of resignation beside the voices that also push you on. I’ve never suffered from psychosis and I can’t even begin to understand what life would be like for someone living with it, but for those 8 hours, I had those voices in my ears and it made me think of how hard that can make everything – if I was struggling in a fictional world to run forward and stay focused, what must it be like for someone in modern society? No idea, I know I can never know.

While I didn’t love the ending (too soon, I wanted more), I loved the game as a whole. I really enjoyed that it was more than just a button mashing fighter game and that the (thankfully few) boss fights all had strategies to them. It reminded me of Legend of Zelda and how each “boss” was more than just a simple fight, you had to pay attention. There were just as many puzzles and hidden things to make me want to keep going, and bits of Norse legend peppered through-out which made me want to go find Neil Gaiman’s new book and see if there were more to those legends.

It was a beautiful game, I loved seeing it on my screen, watching Senua wander the mystical world. I really hope we have more adventures with her.

For more details about the game and how to buy a (digital only for PC and PS4), visit the official Ninja Theory site.

@outsidexbox : My new YouTube addiction

Some nights after dinner, we open up the YouTube app on the Xbox and just start watching random stuff. Usually it’s clips from Jimmy Fallon or Conan O’Brien but a few weeks ago, we stumbled on a a channel with lots of “top ten” this and the videos that were amusing, even though some were a bit of a stretch since this was all the channel did. Then one of the Suggested Videos linked to a show called “OutsideXbox“.

There are three of them – Jane, Mike, and Andy. They are gamers. They are British. They are darlings. I can’t stop watching the videos.

I think what I like most (apart from the fact that Jane is there representing the ladies) is that they are never really *mean* about things. Yes, they are snarky and poke fun at a lot of video game cliches, but the humor comes from a happy place. The show is about Xbox games but they don’t sit and take potshots at PC, PS4, or Wii games and frequently reference classic titles from these systems when doing their lists. I never feel like they are attacking anyone, just having a laugh. They can joke because they love the games too. We’ve all been there!

I am addicted to this channel. My gateway drug was all the silly lists of ridiculous things, like achievements and easter eggs. Then the other night, Tim clicked on them playing through a portion of the Slender game, and while I have never really been into watching other people play games, I think having the 3 of them in the room together made this SO much fun to experience. Instead of a gamer talking to themselves, we had the three of them laughing and jumping together (and Mike acting like he wasn’t scared but we know he was screaming internally the entire time).

To top it off, each Friday they post a “Show of the Week” wish some highlights and comment reactions from the videos uploaded during the week, which usually has another list and some antics in the studio.

So if you’re in need of a gamer show or think you might be (I didn’t even know I was until I started watching!) then give OutsideXbox a try!

quick thoughts: Dragon Age Inquisition

Meet Allora! She’s my Dalish Elf Rogue in Dragon Age Inquisition.

I’ve managed to log several hours in DAI now and the size of this game is a bit overwhelming. I feel like the Bioware team spent the last few years playing through the Bethesda games after they were finished crying over all the ME3 hatemail and trying to figure out how to top themselves. At times, I worry the game is too big, that it took too many pages from the Oblivion/Skyrim gamer’s guide instead of just being a Dragon Age game. We will see how I feel once the story is over.

So far, I’m really enjoying the game. There are a few things I’m not quite sure they changed (um…being able to choose stats? wha?) and a few things I’m underwhelmed by (I can’t get excited about crafting items, feels too much like work) but overall I’m having fun. I’ve died a LOT but the world is so open that it’s easy to just walk away from an area for awhile and level up a bit before facing it all again.


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gaming thoughts: Assassin’s Creed Unity

I finally have a game for my Xbox One and it’s one of the buggiest releases ever, or so the Internet would have you believe. Honestly, Ubisoft did a good job of patching a lot of the gameplay issues as quickly as they could. Yes, if I was a hardcore AC fan who was up at midnight and ready to power through memory sequence after memory sequence, I probably would have been perturbed. But as a casual fan of the series, I haven’t come up with any game stopping moments (er, except when the game wouldn’t load, but that seemed to be one of the quickest issues dealt with in the weekend patch).

ANYWAY, as far as gameplay goes, AC:U doesn’t feel that different from ACII or Black Flag. Lots of running, jumping and then jumping over your actual destination. If you have played AC games before, it’s very easy to pick up and get going – maybe too easy as you can find yourself getting distracted by collecting quests immediately since all the chests and collectible items appear on your map as soon as you start the game up.

The game is VERY open. It’s easy to wander into a quest that is far beyond your ability. The game gives you a heads up that you might want to upgrade your equipment but it doesn’t stop you from attempting the side quest if you really want to try. The missions are what you would expect – assassinations, puzzle solving, and stealthy thievery. I really enjoyed the first two Nostradamus riddle sequences I solved, a nice change of pace from all the stabbing.

There are lots of ways to earn points here and there. The game is generous with handing out “creed” points, which are used for upgrading equipment. You can earn them by hiding or using a quick lift. You can also earn them by stopping fights, killing enemies, and tackling a thief. (Thieves in this game are MUCH slower than in previous games! Not sure if that was on purpose of a glitch or if they will get smarter once I’ve tackled 30 of them).

There is also the notorious Companion App, AC Initiates, and Uplay – part of Ubisoft’s online program that is meant to link you to your other games and reward you. Sadly, the Companion app seems to be the only one that works right. AC Initiates and Uplay have had issues linking all weekend and I know I’m not getting any credit for the time spent with previous AC titles. The Companion app can be loaded onto a phone or tablet and you have a “nomad” group of assassins that can be sent on missions, which when completed unlock in-game chests and missions. There is a “premium” version of the app that can be purchases for $2 but…let’s face it, I just spent $60 on the game (well, not me personally, since my copy came with the Xbox One) but it seems sort of rude to expect me to pay MORE to access features in the game. But if you’re a completist and need 100% of the achievements, you will probably cave and pay so you can unlock all the chests.

The game is fun, I’ve been enjoying myself running around London Paris (it’s hard to remember that I’m in FRANCE since everyone speaks with a cockney accent…WTF?). Arno is not as charming as Ezio; he’s less of a rogue and more of a scoundrel, if that makes any sense. The main campaign story is interesting enough to keep me playing and the side quests have been enjoyable enough to make me want to spend a couple hours completing them.

It will keep me amused until my copy of Dragon Age Inquisition arrives next week. Then…well, if you don’t hear from me after that, you’ll know I’m lost in Fereldon. But for now I will help the French peasants survive the first few days of the revolution.

PSA: DragonAge Origins FREE through EA Origin

As part of their “on the house” promotion (and trying to drum up interest for Dragonage Inquisition…like they even need to) EA is giving away FREE copies of Dragonage Origin, the first game in the series, for PC download.

Only catch is you need to have their service Origin installed, set up an account yadda yadda.

But you know you’ve sold your soul to worse sites for even less so, yeah.


Also, Bejeweled 3 is free for PC/Mac, if fantasy adventure games are not your thing.