Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: Video Games

More about that Elden Ring

It’s been nearly three months since Elden Ring was released to much fanfare. It’s sold 13.4 million copies since launch. It sold 12 million within the first two weeks. It sits at 90,000-100,000 concurrent players, which is amazing for a single-player game. It’s a bona fide hit and I could not be more thrilled about it.

I’ve been a From fan for nearly a decade. I came to the first Dark Souls late and didn’t grow to appreciate it until the second time I played it. And it wasn’t until I played Dark Souls III that I fell completely in love with the games.

Dark Souls III was my favorite game of all time. I have played it dozens of times, have the plat, and it was the first game I played after I recovered from my medical trauma. I know every nook and cranny of that game and love it with all my heart. I can talk about it endlessly and I could not imagine any game replacing it in my heart.

Then Elden Ring dropped. I had to scramble to prepare for it because the PC specs were beefy. They dropped the PC specs late in the  day, which miffed me. It was ten days or so before the game was released, which is not a hell of a lot of time. To make matters worse, the specs jumped up quite substantially from Sekiro to Elden Ring. I had thought I’d be able to play on low with my current laptop, but when I saw the requirements, I knew I had to get a new computer. Remember, it was nearly impossible to get graphic cards at the time for anything less than full-computer price. Since that was the case, I might as well get a whole new compy. My brother helped me set it up and it was ready to go (with the SSD, mega-RAM, 1 terabyte of memory, and two screens).

The PC version of the game was fraught with problems from the very start. Graphic pop-ins, juttering and stuttering, and hard crashes/freezes. I was lucky that I had a bit of stuttering and one hard crash. I don’t notice pop-ins so that didn’t bother me and I’m not into effects in general. To me, it looked crisp and clean and gorgeous. The stuttering was by far the worst, but it didn’t really get into my way. Still, I felt bad for my PC kin who had base rigs because there was no way the game would have run on them.


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Elden Ring is close to perfection–but not quite

When Elden Ring was released, there was a lot of talk about whether it was perfect or not. It got a bunch of 10s and has been called the GOAT (it’s taken for granted it’ll win GOTY). Ian and I have talked about it and he makes a compelling case for why it deserves a 10. I, on the other hand, will never give it a perfect score because of the usual From idiosyncrasies that get on my nerves. Yes, you can argue that they are incidental, but to me, perfection means no flaws. The irritants of Elden Ring add up to at least .3 if not up to .5. It’s still neck-and-neck with Dark Souls III as my favorite game of all time, but I don’t consider it perfect.

Here’s the thing. I don’t think anything is perfect. How can it be? There’s no such thing  as perfect. So I can understand why people label something perfect even with flaws. I’m not like that, though. To me, perfection means it doesn’t have any big flaws, but this game does. Or rather, persistent flaws. And I need to get it off my chest. Also, I show love by criticizing. It’s in my blood and what I do. I am not one to gloss over the negatives. Indeed, I concentrate on them too much sometimes. But to me, it’s part of my love–the negatives. Or rather, that’s part of what makes the game what it is.

So. Here are the things that annoy the FUCK out of me in this game. Again, I consider this a 9.5 or so game. I want to put that out there so it doesn’t sound like I’m completely trashing it. It’s the best game of the year BY far and maybe the best game of all time. I want to state that up front so you know that I’m doing this out of love.

First and foremost, the platforming. I’ve ranted about this before, but non-platforming games should not include platforming because it uniformly sucks. Platforming is very precise and platforming games are designed by people who specifically understand the intricacies of platforming. In non-platforming games, it’s usually just thrown in for a laugh. Miyazaki loves him some platforming and it’s in every From game. And it uniformly sucks. Except in Sekiro because there is a grappling hook.

It’s even worse in Elden Ring because of Torrent. I love Torrent. He’s my buddy and he makes traveling so much easier. I love riding around on him, just exploring the hell out of the map. But. He’s no good for platforming. He doesn’t land where you want him to and he wanders a bit when you try to turn him around. He cannot stop on a dime, which is problematic in platforming. There is no precision on Torrent, which is frustrating as hell.


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Looking for love in all the wrong places

I love Elden Ring, but it doesn’t love me back. Story of my life, really. I always want what/who I cannot have for reasons as long as my arm. Back when I was dating, I was attracted to gay men, straight women, and anyone who was attached in a monogamous way. Even if someone fit into the category of who I was attracted to and theoretically available, they had no interest in me. The people I did manage to date ended up being not good for me in many ways. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Part of this is because I’m contrary. I could sugarcoat it by saying I point out things other people don’t see (which, true), but the practical outcome is that I am usually the minority voice. This can be a strong point, but it can also be fucking annoying. I fully acknowledge the latter point.

Because of this, I rarely take things at face value. There is always an underlying reason for everything. Again, while this may be true, it doesn’t exactly make me the most popular person when I voice these opinions. I’ve learned how to keep these things to myself when the other person shows they don’t understand what I’m talking about or aren’t interested in my perspective.

Side Note: One of the most insightful things my last therapist said to me was that people literally could not understand what I was saying. Not that they were misunderstanding, but they could not comprehend the concepts I was spitting at them. “Minna,” she said. “They are at a level 2 and you are speaking at a level 5. It’s like Maslow’s hierarchy. They are focused on food and shelter while you’re up to self-actualization.” Something about what she said flipped a switch in my head. Along with her pointing out the lesser-known results of the Dunning-Kruger study; that people who are good at something seriously underestimate the gap between them and other people in that area. Because you can’t get an outside perspective on yourself, what you can do is normal to you.

I see this in FromSoft games all the time, by the way. People who are good at the games can’t grasp that their experiences are not the norm. And it’s circular because those who are good at it are the ones who play the games, making them better at the games, thus making it easier for them to forget the difficulty in the beginning. I adore Aoife Wilson from Eurogamer, but she is especially guilty of this. She firmly believes anyone can play the games and that you just have to learn the moves. She calls Sekiro a rhythm game and says once you click with the system, it’s so easy!

Except, some of us do not click with the system. I did not. But Minna, says other people. I thought you could not beat the game if you did not click with the combat! Oh, you can. But you’re not going to have fun and it’s going to be very grueling. Because instead of the posture-breaking at the core of the game, you have to whittle away at the health in agonizing slowness until the boss finally dies. I remember fighting the Boss of Hatred and just hating everything about my life. It’s a three health pip boss and it took me hours to beat him. I have talked about how transcendent it was to beat Isshin, the Sword Saint, but was it worth it? I have to say no. That game just made me feel like a total failure DESPITE me beating it.


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Elden Ring redux

I feel like talking about my second Elden Ring playthrough. Fair warningthat there will be spoilers as I want to talk about mid-to-late game events. I’ve mentioned before that there is an NPC questline that I would pay $30 for on its own. This is Ranni’s questline, which also encompasses War Counselor Iji, Blaidd, the half-human/half-wolf, and Preceptor Seluvis–the  ultimate asshole. In my first playthrough, it took me between thirty and fifty hours to do her questline in full. Well, mostly in full. I did not do a few steps, but I got there in the end.

The questline takes you underground to a gorgeous, star-speckled universe that is stunning. That’s saying something because the game in general is one amazing environment after another. It’s purple and ethereal and has a magical quality to it. I’ve described it before so I won’t get go into details again.

I finished the questline today in about 10 hours rather than the 30 or so it took me previously. The last boss you need to kill before you can do the very end of the quest is one I had so much trouble with in the first playthrough. I was not confident at all  going into the fight this time around. I walked through the golden mist and got the boss on the first–no, that’s not how it happened. At all. It smacked me around and I was deaded over and over again.

Here’s the thing. I was still skimping on my health because I wanted to boost my Int as fast as possible. And there were other stats I needed to boost as well. I had my at 20 for a bit, which is more than I had in the first playthrough at 100+ hours. In that playthrough, I had 18 Vigor at that point. Which meant every boss could one-hit me. With 23 or so health, I can usually take one hit, but with this boss, there is one move it does that will inta-kill me. And it plays into my spatial issues, too, which makes me so very not happy. The move is that it’ll disappear and then reappear somewhere. Oh, and the arena is the abyss (the name of the boss is Astel Naturalborn of the Void) which doesn’t help with my spatial issues. Now, the tip is to look to your left because if Astel respawns next to you, it’ll be to your left. That doesn’t seem to be the case for me and even if it is, I can’t see him in time to avoid his grab.


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Elden Bling–and a quick look at NORCO

I’ve played a few hours of NORCO by Geography of Robots and I’m pleased to say that it’s a good game. Well, let me reframe that. I am enjoying it despite the gameplay is a more accurate description of what is happening. The gameplay as it were is few and far between, which is to its benefit. It’s mostly a graphic novel with dialogue choices and I really enjoy the gritty noire feeling to the game and the hard-bitten dialogue. Most of the time, I choose the kindest options when I play these kinds of games. I don’t like being a jerk, but for some reason, I went a different route in this game. I am Kay, the daughter of Catherine, who dies of cancer at the beginning of the game. Kay left Norco when her mother was diagnosed, despite her brother (Kay’s brother), Blake, pleading with her not to go. Instead of being sympathetic with Blake, I am bracing with him as I ride off on my motorbike.

The protag reminds me so much of Kathy Rain from her titular game. Hard-bitten, sarcastic, motorcycle-riding, and takes no guff from anyone. There was a mystery in that one as well. A dead mother, too. In that case, the mystery surrounds her missing father (missing long before the game starts). In this one, when she gets back home, she discovers her brother is missing. Also, her mom has a security robot who…does housework? I’m not sure what she does exactly, but she’s pretty cool as well.

Two things I really hate about point-and-clicks, both the fault of Wadjet Eye Games, the developers of the Blackwell series, which is the granddaddy of this genre. One, pixel hunting. Oh my god. The having to mouse over each pixel to find that indeterminate pixel that is important, but unnoticeable from the rest is excruciating. Two, and this is the one that annoys the FUCK out of me, having to find and combine disparate objects. It’s bad enough to be asked to combine a long piece of hair, a coffee cup with a heart on it that can only be found in the left side neighbor’s backyard, and a sham pillow to make a key. It’s always a key. Why is it always a key? The worst part is that you often have to backtrack to get what you need. And you know how From games are considered obfuscating and difficult to comprehend? They ain’t got nothing on point-and-clicks. I remember playing Unavowed (Wadjet Eye Games). It looked gorgeous and I loved the concept. I went into it with high hopes, but then there came a point where part of the solution was dangling rope out of a greenhouse (or something similar) and then going down a few floors to do something else with the rope, but it very much wasn’t explained. That was the last straw and I quit on the spot. I had been using a walkthrough throughout the game until this point.


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Elden Ring the second time around

nSo. I’m romping through the second playthrough of Elden Ring in about a third the amount of time it took me the first playthrough. I’m around 35+ hours and in the Volcano Manor. I did not get there until roughly 100+ hours in my first playthrough. I think it’s actually more than that because–and, again, spoilers galore–I did not receive the invitations to invade other people’s worlds until after I was in the Mountaintop of Giants. Wait. I don’t think that’s right, but it later in the game, I think.

At any rate, I now have the Crepus Vial (talisman)/Hidden Form (spell) combo. The former is a reward for accomplishing the second Volcano Manor invite whereas the latter is the reward for figuring out how to get into a certain rise (tower). The Mirage Rise in this case. I did not like these puzzle towers, by the way, but that is neither here nor there.

I gotta say that my number one tip for n00bs is to bump up that Vigor. If you’re a FromSoft vet, yeah, you can glass cannon it. But if you’re a newcomer or, iike me, have spatial/twitch issues that make it difficult for you to be no-hit during a boss/mob fight, you really want to make sure that red bar stretches across the top of the screen.

I still remember all the boss fights on my first playthrough that were so frustrating because I was one-shot time and time again. I will never be good enough to do a no-hit boss fight. And it’s not fun for me to fight a boss, knowing that a certain move will instantly end the fight. I know it’s partly my fault keeping my Vigor so low, but I maintain that making it so a boss can one-shot you is just deflating. OK, OK, my Vigor was extremely low. 18 for the first 100+ hours. I ended with it being 30 when it’s recommended you have 60 by the end game.

I’ve mentioned this before, but when I got the Mimic Tear Spirit Summon, which uses health rather than mana to be summoned, I couldn’t use it because I was level 18 and you needed to be 21 to have enough health to summon it (and you’d only have 20 leftover at that). 18 is 598 HP, by the way. 30 is 994 HP and 60 is 1900 HP. I said this before, but the last boss has a HP of nearly 35,600 HP. That’s multitudes more than Gwyn’s paltry 4,250 HP. He was the final boss of the first Dark Souls! To make an even more astounding, Margit, the Fell Omen, the first big boss in Elden Ring, has 4,175 HP.


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Elden Ring needs a friend

I’m nearly done with my second playthrough of Elden Ring. That’s a joke because during my first playthrough, I was convinced that Leyndell Capital was the last area of the game. No idea why, but I was. So when I reached it, I was thinking I was in the end game. This was a bit over 100 hours into the game and it took me another hundred to finish it, by the way. I could go into Leyndell Capital now if I wanted, but I’m not sure I do want. Leyndell Capital was by far the hardest area of the game (for where it is), and it made me rage. Being one-shot by an enemy is NOT fun at all. Being one-shot by an enemy that late in the game? Infuriating. And yes it’s partly my fault that I had such little health (in fact, that’s why I put 12 points into vigor just to get to 30), but it’s not fun to have mobs of enemies who each one-shot you. Hopefully, I’ll be able to withstand it better now, but I’m not ready to go there yet. Mentally, I mean.

I need a game that I can chill out to at my laptop. I have Game Pass, which is a great deal, even with the hike up to $14.99 per month. Bunch of free games that you can play. Just like that. I played Boyfriend Dungeon (Kitfox Games) on Game Pass, for example. There are two games I have installed that I want to try. One is Tunic by Andrew Shouldice. It’s a Soulslike, Zeldalike game with an adorable fox as a protagonist. I tried the demo, thinking it should be right up my alley, but it was not. My spatial difficulties caused me frustrations plus the difficulty spike was not fun. There is a way to turn off the difficulty in the real game and supposedly, the difficulty doesn’t ramp up so drastically in the real game. I really want to like the game so I’m going to give it the old college try.

The other is a game called NORCO by Geography of Robots. It’s set in Norco, a real town in Louisiana. It’s called Southern Gothic and is a point-and-click mystery game, but it doesn’t have the inane mashing together a bunch of disparate items to make a key bullshit that the genre still stubbornly maintains is a good thing. Kay is the protagonist and her mother has died, so she goes back home to Norco. Her brother is missing as well. The town is going to ruins in part because of the oil company crushing out the life of the town. That’s my basic take on the story and the pixel art is lush. I’ve included the release trailer with this post.


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Random Thoughts about Elden Ring

Talking about that Elden Ring again. Warning, there will be spoilers throughout the post. Early-ish game spoilers, but spoilers, nonetheless. In this case, it’s the comparison of the first playthrough versus this one. As a reminder, trying to do a pure strengthcaster this time, with an emphasis on Strength and Intelligence. I’m twitching, though, because there are incantations that I want to use, which take faith. Plus, I had to boost my Dex to use the weapon I’m currently using–Moonveil. It’s a magic-infused katana and it’s supposed to be one of the best Int-based weapons in the game. I do not have a good Str-Int weapon yet and the best one I know of is many many hours away.

I have five or six spell slots, which is nice. I have mentioned before that I was skeptical about Memory Stones for slots, but I’m a big fan of it now. It’s so easy! Find or buy the Memory Stone and you get another spell slot. Not level up six or seven times, which takes an increasing amount of Souls each level in the Souls games. Finding one in a chest and simply adding it to my inventory is the best.

I finally took on Godrick and I think I was very over-leveled. I hadn’t talked to Nepheli Loux because I didn’t find her in the castle before I ran into her at the Roundtable Hold. Therefore, her summon sign was not available for the fight. I used a soldiers summon, I think? Or was it my woofies? It might have been the wolves. Either way, I got into the second phase and thought I might actually be able to do it when I fell into an abyss. You see, there is a ravine in this fight or something–it pissed me off. Because of my spatial issues, I just cannot deal with abysses in a boss fight. That’s how the Gaping Dragon got me in the first Dark Souls and why I quit playing the game for a year. Anyway, I didn’t get mad because I had him. I went back in and easily took care of him the second time.

It surprised the hell out of me because it took me roughly a dozen times with Nepheli Loux in my first playthrough to beat him. He kept catching me in his horrid wind effect, not to mention his dragon head fire. Which, by the way….I want! Anyway, I beat him on my second try without breaking a sweat. Am I later in the game than I was in my first playthrough? Yes. But it’s also because I’ve fought him once already. I beat the Tree Sentinel on my second try as well. Everything is much easier this time around. Well, except the Crucible Knight in the Stormhill Evergaol. He took me seven or eight times and MUCH swearing.


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Elden Ring: the little things

If I wanted to, I could write a paean to Elden Ring that makes a solid case for how it’s a game changer. Literally. They took the tired old open world formula and made it exciting again. It’s funny because there were a few people at Ubisoft and Guerrilla Games who griped about Elden Ring invalidating their jobs such as UX developer. And saying that the protag needed to talk and other things. Though I’m not sure the latter wasn’t a really dark joke. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they meant it. too, because Aloy narrates EVERYTHING. It’s one of the complaints I’ve seen consistently about Horizon Forbidden West–that Aloy ruins the experience by narrating all the time. One YouTuber said he would race to figure out puzzles before Aloy would reveal the solution because it was so irritating to him. So, yeah, the tweet about the protag of Elden Ring needing to say things like, “I think I should go to that cave over there” doesn’t read like snark. It sounds like my idea of hell, by the way.

I’ve written before about how I don’t really like open world games, and much of what these developers said in distaste about Elden Ring are reasons I don’t like standard open world games. Things like a cluttered map, which I’ve seen several YouTubers mention as well (that they hate or that makes them anxious)–a map crammed with things to do. I’ve felt the same way with other open world games. Opening a map and seeing a zillion things to do is not a plus for me–it just makes me anxious and unhappy.

I cannot overstate how much I love the map in this game. And it’s actually the reason I thought up this post. There are many big things this game does that are amazing and jaw-dropping. There are, however, also many little things, little tweaks and adjustments they’ve made that have infinitely improved the quality of life while playing the game. To me, the map fits in both these categories. It’s a big change because they’ve never had a real map in one of their games. They had a joke overworld map in Sekiro that is hidden somewhere in the options menu. I maintain that they put it in because Activision (boooooo) made them do it. “You want a map? Fine. We’ll give you a map!” Fun fact. ‘Shadows died twice’ was a placeholder name they used internally. Activision made them use it as the subtitle for the game. Jokes on them–no one ever says it when talking about the game. It’s simply Sekiro. Anyway, fuck Activision!


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Elden Ring part deux: Electric Boogaloo

I started a new Elden Ring playthrough as the Prisoner. Because of course I did. I’m leaving the first playthrough as is (and I’m still finding new things every day!), but I wanted a fresh new start. The Prisoner is the classic Strength/Intelligence hybrid (with very little Faith, unfortunately), and I’m already stronger a few hours in than I was as the Confessor. And I have a staff because I start with one. The one sorcery I have is the Magic Glintblade that spins in the air before shooting off a dagger at the enemy. It’s strong for the beginning of the game as is the estoc. You start with high stats in Strength, Dex, and Int as the Prisoner, which is right where I want to be. Well, I’d like more Faith, but I can make do with what I have. I am in Caelid, which is a later-game area, and it’s mostly me running around hovering up items while avoiding dangerous enemies. The good dex-int weapon is there. In fact, I am at the boss that drops it. I can get it down halfway, but not further than that. I was going to leave it until later until I remembered it dropped Moonveil, which is a katana scaling with Intelligence and has a wicked Skill on it. I can’t wield it yet, but I’m not far off. It got nerfed, but it’s still considered one of the best Int. weapons in the game.

Side Note: The Dark Moon Greatsword is a massive disappointment. It’s the Moonlight Greatsword, which is in every From game except Sekiro. And it’s very underwhelming, unfortunately. I’ve felt that about it in every game, though, so it could just be me. If I want to get it for this character, I have to do Ranni’s quest again. I mean, I probably will because you get tons of good loot including the Mimic Tear, but still. Not sure I want to do the whole thing again. But I want a good Strength/Int weapon. And I keep thinking that Dar Moon Greatsword should be it.


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