In Review – November 2020

This has been another month that has gone by in a flash while feeling so very very long. In fact, without ManicTime (and my earlier blog entries), I would have forgotten about approximately half of what I played this month.

I’m assuming that “nw” represents the time I spent on Aviary Attorney for the Community Game Along.

As you can probably tell, World of Warcraft took up a huge amount of my time this month. Back on November 13th, just under two weeks before Shadlowlands launched, all of a sudden I was motivated to start leveling characters. And level I did. I went from having five level 50 characters to having twice that number (including a Kul’Tiran mage and Void Elf hunter who were basically brand new characters).

Since Tuesday, I’ve leveled up my shaman, gotten my druid to 58, and trucked an additional five characters through the opening scenario so I could start working their professions. Unfortunately, I might have missed the big money making window of crafting materials and early crafted upgrades, but I really enjoyed the journey, even if I’m not entirely sure what to do with myself at max level.

Earlier in the month, I made my way through two visual novels for the Community Game Along. I’m still not entirely sold on the genre as a whole, but I really liked Murder Most Misfortunate, and I did find Aviary Attorney interesting, if a little bit frustrating.

I slaughtered a massive number of zombies in Dead Rising 4 to distract me from the Presidential election and, despite it being a pretty awful Dead Rising game, I found it to be a pretty satisfying zombie game.

The rest of my gaming this month was merely dabbling – a couple multiplayer games with friends, a dozen hours of Autonauts, and just enough time with Carto to appreciate the mechanics. I thought I’d probably return to it, but once I did a deep dive into World of Warcraft, everything else sort of fell by the wayside.

With a whopping 158 hours spent on gaming in November, I really didn’t have much time for any other hobbies – I didn’t watch much television, do much reading, or do any non-blog writing at all, so there were definitely goals I made at the beginning of the month that went un-met. I’m surprisingly fine with that. Despite mostly having been handing the — well, the whole lot of everything going on out there — pretty well, there’s also been a lot of stress both big and small, and whatever is getting me through is going to be good enough for me for now.

World of Warcraft – Choosing Covenants for All the Wrong Reasons

I am the first to admit, I probably play World of Warcraft wrong. The gear grind doesn’t excite me, so I’m not constantly chasing more and more difficult experiences. I do enjoy the stories the game tells, but it’s not my primary motivation either.

For me, it’s the fiddly bits of WoW that really do it for me. Professions, pet battles, and achievements are the main things that keep me coming back over and over, and since the introduction of the WoW token and the ability to pay for game time with in game gold, I’ve learned to really appreciate time spent just farming.

With everything I’ve read about Shadowlands, this expansion feels like it was build for the folks who, like me, really enjoy the fiddly bits.

I will admit, I did glance at one of the many guides out there that advise players on how to choose a covenant based on combat abilities and soul binds (which I admit I still don’t *really* get), before deciding that there were far more important considerations for me. Clearly, I want to spread my alts out, to allow access to the greatest amount of silly cosmetic stuff, and with unique armor sets being one of the silly cosmetic things available, I wanted to make sure I took armor class and fashion into account.

Kyrian – The Iron-Willed

While leveling, there was a lot of green text about the cult-like ways of the Kyrian, but I still maintain that they’re just manifesting some serious Capricorn energy. Strong willed determination and discipline rule the day, but I’d be lying if I did say a big part of the allure is the adorable Owlkin stewards. My main pledged herself to the Kyrian, mostly because she’s going to look badass in their transmog set.

Because this is the covenant I’ve chosen on my main, it’s likely where I’ll be spending the most time, and I’m intrigued by Path of Ascenion (the minigame associated with this covenant). I love the aesthetic of the sanctum, and the pets and mounts are pretty compelling too.

Oh, and at least the shaman ability (Vesper Totem) seems pretty damn useful so far, but that’s incidental.

Necrolord – The Ferocious

There is zero doubt in my mind that both my Death Knight and my Demon Hunter would feel right at home hanging in Maldraxxus with the Necrolords. My mage I’m less sure about, but she ended up here more or less by default after figuring out who else belonged where.

This is probably the least appealing covenant to me, overall, but Jiggles, the jellycat is a fantastic looking pet model, and I want to see all the stories and unlock access to the maximum amount of cosmetic rewards I realistically can.

Night Fae – The Harmonious

So far, Ardenweald seems to have it all. Probably the best zone story of Shadowlands, some really beautiful mounts, and some excellent transmog option. I’m super excited to have a garden again via The Queen’s Conservatory, and it just felt thematically right for all three characters who I intend to pledge here.

Also, the Soulshape ability is fantastic, although I’m sort of dreading the time suck of trying to unlock them all. I’m fairly sure I’m going to feel the need to try to unlock them all regardless.

Venthyr – The Haughty

Full disclosure – I kind of hate the Revendreth zone, but there’s a lot that comes with this covenant that I do like. The Door of Shadows signature ability seems like it could be ridiculously useful, and I am intrigued by the Ember Court game.

However, I desperately want the transmog for my Void Elf Warlock, and even if everything else about the entire covenant was unappealing, I’d at least have her pledge solely for fashion.

Obviously, there’s no way I’ll be able to keep up with 12 characters spread across all four covenants long-term, and due to armor class restrictions, I won’t be able to get all the transmogs without creating additional characters. However, I know I do better with a plan than just trying to figure it out as I go along, so this is my Big Picture Covenant plan, in which I make the decision for every class without even really taking into account the class specific abilities for each covenant.

This is very much on-brand for me.

World of Warcraft – Goals (Not Quite) Met

I admit, the single thing that got me most interested in coming back to World of Warcraft for Shadowlands came in the pre-patch – the level squish. I’ve always been a bit of an altoholic; I would have a main for each expansion, but I would always level my shaman, even when I decided to focus on a different class for awhile. Then, during even the smallest content drought, I’d start working on more characters.

I probably had the highest number of max level characters during Cataclysm. Across both factions and three servers, I think I had 9 max level characters. Since then, I’ve never even come close to that again, and in Battle for Azeroth, I managed an all time low of 3 level-capped characters.

With the level squish, I realized I had a great opportunity to remedy that, and – after completely ignoring my active WoW subscription for the better part of a month after leveling my warlock – I decided to see if I could get one character of each class to level 50 before the start of Shadowlands.

I didn’t quite make it, but I got a lot further on the project than I honestly expected to. When Shadowlands went live last night, I had 10 max level characters on my main server, with only my monk and rogue left. I probably could have finished at least the monk, but I spent a bit of time in the pre-patch event on my druid, in order to get my hands on the leather set.

This extra push will make it a lot easier to cover all my bases during Shadowlands, making sure I have access to all the professions, and spreading my characters out between the four covenants for maximum cosmetic rewards. I know my goal was overly ambitious, and I was actually quite pleased that I managed to get as close as I did.

Game Over – MMM: Murder Most Misfortunate #VNNovember

MMM: Murder Most Misfortunate was part of the Groupee’s Be Mine 33 Bundle in March 2018

I won’t sugar coat this – I fully expected MMM: Murder Most Misfortunate to be more annoying than enjoyable, but decided to give it a whirl anyway because of a single idea – you can frame absolutely anyone for murder and get away with it. Building a convincing murder mystery is hard enough; building one where it can be made to seem that all suspects are equally plausible is really a feat.

While this might not be the most compelling visual novel, in my opinion, it succeeds in what it’s set out to do. It’s a compact little story, with characters that are pretty one-dimensional, and with a fairly unlikable protagonist. You have the option of playing a timed game, but honestly, the 75 minutes you’re allotted is more than enough – I had seen everything the game had to offer prior to the alternate endings with more than 30 minutes left on the clock.

You play as Miss Fortune, a rather unpleasant woman who has been widowed nine times. Clearly, you’re not entirely uncomfortable with death. You are attending a society function in an old country manor in need of repair when your host winds up dead. Worse, the murderer has decided to frame you for the crime.

There is some investigation necessary in order to find the clues you’ll need to either unmask the true murderer, or at the very least, to pin the crime on someone else. However, the pixel hunting is minimal and generous – bringing your mouse anywhere near an object of interest will allow you to interact with it. You can talk with all the party guests from the start, but finding certain objects, or completing other conversations will open up additional dialogue paths.

The entire game is voice acted, which is a nice touch, and the story holds together, despite being a bit sparse. I didn’t have too much difficulty figuring out the “true” ending, but I made it a point to play through all the other options as well, as it required minimal backtracking in order to do so. All told, I playing MMM: Murder Most Misfortunate for about an hour and a half, and walked away satisfied with the experience.

Game Over – Aviary Attorney #VNNovember

Aviary Attorney was part of the March 2018 Humble Monthly

When I was a child, choose-your-own-adventure books were the hot new thing, and I read gobs of them, over and over to see all the different storylines. I mention this only because it’s the closest parallel I can think of to visual novels. When they’re good, you absolutely want to play them over and over to see the results of all the possible choices you could have made.

Infer from this what you will, but if Aviary Attorney had been much longer than it was (I spent about two and a quarter hours on my playthrough), I probably wouldn’t have even finished it once.

It’s unfortunate, because the things it does well, it does very well. The artwork is lovely, and the sound design does a fantastic job of pulling together the serious with the silly. The writing, although a little pun-heavy for my personal taste, is inoffensive, and carries the plot along unobtrusively.

However, I felt that the mechanics of the game were at odds with the concept, and it really ruined the entire experience for me.

I certainly won’t claim to be an expert on the visual novel genre, and I realize that genre conventions as a whole are starting to slip away as developers continue to play with genre mash-ups, looking for the next hot combination. In this particular instance, I felt that the concept of tying the ability to make the “correct” choices in the VN portions to the adventure-game conventions of visiting the proper locations and successful pixel-hunting for clues detracted from the experience, and was an unsuccessful genre-blend here.

With everything being tied to a timer, if you missed something in a location, you either needed to reload a previous save, or be comfortable with the idea you might be missing a key piece of evidence when it was time to go to trial.

Some people might enjoy that the game allows you to make mistakes and the need to deal with the consequences, but I found it discouraging. In multiple cases, I knew the answer, but couldn’t prove it because I had failed to pick something up along the way. As a result, I was left blundering around for three attempts to choose the correct evidence, which I did not possess due to making an error in the investigation phase. I was not even give the option to back out – I had to progress through handing in three completely irrelevant pieces of evidence.

In a lot of ways, I felt as if Aviary Attorney intended to set the player up for failure, and while that might fit the darkly comedic narrative being presented, for me, it just didn’t feel good. Doing everything right in the first case was no more satisfying than doing everything wrong, and it just got worse from there. It’s unfortunate, because there was a lot of potential here, but it was wasted – too much time was wasted trying to be a point-n-click adventure, and it left me woefully under-prepared for the main course.

Quick Look – Autonauts

I bought Autonauts on at 75% off sale last holiday season, with every intention of installing and playing it right away. Instead, it sat in my library, uninstalled until recently – I had forgotten about it entirely until it showed up in the October Humble Choice. Then, just this past week, it was also in the Killer Bundle 14 on Fanatical, and I guess that was the thing that pushed me into finally giving it a whirl.

It’s an interesting concept – you build generic robots and then train them to copy your actions in order to automate production of your colony. The tutorial is kind of drawn out, and then you are tossed off the deep end without a rope. This isn’t me complaining because I don’t know how to program very well – although it’s true that I do not know how to program very well. I expected a learning curve there. Where I didn’t expect to struggle was in figuring out what the tools do, what kind of items go in what kind of storage, and so on.

I did hunt down a good guide (which actually helped more with the programming fiddly bits than anything else), and a pretty decent wiki, and that might have been enough to slow my frustration to a manageable level, but the colonist mechanic was a huge turnoff.

Colonists in Autonauts are vaguely creepy crying naked people who need you to do absolutely everything for them. In return, they give you “Wuv”, which is the currency you need to feed into the research station in order to unlock new tech. At first, it’s not so bad. Send one robot to feed them whatever you decided to farm for food, and another to collect the Wuv they drop.

But the game is designed around meeting ever more complex colonist needs, and as you level them up by doing so, the Wuv the drop gets larger. Which is great, because research costs also increase exponentially, but annoying, because you need a storage area for each level of Wuv, which means you need a robot to deal with each level of Wuv.

I absolutely hated the colonists almost from the get go. There’s very little in-game indication about what the colonists require at each level, and you either have to guess based on what new techs your unlocking, or look it up outside the game. It’s … not ideal.

It’s unfortunate, because I think there’s a really good game here, marred by some really questionable design choices. The art style is fine, the sound design would be fine if it weren’t for the ever-present sound of crying babies, but the gameplay annoyances are frequent, at least, they were for me. This might, in fact, be due partially (or even mostly) to my weakness in programming efficiently, but I’m not sure that that’s it. Obviously, level one bots need to have weaknesses, or why would you research the other tiers, but I think at the lowest level they have just a bit too little memory, and too small of an active area. It makes the early game drag in ways I don’t feel like it should.

There are three modes, Colonization, Free, and Creative, each of which has progressively less restrictions, and might solve a lot of my problem, but I’m not sure that taking away the need to research techs would make the game any more compelling for me. I’m satisfied with having put in a dozen or so hours for the $5 I paid for it, but I acknowledge that this one just might not be for me.

Game Over: Dead Rising 4

At the end of every month, I sit down and try to figure out what I’m likely to play over the next month, install a bunch of stuff, and write up my Nerd Girl Goals entry. Then, almost as soon as I hit post, I load up something completely random and play the hell out of it for a couple of days.

I decided that I needed something sort of brainless to keep me from refreshing election results every fifteen minutes, and fired up Dead Rising 4 with seriously low expectations. I then proceeded to play through the entire story in two days (granted, on the easiest difficulty). I dabbled briefly in the Frank Rising DLC, and then went back and started replaying for collectibles, which I almost never do.

I played for about 15 hours across three days, and let me tell you, I’m pretty sure my low expectations are precisely why I enjoyed it as much as I did. Many of the defining characteristics for the series were completely discarded for the fourth game – gone are time limits, escorting survivors, and finding workbenches in order to create combo weapons. Psychopath boss battles have been toned down into completely optional maniac fights. Frank West is back, but he too feels like a shadow of the guy we met back in Dead Rising, although I think I enjoyed the camera mechanics a little bit more in this one. The side characters and overarching story is probably weakest here as well.

Although it sounds like there’s no actual reason to play, here’s what kept me glued to the keyboard. Play the game is fun. The weapons are still great, playing dress-up is still great, and watching zombies explode in a variety of ways is still pretty great. The humor is … okay, it’s weaker too, but it’s still an enjoyable experience.

I really believe that if the exact same game was released without the Dead Rising title attached, it would have been a solid 7/10. Nothing mind-blowing, not a “must play”, but a solid game that doesn’t overstay its welcome. As a sequel, I can understand why fans hated it – having played the previous titles, without a doubt it feels watered down.

Story Mode complete in just over 10 hours. I wouldn’t have minded a few more, to be honest.

What I was a little grumpy about was the story DLC: story-wise, should have been the final chapter of the main game, but gameplay-wise, was just freaking awful. The concept sounds far better than it plays – you play as a zombie, a pretty damn strong one, but after 10 hours of flashy weapons, scratching and punching people felt kind of … weak. And, as an added bonus, the timer mechanic comes back, and it felt – at least to me – tight. I wasn’t enjoying it, so I stopped playing and watched the ending on YouTube.

Nerd Girl Goals – November 2020

Community Game Along – #VNNovember

For the longest time, I thought visual novels were basically romance novels for your computer, and I paid very little attention to the genre as a whole. Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that – it just wasn’t for me. I don’t read romance novels, rarely watch sitcoms or romantic comedies, and I’ve mostly stayed away from Visual Novels and Dating Sims for the same reason – it’s just a topic outside of my interests.

But somehow, over the years as I’ve been building my excessive Steam library, I’ve managed to acquire an awful lot of games that have the tag for Visual Novel that aren’t romance-focused. For my primary choice this month, I’m going to go with Aviary Attorney, but I’ve also picked out a few back-up titles, and none of them are primarily romantic in nature.

I’m particularly interested in Methods: The Detective Competition – I’ve recently played the first several chapters in the demo, and plan on picking it up today as it’s on sale at the moment. I have also played the first case of Night Call in the past, and have been meaning to revisit it. I also am considering Va-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action and Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters Daybreak: Special Gigs if I find I’m really enjoying the theme this month.

Subscription Gaming

Since my World of Warcraft sub is still going to be active for Shadowlands release, I expect that, despite and absurd amount of waffling, I will be grabbing the expansion and leveling at least my shaman through the new content. In the meantime, I’d like to get at least two more characters to level 50, and participate in the pre-release event.

I should probably look into what the pre-release event is going to entail.

I am still finding myself not particularly invested, but vaguely interested, and I don’t know if that’s because my affection for World of Warcraft has evolved into nostalgia, or if my current state of mind just isn’t allowing me to get particularly excited about much of anything right now.

I’m also planning on maintaining my XBox GamePass for PC subscription through the month of November, as there’s still a few things I have downloaded and haven’t even poked at yet. I also would like to check out Deep Rock Galactic (available November 5), and maybe give Eastshade another shot since I ended up returning it when I picked it up on Steam.

Play to Satisfaction

For me, saying “Play to Satisfaction” gives me explicit permission to drop a game that’s not working for me, but also to grind away for nerd points if I’m really loving something. I’m trying to make it a policy for myself that I will always play to satisfaction – no more, no less.

I still have a few outstanding game-related stuff I’d like to finish up over the next few weeks, but there’s plenty of stuff I haven’t already talked about I’d like to add onto my plate this month.

I keep overfilling my plate before I get to this section, but yet again, I want to allow for some leeway for myself. I am likely to keep dabbling in SMITE, Among Us, and Puzzle Pirates throughout the month – the first two mainly to spend time with friends, and the third because I’ve found it oddly soothing as of late.

I’ve also been itching to play something building-focused and fiddly, and although Planet Zoo hasn’t hit a price point that I’m willing to pull the trigger on (especially with all the DLC, lordy!), I do have Planet Coaster hanging out unplayed in my library, so I might give that a whirl this month.

Reading & Watching & Other Stuff

So far, I have (mostly) been keeping up with The Pike Cast reading list, although the fourth book they’re covering – Monster – is making it’s way to me all the way from Australia, so I may be a bit late on that one.

They recently released the list of the next five titles they’re planning to cover, and I have gotten them all ordered! I’m particularly excited to listen to the episode on Scavenger Hunt, which is one of my top three Pike novels. Of course, with a release date of every two weeks, it’ll be February before that episode airs.

Which, I suppose, indirectly leads into the other stuff section.

Once upon a time, November for me was all about NaNoWriMo, but it’s been 8 years since I last attempted it, and fifteen since I’ve completed the month long marathon of writing. In fact, it’s probably been five years or more since I’ve even dabbled in fiction writing. I don’t know how good I may have been at one time, or how much those creative muscles have atrophied, but I miss it.

Since I’ve been out of the game a long time, and – let’s be honest – there’s a whole lot of other stress in everyone’s life right now, I’ve decided not to tackle the whole thing this year. Instead, I’m going to set a goal of completing a half-NaNoWriMo; 25,000 words instead of the full 50,000.

If I can get back into the groove, I figure I could finish up a YA thriller / horror novel of appropriate length in about three months. That feels doable to me. I have a vague idea already, and I’m absolutely taking some inspiration from the Christopher Pike books I’ve been re-reading lately. It won’t exactly be fan fiction, but I feel like it’s not that far off either.

I’d also like to get back to some of the TV shows I talked about wanting to watch back in April, assuming my attention span permits it. I feel like I’ve been completely wasting a lot of my time lately, and making a TV date with myself may not be the peak of productivity, but it will also enable to me to get reacquainted with the crafting activities that I enjoy.

There’s no question in mind that I’ve completely overloaded my November goals, but with the holidays being even more low-key than usual this year, and this being the start of the Great Season of Hibernation at our house, I may not have overloaded them nearly as much as it seems. I’m hoping that this month will bring a good mix of self-soothing and rediscovery of things I used to really enjoy.