Chipping Away At Horizon – Zero Dawn

Finally got around to starting Horizon – Zero Dawn! To put it simply, this game is modern Tomb Raider mashed together with Mass Effect. Honestly, the majority of the gameplay is incredibly derivative, but…that’s not always a bad thing.

Running around at night

While a lot of the gameplay mechanics are ripped straight out of other games, Horizon sets itself apart mainly through its great enemies and an awesome main character. Aloy faces a constant stream of asshole NPCs who all just can’t help telling her how much she sucks for being an outcast or a Nora or a woman or etc. This has made up most of the story so far, just people being total dicks, but she doesn’t listen to any of them, she just makes them look stupid by outsmarting or outfighting them and gets back to her business of annihilating all the robots in her way.

It’s a decent enough story with a handful of great moments, but it does seem to suffer from the same problem that pretty much all big open-world RPGs have, where the world is so big that the main story ends up being stretched pretty thinly across all the piles of other optional content that keep distracting you if you’re a completist type. There could be more story than I realize though. I may have explored most of the world already, but I still haven’t actually touched much of the main quest (the two main quests I have right now say level 12 and 19 and I’m almost level 40…oops!).

Hiding while I pit 2 tough enemies against each other like a jerk

Luckily, much like the other games it resembles, the gameplay is just so much damn fun that I don’t much mind the thin story. I think the enemies really take center stage here, as their variety and complexity really makes you feel like a hunter instead of just an invincible god-being that can easily headshot everything in sight.

See, the robosaurs can’t simply be mindlessly blasted away (well, maybe the wuss horse ones in the beginning can), you need to approach them carefully, scan them and study their weaknesses, and carefully strike their weak spots and use the right weapons to do so. The further you get, the more complex and deadly the enemies get, and this makes being careful and smart about your attacks even more important.

Sneaking past as 3 groups of robots fight each other for some reason

You can be extra tricky by trying to sneak up and do stealth attacks, but it isn’t long at all before the enemies become too tough to be killed this way. You can also stir up trouble by sneaking up and hacking enemies (if you can increase that skill enough) or sniping guys with corruption arrows, but you won’t get experience for kills accomplished by enemies or any other NPCs.

Naturally, things don’t always go as planned though, and so you’ll find yourself in some furious firefights, surrounded by deadly machines without any fancy quick-firing guns to blast your way out with. You’ll need some quick reflexes to get out of those situations alive.

And then just when you think you’ve finally become overpowered and capable of handling anything, you finally make your way into the second half of the land where you find yourself surrounded by hordes of even tougher enemies, including some nasty super-robos.

Oh, the horror and excitement when I entered this new land, saw a mysterious thing flying in the sky, shot an arrow at it, and found a 20 foot super-robo-bird descending upon me, shooting lightning all over the place. He beat the shit out of me that first time, but in time I learned how to take even these nasties out (though they’re still not easy).


So yeah, it’s pretty fun stuff. This all occurs in a huge world map, with piles and piles of sidequests and other optional areas like Hunting Grounds, Corrupted Zones, Cauldrons (which are totally not the Vaults from Mass Effect: Andromeda), and etc. There’s just so damn much to do. As of right now I’m still only at about 60% complete after 30-something hours, and I don’t think that percentage probably even includes the Frozen Wilds expansion.

What a beautiful world too. It’s a big, crazy, 4K world with a nice variety of location types ranging from grassy plains, to deserts, to frozen wastelands, to futuristic cyber-caves, and more. Again, I’m still not actually finished with it yet, but I can already tell you that if I’d played this earlier it would probably have made me make a tough choice in regards to the top 5 games of the year. I think this probably would have edged out Evil Within 2.

Maybe I’ll have some more to add on the subject later, as it seems that I’ll probably be working on this for another few weeks still!

Night of the Emus!

Haven’t done one of these for a while! Busy times. This is actually two separate short sessions mashed into one. Don’t tell anybody!

One of the ultimate NES classics if you ask me. Wizards & Warriors is a very flawed, early NES game, but it was a valiant effort for its time that ended up being very memorable against all odds.

Movement and combat are both clunky as hell and the level design can be maddeningly convoluted, but there’s just something so compelling about it all. The art’s actually really uneven too, with some enemies and environments looking really cool for their time and others looking weirdly unfinished, like that one spider boss that looks like it was drawn in MS Paint and then someone forgot to animate it so it just moves weirdly around the screen on a dangling web string without ever actually moving.

For the most part it looks pretty good for its time though and has a weirdly compelling look and feel to it all, along with a super catchy soundtrack. There’s a lot of running around getting lost and backtracking to find all the elusive gems and keys you require to proceed too, but at least the game gives you unlimited continues and you lose little to no progress when you die.

And then there was the sequel, whose only noteworthy characteristic is that it had Fabio on the cover for some reason.

I guess they must have spent all the budget for this on Fabio being in all the promo art because this game is fucking awful. Everything about it somehow became worse. Ugly visual design, forgettable music, even worse combat and platforming, and even more convoluted level design. It’s just a mess. I never bothered trying to get very far in it as a kid and I gave up on it even quicker today.

There was a 3rd game and a Game Boy spinoff, but I don’t think I can manage to care enough to try them at this point.

 Capcom made the arcade version of Alien vs. Predator and it’s basically the same as every other Capcom beat-em-up ever made.

They all just follow the same old Final Fight formulayet they never seem to get old (to me anyway). Just a lot of simplistic button-mashing baddie beating with weapons and explosions everywhere and cool enemy and boss designs. You can’t really go wrong with a Capcom beat-em-up, especially when it’s packed full of Aliens and you get to play as a Predator. 

This was always one of my favorites to try to play as a kid, though I could never come anywhere close to beating it. I don’t think I ever even made it past stage 2. Little did I know that I never even had a chance.

Rolling Thunder is a run-and-gun that has a great soundtrack and some really impressive character animations for its time. It seems simple enough, just walk forward and blast away at the bumbling minions that appear before you. The game says there’s only 5 stages so it seems like it should be do-able, but secretly, this is a game that was designed to be absolutely unwinnable. The difficulty increases by a massive amount after the first few stages, especially since you have to redo pretty huge sections of the stages if you die, and you die really easily. That big looking life bar is completely misleading because you actually will die in only 1-2 hits, depending on if you take a melee hit or a bullet. Oh, you also have pretty strict time limits on every stage too. If you aren’t constantly on the move, you won’t make it out in time.

And if you should miraculously make it through all 5 stages? Fuck you, that wasn’t the real ending, time for the second quest! Yep, you not only go back to stage 1, but the difficulty is turned up to an unbelievably high level and the stages have even been altered to be even more difficult. It’s not even just that there are more enemies too, and there are A LOT more, but it becomes clear pretty quickly that these altered levels were specifically designed to be impossible. Look at this shit:

This is NOT a platforming game, so these jumps are much, much harder than they look and of course if those guys touch you you’re immediately dead too. Oh, and if you shoot them? They explode into 4 more slightly smaller copies of themselves. It just goes on and on like that to the point that even with save states and turning invincible mode on in the dip switches, it was still really hard to complete, but damn it, I finally did it after all these years. Maybe I should have just stuck with the console version, but the NES couldn’t come anywhere close to replicating these graphics at the time. Maybe I’ll give it a try someday just to see what it’s like though…

Naturally, my next stop was Rolling Thunder 2. I’ve never played either of the sequels. Until recently I thought they only ever game out on Genesis, because I’ve never seen Rolling Thunder 2 in any arcade, but apparently it did exist, and you know what? It makes the first game look like a game for babies…

The sequel does away with the animated look of the previous game and makes everything a great deal more detailed and animated, including the new look of the bad guys who are now some kind of cyborgs I guess. It looks nice for what it is, but I think I actually preferred the look and sound of the original.

Man, this is another completely impossible game too. Again, it starts out seeming all bright and silly, opening on some kind of beach resort with an oddly chirpy soundtrack that sounds like it belongs in a comedy game, but it isn’t long before the game shows you that it means business. You need to have incredibly quick reaction time to survive the hordes of deadly enemies, and you know what? Even then, it still won’t be enough.

I’m disappointed to say that I couldn’t finish the game, though oh did I try. I actually got all the way to the last boss, but I just couldn’t beat him. The final stage is another sadistically difficult level that was clearly designed to be unsurvivable. It’s just a series of absolutely unwinnable fights against huge groups of enemies running, shooting, and throwing grenades at you from both side with no cover in sight and an insulting shortage of ammo supply rooms. You also get no checkpoints at all, so when you die you have to start the entire very long stage over again. Even with hours of trying to save-state-scum my way through, by the time I reached the end, I had no extra ammo and not enough time to possibly chip away at his huge amount of health with my slow emergency back-up gun. The only way to win would be to somehow not use ammo on the way to him so you’d have enough fast bullets left to kill him with in the short time you have left, and it’s just not possible to do so.

Actually, I just looked up some videos online and I guess it is technically possible, but you have to be some kind of crazy video game savant to do so.

Yeah, I’m never going to be able to do that. Guess I should have tried the Genesis version! Maybe next time…

Thus ends another installment of Night of the Emus. It may be a while again before I have time for another one, but oh, it will return…

Wild World of Warcraft III

The next stop on the Azeroth world tour was to be Zul’Farrak, but first we had to travel to many faraway places and do many convoluted quest chains to get those sweet, sweet dungeon quests. Along the way we did a difficult trio of escort missions for…mechanical chickens, because they just happened to be there and they were worth a lot of points.

Then we were sidetracked by ridiculous Christmas event quests where we won some more useless cosmetic items so we could look stupid because why not?

Then after many hours of preparation, it was finally time to go back to the desert region of Tanaris to tackle that dungeon, but not before I stopped to show off on my fancy paladin horse. Aaaaaanyway…

Zul’Farrak is basically just a giant troll city. It’s so large in scale that you can use mounts inside it, though you don’t really have much of a chance or reason to do so.

While it’s a big place, and it does have a few nice bosses and an interesting scripted event, it’s all a little too similar looking and you spend most of the time fighting the same few troll enemies over and over again. There are some nice rewards to be found, but it’s definitely not my favorite place.

The scripted event I mentioned involves killing a little boss at the top of a big pyramid-type structure who drops a key, which you use to unlock a group of cages, which starts another “escort” quest. There’s not really much actual escorting to be done, you all just stand at the top of the stairs while huge groups of guys rush you all. It becomes a pretty intense battle and luckily the people on your side aren’t as fragile as the usual escort quest people because things get so crowded and frantic that I lost sight of most of them within a few seconds.

If you manage to survive all the waves, you all walk down to the bottom and witness a dramatic scene where one of the prisoners leaves the group and runs away, and the rest suddenly turn on you and you’re forced to kill them. Thanks, guys.

About those super-convoluted quest chains, the worst one involves Gahz’rilla. If you want to fight him you’re going to have to jump through quite a few hoops. The quest only tells you that you need to find a way to summon him so you can kill him, and that the trolls might know a way to do it. If you do it the way the game wants you to, you’d have to actually go to Zul’Farrak first and get a randomly dropped trash item that’s actually an important text file that tells you what you need to do to perform the summoning ritual. Having done it before, I knew what needed to be done, but that didn’t make it simple still.

You need to find a certain enemy in Hinterlands, a forest area with more trolls that’s way on the other side of the world, kill him and take his sacred mallet, then you need to fight your way through an entirely different troll city, up to the top of another pyramid-type structure, all of which is almost the same size and difficulty as a normal dungeon itself, and use the mallet on the altar at the end to create Mallet of Zul’Farrak. Then you take that back to Zul’Farrak and use it on another altar, which finally summons the damn guy, all so we could win some items we didn’t even use. Oh well. He needed to be conquered, so that’s what we did!


Apparently if I get the other one of these two rare one-handed swords there, they can be combined into a pretty sweet epic sword. I NEED DIS! We had already moved on to the next place before I realized though…

Maraudon is a 5-player dungeon, consisting of 3 wings (The Wicked Grotto, Foulspore Cavern, and Earth Song Falls), located in the Valley of Spears in Desolace. It is a combination of ancient centaur burial grounds, as well as a primal temple dedicated to the elemental earth.”

Entrance to Maraudon. I’m sure it’s fine

This place was added into the game after its earliest days, and so I never had much experience with it. I think I might have gone there once, but don’t think we explored it all. I can see why we wouldn’t have done that at the time because this place is fucking massive.

It’s another one with a huge pre-instance dungeon, probably the biggest one since Deadmines, and to make matters worse, this area comes to a forked path, each of which leads to a separate entrance to the same instance, but if you should happen to pick the wrong one you’re going to end up doing it “backwards” and messing up the order of a few key Maraudon quests. Naturally, there’s no indication whatsoever which way you should go first, so if you happen to pick the wrong one you won’t know until it’s way too late to do anything about it other than do the whole place over again (unless you can get some magic GM help…).

Once inside,  the instance itself is even more enormous and confusing. Like the description says, there are three distinct zones and each one is almost a full-sized dungeon on its own. First (though as it turned out, this was NOT where we should have gone first) there’s The Wicked Grotto, a big series of crystal-covered caves full of angry centaurs, satyrs, and some really hard-hitting slime enemies. I always liked those slime guys because you can see the little bits of skeletons and stuff floating around in some of them and when you loot them they’ll be full of junk items like skulls and broken weapons. Always thought that was a nice touch of detail.

Anyway, then you reach another fork in the road, with one path leading to Foulspore Cavern, a weird bio-wasteland full of angry mutant plants. This area has a lot of enemies, but is pretty simple and linear (which I guess is why it’s supposed to be the area you’re supposed to enter first).

Sexy final boss of Maraudon

Earthsong Falls, the third and final section, is the biggest and nastiest. It’s a long stretch of twisting roads leading up and down some cliffs which branch off into multiple directions again, some leading down to an optional section of watery depths at the base of the waterfalls, which is guarded by giant worms and lizards, hydras, and some earth elementals, as well as some extra bosses. The other way leads up through a gauntlet of towering boss-sized stone giants, and finally ends with the last boss of the whole crazy place.

Many nice pieces of gear were found and much fun was had, but there’s much, much, much more to go still. Join us next time for adventures in the Sunken Temple and…whatever comes next after that? Stratholme maybe? I don’t even know! I’m excited to get started on these later level Azeroth dungeons though, as I seem to remember liking them and their semi-horror-themes the best. Until then…

Wild World of Warcraft II

Now for some more tales of furious World of Warcraft playing. We ended up playing quite a bit during the extra downtime of the holidays, before we ended up on an extended family vacation where we’re currently doing a whole lot of nothing. Anyway…I guess I forgot to mention our characters too, eh? I used to play a rogue back in the old days, so I figured I’d try something different this time. Now I am Ralstonicus the retribution paladin, and it’s been pretty fun. I’m sort of a tank, but also with a lot of interesting crowd control, damage, and healing/protection spells.


Mrs. Fotchenstein decided to go with a shadow priest, so she’s got a lot of healing and some pretty nice damage spells. We actually make a pretty good team with these classes and builds, luckily. She also ended up spending a lot of time setting up a guild for us, all 3 of us (us 2 and the extra GM account), which we decided to fittingly name Servants of Pantha (our cat).

So…the next stop on our journey was…well, it was going to be Razorfen Downs, but apparently the internet misinformed us of the level range of that one so we overshot it by a great deal. Luckily there’s another dungeon, Razorfen Kraul, literally right across the street, so that’s where we ended up.

The imposing entrance of Razorfen Kraul

Razorfen Kraul is the ancestral home of the quilboar, obscured by thorns that grew from the corpse of the demigod Agamaggan”

I guess things didn’t work out too well for the quillboars, because this place is a decrepit maze of caverns, filled with angry undead quillboars and other such decayed abominations. A bit of the way into the place we came upon a large room with a big gong in the corner. Mrs. Fotchenstein said to me “you should ring that gong”. I couldn’t remember what this thing did, but it sounded like a dare to me, one that I didn’t think she thought I would do! So of course I immediately did it and about a dozen weird spiders rushed out and attacked us, almost killing us. We survived and she said “Ok, now will you hit it again?”, and so I did. This time a group of larger man-spider things rushed out and attacked us, almost killing us again. This time she says “are you sure you want to hit it again?”, and I say “YES!” and do it, which summons the final enemy, a giant spider monster called Tuten’kash!


He wasn’t too tough at all really. It’s much easier to deal with a single tough target than it is to be surrounded by a swarm of weaker guys. The only time we died in here was to another boss, some super skeleton guy, who had about 20 minor skeleton guys around him that swarmed the shit out of us.

Fatso zombie boss

Things went pretty smoothly after that. Lots and lots of undead to fight through and some cool looking undead bosses. The only other tricky part was an escort quest that started with a guy we found locked in a cell deep in the dungeon. Luckily we had cleared the place out before trying to start his quest so it was simple enough to get him where he needed to go, but then he started doing a little magic ritual that he needed protection during and more undead quillboars started appearing out of nowhere to attack in waves for quite a long time, with no chance to rest. We made it through though, and conquered all there was to conquer in the dreaded Razorfen Kraul. Next up, Uldaman. 

Final boss of RFK

“Uldaman is an ancient Titan vault buried deep within the Khaz Mountains. Partially excavated, it has since fallen into the hands of the Dark Iron dwarves who seek to corrupt its riches for their master, Ragnaros.”

Uldaman is pretty fun, but also kind of annoying in some ways. It’s a large place with another really complex layout that’s easy to get turned around in. There’s a pretty large variety of enemy types and bosses, so that’s good. There’s a secret boss hidden behind a door that can only be opened by finding the two halves of a staff that was clearly based on the one from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Secret boss

There are a lot of dark dwarves, trogs, various types of stone golems, and some surprisingly deadly pits of little scorpions, which ended up killing me in an unexpected ambush once. Luckily Mrs. Fotchenstein was there to save me.

I can survive 50 foot stone giants, but not some tiny scorpions…

The downside of Uldaman though is another lengthy pre-dungeon area to fight through and some really convoluted quest chains that want you to do multiple things in the pre-dungeon area, then run back and turn the quests in just so you can get the actual quests for inside the dungeon. There’s even one quest that wants you to get 3 special gems in the dungeon, all of which drop from different bosses that are all over the place, so you aren’t getting them all without doing the whole dungeon, but then when you turn it in they want you to go back and fight another boss that was in there, one that you’d have to fight your way through half or more of the whole place again to get to again. No thanks, one complete exploration of this place is quite enough for now.

Final boss of Uldaman

One other thing worth noting about Uldaman is that if you get all the way to the end you’re treated to a lengthy history lesson by a weird magic hologram type guy that reveals that some weird ancient creator race came to Azeroth and created all the life there, and that all the weird magic-tech like the stone golems and such are actually machines built by these strange beings which I guess you could call alien invaders? Very strange. My friends back in the old days of Warcraft would always rush through all these things so quickly that I never really had time to stop and read all this weird lore, so I never realized what a strange history this world has. I think I’m going to need to do some research on this because it sounds pretty interesting. I guess I should also actually play Warcraft 3 someday, as I always hear how good that was and how relevant it is to a lot of the stories in World of Warcraft. 

Well, that’s enough of the Wild World of Warcraft for now. There are more tales to tell of things we already did weeks ago, but I’m a bit behind on everything thanks to this vacation so I’ll have to talk about Zul’Farrak, Mauradon, and more next time!