A Monster Hunter Competitor? Dauntless

Earlier this year, or maybe it was last year (the ragged strands of time have frayed and tangled in the tapestry of my poor, bedraggled mind) Kaiju and Magnataur and I all bought some iteration of Monster Hunter for the 3DS. My periodic blogging companion played the crap out of it. I enjoyed it in spurts. Downing dinosaurs and dragons and forging lances and codpieces of their bones holds a certain appeal. It’s a somewhat different take on the “Boss Monster: the Game” motif.

Magnataur was somewhat less down with the sickness.

You see, there was a lot going on in Monster Hunter. I don’t know if all the versions have little cat people whom you can recruit en mass to assist you in your hunting and sundry material gathering tasks, but the version we played did. There were also oodles of items and components to organize and combine, all sorts of weapon stats and bonuses to learn and be mindful of, and towns and environments that were just large enough to render navigation and travel slightly tedious. Bottom line – the monster hunting was good, but the required logistics are not for everyone.

When we read blurbs about the development of Dauntless, we flagged it. I mean it was Monster Hunter for the PC, but billed as being “from a studio formed by veteran developers who previously worked at BioWare, Riot Games, Capcom, and Blizzard Entertainment.”

That’s some promising pedigree.

A couple weeks ago I got into the closed Beta. Kindly included in my welcome email were two “friend keys,” and so along came Kaiju and Magnataur. I’ve only gotten one short session in with our favorite Alt-Godzilla, but his impression seemed favorable if somewhat tentative (I think he’ll probably skip this one and spring for Monster Hunter World next year). But I’ve had the opportunity to sneak in quite a big of solo gaming, and also a few hunts with Mag, whose enthusiasm has been picking up.

This video by PC Gamer makes a pretty decent representation of what Dauntless is looking like. It’s almost a year old and so some elements are a little out of date (for example there are now, uh, goats running around the maps that you can kill), but most of the explanations here still hold. The graphics and audio are also in pretty much the same state, which is to say they’re in a good place.

The controls feel fluid and natural. Lag can be a little bit of an issue at times and stuttering is especially noticeable in town (where thankfully it doesn’t matter much). I’ve tried combat with both mouse and keyboard and controller, and though I prefer the latter, both are comfortable and perfectly workable options. Unfortunately some of the menus and NPC interfaces don’t play particularly well with controller, so you’ll probably be using your mouse a bit either way.

Combat feels good. It seems to me to feel faster than Monster Hunter, perhaps in part because stamina recovery is more generous in Dauntless. I haven’t tried all 4 of the weapons yet (axe, hammer, sword, chain blades), but the axe and sword feel satisfyingly different. The axe is, of course, ponderous and powerful. Primary and secondary attacks translate to vertical and horizontal swings, and your “special” is a large powerful smash.

The sword, on the other hand, is much more balanced. Its fighting style is much more about speed and getting in more attacks. You’ve got fast, weak swings that you can chain into a combo but are also easy to roll out of to avoid your enemy’s wrath, and also slower more deliberate attacks that are harder to cancel, but deliver elemental damage when using an appropriate weapon.

The chain blades, from what I’ve seen, are a “ninja” weapon focused on mobility and speed with a few cool, quick combos of both long and short range. The hammer is slow and powerful, like the axe, and also has a gun attached to it. Why not? I’ve also read that there’s a planned fifth weapon, something ranged, that will be available by open Beta.

The monsters themselves, called “behemoths,” are also well done. The art style of the game (I thought of League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm, so some institutional knowledge and inspiration is apparent) lends itself well to the not-quite-realistic but also not-quite-cartoony feel of the characters and beasts. The screeches and calls of the behemoths are a nice touch. The battle damage that they incur as the fights progress is also quite visible and satisfying.

As in Monster Hunter, one must face off against a monster several times before becoming really proficient at fighting it. Each one has unique tells and attack patterns. Each monster also seems to have more difficult variations that come with different color palettes as well as more challenging fighting styles.

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All this is great, especially for a closed Beta. But there are some areas that really need work if Dauntless is to take on Monster Hunter World early next year.

First, the GUIs and menus need a lot of attention. Armor and weapon stats are not easy to understand. They’re not really explained, and they’re not well represented visually. It’s difficult to figure out what your armor or weapons are doing for you – something you should be able to quickly surmise from your Loadout screen.

Also I know the developers want to include “RPG” elements to the game and maybe some kind of story. I think this is a mistake. Most of us who play these games just want to fight big boss monsters and make armor from their hide! We don’t want a story. Or if we do, we want to make our own! That said, if they’re going to go that way, they need to cut out the stupid “run-around” quests. I mean, there are “quests” that consist of talking to an NPC who tells you to go talk to another NPC at the other side of town. And it’s not like you get any kind of reward for talking to the first guy. Pointless!

The matchmaking system also needs work. Currently you can solo hunt, or you can queue up to “group hunt” a monster. After a couple minutes, though, if the system is unable to match you with anyone, you get dumped into the hunt alone. This can happen when you’re trying to hunt something you’re not strong enough to fight by yourself, and it’s frustrating. And the frustration is compounded by the fact that there’s no way to abandon your hunt right now; you have to log out and log back in.

This is all very fixable stuff, and I look forward to seeing what they do with the game. As it stands now, it’s got its foibles but is also quite enjoyable. My biggest hope is that they don’t do a full character reset. They’ve said they don’t intend to, but it could possibly become necessary. We’ll see. But I’d really like to keep my owlbear hat.

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-Bushi

bushi

 

 

 

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Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser: Ironic Heroes

I recently finished up reading Swords Against Death, the second collection of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories.

If you’re not familiar with them, they’re a pair of adventuring rogues who’ve contributed a great deal to the Sword and Sorcery genre. They’ve also got an entry in the secretly famous Appendix N. Essentially they’re a couple of dude-bro friends, a barbarian and a more traditional (smaller) acrobatic thief type, who seek out riches and debauchery all over the world.

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The characters themselves, while not as iconic as Howard’s Conan, have many SFF-nerd-fans among the older crowd. As one would expect of the Greatest Swordsmen in the Universe (TM). At times I was reminded of Drizzt, actually, and I’m sure there’s a seed here in Fritz’s duo.

In many of the earlier tales, the two are fighter-thieves. Certainly powerful, but not really any more unbelievable than Conan or John Carter or Ender Wiggin (geez, I just realized I don’t even know any contemporary characters to allude to anymore). If you’ve read the first (chronological) collection, Swords and Deviltry, you’ll know that eventually they each morphed into some combination of fighter/ranger/rogue/wizard/barbarian/bard. In Swords Against Death, however, they’re simpler characters, and that is to the good.

It’s also worth noting that some of the stories take place in Lankhmar, which was one of the early fantasy cities that really came to model the “urban adventure” game setting. And the Fafhrd and Mouser stories are also one of, if not the earliest setting to make use of a “thieves’ guild.”

So what I’m saying here is that Leiber broke a lot of ground. Even if he doesn’t become your favorite author after reading these tales, there’s a lot to recognize and appreciate.

What did I think of Swords Against Death? Well, I’m glad I read it. And I liked it much more than Swords and Deviltry.

Once again I was surprised that the collection seemed to lead with the weakest material, for “The Circle Curse” is rather uninteresting.

The stuff in the middle is mostly good. There’s plenty of good adventuring and some cool ideas, like a house that eats people.

The final stories are interesting and my feelings are mixed. “The Price of Pain-Ease” held a compelling premise and a kind of cool adventure hook for any GM’s who are paying attention, but the foolishness and selfishness of the protagonists (who are supposedly as close as brothers) ultimately didn’t carry well.

“The Bazaar of the Bizarre” was an apt title. The main idea of this story was almost cool, but ruined by clumsy explanations and silly execution. One of the main shticks could have been direct forerunner to the whole idea behind the cult-classic film They Live, and it was an engaging idea here. As a weird story, The Bazaar works, but I think it’s one of the weaker entries here.

The idea of these two rogues becoming beholden to mysterious and powerful wizards struck me as a potent way to unlock future story ideas, but the way in which this developed could have been done better.

Another thing that niggled me throughout was the framing of Faf and GM as heroes, when they’re clearly not. As is often the case, Cirsova had some good insight into this for me, being the under-educated “critic” that I am.

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In summation, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are worth checking out if you enjoy Sword and Sorcery, if you’re a GM looking for game ideas, or if you’re an Appendix N archaeologist. Skip Swords And Deviltry and go for Swords Against Death.

-Bushi

bushi

The Orans

Any visitor to a Catholic mass will probably tell you that there’s a lot going on – all kinds of prayers and responses, hymns, crossing and hand motions, sitting and standing and kneeling.

Quite honestly, some elements can be unclear for us average Catholics, too. And I wish congregants were better “trained.”

One thing that happens at one point during the mass is the praying of the Our Father. From what I’ve read, in days past the prayer was offered by the priest on behalf of the congregation.

These days, the whole congregation prays together. One thing that’s always bothered me (though I have never really been able to put my finger on why) is how at some churches, many congregants will join hands and/or raise their hands palm upward as they do this.

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This morning I came across a couple tweets that illuminated this for me.

So this gesture is apparently called the “Orans Posture.” And although I’m sure there is no ill will (and in most cases probably no willful ignorance either), the practice of the congregation taking this posture during the prayer is poo-pooed in Catholic mass.

There are some very detailed explanations out there to be Googled, but the upshot is that the priest takes the Orans because he is praying on our behalf, and the form of the mass dictates that the congregation not copy the gestures of the priest celebrant.

Good to know.

-Bushi

bushi

Salt Plains 4

The Salt Plains

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It took a few seconds for John to realize the voice was not inside his head. When the realization came he quickly sprang to his feet and rushed towards the car. He made it a few steps before his foot hit a large rock half buried in the ground and sent him face first into the frozen ground. He flipped over onto his back and held his hands in front of his face like a pathetic shield. Maybe it will be quick, gotta die sometime. Then he heard…laughter. John moved his hands from in front of his face. The cold wind stung his face and his eyes watered, but through the haze he saw his visitor: Human shaped, covered in protective robes and a hooded mask, laughing at the fool sprawled out on the frosted ground in the dead of night.

“If I wanted to kill you, you would already be dead. No need to be afraid.”

The voice was higher than his own, and John could detect no malice

John’s voice cracked as he spoke, “You’re a”

“Deviant? Monster? Heretic? Human?”

“A woman.”

She laughed again.

“Yes, I am.” She walked over to the car and picked up the hood that John had thrown in impotent rage. She held it out for him.

“You really should put this back on. Looks like you already have some burns. Going to feel that in the morning.”

John got up and took the hood. After placing it back on his head he stood awkwardly for a few moments staring at the person before him. It had been so long since he’d seen another person awake, a person he could talk to that could actually talk back. He felt the acid in his stomach begin to churn and a new kind of fear began to take hold of his mind. Don’t screw this up John.

“My name is, uh, John. John is my name, is what I mean”

She stared at him, saying nothing. Hard to read expressions through a masked hood.

You screwed it up John.

“Why do you come here John? I’ve seen you many. You come, you do nothing, and then you leave. Why?”

“I…don’t know, I guess. I like the way the salt reflects the moonlight, maybe? Or the way the stars fly by my window as I speed through the empty world? I feel alive out here.”

“You are strange, John,” she said.

“Do you have a name?” he asked.

“I do. Maybe I’ll tell you next time.” He felt her smile.

“Next time?”

“Maybe. Goodbye John.”

She turned without saying anything else and walked into the plains. John watched her until she disappeared over the horizon and he was alone again.

***

John woke to an alarm and a flashing screen. Two soul transfers completed. The first was an old man John had no recollection of during the time before. He loaded him on the cart and headed over to the disposal center. He watched as the man dissolved before unceremoniously in front of him.  A body, worn from years of life. Those eyes had probably seen things that he could only imagine now. Those hands, perhaps they had offered solace, or pain, or damnation. None of it mattered now. Just deconstructed material in a vat, indistinguishable from the rest.

The other transfer completion was a young woman. John wasn’t sure how old he was, not exactly anyway, but he guessed she was close to his age. Her skin was pristine and her hair fell perfectly around her shoulders as she lay there in the silence of her glass tube. She was beautiful.

“What were you like when your eyes were open and you walked this cursed land? Were you one of the women from the neon cities? Were you covered in gowns made from the living fibers that radiated all the colors visible to the human eye? Was it all so terrible, to know and feel everything at once, that life in a glass tube was preferable?”

The empty shell in the tube said nothing. John loaded her into the cart and took her to disposal.

***

He drove faster that night than he had ever driven before. The wheels on the vehicle began to shake as they struggled to grip the broken road. Slow down John, might actually be something worth living for now. Try not to die. He eased off the accelerator as glimmer of the plains came into view. He stopped his car at the edge of the sea but did not get out. His eyes scanned the horizon…nothing.

What if she’s come and gone? What if she never

Then it appeared, a light on the horizon moving towards him. John exited the car and walked to the shoreline. Before long he could see her outline and her cloak blowing in the night winds. Then, she was there. The metal torch in her hand illuminated the mask beneath the hood. He could could see her eyes through the glass, pale and blue.

“Hello John.”

“It was you the other night.”

“Yes, it was. Now that I know you won’t run away I don’t have to walk in the dark.”

“Sorry about that.”

“I would have run too.”

John nodded.

“Marina.”

“What?”

“My name, it’s Marina.”

She deactivated the light of her torch and turned towards the great expanse of white. They watched the stars and satellites blinking in the void above as the wind howled and raged around them.

King Lance

This morning I was listening to the Midnight because they’re the best.

For some reason I then felt compelled to Google this scene from Terminator.

Hey – who’s that at the 1-minute mark? It’s Bishop from Aliens! Who is that guy, anyway?

Google.

Hey, he’s been in a lot of stuff. Mostly bit parts, looks like. But hey, as recently as Into the Badlands. Cool. He also did some voice work in the Mass Effect games.

Wait. Hold on a sec.

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Oh snapola – he was the King in the Super Mario Bros. movie!

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Time to go home. This has been a productive day.

-Bushi

bushi

C.S. Lewis on loving and punishing your enemy

Theology ought to be of interest to every well-formed adult. This I contend. Whether or not there be a God or an afterlife and what, if anything, one can do to affect one’s standing in the hereafter – these are supremely important considerations.

And yet, most of us don’t give these concerns much thought. Forget about actual study! Despite counting myself a stout Papist, I too am remiss. Bills to pay, science fiction to read, housework to do! But I’m working on it.

Every so often I revisit C.S. Lewis, my favorite apologist. For a few years now, I’ve had this fat tome sitting on my shelf gathering dust, and it’s got some of his best stuff – Mere Christianity, the Screwtape Letters, the Great Divorce, the Problem of Pain, Miracles, a Grief Observed, and the Abolition of Man. I’ve only read the first two (Mere Christianity more than once, though I am ashamed to admit I never retain as much of it as I’d wish).

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Recently I’ve been making my way once again through it, and periodically posting tidbits on Twitter. Sometimes it’s difficult to decide what to snip, when there’s so much wisdom distilled into every chapter.

First, let me just acknowledge – someone pointed out, in disagreeing with one of Lewis’ points in an excerpt that I posted, that he was not a theologian, but an essayist and writer of stories. Although some do call him a lay theologian, that is true! And he would have been quick to admit it. The humility with which Lewis shared his thoughts and ideas about Christianity and faith is admirable. He sprinkled his writings with such comments – admitting that he was by no means a great authority and that he could very well be mistaken on many points. Still, there is a great deal of logic and sense and grace in much of what he says.

It’s with this in mind that I wanted to share a few of his thoughts on charity, forgiveness, and punishment, that particularly moved me.

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It could be that men and societies have always been quite polarized, but in the US many are commenting that they feel especially so today. This rings particularly true when online. I’ve made many friends online, actually. Some of these friendships have grown to become offline, relatively normal relationships. But animosity and hatred thrive and pulsate and fester online. It’s all too easy to hate an avatar or a faceless internet troll; a leftists, an SJW, or maybe an alt-righter or “right wing nutjob.”

But no matter how much we may want to hate these people, and even should we ever have to fight them (I mean real fighting, not this online crusading nonsense), we are called not to hate them. I am glad I read this when I did, because honestly it’s easy to get weighed down in the Internet and Culture Wars. Everything starts to look and feel ugly.

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This is true. I’ve felt it and I’ve seen others who seemed to be falling prey to this.

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It sounds rather trite, but hate begets hate.

Now I don’t mean to sound sanctimonious with this. Quite the contrary. Just this past weekend I found myself angry and agitated at certain people and circumstances, and I had to remind myself not to hate, but to try and be more charitable. Getting angry all the time and letting it boil makes one more prone to become angry, in my experience. Something I’ve got to keep working on.

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And here Lewis makes an interesting point, and I think one that squares with the idea of the Church Militant (or even “Deus Vult” for you memers!), provided such a posture is not driven by a hatred of people. I did not remember this from my previous readings, and the element of the translational difference between “kill” and “murder” strikes me as quite important.

Fighting is not contrary to Christianity. Nor is killing, even. In some cases a good Christian may even be not only permitted but compelled by his faith to kill, such as in defense of his wife or children or other innocents.

But we must be wary of hate. It’s a cold, dark pit to sink into. There is a power there, but it is not of God.

-Bushi

bushi

 

Evolving tastes

I’m very particular about the usage of the word “evolve.” Probably because in politics it’s so often misused. Some scummy politician will hand-wave away a long-held “conviction” by claiming that he’s “evolved” on an issue.

“Nevermind what I told my constituents for 7 years and that I’m now up for reelection. My views on abortion have evolved!”

Too often there has been no actual growth, no improvement; just a shallow change of position born of political calculus. True evolution implies a gradual process and often a beneficial change. Example – a child doesn’t like broccoli, but as he ages his tastes evolve and he grows to tolerate or even enjoy the healthy green vegetable and maybe other once-repulsive weeds.

Similarly, I once found little attractive about the old classic SFF covers of Frank Frazetta and his ilk. For whatever reason, they just didn’t do it for me. I think a large part of it may have just been that they belonged to old, musty books in my basement. I had not yet been exposed to the high adventure of Robert E Howard or the excitement of Burroughs, and so there was no association there, no fondness.

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I’ve read similar accounts online, and it makes me wonder. Is it age and experience that’s brought an appreciation for the work of Roy Gerald Krenkel?

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Is it my familiarity with the weird tales depicted by Margaret Brundage that have made her illustrations more alluring?

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How large a part have the stories themselves played? Or is it just that I’ve gotten used to this particular style of artwork?

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Either way I’m glad that I’ve come to enjoy it. At first, when I was just getting acquainted with the old greats, I didn’t pay much attention to the cover art of the Conan stories. But now I see. There are many beautiful (though a lot of admittedly strange) pieces to be found among the collections of these older artists, and the joy of discovering new cover art has added to the pleasure of finding classic SFF books.

How about you, dear readers? Do you like this kind of art? If so, have you always, or did it grow on you?

-Bushi

bushi