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The Old Gods

A few days back Paradox Interactive released the latest DLC for Crusader Kings 2, entitled The Old Gods. The primary focus of this expansion is the Pagans, most especially the Norse, hence the name. After eagerly snapping it up I’ve spent the last few days playing it pretty intensively and I can safely say now that it’s my favorite of all CK2 DLC and I don’t want to ever play without it again.

The big change you’ll see right away is the new start date – 867 AD, when Ragnar’s sons are leading the Great Heathen Army out of Jorvik and seeking revenge upon Ælla of Northumbria, the Pagan faiths remain mighty across much of Northern and Eastern Europe, the Umayyads control most of Iberia, Charlemagne’s descendants control the Frankish Realm, the Magyars are migrating westwards, and a few small territories cling to the ancient faith of the fire, still following the words of the Prophet Zoroaster. Given that the game used to run from 1066 to 1453, adding another 200 years extends the game time by 50%. The new starting date gives a completely different set of possibilities and the world can go in radically different directions as a consequence.

Even the words of Mani can revive. The AI did all this by the way.
Even the words of Mani can revive. The AI did all this by the way.

There are many new features to play with as a Pagan, especially the Norse, who got the most love in this expansion. Perhaps the most fun is the raiding mechanic. You grab your lads, toggle them into being Raiders, load them onto the longships, and then you sail off to find some rich, fat provinces to loot. You can claim a percentage of the province’s loot just by standing in it, or you can stick around to win the siege and you’ll get whatever wealth was behind the castle walls as well. It’s exceedingly powerful in the early game, especially as the Vikings can navigate major rivers. You can sail up the Elbe, or the Danube, the Vistula, the Rhine, and so on, and pillage inland provinces as well as coastal ones. However, as forts grow mightier, rivers start becoming impassable, cutting your options – and as provinces develop, they grow richer, but can summon larger armies in their defense as well.

You can also do such things as taking captured maidens as concubines, raising runestones to yourself or your parents (and if you have the lustful trait you can insist the runestone makes reference to your massive cock), hold Blots at which you sacrifice people to the Allfather, find magical +2 axes that boost your martial score, and try to reform and standardize your faith in order to help it stand against the very convincing missionaries regularly sent by Christian rulers to try to convert you.

In short, with The Old Gods installed, Crusader Kings 2 becomes the greatest Viking Asshole Simulator ever put to code and if you like CK2, or grand strat games, or Vikings, or just generally being a massive troll to the Christian rulers of medieval Europe, this is the DLC for you. It also bears mentioning that Paradox are one of the few who get DLC right – you actually get regular, significant content additions for very fair prices, and the other stuff like portrait and music packs are entirely optional and in no way required for you to enjoy the game.

Artificial Difficulty

Hello all! No, you’re not seeing things, you’ve actually just got a little message on twitter or whatever telling you your very favorite videogaming blog of all time has updated. Let’s get right to business and start talking about some videogames!

So chances are good that you’ve heard of the game Dark Souls which was made by From Software. It is the successor to Demon’s Souls, a game which wasn’t released outside Japan but thanks to having English-language options managed to become a cult hit thanks to importation. Sadly it’s only on the PS3 so nobody has actually played it because who owns one of those, but Dark Souls has been released on 360 and PC as well, and it’s on the latter of these that I’ve been playing the game.

Dark Souls is infamous for its difficulty and this is not a reputation it has gained without reason. This game is difficult in the old-school sense, in that it’s uncompromising and you’re going to have to learn things like enemy attack patterns, how to block and parry and dodge, and level layouts to progress.

Turns out they occasionally do make 'em like they used to
Turns out they occasionally do make ’em like they used to

So here’s the thing: Until you have done some of that and get a handle on what you’re doing, this game can be really unfun to new players. It takes time to get into it, to find what works for you, to get into the flow of it. For me I didn’t really ‘enjoy’ the game until a few hours in, in fact I put it aside for a few weeks before being convinced to go back to it. And I’m glad I did, because once I did pass that stumbling block I really got into it – it’s a game that really rewards your investment and is one of the quintessential examples of “What you get out depends on what you put in”.

Of course any game which takes that long to get into is a flawed game, and I won’t say Dark Souls is perfect by any stretch. I enjoy the exploration and learning immensely but I’m not a tremendous fan of just how obscure the game can be about some things. But if you’re looking for an amazing experience and something to really get your teeth into then what you’ve heard about Dark Souls is pretty much all true – it’s a seriously great piece of software which does a great many things right and very few things wrong, and of those things it does wrong much is a matter of taste.

Basically what I’m trying to say is Dark Souls is superb and if you’re not already on the bandwagon you need to join it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m sure all our American readers are too busy eating and being incredibly full to be able to make the effort to read right now, but we at The Android’s Closet just wanted to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving! Here are some of the things I’m thankful for:

I’m thankful for having millions of zombies to kill with a variety of creative weapons.

I’m thankful for an abundance of Paradox map painting Asperger’s simulators and the believable worlds that ensue.

Vive la Quebec libre!

I’m thankful for those rare games with a great story.

Clementine will remember this.

I’m thankful for all the years of older vidya we can always go back to and play through one more time.

So won’t you come and play with me, here among the teeming mass of humanity? The universe has spared us this moment.

And I’m thankful for having a wonderful girlfriend in the form of Pike to share all this videogaming goodness with, and to blog with, and to derp around with.

And you.

Grand Strategy and 4X

We got a question yesterday via twitter from reader Fuggle/Math asking how we would describe the difference between 4X games and Grand Strat games. Well, the reply would take longer than 140 characters so here we are~

Now, these two genres are pretty closely linked for obvious reasons. Both tend to involve the control of countries on a quest for dominance, be it local, global, or galactic. Both tend to involve building up your infrastructure and military and pushing large groups of units around. And if you play both then it’s hardly surprising that you’d end up trying to figure out what the difference is supposed to be. But let’s dig into it a little deeper and see if we can tease some answers out.

Let’s define 4X first, for anyone not sure of what it means. It should be 4E actually, because it stands for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate. But X is the coolest letter, so there we are. Anyway the idea of a 4X game is to do exactly that; to begin from a single settlement (be it a city or a planet) and first discover everything around you, then move in to occupy and make use of it, and then to annihilate everything else you meet.

So far, so strategic. How does this differ from Grand Strategy? Well, a Grand Strategy game has a couple of key differences. You still Expand and Exploit, but the Exploration and Extermination aspects tend to play second fiddle. This is not to say that they are absent or that no GS game cares for them – EU3 has a strong exploration aspect for example, whilst almost all of them involve SOME degree of Extermination. But you tend to be able to win without needing to conquer everyone. Indeed that may be perfectly possible, as in Hearts of Iron, but it may also be fairly tricky, as in Victoria 2.

And in some cases it is the categorical imperative of those workers who have already set themselves free.

Perhaps the other big difference is that 4X games are almost invariably turn-based, whilst Grand Strategy tend to be Real Time With Pause. Both encourage you to take your time and think about things, but GS still leans towards being a bit more fast-paced thanks to this. GS generally tries to implement the diplomacy side of things with more rigor and depth than 4X, as well – though the extent to which any given game succeeds in this is, of course, up for debate.

The much, much quicker way to tell is by asking “Was this game made by Paradox Interactive?” If yes, it’s a Grand Strategy. If no, it’s not. Unless it is, but who buys anything made by Matrix Games at those prices?

Orcs Must Die! 2

I’n honestly not sure whether having that “2” after the “!” is sending my sperging into overdrive or is tickling my fancy, but there you have it. Good game though.

Well that was a short review.

Okay okay seriously though! I picked up the original OMD! in the Steam Sale recently and it was something I really fell in love with very rapidly. It’s not a complex game in principle; in fact the title pretty much sums it up. It’s a quasi tower-defense game, setting up traps and guardians like archers to prevent Orcs and their assorted allies from reaching the ‘Rift’. The twist is that you aren’t a detached overseer, you’re a character down in the trenches and you can run around fighting the Orcs yourself as well as having all the traps doing their thing.

It is, in short, the bastard love-child of Kagero: Deception II and Tower Defense. It’s from a small studio, and in a couple of ways this shows in the sequel, but overall they have made some very solid improvements to the game. There is an array of new traps and tools to use, the new Sorceress character has a rather different playstyle from the War Mage due to her charm ability, and there are of course new traps and levels. Perhaps my biggest negative mark against this game is the small number of the latter, but it is redeemed somewhat by both the Endless and Classic modes, the former containing some levels that aren’t in the story and the latter being levels from the first game that can be played now with all your new toys (though only if you own the first one).

It’s a tr… oh you know where this is going, finish the line yourself!

It certainly doesn’t revolutionize the series, but it is a very solid sequel that I’ve already played even more than the original. Endless mode is especially compelling, and the new mix of traps, environmental hazards, and enemies means that although the game isn’t really difficult most of the time, getting 5-skull ratings on some levels requires some calculation and thinking on your part. Another change is that doing levels again nets you more skulls, so you’re not limited like you were in the first game, but it will still take some time to get everything up to where you want it, upgrades wise! (And the upgrades are far more involved this time around, replacing the Weavers entirely). A worthy sequel to a great game? That’s really all we can ask for!

Buy Orcs Must Die! 2 if you enjoy quick, fun blasts of cartoonish violence and one of the better protagonists of the medium in the form of the War Mage.

Oh and there’s co-op too if you’re one of those freakishly disposed people who has friends.

Bored Receptionists and Smelling Faintly Of Cabbage

It bears mentioning that Theme Hospital has very recently become available on Gog.com and I urge you all to purchase it at your earliest convenience. I did and have barely been able to put it down since, it is if anything even better than I remembered it being.

Theme Hospital is the sequel – after a fashion – to Theme Park, two of the games Bullfrog put out in the 1990s during their golden era, a short but incredible catalog that I’m not convinced any other developer has ever matched; Populous, Syndicate, Magic Carpet, Theme Park, Dungeon Keeper; it’s a truly illustrious list of games that are not only classics, but that in some cases defined and defied genre. In Theme Park your job was, as the title suggests, to construct a profitable Theme Park. Theme Hospital is obviously a preposterous notion, but that gives a good indicator of the humor at the game’s core. Your job as manager-god is to design, staff, and run a profitable hospital, dealing with such absurd conditions as Bloaty Head and Uncommon Cold, keeping your staff and patients happy (And alive), and coping with the sometimes rather restrictive layouts you are given.

The gentleman dressed as Elvis will die ON THE SPOT if his shrink gets it wrong.

It’s a management game of the kind that became so widespread in the years after Theme Park/Hospital and Railroad Tycoon were successful, but make no mistake, this is the genuine article. We are not talking about Waste Management Facility Tycoon here (though you do need to build toilets), we are talking about an exceedingly clever, enjoyable game that gets challenging fast, all with a strong streak of humor running through it, from the perfectly bored tannoy announcements to the amusing descriptions of staff.

Multiple copies

A couple of days ago, my co-blogger Pike found herself with a modest sum of extra money. She duly went to her local videogaming emporium in order to acquire a new one to play. And what, you ask, did she come away with?

Sonic Classic Collection for the Nintendo DS. If I recall what she told me correctly, this is the fourth copy of the first few Sonic games she now possesses. It’s quite silly! Yet it serves a purpose, of course; none of her other editions are portable, so they cannot be easily played in bed, or at all in other rooms or while on a lunch break at work, and so forth.

I, meanwhile, have three copies of UFO: Enemy Unknown. The thing with older games like this is that there you are, wanting to play it but not wanting to mess with all the stuff you need to do to get it running on a modern OS, when suddenly it gets released on Steam, or on GoG, or what have you, and it’s very easy to just pay a few bucks to get a new working copy. Likewise I have three copies of Deus Ex, and I’m sure there are a couple of others!

Doubled, or indeed Trebled! Even... quadrupled?

Do you folks out there have similar experiences? Owning several copies of the same game? Perhaps for different platforms, perhaps updated rereleases, perhaps you lost one, bought another, then found the first one? Do tell us in the comments!

Ah, Christmas. The time when our wallets get wrecked.

So as you may or may not know, GoG.com has decided that they’re not going to stand for this ‘Steam getting all the money’ shit, and have thus launched their own huge sale. Front and center of this is something that really stretches the definition of the word “sale”, because it is costs no pounds and no pennies, which means in foreign monopoly money they presumably have to GIVE you money when you download it.


Empire Earth was a pretty great game. It was essentially Age of Empires, only on a Civilization timescale, from prehistory to a cybernetic future with mechs and stuff. For free? You have NO excuse not to give it a shot, it’s a wonderful game that is probably even better these days thanks to the fact that modern computers should be able to handle obscene numbers of units and stuff.

At ten bucks, EEII is probably worth it for fans of the genre. Not as good as the first, but still a pretty solid and enjoyable game.

III is right out.

I’m leery of sounding too much like an advertiser for a website or anything, but it’s really difficult not to enthuse about GoG.com when they’re in the middle of a sale that means you can buy The Witcher for four ninety nine USD. Is there anything you’re hoping to snap up over the next few weeks to while away the long lazy Christmas evenings, all wrapped up in a blanket and stuff?

(Ed. note: Obligatory pony picture. It's Christmas related, and also Mister Adequate related, because he's a Brit so we Yanks can make fun of him. -Pike)

This weekend!

Okay, I’ve been thinking all day and for the life of me I can’t devise any kind of serious or worthwhile or even flippant and jejune topic for this so, lest I overtax my brain and end up in a febrile state, I shall fall back on something I presciently set up awhile ago: What are you playing this weekend?!

MEIOU Mod for EU3: Divine Wind

Angevin Empire is Best Empire!

The only major mod to be updated for Divine Wind so far, and it’s pretty great. All those new countries! In any strategy game I fetishize alternative countries and scenarios heavily (If Cascadia is available, I play Cascadia) so this pleases Gaga.


No one man should have all dat cobblestone

Because let’s face it, I’m hopelessly addicted now.

Sword of the Stars

Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur.

I played this a little some considerable time ago and it didn’t click, but I’m giving it another try now because I need the 4X, and it seems to be going better.

Kaiserreich Mod for Darkest Hour

Any and every chance I get!

They’re continuing to work on this thing pretty rapidly, and it’s still great.

And that’s all I can think of! Your turn~

Did you know that Pike’s taste is sometimes exceptionally bizarre?

I’m less inclined to be political about these things and try to respect other people’s opinions, so I’m just going to be wantonly belligerent towards her! Huzzah!

Let’s go over a couple of things she brought up. Zelda. Zelda Zelda Zelda. Where to begin? I’ve played most of the Zelda games over the years and I divide them into two categories – “Why are people making any kind of fuss” and “This is very good but not to my taste”. The former is where all the 2D Zeldas fit, and the latter where the 3D ones go. Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against 2D (I’ll come back to this in a moment) but the thing just does not work for me at ALL in 2D. In 3D, games like OoT and WW are ones I can see the appeal of, I’ve played quite a bit of them, but they never hook me and I get bored long before the end.

When it comes to top-down adventure, in the 2D Zelda style, I have long maintained that the genre has been far, far better done and that Alundra is truly the pinnacle of the genre. And I know what a hipster I look like saying this! But it really is glorious. It has the charm, depth, clever puzzles, and all that other stuff that people ascribe to Zelda but which I have never seen in that series.

Because you've probably never heard of it

As for Sega vs. Nintendo, Pike covered it quite well. I grew up with Sega and she with Nintendo, so of course we’re going to have diverging opinions and direct our nostalgia differently. Actually, whilst I regard the Mega Drive (Genesis) and SNES as fairly equal (Though really, how good can a console without Treasure’s Gunstar Heroes and Alien Soldier actually be?), I think it was later on that Sega triumphed, because the Dreamcast was the best console ever made and it beat the crap out of all the competition combined, from BOTH generations it overlapped.

Finally, Minecraft. Well, all I will say is that Pike’s time spent would be a lot closer to mine if her shame didn’t cause her to ‘forget’ just how much of it she plays (It’s about three times as much as she admits. I know because I hear her on Skype when she’s playing it).

And she thinks Warcraft III had mediocre gameplay. I hardly need to point out how ludicrous this is.