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Jumping the Shark #150

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Another week, another milestone for your friendly neighborhood podcasting crew as Jumping the Shark reaches its 150th episode! We mark the occasion by getting together and recording our thoughts on random stuff tangentially related to gaming. Why break with precedent? To that end, Bill breaks out his most favoritist cardboard playthings and talks in depth about what makes Mice and Mystics such good old fashioned family fun, I play around with Windows 8 and come to the startling revelation that it’s all much ado about nothing, and Brandon takes a walk on the Darkside with the new Darksiders II DLC: Abyssal Forge. Also, more television commentary than you can shake a stick at. Thanks as always to all of you for devoting approximately 225 hours of your life listening to us prattle on about electronic toys art!

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Darksiders 2: The Abyssal Forge Mini-Review

I was going to write a normal review for the Abyssal Forge, the latest piece of Darksiders II DLC and the first piece of DLC released under the season pass banner, but then I couldn’t figure out how I was going to take my criticisms of the last DLC and rephrase them for this DLC. I mean, sure, I could have done that, but I simply don’t want to. Plus, I don’t see that being particularly interesting for any parties involved.

If you want an extra hour, maybe hour and a half, in the world of Darksiders II and don’t mind that the enemies are all reskinned versions of stuff you fought in main game, by all means, download it and enjoy it. Sure, there’s new loot and if you’re not up to level 30 yet, I’m sure the experience points will come in handy. For me, though, there’s no reason to play this DLC, and, I’m guessing, the next piece. The carrot that the game dangled in front of my face for so long is gone and with no new carrot, there’s no reason to play, not when there are so many games currently filling up my backlog. I was willing to let the lack of any real challenge and lack of additional achievements go for the first DLC, in the hopes that these things would be offered in subsequent packs, but not so for this one. I’m not saying that there isn’t worth in playing the DLC just for the joy of exploring more dungeons, but for my Death, the only way I’d get a challenge would be to equip myself with crappy weapons and if I have to make my character less badass to enjoy your DLC, any interest evaporates quickly. Oh, and that level cap raise that was promised when the season pass was first announced? Yeah, nowhere to be found. Whether that’s a result of a dropped feature or a bug, I have no idea.

Like I mentioned before, if an hour in another dungeon interests you, then have at it. Me, I have so may new gaming experiences just waiting to be discovered, that my game time, both for fun and for review, is better spent elsewhere.

Don’t Shoot the Food – Death and Dying Edition

Man, there has been lots and lots of talk about death around these parts lately. I’ve been getting my fill of Darksiders II, featuring everyone’s favorite horseman, Death. So there’s that. Also, today marks the PC release of Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition. One game features Death as the main character, the other, features, uh, Death as the main character. No matter how you cut it, that’s a whole lot of dying.

So, when the time came to dust off ye olde Don’t Shoot the Food, I thought about death and dying and one thing and one thing only popped into my head: morbid obesity. Whoa! That’s not right. Let me try that again…ok, here we go: chocolate! Yes, that’s right, death by chocolate, to be specific.

Now, Death By Chocolate can be any dessert that is sufficiently chocolatey. It can also be any homicide or accidental death that is sufficiently chocolately, but we won’t worry about that in this post. You could make a cake or brownies or whatever you want, load it up with chocolate, probably several different kinds, and call it Death By Chocolate. That being the case, there is a somewhat “traditional”, if you can call it that, form of Death By Chocolate that is basically a trifle of whipped cream, chocolate brownies and chocolate mousse/pudding. Crumble a toffee chocolate bar atop your creation and the demise of all that consume it is assured.

Now, I could give you detailed recipes for chocolate brownies and chocolate pudding, but here’s what I’d suggest: go to the store, buy a box of whatever brownie mix catches your eye and whatever pudding mix catches your eye. Go home, make them and you’re half way there. Are there better homemade options? Sure there are, but if you know that already, you probably have a brownie/pudding recipe that turns your crank. As I am loathe to get between a chef and their crank, I’ll leave it to you to make your brownies and pudding however you see fit.

Death By Chocolate

1. 2 cups heavy cream
2. 1 tsp vanilla extract (you can also use almond extract, but almond extract is straight up nasty)
3. 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
4. 1 13 x 9 pan of room temperature brownies of your choosing, the chocolatier the better
5. 3 cups of your favorite pudding recipe, again, the chocolatier the better (you can go higher than 3 cups, just don’t go less than that. Don’t be skimpin’ on the pudding, now).
6. 5 1.4 oz chocolate covered toffee bars (Heath bars are the best. Of this, you can be certain.)

Cooking Steps
1. Whip the cream into soft peaks and then whip the vanilla extract and confectioner’s sugar into the peaks. You want the peaks to be stiff but not grainy. Don’t over beat the cream or your whipped cream will be mad lumpy, yo.
2. In a glass trifle bowl, add a layer of crumbled brownies (half the pan), a layer of half of the pudding, 1 1/2 of the toffee bars, crumbled and a layer of half of the whipped cream.
3. Repeat the layers as in step two and finish off the layers with the remaining two toffee bars, all crumbled up.

If you want, you can also make individual layered servings in small trifle bowls or parfait glasses, but who needs that much work? If your guests demand their own Death By Chocolate, stab them with a sharpened Hershey bar and then move onto dessert.

Death and the High Cost of Hammers

My reason for wanting to get in to the THQ booth so badly could be summed up with one word: Darksiders. I loved the original Darksiders, even if it borrowed so heavily from other games that Vigil should have paid licensing fees to Sony, Nintendo and Valve. Between THQ’s financial problems and the game’s recent two month delay from June to August, I needed to get my hands on the game and make sure it was still going to happen.

The Darksiders 2 showing was exactly what I wanted. There was no theater, no developer driven session, no “we’re not talking about that now” set of statements. They brought Bill and I into a room with the game, gave us some headphones and let us play, only popping over to offer help when we got stuck. It’s easy to find a number of reasons as to why publishers would show their game this way, but I can’t help but look at it as a sign of confidence in the property. That’s not to say that the confidence can’t be misplaced but with so many hands-off showings at E3, being able to play a game in peace and come to your own conclusions about it is a welcome change.

In Darksiders 2 you play as Death, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and brother to War, the protagonist of the original game. Where War was a sturdy fighter, built for blocking and crushing melee strikes, Death is sleeker and more agile, dodging away from strikes and using his twin scythes to deliver multiple quick blows. The ability to switch between primary and secondary weapons and chain them together into combos is still present, however this time around, secondary weapons can range from light weapons like tonfas and claws to heavy weapons like war hammers and battle axes.

Having a dash move instead of a way to weather blows makes for a far different combat experience than in Darksiders. Despite being the Grim Reaper, Death can still die, a metaphysical conundrum if ever there was one, and wading into a swarm of enemies, scythes swinging, is the surest way to make that happen. Death is all about hitting, dashing away and then unleashing a combo on your now exposed opponent. Similarly, knowing what the individual combos are is invaluable as certain combos end in ranged attacks or strikes that hit multiple opponents, giving Death a bit of breathing room.

This lighter and more agile Death also comes across in how Death gets from fight to fight. Death is more adept at traversing the environment than War, using wall running, hurtling and mantling to get around. The expanded move set allowed the level designers to throw in more verticality to levels and break up the combat instances with platforming and good old beam to beam jumping.

Unfortunately, Death’s abilities weren’t unlocked in the demo we played as it was early on in the game and at that poing, skill points were not available to allocate towards abilities. There are a good number of abilities in the game, split between combat enhancements and necromancer type spells. According to Vigil, players won’t be able to max out all of the Death’s skills in a single playthrough. I neglected to ask if that extends to all of the abilities in a single tree, however given the utility of having skills that allow both health gains and frozen enemies from teleportation slashes as well as the ability to call forth exploding ghouls, I’m not sure you would want to do that any way.

Whereas the original game was a fairly linear jaunt through various worlds in a quest to discover who was responsible for unleashing the Apocalypse, this time Death is looking to undo the fall of humanity in an attempt to clear War’s name. Rather than have a direct path to the end game, with backtracking possible but only necessary to find collectibles, Death’s journey will take him to hub worlds where the player can either choose to tackle the main story or take on subquests.

The hub worlds also give Death the opportunity to unload all of the loot he collects as he gives skeletons and demons his signature Horseman style beat downs. Over the course of the demo I picked up various pairs of greaves, wraps and gauntlets as well as a series of ever-improving battle axes. At one point, I looked over at Bill’s screen and he was standing on an icy plain, knee deep in war hammers, lost in thought as he tried to decide which hammer best complimented his shoes. Changing Death’s accoutrements not only gives statistical boosts, but also changes Death’s appearance. Granted, Death looks pretty badass as he is, but a nice pair of gauntlets always helps finish the look.

I spoke to Vigil after the demo to ask if the studio planned on keeping the difficulty levels about the same as the original game. One of the best parts of about Darksiders was that the Apocalyptic difficulty level was not only available from the start, but it provided a healthy challenge without being overly punishing. Vigil isn’t sure how they’re going to handle things at the moment, stating that the response to the first game’s difficulty levels was split pretty evenly between folks who though it was just right and those that thought it was too easy. From an achievement and player choice perspective, I lean towards making the higher difficulty levels available from the outset, a sentiment I shared with Vigil. Their response was that sometimes players bite off more than they can chew when it comes to difficulty and then never return to playing the game, so it was important to balance out the ability to provide a challenge to those that want one, but not end up with a game that less experienced players never finish. They’re also toying with the idea of a new game plus mode that would allow you to take a beefed up Death across a higher difficulty level.

When I was done with the demo, I was more than happy with how the game looked and played. There were still some framerate issues to be dealt with in the next couple of months, but the important things: the combat, the animations and the general tone were spot on with what I was expecting. THQ needs something with which to start building their way back. Death still rides a pale horse, but hopefully, in this case, it’s success that follows with him.