Save point: January 2021

Welcome to January’s editorial post, a monthly progress report which rounds up all the happenings here at Later Levels in case you missed anything. With 2020 behind us and brighter days hopefully ahead, let’s have a quick recap of recent events.

Blog life

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  • Total published:   13 posts
  • Most popular:   Taking note: keeping records during video games
  • Most liked:   The curious case of the Xbox Series X
  • Most discussed:   Taking note: keeping records during video games
  • My favourite:   Do walkthroughs make you a bad gamer?
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  • Other posts worth checking out:

  • Have you seen this Man? by Darkshoxx from Darkblox
  • Being an Active Audience by Elise from Game Praisers
  • To Be A Gamer Dad by Toasty from Games With Toasty
  • Critics and Casuals In Gaming by Emily from Monsterlady’s Diary
  • Scariest Horror Games by Chris from Musings of a Grouch
  • January is normally when I make arrangements to attend the annual gaming expos – but this isn’t a normal year and blogging is becoming more difficult. I’m writing more reviews nowadays as both events and releases are postponed, and the only thing to do is stay home and play existing video games. I’m grateful for community events like EXP Share, for which I wrote about my recent experience with Yakuza 0 this month, and hopefully things like this will keep me working towards my 2021 blogging goals.

    All this extra gaming is very good practice for GameBlast21 and there’s less than a month to go until our streaming marathon for SpecialEffect. The games we’re going to play were announced on Wednesday and we’re halfway through our fundraising targets for the charity, achievements that wouldn’t have happened without your help! I’m pleased to report that efforts to find a Pikachu costume for Pete are underway and he’ll be wearing it on stream for 24-hours from 08:00 GMT on Saturday, 27 February 2021.

    Before that though, the annual #LoveYourBacklog starts on Monday – and this time it will be taking place over a month rather than a week to give everyone more opportunity to appreciate their backlogs! The event is now in its third year and was created with Ellen from Ace Asunder in 2019 to encourage us all to be grateful for our pile of games rather than feel guilty about them. Keep your eyes peeled for more details on how you can get involved next week.

    Gaming life
    Games played:

  • Blacksad: Under the Skin
  • I Love You, Colonel Sanders!
  • Post Mortem LA: Death in La-La Land
  • Quern – Undying Thoughts
  • Shadow of Memories
  • The Eyes of Ara
  • The Long Dark
  • The Sojourn
  • World of Warcraft
  • Several demos from The Big Adventure Event 2021
  • Games previewed or reviewed:

  • Call of the Sea
  • Post Mortem LA: Death in La-La Land
  • Quern – Undying Thoughts
  • Röki
  • World of Warcraft
  • Yakuza 0
  • Since working our way through Call of the Sea’s series of beautiful escape rooms in December, puzzle games have featured heavily in our gaming line-up and you can read about my recommendations here. Looking back over our notepad of scribbles and gallery of photographs afterwards made me realise how much I enjoy taking notes while playing video games. It also made me see that you shouldn’t feel bad about checking a walkthrough if you’re stuck: better to complete a game with a bit of help and enjoy it, than get frustrated and put it down.

    Other puzzle-orientated releases completed have been Röki, a lovely fairy-tale for this time of year and Quern – Undying Thoughts, perhaps the closest we’re going to get to playing Myst for the first time again. We also enjoyed a physical detective thriller in the form of Death in La-La Land as it felt like we’d been dropped straight into our own noir story. My favourite game of January however was Blacksad: Under the Skin and I’d love to see the protagonist return for a crime-filled sequel.

    These titles reminded Pete and I of how much we like playing puzzle titles together because they’re the sort of games we bonded over when we first met. This realisation caused us to think about our streams and we’ve decided that we’d like to showcase more adventure and narrative releases; not only do we enjoy them, but we’ve found a great bunch of people on Twitch who love them as much as we do. Let us know youre recommendations so we can add them to our wishlist.

    Real life

    The COVID-19 lockdown continues here in the UK: the situation currently being reported in the news is that this is going to be the case until at least March. While I understand that such measures are important and required for keeping everybody safe, the days are starting to merge into one another and it’s hard to plan anything to look forward to in the future. Perhaps I need to start being more positive and seeing the good in small things to get me through it, like my stepson’s has done with his Xbox Series X.

    The thing that makes this difficult is that several relatives are slowly starting to buy into the conspiracy theories about the infection and death rates not being as bad as reported. I know it’s a reaction to how long they’ve spent in lockdown but I can’t justify their opinions or actions: I just don’t get how you can think that what’s going on isn’t real or that the state of emergency declared by our local hospitals is exaggerated. It’s meant we’ve had to make some difficult decisions lately but we’ve got to do what’s necessary to keep our family safe.

    Speaking of my family, who’d have thought that Pete and I would be able to put up with each other as husband-and-wife for two years? We celebrated our second anniversary in a low-key but enjoyable way, by playing World of Warcraft with Ellen and Phil and eating KFC. At some point in the future we’ll celebrate properly once the lockdown is over. In the meantime we’ll continue playing video games – and trying to drag Ethan away from his new Xbox every once in a while.

    Coming up

  • 01-28 February: #LoveYourBacklog Month 2021
  • 01-28 February: EXP Share: Topic #4
  • 04 February: Shadowrun stream
  • 18 February: Shadowrun stream
  • 19-20 February: BlizzConline
  • 27-28 February: GameBlast21 for SpecialEffect
  • Take a look at the Side-quests page for more!
  • Posts planned:

  • A round-up from The Big Adventure Event
  • An escape-room-in-a-box review
  • The worst pick-up lines used in video games
  • A post dedicated to my backlog
  • Our GameBlast21 press release
  • And now over to you guys: what have you been up to lately, and what have you got planned for the coming month? Is there anything the community can help with or get involved in? Let everybody know in the comments below so we can show our support. Thanks for reading!

    GameBlast21: games and goals

    How does playing video games for 24-hours straight sound to you? It’s certainly tiring and takes a whole load of stamina to make it through to the end, but it’s also a lot of fun. And doing it to support an amazing cause makes the experience even more worthwhile.

    This is what’s going to happen on a dedicated weekend in February when hundreds of gamers all over the UK will be taking part in GameBlast21 to raise funds and awareness for SpecialEffect. The charity aims to put fun and inclusion back into the lives of people with disabilities by using technology to help them play video games to the best of their abilities. This not only brings friends and families together but has a profoundly positive impact on confidence and quality of life too.

    With now only a month to go until our own event, read on to find out about the games we’re going to be playing during our 24-hour stream along with our fundraising targets and the rewards you can expect to receive.

    24-hour marathon game schedule confirmed

    Towards the end of December, we asked you to help us decide on the schedule for our marathon stream by voting in a short series of polls. Thank you to everybody who took part and created the confirmed line-up! There’s a nice selection of games with a little something for all gaming tastes. We’ll try to stick to the timings below as much as possible and have posted a handy visual reminder of these here.

    Date Time Genre Game Votes
    27 February 2021
    08:00 GMT Platformer DuckTales Remastered 48.39%
    11:00 GMT Adventure Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars 62.50%
    14:00 GMT Other Escape-room-in-a-box 51.61%
    17:00 GMT Retro The X-Files: Resist or Serve 48.57%
    20:00 GMT Action Assassin’s Creed Valhalla 48.48%
    23:00 GMT Horror The 7th Guest: 25th Anniversary Edition 48.57%
    28 February 2021
    02:00 GMT FMV General Horse and the Package of Doom 48.15%
    05:00 GMT MMO The Elder Scrolls Online 51.72%
    08:00 GMT Stream ends Sleep 100%

    #DaysForDonations fundraising targets and rewards so far

    A huge thank you to everyone who has kindly donated to SpecialEffect through our JustGiving page to date! The higher we get, the more rewards that will be unlocked – so look forward to some special streams which are likely to involve us embarrassing ourselves. We’ll also complete an additional stream for at least an hour a day during a specified period after the main event, and you can see everything unlocked so far in the round-up below.

    Target #DaysForDonations Achievement unlocked
    Any amount raised No additional days 24-hour GameBlast21 stream on 27-28 February 2021
    £500 raised 10 days (up to 10 March) Signed Zelda postcards are sent to all donators
    £1,000 raised 20 days (up to 20 March) Pete wears a Pikachu costume for the 24-hour stream
    £1,500 raised 30 days (up to 30 March) A signed copy of Project Zero is given away
    £2,000 raised 40 days (up to 09 April) The team streams wearing Pokémon costumes
    £2,500 raised 50 days (up to 19 April) The official #KaraokePete album is emailed to all donators
    £3,000 raised 60 days (up to 29 April) The Lawful Geek hosts an extended TTRPG stream
    £3,500 raised 70 days (up to 09 May) The team completes a cocktails-and-karaoke stream
    £4,000 raised 80 days (up to 19 May) Ellen from Ace Asunder gets a Zelda and GameBlast tattoo
    £4,500 raised 80 days (up to 29 May) Kim completes a treadmill marathon on stream
    £5,000 raised 80 days (up to 08 June) #DaysForDonations finishes with another 24-hour stream

    How you can get involved

    We’d be lying if we said that donations weren’t greatly appreciated and put to good use. They enable SpecialEffect to continue their work assisting hundreds of physically-disabled people all over the UK to experience the joy of video games. The charity does this free of charge, and shares the knowledge gained from their lifelong assessment and support services with hardware and software developers – so a feature that’s worked successfully for one individual can then go on to benefit thousands of others.

    Check out our JustGiving page for details if you’d like to donate. It’s not just about money though: anything you can do to raise awareness and help spread the word about SpecialEffect is hugely beneficial too, as it increases the potential for them to reach more people they can help. Tweet about the charity’s work, share the press release which will be published here in February, come along to any of our GameBlast21 streams and join us in chat; it’s all valuable and we’re so grateful for your support.

    Give the official GameBlast account on Twitter a follow for the latest announcements and visit at the SpecialEffect website to find out more about what the charity do. It’s time to get everybody back in the game.

    We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
    Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
    (*Not guaranteed.)

    A puzzling situation

    This Friday is National Puzzle Day: an event established to celebrate puzzles and encourage everyone to participate in more of them. Not only are they enjoyable, but they can also help with concentration, brain function and stress-relief.

    I’ve loved puzzles in all their forms for as long as I can remember. It began with jigsaws, newspaper crosswords and the number rounds in Countdown with my grandmother after school when I was small; then moved on to video games and the adventure genre after finding The Secret of Monkey Island as a nine-year old. I’ve continued to play all sorts of puzzle games throughout my adult life and it’s likely I’ll still have a controller in my hand for as long as I can.

    Extra time off over the Christmas period in December meant my other-half and I were able to get stuck into more video games, and Röki was probably my favourite from the holidays. Inventory puzzles in the classics can be confusing – take the monkey wrench from Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge or the cat-hair moustache from Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned as examples – but modern titles like this have put a new spin on them so they feel much more intuitive.

    We also played Call of the Sea, a beautiful-looking game which laid out its puzzles like a series of escape rooms. Last year’s COVID lockdowns meant we were unable to take part in any real-life experiences but releases like this have meant we’re still able to participate in digital format. The Escaper is well worth a look if you’re a fan of escape rooms; our friends in chat joined in with figuring out the solutions when we streamed it in April, so it turned into a fun social evening.

    You could also try an escape-room-in-a-box such as the Exit The Game series by Thames & Kosmos. When a power-cut meant having to spend a Friday evening in darkness recently, we finally got around to opening The Mysterious Museum edition after purchasing it over a year ago. It turned out to be an interactive story with physical objects, with some great puzzles taking place outside the box, and being huddled around the table by candlelight just made the experience even more fitting.

    How about a jigsaw instead if that doesn’t float your boat? The Escape Puzzle series from Ravensburger is an interesting take on them that gives it a twist. It’s not as simple as putting the pieces together: they can fit in multiple places, allowing you to form items that will assist in your ‘escape’ from the scenario. We completed the Space Observatory version last year and found it to be a nice escape from our laptops after spending so much time in front of a screen during the lockdown.

    If a detective story is more your thing, I’d highly recommend the Post Mortem Los Angeles series by The Mysterious Package Company. We really enjoyed the Death in La-La Land version after it was sent to us as a gift by Kevin from The Lawful Geek. Imagine a choose-your-own-adventure complete with physical items that come hidden away in evidence bags, where you must direct the investigation and figure out whodunnit before submitting your final report to the Global Detective Agency.

    This was an awesome gift because I love detective games. The Painscreek Killings was my favourite from last year (even though it was published in 2017) because it gives the player plenty of independence in gathering the clues and putting them together. January got off to a good start with Blacksad: Under the Skin thanks to a Christmas present from friend-of-the-blog Phil as it was a grown-up adventure with a smooth noir vibe and great protagonist – I really hope a sequel is released one day.

    Detectives don’t only have to be hard-boiled private investigators or enthusiastic journalists though. For a technology-based take on the genre, give Greyhat: A Digital Detective Adventure a go and become a hacker searching for their missing daughter. I’d also recommend picking up Interrogation Files: Port Landsend if you’re a fan of full-motion video (FMV) and the search mechanic used in Her Story, a good 2020 release where you must choose who you want to arrest for the crime and see the outcome unfold in court.

    Some people prefer their puzzles to be without a strong narrative and if that’s you, maybe The Witness will be just the thing to entertain you for numerous hours. The challenges get progressively harder the further you make it through the game but still manage to retain a relaxing quality thanks to the lovely visuals. It’s nice to turn on the game and complete a couple of puzzles whenever you have some spare time, then step away from the screen to mull over the one that’s stumping you before returning to it the following day.

    As mentioned above, I appreciate puzzles of all kinds – but there’s one exception. I’ve never been able to get my head around chess challenges despite being taught how to play as a kid because my brain seems to switch off as soon as I see them. The 7th Guest is a classic horror game from the 1993 with a creepy horror theme but it contained too many chess-based puzzles for my liking! Hopefully I’ll be able to get through them if this title is voted for as part of our GameBlast21 marathon stream schedule.

    So which puzzle games are you going to be playing for National Puzzle Day on Friday? If you have any recommendations, please leave them in the comments below!

    We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
    Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
    (*Not guaranteed.)

    My first World of Warcraft experience

    The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) was the title I chose for my contribution towards last month’s post about the best games to play at Christmas. It’s easy to get into, and you can do a couple of quests before getting down the controller and grabbing more chocolate.

    I can’t say I booted it up during my time off work though. My two-week holiday began with the sort release I wouldn’t normally pick up but was inspired to try after watching a blogger-friend stream part of it recently: Yakuza 0. It won’t be one I’m likely to end up finishing due to its long length but I’m having fun with it for the time-being at least. This was followed by several days of World of Warcraft (WoW), my first real experience with this MMORPG and only my third online game.

    It probably sounds strange that I’ve been gaming for over 30 years now and have never played it before. MMOs weren’t on my radar growing up in the 1990s because I was more interested in my beloved adventure genre; and this meant I didn’t have the opportunity to really learn how to use a keyboard-and-mouse outside of clicking. It’s caused me to always feel a little comfortable with team-based games due to my lack of coordination and so I tend to stay away from them.

    Saying that though, I’ve sunk way too many hours into ESO over the years. I started off playing by myself in 2015 then roped my other-half into joining me, and we started playing on a weekly basis with Tim from Timlah’s Texts & Unity3D Tech and his partner Jake during our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20. Although they ran us through some dungeons and I was clearly the weakest player on our team, it wasn’t something taken too seriously so I never felt I had to worry about my performance.

    When I first met Pete and started discussing video games with him, he told me he’d had a long history and many late nights with WoW although he hadn’t touched it since 2009. His brother still played however and whenever we went to see him, the pair would talk about his current adventures. I asked my other-half if he’d like to get back into it after one such visit and he declined, saying he didn’t have the time; but I think this had more to do with his worry that I’d get frustrated with trying to play with him due to my lack of skill with a keyboard-and-mouse.

    In mid-November though, Ellen from Ace Asunder began streaming and several mornings were spent watching her work her way through battlegrounds in the MMO on Twitch. Seeing how much fun she was having made Pete feel the WoW itch again and we somehow ended up organising to play with her and friend-of-the-blog Phil. I made an account and the four of us spent New Year’s Eve jumping from quest to quest until 01:30 in the morning, then making it up to level 37 after a few more sessions in the following week.

    World of Warcraft, WoW, woman, warrior, Paladin, mountains, sky, view

    Are the keyboard-and-mouse controls frustrating me? Yes, and I’ll have a tantrum about them occasionally. But after several restarts to find a character I feel comfortable with and making use of Pete’s old keypad, I’m doing a lot better than I was initially. I’ve finally settled on a Paladin named ‘Laterlevels’ (how original) because this fits in with the odd way I like to play RPGs: I always want to do a bit of everything rather than being confined to a single role so here I’m able to tank, heal and do damage.

    Before you say anything, I know you’re not supposed to play like this; you’re meant to pick your class and stick with it so you become an expert at what you do. But I’m lucky enough to be playing with a group of friends who accept my quirk and are more interested in hanging out than me gitting gud. Whenever I’m not sure what I’m meant to do be doing or make a mistake in-game, they don’t criticise me for it or make me feel like a bad player – they give advice or lend a helping hand.

    It makes me feel like I’m a part of the team and that’s what makes it fun. We’ll follow Phil as we head towards the next quest, take on rare spawns when they appear in the hope that Ellen will get another pet to add to her collection, and watching Pete regularly fall off cliffs. And while we’re doing all that, we’ll chat about our day and what’s going on in the world. This social interaction is the lockdown equivalent of hanging out with colleagues at lunch-time or meeting with friends in the pub after work.

    There are only two things bothering me slightly, the first being that I’m not paying any attention to what the quests involve. We tend not to read the descriptions and simply head off to the next adventure after the last one. I think this would be different if I were playing WoW on my own, because I’d be doing it for the story; but being with a group means the social aspect has replaced this need and become more important than the narrative. I feel a little sorry for the writers and know I should be paying more attention to the effort they’ve put into the game.

    World of Warcraft, video game, WoW, Phil, Pete, Kim, Ellen, witch

    And then there are stairs – especially those damn spiral staircases in confined spaces. I can guarantee I’ll fall off every single one of them at some point upwards and if they have a bannister, you know my character will get caught on it coming down. I’m getting better at movement with more practice over time but I always seem to struggle with stairs, so I’m grateful to Ellen for letting me hitch a ride on one of her dragons or Mekgineer’s Chopper whenever I’m getting particularly frustrated.

    It’s hard to say whether I’m preferring WoW to ESO right now; I think it would be more correct to say that it’s different. I do find the latter easier though because it’s possible to play with a controller and I’m used to how certain things work, like the camera and movement directions, after having sunk over 240 hours into it. But I’m sure this will come in time with WoW too and eventually I won’t need my teammates to give me a lift (although I’ll probably still accept because who doesn’t want to ride a dragon).

    We’ve chosen not to stream our escapades so far. I’m not sure I’d feel entirely comfortable with the game being shown from my point-of-view while I’m still learning the ropes as I’d be too conscious about what I was doing onscreen to enjoy playing. I guess it could be something we consider in the future though once the controls feel natural. Who knows, WoW might become part of our #DaysForDonations challenge for GameBlast21 if we keep up our aim of playing at least once a week.

    Being able to play with friends might encourage me to branch out into other MMOs in the future but I’m not sure I’d want to go it alone with strangers. Right now, I’m going to stick with hanging out with Pete, Ellen and Phil in Wow and seeing if we can increase Ellen’s pet collection.

    We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
    Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
    (*Not guaranteed.)

    Do walkthroughs make you a bad gamer?

    I’m always surprised when I remember the classic point-and-clicks I played as a kid growing up in the 1990s. The fact I managed to complete what are now considered ‘difficult’ puzzles without the help of a walkthrough is hard to believe.

    The internet wasn’t so widely available back then and not everybody had access to a modem in their home, so it wasn’t as simple as opening a web-browser on your computer when you were stuck. You had other options but they weren’t as instant. You could wait for one of the monthly gaming magazines to include a guide; listen out for hints from friends at school (while pretending not to need their advice); or you could persuade you parents to let you call the costly helpline number listed in the back of the video game manual.

    The latter was something I had to do with Shivers, a horror-adventure which still scares me even now. There was one puzzle I couldn’t figure out the solution for – I believe it was the Chinese Checkers in the Funeral Rites room, although my memory is a little hazy – and I begged my dad to allow me to use the telephone because it was the only thing stopping me from completing the game. After handing over a rather large amount of pocket-money to pay for the call, I managed to get through that challenge with the guidance provided and see the end-credits roll.

    Game design has improved dramatically in the past three decades, with titles now better leading the player to where they need to go in terms of both location and answer. Some even include hint-systems that gently nudge you in right direction or tell you the direct solution when you’re lost. But the nature of the adventure genre means its puzzles can seem mysterious and illogical; so is it ok to reach for a walkthrough when you’re not sure what to do, or does this let both you and the game down?

    Let’s be honest here: I do use walkthroughs now, both when I’m playing games for myself and when Pete and I are streaming on Twitch. The latter is particularly true when it comes to adventures, even though it’s my strongest genre. It’s important to show your viewers some consideration and, although they may find watching you struggle over a puzzle entertaining for the first 15 minutes, there’s a good chance they won’t be laughing if you’re still facing the same challenge an hour later.

    We’re fortunate in that we’ve found a great bunch of streaming-friends over the past few months who enjoy these narrative-focused games as much as we do. Usually, at least one of them has already completed the title we’re trying to work through so we can often rely on their gentle guidance rather than a full-blown guide if we get stuck. There’s also the added bonus of this making it feel as though we’re hanging out with friends in real-life, everyone piled on the sofa while trying to figure out the solution to the next puzzle.

    Could advice like this and the guidance contained in walkthroughs negatively impact the experience in some way though? This was a question I asked myself after completing Quern – Undying Thoughts on stream recently. While I’m very grateful for the help we received from everyone in chat, I’m almost certain we wouldn’t have resorted to using such advice if there hadn’t been the pressure of people watching us. It may also have made the title feel more like playing Myst for the first time all over again.

    I also wonder whether my reaction to its ending would have been different if Quern had been one I’d tackled privately. Would I have been more disappointed in its short conclusion and final decision if I’d put in all the work needed to solve the puzzles myself? Or would the achievement of making it to the credits without the aid of a walkthrough, regardless of how many hours it took, be enough to make me look at the ending more favourably due to the sense of accomplishment?

    Before writing this post, I checked out a few forums to see how others feel and it seems a lot of gamers consider the use of guides to be a bad thing. The most frequent comment I came across was something about it being pointless to ‘buy a game and then let someone else play it for you’. Most of the people who’d joined in with those conversations only admitted to turning to a walkthrough when they were completely stuck, or if they’d already completed a first playthrough and wanted to quickly see the content they’d missed.

    Some even went so far as to call walkthroughs ‘cheating’ and say that using one makes you a ‘fake gamer’. Here’s a quote from an article I came across: “Referring back to the walkthrough too often can easily spoil the creation that’s gone into the game, and takes away from the freedom of exploring the land. It also destroys some of the self-satisfaction of working through the challenges yourself (as really, you’re only cheating yourself out of a sense of accomplishment).”

    Elder Scrolls, The Elder Scrolls V, book, video game, strategy guide, pages, words

    Does this mean that turning to a friend who’s already completed the game and asking for advice when you’re stuck make you a cheater? And are the people who purchase the official strategy guide to go along with a release bad gamers? And what about those who watch longplay videos on YouTube or live-streams on Twitch? I’m curious to know where the distinction lies (and why we’re still having the tired discussion of what constitutes a ‘real gamer’).

    I don’t actually believe the majority of people on those forums. Think about it: on one hand, we’ve got this large group of gamers who say they pride themselves on overcoming difficult challenges within video games using only their individual intelligence and skill. But on the other, walkthrough sites and game-specific wikis are some of the biggest websites on the internet. And according to Wikipedia, over 56,000 guides for 21,639 unique games had been contributed to GameFAQs – and that was nine years ago in 2012.

    I believe most gamers use walkthroughs more often than they care to admit or are even aware of. It’s just too easy nowadays to open a web-browser, do a quick search and pull up a guide when you’re struggling. We don’t have the attention-span or free time to be able to plug away at the same problem for days like we used to when we were kids in the 1990s. Instead of fighting against the same puzzle for hours, you can have the solution in front of you in a couple of clicks.

    Personally, I think the most important part of gaming is having fun. Some members of the community get off on challenging themselves and that means not using any kind of advice to complete a game; they consider it a disservice to the developer and their gamer-pride if they pick up a walkthrough. Others don’t find the slightest pleasure in this kind of frustration and instead prefer to concentrate on moving forward within a release. However you choose to play, it’s all good as long as you’re enjoying it.

    Hands, video game, controller, gamepad

    I don’t see the problem with using a walkthrough though – whether that’s looking at one occasionally for a hint, using one to uncover secrets you may have missed the first time around or following whole thing straight through. Whatever floats your boat. If turning to a guide means I’m more likely to finish a game and then be able to appreciate what the developer was trying to achieve with their work, regardless of the fact I didn’t get to the end of it unaided, then that can only be a good thing in my mind.

    How do you feel about walkthroughs, and do you use them? I’d be interested in hearing your opinion.

    We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
    Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
    (*Not guaranteed.)

    Yakuza 0: trying something different

    The Christmas holidays are a great time for gaming. Whether it’s spending time with a game received as a gift, treating yourself to a title in the Steam sale or trying something completely new, it’s the perfect time of year to curl up on the sofa with your controller.

    My other-half and I managed to complete several releases we’d never played before. Sea of Solitude was a lovely puzzle-platformer with a sincere message at its heart; Greyhat: A Digital Detective Adventure kept us guessing at what was going on right until the end; and Call of Sea was a beautiful escape-room type journey. Then there was Quern – Undying Thoughts, a game I’d purchased after a recommendation from Darkshoxx and which felt like discovering Myst all over again.

    It wasn’t all about video games though. Being aware of just how much I enjoy a good detective thriller, Kevin from The Lawful Geek very kindly sent us a murder-mystery-in-a-box to solve. Post Mortem: Death in La-La Land was a choose-your-own-adventure with physical evidence that kept us bust for around six hours trying to find out whodunnit. It made us feel as though we were the middle of our very own noir story and I can’t wait to start the next case, Lucha Muerte, very soon.

    This would be a good pick for January’s EXP Share but it’s not the experience I’ve chosen to talk about today. This community event is hosted by DanamesX over at Tales of the Backlog and has been designed to get us all sharing our gaming tales, with the current topic being: “Share a story about a game that you played for the first time this month.” I know I’m cheating a little by selecting something from December but, with bonus points available if it’s in a genre you wouldn’t normally pick up, I’ve got something that’s perfect.

    Although I’d vaguely heard about Yakuza previously, I’d never tried an entry myself because the series just wasn’t something on my radar. I quite like watching others play action-adventure releases and seeing how their narratives develop, but I often don’t take the lead on the controls because I’m so uncoordinated. It’s also the case that I don’t usually enjoy Japanese RPGs or releases set in the country because their storylines tend to be a little too over-the-top for my taste.

    But watching Nathan from Gaming Omnivore play part of Yakuza 0 during one of his streams made me kind of curious. What the hell were we doing following two strangers into a restaurant and then helping them solve a crossword puzzle? And how on earth was ‘soy sauce face’ the opposite of ‘sauce face’? Although I get it now, at the time the Crossed Words substory was perhaps one of the weirdest side-missions I’d seen someone play through on Twitch.

    And now this absurdity is the main reason why I’ve been having so much fun with the game since downloading it from Xbox Game Pass a few weeks ago. Obviously I’m terrible at the controls and prefer to mash the buttons while sticking to a single fighting style but that’s ok – because Yakuza 0 doesn’t take itself too seriously, I don’t feel the need to either. There’s no pressure for me to perform perfectly during the combat sequences and so instead I can concentrate on simply enjoying myself.

    Just when you think the substories couldn’t get any more outlandish, they do. I’ve saved someone’s daughter from losing all her money to a doomsday cult and reunited her with her mother. I’ve won several cuddly toys from the UFO Catcher at the SEGA Hi-Tech Land for a child and then had to listen to her call me ‘Daddy’. And I’ve incorrectly given someone a pizza when they actually wanted a visa, and then celebrated with her and her pimp after they decided to get married.

    On that note, I must admit that some of the depictions within Yakuza 0 do leave me cold. The sexes feel as though they’re handled rather differently: while positive traits have been written into male characters and some even subvert stereotypes, the women come across as being unable to do anything without the help of a man, and are expendable. I may understand that the game is set in a different era and culture but it doesn’t mean I have to agree with it – and that’s where I’m going to leave that subject for the time-being.

    The other negative I have with the title is its use of character-switching. This isn’t a mechanic I like because I find it breaks my immersion in a story; I know many people like seeing a digital world through multiple protagonists’ eyes for different views, but I prefer to stick with just one throughout a playthrough. Saying that though, it’s not so annoying here because you get to spend several chapters with either Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima before switching over to the other.

    These aren’t the reasons why I’m not sure I’m going to be able to finish Yakuza 0 though. This is actually due to its long length: with 17 chapters, 100 substories and a bunch of mini-games that can take around 140 to complete, I’m just not sure I want to put that much time into it. The past few years of blogging have taught me that I don’t like spending so many hours on a single game, and I get more satisfaction from shorter releases which can be finished in several sessions.

    But still, I’m glad that hanging out with my blogger-friends in a stream led to me trying something I’d not considered before. Having an action-adventure divert my attention away from my beloved point-and-clicks resulted in a few fun days during the Christmas holidays – and it even reminded me why I adore the adventure genre as much as I do. A big thank you to Nathan for persuading me to download Yakuza 0 (and for sticking with the Gabriel Knight series for his streams!).

    Thank you to DanamesX from Tales of the Backlog too for another great topic this month. If you’re interested in joining in with January’s EXP Share, you have until the end of the month and can find all the details in this post.

    We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
    Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
    (*Not guaranteed.)