Diablo 3: Some Thoughts at the Midpoint

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Now that I’ve completed Act II (of four) in Diablo 3, I have a few thoughts to share.

I can’t avoid this topic so I’ll start with it.  This game, played on Normal mode, is way too easy.  As in, bizarrely easy.  I seriously don’t mean this in a humblebrag way (“I’m just too damn skilled!”).  I mean in a “most enemies take one hit to kill and my health never drops below about 80%” kind of way.  Skill is not a factor; I can just button-mash my way to victory.

I’m not over-leveled; I have not grinded (unless you consider full and thorough map exploration grinding) and I avoid wearing +exp items.  It really seems like there is some serious dissonance between the offensive/defensive power of available weapons/armor and the toughness of the enemies dropping them.

The first hour or two of Act II was the only time in the game thus far where I ever died (and this was really only because I’d become careless and complacent after the ridiculously easy Act I).  It’s gotten to the point by the end of Act II that for a while I wasn’t even using my best gear, in an attempt to make the game more challenging/fun.  Yikes.

Some might say that I should have started my game on Difficult, rather than Normal.  In hindsight, yes, absolutely, I should have.  That was my mistake.  In my defense, I haven’t played a ton of action-RPGs, and after giving it a few seconds of thought I figured Normal would make sense (after all, I virtually always do first-playthroughs on Normal, in any game genre).  But… I should have considered that after getting addicted to Dark Souls/Demon’s Souls, a crowd-pleaser like Diablo would be tame in comparison.

Some other notes:

I am playing as the Monk and loving it.  The Monk’s abilities are largely based on melee attacks, using magic to manipulate the distance between oneself and enemies.  It’s super fun to use Cyclone Strike to suck a group of enemies toward you and follow up with Lashing Tail Kick to knock them all away again.  The two similar skills Dashing Strike and Fists of Thunder (with Thunderclap rune) allow you to close distance between you and the target virtually instantly and administer punishing blows at the same time.  Both are great finishers for the Cyclone-Lashing Kick combo above, as you can finish off any tougher enemies that survived the first two strikes.

The story is ok.  I generally find it hard to get into the story in top-view RPGs like Diablo… maybe the emotional connection to characters is lost because I don’t see their faces.  The cutscene to finish Act I got my attention though; it was good enough to feel like a movie scene and I was definitely more engaged with the story after that.  The Act II finisher is also excellent.

I don’t have a favorite follower, probably because the game isn’t difficult enough for their contributions to matter.  I do enjoy the chit-chat between the protagonist and the followers as you move around the maps (the Scoundrel’s sleazy come-ons got old quickly though).  There are some funny exchanges.  Ultimately I decided to go with the Enchantress, so that her distance/magic attacks would complement my melee/physical moves.

My favorite enemies thus far are the tiny fly-babies (can’t remember the name) that are birthed by the bigger flies in the dessert area.  I love that they are so small and aimless but so deadly.  The first time I encountered some and used Cyclone Strike to suck them all toward me, it didn’t end well for the Monk.

That’s about it for my thoughts on the game so far.  I am currently trying to decide whether or not to start over on a higher level of difficulty.  The main obstacle to a start-over is deciding whether to choose the Monk again (I like this class and want to see the full set of abilities unlocked) or choose a difference class (probably the Wizard, as I’ve read it’s arguably the most challenging to use).  What should I do?

How are you enjoying the game?

Vegan Jalapeño Meatballs

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These spicy little beauties are a great way to elevate the classic go-to vegan dinner of pasta and tomato sauce.  Crisp on the outside and yielding on the inside, they’re packed with flavour and totally addictive.  (Try not to eat them all out of the pan before they hit the table!)

I’ve been wanting to try making (no)meatballs for a while now.  Since I stopped adding it to Mexican dishes, the Yves Meatless Ground Round in my freezer has been looking lonely.  So, after reading up a bit on vegan and nonvegan meatball recipes, I got a bit of a sense of the basics and decided to give it a try.  The jalapeño on my windowsill begged to be included, and I can never say no to hot peppers.

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Yields 4 servings

  •  1 tablespoon ground flax + 3 tablespoons hot water
  • ½ large Vidalia onion, finely chopped
  • Cooking oil (I use canola)
  • 1 good-sized jalapeño pepper (see below for prep)
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 package veggie ground round (I like Yves)
  • 1 tablespoon each dried basil and oregano
  • ¼-1/3 cup breadcrumbs (if you don’t have any on hand, toast a bread heel then whir it in the food processor)
  • ¾ tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the flax and water to make a flax egg; give it a stir and let it sit for a few minutes to gel.

Heat some oil over medium heat in a skillet and add the onion.  Let it get cooking while you finely chop the jalapeno.  If you’re a bit hesistant about spicy food, remove the seeds and membranes and discard, keeping only the green flesh.  For a spicier dish, keep the seeds and membranes and chop the whole thing.  Be careful to avoid touching any cut surfaces with your fingers.  Add the jalapeno and the garlic to the pan.  Stir every minute or two until the onion is translucent and very soft, then remove from heat.

Crumble the ground round into a medium-sized bowl.  Add the onion mixture (making sure it’s cool enough to handle) and all other ingredients, starting with a ¼ cup breadcrumbs and adding a bit more if needed.  Mix well with your hands, really smushing it all together.

When forming the balls, keep in mind that small is better.  In order to ensure to that they cook through, keep them to about inch in diameter.  I used a ½ tablespoon hemispherical spoon to form them and it worked well.  Make sure the balls are well formed and packed.

Heat the pan back up to med-low heat and add a generous amount of cooking oil.  Add the meatballs.  The key to cooking them evenly is frequently shaking the pan to roll them around (if they aren’t rolling adequately, gently turn them with a rubber spatula).  They need to cook slowly to firm up the centre; at least 15 minutes.  When they are nicely browned on all sides, they should be done.

Serve with pasta and tomato sauce, or skip the pasta and just dip them in marinara or hot sauce.

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Favourite Recipes: Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup

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This roasted tomato and roasted garlic soup will mark the start of a series of posts on my favorite recipes from around the web.  I’ve been making this soup for years, since almost flipping past it on Rachael Ray’s show.  Yep, it’s 100% Rachael Ray; I haven’t even significantly tweaked it.  It’s perfect already!  Check out the full recipe here.

It’s the ideal time of year to find perfectly ripe and dirt-cheap roma tomatoes.  Seeing the abundance of these beauties at the store a few days prompted me to make a double batch of this ultra-healthy soup.  (It freezes really well, so I like to make lots and freeze half.)

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At this point, I’ve made this recipe enough times that I’ve stopped measuring things and just go with the flow.  I generally use more tomatoes than called for, and more garlic (surprise surprise!).  For this batch, I bought a ton of tomatoes and used as many as I could fit on two baking sheets, and five heads of garlic.  I use my own homemade broth, but you could certainly use whatever store-bought veggie broth you prefer.

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One tweak I like is to hold off on adding the fresh herbs (I use parsley and basil) to the tomatoes before roasting; rather, I add them to the soup just before pureeing, in order to keep the herbs tasting fresh and bright.  Also, instead of pureeing in multiple messy batches in the food processor, I use an immersion blender right in the soup pot (ensuring that the soup is not hot before blending).

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As an aside, I love to make mashed potatoes (or half-and-half mashed potatoes and cauliflower) to serve with this soup.  It’s the ultimate comfort-food combination.  I actually have gotten into the habit of putting a big scoop of mash into the bowl before covering it with soup and eating them together…. I know, it sounds weird, but if you try it I bet you’ll like it!

This soup (with or without mash) is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.  Some people may be surprised by a tomato soup without a creamy component, but they are quickly convinced.  It’s a fantastic, easy, and healthy recipe to add to your repertoire.  Thanks Rachael Ray!

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1st Wedding Anniversary Gift: Diablo III

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A couple of days ago, my mom asked what R. and I were planning for our first wedding anniversary.  I told her that we were going to buy ourselves Diablo III.  She said, that’s great, but what about dinner?  When I said that we can’t really afford to do both and Diablo would ultimately provide many, many more hours of quality time together, she insisted on buying us the game so that we could go out to dinner for the big day.  (Thanks Mom!)

I’ve never played the Diablo series, but R. has, and has been waiting for years for the third installment to come out.  Considering that II came out in 2000, it’s been a rather long wait.  We’ve always enjoyed playing dungeon-crawlers (back in the day we went a little crazy for Baldur’s Gate and Champions of Norath), so I didn’t need much convincing that Diablo III should be our next co-op game.

Last night, after going out for a wonderful vegan-for-me/omni-for-him dinner at Toronto restaurant The Beet, we got started on the game.  He’s a witch doctor, I’m a monk, and I think we’re going to be a fantastic team.

What are your favorite co-op games?  Are you lucky enough to be in a relationship with a gaming partner?

Genuinely Scary Games Then and Now: Phantasmagoria and Outlast

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Phantasmagoria was so scary to me as a 12-year-old that I had to seriously consider whether I wanted to write about it here; having to think about it enough to write this brings up some vivid emotional memories of pure horror.

In case you’re not familiar, this horror game for PC came out in 1995, and it came loaded onto seven cds.  Even before I started playing, I knew it was serious stuff.  My friend and I stayed up into the early morning hours, glued to the desktop monitor, as we pointed-and-clicked our way through an admittedly trite tale of young marrieds moving into an old mansion with a demonic history.

(If you played the game, hit the video below and the music will really take you back.  If not, listen to it anyway; among the best game theme songs of all time, no question.)

Phantasmagoria was one of the first games to feature real actors green-screened onto matte backdrops, and as such was more like a real horror movie than an animated video game.  We guided heroine Adrienne, in her never-changing salmon-coloured sweater, as she tries desperately to uncover the history of the house’s murderous former owner before her husband becomes irreversibly possessed by his extra-evil spirit.  Watching husband Don degenerate from a loving partner to an abusive, terrifying monster (there is a rape scene in this game!) as we progressed through the game’s chapters pulled us in, even as we were dizzy with fear of the next graphic, gruesome scene.

A weird aspect of my relationship with Phantasmagoria is that after completing it, as I looked up 1990s-style “fansites” about the game and replayed favorite chapters, I became more, rather than less affected by it.  Once the fascinated infatuation of those two days of seemingly nonstop gameplay receded, I could appreciate more fully the horror of the story and visuals.  I had occasional nightmares about it years later, as an adult.

Fast forward to today.  I’ve played a few other horror games in the interim; Quake, a couple of Resident Evils, part of one Fatal Frame.  Definitely not one of my favorite genres, but one I haven’t totally avoided.  It goes without saying that no other games have had even a fraction of the impact of Phantasmagoria.

Today I read this article about the upcoming survival-horror game Outlast. The headline suggests that this game may be in a horror subcategory beyond the likes of Silent Hill and Resident Evil, and may actually prove too scary for most people.  The idea is that you spend the game in first-person view in a scary asylum (classic and effective environment) with no weapons and no actions other than running and hiding from hideous monsters.  By rejecting the gun-toting empowerment of most horror game protagonists, Outlast may cross over into truly affecting territory, and in doing so will follow in the footsteps of Phantasmagoria’s resourceful but mostly terrorized Adrienne.

Released today for PC and slated for a later PS4 release, Outlast might be too scary for me.  When it’s time to decide if I’ll buy it for PS4, I’ll have to seriously consider whether or not I learned my lesson from Phantasmagoria.

Have you ever been scared by a game?

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